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Thursday, February 28, 2019


I  am no longer writing as Dean of St Paul's Cathedral.  I resigned and retired from that privileged ministry on 3 June 2018.  I plan to keep my blog as Octagon Notes but will instead focus on general commentary and reflection instead of making the blog a regular post for my sermons.

Life without the Cathedral and in retirement is a challenge; it feels as if the very core of my identity and being is dislocated and it is a sharp reminder of the depth and tenacity of vocational life.  I feel like a fish that misses the sea.  Gone are the familiar and cherished things, tasks, roles, liturgy and choir; all of this is of course expected, but I am disappointed in myself to find that I am so predictable and feel so deprived of my natural element.

I post however the sermon I gave in the farewell liturgy of 16 December 2018.


Sermon for 16 December  ‘Be Thou My Vision’

Gospel: Luke 3:7-18

Gaudete Sunday

Gaudete Sunday, an invitation to reflect on the source of all joy.   The gospel captures the paradox of joy:  what baptismal candidates have ever been greeted with such words “You brood of vipers” ?  Yet the gospel turns on the promise of grace and hope as the people ask “what should we do?”

This morning as we say farewell I recognised I had an impulse to give you something, a memento, an emblem of what we share; something that spoke truly of who we are and of the challenges that life presents us at every twist and turn of our way; something as true for the new believer as also for the faithful stalwart; something as applicable to the start of the journey and yet also for the journey’s end.  The thought reminded me of the years I taught and ministered in Darwin: scallops were plentiful and, as a common delicacy on our BBQs, there were always scallop shells lying about afterwards:  that was it – I wanted to leave each of you with a scallop shell!  A scallop shell!

 Why, of all things, would I want to give you a scallop shell?  If I said the word ‘Camino’ that would probably give it away.   You would be likely to think of Camino de Santiago ‘The Way of St James’, the name given to the ancient pilgrim routes that lead to the shrine of St James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  The scallop shell is the sign of St James and, by custom, it has become the sign associated with pilgrimage.

There is a wonderful passage in Hebrews (chapter 11) where we are assured “that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.   The writer describes what faith is like, the mindset of the souls who live in this way: “They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb.11:13-16)

So please accept this virtual scallop shell I offer you.  Picture it in your imagination, this emblem of the pilgrim, and make it your own.

You would be in good company.  Pope Benedict, when he gave up the papacy, explained that he was no longer the pontiff but merely a pilgrim on the final stage of his journey on earth.  This was ‘walking the talk’, living out in his life what has been his description of the church, ‘the pilgrim people of God’.

So we are a searching people; a people with restless hearts.   St Augustine captures the truth about this when he says of God, ‘You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in you.’  That is the crux of our dilemma: our troubled nature is the gift of God while our peace can only be in God.   We could say that is the story of the Church; that is our history and our doom.  We search for certainty but the pilgrim heart cannot rest.  That is the story of the Reformation and of the continuing process of fragmentation that has characterised the Western Church.   Our Anglican Church has endured threats of schism, endless arguments on the interpretation of scripture.  We have our stories of loss and of heartbreak; – in our own diocese we may think of the departure of St Matthews parish as a local and particular instance of the search for certainty – but at what a terrible cost!  The failure of love.  The loss of vision.

The greater story of the Church is as the writer of Hebrews tells it, a story of faithful patience and endurance.  To be a pilgrim is to be in the journey for the long haul.  There is no short cut and no escape.   Even death is only another stage of the journey.  ‘In my end is my beginning.’

In Four Quartets T.S.Eliot traced out something of the contradictions and paradoxes of the pilgrim spirit: to be still and ‘still moving’….   The Camino of our lives.  I commend the poem to you.  

Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.”


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