Sunday, 26 August 2012

Trinity 12 Collect sermon 26th August 2012

I want this morning to savour the collect for the 12th Sunday after Trinity so you may find it helpful to look back at the text of it.

It’s dated, like most of our liturgical prayers, before the 7th century so it’s been said or sung in this Church throughout its history. At the Reformation Archbishop Cranmer retained the traditional prayers seeing them as a key element of the continuity of the Church, as was the case in the more extreme Lutheran Reformation. The result is Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Lutherans pray today with the same words Sunday by Sunday. Following their Latin originals the Collects have a flow suitable to their being sung as well as being said.

At St Giles our current selection from Common Worship employs all three traditional liturgical prayers: the Prayer Book Collect and the prayer over the gifts and postcommunion prayer we supplement from the new Roman Catholic translation of their Latin originals.

Like the prayer over the gifts and postcommunion prayers the collects are pretty meaty and run counter to the soundbite culture of 140 character tweets. We need patience to gain from their depth and meaning. That’s why we’re encouraged to take our news sheet home to reflect further on their beauty and challenge as well as that of the Sunday scripture readings.

The Collect is always on the front page of our news sheet. It’s used, at all services during the week, at daily Morning and Evening Prayer and midweek eucharists, unless there’s a Saint’s Day with collect provided. The Collect is preceded by the invitation ‘let us pray’ and a brief silence beforehand so it can truly ‘collect’ our individual prayer aspirations

I’ve said before, to worship here is to stand like dwarves on the giant shoulders of Christian tradition. This tradition is allied to the Holy Spirit only as we own it, and enter into its depths, otherwise it can be emply ritual that goes over our heads. This is why I’m giving a wake up call in specifically speaking to the collect today. I’ve got to admit a certain self-interest however. The different scripture readings in use at 8am and 10am on the last Sunday of the month - Prayer Book Sunday - were a motivator! I’m able to prepare one sermon instead of two!

So let’s read again the Collect for Trinity 12.

Almighty and everlasting God, (who art/you are) always more ready to hear than we to pray and (art wont) to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of (thy/your) mercy, forgiving us those things (whereof/of which) our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ (thy/your) Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

The original Latin opening runs: Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui abundantia pietatis tuae: et merita supplicum excedis et vota which is literally translated: Almighty everliving God, who in the abundance of your kindness, surpass the merits and desires of those who entreat you.(RC 27th Sunday). Or, as in Cranmer, art always more ready to hear than we to pray and (art wont) to give more than either we desire or deserve:

The structure of collects is generally fivefold – first addressing God, second describing God in a way that relates to the forthcoming request, third making the request, fourth in some prayers, though not here, the expected result of the request and fifth the Christian conclusion or doxology. The collect structure is as such a very good guide to making our own individual prayers so they are our teachers.

Trinity 12’s collect addresses God as exceedingly generous: always more ready to hear than we to pray and (art wont) to give more than either we desire or deserve:

That’s a wondrous thought - we could spend the whole week reflecting upon it. The kindness and solicitousness of the best parent or friend is but pale reflection of God’s concern for our good.

After this great affirmation the collect continues with a big ask. Pour down upon us the abundance of (thy/your) mercy, forgiving us those things (whereof/of which) our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask

As Christians we either under or overestimate the miracle of forgiveness.

Some of us, maybe out of knowledge of psychology, minimize our evil traits as being not altogether our own fault. We’re not as struck by the miracle of forgiveness as we should be since we’ve been taught, wrongly, to doubt we need it.

Others are so aware of their accountability they find it hard to ask for forgiveness and end up wallowing in wounded pride, whilst looking a gift horse in the face.

Yet – and this is the miracle - through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our sins, once confessed, are no longer our business before God, save the little business of making restitution to one’s neighbour where that’s necessary.

This miracle of forgiveness links with the resurrection itself.

The One who rose from the dead brought a new beginning that serves new beginnings, day by day, hour by hour, for those who bring him their shortcomings.

It’s no coincidence that collects end with praise to the Trinity starting with a resurrection affirmation Jesus Christ (thy/your) Son our Lord, who is alive and reign(eth)s with (thee/you), in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

I conclude with a quotation from Bishop Wand’s commentary on the end of the Trinity 12 Collect:

If we are conscious of needs that have not been met, there is every reason why we should bring them before God. Certainly we cannot plead our own deserts, but we can plead the merits and mediation of Christ.

Christ, the all-perfect Saviour, takes us by the hand and leads us up the altar-stairs to the great throne of God. God sees us thus in the company of his Son, and seeing there the promise of what we shall be he adopts us not only for his Son’s sake but also for our own. Then he showers his richest blessings on his adopted children.

