25th Sunday of Yr A – The Labourers in the Vineyard

Our readings this morning all have something of a paradoxical quality to them. Both the Scriptures, and the Christian concept of God, are rooted in paradox. The ability to hold two contradictory views should be impossible and yet it is not. There is a good reason for this: God is a mystery, knowable, yet hidden; understandable, yet beyond our grasp. It can be a struggle to understand these paradoxes. Whilst this struggle is part of the process of coming to know God, we also have accept the fact that our mental efforts can never be enough, we simply have to experience the mystery.

The prophet Isaiah proclaims the Divine message to bring Israel back to God: 

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;

    call upon him while he is near;

let the wicked forsake his way,

    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;” (Isa 55:6-7)

The message is clear and simple. There is a right way to live and a wrong way. The prophets exist to proclaim God’s message, to call people back:

let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,

    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isa 55:7)

God longs to treat humanity with compassion, and to forgive our human failings. God is a God of love and mercy, both in the Old Testament and in the New. There is a consistent message of how God creates everything, sees that it is good, and loves what He has made. God is generous and loving because that is who God is. God cannot be otherwise. 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord (Isa 55:8)

If God were to think in a human way then all we could expect would be punishment for having sinned and fallen short of what is expected of us. However, God is a God of justice and mercy, and so we can put our hope in His love to heal and restore us. God is generous and loving, to an extent that we, as humans, cannot even imagine:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways

    and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:9)

We are able to experience the mystery of God’s love through the Church and her Sacraments, which are effective signs of grace that manifest God’s generous love in the world. This is just a part of the mystery of God’s love for us which we can never fully comprehend, this side of heaven. 

In our second reading this morning, St Paul is writing to the first Christian community he founded in Europe. He is under house arrest in Rome, facing a trial and execution. It is a joyful letter, arguably his most joyful letter, despite being written as Paul faces martyrdom. This year many people around the world have had to face imminent death because of the virus which currently grips our planet. As a society we have become more afraid of death and dying and the subject of our own end is something many of us would prefer not to think about. For Paul,

to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil 1:21)

Paul is saying that if he lives, he will live in Christ, and he will proclaim the truth of the Gospel with his words and with his deeds. Paul believes that if he dies it is gain, because his death will bear witness to Christ, having shared in Christ’s suffering and death. Paul has hope in the resurrection to eternal life in Christ. In writing to the Church in Philippi Paul is able to be with them despite being 800 miles away. He wants to be encouraged by the fact that the Philippian Christians are living out their faith, and putting it into practice in their lives. At the same time, Paul is keen to share his hope, and, at the climax of his letter, states:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Phil 3:20-21)

As Christians, we can be encouraged by the knowledge that Heaven is our true home. We can have this hope through the mercy and love of God. This is not something that we can deserve or earn, rather it is a manifestation of God’s generous love.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus continues His teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven with the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. God’s Kingdom is a place where human values are turned on their head: 

So the last will be first, and the first last. (Mt 20:16)

This is why the first labourers to be paid are those who have only worked for just one hour. By the time the labourers who have worked the full twelve hours come to be paid they expect to be given more, although they agreed on the standard wage for their day’s labour. The parable is fundamentally about salvation. Salvation is a gift from God and not a reward for work done by humanity. We cannot earn it, we have to receive it from a loving and generous God. Likewise there are no grades of salvation and there are no classes of Christian, we are all one. Jesus’ Jewish audience believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people, and this could lead to the perception of Gentiles and converts as something lesser. But such a view is opposed to the values of the Kingdom of God where all are equal. 

This equality is a radical statement by Jesus. It is a clear declaration that God’s grace is abundant and inexhaustible, and freely offered to all who accept it. There is no such thing as a better class of Christian. God treats us all in the same way and fundamentally loves each and every one of us. Though I serve God and His people as a priest, I was not chosen for this role by having been a better Christian in the first place. Clergy are not superior Christians, all the baptized are equal in the sight of God. This morning’s gospel reminds us of the important truth that salvation is the free gift of God, which we receive in our Baptism and is strengthened through the Sacraments of the Church. We cannot earn our way to heaven!

We often forget that heaven is full of sinners, who are loved by God and who love God, and trust in His mercy and His forgiveness. The more we experience and understand the overwhelming love and generosity of God, the more marvellous it becomes. To repeat the prophet Isaiah, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. 

As Christians we need to respond to God’s generous love and if we are to be truly thankful then our thankfulness should affect who we are and how we live our daily lives. We need to live as people who are loved and forgiven, and who, in turn, show love and forgiveness to those around us. This is difficult for us to do on our own, but thankfully we live in a community called the Church where we give and receive forgiveness. Here we are fed by Word and Sacrament, so that we can strengthen and encourage one another, through prayer and acts of charity, to live the truth of the gospel in our lives. So that we, and all creation, may be free to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: Workers on the field, Codex aureus Epternacensis, fol. 76f, detail 

Twenty fourth Sunday of Year A

I would like to begin this morning by reading some words of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan of Great Britain and Ireland, a great, wise, and holy writer. His words on forgiveness speak beautifully to the themes of our readings this morning:

Judgement would hold nothing but terror for us if we had no sure hope of forgiveness. And the gift of forgiveness itself is implicit in God’s and people’s love. Yet it is not enough to be granted forgiveness, we must be prepared to accept it. We must consent to be forgiven by an act of daring faith and generous hope, welcome the gift humbly, as a miracle which love alone, love human and divine, can work, and forever be grateful for its gratuity, its restoring, healing, reintegrating power. We must never confuse forgiving with forgetting, or imagine that these two things go together. Not only do they not belong together, they are mutually exclusive. To wipe out the past has little to do with constructive, imaginative, fruitful forgiveness; the only thing that must go, be erased from the past, is its venom; the bitterness, the resentment, the estrangement; but not the memory.

Anthony of Sourozh, Creative Prayer, 2004: 72. 

Our life on earth is finite, it will come to an end. In the meantime, we need to ask ourselves how we want to live our lives. Do we want to do so in anger, bitterness, resentment, and jealousy? I’d hope not. Such things are not good for the soul. 

Our first reading this morning addresses these questions. Ben Sirach, the writer of Ecclesiasticus, knew a great deal about the human condition and the book forms part of the Wisdom tradition of Scripture: wise advice for humanity. Nowadays, many people seem to think that sexual sin is all that matters to God. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sin gnaws away at us, in many ways. It can dim, and even extinguish, the spark of divine life which we receive in our baptism. Sin is a serious business and it affects us, both as individuals and in our life together. It is a subject which should concern us all, because it affects us all.

Anger, wrath, and the desire for vengeance are, by their very nature, corrosive things . They eat us up, growing like a bitter cancer inside us. We often try to repress these strong emotions, but they can erupt in outbursts, or as calculated passive aggression. Is there a way to stop this happening? Yes, there is, and we are told how in our first reading: 

Forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done,

    and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray (Sir 28:2)

If we want to be forgiven then we have to forgive. It is as simple as that! But there is no room for any half-measures, we cannot hang on to a bit, we need to forgive fully. Can we do this on our own? No, we need to do it as a community, a community which relies upon God to assist us. Only with God’s help, and in His strength can we live lives of forgiveness. 

There is very similar advice in this morning’s second reading from the Letter to the Romans. Paul writes that we should not pass judgement — whether someone does something or not. The point is not what we do, but why we do what we do. Are we trying to honour God in our actions? That is what really matters. Are we learning to live as people of love, freed from all that hinders our common life together? 

If we consider, for a second, the fact that Christians have often been persecuted for their faith. They have even been sentenced to death for preferring Christ to the ways of the world, and yet these martyrs were not angry with their persecutors or even God. Instead they chose to live out the love and the forgiveness that they had received, and it was this powerful witness which has brought many others to believe and follow Christ. We are called to copy their example and to try live authentic lives together, by forgiving each other, and living in love. To do this we need to put aside any petty rivalries, squabbles, slights, and all the little everyday things which annoy us.

Forgiveness is at the heart of all three readings today, including Matthew’s Gospel where Peter asks Our Lord how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. He wonders if it might be seven times, but Jesus replies, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times’. This answer looks back to the establishment of the jubilee year in Leviticus 25:8 – ‘You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.’ The jubilee of the Old Covenant was all about the forgiveness of debts. This is made real in Jesus. In Him is the forgiveness and the renewal which Israel has longed for. It is radical and powerful forgiveness which can transform us, and the whole world. 

Jesus explains his message of forgiveness with the use of a parable. A dishonest servant who owes a debt which he cannot pay, begs for more time. His master, instead, cancels the whole debt. However, when faced with a debtor of his own, this same man fails to exhibit the mercy, the kindness which has been shown to him. For this he is rightly and justly punished, to show us who hear the parable that, as we beg God to forgive our sins, we need at the same time to forgive the sins of others. Just like the man in the parable, we too are all dishonest servants, we all owe God a debt which we cannot pay, but God releases us from our debt. But, despite having been forgiven so much by God we still fail to be loving and forgiving to each other. The point is not to make us feel bad about ourselves, but to remind us of how much God loves us, and to encourage us to be loving in return. This is how we should live as human beings, loving and forgiving each other. This is how we can flourish as individuals and as a Christian community. 

The world around us often tells us be angry and to feel aggrieved. When we pick up a newspaper, or turn on a radio or television, or look at the Internet, we usually find news reported in such a way as to provoke a variety of negative emotions. We are encouraged to feel angry, sad, or even afraid. There are many things out there right now to make us feel this way. Such judgement is clearly condemned by this morning’s readings. Being surrounded by a judgemental news culture makes it harder for us to live as Christian people. Often, without thinking, we pick up a negative mindset as if by osmosis, it just seeps in, and before we know it we are thinking and speaking in a harsh judgemental way. It is hard to resist, and that is why Jesus tells us to forgive seventy times seven times, i.e., an uncountable number of times. But, to do so is very difficult indeed. We have to be vigilant not to we fall into patterns of behaviour which may decrease the fullness and happiness of our lives. We have to try together, as a Christian community, to live out the faith which we profess. We will, naturally, often fail in this, but we can always seek forgiveness from each other, and from God, and we can keep trying. 

The world may tell us that our endeavour is impossible, yet we know that, ‘with God all things are possible’ (Mt 19:26). These are not idle words, but a promise of Jesus that we can trust, and live out together, as a community of love and reconciliation — real, costly, and wonderful. That is why we celebrate the Cross of Christ: the fact that, for love of us, Jesus bore the weight of our sins upon Himself. He suffered and died for us, to show that there was no length to which God would not go to demonstrate, once and for all, what love and forgiveness truly mean. The Cross is our only hope, the one thing that can save us from ourselves, from all that divides and wounds and which separates us from each other and from God. It is our healing, our salvation, and our sanctification. Through the Cross we are saved and made free, to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen

Twenty Third Sunday of Year A

The emergency services were not well-developed in the Ancient World. However, cities did have a night watch who functioned as a combination of a police force and fire brigade. It is to such an office that God appoints the prophet Ezekiel in this morning’s first reading. He is to be a night watchman, someone who is vigilant against fire and crime, someone concerned with safety and people’s well-being. Prophets exist to speak warnings to God’s people, to show them where they are going wrong and to show them how to get back on the right path. The role of a prophet is to call sinners to repent from their evil ways. Through the prophet God calls His people back to Him. Though people are, then as now, wayward they are given a chance to repent, to return to the ways of human flourishing. The choice is a stark one: life or death. It is important, and a lot depends upon the choices we make. This is why the central proclamation of the Church is to call God’s people to repentance: to turn away from sin, and to turn back to God. 

This week’s second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans continues the Apostle’s advice on how Christians should live out their faith in their lives. Living a Christian life  is a difficult thing to do, and for two thousand years Christians have struggled to do it well. As followers of Christ we are called to love God and to love one another. Paul quotes from the Ten Commandments to make the point that the basis for the moral code found in the Mosaic Law is Love. If you love someone then you will not do such things to them. To love is to will the good of another, to make the right choice, one which leads to human flourishing.

Having shown the Church how to live, Paul widens his focus, to reinforce something we heard last week: 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Paul can see the wider significance of what he is encouraging people to do. The Church knows that Jesus will come to judge the world, so Paul is encouraging Christians to live moral lives. The first Christians were surrounded by a decadent and morally corrupt society, justas we are today, and have been for two thousand years. Human nature is surprisingly consistent. We, however, are called to live differently. In our baptism, we put on Christ, and we were clothed with Him, sharing His Death, but we were also raised to new life in Him. We pray for the strength to live that new life, here and now! This is how we should prepare to meet our Redeemer, when He comes again.

How do we deal with problems as a church? This is an important and difficult question. This morning’s Gospel shows us how, in a number of clear simple steps. First we should approach the person in private. If they listen, and presumably admit their mistake and ask for forgiveness, or try to put things right, then that is an end to the matter. They are reconciled, and the matter is forgiven and forgotten. If this does not work, Paul instructs us to take one or two people, so that there are witnesses, and if this does not work, it becomes a matter for the church as a whole. If the person at fault still refuses to listen, they are excluded, not as a punishment, but so that they may have another opportunity to think things over, to admit that they are wrong, and to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. The point is not to cast people out, but to try and keep them in, and give them all possible opportunities to repent and be reconciled. In worldly terms this provision is generous. The church, which Christ founded, is meant to do things differently, as Jesus says:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (Jn 10:10)

God wants us all to have life in all its fulness, which includes healing and reconciliation. The world, however, often sees things in terms of punishment and retribution, whereas the church views things in terms of restoration. Our God is a God of justice and mercy. This is why Jesus goes to the Cross willingly, to bear our sins, and to heal our wounds. We cannot sort out the problem of our sin and woundedness on our own; if we could we would not need a Saviour. 

This is why Jesus reiterates His teaching about sin:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mt 18: 18) 

This is a reality because of all that God has done for us in Christ. The Church exists to continue the redemptive work of God within the world. Through God’s forgiveness we can be truly reconciled and the healing, which can become a reality in our lives. Jesus says in the words which follow:

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (Mt 18:19)

Through God’s reconciliation we can make requests in prayer, and those requests will be answered. In addition, as a Christian community we can be encouraged by Christ’s presence in our midst:

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Mt 18:20)

Christ is among us, here and now! And we receive His Sacramental Presence in the Eucharist, His Very Flesh and Blood, so that He may transform us; so that we may have a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet and be built up and strengthened in love, both here and now. We have the medicine for which our souls cry out. This is the healing which Christ accomplishes on the Cross, He longs to pour out His Love on us, so that we can know true freedom, true joy, and true love, in Him. So let us come to Him and let His Grace transform our lives, so that we, and all creation, may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen. 

The Twenty-second Sunday of Year A

The vocation to be a prophet is not an easy one. Prophets are tasked with telling people the plain, unvarnished truth about God. Their words can be quite unpalatable. Most, if not all, of us would much rather not hear hard truths. Therefore it comes as no surprise that in our first reading this morning, the prophet Jeremiah is feeling rejected and miserable. He has been prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, but, because this has not yet happened, he is seen as a fraud. Jeremiah starts to doubt God, and yet there is a burning fire within himself to call God’s people to repentance. However, when he announces this he is mocked. Jeremiah feels let down. 

Last week we read Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Following on from this, Jesus tells His disciples what must happen to Him:

He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Mt 16:21)

Jesus’ words must have come as something of a shock to the disciples. This isn’t what is supposed to happen to the Messiah, so Peter takes Jesus to one side and tells Him off! Peter cannot understand what needs to happen. He has forgotten prophecies like Isaiah 53 which tell of the Suffering Servant. Peter cannot take it in — he does not want Jesus’ prophetic words to take place. This is a very human response. We also don’t want such appalling things to happen. Then it is Peter’s turn to be told off. Jesus says to him:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mt 16:23)

In just a couple of verses Peter has gone from being the rock upon which the church will be built, to being Satan, the deceiver, the devil, and a stumbling block. Peter has run the whole length of the spectrum, from getting things right to getting them totally wrong. There are no half-measures with Simon Peter. He jumps in with both feet. He may be right or wrong, but he is certainly committed, and through this commitment Jesus sees Peter as a leader. But the disciples’ inability to understand what Jesus is saying has led him to try and oppose the will of God. Peter, the Rock, has become a stumbling-block, an obstacle, something to trip over. Peter can only see things in human terms, but God has something else in store. The Cross is inevitable for the simple reason that God loves us that much. However, the Cross is not just for Christ. It is for each and every one of as Christians: we are called to bear it ourselves.

As believers, we are to take up our Cross and follow Jesus. We should be under no illusion; it isn’t easy to take up the Cross. We cannot do it on our own, we have to do it together, as a community, relying upon God, and loving and forgiving each other. All the power, all the wealth in the world, is worth nothing compared to finding true life in Christ. Worldly things cannot save us, they cannot give us eternal life, they cannot wipe clean our sins. Only Jesus can do this, on the Cross. Only in Christ can we have life — life in its fullness. Only if we lose our old life by following Him, can we find what our human life can truly be.

Thus the Church, in following Jesus, offers a radical alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin, an alternative which has the power to change the world through being conformed to Christ. We can do this together, by living out our faith and encouraging others to do so; by living lives of profound love, something that is difficult, and costly, and wonderful. 

Today, through prayer, through our conversation with God, throughlistening to God, we are nourished by the Word of God, the Bible, to know that God loves us, and will help us to live out that love and forgiveness in our lives. We are also nourished by the sacraments of the Church, by Holy Communion, so that the love which God shows to the world on the Cross continues to be poured out upon us, so that we can be strengthened to live out the life of faith. It is food for our souls, so that we may be built up in love. Let us turn to the Living God, to be fed by Him, fed with Him, to have new life in Him, so that He can continue to transform our human nature and follow His example. Let us take up our Cross, as people ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven by the love of God on the Cross.

In the Letter to the Romans, St Paul describes what love in action looks like. We are guided as to how to put our faith, into practice in our lives: by living out the love and forgiveness which we have received, turning from the ways of the world and following the way of God. The Christian life is sacrificial in that it involves personal sacrifice, and also by uniting ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ. This world cannot save us, only Christ can do that. The ways of the world cannot give us true happiness, or eternal life. Their promises are false. Only Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6) can save us. Only Christ can transform us, and this transformation lies at the heart of the proclamation of the Kingdom. Only by losing our life can we find it.

As Christians we embrace paradox, because God loves us enough to be born as one of us, to proclaim and live out the truth, healing and reconciliation, which He longs to lavish upon us. In Christ, God dies so that we might live. Words cannot express just how earth-shattering and transformative Divine Love is. It is a mystery, in the fullest sense of the word. God’s love and mercy are greater than anything we can know or imagine. We keep making mistakes, but God’s love is unconditional, we cannot earn it, it is freely offered to transform us. Thus, our faith is the work of a lifetime. Day by day God’s grace can perfect our nature, if we are humble enough to let God be at work in us. We pray that God’s grace may transform us so that, in this life and the next, we and all creation may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.

A 4158

Twenty-first Sunday of Year A

Our first reading this morning is from the prophet Isaiah and is about a change in the appointment of a royal steward. God’s will is that Eliakim is given the power to control the royal palace, as he is someone who can be relied upon and trusted. At a deeper level the prophecy anticipates our Gospel reading.

And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (Isa 22:22)

The words look forward to Our Lord’s promise to St Peter, and remind us that God keeps His promises, and that we can trust what we read and hear in Scripture. 

One of the most important questions in the entire Bible is found in this morning’s Gospel: who do you say that Jesus is? How we answer this question can tell us a lot about our faith. It matters, and it is central to who and what we are as Christians.

Jesus and his disciples ventured into the District of Caesarea Philippi, an area about 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The region had tremendous religious implications, as the place was littered with the temples of the Syrian gods. Here was the elaborate marble temple that had been erected by Herod the Great, father of the then-ruling Herod Antipas. Here people worshipped the Roman Emperor as a God himself. You might say that the world religions were on display in this town. It was with this scene in the background that Jesus chose to ask the most crucial questions of his ministry.

Jesus looked at his disciples and in a moment of reflection said: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples begin sharing with Jesus what they have heard from the people who have been following Jesus: Some say that you are Elijah; others say John the Baptist, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. It has always been this way. Jesus has been seen by the masses in so many different ways. But Jesus then asks his disciples, ‘But who do YOU say that I am?’ (Mt 16:15) Peter answers ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God’ (Mt 16:16) This is a big claim to make. Saying that Jesus is divine was certainly problematic, as it undermined what Jews thought about religion, and also the claims made by Romans about the Emperor. It is a very radical thing to say, that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Hope of Israel, who fulfils the promises in the Prophets. 

Nowadays you can speak of Jesus as prophet, holy man, teacher, or spiritual leader, and few will object. But speak of Him as Son of God, Divine, of the same nature as the Father, and people will line up to express their disapproval. This is not a new phenomenon, the history of the Church is full of people who have disagreed on matters of doctrine. This is reason why the Church repeats the words of the Nicene Creed week by week. It is to remind ourselves of what we believe. As Christians in worship we stand up and make a public declaration of our faith, something which would once have led to our death at the hands of the state, and still does in some places today. Nonetheless, we believe that the Nature and Person of the Son of God (who and what Jesus is and does) is an important thing; it is central to our faith. 

As a result of Peter’s confession of faith Jesus makes the following promise:

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:17-19)

Jesus gives Simon a new name, Peter, which means the rock, a rock upon which Christ will build His Church. We know from the Gospel that a wise man builds his house on rock not sand (Mt 7:24-27). The Church is built upon Peter because he confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Our profession of faith makes us Christians. Because of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, sin death and Hell no longer rule over humanity. Christ has conquered, and His victory is complete. Peter is then given the power to bind or loose, which is in effect the power to forgive sin, through Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. The Church exists to bring people closer to God and to create in the world a kingdom of peace and reconciliation to heal the wounds of sinful humanity. The Church exists to make humanity holy, through all that Christ has done for us, and to share this with others and transform the world into the Kingdom of Peace which is what God wills for our good and our flourishing. This is a radical and transformative vision which begins with our acknowledgement of sin, admitting that we have fallen short, and that we cannot sort things out ourselves alone. Only God can do this, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, he has. God longs to heal our wounds because that is what the Kingdom is based upon: healing, reconciliation, transformation. This is what takes an enemy of the Church, Saul, a man who zealously sought to destroy the Church, and makes him its most ardent advocate. 

Thus, St Paul came to write to the Church in Rome:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33)

Paul knows this to be a reality because he can testify to the transforming power of God’s love. It is beyond words, beyond human understanding, because His love is a gift which asks for nothing in return. There is nothing we can give God. But we can live out the values of His Kingdom to enable us to flourish as men and women. We will often fail in this, just like St Peter, yet God’s love and mercy are always greater. We keep making mistakes, but God’s love is not conditional, we cannot earn it, it is freely offered to transform us. Thus, our faith is the work of a lifetime. Day by day God’s grace can perfect our nature, if we are humble enough to let God be at work in us. We pray that God’s grace may transform us so that, in this life and the next, we and all creation may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen

Mosaic from St Peter’s chapel in the crypt of Westminster Cathedral, London.
Fr Lawrence Lew OP, via Flickr,

The Assumption

TODAY THE CHURCH celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which commemorates her being taken up after death, body and soul, into Heaven. It is important to stress that Assumption is passive rather than active; Jesus ascends to Heaven, whilst Mary is assumed: one is active, the other passive. This is a profound difference. Jesus ascends because He is God, Mary is assumed because she is the Mother of God, and the model for all Christians to follow. Humble and obedient in her life, in her death she shares fully in the resurrection of her Son, and points the way for us as Christians. Where Mary goes, we hope to follow, trusting in the love and mercy of God. It is a sign to us as Christians that we can trust the promises of Christ who went to prepare a place for us, that where He is, we may also be. 

From the early days of the Church there is a tradition that Mary’s tomb, outside Jerusalem, is empty, and that her bodily remains are not there. From this developed the belief that after her death she was given a share in her Son’s glory, victory, and eternal life. This is both a reward for her faithfulness and humility, her obedience to God, and also as a sign to us that this is what Christ came to share with us, his people. God in Christ shares our human life, from beginning to end, and offers us eternal life in Heaven, which Mary enjoys. We can trust what God promises us, because God is loving and faithful, even when we are not. He is merciful, so that we can be transformed by His Love. This is the Good News of the Kingdom. We don’t deserve it, we cannot earn it, yet God gives it in loving generosity to heal all that has been marred by sin. 

In our first reading from the Book of Revelation, St John has a vision of Heaven:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (Revelation 12:1)

This is why Mary is often depicted this way in Art. At the foot of the Cross John was given a new family,

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)

John has been close to both Jesus and His Mother, Mary. In her earthly life, and now, John has a glimpse of her in Heavenly Glory, the Glory of her Son, Jesus Christ. The Church honours her as the Mother of God as without Mary saying, ‘Yes’ to God in the Annunciation, our salvation would not have been possible: we could not have the hope of heavenly glory, which she enjoys, close to God in this life and the next. 

Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come (Revelation 12:10)

John’s vision of Heaven shows us that we can have hope of eternal life, through Christ’s victory over sin and death. 

It is this hope which allows St Paul to write to the church in Corinth,

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1Corinthians 15:22)

Christ is the new Adam. Sunday, the day of His Resurrection is the first day of the week, and a sign of the New Creation, that God is healing the world of sin. Likewise, Mary is the new Eve, but whereas Eve is disobedient in the Garden, Mary is obedient in the Annunciation, she doesn’t say, ‘No’ she says, ‘Yes’ to God. Thus, Christ is born, and humanity can be saved, healed, and restored. Mary shares in her Son’s victory over sin and death as a Sign of the reality of the Resurrection, a promise made to humanity to share in God’s love and intimacy.

Our Gospel reading begins with a demonstration of Mary’s care and service. The Visitation is not a social call, but a sign of love, and an opportunity to proclaim the Kingdom. Her cousin Elisabeth is six months pregnant, and while her prayers for a child have been answered the realities of life mean that she needs help. Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, is busy in the Temple, so Mary comes in haste to help her cousin. As she arrives, Elizabeth’s baby leaps in her womb. John the Baptist greets Jesus and Mary with joy: even before his birth. He is a prophet, announcing the wonderful works of God. 

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:41)

Elizabeth recognises the wonderful thing that has happened, God’s promise is being fulfilled, He is faithful to His Covenant. As Elizabeth says to Mary, 

“Blessed is she who believed” (Luke 1:45)

Mary is indeed blessed in giving birth to the Saviour of humanity, blessed in her obedience, love, and service, and blessed after death to share in the Heavenly Glory of her Son. Mary trusts God, and so she is the example for Christians to follow in living our lives of faith. We need to be like her. 

That is why every evening the Church responds with Mary’s great hymn of praise, the Magnificat, which starts with the words, “My Soul doth Magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46). It shows her complete trust in God, a God who takes it upon Himself to deal with sin and death by giving us His Son. A God who establishes a kingdom of love, forgiveness, and generosity, through which the Church continues God’s work of love and reconciliation in the world. Despite all our sins and failures, God’s love and mercy is greater. All the readings this morning are rooted in the simple fact that God loves us, and Mary shows us how to respond to that love. Her Assumption gives us hope that when Jesus says:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’ (John 14:2) 

He is telling a great truth. God makes room for us, but can we make room for Him? Can we be like Mary, trusting God to be at work in us? Can we let His Grace perfect our nature, to live lives of hope and joyful service so that after our earthly life we may, in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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The Nineteenth Sunday of Year A (Mt 14:22-33)

God has an amazing ability to surprise us, and confound our expectations. It is a manifestation of God’s love for us, a love which sees us change and grow. We see this clearly in our first reading this morning. Elijah the prophet has been experiencing a crisis of faith. He is being persecuted by Jezebel, the wicked idol-worshipping Queen of Israel, and filled with despair, it all seems pointless and hopeless. Then God comes to him not in the wind, nor the earthquake, but in a still, small voice. Quietly, God promises that He will be faithful to those who have not worshipped idols. No matter how bleak the situation may appear, there is a fundamental trust that God is in control, and that all will be well. Elijah has faith in God, and in the power of that faith he brings Israel back to worship God. But he needs to learn the lesson that God is the God of love and mercy, and not just zeal: Elijah has been a fierce defender of God, he has put the prophets of Baal to death on Mt Carmel, but he now must see God’s gentleness in the still small voice, not in the fire or the whirlwind . It is an important lesson of the spiritual life. The gentleness of God is shown to us first and foremost in the Incarnation, where God is born among us in the quiet of Bethlehem. Such lessons are hard to learn. The world values noise and activity, yet God works in ways which defy our expectations and surprise us. 

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

This morning’s Gospel carries straight on from the miraculous feeding which we heard last week, as Jesus goes to send the crowds back home, he sends disciples ahead so that they might be ready for Him.

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.

Prayer is important, it is as important as the food we eat, the air we breathe, because it is about our relationship with God. Throughout the Gospels Jesus spends time alone, spends time close to the Father as this relationship is crucial. Where Jesus leads we should follow his example, and stay close to God in prayer. We tell God our hopes and fears and listen for Him to speak to us. Prayer precedes both the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes and the Walking on Water. When we start with prayer, we can let God do wonderful things.

When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 

It’s getting dark, and the disciples are out in the middle of the lake, in deep water; will the boat sink, what can they do? The Sea of Galilee can be a treacherous place, and they are afraid. Then something happens. 

And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 

But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

The disciples cannot believe that they are seeing Jesus, they think that it is a ghost, not a human being. But it is Jesus, and He encourages them, His presence can give them confidence. Once again, Jesus tells the disciples, and He tells us, ‘Paid ag ofni’ not to be afraid, not to fear the world, but to trust in Him. 

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’

As usual, Peter is the first to react, he takes the lead. Jesus speaks a single word to him, ‘Come’. He speaks it to each and every one of us as Christians, to come, to follow Him. We are called to be close to Jesus, and to live out our faith in our lives strengthened by prayer. Will we trust Jesus enough to follow Him? This is the challenge of the Christian life, our challenge to accept Jesus’ invitation and walk with Him.

“So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.’

Peter listens to what Jesus says, and obeys Him. Peter does something miraculous, something extraordinary: he walks on water, until he is distracted by the world around him, and becomes frightened. Likewise, in the power of God, we can do wonderful things, if we are not distracted by the cares of the world around us. If we listen to what Jesus tells us and do it.

But Peter becomes frightened; he starts to sink, as do we all when the cares of this world overwhelm us. His reaction is to cry ‘Lord, save me’ which Jesus does. Indeed, through Christ’s offering of himself upon the Cross Jesus saves each and every one of us, taking the sin of the world upon Himself so that we might be freed from sin, fear, and death. That same sacrifice will be made present, so that we the people of God, can be fed by God, to be strengthened to have life in Him, to be close to Him. 

Peter is rebuked for lacking faith, he still has to learn to trust Jesus. We too need to trust God, to have faith in Him, so that He can be at work in us and through us.

Once the wind has died down, the disciples bow down and worship Jesus, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ Our fulfilment is worship. This is what we are made for as humans and as Christians. We are to worship God, in our love and our prayer, so that our whole lives are an act of worship, drawing us ever closer to the source of life and love. So that all we say or think or do may proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, so that they may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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The Eighteenth Sunday of Year A (Mt 14:13-21) The Feeding of the Five Thousand

I must admit that our readings this morning have unsettled me somewhat. The joyful character of both Isaiah and the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand in Matthew’s Gospel seem far removed from how life is here and now for many people. The feelings of hope, joy, celebration, and social interaction, are far removed from the fear and concern which have been characterising our daily lives. And yet, despite our fears, there remains in Scripture a promise of hope for the future, as God says in the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘Paid ag ofni, Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’ (Isa 43:1). We respond in trust, not that things are fine now, but that they will be. God is someone whom we can trust, who will never disappoint us. As the Psalmist says, ‘our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Ps 46:1) if we cast our burden upon Him, He will sustain us (cf. Ps 55:22). 

In our first reading this morning we hear God’s generous promise to His people. In the manner of a market trader God offers nourishment and refreshment, but not for profit! It is free! God offers water, wine, milk, and bread, food to nourish us, and drink to refresh us. It is a foretaste of the banquet of the Kingdom, in the Eucharist, where we are nourished and fed by God. The passage speaks of God’s covenant with His people, a relationship of love, that we can trust. God, who knows our needs, freely gives to his people love and grace, so that they may have life in all in all its fullness. These promises are fulfilled in Christ, who makes an everlasting covenant with us through His Body and His Blood. 

God’s generosity is freely offered, but it can be rejected. We see this in our second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Unlike the joy and optimism of the previous chapter which we heard last week, here are Israelites who reject Christ and cause St Paul great sorrow and anguish. The rejection of God’s generosity is painful, but it is the price of freedom. We cannot be compelled to accept what God offers, that would not be generous. Instead, we are free to accept or reject what God holds out for us. 

Picture the scene: Jesus has just been told that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been put in prison and killed. Jesus has lately been to Nazareth, where he was rejected, by the very people who should have accepted him. It is not for nothing that this morning’s Gospel passage begins with Jesus withdrawing to the desert: to be alone, to pray, to be close to God.

When the people hear where Jesus has gone they follow him, they walk out from the towns into the desert, wanting to see Jesus, and to hear him teach them. When Jesus gets out of the boat he sees a great mass of people and has compassion on them. He is moved by the sight of them, and their need. Jesus heals the sick to show that the Kingdom of God is a place of healing, where humanity can be restored through an encounter with the divine. Jesus’ actions and words proclaim the power of God to heal and restore humanity.

It is getting late, the sun is fast moving towards the West, and the disciples tell him to send the crowds away so that they can buy food. Instead Jesus says that the people do not need to go away, and tells the disciples to give them something to eat. The disciples obey Him, but cannot see how five loaves and two fish can possibly feed the thousands of people who have come to be close to Jesus.

The five loaves represent the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The Books of the Law, the Torah, which show Israel how to live, and how to love God. The two fish represent the Law and the Prophets, so that, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ (Mt 4:4) The law and the Prophets point to Jesus, the Word made flesh: they find their fulfilment and true meaning in Him. The hopes of Israel, for the future, for a Messiah, are fulfilled in Him. Just like Israel after crossing the Red Sea here the People of God are fed by God in the desert. There is so much food left over at the end that there is enough to fill twelve baskets, one for each of the disciples, and for each tribe of Israel. In human terms, five loaves and two fish is not enough to feed everyone, but it is more than sufficient in divine terms. Just like at the Wedding feast in Cana, here we see that the Kingdom of God is a place of joy and abundance, of generosity, which isn’t concerned with scrimping or with the ‘good enough’,rather it is a place of lavish excess. This is what the church is supposed to be like: this is meant to be the model for our lives as Christians.

The multiplication of the loaves is not some conjuring trick, meant to amaze us, or to show us how powerful God is. It is a sign of God’s generous love for humanity. This is what God does for us, so that we can respond in a profound and radical way, and thereby change the world. Jesus has been rejected by the people of Nazareth and He responds by feeding people until they are satisfied, until they have had enough, and there is still plenty left over. Likewise, God’s love and mercy are inexhaustible, and are shown and poured out upon the world in Jesus Christ and in his death upon the Cross for our salvation.

Jesus takes the bread and fish, He blesses them, He breaks them and He gives them, actions which look forward to the Last Supper on the night before He died. Jesus told His disciples to carry on doing this in remembrance of Him, so that the Church could continue to be fed by Him and with Him, as a sign of His love for us, so that we might have life and forgiveness in Him.

Let us today be fed with the living bread, the bread which came down from heaven, so that it may feed our souls, so that we may be healed and restored by him. Let us be moved by the lavish generosity of God, and encouraged to live it out in our lives, in our thoughts, our words, and our actions, so that all that we are, all that we say or think or do, will proclaim the truth of God’s saving love to the world, so that we too can enter into the joy of the Lord and come to the banquet of the Kingdom, where all are welcomed, and healed.

Filled with God’s grace, may we live generously and encourage others to share in the generosity of the Kingdom, so that all come to believe believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Homily for the 17th Sunday of Year A

The last time the world experienced something like current pandemic was a century ago, in the  Spanish ‘Flu outbreak of 1918-1920. But because of news blackouts and the trauma of the Great War, it was largely forgotten about. It’s quite understandable. You want to shut the door on the past and get on with life. While it is understandable, it isn’t necessarily the most healthy way of dealing with a traumatic situation. Instead, we are much better when we acknowledge how we feel, and give ourselves permission to feel thaåt way. 

Over the last few months all of of us have felt some strong difficult emotions: Fear, Pain, Anger, Loneliness, Frustration, to name but a few. I know that I have, and that I’m not alone. These are perfectly normal and natural feelings. They occur many times in the Bible, throughout the Psalms, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the Book of Job. Closing churches for public worship is not something that happens often, normally only in times of plague or civil unrest. It is disconcerting, and while we are beginning the process of reopening, and worshiping together again, I suspect that it will continue to feel very strange for some time to come. That’s ok! We can acknowledge the strangeness and then try to get on with things together. This morning’s first reading gives us a starting point: Solomon replies to God’s invitation, ‘Ask what I shall give you’ by asking for understanding to discern what is right. We too need to rely on God to give us the wisdom to do the right thing. We also need to acknowledge that we are not in control, all things are in the hands of God, a God who loves us.

Likewise in Paul’s Letter to the Romans we see that when we cannot even find the words to pray to God, we need not worry. We have the words of others. We have the words of the Lord’s Prayer, how Jesus taught the disciples to pray. But when words, even those of others, fail us, we know that God hears the cry of the human heart. We simply need to put ourselves into the presence of God and trust Him to be at work in us. A God from whose love we can never be separated. This is something precious, something wonderful, something to give us encouragement and hope for the future. 

As Christians, we believe and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. Through repentance and faith, we enter into a relationship with a generous and loving God, who demonstrates that love and generosity most fully by dying on the Cross and rising from the Tomb. This is heart of our faith, that God does something wonderful for us, to show us how to live, and to deepen HIs relationship with us. 

That’s all well and good, but what difference does it make to us, here, now? The question is, how can the negative emotions which we feel be turned into something positive? The answer is: by handing them over to God whose Kingdom is a place of healing and reconciliation. This is what the Cross shows us: torture and death become the greatest demonstration of healing love. God doesn’t have a magic wand to wave in order to make everything right. No, love is costly, it involves sacrifice, and it can transform the world. 

So, at one level, God has done the hard work for us. The question is how do we cooperate with God and His grace, to make the Kingdom a reality here and now? Jesus gives us some advice in the Sermon in the Mount: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5: 3). To be poor in spirit is to be humble, to know and acknowledge our need of God, our reliance upon Him. We do this when we pray, ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, deled dy deyrnas, gwneler dy ewyllys; megis yn y nef, felly ar y ddaear hefyd. ’ It’s God’s Kingdom, God’s Will, and God’s Church, not ours. If we truly believe this, then wonderful things are possible. 

Our experience over the last few months has taught us what really matters: the communities in which we live, our family, our relationships, the people we love. They cannot be bought or sold, but are of infinite value, because they are rooted and grounded in love. Only by living out the same costly love and reconciliation shown to us by Jesus Christ can we have any hope of achieving anything. Jesus’ teaching isn’t theory, but something we need to put into practice in our lives. Relationships are characterised by giving love and offering forgiveness, and through that we all grow in love together. The transformation starts with us, we have to be the change we want to see. It starts with conversion, turning towards a loving God, a God whose arms are flung wide to embrace the world upon the Cross. This is how we need to live, to live like Jesus: generously, loving and forgiving.

We have an example to follow, but the truth is that we aren’t very good at it. It is easy not to: just spread a bit of gossip, harbour a grudge, there are thousands of little ways to undermine the Kingdom. And we all fall into them, despite our best intentions. I know that I do, we all do. The point is not that we fail, but that we keep trying. That’s why it is the work of a lifetime, a lifetime of failing, seeking forgiveness, and trying to love, trying to live out the Kingdom. It is something we cannot achieve on our own, we need God, and we need each other: a community of faith. Only such a community of faith that we call the Church can offer the world the healing and reconciliation it longs for and needs, now more than ever. God’s love, lived out in our own lives, is the pearl of great price, the treasure which is old and new, two thousand years old, and yet lived out anew in the lives of Christians every day. We pray that we might live our lives for each other and for the glory of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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16th Sunday of Yr A (Mt 13: 24-43)

One of the interesting things of the last few months is that people have developed an interest in baking and bread-making. It never ceases to amaze me that such a small amount of yeast is able to leaven such a large quantity of flour, making the bread light, fluffy, and much more pleasant to eat. It is an image used by Jesus in this morning’s Gospel to describe the kingdom of heaven. Christians are to be like yeast, something small which can have a great effect, something remarkable, something good. It’s a challenge, and that is the point. The conditions need to be right for the yeast to work, but the effect is tremendous. Likewise a mustard seed, while only the size of the head of a pin can, in the Middle East, grow into a six-foot shrub in a year. The growth is remarkable. Such an illustration should give us hope, that God always has good things in store for us, if we trust in Him.

The main parable Jesus uses to teach about the Kingdom is that of the Wheat and the Tares, the Good and the Bad. Rather than getting rid of the weeds and damaging the crop, both are left until the harvest. 

It is very tempting to want God to act immediately, and especially when WE want God to act. Thankfully God’s plan is a bit more long-term. We need to wait. Waiting isn’t much fun. The world around us tells that we can have what we want when we want it. Thankfully, our experiences over the last few months have shown us that this is not always the case, and that is a good thing. In the parable we see that God is patient and compassionate. God loves us, and His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts like ours. Rather than making God be more like us, we have to try to be more like God: loving and patient. As humans we will make mistakes, which call us to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, so that we can continue to grow in holiness. It takes time. There isn’t a magic wand which can be waved to make instant holy Christians. By God’s grace it is the work of a lifetime. I know that I’m not there yet. I’m still very much a work in progress. And that is ok. The message of the parable is that God is patient, and that we need to be so as well. It is difficult, but if nothing else our experience of the last few months has taught us that patience is a good thing, and that we will need to continue to be patient, with each other and ourselves, as we try to live our lives and to continue to make the kingdom a reality here and now.

We help to make it a reality by proclaiming that Jesus comes to save us from Sin, Death, and Hell. He does this first by proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom and secondly by dying for us on the Cross, bearing the burden of our sins, and overcoming the power of death and Hell, and rising again to New Life. The Church preaches Christ Crucified, and offers salvation in and through Christ alone. Sins can be forgiven, and new life offered to all.

Let us pause for a moment to consider something important. In the Gospel, the time for the separation of wheat and weeds is not yet. There is still time, time for repentance, time to turn away from Sin, and to turn to Christ. The proclamation of the Kingdom is one which calls people to repent, and to believe. It calls us to have a change of heart, and to turn away from the ways of the world, the ways of selfishness, which alienate us from God and each other. It is not merely an event, but rather a process, a continual turning towards Christ, and reliance upon His love and mercy, a turning to Him in prayer, being nourished and transformed by our reading of the Bible, and being nourished with the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

The good news is that we are not simply condemned, and we, all of us, have time to make sure that we are wheat and not weeds. Ours is a generous and a loving God, who longs to see His people reconciled, healed, and redeemed. The fact that the wheat and the weeds can grow together until the harvest is done for the sake of the wheat, lest it be pulled up by accident. Ours then is a patient God, who provides us with the opportunity for repentance, time to turn our lives around and follow him. And the Church, just like the world is made up of people good and bad. We are on various stages of a journey, and we are given all the chances possible to rely on God’s transforming grace in our lives.

It is a hopeful message, a message of healing and reconciliation, that God does not simply give up on us, but rather does all he can to make sure that we are wheat and not weeds. It is the wonder of the Cross, that God sends his Son out of love for humanity, of you and me, to suffer and die for us, to show us the depth of God’s love, That He rises from the tomb so show us that death is not the end, to give us hope. It is the best news there is. And we are told about it now, so that we can do something about it, and we can tell other people too. We can share the message so that others can hear, and repent, and believe, and live new lives in Christ, freed from slavery to sin. So that all the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Easter VII (The Sunday after Ascension) Acts 1:12-14, 1Peter 4:13-14, John 17:1-11

So that they may be one, as we are one

The ten days between Ascension and Pentecost is something of a strange time, a time of waiting, of anticipation, which speaks very powerfully to our present predicament. It is a time to wait and pray, which feels particularly apposite at this moment in time. Likewise the advice of the First Letter of Peter speaks powerfully when it says, ‘But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, … because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you’ (1Peter 4:13-14 ESV) We receive the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. He lives in us, and we can unite our sufferings with those of Christ, and be drawn ever closer to Him.

The Gospel this morning has taken us back to the Garden of Gethsemane, where in the seventeenth Chapter of John’s Gospel , after celebrating the Last Supper with His disciples, Jesus goes out to spend time in prayer. It can seem strange to suddenly look back to Maundy Thursday seven weeks after we have celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, but there is a very good reason to do such a thing. The prayer we have just heard is a conversation between God the Son and God the Father. It is a moment of intimacy, a private moment which shows us their relationship, something extraordinary, something wonderful, we don’t often think of prayer in these terms, but currently there is a world-wide initiative, called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ which calls upon Christians everywhere to do something wonderful together. Between the Ascension and Pentecost we are asked to be like the Apostles in the first chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, just like they did, and for us all to do this together, to pray for unity and the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Prayer is a funny old thing, and most people probably think of it as asking God for things: please watch over my parents as they travel, please help me pass this examination, hopefully in our language of prayer we can also find time to say thank you for all the good things of this life, and to say sorry for when we’ve not been good enough, and also time to say, ‘I love you’ the prayer of adoration that we may be drawn closer to God. It’s a powerful thing, and a wonderful thing. It is ordinary, yet able to do amazing things:

It can be all to easy in life to think that what God wants is something big and difficult, when actually the opposite is what is required. The key to it all is humility: knowing our need of God. Those who are poor in Spirit, those who are humble can be filled with God’s Spirit, because they rely upon Him, they know their need of him. They know that God can do what we cannot, and they trust Him.

There it is plain and simple: prayer, it can change the world, and for the last two thousand years it has been changing the church and the world, one soul at a time, the wonderful revolution of God’s love at work in the world. In His prayer before his Passion, Jesus prays that we may be one, as He and the Father are one. He prays for unity, it is Jesus’ will for the church, and it is clear that the first apostles did what Jesus wanted them to do, as we can see form the Acts of the Apostles. They listened to Jesus, and did what He told them to do. We have to do the same.

‘And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.’ (Acts 1:13-14 ESV)

Here is unity, unity of will and purpose, and we hope to share that here and now. They are devoted to prayer, and we can be too. While the church is not as united as we would like it to be, or as God would like it to be, we can at least say that we are trying to do God’s will. It is something that we can all try and do together. So let us do it. Let us pray for unity, and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, to fill the Church with love, with grace, with forgiveness, with reconciliation, that we can heal the wounds of the past, and be drawn into unity and love, by the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing our need of God, and our reliance upon Him. If we ask, God will both hear our request, and grant it (if it is His will). 

So as we stay put, and wait and pray with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray that God may be at work in us, that He will fill us with his love, and transform our lives, building us up, and giving us strength to live His life and to proclaim His truth, to offer the world that which it most earnestly desires, a peace, a joy and a freedom which pass human understanding, and the gift of eternal life in Christ. Let us pray that we are strengthened so that we can proclaim in word and deed what wonderful things God has done through his Son, Our Saviour Jesus Christ. That all that we are and do may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father, and that the world may be filled with his love so that all may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Homily for the Ascension (Acts 1:1-11 Eph 1:17-23 Mt 28:16-20)

Today can often feel a somewhat strange day, a day of slightly mixed emotions, and this year more than most, when we are not able to be together to pray, to worship Almighty God, and be nourished with Holy Communion. We are not celebrating Jesus’ departure from the earth, but His return to God the Father, Christ’s abiding presence with us, and what He asks of us, and promises to us. It is a day of celebration and expectation, looking forward to the future in love and hope. 

The disciples have had six weeks to used to the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead, having carried the burden of our sins and experienced the pain and estrangement which separates God and humanity. That wound has been healed by His glorious wounds. Before Jesus returns to the Father, He makes the apostles a promise: they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4), receive power, and be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Christ is looking forward to Pentecost, to the church’s future, in which we live now.

In Matthew’s Gospel, before Jesus leaves the apostles, He gives them a commission, they are sent out to do something together. Jesus begins (Mt 28:18) by stating that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him. He is God, God is sovereign, and rules over everything, and it reminds us of the moment during Christ’s temptation by the devil, before the start of His public ministry, which we read on the First Sunday of Lent. The devil offers the world to Jesus, but it is not his to give, it belongs to God, who created it. Our worship is rooted in the fact that we have a relationship with a God who made us, redeemed us, and loves us. 

Jesus tells the apostles (28:19) to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The church exists to be sent out to make disciples. Baptism is what makes us Christians. In it we share in Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection, and through it God gives us the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. Through our faith in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, filled with the hope of heaven, our supernatural end, to enjoy the vision of God, who is love. Loving God and our neighbour, this is the very heart of the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom, along with the call of Jesus and John the Baptist that we should ‘Repent and believe the Gospel, and be baptised’. For two thousand years our message has been the same. 

Jesus tells the apostles to teach us all that He has commanded them (28:20). The Church is called to hand on what has been delivered to it, this is tradition, and it stops us from making mistakes, by deviating from what Christ teaches us through the Church. Our religion makes demands of us, and calls us to be faithful to the apostles’ teaching, and to live it out in our lives, putting theory into practice and becoming living witnesses of the Kingdom. This is difficult, and it is where Christians fall down most often. But the Good News is that in Christ we have forgiveness of sin. We can repent, and turn away from our mistakes, and turn back to a God who loves us. We are not abandoned or cast aside, but embraced in love. 

