The myth of redemptive violence- A sermon by Ben Edwards.

A sermon preached by Ben Edwards, ordinand at Evening Prayer 14th March 2017.


I remember once at school there was this kid who was essentially at the top of the food chain. He was this sort of dark eyed, brooding thug who I never once saw crack a smile. His Dad was a detective inspector, it turned out, and therefore he obviously felt any school rules were entirely beneath him. He pretty much did exactly what he liked to anyone, was first in any queue for anything worth queuing for, got the seat he wanted (inevitably the back row in classes), got the schoolyard hangouts he wanted and got the fearful respect of all the other kids that he’d thumped for looking at him funny or daring to ask out the pretty girl in the class that he fancied but wouldn’t go out with him.

And then, one term, another kid joins the school who is close to 6 feet tall and built like a brick privy. I mean this guy was like a mountain, easily bigger than absolutely all staff members barring Mr Booth, the fearsome games teacher with the perennial scowl, but even he was wary of facing this kid down. I would like to point out that this kid isn’t me.
Of course, our man the detective’s son didn’t much like this new kid, and it wasn’t long
before the inevitable happened. I can’t remember the details exactly, but detective Dad kid squared up to brick privy kid, and brick privy kid pushed detective Dad kid over in the dinner hall, in front of the pretty girl he fancied that wouldn’t go out with him. Feeling he’d been embarrassed by brick privy kid, detective Dad kid then slide tackles brick privy kid in Games on the football pitch. Brick privy kid, having been quite badly hurt by this deliberate attack, then waits for detective Dad kid after school and after a bit of argy bargy punches him in the face and gives him a black eye… then it gets really nuts, because detective Dad himself finds out where this kid lives and the family car gets stoved in… back and forth this went, tit for tat, one party does something stupid and destructive
so the other has to top it. It ended pretty badly for detective Dad and his kid – another serious fight occurred outside school, involving a crow bar, and detective Dad’s leg got broken, at least that was the rumour. His kid left the school and did not come back. Brick privy kid stayed on, his Dad apparently got off with a self-defence plea, but no-one messed with Brick privy kid, and he became the top of the food chain. He didn’t seem to learn anything from this process, but went on to replace detective Dad kid.

Who could blame him? It’s the story that we have been telling ourselves since time immemorial, the myth of redemptive violence. This tribe swept in and slaughtered another tribe – the survivors wait until they have regained their strength and hit back. Caesar, peace and victory, you crush the opposition, that’s how we bring peace. You crush us and we’ll regather our strength and hammer you back twice as hard. You insult our religion or our political ideology then we’ll destroy your innocent citizens with nail bombs. We get bombed, well we’ll get right back up and dust ourselves down and bomb you back, twice as bad, until there’s nothing left of your homelands.

And it isn’t just in the sphere of violence; we see it in business, in entertainment, in politics – a Mexican senator says he’ll divert the country’s corn supplies from the US to Brazil and Argentina –Iran votes to retaliate against the US immigration ban – China threatens retaliation for US trade Regulations – the bad guy does bad things and so bad things happen in return. . . it’s the pattern of the world which no-one ever seems to take any lessons from. It’s also the pattern that many Christians in the West have superimposed upon the Cross. Somehow, bad stuff happens – SIN- and
God isn’t happy, so God somehow has to cause violence upon something in order to appease Himself in some way, so He sends His own Son to take on human form and become the perfect sinless sacrifice, dying in the most painful and humiliating way, thus paying back the wounds God has had inflicted from the sin of humanity. . . and we’re supposed to take what lesson from this?

Is it any wonder that Christians in many parts of the Western churches are supportive of war? Supportive of dropping bombs and rejecting the resultant refugees? Redemptive violence is the dominant religion of today, and now it informs Christianity rather than Christianity informing society.

