Category Archives: Homily

Charles Gore

What follows was a sermon that was part of series on “Turbulent Priests” in our church team. Charles Gore was in his time controversial but is perhaps less so when remembered today.

Some of what Gore wrote will feature in what I write about Jesus and His divinity and humanity and the nature of the incarnation. 

 

Introduction- Two books

I have at home two old second hand books by Charles Gore; “Belief in God” and “Bampton Lectures”.

The Bampton Lectures was a series of lectures on the nature of Christ and the Incarnation. I later discovered they were Controversial in their time.

More about that later..

Biographical

Charles Gore was born in Wimbledon in January 1853 and ordained as priest 1878 (aged 25 years). He was successively bishop at Worcester, Oxford and the newly created diocese of Birmingham. He founded the priestly ” Community of the Resurrection” as well as co-founded the Christian Social Union.  Interestingly I found out that Gore licensed 21 women as Lay Readers and called them the “Diocesan Band of Women Messengers”.  These were possibly the first female Lay Readers in the Church of England although full developments for women Readers nationally had to wait for many more years

So why was Charles Gore controversial and a “turbulent priest”? I want to pick out three reasons.

A modern approach to scripture

Gore was an heir to the Catholic Oxford Movement that held a high place of scriptural authority and the church as guardian of scripture and doctrine related to it. But Gore had a controversial in his critical view of scripture. He responded to what many biblical scholars were saying in European universities and he also wrote in response to scientific discoveries and in the wake of Darwin’s Evolution of Species by Natural Selection.  The Old Testament in particular showed many historical problems did not hold up to more modern scrutiny in the light of science and history.

Gore wrote:

The Anglo-Catholic movement has had to abandon the conception of the Bible in all its parts and statements as ‘the infallible book,’ and of inspiration as guaranteeing its subjects against any kind of error.  It has had to recognize that divine inspiration does not impart to the prophet scientific or historical information, but concerns only the knowledge of God and of the spiritual life: and that the divine education of men which the Old Testament records was a very gradual and progressive purpose…..

Gore also raised questions that others were saying about the New Testament including questions about the composition of the New Testament and how the gospels came to be written and he again took a quite modern critical view that he did not think damaged the content of the revelation of God in Jesus.

The Gospels made no claim to infallibility; and that some at least of the Fathers of chief authority show, in their treatment of the Bible, a singular affinity with modern ideas.

Gore’s views on critical scholarship set him at odds with many of the Evangelicals and traditional Anglo-Catholics in the church at the time. In retrospect today.  Gore was simply one leading figure among scholars and church people who was trying to make a reasonable apologetic faith in the light of history, science and critical enquiry in to the origins and functions of various parts of the bible. He is still a signpost for the kind of critical engagement between the world of scripture and the world we are coming to know through other kinds of knowledge and enquiry.

 A revised view of Jesus and His divine and human knowledge

Gore’s second clash was about how we are to see Jesus in relation to His Humanity and His Divinity. This comes out in his Bampton Lectures on the Incarnate Christ. There is a strong strand in Christian thought that Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God had all the knowledge and power of God at His disposal. Jesus quoted the OT scriptures and had all knowledge of people and things in all times and places.

But then a problem arises. Critical enquiry had shown different views on the history of the earth, and the OT was not always historically accurate. Since Jesus quoted texts that may be historically wrong Jesus how could He have been wrong if He had all God’s knowledge? Also at times in the gospels Jesus seems surprised at what people say and do. How could he be surprised by anyone if He had God’s complete knowledge of them? The question arises did Jesus truly know everything as Son of God?

Gore picks up a strand of thought I also discovered from John Duns Scotus many centuries before. It’s called “Kenotic Christology” (from the Greek word “Kenosis” = Emptied”) and comes from Phillipiians 2  We read that Jesus,

having the nature of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but “emptied himself,” and took the nature of a servant.

Gore argued that in the Incarnation the Divine Word when He took upon Himself our flesh took upon Himself the limitations of our human nature and accepted the limitations of human knowledge. The divine Word empties Himself of power and knowledge in order to come among us and be servant. Christ in His Humanity was subject to human limitations of knowledge. The Word dwells in Jesus without taking away his humanity and self-will.

Jesus could have sinned but He did not. If He could not have been really tempted to sin He could not be like us. He prayed to the Father completely as one of us. He feels fear and anguish as one of us and feels abandoned on the cross as any of us may have done. Jesus could only be our saviour if He was truly like us and suffered many of our limitations of knowledge and action.

Again what Gore said about this was quite controversial and detracted from what many people thought about Jesus. It was again part of Gore’s attempt to show a reasonable faith in the real human Jesus who was still the bearer and embodiment of God’s Eternal Word.

