Category Archives: Sermons

I’m Sorry, Cambridge

As I was going over the last round of edits to this morning’s sermon, I realised that the conclusion wanted a place name, a place name near to Oxford and recognisable as forming an improbable match for our fair city. I could have said “Blackbird Leys,” but Blackbird Leys attracts enough disrespect without my piling on. Jericho, Summertown, Banbury, Cowley, Iffley, none of them had the right ring to them. So I took an easy way out and chose “Cambridge,” even though it wasn’t what I wanted rhetorically. I apologise, but the sermon had to be finished one way or another.

What with the travel to and from Glasgow, my giving my Ephesians presentation twice yesterday, and preaching this morning, I’m knackered (and so is Margaret, who did most of the difficult stuff with me plus she has an ethics lecture to prepare for Tuesday). Glasgow touched my heart over the weekend: the city, our very sweet friends whom it was a joy to see again, teaching on behalf of Trinity College and the Scottish Episcopal Church, the pint of Chip 71 at the Ubiquitous Chip…. But it’s great to be back home in Oxford, and we will allow ourselves some time to relax this afternoon.

Sermon below:

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Friday’s Devotion

HoopoeLast Friday I led our weekly Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, so I prepared a devotion for the service. As it was St Ignatius of Antioch, I composed the devotion as a pastiche of passages (and some paraphrase) from Ignatius’s letters (attached below). I’m still getting the hang of this genre of writing, but this week’s did not take as much intense compositional frustration as past devotions (partly, I think, because I gave myself a framework by deciding to use Ignatius’s words).
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Treasures, But No Grill

In case I don’t gather my wits in time today to write more paragraphs about hermeneutics, nor have Net access till bedtime, I’ll post today yesterday’s sermon. The gracious Father James Wilkinson of the Church of St Laurence in the Parish of South with New Hinksey (that’s not to be confused with St Lawrence, North Hinksey!) had invited me to preach for the patronal festival, and it was my honour yesterday so to do. The church itself is a lovely small thing (I took some pictures which I may add if I have time), with its thirteenth-century nave and eighteenth-century chancel, and many generations of the local saints interred in the churchyard. Margaret worried during the sermon, because the rood screen comes perilously close to the top of my head.

The sermon went well, I think; at least, the regular congregants from St Laurence’s with whom I sat at lunch seemed to have received it kindly. The parish lunch held at the much newer and larger church in the parish, St John the Evangelist, New Hinksey, was a feast fit for a hungry visiting preacher, and good conversation, some impromptu stand-up comedy, and Margaret and I returned home well-fed, welcomed, and well tired! My thanks to Father James, to my friend, colleague, and neighbour Dr Mark Philpott (who helped us with the intricate history of the two churches and the various Hinkseys, arranged for transport, and subdeaconed at the Mass), and Lee and Eileen Clark who brought us home.

St Laurence 2014

My Type at Pusey House

HoopoeThis morning it was my great privilege, and a significant honour, to preach at High Mass at Pusey House. Father George, the Principal, has talked with me before about his work on Pusey’s lectures on typology (awaiting publication from Fr George’s transcription), and just the other morning at breakfast one of our ordinands asked me for more teaching on typology — so all of this was a red rag to the hyperactive bull of my imagination, and when Fr George noted that the readings for the morning would include the passage from 2 Kings (or 4 Kingdoms, or just plain “Kings” if you want) in which Elijah ascends to heaven in a chariot of fire, I knew right away what my topic would be. I append the sermon in a downloadable PDF in the “Continue Reading” link below.)

I worked hard to make the sermon more of a sermon and less of a lecture, and from what people said afterward I think I succeeded. (I should give a shout-out to the Logos Bible Software’s Anglican Gold package of texts and software, which I’m currently in the process of reviewing; searching for references to Elijah’s chariot in sermons from the medieval, post-Reformation, and Oxford Movement periods was made vastly more simple when I figured out how to operate the functions of the Logos package.) In the preaching of it, and in the conversations after the service, it felt as though the emphasis duly fell on the value of figurative interpretation for binding us together with biblical characters and with our forebears in the faith, but I acknowledge that this skated closer to the verge of didacticism than I ordinarily approve.

The service and music were glorious, which is no surprise coming from Pusey House. The hospitality, both at the House after Mass and with the Westhavers afterward, was sumptuous; the weather for relaxing in their quad with a glass of fizz simply couldn’t have been beaten. It was one of those pinch-me moments: I’m here, a tutor at Oxford, serving in the monastic buildings that once housed the mother house of the Cowley Fathers, and preaching today at Pusey House. If this is a dream, don’t wake me up!

