Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton on Trinity 7, Sunday July 15 2018, United Benefice of Holland Park

Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton on Trinity 7, Sunday July 15 2018, United Benefice of Holland Park How will the summer of 2018 in Britain be remembered? For some, comparisons with the hot summer of 1976 will come to mind. And for football fans, it was possible until Wednesday night to believe in a repeat of 1966. “The best of times.” On the flip side is division in the country and government over Britain’s relationship with our European neighbours. Indeed the performance of the football team led to comments about them being a unifying presence. At this time we also have the rise of “strong” leaders across the world, who fit at least one of the characteristics in the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of fascism. Not yet the “worst of times” but probably the most uncertain for many years.

How should a Christian community such as the United Benefice stay optimistic in such times? What are we called to do? St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, our epistle today, is a reminder that we are “adopted as children of God through Jesus Christ.” This gift can be hard to comprehend at times. How can we best live out this inheritance? Last Wednesday, as well as being England v Croatia, was when the church commemorates St. Benedict of Nursia. I believe Benedict provides as good an answer to this question: How can we best live out our inheritance.

Prayer and worship are the foundation of a Benedictine community, as they are for the United Benefice. Today I would like to consider two other aspects of his teaching: Community and how it is led and note the contrast to the approach of the “strong” leaders.

Just a quick reminder about who Benedict was. Living in the aftermath of the fall of Rome, and dying in around 550, Benedict has been called the saviour of Western civilisation. He did not set out to found a religious order but provided a Rule for guidance for those who gathered around him.

The Rule of Benedict is a short document (Hold it up) with a Prologue followed by 73 short chapters. This body of writings is divided up for each day of the year.

This framework for daily living as well as emphasising prayer and worship and community, is also built on hospitality and adherence to the Rule.

The group of monasteries Benedict founded became the largest monastic order in medieval Europe and leading institutions of learning. Such was the order’s impact that Benedict was named “Patron Protector of Europe” by Pope Paul IV in 1964 in recognition of the influence Benedictines had in bringing Europe out of the post Roman Empire “Dark Ages” into the “Middle Ages.”

The Rule is rich in wisdom and how to lead an organisation to get the best out of everyone, enabling us to be alive to and responsive to God in the world. Prayer and humility are key. All (leader and led) are subject to a higher power and this should never be forgotten.

Here is Benedict on entry on leadership for January 15th.”Whatever the number of members they have in their care, let the Abbot (the head of the monastery) realise on judgment day that they will surely have to submit a reckoning to God for all their souls as well as for their own.”

He continues:

The leader “must always remember what the title (Abbot) signifies (Abba, father) and act accordingly. They are believed to hold the place of Christ in the community.”

A Benedictine Prioress has written:

“The difference between Benedict and the other spiritual masters of his time lay in the fact that Benedict believed that the spiritual life was to be nothing “harsh or burdensome.” And it was not a private process. It was to be done in community with others. It was to be a “school” dedicated to “the good of all concerned.” It was to be lived with “patience.” “

Which brings us on to Community

If we look at the Chapter headings for this week, you will get a sense of the Benedictine approach to Christian living as a community. Although written 1500 years ago, the writings contain lessons for us:

Today’s chapter is “Care of the Sick in the Monastery.” “Care of the sick must rank above all else, so they may be truly served as Christ, for he said: “I was sick and you visited me.”

Tomorrow’s entry is titled “Care for the elderly and young.” We have a team of pastoral visitors who visit older and housebound members of our community. And we have an active youth community. For our community to thrive we need more of you to come forward to offer to help, both at our Sunday school and as pastoral visitors. By spreading the task across the many rather than the few (forgive this overused phrase), we become a more loving community.

Other Chapters this week include “Reader of the week.” It contains a telling phrase – at least for me! I am very aware that a number of you are deeply impressed at the improvement in my singing – (from a very low base) so I know you will appreciate Benedict’s words with regard to singing and reading:

“Members of the community will read and sing, not according to rank, but according to their ability to benefit their hearers.” This is an example of Benedict’s realism, flexibility and balance. But it is also a reminder to our community (see the notice in today’s service sheet), we need more people to come forward to read at Sunday services. Helping/not being here/ swapping etc.

This week’s other readings cover such topics as the amount of food and drink to be served and times for community meals. Talking of community meals, we have a new café that has opened at St. John’s. We see this as a key part of making the church accessible and encouraging people to cross the threshold of the church. So beloved, again, I ask you to go and visit and support and tell your friends. It’s run by …. coffee is superb.

This is just a small taste of some of Benedict’s wisdom to encourage you to explore his Rule further. If you would like to learn more, do speak to me. I will also be leading a course of talks on Benedict at our fortnightly Bible study commencing in September.

So to close by answering the question on how to best live out our Christian inheritance, one way is to embrace the rule of Benedict.

The more you read St. Benedict’s writings, I hope you will find they provide us with an armour of light to enjoy the best of times and combat the worst of times.

Peter Wolton

12 July 2018

Fr Peter Wolton