Sunday Sermons

King's Lynn Minster

King's Lynn Minster

Sunday 20th September 2020 – St Matthew

The Revd Angela Rayner

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…

I wonder whether you can think of people or professions you find it hard to love. Perhaps you’re imagining some kind of politician.  Or, wheel-clampers?  People that work for the Inland Revenue?  Or telemarketers?  Loan sharks?  Estate-agents? Well, hold one person from your least favourite profession in mind, and you just might be imagining St Matthew.  St Matthew was a tax-collector, and tax-collectors were hated.  Hand-to-mouth existence and poverty were the norm for Jesus and his friends, living under the Roman Empire.  Nobody had much to spare.  And tax-collectors were local officials, employed by Herod Antipas to collect funds for the empire.  Even worse, they scammed the people - 5 for you, 5 for me, that sort of thing.  They were Herod’s stooges, oftentimes breaking the Jewish law, despite being Jews.  Matthew was hated by his brothers.  He was no rough, and roguish fisherman like Peter; no gentle John.  Nope, if you spotted Matthew down the high street, you scurried away.  Nobody, but nobody invites the tax-man round for tea.

And yet, Jesus did exactly that.  Jesus asked the tax-man to follow him, to be a disciple.  And worse, the tax-man accepted!  This isn’t great for anybody’s reputation.  And it gets worse!  What does Jesus do next?  He sits down to dinner, and he eats with them.  He eats with the tax-collectors and prostitutes, the people-traffickers, the drug-pushers.  These are the people about whom you whisper to the young people in your life, “they’re a rough crowd, don’t get mixed up with them”.  But Jesus did.  Jesus.  He’s every parent’s worst nightmare.  Why?  Because Jesus is teaching us about what the Kingdom of God will be like.  And sometimes, we are tempted to think the Kingdom of God will be just like us.  It will be full of nice and agreeable people, who don’t push or shove.  It will be full of people who say “please” and “thank you”.  It will be full of people who think like “us”, speak like “us”.  And certainly, it won’t be too full of the folk from the night-shelter, or the betting shop or the tattoo parlour, or whatever bit of the town we’d never visit.  But I have a feeling that whatever the Kingdom of God is going to look like, it won’t be how we imagine.  It probably won’t be comfortable, because it is going to include a lot of sinners.  Sinners, like you and me.

 

Matthew teaches us that Jesus Christ comes to people who don’t necessarily go looking for him.  That means, the almost-disciples are probably not all going to be in church… at least, not yet!  And why should we expect them to be?  For “the Church does not possess Christ: his presence is not confined to the Church”.  But if these are the people Jesus went to seek, is that not our calling too?   We are called, not only to share Christ with one another, but to go into the world, and make disciples.  But how will we recognise them?  Paradoxically, “it is in the Church that we learn to recognise Christ’s presence outside the Church”.  As we are formed to be people capable of forgiveness, and of being forgiven; as peace-makers, and reconcilers; as people of prayer, then we will recognise the presence of the Kingdom of God among those who are not part of the Church.  Mission is not some kind of added extra, reserved for the super-holy.  It is for all of us!  We’ve not been able to invite our friends to the Eucharist, because of the pandemic, but all of us, every single one of us, can sit with another person and pray alongside them.  That is how we begin to make disciples.  We pray with people, and if they are willing, we invite them to join the feast.

And, so, I want to spend a bit of time thinking about the nature of the church.  What is the church?  “That’s easy” you might say.  It’s the building.  It’s the place my mum was married, and my brother was buried, the place that “houses the altar of God”.  And yes, it is.  But what else is the church?  Perhaps you’ve heard this sermon before.  “We’re the church”, you might say.  “The Church is the people of God, come together to read the Scripture, and to break bread.  After all, if the buildings all burned down, we’d still be here, wouldn’t we?”.  Now, often, that’s where people stop asking about the Church?  It’s the building in which we worship and the people who gather around Word and Sacrament.  But I’m going to ask the question for a third time.  What else is the church?    What else is the church?  Who makes us what we are?  Why, Christ.   “Christ so sustains the Church, and so in a certain sense lives in the Church, that She is, as it were, another Christ.”  “Christ... wills the Church to live His… life, and by His divine power permeates His whole Body and nourishes and sustains…” us.  Anything that we say is the Church is only so because it participates in Christ.  The Church is because Christ is.

And, so, we return, in a roundabout way to the gospel and to St Matthew.  Anything we say is the Church is only so because it participates in Christ.  And who participates in Christ?  Well, Christ says that he’s not come to call the righteous, but sinners.  He invites them to sit with him, to eat with him.  This is very good news.  Christ constitutes the Church when he sits and eats with sinners.  And, so, perhaps you’ve wondered, in these hopeless, fragile times.  “Why go to Church?”  We can watch on DVD, watch on television, watch online.  But what we cannot do through these media, as helpful as they are (and necessary as they’ve been), is eat together.  Why attend church?  We don’t!  We are the church.  How are we the Church?  Through eating the body of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  Yes, it is necessary to receive a spiritual communion - a communion of desire - at times, but that communion rests upon somebody somewhere eating. 

