29.vii.12 Homily for the 17th Sunday of Yr B (Jn 6:1-15)

As you were getting up this morning, to get ready to come to church, you probably went into your bathroom to wash your face and brush your teeth and turned on the tap marked ‘C’, and all was well. But if you went on holiday to Italy and you wanted to have a drink, wash your face or brush your teeth, you may well stand by a sink and turn on the tap marked ‘C’ and you would get a nasty shock. It stands for Caldo the Italian word for Hot. What you needed to do was to turn on the tap marked ‘F’ for Fredo or Cold.
This mistake is easily made, especially since we are so used to seeing the letter ‘C’ on cold taps back home. It shows us the problem of misreading the signs. In today’s Gospel we have several examples of people misreading signs. First, we have the Apostle Philip. He is asked by Jesus where they can buy bread for the crowd to eat. He replies that 200 denarii would only buy them a mouthful each. Six months wages just for a mouthful! So Philip says that there is no way that the people can be fed. He cannot believe that such a thing could be possible.
The Apostle Andrew begins a bit better. He shows Jesus a boy with two fish and five barley loaves, the bread of the poor. But he cannot see the point and asks ‘what is that between so many?’ The disciples then cannot read the signs and give the wrong answers to Jesus’ questions.
The people are also a bit of a mixed bag. They have followed Jesus as they are impressed by his miraculous healing of the sick. Once they have been fed, they recognise the sign as a declaration of Jesus’ identity, but they misinterpret it. They are about to take him by force and make him king. But this is not what Jesus’ kingship is about, he isn’t a political ruler; his kingship is not of this world. All three groups then have expectations which are met, but not necessarily in the way they were expecting. Our God is a God of Surprises.
The context of the Gospel story is important. It was just before the Passover, the festival commemorating Israel’s journey from slavery in Egypt, across the Red Sea towards the Promised Land. It is a festival of Hope and Freedom, of Liberation, of a God who will feed them with manna from heaven.
It is also the same time that Jesus will celebrate the Last Supper with his disciples, instituting the Eucharist, which Christians have faithfully celebrated ever since and the reason why WE are heretoday. The blessing, breaking and sharing of bread is a serious matter then, and not just an excuse for a conjuring trick.
The fact that it is a serious matter explains why Jesus will devote so much time and effort to teaching the people about this in the Gospel passages we will read over the next few weeks. It matters because it is how we encounter Jesus and are fed by him.
In the Gospel, it is Jesus who takes the initiative. He recognises that people are hungry, and that they need to be fed. He is a good shepherd who looks after his flock. He takes the basic foodstuff, bread, to show us how God works with simple things. These may be, like the barley loaves, poor, the kind that the world despises and looks down its nose at, but for God, nothing or indeed nobody is scorned or cast aside. Ours then is a God who takes what is available and uses it. Jesus takes what he is given and thanks God for it, in recognition that all we have, our lives and all of creation is a gift, for which we should thank God.
It is through prayer and blessing that bread can be broken and distributed and provide sustenance, on a scale and in a way that defies our expectation and understanding. Not only are the people fed but as a sign of the superabundance of God’s love and mercy, but there is more left over at the end than there was to begin with. Thus, in giving thanks to God and sharing his love, the kingdom of God of which the bread is a sign, which grows, which is shared, and which satisfies people’s deepest needs. The more you share it, the more there is.
Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and distributes bread to demonstrate what the Kingdom of God and the message of the Gospel is. This looks forward to the Institution of the Eucharist, just before Passover. It points to the great Passover, where the world is freed from the slavery of sin, washed in the Red Sea that flows from Calvary, and given the Law of love of God and neighbour.
This miraculous feeding by the shore of the Sea of Galilee will happen heretoday, when we, the people of God, united in love and faith offer ourselves and like the little boy, give the bread that we have, so that it may be taken, blessed, broken and given that we may be partakers in the mystical supper of the Kingdom of God. We eat the Body of Christ not as ordinary food – that it may become what we are – but that WE may become what HE is. THIS is our bread for the journey of faith. THIS is the sign and token of God’s love. THIS is the means by which we too may enjoy forever the closer presence of God.
So then, as the five thousand received and were satisfied, let us prepare to eat that same bread, the body of Christ, which satisfies our every need and fills us with a foretaste of the Kingdom of Godthe 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.