The mistake being made, for me at least, is this overlaying of the myth of redemptive violence over The Cross of Christ, an atonement model of penal substitution. The Cross is not God taking His pound of flesh for the damage caused to Him by sin, the debt owed to Him by the bad things we have done. The Cross is the final answer to the cycle of redemptive violence. God himself, the Son of the Trinity, taking all the violence and hatred and evil of the world upon Himself and saying, Enough. It is finished. It ends here. And now. For all time. All violence that has been and will be. Ends here.

It is finished.
Non violent resistance. The refusal to co-operate with an evil system, through the power
of the greatest of love, bends the universe towards justice and away from the perpetuating of evil, of sin. It is a far more potent weapon than violence in the freeing of the oppressed, of the enslaved.If brick privy kid had only loved detective Dad kid as his neighbour, had resisted without violence,had extended the hand of friendship instead of the shove of fear, perhaps things will have been different. However, in a world where even God is made to bow to the myth of redemptive violence, perhaps things would have got a lot worse for everyone else.

What is the point?

A sermon preached by Rachel Revely, ordinand, on Tuesday 10 May 2016


Evening Prayer readings: Deuteronomy 31.14-29, 1 John 3.1-10

What… is… the… point? 
Now I am sure we have all thought that recently especially after midnight in the library. But that’s  also what I would be thinking if I were Moses in our first reading. What was the point? You spend nearly all your 120 years talking to non-flammable vegetation, risking sheep and limb dragging these people out of Egypt, wandering the desert for years, think of all the blisters, then what do you hear on your death bed after all your hard work “Soon you will lie down with your ancestors. Then this people will begin to prostitute themselves to the foreign Gods.”  … Excellent

I don’t know about all of you but I would be thinking what is the point? But not Moses. Although he is dying, and spoiler alert: his death takes all week.
Moses still cares about God, the people and his beliefs. Moses hears all the lord has to say and still witnesses to it. He preserves it as law and passes it down amongst all the tribes. Till the end Moses upholds the courage of his convictions. For me, Moses epitomises courage in the old testament, even though like many others he is a rather reluctant prophet but Moses is courageous and no matter the situation always witnesses to God.

Courage is crucial to our lives as Christians and in this Novena, we have been asked to pray especially today for the gift of courage. But what is courage some of us might say its the student who when faced with this  very question in an exam wrote: “this is” stood up and walked out.

Whilst others could say it is drinking the mystery ascension day cocktail in the bar. Courage comes in variety of forms. Courage is often something someone else has or needs, we can make it a facet of the other something distant and far away. We don’t need courage, why would we? Surely, we are safe! But that does not acknowledge that we are all given courage through the saving power of our God.
In our second reading John says that sin doesn’t have the power of fear over us because we know we God but this can appear like arrogance and starts to build up a dichotomy that if you sin you are not saved and if you are saved then you do not sin. However, we all know its not as simple as that. 
What I believe we see in our second reading is the courage of God that is imparted to us, through the cross. We do not and should not have courage in ourselves alone but have courage in ourselves through our saviour.  Jesus is the foundation of our faith. He is our stronghold in who we find courage and safety.
But in this week of prayer for evangelism and mission we cannot just rely on safety and ignore our God given courage. The nineteenth american theologian William Shedd once said “ships are safe in harbour but thats not what ships are for” and I think this analogy is true for us as well. We are not just supposed to sit in safety. Taking our gift of courage from God we could go out empowered by the gospel. This is part of God’s plan for us. We even hear it in our psalm for this evening “Send forth your strength O god and establish what you have wrought in us.” And what god has wrought in us is established through the power of his gospel. Moses died before he could cross the Jordan but he died as he lived being courageous and listening to God.  This is what we should all strive to do for the rest of our lives… 
Because fundamentally… that is the point.

