Sermon 4 November 2011

To kindle a flame of love

From today’s collect, we heard the words “You have kindled a flame of love in the hearts of the saints”. What does it mean “to kindle a flame of love in the hearts”? Perhaps some example of what it might mean would help.

Saint Pachomius was one of the earliest monastic founders in Egypt in the fourth century. At the age of twenty, he was conscripted into the army. At first he was arrested and imprisoned near Thebes. The conditions of the prison were severe and cruel.

Some people who lived nearby heard about the plight of these prisoners. They came to the prison with food and drink and other necessities. Pachomius asked who these people were and why they were doing this. He was told that they were Christians who were merciful to everyone, even to strangers. In the biography of Pachomius it says, “His heart was filled with joy and the fear of God”. A spark was kindled.

The result of this spark of compassion was that Pachomius became a monk and hundreds of men came to live under his guidance. From this single act of compassion, there was kindled a great fire of monastic life, a fire of love that spread far and wide.

Years ago, I was privileged to know a woman who shared with me an experience she had never told anyone before. When she was a young girl, she worked in a vicarage. Whilst she was there, she began to be habitually sexually abused by the parish priest. One day she reached a crisis in her life. She felt so ashamed that her life was no longer worth living. She decided to end it all and went towards the river to drown herself. On the way to the water, she passed a shop window. In this window she saw the photograph of a young girl who seemed to be smiling at her. All she remembered is that immediately she felt that someone cared about her. Her sense of self-worth began to return and she turned round to begin a new life. Later, she discovered the photograph was of Saint Therese of Lisieux. She died and old woman, loved and respected.

Again in our community, there is recorded the experience of Desmond Tutu when a very small boy. Walking down the street with his mother, a tall white priest passed them. This was Trevor Huddleston CR who raised his hat to Desmond’s mother. The little boy was astonished and the affect on him lasts until today. A single gesture kindled a fire that infused the life and ministry of Desmond.

Today, we are aware that the word “kindle” is given to a recent piece of technology. The designer of this has gone on record saying that he chose the word “kindle” because it means “to set alight, to arouse and spread from one person to another”.

Today’s Collect speaks of the kindling of love, the fire of love; which fire, as St James says, can cause a great blaze.

It must be true that all of us here this morning are here because in one way or another someone once kindled a spark within our own heart; perhaps more than one person did this. In each of us the story is different but God has fanned the flame of such a spark given to us that it has infused our whole life, setting it on fire.

During this particular weekend, it is worth remembering that within each apple seed there lies a potential orchard.

When we consider our own part in kindling a spark within someone else, it is certainly going to happen without our being aware of it. Yet we might live as someone willing it to allow God to use us whenever he pleases. Our compassion can be the tinder that God can use to kindle that spark whenever he chooses.

I would like to end with words from two entirely different sources. The first is from the Vatican II catechism of the Roman Catholic Communion. “Jesus makes love the new commandment by loving his own to the end. He makes manifest the Father’s love which he receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive”.

The second come from that wise woman, Homer Simpson’s wife, Marg – words that kindled a spark in the local parson which he never forgot. She said to him “Father, there is more to ministry than ignoring people”.

            Simon Holden CR