A sermon preached by Canon Gary Philbrick at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge, on Bible Sunday, October 29th, 2017.
O gracious and most merciful Father, you have given us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word; assist us with your Spirit, that it may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to re-form us according to your own image and increase in us all heavenly virtues; for Jesus Christ’s sake. AMEN.
(A prayer of Edward VI, who died in 1553 (adapted))
500 hundred years ago on Tuesday, October 31st, 1517, an event took place which was to have an effect on Western European Church and society which is still being felt today. It didn’t seem terribly momentous at the time, but looking back it was the trigger for what we now call The Protestant Reformation.
On that day, an academic theologian at the University of Wittenberg in Saxony, in Eastern Germany, nailed a poster on the door of the main Church inviting other academics to a discussion, a seminar. His name is Martin Luther. And what he is said to have nailed to the door that day became known as his ‘Ninety-five Theses’.
On the same day, the 31st October, 1517, Luther also wrote to his bishop, Albrecht von Brandenburg, protesting the sale of indulgences – monies paid on behalf of the dead to shorten their time in Purgatory. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, the document he’d earlier nailed on the door of the Church. At this stage, it appears that Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly ‘searching, rather than doctrinaire’. Nevertheless there was an undercurrent of challenge, of protest, in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: ‘Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?’
Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel, a notable pedlar of indulgences, that ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs’. Luther insisted that, since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.
In the letter to the Archbishop he wrote, ‘The first and only duty of the bishops…is to see that the people learn the Gospel and the love of Christ. For on no occasion has Christ ordered that indulgences should be preached, but he forcefully commanded the Gospel to be preached.
Now, let’s pause for a moment, and look at one or two background events.
Until the Reformation, there was in the West just ‘The Church’. Not the Roman Catholic Church, clearly none of the post-Reformation denominations such as Baptist, Methodist, Church of England, Lutheran, etc. Just ‘The Church’. And the Church was, in effect, defined as all of those Christians who were led by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.
Admittedly, since the earliest days of the Church, there had been divisions, especially between Eastern and Western Christians, between the Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking parts of the Church, and, as the centuries went on, those divisions became greater until the Great Schism in 1054, when the divide between Eastern and Western Christianity was formalised by mutual excommunication, and there was virtually no communication between the two until the 20th century.
So, in the West, the Church was led by the Pope. But for a few hundred years before 1517, there were those who saw that Western Christianity needed to be reformed. A significant number of scholars and others, as they researched the Early Church, and especially as the invention of printing in its modern form in the previous century meant that it became so much easier to get back to the early sources – a significant number of people began to question some of the practices of the Church, its wealth and trappings, the lifestyles of some Bishops and monks, and all sorts of other things.
And one of the chief of those questions was indulgences – that practice of donations of money being made on behalf of those who had died, so that their deceased loved ones could be released early from purgatory.
Now, there’s a lot that could be said about all of this, and there has been a rediscovery in the past 50 years or so of how vibrant the life of the Church was before the Reformation in lots of places, and the whole history of the Reformation, and of the founding of the Church of England, is a lot more complicated than is often described – saying that the Church of England was founded by Henry VIII because he wanted a divorce is far too simplistic – there’s a lot that could be said, but I’m not going to say it now!
On the 31st of October, 1517, Martin Luther posted his ‘Ninety-five Theses’ on the door of the Church in Wittenberg, and the Reformation began.
Writing twenty-eight years later in 1545, Luther summarizes his Reformation pilgrimage in the Preface to his Latin Writings. There he writes of the glorious discovery of the Gospel:
‘At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’’ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely, by faith. . . . Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates’.
Note the relief when he says ‘At last’, and his soul searching, ‘meditating day and night’, and the absolute joy he experienced from a sin-cleansed conscience: ‘I felt that I was altogether born again’.
The Protestant Reformation, of which the Church of England and the whole Anglican Communion is a very distinctive part, has had a major impact on many different parts of our lives – from the idea of freedom of conscience, to an emphasis on the human rights of the individual versus authority, to the rise of the nation-state, the industrial revolution, the evangelisation of the world, and the decline of the control of the Roman Catholic Church over individual and state.
But at its heart was Luther’s realisation that a new relationship with God was possible, that ‘If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation’ [v. II Cor 5:17], and that this new relationship with God in Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit is unmediated, it is directly with God, that although others may help us on our journey of faith, or support us on the way, Jesus Christ is the only Mediator we need – not a priest, or a Bishop, or indulgences, or relics, or anything else.
