Every summer my parents would bundle me and my two brothers and my sister into the car, and we would set off on holiday to the other end of England. I remember on the way we would keep seeing enticing signs: turn left – a castle just a mile along that road – or 2 miles on the right to the beach. O let’s go see the castle we’d say – or let’s walk on the beach! But my father would keep driving. We can’t stop – we have to keep going or we’ll never get to our destination before dark.
When I read the Gospels I encounter Jesus with a clear purpose and destination. Indeed he would rise a long time before dawn to spend time with his Father in prayer, in order to refocus on that destination, to keep going straight and unswervingly along the road which his Father had set before him.
“Pentecost continues! Pentecost is most fundamentally a continuing gift of the Spirit;”
So begins “A Pastoral letter to the Episcopal Church” (2 June 2010) [http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_122615_ENG_HTM.htm], issued this past week by Presiding Bishop and Primate Katharine Jefferts Schori.
“Pentecost is most fundamentally a continuing gift of the Spirit, rather than a limitation or quenching of that Spirit,” writes the Primate. Her letter comes in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pentecost letter to the Anglican Communion (28 May 2010) [http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_122553_ENG_HTM.htm] concerning current struggles within the Communion. Bishop Katharine expresses concern that the text of that letter “seems to equate its understanding of the Spirit’s outpouring,” as she puts it, “with a single understanding of gospel realities. Those who received the gift of the Spirit on that day all heard good news,” Jefferts Schori continues. “The crowd reported, ‘in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power’ [Acts 2:11].”
Today is St. Bede’s day. Bede was given as a child oblate to his monastery in about 678 or so at the ripe age of seven. He led a quiet monastic life, devoting himself to praying the office, studying the scriptures and writing. Bede is best known as the author of “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People,” a history of the English Church and people up to the year 729.
I’ve been reading another English ecclesiastical history lately, the just-published “Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch. McCullough gives Bede a lot of credit for the existence of the English as a distinct nationality. Bede, in the early 8th century, was writing at a time when Britain was emerging from an incoherent condition of tribes and small kingdoms. By the 10th century England was a coherent unit with a single monarchy—and a distinct national identity. The ideology of a unified kingdom of England, according to McCullough, “was fuelled by the way in which Bede had depicted a single race called the English.” [McCullough p339] The way Bede told the story of the emerging English Church helped greatly to solidify the notion of a coherent English national identity. In the telling of things that were old, he helped create something new—bringing out treasures old and new as the parable puts it.
Well, beloved, it is a blessed day to celebrate. It’s hard not to know oneself beloved in the midst of a community gathered in love, enfolded by the warmth of the sun/son and the tender wind of God. The greenness all around us is evidence of the promise of resurrection to restore all creation. The greenness within us is equal evidence of connection with the source of belovedness.
We opened by praying those remarkable words about Jesus, who drew the beloved disciple into deep intimacy, giving him the grace of resurrection in his inmost being. That is also the prayer for each one here.
The mystery of the beloved disciple is his identity, and the blessing is that it’s not quite fixed. The debates over whether it’s John bar Zebedee, or Lazarus, or even Mary Magdalene make a place for others to enter in. As Jesus is ‘the son of the man,’ the beloved disciple becomes a way we may be the human disciple, beloved of God.
We remember today, in this commemoration of the Martyrs of Japan, what for me at least, is one of the more fascinating chapters in the history of Christian missionary activity. It is not that I am so interested in the why’s and how’s of the actual martyrdom, as I am interested in what happened afterward.
My hunch is that few of us here know much about Japan (it’s a good things Brother David Allen isn’t here because he could refute that statement in an instant). What we do know is that historically, Japan has been a closed nation. It has been difficult for, and remains difficult, for outsiders to become accepted in Japan. And that was part of, and continues to be, part of the challenge for the Christian Church in Japan. It is seen to be very much an outsider. Yet, in the Sixteenth Century, the Church, through the missionary activity of one of the great Jesuit saints, Francis Xavier as well as some Franciscans, a tiny foothold was made in Japan for the Church. Unfortunately that came to an end on this day in 1597 when six Franciscan friars and 20 of their converts were crucified outside Nagasaki. By 1630 what was left of the church in Japan had been driven underground. And that is what fascinates me.
Preached by the Rt. Rev. Arthur E. Walmsley
“God is what we have not yet understood, the sign of a strange and unpredictable future.”
– Rowan Williams
We begin in the ancient world. Go not to Jerusalem, but Athens. The 5th century BCE was the Golden Age of the Athenian democracy. The Athens city-state created a unique version of governance by the citizenry. Its high point was reached during the leadership of Pericles from 449-431, during which the great buildings on the Acropolis were constructed.
“An idolatrous love of money, the selfish pursuit of profit without regard to ethics, risk, or consequence.” That is how the Archbishop of York recently described what has been going on in our financial institutions. Selfishness, greed, rampant individualism. No surprise that the Rule of our Society describes the culture in which we live like this: our culture “defines human beings as consumers, and gives prestige to those who have power to indulge themselves in luxury and waste.” Is that the model to which we aspire as men and women made ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ in the image of God? Born to be nothing more than individual, grasping consumers in one great market place?