Trinity XIII 22nd Sunday of Yr B ‘Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers’


From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: an instruction sent by Abba Moses to Abba Poemen
A brother asked the old man, ‘Here is a man who beats his servant because of the fault he has committed; what will the servant say?’ The old man said, ‘If the servant is good, he should say, “Forgive me, I have sinned.”’ The brother said to him, ‘Nothing else?’ The old man said, ‘No for the moment he takes upon himself the responsibility for the affair and says “I have sinned,” immediately the Lord will have mercy on him. The aim in all these things is not to judge one’s neighbour. For truly, when the hand of the Lord caused all the first-born of Egypt to die, no house was without its dead.’ The brother said, ‘What does this mean?’ The old man said, ‘If we are on the watch to see our own faults, we shall not see those of our neighbour. It is folly for a man who has a dead person in his house to leave him there and go to weep over his neighbour’s dead. To die to one’s neighbour is this: To bear your own faults and not pay attention to anyone else’s wondering whether they are good or bad. Do no harm to anyone, do not think anything bad in your heart towards anyone, do not scorn the man who does evil, do not put confidence in him who does wrong to his neighbour, do not rejoice with him who injures his neighbour. This is what dying to one’s neighbour means. Do not rail against anyone, but rather say, “God knows each one.” Do not agree with him who slanders, do not rejoice at his slander and do not hate him who slanders his neighbour. This is what it means not to judge. Do not have hostile feelings towards anyone and do not let dislike dominate your heart; do not hate him who hates his neighbour. This is what peace is: Encourage yourself with this thought, “Affliction lasts but a short time, while peace is for ever, by the grace of God the Word. Amen.”’ [1]
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is uncompromising when dealing with the hypocrisy of the Scribes and the Pharisees: their religion is a façade, a sham, something done for show, for outward appearance, whereas we know, from the prophets onward that God looks on the heart, and if our motives are suspect then, we’re in trouble. The point is simple: what we do affects who and what we are, hence the need for the people of Israel to observe the statutes and ordinances without addition or subtraction. Likewise, the advice of the Letter of James is that people should in all gentleness and humility both listen to the word of God and do what it says, so that their thoughts and words and actions proclaim the truth that Christ died to save them from their sins and rose again that they might have new life in Him.
Rather than the pharisaic obsession with exterior cleanliness (and the letter of the Law) Our Lord and Saviour is concerned with the cleanliness of people’s souls, as it is from within, from the human heart that sinfulness can spring: his point is a simple one we become what we do, and thus the formation of a moral character is important, and can only be brought about by doing the right things.
There is a problem, however, that despite our best intentions we will fail in our endeavours. So what do we do? Is it simply a case that having tried and failed we are written off, cast aside and prepared for hell and damnation? By no means! Just as in the Gospel Jesus commands his followers to keep forgiving those who sin; our lives should be ones where we are continually seeking God’s forgiveness and that of our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that slowly and surely, as part of a gradual process, as people forgiven and forgiving, we try day by day to live out our faith in our lives. It is something which affects us all, each and every one of us, and it is only when we can live it out in our lives that our proclamation of the Kingdom can look authentic rather than running the risk of  being accused of hypocrisy.
So, by seeking forgiveness and forgiving others, by being close to God in prayer, in reading the Bible, and in the sacraments of the Church, and in the love which we have for each other as a Christian community, which recognises both that we fail but also that together we can be something greater and more wonderful than we could apart, through the love of God being poured into our hearts, and through that love forming who we are and what we do, that self-giving sacrificial love shown to us by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in his dying for us, so that we might live in Him, let us be attentive to the Word of God, the Word made flesh, and not simply listen but also act – relying not upon our own strength but upon the love and mercy of God, seeking His forgiveness, to do His Will. 
When we do this together then we can be built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory, which proclaims his love and truth to the world, which shows how forgiveness and sacrificial love can build up, rather than being bitter and judgemental and blind to our own faults: like the scribes and Pharisees, eager to point out the sins of others and yet blind to their own faults, failures and shortcomings. Instead, clothed in the humility of our knowledge of our need of God, his love and mercy, let us come to Him, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, to be healed and restored by him, so that we can live lives which speak of the power of his kingdom 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.


