Monday, November 30, 2015

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, preached at St Brandon, Brancepeth, 29 November 2015

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

It is with great joy that the Church begins her celebration of Advent, the return of Jesus Christ and the coming of His kingdom, the renewal of the old world order and the foundation of the New Jerusalem, the just punishment of the wicked and the vindication of the righteous. The prophet Jeremiah leads the way in today’s Old Testament lesson offering us a rich text full of encouragement from the Lord.

We find in this passage the culmination of a series of promises made by God to His people Israel. In the preceding chapter, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, ‘Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good fortune that I now promise them.’ Now He makes clear the extent of the promised good fortune. The houses of the ruined city will be rebuilt; in the towns and streets will be the sound of inhabitants, animals, and commerce, ‘the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank-offerings to the house of the Lord.’

This joyful procession of men and women, the temple sacrifices and festal days, represent the turning of the hearts of the people back to God, back to the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, and into the promised land. Despite their continual rebellion, through His prophet the Lord promises peace at the last.

What might this say to us in our day? Do we long for our land to return to the Lord; do we desire, above all things, to see the joyful procession to the house of God and the willing sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving? Do you long for it for yourself; if you feel estranged from God this morning, hear His solemn promise, ‘I will restore your fortunes, I will forgive all the guilt of your sin and rebellion against me. You shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory.’

It is a tremendous promise, the forgiveness of guilt and rebellion. How is this to be accomplished; how is Israel to find itself restored; how are we to find ourselves restored? Jeremiah speaks of one called The Righteous Branch, who will spring up for David, to be an heir of the kingly line. This one who will come, says the prophet, is the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. He will reign, a legitimate king, a perfectly just and good king.

How many times do we read in the newspaper or hear on the radio more evidence of scandal and disgrace in government? How often do we sigh and shake our heads and wonder what the world is coming to, when those who are meant to lead us in righteousness wallow in self-centredness, making much through dishonest practices, deceit, and dereliction of duty?

The Lord speaking through His prophet promises us that the king to come will not be like those false rulers. He is altogether true and just; He shall execute righteousness and justice. Do we long for the coming of this righteous king, the Son of David? Well be encouraged, for this promised king has already come as a little child, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. ‘A star shall come out of Jacob,’ prophesied Balaam, ‘a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.’ This one whom St John says is full of grace and truth, the eternal Word, Jesus Christ, has come.

We see His kingdom now in shadows, principally through the work of His church. On that day we will see it in full; He will come a second time, in glory, descending from the clouds to judge the earth and rule in equity. The Righteous Branch who was born, suffered, crowned with thorns, died and rose again for our justification will be crowned in majesty. Every knee will bow before His sovereign throne as even now the hearts of those who love Him bow in humble adoration. All kingdoms of wickedness will be cast down and the kingdoms of this world will become at last the kingdom of Our Lord and of His Christ! What a joyous promise to hold in our hearts amidst wars and rumours of wars. The promised kingdom has been inaugurated and the king is coming again- unstoppable, with great glory, and shouts of joy.

It must have been a wondrous sight to see the heavenly king at his first appearing in Bethlehem, ‘such tiny hands and, oh, such tiny feet!’ It will be again a wondrous sight when our Lord Jesus returns to draw to completion the promises declared through the prophets. We will live in a restored earth, a renovated city. For that is what Judah and Jerusalem represent, the chosen people of God set secure on a hill forever. And notice what the text says of this city: ‘this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”’ Actually, this translation doesn’t quite capture the meaning. It might be better read, ‘this is the name by which she will be called.’ She will be called, ‘The Lord is Our Righteousness.’ This is the language of intimacy; the city of God, the people of God, will be so closely associated with the Lord Himself as to be called by the very same name.

Lest we miss the significance of this point, let me be clear- that refers to us! We are ‘she’ who will be called by the Lord’s name. So great is God’s love for us that He gives us His own name. Through our faith, even now we are one with Jesus but when He comes at last we will see Him as He is! We have already been given His name and all the privileges associated with being His beloved.

But on the last day all our mistrusting and doubts and fears will the thrust aside. And we will see Him face to face, our beloved. The promise from the mouth of Jeremiah is of a divine marriage, a union between God and humanity, a perfect, holy, beautiful intimacy such that we are His and He is ours and never can we be separated from Him. The heart should leap at such a prospect; though we are His through faith, one day we will be in His presence. I will be His, you will be His. This world and all its trials will be done, aches and pains gone, sorrows forgotten, hopes fulfilled. And we will look up into the shining face of Jesus and say, ‘The Lord, my righteousness.’

Today we approach Our beautiful Jesus in signs and symbols, the sacraments of His Church. At the end of time and the beginning of eternity, we will place our hands in His wounded hands and be carried away in His pure love. We have a secure hope of this blessed future, in the promise of God revealed in holy scripture and attested to by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we look strainingly forward; will you turn your face with me to the future? In the eucharist we are about to receive, the Lord comes down from His throne to meet us and here is a foretaste of that glorious city, that loving embrace of our righteous bridegroom.

