Quinquagesima (7th Sunday of Year A)

Generally speaking the ageing process is not one that people tend to enjoy: you cannot do what you used to do, and you ache more than you ever did when you were young. There are however great consolations: chief among them is wisdom, and in particular the wisdom of not bearing a grudge, anger, or hatred. Life is too short, and they do no good. In fact they harm us, far more than others. Over time they can eat us up, and it isn’t pretty or good, or healthy. 

This is why our first reading this morning tells us in no uncertain terms how we are to live our lives: not in hatred, bitterness or anger, not with vengeance or grudges, but with love, for we are to be holy as God is holy, and God is also love, so we are to love. It is easy to forget this, and we do regularly, which is why we need forgiveness. 

The church in Corinth knew this all too well. They had given themselves over to bitterness and quarrelling, forming cliques, and setting rich against the poor. That is why St Paul is writing to them. In this morning’s reading St Paul begins by reminding the Corinthian Christians that they are living stones, built into the temple of God, and filled with the Holy Spirit. It is as true for us as it was for them. We too are called to holiness, and love. Love and forgiveness can look quite foolish to the world around us. The world tells us that we should get angry, and the media encourages this: in print, on the television, on the internet. It sells, and it makes us feel lousy. It creates a problem which we attempt to solve through retail therapy, or some other means, to dull our senses, and take away the pain and misery. Thankfully God knows better. While God’s wisdom looks like foolishness, it is the world that is truly foolish, while God is truly wise. The only way to heal our many wounds is through God who gave His only Son Jesus Christ to die for us, and rise again, that we might have life in Him. As St Paul says: ‘For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.’ (1Cor 1:21-25 ESV) For two thousand years our message has been the same, and may it continue until the Lord comes again. 

In the Gospel this morning, Jesus turns accepted wisdom on its head. While the Law of Moses allowed for limited revenge to take place, Jesus deepens the moral law, and makes it much more demanding. We are not to offer any resistance to mistreatment, and we are to be generous to anyone who asks of us, regardless of who they are. Only gentle non-violent love can truly change the world. It is exacting and challenging. God asks a lot of us who follow Him, so that we might live lives of love. But by so doing we can be a powerful witness to the world, calling it back to the path it should tread, and proclaiming the values of the Kingdom.

It was accepted in the ancient world that you would love your friends and hate your enemies, it is, after all, human nature. But Jesus demands that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, and in the first three centuries of the church there was quite a lot of persecution. There still is today. We continue to pray for those who persecute our brothers and sisters in Christ, that God would turn their hearts, and that they might come to know the love and forgiveness of God. It might seem foolish to do such a thing, but as Christians we know that prayer works, it changes things, and also that the example of Christians living out their faith, bearing witness to it in the world draws people to Jesus Christ. This authentic witness is powerful, and proof that the church will outlast unjust regimes. 

It isn’t an easy thing to do. It is much easier to give in to feelings like hate. That’s the problem: loving your enemies is difficult, it takes effort, it is an act of the will, to will the good of another, one who has hurt us. But only love and forgiveness have the power to heal and restore, to make the world a better place. There is a cost, certainly, but it is what we are called to do, by a God who loves us, for our sake. We are called to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect, to live out love and forgiveness in our lives, to make them a reality in the world. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like in practice. This is how we change the world, one soul at a time, by living out the same love which sees Jesus die on the Cross for us. It is difficult, and costly, and we can only do it through the love and mercy of God, in His strength and not our own. By letting God be at work in our lives, trusting Him to be at work in us, through His Grace.

As we prepare to begin the season of Lent, we look to the Cross as our only hope, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us. May we live out the love and forgiveness which we see in Christ. May we turn away from our sins, and live out the perfection of Christ, to proclaim the truth of His Kingdom, and to call men and women to live lives from hatred and anger, filled with love and forgiveness so that they and all creation may sing the praises 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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Sexagesima (6th Sunday of Yr A)

People nowadays can often have a rather negative view of the Old Testament. This is a terrible shame. They think the God of the Old Testament is angry, and nasty, and horrible. The New Testament, on the other hand, is all about how God loves us, and it has a much more sympathetic picture of the deity. The first position is entirely wrong, it represents a misunderstanding of who God is, and how God acts. Thus Jesus is completely right when He says, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them’(Mt 5:17 ESV). Christ does not abolish the Law or the Prophets. The prophets speak of Him, they foretell a coming Messiah, He fulfils their prophecies. 

Our first reading this morning from Eccesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, presents us with a number of alternatives. We are free to choose. Do we want to keep God’s commandments and act faithfully? We can choose between fire and water, life and death. God does not force us to choose one or the other, but one is clearly good, and the other bad. The problem is that we often choose the wrong one. This is what sin is: choosing the wrong thing. God does not tell us to be ungodly, or give us permission to sin, and yet WE do. This is why forgiveness of sin is such a big deal: we all need it regularly. Also, holiness of life matters: God wants us to flourish, and we flourish by trying to live holy lives in accordance with God’s will.

In the Gospel this morning Jesus expects a lot from us. Jesus does not abolish the Law of Moses, quite the opposite. He makes it a lot stricter. ‘Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Mt 5:19-20 ESV) The point is that we are free to choose. We can choose to do the right thing, if we listen to God, if we read Holy Scripture, if we pray, if we trust God to guide us. It is possible: Jesus spends His entire life giving us the example of how to live as humans, made in God’s image. It is possible, but it is difficult, and we will fail, especially if we trust in our own strength alone. As Christians we believe that God is loving and merciful, that our sins are forgiven, if we repent, and turn away from our sins, and ask for God’s forgiveness. Indeed sin is such a big deal that Jesus dies to take away our sins. God dies for us, for you and me, hands Himself over willingly to suffer and die on our behalf. This why we regularly celebrate the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, because Jesus took bread and wine, blessed them, broke the bread, and gave them to His disciples saying, ‘This is My Body … This is My Blood’ and to them to do this. So we do. So that we might feed on the most precious food and drink there is, to heal our wounded souls and bodies, to have a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet prepared for us, to strengthen us to live the life of faith. Without it we cannot live, without God’s help we will fail, so we need it, and we need to trust in God to help us to do His will, and walk in His way. 

We can do this because of what God in Christ has done for us. The Cross is the place where the world, the flesh, and the devil are conquered. Here, sin which separates us from God and each other is dealt with. Because of what God has done in Christ we are able to make the choice to try to be righteous. We can do this if we rely upon God. The failure of the Scribes and Pharisees is that they rely upon the Law and their  human strength and will. Jesus expects perfection from His disciples because they are following His example, and trusting God to be at work in them. 

The Eucharist is a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet: something God has in store for us, or as St Paul says, quoting the prophet Isaiah (64:4), ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1Cor 2:9 ESV). Heaven is our true home, and its glory is beyond our understanding. Enfolded in the love of God, we may spend eternity worshipping the God who loves us and who made us. This is why the Lord of Glory died: to give us the hope of heaven. This is what we are preparing for here and now. 

Jesus makes demands of us because following Him is not easy: it is demanding, and it comes with a cost. Thus, the church is to be a place of reconciliation, where sins are forgiven, where wounds are healed. It is hard to be reconciled to someone. We have to recognise our own failures and shortcomings, and seek forgiveness ourselves. It is a difficult and costly process, which sees us stripped of pride, humble and reliant upon God as the only one who can heal us. We are powerless, and have to rely on One whose Love and Generosity can do in us what we cannot. We can forgive because we are forgiven, we can love because we are loved. 

Jesus expects much of us, because that is what the Christian life is: difficult, and demanding. Much is asked of us, in how we live our lives. We are to be in the world, but not of the world, living differently. As Christians, if we are to be salt and light then we need to live lives which make people think, ‘They’re not like us’ ‘They don’t do what we do’. We can choose life or death. We have through Christ the possibility of eternal life with God. May we choose wisely, and live as an example to others so that all creation may sing the praises 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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Septuagesima (5th Sunday of Yr A)

The traditional name for this Sunday, Septuagesima, means seventieth, approximately seventy days before Easter, and it marked the beginning of a three-week period which looks forward to the beginning of Lent. It had a penitential character: purple or violet vestments were worn, and in the Eucharist and the Daily Office the church fasted from hymns of praise, to prepare for the Great Fast. It reminds us that what we Do affects who we ARE. Such discipline helps to form us as more loving and generous people.

Such concerns lie at the heart of our first reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah. In verse 6 the prophet cries, ‘Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?’ What God desires is to say sorry for the wrongs we have done that we show that contrition by doing the right thing: being loving and generous, the way God wants us to be. 

Thus, the prophet advises us to share our bread with the hungry, to give shelter to the homeless in our own homes, to clothe the naked. We also need to take away the yoke which is a burden to others, the pointing finger of accusation, and speaking wickedness: being harsh, not telling the truth, or telling it in a way that is designed to cause pain. We all need to hear this, and be reminded of how we can, each and every one of us, fall short. I know I do, and I ask for your forgiveness. 

The point is that we can ask the forgiveness, of a God who loves, which is why St Paul simply proclaims, ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’. On the Cross Christ bears the yoke, the burden of our sins, and demonstrates the LOVE God has for us: real costly love, which sees Him die for us. This is love put into practice to heal and to restore the world, a simple act, seen by many as the execution of a common criminal, dying a slave’s death. Yet THIS brings about the greatest freedom humanity has ever known.

In the Gospel this morning Jesus begins by using metaphors to describe His disciples, They are salt. Nowadays we are used to salt as a bad thing, something of which we eat too much. Salt helps to give food flavour, it preserves food, keeping it edible, and without it we would die. Salt was expensive, a luxury, but if it is no longer good needs to be thrown out. You cannot use it. Jesus’ disciples need to be salty, there should be something about how we live out and proclaim the Gospel in word and deed that makes people go, ‘Mmm!’ Otherwise there is not much point. 

As well as being salt the disciples are light. Light illuminates, it scatters darkness, it helps us to see and keeps us safe. None of us would drive a car at night without the lights on, obviously. It would cause an accident, it might get us killed. Lampposts are high up in the air, so that they can illuminate the street below. We have lights which hang from our ceilings for the same reason. A covered light does not give out light, a light on the floor cannot light up a room. Our Lord encourages His disciples to ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ Our faith then is not simply something that we believe, but rather it is something that we DO. Our actions and our words proclaim the truth of the Gospel to the world around us.

Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden, so it is with Christians. We are visible, and for our many failings people will call us hypocrites, and while they have a point, our failings should always lead us to ask forgiveness, and repent. Because of what Christ has done for us on the Cross we have access to God’s forgiveness. The point is that while we fail, we repent and keep on trying to live out our faith in our lives. It is simple and clear, like St Paul’s proclamation to the church in Corinth. Our faith does not ‘rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.’ It looks foolish and weak, and so it should, in worldly terms. God’s weakness is greater than human strength, that is its power. 

Christ shows us how to live in the Beatitudes, and encourages us to put it into practice in our lives, and to follow His example of going to the Cross to proclaim the fact that God loves us, a God who is Love. Love forgives, so that it can transform us. We that transformation in Isaiah, put into practice to help transform the world. Paul is transformed from a persecutor of the Church into its greatest evangelist, who spends the rest of his life telling people about Jesus, and how He has transformed lives, and continues to do so. For two thousand years the Church has lived the truth of this transformation, and continues to do so, and invites men and women to come and have their lives transformed by the God who loves them.

So we begin to prepare for Lent, the great season of repentance, when we acknowledge our sins, and turn back to God, and prepare to celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

As we look towards the Cross, our only hope, our only salvation, may we live generous and loving lives. May we be salt and light in the world, giving it taste and illumination, offering it the chance for conversion, to turn back to the Lord who loves them, who shows them that love on the Cross, that they may have life in and through Him, that they 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.

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The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Once upon a time it was not uncommon to hear of the Churching of Women, sometimes called Thanksgiving after Childbirth, as it was a dangerous and risky business. We are perhaps now not quite so used to ideas of ritual purity inherent in the Thanksgiving for a woman after Childbirth, or her re-admission into society after a period of confinement. But the Law of Moses required that forty days after giving birth the mother was purified in a mikvah, a ritual bath. The law also required that her son, as a first-born male, was presented to the Lord, and sacrifices were made. Today the Church celebrates the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and commonly called Candlemas. The name is derived from the ceremonies which saw the candles for the coming year blessed at this service, so that they may burn as lights which proclaim Christ, the true Light, the light to lighten the Gentiles. They are different titles, but one feast, which make us think about who and what Jesus Christ is, and what he does.

This feast then is the fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by Malachi in our first reading, which also looks to our purification in and through the death of Christ and His atoning sacrifice of Himself, which will be be re-presented here, made present so that we can share in it, so that we can be healed and restored by the very Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it:

Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. 

It is hard to see how it could be any clearer. Just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac on Mt Moriah, so now God will gladly give His only Son, Jesus Christ, on the altar of the Cross, to restore our relationship with Him.

The Holy Family go to the Temple to give thanks to God and to comply with the Law, just as they had in circumcising their baby on the eighth day: and in so doing they demonstrate obedience, they listen to what God says and do it and as such they are a model for all Christian families to follow — we need to be like them, listening to what God tells us and doing it, regardless of the cost.

When the Holy Family go to the Temple they encounter Simeon, a man of faith and holiness. A man devoted to God, who is looking for the consolation of Israel. He knows that he will not die until he sees the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, and the Saviour of the World. As he takes the child Jesus in his arms he prays: ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

The promise made to him by God, revealed through the Holy Spirit, has been fulfilled in the six-week-old infant in his arms. Simeon can prepare to meet his God happy in the knowledge that Salvation has dawned in this little child. As Christ was made manifest to the Gentiles at Epiphany, so now His saving message is proclaimed, so that the world may know that its salvation has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Simeon speaks to the Blessed Virgin Mary of her Son’s future, and the pain she will endure at the foot of the Cross. Before he dies Simeon is looking to the Cross, the means by which our salvation is wrought, the Cross at which Mary will stand to see humanity freed from its sin through the love and mercy of God, through grace, the free gift of God in Christ. So as Candlemas concludes our celebration of Christmas, and the mystery of the Incarnation, so to it points to that which gives it its true meaning: the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Candlemas prepares for the coming season of Lent by changing our focus and attention from Jesus’ birth to His death, for our sins.

That is why we are here this morning, to be fed by Christ, to be fed with Christ, truly present in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. A God whom we can touch and taste. A God who shares His Divine Life with us, so that we can be transformed by Him, built up as living stones as a temple to His Glory, and given a foretaste of Heaven here on Earth. This is our soul’s true food, the bread for the journey of faith, which sets us free to live for Him, to live with Him, through Him and in Him.

The significance of what is happening is not just recognised by Simeon, but also by Anna, a holy woman, a woman of prayer, a woman who is close to God, she recognises what God is doing in Christ, and she proclaims it, so that God’s redemption of His people may be known. Let us be like her, and let all of our lives, everything which we say, or think, or do, proclaim the saving truth of God’s love to the world.

And finally the Holy Family go back to Nazareth, and Jesus begins to grow up, in the favour of God, obedient to God and His parents in the Gospel we see all of human life: birth, death, work, normality hallowed by the God who loves us, who gives His Son for us. God shares our human life, as He will share our death, to restore us, to heal us,

So let us burn, like the candles which God has blessed, let our faith be active to give light and warmth and hope to the world, so that it may feel that love and warmth, and 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.

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3rd Sunday of Year A

There are divisions in the Church. Sadly, there have been divisions since the earliest days of Christianity, as is made clear by the opening of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. But just because something has gone on for a long time doesn’t make it right. Quite the opposite! For the last seven days Christians around the world have been praying for unity, to heal the divisions which so mar the Body of Christ, the Church. And while it is good to focus our prayers on unity for a week, I would venture to suggest that the unity of Christians is something which we should all be praying for all the time. It is shocking that the tribalism which St Paul condemns in the first century, is still alive and well today. People are still defining themselves as one sort of Christian as opposed to another, or by the place where they worship. Our culpability in this is something for which we need to repent. We need to turn away from division, and to turn back to the God of love, who longs to heal our wounds and divisions; fostering unity is following the will of God. 

This morning’s Gospel begins with the news that John the Baptist has been arrested. His criticism of the immorality of the ruling family had upset the powers that be. Calling out Herod Antipas for divorcing his wife, and then breaking Jewish law by marrying his brother Philip’s wife, seems the right thing to do. We expect our rulers to set an example. It’s only right and proper. The church continues this prophetic vocation, calling out what is evil and wrong. This may, and will, indeed make people uncomfortable: That’s the point! No one likes having their wrongdoing pointed out, I know I don’t! But unless someone does, then we’re unlikely to change our ways. 

In the Gospel, Jesus has just been in the desert for forty days, praying, fasting, being tempted by the Devil. He begins his public ministry by leaving Nazareth, the town where He grew up, and walking to Capernaum by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is a day’s journey. This is an important place for Jesus to start His public ministry, because it fulfils a prophecy in Isaiah, which St Matthew quotes, ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’ (Mt 4:15-16 ESV) This part of Israel is where people were first taken off into captivity by the Assyrians, seven hundred years before. So Our Lord’s restoration of Israel starts in the place where the Northern Kingdom first began to fall apart. 

Strikingly, Jesus begins His proclamation of the Good news of the Kingdom by repeating the exact words of His Cousin, John the Baptist: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. Their message is the same: turn away from your sins and turn back to God, turn back to the God who loves you, and who longs to heal you. These are words of hope for the future, for restoration. This is a message which we all long to hear. 

When Jesus sees two fishermen, Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew casting their nets,  and invites them to ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ It is quite a simple and straightforward invitation. On hearing Jesus’ words they drop everything and follow Him. Immediately! They don’t stop to put their affairs in order, or to say goodbye. A little later, James and John do the same, leaving Zebedee, their father, behind in the boat. Nothing is more important than following Jesus, but these early disciples show us that following God has a cost. It transforms our lives, totally, but not without cost. 

So what does Jesus do with this band of disciples? He takes them into synagogues, where He teaches and interprets the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. Jesus proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom, that we are loved by God. He demonstrates this love in practice by healing the sick. God’s kingdom is a place where wounds are healed, where people are restored to wholeness, in mind, body and soul. There is a cost to following God, but here we see the reward of the Kingdom. Each and every one of us needs that healing and wholeness, which only God can provide. The Church continues to proclaim repentance from sin, belief in the Kingdom of God, and participates in the healing power of God. 

These things begin with us, here, today. We hear the Kingdom proclaimed, we confess our faith together, we pray for the Church and the World, and we join in the banquet of the Kingdom. The source and summit of the Christian life is the Eucharist, where Christ feeds and heals us with His Body and Blood. God’s love is a reality, with the power to transform us and our world, if we have the humility to let God be at work in our lives. He does not force Himself upon us like a tyrant, but rather gives us the free will to choose to turn to Him. 

