Trinity III

Over the last eighteen months or so we have had far too much experience of fear. It has been everywhere: in the media, in the announcements of politicians and scientists. Fear has been defining our daily lives. Such a situation is neither good nor healthy. At its heart Christianity is a faith which seeks to liberate people from fear, allowing us to live in love. That is all fine in theory, but in practice it is both difficult and complicated. We struggle to overcome our fears, such is the human condition. Alone and unsupported we may be tempted to just give in to fear. But we have a Lord and Father who is our advocate and comforter. 

The Book of Job explores what has become known as the Problem of Evil: why bad things happen to good people. The text explores the redemptive quality of suffering. Rather than being something we should avoid, it is something we can embrace, and grow through. Above all, God is someone we can trust, whether things are good or bad. God loves us. 

Our first reading speaks of God’s power over nature in general, and the sea in particular:

Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb,Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’ (Job 38:8, 11)

The power that God has over nature also lies behind the miracle in our Gospel passage. Jesus and His disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee when a violent storm blows up. The disciples are terrified, despite many of them being fishermen. They are afraid that they are about to drown. This passage throws up a number of questions. Why are Jesus and His disciples crossing from the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee to the non-Jewish side?  Why are they sailing at night, rather than waiting until the next morning? We are not told why. This incident acts as a bridge between the section in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus has been teaching, to one where He will perform miracles, and put that teaching into practice. 

As the boat begins to fill with water the disciples are getting desperate:

And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.’ (Mk 4:38-39)

Jesus’ followers are afraid. There are thirteen of them packed into a boat twenty six feet long, eight feet wide, and four feet deep. Jesus can command the storm to cease because He is God. The ability to control the sea and its storms is a sign of divine power: God is the one who brings peace.  Jesus has come to bring peace to troubled hearts. Having performed a miracle, He questions His disciples:

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”’ (Mk 4:39-41)

The answer to the disciples question is that Jesus is God, no-one else could do what He does. Jesus then questions why His disciples feel fear and lack faith. To put it simply, the disciples have not yet understood either who Jesus is, or what He is doing. Once they have experienced Christ’s Passion and Resurrection and seen Him triumph over death, they will come to understand what is going on here. 

Jesus calms storms both real and metaphorical: on the Sea of Galilee, and in our own lives. By dealing with sin once and for all on the Cross, He has brought us a peace which passes all understanding. Being at peace allows the Christian community to

no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.’ (2Cor 5:15)

Our life is not our own, because the love of Christ controls us, as St Paul writes in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (2Cor 5:14). Christ’s Death and Resurrection provides an answer to the questions asked by Job, and all humanity. By entering into the mystery of apparently meaningless suffering, we can discover the source of all meaning, namely the love of God. 

This is why we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. Jesus told us to do this, so that we might experience that love in a tangible form, and encounter the grace which can transform our lives. St John tells us that ‘Perfect love casts out fear’ (1John 4:18). What we encounter in communion, whether spiritual or physical, is the greatest example of God’s love for humanity. Our faith is a matter of trust. Christians believe in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for all people. We put our trust in Him, safe in the knowledge that He alone can still the storms of our life, and that His perfect love can drive out our fear. We cling to the Cross as our source of Hope, knowing that whatever happens we are loved, and that this love has the power to transform us. This love has the power to free us from fear.

When Jesus summarises the Law in Mark 12:3-31, He commands us to love God and love our neighbour. To live lives of love which look to Christ’s self-giving love on the Cross, is the way in which we enter the mystery of God’s love and allow it to cast out fear from our lives. Then we can be truly alive and share that love with others, so that all humanity 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. Amen.

