Friday, 19 March 2010

Dream dreams and seek God’s will

Georges de La Tour, Appearance of Angel to Saint Joseph, also called The Song of Saint Joseph, ca 1640, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

Patrick Comerford

Introduction:

Our opening piece this evening is not a conventional hymn, canticle or psalm.

I have chosen the poem and song by Leonard Cohen, If it be you will.

I chose this for a radio interview recorded for next Sunday evening. For we must all listen to what God’s will is for us … whether we are here to explore and test a call to ordained ministry, whether we are here as a facilitator, whether we are here as visitors or as members of the staff, we must constantly be awake to listening to God’s promptings, God’s leading, God’s hopes and dreams for us.

We are all here this weekend to explore and revel in the exploration of God’s will for our future in ministry … even to dream about that future.

Along the way, in this process, there can be great joy. And there can be disappointments too.

But if that’s God’s will, so be it …

Earlier today, at the Eucharist in this chapel, we remembered Joseph of Nazareth. He too must have been disappointed at first each time round … disappointed with Mary, disappointed with having to get up and move, disappointed with exile, disappointed with a life back in the provinces.

But each time he listened not to his own ambitions, but to God’s call.

And so, let’s hear what a poet and singer has to say about listening to God’s promises, God’s dreams, God’s will:

If It Be Your Will

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will.


Reflection:

Genesis 50: 22-26; Matthew 2: 13-23.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saint Joseph is one of the most enigmatic characters in the Gospel stories. He appears in both Saint Matthew’s Gospel – in our Gospel readings today– and in Saint Luke’s Gospel, but not in either Saint Mark’s or Saint John’s Gospel. And after Mary and Joseph return from Jerusalem to Nazareth with the Child Jesus, Joseph disappears from the stage again.

The Gospels are silent when it comes to the details of Joseph: we know not where or when he was born nor do we know where or when he died. Was he married before? Was he an older man? Was he the father of the brothers of Jesus – James, Joses, Judas and Simon – from an earlier marriage? Did he live on into old age? We do not know.

We don’t even know what he worked at: Joseph was a “τεκτων” – we usually translate this as carpenter, but the Greek word means he could have been a builder, a stone-worker, a building engineer, an architect … we don’t know

And if the Gospels are silent about the intimate details of Joseph, then Joseph too is silent in the Gospels. I sometimes thought Joseph was the worst part to play in the school nativity play … a walk-on part, but no lines to say.

All we know about Joseph is that he lived in Nazareth in Galilee before the birth of Christ (Luke 2: 4).

Joseph doesn’t speak. Instead, Joseph dreams and Joseph listens.

He listens to the angel who tells him not to divorce Mary (Matthew 1: 20-21), and does what the angel of the Lord tells him (Matthew 1: 24).

When the law commands it, Joseph takes his pregnant wife to Bethlehem (Luke 2: 4), and the child is born there.

After the birth of Christ, Joseph listens to an angel in another dream – and, silently, he does as he is told, and without mumbling or grumbling gets up and takes the Mother and Child into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13-14).

When Herod dies, Joseph is told by the angel in yet another dream to return with Mary and Jesus from Egypt (Matthew 2: 19-21).

Then Joseph learns in a fourth dream that Herod Archelaus is in power in Judea, and he is warned in a dream to move to Galilee. And so, Joseph, Mary and the Christ Child move to Nazareth (Matthew 2: 21-23).

The last time Joseph appears is when the family visits the Temple in Jerusalem at Passover, when Jesus is about 12 (Luke 2: 41-52).
When the Gospel writers resume telling the story of Christ’s life, after the hidden years, Mary is present at some events, but there is no mention ever again of Joseph.

Did he hear Jesus preach in the synagogue?

Did he see him heal?

Was he too at the Wedding at Cana?

Well, we don’t know.

Unlike Joseph in the Old Testament, whose death and burial provide that dramatic end to the first Book of the Bible, Genesis, we have no Biblical account of the death and burial of Joseph of Nazareth.

Like Joseph in Genesis, Joseph in the Gospels is a dreamer. Most dreamers are good on ideas but weak on delivery – dreamers but not doers. Yet Joseph of Nazareth is both a dreamer and a doer.

What if Joseph had rolled over and had another 40 winks after each of those dreams?

What if Joseph said No at each turn?

At different times, we’ve all pondered Mary’s potential “No” at each turn. But, what if Joseph said No, had divorced Mary, left Jesus to be brought up by a single mother?

What if Joseph decided to stay at home and Jesus was born in Nazareth?

What if Joseph had ignored the warning and stayed on in Bethlehem, so that the new-born child was found by Herod’s troops hunting down all the new-born children?

What if Mary and Jesus moved back from Egypt to Bethlehem or Jerusalem, and became victims of the murderous schemes of Herod Archelaus?

What if Joseph and Mary had failed to find the teenage Jesus when he got lost in the Temple?

What if?

We often think that dreamers need to take their heads out of the clouds and get their feet back firmly on the ground. We often think that those who have little to say have little to contribute.

Joseph proves how wrong we can be. Joseph is a dreamer and Joseph is a doer. Joseph plays a key role in the great story of salvation.