So be it – Amen!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Salvation - Gift, Promise, Choice John 6 Trinity 11 19th August 2012

Has anyone ever asked you if you were saved? How would you answer?

This morning's Gospel has a lot to say about salvation and what it is to be saved. These last few weeks we’ve been reading through the 6th Chapter of St. John's Gospel, a chapter that ends with Peter's famous summary: Lord, to whom shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.

Salvation, eternal life, is a gift, a promise and a choice - three headings gathering up the teaching of St. John Chapter 6 - so we'll take them one by one!

1. The Gift

Looking over the whole Chapter we see a tremendous emphasis on the wonder and mystery of the gift of Jesus.

The chapter starts with a tale of miraculous feeding. Five thousand are fed - an image of overflowing, wondrous grace.

Then Jesus begins to make many points about this sign, bringing out not just the meaning of that lunch in Tiberias but the ultimate meaning of all things - and how we can enter into that.

The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world he says in the passage we read two weeks ago, v33.

The multiplication of the loaves represents the abundance of life-giving grace that has come to the earth.

Who is the bread of God? He answers, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever. v51.

What a gift! To live for ever! Always we are longing, we human beings. We long for security, for love, for identity, for purpose and reason for life - and here it is, all of that for which we long, offered at last - through the great mystery of Jesus, God come to earth, lifting earthbound beings to live with him for ever!

To be saved is to welcome the gift of Jesus, the Bread of Heaven. The passage on the Heavenly Bread interprets and brings out the full meaning of the gift we welcome in this service week by week.

Can there be a passage in the Bible which speaks more strongly about the need to participate in the Eucharist than verse 53 of St. John Chapter 6 just read to us: Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

Salvation is about welcoming Jesus - and what he has done by the separating of his body and blood in sacrifice. It is a gift given for us in the coming to earth, dying and rising of Jesus. You can't be saved, says Jesus, by contemplating your navel, by the vague religiosity of crystals and New Age, or even by our efforts for justice and peace, admirable as they are - but by welcoming the gift of Christ into our souls

Salvation is presented there as a gift - and also, secondly as a promise.

2. The Promise

You have the words of eternal life says Peter at the end of the chapter. He is confirming his understanding of the earlier teaching where Jesus makes it clear that when we welcome him we also inherit a promise,the promise of eternal life: Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life

When someone asks you if you are saved they are really touching on whether you feel sure that your life will not be lost when you die.

Are you sure? Do you know that you have eternal life?

I remember someone rather surprisingly asking a holy and thoughtful priest whether he believed in God. There was a long pause. Finally the wise old man replied - I'm not sure, but I'm sure of this - that God believes in me. Those humble, thoughtful words back away from arrogant certainty and they reach powerfully into our spirits.

We may lack belief but that doesn't stop God believing in us. We may be unworthy of salvation - but that does not stop God promising it! If I know I am saved it is because God has promised it to believers and I believe God - I trust God to keep his word to me - the key is knowing the promise.

Evangelism is about spreading good news, which means letting people know about the gift and the promises of God so that they can choose for themselves to believe - which brings us onto the last heading.

3. The Choice

At the end of this sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel we read in v60 that many of the followers of Jesus said, "This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it? And they choose to leave Jesus. He then says to the Twelve later in the passage: What about you, do you want to go away too?

When we contemplate the mystery of Christ we should be profoundly moved, awed by the generosity of God in sending his Son to save us and then giving us the choice of whether we accept him or not.

This is awesome - for us to be given a choice. Awesome, but also perilous for us to be so honoured with freedom to choose in a matter affecting our eternal welfare.

There is a further mystery of how God himself seems to make a hidden choice of those who do respond positively to him, so that our choice of God is almost pre-empted by his choice of us.

What a wonder and a mystery - the choices of God! We are saved by choice not by chance. No one has a right to heaven. You may think you're as good as the next person - but what does that matter when we are talking about having eternal life with God? Who are we, so full of deceit and inadequacy, made of the dust of the earth, full of frailty, to be worthy of God in his holiness?

Only by God's gift and his promise - and our choice of him.

Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

To whom can we go? There is one giver of salvation who gives us today his flesh and blood as life to our spirit!

You have the words of eternal life You, Jesus, Bread of Life, promise us through our communion with you a quality of life that is in its nature unending.

And we believe Given such a gift and such a promise the choice is ours, to live not by chance but by a definite choice, a choice for Jesus our Saviour, to whom be glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.