sunnuntai 17. maaliskuuta 2019

A Commonwealth of Praise


Kuvahaun tulos haulle agricolan kirkko

I was invited to preach in the Sunday service of the Anglican Church in Helsinki (Anglican Chaplaincy of St Nicholas), which gathers in Agricola Church (pictured above). It was a pleasurable experience, since I and my wife Katie have numerous connections to the congregation. I am especially fond of the hymns, which are full of the wideness and splendour of Christ's love for us.

The day is the Second Sunday of Lent, 17th March 2019. Below, are the readings, the hymns, the Gospel reading (with the liturgy around it), and the sermon itself. Enjoy!

(Summary of the sermon: Life is not a game, even though societies run around rules, money and all the chance they imply. The Church is a society that's based on praising the grace of God. That's a society without winners or losers. Get Out of Jail Free - for all? Unfair? Not if it's grace and praise.)



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Readings:
Genesis 15.1-12,17-18

Psalm 27
Philippians 3.17  -  4.1
Luke 13.31-35

Hymns (in the hymnal Common Praise):
Processional: 502 Light’s abode, celestial Salem (Regent Square)

Gradual: 408 ’Come to me,’ says Jesus (Glenfinlas)
Offertory: 101 All ye who seek for sure relief (St Bernard)
Post-communion: 598 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy (Cross of Jesus)
Recessional: 366 A safe stronghold our God is still (Ein’ feste Burg)

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Praise and honour to Christ Jesus! 
Out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Praise and honour to Christ Jesus! (Isaiah 1.2)


The Lord be with you 
and also with you. Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”’


This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

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A Commonwealth of Praise 

a sermon by P.S.T.



The Game, the Feud


”Escape from jail free.” This is a card from the game Monopoly. Specifically, it is from the Star Wars version of Monopoly, but that makes no difference here [I forgot the card in the sacristy, but that didn't make a difference either]. It is more famously known as the Get Out of Jail Free card. As the name of the card implies, it allows you to get out of jail for free. You don't have to pay the normal fee of 50 dollars or the equivalent in other currency.

Of course, life is not a game, not today, not tomorrow, nor the next day. Life is not, or rather, it shouldn't be about who knows the best strategies. Life is not about who is able to acquire enough real estate or property. Life is not about who has the proper connections, so one can have what one needs or trade for it. Yet, it can feel like a game, a chance ridden and unfair one at that. And for the safety of one's future, for avoiding that down left corner of life, who wouldn't desire a Get Out of Jail Free card?

Monopoly and other similar games are known for causing fights in the family. However, our world of different states and unions has varied rules and money and chance and fights in the European family. It does sometimes resemble a Monopoly feud of grand proportions. The difference here is that what is at stake are livelihoods, and ultimately, even lives.

So is there a life which is not a game? Is there a society which doesn't revolve around well-meaning rules and all the chance we're nevertheless left with? Yes, there is. The life that's not a game is Jesus Christ, and the society that's not based on rules and chance is the Church.


The Church, the Refuge


Of course, as we know from history and from the present day, the Church also has feuds of grand proportions. We seem to be, for good for or for ill, very much a reflection of society. There's much worry about money. There are arguments about morals and family values and rights. Saying the wrong sort of thing in a certain kind of churchly setting might end up getting you in the down left corner of the game.

Nevertheless, it is precisely in the Church that the life that Jesus Christ gave to all is made manifest. Jesus forgave those who were killing Him by nailing Him to the cross. He said: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” We, as the Church, are people who don't know what we're doing when we're fighting or arguing or being suspicious. And – admitting this – aren't we forgiven? Much is required of us, but before that: can we claim that we aren't forgiven? If Jesus forgave those who were killing Him, can't He forgive His children who fight – and perhaps both of these sins that are forgiven are one and the same?

