28 November 2021

Sermon: Advent Sunday

 Sermon: Advent Sunday

28 November 2021 – Archdeacon Mark Long

Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, and Luke 21:25-36; NRSV

Welcome to Advent Sunday, always a multifaceted celebration at St Andrew’s: today we welcome in our new Liturgical year, which will be felt most perhaps in a shift from a focus on Mark’s Gospel to that of Luke; we begin our four week journey of expectation and hope towards the coming of Christ, which we will celebrate at Christmas; and we celebrate our patron Saint, St Andrew, with a seemly more mundane focus on our financial commitments to the life of the Parish in the coming year. 

We meet in a particular context today, for me most clearly marked by the advent of a new COVID-19 variant that again has our world running scared while our scientists race to discern its potential impact on our health while governments around the world secure their borders once more and we await possible additional curbs to our own freedoms in South Africa. Our growing complacency over the past few months towards the virus, along with our hopes for a return to greater freedom of association and what we mostly still define as ‘normal’, is suddenly under threat once again. I recognise in my own personal response to this a heightened emotional and physical reactivity that says ‘I can’t anymore’, yet an awareness on the edge of that response which says, ‘In God I can and I will.’ I am deeply thankful in times like this for the gift of faith and a sustaining relationship with God, and for all those who have helped nurture this gift within me over the years. 

As we acknowledge a difficult context that will hold varied experiences for us all, we need to be asking , ‘Where is God in all of this?’ As I have said before, this is not to suggest we have lost God in all of this, or that God is missing in action, but it is rather a question of awareness, a question designed to wake us up to what God is asking of us in this moment. For Elijah, having faced down the prophets of Baal, in Elijah’s exhaustion God was not in the fire and thunder, not in the noise, but in the silence; and it took Elijah some time to awaken to this awareness.[1] We have today’s Scripture readings that may prove helpful, or there may be other more mundane aspects of our lives, of our relationships, which God needs us to explore in asking this question. 

In the Jeremiah reading this morning we are reminded that God has made promises that contain hope, that the Advent journey is about embracing these promises and celebrating their outcome, specifically that in Jesus there is justice and righteousness, in Jesus there is salvation and safety. We are reminded these outcomes exist and are a reality, and that we as people of God are called to look them out, hold them up, and implement them in our lives and communities. Like Elijah, we may find that a tough ask, but we will be sustained and fed by angels in the desert of our experience, and we will hear the voice of God again in the occasional silences of our lives calling us back into the fray.[2] 

In today’s Gospel reading we are reminded that the events that seemingly overwhelm us, even terrify us, are just signs … they are not to be feared. They point to something greater, the imminence of God in our world. Jesus reminds his disciples that as daunting as the signs of the times can be, we have the ability to interpret them, the ability to awaken to what God is doing, and the strength and resilience to be party to the implementation of God’s reign in our lives and our world, and in the enormity of Creation itself. Jesus uses the simplest of examples: when we see a tree budding new leaves we all know Summer is coming; the coming of God into our world is no more difficult to see and the signs no more difficult to interpret than this. However, we do need to be awake and that is often our obstacle. To ask the question, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ is our wake up call, and Luke’s Gospel will affirm over and over again in the next few weeks of our Advent journey that we have the resources within our relationship with God, within ourselves, to respond. 

There are three words, highlighted for me during a Bible Study interaction at our Diocesan Synod this last week: hope, authenticity, and generosity. These words speak to me of what it is to be Church, to be God’s people, in our time.  They are a call to counter-cultural living, and they are definitive of what it is to be a person of faith, and what it is to be a community of faith; and they are words easily applied to the life and ministry of Jesus. People in the Gospels are drawn to Jesus precisely because they saw these principles of relationship alive in him. I am drawn to Jesus because these principles visible in his life and ministry inspire me, stretch me, and keep me coming back for more; keep me wanting more of Jesus, of God, in my life; they keep me connected, keep me inspired, keep me serving. 

