Bible Sunday (Trinity XX 30th of Yr A) Neh. 8:1-4a, 8-12 Col. 3:12-17, Mt 24:30-35

The joy of the Lord is our strength

We are, generally speaking, more than glad to have a reason for a celebration. Especially when the weather is lousy, the news is gloomy and the Church appears to be in something of a mess. However if I were to say that the reason for having the celebration was ‘listening to a sermon’ then I suspect that you would be more than a little bit surprised. There’s nothing to celebrate here … it is just what we do in church.

But in this morning’s first reading from the Book of Nehemiah, it is exactly what happens. The Jewish people have been in exile in Babylon and have returned to Jerusalem. The scribe and priest, Ezra, and the governor, Nehemiah, are celebrating the Jewish New Year. Ezra reads from the Torah, the Books of the Law, the Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, and the Levites explain the scriptures, translating them from Hebrew into Aramaic and explaining them to the people. It is basically what we have done here in church this morning. It doesn’t seem like much of a reason for a celebration. The people are overcome with emotion, perhaps at being back home in Jerusalem, or perhaps at having the scriptures read and explained to them. Ezra tells them to feast, to drink sweet wine. We will follow their example here this morning, as we have done on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, since our Lord was raised from the dead, because the joy of the Lord is our strength.

God delighted to send His Holy Spirit so that Jesus Christ, His Son, might be born of the Virgin Mary for us. Christ preached the Good News of the Kingdom to remind humanity how to live as God wants us to live, so that we might thrive, so that we might be filled with His Joy, and be strong in Him. Christ became what we are, so that we might become what He is. He died for us, so that we might live in Him, and share in that Divine Life for ever.

All of this to show God’s love for His people, so that we might share in the joy of the Lord. God delights in His people following His Law, in hearing it explained so that they live, and live life to the full.

It is exactly the same ass when S. Paul is writing to the church at Colossæ, in Asia Minor. He addresses them as ‘chosen of God, holy, and beloved’ terms used to describe the Jews as God’s people – a relationship He now has with the Church – this is our inheritance as the Church, to be a people chosen by God, holy and beloved, and as such we are to be clothed with compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, forbearance, and forgiveness. This is because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts and souls at our baptism. We are, above all else, to be a people of love: not the saccharin-sweet thing of Hollywood movies, but real, genuine, costly love. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. It is demanding, and difficult. It means loving each other as Christ has loved us: in exactly the same way and to the same extent. In so doing, we know that we are living as God wants us to live: we are to be people formed by the word of God – the Bible. The word of Christ is to dwell richly in our hearts, in such a way that it bears fruit in our lives. It leads us to worship God, to sing His praises, thankful for all that God has done for us, and giving thanks to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, who died for us.

Thus, when Jesus talks about the end of time, the time of judgement, when He will come again to judge the living and the dead, we know how we are to live as Christians. Whether this happens today or a hundred thousand years in the future, we know how to live. We know that that we are to live by, and be known by our faith, what we believe and how we put it into practice in our lives. We will know when it is time, but what matters is what we believe and how we live. We can trust Jesus, His words will not pass away. He came to proclaim the Kingdom of God’s love here on earth. He proclaimed it, and He died for it: making peace with His Blood. It is why we meet on the day when Our Lord rose again, so that we might feed on His Body and Blood. We are fed by Him, with Him, so that we might share in His Divine, and be strengthened to live out our faith, and be conformed more and more to the will of Our Heavenly Father, and share His joy 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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Albert Dürer, Christ at Emmaus, 1511 (Small Passion)

29th Sunday of Year A, Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity: Isa 45 1-7, 1Thess 1:1-10, Mt 22:15-22

People get in a fluster about coins. It is nothing new, currently people are worried that, despite there being about 500 million in circulation, the old round £1 coin is no longer legal tender. Such things are important. They are part of our lives – how we pay for things. Their size, shape and decoration matter too, otherwise those in power would not bother to design the coins we use. Our gospel this morning is all about a denarius, it is a small silver coin, about ¾ of an inch in diameter, the size of a modern 5p, or a penny. It was a day’s wage, the pay given to the labourers in the vineyard , or one thirtieth of the bribe given to Judas Iscariot, and the cost of the Roman poll tax, about £50 in today’s money.