What, then, is the Church for?  It is for sinners. Dreadful people. Like St Matthew.  Like our neighbours.  Like you.  Like me.  “Christ holds close those who are most in need of God’s mercy and who recognize their need.”.  Now, let us share the feast.

Sunday 6th September 2020 – 13th Sunday of Trinity

Brother Gilbert Rowntree, OC

One of the criticisms that has been always made against me (particularly against my teaching and my sermons) is that I do not take sin seriously enough.  From my college tutors who listened to my first stumbling attempts at sermons, through to members of congregations at many Church doors, I have been accused of this.  And I have to admit to you this morning that I am unashamedly guilty.  Indeed it is true, I do not place a great emphasis upon sin. And so this morning’s Gospel passage is an uncomfortable text upon which I am now called to speak.

It is an unusual passage because, in most of the Gospels, Our Lord emphasises forgiveness and acceptance of sinners, while, in contrast, today’s passage is rather legalistic and even talks about excluding unrepentant wrongdoers.  Perhaps this reflects more of the way of life when the Gospel accounts were written down in the years after Jesus’ death, more of that than his actual teaching?

Now, of course, what must be stressed, even by me, is that we are all sinners. We all fall short of Our Lord’s ideal. None of us is perfect. We know that only too well.

But I do feel that it is equally important to stress that this is not to be wallowed in; not to be focussed upon continually; especially not to be a cause of depression and a consequent giving up. Because our Christian faith enshrines within it the great and indisputable truth that when we look at sin, we are then called to focus upon repentance and especially upon the forgiveness that our God offers to us so freely.

The whole point of the Gospels, the whole reason Jesus became incarnate is lost if we stop at the reality of our sin. The whole point of the Gospels and the whole reason that Jesus became incarnate is to assure us that we can ever and always turn back to him and he welcomes us with open arms. Repentance is one of the great watch words of our way of life.  A turning back to God is what it means.

And as we see over and over again in the teaching of Jesus: restoration, absolution, resurrection. These are where he stands.

If we look at so many of the stories in the Gospels, we find Our Lord turning the religious teaching of his contemporaries on its head. The Pharisees and the Sadduccees and the scribes laid down strict rules and regulations, hurdles of scrupulosity for the people to jump over. And, because these were so impossible for the general population, there is reflected in the Gospels a great feeling of exclusion in that contemporary society. The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a clear example of this.

But Jesus stands out against this way of doing religion. Starkly. Without compromise.

He eats with those sinners. He allows the unclean outcast woman to touch him. He even heals the servant of a hated Roman soldier.  Everything about our Christ is a breaking down of hurdles and a call back to love.

He does not say that sin is ok. He often ends an encounter with a command to stop sinning.  But his attitude, his underlying nature is to be so open and so accepting.

There is no exclusion in him at all.

As we approach all of this in our own individual lives, our first reading gives us the clue to how to do that.  That Letter to the Romans takes all the rules and regulations of belonging to a Church and it tells us not to worry about them. It tells us to stop looking over our shoulder to see if a Judgmental God is watching.

Instead, it advocates just one thing.

Fill your life with love, and everything else will look after itself.

Such is the joy and delight to which our faith calls us.

Amen.

 

King's Lynn Minster

Sunday 23rd August 2020

11th Sunday of Trinity – St Bartholomew

Andrew Ward, Lay Reader

How good it is that the Minster is open for the Eucharist today. We are able to meet as a church, to hear the music, to pray in the sacred building that we love and to receive communion.

Today the liturgical colour is red. We are remembering St Bartholomew, who is reputed to have suffered an extremely horrible death. He was flayed alive, so he certainly sits there on the list of great martyrs. In ‘The Last Judgement’ in the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo shows Bartholomew holding his own flayed skin! God was with Bartholomew and God is with you.

We have probably all been somewhat frightened by the pandemic. I am certainly guilty of having done a lot of worrying and indeed, for some people it has been a nightmare. It must have been terrible for you if you have had relatives or close friends suffering and dying, or if you have had Coronavirus yourself. Be assured of the ongoing daily prayers of the ministry team of the Minster, St John’s and North Lynn. God was with Bartholomew and God is with you.

It is at moments like this that we do well to consider the assurance offered in the Bible:

‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,

nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us

from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’. (Romans 8 v 38-39).

God was with Bartholomew and God is with you.

You, the people gathered in this great church today, are going to receive communion for the first time since before lockdown, I am sure that you all feel that we need to treat it as specially as the first time we ever received communion. It is not something we will be doing without giving it a great deal of thought. Indeed, every time we receive communion we do well to treat the occasion just as we did the first time we received communion and every time we receive communion we should also treat it as though this is going to be the very last time we will ever receive communion. It is indeed a very special occasion and it is good that some people are able to be here in order to participate in the ‘Eucharistic Feast’.

Just as important as those receiving communion are the people who would love to be able to be at the service today, but cannot be here. For many people it would be a risk that they are unable to take. Those people have made the right decision. God is with all who are part of the worshipping community of this church today, whether you are here physically or at home, or elsewhere. I hope that you all find the Act of ‘Spiritual Communion’ of great benefit, as I have done during lockdown. Hence, we who are in church include in our prayers those who cannot be here. And similarly we ask the people at home to pray for us.