Social and political issues

 Gore might also be called the “a red bishop” ( a Communist) . He was also a Christian Socialist.  He had been one of the founding members of the Christian Social Union

  1. To claim for the Christian Law the ultimate authority to rule social practice.
  2. To study in common how to apply the moral truths and principles of Christianity to the social and economic problems of the present time.
  3. To present Christ in practical life as the Living Master and King, the enemy of wrong and selfishness, the power of righteousness and love.

Gore opposed what we may call “sweatshops”; work places with unacceptable working conditions; long hours for low pay. As tension increased between the British government and the Boer republics of South Africa, Gore denounced British Imperialism. He denounced the British policy of rounding up Boer civilians in detention camps, where the mortality rate was very high. He wrote a fierce letter on the subject to The Times

As a further example of his political leanings, while he was Bishop of Oxford, in 1911 a major labour dispute arose in Reading, and Gore publicly sided with the workers, giving them money, and pressing for a panel of inquiry into the living conditions of the workers. The report of the panel favoured the workers’ cause, and won for Gore a great deal of gratitude and affection among working-class people in his diocese and elsewhere.

Conclusion

Gore died in 1932 after a long trip to India what left him exhausted. He had pneumonia and lapsed into a coma.

Although considered controversial in his time Gore was some-one trying to bring the church into contact with the realities of the modern world and critical thought related to science and biblical historical research. We similarly today need to continue to think about how science and other knowledge impacts upon our view of scripture. We must seek to – maintain a reasonable and credible faith in the gospel of Jesus the light of modern knowledge.

Gore was also a socially and politically minded Catholic who wanted to see social change. For him the church is not just about individual salvation and rescue from the world. The church is to be an agency of God’s goodness in the world, a true alternative society that changes society by what it does.

May we in our own way today honour Gore’s legacy and what he tried to bring to the church for the sake of Christ and our society

 

 

 

 

 

Prayers

Thanks for Gore’s life

Bringing science and biblical scholarship together

Our witness to the humanity of Jesus- united to the Word

Our desire to see the love of Christ made active in the life of our community and nation

Rem the victims terrorist violence and the wars going on Syria, Iraq and parts of Africa. –

Our involvement in challenging politicians for creating Just peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divine Humility

Our Humility from God

Text. Luke 17:5-10

The disciples ask for more faith. Jesus tells them a parable about a slave serving the master. The story is about humility

Introduction – A question from a workmate

 A few years ago at work a few of us with gathered in the office having a tea-time chat about pay and pay rises. One of my colleagues asked

 – Why should we expect a pay rise or bonus for doing our job? We’re doing what we should do so why expect any extra for doing it?

My colleague is not a Christian, but without realising it he was asking a question related to the Christian virtue of humility. There is so much in society that assumes that some people are worth more than others, or more worthy or unworthy than others to have particular things. We live in a very competitive world and people like to be appreciated and expect rewards if they do well. People compete for recognition or promotion and higher salaries or other material rewards or status.  It can become unsettling or hurtful if we don’t get what we want or expect in our comparisons to other people. Humility challenges assumptions about rewards and status and worth and is in fact at the centre of today’s gospel reading.

Two parts to the story

There are two parts to the reading that is about faith but leading onto a story about humility. The two are related.

Firstly – “Increase our faith”

The passage opens with the disciples request “Lord increase our faith”.

It is said with some urgency, but why have they asked it? In fact there is a bit missing and we have to go back a few verses before (1-5). Jesus has been talking about brothers and sisters of faith who be a stumbling block to each other.

They may be hurt by it but must forgive, and do so seven times a day if necessary.

“if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you

.The disciples think this demand to be so forgiving over and over again is just to much and will demand a lot of faith. Hence their request to be shown how to get faith big enough to keep on forgiving. So Jesus replies that faith the size of mustard seed can uproot a tree with big roots. They only need a little faith to what may seem extraordinary, because it’s not about how much faith they have or think they need, it is about the Infinite God who is on their side and equips them to do the seemingly difficult thing of perpetual forgiveness.

What they really need is the humility that accepts they can’t do it but God can enable them to do so. The real faith is the little faith they can have in God who is some much greater than they are, and who is their Lord and constant friend, who Himself will never let them down. Their problem of “faith” is really a problem of needing a greater sense of dependency on God’s power working within them.

Unending Humble service

So then we come to what seems a demanding story of continuous labour without expectation of favours from the master.

