Trinity XII Evensong – Ex 4:27–5:1, Heb 13:16–21

It is good that this evening’s the second lesson begins where last week’s ended. The author of the letter to the Hebrews is still giving advice on how to live together as a Christian community. To put it simply we are not to neglect doing good. We are then to use each and every opportunity which we have to do good: to do the right thing regardless of the costs, or the consequences. We are to share what we have, because as Christians we are to be loving and generous people who live out our faith in our lives, who cannot fail to help those in need.
With such love and generosity comes obedience. The leaders are not specified in the letter as priests or bishops, however they ‘watch over your souls’. These then are people who exercise of pastoral care of the people of God, which is a great responsibility. Next comes the main point, they are ‘those who will have to give an account’. I suspect that you are familiar with the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14–30) . Well, those of us ordained priests and bishops are told at our ordination are consecration but we will have to answer to God on the day of judgement for our care of his flock. It is perhaps the singularly most terrifying thing which anyone says to me in life. It scared me then, over a year ago just as it does today. The fact that I will have to answer for my stewardship of God’s people fills me with terror. As stewards go, I’m a pretty poor one, a miserable sinner, in need of God’s love and mercy, who is absolutely not up to the task I have been given. I can but trust in God’s grace, his love at his mercy and cry ‘Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner’. Given the current state of the church in England I can only hope that priests and bishops reading these words this evening will be similarly moved. St John Chrysostom once wrote that ‘the way to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops’, and I can only hope and pray that they will listen to the advice of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews and not find themselves wailing and gnashing their teeth, having been found wanting in their stewardship of Christ’s flock.
The care of Christ’s flock is a solemn undertaking which I hope and pray is pondered long and hard before decisions are taken in the forthcoming months which have the potential to disfigure the body of Christ in this land. One can I suspect feel rather like Moses standing before Pharaoh simply asking ‘Let my people go that they may worship me in the wilderness’. To be in the wilderness is to be in a place upon which the world places no value whatsoever. To be in the wilderness is to be with God and to be opposed to the ways of the world, the ways of Pharaoh, and the ways of his power. To be in the wilderness is to wander, but also to be with God knowing that as Christians then is our true home, that the politics of the Gen Synod are as nothing compared to being with God, fed by his word and his sacraments, with true shepherds and not hirelings to lead us so that we may do God’s will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight that we may serve God the Father, God the son, and God the holy ghost to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and for ever

Homily for the 19th Sunday of Year B (Jn 6:41–51) ‘Bread for the life of the world’ 12.viii.12