16th Sunday of Year B – 22.vii.12 – Jer 23:1–6, Eph 2:13–18, Mk 6:30–34 ‘He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd’

Living as we do here, out in the countryside, surrounded by fields, I suspect that the imagery in this morning’s readings is not completely lost on us. We are used to sheep and the shepherds who look after them. The care and devotion which a Shepherd should devote to his flock is a sign of God’s love and care for us, and to those of us who have been given pastoral responsibility in the church it serves as a reminder of who and what we are supposed to be: its cost, and the responsibility we share for the care of Christ’s flock, the burden and the joy.
In this morning’s first reading, we see what happens when it goes wrong. The Kings of Israel are not true shepherds as they exercise power which destroys and drives away the sheep. They don’t care for the well-being of the people, who have scattered, gone wandering off, as the mood takes them. It’s all gone horribly wrong; and yet God, the true shepherd of our souls, does not leave his people comfortless. He promises to give them a good Shepherd, and through the words of the prophet Jeremiah points towards his son, the good Shepherd, who will lay down his life for his sheep.
In St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we see the work of the good Shepherd and its fruits. He gives us life through his death. Through him the flock is united, that which divides, that which keeps us apart has been overcome by Jesus, he restores our relationship to one another and to God the Father, by laying down his life, by giving himself for us upon the cross and here in the Eucharist, where we the people of God are fed by God, are fed with God, to be built up into a holy nation, to become more like him, to have a hope of heaven, and of eternal peace and joy with him. In conquering the world and sin, Christ shows us that there is nothing God cannot do or will not do for love of us. All divisions, all human sinfulness can be reconciled through Him who was sinless, who gave himself to be tortured and killed that we might be free and live forever.
In this morning’s Gospel we see a picture of what good shepherds are like. Jesus and the apostles have been teaching the people, it’s a wonderful thing but it does take its toll. The disciples tell Jesus that it’s time to have a rest, to spend some time alone, in prayer and refreshment. The people are so many; their needs are so great that the apostles have not had time to even eat. It is a recognisable picture, and it shows us how great was the people’s need for God, for God’s teaching, for his love and reconciliation. Jesus does not send them away he takes pity on them because they are like sheep without a Shepherd, and he, the good Shepherd, will lay down his life for his sheep. His people are hungry so they will be fed by God, with God. God offers himself as food for his people and continues to do so: he will feed us here today, feed us with his body and blood, with his word, so that we may be fed, may be nourished, may be strengthened to live our lives, that we may live lives which follow him, that we may have the peace which passes all understanding. It’s a wonderful gift, which comes at a tremendous cost, which shows us how loving and generous God is towards us His people. Our response should be gratitude that we are fed in this way, that we have been reconciled to God through him. We should live lives fashioned after his example, lives which show his love and his truth to the world, lives which proclaim his victory, lives which will attract people to come inside the sheep-fold, to have new life in Jesus, to be with Jesus, to be fed by him, to be fed with him.
It’s a difficult thing to do, to live this life, to follow His example but with God’s help, and by helping each other to do it together, we can, and thereby 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.

Trinity VI Evensong 15.vii.12 Rom 15:1–29 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 abide in hope

It may seem strange or even contradictory to begin by being so happy, so upbeat, when all around us the world is in a mess: recession, unemployment, a growing gap between the richest and poorest in society, civil war in Syria, the possibility of an Olympic shambles, and to top it all the Church of England seems more and more to be trying to turn its back upon the faith and order of two millennia of the Christian Church. What was within our lifetimes seen as simple mainstream teaching is now seen as dangerously out of touch, repressive, regressive, reactionary, oppressive and downright wrong. Instead, we have replaced the Gospel with the Spirit of the Age, and where the Episcopal Church in America has led, we appear to be following. Yesterday saw the 179th anniversary of John Keble’s Assize Sermon which gave birth to the Oxford Movement its words still ring true, and I commend it to you in the strongest possible terms: it isn’t very long, but it contains truths which the world and the church need to hear.
          In the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, Paul says to the church in Rome – do not be conformed to the world, do not fashion yourselves after it, but be conformed rather to Christ. It is simple advice, which some two thousand years later humanity still seems reluctant to heed. But this does not cause me anger; rather I am all the more concerned to preach the Gospel. As Christians we may have hope, because our hope is in Christ, who became incarnate for our sake, who offers the world a radically different alternative, a totally new way of living, and totally unlike that of the world. He suffered and died and rose again for our sake, that we may have true joy and hope, which can never be rubbed out by all the heresies which may beset his body, the Church.
          As Christians we are to bear with the failings of the weak, and to build them up in truth and love. We are not to bear grudges, we are not to concern ourselves with power, for in our weakness is our strength. We are to welcome all as Jesus Christ has welcomed us, for the glory of God. This is truly radical, and totally unlike the ways of the world. It is costly, it is demanding, it is truly life-changing and it is truly wonderful. And to be honest there are plenty of people about doing just that, living out their faith in their lives. We can be happy, but not complacent, because it is a wonderful thing and it should encourage us to do more, to live more fully in Christ – to pray harder, fortified by the Sacraments, filled with joy and an example for others to emulate.
Like Paul I have spoken to you boldly, by way of reminder, because of the grace given to me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus in the priestly service of the Gospel of God. It is amongst other things a prophetic calling, to save others from stumbling, to pick them up when they do, to bind their wounds, and show them the right path. It is a joyous task doing the work of God, building up God’s people in love and defending truth against error, but above all to give glory to God.
          It’s a big ask, it isn’t for the faint-hearted, and it allows us to see why the message of the Gospel has been ignored or subverted, it’s the sort of message which has caused the death of many in the church. Be we should not be afraid, or scared, or worried, because by living as our Lord requires us people are attracted to the Christian Faith and way of life, it represents a freedom from the conformity of the world around them, a radical true freedom, of love and of the spirit.
But giving glory to God is all that any of us can hope to do. If we build up one another in love then we can be truly radical and transform this world, and conform it to the will of God, so that every tongue may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father. In two thousand years we have not yet managed it, but that does not mean that we should simply give up, or conform ourselves to the ways of the world. No, we should be encouraged to  strive all the more that the whole world may re-echo 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 VI 15.vii.12 Mt 5:20-26 Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven

It may not surprise you to learn that the Church is absolutely not a place in which to do politics. Politics is the art of the possible, where compromise lets you get something close to what you would originally have liked, with as many people on board as possible. Whereas what we see in this morning’s Gospel is something different, Our Lord would seem to be asking the impossible; he presents us with a totally uncompromising picture of what it means to live a Christian life, or in Matthew’s terms, to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. There is no compromise here, and what is required looks completely beyond us – that is, I would suggest, the entire point – it isn’t about what we as human beings can do on our own, but what God can do through us.
          Lest we get too disheartened by the rigorous demands of following Jesus, we should remember that what we are dealing with is something of a commentary upon the Beatitudes: Our Lord has called his disciples and explained how he offers a new way to live. He has used a series of contrasts: ‘You have heard it said that … but I say to you …’ He offers the world an alternative community, based on love, and shown most fully in the example, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
          It is his life and death which reconciles us both to God and to one another. To be a Christian is to be part of a community of love, of reconciliation, of freedom from the constraints of a society which says we should act politically, and compromise. In our repentance, our metanoia, our change of mind, we have turned away from sin, anger, adultery, divorce, and become a community of love and forgiveness. We offer the world something different from its own version of law, of justice, and of fairness – we offer something radically different, something which can truly turn the world around.
          That is why we should put away our anger with each other before we approach the altar, lest we eat and drink condemnation upon ourselves. If we follow the ways of the world we shall be in danger of hell fire, of turning our back on God, of being cut off from the salvation and reconciliation which Christ brings. What we are undertaking as the body of Christ is nothing less than the radical transformation of human society, without the political compromise which the world would expect or indeed desire.
          It’s a big ask, it isn’t for the faint-hearted, and it allows us to see why the message of the Gospel has been ignored or subverted, it’s the sort of message which has caused the death of many in the church. Be we should not be afraid, or scared, or worried, because by living as our Lord requires us people are attracted to the Christian Faith and way of life, it represents a freedom from the conformity of the world around them, a radical true freedom, of love and of the spirit. So then let us live this life that 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.