Now, late afternoon, I’m sitting with my sweetheart on our patio enjoying the warm sunlight (well, she’s enjoying the warm sunlight, I’m enjoying the shade), sipping a gin and tonic, and reading essays from Edinburgh in preparation for going north for a couple of days this week. For all this, and for all you who encourage and support me, I give hearty, heartfelt thanks.

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Devotion Love Surrender

HoopoeHere at St Stephen’s House, we have the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament every Friday after Evensong — and since Father Damian is gallivanting around Australia, spreading the Good News and offering the benefit of his wisdom on mission, evangelism, and congregational life to the Diocese of the Murray, my turn to preside at that service comes up more often than it has in the past terms. SSH begins the service — after the exposition of the Sacrament, before the Benediction itself — with a devotion from the presider. This is a new homiletical-spiritual genre for me; I had never offered a “devotion” of this sort before (back at Christ Church, as best I remember, we simply performed the ritual of the Benediction accompanied by our nonpareil choir, with no unscripted clerical contribution.

As I care deeply about choosing my words carefully in the presence of God, from the first I’ve wanted to observe closely the genre conventions of this sort of devotion. I’ve been told that there are abundant examples on the internet to be found, downloaded, and used — but I’ve never found these fonts of eucharistic devotion, and have only located one or two at all, and these were not of the sort that I could proclaim convincingly. So I’ve fallen into writing my own, for better or worse. I am getting accustomed to preparing these devotions, and now I’m ready to post a couple here (in the “Continue reading” link), not because I reckon that they’re such great stuff, but because somebody else may be as desperate as I have been, and I’m posting these so that if somebody in indeed that desperate, and doesn’t recoil from uttering the words I composed, they might use ’em. Better still, it might encourage some more people to post the eucharistic devotions they’ve written, so that there’s a fuller range of possibilities available.

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Candlemas in Oxford

I was sure that I must have preached on Candlemas at least once over the past fifteen twenty twenty-five-plus years, but if so, the sermon has not survived the passing years and changing word-processing formats. I furrowed my brow, and applied my fountain pen to paper, and eventually turned up the following.

(Yes, this another of those “I don’t really blog any more, but I still post my sermons” posts. I am still trying to ratchet up my commitment to blogging (as opposed to F-Book), and at least posting sermons keeps me aware of the benefits and ease of genuine blogs.)

Anyway, I had not really clocked to the fact that a sizeable proportion of the congregation this morning would be from Wycliffe Hall (our low-church, evangelical counterpart in Oxford), honest I hadn’t. I just bumped into Prof. Sarah Foot’s Facebook mention of Bede’s sermon on the Purification, and I found myself immersed in the historic sermons of the saints. One thing led to another, Samuel Pepys elbowed in, and eventually there was a sermon. It wasn’t meant as a poke in the eye; that’s just the way I preach (and once it occurred to me just how catholic a sermon it was, I tried to imagine how I’d have tried to accommodate our visitors if I’d thought to, and I failed miserably; I hate to think now what the sermon would have been like if I had been, as the Apostle saith, trying to please people).

So there’s the sermon. Maybe I’ll put something non-homiletical in here again sometime.

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Missing Michael

We stayed up late last night checking, and we woke early this morning to see; and this afternoon, on our way home from church, we caught Eamonn Clarke’s message on Twitter, saying that Michael O’Connor Clarke had died.
For the last couple of days, Margaret and I had strayed from internet connections only most reluctantly; we’ve been worried, and yesterday while I was writing this morning’s sermon, Michael was all I could think about. It’s a tricky business, writing a sermon when you’re thinking about someone in particular, but the readings were about judgement and kindness and justice, and with Michael standing at the threshold they all ran together. He’s in the sermon several times, though in my final draft I took his name out; you’ll recognise him. He’s a hard man to miss.
So we’re sitting at home crying, thinking back, hoping and praying. If you are too, imagine us there beside you. Every now and then someone will give your arm a squeeze, pass you a tissue, tell a story. Together, we’ll all miss him a lot. Keep him in your heart, remember Leona and Charlie, Lily, and Ruairi, and see if you can keep some of Michael’s wit and kindness glowing in your neighbourhood.
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For Friends

