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Your Neighbour is Yourself

Fr Hugh put together a Lenten Series this year: Friends and Companions - Books that have Shaped our Theology and asked four ordained and two lay leaders at St Peter's to preach each Sunday then lead a discussion group. This sermon I preached at the 9.30am Service on the First Sunday, 18th February.

Genesis: 9:8-15

1Peter: 3:18-22

Mark 1: 12-15

Theopemptus was a self-confident monk whose counsel, we are told, had depressed others. One day, Macarius, an elderly Desert Father, paid him a visit:

……. Macarius asked, ‘How are things going with you?’ Theopemptus replied, ‘Thanks to your prayers, all is well.’ The old man asked, ‘Do you not have to battle with your fantasies?’ He answered, ‘No, up to now all is well.’ He was afraid to admit anything. But the old man said to him, ‘I have lived for many years as an ascetic and everyone sings my praises, but despite my age, I still have trouble with sexual fantasies.’ Theopemptus said, ‘Well, it is the same with me, to tell the truth.’ And the old man went on admitting, one by one, all the other fantasies that caused him to struggle, until he had brought Theopemptus to admit all of them himself. Then he said, ‘What do you do about fasting?’ ‘Nothing till the ninth hour,’ Theopemptus replied. ‘Fast till evening and take some exercise,’ said Macarius. ‘Go over the words of the gospel and the rest of Scripture. And if an alien thought arises within you, don’t look down but up: the Lord will come to your help.’

This is one of a number of the stories coming out of the Desert Father and Mother tradition, that Rowan Williams relates in Silence and Honeycakes. The book itself is based on a series of addresses he gave for the John Main Seminar in 2001 about these early Christian hermits, men and women, who lived in the deserts of Egypt, mainly in the 4th and 5th centuries of the Common Era.

Rowan Williams writes: ‘Your life is with your neighbour and so you must withdraw from everything that helps to imprison the neighbour, which entails looking very hard at what you say to or about your neighbour. The vocation of each is personal and distinctive, so each must have room to grow as God, not you, would have them do.’

Some of you, if you grew up in like me, or lived through the 1970s, may remember that transition from black and white to colour TV. ‘March first into colour’ was the slogan in Australia, and for me that first lighting up of a TV screen into full colour is one of those remembered moments in my childhood. Imagine, after all the unending rainfall and sloppiness, the feeling Noah would have experienced, in