Sermon preached by Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR at St Michael, Croydon on Sunday 4 December 2011

Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one towards another, according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us.

When I read these words of St Paul to the Romans I thought at once how well they describe this congregation of St Michael's. Why? Well first of all there is that phrase right in the middle of it: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God. What could better describe this wonderful offering of the Mass that we have here every Sunday. Everything comes together for the glory of God the beauty of the building, the lovely singing of the choir, the colour of the vestments and the stately movement of the sanctuary team as they perform this ancient and beautiful liturgical dance in praise of God. That is as it should be. Worship praises God. It does not praise us; it is not centred on us; it is not intended primarily to make us happy or feel good, though it may do that; it catches us up in our feelings, our sense of beauty, our voices and everything we are and offers praise to God. If worship does no more than that it has fully justified itself. We praise God, as the prayer book tells us, 'for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life'. That's a lot isn't it? So we not only praise God but we adore him. We kneel as the incense billows upwards and the bells ring and the candles rise. We gaze upon God in the Blessed Sacrament and adore him for all that he is. There is more. We praise him 'for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world in our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.' All that is offered to us in this Mass and as we come forward in reverence and joy to receive Jesus in the blessed sacrament we beg to be part of that hope of glory which he has promised will come to us at the end of our days.

However, stop for a moment. Is that enough? Is it sufficient for us to offer beautiful music, beautiful vestments, stately liturgy and clouds of incense? Well yes, it is, so long as our hearts are in it. If our hearts are not in it, if we are doing it simply for our pleasure then it is meaningless. It is an empty ritual. Worse still, it may be idolatrous, placing us at the centre and worshipping ourselves. That is always a question we must ask. Is our worship really directed at God, or are we simply indulging ourselves? Well I don't know you very well but one thing encourages me to think this worship is God centred: you are so generous to others, particularly my own people in Zimbabwe. Paul tells us in Romans "Be like minded one towards another..." That is because we are brothers and sisters in Christ and your brothers and sisters are not just here at St Michael's. They are all over the world. The fact that you care for the men and women I have told you about in Zimbabwe is a splendid proof that your worship of God is God centred for it is God who has filled you with his spirit of love and made you care. It is  God's Holy spirit who has touched your imaginations and enabled you to see those children who so long to escape from poverty and have a real life; When you paid for a priest to have essential medical treatment you restored a priest to God's church; when your money helped priests to repair their battered cars, or paid for a University course, or helped little old Christian ladies buy some food, you were helping Christ. "Whoever does this to the least of these my children, does it to me." I don't need to labour the point. Nor do I want to puff you up. St Paul has very hard things to say about people who are puffed up. Yet it is really important for us to recognise that this is God working in us, in you and in me. This is one of the ways we experience Christ in our lives. We see him in the Sacred Body when the priest raises it up from the altar. We see him in our own hands as we take him in Holy Communion but we see him also in the child, the neighbour, the person next to me in the pew and the people scattered all over Africa, suffering war, poverty, hunger but full of hope because they believe in Jesus Christ.

This brings me to our Gospel. After predicting all kinds of terrible disasters and catastrophes Jesus says "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory...look up, lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh."

Africa is a place where it seems there are constant wars, famines, disasters, disease and death and it is true; there are. Yet Africa has much to teach us. The people there believe deeply and passionately in Christ and they know joy. Some years ago I was in Mozambique with the wonderful Bishop of Lebombo. At a town called Maxixi we had a magnificent service; hundreds of people packed into a Church singing and praying their way through the Eucharist for three hours. Mozambique had just found peace after a terrible civil war that killed a million people, yet the inhabitants could rejoice in Christ their Lord. We came out of church, singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" in ChiTonga so loudly I thought the roof would come off! There in front of us were palm trees and the Indian ocean. It was like a picture out of a children's story book about mission in Africa. This was mission but mission done by Africans. They have taken up the torch that we westerners have let fall. In their suffering and poverty they know how much they need Christ and they tell the world about it.

 

Nicolas Stebbing CR