A Sermon from Sherborne

We are love-creatures

A sermon for Evensong at Sherborne Abbey preached by The Reverend Sister Ann-Marie Stuart FJ on Sunday 16 July 2017

I was reading a contemporary book on Spirituality the other day when the following remarks jumped off the page at me. They go like this:

‘We all want to belong to someone, we are love creatures. (I really like that phrase, although I don’t pretend to understand it.) We yearn for happiness, and peace and love. But the more we look outside ourselves the less settled we are within ourselves.’ (From The Unbearable Wholeness of Being by Ilia Delio.)

The author then went on to remind us that we cannot buy happiness and that material things will never quite satisfy us. And it reminded me of another Italian mystic author from the past, Catherine of Siena, who begins her Book as she called her writings, like this:

‘A soul rises up, restless with tremendous desire for God’s honour and the salvation of souls. She has for some time become accustomed to dwelling in the cell of self-knowledge in order to know better God’s goodness towards her.’

There’s no polite, slow introduction to her Book, we are invited to plunge straight in, and the writing is of such density and intensity that you can’t take too much of it in one go.

But essentially she believed that we will discover where we truly belong, and find true happiness when we seek the God of love within our own hearts. She also suggests that unless we do so we will find it very difficult indeed to spread that love around and/or find it from others for ourselves.

But I love those first phrases I quoted: ‘We want to belong to someone, we are love-creatures, (That’s just so nice!) We yearn for happiness and peace.

The Gospel reading this evening [Luke 19.41-48] also speaks about Peace. Jesus was probably standing looking out over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, where there is a magnificent view over the city, which even today does look just like a bride all decked out to greet its bridegroom as Scripture tells us. But Jesus probably knew what would happen to it. In AD 70 it would be destroyed as the result of the machinations of intrigue and political manoeuvre of the time. A tragedy.

And Jesus’ tears might well have been at the knowledge that left to ourselves we seek happiness and peace and love in all the wrong places, and in all the wrong ways. It must have been hugely disappointing and frustrating for him to know that he had the answers for what we are seeking. ‘We are love creatures.’

We are made right, fashioned beautifully, and then we forget who we are, and seek the things that we really, really want and need in all the wrong places. And Jesus says, ‘Would that even today, you would recognise the things which would give you peace.’

‘Love’, my book tells me, ‘lives within the depth of evolving life, but to know this love we must withdraw from the busy world, enter quietly within ourselves, cherish solitude and return to our true nature.’

So we’re back again both with our Gospel and with Catherine of Siena. But this is not to suggest a lovely little time of quiet. To teach about prayer in the Temple by throwing out all those who traded there, was not only courageous but dangerous as well. He put his life on the line trying to hold out to us an alternative vision of life, and one with which we still have problems today.

Please be sure that I do not have it in for those in trade and industry, we all have to earn our living as best we can using the gifts of mind and heart that we have received, but this evening perhaps we are being invited just to pause and still ourselves, comfortable in the presence of the Living God and remind ourselves that we all have many gifts of mind and heart that we often forget to use.

‘My house is a house of prayer’, he tells us. And he doesn’t necessarily mean a house like this building because here he is quoting from Isaiah 56 where Isaiah refers to the mountains as God’s house of prayer, and Scripture is littered with other references to the world around us as being God’s Home. Nor for that matter was he referring to the Temple in Jerusalem because he knows it doesn’t exist anymore.

As a Franciscan and a Celt I believe that Jesus is referring to the created world in which we live. His house is this stunning created world all around us that has been gifted to us to assist us to discover who we are as ‘love creatures’.

So now we have two means of finding him, by stilling ourselves to become aware of His presence deep within our hearts, and then to take a fresh look at the world around us, His house.

Bring these two pieces of information together and they will enable us to both see ourselves and the world around us very differently. When did you last see yourself as a God bearer? When did you last look around you as you walked or drove here this evening as roaming around outside within God’s house?

The first insight helps us understand that we do indeed belong to someone, and that this someone cares for us more than we dare to believe, and that secondly within God’s world, God’s House, we are safe no matter what happens to us good or bad. We are at home and safe, something to hold onto in our troubled world today.

As a young nun I had to take a religious name it was a way of putting off the world as they said at the time. I wasn’t really into saints so I chose the name Emmanuel. I had another reason but I won’t bore you with it now. And the name Emmanuel means God with us. So wherever we go Jesus, the Emmanuel reminds that we do belong; we are loved and that we live in His House, and that alone will give us peace.

Mind you, sad to say we were all encouraged to return to our Baptismal names which made sense to me, but somewhere deep inside Ann-Marie there still lurks the young woman called Emmanuel. Because I believe He is indeed with us, and that we are born to be ‘love creatures’, just like Him. And I also believe that if we ask him he is more than willing to help us remember who we really are. Amen.

The Reverend Sister Ann-Marie Stuart FJ 16/07/2017
The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, Sherborne