Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Schisms in the Church of England - on the Feast of St Clement of Rome


A reading from the 49th chapter of the First Letter of Clement, Bishop of Rome, on the nature and character of Love.

Who can explain the bond of God’s love? Who is able to recount the greatness of its beauty? The height to which love leads is beyond description. Love binds us to God; love hides a multitude of sins; love bears all things and endures all things. There is nothing vulgar in love, nothing haughty. Love has no schism, love creates no faction, love does all things in harmony. Everyone chosen by God has been perfected in love; apart from love nothing is pleasing to God.  

(1 Clem 49.2-5)

Luke 14.7–11 – on practicing humility.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.  For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’  


On Sunday last, I invited us (among other matters) to think about where authority lies, in the Christian Church.  There is, you see, a great divide in the church.  On the one hand, there are those who believe the Bible to be the Word of God (to be treated as authoritative, straight off the page, in all matters).  On the other hand, there are those like me who consider the Bible to be an important collection of Scriptures, inspired by God and the story of God, useful for teaching and instruction, but ultimately pointing towards the true Word of God, Jesus.  On Sunday, I argued that all matters that divide Christians today should be held up to the light of Jesus.  His views are the most authoritative, and only when He speaks on a given matter should we assume that God is speaking.

So, on matters about which Jesus is silent, – we are wise if we keep largely silent too.  I’m thinking about such matters as same-sex marriage, female priests, transgender politics, capitalism versus socialism and a great deal more besides.  But, if we are compelled by events to offer an opinion, we are wise if point people to matters on which Jesus was anything but silent – such as the principles of love, faithfulness, tolerance, judging-not, welcoming all, forgiving all, loving our neighbour, caring for the downtrodden, and the breaking down of barriers between people of different opinions on religious matters.

Where we think authority comes from really matters.  It is hugely disappointing, therefore, to hear that some of our brothers and sisters in the Anglican church are taking authority into their own hands, at the present time – based on their own understanding of the Bible as the Word of God.  Last week, as you may have heard, the General Synod voted, by a very slim majority, to trial services which could be offered to same-sex couples after a civil marriage.  Despite the careful, prayerful thinking of Synod on this matter, people in the church who think of the Bible as the Word of God are not happy.  Some spoke at the Synod, and called the proposed trial ‘blasphemous’ – because, in their view, it contradicted the ‘clear teaching of Scripture’.  

The Church of England Evangelical Council has seen fit to establish alternative arrangements for oversight by bishops (for those clergy who are unhappy about Synod’s decision).  They are also establishing a fund into which evangelical churches are being encouraged to pay their parish share – instead of to the Dioceses in which they live and work.  These actions will create a fracture in the church.  This is not the Anglican Way.  The Church of England has always been a place where Christians of different traditions and quite marked differences in theology have nevertheless been able to remain together under one roof – sharing our resources, to enable the weakest churches to survive, and the Kingdom of God to thrive.  

The question of where authority lies has been a running sore in the life of the church, throughout its history.  Today is the feast-day of Clement of Rome, an early Bishop or Rome who is believed to have been, effectively, one of the first Popes.  We don’t know much about Clement, really – but we do know that he had occasion, in the closing years of the first century, to write a stern (and very lengthy!) letter to the church in Corinth.  The church leaders in Corinth had been deposed by their congregation.  We don’t know why, but Clement ascribes the sin of jealousy to the troublemakers.  We can only guess at what the actual issues were.  Clement’s letter to the Corinthians reminds the congregation that their leaders were in fact appointed by the Apostles of Jesus, and he demanded that they should be re-instated.  In other words, Clement appeals to the authority of Jesus – not the Scriptures.  

In his letter, Clement cries out in frustration, using words that resonate in the present disputes of Anglicanism.  He says:  Why do we tear and rend asunder the members of Christ, and stir up factions against our own body, and reach such a pitch of folly, as to forget that we are members one of another? (1 Clem 46.7).  Instead, in the words of our first reading today, Clement appeals to his readers to mark the characteristics of Christian love for one another:  “Love has no schism, love creates no faction, love does all things in harmony.”  (1 Clem 49.4)

In our Gospel reading, Christ himself gives a passionate and graphic plea for humility.  He uses the illustration of a banqueting table – but what he is pointing to is the necessity of humility in all things.  I passionately disagree with my brothers and sisters who would place the stricter teachings of the Scriptures over the loving and generous teachings of Jesus.  But, in humility, I have to acknowledge that I may be wrong, and they may be right.  For we only see through a glass darkly (as St Paul said), and none of us really knows the mind of God.  So the last thing I would seek to do is to separate from those with whom I disagree.  Rather, with St Paul and St Clement, I would prefer to exercise the kind of love that bears all things, hopes all things and endures all things, for the sake of fulfilling Jesus’ prayer, in John 17, ‘that they may all be one’.

