Sunday 31 January 2021

On Being Present: A Candlemas Homily

Preached as sermon at Croydon Minster on the transferred feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.


The feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the scene described in today’s gospel, ends the great liturgical cycle of the Incarnation - from Christmas to Candlemas - 40 days of intensive focus on the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Mary.


At the heart of today’s gospel is presentation and reception. Christ is presented by Mary and Joseph; received by Simeon and Anna.


That action repeats in the liturgy of the Eucharist: Christ is present in word and sacrament and presents himself to be received by us who present ourselves in the temple to receive him.


But being present in the temple these last 10 months is not open to everyone. For very good reason some are present but in a virtual way.


The ideal is always to be physically present in church receiving the Body of Christ, being the Body of Christ, just as Jesus Christ was present in the flesh as Emmanuel, God with us.


But being present is not only about physical presence.


In the world of work and in schools a well-known problem is the opposite of being present and that is absenteeism. If you’re absent you cannot produce, you cannot engage.


There is another problem at work, at school, and in church, which is rather different but has the same effect. That is known as presenteeism. That’s when you’re present but not attentive, not engaging, or as they might say, ‘the lights are on but no one’s at home’.


In a pandemic being present, physically, emotionally, spiritually is hard.


This is desperately hard for us all at the moment. I know it myself some days, and I know others do too. As a spiritual condition it’s known as akedia of which some features are: listlessness; the inability to get motivated or engaged; putting off what could be done today to an indeterminate tomorrow; a vague questioning of God’s presence with us; lack of confidence about what the day will bring and what its point is.


There’s so much more to this than ‘Keep calm and carry on’. This is a spiritual issue demanding a spiritual response. It is about looking for moments fulfilled, not just ticking off the days on the calendar or clock watching; it is about seeing each new day as a gift to us and living it as far as we can to the full: you could use the opening words of Morning Prayer each day:


As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you, now and forever. Amen.


There is so much more to say on this theme, but for today let’s turn back to the Gospel reading to see what is going on. Simeon and Anna - tired, blurry eyed and feeling time was running out on them - are both patient yet eager eyed for God. Their hearts desire. Their hope and expectation is fulfilled. And they are ready to ‘move on’ fully trusting that God is present with them, in living and in dying.


May this Candlemas be a time when our spirits and sight are renewed and, knowing Christ to be present in our lives, may we present ourselves to him in faith and hope and love.


Sunday 24 January 2021

'Come to the Feast of Love and Transformation'

 First preached as sermon at Croydon Minster on the Third Sunday of Epiphany (Gospel: John 2.1-11)


The wedding feast at Cana is the setting for a most wonderful miracle of transformation and new possibilities. In a celebration of love, a wedding, Love himself, Jesus Christ the source of love and life, is present as the true Bridegroom coming to be united to us his church.


St John calls what happens at Cana a ‘sign’: a sign points to something beyond itself.


So where does this sign of the miraculous transformation of water into wine point us today?


Water transformed into wine is startling and amazing to us now as much as to the guests at the wedding; it is a sign revealing God’s glory, prompting belief in the disciples.


The sign of water and wine points to our life in Christ as his disciples. In the water of baptism we are cleansed and born anew. The wine signifies the wine of the Eucharist, the blood shed for us on the cross for our salvation and transformation, in which we drink – in normal times – the life of Christ.


The sign of water and wine points us to the Cross, where we will see Jesus glorified, and water and blood flowing from his loving heart. His Mother, Mary, stood faithfully by that cross, seeing the water and blood – a sword piercing her own heart too.


And Mary herself is a sign pointing to her Divine Son. At Cana she spoke four simple words to prompt Jesus’ action: ‘they have no wine’. On one level Mary is simply observing the practical reality that the wine at the feast has run out. She is also speaking more deeply, recognising lives not lived to the full – they have no wine - and pointing to the heavenly feast, the Eucharist, where Christ is present and transforming lives.


In Christ lives are transformed. The lives of the saints bear witness to that. And closer to home, as a priest I have been privileged to witness moments of transformation in people’s lives and to walk with them as their lives turn around. Those moments are as miraculous in some ways as water turned to wine, as a person puts the darkness behind them and walks into the light as a servant of Christ.


The sign points us to be faithful servants of Jesus Christ. Mary says ‘do whatever he tells you’. That is a call to service. It is the servants, not the principle guests, who first knew what had taken place at the wedding feast. That calls us to remember it is those who serve the purposes of God in their lives in simple ordinary ways of everyday holiness, who first glimpse his glory.


So, the sign of water and wine points us beyond the incredible or unlikely into the possibility of transformation. The sign points us to see God’s glory revealed in Jesus Christ whose hour is now coming when he comes as the Bridegroom to woo, us his people, back to his loving, transforming heart. The sign tells us that we are invited to the wedding feast of love and transformation.

Sunday 17 January 2021

'Come & See'

 First preached at Croydon Minster on Sunday 17 January, 2021. Gospel reading John 1.43-end

‘You will see greater things than these’ (John 1.50b)




St John’s gospel is wonderful! It’s full of connections, links and allusions. It begins with everything distilled into 18 pregnant verses, known as the Prologue, that are fleshed out through the next 21 chapters.


Take today’s gospel reading. Philip and Nathanael are invited by Jesus to see so much more than they could believe possible about themselves, God and the ways of heaven.


