This morning I preached my final sermon (as Fr. Nicholas is in the pulpit next week) and here it is:
What a rich gospel for those departing for the Ordinariate or else pondering a future as Anglicans in smaller number than before. We discover we are not to worry about how we will feed ourselves or clothe ourselves. Our heavenly father will provide. Just look at the birds of the air. Tomorrow is not our concern, where Ordinariate priests will live, where we might be in ten years time, these things must not concern us too much. Our focus must be on Jesus. He who tells us we cannot serve two masters.
We know God and money are cited by scripture. But I want to name two other masters who we must choose between. Master choice and master obedience. We can serve only one!
Note how the more Anglicanism opts for Master choice over Master obedience the more mess it creates. How ironic that in seeking to be more broad and permissive it in fact becomes narrow and hard. No room for us pesky traditionalists anymore and the evangelicals are feeling squeezed too. It is hardly surprising. Because each innovation of choice widens the gap in belief. It alienates those who seek obedience.
Here is an example of what I mean. Scripture tells us- and I quote- a bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife. Those wanting to be obedient to scripture will therefore want to demand the very highest standard from those in Episcopal orders. They will be called to serve as examples of holy living. But not in the Church of England anymore which recently stated divorcees may now be bishops, that marital history is to be of no concern to those selecting candidates for priesthood.
Now everyone knows forgiveness and mercy lie at the heart of the gospel, the divorced in this congregation know they are treated with compassion and forgiveness, but if bishops are not upholding the biblical standard of marital fidelity- who is? But then I suppose we might recall that the whole point of the C of E was to grant divorce to those in high places! Nonetheless see how obedience is being eclipsed by choice in the matter of divorced clergy.
The last few weeks also raised the spectre of gay marriage. For now the official line is they will not happen in church but with over 50% responding to a Church Times questionnaire in favour- how long will this last within a synodical governed church? On so many different issues- including the one which has driven many of us from this church, the ordination of women, obedience to biblical teaching gives way to freedom of choice- the false idol of modern culture. Tradition is diluted to appease the age. Choice trumps fidelity.
Master choice and master obedience. A church in the end can only serve one!
Now regardless of where you will worship in two weeks time- as Anglicans or as Ordinariate Catholics- recognise that as individuals this question of obedience and choice is just as pertinent. We must not let church politics get in the way of our personal relationship with Jesus.
So I want to end my final Anglican sermon pointing you in the right direction. Look to Our Lady of Walsingham, that lowly virgin of Nazareth, in whose care the Ordinariate has been placed. For she is the perfect example of one who chose obedience in preference to choice.
‘Gabriel said ‘you shall conceive and bear a Son…’ offensive by modern standards because those words demand obedience. Just imagine the scene today: Gabriel would be charged with violation of human rights. Fancy a male God demanding an impressionable young girl should become pregnant and accept a life of suffering? The chance of her replying ‘Be it unto me according to thy word’ seems remote. None of that subservient nonsense for contemporary mums, ‘I know my rights!’ screams modern Mary.
Because ‘Obedience’ is taboo in the 21st Century West. We are an indulgent people desperate for control. Just consider how that little word ‘obey’ has quietly slipped from most marriage ceremonies. The secular indoctrination of personal choice is penetrating even the lips of brides at altars. Obedience is viewed as degrading. We are programmed to resent submission of any kind, instead championing ‘rights’ of the individual, the empowerment of self. How far from Mary’s example it is.
Nevertheless obedient submission remains the vital key to living faith. God issues commands -we are called to obey. Gabriel says, ‘The power of God will overshadow you’. This overshadowing of Mary, mirroring the Old Testament when God overshadowed the Israelites in cloud before sending the 10 commandments, requires a complete surrendering of self. Nothing more and nothing less is required of us if we want to know Jesus in our lives.
I am convinced the devil corrupts human language to remove this vital key. Hence obedience has become a terrible word, almost obliterated from modern consciousness. The Christian faith is under attack as never before, because it is utterly incompatible with the new secular diktats. You cannot be a Christian and a secularist. Christianity promotes obedience, secularism promotes choice. The old talk about serving masters may sound hollow but it rings true: You can’t have God AND lifestyle choice. You obey him or yourself, it really is that simple.
Christianity is not vague as many pretend. God’s commands exist. There is no excuse for not knowing what they are. Living faith, true faith, does not start with saying ‘I agree with this bit but not this bit’.. Living faith- the sort that brings complete fulfilment- starts with God and progresses with our obedience to his command. The overshadowing of ourself with divine love. That is the radical message of Mary. A shining of God’s light into the darkness of the self.
Do not romanticise the visitation of the angel Gabriel. OLW, patron of the Ordinariate, is the uber-enemy of modern thinking and therefore of current Anglican polity. Poor woman that she is, she strikes a terrible blow to political correctness, vanity and self adoration- by utterly surrendering her very self to the will of God. And we too will only find faith when we really do say with her, Be it unto me according to thy word… and stop pretending we can invent the faith according to our human desires.