The Sermon Revisited -- talks at St. Bene't's

30 January 94: Brother Michael on the Sower and the Seed.

It's not just what I want to say, but what God seems to want me to say -- I don't always agree with God at this point.

With today's text, I could do an expository sermon, in terms of human beings for example, hard-heartedness etc. But there is more to it than that, for example about the disciples; or, as I said today, that it is about the Kingdom, as are all the parables -- a vast topic. So I moved away from expounding the text -- but Anselm has given me the title, which is a snag -- it is to be about Jesus as a teacher. This got me onto communication, and thus onto Brian Redhead (who died last week). So I was glad to find the idea of Jesus as communicator, but my ideas went on to the Kingdom, who is in it, who knows it... most people wouldn't know what to say about it if you ask `Are you in the Kingdom?' What are the characteristics of those in the Kingdom? Who would be there who we don't expect? And then I thought about Matt Busby, and seeing them together, saw them not as communicators, but as being in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So a few days before the sermon I had got it quite worked out, and written out for a little revision on Saturday and on Sunday morning.

Preaching is communication person to person, with all the advantages; it cannot replaced by radio, cassette etc.

In dialogue

AC-S: The sermons here are good -- well thought out, and thought-provoking.

M: The congregation here is good at listening.

RRD: Sometimes I think the parable would be better without the explanation -- just Jesus being realistic about the way things are

M: Yes, but is IS in the middle of the story, that the seed is the Word. Sometimes people just accept the teaching, but not make the connection; you can use wonderful words but not communicate; you must sow the seed.

M: A little passing thought was that the disciples would have got into the boat with Jesus -- they would have all been in the same boat -- the Ark of God.

A: I'm uncomfortable about the use of the `Word' -- it remains mysterious -- the record of Jesus' teaching is not equivalent to the Word, but only reflects it.

JP: The ideas of the Kingdom are mysterious too...

M: ... for example, that I am in the Kingdom of this world and in the Kingdom of Heaven. Suddenly you begin to see through they eyes of Jesus, and everything begins to fall into place. It is mysterious, some people se it and others don't. Even some criminals might be in the Kingdom of Heaven. A: I think that it is speically them -- and even perhaps decent people like us.

AC-S: He doesn't plant the seed where it is best, but it is up to us to do what we can instead of forcing each seed to do what he wants.

?: The word is given freely, with generosity, everywhere; in contrast with us targeting our resources where we think they'll do best.

M: In this world we are always growing. We will only experience the adulthood in heaven, after death; but the Kindgom is here now, and so we are beginning to reach towards that adulthood. We are always learning still, so we must keep turning back to what Jesus teaches. But the learning must be associated with the suffering world, as well as with the praise. The peace and reassurances and joy of the learning come from accepting the pain and suffering.

RRD: I have recently begun to understand the command to be one `as I and the Father are one' and I find it is hard for me to grow into being one. So I think of Kingdom as being the Kingdom of te one, whole, only God, and the demand is that we should be one in that oneness... not only the Church should be one, but each individual should be one rather than several, not rushing off in pain or joy at different times, but to have asolid centre of oneness that is in control.

M: Jesus know the darkness `let this cup pass from me' `why hast thou forsaken me' -- Jesus had to experience his own aloneness, and we have to do this too. I know someone whose integration suggests that although he says he is not a Christian he is in the Kingdom of Heaven. The wounded look into themselves, and the blind into a mirror, and see love reflected (R.S. Thomas).

6 Feb 94 Br Anselm on: Jesus Healing (Christ the Healer).

I'm not a great believer in rules for preaching the word, hopefully, of God I don't see preaching in the sense of teacing in the sense of giving people insrtuction they remember in detail; it is part of the worshipping experience. It's not enough to give a scripture lesson, as a lot has happened in our background since scripture was written down -- it is more a way of developing sensitivity to people, and meeting people all the time, an listening, and being better able to speak to the heart.

In this case, the theme is fairly direct! The first sentences are crucial -- either you relate, or you miss, in which case it is hard fro people to catch on later.

in this case, it is close enouggh to everyone's needs not to need much tuning in.

