17th Sunday of Year C

It would be all too easy to see this morning’s first reading, where Abraham tries to save Sodom and Gomorrah, as being concerned with bargaining with God. Prayer doesn’t work like that. Prayer changes us, it doesn’t change God. What the reading from Genesis shows us is that we are in a covenant, a relationship with God, and that God is generous and loving. He wants the best for us.

This same understanding of God lies behind Paul’s advice to the Colossian church. They have received Christ Jesus the Lord, and these few words express the heart of the Christian Faith. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour, the one who saves us. He is Lord. That is to make a particular and important claim. In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament used widely by Jews and Christians, ‘Lord’ is a title for God, the Lord God. In the world in which Paul wrote it could be used to refer to the Roman Emperor. But Nero, the emperor at this time, isn’t ‘Lord’, Jesus is. So calling Jesus ‘Lord’ means that we accept both His divinity, and His authority, which is higher than anything of this world, even the Roman Emperor. Lord is used over seven hundred times in the New Testament, to reinforce the point that Jesus is God, and our supreme authority. These are bold claims to make. Yet, as people who have died with Christ and been raised to life in our baptism, we glory in Christ who has saved us from our sins by the Cross. Christ, who is the head of every ruler and authority. He loves us and has set us free. 

In today’s Gospel the disciples ask Jesus, ‘Lord teach us to pray’. Their words are our words. We want to know how to pray, what to say to God, how to have a conversation and a relationship with our Heavenly Father –- one that is meaningful and has value. They ask Jesus, and he shows them what to do and what to say.

The prayer, which we now call The Lord’s Prayer, starts with the word ‘Father’, it defines our relationship, our connection. It presupposes love, as a parent has for a child. It continues with the petition that the name of God, Our Father, may be ‘hallowed’, which means kept holy. It is the loving response of a child to a parent. In stressing holiness the prayer places God in His proper place, it ensures that things are done reverently. Then the prayer looks forward, ‘your kingdom come’ it looks for the coming of God’s kingdom. This goes hand in hand with ‘your will be done’ God’s kingdom is about doing God’s will, and it is our responsibility to do the Father’s will.

We then pray that we may be fed. That we may be nourished, that we may have bread for the journey of faith. This feeding connects to the petition that our sins may be forgiven, in the same way that we forgive those who sin against us. The two are linked –- feeding and forgiveness. Just as they are in the Eucharist, and so they should be in our lives. As those who are forgiven and forgiving we pray that we may not be led into temptation, that we may continue as forgiven and forgiving human beings.

This prayer is a model of what to say to God. What to ask for, and how to ask for it. It is both concise and profound. It is not lengthy or wordy; it does not ramble or drone on, but says what needs to be said. The prayer defines our relationship with God and with each other. It defines our spiritual life as one where we are fed and forgiven. It characterises what we are doing herein church today. We seek God’s forgiveness and forgive others, and we come to be fed by Word and Sacrament, to give us the strength to do God’s will and bring about God’s Kingdom. His kingdom of love and forgiveness is radically different from what might be if humanity were simply left to its own devices. God’s kingdom calls us forward to something greater, something more wonderful than we can imagine. And yet it is a reality. God forgives our sins , and gave His life for us, nailing our sins to the Cross, and suffering in His flesh so that we who have died with Christ in our baptism may also share His risen life. God loves us, and wants to help us. That’s why Christ can assure us that God listens to prayer and answers it, giving us the good things we need. Our prayer can be divided under four basic headings: ‘please’ ‘thank you’ ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you’.

Our prayer is a generous response to a generous and loving God, it takes people who know their need of God, and shows how those needs are satisfied at the deepest possible level. We ask God to teach us how to pray, and he shows us in a way which both defines and transforms our spiritual life. We are given this prayer to help us to bring about the Kingdom of love and forgiveness which is shown to us in the person, teaching, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are also given His Holy Spirit, to nourish us and transform us and all the world, so that it may believe and sing God’s praise 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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James Tissot The Lord’s Prayer, Brooklyn Museum

16th Sunday of Year C – Mary and Martha

It is easy for us in the twenty-first century to forget just how difficult it was to travel in the past. And how important hospitality was. In a world without service stations, hotels, and only few inns, you would depend on the kindness of strangers offering you a place to refresh and recuperate before returning to the road. 

