A Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on the Feast of Christ the King 2016.

A Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on the Feast of Christ the King 2016.

If you are like me, and I am not suggesting for a moment that any of you are, the thought of a Rule of Life fills me with some intrepidation. For part of my Theological Training I lived with a monastic community or a year and was required to fulfil certain weekly obligations as part of a rule of life. Failure to do so required me to knock on the Father Wardens’ office door on a Saturday morning and confess my lack of keeping to the rule. I am not sure who became bored the quickest!

Several years later during my further training at Theological College I did marginally better maybe because I was not required to knock on anyone’s door! Does this tell me something of my slightly rebellious nature-maybe?

Today, I am here to encourage you to reflect of what a rule of life might look like and the reason for having one. What I am certainly not assuming is that you do not individually and severally already have one.

The diocese as part of its Mission strategy has produced a Diocesan Rule of Life called ‘Sharing God’s Life’. It is made up of three stands ‘Loving, Living and Serving’. The inspiration for this rule comes from that of St. Benedict. Indeed I want to quote direct from the Prologue of his rule which provides a direct link between his rule and our celebration of the feast of Christ the King:

“To thee, therefore, my speech is now directed, who, giving up thine own will, takest up the strong and most excellent arms of obedience, to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true King.”

The monks are admonished to put aside their needs and wants and to follow the will of God. The challenge for us is the same-how can we best follow God’s will rather than our own. We say Sunday by Sunday, maybe day by day-‘Your kingdom come; your will be done’.

At the outset, whatever our rule of life contains, its springboard is ’doing the will of God’. So just what does that mean? If we start from the premise that all life is sacred then nothing lies outside the desire to do  God’s will. ‘Thy kingdom come’ expresses the hope that the whole universe will be evolving to a point of ultimate obedience to God shown in the face of Jesus Christ. Now the will of God in the end is a community issue. We are not being encouraged to imagine that what I want and ask for in prayer is God’s will. It is a much more measured process in which we are encouraged to share with one another and corporately discover what God is already doing in the world and do just that!

Laurence Freeman a spiritual writer has these wise words,

“Prayer is not informing God of our needs or asking God to change ‘his’ mind. We are not setting up our will in opposition to God’s will or telling God what he should be doing. Such egocentric prayer fosters many forms of neurotic behaviour, religious behaviour, such as praying for victory over others or the fulfilling of egotistical desires.”

Now what is implicit in the Diocesan Rule, I want to make explicit here. I feel there needs to be a fourth strand or cord-a cord which the Benedictine Tradition held at its heart-the practice of being in the presence of God at all times. You may say , that’s fine for monks and nuns but I have a life to lead, a job to do and a family to bring up-and so we do!

We don’t have to think about being pious or religious. God dwells within each one of us, within all in the world, and within the church, Christ’s living body here in the world. A rule of life simply invites us to bring all this into consciousness and get on with the business of daily living. Remember the prayer of Jacob Astley, 1st Baron Astley of Reading during the Civil War: ‘Lord if I forget you this day please, do not forget me’. When we meet for worship like this morning we are bringing into consciousness the mystery of God, divine love, the ground of all being-whatever name you find works for you.

Like the Benedictine Community we are called to an expression of a rule of life which is primarily about being a community, Christ’s corporate body loving, living and serving as best we can. There are suggestions of how you might enhance this rule in the leaflet. Please read it. What I also discovered was that Benedict encouraged different communities to make the rule work for them –be autonomous-do your own thing within the spirit of the rule.

On this feast of Christ the King when we are encouraged to consider the nature of Christ’s kingship, our gaze rests on how Jesus exercised his power of love amongst those with whom he lived and worked. If our heart and therefore our inner motivation and attitude are attuned to loving self and others i.e. in touch with a sense of our potentially loving power, then we shall less and less be preoccupied with external forms of power that makes us superficial, judgemental, split off and often downright wrong-without knowing it. Benedict called it ‘doing battle for Christ the King’.

We have had two political examples of late-Brexit and The American Presidential Election in which the some proponents of their cause believed that by rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic-that it my euphemism for violent and threatening words setting out to coerce others to their point of view-they could hoodwink the electorate. Of course, in part, they have been successful. Napoleon is deemed to have said, “Only people of the Spirit actually change things, the rest of us just rearrange them.” God is patient enough to wait for real change.

Whatever your rule of life looks or indeed becomes, may it be motivated by a genuine desire to seek God’s will whose springboard is an inclusive and humble love for al, and results in lives which are transformed rather than dominated by fear.

A final quote from Fr. Harry Williams in a lovely Lent Book called ‘Becoming what I am’. He is talking about prayer:

“Our job is to put ourselves at God’s disposal by the discipline of regularity, by faithfulness to our rule, and by the use of that common sense without which we can’t do anything. But there our job ends. What happens when we pray is God’s business, not ours. God will give us what he knows best.”

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