We must use `healing' in a wide context - not just the curing of physical ills. This sermon is about the consequences of being a creature in the creation we inhabit, and the wounds we have and the need for healing. For example, having flu may make me hard to live with, but it is just a consequence of life.... it is not really an ill, it may even be useful to force us to a rest. So that is not what we must call on Christ to heal. In the Gospels, healing is not just physical, but of anguish of those who were isolated because of illness. It may be legitimate to pray for healing for exaple of deaf-mutes, but more so for God's blessing on him as he is.

Then thre is the whole business of dying... we all have to die, and it is not an evil though it is a daunting prospect. I must prepare to give it back, almost willingly, rather than for having it snatched from me

So the first part of the sermon was to establish what Christ's healing is about -- not just about mortality. Then the shell landed on the marketplace in Sarajevo, which opened us to a whole range of evils that really do bring us to Christ the healer.

You can look at a lot of physical ills that are brought about by greed, but cannot point the finger at any one individual. A lot that is evil is reedeemable, but only as members of Christ, not as passive spectators. I' sure that if every committed Christian wa also committed to a fair worl, that would have a palpable effect - - an instance of Christ the Healer at work.

These wounds result from human freedom, stemming from fear, hate and the naked selfish will not to survive but to possess. We are helpless to redeem ourselves from this except by Christ. The evidence for Christ the Healer is Jesus heling. That tells us a bit about the nature of God, and of the work of Christ's body the church -- to redeem, heal and save.

But it seems that with each generation he has to start over again.

Then I wanted to say about Jesus; that you couldn't divide idewas about him into teacher healer etc, but it is all integral. The healer has to be taken with prophet, sage, leader.

I think the key word in the teaching is: Repent! The healing comes through the repentance, which is not something we can do but that we can open ourselves to -- then that opens the way to healing of divisions in Bosnia, for example.

That was my contribution; then I invoked T.S.Eliot's ``The wounded surgeon...' from East Coker. I felt very inadequate as we are dealing with mysteris which are often best expressed in words as poetry.

In dialogue


A: When the victim is God, who heals Him?

About prayer for individuals: In the end, God has purposes of love for every one.

13 February 94: Br Michael on Jesus Forgiving.

If we're going to talk about forgiveness, we may talk about forgiveness from sin; sin is a theological word, only really understood by those who base their life on Christ. It means a breakdown of our relationship with Christ.

Sin is endemic to the human condition -- Jesus identifies with us, to fall under the same condemnation.

In a sense we never can forgive ourselves -- it always comes from the other side, and also from God -- Jesus being the other side declaring God's forgiveness to us.

It is difficult to say that one hurt is worse than another, one pain is worse than another.

In dialogue

Anselm: How do you seek forgiveness not for hurting people greatly but just for being mediocre -- that you don't do anything big enough to be sinful.

M: perhaps the worst thing is not shaking yourself out of the dullness.

RRD: ``they know not what they do'': ignorance of the effects of our actions is one of the least acceptable things today.

M: This has been highlighted by the Iranian arms trade scandal. Sometimes people disapprove of my mention of current events in my sermons, but I don't think it can be separated from my Christianity.

Jesus identifies every single person as being of infinite importance to God, unlike the solidarity of communism which cares only about the commune.

It is very difficult to `go and do not sin again' when it is something built into us like unkindness to our neighbour. But the eye can't do as the ear does, etc. What makes the difference is that you're not content with that state, and may well be improving gradually. What is more difficult is how we live in a world we recognize as sinful and feel helpless in -- I am lucky that I have an obvious soapbox, but in fact we all do, and can all make our points.

Jesus allows the woman to see where she stands, while not condemning her; and she to see where he stands.

Society frequently condemns -- on inadequate information.

In my anxiety to be a decent normal person I often miss the point, and this produces a feeling of restless discontent, which often produces a gooey spirituality that is nothing to do with God, who is a bright light -- the bottom lie (and the top line!) is that I am a forgiven person, and that nothin I do in my life improves it -- it is what God does that improves our life.

RRD: How do you forgive for example the people who perpetrate the arms trade?

M: I find it harder to forgive the society that produces the drug addict.

A: But surely that is all of us?

M: In the end forgiveness comes from God alone, and we all need God's forgiveness for our complicity in those situations.

D: We now have less liturgical general confession. Is this serving us well?

M: We have erred and strayed like lost sheep, we have followed the devices and desires of our own hearts.

D: The commonest thing people do is to find someone else to blame, te opposite of what we have been talking about today.