Expectation and hope are key aspects of the Advent journey we embark on again today. However, expectation and hope – hope especially – only come alive when they are lived with authenticity and generosity; and these are practised in the mundane aspects of daily life and commitment. Some of you may be guessing where I am going with this … and you may be right! As we also celebrate being St Andrew’s today, and the 126th anniversary of becoming a Parish in our own right, how are we as a Christian community demonstrating our hope, our authenticity, our generosity? I am suggesting that this may be in taking a few minutes to fill in the online financial commitment form for 2022, which in all honesty really does seem rather mundane, but it is a starting point: it speaks to our authentic desire to see this Church thrive despite the challenges of the times, and our generosity in helping Parish Council base a budget on specific financial commitments for next year helps put in place a foundation from which we can be about the work of God in our community and beyond, and to go about it with hope, and to do so authentically, and to be generous in ways far beyond just money. I am not in anyway wanting to say we are not hopeful, authentic and generous, because our history is testimony that we are all of this and more. However, we are in unprecedented times and our stability as a community is in ensuring we do the small things well in order that we can do the big things with confidence. We have seen some big dips in giving over the past two years, and I appreciate that Covid-19 has made life for many of us a whole lot more difficult, and remain deeply thankful for the generosity and faithfulness of many at St Andrew’s that has enabled ministry to continue confidently despite a pandemic that has ravaged our National economy and left many people’s lives devastated in its wake. 

And so holding all the above, I do wish us all a blessed Advent journey here at St Andrew’s as we embrace again the Christian hope of the Coming of Christ. In closing I leave you with a quote by Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), who summarised the theology of the Advent season as the three comings of Christ, past, present, and future. He says, “In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and our consolation.”[3] My sincere prayer for us all is that we we find rest and consolation in the weeks ahead. 

I close with a prayer of blessing for our financial commitments and our St Andrew’s day collect. Let us pray, 

Dear Lord, 

we thank you for your continual blessing of our finances in this Parish, 
for the generosity of our people, 
and your ongoing provision of us 
in these difficult and trying economic times. 

May you bless the commitments we have made 
towards the financial health of the Parish in 2022, 
to enable ministry and mission 
to ourselves and to our world. 

Amen 

Lord God,

by your grace the Apostle Saint Andrew
obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ
and followed him without delay:
grant that we may offer ourselves to you
in joyful obedience;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen[4]



[1] 1 Kings 19:1-18; NRSV
[2] Ibid.
[3] The Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Lectionary: Advent 2020- December 2021, Year B, page 71
[4] The Anglican Church of Southern Africa, An Anglican Prayerbook Book 1989, page 315

21 November 2021

Sermon: Christ the King

Sermon: Christ the King

St Saviour's, Claremont | Licensing of Layministers

21 November 2021 – Archdeacon Mark Long

2 Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 132, Revelation 1:4b-8, and John 18:33-37; NRSV

I am here today on behalf of the Bishop of Table Bay, Bishop Joshua Louw, to license new Layministers of this Parish, and as Archdeacon to admit them to their Office; and today marks the beginning of a new journey in faith for them, but also for you all as a Parish community. Licensed lay ministry is specific to the liturgical and pastoral needs of the Parish, and those called into this service are nominated by the Rector and Parish Council who attest to their faithfulness, integrity and knowledge. Your Layministers are, therefore, women and men whom you can trust. We are all called through Baptism to share in the ministry of Christ and in Christ’s mission to the world; and it is within this broader call that your Layministers are licensed with the Church’s authority to engage with specific responsibilities in the areas of worship and care. 

There are a number of key words that I have used: faithfulness, integrity, knowledge; service, authority, responsibility. These are all words that speak into the nature of leadership, specific today in the context of your faith community, but relevant, too, to our broader social context. The challenge for those of you who are being licensed today is to hold these words, to give them content and context for the ministry and mission of Christ here at St Saviour’s, remembering always that our mission as God’s people lies beyond the walls of this building: it is resident in our families, our social networks, our workspaces, and the broader world in which we live. 

As God’s people seeking to live out the ministry and mission of Christ we are called to live differently, specifically we are called to live in opposition to generally accepted social norms particularly when it comes to the use of power. The reality of this call is initially formed in us through our worship and pastoral care, which makes the role you as Layministers will play alongside your Rector in these areas of responsibility so crucial. But what is power? In essence it is the ability to act, a human ability we all have. The important question is are we using this ability creatively or destructively? Are our actions life-giving or life-threatening? And how is power being used both in our community of faith and also in the political and economic structures we participate in daily? How are we learning to use power justly in our times of worship together and in our pastoral care of one another? How is this learning translating into our mission to the world, in ensuring power is used justly in our social, political, and economic environment? And where power is misused or abused, what is our responsibility as God’s people? The answers to these questions are what we grapple with as we engage in liturgy, with Scripture, as we immerse ourselves in the Sacraments, and gather for fellowship. We live out these answers as we reach out to one another and the world with caring and love. And this is why it is so important that those who are licensed to serve with the Church’s authority in these areas of responsibility are people of faithfulness, integrity, and knowledge. 

