Sunday of Second

For Brendan and Rosie’s wedding this summer, the first reading was taken from Gregory of Nazianzus’ Carmina 1.2.1. 262-275, 283-287. Brendan supplied a prose translation, but because your blogger here is that kind of guy, I felt impelled to look up the passage in Gregory’s original Greek and work it out for myself. Let it be acknowledged that this may be the only passage in which GRegory has anything favourable to say about marriage, and even here he praises it only to set up celibacy as a preferable alternative; still, if one doesn’t worry too much about intention and context, it’s a pleasant enough poem. I’m not sure I agree wtih the aspects of marriage he approves, and I frown as I try to imagine the comparison of married life to an amiable leaping colt. Then again, he’s a Doctor of the Church, and I’m just a doctor in a church.

As the sermon process wove and coiled and spooled and tangled, it occurred to me that the Greek might be translated into blank verse in English, with only a little some a certain amount of torturing the syntax. So I, undeterred from a little syntax-twisting in a good cause, ended up with this:

To one another hands, ears, feet we are,
once wed. A twofold strength our marriage brings:
Well-wishers’ double joy, ill-wishers’ pain.
Who share in common sorrow, lighten grief;
who share in merriment, laugh sweeter still.
More pleasant wealth, to minds harmonious;
more pleasant harmony to paupers, than that wealth.
To both, wedlock’s the key to prudent minds
and seal of love’s affectionate demand.
A colt, whose bounding friendship heals a mood;
a sip from home’s fresh well, reserved for home,
nor gushing out, nor bottled for export.
One nature in the flesh, like minds, of piety
a spur to one another — desire piques like with like.
. . .
Sed contra, single hearts live light,
requiring only trivial aid from God,
while those protecting partner, property,
and progeny — these sail upon life’s deeps.
They need God’s help the more, and God provides
the more; therefore, God treats them mercifully.

It won’t be nominated for any awards, but if some other patrologist invites me to preach at a wedding featuring Gregory’s encomium on the married state, I may have this in my pocket (so to speak) to work from.

Roving Preacher

Today I didn’t run my mile, for several reasons. Yesterday, running to a cab, I felt as though I might have tweaked something in my midsection (and I’m disinclined to take chances with injury). Further, I was polishing my homily for the patronal feast at St Laurence, South Hinksey (attached below). And of course, since I hate running, these were eminently sound rationales for staying at home.

I did get to St Laurence, though, and had a delicious lunch thereafter, and came home and sat like a lump for the rest of the day.
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Good Friday 2016

HoopoeLast time, I said I’d begin posting sermons from the past few years. I had expected to fulfil that promise gradually over the course of my weeks of study leave, but Tasha asked to see Friday’s sermon here, so I’ll put it up as soon as I finish typing these notes. I worked on getting the best balance between the horrible risk of perpetuating and underscoring anti-Jewish presuppositions (on one hand) and accepting the catholic tradition that sees continuity between the sacrifices of Israel and the sacrifice of Jesus (continued in the Mass). Likewise, the text from Hebrews wants very much to relegate Israel’s covenant to obsolescence (even as Hebrews insists that neither Israel nor those who enter the heavenly sanctuary through Jesus is to be complete without the other). As a result, I aimed at associating and juxtaposing the two scenes without prejudice to either.
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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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Oh, Right — Trinity Sunday

I’m always a bit slow on the uptake, and especially as Margaret and I have been particularly distracted during the past ten days or so; though I saw my friends and students and all posting comments about their sermons for Trinity Sunday, I didn’t connect the dots that the “26 May” on the rota that said I was on duty to preach also meant that I too would be expected to have something to say about that holy mystery.

I had preached recently — a couple of weeks ago, at St Aidan’s (which reminds me I should get that sermon online too), so my homiletical habits weren’t too rusty. And although I have a lot of other things on my mind, this sermon seemed to come together pretty smoothly. As often, I needed to let the sermon settle and my imagination detach from it a bit before I could gather it into a conclusion, but that too came out all right when I needed it. (The sermon bit is below, in the ‘Continue reading’ link.)

Our home-front unsettledness continues for another few days. After that, I’m counting on being able to let out some very deep sighs and begin relaxing.

Cover Art for Francis J. Hall, <cite>Theological Outlines</cite>


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One Week

The end of teaching for the year is coming up on us, so my working days will be less oriented toward ‘what hitherto-unprepared lectures do I have to give this week?’ and more toward ‘what backlogged obligation can I clear away?’ This will make a considerable difference for the better, I promise.

I preached again this Sunday, this time at St Aidan’s in Clarkston, and I utterly omitted mention of it being Mothering Sunday (and almost avoided mention of Refreshment Sunday). This is not out of defiant despite of mothers, or my mother, or Margaret, or anything; I just followed the logic of the sermon as I was writing it out, and ‘mothers’ really didn’t enter the flow of the thing. No worries, though — we had plenty of matricentrism in the liturgy.

The text of the sermon below, and then I’m off to cobble together the slides for tomorrow’s lecture on theological interpretation.

Temple Woods Stone Circle


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