All Saints 2021

For the next two weeks or so, world leaders are gathering in Glasgow for an International Conference on Climate Change. The situation humanity faces is a desperate one, and unless every nation tries to take better care of the world in which we live, the life for succeeding generations will be very bleak indeed. Thankfully it is not to late to do something, and avert a crisis. There are things which we can and should do to take care of the world around us. The world is God’s creation, and not ours, we have stewardship of it, and stewards are called to take care of what is entrusted to them, and not to squander or misuse their precious charge. 

The Gospel reading this morning comes from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ teaching at the start of His public ministry known as the Beatitudes. In a manner reminiscent of Moses giving the Law to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai, Jesus goes up a mountain and teaches the assembled crowds. Just as Moses had taught God’s people how to live, so now Jesus announces the reality of the Kingdom of God, a radical vision, which turns the values of the world upside down. He begins: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3)

This seems a strange way to begin. ‘Poor in spirit’ is not a term we are used to using, but it means the exact opposite of pride. It places humility as key to living a Christian life: knowing who we are, and our need for God. Only if we rely upon God, and not ourselves, and ask Him to work through us can we truly live out the Christian life. Christianity is a religion for the humble, not the proud. Humility recognises that we are in a mess, and that we cannot sort things out ourselves: we need help, from other people, and most of all from God. 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt 5:4)

The world around us sells us dreams of happiness; but sadness and loss are an inescapable part of human life. We mourn those we love, those whom we see no longer in this life. Their passing does not stop us missing them and wanting to hold them, and talk to them. Our parting, while temporary, is still very painful. Thankfully the Kingdom of God, which Christ comes to bring, is a place of healing and comfort with the promise of eternal life. God heals our wounds and longs for us to enjoy eternity in His presence. The Kingdom is a place where this healing is a reality, where through love and forgiveness enemies are reconciled, and become friends. 

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mt 5:5)

This verse is particularly striking. The world around us tends to see things in terms of power, economic, and political. The rich and powerful are in charge. But God has other ideas: the meek will inherit the earth. To be meek is to be gentle, quiet, and unassuming. In the media it often feels as though those who talk the loudest are most often heard. God’s plan is different. Gentle people are not weak: they know how to use their strength, and how not to use it. As Jesus will later say in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Mt 11:29). This is how God wants us to live as human beings. Jesus Christ is the example of gentleness we must follow. Once again, God’s vision of the future turns our human expectations upside down. If we live like this, then things can, and will, change for the better.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Mt 5:6)

Should we be devoted to God? Absolutely! Should we pray that God’s will is done on earth as it is in Heaven? Of course! Jesus taught us to pray this way. Our faith should influence how we live our lives, so that we work together for the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Clearly God wants to see our world transformed and has invited us to help in the process; and doing so gives us fulfilment, the satisfaction of seeing the reality of the Kingdom. 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Mt 5:7)

We see what God’s mercy looks like in Christ’s death for us on the Cross. In following Christ’s example, we ask for forgiveness for our own sins, and forgive those who sin against us. This forgiveness can transform us and the world around us, and it is how the healing and reconciliation of God’s Kingdom functions in practice. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Mt 5:8)

To be pure in heart is to want what God wants: to align our will with the will of God. It is to be saintly, and thus have the promise of Heaven, which is less of a place or a time, and much more a relationship. To see God is know Him, and to know His love for us. This is what Christ comes to restore to humanity, and it is our hope. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9)

First and foremost, we know that Christ is the Son of God because He made ‘peace by the blood of his cross’ (Colossians 1:20). We too are called to follow Christ’s example and take up our Cross, and work for peace. Peace in our own hearts and lives, in our families and communities and in our world.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Mt 5:10-11)

Following Jesus will not make us popular, often quite the opposite. If, however, we want to see God’s Kingdom as a reality in this life and the next, then we must be prepared to be shunned, or even ridiculed by others. To follow Christ is to take up the Cross, and to expect persecution, and false accusation. But we are not alone in this, Christ has gone before us, showing us that the story does not end with death on a Cross, but the glory of the Resurrection and Eternal life. 

