Easter 7, 28 May 2017
St. Peter’s Cathedral, Hamilton
I am delighted to be here this morning and grateful to Dean Peter for the invitation to preach and to Bishop Helen-Ann for making the connection. In the face of all that fragments our world it is always good to make connections.
I am in Aotearoa-New Zealand as the keynote speaker at the Anglican Schools conference which took place at Dilworth School in Auckland last week. And, of course, I am learning far more than I am teaching while I’m here.
It was great to be welcomed by the boys at Dilworth in the Maori powhiri ceremony. I am told that during that ceremony it is traditional to describe the mountains and rivers where you come from. Well, standing so close to the Waikato river this morning, I can tell you that I am more often to be found along the banks for the Mersey in Liverpool, in north-west England, and the mountains I can see are usually the mountains of north Wales, including, on a good day, Snowdon and its snow capped top for three months of the year.
It has been hard this week being half a world away from north west England, when it has been so hit by the terrible bombing in Manchester, streets I know well.
I would be grateful if you would join me in a few moments silence to pray for the victims, their families and for peace in our world.
At the end of my speech to the conference this week I was presented with a number of generous presents including these possum wool socks.
I didn’t know that possum wool was a thing until I saw them, although I gather possums are actually something of a pest here in New Zealand.
Possums make me think of Dame Edna Everidge greeting her fans in her inimitable way and throwing gladioli at the audience.
But possums also make me think of TS Eliot and his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Apparently, possum was the nick name that his friends had for him.
One of my favourite poems in the collection was, sadly, not used in the Lloyd-Webber musical of the book.
It’s ‘The Naming of Cats’:
“The naming of cats”
“is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games.
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.”
I had to fill in a legal form recently where I was required to enter any other names that I had been known by. I always feel slightly deflated to have to say that Richard Charles Peers is the only name I have ever had.
Today’ Gospel reading was the first seven verses of John Chapter 17 which is a prayer Jesus addresses to the Father. I would really recommend you read the whole chapter if you can get the time; or even chapters 13-17 which form the farewell discourses, the final time that Jesus spoke at length to his disciples, at the last Supper.
Today I want us to think about just one line:
“I have made your name known.”
We pray that God’s name be hallowed every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
When Jesus’ disciples wanted to know how to pray he taught them what we call the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father.
This prayer in John 17 has the same structure and the same themes. It is addressed to the Father, it asks that we hallow or sanctify the name, that we do the will of the Father and that we be delivered from the Evil One.
“I have made your name known”,
Names are important things. At the beginning of the world in the biblical account in Genesis, Adam is invited to name the creatures.
In magic lore to possess someone’s name is to have power over them.
For the Hebrew Bible, and for pious Jews even today, the name of God is unpronounceable, too sacred to be uttered. When God makes himself known to Moses at the Burning Bush he makes himself known not with a name as we would know it but by saying simply: I AM WHO I AM.
We who are Christians, are those, who as St. Paul puts it, follow Jesus
“ the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
The name above all names.
Back in the UK in Liverpool diocese, we know that, in common with the rest of the church we are in the last chance saloon. Our present church is not sustainable.
We are too old, our buildings and structures too expensive to run, we have too few young people. We are failing to bring new people to know Jesus. And yet it was a command of Jesus that we go out and baptise the nations.
We have failed to do what Jesus tells us he has done in the Gospel:
We have not made God’s name known.
I love Jesus, I think he is an endlessly fascinating person as well as my Saviour and Lord. But I have failed to make him known even to my own family, my brother and sister, even to my cousins and to most of the people I have worked with.
We don’t know what the church is going to be like in 50 years time or a hundred years time.
I puzzle over the conundrum of our failure to communicate Jesus every single day. I have talked about it with almost every one I have met this week in New Zealand, because I think you have the same problems here too.
I have no doubt that Jesus must be the answer to our problem because we are the church, the people of Jesus. I think we have to show people that they too can know Jesus, that they can experience his presence, his friendship every single day of their lives.
We call that experience prayer.
Einstein is often claimed to have said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.
Whether he ever said it or not I believe that it applies to us in the church. We need to change things not for changes sake but to get a different result; a result that enables many more people to know Jesus and which makes the world a more just place.
