23rd Jan, 2005

The Third Sunday After the Epiphany

Septuagesima
8am Low Mass, 10.30am High Mass & Baptism of Annika Zhiyu Maile
Sermon preached by the Rector, Fr Ian Elliott Davies

Lections:
Isa 9:1-4 the people who walked in darkness
I Cor 1:10-18 the cross is folly, … it is power of God
St Matt 4:12-23 calling of St Peter, St Andrew, St James & St John

[grateful acknowledgment to Fr Alan Moses, Vicar of All Saints' Margaret Street, London, for his monthly article in the ASMS Parish Paper]

Most of us by this stage and time of January are starting to get tired of the toys that we were given at Christmas. That widescreen television doesn’t seem quite so novel and enthralling or even quite so ‘widescreen’ anymore, that year’s membership of the gym doesn’t seem quite so exciting- but please always remember that, just like puppies, a widescreen television is not just for Christmas- it’s FOR LIFE!

There’s a marvelous story by Margery Williams for children of all ages about a boy who got bored with his Christmas presents very easily. This little boy woke up on Christmas morning to find sticking out of the top of his Christmas stocking a fat, bunchy rabbit made of velvet, with a sprig of holly clasped between his little paws. Today, no doubt, children receive Sponge Bob Square Pants or the Teenage Mute and Injured Turtles (I honestly thought that they were called that rather than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!)

Well, anyway, to begin with the little boy was very pleased with his little velveteen rabbit until some more exciting toys came along- and thus the rabbit is abandoned ending up in a cupboard with a rocking horse who is very old and very battered and also very discarded.
The old rocking horse and the little velveteen rabbit have a conversation one evening and it goes like this:
rabbit asked:

What is REAL? Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?
‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the horse, ‘it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real.’
‘Does it hurt much?’ asked the rabbit
‘Sometimes,’ said the horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once like being wound up, or does it happen bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once’ he replied, ‘you BECOME. It takes a long time. Generally by the time you are real most of you hair has been loved off and your eyes drop off and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter because once you are real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand’.

Well what is REAL? or, more importantly, WHO is real? It’s a bit difficult to believe that those television ‘personalities’ are real, I mean for goodness sake, all that collagen and liposuction and botulism injected into your forehead can’t be good for you- and it certainly doesn’t make people any more REAL than they were before.

Now this is, of course, an age of celebrities not of heroes or saints. Today we cultivate ‘personality’ far more than we do character. ‘Values’ which we decide upon for ourselves have replaced objective ‘virtues.’

Until the beginning of the twentieth century the human self had been understood in terms of character, of virtue to be learned and practiced, of private desires to be denied. So the words most commonly used to describe this ‘character’ included citizenship, duty, hard work, building, good deeds, honour, reputation, morals, manners, responsibility, integrity. These virtues were all sustained by a belief in a higher moral law. But in our own age the words that came to describe ‘personality’ are fascinating, stunning, charming, attractive, magnetic, glowing, masterful, creative, dominant, forceful. You could be all those things without being good. I mean even Adolf Hitler can fulfill some of those.

The self-sacrifice of the older way of understanding the self made way for the self-realization of the new and a good many people seem to think that the Christian faith is about self-realization- or maybe self-actualization. Our moral culture used to elevate the hero and the heroine and the saint. Now commercial culture produces the television personality and the celebrity. As celebrities replace heroes and heroines so image replaces character and commercial value replaces moral value.

The Church however is at its basis radically egalitarian. The Church recognizes that we are all sinners and yet also tells the world over and over again that we are all, all human beings- are children of God and inheritors of God’s grace: that human beings should never, ever be subject to violence or war or famine and the Church teaches that we are all called to be saints. Now that’s a tall order!

[That is what Zhiyu's baptism affirms today- her place among the saints and angels, the broken and sinners, the redeemed and the loved-] the People of God. That is what Mother’s ordination to the Priesthood yesterday also affirmed that Christ calls some to bless and absolve and make holy in the name of Christ’s apostolic commission but calls all of us to be saints and to make that grace known in our deeds as well as in our words.

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