Sunday, April 30, 2017

Folding the Bishops

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Easter

Here we are. We few, we happy few, as William Shakespeare might say. The same is true all around the country: little congregations like ours meeting in little places. We're few in number. Could we be described as a flock?

If we're too small to be a flock, shouldn't we go out and join a bigger flock, one with a proper shepherd who actually has sheep to manage?

[PAUSE]

There are many who would dismiss us because of our small size and because we are not "mainstream". Given that the majority always rules, surely they are justified in their thinking. If our Church came into existence only in the 1970s,  that really can't be the same Church of the previous two millennia, can it?

How do we recognise the Church?

Look to the Chief Shepherd!

[PAUSE]

There can only be one Chief Shepherd, and He is good... very good at His job. He knows who His sheep are and they know who He is. That's crucial. In order to be part of the flock, the sheep have to know who the shepherd really is. It's nothing to do with whether the sheep recognise each other, they need to know Who the Good Shepherd is and follow Him.

This is how Jesus creates the one fold of sheep  from so many different folds. If they all follow Him, they will be led to the green pastures. Look out into the panorama of History and see these flocks coming together from every time and place to be with Him!

The Good Shepherd is not a hireling, for the hireling is a sell-out - only in it for himself and his agenda, be it selfish, or philosophical, or political. The reason that a hireling tends the sheep is worldly and not within the Gospel of Jesus.

[PAUSE]

Our bishops are the shepherds under Our Lord. Where they are, the Catholic Church is there and so is the Good Shepherd. Our bishops know that they will have to lay down their lives for their flock in imitation of the Chief Shepherd. This is how we know we are truly part of the Church - that we seek Christ, and only Christ as our Chief Shepherd and maintain our community around our Bishop that He has appointed for us.

The numbers really have nothing to do with it. We only need one - one Good Shepherd, one fold, one faith, one Baptism.  All Christians are united in Him,  whether they like it, or not!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

On Miracles and keeping one's clothes on

Living in Sheffield, the song "I believe in miracles" by Hot Chocolate has a certain interpretation by which many of the male population suddenly find a desire to disrobe, usually fuelled by plenty of alcohol. I've not seen the film in question, but gather that this is due to "The Full Monty" which is set in Sheffield and seems to affect the university students there!

However, the fact is, I do believe in Miracles. My Faith tells me that I must, from the testimony of eye-witnesses, believe in the potential for my scientific understanding of the Universe to be challenged by the One Who Is beyond Creation.

I believe with my whole heart that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again in order to reconcile a fallen Humanity to God.

In some sense, I have just laid myself bare in that I have revealed the simple truth about my belief. Yet it is more than that. I believe that miracles can and still happen. I have prayed for a miracle many times now, and I always seem to get one, though never the one I was expecting. Indeed, these days I believe that my expectations will always be challenged as much as my science. God is the God of surprises, and it is actually very liberating.

I look round and I see Church numbers declining, heresies and abominations entering the Church, perversions of sacraments, and I am tempted to see the death of the Church. But that's not what I pray for.

I have prayed for the health of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of which I am a member and seek to serve, participating in the Priesthood of Christ. I believe that my prayers are going to be answered, not because of my holiness because I am not as holy as I should be, but solely through the Grace of God Himself. He hears my prayers because He is good, and I believe that.

People call me naive and idealistic, but are we not told to approach the Kingdom of God as a little child? So I dare to believe, and fully expect the Church to grow, to pass through this time of turbulence into yet another time of turbulence greater and holier than before. I do not believe that the Church is dying. This is a time of test and purification. If we hold fast to Christ and allow Him to purify us as individuals as well as a believing community, then we will see even greater things than these.

In being naked before God, we leave behind even our rationality and find only one of the Three That Remain - Hope! Let us pray and believe that our prayer will be answered - because it will! God has been so good to me and my lovely little family!

