Tears, tongues and irritability: Sermon for Epiphany 2, Christ Church Cathedral

Sermon 16 01 22 Epiphany 2

Christ Church Cathedral

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

“Now concerning spiritual gifts … I do not want you to be uninformed.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Do you believe in the miracle of the wedding at Cana?

It might not seem like a very important question. Some people suggest that there is a hierarchy of Christian beliefs. On such a list I suppose the miracle at Cana would not register very high. Few people would claim that not believing in this miracle would endanger your immortal soul.

I am not so sure.

In a few minutes time, when I have stopped speaking we will declare that we believe in the most extraordinary series of things. 

That there is a God, that he is the origin of everything that exists. That this God chose to be born a human being, that a woman called Mary was his mother. That he died, and wait for this rose again. The, as if that wasn’t outrageous enough ascended to heaven.

And so on.

So, are we prepared to say we believe in all those outrageous things and not in the wedding at Cana? 

Or to put it the other way around. If we are sceptical about the wedding at Cana is it really likely that we believe in all the assertions of the Creed?

It would be quite possible for me to preach on the wedding at Cana in an allegorical way. And indeed I have preached in this very church in the recent past on the importance of allegory for understanding Scripture.

But today’s second reading should powerfully inform our reading of the Gospel. 

It comes from St Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. It is the beginning of the rightly famous chapter 12 which includes the beautiful reading so often used at weddings: Love is patient, love is kind.

It is worth reading Chapters 12 – 14 of this letter in one go. I would really recommend going home and doing so some time this week.

The whole section of the letter is about the spiritual gifts, the charisma that come with being a Christian.

To summarise. It is about what difference being a Christian will make to our lives. Quite simply it is that the unexpected will happen. That there will be miracles, that we will be given gifts of the Spirit.

There is a pernicious rumour among certain christians that prayer should be difficult. That we will experience dark nights of the soul, that a sign of spiritual maturity is that we will feel abandoned, as if in a spiritual desert.

I have to say that I can’t find anything about that in the New Testament. If I am missing something I would be delighted to be corrected.

I also have to say that the very idea of spiritual maturity seems to me something rather odd. As if we make some sort of progress in the spiritual life.

I’m not speaking entirely from ignorance here. For mm teaching degree thirty something years ago I wrote a dissertation on ideas of spiritual development, as if it was some sort of ladder to be climbed.

I just don’t believe in that any more.

St Paul is very clear, just in today’s reading that it is quite normal for a Christian to experience spiritual gifts, the ones he names in this reading are:


utterance of knowledge



working of miracles


discernment of spirits


interpretation of tongues

That’s quite a list. Nine overt manifestations of the Spirit.

How many are you experiencing in your life at the moment?

Elsewhere in the New Testament those gifts of the Spirit are extended further. I would particularly draw your attention to the gift of tears. 

It seems to me that in our society we hold so much on to grief and don’t allow ourselves to cry.

So much of life is loss. The failure to get what we want, for the world to be the way we want it to be. Life is a journey from birth into the ultimate loss, death.

Tears are a gift of the Spirit that liberates us, helps us to let go. To admit that we are not in control. That we will die.

There is only one way to experience the gifts of the Spirit. Ask for them.

If you are not praying other than at church find a time every day to pray. For most people early in the morning is the best time. Just after brushing your teeth. And talk to God.

Ask God to send you the gifts of the Spirit. Believe that he will send you these gifts, just as we claim to believe in Jesus, in his resurrection.

Dearest friends, belief is never the same as certainty. I am certain that my dog Teilo exists. I could go and get him and show him to you. You could touch him and stroke him. He would love it.

Belief is not certainty, it is an act of the will, a choice. Like love. It is no surprise that the beautiful passages in 1 Corinthians about love are part of today’s passage about the gifts of the Spirit. Because love too is a gift.

To be open to these gifts we need to open our hearts and allow them to be softened, to expand. 

Rational learning, theological knowledge are hugely important. But they need to be matched by the movement of the heart.

There are no gifts better for this than the gifts of tears and tongues. When we are willing to weep, we are willing to be open, to be vulnerable. When we allow our lips, our words to be led by the Spirit we have let go of control.

The gifts of the Spirit are essential if we are to free ourselves from our bondage to sin. The trouble with sin is that we tend to think of it as something extreme. Well, in the cathedral today there will be people who have committed extreme sins. 

But for the most part we commit small sins quite often.

I think that the gifts of the Spirit are particularly liberating of the sin of irritation.

I defy anyone here today to tell me that they are not frequently irritated, several times a day, by our fellow human beings. I am irritated minute by minute by the things people say, the way they act, sometimes even by the way they eat, or even walk. 

Here’s the good news: I am not in control of the things they say, the way they act, their eating habits or even the way they walk.

The things that irritate us, the people that irritate us don’t tell us anything about other people, but they teach us a great deal about ourselves. And we can be changed. This week try noticing who or what irritates you and take that to your prayer time. Ask God to send his Spirit of love to you that you may lean to love that person and their irritating habits.

It might not seem like a big miracle compared to resurrection from the dead, or even turning water into wine but it is these everyday miracles that St Paul calls us not just to believe in but to experience. To see for ourselves.