If we want to become saints, then we have to be like Christ, and share in His suffering and death. We have to be prepared to be rejected by the world, and dismissed as irrelevant. We may not face imprisonment, torture and death in this country, but many Christians around the world do. However, we may be scorned, ignored, or patronised. What do we do in such circumstances? We are called to be loving, generous, and forgiving, because that is what Jesus has shown us. We can be different to the world around us because we belong to a new community, the community of faith, built on our relationship with Jesus Christ, who came to save humanity from itself. He came that we might have life and have it to the full, and that is what the Beatitudes mean. By living the life of God’s Kingdom here and now, we can live the life of Heaven here on earth. This is what God wants us to do, and it is what Jesus showed us how to do it.

So may we, on this feast of All Saints, be filled with courage, and be ready to tune our lives to God’s will and live as good stewards of God’s world. Let us live the life of the Kingdom together, and encourage others so that all may join the choirs of Heaven to sing the praise 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.

James Tissot – The Sermon of the Beatitudes

Trinity XXI

The Road from Jericho to Jerusalem is steep, winding and dangerous. It is the road on which the man is attacked who is helped by the Good Samaritan in the Parable in Luke’s Gospel. It is along this road that Jesus and His disciples will travel, a journey of sixty miles to go to celebrate the Passover. In today’s Gospel, Jesus and the disciples are surrounded by a great crowd. They are attracted by Our Lord’s preaching and His miracles. As the group leaves Jericho they meet beggars by the roadside. One of them, Bartimaeus on learning that it is Jesus cries out,

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47)

Bartimaeus recognises Jesus’ prophetic calling and asks for mercy. We do the same at the beginning of every Eucharist when we say, ‘Christe eleison, Crist trugarha, Christ have mercy’. The people around Bartimaeus tell him off. They tell him to be quiet, to stop causing a commotion. However, he does not listen to them, but instead he cries out all the more,

“Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:48)

Bartimaeus is desperate. He longs for God’s mercy, he longs for healing. Bartimaeus may be blind, but he sees what many others cannot: that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will heal and restore Israel. His faith in Jesus and his insistence pays off, as Jesus stops and asks to see him. 

And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” (Mk 10:50-51)

Blind Bartimaeus does not want to beg for alms, he wants to see again, and he trusts Jesus to be able to do something about it. 

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mk 10:52)

Without even touching Bartimaeus, Jesus heals him. It is because of his trust and faith in Jesus, that Bartimaeus is healed. Note that instead of rushing off, Bartimaeus follows Jesus, living the life of faith there and then. He is healed and immediately becomes a follower of Jesus. Bartimaeus longed for the light and now he follows Jesus, the Light of the world. This healing miracle becomes a story of faith, and in that faith we too can follow Jesus. 

The first followers of Jesus were known as followers of the Way, (Acts 9:2) and this is what Bartimaeus becomes; he follows Jesus on the way, both literally and metaphorically. He trusts Jesus, he has faith in Him, and he follows Him. In Mark’s Gospel the story of Bartimaeus acts as a bridge between the teaching and miracles of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and His time in Jerusalem which leads up to His death. Jesus will enter Jerusalem on a donkey, as the Messiah, and will teach the people of Jerusalem how to follow God, fulfilling the hope and expectation of the prophets. Bartimaeus has faith which allows him to see, whereas the people of Jerusalem cannot see that Jesus is the Messiah, they are blind, whereas Bartimaeus can see, and follows Jesus on the Way.

We too are on the Way, followers of Jesus, who long for the healing and restoration which sees Bartimaeus go from beggar to disciple. Israel hoped for this as well. In the first reading this morning Jeremiah is looking forward to a Messianic future, even at the point when people are being led away to captivity in Babylon: 

For thus says the Lord: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, …. and say,
    ‘O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’”
’ (Jer 31:7)

Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, ….With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, …. For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born’ (Jer 31:8-9)

At a low-point in Israel’s history, with the Temple destroyed and the people led off into captivity, Jeremiah can look to the future in hope, trusting that God will lead His people back. This hope is realised in Jesus, whose name means ‘God saves’. It is Jesus who brings us back to the Father, as true children of God. As well as being the Messiah, Jesus is also our great high-priest, who offers the sacrifice which takes away sin, and restores the relationship between God and humanity. Unlike the priests of the Temple, Jesus could offer Himself as a perfect offering, as a royal priest, the true King of Israel. In Genesis (14:18-19), Melchizedek blesses Abram:

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said,“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth

As Melchizedek brings out bread and wine, so Jesus will take bread and wine, and institute the Eucharist as the Messianic banquet, for the healing of the nations: to transform us, and so that we can share God’s glory forever. 

