Unspoken Sermons: Christ the King: Angels and Poverty (Mt 25.31-46)

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
Christ the King
23 November 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I have decided to begin a series of “unspoken sermons”, a title, if not an idea, I have stolen from George MacDonald. In truth, I am still in the process of discerning my vocation. Am I called to be an academic theologian, a theological priest, a poet, an author? I honestly don’t know. However, I know that of ultimate importance to me is the feeding of God’s flock, sacramentally, theologically, and spiritually. I will be “preaching” through the Gospel texts in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Matthew 25.31-46

In today’s Gospel reading we are reminded of a hard truth. We are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. It seems that it is at least partly on this basis that we will be judged when Christ returns. For some, this is an uncomfortable truth. We think of our salvation being conditioned on the choice to follow Christ, and of course, it is. Yet there is more to it. Remember, Christ tells us to pray for forgiveness in the same manner in which we show forgiveness to others. Well here, Christ reminds that our actions within this world, caring for the lowly, is caring for him and is a condition for being part of his flock. It may be a hard truth, but it is the truth nevertheless.

Now this passage seems rather pragmatic in focus. When Christ returns he will separate the wicked from the righteous. His standard of measurement will include righteousness toward the marginalised. Many would perhaps set the focus on the charitable part, that righteous acts are essential for one to have a life in Christ and stop there. Some, might choose instead to focus on the apparent reality of Hell by noting that there is a separation between the wicked and the righteous. Some might want to emphasise that righteous acts are an outflow of our life in Christ and not a condition for it. But there is yet another aspect that I wish to bring out, one that, I hope will tie together all the others.

The passage begins, “‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.'” Those who know me well will know that I have something of an obsession with angels. Angels, for me, represent the enchanted aspect of the cosmos. They serve as reminders that the world of the senses is not all that there is, that another world upholds this world, is the foundation for this world. So there is a cosmic and enchanted aspect of this passage that I think we often miss since our general culture does not view the world this way. For many in our culture, the world is reducible to matter, to what we can see, feel, smell, hear, and taste. The worldview of the Scriptures of the church up to the late Middle Ages, is one of order and enchantment. Angels can come and break you out of prison as they did for Peter. Water can be turned into wine, as Christ did at Capernaum. Wine and bread can become flesh and blood. Churches can be truly sacred spaces where eternity and time meet in the liturgy. What, however, has all this to do with the rest of this passage, the feeding and caring for the poor and the oppressed?

Perhaps first and foremost it allows for a more literal reading of this passage, that is taking the words for what they say. Christ tells us that it is him we are feeding, clothing, warming, etc., when we do these things for the poor. In a sense that we cannot fully comprehend we are truly rendering these things to Christ himself insofar as he is actually present in the poor and oppressed. Second, the Scriptures are quite clear that angels serve many functions. One of those purposes is caring for, guiding, and guarding us. If the angels, who are so much higher than we are in our current state, care for us, how much more ought we to care for those who are human like us, fallen like us, and simply in poorer circumstances than ourselves. Third, and finally, the opening passage tells us that it is when Christ comes in glory and sits on his throne of glory that he will call us to account for the care of the poor. Clearly, therefore, the glory of Christ in part subsists in justice for the downtrodden. When all is made new, this will include the enrichment of the poor, and quite possibly the impoverishment of the rich. So the worldview evident in the opening passage of today’s reading is actually the foundation for our caring for the poor.  Today we celebrate Christ the King. In Christ’s Kingdom, there are to be no poor. To this we are called, so this we must do.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.

Sincerely yours,
David

Advertisements

The Eve of the Feast of All Saints (AKA Halloween)

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
All Saints’ Eve
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today, or more appropriately this evening, is the eve before the feast of All Saints. Tomorrow is an important day in the life of the Church. All Saints’ Day and its twin feast of All Souls’ Day on 2 November are the days set aside when we who remain remember all those who have gone before us. For many Protestants, today is Reformation Day. Today celebrates the day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the issues of the sale of indulgences in the Catholic Church, to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. This is celebrated as the unofficial beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It’s taken me a while to be reconciled to this, in truth. The Protestant Reformation caused many good reforms in the Church (both Roman Catholic and otherwise), but it also caused so much division and violence. Today it is perpetuated by finger-pointing and a lack of communion between the Protestant churches as a whole and the Roman Catholic Church. Good may have come from the evils of division, but the divisions are still evil. This is why I choose to honour instead the more ancient holiday of All Saints tomorrow and its eve tonight.