Luther returned over and over again to the Letter to the Romans, and to the verses from Chapter 1, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith’ [Rom 1:16-17].
Some parts of Roman Catholic theology in the sixteenth century gave the impression that it was by good works that we earned God’s favour – but building Churches, and giving alms, and going on pilgrimages – all good things in themselves, but not a way to earn God’s favour. And still now, for many of us, what has become known as the ‘Protestant work ethic’ drives us on, and somehow we see God as a demanding parent, who always has such high expectations of us that we can never meet them, but whom we continue to try to please by working harder and harder.
At its very best, Protestant theology, as all good theology, teaches us that we are made by God, known by God, and loved by God as we are, and that we are justified not by what we do, but by what we are in his sight – beloved sinners, made righteous by the blood of Christ shed on the Cross and confirmed in the Resurrection on the third day.
Luther recognised that the fruits of this righteousness are good works, and that if we just bask in God’s love and do nothing about it, our faith is not worth the candle. But it is the priority of God’s love which is important – made by God, known by God, and loved by God as we are.
Protestant theology has struggled over the centuries – sometimes becoming over-judgemental, sometimes condemning those whose life-styles don’t match up to their particular interpretation of the Bible, sometimes giving the idea that only intellectuals can enter the Kingdom of God, sometimes belittling other Christians who don’t worship in a particular way, or read their Bibles in a particular way, and especially by having a tendency to split over doctrinal issues, so that people are always going off and founding their own Churches for one reason or another. Like the mediaeval theology which preceded it, Protestant theology has sometimes erred.
But at its heart, and why we celebrate 500 years later what Luther and his contemporaries did in shaping the Church in the West, and throughout the world, the Protestant Reformation opened a new way for Christians to be with God – justified by faith, not by works; relying on grace, not on the Law, and with an evangelical zeal, a Gospel zeal, to share their faith with others and to make the world a better place by the way they live, and the changes they bring about through lives of worship and service dedicated to God.
As we heard earlier at the end of our Epistle Reading from Colossians 3, ‘Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ [Col 3:14-17]. AMEN.
All are welcome to attend any or all of these Services.
On October 7th there will be a day of Celebration of Ministry as the two new Benefices (Groups of Parishes) which comprise the New Forest North Group Ministry are brought into being.
The New Forest North Group Ministry.
The Benefice of Ringwood with Ellingham & Harbridge and St Leonards & St Ives.
The Benefice of Fordingbridge and Hyde and Breamore and Hale with Woodgreen (The Avon Valley Partnership).
A CELEBRATION OF MINISTRY THROUGHOUT THE DAY
SATURDAY OCTOBER 7th, 2017
From 8.30, Breakfast at All Saints’, St Leonards & St Ives, BH24 2LS, followed by…
9.15, Holy Communion with the Archdeacon of Bournemouth, as we pray for the new Benefices and the events of the day.
11.00, Induction by the Bishop of Winchester of the Revd Matthew Trick as Vicar, and the Licensing of the Revd Ian Whitham as Associate Minister, and the inauguration of the new Benefice of Ringwood with Ellingham & Harbridge and St Leonards & St Ives at the Church of Ss Peter & Paul, Ringwood, BH24 1AW, followed by refreshments.
2.00, Licensing by the Archdeacon of Bournemouth of the Revd Nicky Davies as Associate Priest in the Avon Valley Partnership,with special responsibility for the Parish of Breamore, at the Church of St Mary, Breamore, SP6 2DF, followed by drinks
4.00, Induction by the Archdeacon of Bournemouth of the Revd Canon Gary Philbrick as Rector, and the Licensing of the Revd Rachel Noël as Assistant Curate, and the inauguration of the new Benefice of Fordingbridge and Hyde and Breamore and Hale with Woodgreen (The Avon Valley Partnership),at the Church of the Holy Ascension, Hyde, SP6 2QJ, followed by Tea.
A traditional carol used in a Sermon by Canon Gary Philbrick on July 9th – the sermon text will be posted below.
1. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;
Chorus: Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
2. Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance.
3. In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Between an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance.
4. Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard I from above,
To call my true love to my dance.
5. Into the desert I was led,
Where I fasted without substance;
The Devil bade me make stones my bread,
To have me break my true love’s dance.
6. The Jews on me they made great suit,
And with me made great variance,
Because they loved darkness rather than light,
To call my true love to my dance.
7. For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance:
Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold!
The same is he shall lead the dance.
8. Before Pilate the Jews me brought,
Where Barabbas had deliverance;
They scourged me and set me at nought,
Judged me to die to lead the dance.
9. Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.
10 Then down to hell I took my way
For my true love’s deliverance,
And rose again on the third day,
Up to my true love and the dance.
11. Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance.
Dear All in Christchurch Deanery:
We’ve had distressing news of the continuing drought in Kinkiizi, Uganda – see pictures overleaf and the message from the Diocesan Secretary below.
People have been very generous with the Hymnathon recently, and Gill Tybjerg from the Deanery will be taking some extra money from Deanery funds specifically for the drought with her when she goes next month.
However, if anyone would like to make an extra donation, we would need to know by Monday, July 3rd, so that she can take it with her on Friday 7th.
Please also remember Kinkiizi Diocese in your prayers.
Canon Gary Philbrick, Area Dean
From the Diocesan Secretary of Kinkiizi Diocese:
To all our development partners and well wishers
Christian love and greetings from the Diocese of Kinkiizi in Kanungu District, Uganda, East Africa to all our development partners and well wishers.
We thank you for your continued support for our Ministry to God’s people.
We are writing to bring to your kind attention the adverse effect that the prolonged drought has seriously caused to our people in Uganda and Kanungu District in particular some people have already started dying as a result of hunger. We fear that if nothing is done urgently, many more people are going to die. Schools may not operate up to the scheduled time of second term because of lack of food.
There are very many families affected but we would like to provide support to the most needy families with beans, posho and rice.
Each of these items is estimated at the cost of Ugx 3,000= (Three thousand shillings only) per kilogram today. We do not know what the cost will be tomorrow as it is changing every other day. As a church, we feel we cannot sit back while our people are facing this great challenge.
We will appreciate any kind of support towards our efforts to mitigate this challenge facing us today.
We have attached photos showing the extent of the effect of the drought on our crops.
We thank you for your positive response to our appeal.
Yours in Christ’s service.
Diocesan Secretary. Diocese of Kinkiizi
Our sufficiency comes from God (2Cor.3:5)
THE DROUGHT IN KANUNGU DISTRICT, KINKIIZI, UGANDA
A Sermon preach by Canon Gary Philbrick at St Mary’s Fordingbridge on the First Sunday after Trinity, Music Sunday, and at a joint Service with Fordingbridge and Sandleheath Methodist Churches.
‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’ [Matt 10:7].
We have entered the season of Trinity, that part of the Church’s Year known as ‘Ordinary Time’, which stretches from Trinity Sunday to All Saints’ Sunday at the beginning of November – something over a third of the year. The liturgical colour is green – green for growth – and our readings follow through pretty sequentially – we concentrate mainly on Romans and Philippians for the first readings, and then hear Gospel Readings from Matthew right the way through until the end of October.
In his famous poem, After Trinity, John Meade Falkner puts it like this:
We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast.
But I don’t think he’s entirely right. Trinity is certainly a ‘long, long season’ – and by the time we get to Trinity 19 in October it’s difficult to remember what number we are up to. But surely, it shouldn’t be ‘passionless’. It should a time of steady growth, of exploration, of thinking about new ideas, of moving forwards in our relationship with God.
The very name can do this season something of a dis-service. We live in a culture where ‘ordinary’ is often seen as something substandard, mundane or mediocre – on a par with satisfactory: it’s okay, but nothing to write home about. In fact, the term Ordinary here comes from the Latin word ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series, ordinal numbers, and stems from the Latin word ordo, from which we get the English word order. So, Ordinary Time is the ordered life of the Church—the period in which we live our lives neither in fasting (as Advent and Lent) nor in feasting, (as in Christmas and Easter).
Ordinary time provides the opportunity to dwell on all that we have celebrated in the last six months and ask, ‘What was that all about?’, and ‘What difference does it make to our lives and to our world?’ Ordinary Time is not so much dull as necessary. After six months of a full and often intensive liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time provides contrast, variety and relief. Just as the disciples couldn’t stay on the mountaintop with Christ after the Transfiguration, but had to come back down to the everyday world below, so we need Ordinary Time to provide a sense of balance in our lives – we need both routine and excitement, the everyday and the adventure, stress and ease, nights in as well as nights out. There would be no rainbow without the rain, no extraordinary without the ordinary. Both are valid and both are vital in our development as disciples.
So, it’s very good that we are worshipping together, Fordingbridge and Sandleheath Methodists, along with those from the congregation here, celebrating our life in Christ together. And it’s actually rather long overdue.
