Friday, 30 November 2018

A Message for St Andrew's Day

As the Priest-in-Charge, designate, of St Andrew's Church, South Croydon, to be licensed on Tuesday 4th December I have been reflecting on Andrew's charisms and message for the Church in our own day.

Icon of St Andrew, hanging in my study
Happy St Andrew’s Day to you all!

We honour Andrew today, for he is named by Christ as one of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10.2): ‘On the foundation stones of the heavenly city are written the names of the apostles of the Lamb’ (Magnificat Antiphon for the feast of an Apostle [Common Worship: Daily Prayer])

Andrew was originally one of the disciples of John the Baptist and heard John declare of Jesus, ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ (John 1.40).

Andrew quickly heard the call of Christ, bringing his brother Peter with him, the Rock on whom Christ built the Church (John 1.41-42).

Andrew had a gift for bringing others to Christ.

Andrew valued young people coming to Jesus and shows they have a part to play. He noticed the boy with two loaves and fishes which were multiplied in the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (John 6.8-11).

Andrew worked with others as a partner in revealing who Jesus was and is. With Philip, Andrew brought the Greek enquirers to Jesus (John 12.20-22). Christ reveals to them the mystery of his passion. Andrew went on to share in that passion as a martyr for Christ, himself crucified.

Please pray with St Andrew for the churches, nations, schools and people for whom he is their patron: St Andrew, pray for us.

May the gifts of Andrew of encouraging the young, bringing others to Christ and being marked with the Sign of the Cross be ours, this day and always. Amen.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Christ the King in an age of upheaval: A sermon preached at St George's, Waddon

A sermon preached at St George's, Waddon, on Sunday 25th November at the Eucharist for Christ the King. The readings were Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1.4b-8 and John 18.33b-37.

‘So you are a King?’ asked Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ (John 18.37)


We are living in an age where there is a crisis of leadership. It has been called ‘the Age of Anger’[1] and ‘the age of upheaval’[2]. Either way, a collective nervousness has taken hold and expectations of our leaders has, at the same time, gone up – “they should sort this for us” – and has gone down – “they can’t do anything even if they were up to it”.

This crisis of leadership touches the church, with some people asking why our Bishops and parish priests are not doing more to arrest the decline in church numbers, and others saying that whatever they do the church is doomed.

In British politics we see the political classes flailing around all saying that clear leadership will sort out Brexit, austerity and any other woe we have. They have ditched the phrase ‘strong and stable leadership’ and in the vacuum all sorts of characters barge each other around, thinking they could do a better job.

And globally we see the rise and rise of the likes of Putin, Xi Jinping and their highly questionable approaches, the tyrants and dictators of war-torn and afflicted countries, and then, of course, there’s Trump.

In the midst of all that despair about leaders and ruler, what can be said of Christ our King? And how kingdoms and systems wax and wane?

The disruption to an established order that these rulers represent is deeply unsettling: the fabric of the democratic system that seems to have served us well is fraying at the edges.

All of this begs deep questions about how nations, local communities, families and relationships are ordered and sustained. Where does the power lie in our nation; where does the power lie in our local community, in Waddon, in Croydon; where does the power lie in our families and in relationships?

When we ask that question we are asking ‘what do we want of a King?’ We know that actually most political leaders and tyrants – global, national and local - live in terror of being ousted, either by a coup or an election, or pushed aside by their own supporters. Most people in families who dominate, coerce or control, who make themselves rulers of their household, usually are fragile people who lash out because they are afraid.

It is tempting to think that the brutality of the Roman Empire is something of another age. But human nature and the corruption and manipulations of power remain constant, as does fear of being ousted. Pontius Pilate knew in his mind what kingship and political power was all about.

So Pilate’s questions are today’s questions; Jesus’ answers are today’s answers.

Jesus’ vision of kingship and the kingdom is so at variants with Pilate’s that Pilate keeps on asking, probing, what this kingdom could possibly be and how Jesus could possibly be its king.