In the Church, traditionally, the evening of a given day is actually the beginning of the next, typically after Vespers (an even fixed hour prayer, typically between 5 and 7 pm) has been said. It is, typically, the beginning of the celebration. Think about Christmas Eve and it’s relationship to Christmas Day, we often think of Christmas Eve as fully part of Christmas and yet distinct. In my family we opened presents from and to those who wouldn’t be together on Christmas Day, but not the others. All Saints’ Eve, or All Hallow’s Eve as it is more anciently known, works like this as well. Tonight begins the celebration or commemoration of the lives of the Christian Saints.

It is, therefore, a day where we remember death. Death is a funny thing in Christianity. On the one hand death is a consequence of our sinfulness. It isn’t how God wanted us to exist, and it isn’t how we will exist in the life to come. Death is defeated in Christ and has no more sting. Yet, St Francis of Assisi calls the death we die when our souls are separated from our bodies, sister death. The Second Death, however, of Hell is for Francis an evil, one from which we must flee. Death is not only swallowed up in the victory of Christ’s resurrection, it is transformed. It becomes the passage by which most of us, those who die before Christ’s return, will move a step closer to God’s intended end for us, namely deification and the beatific vision, also known as life eternal in the presence of God. So today, to an extent, we begin the celebrations of Sister Death, she who has been transformed from serpent into friend. The Saints teach us not to fear death any longer, it has become part of the process of our redemption and deification.

Yet it isn’t simply death that we celebrate on All Saints and All Souls, we also celebrate the great and the weak in the faith who have died. We pray to them because they are not gone, death is not the end. We pray to them, just we as ask each other to pray for us. Fr Robert Barron, in the video below, will explain why so many Christians have prayed to the Saints. For many protestants it can seem that praying to the saints takes the place of praying to God in Christ and through the Spirit. This is not, suggest Fr Barron, how we ought to view it. Rather, just as when we ask those still living to pray for us we are not praying to them in place of God, we are praying to God through them. God has ordained that it is right for us to pray, that in fact his own will will be accomplished at times through our prayers. Therefore, we should not limit ourselves to ask only for the prayers of those around us now, but of those the Church has deemed particularly holy by the fruit of their lives, whether they are on this side of the veil or not.

I encourage you then, as you or your children get dressed in costumes and collect candy or party, to remember that tonight we prepare ourselves to celebrate those who have come before us and that we ought to ask them to intercede for us because God is not in competition with them, but rather works through them.

Sincerely yours,

David

A Vision of Angels: Given on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

David Russell Mosley

21 July 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few weeks ago, over on our Caring Bridge site (where you can read about our second son, Edwyn and his battle with the dragon called neuroblastoma), I posted some fatherly and theological reflections on one of my sons having cancer. I wrote this sentence, ‘I believed in angels, and other spirits; I believed in sacred spaces and that yet the whole world is sacred; I believed that the communion of the saints included those who have departed this life and that they can pray for us; I believed that the sacraments were mediations of God’s grace to us in physical, material objects. Now, however, I feel as though I am finally experiencing these things as realities.’ Yesterday at the spoken Eucharist service at our parish church here in Beeston, I had one of those experiences.

Now, I have to be completely honest, I’m not very good at talking about these things. I was raised in a relatively cessationist Christian tradition (that is, the belief that certain miraculous gifts: prophecy, healing, etc., had ceased after the finishing of the New Testament). I’m also still enough of a Modern to be uncomfortable talking about an experience of something un-empirical. This is why I’m writing it down, it provides a degree of separation between you and me. Nevertheless, I have affirmed the possibility of these things for quite a long time now. Here is what happened.