Does it matter what he does afterwards? No.

It just matters that he – and we too -- listen to God’s call and do what God is asking to do, go where God is asking us to go. And then we can leave the rest to Jesus.

And so, may all we think, say and do be the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Closing Blessing:

Dream dreams,
Follow dreams,
Listen to voices that are true,
Sing to God,
Let his praises ring,
And whatever God’s will for you may be,
May the blessings of God Almighty,
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Be with you now and evermore, Amen.

Dismissal

Dream dreams, sing songs, let God’s will be your will,
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These reflections were shared at a Service of the Word in the institute chapel on Saint Joseph’s Day, 19 March 2010, during ‘Fit for Purpose,’ a residential introductory weekend for the Foundation Course.

Joseph: the dreamer of dreams and the doer of deeds

Patrick Comerford

II Samuel 7: 4-16;
Psalm 89: 26-36;
Romans 4: 13-18;
Matthew 1: 18-25.


May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saint Joseph is one of the most enigmatic characters in the Gospel stories. He appears in both Saint Matthew’s Gospel – in our Gospel reading this morning – and in Saint Luke’s Gospel, but not in either Saint Mark’s or Saint John’s Gospel. And after Mary and Joseph return from Jerusalem to Nazareth with the Child Jesus, Joseph disappears from the stage again.

The Gospels are silent when it comes to the details of Joseph: we know not where or when he was born nor do we know where or when he died. Was he married before? Was he an older man? Was he the father of the brothers of Jesus – James, Joses, Judas and Simon – from an earlier marriage? Did he live on into old age? We do not know.

We don’t even know what he worked at: Joseph was a “τεκτων,” which is traditionally translated as carpenter. But the Greek word applies too to an artisan with wood in general, or to an artisan in iron or stone.

And if the Gospels are silent about the intimate details of Joseph, then Joseph too is silent in the Gospels. I sometimes thought Joseph was the worst part to play in the school nativity play … a walk-on part, but no lines to say.

Joseph has no speaking parts at all. All we know is he lived in Nazareth in Galilee before the birth of Christ (Luke 2: 4).

Joseph doesn’t speak. Instead, Joseph dreams and Joseph listens.

He listens to the angel who tells him not to divorce Mary (Matthew 1: 20-21), and does what the angel of the Lord tells him (Matthew 1: 24).

When the law commands it, Joseph takes his pregnant wife to Bethlehem (Luke 2: 4), and the child is born there.

After the birth of Christ, Joseph listens to an angel in another dream – and, silently, he does as he is told, and without mumbling or grumbling gets up and takes the Mother and Child into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13-14).

When Herod dies, Joseph is told by the angel in yet another dream to return with Mary and Jesus from Egypt (Matthew 2: 19-21).

Then Joseph learns in a fourth dream Herod Archelaus is in power in Judea, and he is warned in a dream to move to Galilee. And so, Joseph takes the mother and child to Nazareth and they settle there (Matthew 2: 21-23).

The last time Joseph appears is when the family visits the Temple in Jerusalem at Passover, when Jesus is about 12 (Luke 2: 41-52). When the Gospel writers resume telling the story of Christ’s life, after the hidden years, Mary is present at some events, but there is no mention ever again of Joseph.

Did he hear Jesus preach in the synagogue?

Did he see him heal?

Was he too at the Wedding at Cana?

Well, we don’t know.

Like his namesake Joseph in the Old Testament, Joseph in the Gospels is a dreamer. Most dreamers are good on ideas but weak on delivery, dreamers but not doers. The Joseph we remember and celebrate today, on the other hand, is both a dreamer and a doer.

What if Joseph had rolled over and had another 40 winks after each of those dreams? What if Joseph said No at each turn?

At different times, we’ve all pondered Mary’s potential “No” at each turn. But, what if Joseph said No, had divorced Mary, left Jesus to be brought up by a single mother?

What if Joseph decided to stay at home and Jesus was born in Nazareth?

What if Joseph had ignored the warning and stayed on in Bethlehem, so that the new-born child was found by Herod’s troops hunting down all the new-born children?

What if Mary and Jesus moved back from Egypt to Bethlehem or Jerusalem, and became victims of the murderous schemes of Herod Archelaus?

What if Joseph and Mary had failed to find the teenage Jesus when he got lost in the Temple?

What if?

We often think that dreamers need to take their heads out of the clouds and get their feet back firmly on the ground. We often think that those who have little to say have little to contribute.

Joseph proves how wrong we can be. Joseph is a dreamer and Joseph is a doer. Joseph plays a key role in the great story of salvation. Does it matter what he does afterwards? No. It just matters that he did what he was asked to do. We leave the rest to Jesus.

And so, may all we think, say and do be the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Collect:

God our Father,
who from the family of your servant David
raised up Joseph the carpenter
to be the guardian of your incarnate Son
and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Give us grace to follow his example
of faithful obedience to your commands;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
whose Son grew in wisdom and stature
in the home of Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth,
and on the wood of the cross perfected
the work of the world’s salvation.
Help us, strengthened by this sacrament of his passion,
to count the wisdom of the world as foolishness,
and to walk with him in simplicity and trust;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached during the Eucharist in the institute chapel on Saint Joseph’s Day, 19 March 2010.

