Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton at St George's Campden Hill, Second Sunday of Lent, 21st February 2016

Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton at St George's Campden Hill, Second Sunday of Lent, 21st February 2016

In the words of today’s Collect “may we may reject all those things that are contrary to our profession of Christ, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same.”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Philippians, Paul reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven; we should not set our minds on earthly things. We are to stand firm in in the Lord.
What relevance is Paul’s command to the Christians in Philippi 2000 years ago to us in Holland Park in this season of Lent?
Paul is telling those inhabitants of what is today northern Greece to establish a colony of Christ in the here and now.
Lent for us is about giving us a spiritual MoT to enable us, like the Philippians, to bring our community closer to Christ. We are to bridge the gap between heaven and earth.
We can do this by having a “Good Lent” with a focus on prayer and the Community
Last week Father James spoke of the Benedictine monastic tradition of stability and stillness.
It reminded me of an anecdote told by Canon Mark Oakley at St. Paul’s Cathedral last year when he interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury about what makes a Good Lent. You can see this wonderful seminar on YouTube   (I’ll post the link on our sermon blog)
Sitting next to Justin Welby, Oakley told this story. He had been staying in Shropshire and met the local shepherd. As he saw him with his crook, Oakley said, as a joke, (not a very good one in Oakley’s words), “Oh, my boss has something that looks a bit like that” and continued “Do you really use it to hook in the naughty lamb” and they laughed. The shepherd replied “No. No. Let me tell you what I use it for. I push it down into the ground in front of me so hard, so I can hold onto it and keep myself so still that eventually the sheep learn to trust me.” “It seems to me,” said Oakley “that episcopal ministry works best when it is not used to rope in stray lambs and haul them around the place but when they're being held in the place that is so still that total trust is built and it becomes the space that we all want to be in too.”

The joy of the Benedictine rule is that it is about balance; it’s about prayer, community, work and obedience to the rule. We should not demean work. Benedictine life, an abbot has written, “is immersed in the sanctity of the real and work is a fundamental part of it. The function of the spiritual life is not to escape into the next world; it is to live life well in this one. The monastic engages in creative work as a way to be responsible for the up building of the community.”

Let’s consider those hallmarks of Benedictine life: Community
and Prayer

I’ll start with prayer, because if you are like me, we all think that everyone is better at praying than we ourselves are.

Benedictines in the monastery pray seven times a day. But Benedict understands the world outside the monastery (and so does Justin Welby).

In Lent do what is possible. Try to go that little further in prayer than you usually do. If you are going to the office, pray on the tube.

(There is a good app for guided prayer from Sacred Space ( set up for people who have no more than ten minutes for prayer.)

Those of you who are time poor will, I suggest, particularly like Benedict’s (Chapter 20) on Reverence in Prayer:

“We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words. Prayer should therefore be short and pure (like sermons, actually that’s my addition), unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, prayer should always be brief.”

Be disciplined in prayer – no “wittering on” is the Benedictine approach.

Before I move onto community, a reminder. Morning prayer is said each morning in this church at 9.15. It is short (no wittering), and finished by 9.30. If that is something that might fit with your schedule, do join us.

Community. God wants us to live in community. Paul writing in Galatians tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens” but also that “all must carry their own loads.”

These two verses give us the key to successful community living: compassionate care for those around us while at the same time taking responsibility for ourselves. If everyone did that, it really would function for the good of all.

Lent is also about considering how we best use our possessions, our talents and our money to best benefit our own community. During the first three Sundays of Lent we thinking prayerfully about our own giving to this Benefice. We call this Stewardship –A letter has been sent out to the whole parish (let me know if you didn’t get one and would like to know more) detailing our vision as a church for growing the kingdom, a church that’s welcoming and hospitable, where we grow deeper in our faith (our Why me talks and Tuesday night Lent courses can be of help), nurturing our children, ensuring that our beautiful churches are kept in good condition, and where we aren’t simply focused inwards but that we serve the community and a variety of ways – part of which is giving our share of the Diocese of London Common Fund where we support churches in poorer parts of London who couldn’t otherwise have a priest. This all takes money – in fact, about £220,000 a year. Planned regular giving is to help us plan and have important things like budgets.

Both James and I do not know who gives what, but we do know that many of you give regularly and generously and so a huge thanks to you for that. If you are able, do please review your giving during Lent. And if you haven’t yet got around to starting planned giving, do consider starting now. Howard Evans is the man to see.

We focus then on the inner but not at the expense of neglecting the world around us. Achieving balance is something that Benedict espouses throughout his Rule.

Being alert to others can be joyful. At our Tuesday study of the Hawking/Redmayne/ Felicity Jones film “The theory of everything” someone commented of the joy of the unspoken encounter with a stranger of the tube in the morning on the way to work. I had a similar experience the next day when I was walking to “Eat” to get some lunch and our local street sweeper Kevin caught my eye and introduced himself. We chatted. He said he had seen me by the Tube entrance last Wednesday (Ashes to Go).  That evening as I reviewed the day, I realised that this moment had been one of the best of the day. And that Kevin, as well as doing a great job, probably knows as much about what is happening in our community as anyone.

Hospitality is a major instrument for building God’s community. That is why Benedictine monasteries have always received guests and still do today. Some members of this congregation go on retreats to Benedictine foundations. I go to Mucknell Abbey near Worcester.

Benedict wants us to let down the barriers of our hearts so that this generation does not miss accompanying the innocent to Calvary as the last one did. He also wants us to let down the barriers of our souls so that the God of the unexpected can come in.

As we look at the innocent going to Calvary today, we inevitably think of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East who can no longer worship in freedom and without fear. I commend to you especially the Diocese of London’s Lent Appeal which is raising funds for two charities providing desperately needed help to Christians in Iraq and Syria. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians “If one member suffers, all suffer together.” But please also pray for also for all non-Christians whose lives are being blighted by evil forces.

So to conclude, in this season of Lent

Let us focus on;
on being still like the Shropshire shepherd and finding soul space in a busy world
Let us balance this with
reviewing our giving
being outward looking and welcoming to those we encounter in our daily lives
show warmth to the stranger, supporting the weak and those dwelling in dark places beyond our daily experience.

Peter Wolton
20 Feb 2016

Holland Park Benefice