I was sitting in the nave of the parish church as the liturgy was being said. I found myself continually looking at the stained glass window at the back as well as a relief of the Last Supper which was bookended by two angels. It made me think about how little we consider angels, or at least how little I consider them. Again, in much of my upbringing we limited our knowledge of angels solely to the text of Scripture and often ended by saying, they’re a bit of a mystery and Jesus is more important anyway. I started thinking about John Milbank’s interview at Big Ideas from several years ago. John says at one point in the interview, ‘I mean, I believe in all this fantastic stuff. I’m really bitterly opposed to this kind of disenchantment in the modern churches, including I think among most modern evangelicals. I mean recently in the Nottingham diocese they wanted to do a show about angels, and so the clergy – and this is a very evangelical diocese – sent around a circular saying, “Is there anyone around who still believes in angels enough to talk about this?” Now, in my view this is scandalous. They shouldn’t even be ordained if they can’t give a cogent account of the angelic and its place in the divine economy.’ As I thought about this and continued to participate in the liturgy, I found myself staring into the eyes of Christ at the top centre of the window at the back of the nave.

I closed my eyes and as often happens when we close our eyes after looking at something through which light was shining, the outlines of the window remained with me. This alone is a rather brilliant picture of what role angels and the saints play (as well as icons and stained glass windows), they shine forth the light of God. Suddenly, with my eyes closed, the number of shadows began to multiply. I saw myself surrounded by these shadows and I knew that what I was being shown were the saints and angels that are always around us, always watching over, praying for us, and guiding us in Christ through the Holy Spirit to the Father. The vision, as shadowy as it was, was overwhelming in its majesty. My heart began to race; my chest felt as though there were something very heavy pressing down upon it. I nearly began to weep right there in the middle of the service.

Picture of Southwell Minster. Taken by my mom.

Picture of Southwell Minster. Taken by my mom.

Later that day, I was invited by a friend to attend Evensong at the Minster for our diocese in Southwell. With the exception of the anthem, the service was beautiful. The choir sang with fervour and passion. Then we came to the final hymn, Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones. The first stanza of which is:

Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones,
raise the glad strain,
Alleluia!

Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs

As soon as we sang these words I knew that what I had seen was no figment of my imagination. I smiled and praised God and sang all the more the rest of the song. In that moment I was confirmed that my son, Edwyn, in fact my whole family are watched over by God, his angels, and the communion of saints. Here is the song in full:

Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones,
raise the glad strain,

Alleluia!

Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs,

Refrain:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Alleluia! alleluia!

 

O higher than the cherubim,
more glorious than the seraphim,
lead their praises,

Alleluia!

Thou bearer of the eternal Word,
most gracious, magnify the Lord, Refrain

 

Respond, ye souls in endless rest,
ye patriarchs and prophets blest,

Alleluia,
alleluia!

Ye holy twelve, ye martyrs strong,
all saints triumphant, raise the song, Refrain

 

O friends, in gladness let us sing,
supernal anthems echoing,

Alleluia,
alleluia!

To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One, Refrain

Words: Athelstan Riley (1858-1945), 1906

Music: Lasst uns erfreuen (Geistliche Catholische Kirchengeäng, Cologne, 1623)

Meter: LM with Alleluias

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Celebrating Christ the King

David Russell Mosley

Christ the King - Pantocrator - Kuznetsov 01

Christ the King – Pantocrator – Kuznetsov 01 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

Christ the King
24 November 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today we celebrate something truly countercultural and transformational. Today we celebrate Christ as King. It is a fitting way to end this season of Ordinary Time before Advent begins the following Sunday.  Today we remember who it is who upholds the heavens and the earth. Who it is who reigns on high. The one to whom all glory and power and authority has been given.

As you worship today, remember who it is you worship. Jesus is more than the carpenter’s son, though he was that. Jesus is more than a first century Palestinian Jew, though he was that. He was certainly more than a simple moral teacher who’s teachings got him into trouble. He is King. Not just of the Jews or of Israel (though he is that as a descendent of David), he is the King. He is the one from whom our whole notion of kingship derives. He is God; he is man. He both without confusion, and he chose to become the latter without ever ceasing to be the former. This is the one who saves, he rules over us. Worship him with fear and trembling, and joy and gladness.

The Collect for the Day (from Common Worship):

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heave that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet:
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen.

The Collect for the Week (from Common Worship):

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people:
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Happy Michaelmas: Celebrating the Reality of Angels

David Russell Mosley

 

Icona della Chiesa Ortodossa Russa dell' Assem...

