Sermon for Trinity 1 Sunday 10 June 2012
Sermon preached by Fr. Julian Browning at High Mass on the 1st Sunday after Trinity, 10 June 2012.
Mark 3.21 They were convinced that Jesus was out of his mind.
Jesus transformed the world by transforming hearts and minds with a life-saving message. The message is that we can do it; we can take responsibility for our own pilgrimage towards God or what Jesus calls the Kingdom, because God is with us and all around us in his Creation. The Gospels are not, or should never be a set of teachings and rules for a dull defensive religion (although you can be forgiven for wondering about that sometimes). The Gospels describe Jesus’s journey to the Kingdom. St Mark’s Gospel, which we heard today, was the first gospel, so it’s a bit primitive, with jagged edges, with strange riddles like the one we heard today about Satan; here is Christianity in its rebellious youth, not in its middle or old aged comfort. It’s rough, but it’s a compelling story of the man Jesus, who, with all the limitations of his time and place, becomes more and more isolated as one group after another, right down to those closest to him, give up on him and leave him to his fate, death on a cross. Why? Because, as in today’s Gospel, Jesus won’t play their games of accusing, and blaming, and separating, and cursing.
Jesus broke free from that human conformity. It was a breakthrough. We can call it God’s breakthrough into the hearts of human beings. We can break through as He did, and live, not in a house divided against itself, but, in St Paul’s words in today’s epistle, “a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens.” In that house, God’s house, the kingdom of God, the outer person and the inner person correspond to each other. It’s not about being good or free from dark thoughts; it’s about seeing our lives as a unity, not in compartments, losing the mask, being the same in the day as we are in the night. As St Augustine said, I seek to know myself, O Lord, so that I may know thee all the more. On a journey, a pilgrimage, the whole body moves forward, body, mind and spirit. There are no half measures in the Christian faith. Faith is for life, however often we change its expression in our lives. Religion is one of those things which go much better when it’s full time. We can pray in church when we’ve prayed beforehand. We can worship in church when our whole lives are in some sense, or at some times, a song to God, or part of God’s song. We can eat the bread and drink the wine at communion when we’ve seen Christ’s Body in the world outside during the week.
Of course we’ll fail, as St Paul knew. It isn’t easy being Christian full time. Rowan Williams once spelled it out. “Are you prepared to break your heart and mind, to purify and clarify your vision?” Because that’s what Jesus did, and so that’s what we must be ready for. We might feel we’re not up for it, but I think we do ourselves down. We can be “full of confidence”, as St Paul says; or what John Bunyan calls “no discouragement”. God will never lay on us more than we can bear. Each of us has the capacity for transformation, the transformation of our consciousness so that we know at last who we are and what we are here for. You have the potential for mysticism, a way of spiritual living at a greater depth, just as much as you have the potential for practical living from day to day. You have the potential for a breakthrough into true wisdom as well as just building up knowledge and facts. You have the potential for real self-transformation, and for the transformation of others, as well as just increased understanding and study of the Christian gospel. The horizon is infinite. Each of us has a divine destiny, a place in God’s life, and our life on earth is a deadly serious, yet joyful, effort to find our place. It is natural, it is normal, to be religious, to set out to discover God. As the early fathers of the Church said, Birds fly, fish swim, human beings pray. Children know that.
I was musing on all this on Monday, when a group of us went to Walsingham for the National Pilgrimage. There was a place on the coach for you. Walsingham, for those of you who don’t know, and why should you unless you are told, is a village in Norfolk, a long way from anywhere, where there has been a shrine to Our Lady for a thousand years, so it has always been a place for Christian pilgrimage. Parishes, such as this one, take groups to Walsingham on retreat for a few days. But last Monday was the day of the National Pilgrimage when buses from all over England converge on Walsingham and there is an open air mass and procession, and every possible combination of clerical dress you can imagine. Now there are some who don’t like Walsingham on that day because it’s a bit popular, a bit crowded, a bit modern, a bit far. But we’re not there for art appreciation and a nice concert. We’re there to take our place in St Mark’s Gospel, to be transformed, to commit ourselves to our life’s pilgrimage, and it’s fun yet serious, and in the end there’s nothing there but you and God and the other pilgrims and the sky above. The day starts with a big open air mass in the grounds of the ruined abbey, and all the concelebrating priests, hundreds of them, process four abreast towards the altar, and there’s the statue of Our Lady in the procession, and everyone belting out Praise to the Holiest in the Height. And every year I, the most level-headed person I know, am overwhelmed in this procession, because I know that all these men, from very young to very old, are as damaged and as fearful as everyone else, good men struggling, yet there we all are, lifted up, as you will be lifted up on your Christian journey, shown the way to go, all in one direction, step by step towards the altar, free to do what we are called to do, as you are, in the house built by God, the green fields and the open air, – body, mind and spirit as one, unafraid of the aloneness of life because we are all one when we find Christ’s transforming love. I think the heart takes over when the mind can go no further. The heart will unite what the mind has divided. The heart will bless what the mind has rejected. We know with the heart as we come to know Christ’s love within us. That’s God’s way of giving himself to us, of us becoming one with Him, and it’s the end of our pilgrimage. This transforming way of the heart is the journey ahead for you, your heart set on fire with the love of God and the love of his world. Others will say, and with increasing fierceness these days, as they said of Jesus, that we are out of our minds. But I’ll fear not what men say. I’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim.
Sermon preached by Fr Julian Browning