Mission agencies’ diversity ‘threatening Anglican unity’ - Canon Comerford

The Church of Ireland Gazette, in this week’s edition [19 March 2010] carries the following photograph and news report on page 3:

Pictured at the ecumenical lecture in Kiltegan are (from left) Fr Joe Cantwell of Kiltegan; Canon Patrick Comerford; Archbishop Walton Empey, Empey; the rector of Kiltegan, the Revd Stella Durand; and Fr Ned Grace of Kiltegan.

Mission agencies’ diversity ‘threatening Anglican unity’ - Canon Comerford

The present “wide divergence and diversity” among mission agencies in the Anglican Communion is contributing to the divisions within the Anglican Communion itself and “threatening Anglican unity,” Canon Patrick Comerford told a recent ecumenical gathering.

“Those divisions and diversity separating the different mission agencies within the
Anglican tradition of the Church reflect the divisions within Anglicanism today and have also contributed in a large measure to creating those divisions,” he said.

Canon Comerford was delivering the annual ecumenical lecture-sermon at St Patrick’s College, Kiltegan, Co. Wicklow. Director of Spiritual Formation at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin, he is a former chair of the Association of Mission Societies; has worked for CMS Ireland and the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission; and is on the board of USPG Ireland and the council of USPG in Great Britain.

He went on to say that the divisions between the mission agencies and within Anglicanism “can be damaging not only for the witness and mission of one tradition within the Church but also for the witness and mission of the whole Anglican tradition – indeed, for that whole one Church, the Church Catholic.”

Canon Comerford believed the rift threatening to divide the Anglican Communion meant that, for example, African bishops and archbishops were sending missionaries and priests to North America not to convert non-Christians or to plant churches, but to win away members of the Anglican or Episcopal Church (TEC).

“True mission,” he asserted, “like true ecumenism, is more concerned with the Good News than with good statements; is more concerned with proclaiming justice than passing judgment; is more concerned with mission than with conformity; and rejoices in diversity by finding our unity in the Word of God.”

The emergence of a “shallow fundamentalism that is lacking in real spirituality and which promotes a feel-good factor but not discipleship,” he ontinued, “threatens the Church in all its expressions in various guises. It is, by nature, opposed to all ecumenism.”

Canon Comerford concluded his lecture by describing the present crisis in the Church in Ireland as “the most immediate challenge we face in ecumenism and in mission: a crisis of confidence in integrity, in morality, in the life, witness and mission of the Church.

“It is a crisis that is so deep that it is a barrier to many people ever being open again to receiving the ministry of Word and Sacrament in their lives. It is a crisis that has dealt a severe blow to the whole Church, not just to one part of the Church, and if we fail to face this crisis as partners in the Gospel and fail to walk on the road together, we will fail to allow the Church to be transformed by the risen Christ.”

Archbishop of Dublin fears emergence of ‘two-tier’ Anglican Communion

The Church of Ireland Gazette, in this week’s edition [19 March 2010] carries the following photograph and news report on the back page:

Archbishop John Neill with Paul Arbuthnot of the Marsh Society at the meeting in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

Archbishop of Dublin fears emergence of ‘two-tier’ Anglican Communion

By Patrick Comerford

The Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd John Neill, thinks that a two-tier fellowship may emerge in the Anglican Communion as the member-Churches debate signing the Anglican Covenant.

Dr Neill, who was speaking recently to members of the Marsh Society in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, said: “I don’t like two-tier fellowships, but it may be a way forward at the moment.”

The Marsh Society is a student-led discussion group in the Theological Institute which invites guest speakers to talk to students on issue of interest.

The Archbishop, who chaired the committee that finalised the Covenant, said he expected it would be presented for ratification to the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in 2011.

Questioned later about his remarks on the likelihood of a two-tier Anglican Communion, Dr Neill said he feared it might emerge if The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada declined to sign the Covenant. However, he added: “I think there is a will there to sign it and they want to sign it.”

He thought both member-Churches recognised the damage that had already been done in recent years and that they would both sign the Anglican Covenant.

Earlier, he said the Covenant was now in its final form and had been sent out to all provinces in the Anglican Communion. He said the Covenant “creates a balance and seeks to create space to recognise individuality and interdependence.”

Dr Neill believed that the Covenant should be seen not as another instrument of communion in the Anglican Communion but as an “instrument of mission,” seeking to identify the level of communion that could be expected in order to “hold us together with freedom to differ.”

The Covenant “requires living together and witnessing together into the future” and Section 4 included an “emphasis on being together to grow together.”

The Archbishop added that “all communion, at its best, is limited and, at its worst, impaired,” pointing out that various forms of limited or impaired communion already existed within the Anglican Communion; for example, not all the Anglican Churches that were members of the Anglican Communion through the four instruments of communion attended the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting or meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council.

Dr Neill pointed out that Lambeth Conference resolutions were not binding; they were simply the guiding opinions of the Episcopal leadership of the Anglican Communion at the time.