God also wills that the Church be united, as Jesus prays in Gethsemane, ‘I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.’ (Jn 17:20-21 RSVCE) May we pray and work so that Our Lord’s will is a reality and 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. Amen.

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2nd Sunday of Year A – ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’

John the Baptist looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ Lambs were a central part of the Jewish festival of Passover. In order to avert the tenth plague in Egypt, the people of Israel were instructed to take a young lamb without any blemish and slaughter it. They were then to anoint the doorposts of their house with it, so that their firstborn would be saved, not killed by the Angel of Death. The lamb was to be roasted over the fire and eaten standing up whilst dressed for a journey. This festival of Passover is the high point of the Jewish religious calendar, and marks the start of their journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land of Israel. It is also the time of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

In order to meet the needs the large number of people celebrating the passover festival in the early 1st century AD, there needed to be a lot of shepherds raising flocks of animals for slaughter. In the Christmas story we see that the first visitors to the Holy Family in Bethlehem were shepherds. As Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem, these shepherds were raising the lambs that would be consumed at Passover in nearby Jerusalem in their thousands. Jesus, like these lambs was also without blemish and would be killed at Passover. So from the very moment of Christ’s birth, His Death is foreshadowed. 

Traditionally Jesus’ death is understood to have happened at the ninth hour, 3pm, which is the same time that the passover lambs began to be slaughtered in the Temple in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. This is not mere coincidence, but rather signal proof that Christ’s death is sacrificial, and represents the new Passover, and the freedom of the people of God. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, greets Him, saying, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’. John understands that Jesus is the passover Lamb.

The image of a lamb brings to mind a passage in the prophet Isaiah, where the Suffering Servant is compared to, ‘a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb’ (Isa 53:7). This prophecy will be fulfilled in Holy Week on Good Friday. Here, at the start of John’s Gospel, just after the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, when John the Baptist saw the Spirit descend on Him, (before the first sign of turning water into wine at the marriage of Cana), John’s description of Jesus is a prophetic utterance which points forward to Jesus’ death on the Cross. So then, from the very start of Our lord’s life, as with the gift of myrrh at Bethlehem, the beginning points to the end: to Calvary (and beyond). 

In Genesis, we read of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, who is saved when at the last moment a ram appears in a thorn bush. Isaac carrying wood for the sacrificial fire, prefigures Christ carrying the wood of the Cross. The ram in the thorns foreshadows Christ, the Lamb of God, crowned with thorns. Mt Moriah, where these events take place, is the mountain on which Jerusalem was built, and whose highest point is Golgotha, which is where Our Lord was crucified. The old foretells the new, and is completed by it.Prophecy is fulfilled. In Christ, God is glorified, and of Him the prophet Isaiah says, ‘I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth’ (Isa 49:5 ESV). 

In the Eucharist, just before we receive Communion I will repeat the words of John the Baptist, ‘Behold the Lamb of God…’ so that we may recognise Christ in our midst; we respond with the words of the Centurion, in Luke 7:6-7, ’Lord I am not worthy…’ It is this sense of unworthiness which keeps us both humble and reliant upon God to transform us. We hear John the Baptist’s words so that we may join in his confession that this is the Son of God. Christ is truly present in the Eucharist in a way which we cannot understand, which words and language cannot express, because that is how God is. As a result of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us, God incarnate makes himself known so that we might worship God, and that God might be at work in us. Unlike the sacrifices of Passover and the Day of Atonement which needed to be repeated annually, the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross happens once, to deal with all sin, past, present, and future, to reconcile humanity to God and to each other. It is this reality which we celebrate today: we have been set free. 

This is the Good News of the Kingdom. We are loved by God, who flings His arms wide on the Cross to embrace the world with love. A God who embraces the shame of a slave’s death, the most brutal demonstration of Roman power, the most degrading way to die, to show the world love. It isn’t what you’d expect, and that’s the point. God does not want to compel us to love Him or worship Him, but rather makes a relationship possible, so that we might come to know Him, and love Him. As we approach the altar, this is what we are to receive, the Body and Blood of Christ, the self same body and blood which were nailed to the Cross for our sins and the sins of the whole world. Our hands will hold and our lips will touch him who created the entire universe. How can we not fail to be shocked by the generosity of a God who gives himself to us in such a personal way, in a way that we do not deserve? Yet, we can never deserve such a gift, that is why God takes the initiative and gives himself to us, freely and gladly. Like the Father of the Prodigal Son, God rushes to meet us, to embrace us and to celebrate with us, to show his love for us. God became a human being at Christmas so that we might become divine, through our baptism and our participation at the altar, in the feast of the Lamb.

The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity, uniting heaven and earth through the sacrifice of Calvary, allowing all humanity to share the body and blood of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, feeding on him so that we may become what he is; enabling us to share eternity with him, and to live lives of faith and hope, and love. So then, let us join the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb and enter into the mystery of God’s self-giving love, so that we 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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The Baptism of Christ

Baptism is something with which we are familiar in the Church. But for the vast majority of Christians baptised as infants, it isn’t something we necessarily remember. We are too young to recall the event. But whether we can remember it or not, we know that it happened, and that it marked our entry into the Church, where we were clothed with Christ and  we were born again, by water and the Holy Spirit. And as Christians we are baptised for many reasons, the first of which is that Jesus was baptised, something which the Church celebrates today. 

At one level it looks a little strange. Baptism washes us from our sins, and Jesus is not a sinner, so He does not need to baptized. Hence John the Baptist’s response, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14 ESV). Our Lord replies by saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15 ESV). Jesus’ baptism is one of obedience to the will of God the Father. That is why our first reading is the first of the Servant Songs in the prophecy of Isaiah. The prophecy is fulfilled when the Father speaks the first verse, at the moment of Jesus’ baptism. He gives Him as a covenant to the nations, a covenant that will be made on the Cross, to save humanity. Christ is a light for the nations, as Simeon states at the Presentation in the Temple, Christ will open the eyes of the blind, and set prisoners free. This is the reality of the Kingdom of God, something of we, through our baptism, are a part.

Today God does a new thing, which lies at the heart of the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom by St Peter in this morning’s second reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It is the same proclamation that we find in Isaiah. There is a consistency in proclamation down through the centuries, a guarantee of its truth. God the Father expresses His love for His Son, whose obedience to His Father’s will shows humanity that by saying ‘Yes’ to God, the ‘No’ of Adam and Eve can be undone. Christ fulfils all righteousness, and in so doing points His public ministry towards the Cross.  This is where righteousness and obedience lead: to death and suffering, to display God’s love and finally, once and for all to restore humanity. What is foolish in the eyes of the world, is in fact the greatest possible demonstration of love. We will see that love made visible here this morning, where Christ offers Himself to the Father, and offers the Church His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, so that we may feed on Him, so that He may transform us, so that we may come to share in the very life and nature of God. Through our Baptism and the Eucharist the Kingdom becomes a living reality in us. We are transformed to live its life, and transform the world.

Last Sunday we celebrated Our Lord’s manifestation to the Gentiles. Now this Sunday, at the start of Christ’s public ministry, He is again made manifest. God the Father acknowledges the Son in the flesh, and sends the Holy Spirit, the bond of their love. The fulness of the Divine Trinity is united and manifest on earth to proclaim that Christ is Lord, and the Kingdom has become a reality. Christ does not need to be baptised, as we do, but does so to fulfil all righteousness and to sanctify the waters of baptism for those whom He would redeem, to show us the way to new life in Him. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus shows humanity the way to the Father, through himself. The world sees the generous love of God, which heals and restores us, from the darkness of the dungeon of sin and evil, to the light and life of the Kingdom of God. As our baptism is a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so His baptism points to the Cross, where streams of blood and water flow to cleanse and heal the world. We see the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the obedience of Son, and all for us, who are so weak and foolish, and who need God’s love and healing, and forgiveness.

We need this, the whole world needs it, but is too proud to turn to a God of love, for fear of judgement, knowing that they deserve to be cut off forever, and yet it is exactly such people, such lost sheep that Our Lord comes to seek, whom He enfolds in His loving arms on the Cross, whom He washes in the waters of baptism, so that all may be a part of Him, regardless of whom they are, and what they have done. Salvation is the free gift of God and open to all who turn to him.

Ours is a faith which can transform the world, so that all humanity can share in God’s life and love, each and every one of us can become part of something radical and revolutionary, which can and will transform the world one soul at a time, it may sound strange, crazy even, but that is the point. Rather than human violence, cruelty, and murder, the only way to transform the world is through the love of God. This is what the church is for, what it’s all about; it is why we are gathered here, to be strengthened and nourished, through prayer, the Word of God, and the Sacraments of the Church, strengthened and nourished to live out our faith in our lives to transform the world. Nothing more, nothing less, just a revolution of love, of forgiveness, and healing, which the world both wants and needs, so let us live it so that the world may be transformed and 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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Epiphany

Imagine the scene, you’ve given birth to a baby and are sheltering with the animals for warmth. First shepherds come to see you, and then rich noble astronomers from hundreds of miles away. It is strange, and out of the ordinary. But then this is no ordinary baby, quite the opposite in fact. Today he is made manifest to all the World. 

The opening words of Isaiah 61, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’ (Isa 61:1 ESV) foretells the star which leads the Wise Men to Jesus. It shines as a light in the darkness, and points to Him who is the light of the World, a light which the world cannot understand or overcome. He is the Light of the World, in Him our salvation has arisen, a light which can never be put out. The nations shall come to His light, Christ is made manifest to the gentiles, made clear, and obvious. Kings come to the brightness of His rising, and they bring gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. They come to honour Christ, who is priest, prophet, and King. They come to worship God made man; they come to pay their homage to the Saviour born among them. They come with camels and bringing gold and frankincense to worship their king and their God. They come to Bethlehem, and not to a royal palace, or a throne. This is what true kingship is, true love, that of God and not of humanity.

The wise men bring Jesus gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are and always have been expensive, costly, and precious things. Gold, is a precious metal, which does not tarnish, which is pure. It is a gift for a King: its purity points to a life of perfect obedience, the pattern of how life should be lived. Incense, from Arabia, was offered to God in the Temple in Jerusalem, as the sweet-smelling smoke rose, it looked like our prayers rising to God. It is a sign of worship, a sign of honour, and how humanity should respond to God. Myrrh, often used in the ointment was part of embalming, it speaks of death. Even in Christ’s birth, and appearance to the Gentiles, we see Christ’s kingly power, and his obedience to the will of the Father. We see His role in worship as our great High Priest, which leads Him to Death and Burial

Everything then points to the Cross, where Christ will shed his blood for love of us, where he will die to reconcile us to God. It is an act of pure, self-giving love, which we as Christians celebrate. It’s why we come to the Eucharist, to share in Christ’s body and blood, to be fed by him, with him, and to become what he is.

The Wise Men in the East saw a conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in the constellation Pisces, which was believed to represent the Jews , which coincided with a comet moving in the sky. So, on the basis of their observations they travelled hundred of miles to Israel, the land of the Jews, and go to the royal palace in Jerusalem, to find out what is going on. Creation announces, through the movement of the stars and planets that something wonderful is happening. 

The incarnation of the Son of God is the pivotal event in earth’s history: through it salvation has dawned, and humanity is offered freedom and new life in this little child. He is proclaimed to all the world as the King of the Jews and the Saviour of the World, the Messiah. Herod’s reaction was fear of being overthrown which leads him to murder the newborn children in Bethlehem in order to safeguard his position. The world’s reaction is more complex. Mostly it is indifference, nowadays. At its root is pessimism for the future: things will just get worse, they cannot get better. But in Christ a new hope has dawned. We can have hope because Christ is born and made manifest to the world. When the Wise Men saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy, and they came, and they fell down, knelt and worshipped him, because he was God become man in the womb of a Virgin. Our salvation is made manifest to the world, the whole of creation rejoices that God is with us. It is a great reason for joy, and the joy of the Lord is our strength (cf. Nehemiah 8:10) 

So let us rejoice like the Wise Men, let us come like them to kneel before the Lord, born in our midst.  The Wise Men come and kneel and they worship and adore the Lord of creation and the Word of God Incarnate. The King of all is not in a Palace but in a simple house in Bethlehem, and He meets us here today under the outward forms of Bread and Wine, to heal us, to restore us, and to give us life in Him. Let us come before Him, offer Him the gifts of our life, and our love, and our service so that we may see His Kingdom grow.

As we celebrate the Epiphany we also look forward to Our Lord’s Baptism in the River Jordan and his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. He who is without sin shows humanity how to be freed from sin and to have new life in Him. In turning water into wine we see that the kingdom of God is a place of generous love, a place of joy, and of life in all its fullness.

So let us be filled with joy and love, may we live lives of joy, and love, and service of God and one another, which proclaim in word and deed the love of God to the world, that it may believe: so that all creation may resound with 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

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Christmas 2019

We have come here this morning because something wonderful happened two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. It is the single most important event in human history, summed up in St John’s memorable phrase, ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (Jn 1:14 ESV). The Word, through which God spoke all creation into being, the Son eternally begotten of the Father, who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, took flesh in the womb of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is born for us, and lives among us. The verb translated as ‘dwelt’ means to live in a tent, and thus to settle, which conveys something both temporary and permanent at the same time. This is the paradoxical quality of the Incarnation, which looks back to the Exodus when the people of Israel spent forty years in tents before they got to the Promised Land, and that God’s presence was with them, as then so now. God is with us, Emmanuel, He is with us now in the words of Holy Scripture and will be with us in the Eucharist.

Today is a day to be encouraged, and the message of Isaiah is one of joy. The birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is good news, He comes to bring true peace to humanity. Our God reigns as a little baby, lying in a manger. Christ’s gift to us is peace and goodwill to all humanity. He can give us these gifts because He who is born for us today will die for us. The one wrapped in swaddling clothes will be wrapped in linen cloths in a tomb once He has died for us on the Cross. The beginning of His earthly life points to its end to remind us of the love of God for humanity. With joy the prophet can proclaim, ‘and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.’ (Isa 52:10 ESV) Today salvation has indeed come to the whole world, for in His Birth and Death we are saved. 

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews understands that God speaks through his prophets, who look forward to the birth of the Son of God as the defining event, the turning point of human history. Prophets tell us both how things are and how they WILL BE, thus we have a vision of God’s future, we have the hope of glory in the one who is born today. We glimpse true glory in the vulnerability of the baby lying in the manger, dependant upon others for love, and food, and warmth. God’s glory confounds our expectations, and that’s the point. God’s ways are not our ways, nor his thoughts ours. In the same way that God saves us not because we ARE lovable, but so that we might become so. Humanity is saved in order to be transformed, and the Church exists to extend that transformation across space and time. 

Such is the mystery of God’s love, something so wonderful that we cannot fully understand it, but we can experience it, and through experiencing it, be transformed by it. As Austin Farrer wrote: 

God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is and it remains for us a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives us a Son. Such is the spirit of the angel’s message to the shepherds: “Peace upon earth, good will to men … and this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.” A Son is better than an explanation. The explanation of our death leaves us no less dead than we were; but a Son gives us a life, in which to live.’ [Austin Farrer Said or Sung pp. 27, 28]

As St John says, ‘ In him was life, and the life was the light of men.’ (Jn 1:4 ESV) Just as the star gives light to Bethlehem and guides the wise men on their way, so Christ gives light to a world filled with Darkness. Christ is the true light, and comes to give us true life in Him. ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’ (Jn 1:12-13 ESV) In the Church we are born again by water and the Holy Spirit, sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection, to have new life IN HIM. We are IN CHRIST, and are fed with HIS BODY AND BLOOD so that we may continue to be transformed by Him. Christ comes to give us life, new life, eternal life in Him, so that cleansed from our sins and transformed by the love of God we may live the life of the Kingdom, the life of heaven here and now. This is ‘glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ (Jn 1:14 ESV) given to humanity so that we may live as God intended us to. To us is offered through Christ the chance to return to Eden, to see Creation restored, and all things set right through Him. This is no pipe dream, but the reality of God’s love freely given to restore our fallen state. So let us live it and encourage others to so that all humanity may 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.

Midnight Mass 2019

The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about ninety miles, with some fairly large hills involved. It would probably have taken Mary and Joseph ten days to travel there, walking with a donkey. It was a huge effort: in order to be with family, and to comply with the demands of the census. Amidst the joy and the wonder of this holy night it is good to begin by pondering the fact that the Holy Family were tired, even before the Blessed Virgin Mary went into labour. Tonight is a time for many emotions: joy, wonder, love and fear, as we celebrate God working among us. 

The prophet Isaiah in tonight’s first reading speaks of a future centred upon the birth of a royal baby. It is a message of hope, a light shining in the darkness, which looks forward to the star of Bethlehem, announcing the birth to the world. The boy will free us from burdens and break the rod of our oppressor. The wonderful mystery which we celebrate here tonight is that through Jesus Christ sin will have no power over us. He will bear our burden on the Cross. Christ is born for us so that He may die for us. His life begins lying against the wood of the manger, as it will end against the wood of the Cross. This is the justice and righteousness to which Isaiah looks forward: a God whose entire life and being proclaim the love of God. Christ is the true son of David, a Wonderful Counsellor, in Him God shows His true might, the Eternal Son show us the heart of love of the Everlasting Father, Christ is the Prince of Peace, as He gives us peace from God, not human peace, but something far more wonderful. All that Isaiah proclaims is made manifest tonight in this little child. The world can never be the same.

St Paul writes to Titus to remind him that God’s grace has been revealed. Her tonight we see the kindness of God in giving His only Son to be born for us, making the salvation of the human race possible. Christ gave Himself for us, to redeem us from sin. Here tonight God is born as a baby, so that humanity might become divine. This is generosity on a scale we can hardly imagine, because God’s love is so all-encompassing, so utterly wonderful. As we celebrate His coming in the flesh we also look forward to His Second Coming, when our Saviour will return. We are to prepare for this by celebrating the mystery of our salvation, and allowing it to transform our lives.

So the King of Israel, the Saviour of the World is born not in a palace, but surrounded by farm animals. As Isaiah prophesied, at the very start of his prophecy: ‘The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib’ (Isa 1:3 ESV). So the animals kneel to honour their Creator, born in their midst. ‘He whose godhead made him rich became poor for our sake, so as to put salvation within the reach of everyone’ [Theodotus of Ancyra (Homily 1 on Christmas: PG 77: 1360-1361) ]. 