A couple of verses of the Prologue seem to encapsulate Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus:


‘The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’ (John 1.17-18)


As Jesus said, Nathanael was an exemplary Israelite, and knew the law given through Moses (cf John 1.47). He had never seen God – no one ever had - but what Philip, Nathanael and we will see – and now have seen - is grace and truth in the face of Jesus Christ.


When they meet, Nathanael discovers that Jesus had already seen and known him. Seeing Nathanael goes beyond spotting him by a fig tree; this is deep knowing.


Nathanael is amazed, ‘How did you come to know me?’ The answer was given in our psalm this morning:


‘O LORD, thou hast searched me out and known me : thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising, thou understandest my thoughts long before’ (Psalm 139.1).


Jesus beholds him and knows him; he beholds you and knows you, because in beholding you, he loves you.


And beholding, knowing and loving you he invites you to ‘come and see; taste and see’.


‘It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’


Come and behold; come, feast your eyes, and you will see even greater things than these - says Christ, the Bread of Life - and in knowing me, and feasting at my table, I will open to you the very heavens, the very depths of the mystery of God full of grace and truth.


Sunday 10 January 2021

'This is the Christ' A homily for the Baptism of Christ

 First preached as a homily at Croydon Minster 10th January 2021.

‘This is the Christ, the Chosen of God,

the one who will bring healing to the nations’

(Antiphon to the Benedictus in Epiphany, Common Worship: Daily Prayer)




‘Behold!’ - says John the Baptist – look, feast your eyes: this is the Christ.


Today, at the river, John fulfils his title and baptises Jesus in the waters.


In water - the signifier of life, creation and renewal - is where your rebirth, and mine, takes place.


Baptism washes us clean from sin and we are born into the life of Christ. So Jesus does not need baptism from John, except to reveal himself to us, to make the waters holy and to promise abundant life.


Here is the life of the Blessed Trinity. The Father-Creator speaks; the Spirit descends - as at the creation – and the Word, from the beginning, in flesh stands in our midst.


The divine life is seen on earth so that human life may be transformed and renewed, reflecting the ways of heaven which is now torn open so that we can see God’s ways, the ways of heaven.


Life in Christ means that we are set on fire with faith, hope and love which flows from God, within and amongst us, spilling out into the world which is already his. His grace flowing before us transforms, renews and heals his distorted and disfigured creation.


The Baptism of Christ reveals that if anyone is in Christ there is New Creation (cf 2 Corinthians 5.17).


The light of the first day of the Creation shines out today, because ‘from sunrise to sunset this day is holy, for Christ has risen from the tomb and scattered the darkness of death with light that will not fade’ (Preface for Sundays in Ordinary Time, Common Worship).


And now, heaven is torn open, bread is broken, hands outstretched and Christ’s body presented to us afresh so that again we are transformed, renewed and recreated in his love.

Sunday 3 January 2021

A mystery revealed and unfolded: an Epiphany homily

 A sermon preached at Croydon Minster for the feast of the Epiphany.

‘Lift up your eyes and look around…then shall you see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice…’

(cf Isaiah 60.4)




The scene is complete.


Shepherds and Magi have been drawn together called by angels, led by a star and now adore.


They are safely in our crib, and we place ourselves - with them - before the manger throne of Christ in wonder and adoration, for God is made known in human flesh and we have seen his glory in the face of Jesus Christ.


The door of the Bethlehem stable, the door of this tabernacle, has opened to those who were not on the inside before, shepherds and Magi, you and me.


The shepherds represent those who not highly regarded but necessary to society all the same. They are part of the people of Israel, but on its fringes. They’re on the outside of the ‘in-crowd’.


The Magi represent people from all the nations, they have the allure of wealth and mystique, they are spiritual searchers. They’re on the inside of the outsiders!


Both, in their own way, transgress the boundaries of access to the God of Israel, just as God in Christ has taken our humanity so that we can cross into divinity.


That is the revelation, the manifestation, this is what the Epiphany is – Christ is made known to all people: Jew and Gentile; insider and outsider; near and far; familiar and stranger.


Up until the Epiphany the movement has been inwards, or centripetal, the presence of Christ attracting, drawing, sucking people in towards himself.


From now on Christ will be revealed in an outward movement, a centrifugal movement.


In his Baptism in the River Jordan, at the hands of John, there will be an epiphany; in the wedding feast at Cana he will be made known in the miraculous revelation of transforming love: an epiphany.


Mary, the Virgin Mother, is the thread that connects this inward/outward movement to Christ.


The star leads us, and the angels call us, in to adore ‘the child cradled on his mother’s lap’ (cf Matthew 2.11).


And then John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary point out to us who Jesus Christ is, out and about. As John puts it, ‘Behold, look, feast your eyes, this is the Lamb of God’. And Mary his Mother says, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’


We live this life too.


We are drawn in to this holy place with ‘angels and archangels and all the company of heaven’ to see, to taste, Christ the Bread of Life, to worship and adore, to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice to him.


And we go out to recognise him in the world he created and which he comes to renew, refresh and transform.


The mystery is unveiled to us, as it was to St Paul, so that with him we might ‘perceive the mystery of Christ’ (Ephesians 3.4)


Epiphany is about God’s initiative to make himself known - within the temple and in his world – and for us to recognise the Mystery and adore, wherever we encounter him, as Isaiah says, ‘lift up your eyes and look around…then shall you see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice…’ (cf Isaiah 60.4)