Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
A few years ago, Newsweek magazine published a cover story called “The Changing Face of the Church.” This provocative and prescient article chronicled both the now-familiar decline of the Christian faith in Western Europe and in North America, and the burgeoning of that same faith in Africa, Latin America, and even in Asia. According to the article, there were, for example, seven times more Anglicans in Nigeria alone than there are Episcopalians in the United States of America. And, if recent communiqués from places as diverse as Canterbury Cathedral in England, the Episcopal Church Center in New York, and even our very own Diocesan offices in Boston are to be believed, we can only conclude that our chief pastors are realizing what we in our local congregations, especially in the Northeast—often dubbed the “graveyard of the churches”—have known for a very long time: All is not well in the Church outside the global south; the “household of God” in these parts is shrinking; and we Christians can no longer continue to engage in business as usual. And this is not a matter of crisis for the Anglican Communion alone. This precipitous decline is occurring in every so-called mainline Christian denomination, including the Roman Catholic Church, whose US membership would also be plummeting if not for the influx of largely Hispanic immigrants, thanks be to God. The hopes and dreams of the failed “Decade of Evangelism”—in which we were to have doubled the size of the Anglican Communion in Western Europe and North America notwithstanding—we have only to look around us every Sunday in our local congregations to behold the sad wages of post-modernity, scientism, and secularism for the Church. Where are our young people or, for that matter, where are our neighbors? I, for one, sometimes feel as if I am living in some local version of the Incredible Shrinking Church (sic). Continue reading →
Because we do not always see these seeds growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor4:7). This certainty is often called “a sense of mystery”. It involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit (cf. Jn15:5). This fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable. Continue reading →
Blessed art thou, O Lord God, and blessed be thy holy Name for ever, who hast now vouchsafed to feed me with the Bread of Life, and hast given me to drink the Cup of Eternity, the holy and heavenly Mysteries of the Body and Blood of my Saviour; thereby assuring my Soul of thy Favour and Goodness towards me, for the increase of my Faith, for the Pardon of my Sins, for obtaining of my Peace, and all other Benefits of Christ’s blessed Passion.
I now most humbly beseech thee to assist me with thy heavenly Grace, that I may continue thine for ever, and be made a Temple of the Holy Spirit; and that having now Christ dwelling in me by Faith, I may accomplish the rest of my Life in Repentance and Godly Fear, in mortifying my own sinful desires, and in keeping thy holy Commandments; for which end, guide me with thy Power, enlighten me with thy Word, quicken me with thy Spirit, elevate my Senses, compose my Memory, and order my Conversation aright; for thou art able to do abundantly above what I can ask or think; by which thy great and bountiful Goodness towards me, thou wilt glorify thy Name in me, and bring me at last to thine eternal Kingdom of Glory, through him who is the King of Glory, my blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
When the Spirit dwells within a person, from the moment that person has become prayer, the Spirit never leaves them. For the Spirit himself never ceases to pray within us. Whether we are asleep or awake, from then on prayer never departs from our soul. Whether we are eating or drinking or sleeping or whatever else we may be doing, even if we are in the deepest of sleeps, the incense of prayer is rising without effort in our heart. Prayer never again deserts us. In every moment of our life, even when it appears to have ceased, prayer is secretly at work within us continuously.
One of the Fathers, the bearers of Christ, teaches that prayer is the silence of the pure in heart; for their very thoughts are the movements of God. The movements of the heart and the intellect that have been purified become voices full of sweetness with which such people never cease to sing in secret to the hidden God.
— From The Ascetical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh (613-700)
This morning’s sermon is about a kind of prayer called “mystical prayer.” “Mystical prayer” may seem a little much for a beautiful May morning, but I know we’re up to the task. I’m going to begin by reminding us about Wile E. Coyote and gravity.
Where would Wile E. Coyote be without gravity? If you’ve seen the cartoons, you know how many of the coyote’s attempts to catch the roadrunner rely on gravity: Now the coyote sets up a boulder to push off the cliff and onto the roadrunner below. Now the coyote pours a pile of birdseed over the bridge and bungees down to catch the roadrunner. Now the coyote dons roller skates to skate down the hill after the roadrunner. Even if we haven’t seen the show, because we’re familiar with gravity, we can guess how the coyote fares in each of his attempts: The road runner appears at the cliff’s edge with his signature, “Meep, meep!” and, instead of the boulder, the startled coyote plunges with a whistle to the canyon floor. The coyote bungees off the bridge toward the pile of birdseed and catches, not the roadrunner, but the front end of truck. The coyote with roller skates sees the sign, “Bridge Out Ahead”… but can’t stop, and plunges with another whistle to the canyon floor.
Where would Wile E. Coyote be without gravity?
If we knew nothing about the Holy Spirit except what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, we might well ask, “Where would the Holy Spirit be without gravity?” Continue reading →
The Lord calls himself the vine and those united to him branches in order to teach us how much we shall benefit from our union with him, and how important it is for us to remain in his love. By receiving the Holy Spirit, who is the bond of union between us and Christ our Saviour, those who are joined to him, as branches are to a vine, share in his own nature.
On the part of those who come to the vine, their union with him depends upon a deliberate act of the will; on his part, the union is effected by grace. Because we had good will, we made the act of faith that brought us to Christ, and received from him the dignity of adoption that made us his own kin, according to the words of St Paul: ‘Whoever is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.’ Continue reading →