In our first reading this morning, from Genesis, we see visitors arrive outside Abraham’s tent by the oaks of Mamre. It’s the scene pictured in the famous icon of the holy Trinity by Nicholai Rublev.  And these are not just any visitors, but God in embodied form, which is quite surprising, and very uncommon in the Old Testament. Abraham called the three persons Lord, the One God. He offers them water to cleanse themselves, and bread to nourish them. Sarah, Abraham’s wife,  takes three measures of flour. These we understand as representing faith, hope, and love, the virtues of the Christian life, which we receive in our baptism. Abraham takes a calf, which prefigures the sacrifice of Christ, the truly gentle one, who does not refuse the Cross. After the visitors have eaten, they promise that Sarah will have a son. In response to their hospitality, generosity and faithfulness, the patriarch and his wife are rewarded. Their kindness is repaid. 

In this morning’s epistle, we see that for Paul our actions as Christians are firmly rooted in our relationship with God and our understanding of His will. As Abraham’s vision of angels in Genesis gives us the merest glimpse of what God is like, in the Letter to the Colossians we see that the person of Jesus Christ is the image of the Living God, in Him we can see both what God is really like, who God is and what God does.

This morning’s Gospel follows on directly from last week’s Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is another story about making a journey, but a more positive side of travelling is shown by Martha’s welcoming of Jesus and his disciples into her home, continuing the theme of the earlier passage, although this time the travellers have arrived safely and haven’t been attacked by bandits. Martha is a model of hospitality, and looks after her guests: they’re hungry and thirsty after their travels. Martha puts her faith into practice. But she goes too far, and gets distracted by all the serving. She takes her eyes off Jesus. She forgets whom she is serving and why. However, she is not rebuked. Her service is valued. 

Her sister Mary has chosen to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him. Mary has chosen a good part, and is being nourished in her faith. However, the point is not simply to prefer the contemplative to the practical, or the spiritual to the physical. That would be Gnosticism. Instead we need to balance our physical needs with our spiritual ones. It is Mary who will anoint Jesus in Bethany just before His Passion. Thus faith and action need to be lived out together.

We are called to be generous as a church, both in our hospitality and our attentiveness to God. In our proclamation of the Good News, in our making the Word of God known, and inannouncing Christ, the hope of glory, through His Death and Resurrection.

As is so often the case in the Gospels it isn’t a case of ‘either…or’ but rather ‘both…and’. We need to be both active and contemplative, and always keep our eyes on Jesus, the centre of our faith, the great example of how to live a fully human life. Christians need to hospitable and welcoming, as well as prayerful. It’s something which lies at the heart of Rule of St Benedict. This begins by telling us to listen with the ear of the heart, and to welcome guests as we would welcome Christ, so that in all things God might be glorified. Prayer and service, love and contemplation, balancing physical and spiritual needs, is how God wants us to live. It is how we flourish. We are nourished at the Eucharist, so that we can live out our faith in our lives, in a balanced way. Ora et labora, pray and work, the monastic motto 

Jesus’ teaching is that the way to show real hospitality is to pay attention to one’s guest, rather than just fussing to show hospitality. Instead of busyness, God tells us this morning that, like the Good Samaritan, we should be attentive to God and his message for us in the Gospel. In doing this we, like Mary will choose a good part. This choice has a moral dimension: in truly listening attentively to what God says to us, our actions and our character will be formed, helping our growth in holiness. Nourished by Word and Sacrament we progress in living out the virtues of faith, hope, and love0, which we received in our baptism, and prepare for our inheritance with the Saints in glory. We do not achieve this through prayer and contemplation alone, but by making our prayer and our work, all that we do and all that we are, a response to God and our neighbour. We are truly living in love, a love which is the nature of God and which binds together the persons of the Trinity, a love which transforms both us and our world. A love which we share so that all the world may sing the praises of 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 C – The Good Samaritan