Trinity V Evensong 8.vii.12 Sermon : 1Kings 18:17–39; Jn 15:1–16

IN this evening’s first lesson, the prophet Elijah turns to the people of Israel, who are dividing their loyalties between the LordGod and Baal, he asks them ‘How long will you go on limping with two opinions?’ They are to follow the Lordtheir God, or to turn away from him and follow Baal. There is no possibility of compromise, it is a simple choice. Elijah is not particularly bothered that he is the only prophet of God left, while against him stand the prophets of Baal and Asherah, the divine couple of the Levant. It doesn’t matter that Elijah is in a minority, that the people of Israel are hedging their bets, that Ahab and Jezebel are hostile towards him. He trusts in God, and that is enough. Truth, it would seem, is not decided by a majority vote. Elijah does not simply go along with the ways of the world; he does not bow to pressure from authority, he does not turn away, he remains faithful, he trusts in God, and Elijah the Tishbite receives his reward.
          In this evening’s second Lesson, Our Lord gives us a vision of how the church is to be: how we are to remain in Him. Jesus is the true vine, we are the branches, tended by God the Father, the vine-dresser. We are to be united with him, in our prayer, in our study of His word, in our reception of the Sacraments: fed by him, with him, so that we may become what he is. And in this we will bear fruit: in loving God, and being loved by Him, we will share that love with others and our lives will be transformed, for God’s glory and through God’s grace. This is a process rather than an event, it is like the growth of a vine, and its flowering, and bearing fruit. So the Church is to be drawn ever deeper into the mystery of God’s love.
          Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us. He has shown this in washing his disciples’ feet, he will show it when He suffers and dies for the sake of all humanity, and we are fed by Him and with Him in Holy Communion. We are to live lives of self-giving, sacrificial love, in service of one another. We lay down our lives for God’s glory to find life in all its fullness, and to live in the expectation of everlasting life. It is a lot to ask, and yet we are to do it gladly, for the sake of Him who died for us. Our relationship to one another and to God is to be profoundly different from that found in the first lesson: we are friends. When Jesus speaks to His disciples, he tells them that they are chosen by Him, and appointed by Him, to go and bear fruit that should abide. We see that now, here, nearly two thousand years later – rooted in Christ, close to Him, abiding in Him, the church is to continue to bear fruit through staying close to Him, obeying his commandments, studying the Bible, being fed and nurtured by the sacraments.
          When the world tells us that we should approve of a redefinition of marriage to include homosexuals, that we should have female bishops, so that the church may reflect the ways of the world, we should perhaps read on to verses 18 and 19, just after our second lesson ended, to see that for two thousand years those in power and authority have hated the Christian faith for all it stands for, they have sought to undermine it, to destroy it, to infiltrate it, and fashion it after their own designs: like the prophets of Baal and Asherah, like Ahad and Jezebel, to turn it away from the truth, to wrestle it from its apostolic foundations. We should turn away from the devices and desires of the world and remember that the Church exists to give glory to God and to conform the world to His will.
          It is a difficult and a dangerous calling, we are to lay down our lives in God’s service that the world may believe and trust in the God who loves us, who died and rose again for us. As the disciples hear that they are to lay down their lives, one of them is about to betray Him, another to deny Him, and yet they are loved, this is what forgiveness means – a love which transforms lives, which takes Peter and makes him turn from scared denier into a fearless leader of the Apostolic band. It isn’t about political games or power, the obsessions of many within the modern-day church, but of fashioning our lives after the One who loves us, that the world may believe – that the good news of Jesus Christ may spread, that all may believe and trust in Him, and in Him alone.
          Many people would rather have a lie-in on a Sunday morning than fulfil their baptism by coming to be fed at God’s altar. They would rather visit a temple of Mammon, to make themselves feel better through retail therapy than seek the love and forgiveness of God. Any excuse rather than find the greatest free gift that has ever been given. So we, the body of Christ must try in all that we are, all that we say, all that we do, to embody this self-giving love, to fashion our lives after Him who loved us, to welcome people to the family of faith. If we abide in Jesus, if we stay close to him, and reject the ways of the world we will bear fruit and thereby 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.

14th Sunday of Year B – Mark 6:1-6

WHO do you say that I am? This is a question which Jesus asks his disciples, and it is a question which we and the rest of the world need to answer.
          In this morning’s Gospel we have a difficult picture set before us. Our Lord goes back to his home town. He teaches in the synagogue, and people who have known him all his life are amazed when they hear him. He is wise; he works miracles, but can only be understood by those who hear him in terms of the life they have seen him lead. The people of Nazareth know Jesus according to the flesh; but their very familiarity with him is a hindrance to knowing him truly, for it makes it all the more hard for them to see through the veil of his ordinariness. It is a case in point of the familiar saying ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’.
          What then does Jesus look like without faith then? Human, just a man like you or me? But what then do we make of the miracles, the teaching, and the healing? How does he rise from the dead? It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t add up, unless Jesus is simply not just a human being, but also the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word of God Incarnate.
          Either Jesus was a mad fool, or he was what he said he was. What we believe, our faith, matters. That is why we will recite the words of the Creed in a few minutes, simply because it matters. It isn’t enough to think that Jesus was a nice bloke who did nice things, healed people, and told them to love one another. He did what he did, and said what he said because he was God, a God who became incarnate, became flesh and dwelt among us, a God who who loves us, who died for us and rose again, and feeds us with himself, so that we might become what he is, so that humanity might become divine.
          It’s a serious matter, it relates to the salvation of all humanity. The world may say that Jesus was just a human being, and nothing more. But on this, and indeed on many other matters, we have to say that the world is wrong, and that the church should not follow it. It is difficult, but to be prophetic means to speak the truth to power. And so, to a world which sees itself as liberal, as rooted in the values of the Enlightenment, we, as the church, have to say no. We have to believe and trust in a God who lived among us, who saves us. We are to conform the world to the will of God, rather than conform God’s church to the will of the world. We are to express our faith in the God who loves us, who feeds us and who saves us. We are to confess this with our lips, but also live it in our lives. It’s a difficult thing to do, but with God’s help, and by helping each other to do it together, we can, and thereby 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.