Posts Tagged ‘Risen Christ’

Sermon, Sunday 24 August 2014, 16.00 Evening Prayer with Hymns, Revd Captain Ian Maher CA

Friday, 5 September, 2014

Readings: 2 Kings 6.8-23; 3.16-end; Acts 17.15-end
Theme: The unknown God made known

Some of you will no doubt remember Woolworth’s pick-and-mix sweet counters. You could go around choosing a few of these and few of those before going to the counter and realising that your quarter-pound of favourites was actually nearer a pound in weight, but buying them anyway. Good old ‘Woolies’ blazed the trail for pick and mix. What a shame they went out of business.

The idea, of course, caught on and the pick-and-mix idea can be found in all sorts of places. For example, restaurants, supermarkets, DIY stores all have variations on the pick-and-mix idea; and there is something quite satisfying and creative about being able to make those choices which bring together unexpected combinations.

But pick-and-mix can be problematic if we apply that approach uncritically to other aspects of life, not least to religious belief and practice. There are, of course, many practices within different religious traditions which can be shared and benefited from. In fact, if we close ourselves off from the possibility that we might actually learn something from another religion we come dangerously close to deciding where and how God can work by setting limits where and how God works.

Buddhist meditation and Christian contemplative prayer are not mutually exclusive. The use of Rosary beads and Muslim prayer beads are similar techniques in Christianity and Islam respectively, for helping focus the mind on prayer and avoiding distractions. Pilgrimage – for example, to Santiago de Compostella or Jerusalem for Christians, Varanasi on the Ganges for Hindus, and Mecca for Muslims – marks a connection with something important within the faith tradition. We can learn from each other about the benefits of such practices in the life of faith. They are not.

Ultimately, of course, there are in any religion foundational beliefs that set it apart from other religions and define its unique identity. For Christians it is about seeing God as revealed uniquely through Jesus Christ which is its essential feature. That is not a pick-and-mix option but the essential hallmark of Christian belief.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the apostle Paul draws out a similar point. Finding himself in Athens in the midst of a market place of competing philosophies and religions, he spots an altar with the inscription ‘To an unknown God’.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Paul goes on to say that he can tell the Athenians who this unknown God is and he makes the connection between Jesus and God, pointing out how God raised Jesus from the dead. Notice how he does this, because it teaches us much about how to go about making the known the God whom we see revealed in Jesus to people of other faiths without being dismissive about their own genuine religious quest.
The Athenians were passionate about religious beliefs and philosophies, always on the lookout for new and interesting ideas about life and the universe. They were seekers after truth. Paul started from that point. He did not dismiss or criticise them but affirmed them: ‘I see how extremely religious you are in every way . . .’ There is no suggestion that he was being sarcastic. He was, rather, connecting with them in their search, and he went on to tell them about Jesus by linking him with the unknown God for whom an altar was already set up.

We don’t have to be dismissive of the faith of other people when we share our own faith in Jesus, but simply declare what he means for us. The God who made heaven and earth whose likeness we see in Jesus is the one whom we worship. It’s not about arguing points but sharing an experience.

It does not appear that the Athenians were actually that impressed with Paul’s attempt to proclaim the gospel in a culturally relevant way. They seem to have liked the novelty of Paul’s message but were then less keen on the implications. To take Paul’s message seriously meant accepting that in Jesus, God had indeed come among us. There were implications for living that the Athenians were not prepared to accept. So they moved on to the next interesting idea.

The fact of the matter is that through Jesus, God’s very presence was made known to humankind, and that is something that cannot but effect change in a person’s life if it is accepted, not least because it places on our shoulders a responsibility to play our part in making God known to others. Again, there is no pick-and-mix option here. To believe in Jesus is to follow him, and to follow him is align ourselves with his priorities. Moving on to the next thing because faith in Jesus might cause some inconvence, as the Athenians did, is not an option for anyone who takes Christian faith seriously.

As Pope Francis puts it: ‘Our mission as Christians is to conform ourselves to Jesus as the model of our lives.’ It is a sure way of helping to make God known.

The task, then, of the universal church of which we in this Cathedral are a local branch in this part of God’s world, is to bear witness to the risen Jesus through whom we believe God is made known most clearly. It is our call and responsibility to continue his work in the world through our words, actions, and presence at every level of society.

May our prayer today be that we that we remain faithful to our call to bear witness in our lives to the glorious presence of the Risen Christ; and, through our lives, to play our part in helping make the unknown God known to those who have yet to discover the God we know and love in Jesus.