God preserve us from those who would allow honest, prayer-soaked disagreement over matters of human sexuality to further divide the church.   God forbid it.  Please. Amen.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Be Prepared - Part 2

 Readings: 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11  &  Matthew 25.14-30

A week is a long time in politics, they say.  And it’s also a surprisingly long period between sermons, I find!  I wonder how many of you remember what I said last week?  Even I had to go to my blog and look it up!  So, for those whose memories are as short as mine, let me just remind you of the main points. 

Last week, I asked you to think about the promised return of Jesus.  I suggested to you that rather than him returning on some future date (on a cloud with lots of angels and trumpets) that in fact Jesus has already returned, that he is returning all the time, and that he will continue to return in the future.  I suggested that much of the end-times narrative of the Bible is, in fact metaphorical – and that what the Bible is really saying is ‘Be Prepared’!  (You might recall the picture of me in my Cub Scout uniform).  Be prepared, that is, at all times and in all places, to join in with Jesus’ activity in the world today, here and now.

I had a wonderful example of such preparedness, this week. I am currently supporting a Christian family in Pakistan, who reached out to us, to St Faith’s, through the internet.  They are moving to Havant, to take up work in the care sector – because, God knows we need more care workers in the UK.  There are lots of political issues that their decision raises – about the funding of our health service, stripping other nations of their health-care workers, and all the rest.  But that’s for another day.  The reality, for this particular family, is that right now they need help to acquire some accommodation, and all the furnishings they will need to set up home.  I have been praying for guidance as to how to help them.

Yesterday, I wandered into church and came across someone (who will remain nameless for now) who is in the process of clearing out the house of her recently deceased mother.  The kind woman asked me whether I knew of anyone who could make use of some of her mother’s things – such as bedding and the like.  So I told her about the family from Pakistan, and how they were due to arrive in Havant in a month’s time, and that they will have only the clothes in their suitcase.  The kind woman then said that she would start sorting out things that the family will be able to use in their new home (whenever we can find one for them!) – like kitchen equipment, bedding and towels and all such things.

What a brilliant example, of being prepared to respond in situations when Jesus is working!  Kindness and generosity, in the face of worry and anxiety on the part of the Family, is a brilliant example of God at work.  I feel privileged to be in the nexus of God at work in their lives, and honoured to have ‘been prepared’ to take the leap of faith to support people I’ve never met.

A week is a long time in the Church of England too.  Especially, I suggest, for members of the General Synod who met this week in London.  The Synod was grappling with the vexed question of issues around the marriage, or blessing, of same-sex couples.  A compromise has been reached, which (as is the nature of most compromises) has left both sides in the debate unsatisfied.  I won’t go into the details here – you can read all about it in your own time.  But I would like to make a couple of observations, which I hope will be generally informative.

The first relates to this morning’s gospel reading.  You’ll know, of course, that a talent was a coin, at the time of Jesus.  Today’s gospel is therefore, on one level, about how we invest our money in the work of God.  But, by serendipity, the fact that coins were called talents means we also have the opportunity to think about the talents, abilities, and innate human qualities that each Christian brings to the task of building the Kingdom.  In ‘being prepared’ to join in with the action of Jesus, each of us brings the person we are, the person that God has made us to be.  Whether we are English, or Pakistani (for example).  Whether we are rich or poor.  Whether we are differently-abled, or typically healthy.  And, for the purposes of discussions about same-sex marriage, whether we are straight, gay, or any of the spectrum of genders and preferences in-between, we come as we ARE.  We come as God made us, and how life has shaped us.  And we bring ourselves, and the talents we have been given by the master, to the task of building God’s kingdom.  Jesus receives us as we are, and welcomes ALL to his table.  Jesus welcomes EVERYONE to the feast, and to the holy task of Kingdom building.