Finally Jesus says to the apostles, ‘Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (28:20) Christ is with us. How? In four ways: first in Scripture, the Word of God, which speaks of Christ, and finds its fulfilment in Him. It is true, and the source of truth. He is with us in the Sacraments, outward visible signs of the inward spiritual grace God pours out upon us, to fill us with His love. He is with us in the Holy Spirit which he pours out upon us, to strengthen us, and fill us with love. And finally He is with us in the Church, which is His Body, where we are united with Christ, in a relationship with Him, and each other. 

Jesus makes promises which are true. We can trust Him, and like the apostles we can prepare for the Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in prayer, and joyful expectation, knowing that we will never be abandoned, but that we are always united to, and loved by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as it most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen

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Easter IV (The Good Shepherd)

We mark time: day and night, weeks, months, years, and seasons. The Church’s Liturgical Year is a very good thing indeed. It divides up time and it focusses our attention on certain things: allowing us the time to contemplate the mysteries of the Christian Faith. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is an event which requires serious contemplation. We need time to let it sink in, and to explore what it means for us and our faith. It is the defining moment of our faith, one which gives Christians the hope that our death is not the end, that this life is not all that there is, and that because of who Christ is, namely God, and what He has done: died for us to take away our sin, and rise again to give us the hope of eternal life in Him.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says of himself, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ It discloses something important about Who and What He is — Jesus is one who tends, who looks after His sheep. The Jews in the Temple for the celebration of Hanukkah in the Gospel don’t seem to have been listening. Jesus has told them clearly and they do not believe that He is the Messiah. What Christ does in the Gospels testifies to Who and What He is: the Word made flesh, God with us.

Those of us who are in the Church, through our Baptism belong to Christ, we are His. So we are to listen to what Jesus tells us, in the words of Scripture and through prayer. Jesus knows us and we know him — in word and sacrament, through the outpouring of His grace, and so we follow Christ, we do what He tells us to do: to love, to forgive each other. We are humble, we don’t think of ourselves as better than we are, we know our need of, and our dependance upon God. We put our faith into practice in our lives, so that it becomes a reality in the world.

Christ offers us eternal life, as we share in His death, so we too share in His Resurrection, and are assured of eternal life with Him, something wonderful and freely given, and a reason why we, as the Church, celebrate Easter in an extravagant and exuberant way, because it is a sign that God loves us, and saves us. We are sharing in that Eternal Life here and now, as we are nourished by Him, in Word and Sacrament, strengthened by Him, to live His risen life, here and now. 

In Revelation, as St John experiences heavenly worship he states, ‘For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:17 ESV). The Lamb will be our shepherd: Christ will care for us, and keep us safe. A Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep as Christ has done through His Death and Resurrection. To drink living water is to experience the fulness of life in God, filled with the Holy Spirit. Christ guides us to that in our baptism, when we are filled with the Spirit and made part of the Church. 

So we listen to Christ’s voice, in the Bible. We hear Him speak to us, and through this we listen to Him, and obey Him. That is how we know Christ and follow Him. It affects who we are and how we live, as people of love, loved by God. We are prepared here on earth for the life of heaven, for worship, and closeness to God. We have a foretaste of that closeness in Holy Communion where Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, so that we may be transformed by it, more and more into His likeness. It changes us, so that we, by the grace of God, in the power of His Holy Spirit, may become what we are: made in the image of God. That image is restored in us by Christ’s death and resurrection. Through it we come to share in the intimacy of the divine life. As Christ says, ‘I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:30 ESV)  As Michael Ramsay said, ‘God is Christlike, and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all’ [God, Christ & the World: A Study in Contemporary Theology, London 1969, 98] When we see Jesus, we see God, when we hear Him speak, we hear the voice of God. We can know who God is, the creator and redeemer of the universe, through His Son, Jesus Christ. God is no longer distant, or an angry man on a cloud, but a loving Father, as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and a Son who loves us so much that He suffers and dies for us, to give us life in Him. This is God who goes after lost sheep, who longs to love and heal and reconcile, who can heal our wounds if we let Him.

God loves us; we can say this with the utmost confidence because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it all proclaims the same truth: God loves us, not because we’re worthy of it, but so that we might become what God is. It is what we celebrate at Easter, it lies at the heart, the very core of our faith as Christians. It’s why we are what we are, and why we do what we do, to proclaim this simple truth to the world.

We can have peace through our relationship with the Trinity, the source of our peace, and joy, and love. Grounded in this relationship we need not be afraid or troubled – we are free to live lives which proclaim God’s love and victory so that the world may believe. Through God loving us, we can truly love him and each other. We experience this most clearly at the Eucharist when Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, which He as both priest and victim offers on the Altar of the Cross. That self same sacrifice which heals the world through the outpouring of God’s love feeds us here and now. We are fed so that we may be nourished and share in the divine life and the joy of heaven. We receive the free gift of God’s grace so that it may perfect our human nature, so that we may go where Our Lord is going, and share in the joy, and love, and peace of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Easter II (John 20:19-31)

AT this precise moment in time I suspect that many of us are feeling frustration. I know that I am. We are frustrated that we are not able to worship together, and celebrate the joy of Easter, of Christ’s triumph over Death and Hell. We feel left out and unhappy. This is perfectly understandable. We should feel deprived, because we are, even if it is to serve a greater good, preventing infection and saving human life. But it is also an opportunity for us to take our frustration and longing and offer it to God, that He may take it and transform it, by uniting it with the suffering of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

We are also in good company this week with the apostles, and one in particular: St Thomas, who was not with the other disciples when Our Lord appeared to them on that first Easter Day. Thomas is frustrated, angry even, he cannot believe that the Resurrection is a reality, he wants to experience it, and God takes his longing and transforms it into a profound expression of faith, love, and hope. What God did then, He continues to do now. He can take our emotions, sanctify them, and transform them, so that we are filled with Divine Love and Mercy, which ever flow from Our Lord’s Most Sacred Heart, pierced by a spear, and from which flowed blood and water: healing streams of compassion, poured out upon the world. 

When the disciples are sat in a locked room, afraid of persecution Christ comes among them and says, ‘Tangnefedd i chwi’ ‘Peace be with you’. Christ comes to give them peace. He gives them a peace which the world cannot give, because it is not of this world. The peace Christ which comes to give us is the peace won on the Cross, which has reconciled God and humanity. This wonderful relationship leads to the disciples being sent, as Christ was, to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, and of new life in Christ. Christ empowers His Apostles with the Holy Spirit, to forgive sins, and carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation. The church exists to do just this, to proclaim and reconcile, to carry on Christ’s work in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit.

All of us can, I think, understand Thomas’ frustration at not being there, particularly at this moment in time. It isn’t that Thomas doubts, he wants to believe, and to experience the reality of his Risen Lord, and not to be left out. It’s a very human reaction. So when Jesus is with them again on Sunday, He greets them with Peace, and offers his hands and side to Thomas. Christ gives Thomas what he wants, proof that it is really Jesus, who has truly risen from the dead. When faced with the reality of the Risen Jesus, Thomas can only say, ‘My Lord and My God’. Thomas confesses that Jesus is Lord and God, the sole supreme authority, above anything of this world. He worships God in Christ. We do the same, and we are blessed because we have not seen and yet believe. We believe because of the witness of Thomas, and others, down through the centuries, who have proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ, even at great personal cost. As St Peter and the apostles said, ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29 ESV) Christians around the world follow their lead, and to this day face imprisonment, torture, and death, for their belief in Christ. They do so gladly, because of who Christ is, and what He has done. We may not face suicide bombers in our churches, thank God. But we are no less resolved to bear witness to Christ. We may be ignored by the world around us, but we carry on bearing witness to the love and reconciliation which Christ brings, and which nothing else can. We continue, ‘so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31 ESV) Christ comes to bring us life, in His Incarnation, in His Life and Preaching, and in His Death and Resurrection. He gives us His Life, through our Baptism, and through the Eucharist. We are united with Christ, and transformed by Him, to live His life in the world, filled with His Holy Spirit. This is good news, which we long to share with others, so that they may come to know Christ, and experience His Love. The Church exists to deal with the mess we make as human beings, through what Jesus has done for us, in the power of His Holy Spirit. The Church is to be a community of reconciliation, where we are forgiven and we, in turn, forgive. It is to be a place where we are freed from sin, its power and its effects.

The disciples go from being scared and stuck in an upper room to become missionaries, evangelists, spreading the Good News around the world, regardless of the cost, even of sacrificing their own lives simply to bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he rose again, on this day for us, that God loves us and tells us to love Him and to love one another. It is a simple and effective message which people still want to hear — we need to tell it to them, in our thoughts, our words and our actions.

The heart of our faith and the Gospel is forgiveness and mercy — no matter how many times we mess things up, we are forgiven. It is this reckless generosity of spirit which people find hard to believe that they too can be forgiven, by a loving God, and by their fellow Christians. That we can, despite our manifold shortcomings be a people of love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. That God’s Grace will in the end not abolish our nature, but perfect it, that being fed by Christ, with Christ: so that we too may become what He is. That faced with the sad emptiness of the world, and its selfishness, its greed, we can be filled with joy, and life, and hope. That like the first apostles we too can spread the Gospel: that the world may believe.

So let us be filled with the joy of the Resurrection this Easter, let us share that joy with others, may it fill our lives and those of whom we meet with the joy and love of God, who has triumphed and who offers us all new life in Him, that all that we do, all that we are, all that we say or think may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Easter 2020 [John 20:1-9]

Easter is for Christians a time of celebration, a feast which we continue to celebrate for fifty days until Pentecost. We do this because it is the most important day of the year for us, because Jesus Christ not only died for us on the Cross, but rose again from the dead. For Christians Death does not have the last word, it is not the end, quite the opposite, it is the start of New Life.

We are used to hearing the proclamation of the Easter message, to the point that we can run the risk of becoming immune to the strangeness of what we are celebrating. Easter is odd: bodies don’t usually rise from tombs. In today’s Gospel, Mary of Magdala simply cannot understand what is going on. St Peter goes into the tomb and sees the cloths lying there, but only the other disciple, St John, both sees and believes, because he looks with the eyes of faith. John has listened to what Jesus has said, and understands what has happened, and how it has been foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures. He sees and understands because he LOVES.

This Easter we are not able to worship together, as we usually do. Instead, for our own safety and the safety of others, we have to worship on our own. But this does not mean that our worship ceases, not at all. This is a hard and a painful time for all of us, because as Christians we are a family, we worship TOGETHER. But while we are not able to do this together physically, we can still be united spiritually. So what can we do? We can read scripture, and we can pray: for the church, for the world, for each other, for all dealing with the current pandemic, for the sick and suffering, and for the dead and dying. We do this because God hears our prayers, and because prayer changes us. It makes us more loving, more generous, more forgiving, and more keen to seek forgiveness. 

This is how we grow in faith, and we can do it whether we are together, or we are apart. It is difficult in this current isolation, but it is by no means impossible. We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia’ is our song. We are called to rejoice, regardless of what is happening, regardless of what we may face in this life, because the source of our joy is God, as the prophet Nehemiah says, ‘Go on your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10 ESV) God does not disappoint us, and Christ’s resurrection is as true today as it ever was. Christ has conquered sin and death, and risen victorious from the grave, breaking down the bars of Hell and leading souls to Heaven, so we rejoice. As St Paul writes to the Church in Rome: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:35-39 ESV) So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, ‘Pasg hapus i chi gyd!’ ‘A Happy Easter to you all!’ May the joy and peace of the Risen Lord fill your hearts and lives, both now and always. Amen. 

If you wish to, you can make a Spiritual Communion: the means of grace by which someone, prevented from sharing in a celebration of the Eucharist, nonetheless shares in the communion of Jesus Christ. Please pray the prayer below:

My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

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Maundy Thursday 2020

I WOULD LIKE to begin this evening by sharing something with you from my own experience: In February 2012 I was fortunate to have undertaken a pilgrimage to Rome with other pilgrims from Leicester, Nottingham and the Midlands. The journeys both to and from the Eternal City were not entirely unproblematic. Due to the first snowfall in Rome in twenty-five years both our arrival and departure were somewhat delayed. Our flight home was finally cancelled on the Saturday afternoon, and we had spent several hours waiting in the airport to try and find out what was going on. Tired and confused, we got back on a bus and returned to the Hotel where we had been staying.

As part of our pilgrimage we had celebrated the Eucharist in a variety of local churches — a generous gesture, but one which had been planned long in advance. It was now Sunday, and nothing had been arranged — we had all expected to be back at home, what could we do? We couldn’t simply walk into a church, so we went to one of the larger rooms on the first floor and rearranged the furniture. Priests had vestments with them, some wine was bought, and we had some bread and water with us already, a couple of wineglasses and a plate. Forty or so of us squeezed into this upper room, some stood, some reclined on the beds, or sat. We had gathered on the outskirts of the city as the first Christians, to whom the Apostle Paul wrote his letter did, on that the day of the Lord’s Resurrection we had gathered in a way not unlike Our Lord and the Disciples did on this very night. It all felt very real, we were aware that despite the strange, slightly cobbled-together nature of things, God was very close indeed; we were doing just what Christians have done ever since our Lord and Saviour commanded us to do it in memory of him.

That is why the church celebrates this evening the fact that before Jesus was arrested, on the night before He suffered and died for us, He took bread and wine, gave thanks to God for them, and gave them to His disciples, and told them to DO THIS in remembrance of Him. For nearly two thousand years, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, the church has continued to obey Christ’s command. And we will continue so to do until the end of time. 

Yet this year it feels profoundly different: I am not able to celebrate the Institution of the Eucharist in church with you, the people of God. Instead, in isolation, at home using a sideboard in the dining room, I will begin to enter the three holiest days of the Church’s Year, by doing what the Church has always done. We are united in spirit even if we cannot be together physically, for our own safety and health, and that of others, especially the most vulnerable. The domestic setting of this evening’s liturgy mirrors its origins in an upper room in Jerusalem, and at one level it does not matter WHERE it is done, but that it is done. That it is done in isolation is painful, for me and for you, but our pain and isolation gives us a window into the pain and isolation which Our Lord Jesus Christ felt in His Passion and Death. We are being invited this year to share in Christ’s sufferings, so that we may be transformed by them. As Christians we follow Christ and enter into His Passion, so that we may also share the joy of His Resurrection. That’s the point: there is HOPE. Now as then, death is not the end. Despite the pain, the betrayal, the fear, the anger of the crowd, they do not have the last word.

Christianity is a joyful religion, which celebrates the fact that God loves us, was born as one of us, lived and died and rose again, for us. At the end of this evening’s Gospel Reading Jesus speaks to his disciples thus, ‘For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.’ (John 13:15 ESV) Christ gives His disciples an example of service to remind them that is particularly relevant to those of us who are ordained, and called to fashion our lives after the example of Our Lord, following HIS example and living it out in our lives. This is a most wonderful and humbling task which can fill us with both joy and fear and I would humbly ask that you continue to pray for me as I continue to serve God and you, His people. It is loving service for our Lord to feed his disciples with His own Body and Blood. Tonight, Christ institutes the Eucharist, taking bread and wine that they might become His Body and Blood, which will soon suffer and die for US. The Church exists to carry on the offering of the Son to the Father, to make it present across space and time.

On this night Christ institutes the priesthood and sets His disciples apart to carry on His saving work in the world. We who follow in their footsteps are shown in the clearest possible way that to love Him, to care for His people, is to serve them. We are to imitate the mysteries which we celebrate: offering our lives in His service and the service of His church. It is truly extraordinary that we should have such a responsibility placed on our shoulders. We are all of us, if the truth be told, utterly incapable of such a task if we were acting solely in our own strength and our own abilities. But through the grace of God, and with the help of the prayers of you His people, it is our hope that we may conform ourselves ever more closely to Christ, our great High Priest.

As Mother Theresa said, ‘Prayer in action is love, love in action is service’. Christ shows us that and asks us to imitate Him, in His Passion and Death, suffering as He suffered, being generous and humble as He is, in our love and service. 

God shows us what true love, true glory, and true service are. The world cannot fully understand this: it goes against everything people are told about putting themselves and their lives first, to judge their importance or worth by what they own, rather than how they live their lives. In its selfish searching, what it truly wants and needs is to be healed, to be embraced by a loving God. That is why it tomorrow on the Cross our Lord’s Arms will be flung wide open to embrace the world with God’s love.

Let us be strengthened by Him, to fashion our lives after His. Let us prepare to go to Calvary with Him, laying down our lives in His service, picking up our Cross and following Him, to death and beyond, to the new life of Easter. Let us live His risen life, and share our joy with others, that the world may come to believe and trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now, and forever. Amen. 

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St John Henry Newman: The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World

“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” John xii. 32.

A GREAT number of men live and die without reflecting at all upon the state of things in which they find themselves. They take things as they come, and follow their inclinations as far as they have the opportunity. They are guided mainly by pleasure and pain, not by reason, principle, or conscience; and they do not attempt to interpret this world, to determine what it means, or to reduce what they see and feel to system. But when persons, either from thoughtfulness of mind, or from intellectual activity, begin to contemplate the visible state of things into which they are born, then forthwith they find it a maze and a perplexity. It is a riddle which they cannot solve. It seems full of contradictions and without a drift. Why it is, and what it is to issue in, and how it is what it is, and how we come to be introduced into it, and what is our destiny, are all mysteries. {84}

In this difficulty, some have formed one philosophy of life, and others another. Men have thought they had found the key, by means of which they might read what is so obscure. Ten thousand things come before us one after another in the course of life, and what are we to think of them? what colour are we to give them? Are we to look at all things in a gay and mirthful way? or in a melancholy way? in a desponding or a hopeful way? Are we to make light of life altogether, or to treat the whole subject seriously? Are we to make greatest things of little consequence, or least things of great consequence? Are we to keep in mind what is past and gone, or are we to look on to the future, or are we to be absorbed in what is present? How are we to look at things? this is the question which all persons of observation ask themselves, and answer each in his own way. They wish to think by rule; by something within them, which may harmonize and adjust what is without them. Such is the need felt by reflective minds. Now, let me ask, what is the real key, what is the Christian interpretation of this world? What is given us by revelation to estimate and measure this world by? The event of this season,—the Crucifixion of the Son of God.

It is the death of the Eternal Word of God made flesh, which is our great lesson how to think and how to speak of this world. His Cross has put its due value upon every thing which we see, upon all fortunes, all advantages, all ranks, all dignities, all pleasures; upon the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It has set a price upon the excitements, the rivalries, the hopes, the fears, the desires, the efforts, the {85} triumphs of mortal man. It has given a meaning to the various, shifting course, the trials, the temptations, the sufferings, of his earthly state. It has brought together and made consistent all that seemed discordant and aimless. It has taught us how to live, how to use this world, what to expect, what to desire, what to hope. It is the tone into which all the strains of this world’s music are ultimately to be resolved.

Look around, and see what the world presents of high and low. Go to the court of princes. See the treasure and skill of all nations brought together to honour a child of man. Observe the prostration of the many before the few. Consider the form and ceremonial, the pomp, the state, the circumstance; and the vainglory. Do you wish to know the worth of it all? look at the Cross of Christ.

Go to the political world: see nation jealous of nation, trade rivalling trade, armies and fleets matched against each other. Survey the various ranks of the community, its parties and their contests, the strivings of the ambitious, the intrigues of the crafty. What is the end of all this turmoil? the grave. What is the measure? the Cross.

Go, again, to the world of intellect and science: consider the wonderful discoveries which the human mind is making, the variety of arts to which its discoveries give rise, the all but miracles by which it shows its power; and next, the pride and confidence of reason, and the absorbing devotion of thought to transitory objects, which is the consequence. Would you form a right judgment of all this? look at the Cross. {86}

Again: look at misery, look at poverty and destitution, look at oppression and captivity; go where food is scanty, and lodging unhealthy. Consider pain and suffering, diseases long or violent, all that is frightful and revolting. Would you know how to rate all these? gaze upon the Cross.

Thus in the Cross, and Him who hung upon it, all things meet; all things subserve it, all things need it. It is their centre and their interpretation. For He was lifted up upon it, that He might draw all men and all things unto Him.

But it will be said, that the view which the Cross of Christ imparts to us of human life and of the world, is not that which we should take, if left to ourselves; that it is not an obvious view; that if we look at things on their surface, they are far more bright and sunny than they appear when viewed in the light which this season casts upon them. The world seems made for the enjoyment of just such a being as man, and man is put into it. He has the capacity of enjoyment, and the world supplies the means. How natural this, what a simple as well as pleasant philosophy, yet how different from that of the Cross! The doctrine of the Cross, it may be said, disarranges two parts of a system which seem made for each other; it severs the fruit from the eater, the enjoyment from the enjoyer. How does this solve a problem? does it not rather itself create one?

I answer, first, that whatever force this objection may have, surely it is merely a repetition of that which Eve felt and Satan urged in Eden; for did not the woman see that the forbidden tree was “good for food,” and “a tree {87} to be desired“? Well, then, is it wonderful that we too, the descendants of the first pair, should still be in a world where there is a forbidden fruit, and that our trials should lie in being within reach of it, and our happiness in abstaining from it? The world, at first sight, appears made for pleasure, and the vision of Christ’s Cross is a solemn and sorrowful sight interfering with this appearance. Be it so; but why may it not be our duty to abstain from enjoyment notwithstanding, if it was a duty even in Eden?

But again; it is but a superficial view of things to say that this life is made for pleasure and happiness. To those who look under the surface, it tells a very different tale. The doctrine of the Cross does but teach, though infinitely more forcibly, still after all it does but teach the very same lesson which this world teaches to those who live long in it, who have much experience in it, who know it. The world is sweet to the lips, but bitter to the taste. It pleases at first, but not at last. It looks gay on the outside, but evil and misery lie concealed within. When a man has passed a certain number of years in it, he cries out with the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Nay, if he has not religion for his guide, he will be forced to go further, and say, “All is vanity and vexation of spirit;” all is disappointment; all is sorrow; all is pain. The sore judgments of God upon sin are concealed within it, and force a man to grieve whether he will or no. Therefore the doctrine of the Cross of Christ does but anticipate for us our experience of the world. It is true, it bids us grieve for our sins in the midst of all that smiles {88} and glitters around us; but if we will not heed it, we shall at length be forced to grieve for them from undergoing their fearful punishment. If we will not acknowledge that this world has been made miserable by sin, from the sight of Him on whom our sins were laid, we shall experience it to be miserable by the recoil of those sins upon ourselves.

It may be granted, then, that the doctrine of the Cross is not on the surface of the world. The surface of things is bright only, and the Cross is sorrowful; it is a hidden doctrine; it lies under a veil; it at first sight startles us, and we are tempted to revolt from it. Like St. Peter, we cry out, “Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee.” [Matt. xvi. 22.] And yet it is a true doctrine; for truth is not on the surface of things, but in the depths.

And as the doctrine of the Cross, though it be the true interpretation of this world, is not prominently manifested in it, upon its surface, but is concealed; so again, when received into the faithful heart, there it abides as a living principle, but deep, and hidden from observation. Religious men, in the words of Scripture, “live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved them and gave Himself for them:” [Gal. ii. 20.] but they do not tell this to all men; they leave others to find it out as they may. Our Lord’s own command to His disciples was, that when they fast, they should “anoint their head and wash their face.” [Matt. vi. 17.] Thus they are bound not to make a display, but ever to be content to look outwardly different {89} from what they are really inwardly. They are to carry a cheerful countenance with them, and to control and regulate their feelings, that those feelings, by not being expended on the surface, may retire deep into their hearts and there live. And thus “Jesus Christ and He crucified” is, as the Apostle tells us, “a hidden wisdom;”—hidden in the world, which seems at first sight to speak a far other doctrine,—and hidden in the faithful soul, which to persons at a distance, or to chance beholders, seems to be living but an ordinary life, while really it is in secret holding communion with Him who was “manifested in the flesh,” “crucified through weakness,” “justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, and received up into glory.”

This being the case, the great and awful doctrine of the Cross of Christ, which we now commemorate, may fitly be called, in the language of figure, the heart of religion. The heart may be considered as the seat of life; it is the principle of motion, heat, and activity; from it the blood goes to and fro to the extreme parts of the body. It sustains the man in his powers and faculties; it enables the brain to think; and when it is touched, man dies. And in like manner the sacred doctrine of Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice is the vital principle on which the Christian lives, and without which Christianity is not. Without it no other doctrine is held profitably; to believe in Christ’s divinity, or in His manhood, or in the Holy Trinity, or in a judgment to come, or in the resurrection of the dead, is an untrue belief, not Christian faith, unless we receive also the doctrine of Christ’s sacrifice. On the other hand, to receive {90} it presupposes the reception of other high truths of the Gospel besides; it involves the belief in Christ’s true divinity, in His true incarnation, and in man’s sinful state by nature; and it prepares the way to belief in the sacred Eucharistic feast, in which He who was once crucified is ever given to our souls and bodies, verily and indeed, in His Body and in His Blood. But again, the heart is hidden from view; it is carefully and securely guarded; it is not like the eye set in the forehead, commanding all, and seen of all: and so in like manner the sacred doctrine of the Atoning Sacrifice is not one to be talked of, but to be lived upon; not to be put forth irreverently, but to be adored secretly; not to be used as a necessary instrument in the conversion of the ungodly, or for the satisfaction of reasoners of this world, but to be unfolded to the docile and obedient; to young children, whom the world has not corrupted; to the sorrowful, who need comfort; to the sincere and earnest, who need a rule of life; to the innocent, who need warning; and to the established, who have earned the knowledge of it.