The slave is expected to do what His master wants, with no special favours. It was probably a common scene in Jesus day. There were often no special conditions of service. You had to just get on with doing what you were supposed to do. The slave may well have food and shelter provided as part of the conditions of service, but the slave had to do what was required without anything extra.

In one way this seems to say that the master asks of us to do something and we must do it. If God calls and we obey that’s the norm that is expected. We are just asked to get on with what we must do as part of our Christian service to God and the community.

In that respect we should never expect any special rewards for doing what is right and good, either towards God or indeed in any acts of service or work. In that way this story is about a humbleness that knows our place to be people ever ready for service to God and others. It challenges every material expection of personal advancement and expected favours and rewards we think we may have earned, to be higher and more deserving than others.

However we should not take that story in isolation and I would not hold with the idea that God is the ever demanding Lord who gives us no acknowledgment or love or reward for our service. There are other sayings and parables that Jesus paints a complete role reversal. There are times when the Master serves the servants. Again in Luke, when he writes about the future reward of the faithful servants he recalls Jesus words:

It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.

We should also recall that act of Jesus Himself in John’s record of the Last Supper when Jesus washes the disciple’s feet as sign of His own love for them and the fellowship mutual fellowship they ought to have for each other. The Master stoops down in loving service to his Beloved.

 

The Humility of God

Which brings me to the next point. Humility not just a demand from God, it’s part of the divine nature.

St Francis of Assisi is credited with setting up the first Christmas Crib scene. He wanted to show the love and Humility of God, the Word Made flesh tiny and vulnerable in the straw and among the beasts in the stable. This was God stooping down into our lives in everlasting service to us. There in the straw God is so humbly for our sake.

This has become a feature of Franciscan teaching down to modern times. God’s own nature contains the virtue of Humility. God in God’s own nature is Humble Love that makes space for the whole of creation. The whole acts of creation are God being humble. God does not need creation, He does not need us, but He calls us into being out of His own Love.

But when I say “God” or “He” I mean the whole Trinity, Father, Soon and Holy Spirit. Their eternal life together has the very essence of Humble Love that is the most perfect goodness. The original production of the Son (Word) from the Father, and the production of the Spirit, breathed out before all time, is the eternal love than gives and gives. This is the nature of the divine love.

So when God asks us to be humble it is our own invitation to a share God’s own nature that is humble love. It is not something extra-ordinary or something we must do to satisfy some law or demanding morality. God invites us into a state of Humility because that’s what the everlasting divine life is about. In being humble and living in Humility we are being the likeness of God we are intended and destined to have.

 

Humility and the Cosmos

Over the last few years several authors of books and articles I have read about faith and science emphasis this link between God’s Humility and God creating the universe with its own freedom to develop and evolve. God stands back and let’s-be to give life a chance to develop of its own accord with all the possibilities. The cosmos exists as part of Gods’ Humble nature. God waits in patience for things to unfold over billions of years. Creation by evolution is a process founded upon God’s own Humble Love.

Because of that freedom in creation things go wrong and get bad and remain bad. Things remain bad and disordered because things have not yet reached completion. Yet it is into the mess and disorder and selfishness that God comes to share in the present suffering and pain of our existence, born as baby and suffering injustice and death upon the cross. That is the fullest extent of God’s humble love.

 

Humility and Forgiveness

This takes us back to the disciples request for more faith. They want more faith to deal with the disordered relationships they find around them. But God is Infinite and if we see ourselves selves in the light of God’s own Infinite and Humble love then it will be so much easier.

When we see our own lives in the light of God’s own being then everything looks different. Forgiveness becomes more possible. Humble service becomes more possible

Franciscan Principle of Humility 

So finally having talked about the Franciscan tradition I want to end with some quotes from the Society of St Francis.

We always keep before us the example of Christ, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and who, on the last night of his life, humbly washed his disciples’ feet. We likewise seek to serve one another with humility.

 Humility confesses that we have nothing that we have not received and admits the fact of our insufficiency and our dependence upon God

 The faults that we see in others are the subject of prayer rather than of criticism.

 We take care to cast out the beam from our own eye before offering to remove the speck from another’s.

 We are ready to accept the lowest place when asked, and to volunteer to take it. Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which we feel unworthy or incapable, we do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness.

 Lord Jesus, May we share in your love that is infinite and humble. A-,men

The Rainbow Connection

A modern look at Noah and the Rainbow

This is taken from a recent sermon about a possible meaning for the story of Noah today.

Texts

Genesis 8. 15- 9.17

Mark 4. 1-20

While I was thinking about today’s OT reading about the Flood I remembered a song many years ago on the Muppet Show sung by Kermit the Frog..

The Rainbow Connection..

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows?”