And finally, to those who want to hold on tenaciously to the Bible’s so-called ‘traditional’ views of marriage, even to the point of driving a split in the Church of England, I want to say this:  please be very careful about the weight of authority you assign to the ancient Scriptures of a middle Eastern tribe of between two and three thousand years ago.  As I’ve said before from this pulpit, shockingly, the Bible is NOT the word of God.  Rather, it is a collection of writings, from a wide variety of authors, written across a number of centuries which all point to the true Word of God, the Logos himself, Jesus.  Jesus, in the words of the letter to the Hebrews, is the ‘author and perfecter’ of our faith.  He is the light of wisdom in the darkness of human ignorance. 

On the topic of homosexuality, Jesus said not one word.  But he did speak of the Kingdom principles of love, faithfulness, and preparedness to move where the Spirit is leading.  He specifically did not want us to be shackled to ancient Scriptures, but rather to him – the God who fulfils the Scriptures.  What does it mean to fulfil the Scriptures?  I think it means that all Scriptures need to be held up to the Light of Jesus.  If Jesus said to act this way, or that, even when such action appears to contradict the Scriptures, then we follow Jesus’ lead, not the dead letter of an ancient text.  Take for example his teaching on revenge.  The Hebrew Bible specifically teaches ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’.  But Jesus quotes that Scripture, and then says ‘But I say, forgive your brother, constantly’. 

So to any who would invite me to place religious dogma over Jesus clear instruction to love and serve one another, I say no.  To anyone who would invite me to join a schism in the Church of England, over the single issue of whether two faithful, loving people can have the blessing of the church I say; “I’m prepared.  I’m equipped.  With the talents he has given me, I’m following Jesus.  I will bless such faithful, committed, love”.   And I hope you would say the same too.  Amen.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Be Prepared!

Readings: Matthew 25.1-13 and Thessalonians 4.13-18

For a few brief years, when I was very young, I had the pleasure of being a cub scout.  I loved it.  We got to go camping, and to learn woodcraft.  We had fun evenings of games and enjoyed working for our various badges.  In my day, we had to wear what is now considered a rather old fashioned uniform, complete with garters to hold our socks up, a scarf in the colour of our troop, and of course a woggle.  We even used to use the chant ‘dib dib dib’, ‘dob dob dob’!  Once a year we would go out and terrorise our neighbours with the offer of ‘bob-a-job’ – when we would inexpertly clean cars or sweep driveways in return for a few miserable pennies.  But I loved it.  I even became a ‘sixer’ – which meant that I was put in charge of a group of six younger boys – which taught me, at a very early age, something about leadership.

All those activities were designed with one over-arching premise in mind.  It was the motto of the Scout movement: ‘Be Prepared’.  Lord Baden-Powell, when he founded the Scouts, wanted boys to be as prepared as possible for whatever life would throw at them. Through the badge system, boys like me were encouraged to learn skills like cooking, or how to make a camp fire, or how to build a shelter.  We were also encouraged to open our minds to the wider world, with badges about first aid, or even astronomy.  In many ways, the cub scouts prepared me for many of the situations of life, in which I’ve needed to get stuck in, work out how something works, or exercise some leadership skills.   Scouting is a brilliant movement – it taught me to ‘be prepared’.

Being prepared is, of course, at the heart of Jesus’ parable about the Bridesmaids and their oil lamps.  Jesus encourages all of us to be prepared for his coming.  If you’ve heard me speak about the second coming of Jesus in the past, you’ll know that I’m a little bit suspicious of those Scriptures which appear to foretell the arrival of Jesus on a cloud, like some sort of Greek god coming down from Mount Olympus, flying through the skies.  Thinking about our first reading of today, I think the Apostle Paul was being rather more poetic than literal, with all his vivid descriptions of Christians rising up to meet the Lord in the air. 

We need, as always, to think about the context of Paul’s words.  He was writing at a time when many Christians thought that Jesus would literally return from heaven. A lot of the New Testament contains rather fanciful promises of that happening, imminently, and while many who were then alive were still living.  It was, I believe, a view and a hope that was grounded in fear; fear of persecution, fear of being abandoned by Jesus.  In particular, Paul was addressing the fear that the Thessalonians had – a fear that those among them who had died would miss the return of Jesus.  As Greeks, the Thessalonians quite probably had the rather dark Greek notion of a world of the dead, which was separated for ever from the world of the living.  Paul’s rather poetic writing was a way of offering hope to a fledgling church that their efforts to build God’s Kingdom on earth were not in vain.  And he was assuring them that the promises of God, through Jesus, were as real for the dead as they are for the living. 