One more remark I shall make, and then conclude. It must not be supposed, because the doctrine of the Cross makes us sad, that therefore the Gospel is a sad religion. The Psalmist says, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy;” and our Lord says, “They that mourn shall be comforted.” Let no one go away with the impression that the Gospel makes us take a gloomy view of the world and of life. It hinders us indeed from taking a superficial view, and finding a vain transitory joy in what we see; but it forbids our immediate {91} enjoyment, only to grant enjoyment in truth and fulness afterwards. It only forbids us to begin with enjoyment. It only says, If you begin with pleasure, you will end with pain. It bids us begin with the Cross of Christ, and in that Cross we shall at first find sorrow, but in a while peace and comfort will rise out of that sorrow. That Cross will lead us to mourning, repentance, humiliation, prayer, fasting; we shall sorrow for our sins, we shall sorrow with Christ’s sufferings; but all this sorrow will only issue, nay, will be undergone in a happiness far greater than the enjoyment which the world gives,—though careless worldly minds indeed will not believe this, ridicule the notion of it, because they never have tasted it, and consider it a mere matter of words, which religious persons think it decent and proper to use, and try to believe themselves, and to get others to believe, but which no one really feels. This is what they think; but our Saviour said to His disciples, “Ye now therefore have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” … “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” [John xvi. 22; xiv. 27.] And St. Paul says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” [1 Cor. ii. 9, 14.] And thus the Cross of Christ, as telling us of our redemption {92} as well as of His sufferings, wounds us indeed, but so wounds as to heal also.

And thus, too, all that is bright and beautiful, even on the surface of this world, though it has no substance, and may not suitably be enjoyed for its own sake, yet is a figure and promise of that true joy which issues out of the Atonement. It is a promise beforehand of what is to be: it is a shadow, raising hope because the substance is to follow, but not to be rashly taken instead of the substance. And it is God’s usual mode of dealing with us, in mercy to send the shadow before the substance, that we may take comfort in what is to be, before it comes. Thus our Lord before His Passion rode into Jerusalem in triumph, with the multitudes crying Hosanna, and strewing His road with palm branches and their garments. This was but a vain and hollow pageant, nor did our Lord take pleasure in it. It was a shadow which stayed not, but flitted away. It could not be more than a shadow, for the Passion had not been undergone by which His true triumph was wrought out. He could not enter into His glory before He had first suffered. He could not take pleasure in this semblance of it, knowing that it was unreal. Yet that first shadowy triumph was the omen and presage of the true victory to come, when He had overcome the sharpness of death. And we commemorate this figurative triumph on the last Sunday in Lent, to cheer us in the sorrow of the week that follows, and to remind us of the true joy which comes with Easter-Day.

And so, too, as regards this world, with all its enjoyments, yet disappointments. Let us not trust it; let {93} us not give our hearts to it; let us not begin with it. Let us begin with faith; let us begin with Christ; let us begin with His Cross and the humiliation to which it leads. Let us first be drawn to Him who is lifted up, that so He may, with Himself, freely give us all things. Let us “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and then all those things of this world “will be added to us.” They alone are able truly to enjoy this world, who begin with the world unseen. They alone enjoy it, who have first abstained from it. They alone can truly feast, who have first fasted; they alone are able to use the world, who have learned not to abuse it; they alone inherit it, who take it as a shadow of the world to come, and who for that world to come relinquish it.

from Plain & Parochial Sermons Vol. 6. No. 7

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Lent III

The people of Israel in the Book of Exodus are a rum old lot. They have been saved from slavery and misery in Egypt, and all they can do is complain and find fault. People can be strange, stubborn infuriating creatures. We can I hope recognise something of ourselves in them: stubborn, wilful, and sinful. But lest we get too disheartened it is important to recognise that Moses strikes the rock at Horeb, as the Lord commands him, and out flows water. As St Paul puts it ‘For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.’ (1Cor 10:4 ESV) This water, like the parted water of the Red Sea prefigures Christ, the living water, and our baptism, through which we enter the Church. Through it we are regenerate, born again to eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, whose side was pierced on Calvary, and whence flowed blood and water. This water speaks to us of the grace of God poured out upon us, his people, to heal us and restore us, to help us live his risen life.

So as we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, we can do so joyfully because God’s love has been poured into our hearts — what matters is what has been done to us, by God, out of love, so that we can be like him. He is the reconciliation which achieves what we cannot: restoring our relationship with God and each other, healing our wounds, and giving us eternal life in Him. This is our faith as Christians, which can help us and strengthen us in times of uncertainty, such as we are living in today. Christ died for us, because God loves us, and we can trust in that.

Picture the scene — it’s the middle of the day, the sun is blazing overhead, he’s been walking for hours, days even. Jesus is tired — as a man, a human being, he is no different from you or me — he ate and drank,  he was thirsty.. Mid-day is certainly no time to be drawing water from a well — it’s something you do first thing in the morning, as the sun is rising. What sort of a woman is drawing water at mid-day? Hardly a respectable one, but rather someone shunned, someone beyond the pale, cast out of polite society as an adulteress who is living in sin. Jesus asks the woman for a drink — Jesus is defying a social convention — He’s breaking the rules. The woman is really surprised — Jews are supposed to treat Samaritans as outcasts, they are beyond the pale: treated something like the Roma in Eastern Europe – outcasts, second class, scum, to be despised and looked down upon. And yet Jesus asks her for water, he initiates the conversation and the encounter, with an outsider, to bring her in.

Jesus offers her living water, so that she may never be thirsty again. The woman desires it, so that she will never be thirsty again, or have to come to the well to draw water, she’s fed up of the work, and fed up of being an outcast, and having to do it at antisocial hours when the community can see who and what she is. Jesus knows who and what she is – He recognises her irregular lifestyle. He also sees her need of God — her need for the water of grace to restore her soul, and inspire her to tell people the Good News. The woman’s testimony is powerful because she has experienced God’s love as a living reality and she simply has to tell people about it. She brings them to Christ so that they can be nourished, so that they too can experience the grace of God.

People are interested in who and what Jesus is, what He’s got to say, and they believe and trust in Him as the Messiah the Anointed of God, as the Saviour of the World, a title recently taken up by the Roman Emperor. These are big claims to make, and dangerous ones, which along with Christ’s healings will soon lead to His condemnation and death. In plenty of parts of the world the proclamation of the Good News still leads to imprisonment, torture and death, even today. And yet as Christians we are called to bear witness regardless of the personal cost, so that the world may believe. Here in the West we have as a church become comfortable, we forget about persecution, or view it at a safe distance. We’re not involved, it doesn’t matter that much to us. Are we far from the grace of our baptism? Have we not encountered Jesus in Word and Sacrament? Are we too afraid of the World? The world which Christ overcomes on the Cross.

To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. If we are changing into Jesus Christ, then we’re on the right track. If we listen to His word; if we talk to Him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him in the Eucharist, by Christ both priest and victim, to become what He is — God; if we’re forgiven by Him, through making confession of our sins, not only do we come to understand Jesus, we become like him, we come to share in his divine nature. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. This is what we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. Christ gives us the living water of baptism, and His Body and Blood so that we might have the promise of eternal life, and be transformed into His likeness. This is the point of the Incarnation, God becomes human, so that humanity can share the life of God. 

The Samaritans are right, for they know that, ‘that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.’ (Jn 4:42 ESV), and they like St Paul can rejoice in their sufferings, and so can we, because God has given us hope, and poured His love into our hearts, the love that casts out fear. Whatever happens, we can put our trust in someone who will never disappoint us, whose promises are sure, and who loves us. So let us come to Him, let us trust Him that He may take us and fill us with His love so that we may share it with others so that the world may believe and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen

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Lent II

We can often find ourselves in situations in which we would rather not be. The current corona virus outbreak is one such example. We feel powerless and scared, the future is uncertain, and panic can easily ensue. There are things we can do, precautions we can take, washing our hands being the main one. We can also pray for all those affected, and trust God to be with us in this troubling time. 

In our first reading this morning God makes some large demands of Abram, to leave his native land, his nearest and dearest, what he knows and is most familiar with, to go on a journey, and to trust God. He has no idea where he is going, or what is going to happen, but Abram puts his trust in God, knowing that God has promised that Abram will be blessed and a blessing to others. God likewise calls each and every one of us to follow Him, and trust Him. This is not easy at all, but it is what God calls each and every one of us to do. 

Likewise St Paul writing to Timothy while under house arrest in Rome, facing a trial that will lead to his death, is in a difficult situation. He is a prisoner of the Lord, who sees his own suffering as a sharing in the suffering of Christ. In this he is united with Christ and enters into Christ’s Passion, and through the power of God’s suffering love experiences true glory. What was true for St Paul is true for us. 

In the Gospel, Jesus has just explained to His disciples that He must suffer, die, and rise from the dead. He then takes Peter, James, and John with Him, and when they are alone Christ is transfigured. The disciples are given a glimpse of the glory of God, a glory that will be made manifest in Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Also at the moment of the Transfiguration the disciples hear the voice of God the Father. He tells us that Jesus is Jesus is the Son of God, that He is Beloved and God is pleased with Him, and that we should listen to Him. The key here is obedience, listening to what God says to us in prayer and scripture, and doing it. For God suffering and glory go together, and you cannot have one without the other, because the point is to demonstrate sacrificial love to the world, love which has the power to transform, and heal. Hence Jesus can tell His disciples to rise and have no fear, perfect love casts out fear. While fear is a proper response to the presence of God, God calls us in love to follow Him, and enter into the mystery of His love.

Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah to show His disciples and the Church that He is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Scripture points to Him and finds its fulfilment in Him: He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Peter responds in a moment with a very human response, he knows that it is good to be here and it helps to change his life. His response points to the Feast of Tabernacles when Jews remembered the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai to Moses. But this experience is not to be prolonged, it is a glimpse of the future glory, a moment to be experienced, and not a place to dwell.

When God speaks he tells us three things about Jesus: He is the Son of God, He is loved and we should listen to Him –- what he says and does should affect us and our lives –- we have to be open to the possibility of being changed by God. Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after he has risen from the dead. The detail is important: Jesus will go up another mountain to suffer and die upon the cross, taking our sins upon Himself, restoring our relationship with God and each other. This is real glory -– not worldly glory but the glory of God’s sacrificial love poured out on the world to heal it and restore it.

“Three important scenes of Our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross; and on the third, He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory and that of all who would believe in His name”

Fulton Sheen The Life of Christ 1970: 158

That is why we are here this morning –- to see the self same sacrifice here with our own eyes, to touch and to taste what God’s love is really like –- to go up the mountain and experience the glory of God, so that God’s love may transform us. We are given a foretaste of heaven, and prepared to be transformed by God. This is true glory –- the glory of the Cross, the glory of suffering love lavished upon the world. The Transfiguration looks to the Cross to help us prepare ourselves to live the life of faith. To help us to behold true majesty, true love and true glory –- the kind that can change the world and last forever, for eternity, not the fading glory of the world, here today and gone tomorrow, but something everlasting, wonderful.

So let us behold God’s glory, here, this morning, let us touch and taste God’s glory, let us prepare to be transformed by his love, through the power of His Holy Spirit, built up as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. As those who are healed, and restored, reconciled, and given a foretaste of eternal life with him, so may God take our lives and transform us, so that everything that we say, or think, or do, may proclaim him, let us tell the world about Him, so that it too may believe and trust and have new life in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Lent I

The Church has entered the season of Lent, and she goes, with her Lord, into the desert for forty days, to pray, to turn away from sin, to turn back to God, to fast, to be generous in almsgiving. We do this to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ passion, Death and Resurrection in Holy Week and Easter. We get ready to celebrate the holiest week of the Church’s year by having something of a spiritual spring clean. This is a very good thing indeed. We need to do it, so that we can be reminded where we need to put some work in.

Our first reading this morning take us right back to the start of the problem of human sin: Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. They are tempted by the serpent to do what God has told them not to do. Thinking that you know better than God, and choosing to do what you want to do is where the sin of pride comes from. Adam and Eve prefer to trust the serpent, who promises that they will become like God. They are disobedient: they do not listen to what God says, and act in accordance with it. But rather than knowing good and evil, all they know is that they are naked, and cover their nakedness. The serpent makes empty promises, and they are taken in by them. Such is the power of lies. 

But while we have heard how sin and death came into the world, we also hear in our second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans how disobedience is countered by the obedience of Jesus Christ. It is obedience which will see Our Lord die on the Cross for us. Christ will bear the burden of our sin, to pay the debt which we cannot. This is what we are preparing to celebrate: one act of righteousness which ‘leads to justification and life for all men’ (Rom 5:18 ESV). To be justified is to be declared righteous in the sight of God. We are guilty, yet God declares us innocent. We deserve punishment, and yet are rewarded. It is remarkable. Such is God’s love for us that our slate is wiped clean. Each and every one of us deserves to be cast aside, for our sins, like those of Adam & Eve separate us from God and each other. Yet God did not leave us in slavery to sin, but sent His Son, so that we might have life in and through Him. This is the Good News of the Gospel. 

In the Gospel this morning we see Jesus at a crucial point, between His Baptism and the calling of the first disciples: Peter and Andrew, James and John. Christ goes into the desert for forty days, to be alone, to pray and to fast, and the church keen to imitate our Saviour likewise goes into the desert so that we may grow closer to God, that we may be purged and prepared to celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. 

Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, a place traditionally associated with the prophets and with encounter with God. After fasting for forty days and forty nights He is hungry. This is no surprise at all. He has been fasting for forty days, Our Lord is starving – he is fully human not some superhero who is immune to human feelings and needs. So the devil tempts Him by saying, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ (Mt 4:3 ESV). The temptation works on several levels. By doubting that Jesus is God and asking Him to prove it the devil is continuing to mock the God he refuses to serve. It is a temptation to be relevant: Jesus is hungry and needs to eat, but is being tempted to use the creative power of God simply to serve an appetite. The world tempts us to be relevant, and to conform ourselves to it, rather than let the world be conformed to the will of God. Jesus’ reply to the devil, that man does not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God, reminds us that as Christians we are fed by Word and Sacrament, nourished by God so that we may grow in faith, and hope, and love. 

Christ is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and told to throw Himself down. This is the temptation to be spectacular, to do something for show, again something which the contemporary church seems rather keen on. But nothing should be done for show; we are called to follow Christ simply and humbly, trusting in Him. The devil wants to put God to the test, it is an act of disobedience, contrary to the humble obedience which sees us live trusting in God, relying upon Him, formed by Him.

Christ is finally tempted to turn away from God the Father, to worship a false god. He is offered much in material terms –- all the world and its splendour -– wealth and power –- a huge temptation for humanity, and one into which many people give. The Church too has given in, and continues so to do. We have to be weak, powerless and vulnerable, utterly reliant upon God so that God can be at work in us, as we humbly worship and serve Him. It may look foolish in worldly terms, but that is the point –- we are not meant to be conformed to the world, but as we seek to grow in faith, in humility, and obedience, we allow God to be at work in us –- taking us and transforming us into His likeness.

The temptation to worship a false God: money, power, or success is always there, and many in the church give in to feelings of ambition, and if they are not ‘successful’ end up bitter, cynical, and miserable. But success is itself empty, popular favour can disappear like a puff of smoke. It is fleeting, it does not last. Whereas in Christ we are offered something that will last: eternal life with God in heaven. 

So as we undertake to follow Christ in our Lenten pilgrimage we do so in our weakness, so that we may rely upon God, and Him alone. We do so joyfully, knowing that Christ’s victory which we will celebrate at Easter is total and complete – it is justification and life for all.

Let us pray that we may receive grace to follow Christ so that we may prepare to celebrate His Death and Resurrection and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Quinquagesima (7th Sunday of Year A)

Generally speaking the ageing process is not one that people tend to enjoy: you cannot do what you used to do, and you ache more than you ever did when you were young. There are however great consolations: chief among them is wisdom, and in particular the wisdom of not bearing a grudge, anger, or hatred. Life is too short, and they do no good. In fact they harm us, far more than others. Over time they can eat us up, and it isn’t pretty or good, or healthy. 

This is why our first reading this morning tells us in no uncertain terms how we are to live our lives: not in hatred, bitterness or anger, not with vengeance or grudges, but with love, for we are to be holy as God is holy, and God is also love, so we are to love. It is easy to forget this, and we do regularly, which is why we need forgiveness. 

The church in Corinth knew this all too well. They had given themselves over to bitterness and quarrelling, forming cliques, and setting rich against the poor. That is why St Paul is writing to them. In this morning’s reading St Paul begins by reminding the Corinthian Christians that they are living stones, built into the temple of God, and filled with the Holy Spirit. It is as true for us as it was for them. We too are called to holiness, and love. Love and forgiveness can look quite foolish to the world around us. The world tells us that we should get angry, and the media encourages this: in print, on the television, on the internet. It sells, and it makes us feel lousy. It creates a problem which we attempt to solve through retail therapy, or some other means, to dull our senses, and take away the pain and misery. Thankfully God knows better. While God’s wisdom looks like foolishness, it is the world that is truly foolish, while God is truly wise. The only way to heal our many wounds is through God who gave His only Son Jesus Christ to die for us, and rise again, that we might have life in Him. As St Paul says: ‘For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.’ (1Cor 1:21-25 ESV) For two thousand years our message has been the same, and may it continue until the Lord comes again. 

In the Gospel this morning, Jesus turns accepted wisdom on its head. While the Law of Moses allowed for limited revenge to take place, Jesus deepens the moral law, and makes it much more demanding. We are not to offer any resistance to mistreatment, and we are to be generous to anyone who asks of us, regardless of who they are. Only gentle non-violent love can truly change the world. It is exacting and challenging. God asks a lot of us who follow Him, so that we might live lives of love. But by so doing we can be a powerful witness to the world, calling it back to the path it should tread, and proclaiming the values of the Kingdom.

It was accepted in the ancient world that you would love your friends and hate your enemies, it is, after all, human nature. But Jesus demands that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, and in the first three centuries of the church there was quite a lot of persecution. There still is today. We continue to pray for those who persecute our brothers and sisters in Christ, that God would turn their hearts, and that they might come to know the love and forgiveness of God. It might seem foolish to do such a thing, but as Christians we know that prayer works, it changes things, and also that the example of Christians living out their faith, bearing witness to it in the world draws people to Jesus Christ. This authentic witness is powerful, and proof that the church will outlast unjust regimes. 

It isn’t an easy thing to do. It is much easier to give in to feelings like hate. That’s the problem: loving your enemies is difficult, it takes effort, it is an act of the will, to will the good of another, one who has hurt us. But only love and forgiveness have the power to heal and restore, to make the world a better place. There is a cost, certainly, but it is what we are called to do, by a God who loves us, for our sake. We are called to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect, to live out love and forgiveness in our lives, to make them a reality in the world. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like in practice. This is how we change the world, one soul at a time, by living out the same love which sees Jesus die on the Cross for us. It is difficult, and costly, and we can only do it through the love and mercy of God, in His strength and not our own. By letting God be at work in our lives, trusting Him to be at work in us, through His Grace.

As we prepare to begin the season of Lent, we look to the Cross as our only hope, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us. May we live out the love and forgiveness which we see in Christ. May we turn away from our sins, and live out the perfection of Christ, to proclaim the truth of His Kingdom, and to call men and women to live lives from hatred and anger, filled with love and forgiveness so that they and all creation may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now, and forever. Amen.

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Sexagesima (6th Sunday of Yr A)

People nowadays can often have a rather negative view of the Old Testament. This is a terrible shame. They think the God of the Old Testament is angry, and nasty, and horrible. The New Testament, on the other hand, is all about how God loves us, and it has a much more sympathetic picture of the deity. The first position is entirely wrong, it represents a misunderstanding of who God is, and how God acts. Thus Jesus is completely right when He says, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them’(Mt 5:17 ESV). Christ does not abolish the Law or the Prophets. The prophets speak of Him, they foretell a coming Messiah, He fulfils their prophecies. 

Our first reading this morning from Eccesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, presents us with a number of alternatives. We are free to choose. Do we want to keep God’s commandments and act faithfully? We can choose between fire and water, life and death. God does not force us to choose one or the other, but one is clearly good, and the other bad. The problem is that we often choose the wrong one. This is what sin is: choosing the wrong thing. God does not tell us to be ungodly, or give us permission to sin, and yet WE do. This is why forgiveness of sin is such a big deal: we all need it regularly. Also, holiness of life matters: God wants us to flourish, and we flourish by trying to live holy lives in accordance with God’s will.

In the Gospel this morning Jesus expects a lot from us. Jesus does not abolish the Law of Moses, quite the opposite. He makes it a lot stricter. ‘Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Mt 5:19-20 ESV) The point is that we are free to choose. We can choose to do the right thing, if we listen to God, if we read Holy Scripture, if we pray, if we trust God to guide us. It is possible: Jesus spends His entire life giving us the example of how to live as humans, made in God’s image. It is possible, but it is difficult, and we will fail, especially if we trust in our own strength alone. As Christians we believe that God is loving and merciful, that our sins are forgiven, if we repent, and turn away from our sins, and ask for God’s forgiveness. Indeed sin is such a big deal that Jesus dies to take away our sins. God dies for us, for you and me, hands Himself over willingly to suffer and die on our behalf. This why we regularly celebrate the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, because Jesus took bread and wine, blessed them, broke the bread, and gave them to His disciples saying, ‘This is My Body … This is My Blood’ and to them to do this. So we do. So that we might feed on the most precious food and drink there is, to heal our wounded souls and bodies, to have a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet prepared for us, to strengthen us to live the life of faith. Without it we cannot live, without God’s help we will fail, so we need it, and we need to trust in God to help us to do His will, and walk in His way. 

We can do this because of what God in Christ has done for us. The Cross is the place where the world, the flesh, and the devil are conquered. Here, sin which separates us from God and each other is dealt with. Because of what God has done in Christ we are able to make the choice to try to be righteous. We can do this if we rely upon God. The failure of the Scribes and Pharisees is that they rely upon the Law and their  human strength and will. Jesus expects perfection from His disciples because they are following His example, and trusting God to be at work in them. 

The Eucharist is a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet: something God has in store for us, or as St Paul says, quoting the prophet Isaiah (64:4), ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1Cor 2:9 ESV). Heaven is our true home, and its glory is beyond our understanding. Enfolded in the love of God, we may spend eternity worshipping the God who loves us and who made us. This is why the Lord of Glory died: to give us the hope of heaven. This is what we are preparing for here and now. 

Jesus makes demands of us because following Him is not easy: it is demanding, and it comes with a cost. Thus, the church is to be a place of reconciliation, where sins are forgiven, where wounds are healed. It is hard to be reconciled to someone. We have to recognise our own failures and shortcomings, and seek forgiveness ourselves. It is a difficult and costly process, which sees us stripped of pride, humble and reliant upon God as the only one who can heal us. We are powerless, and have to rely on One whose Love and Generosity can do in us what we cannot. We can forgive because we are forgiven, we can love because we are loved. 

Jesus expects much of us, because that is what the Christian life is: difficult, and demanding. Much is asked of us, in how we live our lives. We are to be in the world, but not of the world, living differently. As Christians, if we are to be salt and light then we need to live lives which make people think, ‘They’re not like us’ ‘They don’t do what we do’. We can choose life or death. We have through Christ the possibility of eternal life with God. May we choose wisely, and live as an example to others so that all creation may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now, and forever. Amen

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Septuagesima (5th Sunday of Yr A)

The traditional name for this Sunday, Septuagesima, means seventieth, approximately seventy days before Easter, and it marked the beginning of a three-week period which looks forward to the beginning of Lent. It had a penitential character: purple or violet vestments were worn, and in the Eucharist and the Daily Office the church fasted from hymns of praise, to prepare for the Great Fast. It reminds us that what we Do affects who we ARE. Such discipline helps to form us as more loving and generous people.

Such concerns lie at the heart of our first reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah. In verse 6 the prophet cries, ‘Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?’ What God desires is to say sorry for the wrongs we have done that we show that contrition by doing the right thing: being loving and generous, the way God wants us to be. 

Thus, the prophet advises us to share our bread with the hungry, to give shelter to the homeless in our own homes, to clothe the naked. We also need to take away the yoke which is a burden to others, the pointing finger of accusation, and speaking wickedness: being harsh, not telling the truth, or telling it in a way that is designed to cause pain. We all need to hear this, and be reminded of how we can, each and every one of us, fall short. I know I do, and I ask for your forgiveness. 