Actually I could only remember two songs about rainbows, Kermit’s song and Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz “Somewhere over the rainbow”. But the Rainbow Connection is what the Noah Flood story is about.

Quests for evidence of Noah’s Ark

 I was watching a TV program last year about people trying to prove evidence that they had found the final resting place of Noah’s ark and that rock formations were part of the Arks fossilised remains. I must admit that I laughed a little. I laughed because this seemed to me to be misguided attempt to prove the Ark existed. I think it mistakes the nature of the story and how the story may have arisen. The biblical story is similar to other ancient stories in the Middle East, a shared story of terrible disaster and rescue of a hero and his family. I think it is case of taking an old traditional story and reshaping it in the faith of Israel, making it a story about the Just and Good God of Israel and the cosmos.

We also have to see this story in relation to the whole history of the earth and the scientific evidence of cataclysmic events of the earth over millions of years. Several times in earth history there has been mass extinctions of nearly all life on earth followed by the repopulation of new ecosystems with new species and forms of life long before the final advent of the evolution of human beings.

Three Major themes in the Noah narrative

 1.-The cause of the great flood

The story may be compared to the older pagan stories in which the gods are merely irritated by humanity.  In the Noah story it is the sin of humanity that has corrupted the whole of creation. God regrets He even made creation and humanity and wants to start creation all over again. But God also still loves creation and does not want to destroy things utterly and wants some of creation to be spared to start again.

 

2- The good man who acts as a saviour

God looks for and finds a man and his family who can be the means of saving some of creation. God looks for the man who can be saviour of creation. He finds this in Noah. In this sense Noah is a type of Christ-like figure, a saviour of creation.

We may observe from this the fact too that God still wants people who will care for creation and try and rescue it from human corruption and misuse today.  God wants lovers of creation and not just their own lives.

2. The Divine Promise never to repeat the flood

 And so we come to today’s reading. It is the aftermath of the great flood. After Noah and the creatures have left the ark, able to walk again on dry land. Human beings are given recognition of their authority over things and able to make laws themselves and judge each other. This is a recognition of societies that we indeed make laws for ourselves and the power we seem to have in shaping the world. Of course these powers can be corrupted and often are.

But what I really want to focus on is the great Rainbow Promise. God will never send such a devastation again. But why does God make that promise? Does God expect things to be permanently better? Not so. It is despite the fact that things will still go wrong that God will patiently put up with the evil in the world in order that more people may be born and have a chance to know Him and fulfil His purposes in their lives. St Paul was later to write God waits for the revealing of the Children of God, those who will fulfil the purpose of lovers of God, other people and creation. God’s will is the continued coming to life of those we will live in His purpose and fulfil all the goodness for which they have been created.

Noah’s later failure

We find later that Noah is not so perfect after all and gets drunk on wine that he makes for himself and falls asleep naked in front of his family. It will be one of many occasions in the bible when the hero does great things but then shows he is far from perfect and lets God down. The new start is still followed by failure. The hero is fallible unlike the truest Saviour of all who is not.

In this sense we may see ourselves as people for whom God has shown His patience and His love. God is patient so that we may come to be born and capable of knowing that love and purpose for our lives and for the world. We may know ourselves as both called by God but fallible in many ways.

So we could consider also today Jesus’ parable of the Sower. Christ comes with the gift of God’s Word and purpose and many fail to respond or only partly respond. We may know ourselves to be those who have responded to the Word given to us, but we may allow the weeds of materialism and selfish concern to overpower us and fail to grown as we should.

However, although we are fallible and often unfruitful and mistaken in what we do we are still loved. Despite our failure we and are still called to be the means by which others may find that love too.

We may be good or bad in how we are but God patiently keeps calling. God keeps waiting for our willing response, giving us new opportunities to make amends and grow as He would have us be.

But what about “The Rainbow Connection”?

 Whenever we see a rainbow we just accept it as a natural event when rain and sunshine are present at the same time.  We don’t think about the rainbow as special creation by God for humanity to see. Rainbows will have occurred billions of years before human beings walked the earth.

But the writer of Genesis however would still want us to look at the rainbow and see it as a reminder God’s faithful and patient love.

A love that endues despite evil and corruption affecting the world each day

A love from God that continually waits for His Children to find Him and know Him and love Him

A love that waits for us to grown into what we are intended to be and does not give up on us.

A-men

 

 

 

 

Prayers

 

Let us recall that despite the evils of the world God is patient

 

We recall also our own individual past, where we have excelled and we have failed.

 

He comes again to summon us in His Word to a new and renewed life-

(Hymn quote “Will you come and follow me..”)