In St John’s gospel the theme of kingship keeps coming back. After the multiplication of the loaves and fishes the crowd wants to make him a king, yet he fled. The expectations of a king were not for him, not because social and political power is something Christians should shy away from, but because the presence of a king subcontracts responsibility. That’s why in the Old Testament the prophet Samuel keeps warning the People of Israel against having a king. The king is always a scapegoat to pin our own frailties on.

In other words, if we leave everything to politicians, politicians will get on and play the power games and then we in turn resent that and want to see them booted out.

Jesus reimagines what human power is and what human life and society can be. This is not a withdrawal from the world but walking head on into its mess, violence and death.

Having prayed for unity, Jesus enters into the world of conflict. Alone and vulnerable in the face of worldly and religious power, Jesus, the one who came into the world to proclaim the truth, the God of love, is arrested and condemned to death.

Jesus only accepts the title king when he is bound in ropes and standing before the representative of the Roman Emperor, the ultimate in kingly power. And yet that self-same Pilate will have declared above Jesus on the Cross as Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

The best summary of this that I have come across is in the writing of Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche community with and for people with disabilities, which gives him another perspective on what is strong and what is weak in the world. He demonstrates that true power, true kingship comes from the priority of love, seeking God’s truth and kingdom, because as St Paul says, ‘the kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14.17).

Vanier writes:

Jesus is the king of love
who wants to communicate his love
in and through his weakness and vulnerability.
He is a king yearning for the communion of hearts.
This is the truth he has come to proclaim.
Not power for the sake of power, but to build a world of love
at the service of the communion of hearts,
the power of love and compassion that heals, liberates and gives life,
that calls people to live in love with him.

We are all called to live a deep friendship with this vulnerable king.
That is why Jesus came to be with us.
Yet so often we want to be on the winning side
and would like to have a triumphant king,
a triumphant Christianity,
a triumphant church that imposes laws and has global influences.
Like Peter we can be ashamed of our humiliated king.
And like him we can learn from our humiliation.
Perhaps it is only those who are humiliated and excluded
who see in the humiliated king their friend and saviours…

…The soldiers weave a crown of pointed, piercing thorns
and push into his head;
Jesus is blinded by the blood that flows into his yes.
They put a purple gown, a royal colour, around him,
and making fun of him, say:

Hail, king of the Jews [3]

May we all find our place as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and know the reign of Christ our King in our hearts, the world and the heavens, and herald the coming kingdom of justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.


© Andrew Bishop, 2018

[1] Pankaj Mishra Age of Anger, 2017
[2] Jason Cowley Reaching for Utopia - Making Sense of an Age of Upheaval: Essays, Profiles, Reportage, 2018
[3] Jean Vanier, Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, DLT, 2004. p 314-315.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Life Unbound: A Sermon preached at Croydon Minster

A sermon preached at Croydon Minster on Sunday 4th October at the Parish Eucharist for All Saints Sunday. The readings were Revelation 21.1-6a and John 11.32-44.

"Jesus said ‘unbind him’"

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The raising of Lazarus is a beautiful, mystical and intriguing episode given to us in St John’s gospel.

It holds before us human mortality and the reality and stench of death; it holds before us the power and fragrance of God’s abundant life and the possibility of how we live life in the power of the Holy Spirit, unbound and unleashed.

Here we are at the Eucharist. Human mortality and the death of sin is held before us, and we have confessed our sins and heard God’s forgiveness. The power and fragrance of God’s love is broken open in front of us in the breaking of bread. We are commissioned at the end of Mass to ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’.

Making sense of all this is great to ponder on All Saints’ Sunday. It is a pattern replicated in our lives.

Lazarus’ experience is a pointer to our own as followers of Jesus Christ. When we were baptised we were plunged into water; Lazarus plunged into death: we were raised out of the waters; Lazarus was raised out of death.

The process of being baptised is, like Lazarus, to die to sin and live again in Christ Jesus: so that, as St Paul puts it, ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2.20).