Jesus and the Pharisees have something of a troubled relationship: they just do not seem to be able to understand what he is saying or why he is saying it. All they can do is to try and catch him out, to find a way to entrap him. In the gospel they must think that they have finally got him on the horns of a dilemma. They ask him the question, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ If he says, ‘no’ then he’s allied himself with zealots, religious extremists, he has made a provocative political statement for which he can be denounced. If he says, ‘yes’ then they can write him off as a collaborator, he is not one of us, he is not a real prophet, a true son of Israel. All the Pharisees are interested in is understanding what Jesus says in political terms. Their opening pleasantries ring hollow, they don’t mean what they say; they are just trying to butter him up with empty flattery.

Jesus turns the tables on them by asking them to show him a coin used to pay the tax, so that he can ask ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answer ‘Caesar’s’ allowing him to say, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s’. Whereas the Pharisees come filled with malice, with a desire to catch him out, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to show them the proper order of things: pay your taxes but give God what is owed to him – a heart filled with love, love of God and of each other, a life which proclaims this love in the service of others and through the worship of Almighty God. This is where real power lies, this is the truly subversive aspect of Jesus’ teaching, which he proclaims in the Temple, in the heart of the religious establishment – to show people how to live, and live life to the full.

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Jesus does not get drawn into the argument whether it is idolatrous to use Roman coins with pictures of pagan gods on them , and the  inscription, ‘TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F. avgvstvs pontif. maxim.’ Paying a Roman tax with a Roman coin is fine, but what matters more is rendering to God the things that are God’s.

Jesus is asking us all a difficult question. What do you and I, all of us, render to God in our personal lives? If we claim to be disciples, then what does that actually mean in the way we speak and act?

We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We are to be generous, forgiving and kind, to the point of extravagance, because that is how God has been to us. It is a radically different way of living which shows that while we are in this world, we are not of it. Instead, we render to God the worship which is His by right, not just in church, but in all of our lives.

Thus as Christians we follow a differnt set of rules, we show that we can live lives of freedom. In the power of the Holy Spirit the Truth can be proclaimed, the truth which sets us free from the ways of the world, free to love and serve God. This freedom can be seen in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians to whom Paul writes. Rather than worshipping idols, they serve the living and true God, they are an example to Christians of how to live. Their lives proclaim the truth which they serve. This is the dark truth of which the prophet Isaiah speaks, these are the hidden riches.

As opposed to either the collaboration of the Herodians or the rigourist harshness of the Pharisees, Jesus proclaims the freedom and love of the Kingdom of God. It is a place of welcome – the image is that of the wedding feast to which all people are invited. People are too busy or preoccupied to come; others just don’t want to be invited: they mistreat the people who invite them. But this does not stop the invitation being offered to all, it still is. It is why we are here today, so that we can be nourished by Word and Sacrament, we can join in the wedding feast, so that we can be strengthened in love and in faith, to proclaim the reality of the Kingdom of God, to be an example to others to draw them in to the loving embrace of God – to be healed and restored by Him.

We see this love and healing most fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the costly love in action which restores our relationship with God and each other. Thanks to this we are here today to be restored and renewed, to be built up in love together, it is a reality in our lives.

Let us come to him, to be healed and renewed, strengthened, built up in love, so that we 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.

18th Sunday after Trinity: Matthew 22:1-14

Oswald Golter was a missionary in northern China during the 1940s. After ten years service he was returning home. His ship stopped in India, and while waiting for a boat home he found a group of refugees living in a warehouse on the pier. Unwanted by anyone else the refugees were stranded there. Golter went to visit them. As it was Christmas-time wished them a merry Christmas and asked them what they would like for Christmas.