Matthew Thompson 20 Feb 94

I was trying to point out at the beginning some questions that came to me about Lent -- such that I enjoy it so much,, and that bothers me. I've always had a thing about Lent -- giving things up is only useful so long as it makes you ask questions. That led me into the Biblical discussion about sacrifice and the motives with which you make them, sacrifice by itself being condemned.

It was difficult for me to ge over the Children's Bible image. So I looked at it from 3 directions: do these temptations say anything to me? No, they were particular to Jesus. Maybe this passage is going to tell me something new about Jesus, rather than about improving myself spiritually? This made e think about the closeness of the temptations and the baptism. Far from the devil starting it, it is the Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness -- it is part of the same story. It brings the idea of the cross right to the start of Jesus's ministry... that it is overshadowing from the beginning rather than being a final mistake. Then, I thought it is also a warning to tell us not to use scriptural quotations as proof texts again temptation... Jesus was not proof-texting, but showing his inner relationship with God. Then I tried to bring it together showing that the wilderness story is not a one-off. This comes back again with Peter telling Jesus not to go to Jerusalem. Jesus rejected that kind of power right from the beginning. This culminates in Gethsemane, when the temptation had the last and most significant effect, and here Jesus again dealt with it not by power but by aligning himself with God's will.

So the point of my sermon was to say ``Let's just remember what Lent is about under the surface''. And I ended with a slight note of challenge about the true nature of our Lenten activities -- with the quote from Isaiah.

In dialogue

JP: You mentioned Abel and Cain, and you said that the difference was the motives of the two, but I couldn't see that in the Bible in front of me. Where does this come from?

MT: That is the traditional explanation of it; when Cain objects, God does reply perhaps about this. RRD: I thought the difference was between plant and animal sacrifices. And Cain having not been a hunter, would have still had all his agression unreleased. MT: It is said to relate to a conflict between hunter-gatherer and arable farners in Israel at the time. M: the point when all this was assembled was when the compilers had had some time to reflect on human nature... you can detect throughout an apologetic for human nature in relation to God.

HED: Can you speak about fasting? It is still commended but never done. MT: I think it was lost for a while as it was made easier and easier, but it is now coming back in various parts of the Church. An: I think a lot of those are looking for a spiritual experience.

MT: I think some make a little idol of spirituality. It is the supreme sacrifice on the Cross that gives meaning to our self-irritation. M: I think going without food can sensitize you almost into a trip, and may help with prayer.

RRD: Meister Eckhardt would have said that Lenten fasting was an exercise in detachment from the sin of gluttony, but carries the risk of becoming attached to our extremes.

An: Don't be attached to detachment.

An: Do you think it's legitimate to look at the temptations storis as referring to temptations not to me inidividually but to the Church?

MT: They are temptations about power; I played that down in the sermon, but there are warning there about getting hooked on spiritual highs and success... the temptation will be towards economic viability in the Church and we must be vigilant against the lures of earthly success.

RRD: each temptation was an offer of the alleviation of suffering.

MT: Yes, for me a big part of the image of temptation is that of the short cut. But a lot of these are short cuts to nowhere.

JP: But Jesus saw through this.

MT: As the Prince of Peace, he could not take that route.

Br. Michael 27 Feb 94

In dialogue

BW: What about sins against the Father and the Son, and against the Holy Spirit?

M: What do people think about that? I suggested it could be implacable hatred for hatred's sake, that removes any awareness of reason.

BW: What if someone is deranged?

M: they can't hate.

M: forever is a very dubious thing to say.

JS: what about the idea of those who reverse Good and Bad.

M: These ideas are from rational people about irrational situations. It bothers me to hear people making pronouncements that show that their hatred is irrational... perhaps such irrational people are subject to the mercy of God.

BW: how can you sin against one of the Trinity and not the others?

M: that is trying to reduce eternal mysteries to a tidy argument, which is impossible. Perhaps it is that the Spirit is the aspect of God that we relate to rationally, and that sinning against Him is rational knowing choosing to deny God -- and would anyone do that? Why do I do things knowingly that are wrong (The good that I would I do not...) and the forgiveness this requires introduces us to a new view of God.

An: back to the blasphemy sin: what Jesus said was linked to a particular happening, in conflict with the religious leaders, saying `you can attack me and be forgiven, but not attack God'... it is wrong to transfer the same idea to something general... you can't make it a general sin and go round wondering whether you have done it, because you haven't been in the situation the pharisees were in.

