Sermon for Sunday October 5th 2003
At All Saints’ Church, San Diego
Genesis 28.17: “Jacob said ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the gate of heaven’.”
I chose this text because it is about Jacob going on a journey. And I have been on a journey. And here, At last, I am! And it is good to be here. With Jacob I want to say: How awesome is this place! This is none other than the gate of heaven.
It has been a fascinating journey for me – & no doubt for you. Why on earth choose an Aussie priest for your new Rector? I hope I dispelled any doubts about that when I visited you in July. I do have to admit that I knew nothing about San Diego before considering All Saints’. But then, you probably know nothing about Melbourne, Australia! If you didn’t know beforehand, the 1950’s movie On the Beach was set & filmed in Melbourne. It starred Gregory Peck & Ava Gardner. Ava Gardner was not impressed with Melbourne, & when she was asked her opinion of it by a local reporter, replied: “I’m here to make a movie about the end of the world, and Melbourne sure is the place for it.”
I have therefore taken some comfort in the findings of a recent survey of American travellers. They rated SF as America’s prettiest city, Portland the cleanest, Nashville the friendliest, New Orleans has the best nightlife – but San Diego has the best-looking people! Well I knew that J
You may be interested to know that to get here I caught the train from LA. It was an interesting journey. Opposite me in the carriage was a rather dreary protestant clergyman in grey suit & shirt. I immediately buried myself in a book! As we sat there, all of a sudden a young man came running through the carriage shouting: “Is there a Roman Catholic priest on board: is there a Roman Catholic priest on board?” I looked up, wondering if I should, respond, but said nothing.
5 minutes later this same young man came running through the carriage again, this time shouting: “Is there an Anglocatholic priest on board: is there an Anglocatholic priest on board?” I immediately considered if I was the answer to this young man’s problem! But before I could respond, the protestant clergyman stopped him & said: “Can I be of any use? I’m a protestant clergyman!” “No use at all”, said the young man, “I’m looking for a corkscrew!”
Well Anglocatholics do like to enjoy themselves! We enjoy life, we enjoy our worship, we enjoy our faith. And that’s the way it should be. But the Anglocatholic tradition is about more than just enjoying ourselves. It’s about the fullness of the Faith. It’s about the traditions of the Church which go right back to the time of the Apostles. It’s about the teaching of the Church that we have received, & trying to be faithful to that.
I am delighted that All Saints’ has its school. It means we care about the young, and their values. It means that we care about teaching. I am really looking forward to being involved in the school, & of making our faith relevant to both children and their families. To those school families here today I say welcome. And please don’t worry – I’m as confused as you are about the mysteries of High Mass at All Saints’!
My first responsibility, of course, is to this congregation – so let me say that I will be a teacher of the Faith. And there is much to teach.
Today’s celebration is an obvious example. We keep the festival of St Michael & All Angels. But what do you know about them – for that matter, do you actually believe in angels? We couldn’t think of Christmas without angels – but that’s about all. Yet there has been a recent trend – certainly in Australia, & probably here, too, because that’s where our trends usually come from!
I have been given several badges of guardian angels, & I often see them on coats & lapels. It bemuses me. Are they advertising a belief in angels or of heaven? I think it’s more likely that they regards such things as good luck charms. There’s no such thing as good luck for a Christian. We are blessed. And we are particularly blessed to have the angels to protect us. The angels are also a taste of heaven.
As I prepared to leave St Mark’s & come here, I have been reflecting on being a priest. When I went to St Mark’s in 1985 a woman in my previous parish gave me a kneeler she had made with words said in tribute to my ministry at St Catherine’s, Elizabeth Downs: To stand before God for the people; & to stand before the people for God.
These words are a description of what the priestly life is. It is why the Mass is central to my life. It is why I stand here today. As the priest stands at the altar he is, through the Eucharist, making present a foretaste of heaven.
I will work to make our Parish a foretaste of heaven – not just here when we celebrate Mass, but as a place which is a community of love & joy, a place where Jesus may be encountered, a place where we may be inspired. Yes – a taste of Heaven.
You will not be surprised to know that in San Diego I have already linked up with the San Diego Lions Aussie Rules football club! One of the reasons is that it will give me a taste of Aussie football – a bit like an Irish pub gives us a taste of the Irish. Similarly the Church is meant to be a taste of the real thing.
A taste of heaven is also given to us through the Blessed Virgin Mary. You are going to hear me talk a lot about Mary. Anglocatholics traditionally have a great devotion to her. She is not a dead Roman Catholic!
We honour her with hymns, devotions, statues and shrines, because she also is a taste of the real thing. Our devotion to Mary sets us apart from most other parishes. She is Our Lady, the Mother of God. She is central in the Anglocatholic tradition because she is central to the catholic faith. She safeguards the truth of who Jesus is: God & man. She reminds us that the Incarnation is at the heart of our Faith, leading to the crucifixion & the resurrection of her son.
She also reminds us that the church is called to be a family of love, where all are embraced and welcomed. She acts as a foil against those who are judgemental & exclusive.
Mary points us to the Incarnation. It is that event of all events that is the key to the Christian religion. The Word was made flesh is not just a theological statement – it is a challenge to us, that we might make Christ present in our lives, & in our world. It reminds us that God loves His world, and everything in it –as it is.
It also reminds us that Christ still is present in His Church and in His Sacraments. And in you & I, his faithful people.
So at the end of High Mass today we will say the Angelus. This is the traditional way we honour the Incarnation in our tradition. It is usually said at morning noon & night, accompanied by a traditional ringing of bells. And what better day to start a devotion entitled the Angelus than on the day of the angels?
If the angels did anything important it was when they – through Gabriel – brought the tidings to Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Ghost. So today is a very appropriate day to begin saying the Angelus.
And to those of you who are concerned that a new priest will change things – this is not the first of many changes. Just a developing of the great Anglocatholic tradition established by Fr Satrang all those years ago. I am delighted to follow in that tradition, as I take my place among you as your new Rector.
Jacob said: “how awesome is this place! This is none other than the gate of Heaven”.
Indeed it is. And it is good to be here!