“We’re not Christians,” they said. “We don’t believe in Christmas.”

“I know,” said the missionary, “but what do you want for Christmas?” They described some German pastries they were particularly fond of, and so Oswald Golter cashed in his ticket, used the money to buy baskets and baskets of the pastries, took them to the refugees, and wished them a merry Christmas.

When he later repeated the incident to a class, a student said, “But sir, why did you do that for them? They weren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus.”

“I know,” he replied, “but I do!”

Most people like being invited to attend a party. Almost everyone here would greet an invitation with joy: if it were a wedding, all the more. There will be lots to eat and drink, music, dancing, everything you could want at a celebration. In this morning’s Gospel reading this is the image Jesus uses to introduce his parable, the Parable of the Wedding Feast. We can all sympathise with the king in the parable. He has every right to be annoyed. He has invited people and they are either too busy to bother to come or mistreat those whom he sends to invite them.

The Good News of the Christian Faith, which this parable embodies, is one of generous hospitality: God is generous towards us, and so we are expected to be generous to one another. In this morning’s gospel, Jesus has gone to Jerusalem. He has cleansed the Temple, he has healed the sick and the lame, and is preaching about the love of God. In his parable we see salvation history condensed into a paragraph. And we see how God sent the prophets to invite people to God’s feast – but they are too busy, too concerned with matters of this world, they ignore the prophets, some of the prophets are killed, the city, Jerusalem, is destroyed, and still they do not come. So God’s invitation is widened: all are welcome.

And yet, if we turn to our own day, the invitation is still made, but people are ready or unwilling to come to God’s banquet. They are too busy, their lives are too full, and going to a Eucharist on a Sunday morning is seen as one choice among many, with people preferring to read the paper, wash the car, or spend time with their nearest and dearest. Lest we think that we are somehow better for being here are, we can ask ourselves how much have we done? How committed are we? We could all of us, I suspect, do more for the sake of the gospel.

This parable gives us a clear example of one of the main themes of Matthew’s gospel: Jesus comes to feed us. He has found the 5000 and 4000, to show the world the abundant and generous nature of God’s love. The kingdom God is about food in particular food for the poor. This is a feast of God’s abundance. The food given by Jesus is not only to feed the hungry, but to stage a banquet, to which we and all humanity, despite our unworthiness, are invited. God will give himself as both priest and victim upon the altar of the cross, to feed humanity with his body and blood, to heal our wounds – to make us become what he is.

This generous invitation comes with a challenge, how can we sit down at the Lord’s banquet, when there are those who will die for a lack of food? The church is called to be a community of holiness, where Jesus expects those called to his kingdom to bear fruit. Only when we are poor enough in spirit to know our need of God, and yet able to feed others, can we be sent to be living truly Christian lives. We all need to be clothed in wedding garments: a garment of baptism making one in the body of Christ, a garment of generous hospitality, putting God’s love into practice in our lives by showing that love to others, and a garment of repentance and we are sorry for our sins and shortcomings and turn back to a God who loves us and who will never abandon us. This is what the future looks like, and the time of the Lord’s banquet is now, and forever. We are fed by him in the words of Holy Scripture, and most importantly with His Body and Blood, to enter more fully into the very life of God, to be formed by him, strengthened by him – given bread for our journey, and to go out and feed others and invite them to the great King’s feast. We are called to share the generous gift we have received with others, so that they may share in the joy of the Kingdom and give glory to God the Father God the Son of God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed this is most right and just all Might, Majesty, Glory, Dominion, and Power now and for ever…

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Harvest (John 6:27–35)

Meddai Iesu wrthynt, ‘Myfi yw’r bara bywyd.’ 

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.’ 