M: indeed, as I said in my sermon it was a happening within Judaism.

PH: it's a problem because being forgiven is what we're here about -- it is a concern when we're told that something is not forgivable.

JS: If you're worrying about it, you haven't done it?

M: It is something that only makes sense to committed Christians -- others would say that it is a problem that Christians have. But the subject of the sermon was very much about Jesus in the context of conflict -- within society, within ourselves, within the Church.

RRD: I'm concerned about to crack in human nature, that can be thought of as that between good and evil, or in other ways. Is it the case that in Jesus there was no such crack within, it was between him and his co-religionists? And the fact that he had no internal crack meant that he must have been cut off from the society he was in.

M: It does appear that this is so, that he was very isolated, particularly at the end of his earthly life. He even felt isolated from God at the very end of his earthly ministry. I also agree that this isn't just a division between good and bad -- it's also a division between light and dark -- the division is not necessarily the same for example good can come from my darkness because I can help with others darkness... we have to come to terms with out light as well as our darkness.

A: I'd take a term like guilt, there is some that is imposed on them or taken on -- neurotic guilt -- which is different from religious guilt. Our response to neurotic guilt is no measure of God's response to us.

EW: Are you saying that Jesus had no conflict?

M: No, indeed He was in conflict, but not in the way that led to a divided self (Let this cup pass from me, if it is Your will.). Conflict draws you two ways, but need not split you -- in Jesus's cae it was resolved. Some people decide against their deepest feelings, until it all explodes and tey need an awful lot of help.

JP: we don't have to think of the conflict between Jesus and the pharisees as a head-on collision -- the pharisees were also looking earnestly for the truth.

M: there have been many conflicts like that; but Jesus was in head-on conflict as there was then no separation between religion and the rest of life. Jesus wasn't fitting their expectations of the Messiah. You can feel sorry for them in a way. Jesus was not just about conflict, but about a whole new way of looking at thigns, for example the man born blind not being that way because of anyones sins. It was Jesus actually being God, forgiving sins, that got the theologians really bothered. The resolution of conflict within ourselves demands that we should not be isolated in our conflict. God in Jesus offers us the possibility of being relieved of that isolation; He shared in our humanity, we can share in his divinity. But this is not an instant settlement.

HED: One of the problems in entering the Church is that it exposes you to a whole new lot of conflicts -- reading the epistles shows it has been like this from the beginning.

M: A lot of people looking from outside don't see anything that suggests solutions to their problems are within... they don't see bishops negotiating a solution for Bosnia, nor other Christians for that matter.

JP: is conviction a virtue or a dangerous commodity?

M: It depends on what they are convicted about -- I think conviction itself is a good thing.

RRD: it's an example of the danger of teaching the very young that soething is an absolute truth.

M: It is absolutely at the heart of this that Jesus is God and Jesus is Man.

LB: Isn't intellectualizing it wrong?

M: Indeed, we have to act on the assumption that things are so.

LB: Intellectuallization can lead to conflict itself

M: it is important to remember that death is not the end -- that we are members of the Kingdom of Heaven already. (I remind myself of this in my sermon -- it is always one sermon, I just pad it out different ways with poetry.) It is possible to find things spoilt by the hiding of divinity within us.

Al: I find it difficult to say the divine is in us -- more that we are in relationship with the divine.

M: What about `I will dwell in him, and he in us'.

Al: but there is a sense in which is other from God?

M: what sense?

Al: absolutely other

An: that's what creation is -- being given choice

Al; divided the way we are, it doesn't seem we have much freedom to make choices?

M: isn't that what freedom is? or are we just playing with words?

Al: I'm not sure what freedom is.

RRD: The problem is we're trying to put it into words -- it's just an experience -- if we didn't have the experience we wouldn't be here talking about it. The experience comes first.

M: But Jews and Moslems would also say they have experience that they discuss in their groups. In our case, the experience is a personal encounter with God through Christ, even if we don't put it like that. It's because God has taken action in my life that enables me to identify my personal experience with God, and that when I try to put it into words, it is following the Way of Jesus. When I recognize my relationship with Jesus, I a sharing in his relationship with the Father.

LB: this might sum it up: "and now we give you thanks..." (prayer 4 at the back of the ASB Communion service). Intellectualization is necessary to a point, but I find I have to meditate on it.