I have something of a confession to make. I was somewhat troubled when I first read this morning’s Gospel. I find it all too easy to moan about all sorts of things. The Church of England is often a target, but one amongst many. It’s something which Our Lord tells us not to do, and so I pray that through God’s grace I may live a life which more closely imitates Jesus, and follows His commands. It reminds me of a passage in the sermons of St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Church: ‘“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 reminds us that the work of the Gospel is at one level up to us, the Body of Christ, His Church.
          In the Old Testament reading we see the prophet Elijah being fed, we see God providing food which gives strength, strength for the journey. It prefigures the Eucharist, the reason why we are here today, to be fed by God. We can have the strength for our journey of faith, and the hope of eternal life.
          In the letter to the Ephesians we see that as children of God, loved by God, we are to imitate him, after the pattern of Christ, who offered himself, who was a sacrifice who has restored our relationship with God. It is this sacrifice, the sacrifice of Calvary, which has restored our relationship with God, which will be re=presented, made present here today, that you can touch and taste, that you can know how much God loves you; that you can be strengthened and given the hope of eternal life in Christ.
          In this morning’s Gospel we see Jews complaining, ‘how can he be from Heaven, from God, we know his Mum and Dad’. It is a difficult thing to understand, especially before Jesus suffers and dies, and rises again. It can be hard to understand who and what Jesus is. The Jews see him in purely human terms, they cannot see beyond this, the Messiah whom they long for is in their midst and they fail to recognise him. The notion of consuming human flesh and blood is so abhorrent to Jews that it would represent something sinful and polluting. Jesus’ answer is simple and challenging: stop complaining. We are to accept, we are not to moan, to complain, but instead to trust him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
          Jesus is the Bread of Life, the true nourishment of our souls. It is through him that we can have life as Christians. He came down from heaven and became incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. He was born as a human being, and in him our human flesh has been raised to eternal life, to glory with God. Jesus speaks of the Eucharist, the sacrament of his body and blood as providing us with eternal life, of opening the way to heaven. So we come to be fed by God, to be fed with God, to have a pledge and foretaste of the joy of heaven, of eternal life with God, to experience true love in the source of love – the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
          We can have such a hope because Jesus gives himself, to suffer and die, and rose again, for love of us. It is this life of love and sacrifice which we are to imitate. Jesus gives himself to us for the life of the world – it is through being fed by him that the world can truly live.  It is in experiencing God’s self-giving love that the world can find true meaning. Life in Christ is what true life means. Fed by him, strengthened by him, to imitate him and live out lives of self-giving love.
          We are fed with Christ’s body and blood not only as a foretaste of heaven, of eternal life and joy with God, but so that we may be strengthened for the journey – strengthened to live lives of faith, to live lives of self-giving love, so that the world may believe. In Christ, fed by him, and following his example, our lives have their true meaning when we live like him, nourished by his Body and Blood. This is how we live out our faith in our lives, so that we can be an example of Christian love and faith which attracts people 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 IX Evensong: Hebrews 11:17–31

The Letter to the Hebrews was written to help and to encourage a group of Christians probably resident in Italy, and in all likelihood in Rome, who were wavering , who were losing heart, and who were about to turn away from Christianity back to Judaism. The author has spent much of the letter focussing on the unique nature of Jesus Christ, who as high priest and sacrificial offering has atoned for our sins in a way that the ceremonies of Yom Kippur cannot.
          To encourage his audience further, the author sets about giving an account of heroes of faith in the history of the people of Israel. And it is from this section where faith itself and those who are outstanding examples of faith are praised that this evening’s second lesson is taken.
          Abraham shows his faith in God by offering all to God. He does not cling on to his own son, Isaac, but willingly offers him. This sacrifice, where God provides a ram, looks forward to Jesus, who is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. God will not hold back, but gives his own son, for love of those he made, to restore their relationship with him. By faith, Moses leads the people of Israel through the Red Sea on dry land. He looks forward to that great Passover when Christ will pass over from death to new life, breaking down the gates of hell, and offering a promised land of new life with God, of eternal life with him.
This is our faith, this is the faith of the Church, and we should hold fast to it. It is why St Paul can single out faith, hope, and love as the three theological virtues. They should mark us out as Christians that we can have faith in God, and in his saving works, which have given us the hope of eternal life in him.
          Thus, it is the vocation of a Christian to hold fast to this faith, not to fall into error, and to live out this faith in our lives. In living out our faith we bear witness to it, and to the saving works of God. We bear witness to what God has done for all humanity, and by our example we draw others to follow our example and to follow Christ, to commit their lives to him, and to walk in his way. Thus we share the light of Christ with others and help them to walk in his light and to share that light, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