The Revd Captain Ian Maher, CA

Sunday 30 June 2013, 10.30 Cathedral Eucharist, The Revd Captain Ian Maher CA

Thursday, 4 July, 2013

Sunday 30 June 2013
Readings: Acts 12.1-11; Matthew 16.13-19
Theme: Pillars of the Church
Last month I was fortunate to be part of the Cathedral pilgrimage to Rome. There were numerous highlights, we saw some remarkable sights, and experienced much to reflect upon. Among my own special memories are those of visiting the alleged burial places of the two great apostles of the Church, St Peter and St Paul, who died as martyrs in the early AD 60s. According to tradition, this is what happened to them.
St Peter was crucified upside down, apparently on the site of the courtyard to the left of St Peter’s Basilica where the Swiss Guards now stand on duty. He was then buried in the nearest cemetery which was on top of Vatican Hill, above which St Peter’s Basilica was later built – the main altar being directly above Peter’s tomb. You might be pleased to know that this information comes not from Wikipedia but from an announcement made by Pope Pius XII following the results of an archaeological excavation!
St Paul was beheaded between Rome and the sea in a place now called Tre Fontane (Italian for three fountains after the legend that springs of water mark the three places where Paul’s head bounced after being beheaded). He, too, was buried in the closest cemetery, where the Basilica of St Paul’s outside the Walls was eventually built, the main altar situated above Paul’s tomb.
Of course, whether the bones of Peter and Paul actually rest in those places is sense incidental. What matters far more is what those places represent: that is, the commemoration of the lives of these giants in the faith, and their contribution to the development of the Church through and beyond the first century. If Jesus is the foundation on which the Church is built then, arguably, Peter and Paul are the two most significant pillars of the Church.
Strengthened by the Holy Spirit their faith, their witness, and their teaching about the Risen Christ gave shape and direction to the early Church and enabled it to grow beyond the confines of its infancy as a small Jewish sect into a worldwide faith that has expression in every part of the globe.
In visiting their traditional Roman burial places it was humbling and profoundly moving to reflect that as Christians in this generation we are part of that same movement for which Peter and Paul gave their lives. We are inheritors of the faith in Christ which they handed on. Belonging to the Cathedral Church of St Peter and Paul makes that point all the more profound.
One thing that I find encouraging is that Peter and Paul were very different individuals, and certainly did not always see eye to eye with each other. But even their differences had benefits for the early Christian movement.
Peter was an impetuous, spur of the moment man, often putting his foot in it; but sometimes through that characteristic spontaneity he would hit the nail on the head. As we heard in the gospel reading, as some of the other disciples dithered in response to Jesus’ question, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?,’ Peter declares: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ His response was then affirmed by Jesus: ‘And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’
Paul was more of a strategist, concerned with the big picture both in his time as Saul the persecutor of Christians and as Paul the missionary for Christ. But it was through the missionary journeys of Paul that numerous small groups of people seeking to follow the way of Jesus were nurtured into life.
Peter was a fisherman, used to hard manual labour; Paul was a scholar, trained as a Pharisee – though also a tent maker. Peter was a disciple who knew Jesus personally and was taught by Jesus for several years as he wandered through Galilee and Judea; Paul, as far as we know, never met Jesus in the flesh and was initially hostile to his teaching.
Peter first met Jesus as a man and responded immediately to his call; Paul came face to face with the Risen Christ, but it took a dramatic experience before responding to the call of his Lord. Peter was taken to Rome by his captors; Paul, using his Roman citizenship, insisted on a trial in Rome. The emphasis of Peter’s apostleship was to the Jews; for Paul it was to the Gentiles.
There is something quite comforting in recognising the differences between these two men; also in the fact that they are commemorated together on this day. Despite an unsubstantiated legend that they met in Rome shortly before their deaths and blessed each other, it might even be that Peter and Paul – for a while at least – did not really like each other very much. They certainly did not see eye to eye about everything that was going on in the early Christian community, not least the status of Jewish law and the place of Gentiles.
But even so, their differences did not prevent them working tirelessly for the same cause: namely, the proclamation of the kingdom of God as initiated through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus whom they recognised as their Lord and Saviour. That shared passion inevitably meant that, despite their differences, they also shared much in common.
Both were hugely influential in the life of the early church and gave their lives for the faith. They shaped the development of the life and doctrine of the Church – Peter and his successors through the institution of the papacy, Paul through his letters. These contributions are reflected in statues of Peter and Paul where, usually, Peter is holding a key as a symbol of the authority given to him by Jesus; and Paul is holding a book, symbolising his preaching and teaching.
Each apostle was convinced beyond doubt of the truth of the Resurrection and they were both witnesses to the Risen Christ – interpreting what that meant to believers in the context of their time and situation. They were keen to make sense of the life and ministry of Jesus within their specific circumstances, their teaching having direct relevance to the particular communities with whom they had contact.
Peter and Paul both fulfilled the commandment of Jesus: ‘Anyone who wants to come after me, must deny self, bear the cross, and follow me.’ They expressed their real love of Jesus Christ by following him from their hearts.
There is much to glean from the example of Peter and Paul, not least to reassure ourselves that God’s unbounded grace and unconditional love encompass and embraces people with widely different personalities, conflicting viewpoints, and with whom we might disagree fiercely over some things.
With that reassurance, also comes a challenge for us to consider carefully our own attitudes and responses towards those who we find difficult to get on with because of beliefs and practices that we might dispute. Our neighbours in the kingdom of God are not always the most obvious or, necessarily, those we would choose. We might not like them. But they, too, are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus no less than we are. God can use their strengths and their weaknesses, as God does with us, for the extension of the kingdom.
In a volume on Christian Ethics, Rowan Williams tells of his own struggle to come to terms with the fact that within the Christian tradition, current and past, are committed Christians whose approach to a range of different topics conflicts with his own. He explores this dilemma and draws attention to the way in which the beliefs and practices of all of us are shaped by the social, cultural and religious factors.
While not attempting to deny the significance of differences that may remain irreconcilable – he cites Christian views about nuclear deterrence as one example – Williams then makes the telling point:
“But I acknowledge that they (that is, those with whom he still disagrees) ‘knew’ what their own concrete Christian communities taught them to know, just as I ‘know’ what I have learned in the same concrete and particular way. And when I stand in God’s presence or at the Lord’s table, they are part of the company I belong to.”
As we remember today with thanksgiving the lives of St Peter and St Paul, we can see that God used their particular personalities and approaches to spread the Gospel. Peter’s impetuous love set him apart as a passionate shepherd of his flock; Paul’s training as a Pharisee and his strength of character ensured that the Gentiles would find a welcome in the Church. This is a reminder and encouragement that our own distinctive talents, and even our weaknesses, can become God’s means of helping others.
We don’t have to be perfect; God can work through us, faults and all, as he did with Peter and Paul. What God calls us to be, as they were, is faithful in service to the same Lord who called them. May our commemoration of St Peter and St Paul be to us a sign of hope.
The Revd Capt Ian Maher CA