The point is that we can ask the forgiveness, of a God who loves, which is why St Paul simply proclaims, ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’. On the Cross Christ bears the yoke, the burden of our sins, and demonstrates the LOVE God has for us: real costly love, which sees Him die for us. This is love put into practice to heal and to restore the world, a simple act, seen by many as the execution of a common criminal, dying a slave’s death. Yet THIS brings about the greatest freedom humanity has ever known.

In the Gospel this morning Jesus begins by using metaphors to describe His disciples, They are salt. Nowadays we are used to salt as a bad thing, something of which we eat too much. Salt helps to give food flavour, it preserves food, keeping it edible, and without it we would die. Salt was expensive, a luxury, but if it is no longer good needs to be thrown out. You cannot use it. Jesus’ disciples need to be salty, there should be something about how we live out and proclaim the Gospel in word and deed that makes people go, ‘Mmm!’ Otherwise there is not much point. 

As well as being salt the disciples are light. Light illuminates, it scatters darkness, it helps us to see and keeps us safe. None of us would drive a car at night without the lights on, obviously. It would cause an accident, it might get us killed. Lampposts are high up in the air, so that they can illuminate the street below. We have lights which hang from our ceilings for the same reason. A covered light does not give out light, a light on the floor cannot light up a room. Our Lord encourages His disciples to ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ Our faith then is not simply something that we believe, but rather it is something that we DO. Our actions and our words proclaim the truth of the Gospel to the world around us.

Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden, so it is with Christians. We are visible, and for our many failings people will call us hypocrites, and while they have a point, our failings should always lead us to ask forgiveness, and repent. Because of what Christ has done for us on the Cross we have access to God’s forgiveness. The point is that while we fail, we repent and keep on trying to live out our faith in our lives. It is simple and clear, like St Paul’s proclamation to the church in Corinth. Our faith does not ‘rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.’ It looks foolish and weak, and so it should, in worldly terms. God’s weakness is greater than human strength, that is its power. 

Christ shows us how to live in the Beatitudes, and encourages us to put it into practice in our lives, and to follow His example of going to the Cross to proclaim the fact that God loves us, a God who is Love. Love forgives, so that it can transform us. We that transformation in Isaiah, put into practice to help transform the world. Paul is transformed from a persecutor of the Church into its greatest evangelist, who spends the rest of his life telling people about Jesus, and how He has transformed lives, and continues to do so. For two thousand years the Church has lived the truth of this transformation, and continues to do so, and invites men and women to come and have their lives transformed by the God who loves them.

So we begin to prepare for Lent, the great season of repentance, when we acknowledge our sins, and turn back to God, and prepare to celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

As we look towards the Cross, our only hope, our only salvation, may we live generous and loving lives. May we be salt and light in the world, giving it taste and illumination, offering it the chance for conversion, to turn back to the Lord who loves them, who shows them that love on the Cross, that they may have life in and through Him, that they may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now, and forever. Amen.

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The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Once upon a time it was not uncommon to hear of the Churching of Women, sometimes called Thanksgiving after Childbirth, as it was a dangerous and risky business. We are perhaps now not quite so used to ideas of ritual purity inherent in the Thanksgiving for a woman after Childbirth, or her re-admission into society after a period of confinement. But the Law of Moses required that forty days after giving birth the mother was purified in a mikvah, a ritual bath. The law also required that her son, as a first-born male, was presented to the Lord, and sacrifices were made. Today the Church celebrates the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and commonly called Candlemas. The name is derived from the ceremonies which saw the candles for the coming year blessed at this service, so that they may burn as lights which proclaim Christ, the true Light, the light to lighten the Gentiles. They are different titles, but one feast, which make us think about who and what Jesus Christ is, and what he does.

This feast then is the fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by Malachi in our first reading, which also looks to our purification in and through the death of Christ and His atoning sacrifice of Himself, which will be be re-presented here, made present so that we can share in it, so that we can be healed and restored by the very Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it:

Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. 

It is hard to see how it could be any clearer. Just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac on Mt Moriah, so now God will gladly give His only Son, Jesus Christ, on the altar of the Cross, to restore our relationship with Him.

The Holy Family go to the Temple to give thanks to God and to comply with the Law, just as they had in circumcising their baby on the eighth day: and in so doing they demonstrate obedience, they listen to what God says and do it and as such they are a model for all Christian families to follow — we need to be like them, listening to what God tells us and doing it, regardless of the cost.

When the Holy Family go to the Temple they encounter Simeon, a man of faith and holiness. A man devoted to God, who is looking for the consolation of Israel. He knows that he will not die until he sees the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, and the Saviour of the World. As he takes the child Jesus in his arms he prays: ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

The promise made to him by God, revealed through the Holy Spirit, has been fulfilled in the six-week-old infant in his arms. Simeon can prepare to meet his God happy in the knowledge that Salvation has dawned in this little child. As Christ was made manifest to the Gentiles at Epiphany, so now His saving message is proclaimed, so that the world may know that its salvation has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Simeon speaks to the Blessed Virgin Mary of her Son’s future, and the pain she will endure at the foot of the Cross. Before he dies Simeon is looking to the Cross, the means by which our salvation is wrought, the Cross at which Mary will stand to see humanity freed from its sin through the love and mercy of God, through grace, the free gift of God in Christ. So as Candlemas concludes our celebration of Christmas, and the mystery of the Incarnation, so to it points to that which gives it its true meaning: the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Candlemas prepares for the coming season of Lent by changing our focus and attention from Jesus’ birth to His death, for our sins.

That is why we are here this morning, to be fed by Christ, to be fed with Christ, truly present in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. A God whom we can touch and taste. A God who shares His Divine Life with us, so that we can be transformed by Him, built up as living stones as a temple to His Glory, and given a foretaste of Heaven here on Earth. This is our soul’s true food, the bread for the journey of faith, which sets us free to live for Him, to live with Him, through Him and in Him.

The significance of what is happening is not just recognised by Simeon, but also by Anna, a holy woman, a woman of prayer, a woman who is close to God, she recognises what God is doing in Christ, and she proclaims it, so that God’s redemption of His people may be known. Let us be like her, and let all of our lives, everything which we say, or think, or do, proclaim the saving truth of God’s love to the world.

And finally the Holy Family go back to Nazareth, and Jesus begins to grow up, in the favour of God, obedient to God and His parents in the Gospel we see all of human life: birth, death, work, normality hallowed by the God who loves us, who gives His Son for us. God shares our human life, as He will share our death, to restore us, to heal us,

So let us burn, like the candles which God has blessed, let our faith be active to give light and warmth and hope to the world, so that it may feel that love and warmth, and come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever, Amen.

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3rd Sunday of Year A

There are divisions in the Church. Sadly, there have been divisions since the earliest days of Christianity, as is made clear by the opening of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. But just because something has gone on for a long time doesn’t make it right. Quite the opposite! For the last seven days Christians around the world have been praying for unity, to heal the divisions which so mar the Body of Christ, the Church. And while it is good to focus our prayers on unity for a week, I would venture to suggest that the unity of Christians is something which we should all be praying for all the time. It is shocking that the tribalism which St Paul condemns in the first century, is still alive and well today. People are still defining themselves as one sort of Christian as opposed to another, or by the place where they worship. Our culpability in this is something for which we need to repent. We need to turn away from division, and to turn back to the God of love, who longs to heal our wounds and divisions; fostering unity is following the will of God. 

This morning’s Gospel begins with the news that John the Baptist has been arrested. His criticism of the immorality of the ruling family had upset the powers that be. Calling out Herod Antipas for divorcing his wife, and then breaking Jewish law by marrying his brother Philip’s wife, seems the right thing to do. We expect our rulers to set an example. It’s only right and proper. The church continues this prophetic vocation, calling out what is evil and wrong. This may, and will, indeed make people uncomfortable: That’s the point! No one likes having their wrongdoing pointed out, I know I don’t! But unless someone does, then we’re unlikely to change our ways. 

In the Gospel, Jesus has just been in the desert for forty days, praying, fasting, being tempted by the Devil. He begins his public ministry by leaving Nazareth, the town where He grew up, and walking to Capernaum by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is a day’s journey. This is an important place for Jesus to start His public ministry, because it fulfils a prophecy in Isaiah, which St Matthew quotes, ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’ (Mt 4:15-16 ESV) This part of Israel is where people were first taken off into captivity by the Assyrians, seven hundred years before. So Our Lord’s restoration of Israel starts in the place where the Northern Kingdom first began to fall apart. 

Strikingly, Jesus begins His proclamation of the Good news of the Kingdom by repeating the exact words of His Cousin, John the Baptist: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. Their message is the same: turn away from your sins and turn back to God, turn back to the God who loves you, and who longs to heal you. These are words of hope for the future, for restoration. This is a message which we all long to hear. 

When Jesus sees two fishermen, Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew casting their nets,  and invites them to ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ It is quite a simple and straightforward invitation. On hearing Jesus’ words they drop everything and follow Him. Immediately! They don’t stop to put their affairs in order, or to say goodbye. A little later, James and John do the same, leaving Zebedee, their father, behind in the boat. Nothing is more important than following Jesus, but these early disciples show us that following God has a cost. It transforms our lives, totally, but not without cost. 

So what does Jesus do with this band of disciples? He takes them into synagogues, where He teaches and interprets the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. Jesus proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom, that we are loved by God. He demonstrates this love in practice by healing the sick. God’s kingdom is a place where wounds are healed, where people are restored to wholeness, in mind, body and soul. There is a cost to following God, but here we see the reward of the Kingdom. Each and every one of us needs that healing and wholeness, which only God can provide. The Church continues to proclaim repentance from sin, belief in the Kingdom of God, and participates in the healing power of God. 

These things begin with us, here, today. We hear the Kingdom proclaimed, we confess our faith together, we pray for the Church and the World, and we join in the banquet of the Kingdom. The source and summit of the Christian life is the Eucharist, where Christ feeds and heals us with His Body and Blood. God’s love is a reality, with the power to transform us and our world, if we have the humility to let God be at work in our lives. He does not force Himself upon us like a tyrant, but rather gives us the free will to choose to turn to Him. 

God also wills that the Church be united, as Jesus prays in Gethsemane, ‘I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.’ (Jn 17:20-21 RSVCE) May we pray and work so that Our Lord’s will is a reality and that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now, and forever. Amen.

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2nd Sunday of Year A – ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’

John the Baptist looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ Lambs were a central part of the Jewish festival of Passover. In order to avert the tenth plague in Egypt, the people of Israel were instructed to take a young lamb without any blemish and slaughter it. They were then to anoint the doorposts of their house with it, so that their firstborn would be saved, not killed by the Angel of Death. The lamb was to be roasted over the fire and eaten standing up whilst dressed for a journey. This festival of Passover is the high point of the Jewish religious calendar, and marks the start of their journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land of Israel. It is also the time of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

In order to meet the needs the large number of people celebrating the passover festival in the early 1st century AD, there needed to be a lot of shepherds raising flocks of animals for slaughter. In the Christmas story we see that the first visitors to the Holy Family in Bethlehem were shepherds. As Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem, these shepherds were raising the lambs that would be consumed at Passover in nearby Jerusalem in their thousands. Jesus, like these lambs was also without blemish and would be killed at Passover. So from the very moment of Christ’s birth, His Death is foreshadowed. 

Traditionally Jesus’ death is understood to have happened at the ninth hour, 3pm, which is the same time that the passover lambs began to be slaughtered in the Temple in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. This is not mere coincidence, but rather signal proof that Christ’s death is sacrificial, and represents the new Passover, and the freedom of the people of God. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, greets Him, saying, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’. John understands that Jesus is the passover Lamb.

The image of a lamb brings to mind a passage in the prophet Isaiah, where the Suffering Servant is compared to, ‘a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb’ (Isa 53:7). This prophecy will be fulfilled in Holy Week on Good Friday. Here, at the start of John’s Gospel, just after the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, when John the Baptist saw the Spirit descend on Him, (before the first sign of turning water into wine at the marriage of Cana), John’s description of Jesus is a prophetic utterance which points forward to Jesus’ death on the Cross. So then, from the very start of Our lord’s life, as with the gift of myrrh at Bethlehem, the beginning points to the end: to Calvary (and beyond). 

In Genesis, we read of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, who is saved when at the last moment a ram appears in a thorn bush. Isaac carrying wood for the sacrificial fire, prefigures Christ carrying the wood of the Cross. The ram in the thorns foreshadows Christ, the Lamb of God, crowned with thorns. Mt Moriah, where these events take place, is the mountain on which Jerusalem was built, and whose highest point is Golgotha, which is where Our Lord was crucified. The old foretells the new, and is completed by it.Prophecy is fulfilled. In Christ, God is glorified, and of Him the prophet Isaiah says, ‘I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth’ (Isa 49:5 ESV). 

In the Eucharist, just before we receive Communion I will repeat the words of John the Baptist, ‘Behold the Lamb of God…’ so that we may recognise Christ in our midst; we respond with the words of the Centurion, in Luke 7:6-7, ’Lord I am not worthy…’ It is this sense of unworthiness which keeps us both humble and reliant upon God to transform us. We hear John the Baptist’s words so that we may join in his confession that this is the Son of God. Christ is truly present in the Eucharist in a way which we cannot understand, which words and language cannot express, because that is how God is. As a result of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us, God incarnate makes himself known so that we might worship God, and that God might be at work in us. Unlike the sacrifices of Passover and the Day of Atonement which needed to be repeated annually, the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross happens once, to deal with all sin, past, present, and future, to reconcile humanity to God and to each other. It is this reality which we celebrate today: we have been set free. 

This is the Good News of the Kingdom. We are loved by God, who flings His arms wide on the Cross to embrace the world with love. A God who embraces the shame of a slave’s death, the most brutal demonstration of Roman power, the most degrading way to die, to show the world love. It isn’t what you’d expect, and that’s the point. God does not want to compel us to love Him or worship Him, but rather makes a relationship possible, so that we might come to know Him, and love Him. As we approach the altar, this is what we are to receive, the Body and Blood of Christ, the self same body and blood which were nailed to the Cross for our sins and the sins of the whole world. Our hands will hold and our lips will touch him who created the entire universe. How can we not fail to be shocked by the generosity of a God who gives himself to us in such a personal way, in a way that we do not deserve? Yet, we can never deserve such a gift, that is why God takes the initiative and gives himself to us, freely and gladly. Like the Father of the Prodigal Son, God rushes to meet us, to embrace us and to celebrate with us, to show his love for us. God became a human being at Christmas so that we might become divine, through our baptism and our participation at the altar, in the feast of the Lamb.

The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity, uniting heaven and earth through the sacrifice of Calvary, allowing all humanity to share the body and blood of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, feeding on him so that we may become what he is; enabling us to share eternity with him, and to live lives of faith and hope, and love. So then, let us join the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb and enter into the mystery of God’s self-giving love, so that we may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now, and forever.

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The Baptism of Christ

Baptism is something with which we are familiar in the Church. But for the vast majority of Christians baptised as infants, it isn’t something we necessarily remember. We are too young to recall the event. But whether we can remember it or not, we know that it happened, and that it marked our entry into the Church, where we were clothed with Christ and  we were born again, by water and the Holy Spirit. And as Christians we are baptised for many reasons, the first of which is that Jesus was baptised, something which the Church celebrates today. 

At one level it looks a little strange. Baptism washes us from our sins, and Jesus is not a sinner, so He does not need to baptized. Hence John the Baptist’s response, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14 ESV). Our Lord replies by saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15 ESV). Jesus’ baptism is one of obedience to the will of God the Father. That is why our first reading is the first of the Servant Songs in the prophecy of Isaiah. The prophecy is fulfilled when the Father speaks the first verse, at the moment of Jesus’ baptism. He gives Him as a covenant to the nations, a covenant that will be made on the Cross, to save humanity. Christ is a light for the nations, as Simeon states at the Presentation in the Temple, Christ will open the eyes of the blind, and set prisoners free. This is the reality of the Kingdom of God, something of we, through our baptism, are a part.

Today God does a new thing, which lies at the heart of the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom by St Peter in this morning’s second reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It is the same proclamation that we find in Isaiah. There is a consistency in proclamation down through the centuries, a guarantee of its truth. God the Father expresses His love for His Son, whose obedience to His Father’s will shows humanity that by saying ‘Yes’ to God, the ‘No’ of Adam and Eve can be undone. Christ fulfils all righteousness, and in so doing points His public ministry towards the Cross.  This is where righteousness and obedience lead: to death and suffering, to display God’s love and finally, once and for all to restore humanity. What is foolish in the eyes of the world, is in fact the greatest possible demonstration of love. We will see that love made visible here this morning, where Christ offers Himself to the Father, and offers the Church His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, so that we may feed on Him, so that He may transform us, so that we may come to share in the very life and nature of God. Through our Baptism and the Eucharist the Kingdom becomes a living reality in us. We are transformed to live its life, and transform the world.

Last Sunday we celebrated Our Lord’s manifestation to the Gentiles. Now this Sunday, at the start of Christ’s public ministry, He is again made manifest. God the Father acknowledges the Son in the flesh, and sends the Holy Spirit, the bond of their love. The fulness of the Divine Trinity is united and manifest on earth to proclaim that Christ is Lord, and the Kingdom has become a reality. Christ does not need to be baptised, as we do, but does so to fulfil all righteousness and to sanctify the waters of baptism for those whom He would redeem, to show us the way to new life in Him. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus shows humanity the way to the Father, through himself. The world sees the generous love of God, which heals and restores us, from the darkness of the dungeon of sin and evil, to the light and life of the Kingdom of God. As our baptism is a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so His baptism points to the Cross, where streams of blood and water flow to cleanse and heal the world. We see the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the obedience of Son, and all for us, who are so weak and foolish, and who need God’s love and healing, and forgiveness.

We need this, the whole world needs it, but is too proud to turn to a God of love, for fear of judgement, knowing that they deserve to be cut off forever, and yet it is exactly such people, such lost sheep that Our Lord comes to seek, whom He enfolds in His loving arms on the Cross, whom He washes in the waters of baptism, so that all may be a part of Him, regardless of whom they are, and what they have done. Salvation is the free gift of God and open to all who turn to him.

Ours is a faith which can transform the world, so that all humanity can share in God’s life and love, each and every one of us can become part of something radical and revolutionary, which can and will transform the world one soul at a time, it may sound strange, crazy even, but that is the point. Rather than human violence, cruelty, and murder, the only way to transform the world is through the love of God. This is what the church is for, what it’s all about; it is why we are gathered here, to be strengthened and nourished, through prayer, the Word of God, and the Sacraments of the Church, strengthened and nourished to live out our faith in our lives to transform the world. Nothing more, nothing less, just a revolution of love, of forgiveness, and healing, which the world both wants and needs, so let us live it so that the world may be transformed and believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Epiphany

Imagine the scene, you’ve given birth to a baby and are sheltering with the animals for warmth. First shepherds come to see you, and then rich noble astronomers from hundreds of miles away. It is strange, and out of the ordinary. But then this is no ordinary baby, quite the opposite in fact. Today he is made manifest to all the World. 

The opening words of Isaiah 61, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’ (Isa 61:1 ESV) foretells the star which leads the Wise Men to Jesus. It shines as a light in the darkness, and points to Him who is the light of the World, a light which the world cannot understand or overcome. He is the Light of the World, in Him our salvation has arisen, a light which can never be put out. The nations shall come to His light, Christ is made manifest to the gentiles, made clear, and obvious. Kings come to the brightness of His rising, and they bring gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. They come to honour Christ, who is priest, prophet, and King. They come to worship God made man; they come to pay their homage to the Saviour born among them. They come with camels and bringing gold and frankincense to worship their king and their God. They come to Bethlehem, and not to a royal palace, or a throne. This is what true kingship is, true love, that of God and not of humanity.

The wise men bring Jesus gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are and always have been expensive, costly, and precious things. Gold, is a precious metal, which does not tarnish, which is pure. It is a gift for a King: its purity points to a life of perfect obedience, the pattern of how life should be lived. Incense, from Arabia, was offered to God in the Temple in Jerusalem, as the sweet-smelling smoke rose, it looked like our prayers rising to God. It is a sign of worship, a sign of honour, and how humanity should respond to God. Myrrh, often used in the ointment was part of embalming, it speaks of death. Even in Christ’s birth, and appearance to the Gentiles, we see Christ’s kingly power, and his obedience to the will of the Father. We see His role in worship as our great High Priest, which leads Him to Death and Burial

Everything then points to the Cross, where Christ will shed his blood for love of us, where he will die to reconcile us to God. It is an act of pure, self-giving love, which we as Christians celebrate. It’s why we come to the Eucharist, to share in Christ’s body and blood, to be fed by him, with him, and to become what he is.

The Wise Men in the East saw a conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in the constellation Pisces, which was believed to represent the Jews , which coincided with a comet moving in the sky. So, on the basis of their observations they travelled hundred of miles to Israel, the land of the Jews, and go to the royal palace in Jerusalem, to find out what is going on. Creation announces, through the movement of the stars and planets that something wonderful is happening. 

The incarnation of the Son of God is the pivotal event in earth’s history: through it salvation has dawned, and humanity is offered freedom and new life in this little child. He is proclaimed to all the world as the King of the Jews and the Saviour of the World, the Messiah. Herod’s reaction was fear of being overthrown which leads him to murder the newborn children in Bethlehem in order to safeguard his position. The world’s reaction is more complex. Mostly it is indifference, nowadays. At its root is pessimism for the future: things will just get worse, they cannot get better. But in Christ a new hope has dawned. We can have hope because Christ is born and made manifest to the world. When the Wise Men saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy, and they came, and they fell down, knelt and worshipped him, because he was God become man in the womb of a Virgin. Our salvation is made manifest to the world, the whole of creation rejoices that God is with us. It is a great reason for joy, and the joy of the Lord is our strength (cf. Nehemiah 8:10) 

So let us rejoice like the Wise Men, let us come like them to kneel before the Lord, born in our midst.  The Wise Men come and kneel and they worship and adore the Lord of creation and the Word of God Incarnate. The King of all is not in a Palace but in a simple house in Bethlehem, and He meets us here today under the outward forms of Bread and Wine, to heal us, to restore us, and to give us life in Him. Let us come before Him, offer Him the gifts of our life, and our love, and our service so that we may see His Kingdom grow.

As we celebrate the Epiphany we also look forward to Our Lord’s Baptism in the River Jordan and his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. He who is without sin shows humanity how to be freed from sin and to have new life in Him. In turning water into wine we see that the kingdom of God is a place of generous love, a place of joy, and of life in all its fullness.

So let us be filled with joy and love, may we live lives of joy, and love, and service of God and one another, which proclaim in word and deed the love of God to the world, that it may believe: so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen

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Christmas 2019

We have come here this morning because something wonderful happened two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. It is the single most important event in human history, summed up in St John’s memorable phrase, ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (Jn 1:14 ESV). The Word, through which God spoke all creation into being, the Son eternally begotten of the Father, who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, took flesh in the womb of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is born for us, and lives among us. The verb translated as ‘dwelt’ means to live in a tent, and thus to settle, which conveys something both temporary and permanent at the same time. This is the paradoxical quality of the Incarnation, which looks back to the Exodus when the people of Israel spent forty years in tents before they got to the Promised Land, and that God’s presence was with them, as then so now. God is with us, Emmanuel, He is with us now in the words of Holy Scripture and will be with us in the Eucharist.

Today is a day to be encouraged, and the message of Isaiah is one of joy. The birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is good news, He comes to bring true peace to humanity. Our God reigns as a little baby, lying in a manger. Christ’s gift to us is peace and goodwill to all humanity. He can give us these gifts because He who is born for us today will die for us. The one wrapped in swaddling clothes will be wrapped in linen cloths in a tomb once He has died for us on the Cross. The beginning of His earthly life points to its end to remind us of the love of God for humanity. With joy the prophet can proclaim, ‘and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.’ (Isa 52:10 ESV) Today salvation has indeed come to the whole world, for in His Birth and Death we are saved. 

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews understands that God speaks through his prophets, who look forward to the birth of the Son of God as the defining event, the turning point of human history. Prophets tell us both how things are and how they WILL BE, thus we have a vision of God’s future, we have the hope of glory in the one who is born today. We glimpse true glory in the vulnerability of the baby lying in the manger, dependant upon others for love, and food, and warmth. God’s glory confounds our expectations, and that’s the point. God’s ways are not our ways, nor his thoughts ours. In the same way that God saves us not because we ARE lovable, but so that we might become so. Humanity is saved in order to be transformed, and the Church exists to extend that transformation across space and time. 