Meanwhile out in the fields there are shepherds, looking after their sheep. Jerusalem is only six miles away, and these are the sheep needed for Passover, and other Jewish festivals. Shepherds are interesting in that David, Israel’s second king was one, and scripture talks of God shepherding His people Israel. The Messiah, the saviour, is prophesied in terms of a shepherd. St Matthew quotes the prophet Micah: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’ (Matt 2:6 ESV quoting Micah 5:2). An angel comes to the shepherds to tell them the wondrous news which has just taken place. They are afraid, terrified in fact, and rightly so. It is so completely out of the ordinary. We have so domesticated this pastoral scene that we forget that here we have ordinary people faced with an angel and the glory of God, something so amazing that humans cannot bear to look at it. It’s too bright, too wonderful. And there’s not just one angel, but a multitude of the heavenly host, an army of angels, thousands of them, more than you can count, singing the praise of Almighty God. The worship of heaven comes down to earth for a moment to celebrate this wonderful event. Words cannot describe it, though we will get close to it this night as we celebrate the Eucharist. For here too heaven and earth will meet, and Christ who is the living bread come down from heaven, born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, will take bread so that it may become His Body, to feed us, so that we might share His divine life.

It’s a radical action, which turns our world upside down. Ours is a God who shows strength and power in His weakness, in His dependance upon others, to show us what true kingship is really like. Whereas Caesar claims the title Augustus, literally one who is worthy of honour, the one worthy of true honour is born not in Rome, but in Bethlehem. As the angel announces to the shepherds, ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ (Lk 2:11 ESV). Jesus is our saviour, not some Roman Emperor. He is the Messiah, the one who can save us and all humanity, and he is lying not in a cot in a palace, but in a manger, surrounded by animals. God defies human expectations, and human understanding, to do something wonderful, and unexpected, because this is what the Kingdom of God looks like: it turns our human world on its head. The Son of God is born in a stable, and adored by shepherds. The most important event in human history happens tonight, and for two thousand years the Church has proclaimed its truth, that God is with us, is born for us, to set us free from sin, to give us eternal life, and to pour out God’s love and reconciliation upon a world that longs for healing and wholeness. Tonight the mystery of God’s love is made manifest, may we be filled with that love, and may our voices echo the song of the angels in giving praise 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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Some prophetic words for the Church …

‘We tend to manage life more than just live it. We are all overstimulated and drowning in options. We are trained to be managers, to organize life, to make things happen. This is what built our culture. It is not all bad, but if you transfer that to the spiritual life, it is pure heresy. It is wrong it doesn’t work. It is not gospel.’

 

from Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas – Daily Meditations for Advent, Cincinatti, 2008, p. 31

Advent IV ‘He will save his people from their sins’

The story of salvation history, of humanity’s relationship with God can be characterised by one phrase: , ‘Paid ag ofni, Do not be afraid!’ Again and again God speaks to His people to tell them to be of good heart, to reassure and encourage them. This morning’s readings are a case in point. Joseph is afraid at the fact that his intended wife, Mary is with child. Rather than take her to court and divorce her publicly for infidelity, he intends to deal with the matter privately. Joseph is a just man, one who walks in the Law of the Lord. Joseph is someone close to God, so it is no surprise that God speaks to him in a dream. The angel is clear: the child that will be born is of the Holy Spirit, He will be the Son of God, and His name will be Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. 

St Matthew clearly understands the Birth of Jesus as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, which we heard as our first reading this morning. You ‘shall call his name Immanuel.’ (Isa 7:14 ESV) Jesus: God saves, Immanuel, God is with us. Names matter. What does is mean to say that God is with us? Is it an expression of solidarity? Or something more? In Jesus God is with us, and shares our human life, from birth to death. This is not some remote divine figure, but one intimately acquainted with all of human existence. This changes the dynamics of our relationship somewhat. God is not external, but someone who understands us, and loves us, whose entire existence is about communicating Divine Love and Reconciliation. This is all the Church has been about at its core for the past two thousand years, proclaiming the same message of hope and salvation.

He will save his people from their sins: the angel’s words to Joseph could not be clearer. Jesus is God’s rescue mission, to save humanity from their sins. It leads to the Cross, and so as we prepare to celebrate His Birth, we know that His life will end here, on Cross, where He who was without sin, became sin, experiencing all the alienation and estrangement which it produces. As we prepare the most joyous of feasts, we are mindful of the cost of God’s love. This is a love which will see the bonds of love which unite Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ruptured, as the Son experiences death and desolation, so that we no longer have to. This is the Good News of the Kingdom of God, which the Church exists to proclaim and live out, to continue God’s work of love and reconciliation. 

Jesus will be born so that Scripture might be fulfilled, or as St Paul puts it in the beginning of his Letter to the Romans: ‘which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures’ (Rom 1:2 ESV). The Church has always proclaimed this truth, because it is true. On the road to Emmaus, before He reveals Himself to them in the Eucharist,  Jesus explains the Hebrew Scriptures to them: ‘And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself’ (Lk 24:27 ESV) The Church interprets Scripture as pointing to Jesus Christ because that is what Our Lord Himself does. We follow His example. It is how the Apostle Philip explains Scripture to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:35. Scripture, the Word of God, points to the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. He is its author, its focus, and the interpretative key, who unlocks its meaning. 

The final words Jesus says to His disciples before His Ascension are ‘And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matt 28:20 ESV) The one who is God with us, as he departs this earth, promises to remain with us. And through His Holy Spirit, he does. He is with us in Scripture, and especially in the Eucharist, when we feast on His Body and Blood, given for us, so that we might have life in Him. God gives Himself for us, so that we might become what He is, so that we might share the Divine life of love forever. This is what salvation looks like, and tastes like. The act of love which we are preparing to celebrate in Our Lord’s Nativity should draw us to love God and our neighbour, to live out the love which becomes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, which will become flesh and blood that we can touch and taste, here, this morning, to feed us, so that we might share His divine life. So let us imitate the mystery we celebrate, let us be filled with and transformed by the divine life of love, let us like Mary and Joseph wait on the Lord, and be transformed by him, to live out our faith in our lives so that the world might believe and 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.

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Advent III – He that will come

The prophet Isaiah provides our first readings during Advent this year, and he is particular strong on the idea that the Messiah will come to deliver Israel. As Christians we use the period of Advent to reflect upon the fact that Christ is coming, He is coming as a baby born in Bethlehem, He is coming to us here today in the Eucharist, and He is coming with vengeance to judge the world. Should we be afraid? On the contrary, as the prophet says, ‘Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart,“Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’ (Isa 35:3-4 ESV). 

Isaiah has a vision where the desert, a dry wilderness is carpeted with flowers, a sign of new life, of hope. This is the flourishing which the Messiah will bring, ‘the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God’ (Isa 35:2 ESV). As Christ Himself says ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’ (Jn 10:10 ESV) This is good news, a reason to rejoice and be glad, and to mark this the Church instead of penitential purple wears rose today, to mark the joyful character of this day, and to remind us that Christ is coming. As Isaiah says, ‘the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’ (Isa 35:10 ESV).

The time is both now, and not yet. As St James writes, ‘You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand’ (Jas 5:8 ESV). Patience is a hard thing to master. We are naturally impatient, we don’t want to wait, but we have to. The question is how we wait: in joyful expectation, preparing ourselves for what is to come? 

John the Baptist has been waiting for the Messiah, and while he leapt in his mother’s womb at the Visitation, in this morning’s Gospel he appears to be having doubts. He is expecting a Messiah of judgement, and he is isn’t sure what is going on. John has been imprisoned for criticising Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. He is hoping for a messiah to sweep away an unjust and corrupt regime, hence his doubts about Jesus, who doesn’t seem to be a political messiah. Jesus tells John’s disciples, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them’ (Mt 11:4-5 ESV). 

The vision of a messianic future envisaged by Isaiah in this morning’s first reading has become a reality: prophecy has been fulfilled, God keeps his promises. The Kingdom of God is a place of healing, and Christ is the great physician, who has come to heal our souls. Jesus is the one who is to come, He has come, and will come again. The establishment of God’s kingdom can look strange in human terms: going to those on the margins, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed and marginalised is not a grand gesture. That is the point! The greatest grand gesture Jesus will make will be in handing Himself over to be crucified and die the death of a common criminal. This is how the messiah will reign as the true King of Israel. 

It defies human expectations, which is the point: God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts ours. That’s the core message of this morning’s Gospel, if we expect God’s rule to look like human kingship, then we will be disappointed. God has something else in store, something far more wonderful than we could ever imagine, and at its heart is the transformation of humanity by love. God heals His people, because God is a God of love. God loves us not because we are loveable, we are sinners, who don’t deserve to be loved, and cannot earn that love. But rather than what we are, God loves us for WHO we are, His sons and daughters, created in His image. 

This is grace: loving sinful humanity so that we may be transformed by love. Hence the focus on healing, something which only God can do, to heal our souls with His love. This is the cause of our joy, what the prophet Isaiah hoped for has been fulfilled, and continues to be fulfilled. The Church exists to carry on God’s healing in the world, to take humanity, and heal it with God’s love. This is what we are about to celebrate in the Eucharist where we thank God for loving us, and prepare to experience that healing love, so that it may transform us. We do so with reverence, because we are not simply consuming human food and drink, but the very Body and Blood of Christ, given for us, to heal us. The greatest medicine our souls could ever wish for. Soon we ‘shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God’ (Isa 35:2 ESV) God’s glory and majesty is to die on a Cross for us, and to feed us with Himself. Come to the banquet my brothers and sisters, and experience the love of God, and let it heal and transform you, so that you and all creation may sing the praises 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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Advent II Yr A – REPENT

John the Baptist appears in this morning’s Gospel in stark un-compromising fashion. His message is simple, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mt 3:2 ESV). It is a clear message, but to understand it takes some work. To repent means to change ones mind: to turn away from sin, and turn back to God. We are called to think differently, and as a result of this to act differently, to follow Jesus, and thereby to change the world, by co-operating with God to make the Kingdom a lived reality here and now, and to share in it forever. To repent is to turn away from sin, which separates us from God, and each other. Sin makes us selfish, self-absorbed, concerned with pleasure, wealth, power. It’s all about ME, how I feel, what I want. The proclamation of the Kingdom of God tells us that another way is possible, by the grace of God. It sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Freeing, liberating: living for others rather than ourselves. At its heart the Kingdom is a place of generosity and real love, life in all its fullness. The Church exists to proclaim this same message, and to say to the world: Another way is possible.

It is not surprising that in those times people came out into the desert to hear John. He was charismatic, his message was a refreshing antidote to the Religious Establishment of his day. People come, confess their sins, and are baptised, they are washed clean, to serve God, and to love Him. They also come because in John the people of Israel see prophecy fulfilled, and a new Elijah is in their midst. One who points to the Messiah, and has done ever since he leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb at the Visitation. Before John was even born he proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the One who would save Israel from their sins. We see this Messianic kingdom hoped for in the vision of Isaiah in this morning’s first reading. The branch which comes forth from the stem of Jesse is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who filled with God’s Holy Spirit, conceived and bore Our Saviour, the true King of all that is, or has been, or will be. He will be on the side of the poor and the meek, people who are left behind, and ignored because they are not rich or powerful. It’s a radical vision, which reminds us that we still have some way to go in order to put it into practice in the world around us. Isaiah’s vision of Messianic peace looks impossible, but it signifies a world-changing peace, which alters how things are, how we behave. For with, and through God another way is possible. It is not simple, or easy, but it is possible, if we rely upon God to help us. As St Paul says to the Christians in Rome, ‘May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.’ (Romans 15:5-7 ESV) and again ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope’ (Romans 15:13 ESV). We receive the Holy Spirit in our Baptism and Confirmation to strengthen us to live out our faith in our lives.

Hope can feel in pretty short supply when we look at the world around us, and if we look to humanity we will be disappointed. Our hope comes from God, our hope is God, God with us, whose Birth we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation, when we prepare for Christ to come, both as a baby in Bethlehem, and as our saviour and our Judge. As the son of Jesse, and the son of David, Jesus is Israel’s true king, who rules over all. Isaiah has hope in the peace the Messiah will bring. Injustice and affliction, the fruit of sin is dealt with on the Cross, where He ‘shall stand as a signal for the peoples’ (Isa 11:10 ESV). Christ comes to die, out of love for humanity. In Him God can make things put right, and restore Creation, so that the entire Universe may praise the God who created it. 

Our Saviour is also our judge. ‘His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ (Matt 3:12 ESV) It’s real, and it should make us stop and think for a moment. Are we living the way God wants us to? If we are not then we need to repent, say sorry, and live the way God wants us to live. This is how we flourish as people. John the Baptist calls us to make a spiritual u- turn, to turn our life around, to turn away from what separates us from God, our sins. He calls us to the waters of baptism, so that we can be healed and restored by God, filled with his grace, and prepared to receive the Holy Spirit: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11). The problem with the Pharisees and Sadducees who come to John is that they do not show the repentance necessary, they haven’t made the u-turn, they don’t have the humility to recognise there sinfulness, and the need to be washed in the waters of baptism. They are confident that they are children of Abraham; they don’t have the right attitude for God to be at work in their lives.

As well as seeing Jesus as our Saviour, John the Baptist sees Jesus as Our Judge, he points to the second coming of the Lord when, as St John of the Cross puts it, ‘we will be judged by love alone’.  It is love that matters – in Christ we see what love means it is costly, self-giving and profound. As we are filled with His Spirit, nourished by Word and Sacrament, we need to live out this love in our lives. This is how we prepare to meet him as we prepare to celebrate His Birth and look forward to his Second Coming. So let us be prepared, let us live out God’s love in our lives, let us turn away from everything which separates us from God and each other, let us live out that costly, self-giving love in our lives, as this is what God wants us to do. It is through doing this that the world around us can see what our faith means in practice, how it affects our lives, and why they could and should follow Him, and sing the praises 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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Advent I (Year A)

Just over one hundred and one years ago a war ended that was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’. Instead the last century has seen very little peace. We are lucky in Western Europe that we have experienced 70 years without conflict, but there have been wars elsewhere. Humanity is still plagued by warfare: the loss of life, the crimes committed, lives blighted. So when we hear the prophecy of Isaiah in this morning’s first reading it is truly joyful. Beating swords into ploughshares and turning spears into pruning hooks sounds wonderful indeed. Growing crops and tending vines provides us with food and drink. It is a sign of peace, joy, and prosperity. And at the time when Christ was born, and we are preparing to celebrate the yearly memorial of his birth at Christmas, this prophecy was fulfilled. There was peace in the Roman World when Christ was born, scripture was fulfilled. And we look forward to such peace coming again, and we work for it, together. The messianic age which we look forward to  shows us what truly following Christ looks like in practice. If we walk in the light of the Lord, we are freed from the darkness of sin and destruction, which threatens to overwhelm us. 

This same message is found in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, our second reading this morning. It is an encouraging message, that another way is possible. Instead of sleep-walking towards damnation and destruction, we can be awake and ready to follow Christ. Every day is another day closer to Christ’s Second Coming. He will come again, as our Saviour and our Judge. We need to be ready, putting on the armour of light, putting on Christ, through our baptism, and living out the faith of our baptism in our lives. The capital of the Roman Empire was renowned for tolerating some pretty immoral behaviour. It was everywhere, all around the Christian community there. Were they tempted to join in? Of course! But St Paul advises them to resist the pleasures of the flesh, drunkenness, quarrelling, nastiness: all the sorts of things we can get up to if left to our own devices.

St Paul speaks to us, to encourage the church and its members, you and me, not to give into the culture of the world around us, but to stay close to Christ. It is easy in theory, but tricky in practice. It’s easier when you’re part of a community. We can help and support each other, in good times and bad. It’s why people join Slimming World or Weightwatchers. They’re trying to change their lifestyle and eating habits, and find the support of a group a great help. Never think that small groups do not have the power to change the world. We are living proof of it as Christians, and it is why we are HERE today: to support each other, to be built up in love together, to turn away from the ways of the world, and to follow Christ. 

We follow Christ and we are ready. We prepare for Christ to come among us. That’s what Advent means, Christ’s coming. We prepare for three comings: the first our annual commemoration of His birth in Bethlehem, at Christmas, where the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The second coming of Christ will be at the end of time, when He will be our Saviour and our Judge. The third coming we prepare for is even nearer. It happens day by day, and week when Christ comes to us in the Eucharist, in His Body and Blood, under the outward forms of Bread and Wine, the Banquet of the Kingdom, anticipated by the ploughshares and pruning hooks of Isaiah, tools to help produce Bread and Wine, a prophecy which looks forward to the peace of the Messiah and a banquet of Bread and Wine. Food of the Kingdom, food for our journey of faith, to give us strength and new life in Christ. Christ comes to us in the Eucharist to give us strength and to transform us, into His likeness. This is the reality of God’s love for us, shown to us on the Cross, and in the Resurrection, a pledge, a sure sign of love, love we can touch and taste, love which transforms us.

We need it, and we need it together. It is why we gather together on the day when Christ rose from the dead to celebrate His triumph, and ask for His prayers. Because as St Matthew’s Gospel tells us, we need to be ready. We need to be ready because ‘the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ (Mt 24:44 ESV) It could be that between my writing these words and delivering them, Christ will come. Christ could come today, or in thousands of years’ time. It doesn’t matter when He comes. We need to be ready, prepared to meet Him, freed from sin, and living out our faith in our lives, having heeded the warnings to prepare ourselves. That’s why Advent is a penitential season, we are reminded of how we fall short, and try, with God’s grace, to amend our lives and follow Christ.

That is why in this morning’s Gospel reading Christ says, ‘For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.’ (Mt 24:37 ESV). Before the flood in Genesis we se that humanity was corrupt and violent, and sinful. The point Christ is making is that this is how the world will be; Christians should not be like this, because we have put on Christ, we are walking in the light, supporting each other, as a community of faith, living out the love we have been shown in Christ. At a time we do not expect, Our Lord will return, so we need to be ready, so that whenever He comes Christ may find us ready, and prepared to meet him.  

We need to prepare our hearts, our souls, our minds, all of our life, we need to live and act, to think and speak like the people of God, fully alive in him, having turned away from the ways of the world, to live fully in him, we are to live this way, and invite others so to do, so that the Kingdom of God’s peace and love may truly be found here in earth, where humanity is truly valued, where violence, death, murder, and immorality are no more.

The time is short, the time is now, it really matters; we need to come to the Lord, learn his ways and walk in his paths, living decently, living vigilantly, preferring nothing to Christ, and inviting all the world to come to the fullness of life in Him. This is how we celebrate His coming at Christmas and as Our Saviour and Judge, by following him, fed by Him, restored and healed by Him, and sharing His church’s message with all the world, so that it too may believe and 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.