So may we be strengthened by Word and Sacrament to live the life of faith, and like Bartimaeus, to follow Jesus on the way that leads to Heaven. Let us 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.

James Tissot – The Two Blind Men at Jericho

Trinity XX

The Apostles James and John, the sons of Zebedee are also known as ‘Boanerges’, which means ‘The Sons of Thunder’. This name fits them to some extent as there is something quite loud and brash about the two brothers. The Gospel reading this morning is a good example of this. It begins by the brothers coming up to Jesus and asking Him, 

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (Mk 10 35)

That is a very bold request to make of anyone, let alone Jesus. But Our Lord does not seem shocked, surprised, or upset. Instead He replies quite calmly, 

“What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mk 10:36-37)

This is quite something to ask for. It is really shocking. But there are some surprising assumptions underlying the disciples’ request. First, there is the assumption that Jesus will be glorified. Secondly that, as one possessing glory, Jesus really is the Messiah and the Son of God. Thirdly, James and John are asking for the seats of honour, to be Jesus’ right and left hand men, to be the leaders of the disciples. Jesus does not overreact, or get angry with them. Instead, He simply states,

“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10:38)

Jesus is absolutely correct. The sons of Zebedee have no idea what they are asking for. Jesus then asks them if they are able to drink the cup He will drink, or to share His baptism. Presumably James and John have no idea of what Jesus means by this, but in their enthusiasm, they readily agree. In the verses which come before today’s reading, Jesus has been teaching the Twelve for the third time that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die. At this point in the Gospel narrative, Jesus is making His final journey from Galilee up to Jerusalem, prior to His Passion and Death. Rather than being a military ruler bringing liberation to Israel, the Messiah will, in fact, be a Suffering Servant, as spoken of by the prophet Isaiah.

And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mk 10:39-40)

Jesus does not tell James and John off, but He does prophesy that they will likewise face a violent end. It is not for Jesus to decide who will sit next to Him in Heaven. The conversation has, however, clearly upset the other disciples, who are not happy with James and John’s attempt to seek preeminence. Again, rather than telling them off, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach the disciples.

And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”(Mk 10:41-42)

We are used to seeing depictions of Roman Emperors in films on TV. They wear purple clothes, the most expensive dye in the Ancient World, and they are treated as though they have an almost divine status. They are shown as absolute rulers, whose words and whims have to obeyed. In contrast to this, Jesus offers the Twelve a different paradigm:

“But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Mk 10:43-45)

Those who are to lead the Church are called to a life of service, of God and of others. The disciples are called to serve others, and not to seek power or prestige for themselves. The life of Jesus Christ, who gives his life ‘as a ransom for many’ (Mk 10:45) is our example. Christ willingly lays down His life to liberate people for God, to free them from death and sin, and to offer us eternal life in Heaven with God. This is why we celebrate Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The Cross and the Empty Tomb are the heart of our faith because they demonstrate God’s love for us. God loves each of us enough to die for us, and rises on the third day to show us that our eternal destiny is to enjoy God’s love forever in Heaven. The Christian Church proclaims this Gospel truth, and encourages all people to share in the gift God offers to us.

The first reading this morning is the second half of the fourth, and final, Servant Song of the prophet Isaiah, which we hear in full on Good Friday. The Church, from the time of the Apostles, has understood these verses as referring to Jesus. They speak of His passion, His Suffering and Death, for us. Christ fulfils the Scriptures and they find their true meaning in Him. In worldly terms, Jesus looks like a failure: He is deserted, denied, and dies the death of a common criminal. But we are not to judge by the standards of this world: ‘it shall not be so among you’ (Mk 10:43).

As Christians, we are being faithful to Christ. We are holding fast to our beliefs, because they are true, because they come from Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Through our faith we can ‘have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace and receive help in time of need’ (Heb 4:16). Our relationship with God is a mystery, not something to be explained, but something both to be experienced and lived out. It is a mystery which we will enter into this morning when Christ, as priest and victim, offers Himself for us. We receive Him, either spiritually or under the outward form of bread, and are transformed by Him, and enjoy the loving presence of God here and now and forever in Heaven. 

In living out God’s truth in our lives we live a service which is perfect freedom. In conforming ourselves to Christ we find meaning and identity. So let us lay down our lives that we may live fully 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.

