Church of Saint Mary and Saint John, Cowley
Philippians 2:1 – 18
Matthew 15: 21 – 28
I want first of all to express my gratitude for the invitation for us to be here today. As you know my brothers and I are members of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, known better here as the Cowley Fathers, so it is a delight to be here in Cowley, the parish where it all began.
We have been on pilgrimage to celebrate the 150th anniversary of our founding, as we have explored the roots of Christianity, and thus Anglicanism in this land, but also discovering our own roots as an Anglican monastic community and especially as a particular monastic community that had its origins in this neighbourhood.
One of our customs at the Monastery is to read the obituary at Compline of a brother on the anniversary of his death. So over the years we have read about the small house on the Iffley Road where Fathers Benson, Grafton and O’Neill began the life of our community, and now we have seen, what is known to you as the Isis Hotel, the very house in whose parlor chapel those first three Fathers made their professions on 27th December 1866, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, and thus began the life of our community. We read about the chapel at the top of the stairs where Father Benson’s teaching to the early members of our community acted as the crucible where our community’s life took shape, and now we have celebrated the Eucharist there and explored the rest of the old Mission House, now St. Stephen’s House. We have seen, and even touched, the names of departed brothers inscribed on the walls of the Mission House Lady Chapel, including many of those whom we have known and loved over the years in our Monastery in Massachusetts. We have met and stayed with the All Saints Sisters and the Sisters of the Love of God, whose histories are so tied up with our own. And some of us, having heard about the Gladiator Club, founded after the Second World War by Father Hemming, have now been to the Gladiator Club and met some of its members, had a drink, and watched a couple of rounds of Aunt Sally. We have prayed in the cell in the Mission House where Father Benson died and stood outside this Church by his memorial cross. And today we are here, in the heart of the Parish of Cowley St. John, with you, who are no less the daughters and sons of Father Benson than we are.
(Also cf. Mt. 15:21-28)s
Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus and a woman whose little daughter was afflicted with an unclean spirit. The woman was a Gentile of Syrophoenician origin. This story occurs in only two of the Gospels, the Gospel According to Mark, which we heard this morning, and that of Matthew.
I have been praying with these two versions of that story for several weeks, since I was asked to preach on this lesson.
I’d like to ask you a question about summer fare. It’s a question about lobsters, something very familiar (and delightful!) to many of us here on the eastern seaboard. How can a lobster weighing one pound grow into a lobster weighing three pounds, even ten pounds when the lobster has such a hard shell?
Today’s Gospel reading presents us with a big question. Was Jesus deliberately trying to be exclusive in his ministry when he told his disciples that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel when the Canaanite woman called upon him for mercy and healing for her daughter? Or was there some other motive behind his initial silence and then these words? Silence can be a powerful thing.