Trinity VIII Evensong – Hebrews 8

The Letter to the Hebrews was written to help and to encourage a group of Christians who had lost their way, who were losing heart, and who were about to fall away from the faith. It is a work full of help and encouragement, which speaks to us, in the Church of England, today. It encourages us, it allows us to say with Job that we know that our Redeemer lives, and that we can believe and trust in him, and in what he has done for us.
The problem is one of sin, where we as humans disobey God’s law, when we do things which separate us from Him. The purpose of sacrifice then is to make amends, to restore our relationship with God. It is a relationship rooted by means of a covenant, a covenant between God and humanity, which defines our relationship.
The first covenant is given on Mt Sinai, to Moses, with the giving of the Law, the Ten Commandments. It is a covenant from which the people of Israel, God’s chosen people have fallen away. The new covenant is likewise given outside the camp, upon the hill of Calvary, where Jesus Christ as both priest and victim offers himself upon the altar of the Cross. This new covenant restores the relationship between God and humanity. It shows us in the clearest possible terms how much God loves us – that God pays the debt which we cannot. He restores us, and makes it possible for us to love God and one another. Unlike the blood of bulls and goats which must be offered again and again, here we have a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, for the sins of all time.
The Church, as the Body of Christ, continues this one perfect sacrifice by re-presenting it, by making it present at the altar, so that we may participate in the joy and worship of heaven. We can be strengthened by it, strengthened to live lives of self-giving love, after the example of Christ who gave himself for love of us. We are freed by it, to lose our lives in the service of God and one another. This then is how the church is to live, how it is to reflect the glory of heaven which was shown on earth when Christ died for us.
We are to love God and one another. Not just the people it is easy to love, but everyone, even and especially those it is difficult to love, our enemies. We are to love and serve one another so that OUR lives may mirror that of Christ. We can do this because Christ loved us first, because he gave himself, because he gave himself for us, because he has restored our relationship with God and each other, because there is a new covenant which is far superior to the earlier one.
Thus, the Church can truly change the World, by living lives of selfless love, by offering the world an alternative to the ways of sin and selfishness, nourished by the word of God, strengthened by the sacrament of His Body and Blood, to live out God’s love in our lives.
This is the message of the Gospel; good news for everyone, made possible by Christ, by his Incarnation, by his life, by his death and resurrection. It’s the greatest news of human history, so let us live it with joy, and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for 18th Sunday of Yr B (Jn 6:24–35)

Well, wonderful things have been happening in and around London, Team GB have been defying expectations, but something far more wonderful will happen here this morning.  Instead of a world which says it’s what you achieve that’s important, we are told by God that it’s what you believethat really matters. It sounds strange, many people will think that I am mad for saying it, but Olympic glory will fade, others will be faster and stronger. What we are to strive for is a glory which is more than gold or silver: the glory of heaven, the joy of eternal life in God, and of believing in him, and doing his work in the world.
        In this morning’s Gospel, we see people who have been fed in the miraculous feeding, the feeding of the five thousand, following Jesus around. Perhaps they’re hoping for another free lunch? They haven’t seen the signs; they haven’t understood what’s going on. Jesus feeds people not as a combination of magic trick and mass catering, but as a sign of God’s generous love. That God loves us, you and me, all of us, so much, that he longs to feed us with himself, that he gives himself to be tortured and die on the Cross for us, to show us that he loves us.
        Jesus wants us to believe in him, to trust in him, to be fed by him, with him, the Word of god made flesh, to be fed by word and sacrament, to be strengthened to run our race, and to live out that faith in the world around us. Jesus is the true bread come down from heaven which satisfies our spiritual hunger in a way which the world: success, money, possessions, what we have and what we do, cannot. He is the living water which satisfies the thirst of our souls. If we believe in Him, and in Him alone, we will never be thirsty. He gives us not what we want, but what we need: a love, a true love which gives meaning to human love, and to all of human existence. If we trust in God, and live our lives according to his will, loving God and each other, with faith in him alone, we can be victorious, and win a prize far greater than a medal of gold or silver, we can win a reward which lasts far longer than human praise or glory: the crown of eternal life and the glory of heaven. So let us be fed by him, with him, nourished by word and sacrament, let us believe in him, let us love Him and one another, and live lives which proclaim his life, his truth and his victory to the world around us: a victory which allows us to win a greater prize, a greater glory than that of the Olympics – true life, true glory, and true joy with him forever in Heaven, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.