Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, 7 April 2019
This week in Morning Prayer, the Old Testament readings have come from Jeremiah. Each morning we read a reflection on his writings and yesterday’s contained this:
“Like the people of Jeremiah’s day, we prefer our prophets to be biddable and not too irritating, to prophecy the kind of messages we like to hear and not those that annoy or discomfort us.”
Substitute the word “prophets” for “sermons.”
And you get “we prefer our sermons to be biddable and not too irritating, to give the kind of messages we like to hear and not those that annoy or discomfort us.”
Today’s Gospel on the poor being with us always and the questioning of expenditure on luxurious goods gives plenty of scope to give a message that might irritate and annoy.
So a chance for a rant from the pulpit?
In all truth I think that the last few months, perhaps the last two years or so, have given rise to too many messages that irritate and annoy.
To come to worship at St. George’s is, I hope, a chance for recovery and spiritual sustenance, so that hopefully when we depart from here, we can go in some form of peace to love and serve the Lord.
Today is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. In this Sunday’s Alternative Collect we pray that “we ponder the mysteries of his passion, that we may know eternal peace through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood.”
Encouragement to ponder
So this morning I would like to encourage you to ponder, not just during the next seven minutes or so, but over the rest of Passiontide and Easter.
To help you ponder I will do three things.
I will underline the interconnected nature of today’s readings and the psalms.
I will ask you to note St Paul’s exhortation to press on towards the goal of gaining the treasures of eternal life.
And I will conclude by suggesting you might like to study in greater depth, the life and writings of one of the Doctors of the Church., who shows us how we might live out St. Paul’s exhortation.
This morning’s psalm and readings for the start of Passiontide (by which we mean “suffering” as in the Latin word “pati”), give us much to ponder -which is a very good reason for taking the printed order of service home with us to study and inwardly digest.
In the reading from Isaiah, God tells us that he is about to do a new thing.
Change is afoot. Lent, which leads to the tragedy of Good Friday, will give way to new life on Easter Day.
How perfectly is this captured in the words of the Psalmist: “those who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.”
And In the epistle to the Philippians, Paul writes: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
How does all this relate to our life today?
I suggest that with all the noise of our current political Impasse, that “to press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” is one of the most important things we can do at the moment.
How can what is happening in our country at the moment, be turned into a “harvest of joy.” How can optimism return to our relations with our neighbours, both locally and also at internationally?
For me, one answer is found in one of this year’s “Why Me?” talks.
Hazel Fox from St. George’s spoke about how much she owed to St. Teresa of Avila who wrote:
“The important thing is not to think much but to Love much, and so, do that which best stirs you to Love”.
Ponder of that for a moment.
As I draw towards a close, I want to whet your appetites in two ways:
1. Visit our website to find Hazel’s talk on the Sermon Blog (there are other excellent “Why Me?” talks too).
2. Learn more about St. Teresa, born in 1515 who founded religious communities, a woman who “got things done”, had a sense of humour and a love of good food (who is reputed to have said “there is a time for penance and a time for partridge.”) She struggled with prayer all her life but especially between the ages of 20 and 40. But echoing the words of St. Paul, “she pressed on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Her writings have made her one of the leading exponents of contemplative prayer. She was canonised forty years after her death and in 1970 became the first woman to be named a Doctor of the Church; there are now 36 Doctors of the Church of which four are women.
Let’s conclude in this time of national discomfort, with words of St. Teresa
· Let nothing disturb you
· Let nothing frighten you
· All things are passing away
· God never changes.
· “Patience obtains all things.
· Whoever has God lacks nothing.
· God alone suffices”
And when you leave here today, find opportunities to put into practice her words:
· “The important thing is not to think much but to Love much, and so do that which best stirs you to Love”.
Fr. Peter Wolton
7 April 2019