“Bridges” A sermon given at the invitation of Fr David Ryan, St John’s Roman Catholic Church, Bath 29-01-17
1 Corinthians 1: 26-31
Matthew 5: 1-12 The Beatitudes
Thank you for your welcome. It is very good to be here.
I am a doctor and priest. I was ordained in 1999. I am an Anglican, and have worked in self-supporting ministry. This is in the model of the French worker priests in the 1950s. It is ministry outside church. I have worked in Accident and Emergency Medicine, and in a hospice most recently. It is ministry alongside others, in times of
o The injured and dying
o I believe there are very few convinced atheists when the chips are down
o Denomination is less important in a hospice
• There is a new hunger to know the Lord
• There are people of faith who find “church” difficult
I have just started as University Chaplain and team leader, at the University of Bath
I would like make three points this evening:
First, this is part of a series on Matthew.
• Your introduction in tonight’s service sheet is a helpful scene-setter. All four Gospels are slightly different, aren’t they? It is noteworthy that this strengthens their power and reliability as evidence – as showing at least four different compilers. Each has his own characteristic. It is illuminating to try and see this. For example Mark has organised all his material around Peter’s confession – at the end of Chapter 8. John shows a much more developed theology and understanding – so later maturity. Luke is written in conjunction with Acts, for those new Christians from a Gentile background (note the addition of explanations of Jewish behaviours absent in Matthew (Luke 7:29-30, cf Matthew 11:10; Luke 2: 23). Matthew is a Gospel compiled and organised for the Jewish Christian, with frequent references to the OT, and details of the arguments between Jesus and the Jewish authorities.
• It is helpful to try and imagine the people hearing this for the first time, up in the hills above the Sea of Galilee.
• These people were
o Subdued by the authorities
o Common and contemptible (as Paul describes them in our earlier reading)
o And maybe some were feeling guilty or hopeless
• They would listen
o not passively (just sitting in a pew)
o so many moods were present
• and Jesus, in the beatitudes, tells of a different joy
o everything is turned on its head
o this joy is accessible, for all
o Imagine their reactions – “this is for me!”
Second, I believe that the “foundation stones for Christian revival” in this country are
• The POWER of PRAYER (so the work of the Holy Spirit)
I am setting out to build bridges
• Between the University of Bath and the city
• Between different churches and denominations
Thank you David for your welcome to me, your comments tonight, and the work we have done already to help this building.
I think it is all about finding common ground.
When I started on campus, a text I was given was 1 Corinthians 3:11: For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. Paul had earlier asked them “what after all as Paul? What after all is Apollos?” We could say now “What after all is Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism etc?”
One of my phrases, when talking to those seeking God and this foundation, is that we show “the certainty of Hope (Jesus) in the mystery of God”.
Third, just as Jesus did then, we are called to tell the Gospel to a new generation. There are different groups on the University campus:
• Christian Union – seeking to tell every student the Gospel, and inviting them to respond
• Just love – committed to pursuing the biblical call to social justice
• Catholic Society
• The quiet/shy Christian (who find the CU “high cringe”)
• The Chinese
• And so on……………….
These young people are seeking God. Many may feel outside “church”. They use a new language. They need to hear about Jesus in a new way. Often this is not rule based, or doctrine based. This is why story is often so powerful. It tells of authentic faith.
Moreover, they look at the church asking “Who is this Jesus?”, then see the divisions and intolerances, and then do not come in. They turn away.
The Gospel is not denomination based, but Gospel based.
• Is attractive
• Spirit guided
• Commanded by Jesus (John 17)
People should to be loved into the kingdom of God and not judged. Then they will come in, and choose the tradition/style of worship that is right for them.
I have a favourite picture “The Presence” by Capt Borthwick. St Mary’s cathedral, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh ((see the website, home page)
Here we see a Mass going on around the high altar. People are there standing together, and there is space - the door is still open for others to join them. (I think that some churches close the door so others cannot get in!) The presence of God is there, shown by the light. In the foreground is a figure who has come in and slumped in prayer, just inside the door, her head in her hands. The presence is shown by the figure of Jesus behind her, his hand outstretched to meet her need. The power of the picture is to ask why she is there and not with the others. Does she feel guilty, excluded, ignorant of what she should do, unwanted, or hypocritical? But her heart is known to God and Jesus shows that.
I wonder what He is saying to her as he reaches out. Maybe he is saying the beatitudes!
Nigel Rawlinson 1-2-17
Revd Prebendary Nigel Rawlinson MA, MB BChir, FRCS, FFAEM, Cert Pall Med, Dip Th
University Chaplain, University of Bath
Associate Minister, All Saints Weston, Bath, Diocese of Bath and Wells