[1] Sr Benedicta Ward(tr.) The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, London: A. R. Mowbray 1975: 120-121

Trinity XII – 21st Sunday of Year B – ‘Lord to whom can we go?’


After the miraculous feeding of the Five Thousand in John’s Gospel, Jesus proceeds with a long Eucharistic discourse on the Bread of Life, which reaches its climax in this morning’s passage.
       Those who eat the Body and Blood of Christ abide in Him and He in us: to abide, to remain, there is something comfortable and comforting about its permanence. We sing the hymn ‘Abide with me’ which expresses the hope that this might happen, the longing to be close to Christ.
Christ gives himself to us so we may have life in this world and the next – it is a tremendous thing to say, and a troubling one. Jesus is speaking in the synagogue in Capernaum to Jews for whom the consumption of human flesh and blood is anathema – it is unacceptable, and unthinkable. What Jesus is promising goes against everything which they know and understand about their faith. He calls them to do the unthinkable.
Thus, is it hardly surprising that His disciples reply, ‘This teaching is difficult, who can accept it’. That is a normal reaction. But it is not one which Jesus will leave unchallenged. As he is the living bread which came down from Heaven so He will go back. After His death and Resurrection, He will ascend to the Father. Our being fed with the Lord’s Body and Blood is important, and what It is is clearly linked with who He is: God, born for us, who gives himself for us. It is linked to the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News – the words are Spirit and Life – and God gives himself so that His Church may be nourished by Word and Sacrament.
It is sad to think that even then ‘many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.’ Jesus had said something difficult, something troubling, something which turned the accepted order on it its head. People were unable or unwilling to accept what Jesus asked of them, and so He turns to his disciples and asks them if they want to go away too. Peter the leader of the disciples is the first one to reply: ‘Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God.’ Who can offer what Jesus Christ does? Life, freedom, the Love of God. He has the words of eternal life, and the disciples have come to know that he is the Messiah. His words are our words, his confession of faith is ours so that we too can have that same closeness to Jesus that the disciples did.
We come so that we may hear the words of eternal life, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and so that we may be fed by Him, and fed with Him, with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we can live forever because of Him. We can have a foretaste of the Heavenly banquet of the Kingdom, here and now, we can be fed with Jesus so that we can be transformed more and more into His likeness and prepared, here and now, for eternal life with God, and that we start living that life here and now, so that our faith is not a personal or a private matter but one which affects who and what we are, and how we live our lives, so that our faith affects who and what we are, and what we do, so that the Eucharist is our bread for the journey of faith, so that strengthened by Christ and with Christ, we may live lives which proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. This is how are supposed to live together as a Christian community, living in love, fed with love itself, here in the Eucharist, where we thank God for His love of us. As children of God, loved by God, we are to imitate him, we are to live 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 we can touch and taste, that we can know how much God loves us; that we can be strengthened and given the hope of eternal life in Christ – that God’s grace can transform our human nature so that we come to share in the Divine Nature forever.