If power is to be used justly, what is justice? In today’s reading from John’s Gospel Jesus speaks about justice in terms of truth: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”[1] The context in which Jesus makes this comment is important: the powerful is questioning the powerless, and Pilate’s seemingly innocent question to Jesus is, “So you are a king?”[2] There is nothing innocent about Pilate’s question, he is purposefully needling Jesus; and while I suspect we are tempted to see Jesus responding here with divine authority, actually Jesus is just responding “… with honesty based on his experience as a marginalized individual.”[3] Jesus’ response, “You say that I am a king”[4] and his subsequent focus on truth serves to highlight Pilate’s prejudice, and (that Pilate is playing along with the lies and corruption of his constituents[5] who in this case are the Jewish leadership who have chosen to collaborate with the oppressor of the day, Rome, and have handed Jesus over because everything that he is highlights their betrayal of justice, their betrayal of truth; and they would rather have Jesus crucified than face the truth of their choices. This is a hugely intriguing interaction because Jesus does not exert his divine authority in order to counter the powerplay by Pilate but manages to hold his ground and use the interaction to point to the source of divine authority, to the source of justice: to truth; and we see this in his comment that his “… kingdom is not from this world. … is not from here.”[6] Jesus is not providing a geography lesson here, but rather a lesson in values: “Jesus is saying that the values of his kingdom are different from those of the current system”[7] that has him up on trial for his life. Jesus’ kingdom is not about control, is not about exerting the power of kingship from a worldly or secular perspective; it is about service, it is about entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and not on a warhorse, it is about getting down on his knees and washing the feet of those who follow him. Jesus refuses here to play Pilate’s game; if he had Pilate may have set him free instead of Barabbas. What we see here is justice in action, which is not about evading the consequences of injustice, but showing injustice up for what it is. The Jewish leadership in collaboration with Rome, Pilate as the agent of Rome, were all seeking to misuse their power to remove Jesus’ agency, which in essence is what the powerful do all the time. It is the nature of Empire to remove the agency of those conquered, to demand assimilation into the new order, and to crush anyone who seeks to question that order. Jesus amazingly maintains his agency although he will lose his life; in pointing to the truth he ensures that in resurrection justice will ultimately triumph. 

My challenge to those of you being licensed today is to explore, together with your Rector, what agency looks like in the context of Worship and Pastoral Care at St Saviour’s, and to be courageous in creating spaces that allow people to discover their power, to use that power justly; to care for people in such a way that the truth of their agency and humanity is not diminished, but increased. Begin by exploring what this means for you as individuals and as the liturgical and pastoral team here at St Saviour’s, what it is to wash one another’s feet. Be cautious of exercising your authority in any manner that may diminish people’s humanity or limit God’s power to act in and through you and in and through others, but avoid false modesty. Embrace your fear, and be the example to others that God is calling you to be, and which the Church affirms through the licenses you receive today. 

Hold close the following words by Marianne Williamson (incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela), 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
 
We ask ourselves: 

          Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? 

 Actually, who are you not to be?
 
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people
won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
 
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
 
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.[8]

In closing, a prayer by Irish Theologian and Poet, Pádraig Ó Tuama:

Let us pray, 

Uncovered Jesus,
You washed
the feet of your friends
with your hands.
We do not know what to do
with this kind of love
or this kind of power
so we repeat it once a year.
May we repeat it more often:
every month; every day; every hour; every encounter.
Because this is how you chose to show
love and power
to your friends.
Amen.[9]


[1] John 18:37b; NRSV
[2] John 18:37a;NRSV
[4] John 18:37a; NRSV
[5] Samuel Cruz, Ibid.
[6] John 18:36; NRSV
[7] Samuel Cruz, Ibid.
[8] Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles
[9] Pádraig Ó Tuama, Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community.

