The Archdeacon’s Sermon

Sermon for the licensing of Father Barry Orford at St Dunstan in the West

The Venerable Luke Miller, Archdeacon of London

Evensong on the Eve of St Michael and All Angels, 28 September 2016 | Psalm 91; 2 Kings 6.8-17; Matthew 18.1-6, 10

Behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha 2 Kings 6.17

As my grandmother went to a church dedicated to St Dunstan I was brought up on the wonderful story of St Dunstan and his tongs. You will know what I mean, how the devil appeared to him in the form of a beautiful young woman while he was working in his forge. Dunstan, spotting the deception seized his forging tongs from the fire and grabbed the devil by the nose. Instantaneously the form of the beautiful woman was shed and the devil in all his ugliness was revealed. There is a reality which lies hidden in the allure of the world: the deep reality which is called “spiritual” to distinguish it from the “material”, but in fact there is one reality; it is just that we do not see all of it all the time.

In the second book of the Kings we are directed to the deep reality beyond the visible world. When his repeated attempts to ambush the Israelites fail, the King of Syria thinks there must be a spy. A perfectly reasonable deduction from the evidence in front of him. Even when he is told that the issue is the insight of the holy Prophet, his response is one of impeccable post-Enlightenment materialism. Instead of attempting to ambush the army of Israel, he needs to root out the fundamental problem by killing Elisha. But behold! The mountain was full of horses and chariots of Fire around Elisha.

The deep reality is in fact the only thing which can make sense of the visible world. This is of course something which famously children get in a way that adults do not; which is one of the reasons why many children and those like them can enter the kingdom of heaven. Music considered superficially is simply vibrations made in the air or some other medium; but the power and meaning of music cannot be described by on oscilloscope or by a score but only by the deep experience of the reality. The attraction triggered by enzymes which natural selection and the principle of the survival of the fittest have formed in us does not adequately describe love. Behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of Fire about Elisha. The deeper realities of almost every aspect of our lives are so prevalent that they are hardly noticed. We need an Elisha to pray for us to “open his eyes that he may see.”

Which is what we are about. Fr Barry is called to preach and teach here that I may be opened to see the realities which underlie the chimera which is the material world. More than that he is to show the spiritual world. His tools for doing this are not spiritual things. Christianity is the most material of religions. Yes, of course he will need to say his prayers, make his meditations, and lead others in prayer, and reflection. But he is not the yogi of some mystic religion but a Christian priest, and his tools are unashamedly material: touch and smell, water and oil, bread and wine. It is not even because of the incarnation that material things become the route to God; it is rather that the world in its creation was always both spiritual and material, and the incarnation simply reflects the original gift of God’s loving creation. So even at the time of Elisha, behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire.

So there are other tools which look material but are in fact spiritual. The tools are community partnership, the development of connection with local businesses and those who come here to work, even those few who live here. The ability to reach out with an oasis of peace and love to those who go past busy upon the world’s work. Our partnership with our brothers and sisters in Christ who share our church. In all of this as we work with others the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, for lie behind the memoranda of understanding the leases and licenses under faculty, the proprieties of politeness and human interrelationships is that extraordinary thing which is the binding presence of Christ who links his body together in bonds of Fellowship. Behold horses and chariots of Fire.

All of this is sacramental. The use of material things to reveal the true realities of the world. So it is that we need a priest. For above all the priest is a Minister of the sacraments. We do not simply need a community organiser, or a good administrator, or a manager, but a priest. We need to have the skills of organising community, administration and management; insofar as they help us to reveal the true reality they are themselves sacramentals. But above all we need a priest who can Ministry amongst us the sacraments of the church. And among the sacraments, most importantly we need the best sacrament, whereby Christ who is God and man, the ultimate reality of all things in him all reality subsumes and from whom all reality derives, is made present among us in the created forms of bread and wine. So we need a priest. So let us license on to his work among us. Father your duty among us will be to open our eyes that we may see the horses and chariots of Fire.