We all love having someone to blame: foreigners, immigrants, economic migrants, politicians, especially politicians, they’re particularly good! There is something about the human condition which makes us love having someone to blame other than ourselves. Someone to point the finger at, as long as it is not US! The Ancient Jews were no different. And generally speaking they blamed the Samaritans. They hadn’t gone into exile to Babylon, they’d stayed and intermarried. They weren’t pure, and they worshipped in the wrong place: on Mt Gerazim, rather than Mt Zion, Jerusalem.

So in this morning’s Gospel a lawyer stands up and tries to test Jesus. The lawyer understands the law of Moses, and quotes from Deuteronomy and Leviticus to get to the heart of the matter, loving God, and loving your neighbour. Quite simple and straightforward.

But that’s not enough for our legal friend. He’s competitive. He wants to win this encounter with a Galilean rabbi. So, he asks Jesus to define his terms. And so Our Lord tells him a story. The road which snaked its way down from Jerusalem was steep and windy. It was very easy for a single traveller to fall prey to robbers or bandits. The priest and the Levite, not knowing if the man is alive or not just pass by. They don’t want to risk becoming impure by touching a dead body. So a Samaritan, an outcast, someone the Jews loved to hate, stops, has pity on him, and saves his life. But he’s beyond the pale! It’s just not right! He’s been saved by an outcast, someone who isn’t ‘one of us’. The Samaritan doesn’t care. He simply sees someone in need, and helps them. That’s all! He demonstrates love and care. And that’s what matters.

God is a God of Love and Grace, generous in ways which we can never fully understand. Ours is a God who gives His Only Son to die the death of a common criminal, for love of us, to bear our sins, to heal our wounds, and heal the world of its brokenness. That’s how much God loves us, and longs to see us healed. That’s why the Sacrifice of Calvary will be represented here, this morning, so that we can be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, to heal us, and transform us, so that we might become what Christ is. On the Cross, Christ becomes the outcast to save us, to make us free form the power of sin and death. He binds up our wounds, not pouring on oil and wine, but His own Blood to heal us. He saves us from the brigands of sin and death, so that we might know God’s love and grace, and our lives might be transformed.

This happens in the Church: here is the place of transformation, the place of healing, where we experience the grace of God in the Sacraments. The Word is very near to us here, the Word made flesh who reconciles humanity to God, making peace by the blood of His Cross. We are transformed by Christ and into Christ, so that we too may ‘go and do likewise’ and be agents of God’s love and grace in the world, to transform our communities, and all the world. To fill it with God’s love and compassion. It’s a radical vision, and a work in progress: loving, forgiving, healing, reconciling. And it’s what the Kingdom of God looks like in reality — lived out in people’s lives. It’s what Jesus tells the lawyer to do: ‘Go and do likewise.’

Is it easy? By no means! Do we all have to do it? Yes! And we have to support each other as we do it. It’s a communal effort, for the entire baptised people of God, across space and time. In Christ, God’s grace has been poured out upon us, costly, self-giving love, which we accept when we repent and turn away from sin, and turn back to God, acknowledging our failures and weaknesses, and asking God to transform us. This leads us ti become more generous, loving, and forgiving of others (and ourselves), thankful people, who are generous, who ‘go and do likewise’ and that’s the HARD bit, actually doing it. It’s easy to talk about doing it. Doing it is difficult and costly, and that’s the point. It’s why we need a community, nourished by Word and Sacrament to support us as we try to do it together. Helping us to shoulder the burden, and picking us up when we fall. It’s supposed to be a communal thing, so that we help each other become saints. This is the Christian vision of the world. It looks radical. It isn’t selfish, or obsessed with power or wealth. The Church doesn’t look like this. But that’s ok, because we can transform both the Church and the World, so that they look the way God wants them to look: filled with loving and generous people who are, by God’s grace, making the Kingdom of God a reality here and now. Preparing us all for the joy of heaven, and inviting others to share in that joy so that all people may sing the praises of 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. Amen

