Sermon given at Evensong on the Third Sunday of Epiphany 2022

There is a difficult balance to be maintained between day to day duties, and the wider concerns of society.

The Reverend David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 23rd January 2022 at 3.00 PM

Last Wednesday we celebrated the important (but little known) feast of St Wulfstan of Worcester.

For most of us there is a difficult balance to be maintained between the obvious day to day duties of life, and the wider concerns of the society in which we live.

St Wulstan’s holiness as both monk and bishop reminds us that achieving that balance, resolving some of its implicit contradictions, is both possible and worthwhile. 

St Wulfstan was born in Warwickshire around 1008, he joined the Benedictine monastery at Worcester and eventually became Prior and was well-known for his holiness and asceticism.

In 1062 he became bishop of Worcester. Four years after the Normans conquered England, St Wulfstan was the only Saxon bishop allowed to remain in office, partly because King William preferred monastic bishops and partly because of his much-admired pastoral care of his flock.

St Wulfstan died in January of 1095 and according to one tradition he passed away while washing the feet of a dozen poor men, which was his daily custom.

Miracles were soon attributed to his intercession, including the healing of King Harold's daughter, and he was canonised by Innocent III in 1203.

During his lifetime he transformed the Worcester diocese over which he presided for thirty-three years; he founded the priory at Great Malvern (on land belonging to Westminster Abbey), he ordered large-scale building work at Hereford and Tewkesbury and no doubt at many other parish churches too.

But St Wulfstan not only substantially increased the number of monks at the Worcester Benedictine monastery from twelve to fifty, he commissioning many manuscripts, acquired new lands and replaced St Oswald’s old cathedral with something much more substantial.  

Given the size of the new church (only twenty-four metres shorter than this great building), it was a mammoth undertaking. It would have appeared stark, white, and immense; a church of vast proportions for its time.

Yet Worcester Cathedral, just like Westminster Abbey, was never intended to be an end in itself, but rather a conduit, a pointer, towards the majesty of God.

St Wulfstan consistently reminded the faithful that to see the true glory of God in our world, we should not limit ourselves to beautiful buildings and beautiful things, but be concerned with the downtrodden, the weak and the vulnerable, be passionate about injustice and strive to create a better world.

For us this may mean being concerned about our country's response to world crises, and giving generously to Christian Aid or other charities to relieve the suffering of the world. Having a heart for the homeless and downtrodden, often literally feet from this building.

For St Wulfstan was clear in his understanding of the Gospel: the living Christian faith cannot separate us from other human beings. As our New Testament lesson today reminds us: ‘obeying the commandments of God is everything’. 

The incarnation brings God's healing, forgiveness and justice into the heart of our world and as baptised Christians we are incorporated into God's healing work.

Those of you who work in the health or caring services, in education or in voluntary work have some obvious outlets to continue this work, others may need to think harder or be more decisive in their action.

But we all are caught up in this two-way movement, whereby God's holiness and glory revealed in the beauty of this building is similarly revealed in the weak and the vulnerable. For example, the young girl (sitting in Victoria Street) asking for loose change to buy some food.

It was Cardinal Basil Hume who wrote that all of us can become holy in any situation or circumstance that does not involve sin. So, none of us can blame our circumstances for our lack of growth in holiness.

How we conduct ourselves and how we consider others contains the raw material for holiness and the revelation of God's glory to others. Its in our ordinary daily lives that God reveals his glory.

It’s always good to celebrate the English saints and today (within the Week for Christian Unity) we remember one of our very own.

A common goal that unites all Christians is our common striving for holiness our common striving to live Christ-like lives; to reflect (in some small way) the blinding and overwhelming holiness that belongs to God alone.

The saints realise, just as St Paul did that it is God who has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins.

St Wulfstan and his fellow saints realise that it is God alone who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints of light.

Perhaps the first step towards holiness is the realization that God alone is holy, and it is only by sharing God’s holiness that anyone can be called holy.

It is the communication of God’s own goodness that allows us to become holy. It is God’s summons which we listen for, and to which we have been given the freedom to respond.

God’s call, his summons to holiness, is indeed universal, but it is at the same time personal.

As we may see from the histories of St Wulfstan, it is an intimate invitation for each of us to examine our lives and to put things right.

It calls us personally and individually to step off the comfortable road made smooth by sin and to follow Christ on a path that is not smooth but which leads to a place which is beyond the imagination of even the saints.

The call to holiness is universal and personal, but when we consider the call to holiness to become saints ourselves) we do well to Keep the example of St Wulfstan firmly before us.

As a member of the Benedictine community St Wulfstan would have known that becoming holy is made all the easier when you’re in the company of those who strive for holiness themselves.

It is awkward and uncomfortable to be selfish in the presence of the selfless, to be petty in the presence of the charitable or to be indifferent in the company of those who notice the suffering of others and who are willing to do something about it.

We should never underestimate how much our prayers, our words and our example are needed by those who are trying to live the Christian life of holiness.

Remembering St Wulfstan reminds us both of the call we have each received and our obligation to help others achieve nothing less than the same.

The saints in heaven know their duty and pray for us even now. The thought of their unceasing prayer gives us the strength to follow their example to live lives of courageous holiness and to encourage others to do the same.

May we join them one day. May our Lord Jesus Christ gather us to himself in the company of all the saints.

May we join with them in the kingdom where Christ is Lord; he who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for eternal ages.