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Christ the King Year C

To celebrate the Kingship of Christ is something both old and new. The feast which the Church celebrates today was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In a world traumatised by the Great War, with class divisions and a surge in nationalism, the Pope wished to stress that Christ is the Prince of Peace, His Kingship was not obtained by violence, and our supreme allegiance belongs to Him. We are not Welsh, or British, or European, but first and foremost we belong to Christ. While we are currently earthly subjects of Queen Elizabeth II, our primary allegiance is a spiritual one: to the God who loves us and saves us. The feast of Christ the King also reminds us that Heaven is our true home, that we are made for a relationship with God above all else, a God who loves us. 

Our first reading this morning recalls David’s anointing as King of Israel. He was chosen by God to be the shepherd of God’s people Israel. David points to Jesus Christ, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, who is the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep. 

In our second reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, we hear what God has done for us, and who Christ is. God has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. We can go to Heaven, we have been delivered from darkness, into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. In Christ we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. Christ has paid the debt we owe, our sins are forgiven. We don’t need to slaughter lambs and be sprinkled with their blood, because we have been sprinkled with the Blood of the Lamb of God in our Baptism. We are redeemed and our sins are forgiven because of what Christ does for us on the Cross. This is the heart of our faith: Christ died for us, because Christ loves us. 

In Christ we see God, we know who and what God is because He was born in Bethlehem, yet begotten in eternity. In Christ we see that God loves us. He created all that is, so all is subject to Him. He is the head of His Body, the Church, of which we are a part through our baptism, and our participation in the Eucharist, where we, the mystical Body, are fed with the mystical Body, so that we might become what we eat. As the firstborn from the dead, Christ, in His Resurrection shows us that death is not the end, that our lives will be changed not ended. The fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ: our bodies are not something to escape, but we are made in the image and likeness of God, and Christ is truly God, not just a mere man, not just a good moral teacher, an inspiration, but God. And through Christ God was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself ‘making peace by the blood of His Cross’. (Col 1:23). Let’s think about that for a moment.

Reconciliation is a big deal, restoring friendly relations where there has been strife and enmity, debts are paid, the account is balanced. The problem caused by human sin, first seen in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, has been dealt with, once, and for all. God wipes the slate clean, cancels the debt we owe, because He has paid it in the Blood of His only Son. Because of what God has done for us, the Church is to be a community of reconciliation, where wounds are healed, and our relationships are restored both with each other and with God. That’s quite something! It’s radically different to how we normally are as human beings. We’re wounded and scarred, we hold grudges, we’re afraid and angry. Instead God in Christ offers us healing, love, and forgiveness, so that we can experience true peace, how life is supposed to be lived, life in all its fulness. It’s not a pipe-dream, but rather a reality, here and now, if only we accept it. God’s love is offered to us, only we can reject it. Even if we do, God doesn’t stop offering it to us, such is His love for us. It’s astounding, that God could loves us that much. But as C.S. Lewis says, God does not love us ‘because we are lovable, but because He is love, not because He needs to receive but because He delights to give.’ Through Him, we may be transformed more and more into His image and likeness. This is the generosity of God: a gift freely given. That’s why we celebrate today the Supreme Kingship of God in Jesus Christ. Human kings reign because they have conquered in war. Our God reigns, because He gives himself to die for us. Christ turns human ideas of power on their head.

We see this in the account of the Crucifixion in St Luke’s Gospel. The sign on the Cross reads, ‘This is the King of the Jews’. It is meant to be a joke, it is meant to mock Him, like the purple robe, and the Crown of Thorns, but it is self-defeating. It proclaims Christ’s kingship. He is the King of the Jews, the Anointed King, of the line of David. The people there mock Him, and tell Him to save Himself, but they’ve got it all wrong: He is there to save humanity and not Himself. Then one of the thieves goes a bit further: You’re the Messiah, save yourself and save us too. The ‘good thief’ recognises what’s going on, and says to his colleague, ‘we’re being punished because we committed a crime, but this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. 

The thief’s recognition of who and what Christ is brings about his salvation. He saved others, himself he cannot save. It is isn’t that Christ cannot save Himself, but that He doesn’t want to. He wants to save others, because He is the Messiah, and He is God. God is saving his people. God saves, it’s what the Hebrew Yeshua means. Here on the Cross Jesus fulfils His life’s work, this is who and what He is. God saves His people by dying for them. This is real kingship, not robes, or power, but love, dying the death of a common criminal. It doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t supposed to. God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. It’s crazy and reckless in human terms, but it works. We can’t save ourselves, only God can do that, in an act of generous love, extravagant, exuberant, a gift we cannot repay. 

Christ’s kingship puts human kingship into context: the good ones are a reflection of Him, generous and loving, the bad ones are concerned with wealth and power. They may possess temporal power, they can put people to death, but as Christians we can laugh in their face, because first and foremost we serve a higher and a greater power, who will return to judge the world. As we come to the end of another liturgical year, and we prepare to celebrate Advent it is good to be reminded of the three comings of our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes as a baby in Bethlehem, He comes in the Eucharist, week by week, and day by day, and He will come again as our Judge. Christ our King was born for us, died for us, gives Himself for us in the Eucharist, so that we might become what He is, and He will come to be our Judge, as one who has paid our penalty, and restored us to God and each other, a God of love, a God of mercy and reconciliation. 

This is the God we worship, and whom we hail as our true King. Christ has conquered on the Cross, Christ reigns as King of the Universe, and Christ reigns in our hearts, and in our lives, so that all we are, and all we do may sing the praises 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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Trinity XXII

As Christians are we simply satisfied with the world, with the way things are? No. Do we want things to be different? I hope so, yes. That’s good, as the prophet Malachi in our first reading this morning has a vision of the future, when the arrogant and evil doers will be like stubble in a furnace, ‘But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.’ (Malachi 4:2). This is a vision of a future where God is in control, and things will be put right, and at one level He already has. Christ is risen from the dead, the one who heals God’s people has risen. The time is both not yet, and now, a work in progress, and a reality. 

We have a part to play in it. We cannot just sit back and wait for God to sort everything out, we need to co-operate with God, and help to make the Kingdom a reality. Hence S. Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians, ‘As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good’ (2Thess 3:13). We’ve been trying and failing for nearly two thousand years. That’s what a work in progress is. It isn’t easy, and no one can fail to notice that the world around us is often rather hostile to who we are, and what we stand for. It is not easy to be a Christian, nor has it ever been, for that matter. 

We will be hated by all people for Christ’s name’s sake (Lk 21:17). Hate is a strong word, but as we are directly opposed to many in this world, it is not surprising. With hatred comes persecution, and we only have to look to China, North Korea, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan, to see it. Christians are being killed for believing in God who loves us, who died to save from our sins. To follow Christ is to walk the way of the Cross, to risk imprisonment, torture and death, for the love of His name. But ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). Only Jesus can save us, we cannot save ourselves. We are called to bear witness to Him. 

Jews in the first century AD loved the Temple, it was the centre of their world, it was where they could be close to God, it was where sacrifices happened which took away their sins. But less than forty years after Jesus spoke this prophecy a Roman Army destroyed it. But as Christians we know that Jesus Christ is the new Temple, the place to meet God, the place of sacrifice. Destroy it in three days, and I will raise it up. Christ speaks of His body, and that is us: we are the Body of Christ. Churches are not buildings, they are groups of people who love Jesus, and each other. Jesus speaks of false Christs, who will lead people astray, and warns ‘ do not go after them’ (Lk 21:8). It is a temptation, especially when times are hard, when there are war and natural disasters. 

But we know that Our Lord Jesus Christ is victorious, he is the true worship of God. In Him we can have confidence. He gives us Himself, His Body and Blood, to nourish us and to heal us, and give us strength to prepare us for the trials we will face. Here in Britain it is more likely to be indifference than anything else. Indifference speaks of a hardness of heart, being deaf to the Good News of the Kingdom. At its root is Sin, our separation from God by our following our will, and not God’s. We think we know better, and do what we want to do, rather than letting God work through us. The human condition hasn’t actually changed since the Garden of Eden. We continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. There is, however, a way out of this. God in Christ deals with the problem of our sin on the Cross, where He offers himself as a sacrificial victim to atone for all the sins of humanity. It’s what Christ was born for, as the angel says to Joseph, ‘She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ (Mt 1:21) The name Jesus (Hebrew Yeshua) means ‘God saves’ and He does. This is what we believe as Christians, where we put our trust, our hope, in a God who loves us and saves us, the same God who inspired the prophecies of Malachi, which look forward to Christ. 

That same Christ who heals us and sustains us will be with us in our trials, and whereas our family and friends may prove false to us, we can have confidence that Christ will never let us down. He’s been through this. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit we are strengthened to bear witness to Him. For the same Christ who died for us, and rose again, who ascended into heaven, will come again to judge us and all the world. It sounds scary and intimidating, and at one level it is, and it should be. It matters; hence our urgency in proclaiming the Kingdom of God. But the one who will judge us, is the same one who died to set us free, the God who loves us, who heals us, and restores us. A God of love and mercy, risen with healing in his wings. Let us come to Him, be healed by Him, nourished with His Body and Blood and strengthened to proclaim Him in word and deed, so that the world may come to believe and sing the praises 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.Enrique_Simonet_-_Flevit_super_illam_-_1892-1.jpg

Remembrance 2019

We are gathered here on this special day to do a number of things together. First and foremost we give thanks for the safe deliverance of these islands from the World Wars of the previous century. These were wars on a scale never before seen. The first was supposed to be the ‘war to end all wars’, yet within twenty years a greater conflict began which brought even more death and suffering to millions across the world. Hardly a day has gone by in the past century when there has not been a conflict somewhere in our world. 

It is now one hundred years since we first marked the anniversary of the Armistice by stopping in silence for two minutes, and praying: in remembrance of all those who gave their lives for our country, and for all who suffer as a result of war. For one hundred years we have engaged in a public act of remembrance. 

In 1919 the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, commissioned a cenotaph (which means empty tomb) to stand in Whitehall, London, as a focus for an act of remembrance, when most of the war dead lay buried overseas. The original wood and plaster structure, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, was only intended to stand for one week, but it proved so popular that a permanent one was created in Portland Stone ready for the 1920 Armistice Day.

Since 1919, the Cenotaph has become the central focus for national commemoration especially during the National Service of Remembrance held on Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday nearest to 11th November. Its meaning has developed and the Cenotaph now memorialises those who have given their lives in all conflicts since the First World War.

Throughout the country, local memorials were erected to remember the dead of the First and then the Second World War. Like the Cenotaph in London, these became the focus for local Remembrance ceremonies and we keep this tradition here in Maenclochog today, starting our Remembrance Service outside at our Village War Memorial. 

Our act of remembrance is not simply to recall a past event, or to bring the dead to mind, but something more. By remembering today, the sacrifice of countless men and women, we continue to show our thanks for the peace and prosperity which we now enjoy. 

We give thanks for to all those who have served, and continue to serve this country, both at home and abroad, and for the continuing work of the Royal British Legion in supporting veterans and their families. As a country we have asked much of our sons and daughters, and we continue so to do. ‘Cariad mwy na hwn nid oes gan neb; sef, bod i un roi ei einioes dros ei gyfeillion.’ ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13). They died that we might live. 

Their sacrifice calls to mind another sacrifice, made on a hill outside Jerusalem, ‘ble bu farw ein Harglwydd Iesu Grist drosom ni’. We remember this sacrifice too, as Jesus died for us. It is the heart of the Christian Faith, and the greatest demonstration possible of the saving power of love.

Love is at the heart of remembrance. Our human love comes from God, the source of all love. This love has the power to heal wounds, to comfort grief and loss. One hundred years on from the end of the First World War, the world still needs healing. This is beyond our capabilities as human beings. We need God’s help. Our God loves us, and longs to heal our wounds. He gave His Son to die for us, on the Cross, a painful death at the hands of enemy soldiers. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. His tomb was empty, and just as with the empty Cenotaph in London we are reminded that death is not the end. The Christian belief in the Resurrection of the dead and the life to come gives us all hope.

On the first Remembrance Day, one hundred years ago, two minutes silence was introduced. At 11 o’clock, as well as remembering the fallen, we take time to pray for peace. There are two words for peace in Welsh, ‘heddwch’, and ‘tangnefedd’. The first, ‘heddwch’ means an end to hostilities, the Armistice ceasefire which we celebrate today. But ‘tangnefedd’, the other kind of peace, is something far deeper and richer. It is the peace of God, the shalom of the Hebrew Old Testament. This is the gift of God, a feeling of wholeness, which brings about healing. So when Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ ‘Gwyn eu byd y tangnefeddwyr: canys hwy a elwir yn blant i Dduw’ (Mt 5:9) He is envisaging something both radical and world-changing: something which heals, which forgives, and which loves. Today we commit ourselves to making peace a reality: here and now — in our community, in our families, in our relationships, in what we are, in what we say, and in what we do. We can never be too busy to do this. When we take the path of peace we honour the memory of those who gave their lives so that we might live. 

So let us therefore commit ourselves to help create the peace which Christ came to bring, for the glory of God, and the good of all human kind. Our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us another way to live — the way of love and gentleness. In memory of what Christ did here on earth, and continues to do, we can experience the peace of the Kingdom of God, where wounds are healed and divisions are reconciled. Today we give our thanks for those who sacrificed themselves for us, and we honour their memory by treasuring the peace won at so great a cost. 

Almighty God, hear our prayers and thanksgivings for all whom we remember this day. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

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Trinity XX

Last week the Gospel presented us with two people, a Pharisee and a tax-collector: one was a religious expert, a pillar of society, the other someone hated and despised. And yet, on the inside they were completely different – one was self-righteous, arrogant and full of himself, the other knew his need of God’s love and mercy. They show us what not to be and what we should be, and this week we see another one.

Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector; he is someone who was hated, who has got rich by over-charging people. He starts off just being curious – he wants to see what all the fuss is about, he wants to see Jesus. He can’t see over the crowds so he climbs up a sycamore tree. When Jesus sees him, he tells him to come down quickly as Our Lord has to stay at his house today. He hurries down and welcomes Jesus with joy, he’s glad to see Him, to welcome Jesus into his house.

The crowd are a bit miffed – they say, ‘Ooh … look at Him, what’s he going to that man’s house for?’ They just can’t see beyond outward appearances, they judge him – they just see a sinner, they don’t see someone who wants to see Jesus and love Him. The simple presence of Jesus has a transformative effect on Zacchaeus, he gives away half of his property to the poor and promises to repay those whom he has defrauded and to give them compensation. The Son of Man has come to seek out and save the lost – to show people that there is another way. This is the love of God in action – this is what happens on the Cross – God shows us the transforming power of His love, love shown to the un-loveable, so that they might become lovely.

It is an idea which can be found in scripture – this morning’s first reading shows us that God is loving and merciful, and that God’s love and mercy can have an effect on our lives, if we trust in Him, if we invite Him in, so that his transforming love can be at work in our lives, and ‘may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1Thess 1:11–12) It is through God’s grace, an undeserved gift, that people like Zacchaeus can be transformed, transformed by God and for God, and what was true for him is true for us, here, today.

That is why, as Christians, we pray, why we come to Mass each and every week to be fed by word and sacrament, so that God’s grace and transforming love may be at work in us, transforming our nature, making us more like Him. Everything that we say or think or do in our lives needs to be an outworking of our faith, so that our exterior life and our interior life are in harmony with each other – so that our lives, like St Paul’s, may proclaim the Gospel. This is what we are called to, and how we are to live. Unless we start from the point where we know our need of God and rely upon him, where we too make that space where God can be at work in us, in our souls and our lives, we are doomed.

Is this the kind of life we really want to lead? Is this really the path of human flourishing? Or are we called to something better, something greater, something more lovely? So let us put our trust in the God who loves us and who saves us, let us know our need of him and his transforming grace to fill our lives and transform all of his creation so that the world  may believe and be transformed 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.

Trinity XIX

It is hard to find something as universally loathed as paying taxes. We just don’t like doing it. We know we have to pay them, but we would prefer not to do so. At its root, celebrations of the Harvest have their roots in taxation. They were a way to thank God for the good things of creation, but also to thank the tribe of Levi which had no ancestral land, as their inheritance was the Lord their God. 

That’s all well and good, we should be grateful to God, and we should demonstrate it openly. Saying, ‘thank you’ to God is important, just like saying, ‘please’, ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you’. We communicate with God because we have a relationship with Him. We recognise that everything comes from Him as gift, and so we hope that our service is pleasing to the Lord, we don’t earn our justification through our works, but we are grateful.

This morning’s Gospel presents us with two very different figures: a Pharisee, a member of a religious élite and a tax-collector, one of the most loathed people in the Roman World. He was a traitor who had sold out, he had bought the right to collect taxes on behalf of the occupying power, the Romans. He would recoup the cost by charging a premium, on top of the taxes. He extorted his costs from people who had no choice but to pay him, and that’s how life was. No one likes to pay taxes, but when you know that the tax-collector is charging you more than you should be paying, you despise him even more. It isn’t fair, but the rights to collect taxes were auctioned off to the highest bidder, who was expected to recoup their costs. 

The Pharisee is a member of the religious élite, a student of the law, the power behind the synagogues, someone who keeps the Letter of the Law. Jesus himself was much more like a Pharisee than a tax collector. Jesus was educated and articulate about the scriptures. He, too, added his own oral interpretation to the laws that were written. The apostle Paul was a Pharisee. Are we Pharisees? What does Jesus want us to see of ourselves in this parable? If we return to the text, we’ll see that Luke tells us that Jesus directed this parable at ‘some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others’. I’m ok. I’m a fine upstanding member of the community. I’m not like this or that person who has done something wrong. Each an every one of us does this. We want to find someone to look down on, to say I’m better than them. Well, here’s a home truth, WE ARE NOT! Because in God’s eyes, we are all sinners, we all fall short, and it doesn’t matter by how much. 

So, this story, though it may at first seem straight-forward, quickly raises many questions. The text obviously indicates that the behaviour of the tax collector is preferred over the behaviour of the Pharisee. That much is clear. But the question is: why? Why, exactly, is the one right and the other wrong? Is this a story about prayer and how we should pray? Is the Pharisee wrong in thanking God for what he considers the blessings in his life? Is he wrong to be glad that he is not a thief or an adulterer? Often when we characterize this story, we think of the Pharisee as standing in the centre of the room, trying to draw attention to himself, praying loudly. Based on those assumptions, we criticize the Pharisee for his showiness, his pride, his big ego. But the text only shows that he was standing by himself, praying, and that the tax collector was standing far off, praying as well. What is it that is misguided in the Pharisee? What is it that the tax collector has struck on? 

