The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Evensong: Exod 18:13–26, Mt 7:1–14 ‘which one of you, if his son asks him for bread will give him a stone?’

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: A brother asked Abba Poemen ‘If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?’ The old man replied, ‘Whenever we cover our brother’s sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother’s guilt, God will do the same about ours.’
They said of Abba Macarius that he became as it is written a god upon earth, because just as God protects the world, so abba Macarius would cover the faults that he saw as though he did not see them, and those which he heard as though he did not hear them.
The early monks and nuns who lived in the Egyptian desert managed to get to the heart of not judging others, or of thinking that you or I are somehow a better person. The gentleness which they show when dealing with the faults of others is quite staggering. It is a truly difficult thing to do: not to judge others, but to treat everyone with love, forgiving them as we hope to be forgiven ourselves for the manifold sins which we commit on a daily basis. But to live out God’s love and forgiveness in your life is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. It is the narrow gate, and the way is HARD, and those who find it are few, but we should not let the difficult of living the Christian life authentically put us off trying to do it in the first place, or indeed persevering with it when times are hard.
It is hard, I struggle with it and fail often, but I know that as a Christian I am part of a community who can and indeed will forgive me, and so I can keep trying and failing, and trying some more. It is this through this process of trying, failing and trying again, that we as a community of Christians, as the Body of Christ, His Church, can help each other to progress in the Christian life, and in our individual vocations. We will all fail, but if we love and forgive each other, then we can live out God’s love in the world. We will have to live with upset and disappointment on a daily basis, but if we are rooted in the wellspring of divine love, fed with living water, then we can flourish.
What is more, in living out God’s love in our lives, we have an authenticity, an attractiveness which is captivating, which satisfies the deep spiritual hunger and thirst out there in the world, amongst those who have begun to see that the ways of the world are futile, empty and vain. We can offer a glimpse of the kingdom of God enfleshed in our own lives, and we can know that we are doing God’s will, that we are living as God intends to. We will be doing for others what we wish they would do for us. We have discovered the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in a field, and are freely sharing it with others, so that they may do the same.
We need to have the confidence to do this, a confidence which comes from God and not from mankind. It isn’t easy, especially when the wider church appears to be giving us stones when we as Catholic Anglicans have asked for bread. But we must judge them, no we are to love them, as there is no sin which God cannot forgive, even heresy, or opening the episcopate to women. We need to let go of the bitterness, of the pain which we feel, in the sure and certain knowledge that it is as nothing compared to the pain experienced by our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, as he hung upon the cross, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. For in loving all as Christ loves us, and sharing that love with others, there is nothing which the world or even the Church of England can do to us. We have our treasure, which we keep in the clay jars of our weak, feeble and sinful lives. But our joy and our hope as Christians is in something more, something greater. If the Church is the body of Christ, wounded, and ill-treated, then we know that we await a glory, a bliss which surpasses all that we know or can hope to understand.
So, let us live out God’s love and forgiveness in our lives, filled with joyful hope as we await the coming of God’s kingdom, and in the knowledge that it is very near, it is among us, 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.

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity Gal 6:11, Mt 6:24 ‘But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’

Abba Poemen said ‘There is no greater love than that a man lays down his life for his neighbour. When you hear someone complaining and you struggle with yourself and do not answer him back with complaints; when you are hurt and bear it patiently, not looking for revenge; then you are laying down your life for your neighbour.
The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is a wonderful thing for the simple reason that it turns the world around. In the Cross we see the values of the world turned on their head. What looks like a shameful defeat and a failure, to be executed like a common criminal, naked, vulnerable, mocked, abused, and tortured, is the true victory.
It is a victory which the powers of this world cannot understand. To many people it still seems strange, that we as Christians should celebrate torture and failure; and yet we do, because we know that the Cross is not the end, that it leads to the new life of Easter. It is a cross which brings both peace and mercy. It demonstrates them in the clearest possible terms: ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do’ ‘Today you shall be with me in paradise’. This is what the love of God looks and feels like. It gives us the true gifts of God’s peace and God’s mercy. They cannot be bought with money, or power, or privilege, or status, with fine clothes, or fine words, or indeed anything of this world. They cannot be bought at all; they are pure gift, freely given, and of no worth in the eyes of the world but of infinite value.
So then, we have a choice. What will you choose? Christ, or the ways of the world? Whom will you serve? We can have a comfortable life; we can fill our barns full and build bigger ones, or we can be crucified with Christ. It may not appear quite as tempting an offer. People prefer the easy life, and the devil can tempt you to go after the ways of the world. Many do, but ultimately what they go after is vain, empty, without substance. Instead, we follow our Lord’s footsteps which will lead to the Cross in any number of different ways. But we are to do this gladly, to embrace it, and live it out joyfully. This is why our Lord summarises his teaching with advice ‘But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ What Christ offers is TRUE life, TRUE abundance, not material satisfaction, or the absence of pain. So then let us choose to serve him who gave his life for us. Let us live out our faith in our lives. So that everything that we say, or think, or do, every last thing, will proclaim to the world the truth of Christ’s victory and his love. It’s up to us, you see, to keep proclaiming the Gospel in thought, and word, and deed, so 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.