And you know the way to the place where I am going. – A Sermon for St Phillip and St James

Sermon preached by Ayla Lepine, ordinand at Festal Eucharist for SS Philip and James

‘And you know the way to the place where I am going.’
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our reading from John’s gospel this morning begins with something that that seems pleasant. Be comforted. Relax. Everything is fine. Is it? It’s perplexing that each time it appears in scripture it seems to be a signal to do exactly the opposite of what these words from God’s mouth are telling us to do. Jesus says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ That ‘fear not’ language that so regularly punctuates the Old and the New Testament is, certainly, a compassionate gesture towards the promise of calm, safety, and salvation. It also appears, again and again, where it is evident that the hearers are terrified, anxious, and urgently and blindly searching for any answers that will provide layers of insulation against a truth that is hard to hear, or that might be beyond what these listeners think that they can stand.
If you find you are deeply anxious about something – or perhaps a long list of things – one of the least helpful responses to receive is ‘don’t worry about it’. Not because it wouldn’t be good to be freed from anxiety, but because this may strike us as an impossible thing to do. Worse, that reaction might come across as a diminishment of the turmoil we’re experiencing. Often, behind that unhelpful ‘don’t worry about it’, is something far better – the assertion that you and your anxieties are cared for, that you count, that your confidante believes have ample strength, through faith and through hope, to keep going. Sometimes anxiety can be so paralysing that it simply stops us from being able to listen at all.
Jesus tells his friends that they are welcome guests in their Father’s house, and Jesus puts this across with logic, with care, with the promise that he and his disciples will ultimately not be parted. ‘I will take you to myself’ is a truly intimate phrase. I will not let you go. I will hold you close. A place for you, where you count and where you are free from the trouble that cloaks you so thickly you are unable to see, to hear, even to breathe…..a place for you is waiting. Prepared. So trust, Jesus says. Please, trust. ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’, Jesus concludes. We are moving towards the Passion narratives in this chapter – Jesus and his disciples have been traveling together a while, knowing one another better, learning all they can from the Son of God they follow as their Lord, as we do, faltering sometimes, trying to listen, trying to put one foot in front of the other, as we continue – tragically – to let our hearts be troubled.
How do the disciples react to Jesus’ assurance that they know the way to their Father’s house, because, indeed, by following Christ, they are already stepping within its threshold. Thomas contradicts Jesus: ‘we do not know the way.’ Jesus explains – you do know the way, I am the way, you have seen the Father. Philip ignores Jesus: ‘Lord, show us the Father’, and what’s more, Philip, as we so often are because we’re so wrapped up in ourselves and so unwilling to accept the utter love God has already shown us…Philip says the disciples won’t be satisfied until they’ve seen the Father. Jesus gets annoyed. ‘you still don’t know? Still don’t see? Still won’t believe?’

Today the Church celebrates saints Philip and James. They followed, they accepted God’s call. They faltered, they misunderstood, they struggled to see how and why God loved them so much. May we, like Philip, James, and Christ’s apostles, follow our Lord, who has prepared a place for each of us, if we would only turn, if we would only trust that we know the way. Amen.