        History has proved, time and again, that belief in a literal second coming is a mistaken belief.   Countless prophets over the centuries have announced that Jesus will return.  And they’ve all been wrong.  There is a resurgence in such prophecies at the moment, because of the establishment of the state of Israel.  Some are even hoping, in a rather macabre way, that the present conflicts between Israel and Palestine are the early salvos in the war of Armageddon, which (they hope) will be a pre-cursor to the bodily return of Jesus.  Such prophets have, I think, a rather weak understanding of both Scripture, and of history. 

So what are we to think of Jesus’ reported promise to return?  I hold the view that the return of Jesus is not a one-time event.  Rather, it is something which has happened, and is happening, and will happen, all the time.  It happened when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples at Pentecost.  It happens whenever his teachings are obeyed, and when world is made a better place.  Whenever a warrior acts out of mercy, and withholds from bombing hospitals and schools, Jesus returns.  Whenever an armistice – a ‘ceasefire’ is declared between warring nations, Jesus returns.  Whenever a soldier, or a doctor, or an ambulance driver lays down their life out of love for humanity, Jesus returns.  Whenever a homeless person is supported on the road to housing and security, Jesus returns.  Whenever a lonely person is offered companionship, Jesus returns.  Whenever a wealthy person gives from their wealth to help another human being, Jesus returns.

What then does it mean for us to be prepared, as Jesus teaches in the parable of the Bridesmaids?  It means being constantly alert for the ongoing activity of Jesus in the world – and it means being prepared to get on board with what Jesus has been doing, is doing and will be doing.  It means being prepared never to turn down an opportunity to bless another person, or to sacrifice for the well-being of all humanity.  It means being prepared to put our shoulders to the wheel in the task of building God’s Kingdom on earth.  Are you prepared?  Are you prepared to join in with Jesus?  Amen.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Anxiety, panic and fretting...on the Feast of Margery Kempe



Philippians 3.3–8a

For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

Luke 15.1–10

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’


Today is the feast of Margery Kemp.  She was born in King’s Lynn in Norfolk in the late 1300s, a contemporary of Julian of Norwich. She received many visions, several of them of the holy family, one of the most regular being of the crucifixion. She also claimed to have conversations with the saints.

She was much sought after as a visionary, but she was also endlessly in trouble with the Church.  She was a bit of a campaigner, to be honest – who thought she knew better than the rest of her society about the things of God, and didn’t always know when to keep silent.  She was rebuked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was more than once imprisoned.  Nevertheless, Margery seems have experienced long periods of close communion with Christ, and developed a strong compassion for the sins of the world.  Her autobiography, The Book of Margery Kempe, recounts her remarkable life. She died towards the middle of the 1400s.

On the one hand, we might like to rejoice in Margery’s amazing and miraculous visions – which clearly sustained a great faith.  However, on the other hand, in our post-miraculous age we may prefer other explanations for Margery’s visions.  Thanks to modern medicine, and especially our increasing understanding of the mind, we know that hallucinations are often the result of some sort of stress or anxiety.  We also know that people who experience hallucinations tend to see those things on which they are most fixated.  So, people who live on a diet of horror movies will hallucinate horrible visions.  But those, like Margery, who focus on holy and beautiful ideas are most likely to hallucinate those things. 

These days, we might say that Margery was clearly a holy woman, who had spent much time in prayer and study, but who, when anxiety about the world overwhelmed her, tended to hallucinate visions of Godly things and people.  This is not uncommon.  There are even people who visit this church who claim to have visions or voices from God. 

Even in the non-scientific age of the Bible, wise teachers knew that it was important to treat such visions and prophecies with care.  St Paul taught that anyone with such apparent messages from God should bring them to the leaders of the church, for testing.  Perhaps Paul, too, was suspicious that not all visions come directly from God, but rather from the creative depths of the human mind – especially in times of great anxiety.

Anxiety is, of course, a normal human reaction to the changing circumstances of life.  It’s part of our natural protection mechanism – our ‘fight or flight’ instinct.  We cast around for threats to our security, or comfort.  We are on our guard…and that makes us anxious.  We become more alert…less likely to sleep…and therefore more anxious.  For some, the reaction to anxiety is to shut out the world, turn off the news, and bury our heads. For others, action is the name of the game.  We might try to allay our anxiety by joining marches to Parliament (which parliament rarely notices), or we might gain some relief by ranting about whatever worries us on social media.  For some, though, anxiety about the future manifests as hallucinations, either visual or auditory – stemming from a deep hope that God has the world under control.