The Church is a society of people for whom forgiveness was very much personally needed. It is so for all the members whom God has gathered to her, the Church. And it continues to be so on an interpersonal level in the Church. And, indeed, the Church is where the forgiveness that Jesus gave is proclaimed to all. Rules are made so that life would be manageable. But rules don't make anybody want to be good. Rules leave things ultimately to chance, to whether things will turn out all right or not. But forgiveness is not chance. It's deliberate, but not rigid. Grace and forgiveness unite people, while rules separate people into different groups.

The society that's not based on rigid rules and merciless chance is the Church. The Church is what Jesus means when He says that He wants to ”gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”. The Church is a refuge. As the Church we can recite as the Psalm says: ”The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?”

And how is the Church a refuge, a different sort of society? Here the worry about the future is taken away. It happens because of the message of hope and grace in the Gospel, and the physical truth of the sacraments. Therefore, we give each other to each other and others, giving our lives away. We know that there was a resurrection on the third day, which makes all the healing and sacrifices worth the while. Life and freedom and helping without conditions, anxieties and regulations can't be defeated. There is a resurrection for us as the Church, and He is Jesus, God.

All together in Christ



But if we proclaim forgiveness to all in Jesus' name, will there be, in Jesus' name, forgiveness for all? St. Paul writes in his epistle to the Philippians: ”But our commonwealth is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” And elsewhere in the same letter he writes about Jesus who died for all on the cross: ”Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In a game, there are usually winners and losers. But life is not a game, at least the Church and the salvation we proclaim are not so. The world is based on rules and chance and being successful and having enough fortune and possibly money. But the salvation the Church proclaims is not about doing the correct decision during a game which has only so many rounds. It's not about having enough chance or chances. It's about having life together, and that life is Jesus Christ. Salvation is about bringing people together, about breaking the bonds that separate. This is the salvation we proclaim and exhibit, such as we are, here and today: people of various backgrounds gathered together as and by the Anglican Church.

Being together, through grace: that's the only way forward for the world, whether here in Europe, or anywhere where fights or even extreme violence take over. In Revelation, there is a dragon who tries to separate a Woman, who is the Church, from the children of the Church and Christ Himself. But the time of the one who is trying to cause separation is short. There are 12 stars, the stars of the Apostles, surrounding the head of the Woman, who is the Church. She also represents the Mother of God, virgin Mary. (There is a flag based on this: it has twelve stars, stars of nations together, on a blue background.) In the end of Revelation, the gates of the Jerusalem that comes down from heaven are never shut, not even at night. And in the heavenly City, which is also the Church, there is a tree of life that has leaves ”for the healing of the nations”.


Our life as Christians together is about getting rich because of the poverty of Christ, and finding strength through the weakness of the Lord, and being healed through the wounds of Christ. They are wounds of forgiveness, and His weakness is omnipotence, and His poverty is the perfect manifestation of His infinite life. All of these gifts are given to us in the Eucharist of Christ, and through us to the world. In every Liturgy, we sing ”Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”. This is how we fulfill Jesus' own words: ”And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.””

This is the day that the games are over, that political games and even killings that separate people will have no power left in them. This is Sunday, the day of the Lord, an ever present day of the Resurrection. This is the day of Jesus, who is ”joy of saints on high, Thou Hope of sinners here” in the one communion of Church militant and triumphant. Here the Lord of Grace is continuously honoured and adored, that is, He is called blessed, as He is awaited. Here, in and as the Church that sings to the Lord, the checkmate of the universe is going to be accomplished. When we go to the Eucharist, before God's holy gifts are given to his holy people, we proclaim Jesus Christ holy, we call Jesus Christ the Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And so the Lord is glorified. At the same time, the salvation of all creatures ”in heaven and on earth and under the earth” is here already true. This is a commonwealth of praise. There are no winners and losers. This is not a game, this is life. Therefore, we won already, each and all together.



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Bonus: Happy St Patrick's Day, March 17th! Here is St Patrick's Breastplate, a marvelous hymn that reminds us of what is important: Christ here with you and me. 





I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.