The gifts of the Spirit are God’s promise to every Christian. Prayer not as a barren desert but as a fruitful, blossom filled garden.

Weeping in prayer, praying in tongues are all ways for me to embrace, to practice not being in control. To let God be in control.

The Spirit sets us free.

I believe in miracles. I believe Jesus turned water into wine.

I believe that Jesus changes our lives. 

About that I will not keep silent.

Our sinfulness, our irritability, reveal to us our poverty.

All of this is in today’s Collect, have a look at it on page 6 of today’s booklet:

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature 

by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;



Celebration of Discipline: Founder’s Day Sermon for CSMV

Sermon St Mary’s Convent, Wantage

Founders Day, January 14 2022

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

1 Kings 17: 8-16     

1 Cor 3:10-17        

John 15:12-17

Three readings. Three sentences, one from each reading:

‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’

the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.

“a servant does not know his master’s business”

In the name of the Father …

Reading the Gospel we have just heard. Full of beautiful phrases that leap out of the page I was struck by the words I’ve just quoted:

A servant does not know his master’s business.

We are called not to be servants, but friends. Friends of God, of Jesus and friends of each other.

If we were servants we wouldn’t know the father’s business. But because we are friends we do know. Or should know.

It would be very easy to concentrate on the love in today’s gospel. And that is important. But I want to think about this aspect of knowing the father’s business and what that means for our Christian, our spiritual lives.

In the 1980s, it seems so long ago now.

I trained as a teacher. Back in those heady days we believed in progressive methods of education. Children would learn by discovery. we wouldn’t make them learn things off by heart, there would be no tedious rote learning.

I have to say that over the 35 years I worked in schools my ideas changed somewhat as they have for many (although not all by any means) in education.

Knowledge based learning is at the heart of what human learning is. memorising is at the heart of acquiring knowledge. 

This shouldn’t surprise us as Christians. When Jesus wanted to leave his followers the most sacred and important way that he would be present to them after his death he said as I shall say at the altar in just a moment 

“Do this, in memory of me.”

We are what we remember. 

So I want this morning on this Founder’s Day of your beloved community that has been so committed to education,  to reflect on one of the disciplines of the spiritual life, indeed of the religious life: the discipline of study.

Study has always been linked closely to religious life. The Rule of St Benedict with it Lent books; the link between Benedictine monasteries and education. In Oxford the close link between religious life in all its variety on the Christ Church site alone Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscans and, of course St Frideswide’s original community.

Christ Church has also produced the Wesleys whose ‘method’ was simply an ordered, systematic approach to the spiritual. Father Benson of Cowley, another Christ Church student and of course your own William John Butler (an Honorary Canon of Christ Church) both of whom died on this day. In some ways the religious life is itself just a systematisation of the spiritual life, the baptised life. 

Religious life needs study: study for the proper and meaningful celebration of the Divine Office. The psalms are difficult. If they weren’t they would hardly bear singing for a whole lifetime, we would become bored and tired of them.

So what might the discipline of study look like for us in our time?

A book that I return to over and over again and have been recommeding to people for thirty years is Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. It is a simple book for simple people. It has fed me in so many ways. I hope you will forgive me for reading a whole paragraph to you that begins the Chapter on the discipline of study:

“The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits. Nowhere is this purpose more clearly seen than in the Discipline of study. The apostle Paul tells us that we are transformed through the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2). The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it. ‘Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’ (Phil. 4:8). The Discipline of study is the primary vehicle to bring us to ‘think about these things.’ Therefore, we should rejoice that we are not left to our own devices but have been given this means of God’s grace for the changing of our inner spirit.”

I would like to suggest three ways in which the discipline of study can be integrated into our lives.

Firstly, in our spiritual reading. It is always good, I find, to have some spiritual reading on the go. I think this is best something that we know fairly well. I return again and again to Julian. You will have your own favourites. Spiritual reading time is not time for novelty, or for innovation.

Secondly, in lectio divina, in light of today’s gospel on friendship with Jesus I have always thought of the four classic stages of lectio as stages in a relationship with a text.





Thirdly, formal study. And we need to be systematic about this. To have. a plan. What is my study going to be this year.

The best way I have found of managing this is around my annual retreat. For a number of years I have chosen a book of the Bible to use for me retreat. In the year beforehand I collect together books and articles on the book, spend six months or so reading them, and then, on retreat use lectio as my main study tool but with the reading I’ve done informing and enriching it.

It works for me, other techniques may work for you.

But the most important thing is to learn texts by heart. Yes, of course, poetry and literature and spiritual writing. But fundamentally we should fill our minds and hearts with the words of Scripture.

Eighteen months ago my mum died. It was one of the most beautiful deaths I have ever been privileged to witness. A faithful catholic her whole life my brother and sister and I prayed the Rosary with her in her last hours. She began being able to join in and then just her lips moved, finally there was just a movement of her lips at each Amen.

It was beautiful because these prayers, mostly words of Scripture were so embedded in her heart.

As we build the discipline of study into our lives may we embed the words of the Lord deep in our hearts so that we know the father’s business, but also so that we may fulfil in our lives those other two sentences of Scripture I began with.

If we have memorised Scripture so that it is part of the fabric of our being it will be the case that

‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’

And that even in the darkest times when fire tests the quality of our work, the Spirit in us will endure.