Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Letter in the Church Times, 29 October 2010


That the Diocese of Sydney persists in permitting deacons to “administer the Lord’s Supper”, even after this has been declared unconstitutional, will surprise no-one. For decades the usual teaching in Sydney has viewed sacraments merely as acted preaching, a subordinate adjunct to the ministry of the word. Indeed D Broughton Knox, principal of Moore College 1959-85, taught that water baptism was only an “apostolic custom” which might be replaced, for example, by converts giving their testimony (Selected Works, Volume II: Church and Ministry [Sydney: Matthias Media, 2003]). A friend in Sydney has told me of churches where this teaching appears to have been put into practice.

The stated reason for allowing deacons to “administer” the Eucharist is Sydney’s practice of restricting presbyteral ordination to rectors of parishes. This, it is claimed, is Biblical. But the New Testament describes local churches in which there were presbyters, plural. They can’t all have been the one in charge, so must have shared in the presidency and pastoral care of the community. This in plain common sense must have included the weekly synaxis and breaking of bread as its principal act. Likewise presbyters, plural, are to be called for if anyone is sick (James 5:14). The presbyterate in the New Testament is a collegial ministry of word and sacrament in which there is room for complementary roles. For Sydney, however, it is monarchical, and mainly about designating the man with the power.

For Anglicans faithful to universal tradition, a “Eucharist” presided by a deacon is no more than a simulated sacrament. Sadly this is now all that is on offer to Anglicans in Sydney’s hospitals and prisons, since chaplains can’t be priests. Even the dying can have no guarantee of receiving the “last and most necessary Viaticum” mandated by the Council of Nicea (Canon 13). Much has been said about the unconstitutional nature of Sydney’s actions, but little, as far as I know, about the spiritual harm that may result.

You report Archdeacon Narrelle Jarrett as saying, “it is a tragedy that deacons cannot fulfil the full sacramental ministry”. No; the tragedy is that Sydney refuses to give priestly ordination to those who need it for their ministry. It is a tragedy entirely caused by the revisionist and unscriptural theology of ministry which Sydney has embraced.

Yours sincerely,

The Revd Matthew Duckett

Monday, 11 October 2010

Sermon at Parish Mass and Baptism, 19th Sunday after Trinity 2010

Sermon at Parish Mass and Baptism, 19th Sunday after Trinity 2010 (St Pancras Old Church)

2 Kings 5:14-17

2 Timothy 2:8-13

Luke 17:11-19

Babette’s Feast is a film and a story set in a bleak area of Denmark in the 19th century. Babette, a refugee from revolutionary upheavals in Paris, arrives in a small and very religious community where she takes up work as cook to two elderly spinster sisters, the daughters of the local protestant pastor.

Over many years she gains their trust and respect. Then one day she learns that she has won a large sum of money on a lottery ticket in France. Rather than return to her old life, she spends the entire winnings on a feast for the villagers. Unbeknown to them, Babette used to be the head chef in one of the finest restaurants in Paris.

The feast she provides is sumptuous and extravagant, full of rare delicacies and fine wine. The villagers are shocked as they see the preparations, fearing that such luxury will be a sinful indulgence of the flesh. They decide that they will have to eat the meal out of politeness, but are determined that they will not take any pleasure in it or even speak about it.

But it doesn’t work. Babette's feast is just too good. As they eat and drink together, they can’t help enjoy the feast. The pinched narrowness of their respectable, fearful religion gives way. A community that had survived by everyone remaining in their proper place rediscovers itself in love and openness. The diners are redeemed by the unexpected joy of a life rich beyond their imagining.

In today’s Gospel reading something similar happens. Ten lepers ask Jesus for healing, nine of them Jews and one a Samaritan. Lepers in Biblical times were outcasts from their communities, shunned by religious laws which decreed that they were unclean. Curiously this brings the Jews and the Samaritan together in a way they wouldn’t have been otherwise. Jews and Samaritans ordinarily regarded each other as outcasts, because of their religious differences. But now they are all outcasts together from their own communities.

Then they are healed by Jesus, as they had asked. What happens then? Well, Jesus has told them to show themselves to the priests. The Jewish law said that if you had been cured of leprosy you had to be examined by a priest who would certify that you were once again ritually pure, so you could rejoin your community. And this is exactly what the Jewish former lepers do.

But not the Samaritan. He couldn’t show himself to a Jewish priest; even if he was no longer a leper he would still have been an outcast Samaritan. Perhaps he might have shown himself to a Samaritan priest instead. But he does not. Instead, he turns back to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice, and falls at his feet. The Samaritan ignores the religious law, breaks through its restrictions, and finds in Jesus what really matters, God’s love and redemption.

It looks as though the Samaritan is disobeying Jesus, by not going off and showing himself to a priest. But in fact he has found in Jesus the one true priest who offers salvation, healing and wholeness to all.

The Jewish lepers had a choice. They could have made the same response as the Samaritan. They could have realised that in Jesus God was breaking open all the sacred boundaries and religious laws which had made them victims for so long, outsiders to their own people. But instead they chose to go back into that system, now that they could be on the inside again and return to their safe but narrow existence. They were ritually clean, back on the right side of the religious law, but missing out on the fullness of life and joy which made the Samaritan shout with praise.

Jesus himself was to end up an outsider to the religious law. Condemned to death for religious reasons, he was hanged on a tree which the law said meant you were under God’s curse. But the veil of the temple, the veil of religious law and sacred boundary, was torn in two when he died. And from the tomb where his body was laid new life has sprung up for all people. Life and love beyond our imagining, God surprising us with joy, breaking in to us from outside all the boundaries we draw to keep ourselves safe.

Religious laws and purity codes can take many forms, and some may not seem to have anything to do with religion. But distinctions of social class, race, and nationalism are really part of the same mechanism when they draw boundaries through human society and create outsiders and victims. Jesus shows the nullity of all these sacred boundaries.

In Jesus all the systems of fear and exclusion break down, and with them the narrow but safe existence which we thought was what God wanted. God, it turns out, is not some thing to be afraid of but some one who loves us, and that love surprises us with joy, transforms our lives beyond our imagining with the richness of the heavenly feast, the banquet of God’s kingdom.

Today we give thanks and praise to God as we celebrate this Eucharist, and in as fine a voice as we can manage I hope. Today the risen victim, Jesus our Master and our Priest, comes to us once more in bread and wine. Today Mia will be made a partaker, with us, of Christ’s death and resurrection through the waters of baptism.

In Christ there is no-one who is unclean, no-one who is an outsider. The light of the resurrection shines on our lives and calls us to follow Christ and to shine as lights in the world today and all the days of our life.