Trinity VII Year A

At one level, God is completely beyond our understanding: we cannot comprehend the majesty of God, or the depth of God’s love for us. Yet in Christ, the Word made flesh, we catch a glimpse of what God is like. Likewise Jesus speaks in parables to explain what the Kingdom of God is like – to convey in words and images which we can understand, something of the majesty and wonder of the life lived in union with God.

This morning’s gospel gives us four images to ponder: the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, it is a a small thing, only a couple of millimetres across, which can grow into a plant large enough that birds can nest in it. Likewise our faith may be small, we may not think that we’re terribly good at being a Christian, at following Jesus, but if we live out our faith in our lives together, then our faith can, like a mustard seed, grow into something amazing: it can be a place of welcome, a place that birds can call home. It becomes a reality in the world, something which we share, a place of joy, filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Kingdom is like yeast – a small bit can rise an awful lot of dough. It’s alive, and it makes bread – a basic foodstuff – that nourishes us, that gives us life. It reminds us that Jesus is the living bread who came down from heaven, which is why we are here, now, today, to share in that same living bread. We are here to partake in the feast of the Kingdom, where Christ gives himself for us, under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we may have life in him, and have it to the full, it gives us life, it nourishes us, and gives us a foretaste of heaven, and of eternal life in Him.

The kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field, or a pearl of great price, it is something so wonderful, so valuable, that it becomes the single most important thing in our life: it comes before everything else, because it is about our relationship with the God who created us, who loves us, and who redeems us. We celebrate the single most significant event in human history, which shows us how much God loves us, the riches of His grace poured out upon us, and the wonder of having faith in Him.

The kingdom is like a net full of fish – good and bad. It hasn’t been sorted out yet. It is a work in progress – we should not be so presumptuous to think that we are good fish, nor so pessimistic to think that we are bad. Rather we show our faith by living it out in our lives – the kingdom is here among us, right here, right now. We are to live resurrection lives and to proclaim the truth of our faith to the world, so that it too may believe.

The kingdom is like someone who brings things out, both old and new – rooted in scripture, the Word of God, and in the tradition of the Church – rooted, grounded, authentic, recognisable, not making things up as we go along, or going along with the ways of the world, because it suits us. There is something refreshing and new about orthodoxy, because it is rooted in truth, the source of all truth, namely God. It is old and new, a well which never runs dry, because it is fed by God, something which can refresh us, and which gives true life to the Church.

The challenge for us, as Christians is to live out our faith in the God who loves us and who saves us. We should not compartmentalise our lives so that our faith is a private matter. It needs to affect all of who and what we are, what we think or say or do. It is something primary, and foundational, not an optional extra, not some add-on, but the very ground of our being. It is a big ask; and if it were simply up to each and every one of us, then we would, without doubt, completely and utterly fail to do it. Yet such is the love and forgiveness of God, that His mercy is never-ending, and as people forgiven by God, we likewise forgive each other and are built up in love together, so that the work of the Kingdom is a corporate matter, a joint effort – we’re all in it together – it is what the church is for – a bunch of sinners trying to love God and serve Him, and likewise loving and serving each other, and the whole world.

We can do it in the strength of the Holy Spirit of God, so that we can pray, so that we can to talk to and listen to God. The Spirit is poured out upon each and every one of us in our baptism, whereby our souls are infused with all the spiritual grace we need to get to heaven. We can follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, and likewise spread the good news, and live the life of the Kingdom. We can be confident in Christ’s victory, over sin, death, and the world, and strong in the power of His Spirit, live out our faith and share the joy of being known and loved by God, so that the world 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.

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Sixteenth Sunday of Year A Mt 13:24-43

If I were to mention Hell to you, you would probably expect me to also mention damnation, the wretched sinful nature of humanity, and why we all deserve to burn for ever in eternal fire and unquenchable brimstone, striking the pulpit in the manner of a Non-Conformist preacher. You would naturally think this was somewhat out of character for me. But here I stand I can do no other. This morning’s Gospel is quite stark and uncompromising in its portrayal of judgement and the afterlife, and we have a choice to make. We have got used to people not talking about Hell nowadays, we’re far too polite to mention such things. It’s certainly not the Anglican way to dwell on such matters. But we cannot simply bury our heads in the sand and forget that such things exist. We need to understand them.