In our first reading, St Paul describes the kind of anxiety that he has lived with, all his adult life.  There’s an almost Trumpian level of boasting on display as he talks about all the ways that he tried to work himself up into being acceptable to God.  He was ‘circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, a Hebrew born of Hebrews, a Pharisee, a persecutor of the church; righteous under the law and blameless.  (You can just hear Donald Trump at this end of that list can’t you?  ‘No-one has ever been more righteous-er than me!’).

There’s a lot of anxiety on display in today’s Gospel reading, too.  First, there’s the anxiety of the Pharisees and scribes.  They were anxious about this new charismatic preacher in their midst, who appeared to be leading people away from their way of doing religion.  They were anxious about losing their authority – losing their power base.

And then, in Jesus’ parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin, his main characters display anxiety too.  The shepherd is anxious about his lost sheep.  So is the woman who has lost her coin.  Both the shepherd and the woman are offered to us as pictures of God. 

We need to be careful about making God in our image – but there is a sense in which Jesus sees God as being anxious about the spiritual fate of his children.  The Scriptures offer us a picture of a God whose whole being is anxiously focussed on the salvation of humanity. 

Ultimately, it’s God’s sheer passion – anxiety if you will – for his children which saves us.  Paul ultimately discovers that all anxiety about faith, all his chasing after righteousness was ‘rubbish’ compared to the experience of finding out that God loves us, anyway.  You may be interested to know that this passage of Philippians contains one of the rather more fruity uses of language, hidden away in the Bible.  The word translated as ‘rubbish’ in our Bibles is really much closer to a strong word for manure, beginning with shshsh!   Paul says that all his achievements, all the things he was anxious to please God about, they are all ‘muck and manure’ compared to the surpassing joy of knowing Christ – and knowing that Christ has done all that is necessary to save us.  We have no need to try anxiously to earn God’s favour – because he is already favourable towards us. 

So, to my anxiety, and to yours, I say this:  let us use the coming days to rest in the Lord.  Let’s take time to rest in the loving gaze of our heavenly father, to contemplate his teachings, and receive the power of his love.  Then, perhaps, freed from anxiety, we too might be given visions, or at least nudges from the Holy Spirit, about how we can play our part in building God’s Kingdom of Justice on earth.  Not anxiously. Not expending our energy on fruitless frustration and worry. But, calmly, trustingly, stepping out each day to play our part, in the place God has put us, in building the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

All Saints 2023


Revelation 7.9–17

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’  I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.  They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

Matthew 5.1–12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


I always look forward to All Saint’s Day.  It gives me an opportunity to remind you of my list of funny and quirky saints – most of which I have culled from a book by the priest and broadcaster, Richard Coles, called ‘Lives of the Improbable Saints’.

For example, have you ever heard of St Ronald of Buckingham?  Apparently, he was born into the world like any normal baby, and immediately preached an amazing sermon.... before promptly dying.  Then there's St Theophilus the Myrrh-Gusher.  It’s a great name isn't it?  It refers to the belief that the bodies of certain martyred saints secrete a sweet smelling liquid from their wounds.  Apparently, St Theophilus’ body did just that, in copious amounts!

Then there's St Isodore, who in the 1980s was designated the patron saint of the Internet –because he was a scholar and compiler of information.  I like to imagine the scene in Heaven when God told Isodore that the Church has just designated him as the patron of the internet?  "I'm the Patron Saint of WHAT?!"

And then there's the number one weird saint of all time...the Patron Saint of finding a parking place - Saint Mother Cabrini.  Apparently, in New York, car drivers circling a block can be heard muttering this prayer:  "Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini - find me a space for my driving machiny."

All these Saints are jolly good fun, but there is more than grain of truth in many of them.  Sometimes, saints become patron saints because of the terrible things they were made to suffer for their faith in Christ.  So, for example, St Apollonia is the patron saint of dentists, because she had all her teeth extracted as a punishment for believing in Jesus.  And let’s not forget our own St Faith... roasted alive on a griddle-iron, for refusing to give up her Lord.  I could tell you a lot more horror stories...but it’s a bit early in the morning for that!