20th Sunday of Year B: I am the Living Bread


This morning’s Gospel is taken like those from the two previous Sundays from the extended discourse in John’s Gospel on the Bread of Life which follows the miraculous feeding of the Five Thousand. But, you may say, not this again, we’ve got the point, it’s time to move on, we understand; to which one may counter that what we are dealing with here is not something to understand, but rather something to experience.
In the Book of Proverbs we see Wisdom, who in the Christian tradition is identified with Christ, the Word made Flesh, issuing an invitation: she has built a house, the Church, she has hewn seven pillars, the sacraments, the means of God’s grace to be active in our lives, and the people of God are called to eat and drink, to live, and to walk in the way of insight, that is in following Jesus Christ. The New is prefigured in the Old, and the Hebrew Scriptures point to, and find their fulfilment in Jesus Christ, who is the Wisdom of God, and the Word made Flesh.
Likewise St Paul advises the church in Ephesus not to behave in a worldly manner, but to put God at the centre of our lives. He ends by invoking the names of the three persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in a context of worship, of praise of the Almighty, as that is what we as Christians are supposed to do, to love God and to serve him, through prayer and worship, through entering into the mystery of the Three in One, to be caught up in the outpouring of divine love, and to have a foretaste of it here on earth.
After feeding the Five Thousand in John’s Gospel, a sign of the generous nature of God’s love for humanity, Jesus embarks upon an extended discourse upon himself as the Bread of Life. John’s account of the Last Supper focuses on Christ washing the disciples’ feet, and their obeying Christ’s example and commands. There is no institution narrative, instead the Eucharistic teaching in John’s Gospel is centred around Jesus’ explanation in Chapter 6, so that a long time before Jesus’ suffering and death we can see what it is all about. It’s a process which starts with John the Baptist at the start of the Gospel, where he sees Jesus and says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn 1:29) The Lamb points to Passover and the freedom of the people of God, freedom from sin and its effects.
Jesus begins the last section of his teaching with the bold claim that ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ These are some extraordinary claims to make, they would have sounded shocking to a first century Jew, and some two thousand years later they still sound shocking, and yet the offering of Christ’s body for the sins of the world as a propitiatory sacrifice which is re-presented, made present again and offered to God the Father upon the altars of the church, is what the church is for, it is what we are for.
It is done so that we may have life in us, and have it for eternity, so that we may share in the pledge of eternal life given to us in Christ, who will raise us up forever with Him. Such is the nature of God’s love for us: it is freely given, we do not earn it, we do not deserve it; it is something given to us, so that by it, and through it, we may become something greater, something better than we are.
Such is the power of God’s sacrificial love at work in our lives; such is the treasure which we have come here to receive, if it were ordinary food then we would eat it, and it would become what we are, our flesh and blood; but instead we who eat it become what it is, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we share in His divine life, we are healed by His divine love, by his sacrifice the wounds of sin and division are healed so that humanity, made in the image of God might be ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven by God, to live to his praise and glory.
Such wonderful news is truly worth pondering and considering in detail given its potential effects in our lives, so that bit by bit we are slowly and sure becoming more Christ-like, fed by Him, fed with Him, and encouraging others so to do 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.

‘I am the Bread of Life’ Trinity X (19th of Year B)


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, it is a very human failing, one to which we all, from time to time, succumb. But 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. We have to live our faith out in our lives (as fine words butter no parsnips) and we have to live the change we want to see in the world. 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.

       In the Old Testament reading this morning we see the prophet Elijah being fed, we see God providing food which gives strength, strength for the journey. It prefigures the Eucharist, it looks forward to 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 – that God’s grace can transform your human nature so that you come to share in the Divine Nature forever. Paul’s hope for the church in Ephesus should be ours to. This is how are supposed to live together as a Christian community, living in love, fed with love itself, here in the Eucharist, where we thank God for His love of us.
       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 can see him only 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, to draw others closer to Christ 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.

Evensong Trinity IX (2Peter 1:1-15)