Sermon for Trinity XIV Evensong

They asked abba Macarius “How should we pray?” And the old man replied, “There is no need to speak much in prayer; often stretch out your hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will and as you know, have mercy on me.’ But if there is war in your soul, add, ‘Help me!’ and because he knows what we need, he shows mercy on us”
Prayer can be an easy and a difficult thing. The great temptation with it, just as with the writing of sermons is to use too many words. Many people get it wrong and ‘heap up empty phrases’ as though the more we say to God, the more likely he is to listen to us, and no doubt if we pester him for long enough then it’s bound to work in the end. The first monks in the Egyptian desert preferred to say little, or to use short phrases ‘O Lord open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise’ ‘O God make speed to save me, O Lord make haste to help me’. God knows what we want or need before we ask – it is the quality rather than the quantity of our prayer which matters.
The prayer which Jesus teaches us in this evening’s second lesson is a model of concision. In fifty six words of Greek (or 49 words of Latin), Jesus covers all that needs to be said in prayer. But the reason why we as Christians say it every day is not just because Jesus told us to pray this way, or that it sums up our prayers, but that as well as showing us how to pray it shows us how to live out our faith in our lives. Our lives and our prayer are not distinct; there are not separate boxes, for each affects the other. We are to go to God with the world on our hearts and to the world with God in our hearts. This is how we live out our faith in our lives, not to be seen by people, so that they can say ‘Oh look, there’s someone religious’ but so that our faith in a God who loves us, who heals and restores us, who feeds us in word and sacrament, may be something which attracts others to ‘come and see’.
 Likewise, our fasting, our abstaining from meat on Fridays, is not done for show, to show how religious we are, or done with a miserable face, but to hold our souls and bodies in check, to help us to remember that while we may have plenty, there are those who will go hungry and die for lack of proper food and clean water. The more we do such things, the more we deepen our faith, and our relationship with the God who loves us.
As people forgiven and loved by God, we are to show this love and forgiveness to each other and to the world, in a way makes our faith both authentic and attractive that the world may believe and 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.

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday of Year B

When blessed Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying, “Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria.” When he heard this, the old man got up and took his stick and hurried into the city. When he had found the tanner … he said to him “Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you.”
He replied, “I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of this city, small and great will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds, while I alone will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart.”
When blessed Antony heard this he said “My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near the measure of such words
When Our Lord begins the Sermon on the Mount, he starts by saying ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God’ To be poor in spirit is not to have a false idea of who and what you are, and it is to know your need for and dependence upon God, and God alone.  That is how we are to live. In this morning’s Old Testament reading we see Isaiah prophesying about the Kingdom of God: it speaks of joy, refreshment and new life in God, it’s what the Kingdom of God looks and feels like.
This is why Jesus performs miracles, not to show off his power, but to show God’s healing love for people who know their need of God. The miracles are prophetic acts which announce God’s Kingdom among us. This morning’s second reading from the Letter of St James shows us how to live our lives as Christians in an authentic manner. Just as St Antony was not afraid to see a greater example of faith than his own lived out in the world, by a man who tanned animal hides in urine all day long, hard, demanding and smelly work; so we should not make the distinctions of which the world is so fond. If we live our lives without judging others, we can be as free as the deaf mute healed by Jesus. The ways of the world will not bind and constrain us.
To return to the desert for an example ‘A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which abba Moses was invited, but refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him saying “Come for everyone is waiting for you”. So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug with him filled with water and carried it with him. The others came to meet him and said, “What is this, father?” The old man said to them “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him
This morning’s Gospel shows us God’s love and God’s healing. As those loved and healed by him we need to live out the reality of our faith in our lives, showing the love and forgiveness to others which God shows to us. So that all of our lives 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.