Trinity 17 - Icons of Christ

A sermon preached at St George's Campden Hill on 22 September 2013 by the Revd Ivo Morshead

Amos 8v  4-7, 1 Tim 1, 2 v 1. 1-7, Luke 16 1-13

Words from todays epistle:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone .. 1 Tim 2 v 1

I must own up to be standing here under false pretences. Twelve months ago in September 2012 at the Monday morning staff meeting I asked that this Sunday in 2013 be pencilled in for me to preach as 22 September would be the fiftieth anniversary of my priesting, never imagining at that time that there was still another year to run before we would welcome our new vicar and that it would be just at the very beginning of his ministry when every-one would be coming to hear him preach. In fact it is not the fiftieth anniversary of my being made a priest but of my ordination as a deacon, accountants are always bad at arithmetic! Father James, generously allowed the booking to stand and this gives me after all this opportunity to make a special welcome to James and Clare.

The lessons today fit surprisingly well on a theme of welcome. We have had only one sermon from James since his institution and he spoke on what is bad religion and what is good. What we heard read this morning and can read again in our service sheet are from the first of three letters that Paul wrote to two of his closest companions, Timothy and Titus. The three letters 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are known by scholars as The Pastoral Epistles and set out what should constitute a good pastor and also what should constitute a good church community. We now know the answer as to what should constitute a  good  priest and  a good people should be by the words of Paul to Timothy and Titus ; First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone.

From the start of my fifty years of wearing a dog collar, supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings were literally forced down my throat. I began as one of four other curates living together in the close of St Mary Redcliffe Bristol in the clergy house looked after by Winnie, our beloved house keeper, but hopeless as a cook. To protect the sensibilities of 4 bachelors she covered her underwear when it was hanging on the line in the garden with brown paper! We had to start the day in church at 7 in the morning for half an hour of silent meditation, followed by Matins and finally Holy Communion, so breakfast was not until 8.30. Such was the pattern for a large urban parish. Here at St Georges fifty years on there is a similar pattern of daily morning prayer and evening prayer in church, may we endeavour when we can to support and encourage James by joining him in his daily prayers. One such person who did this with Fr Michael so faithfully for many years was Jane Sims whose memory is preserved by the bench in the sanctuary which bears her name.

It is the name of Jesus that Paul urges upon Timothy and Titus as being central in their lives and to their ministry as in these words from today’s epistle there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all. It so happens that in the past two weeks we have had two lesser festivals for important men associated with the role of priests and of parishes. The first was Cyprian  and the second was Theodore of Tarsus. Cyprian believed the man ordained as priest was, when at the altar celebrating Holy Communion, the icon of Christ himself. Such was the intensity of his belief that he refused to participate in pagan worship and was condemned to death during the persecution of Valerian. The second festival was for Theodore of Tarsus sent here by the pope as Archbishop of Canterbury in about 660AD. As soon as he arrived  in England he set off  on foot and covered the whole country visiting every monastery, and church community.  He convened the Synod of Hertford on 24 September 673 which divided the country into dioceses, set up an order of seniority, and the rule that a bishop only had authority over his own  diocese and could not interfere with the neighbouring ones affairs. In addition he set similar rules for the parish clergy. All this still stands today.

I have tried in my 50 years since ordination as a deacon to be very conscious of  what Cyprian believed, namely, that the priest at the altar was an icon of Christ and I have been also grateful to Theodore for the ordering of the church with its clarity of diocesan and parish boundaries and we welcome James into this tradition. An icon is defined as a likeness of the subject of the painting and our orthodox brethren reverence icons  as such in a very intimate manner. In my  years since ordination I suffered occasionally from parishioners who inflicted on the vicar rather too much iconic fervour. In fact in the first parish I went to as priest in charge, a lady accused me of proposing marriage to her while I was  preaching a sermon! I am sure that we all will be careful to give James space, yet keep him and Clare, very much in our prayers and affection as we come to know them better as they live among us.

My muse during my ministry in a way has been Theodore. As Theodore visited every part of England so I endeavoured to visit every household in my cure of souls whether or not they were associated with the church. In Bristol each curate had responsibility for a section of the parish and we had to report at the weekly staff meeting about the twenty visits we were expected to have made. Later  when I was in Wimbledon it was impossible to call at every house and flat but I succeeded in the two country parishes that took up the remaining 20 years of my active ministry. The old adage of a ‘house going parson means a church going people’ can still operate outside a city but here in London it is impossible for cold calling with locked enclaves, blocks of flats and so forth. This surely is where we come in as part of the Community of Christ here on earth as members of his church in this place by keeping our eyes and ears open to pass on names of those who would need or appreciate a visit.

Jesus often visited and ate with every sort of person from a tax-gatherer to the close family of his disciples. His life on earth was, as we are reminded in the letter to Timothy and Titus was to be a mediator between God and humankind. Jesus taught, healed, forgave, raised from the dead and gave himself on the Cross for humankind. His teaching, at any rate as set out in today’s gospel of the dishonest steward, was not always easy and more often than not, misunderstood by the disciples. For a possible explanation have a read of my notes on the cover of today’s newsletter which concentrates on this difficult passage. We are blessed to have James as our mentor and muse with his title of Doctor of Philosophy signifying his scholarship and the gift of clarity. We look forward to some years of  his teaching and ministry among us.

In my ministry over the years I have always found when wearing a clerical collar that people respond with a greeting, acknowledgement and respect. Last week Anne and I went to York by train  and had arranged for wheel chairs. When we booked in at the desk at Kings |Cross the girl looked at her list and then looked at me and back at her list. I asked ‘was there a problem?’ ‘ no’ she said, ‘I was expecting you to be wearing a white band round your neck as you are booked as a reverend’. From then on, we had Rolls Royce treatment with every possible attention including a ‘God Bless you on your journey’ from the kind lad who took us to our seats.

We are so fortunate to have James in his role as an icon of Christ at this Eucharist and also to have Clare with us in their role as mediators between God and ourselves and we echo the words of the train attendant at Kings Cross by my saying on behalf of us all ‘May God Bless you on your journey through life with us in this united benefice.’ May we show this in our obedience to Paul’s words to Timothy and Titus,. First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone. With a special intention for their welcome and long awaited ministry among us.
Holland Park Benefice