14 November 2021

Sermon: Remembrance Sunday

Sermon: 25th Sunday after Pentecost

14 November 2021 – Archdeacon Mark Long

Remembrance Sunday

Daniel 12:1-3, Psalm 16, and Mark 13:1-8; NRSV

As you may be aware, today is Remembrance Sunday. At the end of my sermon we will have an opportunity to remember before God all who have died in war, reflect in silence, and listen again to the Last Post. As we begin this time together, though, let us pray, 

Grant, O Lord, for the sake of those whose lives were lost in war, and for the sake of generations to come, that the nations of the world may learn your way of peace; and that all people may have a chance to enjoy the life you have given them, free from war, tyranny and oppression. Amen 

Human conflict is nothing new, and while the roots of Remembrance Sunday lie in the First and Second World Wars of the last century, militarised conflict remains a very real experience on this continent and in other parts of the world; and despite the devastating casualties of those two wars, violent conflict remains an ongoing source of destruction, and sadly violence is all too often humanity’s go-to option as a means of resolving ethnic, gender, political, and even theological divides. We don’t have to look far – and certainly not as far as the international stage – because we experience these conflicts in our homes, congregations, and communities: they are an ongoing source of anguish in our world.[1] The Covid-19 pandemic, gender-based violence, gangsterism, corruption, patriarchy, and the residual impact of Colonialism visible in institutionalised racism, and the general breakdown of relationships are the overwhelming factors as we struggle for social and emotional health, as we seek to deal with death, disease, and disillusionment in our own context and time. In this broad area of need a key question for us as people of faith is how do we practice hospitality in the face of hostility?[2] 

Today’s Scripture readings, ancient as they are, also grapple with similar issues of disillusionment. The book of Daniel was most likely written after the death of Alexander the Great, during the struggle for power over his kingdom between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, more specifically around the persecution of the Jews in Judah in 167 BCE that precipitated the Jewish revolt described in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.[3] This persecution is described in today’s reading as “… a time of anguish greater than any since nations first came into existence.”[4] At such a time, as you and I experience all too often in our own time and context, God’s justice appears to be absent in the course of human history. In our seeking to understand this from a faith perspective we, like Daniel, find a theological solution in resurrection and an afterlife judgement,[5] and this is evident in the reading from Daniel this morning: “Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace.”[6] We are tempted to think that the substantial and overwhelming wrongs of community life can only be rectified outside of human history.[7] Today’s Psalm, however, reminds us that God remains active even in times when we find ourselves deeply disillusioned and in great anguish: “For you will not abandon me to the grave, … you will show me the path of life.”[8] The Psalmist calls us to take refuge in God, to trust God, even when justice is absent and the brokenness of our world seeks to overwhelm us. 

Today’s Gospel also grapples with the impact of disaster on our human experience, speaking of nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes and famine.[9] Commentators are unsure as to whether this passage anticipates the Jewish-Roman War of 66-70 CE that saw the destruction of the Temple to which Jesus refers,[10] or if this passage responds to it, but certainly that event would be experienced as an end by those who watched it unfold.[11] While the book of Daniel takes refuge in a theology of justice being administered outside of human history, Jesus instead says to his disciples, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.”[12] Jesus is encouraging his disciples to recognise the presence of God, God active in the world, despite the seeming absence of justice or consolation, and encourages them not to be taken in by those offering false hope; that all of this points to a time when justice will be reborn.[13] 

The power of today’s reading from the book of Daniel is the promise of God’s justice being restored even if this has to happen outside of human history. The point is that it will happen! In Mark’s Gospel we are offered the hope that justice will be restored within the context of human history, even if we have to wait for it. Perhaps the point of it all is that our perception that justice is absent doesn’t mean that justice does not exist, just that our disillusion and our anguish masks it; and that if we can find the courage to awaken to the presence of God and see through the false offerings of hope to true hope – which God offers us in the person of Jesus – we will begin to see the glimmers of justice and begin to embrace moments where justice may be enacted and realised. It is about embracing our ability to act with justice no matter how small the opportunities for us to do so may be; it is about reclaiming our agency as human beings, as people of faith, as children of God. 