Nothing that the Pharisee says or does is in itself wrong. But where he goes off-course is in thinking that his list of righteous acts will earn him God’s favour. But he is wrong in two important ways: First, he is wrong because he acts as if without his list of good deeds he is not good enough to receive God’s grace. And secondly, he is wrong because he acts as if he is so great as to by his own actions make himself worthy of God’s grace. This Pharisee seems to get the picture wrong from both angles. And I think we might be able relate to this. We often feel like we don’t really deserve or aren’t truly worthy of God’s love, as though we need to earn it. On the other hand, our actions, and our attitudes about our actions sometimes suggest that we become too full of pride about how good we are, or at least about how much better we’re doing than some others of whom we know! We begin to act as though we just have to do enough good things and we’ll be fine, as if we have a quota of righteous acts to fulfil before God will be forced to let us in on the grace deal.

In truth, it’s the tax collector, standing far off, beating his breast, who’s got it right. He cries, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This is enough — not too little: this tax collector admits his sin and his need for God. And not too much: this man doesn’t make any claims about himself, try to puff himself up, try to act as though he could possibly manage without God. 

Can we do the same? We forget that none of us are worthy of God’s grace — as the letter to the Romans tells us, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ But we also forget that none of us are excluded from God’s grace, unworthy though we are. And that means for the Pharisee and the tax collector, that our good deeds, and our ever-present sinful behaviour — neither of these privilege us or exclude us — or privilege or exclude our neighbours — from God’s grace. God asks us to live faithfully — not as a test to see if we deserve grace, but as a path of discipleship that will give us deeper satisfaction in our relationship with God.

The Eucharist, Christ’s gift of Himself to us, is not a reward which we earn, bur neither is it to be treated lightly, ignored, or downplayed. It is the most precious thing which we have. Far more precious than the silver or gold that we use to contain it. Because it is Jesus Christ, who gives Himself to us, so that He can transform us, so that we can grow together in love, more and more into His image and likeness. Christ comes to preach the Good News of the Kingdom, to call people to repent, to turn away from their sins. He heals the sick, the blind, the lame. He raises the dead to life. This is God’s love for us. What can we give God? Our love and our thanks. Have mercy upon us sinners, and help us to live faithfully so that we might 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.

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Trinity 18

What’s the point of it all? It’s a question people ask, and thankfully the church has an answer. Humanity exists to love God and serve him in this life, and to enjoy Him in the next. We are made for worship. Nothing else matters: work, family, friends. They’re not bad in themselves, but compared to our relationship with God, they are secondary. Worshipping God is a way of saying that God is the most important thing in our lives. We love God more than our family, our friends, even ourselves. It’s radical and counter-cultural, because it says that our immortal soul matters more than wealth, or power, or prestige. What we are doing is the most important thing we can ever do. It’s what we are made for. To worship God.

In the first reading this morning from Exodus we see what prayer can achieve. Our life is a battle, just like that fought between Israel and the Amalekites. And we can conquer in spiritual matters by keeping our arms raised in prayer, and helping others by supporting them. The church is a community where we help each other, where we bear each other’s burdens. We pray for ourselves and others, and we are prayed for, so that all around the world, every moment of every day, we are surrounded and upheld by Christians praying for us, not to change God’s mind, but to change us.

It is something which Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy shows us is something we need to learn, to believe, and to continue doing. Prayer isn’t grand, it’s a bit of a slog, it takes a lifetime. It has to be taught, it is what preaching is for. Teaching the faith, and telling people who Jesus is (the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary) and what He does (preaches repentance, the forgiveness of sins, dies on the Cross, and rises again). It is easy to pervert this into a message which makes few demands upon us, that says, “yes, you’re all fine, you don’t need to do anything”. Christianity makes demands of us. We have to do certain things, which we might prefer not to do, and not do things we might rather like to do. We all need to reminded about this regularly, to help us stay on track. This also helps us to pray well together. 

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus teaches us ‘to pray and not lose heart’ (Lk 18:1) It is important advice. Especially when times are difficult. He teaches us with a parable. There is an unjust judge. He’s corrupt, and he’s fed up, so he gives in, for a quiet life, with the result that the widow receives what is right. God can indeed use many things The point is that the widow is persistent: she keeps on, so that he has to listen to her in the end. So likewise Christian prayer should be unceasing. The widow’s prayers turn wickedness and injustice into mercy and justice. Likewise our prayers do not change God, but instead they change us. That’s the point of prayer not to change God’s mind, but to change us, into what God wants us to be. Persistent prayer can, and will change us. It is how saints are made: through prayer. It takes WORK, but it is wonderful, and worth it. 

The parable reminds us that God hears prayer. He may not always answer it in a way we might like. Sometimes God says no, or not yet, which we might not want to hear. It teaches us patience and wisdom, and even if we suffer, we grow through it. Our growth in holiness can be painful and difficult. In the first reading from Exodus, Moses is clearly tired, he has to be held up by Aaron and Hur. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he is not advising something popular, but something unpopular, that people will not want to hear. 

The Gospel ends with the question (v. 8): ‘Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ It’s an important question. If we look at statistics, then people in this country are becoming less religious. Fewer people have faith. There are many reasons for this, and this is not the place to explore them. Solutions are likewise not simple, or straightforward. We can do many things, but we need to make sure that our own faith is strong and attractive, and be prepared to bear witness to it, regardless of the cost. Our faith can only be attractive when it is REAL. This is what will encourage people to follow our example, and come to know and love Jesus Christ. Only in this way can real living faith be transferred so then when Christ comes, as He surely will, He will find faith on earth. So let us trust Christ, knowing that His promises are true, that He feeds us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist to give us life in Him. Let us love the one who loves us, who gave His life for us, to take away our sins, to heal us and restore us. And healed and restored by Him, let us bear witness to Him, so that the world 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.

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A thought from S. Teresa of Avila

Beware, daughters, of a certain kind of humility suggested by the devil which is accompanied by great anxiety about the gravity of our sins.

He disturbs souls in many ways by this means, until at last he stops them from receiving Holy Communion and from private prayer by doubts as to whether they are in a fit state for it, and such thoughts as: ‘Am I worthy of it? Am I in a good disposition?I am unfit to live in a religious community. ‘

Thus Christians are hindered from prayer, and when they communicate, the time during which they ought to be obtaining graces is spent in wondering whether they are well prepared or no.

Everything such a person says seems to her on the verge of evil, and all her actions appear fruitless, however good they are in themselves. She becomes discouraged and unable to do any good, for what is right in others she fancies is wrong in herself.

When you are in this state, turn your mind so far as you can from your misery and fix it on the mercy of God, his love for us, and all that He suffered for our sake.

The Way of Perfection 39:1, 3

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Homily for Trinity XVII

It can be very easy to look around the church and find bickering and quarrelling. People argue, they argue about words, and what they mean. It is an easy thing to do, and especially in matters of faith, where emotion runs deep. It matters. But it isn’t just a modern problem. It runs through the history of the church, and goes right back to our epistle this morning. From the earliest days of the church people have argued, and we need to be mindful of Paul’s words to Timothy: ‘Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers’ (IITim2:14). Paul writes these words from a prison cell. He is about to be tried for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. He encourages Timothy to be steadfast in the face of persecution, to endure. What really matters is ‘rightly handling the word of truth’ (v.15) not selling people short, or telling them that everything is going to be ok, and you don’t have to do anything. It isn’t. To be a Christian is to face persecution, especially from those who twist Scripture to suit their own ends, not to warn people where they are going wrong, but instead to lull them into a false sense of security, which leads to destruction. 

So what do we do? Firstly we don’t panic. All is not lost. To follow Christ is to risk being uncomfortable. It is to be in places where one would rather not be, but to trust God, and to live generously. In our first reading this morning from the Second Book of Kings we see Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army. He has been afflicted with leprosy, and he hears that there is a prophet in Samaria who can cure him. He writes to the King of Israel, to ask for the prophet to heal him. The King of Israel thinks that it is a trick, an excuse for the Syrians to start a war against Israel. The prophet Elisha reassures the king, and asks for Naaman to be sent to him. Elisha tells Naaman to wash seven times in the River Jordan. Naaman can’t believe his ears. He’s angry. This isn’t what healing is all about, it is far too simple, too easy. The point isn’t about having to do something difficult, but letting God do something wonderful. But eventually Naaman listens, and is obedient, and is healed. He goes back to Elisha to say that ‘Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel’(v.17) Naaman is grateful, and comes to believe in God. The mention of washing in the Jordan reminds us of Baptism, how we were washed clean from sin, and given new life in Christ Jesus, sharing His Death and Resurrection, a sign of God’s generous love towards us. 

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus is in border country. He’s somewhere uncomfortable, heading towards Jerusalem, towards His Passion and Death. Ten lepers see Him, and cry, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to a priest, to prove that they are now clean, no longer outcasts. Jesus complies with the law of Moses in Leviticus. The law commands them to sacrifice in order to be healed. Christ heals them, so that God might be glorified.

One of them returns to say, ‘Thank you’. The leper thanks God, and falls at Jesus’ feet. He shows gratitude. We wouldn’t want to live in a world where no-one said, ‘Thank you’. It would be rude. People would be selfish. They would expect things. Thanksgiving is the heart of prayer, it’s why we celebrate Harvest in Autumn. We thank each other, but most importantly we thank God for what He has done for us. Thanksgiving goes hand in hand with faith, what we believe, where we put our trust. 

As Christians we thank God for many things, but first and foremost for what He has done in His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us. It’s why we celebrate the Eucharist, because Jesus told us to, and so that we might be fed with His Body and Blood. Not because we have earned it, not because we deserve it, but so that we, like the lepers in Gospel, might be healed by Jesus. It is medicine for our sick souls, not a gold star or a prize for the righteous. Christ gives himself for us not because we are worthy, but so that we might BECOME worthy through Him. Salvation is God’s work not ours, as Naaman and the lepers show us. God in Christ saves us and heals us. He dies for us, and rises again so that we might share His Risen life. This is true generosity. And we can receive God’s healing love here and now. We can prepare to be transformed into His likeness, by His body and Blood, which cures not only lepers, but our sin-sick souls. So let us be thankful to God, for all that he has done for us, giving us His Son, to bring about healing, to show mercy, to strengthen our faith. And may we follow Christ, and walk His Way of the Cross, enduring whatever sufferings come our way, with the assurance of faith. May we know that Christ will never abandon us. His words are true. His promise is faithful: ‘if we endure, we will also reign with Him …. if we are faithless, He remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself’ (IITim 2: 12-13) Let us follow where Christ has gone before, confident in His promises, nourished with His Body and Blood, from the shadows and images of this world, into the light of His Truth, who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. Let us proclaim that truth to the world so that it 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.

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Homily for Trinity XVI

Being a Christian can be hard and difficult at times. It can be very easy to feel as though we are experiencing something of the vision of the prophet Habakkuk in this morning’s first reading. The best advice comes from St Augustine, who said the following words to his people over sixteen hundred years ago: ‘“You all say, ‘The times are troubled, the times are hard, the times are wretched.’ Live good lives and you will change the times. By living good lives you will change the times and have nothing to grumble about.”’ (Sermo 311.8). It can be easy to see bad things happening, but not realise is ours to be the change we want to see. For ‘the righteous shall live by his faith’ (Hab 2:4). If we want to live in a word filled with love, kindness and generosity, then it is up to us to do something about it. 

In Luke’s Gospel this morning the apostles ask for the Lord to increase their faith. He does this firstly after His Resurrection, and secondly with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Likewise our growth in faith is a gradual process: it takes time, a lifetime in fact. It happens by the grace of God. We may long for something instant, but God’s ways are not our ways. Faith is like a mustard seed, it starts small, but in time can grow into something large. How does it happen? The parable which Jesus tells gives us the answer: through service. Not the most glamorous of answers, certainly, and that’s the point. All we can say is, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ (Lk 17:10). We are not worthy: God makes us worthy, through His Son, who dies for us and fils us with His love. The work of the Gospel is at one level up to us, the Body of Christ, His Church. We have to live our faith out in our lives (as fine words butter no parsnips). Christianity is a way of life, a way mocked and scorned by the world around us, written off as irrelevant, and yet close to the God who loves us and saves us.

We should not be afraid as God has given us ‘a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.’ (2Tim1: 7) Self-control is not exactly the most glamorous of things, but it is crucial if we want to grow in faith. Through it we grow in virtue by the grace of God. It goes hand in hand with the service envisaged by the Gospel passage this morning. We imitate the example of the saints, we ‘follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.’ (2Tim 1:13-14) By imitation of virtuous examples our characters are formed. We become what we imitate, and most of all we imitate Christ, who gave himself for us, and who comes to us this morning under the outward forms of bread and wine to feed us with Himself, so that we might become what He is. So that we might be transformed, more and more into His likeness, to live out our faith in the world, and share our faith with others so that they might come to believe and 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.

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Homily for Trinity XV

At its very heart the Christian Faith is all about generosity: God’s generosity towards us, and our generous response in return. It is shown most fully in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We know this, it is our faith, but it should also lead us to action. We are called to be generous in return, generous towards others, and ourselves. Our response shows that we are living out our faith, that we haven’t simply accepted the tenets of our faith, but are putting them into action, to transform the world. 

Our readings this morning begin with a troubling word from the prophet Amos. The prophet warns those who are comfortable, those who feel secure, and he is speaking to us. Should we be worried? Yes we should, because we should be learning to be generous, sharing what we have, because it is the right and proper thing to do, it is how we flourish. Today is amongst other things the Word Day of Migrants and Refugees, which the Church has celebrated for over a hundred years. In a world like ours, where people are marginalised, persecuted, forced to flee, who long to live in peace and prosperity, how do we react? Do we want to build walls and set up borders to keep people out? They’re not like us! They don’t belong here! We don’t like them! Or do we want to do something else? To welcome people in, and share what we have with them? So that the world may reflect the values of the Kingdom of God. The choice is a clear one.

This morning’s Gospel presents us with a stark contrast. Our Lord is speaking to the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders, people who are sure of their position in society. There is a beggar, Lazarus, a man who has nothing, a man who is hungry and who longs to eat the scraps from the rich man’s table. He has sores, which make him unclean in Jewish eyes. He is licked by dogs, which were seen as unclean, so he’s lying there destitute, shown love only by dogs, and not by humans. He’s the lowest of the low. And yet, when he dies, he is taken to heaven. The rich man by contrast dies and goes to Hell where he endures its torments. Why? Because the rich man could have been generous, but instead he was selfish. He could have look after Lazarus, but he did nothing. It’s doubtful that his five brothers would take any notice of Lazarus, even if raised from the dead. They don’t listen to the Law and the Prophets which command them to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 9:18), ‘He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8). Faith then is something which needs to be put into action, we show our love by loving, caring, and sharing.

It is exactly what St Paul advises Timothy in this morning’s second reading: ‘As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.’ (1Tim 6:17-19) The point of wealth is to be generous with it. If we’re honest with ourselves, don’t we long for a world like this? A world where peace, love, and generosity are lived out in a real way, to make the world better, the kind of world God wants, so that we may flourish as human beings. 

It isn’t that simple, because human beings are sinful and selfish. We’re not always generous, but we do not have to be this way. So at a time when we give thanks to God for all the good things of creation which have been harvested, and especially when we are mindful of migrants and refugees, we have to ask ourselves the question: Can we be generous? If we cannot then all we have to look forward to in the future are the eternal torments of Hell. It’s a stark uncompromising message, and a simple choice. It’s the truth of our faith. It doesn’t make us feel warm and cosy. That’s cheap grace. The idea that God doesn’t demand anything more from us than a vague superficial niceness. It will not do! The church cannot stand idly by while people consign their souls to hell because they cannot be bothered. 

We are generous because God was generous first. He gives His only Son to be born for us, and to die on the Cross for us. God is tortured and suffers for us, to bear the burden of our sins. To take what should condemn us to Hell upon Himself, to save us from it. It’s why we are here this morning to celebrate the Eucharist, the sign of God’s generosity to the world made real to us under the forms of bread and wine. We touch and taste God’s generous love for us, to that it may transform us, strengthening us to live the life of the Kingdom of God here and now. 

We are fed and sent out to live lives of radical generosity where we care for people, where we look after the migrants and refugees, welcoming them into our communities, as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We belong to each other, and are called to live lives of love in community. It sounds idealistic, and so it should. It reminds us that we are called to be generous, even to the point of being reckless, sitting lightly to the things of this world, and holding no store by wealth, or position, or influence, but instead giving it away, sharing it with others. If we cannot serve God and money, then as Christians we are to serve God. We serve him by being generous, and looking after those on the margins, practising the same generosity which God poured out on us, shedding His Blood to take away our sins. Let us transform the world so that it may turn away from the ways of greed and selfishness and put its trust in the true riches of the Kingdom. 

It is this generous God who comes to us today in Word and Sacrament, to heal us and restore us, to give us life in him. He entrusts to us the true riches of the Kingdom so that we may share them recklessly, generously with the world so that it may believe and sing the praises 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.

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Homily for Trinity XIII

It’s very easy to be judgemental, and to write people off when they do something wrong, or something with which we do not agree. It is particularly easy when emotions run high, and we feel rather than think. Emotion clouds our judgement, and we give way to anger. This is never a good thing to do. 

In our first reading this morning from the Book of Exodus we hear that the people of Israel have fashioned for themselves a golden calf, an idol, a false God, whom they worship. They are a stiff-necked people: stubborn and obstinate, who will not listen to God, or do what leads to their flourishing. They deserve to be destroyed, and yet Moses prays for them to God, to be merciful, and to remember His covenant with His people. In this we see God’s grace and loving-kindness at work. It reminds us that false gods are not a good thing, and if we follow them, then we are not following God, honouring Him, or living in a way which will lead to our flourishing. 

In our second reading from St Paul’s First Letter to Timothy we see that Paul has gone from being a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent opponent, to something else. He has become a champion for the Christian Faith, that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief’. His words are ours too. Like Paul we have received God’s mercy. We don’t deserve it, just as the Israelites didn’t. That’s the point, we don’t earn forgiveness, God in his love and mercy forgives us, so that we might become something other than we are. This is the wonderful truth at the heart of the Gospel.

It is something which the scribes and pharisees in the Gospel cannot understand. Our Lord hangs around with tax collectors and sinners. These are people who collect taxes for the Romans. They were corrupt, because they had to bribe officials to get the job, and were expected to skim some extra off the top to settle their debts, and provide for themselves. Jesus goes out of His way to spend time with people who were despised, collaborators with a foreign power. The religious authorities, by contrast, are judgemental and superior. Jesus eats with people who are beyond the pale, defying social conventions, and looking beyond them to see people who need God’s love and mercy.