Such is the mystery of God’s love, something so wonderful that we cannot fully understand it, but we can experience it, and through experiencing it, be transformed by it. As Austin Farrer wrote: 

God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is and it remains for us a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives us a Son. Such is the spirit of the angel’s message to the shepherds: “Peace upon earth, good will to men … and this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.” A Son is better than an explanation. The explanation of our death leaves us no less dead than we were; but a Son gives us a life, in which to live.’ [Austin Farrer Said or Sung pp. 27, 28]

As St John says, ‘ In him was life, and the life was the light of men.’ (Jn 1:4 ESV) Just as the star gives light to Bethlehem and guides the wise men on their way, so Christ gives light to a world filled with Darkness. Christ is the true light, and comes to give us true life in Him. ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’ (Jn 1:12-13 ESV) In the Church we are born again by water and the Holy Spirit, sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection, to have new life IN HIM. We are IN CHRIST, and are fed with HIS BODY AND BLOOD so that we may continue to be transformed by Him. Christ comes to give us life, new life, eternal life in Him, so that cleansed from our sins and transformed by the love of God we may live the life of the Kingdom, the life of heaven here and now. This is ‘glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ (Jn 1:14 ESV) given to humanity so that we may live as God intended us to. To us is offered through Christ the chance to return to Eden, to see Creation restored, and all things set right through Him. This is no pipe dream, but the reality of God’s love freely given to restore our fallen state. So let us live it and encourage others to so that all humanity may sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Midnight Mass 2019

The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about ninety miles, with some fairly large hills involved. It would probably have taken Mary and Joseph ten days to travel there, walking with a donkey. It was a huge effort: in order to be with family, and to comply with the demands of the census. Amidst the joy and the wonder of this holy night it is good to begin by pondering the fact that the Holy Family were tired, even before the Blessed Virgin Mary went into labour. Tonight is a time for many emotions: joy, wonder, love and fear, as we celebrate God working among us. 

The prophet Isaiah in tonight’s first reading speaks of a future centred upon the birth of a royal baby. It is a message of hope, a light shining in the darkness, which looks forward to the star of Bethlehem, announcing the birth to the world. The boy will free us from burdens and break the rod of our oppressor. The wonderful mystery which we celebrate here tonight is that through Jesus Christ sin will have no power over us. He will bear our burden on the Cross. Christ is born for us so that He may die for us. His life begins lying against the wood of the manger, as it will end against the wood of the Cross. This is the justice and righteousness to which Isaiah looks forward: a God whose entire life and being proclaim the love of God. Christ is the true son of David, a Wonderful Counsellor, in Him God shows His true might, the Eternal Son show us the heart of love of the Everlasting Father, Christ is the Prince of Peace, as He gives us peace from God, not human peace, but something far more wonderful. All that Isaiah proclaims is made manifest tonight in this little child. The world can never be the same.

St Paul writes to Titus to remind him that God’s grace has been revealed. Her tonight we see the kindness of God in giving His only Son to be born for us, making the salvation of the human race possible. Christ gave Himself for us, to redeem us from sin. Here tonight God is born as a baby, so that humanity might become divine. This is generosity on a scale we can hardly imagine, because God’s love is so all-encompassing, so utterly wonderful. As we celebrate His coming in the flesh we also look forward to His Second Coming, when our Saviour will return. We are to prepare for this by celebrating the mystery of our salvation, and allowing it to transform our lives.

So the King of Israel, the Saviour of the World is born not in a palace, but surrounded by farm animals. As Isaiah prophesied, at the very start of his prophecy: ‘The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib’ (Isa 1:3 ESV). So the animals kneel to honour their Creator, born in their midst. ‘He whose godhead made him rich became poor for our sake, so as to put salvation within the reach of everyone’ [Theodotus of Ancyra (Homily 1 on Christmas: PG 77: 1360-1361) ]. 

Meanwhile out in the fields there are shepherds, looking after their sheep. Jerusalem is only six miles away, and these are the sheep needed for Passover, and other Jewish festivals. Shepherds are interesting in that David, Israel’s second king was one, and scripture talks of God shepherding His people Israel. The Messiah, the saviour, is prophesied in terms of a shepherd. St Matthew quotes the prophet Micah: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’ (Matt 2:6 ESV quoting Micah 5:2). An angel comes to the shepherds to tell them the wondrous news which has just taken place. They are afraid, terrified in fact, and rightly so. It is so completely out of the ordinary. We have so domesticated this pastoral scene that we forget that here we have ordinary people faced with an angel and the glory of God, something so amazing that humans cannot bear to look at it. It’s too bright, too wonderful. And there’s not just one angel, but a multitude of the heavenly host, an army of angels, thousands of them, more than you can count, singing the praise of Almighty God. The worship of heaven comes down to earth for a moment to celebrate this wonderful event. Words cannot describe it, though we will get close to it this night as we celebrate the Eucharist. For here too heaven and earth will meet, and Christ who is the living bread come down from heaven, born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, will take bread so that it may become His Body, to feed us, so that we might share His divine life.

It’s a radical action, which turns our world upside down. Ours is a God who shows strength and power in His weakness, in His dependance upon others, to show us what true kingship is really like. Whereas Caesar claims the title Augustus, literally one who is worthy of honour, the one worthy of true honour is born not in Rome, but in Bethlehem. As the angel announces to the shepherds, ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ (Lk 2:11 ESV). Jesus is our saviour, not some Roman Emperor. He is the Messiah, the one who can save us and all humanity, and he is lying not in a cot in a palace, but in a manger, surrounded by animals. God defies human expectations, and human understanding, to do something wonderful, and unexpected, because this is what the Kingdom of God looks like: it turns our human world on its head. The Son of God is born in a stable, and adored by shepherds. The most important event in human history happens tonight, and for two thousand years the Church has proclaimed its truth, that God is with us, is born for us, to set us free from sin, to give us eternal life, and to pour out God’s love and reconciliation upon a world that longs for healing and wholeness. Tonight the mystery of God’s love is made manifest, may we be filled with that love, and may our voices echo the song of the angels in giving praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Some prophetic words for the Church …

‘We tend to manage life more than just live it. We are all overstimulated and drowning in options. We are trained to be managers, to organize life, to make things happen. This is what built our culture. It is not all bad, but if you transfer that to the spiritual life, it is pure heresy. It is wrong it doesn’t work. It is not gospel.’

 

from Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas – Daily Meditations for Advent, Cincinatti, 2008, p. 31

Advent IV ‘He will save his people from their sins’

The story of salvation history, of humanity’s relationship with God can be characterised by one phrase: , ‘Paid ag ofni, Do not be afraid!’ Again and again God speaks to His people to tell them to be of good heart, to reassure and encourage them. This morning’s readings are a case in point. Joseph is afraid at the fact that his intended wife, Mary is with child. Rather than take her to court and divorce her publicly for infidelity, he intends to deal with the matter privately. Joseph is a just man, one who walks in the Law of the Lord. Joseph is someone close to God, so it is no surprise that God speaks to him in a dream. The angel is clear: the child that will be born is of the Holy Spirit, He will be the Son of God, and His name will be Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. 

St Matthew clearly understands the Birth of Jesus as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, which we heard as our first reading this morning. You ‘shall call his name Immanuel.’ (Isa 7:14 ESV) Jesus: God saves, Immanuel, God is with us. Names matter. What does is mean to say that God is with us? Is it an expression of solidarity? Or something more? In Jesus God is with us, and shares our human life, from birth to death. This is not some remote divine figure, but one intimately acquainted with all of human existence. This changes the dynamics of our relationship somewhat. God is not external, but someone who understands us, and loves us, whose entire existence is about communicating Divine Love and Reconciliation. This is all the Church has been about at its core for the past two thousand years, proclaiming the same message of hope and salvation.

He will save his people from their sins: the angel’s words to Joseph could not be clearer. Jesus is God’s rescue mission, to save humanity from their sins. It leads to the Cross, and so as we prepare to celebrate His Birth, we know that His life will end here, on Cross, where He who was without sin, became sin, experiencing all the alienation and estrangement which it produces. As we prepare the most joyous of feasts, we are mindful of the cost of God’s love. This is a love which will see the bonds of love which unite Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ruptured, as the Son experiences death and desolation, so that we no longer have to. This is the Good News of the Kingdom of God, which the Church exists to proclaim and live out, to continue God’s work of love and reconciliation. 

Jesus will be born so that Scripture might be fulfilled, or as St Paul puts it in the beginning of his Letter to the Romans: ‘which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures’ (Rom 1:2 ESV). The Church has always proclaimed this truth, because it is true. On the road to Emmaus, before He reveals Himself to them in the Eucharist,  Jesus explains the Hebrew Scriptures to them: ‘And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself’ (Lk 24:27 ESV) The Church interprets Scripture as pointing to Jesus Christ because that is what Our Lord Himself does. We follow His example. It is how the Apostle Philip explains Scripture to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:35. Scripture, the Word of God, points to the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. He is its author, its focus, and the interpretative key, who unlocks its meaning. 

The final words Jesus says to His disciples before His Ascension are ‘And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matt 28:20 ESV) The one who is God with us, as he departs this earth, promises to remain with us. And through His Holy Spirit, he does. He is with us in Scripture, and especially in the Eucharist, when we feast on His Body and Blood, given for us, so that we might have life in Him. God gives Himself for us, so that we might become what He is, so that we might share the Divine life of love forever. This is what salvation looks like, and tastes like. The act of love which we are preparing to celebrate in Our Lord’s Nativity should draw us to love God and our neighbour, to live out the love which becomes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, which will become flesh and blood that we can touch and taste, here, this morning, to feed us, so that we might share His divine life. So let us imitate the mystery we celebrate, let us be filled with and transformed by the divine life of love, let us like Mary and Joseph wait on the Lord, and be transformed by him, to live out our faith in our lives so that the world might believe and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Advent III – He that will come

The prophet Isaiah provides our first readings during Advent this year, and he is particular strong on the idea that the Messiah will come to deliver Israel. As Christians we use the period of Advent to reflect upon the fact that Christ is coming, He is coming as a baby born in Bethlehem, He is coming to us here today in the Eucharist, and He is coming with vengeance to judge the world. Should we be afraid? On the contrary, as the prophet says, ‘Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart,“Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’ (Isa 35:3-4 ESV). 

Isaiah has a vision where the desert, a dry wilderness is carpeted with flowers, a sign of new life, of hope. This is the flourishing which the Messiah will bring, ‘the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God’ (Isa 35:2 ESV). As Christ Himself says ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’ (Jn 10:10 ESV) This is good news, a reason to rejoice and be glad, and to mark this the Church instead of penitential purple wears rose today, to mark the joyful character of this day, and to remind us that Christ is coming. As Isaiah says, ‘the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’ (Isa 35:10 ESV).

The time is both now, and not yet. As St James writes, ‘You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand’ (Jas 5:8 ESV). Patience is a hard thing to master. We are naturally impatient, we don’t want to wait, but we have to. The question is how we wait: in joyful expectation, preparing ourselves for what is to come? 

John the Baptist has been waiting for the Messiah, and while he leapt in his mother’s womb at the Visitation, in this morning’s Gospel he appears to be having doubts. He is expecting a Messiah of judgement, and he is isn’t sure what is going on. John has been imprisoned for criticising Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. He is hoping for a messiah to sweep away an unjust and corrupt regime, hence his doubts about Jesus, who doesn’t seem to be a political messiah. Jesus tells John’s disciples, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them’ (Mt 11:4-5 ESV). 

The vision of a messianic future envisaged by Isaiah in this morning’s first reading has become a reality: prophecy has been fulfilled, God keeps his promises. The Kingdom of God is a place of healing, and Christ is the great physician, who has come to heal our souls. Jesus is the one who is to come, He has come, and will come again. The establishment of God’s kingdom can look strange in human terms: going to those on the margins, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed and marginalised is not a grand gesture. That is the point! The greatest grand gesture Jesus will make will be in handing Himself over to be crucified and die the death of a common criminal. This is how the messiah will reign as the true King of Israel. 

It defies human expectations, which is the point: God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts ours. That’s the core message of this morning’s Gospel, if we expect God’s rule to look like human kingship, then we will be disappointed. God has something else in store, something far more wonderful than we could ever imagine, and at its heart is the transformation of humanity by love. God heals His people, because God is a God of love. God loves us not because we are loveable, we are sinners, who don’t deserve to be loved, and cannot earn that love. But rather than what we are, God loves us for WHO we are, His sons and daughters, created in His image. 

This is grace: loving sinful humanity so that we may be transformed by love. Hence the focus on healing, something which only God can do, to heal our souls with His love. This is the cause of our joy, what the prophet Isaiah hoped for has been fulfilled, and continues to be fulfilled. The Church exists to carry on God’s healing in the world, to take humanity, and heal it with God’s love. This is what we are about to celebrate in the Eucharist where we thank God for loving us, and prepare to experience that healing love, so that it may transform us. We do so with reverence, because we are not simply consuming human food and drink, but the very Body and Blood of Christ, given for us, to heal us. The greatest medicine our souls could ever wish for. Soon we ‘shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God’ (Isa 35:2 ESV) God’s glory and majesty is to die on a Cross for us, and to feed us with Himself. Come to the banquet my brothers and sisters, and experience the love of God, and let it heal and transform you, so that you and all creation may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Advent II Yr A – REPENT

John the Baptist appears in this morning’s Gospel in stark un-compromising fashion. His message is simple, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mt 3:2 ESV). It is a clear message, but to understand it takes some work. To repent means to change ones mind: to turn away from sin, and turn back to God. We are called to think differently, and as a result of this to act differently, to follow Jesus, and thereby to change the world, by co-operating with God to make the Kingdom a lived reality here and now, and to share in it forever. To repent is to turn away from sin, which separates us from God, and each other. Sin makes us selfish, self-absorbed, concerned with pleasure, wealth, power. It’s all about ME, how I feel, what I want. The proclamation of the Kingdom of God tells us that another way is possible, by the grace of God. It sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Freeing, liberating: living for others rather than ourselves. At its heart the Kingdom is a place of generosity and real love, life in all its fullness. The Church exists to proclaim this same message, and to say to the world: Another way is possible.

It is not surprising that in those times people came out into the desert to hear John. He was charismatic, his message was a refreshing antidote to the Religious Establishment of his day. People come, confess their sins, and are baptised, they are washed clean, to serve God, and to love Him. They also come because in John the people of Israel see prophecy fulfilled, and a new Elijah is in their midst. One who points to the Messiah, and has done ever since he leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb at the Visitation. Before John was even born he proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the One who would save Israel from their sins. We see this Messianic kingdom hoped for in the vision of Isaiah in this morning’s first reading. The branch which comes forth from the stem of Jesse is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who filled with God’s Holy Spirit, conceived and bore Our Saviour, the true King of all that is, or has been, or will be. He will be on the side of the poor and the meek, people who are left behind, and ignored because they are not rich or powerful. It’s a radical vision, which reminds us that we still have some way to go in order to put it into practice in the world around us. Isaiah’s vision of Messianic peace looks impossible, but it signifies a world-changing peace, which alters how things are, how we behave. For with, and through God another way is possible. It is not simple, or easy, but it is possible, if we rely upon God to help us. As St Paul says to the Christians in Rome, ‘May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.’ (Romans 15:5-7 ESV) and again ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope’ (Romans 15:13 ESV). We receive the Holy Spirit in our Baptism and Confirmation to strengthen us to live out our faith in our lives.

Hope can feel in pretty short supply when we look at the world around us, and if we look to humanity we will be disappointed. Our hope comes from God, our hope is God, God with us, whose Birth we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation, when we prepare for Christ to come, both as a baby in Bethlehem, and as our saviour and our Judge. As the son of Jesse, and the son of David, Jesus is Israel’s true king, who rules over all. Isaiah has hope in the peace the Messiah will bring. Injustice and affliction, the fruit of sin is dealt with on the Cross, where He ‘shall stand as a signal for the peoples’ (Isa 11:10 ESV). Christ comes to die, out of love for humanity. In Him God can make things put right, and restore Creation, so that the entire Universe may praise the God who created it. 

Our Saviour is also our judge. ‘His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ (Matt 3:12 ESV) It’s real, and it should make us stop and think for a moment. Are we living the way God wants us to? If we are not then we need to repent, say sorry, and live the way God wants us to live. This is how we flourish as people. John the Baptist calls us to make a spiritual u- turn, to turn our life around, to turn away from what separates us from God, our sins. He calls us to the waters of baptism, so that we can be healed and restored by God, filled with his grace, and prepared to receive the Holy Spirit: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11). The problem with the Pharisees and Sadducees who come to John is that they do not show the repentance necessary, they haven’t made the u-turn, they don’t have the humility to recognise there sinfulness, and the need to be washed in the waters of baptism. They are confident that they are children of Abraham; they don’t have the right attitude for God to be at work in their lives.

As well as seeing Jesus as our Saviour, John the Baptist sees Jesus as Our Judge, he points to the second coming of the Lord when, as St John of the Cross puts it, ‘we will be judged by love alone’.  It is love that matters – in Christ we see what love means it is costly, self-giving and profound. As we are filled with His Spirit, nourished by Word and Sacrament, we need to live out this love in our lives. This is how we prepare to meet him as we prepare to celebrate His Birth and look forward to his Second Coming. So let us be prepared, let us live out God’s love in our lives, let us turn away from everything which separates us from God and each other, let us live out that costly, self-giving love in our lives, as this is what God wants us to do. It is through doing this that the world around us can see what our faith means in practice, how it affects our lives, and why they could and should follow Him, and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.  

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Advent I (Year A)

Just over one hundred and one years ago a war ended that was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’. Instead the last century has seen very little peace. We are lucky in Western Europe that we have experienced 70 years without conflict, but there have been wars elsewhere. Humanity is still plagued by warfare: the loss of life, the crimes committed, lives blighted. So when we hear the prophecy of Isaiah in this morning’s first reading it is truly joyful. Beating swords into ploughshares and turning spears into pruning hooks sounds wonderful indeed. Growing crops and tending vines provides us with food and drink. It is a sign of peace, joy, and prosperity. And at the time when Christ was born, and we are preparing to celebrate the yearly memorial of his birth at Christmas, this prophecy was fulfilled. There was peace in the Roman World when Christ was born, scripture was fulfilled. And we look forward to such peace coming again, and we work for it, together. The messianic age which we look forward to  shows us what truly following Christ looks like in practice. If we walk in the light of the Lord, we are freed from the darkness of sin and destruction, which threatens to overwhelm us. 

This same message is found in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, our second reading this morning. It is an encouraging message, that another way is possible. Instead of sleep-walking towards damnation and destruction, we can be awake and ready to follow Christ. Every day is another day closer to Christ’s Second Coming. He will come again, as our Saviour and our Judge. We need to be ready, putting on the armour of light, putting on Christ, through our baptism, and living out the faith of our baptism in our lives. The capital of the Roman Empire was renowned for tolerating some pretty immoral behaviour. It was everywhere, all around the Christian community there. Were they tempted to join in? Of course! But St Paul advises them to resist the pleasures of the flesh, drunkenness, quarrelling, nastiness: all the sorts of things we can get up to if left to our own devices.

St Paul speaks to us, to encourage the church and its members, you and me, not to give into the culture of the world around us, but to stay close to Christ. It is easy in theory, but tricky in practice. It’s easier when you’re part of a community. We can help and support each other, in good times and bad. It’s why people join Slimming World or Weightwatchers. They’re trying to change their lifestyle and eating habits, and find the support of a group a great help. Never think that small groups do not have the power to change the world. We are living proof of it as Christians, and it is why we are HERE today: to support each other, to be built up in love together, to turn away from the ways of the world, and to follow Christ. 

We follow Christ and we are ready. We prepare for Christ to come among us. That’s what Advent means, Christ’s coming. We prepare for three comings: the first our annual commemoration of His birth in Bethlehem, at Christmas, where the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The second coming of Christ will be at the end of time, when He will be our Saviour and our Judge. The third coming we prepare for is even nearer. It happens day by day, and week when Christ comes to us in the Eucharist, in His Body and Blood, under the outward forms of Bread and Wine, the Banquet of the Kingdom, anticipated by the ploughshares and pruning hooks of Isaiah, tools to help produce Bread and Wine, a prophecy which looks forward to the peace of the Messiah and a banquet of Bread and Wine. Food of the Kingdom, food for our journey of faith, to give us strength and new life in Christ. Christ comes to us in the Eucharist to give us strength and to transform us, into His likeness. This is the reality of God’s love for us, shown to us on the Cross, and in the Resurrection, a pledge, a sure sign of love, love we can touch and taste, love which transforms us.

We need it, and we need it together. It is why we gather together on the day when Christ rose from the dead to celebrate His triumph, and ask for His prayers. Because as St Matthew’s Gospel tells us, we need to be ready. We need to be ready because ‘the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ (Mt 24:44 ESV) It could be that between my writing these words and delivering them, Christ will come. Christ could come today, or in thousands of years’ time. It doesn’t matter when He comes. We need to be ready, prepared to meet Him, freed from sin, and living out our faith in our lives, having heeded the warnings to prepare ourselves. That’s why Advent is a penitential season, we are reminded of how we fall short, and try, with God’s grace, to amend our lives and follow Christ.

That is why in this morning’s Gospel reading Christ says, ‘For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.’ (Mt 24:37 ESV). Before the flood in Genesis we se that humanity was corrupt and violent, and sinful. The point Christ is making is that this is how the world will be; Christians should not be like this, because we have put on Christ, we are walking in the light, supporting each other, as a community of faith, living out the love we have been shown in Christ. At a time we do not expect, Our Lord will return, so we need to be ready, so that whenever He comes Christ may find us ready, and prepared to meet him.  

We need to prepare our hearts, our souls, our minds, all of our life, we need to live and act, to think and speak like the people of God, fully alive in him, having turned away from the ways of the world, to live fully in him, we are to live this way, and invite others so to do, so that the Kingdom of God’s peace and love may truly be found here in earth, where humanity is truly valued, where violence, death, murder, and immorality are no more.

The time is short, the time is now, it really matters; we need to come to the Lord, learn his ways and walk in his paths, living decently, living vigilantly, preferring nothing to Christ, and inviting all the world to come to the fullness of life in Him. This is how we celebrate His coming at Christmas and as Our Saviour and Judge, by following him, fed by Him, restored and healed by Him, and sharing His church’s message with all the world, so that it too may believe and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Christ the King Year C

To celebrate the Kingship of Christ is something both old and new. The feast which the Church celebrates today was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In a world traumatised by the Great War, with class divisions and a surge in nationalism, the Pope wished to stress that Christ is the Prince of Peace, His Kingship was not obtained by violence, and our supreme allegiance belongs to Him. We are not Welsh, or British, or European, but first and foremost we belong to Christ. While we are currently earthly subjects of Queen Elizabeth II, our primary allegiance is a spiritual one: to the God who loves us and saves us. The feast of Christ the King also reminds us that Heaven is our true home, that we are made for a relationship with God above all else, a God who loves us. 

Our first reading this morning recalls David’s anointing as King of Israel. He was chosen by God to be the shepherd of God’s people Israel. David points to Jesus Christ, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, who is the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep. 

In our second reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, we hear what God has done for us, and who Christ is. God has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. We can go to Heaven, we have been delivered from darkness, into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. In Christ we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. Christ has paid the debt we owe, our sins are forgiven. We don’t need to slaughter lambs and be sprinkled with their blood, because we have been sprinkled with the Blood of the Lamb of God in our Baptism. We are redeemed and our sins are forgiven because of what Christ does for us on the Cross. This is the heart of our faith: Christ died for us, because Christ loves us. 

In Christ we see God, we know who and what God is because He was born in Bethlehem, yet begotten in eternity. In Christ we see that God loves us. He created all that is, so all is subject to Him. He is the head of His Body, the Church, of which we are a part through our baptism, and our participation in the Eucharist, where we, the mystical Body, are fed with the mystical Body, so that we might become what we eat. As the firstborn from the dead, Christ, in His Resurrection shows us that death is not the end, that our lives will be changed not ended. The fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ: our bodies are not something to escape, but we are made in the image and likeness of God, and Christ is truly God, not just a mere man, not just a good moral teacher, an inspiration, but God. And through Christ God was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself ‘making peace by the blood of His Cross’. (Col 1:23). Let’s think about that for a moment.

Reconciliation is a big deal, restoring friendly relations where there has been strife and enmity, debts are paid, the account is balanced. The problem caused by human sin, first seen in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, has been dealt with, once, and for all. God wipes the slate clean, cancels the debt we owe, because He has paid it in the Blood of His only Son. Because of what God has done for us, the Church is to be a community of reconciliation, where wounds are healed, and our relationships are restored both with each other and with God. That’s quite something! It’s radically different to how we normally are as human beings. We’re wounded and scarred, we hold grudges, we’re afraid and angry. Instead God in Christ offers us healing, love, and forgiveness, so that we can experience true peace, how life is supposed to be lived, life in all its fulness. It’s not a pipe-dream, but rather a reality, here and now, if only we accept it. God’s love is offered to us, only we can reject it. Even if we do, God doesn’t stop offering it to us, such is His love for us. It’s astounding, that God could loves us that much. But as C.S. Lewis says, God does not love us ‘because we are lovable, but because He is love, not because He needs to receive but because He delights to give.’ Through Him, we may be transformed more and more into His image and likeness. This is the generosity of God: a gift freely given. That’s why we celebrate today the Supreme Kingship of God in Jesus Christ. Human kings reign because they have conquered in war. Our God reigns, because He gives himself to die for us. Christ turns human ideas of power on their head.