I do have hope for the Church-to-come even when I see Liberal Theology destroying people's faith. I will recognise the Church of the Future, but the miracle will not be what I am expecting - it will be even better than that and that's the naked truth! 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Checks and Balances of being Anglican

As I've said before,  I am not an Anglican. However, I am Anglican. Linguists will notice the difference immediately, but I hope everyone sees how I now regard myself after six years of being outside the CofE, and nearly six years of being in the Anglican Catholic Church.
The distinction is subtle and, perhaps, one of the causes as to why people-who-are-Anglican and Anglicans often talk past each other.
My detractors will say, "how on Earth can this fool dare to call himself Anglican?"
They have a point. I don't subscribe to the doctrine inherent in the Book of Common Prayer, I see the XXXIX Articles as something of an irrelevance, I hold to Transubstantiation, and see Archbishop Cranmer as just plain wrong. (Yes, I know that technically makes me regard Cranmer as heretical, but he is my very best favourite heretic!) In fact, I do not use the Book of Common Prayer at all. I say my Offices from the Monastic Breviary, and the Mass from the English Missal. Just how can I even use "Anglican" as an adjective, let alone a noun?
One of the big concessions that I made in moving from the CofE to the ACC was dropping Latin. While I was in the CofE, I was reacting, at first ignorantly, against the Liberal Agenda,  and bounced too far into Ultramontane Anglican Papalism. I used Latin more in my private devotions. I could still use Latin, like Fr Anthony in the Sarum Rite, but one of the things that I have found important for the sake of commonality is the use of English.
Further, my Breviary and Missal are conformed not only to English, but to the English translation in the BCP. Indeed, this consonance with the BCP is, in my view, the genius of what Cranmer really did in compiling the BCP, and what makes the idea of Anglican clear as an adjective and as a potentially unifying concept.
It may not seem it, but the ACC is actually a broad Church with the BCP at the heart of its liturgy, but with the Primitive Church as the Doctrinal Authority. This allows for checks and balances to be made and thus prevent priests from going too far and turning personal foibles into full blown heresies.
Even if it isn't used explicitly, there is a true Commonality in the BCP that does actually bind us. I am so heartened by the joint Synods of Continuing Anglican jurisdictions being held this Autumn. We can come together because the things we value can all be found within the BCP. We free ourselves from individual personalities and back onto an ideology which unites us. This was something that we lost when some Bishops in the ACC tried to expunge the whole notion of Anglicanism and left Continuing Anglicanism in the 1990s.
The Roman Catholic Church has its ideology and thus its notion of regularity bound up with the Holy Father and the Magisterium which has developed around him. The various Orthodox Churches have their ideology coloured by their indigenous culture. This is why the ACC, and indeed certain other Catholic bodies in the UK, have a good claim to be part of the English Orthodox Church. We have a history which shows how far we can go before losing our identity and ideology as Catholics and the BCP comes out of that history but does not wholly define it.
Our historical notion of Anglicanism as an adjective allows us to know where we are by looking at the presence of Christ in our history and seeing Him at work, preventing us from becoming Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox or Russia Orthodox, when we are not.
In our history,  we have the faith delivered in the first centuries by those using Roman trade routes. We were then reminded that, though we are an island, our faith is not at the Synod of Whitby and then with the Germanic and French conquests which brought us in line with the Western Patriarchy but never so much as to take the Papacy with the gravity of the Continent. At the Reformation, we not only finally shrugged off a Papacy which had accrued too much political power, but also refused to take on board fully the innovations of the Continental Reformers, while preserving a Catholic element from which would eventually spring the Caroline Divines, the High Churchmen, and the Tractarians.
At each stage, the history of Anglicanism prevents us from deviating from the first Millennium and the Catholic Faith therein while connecting with the people of the day.
The BCP is an expression of our ideology, but not the centre of Anglican Catholic ideology. This way we don't wake up Calvinist one morning and Glagolitic the next. There is liturgical stability built into the BCP which still allows some flexibility, but not enough to change things so radically as to be unrecognisable and thus inconsistent with our historic selves.
But is this identity important? Aren't we told to decrease so that Christ may increase? Of course we should. Our lives as individuals and as Churches are in full submission to His Authority. Yet our call is to reach out to those outside the Church and bring them God's grace in a way they can understand. The identity of an indigenous people is bound up in their history, and thus the way we preach the Gospel and dispense the grace God gives us all must be consonant with that history for their benefit.
You can be sure that if you step into any ACC parish, you will know where you are in the liturgy. You will hear the same prayers made and the same praises offered. You might hear the Te Deum sung at a BCP Mattins, or at a Benedictine recitation of the Office of Readings. Either way, it will still begin, "We praise Thee, O Lord." Thus you can be comforted that whatever liturgy is being used, it is being directed to the same God by Anglicans and people-who-are-Anglican around the world. Our liturgy does not chop and change every week, nor from parish to parish. That way Anglican Catholics are indeed visibly united in our Church lives,  and united with so many other Continuing Anglicans too. Long may this Commonality continue in the love of Christ and bring us together in Him. May God richly bless the Synods this October and all who are involved that we are all together one in Him. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