Anselm on Jesus Suffering, 94 March 06

(Sermon started around story of a butler suppressing his emotions and not noticing the housekeeper's affection; went on to suffering in relationships, and finding the full self so much larger than what we had known.). People often complain about taking up their cross, but this is often debased (eg bunions). For Jesus, it was the truth of his situation, as all-loving champion of God's kingdom. Does truth for us involve pain, and if so where does that begin? In facing that, we begin the way of the Cross. Quote from Harry Williams: if we do not attempt to run away from our suffereing, what is the alternatie? to acept and recieve it, take it on as part of what we are -- we disover new and undiscovered areas of out total being -- that we are so much more than we think we are - thus suffering can create us by turning our potential powers into existence. At first it seems too much to bear and we must GIVE UP, but that is only in the limited self but when b y a iracle we accept the suffereing we find that the limitied self was merely an illusion. [From Chapter Resurrection and Suffering.]

This usually happens gradually rather than in an instance.

In dialogue

M: "dormant" and "potentially" don't ring bells in me, but what about the man in the streets question about why does the all-loving God permit suffering?

A: I was restricting my sermon to Christian suffering -- I'm talking about the King and the Kingdom suffering -- taking up the Cross.

M: That sounds fine for Christians, but what about others?

A: I would have said something different, or nothing.

KC: peeople approaching psychotherapy are trying to go -- the Harry Williams would resonate with them.

ACS: I'm not so sure about the suffering being different between Christians and non-Christians -- sometimes you have to de-evangelize people because they assume their suffering is a punishment.

M: But when I'm visiting people in hospital, relatives don't understand if you don't say that God suffers, wich is contrary to the general non-Christian concept of God.

A: I was talking under the Word: Take up the Cross; which is a choice; what I was trying to struggle with is what is it to take up the cross.

DC: Jung said neurosis is a substitute for valid suffering.

ACS: I haven't really been offered a Cross to take up.

RRD: The phrase The dark night of reality; seems important to me. Dealing with the real darkness in current events is a form of taking up the Cross.

A: but that's only what TV crews have chosen to show of current events.

JS: so much of modern society is simply trying to hide from things.

M: There was only one Cross -- where are these personal crosses coming from -- from God?

JS: fro each other's badly taken choices?

A: from facing up what is inside me?

ACS: for some people, other people can be a cross -- relatives to look after for example.

HED: what about Paul's thorn in the flesh?

A: he was given that, but the Crosss we must seek out and take up for ourselves.

KC: so how can we seek out this cross?

A: if the cross is the pain of truth, we must embark on a voyage of discovery. You could say that it's about vocation. Al: I've been confused about Take up the Cross -- Jesus said it before he was crucified. Could it mean you must take on your own death? You said the cross was the truth, but I've always thought it menat take up your own death -- the centre of our humanity.

DC: the other things about the truth is that it sets you free.

M: Take up your Cross could have been a colloquialism.

JR: Some people say something extreme is required, but for others surely it must be at the everyday level of the things you must confront inwardly.

M: but what about for example the mother with the child in the borstal again ... to her that is an imposed Cross; there is also our internal one... and one that comes from our own personality.... or having to live with Anselm and Alistair and perhaps I'm their Cross... that is entirely possible. Recognizing that at a non-superficial level would be to come face to face with the Cross.

RRD: For the large majority of people, the Cross comes to them in splinters -- and so does self-understanding. Part of it is just growing old... the gradual loss of powers, you have to accept it and make the best of it.

M: Christianity seems to be the only religion with the idea of forgiveness. Christians have a tendency to invoke the God of the Old Testament more readily than of the New Testament. Christians have the responsibility of living in th light of Jesus Christ: not to say that something is no longer wrong, but to take the Great Commandments which do not classify things so neatly into black and white. Let he who is perfect cast the first stone; come's straight out of the CoE! It is different from Moslems cutting hands of for theft. In the end, the witness is in the lives of people, not of the sermons they preach.

ACS: that brings us back to Anselm's point about the Cross being the truth that we do not want.

Al: I think a Moslem would be offended by what M has said... there are different varieties of Moslems.

RRD: I think there's a danger of looking at other religions in the elements that are not their highest -- looking at Moslem law but not at their mystics and saints.

M: I couldn't agree with you more.

HED: Some would say Ian Paisley is a typical Christian.

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