We see this in the account of the Crucifixion in St Luke’s Gospel. The sign on the Cross reads, ‘This is the King of the Jews’. It is meant to be a joke, it is meant to mock Him, like the purple robe, and the Crown of Thorns, but it is self-defeating. It proclaims Christ’s kingship. He is the King of the Jews, the Anointed King, of the line of David. The people there mock Him, and tell Him to save Himself, but they’ve got it all wrong: He is there to save humanity and not Himself. Then one of the thieves goes a bit further: You’re the Messiah, save yourself and save us too. The ‘good thief’ recognises what’s going on, and says to his colleague, ‘we’re being punished because we committed a crime, but this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. 

The thief’s recognition of who and what Christ is brings about his salvation. He saved others, himself he cannot save. It is isn’t that Christ cannot save Himself, but that He doesn’t want to. He wants to save others, because He is the Messiah, and He is God. God is saving his people. God saves, it’s what the Hebrew Yeshua means. Here on the Cross Jesus fulfils His life’s work, this is who and what He is. God saves His people by dying for them. This is real kingship, not robes, or power, but love, dying the death of a common criminal. It doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t supposed to. God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. It’s crazy and reckless in human terms, but it works. We can’t save ourselves, only God can do that, in an act of generous love, extravagant, exuberant, a gift we cannot repay. 

Christ’s kingship puts human kingship into context: the good ones are a reflection of Him, generous and loving, the bad ones are concerned with wealth and power. They may possess temporal power, they can put people to death, but as Christians we can laugh in their face, because first and foremost we serve a higher and a greater power, who will return to judge the world. As we come to the end of another liturgical year, and we prepare to celebrate Advent it is good to be reminded of the three comings of our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes as a baby in Bethlehem, He comes in the Eucharist, week by week, and day by day, and He will come again as our Judge. Christ our King was born for us, died for us, gives Himself for us in the Eucharist, so that we might become what He is, and He will come to be our Judge, as one who has paid our penalty, and restored us to God and each other, a God of love, a God of mercy and reconciliation. 

This is the God we worship, and whom we hail as our true King. Christ has conquered on the Cross, Christ reigns as King of the Universe, and Christ reigns in our hearts, and in our lives, so that all we are, and all we do may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Trinity XXII

As Christians are we simply satisfied with the world, with the way things are? No. Do we want things to be different? I hope so, yes. That’s good, as the prophet Malachi in our first reading this morning has a vision of the future, when the arrogant and evil doers will be like stubble in a furnace, ‘But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.’ (Malachi 4:2). This is a vision of a future where God is in control, and things will be put right, and at one level He already has. Christ is risen from the dead, the one who heals God’s people has risen. The time is both not yet, and now, a work in progress, and a reality. 

We have a part to play in it. We cannot just sit back and wait for God to sort everything out, we need to co-operate with God, and help to make the Kingdom a reality. Hence S. Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians, ‘As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good’ (2Thess 3:13). We’ve been trying and failing for nearly two thousand years. That’s what a work in progress is. It isn’t easy, and no one can fail to notice that the world around us is often rather hostile to who we are, and what we stand for. It is not easy to be a Christian, nor has it ever been, for that matter. 

We will be hated by all people for Christ’s name’s sake (Lk 21:17). Hate is a strong word, but as we are directly opposed to many in this world, it is not surprising. With hatred comes persecution, and we only have to look to China, North Korea, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan, to see it. Christians are being killed for believing in God who loves us, who died to save from our sins. To follow Christ is to walk the way of the Cross, to risk imprisonment, torture and death, for the love of His name. But ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). Only Jesus can save us, we cannot save ourselves. We are called to bear witness to Him. 

Jews in the first century AD loved the Temple, it was the centre of their world, it was where they could be close to God, it was where sacrifices happened which took away their sins. But less than forty years after Jesus spoke this prophecy a Roman Army destroyed it. But as Christians we know that Jesus Christ is the new Temple, the place to meet God, the place of sacrifice. Destroy it in three days, and I will raise it up. Christ speaks of His body, and that is us: we are the Body of Christ. Churches are not buildings, they are groups of people who love Jesus, and each other. Jesus speaks of false Christs, who will lead people astray, and warns ‘ do not go after them’ (Lk 21:8). It is a temptation, especially when times are hard, when there are war and natural disasters. 

But we know that Our Lord Jesus Christ is victorious, he is the true worship of God. In Him we can have confidence. He gives us Himself, His Body and Blood, to nourish us and to heal us, and give us strength to prepare us for the trials we will face. Here in Britain it is more likely to be indifference than anything else. Indifference speaks of a hardness of heart, being deaf to the Good News of the Kingdom. At its root is Sin, our separation from God by our following our will, and not God’s. We think we know better, and do what we want to do, rather than letting God work through us. The human condition hasn’t actually changed since the Garden of Eden. We continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. There is, however, a way out of this. God in Christ deals with the problem of our sin on the Cross, where He offers himself as a sacrificial victim to atone for all the sins of humanity. It’s what Christ was born for, as the angel says to Joseph, ‘She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ (Mt 1:21) The name Jesus (Hebrew Yeshua) means ‘God saves’ and He does. This is what we believe as Christians, where we put our trust, our hope, in a God who loves us and saves us, the same God who inspired the prophecies of Malachi, which look forward to Christ. 

That same Christ who heals us and sustains us will be with us in our trials, and whereas our family and friends may prove false to us, we can have confidence that Christ will never let us down. He’s been through this. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit we are strengthened to bear witness to Him. For the same Christ who died for us, and rose again, who ascended into heaven, will come again to judge us and all the world. It sounds scary and intimidating, and at one level it is, and it should be. It matters; hence our urgency in proclaiming the Kingdom of God. But the one who will judge us, is the same one who died to set us free, the God who loves us, who heals us, and restores us. A God of love and mercy, risen with healing in his wings. Let us come to Him, be healed by Him, nourished with His Body and Blood and strengthened to proclaim Him in word and deed, so that the world may come to believe and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.Enrique_Simonet_-_Flevit_super_illam_-_1892-1.jpg

Remembrance 2019

We are gathered here on this special day to do a number of things together. First and foremost we give thanks for the safe deliverance of these islands from the World Wars of the previous century. These were wars on a scale never before seen. The first was supposed to be the ‘war to end all wars’, yet within twenty years a greater conflict began which brought even more death and suffering to millions across the world. Hardly a day has gone by in the past century when there has not been a conflict somewhere in our world. 

It is now one hundred years since we first marked the anniversary of the Armistice by stopping in silence for two minutes, and praying: in remembrance of all those who gave their lives for our country, and for all who suffer as a result of war. For one hundred years we have engaged in a public act of remembrance. 

In 1919 the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, commissioned a cenotaph (which means empty tomb) to stand in Whitehall, London, as a focus for an act of remembrance, when most of the war dead lay buried overseas. The original wood and plaster structure, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, was only intended to stand for one week, but it proved so popular that a permanent one was created in Portland Stone ready for the 1920 Armistice Day.

Since 1919, the Cenotaph has become the central focus for national commemoration especially during the National Service of Remembrance held on Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday nearest to 11th November. Its meaning has developed and the Cenotaph now memorialises those who have given their lives in all conflicts since the First World War.

Throughout the country, local memorials were erected to remember the dead of the First and then the Second World War. Like the Cenotaph in London, these became the focus for local Remembrance ceremonies and we keep this tradition here in Maenclochog today, starting our Remembrance Service outside at our Village War Memorial. 

Our act of remembrance is not simply to recall a past event, or to bring the dead to mind, but something more. By remembering today, the sacrifice of countless men and women, we continue to show our thanks for the peace and prosperity which we now enjoy. 

We give thanks for to all those who have served, and continue to serve this country, both at home and abroad, and for the continuing work of the Royal British Legion in supporting veterans and their families. As a country we have asked much of our sons and daughters, and we continue so to do. ‘Cariad mwy na hwn nid oes gan neb; sef, bod i un roi ei einioes dros ei gyfeillion.’ ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13). They died that we might live. 

Their sacrifice calls to mind another sacrifice, made on a hill outside Jerusalem, ‘ble bu farw ein Harglwydd Iesu Grist drosom ni’. We remember this sacrifice too, as Jesus died for us. It is the heart of the Christian Faith, and the greatest demonstration possible of the saving power of love.

Love is at the heart of remembrance. Our human love comes from God, the source of all love. This love has the power to heal wounds, to comfort grief and loss. One hundred years on from the end of the First World War, the world still needs healing. This is beyond our capabilities as human beings. We need God’s help. Our God loves us, and longs to heal our wounds. He gave His Son to die for us, on the Cross, a painful death at the hands of enemy soldiers. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. His tomb was empty, and just as with the empty Cenotaph in London we are reminded that death is not the end. The Christian belief in the Resurrection of the dead and the life to come gives us all hope.

On the first Remembrance Day, one hundred years ago, two minutes silence was introduced. At 11 o’clock, as well as remembering the fallen, we take time to pray for peace. There are two words for peace in Welsh, ‘heddwch’, and ‘tangnefedd’. The first, ‘heddwch’ means an end to hostilities, the Armistice ceasefire which we celebrate today. But ‘tangnefedd’, the other kind of peace, is something far deeper and richer. It is the peace of God, the shalom of the Hebrew Old Testament. This is the gift of God, a feeling of wholeness, which brings about healing. So when Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ ‘Gwyn eu byd y tangnefeddwyr: canys hwy a elwir yn blant i Dduw’ (Mt 5:9) He is envisaging something both radical and world-changing: something which heals, which forgives, and which loves. Today we commit ourselves to making peace a reality: here and now — in our community, in our families, in our relationships, in what we are, in what we say, and in what we do. We can never be too busy to do this. When we take the path of peace we honour the memory of those who gave their lives so that we might live. 

So let us therefore commit ourselves to help create the peace which Christ came to bring, for the glory of God, and the good of all human kind. Our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us another way to live — the way of love and gentleness. In memory of what Christ did here on earth, and continues to do, we can experience the peace of the Kingdom of God, where wounds are healed and divisions are reconciled. Today we give our thanks for those who sacrificed themselves for us, and we honour their memory by treasuring the peace won at so great a cost. 

Almighty God, hear our prayers and thanksgivings for all whom we remember this day. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

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Trinity XX

Last week the Gospel presented us with two people, a Pharisee and a tax-collector: one was a religious expert, a pillar of society, the other someone hated and despised. And yet, on the inside they were completely different – one was self-righteous, arrogant and full of himself, the other knew his need of God’s love and mercy. They show us what not to be and what we should be, and this week we see another one.

Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector; he is someone who was hated, who has got rich by over-charging people. He starts off just being curious – he wants to see what all the fuss is about, he wants to see Jesus. He can’t see over the crowds so he climbs up a sycamore tree. When Jesus sees him, he tells him to come down quickly as Our Lord has to stay at his house today. He hurries down and welcomes Jesus with joy, he’s glad to see Him, to welcome Jesus into his house.

The crowd are a bit miffed – they say, ‘Ooh … look at Him, what’s he going to that man’s house for?’ They just can’t see beyond outward appearances, they judge him – they just see a sinner, they don’t see someone who wants to see Jesus and love Him. The simple presence of Jesus has a transformative effect on Zacchaeus, he gives away half of his property to the poor and promises to repay those whom he has defrauded and to give them compensation. The Son of Man has come to seek out and save the lost – to show people that there is another way. This is the love of God in action – this is what happens on the Cross – God shows us the transforming power of His love, love shown to the un-loveable, so that they might become lovely.

It is an idea which can be found in scripture – this morning’s first reading shows us that God is loving and merciful, and that God’s love and mercy can have an effect on our lives, if we trust in Him, if we invite Him in, so that his transforming love can be at work in our lives, and ‘may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1Thess 1:11–12) It is through God’s grace, an undeserved gift, that people like Zacchaeus can be transformed, transformed by God and for God, and what was true for him is true for us, here, today.

That is why, as Christians, we pray, why we come to Mass each and every week to be fed by word and sacrament, so that God’s grace and transforming love may be at work in us, transforming our nature, making us more like Him. Everything that we say or think or do in our lives needs to be an outworking of our faith, so that our exterior life and our interior life are in harmony with each other – so that our lives, like St Paul’s, may proclaim the Gospel. This is what we are called to, and how we are to live. Unless we start from the point where we know our need of God and rely upon him, where we too make that space where God can be at work in us, in our souls and our lives, we are doomed.

Is this the kind of life we really want to lead? Is this really the path of human flourishing? Or are we called to something better, something greater, something more lovely? So let us put our trust in the God who loves us and who saves us, let us know our need of him and his transforming grace to fill our lives and transform all of his creation so that the world  may believe and be transformed to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Trinity XIX

It is hard to find something as universally loathed as paying taxes. We just don’t like doing it. We know we have to pay them, but we would prefer not to do so. At its root, celebrations of the Harvest have their roots in taxation. They were a way to thank God for the good things of creation, but also to thank the tribe of Levi which had no ancestral land, as their inheritance was the Lord their God. 

That’s all well and good, we should be grateful to God, and we should demonstrate it openly. Saying, ‘thank you’ to God is important, just like saying, ‘please’, ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you’. We communicate with God because we have a relationship with Him. We recognise that everything comes from Him as gift, and so we hope that our service is pleasing to the Lord, we don’t earn our justification through our works, but we are grateful.

This morning’s Gospel presents us with two very different figures: a Pharisee, a member of a religious élite and a tax-collector, one of the most loathed people in the Roman World. He was a traitor who had sold out, he had bought the right to collect taxes on behalf of the occupying power, the Romans. He would recoup the cost by charging a premium, on top of the taxes. He extorted his costs from people who had no choice but to pay him, and that’s how life was. No one likes to pay taxes, but when you know that the tax-collector is charging you more than you should be paying, you despise him even more. It isn’t fair, but the rights to collect taxes were auctioned off to the highest bidder, who was expected to recoup their costs. 

The Pharisee is a member of the religious élite, a student of the law, the power behind the synagogues, someone who keeps the Letter of the Law. Jesus himself was much more like a Pharisee than a tax collector. Jesus was educated and articulate about the scriptures. He, too, added his own oral interpretation to the laws that were written. The apostle Paul was a Pharisee. Are we Pharisees? What does Jesus want us to see of ourselves in this parable? If we return to the text, we’ll see that Luke tells us that Jesus directed this parable at ‘some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others’. I’m ok. I’m a fine upstanding member of the community. I’m not like this or that person who has done something wrong. Each an every one of us does this. We want to find someone to look down on, to say I’m better than them. Well, here’s a home truth, WE ARE NOT! Because in God’s eyes, we are all sinners, we all fall short, and it doesn’t matter by how much. 

So, this story, though it may at first seem straight-forward, quickly raises many questions. The text obviously indicates that the behaviour of the tax collector is preferred over the behaviour of the Pharisee. That much is clear. But the question is: why? Why, exactly, is the one right and the other wrong? Is this a story about prayer and how we should pray? Is the Pharisee wrong in thanking God for what he considers the blessings in his life? Is he wrong to be glad that he is not a thief or an adulterer? Often when we characterize this story, we think of the Pharisee as standing in the centre of the room, trying to draw attention to himself, praying loudly. Based on those assumptions, we criticize the Pharisee for his showiness, his pride, his big ego. But the text only shows that he was standing by himself, praying, and that the tax collector was standing far off, praying as well. What is it that is misguided in the Pharisee? What is it that the tax collector has struck on? 

Nothing that the Pharisee says or does is in itself wrong. But where he goes off-course is in thinking that his list of righteous acts will earn him God’s favour. But he is wrong in two important ways: First, he is wrong because he acts as if without his list of good deeds he is not good enough to receive God’s grace. And secondly, he is wrong because he acts as if he is so great as to by his own actions make himself worthy of God’s grace. This Pharisee seems to get the picture wrong from both angles. And I think we might be able relate to this. We often feel like we don’t really deserve or aren’t truly worthy of God’s love, as though we need to earn it. On the other hand, our actions, and our attitudes about our actions sometimes suggest that we become too full of pride about how good we are, or at least about how much better we’re doing than some others of whom we know! We begin to act as though we just have to do enough good things and we’ll be fine, as if we have a quota of righteous acts to fulfil before God will be forced to let us in on the grace deal.

In truth, it’s the tax collector, standing far off, beating his breast, who’s got it right. He cries, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This is enough — not too little: this tax collector admits his sin and his need for God. And not too much: this man doesn’t make any claims about himself, try to puff himself up, try to act as though he could possibly manage without God. 

Can we do the same? We forget that none of us are worthy of God’s grace — as the letter to the Romans tells us, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ But we also forget that none of us are excluded from God’s grace, unworthy though we are. And that means for the Pharisee and the tax collector, that our good deeds, and our ever-present sinful behaviour — neither of these privilege us or exclude us — or privilege or exclude our neighbours — from God’s grace. God asks us to live faithfully — not as a test to see if we deserve grace, but as a path of discipleship that will give us deeper satisfaction in our relationship with God.

The Eucharist, Christ’s gift of Himself to us, is not a reward which we earn, bur neither is it to be treated lightly, ignored, or downplayed. It is the most precious thing which we have. Far more precious than the silver or gold that we use to contain it. Because it is Jesus Christ, who gives Himself to us, so that He can transform us, so that we can grow together in love, more and more into His image and likeness. Christ comes to preach the Good News of the Kingdom, to call people to repent, to turn away from their sins. He heals the sick, the blind, the lame. He raises the dead to life. This is God’s love for us. What can we give God? Our love and our thanks. Have mercy upon us sinners, and help us to live faithfully so that we might sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Trinity 18

What’s the point of it all? It’s a question people ask, and thankfully the church has an answer. Humanity exists to love God and serve him in this life, and to enjoy Him in the next. We are made for worship. Nothing else matters: work, family, friends. They’re not bad in themselves, but compared to our relationship with God, they are secondary. Worshipping God is a way of saying that God is the most important thing in our lives. We love God more than our family, our friends, even ourselves. It’s radical and counter-cultural, because it says that our immortal soul matters more than wealth, or power, or prestige. What we are doing is the most important thing we can ever do. It’s what we are made for. To worship God.

In the first reading this morning from Exodus we see what prayer can achieve. Our life is a battle, just like that fought between Israel and the Amalekites. And we can conquer in spiritual matters by keeping our arms raised in prayer, and helping others by supporting them. The church is a community where we help each other, where we bear each other’s burdens. We pray for ourselves and others, and we are prayed for, so that all around the world, every moment of every day, we are surrounded and upheld by Christians praying for us, not to change God’s mind, but to change us.

It is something which Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy shows us is something we need to learn, to believe, and to continue doing. Prayer isn’t grand, it’s a bit of a slog, it takes a lifetime. It has to be taught, it is what preaching is for. Teaching the faith, and telling people who Jesus is (the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary) and what He does (preaches repentance, the forgiveness of sins, dies on the Cross, and rises again). It is easy to pervert this into a message which makes few demands upon us, that says, “yes, you’re all fine, you don’t need to do anything”. Christianity makes demands of us. We have to do certain things, which we might prefer not to do, and not do things we might rather like to do. We all need to reminded about this regularly, to help us stay on track. This also helps us to pray well together. 

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus teaches us ‘to pray and not lose heart’ (Lk 18:1) It is important advice. Especially when times are difficult. He teaches us with a parable. There is an unjust judge. He’s corrupt, and he’s fed up, so he gives in, for a quiet life, with the result that the widow receives what is right. God can indeed use many things The point is that the widow is persistent: she keeps on, so that he has to listen to her in the end. So likewise Christian prayer should be unceasing. The widow’s prayers turn wickedness and injustice into mercy and justice. Likewise our prayers do not change God, but instead they change us. That’s the point of prayer not to change God’s mind, but to change us, into what God wants us to be. Persistent prayer can, and will change us. It is how saints are made: through prayer. It takes WORK, but it is wonderful, and worth it. 

The parable reminds us that God hears prayer. He may not always answer it in a way we might like. Sometimes God says no, or not yet, which we might not want to hear. It teaches us patience and wisdom, and even if we suffer, we grow through it. Our growth in holiness can be painful and difficult. In the first reading from Exodus, Moses is clearly tired, he has to be held up by Aaron and Hur. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he is not advising something popular, but something unpopular, that people will not want to hear. 

The Gospel ends with the question (v. 8): ‘Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ It’s an important question. If we look at statistics, then people in this country are becoming less religious. Fewer people have faith. There are many reasons for this, and this is not the place to explore them. Solutions are likewise not simple, or straightforward. We can do many things, but we need to make sure that our own faith is strong and attractive, and be prepared to bear witness to it, regardless of the cost. Our faith can only be attractive when it is REAL. This is what will encourage people to follow our example, and come to know and love Jesus Christ. Only in this way can real living faith be transferred so then when Christ comes, as He surely will, He will find faith on earth. So let us trust Christ, knowing that His promises are true, that He feeds us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist to give us life in Him. Let us love the one who loves us, who gave His life for us, to take away our sins, to heal us and restore us. And healed and restored by Him, let us bear witness to Him, so that the world may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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A thought from S. Teresa of Avila

Beware, daughters, of a certain kind of humility suggested by the devil which is accompanied by great anxiety about the gravity of our sins.

He disturbs souls in many ways by this means, until at last he stops them from receiving Holy Communion and from private prayer by doubts as to whether they are in a fit state for it, and such thoughts as: ‘Am I worthy of it? Am I in a good disposition?I am unfit to live in a religious community. ‘

Thus Christians are hindered from prayer, and when they communicate, the time during which they ought to be obtaining graces is spent in wondering whether they are well prepared or no.

Everything such a person says seems to her on the verge of evil, and all her actions appear fruitless, however good they are in themselves. She becomes discouraged and unable to do any good, for what is right in others she fancies is wrong in herself.

When you are in this state, turn your mind so far as you can from your misery and fix it on the mercy of God, his love for us, and all that He suffered for our sake.

The Way of Perfection 39:1, 3

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Homily for Trinity XVII

It can be very easy to look around the church and find bickering and quarrelling. People argue, they argue about words, and what they mean. It is an easy thing to do, and especially in matters of faith, where emotion runs deep. It matters. But it isn’t just a modern problem. It runs through the history of the church, and goes right back to our epistle this morning. From the earliest days of the church people have argued, and we need to be mindful of Paul’s words to Timothy: ‘Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers’ (IITim2:14). Paul writes these words from a prison cell. He is about to be tried for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. He encourages Timothy to be steadfast in the face of persecution, to endure. What really matters is ‘rightly handling the word of truth’ (v.15) not selling people short, or telling them that everything is going to be ok, and you don’t have to do anything. It isn’t. To be a Christian is to face persecution, especially from those who twist Scripture to suit their own ends, not to warn people where they are going wrong, but instead to lull them into a false sense of security, which leads to destruction. 

So what do we do? Firstly we don’t panic. All is not lost. To follow Christ is to risk being uncomfortable. It is to be in places where one would rather not be, but to trust God, and to live generously. In our first reading this morning from the Second Book of Kings we see Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army. He has been afflicted with leprosy, and he hears that there is a prophet in Samaria who can cure him. He writes to the King of Israel, to ask for the prophet to heal him. The King of Israel thinks that it is a trick, an excuse for the Syrians to start a war against Israel. The prophet Elisha reassures the king, and asks for Naaman to be sent to him. Elisha tells Naaman to wash seven times in the River Jordan. Naaman can’t believe his ears. He’s angry. This isn’t what healing is all about, it is far too simple, too easy. The point isn’t about having to do something difficult, but letting God do something wonderful. But eventually Naaman listens, and is obedient, and is healed. He goes back to Elisha to say that ‘Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel’(v.17) Naaman is grateful, and comes to believe in God. The mention of washing in the Jordan reminds us of Baptism, how we were washed clean from sin, and given new life in Christ Jesus, sharing His Death and Resurrection, a sign of God’s generous love towards us. 

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus is in border country. He’s somewhere uncomfortable, heading towards Jerusalem, towards His Passion and Death. Ten lepers see Him, and cry, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to a priest, to prove that they are now clean, no longer outcasts. Jesus complies with the law of Moses in Leviticus. The law commands them to sacrifice in order to be healed. Christ heals them, so that God might be glorified.

One of them returns to say, ‘Thank you’. The leper thanks God, and falls at Jesus’ feet. He shows gratitude. We wouldn’t want to live in a world where no-one said, ‘Thank you’. It would be rude. People would be selfish. They would expect things. Thanksgiving is the heart of prayer, it’s why we celebrate Harvest in Autumn. We thank each other, but most importantly we thank God for what He has done for us. Thanksgiving goes hand in hand with faith, what we believe, where we put our trust. 