Knowing this, in the bread and the wine this morning pray you will worthily receive the Lord; lift the tokens of His love to your lips and there find the sweetest kiss of the holy Jesus. Set down all that might hold you back from meeting him; say ‘Jesus I would embrace you with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and strength.’ The Lord who, today- at this very moment- is our Righteousness will not reject any who come to Him in faith. Come now and come boldly, for ‘The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.’ Amen.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

War Memorial Chapel window, St John the Baptist, Stockcross

Costing £600 at the time of its installation in 1922, the east window of the south aisle of Stockcross church in Berkshire depicts the crucifixion against a background of banners and flags, a possible reference to the Latin hymn at Vespers of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Vexilla Regis. Around the Lord, who has 'reigned and triumphed from the tree' are arrayed soldiers and saints, including two men in modern military dress representing the army and the navy. These youths, their faces hidden from the viewer, are identified with the youthful Christ who looks with gentleness on those who adore him from below. In the upper tracery are the crests of the Royal Berkshire Regiment and of the Life Guards, and the arms of the Oxford diocese.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Richard Hooker on God's Ordering of Nature

'And as it cometh to pass in a kingdom rightly ordered, that after a law is once published, it presently takes effect far and wide, all states framing themselves thereunto; even so let us think it fareth in the natural course of the world: since the time that God did first proclaim the edicts of his law upon it, heaven and earth have hearkened unto his voice, and their labour hath been to do his will: He "made a law for the rain;" He gave his "decree unto the sea, that the waters should not pass his commandment." ... See we not plainly that the obedience of all creatures unto the law of nature is the stay of the whole world?'

--- Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book One, III, 1.

Unknown Man
(formerly known as Richard Hooker)
anonymous, 16th century

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bishop Stubbs on Jesus' Relationship to the Scriptures

'His omniscience is of the essence of the personality in which manhood and Godhead united in him. With this belief I feel that I am bound to accept the language of our Lord in reference to the Old Testament Scriptures as beyond appeal... Where he speaks of David in spirit calling him Lord, I believe that David in spirit did call him Lord, and I am not affected by doubts thrown on the authorship of the 110th Psalm, except so far as to use his authority is to set those doubts aside... I cannot bear to anticipate a day when the Church shall cry out to Jesus of Nazareth, "Thou hast deceived me and I was deceived"; or to the unknown and unknowable, "Why didst thou let him deceive himself and us?"'

--- William Stubbs' Second Visitation Charge in the Diocese of Oxford (1893)

William Stubbs, Bishop of Oxford
Charles Wellington Furse (1892)

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bishop Ryle on Resting in Christ

'Now I call on every reader of this paper who is a believer, I beseech him for his own sake, to make sure that Christ is really and thoroughly his all in all. Beware of allowing yourself to mingle anything of your own with Christ.

Have you faith? It is a priceless blessing. Happy indeed are they who are willing and ready to trust Jesus. But take heed you do not make a Christ of your faith. Rest not on your own faith, but on Christ.

Is the work of the Spirit in your soul? Thank God for it. It is a work that shall never over thrown. But oh, beware, lest, unawares to yourself, you make a Christ of the work of the Spirit! Rest not on the work of the Spirit, but on Christ.

Have you any inward feelings of religion, and experience of grace? Thank God for it. Thousands have no more religious feeling than a cat or dog. But oh, beware lest you make a Christ of your feelings and sensations! They are poor, uncertain things, and sadly dependent on our bodies and outward circumstances. Rest not a grain of weight on your feelings. Rest only on Christ.

Learn, I entreat you, to look more and more at the great object of faith, Jesus Christ, and to keep your mind dwelling on Him. So doing you would find faith, and all the other graces grow, though the growth at the time might be imperceptible to yourself. He that would prove a skilful archer, must look not at the arrow, but at the mark.'

--- J.C. Ryle, 'Christ is All'

The Adoration of the Christ Child
follower of Jan Joest (c. 1515)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Bishop Neill on the Character of the Anglican Liturgical Tradition

'By 1552, the main lines of the Anglican liturgical tradition have become plainly apparent. It is Biblical. For steady and systematic Bible-reading on the large scale, no other Church in the world can compare with the Anglican. It is intellectual; the Anglican Prayer Book is not intended for the intellectually idle; it demands that those who use it should exercise themselves to understand, and it will give little of its riches to those who merely acquiesce. It is sober; it never aims at awaking immediate and facile emotion; it relies on the development of deep currents of feeling through the patient contemplation of the mysteries of the Gospel. It is ethical. Perhaps the profound sense of sin reawakened in Reformation times by the renewed study of the Scriptures weighs a little too heavy on it. It is characteristic of the whole book that the Exhortation of Morning and Evening Prayer bids us approach God with an humble, penitent, lowly and obedient heart. But it is part of the strength of the Anglican tradition that it has never allowed it to be supposed that worship can exist in separation from conduct, or that emotion can usurp the function of conscience.'

--- Stephen Neill, 'The Anglican Tradition in Liturgy and Devotion' published in The Churchman

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Feast of St Michael and All Angels

St Michael Vanquishing Satan
Gustave Moreau (1826-98)

'And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.'
--- Revelation 8:4

'Thou wert seen in the Temple of God,
A censer of gold in thy hands,
And the smoke of it fragrant with spices
Rose up till it came before God.'
--- Alcuin,  from Sequence for St Michael

'Yet we beseche thee to accepte thys our bounden duetie and service, and commaunde these our prayers and supplicacions, by the Ministery of thy holy Angels, to be brought up into thy holy Tabernacle before the syght of thy dyvine majestie; not waiyng our merites, but pardonyng our offences, through Christe our Lorde.'
--- 1549 Book of Common Prayer, from the Prayer of Consecration