Sunday 28 November 2021

What the Dog taught me about God! My sermon for Advent Sunday 2021

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Advent Sunday Sermon 2021

Intending to raise cattle, a family from New York bought a ranch out West. When their friends visited and inquired about the ranch’s name, the would be rancher replied: “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one of our sons wanted the Flying-W, and the other liked the Lazy-Y. So we’re calling it the BAr-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y.”

But where are all your cattle?” the friends asked.

None survived the branding.”

That is a perfect example of the consequences of disagreement and a lack of unity. The longer I live the more I believe that Unity and Oneness is essential to living productively and faithfully on this Earth. The growing crisis of climate change is teaching us that and there is an urgency to find a true unity of purpose that acknowledges our unity interdependence on one another and for us as Christians on God.

One of the consequences of believing in the fundamental unity of all things and the centrality of Unity to the message of the Gospel is that one is inclined to look for and discern moments and experiences in everyday life where we are given a glimpse of the Sacred/Holy in our World, where that fundamental unity is demonstrated most explicitly.

One that occured to me recently comes from my experience as a doggie person. Anyone who has a dog (especially a male dog I'm told) knows well the twin dreads of dog ownership.

The first is that bark at 3am on a freezing winter night which means that I/you have to get out of our lovely cozy bed and go out into the garden so that the dog can do his business.

The second flows from the first and that is standing there freezing while your dog does everything but do his business and spends his time sniffing every square inch of the lawn or chasing cats or hedgehogs as you wait interminibly for him to finally circle in on the chosen spot and do the necessary so that you can go back to your lovely warm bed before you become hypothermic.

All very well but where you ask is the glimpse of the Sacred/Holy in that?Particularly as yours truly may have uttered some very unholy words while waiting for the canine parambulations to end?

But that same experience seems to me to present so well two sides to the experience that we all share throughout our lives and that is the process of WAITING.

First the anxious wait for something that we do not want to happen and then the impatient waiting for something that we want to be completed or fulfilled.

Advent is a time of Waiting and it two has both those aspects:

If we understand Advent not simply as a preparation and a lead in to Christmas but as the expectation of the return of Christ in Glory then there may be a sort of trepedation or anxiety about that long anticipated event – we may be in no hurry for this life or this world as we know it to come to an end and in the words of St Augustine may be thinking:

'Give me Chastity – But not yet!'

We have plans and are not quite ready for Jesus' return!

Or alternatively we be counting the days till the end of Advent which will signal the arrival of the infant Jesus on Christmas day and the joy and happinness that comes with the Incarnation.

The reality is that we have to live with that tension – Waiting is a part of our witness – Waiting is a part of our human condition and waiting is intrinsic to the Gospel.

We live in an inbetween world and an inbetween time – we see glimpses of the Kingdom in our lives and it is those glimpses that give us the strength to live in the moment and to acept the tension and sometimes even the seeming contradiction in our lives. But to that we must seek the Unity that is all around us and be reconcilers and healers in a world which is so divided by those who would deny that unity and interdependence.

That I believe was and is fundamental to Jesus message as articulated in his prayer to the Father in John 17:

20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,[a] so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I want to finish with another prayer written by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ who was a very influential theologian and died in 1955. He had a particular understanding of the inate sacredness of Waiting and his prayer may be helpful to us as we wait, not alone for Advent and Christmas and Christ's return in glory but also I am sure I speak for all of us an end to the pandemic which has cast such a long shadow on our lives:

Patient Trust—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete. AMEN.

Friday 2 July 2021


Like most people I am utterly fed up (that's putting it very politely) with COVID. It has sucked the joy and pleasure out of life. It is like a dark cloud hanging over our lives and even on the brightest Summer day that cloud is there – It may not be visible but you can feel its presence nontheless. I would consider myself relatively compliant when it comes to the necessary public safety restrictions – indeed I previously argued publically that the churches should not be lobbying for an early return to public worship.

However the recent bad news re the D variant and the pulling back from planned easing of Covid measures caused something to snap and I took to social media and had a rant about what I called the 'Stockholm Syndrome' that appears to be affecting our national psyche. When I cooled down I had to acknowledge that caution is required at this point and that until most of the adult population is fully vaccinated it is probably wise and necessary to hold back on indoor dining and other social pleasures that we once took for granted. In saying that I am hugely cognisant of the high price that those in the hospitality sector have paid and continue to pay due to these measures. For them especially I long for a return to 'normality'.

What disturbs me most though now is the common response when I or others express this desire to get our old lives back and usually it goes like this: 'O but this is the new normal – you'd better get used to it' – Or when I say I am looking forward to ditching the face mask I have heard the response from more than one person that they quite like the mask and are in no hurry to stop wearing it – 'At least it keeps the colds and flu at bay'! I find this not only mind boggling but also very sad. For me it signals a loss of Hope and a resigned acceptance of the status quo and I for one am not prepared to go down that road – Hope is a vital component of our humanity and when we give up on that I think we may as well give up full stop.

As a Christian priest Hope is also central to what I do – I try to witness to the Resurrection, Hope not only to that of Jesus and our own ultimate destiny but also to the hope of a better tomorrow and the hope that our yesterdays and today's do not determne or limit our tomorrows.

That same hope is what keeps me going as I currently witness my 24 year old son with special needs rapidly going blind – I hope that if not a miracle in the short term that in the longer term medical science will provide a way for him to regain that most precious gift of sight. I don't know but I will contine to hope till my last breath on this earth.

Covid may not have taken our sight away but in many circumstances it has deprived us of the sense of touch which is equally essential to our humanity. The skin is the biggest organ in the human body and it is made for touch as we are made for touch. That touch may be everything from a handshake to a warm embrace, the exchange of the Peace in the liturgy, a hug of comfort for the bereaved or the passionate embrace of a lover. The contemporary author and poet Margaret Atwood said of touch: 'Touch comes before sight, before speech - It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.'

I still hope for that truth and I still hope for a return to the messy, tactile, touching and cold and flu-ridden world that I took for granted and I will never give up on that hope. I know for now I must be patient but I will not surrender my life to Covid 19!