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14th Sunday ofYear C

St Augustine hit the nail on the head when he wrote, ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You’ (Confessions 1:1). We are made for relationship with God and each other, which is why week after week we gather together as Christians. We long for communion with God and each other, and we know instinctively, at the deepest level of our being, that is how we are meant to be. God longs to see humanity flourish, and live as it should. As Jesus says, ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ ((Jn 10:10 RSV) Thus at the end of St Paul’s Letter to the Church in Galatia, he sums up the message of his letter, God has given us freedom, let us use it to do good things, and put our faith into practice. Don’t do things so that people will praise you, but do what God wants, sow the Spirit, and reap eternal life. God wants us to be generous and loving people because that’s what life in all its fulness looks like. We can live the life of heaven here and now. You, and me, all of us, together, can, through what God has done in Christ, live this life together. We can make it a reality.

It’s very similar to the hopeful vision we see in this morning’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah. After the mourning, the exile, the destruction, we have a vision of returning home. To Jerusalem, a Jerusalem restored, and renewed, A New Jerusalem. It is a reason to be joyful, and celebrate. And the New Jerusalem Isaiah is looking forward to, is the Church. We see a church which nourishes, which feeds its people, to heal them and give them strength. Truly the Church is our mother, as through her we are brought up in the Christian Faith. The imagery of streams and rivers reminds us that we enter the Church through baptism. We are washed clean, and given new life in Christ. In baptism and the Eucharist we drink deeply with delight from the abundance of Glory. Because in both we are united with Jesus Christ and His Saving Death upon the Cross. His Blood washes us clean. The church as our mother comforts us, like a mother, because she can give us the one thing that brings all comfort and consolation: God himself. God loves us, God dies for us, and is raised to new life, so that we might live in Him. God heals our wounds. The Kingdom of God is a place of healing because of what Christ has done. He has demonstrated one, and for all, how much God loves us. We see Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled in Luke’s Gospel, where the sick are healed. ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ What wonderful words to hear! They are a reality. Because the church is a place of comfort, and nurture, where God’s love can be experienced, His healing love.

It is freely given and can be rejected. That’s what freedom means. We’re not forced to accept it. God isn’t a tyrant. People are free to reject the good news of the Kingdom, to reject the healing offered by Christ and His Church. It sounds hard, and it is. But the seventy are sent out as lambs among wolves, into a world that is difficult and which is ready to reject Christ, and attack those who follow Him. But we are still supposed to be loving and joyful, and proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom to those who reject it. Thus God never abandons humanity, it is humanity which turns away, and even in that the possibility is left open for repentance. Ours is the hopeful message of a loving and healing God, and we ourselves are testament to the power of God’s love to change people. It’s a powerful thing, knowing that God can take you, and transform you, in ways you might never expect or imagine. But it happens, here and all around the world, so that the saving truth might continue to be proclaimed by word and deed, and when bad times come to that when we experience these we are united to the sufferings of Christ. We share in His Passion, not for our good, but for the love of the world. Christ suffers for love of us, so when we share in His Suffering, we also share in His Love, a love which transforms, which turns Saul into Paul, an enemy of the Church into its greatest evangelist and missionary, a man who signs of a letter to a new Christian community in his own hand writing in LARGE letters to mark out the importance of what he has to say, ‘far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ …. a new creation’. The only reason Paul, or anyone of us can boast is in Christ, and His Cross, through which we are saved and made free. Such is the power of the Cross, it saves humanity, it frees us from our sins, and gives us new life in Christ. This is the cause of our joy, our rejoicing. This is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. This is humanity’s consolation. In this we are comforted. And that same sacrifice will be made present on the altar, so that we can feast on Christ’s Body and Blood, to be healed and restored by Him, and with Him. So let us come and experience God’s healing love, and share it with others that they too may know the power of His love in their lives. Let them experience it, so that they and all creation may give praise to 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.