Homily for the 17th Sunday of Year A

The last time the world experienced something like current pandemic was a century ago, in the  Spanish ‘Flu outbreak of 1918-1920. But because of news blackouts and the trauma of the Great War, it was largely forgotten about. It’s quite understandable. You want to shut the door on the past and get on with life. While it is understandable, it isn’t necessarily the most healthy way of dealing with a traumatic situation. Instead, we are much better when we acknowledge how we feel, and give ourselves permission to feel thaåt way. 

Over the last few months all of of us have felt some strong difficult emotions: Fear, Pain, Anger, Loneliness, Frustration, to name but a few. I know that I have, and that I’m not alone. These are perfectly normal and natural feelings. They occur many times in the Bible, throughout the Psalms, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the Book of Job. Closing churches for public worship is not something that happens often, normally only in times of plague or civil unrest. It is disconcerting, and while we are beginning the process of reopening, and worshiping together again, I suspect that it will continue to feel very strange for some time to come. That’s ok! We can acknowledge the strangeness and then try to get on with things together. This morning’s first reading gives us a starting point: Solomon replies to God’s invitation, ‘Ask what I shall give you’ by asking for understanding to discern what is right. We too need to rely on God to give us the wisdom to do the right thing. We also need to acknowledge that we are not in control, all things are in the hands of God, a God who loves us.

Likewise in Paul’s Letter to the Romans we see that when we cannot even find the words to pray to God, we need not worry. We have the words of others. We have the words of the Lord’s Prayer, how Jesus taught the disciples to pray. But when words, even those of others, fail us, we know that God hears the cry of the human heart. We simply need to put ourselves into the presence of God and trust Him to be at work in us. A God from whose love we can never be separated. This is something precious, something wonderful, something to give us encouragement and hope for the future. 

As Christians, we believe and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. Through repentance and faith, we enter into a relationship with a generous and loving God, who demonstrates that love and generosity most fully by dying on the Cross and rising from the Tomb. This is heart of our faith, that God does something wonderful for us, to show us how to live, and to deepen HIs relationship with us. 

That’s all well and good, but what difference does it make to us, here, now? The question is, how can the negative emotions which we feel be turned into something positive? The answer is: by handing them over to God whose Kingdom is a place of healing and reconciliation. This is what the Cross shows us: torture and death become the greatest demonstration of healing love. God doesn’t have a magic wand to wave in order to make everything right. No, love is costly, it involves sacrifice, and it can transform the world. 

So, at one level, God has done the hard work for us. The question is how do we cooperate with God and His grace, to make the Kingdom a reality here and now? Jesus gives us some advice in the Sermon in the Mount: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5: 3). To be poor in spirit is to be humble, to know and acknowledge our need of God, our reliance upon Him. We do this when we pray, ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, deled dy deyrnas, gwneler dy ewyllys; megis yn y nef, felly ar y ddaear hefyd. ’ It’s God’s Kingdom, God’s Will, and God’s Church, not ours. If we truly believe this, then wonderful things are possible. 

Our experience over the last few months has taught us what really matters: the communities in which we live, our family, our relationships, the people we love. They cannot be bought or sold, but are of infinite value, because they are rooted and grounded in love. Only by living out the same costly love and reconciliation shown to us by Jesus Christ can we have any hope of achieving anything. Jesus’ teaching isn’t theory, but something we need to put into practice in our lives. Relationships are characterised by giving love and offering forgiveness, and through that we all grow in love together. The transformation starts with us, we have to be the change we want to see. It starts with conversion, turning towards a loving God, a God whose arms are flung wide to embrace the world upon the Cross. This is how we need to live, to live like Jesus: generously, loving and forgiving.

We have an example to follow, but the truth is that we aren’t very good at it. It is easy not to: just spread a bit of gossip, harbour a grudge, there are thousands of little ways to undermine the Kingdom. And we all fall into them, despite our best intentions. I know that I do, we all do. The point is not that we fail, but that we keep trying. That’s why it is the work of a lifetime, a lifetime of failing, seeking forgiveness, and trying to love, trying to live out the Kingdom. It is something we cannot achieve on our own, we need God, and we need each other: a community of faith. Only such a community of faith that we call the Church can offer the world the healing and reconciliation it longs for and needs, now more than ever. God’s love, lived out in our own lives, is the pearl of great price, the treasure which is old and new, two thousand years old, and yet lived out anew in the lives of Christians every day. We pray that we might live our lives for each other and for the glory of 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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16th Sunday of Yr A (Mt 13: 24-43)

One of the interesting things of the last few months is that people have developed an interest in baking and bread-making. It never ceases to amaze me that such a small amount of yeast is able to leaven such a large quantity of flour, making the bread light, fluffy, and much more pleasant to eat. It is an image used by Jesus in this morning’s Gospel to describe the kingdom of heaven. Christians are to be like yeast, something small which can have a great effect, something remarkable, something good. It’s a challenge, and that is the point. The conditions need to be right for the yeast to work, but the effect is tremendous. Likewise a mustard seed, while only the size of the head of a pin can, in the Middle East, grow into a six-foot shrub in a year. The growth is remarkable. Such an illustration should give us hope, that God always has good things in store for us, if we trust in Him.

The main parable Jesus uses to teach about the Kingdom is that of the Wheat and the Tares, the Good and the Bad. Rather than getting rid of the weeds and damaging the crop, both are left until the harvest. 

It is very tempting to want God to act immediately, and especially when WE want God to act. Thankfully God’s plan is a bit more long-term. We need to wait. Waiting isn’t much fun. The world around us tells that we can have what we want when we want it. Thankfully, our experiences over the last few months have shown us that this is not always the case, and that is a good thing. In the parable we see that God is patient and compassionate. God loves us, and His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts like ours. Rather than making God be more like us, we have to try to be more like God: loving and patient. As humans we will make mistakes, which call us to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, so that we can continue to grow in holiness. It takes time. There isn’t a magic wand which can be waved to make instant holy Christians. By God’s grace it is the work of a lifetime. I know that I’m not there yet. I’m still very much a work in progress. And that is ok. The message of the parable is that God is patient, and that we need to be so as well. It is difficult, but if nothing else our experience of the last few months has taught us that patience is a good thing, and that we will need to continue to be patient, with each other and ourselves, as we try to live our lives and to continue to make the kingdom a reality here and now.

We help to make it a reality by proclaiming that 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. Sins can be forgiven, and new life offered to all.

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 still 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. It calls us 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 made up of people good and bad. We are on various stages of a journey, and 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. Amen.

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