Self-forgetfulness is the key

Sermon preached at Evensong, St Paul’s, Clifton, Bristol, 27 December 1998.

[Two pages of the manuscript are missing; I will insert them if they should show up among Richard’s papers. – SJC]

Some of the best, and some of the worst sermons I have heard have been on the subject of love – especially the nature of God’s love. For example, some preachers may say that God’s love surpasses ours, transcends it, or is wholly different from it. But surely there has to be something in our experience by which we can recognise it. Perhaps then it is more a question of quality and quantity than of type.

St Bernard said that our love of God has four rungs.

  1. Out of fear, fear of punishment.
  2. Because of the marvellous gifts on offer, eg the beauties of nature, gifts of friends or family. All of which may be withdrawn.
  3. Because God is good in Himself. It’s good to have Him around, and the world is made a better place.
  4. The top rung is for those who love God because He enables them to love themselves. Even in our great depths of sin we are still loved, not punished. Surprised? If we have self-respect and value ourselves, then we can in fact love and respect others in that essential self-forgetfulness.

Well, either there is a rung missing from this ladder, or another one is being climbed as if it were the same one.Read More »


The Christmas cave

Sermon (entitled “Epilogue”) preached at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital Carol Service, Christ Church, Clifton, Bristol, 13 December 1989

I don’t know if you are anything like me, but when the alarm clock goes in the morning I sometimes think, “oh no! Time to get up. I wish I could stay in bed for another hour!” But of course I can’t. There’s no escape. I can’t miss the 28 bus into work. I must get behind my desk by 8.30. Diving under the duvet is disastrous. Mind you, the temptation is very strong, and it’s not just limited to staying in bed. If you are unsure or afraid of things, it is very tempting to retreat from them; ducking for shelter is part of the survival instinct. That’s why the Americans are spending $93m on sending men crawling through tunnels to try to find a cave big enough to act as a vast fall-out shelter for the population.

That’s turning the clock back to the Stone Age when caves were selected as places of safety. But it is not just for escape, but for discovery. The biggest discovery I ever made in a cave was that if you didn’t take enough water your calcium carbide lamp wouldn’t work, and you’d be left in the dark! The discovery of paintings in the Lascaux caves, or of Ice Age flint tools lead us to consider caves as the womb of science, art and religion.Read More »