New Church? New Page!

I would just like to draw my readers' attention to a new page in which I make an attempt to say why I find Liberal Theology deeply problematic as a Christian Theology. Indeed, I cannot in my heart of hearts regard it as being a Christian Theology.

As I point out, I am not against Liberal Theologians just the Theology they hold which seems to be a mishmash of Gnosticism with some alarming tendencies towards Arianism. Sinners we all are: heretics we need not be!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Paschal Feast 2017


The trouble is that our eyes cannot see the true glory of the Resurrection. It is as if the Sun has risen, not just on one day, but on the whole of History. It is a Sunrise from Eternity that cuts across the ages casting a shadow of the Cross on all human activity. It is this aspect that allows us to consider each and every Mass as part of the same, one, perfect oblation for the remission of our sins. We are looking in a direction perpendicular to the passage of Time as we know it. This truly is the Dawn from on High that has broken upon us.

We must remember that Our Lord's life is indivisible. We can never separate Bethlehem, Galilee, Jerusalem, Calvary, and the Empty tomb. Each of these are part of the sunrise, dispelling darkness and allowing us to open sleepy eyes to behold the reality that lies beyond reality summed up in that tiny phrase "The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us."

This is the true Victory over darkness. All the subterfuge of the Devil and his minions is exposed in the light of God's Sunrise from Eternity. It has nowhere to hide, and though shadows are cast, the nature of what is casting those shadows becomes utterly obvious to those who use the sunrise to see the Eternal Truth. Let those who question the nature of this light disperse in their unbelief. If they cannot believe in Eternity with some conviction but remain with their eyes firmly fixed upon the secular, then they are the ones who will miss gazing upon things that transcend the pressing problems of a fleeting age.

As we stand gazing up at the sunrise and see the Risen Lord radiating the warmth for our souls from His person, we say "This is the Day that the Lord has made! We will rejoice and be glad in it!"

The Day of Resurrection 2017


Hasn't Mary every reason to be weeping? The events of Friday followed by a day of enforced isolation ruminating on those very events have left her emotionally exhausted, and now, she stares into an empty tomb. All she wants to do is to show that poor discarded body some little tenderness that it was denied. She has the spices ready, some oil and perfume, just little things to make an insignificant difference in the scheme of things. No one may care, but she cares - she will always care. Yet, even that has been denied her. She can't even do that as they have taken Him away. She has found Peter and John and told them the terrible news, but she comes back. Now there she sits in the half-light of dawn without any further purpose, completely redundant.

"Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?"

[PAUSE]

What can she say? The world is falling apart around her. Things just don't make sense. All she thought was true has proved false. All that she has ever loved has been taken away. All that she had ever hoped for has been crushed like a butterfly beneath the jackboot of the Establishment's hatred of being proved foolish. All her self-worth has gone. All her purpose has gone. All that she loved has gone. She has nothing. Was she better off when she was tormented by those seven devils? What fresh torment is this?

Is there hope left?

"Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away."

Yes, if it comes to it, she will pick up that body herself, carry it away herself, spend all that she has to buy a tomb herself, and bury Him herself. That's something, some way to take back control of the situation, some way to tell the world that there is love somewhere within its dark sphere. It may be silly and impossible, but it is something to give Him the honour that He deserved, and something on which she can build her life, or possibly end it.

So much love! All she wants to do is give it.

"Mary." Oh!

And suddenly, realisation! Love never went away. It's always here. He's always here.