To illustrate His point Christ tells two parables. In the first, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, a man leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go after one which was lost. The point is that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. The scribes and pharisees think that they are righteous, but are not. The sinners and tax-collectors know that they are not righteous, but by being close to Jesus, in their humility, repentance is possible. It’s a key to the Christian life, turning away from sin, and turning back to God. It is less of an event and more of a process, something which we keep doing, throughout our lives. It’s easy to fall back into sin, but God does not abandon us. He keeps going after the lost sheep. This is good news: we are not written off. But we have to keep our end up. We have to believe in God, and trust Him, and repent, turn away from our sin, and turn back to God. 

The scribes and the pharisees think that everything is alright between themselves and God. They keep the letter of the Law, but are far away from its spirit. The sinners and tax-collectors know that things aren’t right, which is why they are drawn to Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t wait for them to change before deeming them worthy of Him, instead he receives them and eats with them. God in Christ comes alongside us, seeking the lost, because God LOVES us. As St Paul says, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’. To save us from sin, to save us from something which we could not save ourselves from. 

How does He do this? On the Cross, where Christ demonstrates God’s love for us, dying the death of a common criminal. It shouldn’t make sense. It is scandalous. But such are the lengths God will go to for love of us. Through God’s love we are reconciled and forgiven. As a sign of this Christ comes to eat with us here, this morning. He gives himself, His Body and Blood for us, and He feeds us with them, so that we might have life in Him. We can touch and taste the reality of God’s love. 

It’s an excuse for a party, as Christ says in the Gospel, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost’. God is not like the grumbling scribes and pharisees, being judgemental. He rejoices to welcome sinners back into the fold. He is merciful, and we have received that mercy. So let us rejoice that God has sought us out, and brought us back and restored us. As we celebrate the feast of the Kingdom of God, here today, may we be encouraged, and filled with God’s love and mercy, so that He may transform our lives. Strengthened by His Body and Blood may we live lives of faith and encourage others to do so, so that all people may give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. AMEN.

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Homily for Trinity XII

At one level things could not be simpler: we have a choice between life and prosperity or death and adversity. It all depends on whether we love God, obey His commandments and walk in His ways, or go after false gods and die. This morning’s first reading from Deuteronomy presents us with the choice at the heart of the moral life. Do we walk in the way which leads to human flourishing or not? In the short term it is more challenging, but the pay off in the long term is clearly worth it. There is also the simple fact that it is the right thing to do. It may seem a little old fashioned, but as Christians we do things because they are right, not because they are easy. Also we do them TOGETHER. Our religion is a corporate matter, and not just an individual choice. 

What we do and how we live affects other people, and this is nowhere more apparent than in this morning’s reading from Paul’s Letter to Philemon. The Apostle is writing to a fellow Christian, sending back to him his slave, Onesimus. The letter encourages Philemon to be generous and loving and to treat Onesimus not like a slave, but like a beloved brother. There is at the heart of the Christian Faith a radical equality. We are all the same, you and I, and all human distinctions of class, wealth, or status disappear, because we are all one in Christ. It’s a radical, counter-cultural message, the same nowadays as it was two thousand years ago. It encourages us to live differently, not conformed to the ways of the world, but living in the love and freedom of the Gospel, which while it looks like slavery is in fact the most liberating way to live.

The Christian faith can appear paradoxical. We are called to love our enemies, but also to hate our parents, our family, our nearest and dearest. It seems strange, and it is. Our Lord uses strong and disturbing language to shock us, and remind us that in Him we are called to a new relationship which takes us away from traditional social structures, so that we can see everyone in the Church as our brother and sister, and that our primary responsibility is to love Christ, and follow Him, imitating Him, and taking up our own Cross. 

While our mother gives us life, it is holy mother Church who, through Christ gives us eternal life, and feeds us not with earthly food, but heavenly food, food which lasts for ever, food which strengthens us to live the life of faith: the Eucharist. 

It is why we gather week by week, to hear God’s word read and explained, to pray together, and to be nourished together. We do this so that we may grow together in love, and also so that we might embrace the Cross, having died with Christ in our baptism, and being raised to new life with Him, we live out our faith in our lives. Our discipleship is costly and difficult, it calls us to renounce the world and rely upon God, together, as a community of faith. A new community where old ties and distinctions are done away with, where we have a new identity, and are called to a higher purpose. 

It’s difficult, and for two thousand years the Church has been trying to do it, and failing. But ours is a God who forgives sins and failings, who understands humanity from the inside, we are not written off, or cast aside. We are not abandoned or discarded, because we are all made in God’s image, people of infinite intrinsic value. Christ died for us, to give us eternal life, to heal our wounds. He calls us to follow Him, so that we may find His freedom, and share in His triumph over death and sin. 

We are called to something great and wonderful, to stand, like Christ as a contradiction, offering the world a new way to live, a way of life not of death. A way of generosity and not of selfishness, renouncing the world to embrace the freedom, joy, and life of the Kingdom of God. 

It is truly liberating to look at the world and say that it doesn’t really matter. All that really does is loving God, and loving our neighbour. It can be difficult, especially when times are uncertain, but we know that we can trust the God who loves us, who gives His life for us, who comes to us to feed us with Himself. So let us come and follow him and invite others to do so, so that all may sing the praises 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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Homily for Trinity XI

In the Ancient World where you sat at a meal mattered an awful lot. The closer you were to the host, the more important you were. The further away, the less important you were. We’re not really used to eating like this, other than at wedding breakfasts: the top table is reserved for the bride and groom, their family, and important guests. Nowadays a seating plan gets round the problem envisaged by Jesus in the start of this morning’s Gospel reading, but the Pharisees were not like this at all. Quite the opposite in fact! They loved rigid hierarchy, they love human honour, and are watching Jesus closely in case He transgresses any social norms. Rather Christ will show them what God has to say about who sits where, and who is invited.

The situation envisaged in the Gospel would be highly embarrassing, in a culture motivated by honour and shame. The last thing you want to do is to lose face, by being asked to move. Instead, by taking the lowest place you make it possible to honoured and loved. The key then is HUMILITY: not thinking less of yourself, but thinking less of yourself and more about others, and putting them first. It’s a case of not saying, ‘It’s all about me!’ which is an example of pride, that greatest of human sin, where we put ourselves at the centre of things, and take a place which belongs to God. Instead we need to learn to trust God, and to let Him be at work in us. We need to recognise our need of God, and our utter dependance upon Him. 

In our first reading this morning we hear what happens to the proud: dreadful terrible things. God prefers the lowly: ‘The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly in their place. The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place.’ (Ecclus 10:14-15) We hear this in the song of Hannah in Exodus and in the Magnificat, where Mary is the great model of humility and trust in God. Human power is often exercised in a way which does not correspond with the will of God. In the world around us and throughout human history we can see this. Power is fleeting, whereas the justice envisaged is wholesome and long-lasting.

In the Letter to the Hebrews we hear advice on how Christians should live: in love, love of each other, and God. It is a life of generosity, hospitality to all, care for those less fortunate than ourselves, respectful  of the moral order. It’s how God wants us to live, and it leads to human flourishing. Our response to God who sacrificed His Son upon the Cross for us is a sacrifice of praise through how we live our lives, what we say and do.

So, to return to the Gospel, Christ has an important and strong message for His host. We see Our Lord advising people not to be generous and seek a reward. Human Society is complex. The giving and receiving of gifts is a crucial part of how society works. It creates networks of obligation: if you give me something, I am obliged to return the favour. That is fine in human terms, but when we transfer it to the divine realm we are faced with a problem. What can we give God? Does God need or want anything? No! Because God is by nature, perfect, complete, and self-sufficient, God cannot want anything, or need anything. As a result of this God is able to give the purest form of gift, which does not require anything in return. There can be no obligation, because humanity cannot give God anything. God is able give without expecting anything in return. This is what happens in the Incarnation when Our Lord is given to us, and throughout His life and ministry, to His Passion, Death, and Resurrection all He is and does is for us. All is for our benefit. God is generous to us, not so that we can be generous in return, but simply for our good. Likewise our sacrifice of praise is not for God’s benefit, but ours in that we are living the way we should, flourishing, loving and generous. 

Instead of normal human interaction and obligation, Christ presents us with a completely different paradigm. The dinner invitations in the Kingdom are for the ‘poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind’ (Lk 14:13) That’s us! Because God longs to lavish His riches upon us, heal our wounds, and restore our sight. In our care for those who are weak, outcast, or socially undesirable we, in our actions, proclaim the Kingdom of God. We call them to the banquet here and now, that their souls may be nourished with Word and Sacrament. The Eucharist is the banquet of the Kingdom, which heals us, and transforms us, more and more into God’s likeness.

God gives Himself, so the we might live in Him. This is true generosity, generosity which expects nothing in return. All that we are or do is for our good, and the good of humanity, that it may flourish in the Kingdom, living lives of love. Christ is the model of humility and loving service that we should imitate. Christ takes the lowest place, bearing the weight of our sin, on the Cross. There He dies that we might live. There He dies to make us free. May we, in humility, recognise our need of God, and respond to His invitation to the banquet, that He may heal us, restore us and strengthen us to live lives of humility and love, and encourage others to, so that all may sing the praises 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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Twenty first Sunday of Year C

There are times when Jesus’ words in the Gospel make us feel uncomfortable and uneasy. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our faith should challenge us. Challenge us to follow Christ. Challenge us to live out our faith in our lives. This isn’t easy. Quite the opposite. It is hard work, but then anything worthwhile usually is. It takes effort. And yet the effort on our part is as nothing compared to that of God, who sent His Son to be born for us, and to show us how to live. Jesus demonstrates the Love of God in action, to show us how to live lives of radical generosity.

The prophet Isaiah has a vision of a future which sees a God who knows us and loves us. He gathers the people of the world together, so that they may see God’s glory. As Christians, we believe that this points forward to Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh, the true demonstration of God’s glory in the world. He will show that glory most fully on the Cross, when He suffers and dies for humanity, to take away our sin. This is the sign God sets among us, so that the Church may declare God’s glory among the nations. 

Declaring God’s glory is the prophetic aspect of the church — sharing the Good News. With it comes a commitment to holiness of life, so that our words and actions are in tune with each other. We cannot succeed in this by our own strength or efforts. Instead we must rely upon God’s grace. We should humbly acknowledge our need for God. Only God can transform us. Only God can forgive our sins, our failures and shortcomings. Through grace God can transform us, more and more into His likeness. 

This recognition of our limitations and failings opens up a space where God can be at work in our lives, transforming us to live the Divine life of Love. This is the narrow door of this morning’s gospel: narrow because if we have a sense of our own self-importance or our worth which is too large then we cannot enter –- our sense of who and what we are gets in the way. It’s not enough to have eaten and drunk in God’s presence, to have been around when he taught in our streets.–It is a question of engagement. We are challenged to ask ourselves, ‘Am I a bystander or have I been fed by God? By the grace of the sacrament am I living out the love of God in my life? Have I been there when the Gospel has been taught? Have I both listened to it and lived it out in my life?’

These are not simple things to do. It is easier to coast along and take the easy options. That is why we meet together to encourage and support each other. That’s after all what the Church is for. We are a collection of sinners trying to live in response to the love of God which has been poured out on each of us. It is something which we need to do together — loving each other, loving our enemies, living out forgiveness as we have been forgiven and loved by God. This is a radically different way of life to that which the world encourages us to practise. It can be really difficult, and we will fail at it, but that’s alright! The point is not that we fail and give up, but that we keep trying, loving and forgiving, together, and become built up as the body of Christ, humble enough to let God be at work in us. He, by His Grace will transform our nature and make us the people of God, able to live out His out his love in our communities.

We have come here today to be fed by Word and Sacrament, to be nourished by God, and with God. In order to ‘recline at table’ as the Gospel puts it, we need to have false ideas of who and what we are stripped away. We need to recognise our dependence upon God, and each other, to help us to live out our faith –- to grow in holiness together as the people of God, loved, healed, and restored by Him. This is the only way that we can transform the world that it reflects more fully the great glory of God. The Gospel really is this radical, it’s not nice, or comfortable, it’s challenging and difficult, and utterly wonderful. It is Good News which releases people from the slavery of this world and all its false ideas, to live in the freedom and love of God.

We just have to look to Jesus and to His Cross to see God’s love for us. What is shameful in the eyes of the world, we can see as glorious — true love which gives regardless of the cost,, which heals and restores broken sinful humanity, which gives us the hope of new life in heaven. This is grace, the free gift of God, who shared our humanity so that we might share His divinity, and be strengthened by Word and Sacrament to live out our faith.

Living out our faith will be hard: the world will mock us and our feeble attempts to follow God. Yet, we believe in a God who loves us, and who would never belittle our feeble efforts to follow Him. So may the fire of God’s love be kindled in our hearts and lives, that we may be ablaze for Him, aflame with love for God and neighbour, love our enemies and our friends, and lets us change the world, not just this village, or this county, but all of God’s creation, all of humanity, that they may know God’s love and that it may rule in their hearts and lives.

So let us hasten to enter through the narrow gate, so that God may continue to transform our human nature, that His saving love and power may be at work in our hearts and our lives, so that we may be transformed with all the world, so that it may believe and 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. 

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Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Fire is a powerful thing. It gives us heat and light. It cooks our food. When fire is controlled is a source of great joy. But when it is unchecked it is destructive and deadly. 

In the Church we are most used to the imagery of fire at Pentecost, when flames appear on the heads of the disciples as they are filled with the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit is given to us, in our Baptism, at ourConfirmation, and in the Sacraments of the Church. It is in the Spirit that we are be built up, and made holy, so that the image of God may be restored in us. It inspires us, and equips us to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

In our first reading this morning from the prophet Jeremiah we hear the continuation of the argument against false shepherds and prophets who have been leading Israel astray. God reminds us that He is near, and has not abandoned us, even though falsehood is uttered in His Name. Thanks to the faithfulness of men like Jeremiah the truth will out in the end. As He says, ‘let him who has my word speak it faithfully’ (Jer 23:28 ESV). The faithful proclamation of the Word of God, first in Israel, and now in the Church, is truly Good News. ‘Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord’ (Jer 23:29 ESV). As Christians we follow the Word made flesh, who sends the Holy Spirit, which came like fire, so that we might be united with the God who loves us and saves us. 

In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, which continues where last week’s reading finished, we hear more of salvation history. The Exodus, and Israel’s entry into the Promised Land, are presented as examples of living by faith. The writer develops this to explain that through who Christ is, and what He has done for us, we have a greater Passover, from death and sin, to eternal life. We are surrounded by ‘a great cloud of witnesses’ by the providence of God, and His love for humanity. First and foremost we look to Jesus Christ, ‘the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Heb 12:2 ESV).

At the heart of it all is the Cross, which has reconciled us to God, and to each other. By the power of the Holy Spirit He took flesh in the womb of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was born for us, so that he might be offered as a lamb without blemish, a perfect offering of love to God the Father. 

In the Gospel, Our Lord says that He came to cast fire on the earth, and looks towards His Passion. The fire speaks of a choice to be made, a decision on our part, whether we will follow Him, or not. It also anticipates to the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is a fire of renewal and inspiration, to fill His Church with life and power. From the Incarnation, Christ comes to infuse us with the love of God. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is nothing more than humanity being completely filled with God’s love. 

We have been imbued with the same Spirit as the first apostles. The same love should burn in our hearts. Has God abandoned us? Surely not! Then we must pray that God will kindle that fire in our hearts. 

Holy Spirit, Divine Consoler, We adore You as our true God, with God the Father and God the Son. Amen. 

We pray that God pours out His Holy Spirit upon us so that we are built up in love, together. We pray that we are inspired to continue the work of God’s kingdom, here and now. So that we and all creation 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. 

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The Eighth Sunday after Trinity Year C

Ours are certainly interesting times in which to live. But as Our Lord says in this morning’s Gospel, ‘Do not be afraid’ (Lk 12:32) or as the Lord says to Abram ‘Do not be afraid…I am your shield’ (Gen 15:1). We can put our trust in one who will not abandon us, a God who loves us.

In our first reading this morning we see how Abram trusts in God to continue his household. It is an example of faith, of trusting the promises and providence of God, even when the situation looks bleak. 

In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear words addressed to a community of believers facing persecution, who are tempted not to believe in Jesus, and revert to their former Jewish faith. The author has explained that Christ is our great High Priest, and that His Sacrifice has atoned for our sins. In today’s passage we hear an overview of salvation history from the creation of the universe to the time of the patriarchs. Just as the people of Israel sought to return from their exile in Egypt, we too seek our eternal homeland: heaven. We ‘desire a better country, that is a heavenly one’ and we trust that our real homeland is in Heaven with God. This is the end of our journey of faith; a better place where the worries of this world are cast aside.

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus comforts his followers. It reminds us that the Church began small. Two thousand years later it looks huge. We may feel that we are only a tiny part of it, that we are not big enough, and that is ok. When the Church began it was fragile and faithful, a flock uncertain of what the future would hold. But God loved the early Christians, just as He loves us, and longs to see us flourish. God gives us the Kingdom, a realm where where God is in charge, and we live lives of freedom, love, and fulfilment. The kingdom is a place of generosity, where gifts are shared. It looks radically different to the world around us, where wealth, status, power, and possessions matter, and give people value. But these are in Luke’s words ‘purses that wear out.’ In the kingdom of God, on the other hand, all of humanity has infinite value and dignity. This is because we are all made in the image and likeness of God. This is what gives us value, and not any other reason. God pours out His Grace upon the church freely, out of love, so that humanity might flourish, and have life in all its fulness. 

Christians have the hope of heaven, of sharing in the divine nature, together, with the saints. To be united with love itself, the love that created all that is. The love which redeemed us through the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. That is why the second part of our Gospel reading this morning tells us to be prepared and ready for Our Lord’s Return.

Jesus, having ascended to the right hand of God the Father in Heaven will return, as our Saviour and as Judge of all. Should we be afraid? Jesus tells us constantly not to be afraid. There is a choice for the hereafter: Heaven or Hell. It is up to us: what we believe and how we live our lives. The central message in the proclamation of the Kingdom is ‘Repent and Believe’. We can choose to turn away from sin, to turn to God, believe in Him, and live our lives accordingly. Or we can choose not to. We have a greater choice to make, which lasts for ever. Do we trust in a God who loves us so much that His Only Son died for us. Do we gather at this altar and receive the Eucharist so that we may be transformed by Him? 

If we do these things, we will open ourselves to living the Christian Life. The faith of our hearts will affect who we are and what we do. We can be filled with joy as we await a judge who comes in mercy and love. One who heals our wounds, and restores in us the image of the God who not only created us but all that exists. Our Christian faith leads us to action, which can transform the world around us, so that God’s kingdom becomes a reality, here and now. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. What greater treasure is there than eternal life in heaven with God? This is offered to us freely. Nothing this world proffers comes close. It is all fleeting: wealth, power, privilege, do not last. But we can trust in the eternal promise of a God who loves us, and we can be ready to greet Him, when he comes again. Through the power of Christ’s sacrificial Death we have the hope of heaven and the assurance of sins forgiven. This is GOOD NEWS. It helps us see the vanity of the world for what it is. 