In these strange times and on this unique occasion, in the life of this living building, we are as one. Indeed we are united with all the people who have ever received the sacrament here in this place, both living and +departed.

God was with Bartholomew and God is with you.

Today’s Gospel Reading tells us that the disciples were bickering at each other over who was the greatest among them. Of all times to choose, this was at the Last Supper!

We see the the disciples arguing like this on other occasions, but it is quite incredible that the disciples should be like this, yet again, at the Last Supper. It is as though they had learned nothing from Jesus who seemingly settles the dispute when he says:

‘I am among you as one who serves.’

Being a servant is a mindset, where each day you make yourself available to Christ that he might use you in whatever way he chooses. You probably did this during lockdown: such as making phone calls to people, showing sympathy and understanding. Your attitude is: ‘Lord, here I am, use me as your servant.’

The great example of servanthood is Jesus Christ. After the disciples have bickered Jesus washes their feet. Jesus washes their feet! That really is servanthood. The followers, Bartholomew included, certainly learnt an important lesson on that day. They saw that rather than coming to earth to demand our allegiance Jesus took on the form of a servant and ultimately he came to the cross. Jesus came to earth as a willing servant, so should we not then offer ourselves in faithful service to God? The Lord of glory left the splendour of heaven and took on human flesh so that he could accomplish our salvation.

Jesus was left to face his trials alone: his disciples scattered. ‘And yet I am not alone because I have my Father with me.’ This is so important and, since the passion of Christ, all down the centuries, we have had that assurance. Bartholomew knew it and we know it:

God was with Bartholomew and God is with you.

The disciples wanted to know who was the greatest. Jesus tells them and he shows them.

THE GREATEST IN GOD’S SIGHT ARE THOSE WHO HUMBLY SERVE.

Amen

 

King's Lynn Minster

Sunday 16th August 2020 – 10th Sunday of Trinity

Brother Gilbert Rowntree, OC

At the Minster this weekend, we are celebrating one of the major feast days of the year: The Festival of Mary, Our Lady.

As many of you know, for me one of the great blessings of living in this part of Norfolk is that I am so close to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham. In fact, that is one of the most significant factors in why I chose to come and live here in my retirement.  I am happy that I can drive over most weeks to spend a time of prayer in that beautiful place.

In the Church of England there have long been great differences in how we approach the figure of Mary.  All of us acknowledge her unique place in God’s salvation story but some of us give her a greater prominence in our lives than others.  And there has always been the suspicion from some in the Church that the others of us give her a place that is far too prominent.  And so, despite what is sometimes felt, it is important to realise that there is no worship of Our Lady in any of this.

In that Shrine at Walsingham we have the manifestation of that reality.

There we find, in the Holy House, the revered statue of Mary; and, indeed, she does look to be in the greatest place of honour. All robed and crowned and high up.  But, if you look very carefully, you will discover that that figure of Our Lady is, in fact, pointing with her hand at her small son, Jesus; and it is HIS hand that is raised in blessing.  We may look at Mary in wonder and love but then she directs us to the very source of that love: Jesus himself.

On this day of her celebration, once again, as we are in the Christmas story, we are struck with wonder that such a young girl should be willing to accept the task offered to her by God.  And, because we know the wider story and its outcome, we sometimes forget that it is an offer from God at the Annunciation. It is not an order from on high.  It is a question.

Will you do this for me. And for the world? God asks.

And this almost-child says solemnly;
Yes. Let it be done to me, as you request.

Once again, as in the statue at Walsingham, she points us back to God.

It is his will that should be done.

It is his purpose that should be fulfilled.

In our lives we are daily called to respond to God’s questions, as she was called.

God asks us to follow.

God asks us to serve.

God asks us to love.

In some of these we fail miserably.

In some we succeed.

Each one of us, in our frail humanity, has a bumpy road in our faith story. Not straight but crooked.

Not ever smooth lives but ever-changing lives.

Ever challenging lives.

Hopefully, though, people will catch a glimpse of God’s presence in us

And, strangely, even our failings can have a sacred purpose.  They remind us that holiness is not ours but God’s. God’s gift that he offers freely to us.

As a grace, as a free gift, not earned or merited.

Mary points us to her Son.

And that is our task, too.

Every day of our lives.

To point to God in all we are, or at least, in all we seek to be.

There is a great medieval Latin chant that speaks of Mary carrying contained within her womb the God who cannot be contained even by the world or all creation.  It is a paradox. Almost a contradiction.

But it is also a truth that, for love of us, God was willing to be so contained.

One of Our Lady’s ancient titles is “Christ bearer.” Theotokos.

But you may be startled to realise that it is a title that she shares with you and me. For we are Christ bearers, too.

Today as every day, God comes to us, as he came to her, and he asks us the very same question that he asked her.

Will you trust me and will you walk with me in my work of love?

The great Almighty God opens his heart to us and he waits…Humbly…for our reply.

Amen