I come back to my earlier question, “How do we practice hospitality in the face of hostility?” We do so by not allowing hostility to be an obstacle. Hostility seeks to destroy the agency of another; hospitality restores that agency. Over the last year we have travelled with Mark’s Gospel, a Gospel that has reminded us that God’s call is never easy, often discomforting, always stretching: to offer hospitality in the midst of – in the face of – hostility is perhaps the most discomforting, most difficult, most stretching act that we may ever contemplate. To offer hospitality is not to renounce or disown our position, but it is to lay it aside for a time that we may listen and seek to understand another’s position, and in so doing offer a space for engagement rather than conflict; and perhaps find healing. Hospitality is the only space in which we can have our assumptions challenged, where we can become attentive to the real concerns of others[14], and where a just peace may be forged. 

To offer meaningful hospitality we need to embrace the words of the Psalmist and genuinely take our refuge in God; and in so doing we become peacemakers and agents for justice in our world. 

As an act of hospitality we take time now to pray, and to silently reflect: 

Let us pray, 

We pray for all who suffer as a result of war, for the injured and disabled, and the mentally distressed, for the homeless and refugees, and those who have lost their livelihood, for those who mourn, and especially those who have no hope. 

Almighty and eternal God, from whose life in Christ we cannot be parted by life or death, hear our prayers for all whom we remember this day: give grace to the living; to the departed, rest, and to the people of every nation grant peace and concord. 

Amen.[15] 

[Two minute silence] 

[The Last Post]


[1] Joy J Moore, Dear Working Preacher: Find Refuge in the Face of Hostility; November 8, 2021 https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/find-refuge-in-the-face-of-hostility
[2] Ibid.
[4] Daniel 12:1; NLTse
[5] Christopher B Hays, Ibid.
[6] Daniel 12:2; NLTse
[7] Christopher B Hays, Ibid.
[8] Psalm 16:10a, 11a; Order of St Helena
[9] Mark 13:8; NRSV
[10] Mark 13:2; NRSV
[12] Mark 13:7; NRSV
[13] Mark 13:6; NRSV
[14] Joy J Moore, Ibid.
[15] The Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Lectionary: Advent 2020 – December 2021 Year B (adapted from Michael Counsell, More Prayers for Sunday’s, pp 204-5), page 90

Sermon: 24th Sunday after Pentecost

 Sermon: 24th Sunday after Pentecost

St Thomas, Rondebosch | Licensing of Layministers

7 November 2021 – Archdeacon Mark Long

Hebrews 9:24-28, Psalm 127, and Mark 12:38-44; NRSV

I am here today on behalf of the Bishop of Table Bay, Bishop Joshua Louw, to license the Layministers of this Parish, and as Archdeacon to admit them to their Office. For all it is a renewal as the Acts of our Diocese require that Layministers participate in ongoing training and their ministries are reviewed every three years by the Rector. Licensed lay ministry is specific to the liturgical and pastoral needs of the Parish, and those called into this service are nominated by the Rector and Parish Council who attest to their faithfulness, integrity and knowledge. Your Layministers are, therefore, women and men whom you can trust. We are all called through Baptism to share in the ministry of Christ and in Christ’s mission to the world; and it is within this broader call that your Layministers are licensed with the Church’s authority to engage with specific responsibilities in the areas of worship and care. 

There are a number of key words that I have used: faithfulness, integrity, knowledge; service, authority, responsibility. These are all words that speak into the nature of leadership, specific today in the context of your faith community, but relevant, too, to our broader social context. The challenge for those of you whose licenses are being renewed today is to hold these words, to give them content and context for the  ministry and mission of Christ here at St Thomas, remembering always that our mission as God’s people lies beyond the walls of this building: it is resident in our families, our social networks, our work spaces, and the broader world in which we live. 

As God’s people seeking to live out the ministry and mission of Christ we are called to live differently, specifically we are called to live in opposition to generally accepted social norms particularly when it comes to the use of power. The reality of this call is initially formed in us through our worship and pastoral care, which makes the role you as Layministers will play alongside your Rector in these areas of responsibility so crucial. But what is power? In essence it is the ability to act, a human ability we all have. The important question is are we using this ability creatively or destructively? Are our actions life-giving or life-threatening? And how is power being used both in our community of faith and also in the political and economic structures we participate in daily? How are we learning to use power justly in our times of worship together and in our pastoral care of one another? How is this learning translating into our mission to the world, in ensuring power is used justly in our social, political, and economic environment? And where power is misused or abused, what is our responsibility as God’s people? The answers to these questions are what we grapple with as we engage in liturgy, with Scripture, as we immerse ourselves in the Sacraments, and as we gather for fellowship. We live out these answers as we reach out to one another and the world with caring and love. And this is why it is so important that those who are licensed to serve with the Church’s authority in these areas of responsibility are people of faithfulness, integrity, and knowledge. 