We all need to be ready for Jesus, when He comes. We don’t know when this will be, but we are told it will be late and when we do not expect. Also Jesus will not come as we might expect. Instead of appearing as a judge, as someone powerful, Jesus reconfigures our understanding of power and authority. Rather than being someone who expects to be served, Jesus will come again to continue to serve. God, the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all creation, will come and put on an apron and care for us. This image defies our expectation and understanding. It gives us a foretaste of the glory that is to come, where we will be transfigured like Our Lord, and experience the fulness of God’s kingdom.

But for this to take place we need to be careful, we need to be vigilant. Just because we don’t know when Jesus will return doesn’t mean that we can take things easy. Nor can we afford to be lax or lazy, and negligent in the way we treat others. That would be to go against the message of the Gospel. We need to both think and act as though Jesus will return NOW, during this very Eucharist to judge and serve us. As we will welcome His Eucharistic presence with open hands and open hearts, so all of our lives should be open and welcoming to Him. We need to prefer Jesus and His Kingdom to anything else, for where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. We can have no excuse for not choosing Jesus and His message of the Kingdom over the cares and concerns of this world. This is, of course, easier said than done, but if we, as a Christian community, support one another, then we can do this together. The Kingdom of God is not something we can bring about in isolation, or as individuals. We need to do it together, as the body of Christ, by building up a community of love, and encouraging one another. 

What we believe and how we act together are a sign and symbol of our relationship with God and one another. So then, let us live lives together which proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, so that when Our Lord comes He may find us ready and doing his will, and singing 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.

The Transfiguration

The world around us has a good idea of what it thinks glory is. Most of the time it is seen as human success and triumph. Just think of people winning a gold medal at the Olympics, people waving flags and making lots of noise, open-topped buses, parades, and the like. God’s idea of glory is something entirely different. In fact, it is the exact opposite of human glory. We will see God’s Glory today on three high places: Mt Sinai, Mt Tabor, and on the hill of Calvary.

We visit the first of these high places in our first reading from the Book of Exodus. Moses goes up Mount Sinai to receive the Law, the Ten Commandments, God’s rules to show Israel both what to believe and how to live, just as Jesus will later teach in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Moses spends time in the close presence of God, and this changes him. When he comes back down the mountain we learn that he is shining, he has been transformed and transfigured by his close encounter with the Divine. It is an experience which takes time, it doesn’t happen instantly. God tells Moses to come up the mountain and wait. The Patriarch waits six days before being invited to climb up further. Moses spends forty days on the mountain, which prefigures Our Lord’s forty days in the wilderness before the start of his public ministry and our own forty days of Lent.

In the passage from Book of Exodus we see a glimpse of the glory of God and the worship of heaven. It is the same glory that the Apostles see in the Transfiguration, recorded by Luke. This is a glimpse of heaven, a foretaste for us of what Christ gives us His Church. The glory of the Transfiguration is something which the Second Letter of Peter stresses. As Christians we do not follow a false or made-up religion — it is not a work of fiction. It is a life-changing reality. Through spending time with Jesus, the disciples such as St Peter, saw their own lives transfigured and transformed by the power and the love of God.

Jesus has been with the disciples in the Jezreel Valley in Galilee and this morning He goes up Mt Tabor and takes his closest disciples with him to show them something of the glory of God. He ascends the mountain to pray, to be alone with God the Father. Jesus’ public ministry was rooted in prayer, in being close to the Father, in listening and speaking with Him. As Christians we are to follow this example, and do likewise.

Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah to show His disciples and the Church that He is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. They point to Him and they find their fulfilment in Him: He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Peter makes a very human response. He knows that it is good to be here and that what he is experiencing is life-changing. Peter’s suggestion to make three booths points to the Feast of Tabernacles when Jews remembered the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai. But, despite Peter’s hope, this experience is not to be prolonged. This is just a glimpse of the future glory, a moment to be experienced, and not a place to dwell.

When God speaks He tells us three things about Jesus: first that He is the Son of God, secondly that He is loved, and thirdly that we should listen to Him. What Jesus says and does should affect us and our lives. Like Moses and the disciples, we have to be open to the possibility of being radically changed by God.

Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after he has risen from the dead. Jesus has another height He must climb: the hill of Calvary, where He will suffer and die upon the Cross. There He takes our sins upon Himself, restoring our relationship with God and each other. This is real glory – not worldly glory but the glory of God’s sacrificial love poured out on the world to heal and restore it.

“Three important scenes of Our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross; and on the third, He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory and that of all who would believe in His name”

Fulton Sheen The Life of Christ 1970: 158

We are here this morning to see the self same sacrifice with our own eyes, and to touch and taste what God’s love is really like. We go up the mountain of the altar and experience the glory of God, so that God’s love may change us. We are given a foretaste of heaven, and prepared to be changed by God. This is true glory – the glory of the Cross, the glory of suffering love lavished upon the world. 

The Transfiguration looks to the Cross to help us prepare ourselves to live the life of faith. It helps us to comprehend true majesty, true love and true glory. The wonderful glory that can change the world and which lasts forever, for eternity, unlike the fading glory of the world, which is here today and gone tomorrow.

So let us behold God’s glory, here, this morning. Let us touch and taste God’s glory. Let us prepare to be transformed by His love, through the power of His Holy Spirit, so that we may be built up as living stones, into a temple to God’s glory. That we may be healed, and restored, and given a foretaste of eternal life. May God take our lives and transform us, so that everything that we say, or think, or do, proclaims Him. Let us tell the world about Him, so that all people may believe and trust and have new life in 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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18th Sunday of Year C: True Wealth

The world around us tells us constantly that if you want to be happy, to be fulfilled in life, then what you need is more stuff: a new car, a mobile phone. It’s the latest model –- it’s been improved, you can’t do without it! The world tells us this and we listen, we take it in, and we do what the world says. We all of us do this — I’ve done it myself. Society says you can have what you want TODAY. The credit card companies will lend you the money for the latest gear and charge you an interest rate which is usurious and wrong. Having these possessions, we are told, will make us happy.

Nothing could, in fact, be further from the truth. Salvation by stuff has never, and will never, work. The writer of Ecclesiastes, our first reading this morning, knows this well. ‘Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’ (Eccles 1:2)  Stuff simply leaves us empty, craving more and more, never satisfied. Hence Our Lord’s teaching in this morning’s Gospel: ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ (Lk 12:15) Wanting more things is never a good idea; Christ tells us this and warns us against it. Yet we do not listen…

So Jesus tells us a parable – there’s a man who’s got loads of stuff, he’s well-off in worldly terms, he is successful. Yet all he is interested in is keeping hold of his stuff, by building bigger barns to stash things away, so that he can sit back, and relax and take life easy.

Then the man dies, quite suddenly, and learns that important lesson: you can’t take it with you when you go. You can’t put pockets in your shroud. When you are dead your stuff doesn’t help you at all. It may buy you a swankier funeral, a more expensive coffin, a more expensive hearse to transport your dead body – even horses with ostrich plumes on their heads – but basically you are dead. Even if you spend thousands of pounds having your head frozen in liquid nitrogen, you are still dead. Money and stuff can’t help you with that. It has never been able to, nor will it ever. So Our Lord encourages us to turn away from the world and its vanity, and to turn back to the true source of riches: God.

In St Paul’s letter to the Colossians, in the passage just after this morning’s second reading he says:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.’ (Col 3:12–15)

This is the life which stores up treasure in heaven, which we live when we have ‘Set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (Col 3:2) This is what a Christian life really looks like, when lived out in the world. This is the sort of radically different life which can and does both change and transform the world: offering it a way that is different to the way of possessions. The way of love and forgiveness, of knowing that as Christians we are loved and forgiven, no matter who we are or what we have done. There is another way to live: as a community which embodies radical love and forgiveness in the world and offers it a new way of being, which turns the ways and values of the world on its head. The Christian way of life is that radical, that revolutionary, and that revolution has to start right here and today. We are listening to Our Lord speaking to us through His Scriptures; he calls us to live this life for our own good, for the good of others, and for the glory of the God who made us. God our Father loves us. He saves us: from the tyranny of stuff and sin, so that we can be free.

This then is what the Church is meant to look like. We are called to be like a lamp set upon a lamp stand or a city upon a hill: shining, attractive, a light amidst the darkness of this world; we represent a radical alternative: life in all its fullness. So let us live it, together. Let us set our heart on heavenly things. Let us build on Christ, our sure foundation, knowing that where our treasure is our heart will be also. God is our treasure, and His wealth is self-giving love.

That is why we have come here, today, to be fed in word and sacrament, to be fed by God, with His Body and Blood and His Word. These things nourish us and prepare us for heaven. They transform our human nature and they fill us with the Divine life of love and forgiveness. We can start living out God’s kingdom here and now and change all the world; so that all may believe and be transformed 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.

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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.

SS Peter and Paul

The city of Rome is famous for many things, and chief among them is that the city is the final resting place of two of the Apostles, SS Peter and Paul. Both were martyred there during the persecution of the emperor Nero, in the aftermath of the Great Fire. They bore witness to their faith even to the point of death because it was that important to them. And while everyone knows St Peter’s on the Vatican Hill, built over the site of his tomb, many people do not even know that St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles is buried there too, just outside the City Walls, on the great road south to Capua, the Via Appia. While Paul is remembered for his letters and St Luke’s account of his missionary journeys in the Acts of the Apostles, his resting place attracts far fewer visitors and pilgrims.

Now I don’t know about you, but I for one, when faced with the saints, am confronted with my own sense of inadequacy and sinfulness. I just don’t think that I can live up to the example. I can’t quite come up to the mark. This need not, however, be such a bad thing insofar as it points out our need to rely entirely upon God, and to trust in His mercy and grace. To trust in God to work in and through me. To trust in something which I do not deserve, but which nonetheless is poured out on me, so that in all things God may be glorified.

There is something wonderfully transparent about St Peter: a man of imposing strength and stature, handy for the physically demanding life of a Galilean fisherman, a man of little learning (unlike St Paul) but much love and faith — a man who speaks before he thinks, but whose instincts are often right, a man who loves and trusts Jesus. Likewise St Paul goes from persecuting the Church to being the most zealous proclaimer of the Good News of Jesus Christ, through the power of God.

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus asks His disciples ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They report what people are saying ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ Jesus then asks them the question ‘But who do you say that I am?’ The question He asks His disciples He asks each and every one of us ‘Who do we say that Jesus is?’ ‘A prophet?’ ‘A well-meaning holy man?’ ‘A misguided revolutionary?’

Peter’s answer is telling: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Saviour, the one who saves and rules Israel, and the Son of God. Peter is the first to confess the divinity of Christ, the first to recognise his Lord and Saviour. We need to do the same: to have the same faith and trust and love, to recognise Christ and confess Him as Our Lord and God.

Jesus’ response is simple ‘you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ In his confession of the Divinity of Christ, in his reliance upon and trust in God, Peter is empowered to bear witness to the Messiah and to carry on God’s work of reconciliation. He will fail: in the verses which follow this passage he argues that Jesus should not suffer and die, and is rebuked. After Our Lord’s arrest Peter, the rock, will deny Jesus not once, not twice, but three times. After the Resurrection Peter will need to be reminded to ‘feed Christ’s sheep’. There is also the story that during the first persecution in Rome under Nero, Peter flees, he tries to save his own skin. And he sees Christ carrying His Cross towards Rome. So Peter turns back and in the end he bears witness to Christ, he feeds the flock, he values Christ above all things, and bears witness to Him even at the cost of his own life.

St Peter is not exactly the person one might choose to be in charge — that’s the point, he’s not a success, he doesn’t possess the skillset for management: he’s not a worldly leader, he probably wouldn’t get through the modern Church’s selection process (and that’s sadly telling). He’s basically a cowardly failure, someone who speaks before he thinks. But he’s someone who knows God, who loves Him, trusts Him, and confesses Him, who proclaims Him in word and deed. He’s someone that God can use and be at work in, to be a herald of the Kingdom.

Above all else, and despite his failings, Peter bears witness to Christ, and we the Church are called to do exactly the same, some two thousand years later: we are to be witnesses to Christ: who He is and what He does, so that we can proclaim the Gospel, the Good News of God’s saving love. That is why we are here today, this morning, to be nourished by Word and Sacrament – to be fed by Christ, with Christ, with His Body and Blood, to witness the re-presentation of the offering of the Son to the Father, the sacrifice of Calvary, which restores our relationship with God and each other, which takes away our sins, which pays the price which we cannot, which gives us the hope of eternal life in Christ, so that we like St Peter can be healed, restored, and forgiven and strengthened in soul and body for our work of witness, so that God may be at work in us, in the proclamation of His Kingdom.

So let us be like St Peter, and when we are asked ‘Who do you say that the Son of Man is?’ Let us confess that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the God who saves us and loves us, so 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.

TWELFTH SUNDAY OF YEAR C (Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1, Gal 3:26-29, Lk 9:18-24)

The Jews in Israel in the time of Jesus knew what to expect of a Messiah: he would be an anointed king, of the House of David, who will unite the peoples, rule them and usher in an age of peace. Peace and freedom was what the people desired. First the Persians, then the Greeks, and finally the Romans had taken control of their land. The Messiah was their only hope for peace and freedom.

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus asks His disciples a simple question, ‘Who do people say that I am?’.They reply, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, or one of the prophets’. He then asks the question, ‘But who do YOU say that I am?’ Peter answers, ‘The Christ of God’ By this Peter means a Messiah in the traditional sense. But Jesus commands that they tell no-one about this, because He is not going to be that kind of Messiah. He will fulfil the prophecies, but not in the way people expect.

Today Christ asks the same question of each and every one of us. Who do we say Jesus is? What we say matters. What we believe matters, and affects our life. Jesus goes on to say that the Son of God must suffer many things, be rejected, be killed, and be raised on the third day. That’s all a bit strange, really. He’s the Messiah, the Anointed of God and yet He will be rejected by Israel.

Throughout Israel’s history recorded in the Bible the people have turned away from God, worshipped idols and false gods, and it looks like they will again. As Zechariah prophesied, ‘when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born.’ (12:10) They will look on him whom they have pierced, on the Cross, on Calvary. But Zechariah goes on, ‘On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.’ (13:1) Christ’s death will be the fountain to cleanse us from sin and uncleanness. This we experience in our baptism, in the confession of our sins, and in the Eucharist: the fulfilment of prophecy.

Zechariah points forward to Christ, the Word made flesh, the Word of God who fulfils God’s Word.

To those who come after Him, which includes us, Christ says, ‘let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.’ (Lk 9:23-24) As those saved and made free by the Cross of Christ, we take up our cross and follow Christ. We imitate Him, in selfless love and devotion, and bear the weight of the cross in life’s difficulties and disappointments. Following Christ is hard, as we lose our lives for Christ’s sake. If it were not, we would be surprised. It’s a struggle, and we cannot rely upon ourselves to get through. Instead it needs to be a corporate effort, something we do together, as a Christian community, trusting in God. Trusting in His Grace to be at work in us, both individually and as a neighborhood.

So we have a very different kind of Messiah offering us a very different way of life, which we see expressed perfectly in St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. As children of God we are in a relationship with our Heavenly Father. We are saved through our baptism where we put on Christ, we are clothed with Him, so that we can be transformed more and more into His likeness. Now all human distinctions disappear. They don’t matter, because we are all one IN CHRIST. That was a radical thing to say when Paul preached nearly two thousand years ago, and it still is today. We are all one in Christ: young and old, rich and poor. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we are from, or anything else. As Christians we are all one in Christ.

To a world that is concerned with wealth, privilege, education, popularity, and all sorts of worldly things, the Church says: none of this matters. None of it does, other than belonging to Christ. How refreshing! How deeply counter-cultural! We can counter the emptiness and the vanity of the world, and offer it something meaningful and wonderful: new life in Christ.

This is why Christ died for us. To heal us, and restore us, to make us free to live in Christ, and for Him. Christ wants us to lose our lives for His sake, and find freedom in His service. We need to be humble enough to accept what God offers us, and be prepared to try to live it together. It isn’t about us, but rather letting God be at work in us. We co-operate with God, and live in love, and joy, and peace. We flourish as human beings. It’s liberating. It is what God wants for us. This is what true freedom is like, and we can live it together. So let us, and thereby 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.

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday, or the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, has been kept throughout the Western Church on the Sunday after Pentecost since 1334. It was the Sunday on which Thomas Becket was consecrated a bishop in 1162, and he commanded that the anniversary of his consecration  should be celebrated in honour of the Holy Trinity. The Feast was popular, so popular in fact, that the remaining Sundays before Advent were numbered after Trinity, rather than after Pentecost, in England and Wales.

The word itself, Trinity, coined by Tertullian in the second century AD combines the words for three and unity, three persons and one God, and this should not surprise us. Christian worship is Trinitarian, we worship One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are baptised in their names, and our eucharist this morning begins ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Yn enw’r Tad, a’r Mab, a’r Ysbryd Glân’. The Creed which we are about to say has a tripartite structure, and expresses our belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are so used to it that we rarely stop to notice what we are doing, and why we do it. Our worship as Christians helps to form what we believe, and who we are. We believe, we put our trust in the God who created all that is. His Son, Jesus Christ, teaches us to call Him, ‘Our Father’ and so we pray to the Almighty Creator of all things knowing that He is Our Father too, we are in a relationship with a loving parent.

The Father begets the Son, and from Them the Spirit proceeds. Both the Spirit and the Son can be understood as the Wisdom of God described in our first reading this morning, thus the Son is eternally begotten, and the Spirit proceeds, moving over the waters as God creates the universe in Genesis. And between the first and second readings we have the entirety of salvation history, from the Creation of the Universe to the Day of Pentecost. Now, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Church we experience God in a profound and new way, as St Paul says, ‘because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ (Romans 5:5 ESV) This is reality of the Church, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, a spirit of love and joy. Jesus promises the Spirit to His apostles in John’s Gospel. Jesus promises us a Spirit who will lead us into all truth.

As Christians we worship One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: they are not three Gods, but one God. That the three persons of the Trinity are one God is itself a mystery. The mystery of God’s very self: a Trinity of Persons, consubstantial, co-equal and co-eternal. We know God most fully in the person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, born of the Virgin Mary, who died upon the Cross for our sins, and was raised to New Life at Easter, who sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In Christ God discloses who and what he is, we know Him as someone who pours out LOVE, who is interested in reconciliation. The wonderful thing about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is that we can know and experience God in a full way. We can know Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh who speaks to us in Scripture, and who comes to us in Bread and Wine, so that we may be fed with His Body and Blood. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, and the point of all this is OUR transformation, by the power of God. We are not celebrating an abstract concept today, but rather a generous and loving God. Our God is not simply remote and transcendent, but one who makes His home with us, gives us His life, and transforms and heals us in LOVE. This is all possible through the relationship God has with us, through His Son and His Spirit, something concrete, personal and real.