I’m not sure when we last worshipped together as Anglicans and Methodists in Fordingbridge – we do it all the time in Sandleheath, of course. Not only are we very near neighbours here, but also the Methodist Church and the Church of England are in Covenant with each other. It was signed in 2003, and amongst many other things, we have covenanted: ‘to realise more deeply our common life and mission and to share the distinctive contributions of our traditions, taking steps to bring about closer collaboration in all areas of witness and service in our needy world’ [An Anglican-Methodist Covenant, 2003, Commitment 2].
And the Final Report on the Covenanting Process, from October 2014, begins, ‘An Anglican Methodist Covenant between the Church of England and the Methodist Church of Great Britain was signed in November 2003. It established a new relationship between those churches, based on mutual affirmations and commitments to grow together in mission and holiness and make the unity of Christ’s Church visible between them’ [See both documents at http://www.anglican-methodist.org.uk/]. You can easily find both reports by searching for Anglican-Methodist Covenant – they make interesting and thought-provoking reading.
So, as Anna and Rachel and I have met from time-to-time to discuss our working together, it seemed like a good idea to take some practical steps to develop the already good relationships we have between the three Churches gathered here this morning.
And how appropriate the Gospel Reading for today is. Mathew 9:35 – ‘Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.’ And Matthew 10:1 – ‘Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.’ Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and then instructed his disciples to imitate him, and sent them out to do it – and we are his disciples. ‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’ [Matt 10:7].
And it’s not a Methodist Kingdom we are proclaiming; it’s not a Church of England or even an Anglican Kingdom; it’s the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near. It’s very easy for us to become so immersed in our own comfortable, little bubbles, that we forget that the rest of the world is out there, and in dire need of God’s love. We get so set in our ways, so comfortable with our traditions, so concerned that things should stay the way we like them, that we forget that we are called to ‘proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’.
We forget, as Tim Dearborn has written, that ‘It is not the Church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a Church in the world’ [Beyond Duty: A Passion for Christ, a Heart for Mission by Tim Dearborn, p. 2].
‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’.
And it’s also very appropriate that we should happen to be gathering on Music Sunday – as music is one of the important facets of worship in both of our Church traditions. Music Sunday is promoted by the Royal School of Church Music – for whom Tim, one of our Directors of Music, works – and is to celebrate and reflect on the gift of music in worship, as well as to remember the work that the RSCM does in supporting music across the Churches and across the world.
At the Offertory, we’re going to be singing a hymn from the Methodist Hymn Book, Singing the Faith, called ‘Born in Song’. I’m pretty certain that it’s going to be new for us here, and I have a feeling that it may not be used all that much in the Methodist Church either – which is shame, because it’s a great hymn, with wonderful words and a soaring tune, both by Brian Hoare, a Methodist hymn writer and composer.
Born in song!
God’s people have always been singing.
Born in song! Hearts and voices raised.
So today we worship together;
God alone is worthy to be praised [V. 1].
It was on a train journey from London to Chesterfield in 1979 that the Revd Brian Hoare wrote this hymn. Inspired by the opening sentence of the preface to the 1933 Methodist Hymn Book (“Methodism was born in song”), Brian traces the connection between worshipping together and the task of spreading the Gospel story: verse 5 begins. ‘Tell the world! All power to Jesus is given… Spread the word, that all may receive him; every tongue confess and sing his praise.’
At the time, Brian was serving on the committee producing Hymns & Psalms, the predecessor to Singing the Faith. He was also on the staff of Cliff College, an Evangelical Bible College in Derbyshire. From his home nearby he could see, up on the hills of the Peak District, one of England’s finest stately homes, Chatsworth House, from which the hymn’s tune takes its name. Brian says, ‘The melody includes some big ‘jumps’ or ‘octave leaps’, which are symbolic of the huge fountain in the historic house’s grounds.
Both the words and the music of “Born in Song!” were written in a couple of hours on the train.
Music is a powerful way expressing of our faith, of drawing others into the journey of faith, and of strengthening ourselves to go out into the world in faith.
It’s great to worship together this morning – but where will it lead us ‘As we go to proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’?
It’s great to sing together, but will our singing equip us better to live the faith in our daily lives that we proclaim in our worship on Sundays?
It’s great to break bread and share wine together, but will that lead to service in the world, to love of our neighbour, to care for those in distress, to reaching out together to serve our local community and wider world?
Questions we all need to take seriously if we are to be God’s people in the world.
The hymn, ‘Born in Song’, will finish with the triumphant words:
Then the end!
Christ Jesus shall reign in his glory.
Then the end of all earthly days.
Yet above the song will continue;
All his people still shall sing his praise [V. 6].
Let it be so. AMEN.