Icona della Chiesa Ortodossa Russa dell’ Assemblea dell’Arcangelo Michele. Tempera su legno. La rappresentazione dei sette arcangeli. Michele al centro, sopra la mandorla di Cristo. Gabriele and Raffaele in piedi a fianco rispettivamente a sinistra e destra. Dietro di loro, da sinistra a destra Jehudiel, Selaphiel, Uriel, e Baraquiel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michaelmas 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is what is often called in the Church Calendar Michaelmas or Michael and All Angels. Today we celebrate the fact that we are not alone in worshipping and serving the Lord our God. There are troops, whole companies of angels who do his will, his bidding.

Perhaps this is just my own problem, but I certainly often find myself forgetting about angels. I spend so much time, at least in my own head, combatting popular theology which says children or all people become angels when they die (because they do not), that I forget to give proper thought to real angels. The Scriptures are replete with angels and the hosts of the Lord. Last night for Vespers I read accounts of Elisha being surrounded by fiery chariots and a great host, the same it would seem he saw taking Elijah. This morning, the passages I’ve read have either centred on how the angels also worship the Lord, how they help Christians in our times of need, like Peter in Acts 12, or how they combat the devil and his demons (Revelation 7). The truth of the matter is angels are not only very much real, but the good ones are working alongside us to spread the Gospel, the story of God incarnate, of salvation, redemption, deification.

So do not, like me, forget the angels, but also do not worship them, they never allow it themselves, and they are just as created as we are. I would argue that because we are related to angels through our intellect, just as we are related to all creation through our materiality and the lower levels of our soul, and just as all that creation will be lifted up with us in the final days, so too will the angels be raised up through us, because we have a share in them. This is the idea that humanity is a microcosm, a little version of all things created, being related to all things in creation. This includes angels for angels are intellect and we have intellect (just as rocks are material and so are we; or plants seek nutrients just as we do; or animals emote and move, etc., and so do we. Because we are a microcosm and all things are related to us, as we are deified all things will be raised up with us, this must include angels who are part of Creation. Thus we should not worship them, but welcome them, sing their praise, be thankful to and for them, and allow them to lead us closer to Christ.

I leave you with the Collect for today:

12th century icon of the Archangels Michael an...

12th century icon of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel wearing the loros of the Imperial guards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted the ministry of angels and mortals in a wonderful order:
grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven,
so, at your command,
they may help and defend us on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

We Worship God Three-in-One: Trinity Sunday

icon

Dear Friends and Family,

Today, for Western Christians, is Trinity Sunday. Today we set aside some time to contemplate a God that is both 1 and 3. This is terribly difficult understand. Since God is completely other than us, we can never come to full knowledge of him in his essence. Nevertheless, God has revealed himself to us and he has done so in three persons who are one.

There are many heresies surrounding the notion of the Trinity. There are some who want to deny Christ’s divinity (and implicitly the Spirit’s as well); there are some who accept the Son’s divinity, but deny the Spirit’s; there are some who deny that there are three persons at all, but only one who shows himself to us in three different ways. As many heresies as there are surrounding the Trinity, there are as many if not more analogies that attempt to explain it. While I think it good to try to understand God as Trinity, today, the key is worship the great mystery that is our God.

That being said, below you will find two videos on the Trinity. In the first, Dr Karen Kilby talks about a particular, modern analogy of the Trinity and her hesitancy about it. In the second, you will why using any analogy breaks down in the end.

May you find yourself in awe of the Trinity today, and away from incredibly difficult Irish snake farmers.

Yours,
David

Something Fun for Ordinary Time

Dear Friends and Family,

Ordinary Time is now upon us. It is time to remember that God is not only present in the feasts and solemnities, but in the everyday as well. I may try and do a post later this week on the importance of Ordinary Time, and I’ll definitely do a post for Trinity Sunday. Today, however, I simply wanted to post something fun.

Over the Easter Holiday, the Theology Department here at the University of Nottingham held it’s annual nearly week long event for its Distance MA students in Systematic/Philosophic Theology and Historical Theology. During the course of the week the picture below was snapped. Enjoy.

Yours,
David

David