As Christians we thank God for many things, but first and foremost for what He has done in His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us. It’s why we celebrate the Eucharist, because Jesus told us to, and so that we might be fed with His Body and Blood. Not because we have earned it, not because we deserve it, but so that we, like the lepers in Gospel, might be healed by Jesus. It is medicine for our sick souls, not a gold star or a prize for the righteous. Christ gives himself for us not because we are worthy, but so that we might BECOME worthy through Him. Salvation is God’s work not ours, as Naaman and the lepers show us. God in Christ saves us and heals us. He dies for us, and rises again so that we might share His Risen life. This is true generosity. And we can receive God’s healing love here and now. We can prepare to be transformed into His likeness, by His body and Blood, which cures not only lepers, but our sin-sick souls. So let us be thankful to God, for all that he has done for us, giving us His Son, to bring about healing, to show mercy, to strengthen our faith. And may we follow Christ, and walk His Way of the Cross, enduring whatever sufferings come our way, with the assurance of faith. May we know that Christ will never abandon us. His words are true. His promise is faithful: ‘if we endure, we will also reign with Him …. if we are faithless, He remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself’ (IITim 2: 12-13) Let us follow where Christ has gone before, confident in His promises, nourished with His Body and Blood, from the shadows and images of this world, into the light of His Truth, who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. Let us proclaim that truth to the world so that it may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Homily for Trinity XVI

Being a Christian can be hard and difficult at times. It can be very easy to feel as though we are experiencing something of the vision of the prophet Habakkuk in this morning’s first reading. The best advice comes from St Augustine, who said the following words to his people over sixteen hundred years ago: ‘“You all say, ‘The times are troubled, the times are hard, the times are wretched.’ Live good lives and you will change the times. By living good lives you will change the times and have nothing to grumble about.”’ (Sermo 311.8). It can be easy to see bad things happening, but not realise is ours to be the change we want to see. For ‘the righteous shall live by his faith’ (Hab 2:4). If we want to live in a word filled with love, kindness and generosity, then it is up to us to do something about it. 

In Luke’s Gospel this morning the apostles ask for the Lord to increase their faith. He does this firstly after His Resurrection, and secondly with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Likewise our growth in faith is a gradual process: it takes time, a lifetime in fact. It happens by the grace of God. We may long for something instant, but God’s ways are not our ways. Faith is like a mustard seed, it starts small, but in time can grow into something large. How does it happen? The parable which Jesus tells gives us the answer: through service. Not the most glamorous of answers, certainly, and that’s the point. All we can say is, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ (Lk 17:10). We are not worthy: God makes us worthy, through His Son, who dies for us and fils us with His love. The work of the Gospel is at one level up to us, the Body of Christ, His Church. We have to live our faith out in our lives (as fine words butter no parsnips). Christianity is a way of life, a way mocked and scorned by the world around us, written off as irrelevant, and yet close to the God who loves us and saves us.

We should not be afraid as God has given us ‘a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.’ (2Tim1: 7) Self-control is not exactly the most glamorous of things, but it is crucial if we want to grow in faith. Through it we grow in virtue by the grace of God. It goes hand in hand with the service envisaged by the Gospel passage this morning. We imitate the example of the saints, we ‘follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.’ (2Tim 1:13-14) By imitation of virtuous examples our characters are formed. We become what we imitate, and most of all we imitate Christ, who gave himself for us, and who comes to us this morning under the outward forms of bread and wine to feed us with Himself, so that we might become what He is. So that we might be transformed, more and more into His likeness, to live out our faith in the world, and share our faith with others so that they might come to believe and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Homily for Trinity XV

At its very heart the Christian Faith is all about generosity: God’s generosity towards us, and our generous response in return. It is shown most fully in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We know this, it is our faith, but it should also lead us to action. We are called to be generous in return, generous towards others, and ourselves. Our response shows that we are living out our faith, that we haven’t simply accepted the tenets of our faith, but are putting them into action, to transform the world. 

Our readings this morning begin with a troubling word from the prophet Amos. The prophet warns those who are comfortable, those who feel secure, and he is speaking to us. Should we be worried? Yes we should, because we should be learning to be generous, sharing what we have, because it is the right and proper thing to do, it is how we flourish. Today is amongst other things the Word Day of Migrants and Refugees, which the Church has celebrated for over a hundred years. In a world like ours, where people are marginalised, persecuted, forced to flee, who long to live in peace and prosperity, how do we react? Do we want to build walls and set up borders to keep people out? They’re not like us! They don’t belong here! We don’t like them! Or do we want to do something else? To welcome people in, and share what we have with them? So that the world may reflect the values of the Kingdom of God. The choice is a clear one.

This morning’s Gospel presents us with a stark contrast. Our Lord is speaking to the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders, people who are sure of their position in society. There is a beggar, Lazarus, a man who has nothing, a man who is hungry and who longs to eat the scraps from the rich man’s table. He has sores, which make him unclean in Jewish eyes. He is licked by dogs, which were seen as unclean, so he’s lying there destitute, shown love only by dogs, and not by humans. He’s the lowest of the low. And yet, when he dies, he is taken to heaven. The rich man by contrast dies and goes to Hell where he endures its torments. Why? Because the rich man could have been generous, but instead he was selfish. He could have look after Lazarus, but he did nothing. It’s doubtful that his five brothers would take any notice of Lazarus, even if raised from the dead. They don’t listen to the Law and the Prophets which command them to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 9:18), ‘He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8). Faith then is something which needs to be put into action, we show our love by loving, caring, and sharing.

It is exactly what St Paul advises Timothy in this morning’s second reading: ‘As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.’ (1Tim 6:17-19) The point of wealth is to be generous with it. If we’re honest with ourselves, don’t we long for a world like this? A world where peace, love, and generosity are lived out in a real way, to make the world better, the kind of world God wants, so that we may flourish as human beings. 

It isn’t that simple, because human beings are sinful and selfish. We’re not always generous, but we do not have to be this way. So at a time when we give thanks to God for all the good things of creation which have been harvested, and especially when we are mindful of migrants and refugees, we have to ask ourselves the question: Can we be generous? If we cannot then all we have to look forward to in the future are the eternal torments of Hell. It’s a stark uncompromising message, and a simple choice. It’s the truth of our faith. It doesn’t make us feel warm and cosy. That’s cheap grace. The idea that God doesn’t demand anything more from us than a vague superficial niceness. It will not do! The church cannot stand idly by while people consign their souls to hell because they cannot be bothered. 

We are generous because God was generous first. He gives His only Son to be born for us, and to die on the Cross for us. God is tortured and suffers for us, to bear the burden of our sins. To take what should condemn us to Hell upon Himself, to save us from it. It’s why we are here this morning to celebrate the Eucharist, the sign of God’s generosity to the world made real to us under the forms of bread and wine. We touch and taste God’s generous love for us, to that it may transform us, strengthening us to live the life of the Kingdom of God here and now. 

We are fed and sent out to live lives of radical generosity where we care for people, where we look after the migrants and refugees, welcoming them into our communities, as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We belong to each other, and are called to live lives of love in community. It sounds idealistic, and so it should. It reminds us that we are called to be generous, even to the point of being reckless, sitting lightly to the things of this world, and holding no store by wealth, or position, or influence, but instead giving it away, sharing it with others. If we cannot serve God and money, then as Christians we are to serve God. We serve him by being generous, and looking after those on the margins, practising the same generosity which God poured out on us, shedding His Blood to take away our sins. Let us transform the world so that it may turn away from the ways of greed and selfishness and put its trust in the true riches of the Kingdom. 

It is this generous God who comes to us today in Word and Sacrament, to heal us and restore us, to give us life in him. He entrusts to us the true riches of the Kingdom so that we may share them recklessly, generously with the world so that it may believe and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Homily for Trinity XIII

It’s very easy to be judgemental, and to write people off when they do something wrong, or something with which we do not agree. It is particularly easy when emotions run high, and we feel rather than think. Emotion clouds our judgement, and we give way to anger. This is never a good thing to do. 

In our first reading this morning from the Book of Exodus we hear that the people of Israel have fashioned for themselves a golden calf, an idol, a false God, whom they worship. They are a stiff-necked people: stubborn and obstinate, who will not listen to God, or do what leads to their flourishing. They deserve to be destroyed, and yet Moses prays for them to God, to be merciful, and to remember His covenant with His people. In this we see God’s grace and loving-kindness at work. It reminds us that false gods are not a good thing, and if we follow them, then we are not following God, honouring Him, or living in a way which will lead to our flourishing. 

In our second reading from St Paul’s First Letter to Timothy we see that Paul has gone from being a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent opponent, to something else. He has become a champion for the Christian Faith, that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief’. His words are ours too. Like Paul we have received God’s mercy. We don’t deserve it, just as the Israelites didn’t. That’s the point, we don’t earn forgiveness, God in his love and mercy forgives us, so that we might become something other than we are. This is the wonderful truth at the heart of the Gospel.

It is something which the scribes and pharisees in the Gospel cannot understand. Our Lord hangs around with tax collectors and sinners. These are people who collect taxes for the Romans. They were corrupt, because they had to bribe officials to get the job, and were expected to skim some extra off the top to settle their debts, and provide for themselves. Jesus goes out of His way to spend time with people who were despised, collaborators with a foreign power. The religious authorities, by contrast, are judgemental and superior. Jesus eats with people who are beyond the pale, defying social conventions, and looking beyond them to see people who need God’s love and mercy.

To illustrate His point Christ tells two parables. In the first, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, a man leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go after one which was lost. The point is that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. The scribes and pharisees think that they are righteous, but are not. The sinners and tax-collectors know that they are not righteous, but by being close to Jesus, in their humility, repentance is possible. It’s a key to the Christian life, turning away from sin, and turning back to God. It is less of an event and more of a process, something which we keep doing, throughout our lives. It’s easy to fall back into sin, but God does not abandon us. He keeps going after the lost sheep. This is good news: we are not written off. But we have to keep our end up. We have to believe in God, and trust Him, and repent, turn away from our sin, and turn back to God. 

The scribes and the pharisees think that everything is alright between themselves and God. They keep the letter of the Law, but are far away from its spirit. The sinners and tax-collectors know that things aren’t right, which is why they are drawn to Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t wait for them to change before deeming them worthy of Him, instead he receives them and eats with them. God in Christ comes alongside us, seeking the lost, because God LOVES us. As St Paul says, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’. To save us from sin, to save us from something which we could not save ourselves from. 

How does He do this? On the Cross, where Christ demonstrates God’s love for us, dying the death of a common criminal. It shouldn’t make sense. It is scandalous. But such are the lengths God will go to for love of us. Through God’s love we are reconciled and forgiven. As a sign of this Christ comes to eat with us here, this morning. He gives himself, His Body and Blood for us, and He feeds us with them, so that we might have life in Him. We can touch and taste the reality of God’s love. 

It’s an excuse for a party, as Christ says in the Gospel, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost’. God is not like the grumbling scribes and pharisees, being judgemental. He rejoices to welcome sinners back into the fold. He is merciful, and we have received that mercy. So let us rejoice that God has sought us out, and brought us back and restored us. As we celebrate the feast of the Kingdom of God, here today, may we be encouraged, and filled with God’s love and mercy, so that He may transform our lives. Strengthened by His Body and Blood may we live lives of faith and encourage others to do so, so that all people may give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. AMEN.

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Homily for Trinity XII

At one level things could not be simpler: we have a choice between life and prosperity or death and adversity. It all depends on whether we love God, obey His commandments and walk in His ways, or go after false gods and die. This morning’s first reading from Deuteronomy presents us with the choice at the heart of the moral life. Do we walk in the way which leads to human flourishing or not? In the short term it is more challenging, but the pay off in the long term is clearly worth it. There is also the simple fact that it is the right thing to do. It may seem a little old fashioned, but as Christians we do things because they are right, not because they are easy. Also we do them TOGETHER. Our religion is a corporate matter, and not just an individual choice. 

What we do and how we live affects other people, and this is nowhere more apparent than in this morning’s reading from Paul’s Letter to Philemon. The Apostle is writing to a fellow Christian, sending back to him his slave, Onesimus. The letter encourages Philemon to be generous and loving and to treat Onesimus not like a slave, but like a beloved brother. There is at the heart of the Christian Faith a radical equality. We are all the same, you and I, and all human distinctions of class, wealth, or status disappear, because we are all one in Christ. It’s a radical, counter-cultural message, the same nowadays as it was two thousand years ago. It encourages us to live differently, not conformed to the ways of the world, but living in the love and freedom of the Gospel, which while it looks like slavery is in fact the most liberating way to live.

The Christian faith can appear paradoxical. We are called to love our enemies, but also to hate our parents, our family, our nearest and dearest. It seems strange, and it is. Our Lord uses strong and disturbing language to shock us, and remind us that in Him we are called to a new relationship which takes us away from traditional social structures, so that we can see everyone in the Church as our brother and sister, and that our primary responsibility is to love Christ, and follow Him, imitating Him, and taking up our own Cross. 

While our mother gives us life, it is holy mother Church who, through Christ gives us eternal life, and feeds us not with earthly food, but heavenly food, food which lasts for ever, food which strengthens us to live the life of faith: the Eucharist. 

It is why we gather week by week, to hear God’s word read and explained, to pray together, and to be nourished together. We do this so that we may grow together in love, and also so that we might embrace the Cross, having died with Christ in our baptism, and being raised to new life with Him, we live out our faith in our lives. Our discipleship is costly and difficult, it calls us to renounce the world and rely upon God, together, as a community of faith. A new community where old ties and distinctions are done away with, where we have a new identity, and are called to a higher purpose. 

It’s difficult, and for two thousand years the Church has been trying to do it, and failing. But ours is a God who forgives sins and failings, who understands humanity from the inside, we are not written off, or cast aside. We are not abandoned or discarded, because we are all made in God’s image, people of infinite intrinsic value. Christ died for us, to give us eternal life, to heal our wounds. He calls us to follow Him, so that we may find His freedom, and share in His triumph over death and sin. 

We are called to something great and wonderful, to stand, like Christ as a contradiction, offering the world a new way to live, a way of life not of death. A way of generosity and not of selfishness, renouncing the world to embrace the freedom, joy, and life of the Kingdom of God. 

It is truly liberating to look at the world and say that it doesn’t really matter. All that really does is loving God, and loving our neighbour. It can be difficult, especially when times are uncertain, but we know that we can trust the God who loves us, who gives His life for us, who comes to us to feed us with Himself. So let us come and follow him and invite others to do so, so that all may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Homily for Trinity XI

In the Ancient World where you sat at a meal mattered an awful lot. The closer you were to the host, the more important you were. The further away, the less important you were. We’re not really used to eating like this, other than at wedding breakfasts: the top table is reserved for the bride and groom, their family, and important guests. Nowadays a seating plan gets round the problem envisaged by Jesus in the start of this morning’s Gospel reading, but the Pharisees were not like this at all. Quite the opposite in fact! They loved rigid hierarchy, they love human honour, and are watching Jesus closely in case He transgresses any social norms. Rather Christ will show them what God has to say about who sits where, and who is invited.

The situation envisaged in the Gospel would be highly embarrassing, in a culture motivated by honour and shame. The last thing you want to do is to lose face, by being asked to move. Instead, by taking the lowest place you make it possible to honoured and loved. The key then is HUMILITY: not thinking less of yourself, but thinking less of yourself and more about others, and putting them first. It’s a case of not saying, ‘It’s all about me!’ which is an example of pride, that greatest of human sin, where we put ourselves at the centre of things, and take a place which belongs to God. Instead we need to learn to trust God, and to let Him be at work in us. We need to recognise our need of God, and our utter dependance upon Him. 

In our first reading this morning we hear what happens to the proud: dreadful terrible things. God prefers the lowly: ‘The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly in their place. The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place.’ (Ecclus 10:14-15) We hear this in the song of Hannah in Exodus and in the Magnificat, where Mary is the great model of humility and trust in God. Human power is often exercised in a way which does not correspond with the will of God. In the world around us and throughout human history we can see this. Power is fleeting, whereas the justice envisaged is wholesome and long-lasting.

In the Letter to the Hebrews we hear advice on how Christians should live: in love, love of each other, and God. It is a life of generosity, hospitality to all, care for those less fortunate than ourselves, respectful  of the moral order. It’s how God wants us to live, and it leads to human flourishing. Our response to God who sacrificed His Son upon the Cross for us is a sacrifice of praise through how we live our lives, what we say and do.

So, to return to the Gospel, Christ has an important and strong message for His host. We see Our Lord advising people not to be generous and seek a reward. Human Society is complex. The giving and receiving of gifts is a crucial part of how society works. It creates networks of obligation: if you give me something, I am obliged to return the favour. That is fine in human terms, but when we transfer it to the divine realm we are faced with a problem. What can we give God? Does God need or want anything? No! Because God is by nature, perfect, complete, and self-sufficient, God cannot want anything, or need anything. As a result of this God is able to give the purest form of gift, which does not require anything in return. There can be no obligation, because humanity cannot give God anything. God is able give without expecting anything in return. This is what happens in the Incarnation when Our Lord is given to us, and throughout His life and ministry, to His Passion, Death, and Resurrection all He is and does is for us. All is for our benefit. God is generous to us, not so that we can be generous in return, but simply for our good. Likewise our sacrifice of praise is not for God’s benefit, but ours in that we are living the way we should, flourishing, loving and generous. 

Instead of normal human interaction and obligation, Christ presents us with a completely different paradigm. The dinner invitations in the Kingdom are for the ‘poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind’ (Lk 14:13) That’s us! Because God longs to lavish His riches upon us, heal our wounds, and restore our sight. In our care for those who are weak, outcast, or socially undesirable we, in our actions, proclaim the Kingdom of God. We call them to the banquet here and now, that their souls may be nourished with Word and Sacrament. The Eucharist is the banquet of the Kingdom, which heals us, and transforms us, more and more into God’s likeness.

God gives Himself, so the we might live in Him. This is true generosity, generosity which expects nothing in return. All that we are or do is for our good, and the good of humanity, that it may flourish in the Kingdom, living lives of love. Christ is the model of humility and loving service that we should imitate. Christ takes the lowest place, bearing the weight of our sin, on the Cross. There He dies that we might live. There He dies to make us free. May we, in humility, recognise our need of God, and respond to His invitation to the banquet, that He may heal us, restore us and strengthen us to live lives of humility and love, and encourage others to, so that all may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Twenty first Sunday of Year C

There are times when Jesus’ words in the Gospel make us feel uncomfortable and uneasy. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our faith should challenge us. Challenge us to follow Christ. Challenge us to live out our faith in our lives. This isn’t easy. Quite the opposite. It is hard work, but then anything worthwhile usually is. It takes effort. And yet the effort on our part is as nothing compared to that of God, who sent His Son to be born for us, and to show us how to live. Jesus demonstrates the Love of God in action, to show us how to live lives of radical generosity.

The prophet Isaiah has a vision of a future which sees a God who knows us and loves us. He gathers the people of the world together, so that they may see God’s glory. As Christians, we believe that this points forward to Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh, the true demonstration of God’s glory in the world. He will show that glory most fully on the Cross, when He suffers and dies for humanity, to take away our sin. This is the sign God sets among us, so that the Church may declare God’s glory among the nations. 

Declaring God’s glory is the prophetic aspect of the church — sharing the Good News. With it comes a commitment to holiness of life, so that our words and actions are in tune with each other. We cannot succeed in this by our own strength or efforts. Instead we must rely upon God’s grace. We should humbly acknowledge our need for God. Only God can transform us. Only God can forgive our sins, our failures and shortcomings. Through grace God can transform us, more and more into His likeness. 

This recognition of our limitations and failings opens up a space where God can be at work in our lives, transforming us to live the Divine life of Love. This is the narrow door of this morning’s gospel: narrow because if we have a sense of our own self-importance or our worth which is too large then we cannot enter –- our sense of who and what we are gets in the way. It’s not enough to have eaten and drunk in God’s presence, to have been around when he taught in our streets.–It is a question of engagement. We are challenged to ask ourselves, ‘Am I a bystander or have I been fed by God? By the grace of the sacrament am I living out the love of God in my life? Have I been there when the Gospel has been taught? Have I both listened to it and lived it out in my life?’

These are not simple things to do. It is easier to coast along and take the easy options. That is why we meet together to encourage and support each other. That’s after all what the Church is for. We are a collection of sinners trying to live in response to the love of God which has been poured out on each of us. It is something which we need to do together — loving each other, loving our enemies, living out forgiveness as we have been forgiven and loved by God. This is a radically different way of life to that which the world encourages us to practise. It can be really difficult, and we will fail at it, but that’s alright! The point is not that we fail and give up, but that we keep trying, loving and forgiving, together, and become built up as the body of Christ, humble enough to let God be at work in us. He, by His Grace will transform our nature and make us the people of God, able to live out His out his love in our communities.

We have come here today to be fed by Word and Sacrament, to be nourished by God, and with God. In order to ‘recline at table’ as the Gospel puts it, we need to have false ideas of who and what we are stripped away. We need to recognise our dependence upon God, and each other, to help us to live out our faith –- to grow in holiness together as the people of God, loved, healed, and restored by Him. This is the only way that we can transform the world that it reflects more fully the great glory of God. The Gospel really is this radical, it’s not nice, or comfortable, it’s challenging and difficult, and utterly wonderful. It is Good News which releases people from the slavery of this world and all its false ideas, to live in the freedom and love of God.

We just have to look to Jesus and to His Cross to see God’s love for us. What is shameful in the eyes of the world, we can see as glorious — true love which gives regardless of the cost,, which heals and restores broken sinful humanity, which gives us the hope of new life in heaven. This is grace, the free gift of God, who shared our humanity so that we might share His divinity, and be strengthened by Word and Sacrament to live out our faith.

Living out our faith will be hard: the world will mock us and our feeble attempts to follow God. Yet, we believe in a God who loves us, and who would never belittle our feeble efforts to follow Him. So may the fire of God’s love be kindled in our hearts and lives, that we may be ablaze for Him, aflame with love for God and neighbour, love our enemies and our friends, and lets us change the world, not just this village, or this county, but all of God’s creation, all of humanity, that they may know God’s love and that it may rule in their hearts and lives.

So let us hasten to enter through the narrow gate, so that God may continue to transform our human nature, that His saving love and power may be at work in our hearts and our lives, so that we may be transformed with all the world, so that it may believe and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Fire is a powerful thing. It gives us heat and light. It cooks our food. When fire is controlled is a source of great joy. But when it is unchecked it is destructive and deadly. 

In the Church we are most used to the imagery of fire at Pentecost, when flames appear on the heads of the disciples as they are filled with the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit is given to us, in our Baptism, at ourConfirmation, and in the Sacraments of the Church. It is in the Spirit that we are be built up, and made holy, so that the image of God may be restored in us. It inspires us, and equips us to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

In our first reading this morning from the prophet Jeremiah we hear the continuation of the argument against false shepherds and prophets who have been leading Israel astray. God reminds us that He is near, and has not abandoned us, even though falsehood is uttered in His Name. Thanks to the faithfulness of men like Jeremiah the truth will out in the end. As He says, ‘let him who has my word speak it faithfully’ (Jer 23:28 ESV). The faithful proclamation of the Word of God, first in Israel, and now in the Church, is truly Good News. ‘Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord’ (Jer 23:29 ESV). As Christians we follow the Word made flesh, who sends the Holy Spirit, which came like fire, so that we might be united with the God who loves us and saves us. 

In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, which continues where last week’s reading finished, we hear more of salvation history. The Exodus, and Israel’s entry into the Promised Land, are presented as examples of living by faith. The writer develops this to explain that through who Christ is, and what He has done for us, we have a greater Passover, from death and sin, to eternal life. We are surrounded by ‘a great cloud of witnesses’ by the providence of God, and His love for humanity. First and foremost we look to Jesus Christ, ‘the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Heb 12:2 ESV).

At the heart of it all is the Cross, which has reconciled us to God, and to each other. By the power of the Holy Spirit He took flesh in the womb of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was born for us, so that he might be offered as a lamb without blemish, a perfect offering of love to God the Father. 

In the Gospel, Our Lord says that He came to cast fire on the earth, and looks towards His Passion. The fire speaks of a choice to be made, a decision on our part, whether we will follow Him, or not. It also anticipates to the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is a fire of renewal and inspiration, to fill His Church with life and power. From the Incarnation, Christ comes to infuse us with the love of God. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is nothing more than humanity being completely filled with God’s love. 

We have been imbued with the same Spirit as the first apostles. The same love should burn in our hearts. Has God abandoned us? Surely not! Then we must pray that God will kindle that fire in our hearts. 

Holy Spirit, Divine Consoler, We adore You as our true God, with God the Father and God the Son. Amen. 

We pray that God pours out His Holy Spirit upon us so that we are built up in love, together. We pray that we are inspired to continue the work of God’s kingdom, here and now. So that we and all creation will sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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