20 October 2019
Revd Nicholas Mercer
Last Sunday we witnessed a crowning moment in the history of the Anglican and Catholic Churches
Cardinal John Henry Newman was canonised by the Pope and is now a Saint
His Canonisation was the result of two “verified” miracles
First, Deacon Jack Sullivan was relieved of spinal stenosis and then Melissa Villalobos (Villa Lobos) cured of internal bleeding
However, and possibly more importantly, John Henry Newman made a monumental contribution to Christian theology, not least in the field of doctrine
This, perhaps, sounds a rather unexciting for a Sunday morning, but is enormously important in the development of the Christian faith
Let me give you an example – each and every week we say the Creed
“I believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible”
As you know, this is the start of the Nicene Creed, which emanated from the Council of Nicea 325AD
This Council was intended to produce a uniform Christian doctrine – we still use the words today
However, what did the words mean at the time and do they still mean the same thing today?
Would a professing Christian in the C4th mean the same thing as a professing Christian in C21st?
As we know, things change over time but, rather than seeing new understandings as distorting the faith, Newman saw it instead as an unfolding of what was implicit in the original faith
It was like a seed, he said, growing into something much greater.
The readings this morning are about the command to love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”.
Like the Creed, we still use these words today and the Bible instructs us to “recite this to our children”, “talk about it at home” and “write it on the doorposts ”
This is all rather daunting
Not only is it very challenging but what does it mean for our lives?
Does the Command means the same thing today as it did two thousand years ago?
Does it change over time?
In any event, how many of us actually begin to love Godwith everything we’ve got?
Of course, the pivotal word in this command is “love” and trying to find a definition is no easy task
I looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary to find no less than twelve separate definitions
In relation to faith, love is described as “the affectionate devotion due to God”.
But “affectionate devotion” can take on many guises
Is our love unconditional, romantic, familiar, enduring, playful or obsessive – to use some of the twelve definitions?
Whatever type of love we have, the Reverend Gary Chapman identified different ways of expressing that love
He wrote a book called “Five Love Languages” pointing out that we tend to express our love, predominantly, through just one of these languages.
These five “languages” are words of affirmation, acts of service, giving gifts, quality time and physical touch
Which best describes the way you express love in your own lives?
Furthermore, although most of us have been in love and know what it feels like -does our love change?
In relation to our partners, what does it mean to be in love at the beginning of our adult life and at the end?
Is it the same thing or has it altered?
Those of you who see me rushing around the parish will have noticed that I invariably carry a book called “The Church Book and Desk Diary”
It is published by the Canterbury Press and is an invaluable guide for priest and parish alike
Not only does it supply the lectionary but also the liturgical seasons
However, in the top left hand corner it has a name of someone who has distinguished themselves in the faith
Not only to remember great moments in God’s Kingdom, but to inspire us to holiness
Put another way, these are daily examples of people who have loved their God with all their hearts
Last week, for example, we were asked to remember Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, St Ignatius of Antioch, Theresa of Avila and Henry Martyn
They all have their own story to tell but each chose to express their love for God very differently
Perhaps it is worth dwelling for a moment on some of these lives to see what the command to “love the Lord Thy God” might look like taking an average week in Ordinary time
Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were two of the great Bishops of the Reformation
Nicholas Ridley was Bishop of London and was instrumental in placing Lady Jane Grey on the throne
Similarly, Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Gloucester was also a champion of the Protestant Reformation
As a result of their witness they were both sentenced to death by Mary
Latimer is reputed to have said at his trial
‘I thank God most heartily that He hath prolonged my life to this end, that I may in this case glorify God by that kind of death’
When they were being burnt at the stake, he said
“Be of good comfort, and play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
It may be nothing more than hagiography but, if true,
They both showed unconditional love of God and expressed their love through acts of service – to the Church and State
St Theresa of Avila potentiallytakes the love of God into a very different dimension
She was a Spanish noblewoman who, despite her wealthy up-brining, chose the monastic life
Interestingly, her love for God has been described as erotic
The statue of the “Ecstasy of St Theresa of Avila” by Bernini in Rome illustrates this most clearly
Her writings are heavily charged with sexual imagery-
I thought the contents too racy for Sunday Morning
But, although this may offend your senses, the Hebrew prophets, for example, often compared the relationship of God and Israel to that of husband and wife.
Her love of God is, arguably romantic and expressed by meta-physical touch
Lastly, Henry Martyn was an Anglican priest and missionary to the people of India and Persia
He was inspired by the writings of David Brainard who had worked among the American Indians and worked himself to death
This was his inspiration
Henry Martyn arrived in India in 1806 and translated the Bible into Persian
Remarkably he also translated the Book of Common Prayer into Urdu
He died, not of fatigue, but of the plague aged 31
His love can be described as obsessive, manifesting itself in the giving of gifts – himself
As we can see from these examples, plucked almost at random from the Church Diary
The love of God can be manifested in so many different ways and expressed in so many different “languages”
Furthermore it changes over time
From the C16th Reformation Bishop to the missionary zeal of the Victorian Evangelical
From the Early Church Fathers to European Monasticism
And so it continues today
I noted with interest that three clergy have been arrested for their part in the Extinction Rebellions last week alone
They too were expressing their love of God and his creation – in a new and unforeseen way
As Newman said, this is not a departure from the faith but an unfolding of what was implicit in the original
It is like a seed growing into something much greater.
As for our own community, as your Rector I can see acts of love all around me expressed particularly by acts of service, the giving gifts and quality time
And I so grateful for all the love that is shown and expressed in this Church
But I expect, like me, most of us worry not so much about loving God – but loving God enough
And in that regard, I leave you with some words of our new Saint who said this about obeying God’s Commandments
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place.. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away”.