Jesus stills the Tempest – James Tissot

Trinity II

Many of us enjoy gardening, and I imagine that quite a few of us have been doing some during the good weather this weekend. There is something wonderful about taking seeds or cuttings, placing them in compost and watching them grow. It never ceases to give me a thrill. Once plants have grown you end up with something that you can eat, smell, look at, or even sell. This process brings joy, as well as nourishment for the body, and the soul. This image is used by the prophet Ezekiel to look forward to a future where God’s people are safe and protected. It looks to the establishment of God’s kingdom, by means of  the twig planted on the lofty mountain of Calvary. The Cross is our source of hope, it is the Tree of Life. Through the Cross we have life in all its fullness, and live secure in its shade. Ezekiel’s image of the cedar tree is used by Jesus in HIs parable of the Mustard Seed. This parable shows how prophecy is being brought about in and through Jesus, the Messiah. This is the promised Kingdom of God, becoming a reality in and through Christ. 

The parable starts by telling us that the one who scatters the seed does not know how things grow. For all their sleeping and rising they cannot influence matters, they just have to sit back and let something mysterious and wonderful happen. That is how God works. Humanity has a role to play, but God is in charge. It isn’t just up to us!

The church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and entrusted to His Apostles, began as a small affair: just a few people in a backwater of the Roman Empire. To begin with the early Christians were written off as deluded followers of just another charismatic prophet. It may not have been an auspicious start; it certainly is not what a management consultant would recommend. However, a small group of people had their lives turned around by God, and told people about it. They risked everything, including their personal safety, to spread the Good News. Two thousand years later, the Church has now grown to point where there are several billion Christians on earth. Here in the West Christianity may be becoming marginalised, but the global picture is far more encouraging. Throughout the world, people are coming to know Christ, to love and worship Him. Even if we have been going through some ‘bad harvests’ in our own land, it is important to keep scattering the seed, and allow it to grow in a way which can defy our expectations.

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. This is a tiny thing, only two millimetres in diameter, and yet in the Mediterranean climate it could grow into a bush twice the height of a human being. This plant may have a small beginning, but there is the possibility of remarkable growth.The image of birds nesting in its shade signals divine blessings, as in the passage from Ezekiel. Jesus takes the imagery of the prophecy and shows how it will be brought to fulfilment in and through the Church. Such is the generous nature of God, that He gives us a place where we can be safe, and where we can grow in faith. By hearing God’s word, praying together, and sharing in the Eucharist we are nourished and strengthened to live the Christian life.

Like the Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, we can always be confident and put our trust in God, as we know that we cannot be disappointed. On the Cross, Christ’s victory is complete, so we please God by following His commandments: to love Him and also love our neighbour. We are motivated by our love of Jesus, to follow His example. We know that He suffered and died to heal and restore us, to bear the burden of our sins. As it says a little further along in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: 

‘He died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for them.’ (2Cor 5:15) 

And so in the Church, our family, and community, we live for Christ. Our thoughts, words, and actions proclaim the saving truth of God’s love for humanity. If we seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others — and at the same time are forgiving ourselves — then we can be built up in love. If we are devout in prayer, fortified by the word of God, and by the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we are strengthened in love, and our souls are nourished, allowing us to grow into the full stature of Christ. Just like the cedar tree and the mustard seed. So let us come and be fed, healed, and restored by the Lord, living in love and encouraging others, for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom.

If we are faithful, if we keep scattering seed in our thoughts, our words, and our actions, then wonderful things will happen. We have to trust God to be at work in people’s lives, and be there for them when they do respond to this call. If we can be as welcoming as the mustard tree in the parable, then we will have ensured that people have a place where they can come to know Jesus, and grow in love and faith. Despite all the current trials and tribulations, we must not lose heart, but trust in the God who loves us, who gave His Son for love of us. If we are confident of who Christ is, and what He has done for us, then as people filled with the love of God, we will carry on the Christian mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Through us, others will come to know and trust in that love which changes everything. They too will 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

Trinity I

It is a truth of human existence that we like to find someone to blame, preferably someone other than ourselves. Our reading from Genesis is all about finding someone else to blame. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent. Both have eaten from a tree that God commanded them not to eat. No-one wants to put their hand up and say, ‘Yes, it’s my fault!’. It is not something that is easy or comfortable to do, but each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we begin by doing exactly this. We acknowledge our own shortcomings and ask God for forgiveness and healing. There is a spiritual maturity here, recognising that we fall short, and that we are sorry for having done so. Because we show humility God can be at work in our lives and we can know something of the healing and reconciliation God offers to humanity. The Church is a place of healing where despite our past mistakes, we know that we are loved and saved by God. 