So, All Saints is a good time to be reminded of extraordinary lives of the Saints who now ’from their labours rest’ - as we sang at the beginning of our service today.  But are there saints among us now?  

The Bible refers to all true believers as ‘saints’.  So the answer to my question must be ‘yes…there are saints among us today’.  There are, and must be, those who yearn and hope for the final revelation of Christ, just as John envisioned in our first reading of today.  They are those who constantly seek to purify themselves, to make their robes white, because of Christ.

Or, if you prefer, from Jesus’ lips in the Sermon on the Mount, the saints – the blessed ones - are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  They are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the pure in heart.

But is that me?  Is that you?

Our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox church have an insight to offer.  They teach that all Christians have the potential to become so like Christ that they can become kinds of gods themselves.  Orthodox theology calls that process ‘deification’ – and it’s a goal for which all of us are encouraged to strive.  

But what does it look like, in practice?  Much has been made recently of the secular sainthood of the medical profession, tirelessly exerting themselves on behalf of the population, still grappling with Covid and historic levels of under-funding.  Other secular saints will be recognised recognised by name in the King's new year honours list.  

        Locally, we have our own saints - like St Margaret of Tait, who has been championing the Langstone Millpond.  We have St Graham of the Organ, who has been developing not one but two junior choirs.  We have St Sandra of the Servery, always willing to whip up a brew and a slice of homemade cake for the weary visitor to the church.  And there are plenty more too.  St Bill of the Monday Club, the other St Bill ...of the Bells.  St Bruce of the Servers, St Alan of the Stewards, St Shelley of the Pallant - and of course, I have to mention St Clare of the Shop!  SO many of you act and live in saintly ways - you make me feel quite inadequate, and decidedly proud of you all! 

But are saints measured by what they do?  Yes, of course…to an extent.  The true nature of our heart is often demonstrated by our actions.  But what about those who cannot do anything?  Is it possible to be a saint who is tied by illness to the hospital bed, or trapped at home by infirmity?  Well, I want to say ‘yes’ to them too.  Being a living saint is not just about what we do.  It’s about who we are.  To be a saint is to become more and more like God.  Being a modern saint is about cultivating an attitude toward the world which mirrors the attitude of Jesus himself. 

But how?

Well, here’s a way of thinking about an answer to that question.  There’s been a thought winging its way around social media recently.  It’s one of those ‘feel good’ sayings that we all encounter from time to time, which gets lots of people clicking ‘Like’.  This particular one goes something like…

“I don’t care if you are black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor.  If you are good to me, I’ll be good to you”.  On the face of it, it’s a nice thing to have said – essentially ‘all that matters is how we treat each other’.   

But it’s not a particularly Christian thing to have said.  Being nice is not an exclusively Christian virtue.  Jesus calls his followers beyond human nice-ness.  He calls us to extraordinary love, in the pursuit of holiness.  If Jesus had written that ’meme’, he might have added – “It doesn’t even matter how you treat me.  Even when you insult me, or beat me, or kill me...I will still love you”.  

Christian love is the kind that says ‘Father forgive them’, even when ‘they’ are nailing you to a cross.  Christian love is unconditional – like the love of Jesus, who we strive to be like.  It is a love which does not stop even when, like St Faith, we are being tied to a roasting griddle iron. Or as Christians in Palestine have been discovering this month, being bombed by an apparently war-mongering neighbour.  It’s a love which sees beyond the poor behaviour and poor choices of failing human beings, and which begins to see all humanity as God sees us – children - who often fall down, and constantly need picking up and hugging from time to time.  

Now of course, I realise what a challenge it would be to continue to offer love to a bomb-slinging madman or, say, an abuser of children, or a corrupt politician.  Simple common sense says that, of course, society needs protecting from this kind of behaviour.  But hate is never the right response.  Hate only produces more hate.  The ONLY possible remedy against hate, is love.  It won’t always work – but it’s the only path worth even trying.  And it’s the path of Jesus.  It’s the path of holiness.  It’s the path of saint-hood.

Of course, that kind of holiness is beyond human norms.  It’s super-human, in fact.  It’s not something I would find easy to do, on my own.  But, with God’s help, and by God’s grace, maybe I could love someone that much.  Maybe I too could be considered a saint.  Hmm...St Thomas of Havant....has a bit of ring to it….

And if we are open to it, we can all take up the challenge to become Holy ones, deified ones, Saints, ourselves.