I saw a great quote this week from the pressing Bishop in the United States:
“If you want things to stay the same,
don’t bother to pray.”
Prayer is a dangerous activity.
This week, from last Thursday’s Ascension Day to Pentecost next Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury is encouraging Christians throughout the world of all denominations to take part in a wave of prayer known as Thy Kingdom Come.
I want to tell you about a way of praying that I find really helpful and that I have been using for the last 30 years or so.
This is an ancient Christian practice simply called ‘The Jesus Prayer’.
The Jesus Prayer is not a magic formula. It needs faith in Jesus as saviour of the world and as the second person of the Trinity. But that’s not as difficult as it sounds. Faith is not about a book full of doctrinal formulas, it is simply trusting in Jesus. Even if you can’t feel faith, even if you have all sorts of mental reservations and questions, simply wanting to have faith is enough, just say “Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.”
So, here are some simple practical ways to do the Jesus Prayer.
I use the form of words:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
take pity on me a sinner.
Sometimes, if I am bored, for a bit of a change I use the shorter Greek form:
Kyrie iesu christe
(Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me).
I have used the words silently with my breathing, the first line on the in breath and the second line on the out breath, not changing the natural rhythm of the breathing but just attaching the words to it.
Start off by using the words aloud, in a private place, as slowly as you can bear it, and repeat them over and over again. I would recommend a minimum of ten and a maximum of 20 minutes when you start. If you can find three times a day to do that great, if not even once a day will make a difference.
What you will find after some time is that you catch yourself repeating the words at other times in the day too. Perfect. I find that walking to work or even at work, are great times to practice the prayer. It helps slow me down and I walk less quickly and with less haste.
If you have a quiet park nearby, or live in the country, walking up and down slowly while you repeat the prayer may be helpful.
That basically is it, just keep on using it aloud or in your head whenever you can. It will become second nature. It is very helpful when nerves kick in, before a difficult meeting or before preaching or giving a talk or lecture; I always find some time for the Jesus Prayer – and still get nervous, but it helps.
Sometimes I use the Jesus Prayer as a form of intercession. I have a little book where I write the names of people who I have been asked to pray for, I try and mention them out loud in my prayers at least once a day and certainly before I say Mass each day. But sometimes it feels like even more is needed so I pray the Jesus Prayer but add the name of the person in need:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, take pity on ANDREW. (Or whoever).
I find this really helpful when the need is acute and when distress is great. I have even used this aloud with people, in great anguish and distress or near death and it has brought calm and a glimpse of peace.
The simple repetition even of just the name of Jesus is deeply powerful. You will find over time that the prayer sinks deep into your psyche, that you find yourself praying the prayer without even deciding to, that it comes as naturally to you as breathing.
The Jesus Prayer will inhabit not your head, but your heart; it will root itself in your innermost being and you will be close to Jesus at all times.
You may find that just repeating the name of Jesus with no other words is enough for you; Jesus as you breathe in, Jesus as you breathe out.
One of the effects of using this prayer is that the name of Jesus will be on the tip of our tongues. I don’t think we talk enough about Jesus. We are polite Anglicans, after all, and know better than to talk about religion.
But the religion we profess is not just the religion of love or of kindness, it is the religion of God who makes his love and his kindness known in Jesus.
We don’t want people to come to know Jesus simply to keep our buildings going, or to employ bishops or deans or even Directors of Education. We want people to know Jesus because knowing him is the best way to live a wonderful life.
I love the name of this hill which this cathedral is built on:
pukerangiora – life giving from heaven.
Jesus said, I have come that you may have life abundantly.
Jesus is pukerangiora, life-giving from heaven.
I have made your name known, Jesus prays.
I pray that when I get to the end of today, the end of tomorrow, the end of this week, and the end of my life, when I, pray God, meet Jesus I will be able to say: Jesus, I have made your name known.
Friends, I pray that for each one of us here today.
We all know so many names,
as T.S. Eliot puts it,
“above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name”
May we engage in rapt contemplation of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of the name of Jesus.
May we now in a time of silence simply breathe in and out:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
take pity on me a sinner.
Or even more simply:
Breathing in: Jesus
Breathing out: Jesus.