7th Mar, 2004

Second Sunday In Lent

8am Low Mass and 10.30am High Mass
Sermon preached by the Rector, Fr Ian Elliott Davies

Lections:
Gen 15:1-12, 17-18 promise to Abram
Philippians 3:17-4:1 their god is their belly, my joy, my crown
St Luke 13: 31-35 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem
(In gratitude for the sermon of the Rt Rev’d Jack Nicholls, Bishop of Lancaster, preached at All Saints’ Margaret Street, 1.11.92)

Why the stable? Why the cross? Why Lent? Why Good Friday? Why the empty tomb? Why Confirmation Classes? Why the Breakfast Club? Why the Daily Mass? Why the incarnation? Why the Body of Christ? Why atonement? Why Parish Vestry meetings? Why resurrection? Why was Christ born? Why the Parish of St Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood? Why did Christ die? Why was he raised? Why the Diocese of Los Angeles?

It doesn’t matter how you put the question, the answer is always the same. It is, in the words of St Anselm, “God became man without ceasing to be God that men might be godly without ceasing to be men,” and women of course, but the Archbishop of Canterbury, St Anselm, wouldn’t have thought of that in the tenth century! By grace you and I and all God’s People are called to be Christ-like, we are called to be saints and called to be fully human.

For it would be easy to be a saint if you didn’t have to bother about being human but it would be impossible to be fully human if you are not concerned about being a saint. This is the Catholic faith. In Christ God says distinctly and clearly that sanctity is not about getting rid of our humanity, it is about the full development of our humanity. The saints are more fully human than the rest of us, and this wholeness, this Christ-likeness is God’s will for all his children. No one is so poor, so sinful, so disfigured as to be outside the purposes of God. This is the Catholic faith. This is why God insists that he is to be seen particularly in the faces of those for whom most people have no time. It was my privilege yesterday to serve raspberry jelly to almost two hundred people waiting patiently for a modest, nutritious breakfast before they went about their respective Saturdays. This is the Catholic faith, you do not have to do or earn anything to deserve God’s grace. That is why you and I must never, ever underestimate anyone’s capacity for God. This is the Catholic faith. Christ was born in someone else’s stable and buried in someone else’s grave. Your value and mine is not to be seen in our abundance of or lack of possessions, but because of Christ even I have value, a capacity for God and a destiny which is beyond our wildest dreams. This is the Catholic faith.

In the Confirmation Class yesterday morning we were discussing the nature of the Church, ecclesiology is the posh word for it and we all got very excited when we realized that we only have one word in English for the two ideas Church as the People of God and Church as the place that we easily identify as the meeting place, the liminal focus in this place of God’s presence.

The people of God, the Church, has many titles, and one of its most striking descriptions in the writings of St Paul is “the Body of Christ.” And what does that mean? Well, there is a terrible literalness about it. It means, that, just as Christ, when he lived in Galilee and Jerusalem, was a body of flesh and bones and blood through which he lived and worked and showed himself to the world, so now after the Resurrection, Christ, still has a body through which he lives and works, and carries out his purpose in the world. And that body is now composed of the lives of all baptized Christian men and women and children. You and me. It’s about you and me, our humanity which makes us one with Christ and with each other; we are Christ incarnate today, here in this City of the Queen of the Angels, Los Angeles.

The scandal of particularity. The life which Christ lived, that particular life, the suffering he underwent, is made real again. His life is lived in what we do and say, the way we relate to each other and we see the sacrament, God’s promise to the Church, in the bread broken and the wine poured at this Mass.
Now my point is this, not that Christians should always have those inane grins of self-congratulatory smugness, nor that Lent is a mere aberration in the Church’s calendar that we have to put up with it stoically.

No flowers, no Gloria, no alleluias, Lenten coverings on the Cross, all draw our attention.

My point is that Christians celebrate a religion of joy and affirmation and creativity, a religion that at its very centre holds Christ and the grace he pours out on God’s people as the fundamental key to growing, living faith. I am not saying that discipline, prayer, fasting, penance and discipleship are wrong, far from it, they are the proper response to God’s Word to us that we and the world we live in are broken and in need of healing. These Lenten attempts to attend Mass more frequently, read our Bibles more carefully, to hear God speaking and listen more attentively are what follow naturally from taking seriously that God is among us and yearns to draw you and me into relationship with him, Lent is a time of growth in prayer, confession, meditation and healing in our relationships.

That also means taking chances and being risky. After all, that is what religion and living faith is all about. Having the courage to take God at his word, to dare to believe, to try and to make some kind of sense out of what we live through, I like the image of walking near the cliff edge of language which is dangerous and requires courage but can also afford the best view and possibly the best vision.

Dame Julian of Norwich, floret 1342:

As truly as God is our Father,
So just as truly is he our Mother.
In our Father, God Almighty, we have our being;
In our merciful Mother we are remade and restored.
Our fragmented lives are knit together.
And by giving and yielding ourselves, through grace,
To the Holy Spirit we are made whole.
It is I, the strength and goodness of Fatherhood.
It is I, the wisdom of Motherhood.
It is I, the light and grace of holy love.
It is I, the Trinity, it is I the Unity.
I am the Sovereign goodness in all things.
It is I who teach you to love.
It is I who teach you to desire.
It is I who am the reward of all true desiring.
All shall be well, and all shall be well,
And all manner of thing shall be well. Amen.

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