Friday, February 27, 2009

Homily (Sermon) for the First Sunday of Lent Year B

Our reading this weekend begin with the story of the covenant of God with Noah, and a reminder of the sign of the covenant - the rainbow. How can we understand this story, and what on earth has it got to do with Lent?

Some people will look at this story and try to find the historical evidence to support it, and some of that is intriguing: in many cultures there are stories of great floods, and some archeologists have even tried to find evidence of the Ark, and the mountain on which it landed.

At the other extreme, there are those who reject the story out of hand. It is just a tale from primitive people, they say, to explain the rainbow, and a way to explain the presence of some beauty in the midst of much danger. Such people would also point out that the destruction of men, women and children alike, cities and civilisations, is very unworthy of a God of love.

For the Church though, neither of these paths are satisfactory. The search for historical detail will tell us little of use, and the complete rejection of the story fails to take it seriously at all. Even if one view or the other is true, neither tells us what the story actually means.

No, from ancient times, Christian writers have pointed out that it is the symbolism of the story which gives its underlying message.

It is a wonderful story with which to begin Lent.

Here we have an account of sin and salvation, of destruction and compassion, of faith and hope, of water, and a boat which rides on the water. We hear echoes of the salvation of nations through the waters of the Red Sea, the stilling of the storm by Jesus, and the walking on the water. There are reminders of death and resurrection. We are reminded of the journey of baptism through water, and of the promise of eternal life.

And the 40 days on the boat are the 40 days of Christ in the wilderness and they are our 40 days of Lent. A time of jouneying from sin, a time of patient hope, a time of promise, a time of trial, and a time for redemption.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What I will not be giving up ...

(To be published in the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel on Ash Wednesday 25th February 2009)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It is a time when many - not just practicing Christians - decide to give something up.

What about you? Chocolate? or smoking? or wine? Remember: the idea is not to break a habit, but to give something up for Lent so that you appreciate it even more when you come to celebrate Easter. So give up chocolate by all means, to enjoy it again, but if your health requires a permanent change of lifestyle, then do it now, Lent or not.

The point of Lenten abstinence is not to give up or stop doing the bad stuff - but to give up the good stuff, because the good things of life are gifts of God and when we enjoy them again we celebrate his creation.

And it is for this reason, that there is one thing I won’t be giving up this Lent. This may mark me out as a very unconventional and rather wayward priest. So be it! I will not be giving up my visit to my local pub and enjoyment of its excellent beers. And this is because my local is the Coachmakers in Hanley, officially marked for destruction as part of the regeneration of the city. I can’t give it up, because it is on the point of being taken away from us for ever, and we will never to have it back again.

Now I’m only too aware that in the Grand Scheme of Things, there are far more important matters than an old, small pub in a crumbling city centre. The Credit Crunch, the developing world, the sick and the elderly, threats to schools, yes, all these rate higher, and I must care about them more. And in Lent I should be concentrating on my spiritual reading, and deepening my prayer life. And these matter much more. But because one thing is more important than another, does not mean that the lesser thing does not matter at all.

Those of us who care about the Coachmakers feel aggrieved by the way the planning has been dealt with, by the curt dismissal of ten thousand objections. But for me, the issue is not simply anger over a dysfunctional council.

Firstly, it’s the building. That little pub, with its warren of small rooms, represents something of our heritage. It is a truly public house, a dwelling converted for the sale of liquid refreshment and the enjoyment of company. This was how pubs started and how all pubs used to be. Unlike the big brash, superstore-style mega pubs, this is a place where you go not simply with friends, but to encounter other people. The closeness of the seating makes sure of that. No one can sit and converse in the Coachmakers only with their own clique. It is a place which literally, physically, brings people together.

And secondly, it’s the beer. Beer, like wine, can be beyond the ordinary. In the Coachmakers the euro-lager is there if you want it, but also are the real ales, different each week, produced by a vast variety of small breweries from all over the country. It is fare of high quality with enchanting, poetic and ironic names like Flaming Embers, Cherry Bomb, Wayland’s Smithy, Journey’s End, White Lady, Midnight Bell, Roaring Meg, and of course ... Cleric’s Cure.

These are amongst the good things of life, the gifts of God, and when we enjoy them we celebrate his creation. When I am sure they will not be lost, and only then, will I be able to give up the Coachmakers for Lent.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I love wordle!

I've just come across Wordle - it looks at any text, Web site or blog and turns it into a word cloud which you can customise with colour, font etc.

Great, fun, probably not much use ...
Wordle - Fr Peter's Blog Wordle

Saturday, February 21, 2009

We have never seen anything like this!

We have never seen anything like this!

(Homily for the 7th Sunday of the Year - Year B)

This week, Lent begins. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, when we start our Lenten fast and preparation for Easter.

And Tuesday … Tuesday is what people nowadays call ‘pancake day’.

In many countries, that day is Mardi Gras - or ‘Fat Tuesday’, a day when all the rich food left in the pantry is cooked up and enjoyed. Even the name Mardi Gras has come to mean a party, a celebration, a time of enjoyment and excess. In English, we have a rather different name. Not one that refers to partying or celebration, but rather to something much more serious and rather dour. We call it Shrove Tuesday, the day when we are shriven, absolved of our sins by making our confession to a priest. The English, O the English, we don’t go a-partying like the Europeans, but we glumly traipse to confession, encouraged only by a pancake and some lemon juice.

Actually, this has long ceased to be our custom, and while we are likely to go confession at any time during Lent, we are unlikely to go on Shrove Tuesday.

But I wonder, is the forgiveness of sins so different from the celebrations of the Mardi Gras? We may look upon confession, in a dark box to a stern priest, to be far away from the party, but in today’s Gospel when the man had his sins forgiven - the paralysed man no less - he stood up for joy, held his head high, and walked before the crowd. No doubt there was also a spring his step. Perhaps he tried a little jig. And the astonished crowd praised God.

What better celebration could there be?

Enjoy your pancakes. Go to confession. And celebrate the freedom and forgiveness you receive.

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