Sermon in anticipation of Mothering Sunday / Refreshment Sunday, 2016

Given by Beth Phillips, Westcott’s Tutor in Ethics.
2 Cor. 1.3-7; Luke 2.33-35
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction . . . ’  Amen.
In many churches this Sunday we will be celebrating mothers and motherhood, and I must confess to you that even after ten years in this country, I find it difficult to embrace Mothering Sunday. Now, one may very rightly denounce the consumerism of American Mother’s Day and how it has been imported into Mothering Sunday, and I will be in agreement there. My problem with Mothering Sunday is more about seasonal timing. To an American, Mother’s Day is redolent with Spring and Eastertide; and it comes in May when the weather is warm and it’s lovely to be outside. So it is difficult to embrace Mothering Sunday in the midst of Lent. Mother’s Day and Lent do not go together; it simply feels wrong.
But if anything could persuade me to change my mind, it may well be the readings we have just heard. 
The gospel reading takes us back to the same moment we observed on Candlemas, when Jesus is presented at the Temple, and his presence is the source of great rejoicing for Simeon and Anna. On Candlemas we tend to focus on the words of Simeon which we sing in the Nunc Dimitis, words of gratefulness, fulfilment, consolation, and hope – words which Simeon addresses to God. In tonight’s reading, we are asked to pause and consider Simeon’s less lyrical words, those which he addresses directly to the mother of Jesus: 
‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ The tone of these words is entirely different; these are words of foreboding, danger, mystery, and suffering. 
Mothering Sunday, like American Mother’s Day, can be a sentimental and shallow celebration of an idealised vision of motherhood, just as Valentine’s Day is often a sentimental and shallow celebration of an idealised vision of love – motherhood and love are apparently all warm feelings, and roses and champagne. 
Perhaps the invitation extended by our gospel reading, in stark contrast to this sentimentalising of motherhood, is the opportunity to contemplate and enter into the reality which Mary experienced uniquely as the mother of Jesus, and which all of us experience in lesser ways: 
that motherhood – like all our most intimate relationships – can be the source of both unparalleled joy and consolation as well as the very deepest pain and suffering. 
I don’t mean this in a simple and trite way. This is not merely the sort of truism that could well grace a Mother’s Day greeting card: ‘Motherhood: It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have, and the best!’ – though of course that is a truism because there is something true in it.
What I mean, though, is something rather more ­­ searching, something about the mystery of human interrelatedness and interdependence, of which motherhood is in some ways a unique instance but is in no sense the exclusive instance. Wherever we connect most deeply with one another and commit ourselves most fully to one another’s good – whether that is in friendship, or marriage, or parenthood, or communities of religious orders – we find both the deepest, most fulfilling consolation, and the deepest, most piercing pain.
Our reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians describes Christian discipleship and ministry in these same terms. ‘For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation . . .’ 
Whether our vocation in life is to priestly or lay ministry, to parenthood of children or to other forms of being fruitful in this world, whenever we commit to the journey of seeking to faithfully embody our vocation – to be disciples – with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, there too will we find both the deepest, most fulfilling consolation, and the deepest, most piercing pain.
So perhaps Mothering Sunday really does belong in Lent, if indeed it is an opportunity to contemplate and embrace this mysterious reality – this coinciding of joy and pain, of suffering and consolation – because Lent is a season in which we seek to enter into the mysteries of Christ’s sufferings and into the unique joy and consolation prepared for us when we take up our cross and follow him.
Now, lest I create the entirely false impression of a person who deeply understands and keeps a most holy Lent . . . 
I should be honest with you about the fact that each year I tend to feel genuinely bitter about the beginning of Lent. But again, this has everything to do with seasonal timing. 
Having spent a great deal of my life in the very sunny regions of southern California and Texas, I find myself deeply affected by the darkness of winter at this distance from the Equator. Quite frankly, it makes me miserable. 
And when we come to the beginning of Lent each year, we are not only suffering the toll taken by months of sun deprivation, we are also at about the midpoint of the academic year – that point at which the excitement of the beginning of a new academic year is too far behind us, and the horizon of the end of this academic year is too far ahead of us. 
So at that precise point each year – just when I feel certain I’ve altogether come to the end of my ability to cope – my honest feeling is, ‘Lent? Really? At this point I’m supposed to deeply contemplate my mortality and make grand gestures signifying my finitude and sinfulness and general inadequacy? Great. That’s just what I need.’
And yet, most years, it becomes very clear to me somewhere in the course of these forty days that this is, in fact, just what I need. 
For just as we cannot enter into the deepest joys of our mysterious human interdependence without entering into the dangerous certainty of those joys being accompanied by deepest pain, so we cannot enter into the deepest joys of our lives in Christ without entering into the dangerous certainty of the cross. 
Our Lenten disciplines should be a piercing mixture of contemplating the sufferings of Christ, embracing the ways in which we must enter into those sufferings, and turning to the world around us to see where ‘the least’ and ‘the last’ are suffering today – where Christ is suffering now in and with them, and meeting Christ there by refusing to remain indifferent to that suffering. And there we find, along with St Paul, that ‘just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ’.
Now, that may not work as a message on a Mother’s Day card, but perhaps it resonates more deeply and honestly with the rich and mysterious realities of motherhood, and of all our most intimate interdependencies, than all the flowers and roast dinners and greeting cards could ever do.
And so, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction . . . ’
‘ – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.