If power is to be used justly, what is justice? Today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel perhaps offers us a few clues. Jesus touches on what unjust use of power looks like when he says of the Scribes, “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”[1] Due to the fact that women had few rights in Jewish society in the 1st century, it is likely that one of the roles of the Scribes was to hold the property of widows – without male heirs – in trust and run their affairs for them. The implication of Jesus’ comment is that certain of these Scribes lack integrity and abuse their powers and profit to the point of leaving these widows destitute[2]. It is not difficult to see the injustice of this practice, nor is it difficult to see similar injustices in our own context. It is not difficult to imagine that the widow Jesus calls the disciples attention to outside the Treasury is one such widow who has been left destitute by a Scribe’s misuse of power over her. What is intriguing here is that while the widow has had everything taken from her, she chooses to give what is left, “… all she had to live on”[3] or – a more direct translation from the Greek – she chooses to give “her whole life.”[4] What this highlights is that, “There is a difference between giving everything and having everything taken away.”[5] Importantly, although the systemic injustice that allows some Scribes to misuse their power has lost the widow almost everything, it has not removed her agency; she still has power – the ability to act – and does so by giving “her whole life.” Injustice seeks to remove agency, justice restores it. 

My challenge to those of you being licensed today is to explore, together with your Rector, what agency looks like in the context of Worship and Pastoral Care, and to be courageous in creating spaces that allow people to discover their power, to use that power justly; to care for people in such a way that their agency and humanity is not diminished, but increased. Begin by exploring what this means for you as individuals and as the liturgical and pastoral team here at St Thomas’, what it is to wash one another’s feet. Be cautious of exercising your authority in any manner that may diminish people’s humanity or limit God’s power to act in and through you and in and through others, but also avoid false modesty. Embrace your fear or anxiety, and be the example to others that God is calling you to be, and which the Church affirms through the licenses you receive today. 

Hold close the following words by Marianne Williamson (incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela), 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
 
We ask ourselves:
 
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
 
Actually, who are you not to be?
 
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people
won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
 
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
 
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.[6] 

In closing, a prayer by Irish Theologian and Poet, Pádraig Ó Tuama: 

Let us pray, 

Uncovered Jesus,
You washed
the feet of your friends
with your hands.
We do not know what to do
with this kind of love
or this kind of power
so we repeat it once a year.
May we repeat it more often:
every month; every day; every hour; every encounter.
Because this is how you chose to show
love and power
to your friends.
Amen.[7]


[1] Mark 12:40; NRSV
[3] Mark 12:44b; NRSV
[4] Amanda Probst-Renault, Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles
[7] Pádraig Ó Tuama, Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community.

31 October 2021

Sermon: All Saints

 Sermon: All Saints

30 October 2021 – Archdeacon Mark Long

Revelation 7:9-11, Canticle 5, and Matthew 5:1-12; NRSV 

In my sermon two weeks ago I reminded us, “… that God’s people are called to live differently, are called to live in opposition to generally accepted social norms [particularly] when it comes to the use of power.”[1] Today, as we celebrate All Saints Day, this remains an important awareness. In essence, as I’ve said on previous occasions, power is the ability to act, a human ability we all have. The question is are we using this ability creatively or destructively? Are our actions life-giving or life-threatening? And how is power being used in the political and economic structures we participate in daily? How are we working to ensure power is used justly in our social environment? And where power is misused or abused, what is our responsibility as God’s people? What does it mean to be a saint? 

Our Gospel reading today is a well-known passage, one we have named The Beatitudes, which in Matthew’s Gospel are effectively presented as a manifesto of the kingdom Jesus is inaugerating.[2] This kingdom calls for humanity’s transformation and seeks to address the brokenness of the human condition, and in place of our fractured humanity offers hope and the fullness of life. Jesus has begun drawing a prophetic community together to give agency to this newly inaugurated kingdom,[3] and The Beatitudes give a two-fold focus to the community’s task: a focus on those who experience various forms of oppression, and on those who are targeted for their integrity.[4] Too often we misinterpret The Beatitudes to suggest that suffering and persecution are somehow badges of Sainthood, but if in fact The Beatitudes are a manifesto of the this newly inaugurated kingdom then The Beatitudes are instead an important announcement of a reversal of fortunes for the oppressed.[5] Situations of hopelessness are no longer hopeless, but hope-filled. The community Jesus calls together – of which you and I are now a part – are invited to be participants in implementing this reversal, to be a prophetic sign of this kingdom within the social, political, and economic context of our daily lives. 