Once released from the grasp of cold, dark death, Lazarus walks away and into…what? The day after our baptism: however long ago that was we have the question: ‘what next?’ The rest of our life after baptism is about uncovering and discovering what life unbound means day by day.

Being a Christian disciple is about being schooled to be a saint, one of the Holy Ones of God. This is not an esoteric, remote, other worldly task reserved for those in stained glass windows; it is the task of the Church.

Being a saint, being a disciple, is daily to grow into undertaking small things with great love in the name of Jesus Christ.

Part of my task as your new(ish) Priest in Charge is, with my fellow priests and lay ministers, to help you cultivate the habits and practices that shape and mark out being a Christian today, and indeed to endeavour to model that in my own life as a disciple of Christ.

To that end – cultivating habits of discipleship - here are three questions that drive deep into the heart of Christian discipleship:

1.     What will do be doing this time tomorrow?
2.     How will you recognise God at work in what you will be doing this time tomorrow?
3.     How can you be prayed for in what you will be doing tomorrow?

Grappling, especially with the last two questions, helps us ponder the nature of being a disciple and connecting what we’re doing now, in this holy place, and what each of us will being doing this time tomorrow. In other words crafting a response to what it means to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’.

How will you see God gently and insistently working in your life tomorrow? What are the things you most need to enable you to recognise that and enable you in that, for which others might pray?

I guess that Lazarus faced those questions even after his momentous experience of being raised from the dead. He is saved from death; he has a new chance: how is he going to use it?

You are saved from death; you have a new chance now; how are you going to use it?

Jesus cried out, ‘unbind him’. Lazarus was unbound to live life full of the abundant life of God.

The life of a saint is a life unbound, freed to live as God intends and calls us to live.

This isn’t simply an individual call to the heart. We believe in the Communion of Saints; that is to say, we acknowledge that there is a wider communion of faith and the faithful, beyond ourselves; beyond Croydon Minster, beyond Southwark Diocese, beyond the Church of England, beyond even the confines of the solar system: All Saints Day is celebration of a cosmic, social vision connecting us to Christians of all times and places. To believe in the Communion of Saints is the ultimate in connectivity, beating any mobile phone or Wi-Fi network going.

To celebrate the saints is to celebrate human life unleashed in the name of Jesus Christ, reflecting Christ in all that we think and speak and do.

So back to those questions:

1.     What will do be doing this time tomorrow?
2.     How will you recognise God at work in what you will be doing this time tomorrow?
3.     How can you be prayed for in what you will be doing tomorrow?

There are almost certainly not quick or easy answers to those questions for you.

You may know where you’ll be this time tomorrow: in your classroom; in Sainsbury’s; in your home; at the doctor’s; at your desk. This time tomorrow I would guess most of us will not be in the same place we are now. We will have moved – gone in peace to love and serve the Lord.

God will most certainly be with you tomorrow and yet I can’t supply the answer to how you will recognise God’s work in you where you are. But…by being full of gratitude, being a forgiving, reconciling, hospitable person in the name of Jesus Christ, honouring others, speaking truthfully in difficult situations, and in being just and joyful, others will see God working in you: they will see not a goody, goody, but a saint.

And the last question… how can you be prayed for in what you will be doing tomorrow? If there is something – for example, strength, patience, courage, wisdom – something that you may want someone to pray for you why not go over to the Lady Chapel at the end of the Eucharist. There you can light a candle, ask for the saints to pray for you; you can write your request down to be offered later in the week; or you may want to make your way to the Lady Chapel where there will be priests to pray with and for you; or you may ask a fellow disciple whom you trust to pray for you.

And remember the saints have a ministry of intercession – that’s us all, and the saints who have gone before us: ask the saints, perhaps a particular patron saint, to pray for you too.

This is all about living life unleashed like Lazarus; not tied up and constrained by our fears but unbound by life and love and power.

© Andrew Bishop, 2018