One of my favourite religious anecdotes comes from Northern Ireland, and relates to this morning’s Gospel, after hearing it read someone asked, ‘What if you’ve not got any teeth?’, to which the preacher responded, ‘Teeth will be provided!’ amidst the humour there lies a serious point – It is real, and  we have a choice to make. Do we want a future without God, cut off from Him, through Sin?  Do we want to condemn ourselves to an eternity of misery, cut off from His love? Or do we want to have life in Christ, life in all its fullness.

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.

But lest we get too gloomy, 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 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, 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 people good and bad, on various stages of a journey, as earth is a preparation for heaven, 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.

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15th Sunday of Year A – The Parable of the Sower – Matthew 13:1–23

If, this morning, I were to go and stand  outside my local supermarket with a suitcase full of £20 notes and give away free money, you would be surprised if anyone refused the offer. There would in fact be a large queue. People would text and phone their friends. They would come from far and wide and would gladly take what I would give them and would go away happy.

And yet, we as the church offer something of far greater value than some bank notes: the love of God and life in all its fullness. If I were to stand in the middle of this village and talk to people about the love of God in Christ Jesus I doubt that there would be the same kinds of crowds, or a similar level of acceptance.

Jesus never had such problems, quite the opposite in fact, in the Gospel He has been teaching people about the Kingdom of God, and how it creates a new kind of family for us to belong to. He has been quoting from the prophet Isaiah, and now there are so many people who want to listen to what he has to say that he has to go into a boat on the Sea of Galilee to use a cove like a natural auditorium or theatre so that people can see and hear Him. He tells a parable to explain the Kingdom in a way that people could understand. A sower scatters seed, and it falls into various kinds of ground, some plants get choked by weeds. Others fall into thin soil and quickly wither and die. But some fall into good soil and produce a miraculous harvest. It’s a parable about people hearing the proclamation of the Kingdom of God: it’s easy to forget about it, to get choked by the cares of the world, to buckle under the first bit of pressure, but if you listen to what God says, and let it grow in your heart and your life then miraculous things can and will happen. Ours is an extravagant God, a generous God, a God who loves us.

The Church has always struggled with the fact that there are those who are unwilling or unable to receive the message of the Gospel of salvation. It seems so strange that people just aren’t interested in who Jesus is, in what He does, and why it matters.

I certainly don’t understand why anyone would think like that. It makes perfect sense to me, as a man of faith who loves Jesus. I want to tell people about Him. That is why I’m standing here talking to you. It is thanks to the example of a great and holy priest, Fr Glyn Bowen, who lived next door but one to us when I was a child. He was a humble, loving man, who lived out his faith and inspired me and countless others to follow Jesus.

We cannot do everything ourselves, we have to leave some things up to God.  But we can hope and trust along with the apostle Paul that ‘the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ (Rom 8:21 NRSV). We must remember that the spread of the Good News, like all things, is in God’s hands. Unlike in the supermarkets, the Church’s offers are not time-limited. We should not allow people’s reluctance to accept the gospel to detract us from our main purpose. We as Christians are to love God and to love our neighbour, in thought word and deed. This is the key to our faith.

By living lives which proclaim the gospel truth, that there is much more to life than the false enticements of this world, we become fruitful evangelists, with the word of God dwelling in us deeply. As Christians, all of our lives need to be filled with Christ-like love. It cannot be otherwise. Through regular prayer, and reading of the scriptures, but most of all through regular reception of Holy Communion, we can be fed by the Lord, with the Lord,  to become living temples to His glory.

For God is seeking the healing of his people as noted by the prophet Isaiah which Jesus quotes:

You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.” (Mt 13:14-15 NRSV)

Isaiah is giving a message of hope to Israel, to trust in God, and turn towards Him, so that they may be healed. It is fulfilled in Jesus, who brings about that healing on the Cross, when He reconciles us to God and each other. ‘And I would heal them’, Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah ends with a promise of God’s healing. It is a promise which Jesus fulfils on the Cross. Here He shows us that God wants to heal His people, and has sent His Son to do it. This is the Good News of the Kingdom.

We can have a truly loving community in and through Christ, who has taken our sins upon Himself, and reconciled us to God and each other. It allows us to live in an entirely different way to the ways of the world, the ways of sin and division. And in the growth of the Church we can see the New Life and miraculous harvest which God offers.

