Sermon at Matins on Sunday 24 May

24 May 2009 at 10:00 am

The Reverend Robert Wright, Canon in Residence

Part of my job is to be Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons so, you can imagine that I have immersed in all that you have been reading about in the papers for the last two weeks. Almost at the very high point of the drama I met with a number of MPs as we do each month for a service of Holy Communion at St Margaret’s followed by a breakfast in Speaker’s house when we normally have a visitor to speak to us. This week one of the MPs spoke about CAFOD, the Roman Catholic Aid and Development agency. It was a very marvellous talk and it lifted all of us out of the mire of the expenses scandal and all the hype around that immensely important issue and the very serious matter of the Speaker’s resignation. The MP finished with a prayer by Oscar Romero the Archbishop of El Salvador who was assassinated in 1980 and who is memorialised on the west front of the Abbey along with other twentieth century martyrs. Here is the prayer:It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
(CAFOD’s  Vision, Mission & Values)

Amen

It is rather a long prayer but it helps us to think about this Ascensiontide. One of the great Anglican poets of the later 16th Century, Edmund Spenser’s “Hymn of Heavenly Beauty” says:
Faire is the heaven where happy soules have place
In full enjoyment of felicitie,
Whence they doe still behold the glorious face
Of the Divine Eternall Maiestie;…..

And a few verses later on:

…How then can mortal tongue hope to expresse
The image of such endlesse perfectnesse?

How, indeed, can mortal tongue hope to express such endless perfectness? In two words: we cannot. Because God is so much greater than anything we could  express or even  conceive we can only stumble towards some sort of expression of his  perfection, otherwise, if we could describe God as we  could describe the workings of a car or a  computer, we would be  more knowledgeable than God himself.

So, am I suggesting that we can’t do very much and we can’t say very much? I think I am, probably. There are times when we  become overwhelmed with words as perhaps  parliament has become overwhelmed with  words. Of  course the system needs overhauling, and of course there are  probably some who are not  in parliament for the best reasons but most of the MPs I know are there to serve, just as I am, and most of them are less than perfect, just as I am, but that doesn’t mean we give up. Spenser’s poem reminds us that   as we take Romero’s “long view” we need to keep our  eyes fixed on heaven; as Thomas Merton said, “Your life is shaped by the ends you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire" — From "Thoughts in Solitude" so that takes us back to Romero:
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

Perhaps then there is a challenge for us here:  to look at our lives  from above, from the  context of heaven.  How often do we allow ourselves space in order that we might be touched by Spenser’s vision of heaven?  I think it is available to us but we  fill our lives with so much busyness and frenetic activity  that there is, all too often,  little  room to hear the still , small voice of  God  calling us  home. And how often do we realise that, as Romero says,
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

In a way that is what St Anthony of Egypt found is his interior mountain, and St Teresa of Avila discovered in the Interior Castle: that this most real of places is not a place, but a  space beyond the reach of enquiry, or knowledge, or description; it is what T S Eliot calls the intersection of the timeless moment  (The Sacred Desert, Jasper )and every little action we take, every time we forgive a neighbour, every time we show compassion to a person suffering, every time we make something beautiful in the home, every time we prevent pollution; every time we work for peace and justice we are making the  vision of the Kingdom of heaven come true. And when ever it comes alive in us we will find a new energy to live it out, right where we are, in Parliament,  in Seattle, in Paris, Milan, Stuttgart or London.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

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