"Rabboni!"





Saturday, April 15, 2017

Paschal Vigil 2017


It is as if the ringing in the ears has finally stopped, replaced by a strange silence as if after suffering some terrible delirium. The dark dreams still haunt the waking soul. There are still those images fixed in the mind, His body stripped naked, His hands gushing forth blood as the nails push through His flesh, the hoisting up in the air, and then those terrible, terrible cries that issue forth from His mouth - cries that seem to subvert the desolation of a condemned criminal, but rather command nature itself. Then, death and darkness - the Earth shudders as life is wrenched from God's body.

All this seems unreal, just a dream, and yet it happened. The crowds at the cross will testify to that. The following day has been spent trying to process it. In the stillness of the Sabbath, coming to terms with Jesus death is proving far from still. The images flash through the mind, yet cling to it as if trapped in amber. Every where the mind turns, it is met with the head crowned with thorns lolling lifelessly, eyes still staring out into the world. This cannot be forgotten. The body has been taken down hastily, a tomb provided by a good, kind man, but the body is not prepared for burial. It lies in the tomb as if it were unloved, unwanted - a bit of an inconvenience. Yet this is not the case for He is still loved with such a passion by weak and silly souls who could not cope with an end like this. In the cool of the morning, with sleep staying out of reach as if the soul repels it, it is time to address the wrong. It is time to show Him that He is loved.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday 2017: Forsaken?



High on the cross, the cry goes out: "Eli! Eli! Lama sabachthani!" which is "My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?"

Then, to look upon the one who cries out these words we see a man, naked, bruised, bloodied, in agony, struggling with every single breath. We see the crowd around this man, laughing, waggling their heads and uttering terrible insults. They cannot hear the cry of the man, all they hear is a possible cry to Elijah. The man has no friends, save possibly some distant onlookers. His crime written above on the cross says that this is "Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews". 

Just look at Him. Truly God has forsaken Him, hasn't He?

If we suspend the benefit of our hindsight, then we might be tempted to say that, yes, this Jesus is an utter failure and he has only just realised it. All those wonders, all that teaching, all that getting up the noses of the powers-that-be and showing them up for the hypocrites that they are, all has failed. And here the man, this most foolish man, dangles on the cross in his blasphemy realising that He has been forsaken by the very God whose Son He claimed to be.

God has forsaken Him, hasn't He?

What of His disciples, standing aloof, watching from their hiding places if they dare. What of St John and Our Lady, standing in the crowd of people jeering, trusting that their desolation would protect them from further repercussions from a crowd whipped up by the effrontery that the chief priests have suffered from this man?  What of the hopes that they had at the miracles? What of the strength of his words? What of the way to salvation that He promised? Where is it? Their hopes and strength are nailed to the cross with Him? Was He really a man of God?

God has forsaken Him, hasn't He?

And yet...

Let's reason this through. 

Suppose that this man is indeed God Incarnate. Let us suppose that He is what He says He is, that He is human and divine. If He is right, then He cannot be forsaken by God. That would be an impossibility. So let us go back a little further. 

Why was He baptised by John? He didn't need to be, yet He did so to identify Himself with us. 

Why did He perform miracles? He didn't need to, and indeed He hid away from them. He did them for our benefit. 

Why did He weep when Lazarus died? He didn't need to as He was about to raise the dead. He did so to identify Himself with our grief.

At every stage in His life with us, Jesus has stood with us and taken up our course. He takes things on our behalf, cries out on our behalf, and dies on our behalf. 

This cry of "Eli! Eli!" is not a statement of His being forsaken. It is His identification with that psalmist, and for all human beings who, in the pit of their most miserable agony, in the depths of their depravity, degradation and depersonalisation, look up for God and cannot see Him, and cry out with their own "Eli! Eli!" 

God has heard the prayer of a fallen humanity and, in repeating it loudly upon the Cross in the depths of His agony, answers it.

This is not the cry of the forsaken. This is a statement that we never need feel forsaken again.

This is God's "yes" to us in His tears at our own misery. After "Eli! Eli!" must come that great, that wonderful "Tetelestai!" before the agony is replaced by a numb silence.