In the second chapter of the Book of Genesis we read that, ‘the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.’ Thus, to work the land is to engage in something which takes us back to the very beginnings of humanity. It is the most ancient profession and indeed an honourable one. The practice of coming together to offer our praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for the goodness of creation and a harvest safely gathered in is, likewise, an ancient and honourable thing. Just as the Ancient Israelites gave thanks for their harvest in the promised land, so do we. We should, as part of our worship of God offer him the best of all that we have as a response to a loving and generous God. Mae popeth yn rhodd gan Dduw All things are a gift from God, it is right that we are thankful to God who created all things.

But while this is important, we need to be careful. Is what we are engaged in a bit of cosy folk religion, a matter of duty, an excuse to be seen, or perhaps something more? When this church was built, its congregation, who lived on and worked the land would gather on the 1st August for Lammas, or Loaf-Mass to give thanks for a successful grain harvest. With the renewal of the Church in the mid nineteenth century the idea of a harvest celebration became popular once again. This is a good thing, the world is better when filled with grateful, loving people.

But as well as giving thanks to God, we also need to be shocked, challenged, and changed by the example and teaching of Jesus in the Gospel. Are we as a church and a society, content simply to be fed, or is God asking more of us. Our faith is not something we can simply keep safe in a box, to put on like a hat for church on Sunday – it needs to be more than that. Our faith must form all that we are, and all that we do, and say, and think. Our belief in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ needs to form the very ground of our being. This faith, like a plant, needs to be tended, watered, and protected from weeds. It needs to be nourished, encouraged, and taught, and shared with others.

The crowd in the Gospel story have not grasped the meaning and importance of their being fed. They have not understood its spiritual meaning but are rather interested in the prospect of another free meal. Jesus, however, feeds them as a sign of their heavenly food, the bread of eternal life. Rather than working for the food that perishes we too need to work for the bread of life, which is Christ himself. We need to meet at the Lord’s table to be fed by his word and his very self, his body and blood under the forms of bread and wine. We need to have our bread for the journey for our life of faith together. God is the sustenance of life itself, of our very existence, for those who trust in him, and he will fill our every need, by giving us that which we cannot work for ourselves, and for which we hunger most. That is why a celebration of Harvest is best done within the context of a Eucharist, a Thanksgiving to God for Who and What He is, and What HE does for us.

Our desire is surely for a world where none are hungry, where all are loved and cared for. This requires our co-operation with the will of God, and our trust in him. By our being fed by his word and the Eucharist our faith will strengthened and renewed. Our lives can be transfigured, enabling us to transform the world around us, conforming it to the will of God. We can only do this through being nourished body and soul by God – through our participation in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper – fed by God, with God, for God’s work in the world. When we eat normal food it becomes what we are. But here when we eat, we become what it is, we a re transformed more and more into the God who loves us and saves us. Only this can satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst, and give us true peace, and hasten the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. Whilst we are thankful, we also need to be mindful that the kingdom of God is something happening right here and right now, and it has the power to transform the world around us, starting with us here today: the true harvest for the Church is the harvest of souls, of those who love Jesus Christ and are nourished by Him and with Him. We are grateful for all that we are, and are given by God, which makes us want to share it with others. It may not look it, but it is a radically different way of life. If we take Jesus seriously when He says, ‘Myfi yw’r bara bywyd’ ‘I am the bread of life’ then we eat Him so that we might share in His life, and share that life with others. This is our faith as Christians, and it provides us with the hope that we may live with Him forever.

We share His life with others so that they may enter into the joy of the Lord, and receive the precious gift of new life in Christ. The gift is free but it comes with the obligation to share it with others. We do this willingly because it is not a hardship, or an imposition, but rather a joy, a gift which so precious that not to share it would be selfish and wrong.

So let us share it with the world so that it may believe and give glory to God the Father God the Son of God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed this is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power now and for ever

A thought for the day from S. Thérèse of Lisieux

I saw that love alone imparts life to all the members, so that should love ever fail, apostles would no longer preach the gospel and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. Finally, I realised that love includes very vocation, that love is all things, that love is eternal, reaching down to the utmost limits of the earth.