Mark’s Gospel begins with the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom and Jesus’ charismatic ministry of preaching and healing. The people of Galilee are in great need, so great in fact that Christ and His disciples are not even able to get something to eat. Jesus’ own relatives are concerned at the frenetic pace of His ministry and mistake compassion for madness. But Jesus longs to help and heal people because God loves us. The Kingdom of God which Christ inaugurates is a place of healing and reconciliation, where humanity can truly know life in all its fulness. Jesus’ relatives are not able to grasp this. They cannot understand who He really is or what He is doing: they can only see practical concerns and fail to notice the importance of what is going on in His public ministry

Members of the religious élite then arrive and start to make serious accusations:

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (Mk 3:22)

They see a charismatic teacher and healer from Galilee and want to rubbish Him immediately. This man is not doing God’s work, he’s in league with the Devil! It’s a political strategy designed to stop Jesus from developing a following. If they write Him off as a heretic and a troublemaker, things will all calm down. Jesus, however, points out the clear logical inconsistency of the scribes’ position:

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.” (Mk 3:23-26)

If Jesus is possessed by the Devil, how can He cast the Devil out? His accusers have failed to see the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, at work in Him. Their refusal to see God at work is a sign of their pride and hardness of heart — they cannot discern the works of God, and write off as evil a wondrous demonstration of God’s love for humanity. Such is the Sin against the Holy Spirit, a wilful rejection of God. The religious authorities have failed to discern what is actually going on and have taken the easy step of finding someone to blame, someone to rubbish, someone to write off. God’s healing love has been dismissed as the work of the Devil. This is a serious matter, as Jesus explains:

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mk 3:28-30)

The scribes have condemned themselves, and whereas they have accused Jesus of blasphemy, they are the real blasphemers. Note that Jesus does not condemn them, but rather offers to humanity the possibility of the forgiveness of sins. This is another demonstration of God’s love being poured out on the world.

Then Jesus’ family return and a confrontation takes place:

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3:31-35)

What really matters is not who our parents or relatives are, but our relationship with Jesus. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we know the reality of God’s saving love in our lives. If we are obedient to God, if we come to Him in Humility we can know true love and friendship. 

It is through Jesus — who He is and what He does — that humanity can go from disobedience and punishment to the possibility of healing and wholeness, restored to a relationship with a loving God. This is the hope which inspires St Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. Our hope is in Heaven, to be with God forever. We have the same hope as Paul because of all that Christ has done for us. This is Grace, the unmerited kindness of God, which we desire, but do not deserve. Grace is not something we can earn, it is the generous gift of a loving God. St Paul looks to a heavenly future where the trials of this life are past, where we live for ever in the presence of God, and are filled with His glory. This is our hope as Christians, through what Christ has done for us, to fill us with His life and His love. 

This is why Jesus becomes human, proclaims God’s Kingdom, heals the sick, dies on the Cross and rises at Easter: to give us this hope. This is Good News! Our relationship with Jesus is the most important thing that there is. Nothing else matters. This is a radical message, exactly the sort of thing that the Jewish Religious Authorities wanted to put a stop to immediately. It is dangerous. It could change the world. And it has, and continues to do so. 

Come Lord Jesus, come and heal us, and fill us with your life and love, so that we may share it with others, that they too 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. Amen. 

Michelangelo: The Downfall of Adam and Eve and their Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Sistine Chapel