Sermon preached by Revd Karen Charman for St Giles’ Patronal Festival, 13th September 2020 at St Giles’ Church, Horspath
Yesterday morning, some of us gathered in the churchyard, for our first Outdoor Church service.
We heard the story of St Giles and the deer, which was – according to the hagiography, or biography of the Saint – his only companion, while he lived as a hermit in a forest in the Rhone valley.
We read a book about silence, then spent some time in silence, and some time wondering about silence:
- I wonder what silence could really be?
- I wonder where silence comes from?
- I wonder if it’s old, or always new?
- I wonder where you are in silence?
- I wonder where silence is in you?
And we heard how – after the Frankish King, Wamba, accidentally injured Giles with an arrow intended for the deer – Wamba built him an abbey, at St Gilles du Gard. So, Giles life as a hermit came to an end, and he assumed the responsibilities of an abbot – the leader, or Superior, of the Benedictine monastic community at St Gilles du Gard.
Giles might have wished to remain a hermit – solitary life appeals to many introverts (though, I suspect, not to the extroverts among us) – but sometimes God calls us in directions we hadn’t expected.
Giles had, I expect, given away, or sold, all his possessions to become a hermit – but he then found himself in possession of an abbey, with all the responsibilities and worries which come with the possession of a large religious building.
Although our Benefice churches are all lovely buildings, and sacred spaces, I wonder if the job of our churchwardens, treasurers and PCCs would be easier if we didn’t have problems of falling plaster, stolen lead, and regular maintenance work to worry about?
Perhaps the real sacrifice St Giles was called to make wasn’t giving away all his possessions, but giving away his hermit lifestyle, to form a new community?!
Giles had renounced the ways and trappings of the ‘normal’ world – worldly desires and “pride in riches” – and chosen the life of a hermit, so he could devote his time to solitude, silence and seeking after God.
The abbey he founded was on the well-known pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, so no doubt hosted many pilgrims and travellers. It must have seemed a busy, noisy place, compared to the solitude Giles had enjoyed, living alone in the forest with only a deer for company (if the hagiography is to be believed).
But our two readings this morning teach us that we must surrender our desires, our possessions, our very selves to God. As Brother Roger of Taize – another religious community in France – often said – and please excuse my poor French pronunciation:
“Il ne demande pas trop – mais il demande tout”
(“He doesn’t ask too much – but he asks for everything.”)
God asks us to surrender ourselves to him – but in return he promises us the greatest gift of all – eternal, abundant life in the Kingdom of God, which is a Kingdom of love.
I wonder what God might be calling you to give up, or to surrender to him? What worldly desires, or ambitions?
I wonder if God might be calling you to surrender or give some of your time, rather than physical possessions?
I wonder if he might be calling you to spend more time in silence and solitude … or more time serving our local community … or time furthering God’s mission and ministry here in Horspath – perhaps helping to develop our new Outdoor Church?
Yesterday, at Outdoor Church, our congregation spent one minute in silence, waiting for God to speak.
I wonder if we can manage to spend three minutes in silence?
You might want to do nothing in that silence, and just wait to see if the Holy Spirit speaks to you – in words, or in a picture or image, or, perhaps, in a feeling, or sensation.
If you find silence difficult, you might want to use the silence to consider where and how God might be calling you.
Or you might want to use the silence to pray for our mission, ministry, worship and pastoral care here in Horspath, and to pray that our church and Benefice will grow.
I’ll say a prayer poem to lead us into silence, then set a timer to sound when three minutes have passed.
Let Your God Love You
Before your God.
Let your God
Look upon you.
That is all.
God loves you with
An enormous love,
Wanting only to
Look upon you
Be. Let your God Love you.
And as we listen to a piece of music, you might want to slowly bring yourself back out of the silence – play You Lord are in this place, by Keith Duke.
 Silence, by Jerome W Berryman, New York, Church Publishing, 2020.
 1 John 2.16
 Quoted by Martyn Percy in the Daily Reflections app for 11 September 2020