The people of our generation are reluctant or scared to accept God’s love. They have become inherently suspicious of the idea of a free gift. The only way that they can be encouraged to accept it is by seeing in the lives of people around them examples of how the free love of God affects our lives. We need to reflect God’s love in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds.

So then, let us pray that we may be fed by Him, nourished by Him, strengthened to live lives of gospel truth which proclaim the generous love of God to all those around us. Let us show this love to one another, letting God work in our lives, and helping us to love Him and to love our neighbours, so that the world around us 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 Fourteenth Sunday of Year A (Mt 11:16-19, 25-30)

There really is NO pleasing some people! It is completely impossible especially as some people are only happy when they are complaining or moaning about something. No I’m not talking about present-day church meetings, PCCs or even General Synod, I am reflecting on Jesus’ words to the people of His day in this morning’s Gospel.

It is a very human reaction – not being satisfied, and merely focussing on what you think are the negative points. John the Baptist lived a simple ascetic life and is accused of being possessed  by a demon. Jesus eats and drinks with the ‘wrong sort of people’ and is accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. Both approaches certainly have their place in the Christian life: feasting and fasting are part of who and what we are and do. They are both something that Jesus did and something that we should emulate in our own lives. But when we are worried about being seen eating with tax-collectors and sinners – collaborators with the occupying power, prostitutes, people who are beyond the pale and ‘not like us’: then we know that something is seriously wrong. If the the Church acted in this way, we would know that it was in a serious mess.

It’s just like the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. People who think that they are somehow better, morally superior, don’t really think that they need God. They think that they are ok; they are doing just fine thank you very much. They certainly have little need for religion or anything too extreme. The self-righteous attitude of the Pharisees is alive and well, and all around us. Jesus, however, associates with sinners for the simple reason that they know their need for God, they are not self-righteous, just humble. They know who they need to rely on, and also where their strength comes from.

Jesus’ teaching begins with gratitude. He gives thanks to the Father, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. In the prayer He gives us He starts by recognising both who and what God is, God who is the beginning and end of all things. It is a model for our prayers and our lives as Christians. We need to be GRATEFUL people. God has hidden things from the so-called wise and intelligent, those who think that they know it all, and do not pay any attention to Jesus’ words.

Instead, Jesus has revealed the truth to children, those who are weak and foolish. Simple, trusting souls [cf. Celsus] who know their need of God. The key then is humility. And for this our primary example is the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ. God humbled himself to share our humanity, so that we might share His divinity. Through being reliant upon God, and not ourselves we can be rid of the ego, the sense of pride which says, ‘you can do it on your own’. and instead we can put our trust in someone who has been entrusted everything by the Father. In other words we are in Jesus’ hands, and can rely upon Him alone, safe in the knowledge that all will be well.

Jesus’ message is a simple one, ‘Come to me all who labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.’ (Mt 11:28 RSV) Jesus gives us what we long for, something which the world around cannot give us, and He gives us it for free. It is the refreshment spoken of by King David in Psalm 23:1-2 ‘The Lord is my shepherd : therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture : and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.’ This is a God who keeps his promises to us, and these commitments are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Word made Flesh, the fulfilment of all Holy Scripture.

He calls us to take His yoke upon ourselves.  This is an act of submission, becoming like oxen pulling a plough, and beasts of burden. This image naturally leads us to think of Jesus carrying His Cross to Calvary. Paradoxically this is our rest, the easy task, our dancing with joy, this is the Kingdom of God.

It doesn’t make sense, and it is not supposed to, because it is radically different from anything we are used to. The opposite of worldly, selfish ways. Jesus is inaugurating a gentle humble Kingdom, which shows up the violence of the world for what it is: empty and destructive, sinful and selfish, only concerned with power and domination.

The Kingdom of God, however, offers freedom from this. For those who accept it there is gentleness and joy. Yet for those who refuse it there is the judgement of God. Jesus comes to save us from sin and judgement, and both He and His cousin, John the Baptist begin their ministry with the proclamation ‘Repent, the Kingdom of God is near.’ So my brothers and sisters let us turn away from the ways of the world, the ways of sin, selfishness, and death, and find our rest in Christ. Let us take his yoke, and bear his burden, in the joyous new life of His Kingdom. Let us encourage others to do so, that they may know His love and His peace, so that the world may be filled with his love, and 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.