Beside myself with joy, i cried out: ‘O Jesus, my love, my vocation is found at last – my vocation is love! I have found my place in the church, and this place, Jesus, you have given me yourself; in the heart of the Church, I will be love. In this way I will be all things and my wish will be fulfilled.

But why do I say ‘beside myself with joy’? It is, rather, peace which has claimed me, the calm, quiet peace of the sailor as he catches sight of the beacon which lights him to port. The beacon of love.

I am only a weak and helpless child but my very weakness which makes me dare to offer myself, Jesus, as a victim to your love. In the old days, only pure and spotless victims of holocaust would be accepted by God, and his justice was appeased by the most perfect sacrifices. Now the law of fear has given way to the law of love, and I have been chosen, though weak and imperfect, as love’s victim.

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26th Sunday of Year A Mt 22:28–32

Have you ever made a promise and not kept it? I know that I have. And all of us, if we are honest, have to admit that we have, all of us, from time to time done this. It is not the most comfortable of things to come face-to-face with one’s own shortcomings, but if we are to live the Christian life, really, wholly, and fully, then it is something that we need to do.

In this morning’s gospel, Jesus is talking to the chief priests and elders, the religious leaders of his day, the people supposed to lead the people of Israel in their relationship with God. He has entered Jerusalem in triumph, cast out the money-changers from the temple, and cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit. What we are witnessing in the gospel is a religious reform. Those who are supposed to have brought people closer to God are to be understood as defiant and rebellious; they are the problem rather than the solution.

Jesus begins by asking a question, what do you think? These simple words speak profoundly of the freedom given to humanity by God. We are not forced, but rather invited to engage in a conversation, God does not compel us. Of the two sons, clearly the one who overcomes his initial reluctance and ends up doing the will of his father, working in the vineyard, is the example for us to follow. He experiences repentance, turns away from this form of behaviour and does what is best for him.  The son is not a hypocrite; he is just stubborn, rebellious, and disobedient – but he repents.

The other son begins with an outward show of respect: he looks like a dutiful son, addressing his father as Sir. But he is basically a hypocrite, as true obedience comes not in the outward displays of respect, but in doing the will of God. The chief priests and elders have rejected Jesus and soon will be calling out for his death, they will take the Messiah, the one who could save them from their sins, and kill him. What greater turning away from God could there be?

Tax-collectors and prostitutes were the lowest of the low, the one cheated, the other was sexually immoral, both were on good terms with the Romans, they were not the kind of company a religiously observant Jew would keep. And yet, despite their sins, they are willing to repent, they know they need for God, and God loves them, heals their wounds, and welcomes them into his kingdom. The religious authorities stand convicted by their own lips:  in recognising that it is more important to do the will of God rather than simply to say that one will, they highlight their own hypocrisy: they have been told by John the Baptist whom they ignored, and now when Jesus tells them again they will ignore him too.

Are we then, here today, going to follow the example of the hypocritical Jewish religious authorities and make an outward show of our closeness to God, while refusing to repent of our sins, or are we going to be like the tax collectors and prostitutes, who know their need of God, who know their own shortcomings, who believe and trust in God, who want to be healed by him, and turn away from all that separates us from God.

God to show his love for us gave himself for us, upon the cross, where Jesus Christ is both priest and victim, this same sacrifice will become as present here this morning as it did on a Hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago. God will give himself to us in his body and his blood, under the outward forms of bread and wine, to heal us, to draws closer to himself, to show us how much he loves us. So then let us taste and see how gracious the Lord is, but most of all, and may we all do the will of our Father in Heaven. Let us turn away from what we have been and conform ourselves to the will of God, fed by him, strengthened by him, loved by him, forgiven by him, and built up as a living temple to His glory.

And now to God the Father God the Son of God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed this is most right and just all Might,  Majesty, Glory, Dominion, and Power now and for ever…