How are we to be this sign? The answer may lie in verse 4 that says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The Greek word translated “comfort” here is not primarily about solace or consolation, but more along the lines of representation in legal terms: they will be given an advocate[6] who will work for their recognition and restitution, someone who will ensure those who mourn are comforted and those who are hungry are fed; that the merciful themselves experience mercy from others, and that the poor in spirit receive the kingdom of heaven; that the pure in heart get to see God, and the peacemakers are recognised as children of God. This is exciting stuff, a manifesto to set our hearts aflame, but also one that perhaps has us asking if we have the wherewithal to be this prophetic sign? And is it just up to us? You may have noticed the use of the passive voice in the manner in which some of The Beatitudes are stated, and I think there is purpose in this as it leaves the question of advocacy open-ended and allows for both human and divine agency.[7] My thoughts are immediately drawn to John’s Gospel where we hear that the Holy Spirit is given to us as the Paraclete, the advocate whose advocacy will bring us comfort. However it is clear in Matthew’s Gospel that it is the prophetic community initiated in Jesus’ calling aside of the first disciples – to whom he says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people”[8] – that is called to work hand-in-hand with the Spirit of God in this endeavour, and again I emphasise that you and I are participants in this community. Raj Nadella, Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, importantly highlights that “The Beatitudes offer a promise of liberation to those at the margins of our society. They also invite and require anyone and everyone with privilege and power to participate in the process of making the promised liberation a reality.”[9] To be a part of the prophetic community inaugurated by Jesus is in itself a privilege and an empowered position, and lays responsibility on our shoulders to advocate at every opportunity for the oppressed and persecuted in partnership with the Spirit of God. However, the afflicted themselves have agency, and we need to ensure our advocacy never inhibits the oppressed from participating in their own liberation.[10] The Church is called to offer a supportive advocacy that always seeks to give dignity to those who suffer, and not make them only objects of our compassion as we work with them and the Spirit of God in facilitating the reversal of fortune that Jesus promises in The Beatitudes

In reality we are called to align ourselves with those on the margins of our society, and any advocacy we offer may and most likely will draw us into experiencing the suffering of the oppressed and marginalised to various degrees ourselves, and perhaps we can only truly recognise their agency when we become deeply aligned with their pain. And in so doing we also need to acknowledge that while our society, and our political and economic environment marginalizes so many, the Church is often guilty of religious marginalisation of people and is complicit in the suffering and oppression around us. We are called ourselves to repentance and transformation, and it is only in recognising our complicity and allowing the transforming presence of God’s Spirt to renew us that we can truly be effective in the work of reconciliation in our world. 

What does it mean to be a saint? It is to align ourselves with the marginalised, to participate in the process of liberation for the oppressed, to work every moment of every day towards a greater expression of the fullness of life offered in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and to commit to facilitating a just use of power as a creative reality for ourselves and for others. 

We have a practical opportunity to exercise our sainthood tomorrow in the local elections. Will you exercise your democratic right? And if you do, how will your vote align with The Beatitudes, with the manifesto of God’s kingdom in our imperfect world? Please vote, and vote wisely! 

In closing, a prayer by Irish Theologian and Poet, Pádraig Ó Tuama: 

Let us pray, 

Uncovered Jesus,
You washed
the feet of your friends
with your hands.
We do not know what to do
with this kind of love
or this kind of power
so we repeat it once a year.
May we repeat it more often:
every month; every day; every hour; every encounter.
Because this is how you chose to show
love and power
to your friends.
Amen.[11]


[1] Mark Long, 20211017 Sermon 21st Sunday after Pentecost ML
[3] Matthew 4:18-22; NRSV
[4] Raj Nadella, Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Matthew 4:19b; NRSV
[9] Raj Nadella, Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Pádraig Ó Tuama, Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community.