The Leap of Faith
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
28 October 2012, 10:30 (Saint Simon and Saint Jude)
SAINT SIMON AND SAINT JUDE
28 October 2012
When you set off for the cathedral this morning, I don’t expect anybody thought that our worship might be as thrilling and adrenalin-fuelled as a white-knuckle ride at a theme park!
Yet that is the journey of faith – trusting our lives to God so that in worship we are possessed by God the Holy Spirit and taken where he would have us go and be what he would have us be.
In puts the Cathedral Eucharist in a different light: we are not congregation or spectators or audience but people taken into the drama of God, his nearer presence where he challenges and changes us, teaches and feeds us, heals and forgives us and sends us out renewed, inspired and transformed.
Worship is so much more than a roller coaster ride or a sport or entertainment.
Worship though is extreme in that our control and power are eclipsed by God and his love. It is much more extreme than any sport or ride: our legs may indeed turn to jelly and our stomachs might well be in our mouths for it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
We sit and listen to the scriptures week by week but do we truly hear and take in what they are saying?
Our reading from Isaiah speaks of God laying down for his people a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation. They made lies a refuge and falsehood a shelter but now God offers hope and help: One who trusts will not panic.
St Paul in the next reading teaches us that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone upon which the household of his people is built with the apostles and prophets forming the foundation.
In this we way we are built into heaven itself and made a dwelling-place for God.
And then in the Gospel, Jesus reminds us what all this means: we are God’s and not the world’s, and so are likely to encounter misunderstanding, hostility and rejection.
But we are not left unaided and unempowered: the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, has been sent to fill us, lead us and testify on our behalf.
Here is a very different sort of security offered by the cornerstone and the foundations of faith. We as Christians are called to trust entirely in God for he is our beginning and end – he is our past, our present and our only true future.
If we stop for a moment to think, we will realise that all of us are impressed and often allured and beguiled by the false security of this world.
And when it unravels or is challenged – we can then see through it even though we might still cling to the material world in another way for solace and reassurance.
Our news is filled not only with wars and political and economic crises in other lands but we know in recent days how bankers, politicians, celebrities and sportspeople have failed to live honestly and with integrity.
We have been deceived – and institutions have colluded with or even compounded the corruption and fraud of individuals.
We have witnessed dramatically the potentially corrosive power of money and fame but not for the first time.
All humanity is subject to making lies a refuge and falsehood a shelter. We are easily deluded by the glamour of temporal power and the solace of material possessions, comfort and certitudes.
The apostles challenge us with a very different security – the security that starts with the leap of faith.
Today is the Feast of St Simon and St Jude and we are taken back to the call of the apostles and the foundation of the Christian Church.
These two apostles are not household names as such – they are some of the least known but they are also unfortunate enough to share their names with two other apostles – Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot and for that reason Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus and John writes emphatically “Judas, not Iscariot”.
Little is known of their lives and deaths: they were with Jesus throughout his ministry and after the resurrection moved through Libya and Armenia and Persia (Iran) where both were martyred in about 65AD.
Their lives and their deaths were indeed costly, and now by the power of the risen Christ, they dwell with God on high and pray and support those whose pilgrimage is still on earth.
This is the foundation of the apostles upon which our lives are built as members of Christ’s church.
And yet we the church so often opt for a consoling security rather than the leap of faith which tests and renews God’s truth in our lives in every generation.
This coming week a secret group called the Crown Nominations Commission will meet again as it struggles to nominate two people for the pivotal role of Archbishop of Canterbury. At the same time we witness our Anglican communion obsessed and hi-jacked by our very God-given humanity in terms of gender and sexuality.
The consecration of women as bishops and the holiness (or otherwise) of sexuality have become shibboleths for our church – diverting our sight and our priorities in a world of hunger, ignorance, war, oppression and exploitation.
Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are in a similar position where the last three decades have seen a retreat from the extraordinary renewal and reformation of the Church.
This month sees the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council – which was called on 11 October 1962 and met over four periods and sessions until 8 December 1965.
It is hard to overemphasise the importance of this ecumenical council known as Vatican 2.
In a radical rediscovery of the apostolic faith, it leapt into the modern world and unambiguously binned its precious certitudes that had kept it isolated and apart from the world in which it existed.
No longer would it cling to these exclusive statements:
error has no rights and
outside the Church there is no salvation
Whatever Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI try to say and do, this cannot intellectually or spiritually be undone or reversed.
The institution that over two millennia had covered over the apostolic foundations could never be the same again.
The principles and experience of the Council had opened windows and eyes, minds and souls – and the Spirit of God blew in and re-forged the very nature of the Church.
The work of the 16th century reformers and the modern world of science, democracy, popular education, information and travel were accommodated within the Latin Church.
A process called ‘inculturation’ took place so that the liturgy changed overnight from Latin into many languages, the vernacular of its diverse peoples, and a new sense of the global church prevailed.
No longer did Rome claim a monopoly on truth but now the Church’s teachings would be adapted in their presentation to non-Christian cultures, and the primacy of Peter was to be set within a collegiality of governance exercised by all the bishops.
So the Council placed scripture back in the centre of the Church and acknowledged the new perspectives brought to humanity by science and the modern world.
These are massive changes and perhaps the most important of all came in the document Lumen Gentium in which it was re-stated that the Church is the laity, the people of God, and it they who are supported and nurtured by the bishops and priests in their common mission to the world.
Here is a moment and process of renewal – a Pentecost of love, a tidal wave of divine energy.
The present papacy is re-asserting the continuity of the tradition and teaching of the Church rather than the radical rupture and realignment that many recognised as being the Council’s work.
It is a salutary lesson and reminder to all Christians of how easily we lose the fire of the Spirit and the thrill of the radical challenge of Jesus Christ.
Here in Europe and the developed world, we are literally WEIRD:
– Rich and
...and we forget that most of the world is not.
Our assumptions and experiences limit us as does our timidity and material preoccupation.
On this Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, let us pray for courage to be born again and to live in the uncertainty of this world and in the power of the life-giving Spirit of God.
That truly is the joy of believing – it is a journey and thrill beyond compare.
D.H. Lawrence, not renowned as a churchman, saw it oh so clearly:
Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled,
Are you willing to be made nothing?
dipped into oblivion?
If not, you will never really change.
The phoenix renews her youth
only when she is burnt, burnt alive, burnt down
to hot and flocculent ash.
Then the small stirring of a new small bub in the nest
with strands of down like floating ash
shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle,
Phoenix ~ D.H. Lawrence