A brother came to Scetis to see abba Arsenius. Having knocked on the door, the visitor and the monk who was with him entered; the old man greeted them and they sat down without saying anything. The brother from the church said, ‘I will leave you; pray for me.’ But the visiting brother did not feel at ease with the old man and said, ‘I will come with you,’ so they left together. Then the visitor said, ‘Take me to abba Moses who used to be a robber.’ When they arrived, the father welcomed them joyfully and then took leave of them with delight… That night the father prayed to God, saying, ‘Lord explain this matter to me; for thy name’s sake one flees from men, and the other for thy name’s sake receives them with open arms.’ Then two large boats were shown him on the river, and he saw abba Arsenius and the Spirit of God sailing in one in perfect peace; and in the other was abba Moses with the angels of God, and they were all eating honey cakes.’
Receiving letters: first loves, pen friends, when you’re far away – important, meaningful, something we’ve lost in a modern world with mass instant communication.
It’s hard for us to imagine just how it felt to be a Christian in the Early Church – small isolated communities, persecuted, illegal, in desperate need of encouragement, prone to going astray. A situation with profound differences and similarities to ours, here and now.
They need help – which starts with faith – what and whom they believe in – God the Father, the Creator of all, God the Son, Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit which sanctifies the people of God, the bond of love.
They and we become partakers of the divine nature, how and what God is , not by the abolition of our human nature, but by its transformation, through the grace, the free gift of God. Grace perfects nature, it does not abolish it. Likewise when we talk of the Incarnation of the Son of God, we should be mindful of a phrase in the Athanasian Creed ‘not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by the taking of the manhood into God’ The miracle of the incarnation is the means by which humanity can come to share in the very life of God, the fleshiness of God will lead to the Eucharist where God gives us his flesh and blood to eat and drink, so that our nature might be transformed. This is also what the Cross and the Resurrection achieve – a complete victory over this world, it makes it possible.
     So then what are we to do? We are to supplement our faith with virtue – in that human beings are creatures of habit, we become what we do often, hence the need to cultivate the practice of the moral virtues, the more that we do them the more they become not only what we do but what we are. It helps us to keep on keeping on with the Christian life , the life of faith, a process which began with our baptism, wherein we are regenerate, born again in the Spirit, freed from sin and its power, and our souls are infused with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity so that we be prepared for life forever with God.
     So far so good, in theory, but in practice it isn’t quite that simple, we need to live out our faith in our lives, we have to live with other people, and that is where it gets difficult. It always has. It would be easy to have a rose-tinted picture of Christian communities like those of the Egyptian desert, but they squabbled and quarrelled and bickered and fought just like us, they needed to be reminded of who and what they were, they needed encouragement, cheering up as they tried to live the Christian life together. They failed, as do we, which is where God’s forgiveness, and his love and mercy come in. The Cross cancels the debt we cannot pay, and if we can say sorry, and repent – make a conscious decision to turn away from sin, and to turn to Christ, then we can keep going on our journey of faith, forgiven, and forgiving others, so that we can be built up in love, a loving forgiving community which makes Jesus Christ known by what it is and what it does, that communicates the Good News of the Kingdom and shares it so that others may come to believe and give glory to…

Sermon for Trinity IX (18th of Yr B) John 6:24-35

Jan van Eyck The Adoration of the Lamb from the Ghent Altarpiece


In Exodus the people of Israel moan an awful lot, in this morning’s reading they are hungry and they long to be fed, and so God answers their prayer and gives them manna and quails, they are fed with bread and meat, a miracle which points forward to the more miraculous feeding when Christ will give his flesh, the bread of life, so that we his people may have life in Him, so that we may be built up in love, so that His Divine nature may transform our human nature and prepare us for heaven.
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 have seen and yet they have not seen the signs; they haven’t understood what’s going on. They haven’t seen what Jesus is doing and why he is doing it
Jesus feeds people not as a combination of magic trick and mass catering, but as a sign of God’s generous love, his healing and forgiveness. 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, to heal our wounds, to take away our sins. His feeding of the people of God points to this, so that they might believe in Him. And believing in Him, be fed by Him, fed with him, so that they might have life, and life in all its fullness.
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 live our life of faith, growing into His likeness, 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: a generous self-giving love.
One of the Desert Fathers was asked by a soldier if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things, he said, ‘Tell me my dear, if your cloak is torn do you throw it away?’ He replied, ‘No, I mend it and use it again.’ The old man said to him, ‘If you are so careful with your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?’ God’s grace does not abolish our human nature but transforms it, through the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we may live forever in Him, living out our faith.
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 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, let us be nourished by word and sacrament, let us believe in him, let us love Him and love 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 anything this world can offer – true life, true glory, and true joy with him forever in Heaven, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.