‘Learn of me,’ Jesus said, ‘for I am meek and humble of heart.’ Humility perfects us towards God, mildness and gentleness towards our neighbour.But be careful that mildness and humility are in your heart, for one of the great wiles of the enemy is to lead people to be content with external signs of these virtues, and to think that because their words and looks are gentle, therefore they themselves are humble and mild, whereas in fact they are otherwise. In spite of their show of gentleness and humility, they start up in wounded pride at the least insult or annoying word.

St Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life III:8

 

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The Thirteenth Sunday of Year A

Matthew 10:37-42

Is it easy to be a Christian? No it isn’t, and the answer shouldn’t really come as that much of a surprise. To put it simply God asks a lot of us, and this morning’s Gospel is no exception. Do I love my parents and my wife more than Jesus? Well it’s certainly a close run thing! Am I worthy of Jesus? No, the honest answer is that I’m not. But at least I’m honest about it, and I know that I’m not worthy of Him. I don’t deserve to be saved by Him, and I certainly cannot earn it. I do, however, take up my Cross and follow Him, because Jesus tells me to, and it is the right thing to do, as a Christian. We are people of the Cross, we glory in it, because it proclaims God’s love to the world.

We live in a world characterised by spiritual hunger. A world which has turned its back on Christ and His church. A world which sees itself beset by all manner of spiritual ills, and is desperate for answers and solutions. All we can say to those around us is, ‘Come and lose your life for Christ’s sake’, ‘Come and see’, and ‘Follow Him’. While Jesus is preaching the Good News of the Kingdom in Galilee His mind is on the Cross. He knows what His mission entails – the pain, the agony, the isolation. He calls us to follow Him, to be willing to lay down our lives as He did. In countries around the world right now, Christians know what this means, as they face imprisonment, torture and death for believing in Him. Despite persecution the church is growing in many lands. Sadly the culture of indifference we face here in the United Kingdom means that we are far more likely to be ignored or laughed at than killed, but there is nonetheless a great deal of opposition to us Christians and our beliefs.

So what are we to do? To put it simply our life and our actions, as well as our words need to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. If people can see Jesus in us, they will follow Him. It will not happen overnight, and there is no magic wand to be waved. All we can do is continue to offer the invitation, ‘Come and See’.

It is not surprising that in this morning’s Gospel Jesus talks about welcome – hospitality, making people feel at home and comfortable is part of who and what we are as Christians. It is at the heart of one of the many paradoxes of our faith – Jesus can make us feel both spiritually uncomfortable and challenged, and yet also comfortable, loved and accepted.

We can hardly be surprised that people may be unwilling to listen to or follow Jesus, as what He offers may be seen as too radical, too life-changing, too troubling. It’s too much of an effort! Few people believe in Hell, or life after death, they don’t believe that they have a soul to save, so they are not interested in how to save it!

Indifference means the denial of the distinction between the true and the false, right and wrong. Confusing charity and tolerance, it gives an equal hearing, for example, to speech which advocates the freedom to murder and to speech which advocates the freedom to live. Indifference is never a stable condition, but passes into polarization.

Fulton Sheen Missions and the World Crisis, Milwaukee 1963: 7

Ours is a polarised world where extravagant emotion lives alongside rampant indifference. The position is inconsistent, and so is modernity. The patient is sick, but perhaps the medicine is too bitter. And yet, God continues, through Christ, to welcome us, even when we don’t welcome Him. This is true generosity, as shown by Our Lord’s last words, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ The greatest welcome in the world is when God in Christ opens his arms on the Cross to embrace the world through a love which bears our sin, which reconciles us to God and each other. This foolishness and stumbling block is the heart of our faith:

But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:23-25 (NRSV)

The love of God, like the hospitality of God, is reckless and foolish, it is extravagant, and it doesn’t make sense. Just like serving the best wine at the Wedding in Cana, or feeding us with His Body and Blood, God did not choose to save his people through logic, non in dialectica complacuit Deum salvum facere populum suum, (Ambrose De Fide 1:5 42). God saves us out of love, not that we deserve it, but so that we might have life in and through Him.

This message of love is ours to live out, and we do that by carrying our cross and following Christ, losing our life so that we may find it in Him. We do it by being welcoming to others, inviting them to ‘Come and See’ that we might share it 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.

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