My turn to preach came up this week, so I buckled in yesterday and — despite interruptions from Olympic bicycling, swimming, and gymnastics — hammered out a sermon. There were several biblical-theological themes on my mind, and also the situations of a parishioner who recently died, and several of my long-time friends who are caught up in the toils of very serious medical situations, plus the stunning performance of ‘Abide With Me’ by recent University of Glasgow alumna Emeli Sandé and the Style Council’s five-star recording ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’. That’s a lot.
It all worked out, and the sermon was warmly received. (It’s below in the ‘Continue Reading’ portion, if you’re looking at my home page right now; if you came to the page for this sermon, you won’t see the ‘Continue Reading’ link, so you can just go ahead. Maybe make some toast.) There’s a paragraph I’d really wish were more craftsmanlike, but the rest turned out better than I hoped. It’s for you — four or five of you in particular, but if you think it maybe’s for you, then assuredly you’re one of the half dozen people who’s been on my mind.
In a few hours, Doug will swing past and carry us off to Knockbrex, where we will spend a few days away from the bustle of city life, (ideally) writing and resting and breathing in (Irish) sea air and sunning ourselves on the beach. I’m not sure if we’ll have reliable connectivity, so if you don’t see me for a few days, don’t worry.

Low Tide

Continue reading For Friends

*Puff, Puff* (Dust Cloud)

Is it more to the point to say ‘It’s a good thing that I preach from time to time, since that gives me an occasion to update the blog’ or ‘Guess it really shows how lazy you’ve gotten about updating when only a sermon bestirs you to post something’? Either way, I preached this morning and will duly post the sermon text below in the ‘Continue Reading’ link. If you’re on the West Coast of the USA, you may have time to print it out if you’re desperate before a late service.
As our road trip in the USA turned into a succession of hit-and-run visits to dear ones along the Atlantic Coast, blogging just didn’t seem to fit into the atmosphere of reconnecting with family, and most of what was on my mind was how proud I was of X or how wonderful Y looked, and that doesn’t really edify the world. Important things happened in the world, no doubt about it, but my concentration was fixed elsewhere.
So when we got back to home, the Vice-Provost emailed to say Wouldn’t you like to preach this Sunday instead of 1 July?, and I reckoned that it would be helpful and might get me back on my metabolico-intellectual rails after the combination of jet lag and road-weariness. The decision itself might have been a symptom of my boggled mind, but everything turned out all right, and now I have one fewer thing to take care of in the days ahead.
Margaret and I celebrated our 30th anniversary on Tuesday, and decided that as long as one of us wished the other ‘Happy Anniversary’ day-on-day, we would continue celebrating indefinitely. So it’s still our anniversary, and I still love her more all the time, and we’re partying continually over here at the brow of Partick Hill (so long as your definition of ‘partying’ includes ‘staring off into space’, ‘watching back episodes of Taggart’, ‘cleaning house’, ‘sleeping’, ‘working on academic essays’ (which is complicated, when you’re feeling as spaced-out as we have felt), and other such decadent pursuits).
Still some notes to write to the US, lots of admin work to do for the Uni, two or three essays, one book review, course prep, and a grant proposal to write before classes start (heaven permitting); I read Alison Bechdel’s newly-released Are You My Mother? and should blog about that; I’m working on Errol Morris’s Believing Is Seeing; I want to take some fountain pen photos and write about the pens; and I’ll have to index the James commentary. Among other things.
But for now, I think this thing is working again, and this morning’s sermon is below:
Continue reading *Puff, Puff* (Dust Cloud)

Eunuch and Catholicity

I had forgotten that I was up for sermons two Sundays in a row (I know, I know, ‘big whoop’ say my unimpressed weekly-preacher clergy colleagues, but I’m supposed to be doing other writing-type things at the same time). The week passed by, and I worked on a thesis, and a book review, and a short essay, and Sunday lay in wait without revealing itself to me till about Saturday morning — at which point, it leaped out of hiding, with teeth bared, and a ferocious roar. I was not even armed with a sermon from years past (how can that be, after all these lectionary cycles? because they surreptitiously changed the lectionary, to thwart the energy-saving impulse to recycle sermons). Yet with the partial, somewhat dented armour of kind-of-righteousness, I managed to subdue the prowling lion and assemble a sermon that didn’t fall to bits in the pulpit.
The morning was exquisitely sunny, almost warm, a refreshing walk from home, and the service went well, and now I’m securely ensconced at the Palais Partickhill. I’ll return to the thesis this afternoon, and tomorrow I’ll take up the editor’s version of my James commentary, which he’d like back before we visit the States for Pippa’s graduation. It all feels good, though — lots to do, without too much intervening between me and my obligations (productivity!). Maybe I’ll write some more about exegesis this week, if I wrap up the thesis. Oh, and the sermon is in the ‘read more’ section below.
Continue reading Eunuch and Catholicity