James Tissot – Jesus travelling

Trinity XIX

Every so often it is a good thing to take a step beck and take time to consider the things we do and why we do them. As humans, created in the image and likeness of God, we do not worship creation, but our Creator. We recognise in the goodness of creation a generous God. The practice of coming together to offer our praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bounty of the natural world, and for a harvest safely gathered in, is an ancient and honourable thing. The Ancient Israelites gave thanks for their life in the promised land, and we do likewise. As part of our worship of God, we offer Him the best of all that we have as a response to His bounteous generosity to us every day of our lives. 

When this church was built its congregation, who lived on and worked the land, would gather on the 1st August for Lammas (Loaf-Mass) to give thanks for a successful grain harvest. During the renewal of the Church in the nineteenth century the idea of a harvest celebration became popular once again. Naturally, we want to say, ‘Thank you’ to God for all that we have received from Him. That is right and proper. One way in which we can express our gratitude to God is by doing our best to care for the natural world around us and for the members of our community. This we do today by our collection of donations for the local food bank — much needed by many in these difficult times. 

In today’s first reading, the author prizes wisdom and understanding above all else. Without these things we act foolishly. Wealth, health, and human beauty — all the things of this world — are not worth anything, unless they are used well. God has given them to us for a purpose, so that we may flourish, and help others to thrive.  

The Gospel reading this morning starts with an important question. A man asks Jesus:

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10: 17) 

Jesus answers by stressing the importance of the moral law we know as the Ten Commandments, which were given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. These rules show us how our love of God and neighbour affects how we live our lives: we are called to live lives of generous love. Jesus  also says:

“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mk 10:18)

Because Jesus is both God and man, He is good. He is a good teacher because He teaches the Truth, and He is the Truth (Jn 14:6). Jesus apparent refusal of the title ‘good’ reinforces the importance of humility for Christians. We need to be humble, and know our need of God.

The man tells Jesus that he has kept the Commandments since childhood, but wants to know if there is anything else he should do.

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mk 10:21-22)

Jesus looks at the man and loves him, because God is Love. God loves us. That is why He sent Jesus to be born among us, to proclaim the Good News to us, to die for us, and rise again. This is the heart of our faith: that God loves us. If I said nothing else to you this morning, or in the future, I say this: ‘Know that you are loved by God, and let this love transform your life’. Jesus calls the man to live out his faith by adopting radical generosity. This is difficult: I know that measured by such a standard, each and every one of us, myself included, regularly fails to live up to this ideal. So what can we do about it?

Some people are willing and able to fully comply with Jesus’ teaching and embrace radical poverty for the sake of the Kingdom. For example, by giving up all they possess, joining a religious community, and living lives of prayer and service. But all of us need to take to heart the advice of the Letter to the Hebrews:

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16)

There are times in our lives when we have to do all sorts of difficult things, and if we were to rely solely upon our own strength and talents, then we will, undoubtedly, flounder at times. We are not meant to act alone, but as part of a community which looks to God as its strength. ‘I’ can’t, but God can, so let Him. When we rely upon God’s mercy and grace, His generous love towards us, then amazing things can and do happen.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mk 10:27)

To be a Christian is to be conscious of the generous love of God, which should make us generous in return, so that we live lives of generous love, in imitation of the one who loved us, Jesus Christ. Here we see the real meaning of our celebration of Harvest: God has been generous to us, so we should likewise be generous. If we are feeding the hungry and caring for the poor, then we are helping to make the Kingdom of God a reality, here and now. This is a good thing, and it is how God wants us to live.

Our desire to work for a world where none are hungry, where all are loved, requires our cooperation with the will of God, and our trust in Him. When we are fed by His Word and by the Eucharist our lives can be transfigured, and our faith strengthened and renewed. This gives us the strength to put our faith into action to change the world around us, transforming it to the will of God. So that everyone will sing the praise 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.

James Tissot – The Rich Young Man went away sorrowful

A Thought from St Francis de Sales

Do not look forward in fear to the changes and chances of this life; Rather, look to them with full confidence that, as they arise, God, to whom you belong will in His love enable you to profit by them.He has guided you thus far in life, and He will lead you safely through all trials; and when you cannot stand it, God will bury you in His arms.Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow: The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at Peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.