Sermon for Matins

31 October 2004 at :00 am

Sermon for Matins, 31 October 2004
Westminster Abbey
by the Reverend Robert Wright, Canon of Westminster

Think for a moment, if you will, about your closest friends

  • what are the marks of those friendships?
  • What, in your friendships, are you most grateful for?

One of Paul’s fellow prisoners, Epaphras, has told him about the Christians at Colossae and he writes to encourage the young Christian church there. His prayer is that:

  • That God will show them everything He wants them to do, and that they may have all the wisdom and understanding that His Spirit gives
  • That they will live a life that honours the Lord and pleases Him by doing good deeds
  • That they might come to know the Lord even better
  • That His glorious power will make them strong enough to endure anything
  • That they will always be thankful to God.

No doubt, that would be Paul’s prayer for us, too.

I wonder if you have ever been to the ruins of the Cistercian monastery of Riveaux in Yorkshire. Despite being ruined it is one of those places where the gap between heaven and earth seems to be very thin. The 12th Century monk Aelred of Riveaux once memorably said :" God is friendship." That seems to be a very helpful simple restating of Paul’s prayer.

That God will show us everything He wants us to do, and that we may have all the wisdom and understanding that His Spirit gives

Now I wonder what you think when you hear that? As with any friendship the relationship must be two-way and it is all too easy to get so caught up in being busy that there is no time to be still and listen to God. St Augustine said once that “Our whole business in life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen”. When did we last carefully try to hear what God was saying to us. Michael Mayne, a former Dean of Westminster wrote, “Prayer takes many forms, but I have come to understand the heart of it as a disciplined taking of time to remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are, in which the one necessary element is stillness.”
How carefully do we listen to God?

That they will live a life that honours the Lord and pleases Him by doing good deeds

Christianity is not, as some would have us believe, about being good so much as loving God, the result of which is, of course, that we live a life that honours God in the freedom of the new humanity. And, of course, it is so easy to slip away from that. It does actually require constant attention not to be sidetracked ( the word sin comes from a Greek word meaning to miss the bull’s eye). So, it is perhaps helpful to ask ourselves in what ways our life honours and pleases God, or the converse. Could we stand before Him, look God in the eye, and say, “My life honours you?”

That they might come to know the Lord even better

I suspect that by asking searching questions about our lives we shall find that we come to know the Lord better, as we see in the book of Job from which our first reading came this morning. When we read the Bible carefully and prayerfully, expecting to get insights and not just regarding it as a coffee table journal we shall find that the Word of God is indeed a two-edged sword. The interplay of God’s initiative and our response is the basis of the Christian life.

That His glorious power will make them strong enough to endure anything

As St Paul well knew, writing from prison as he was, a Christian follows Jesus on the way of the Cross and if I want to help build the kingdom of God on earth, I must follow the pattern set by Christ. A most striking witness to God’s power in the midst of our suffering is the prayer of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, coming out of his experience of eight years in Soviet prisons and concentration camps. After enduring so many hardships, injustices and cruelties he is still able to pray: How easy it is to live with you, O Lord.

How easy to believe in You.
When my spirit is overwhelmed within me,
When even the keenest see no further than the night, And know not what to do tomorrow,
You bestow on me the certitude
That you exist and are mindful of me,
That all the paths of righteousness are not barred.
As I ascend into the hill of earthly glory,
I turn back and gaze, astonished, on the rod
That led me here beyond despair,
Where I too may reflect Your radiance upon mankind.
All that I may yet reflect, You shall accord me,
And appoint others where I shall fail.

That they will always be thankful to God.

Thankfulness is clearly central to Christianity but sadly it seems sometimes to be lacking in our response to God. I remember our Jewish guide on a tour of the Holy Land: every time we got back on the bus and he picked up the microphone to speak to us he said, “God is good!” I learnt a lot from that. But there is a further step – that of being thankful It is amazing what thankfulness can do. We might say, “A Christian should always be thankful” and if we did indeed manage to live like that we would find how that act of thankfulness can actually change our perspective. By looking at people and events in our lives through the eyes of thankfulness we shall find them suddenly falling into God’s perspective and “ maybe this isn’t the way I would have thought this would go but, hey! This actually seems to work/ that person who I had written off is actually a Beloved child of God with many gifts and graces that I could not see before,” or “perhaps this mess and muddle is where God actually wants me to be after all.”

It would be rather trite to speak of God as “my best friend”, but He certainly is always faithful, always trueand he does ask for my faithfulness and love in return.

John O’Donohue, who will be leading the Abbey Quiet Day on 15th January 2005 writes:

I arise to day, In the name of Silence Womb of the Word, In the name of Stillness Home of belonging, In the name of the Solitude Of the Soul of the Earth, I arise today, Blessed by all things Wings of breath Delight of eyes, Wonder of whisper, intimacy of touch eternity of soul, urgency of thought, miracle of health, embrace of God, May I live this day, Compassionate of heart, Gentle in word, Gracious in awareness, Courageous in thought And generous in love.

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