In Christ, God becomes human, and can understand us from the inside, so to speak. This is not a distant, impersonal divinity, but one who lives a human life. One who understands our frailty, and who loves us. He sends His Spirit so that we may be encouraged and led into all truth, in the Church. We will face difficulties and hardships. Christ promises us no less, as does St Paul in our second reading. But the point is that these experiences, while painful, can be positive: we grow and develop through them. We become not jaded and embittered, but more loving and forgiving. We become what God wants us to be, so that we can be transformed by His redeeming love. God offers us all the opportunity to be something different, something more than we are, if we let Him change us. If we co-operate with His grace, so that filled with the Holy Spirit, and nourished by Word and Sacrament, God may be at work in us, transforming us into His likeness. So as we celebrate the mystery of the Holy and Life-giving Trinity, let us pray that we may be transformed by God’s love, and share it with others so that they 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.

Pentecost 2019

The world in which we live can be a strange and confusing place, but it is fair to say that for the last fifty or sixty years we have not generally been that keen on having people tell us what to do. Now this makes things difficult for those of us who preach, precisely because moral instruction is our stock in trade. In other words, we tell people what to do, and how to live their lives. We do this because the Bible, as read and interpreted by the Church, shows us how to live in such a way that leads to human flourishing. Hence Jesus’ words in the Gospel, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ (Jn 14:15 ESV) If we love God, we will listen to what He tells us, through His Son, and do what He says. We will not be like the world, which cannot receive the Spirit of Truth, because it refuses to listen, or obey.

The disciples have been to told to wait and pray. It is the feast of Pentecost, some fifty days after the Passover, Shavuot, the feast of weeks, a week of weeks, or fifty days, celebrating the grain harvest in Israel, and Moses giving the Law to Israel on Mt Sinai. It’s a time when Jews would come to be in Jerusalem. They would come from all over the world, to be there. And what they experience is something like the undoing of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. Instead of division, we see unity, and all the peoples of the world can hear and understand the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, who died for our sins, rose on the third day, ascended into heaven, and has sent His Holy Spirit.

It is this same Holy Spirit which we receive in our Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination, which makes us children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We are part of God’s family, and through Christ we have an inheritance, the hope of heaven. Good news indeed! The same Holy Spirit, which brought about the Incarnation in the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, through which Christ became incarnate in His mother’s womb, to be born for us, has been given to us. We have been filled with the same Spirit: you, me, every one of us here. And because of this God can do wonderful things in and through us. It helps us to be who and what God wants us to be, to have life in all its fulness.

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus says to his disciples, which includes us, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’. In other words, we will love God and our neighbour and live lives like Jesus, exhibiting the same costly, sacrificial love that He does. Not for nothing does St Paul say, ‘provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him’ (Rom 8: 17 ESV) To follow Christ is to live a cross-shaped life, and we must expect difficulties, hardships, and sacrifice. And we embrace such things with JOY, because they bring us closer to Christ, and His sufferings. We need to love Jesus and keep his word so He and the Father will make their home with us. In St Paul’s Letter to the Romans we see what life in the Spirit is like. It is a turning away from the ways of the world and the flesh: not despising it, since Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ came in the flesh in the Incarnation, it was in the flesh that Our Lord ascended into heaven taking our flesh into the life of the Godhead, so that where he has gone we may also go. We are to sit lightly to the world and its ways, and through submitting to God to find perfect freedom in him. In the service of the Triune God we can be truly free, free to live for Him and to proclaim His truth to the world. If we love God this is what we are called to be, how we are called to live. Only in the Spirit can we enter fully into the divine life of love, and live out this love in the world. In the power of this love we can begin to understand the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation, His life, death, and resurrection, and we can let these mysteries shape our lives as Christians.

God will make his home with us in His word, Holy Scripture and the sacraments of his Church – outward signs of the inward grace which he lavishes on us in the power of his Spirit. That is why we are here today: to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, to see the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, to stand by the Cross so that we may be washed in the blood and water which flows from his side. In this we see God’s love for us, and we are strengthened to live the life of the Spirit: we can remain close to the God who loves us and saves us. We can be taught by his Spirit to remain in the faith which comes to us from the Apostles who first received the Spirit on this day. Let us live strengthened by Spirit, nourished by word and sacrament, in holiness and joy, proclaiming the truth and love of God, so 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.

The Sunday after Ascension (Jn 17:20-26)

The Sunday after the Ascension, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, is one of those strange in-between times, not quite Pentecost yet. So we wait with the Apostles for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We wait, and we pray fervently that God will pour His Spirit into our hearts, and our lives, to fill us with His Love. 

In the Gospel this morning we are in the middle of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, which is the summit of His teaching just before His arrest and Passion. It is a moment of profound intimacy where Christ prays to God the Father. He prays not only for His disciples, but for those who will believe in Him through their word. That’s you, and me, and countless Christians down through the ages. Just before Christ’s arrest and Passion He prays for us. Such generosity and love should amaze us. Christ prays that we should be one, that there should be unity in the church. Sadly throughout its history this has not been the case, and it should shock us to the core. Unity is Christ’s will for His Church. It puts our petty human divisions into perspective. They’re bad and wrong; they’re not the will of God. It’s serious, and it matters, and we shouldn’t be making it worse, we should be growing together in love. We should do this because it is Christ’s will, we listen to Him, and do what He tells us. That isn’t the only reason, however. Christ prays that the Church may be one, ‘so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ (17:21 ESV) In other words the truth of our witness and proclamation of the Gospel is contingent upon our unity. If we’re divided people won’t believe us. Which is the right or the proper bit? How can you tell? It isn’t always easy. 

Christ gives us His glory, which is His Passion and Death. To follow Christ leads to a Cross, and onward to new life. But if we want to follow Christ then we cannot ignore pain and suffering. We’ve signed up for it. All of us have, in our baptism, when we received the water of life without price. We have to bear witness to Christ regardless of the cost. People may well think we are fools for believing what we do. The idea that Christians are simple-minded, or deluded, or weak, has been around for a long time. A religion for women, slaves, and children, said the pagan Celsus around AD 180 (cf. Orig. contra Celsum 344) It’s a silly idea, but plenty of people still believe it, even today. We can convince them otherwise by means of rational argument, but also by the example of our lives, as authentic faith is attractive, real, and convincing. 

Christ speaks to us, and teaches us so that our joy may be complete in Him, filled with His love, and the Holy Spirit. The world’s reaction to this is a negative one: because what we are, what we stand for, and how we live as Christians is to be opposed to what the world around us stands for: selfishness, greed, which it makes into false gods, as though material wealth, or power, or status could save us – such things are transient and fleeting. The world offers us a short-cut, an easy road. Whereas if we are following Christ, then we are walking the way of his Passion, we are walking the Way of the Cross, dying daily to sin, and letting God’s grace be at work in and through us. It is not easy, it is difficult, most of us are unable to manage, we will fail, and we need the love and support of the Christian community to help us, even the first Christians, those who had been with Jesus, needed each other’s help and support, so they can continue what Jesus started.

We need to be together, to meet together to pray for our needs and those of the world, and to be nourished by the word of God, the Bible, and the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, not because they’re something nice to do on a Sunday morning: an add-on, an optional extra that we can opt into and out of as we feel like, but because as Christians they are crucial to who and what we are, if we are to remain in the love of God then we have to live this way. Only then can we offer the world an alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin. It will hate us for doing this, it will despise us and persecute us, it will call us hypocrites when we fail to live up to the example of Jesus; but as Christians who live in the love of God we forgive each other our trespasses, so that we can live out that same radical love and forgiveness which sees Jesus die upon the Cross for love of us and all the world, this is love which can transform the world. It is a message of such love, such forgiveness that the world cannot or does not want to understand it. We may not understand it, but we know that it can be experienced, and we are living testimony to its power. It turns our lives around and sets us free to live for God and to proclaim his saving truth in our words and actions, calling the world to repentance, to turn to Christ, and to be renewed in and through Him. In his power, with His Truth, filled with His Love we can transform the world, one soul at a time.

So as we wait with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray that Christ may come, and send His Holy Spirit, that God may be at work in us, building us up, and giving us strength to live his life and to proclaim his truth, to offer the world that which it most earnestly desires, a peace, a joy, a freedom which passes human understanding, and the gift of eternal life in Christ. Let us proclaim it so that all the world may come to know and love 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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The Ascension (Acts 1:1-11, Lk 24:44-53)

Today the Church celebrates the Solemn Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s an important day, so important that St Luke gives us two accounts of it: one at the end of his Gospel, and another at the start of the Acts of the Apostles. As a day it looks back to Easter and forward to Pentecost, and even to that last day when Christ will return as Judge of all.

If we turn first to the Gospel, we see Christ’s farewell discourse to the apostles. Our Risen Lord explains everything to his closest followers, so that they can understand both what happened, and why it happened. He speaks of the church’s mission: ‘that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’ (Lk 24:47 NRSV) And so, nearly two thousand years later this is what the church does, calling people to repentance, and is the place of reconciliation, where God forgives our sins: a place of new life and healing. Christ also promises his closest followers, ‘And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ (Lk 24:49 NRSV) They are to stay put until they receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And once Christ ascends, ‘they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God’ (Lk 24:52-53 NRSV) They worshipped Christ because He is God, and they gave thanks to God in the Temple in Jerusalem. They were all about worshipping God, nothing was more important.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Christ has spent the Easter period teaching the faith, explaining things to His apostles. ‘While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ (Acts 1:4-5 NRSV) The apostles are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and equipped to proclaim the Good News. And that’s why we are here today. Jesus didn’t found a religion, or give us a book, He started the Church, to call men and women to repentance, to know their sins forgiven, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And so we are. And it’s wonderful. It’s why we listen to Jesus, and we do what He told us to do. We celebrate the Eucharist, because He told us to do it, so that we can be nourished and fed with His Body and Blood, so that Christ may transform each and every one of us into His likeness. We follow the example of the apostles, and spend this time before Pentecost praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit to inspire and transform us. 

What we are celebrating today is the logical consequence of the Incarnation. Christ, by the power of that same Holy Spirit, took flesh in the womb of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, just after the Archangel Gabriel came to her in Nazareth. He was born in Bethlehem, lived, proclaimed the Good News, preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins, healed the sick, performed many other miracles, and was crucified, for our sins, and those of the whole world. God raised Him on the third day, and then Christ, true God and true man, ascends to His Father in Heaven, before sending the Holy Spirit. Christ ascends in His divinity, and His humanity. He returns from whence He came, but Christ has taken us with Him. Humanity is united with the Godhead. There are humans in heaven. We know this because Christ went there first, and through His death, Resurrection, and Ascension, has opened the way to Heaven for those who believe in Him, and live out their faith in their lives. 

Our Lord ascends, body and soul into heaven, to the closer presence of God the Father, to prepare for the sending of the Holy Spirit on his disciples at Pentecost. He who shares our humanity takes it into heaven, into the very life of the Godhead; so that where He is WE may be also. We have seen the promise of new life in Easter, a new life which is in the closer presence of God, which we celebrate today. We can see where it leads – what started at the Incarnation finds its goal and truest meaning in the unity of the human and the divine.

But rather than seeing this as an end it is surely far better to see in it a beginning – a beginning of the Church as we know it – a church which goes and makes disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Our Lord commanded us. This is exactly where we have been for nearly two thousand years. Inspired by the Holy Spirit they did what their Lord commanded them to do and that is why we are here today celebrating this fact.

Once Jesus has ascended in glory and before He returns as our judge the only place where we can encounter Him is in and through the Church: in its sacraments, in the word of Holy Scripture, and in people, filled with His Holy Spirit. A movement which started with 12 men in Jerusalem is still going strong nearly two thousand years later. We have been given the gift of faith and it is up to us to pass it on, so that others may come to share in the joy of the Lord.

We can all hope to follow Him, and to spend eternity contemplating the Beatific Vision, caught up in that love which is the Divine Nature, sharing in the praise of all creation of the God. We can have this hope because Christ has gone before us, he has prepared the way for humanity to follow Him and share in the divine life of love.

Let us prepare for this by living the life of faith, strengthened by Him, proclaiming his truth, praying for the gift of His Spirit at Pentecost, that the Church may be strengthened to proclaim His saving truth and the baptism of repentance, so that we and all the world may 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.

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Easter VI: John 14:23-29

Relationships are tricky things. We cannot live without them, we would be lonely to an unbearable degree. As human beings, we are made for relationships: they help make us who we are. But, they both need and require work and effort. You cannot simply take them for granted, and expect everything to be all right. As Christians we believe that our primary relationship is not that with our parents, spouse or children, or our friends, and neighbours; but with God. A God who created us, a God who redeemed us, in His Son, Jesus Christ. A God who loves us. 

In the Book of Revelation we have a vision of the New Jerusalem, the perfection of God’s Creation, a foretaste of heaven. It is a place where the Glory of God provides illumination, and the lamp which holds the light is the Lamb. In other words, the Lamb, who is Christ, perfectly displays the glory of God. Christ shows us who God is, and what God’s glory is like. On either side of the river of the water of life is the tree of life. The water of life represents our baptism, and the tree of life is both the tree giving eternal life in the Garden of Eden, and the Cross, through which we have eternal life in Christ. And leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. The Church, then, is to be a place of healing, and reconciliation, where people may encounter Christ, and His healing love. That’s why we have a cross on our altar, as our central focus, to remind us of what it’s all about, to remind us how God’s glory is made manifest in our world. God’s glory, and God’s love, the two go together. 

And so, in the Gospel, Christ tells us that whoever loves Him keeps His word. If we love God, then we listen to what He says, and act accordingly. Something which is simple in theory and difficult in practice. The point is that we try, and fail, and ask for forgiveness, and reconciliation, and keep trying. It’s a process, and we won’t get better until we try. Think of riding a bicycle. You have to practice and persevere until you are able to do it. The hard bit is to get going in the first place. Once you’re moving, balance becomes easier, and then it’s a matter of steering, braking, and stopping. Our spiritual lives are far more complicated than riding a bike, but the basic analogy holds true. Keeping Christ’s word involves doing it: loving God and neighbour. As a result of this we experience God’s love. We will do that today most fully in the Eucharist, where Christ gives Himself to us, His Body and His Blood. We are fed by Christ, so that we can be transformed by Him. Christ promises us that the Father and the Son will come to us and make their home with us. It’s a relationship fully realised. We are invited into a relationship, and to experience that relationship in its fulness. That’s what being a Christian means. It allows us to love God, and to express that love in worship, to express our beliefs, and honour the God who loves us by meeting together, being nourished by Word and Sacrament, and praying together. Our response to the Love and Glory of God is, of necessity, AWE. God has done what we cannot, and despite our failures and shortcomings, continues to love us. That is true generosity. We cannot give anything back to God, God does not need our worship, but rather, by being thankful, and showing our love for the God who loves us, we become generous, and loving.

In the Gospel, Christ tells us that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in His name. As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, we look forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As our focus changes, we realise that all of this is the unfolding of the mystery of God’s love, for us. Christ gives us his peace. In Welsh there are two words for peace. The first, heddwch means an absence of conflict, worldly peace. The second, tangefedd, is the peace which comes from God. Christ can give us the peace which comes from a relationship with God, bought by His Blood on the Cross. This is the peace we enjoy as Christians, not an absence of conflict, but the deep peace of being loved by God, and loving Him in return. It is the peace of a relationship. Nothing earthly can compare to it, because we are made in the image of God, and filled with His Love. Because of this we can be a church, a community of love, living out our faith, nourished by Word and Sacrament. Christ also promises us His Holy Spirit. Our focus shifts from Easter towards Pentecost, as the fulfilment of the Resurrection. Christ rises and ascends so that we can receive the Spirit, and experience the fulness of new life in Christ. As was prophesied by Joel ‘And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.’ (Joel 2:28 ESV) As Christ, the Word made flesh, is the fulfilment of prophesy, our joy and our peace. All scripture points to Him, and finds its fulfilment in Him. Our life in the Church is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, living the new life of His Kingdom. So let us live it, and share it with others so that all creation may 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.

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Easter V ‘Love one another as I have loved you’

St Thomas Aquinas teaches us that to love is to the will the good of the other (STh I-II, q.26 a.4,[Respondeo dicendum quod, sicut Philosophus dicit in II Rhetoric, amare est velle alicui bonumCCC 1766). To love, then, is not simply an act of passion or emotion: something we feel, but something we choose to do. The commands to love God and our neighbour, found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, are central to the Christian Faith, as taught and exemplified by Our Lord. To choose someone else’s good reminds us that we do not exist for our own sake, and that our lives are lived in community and relationship with others. We are called to be loving and generous, just as God as been loving and generous towards us in Christ. We seek to cooperate with God in promoting human flourishing. 

Jesus is quite explicit in this morning’s Gospel, ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:34-35 ESV) We are to love each other as Jesus has loved us. We are to lay down our lives, as Christ has for us. In this love and service we can truly love each other. This makes who and what we are manifest to the world around us. It makes Christianity something attractive because people can see the difference it makes. We are people of love and a community of love, willing good, and helping to make it a reality. It is a radical and world-changing idea, underpinned by selfless love, which Christ commands of us, His Church, to help transform the world through His Grace that humanity might come to have life, life in all its fullness. 

In the Acts of the Apostles we see St Peter realise that salvation is for Gentiles as well as Jews, that all are called to be baptized into Christ and receive His Holy Spirit. In the Book of Revelation we see God promise, ‘To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.’ Acts 21:6 ESV) God promises to quench our spiritual thirst, which nothing else can satisfy. John’s vision of the future explains why, in the Gospel, Christ states that He will only be with the disciples on earth a little while, and where He is Going they cannot come. They cannot go to the Cross, to reconcile God and humanity, nor can they yet go to Heaven, because Christ has not yet died, risen, and ascended. Because of what Christ has done, the New Creation is possible. Humanity can be united with God forever. We have a vision of a future without pain or suffering, because what is offered is unity with God, the fullness of human existence. This is the Christian hope of Heaven. Because of what Christ has done, and where He has gone, we can have this hope, through our baptism, by which we are saved. 

These are not idealist pipe-dreams but the reason why we are Christians. Because we have a hope of heaven, we want to see a world transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, into a place of peace, and joy, and love, to prepare us for the joys of heaven. Christ gives us this commandment so that we may have life and have it to the full, in and through Him, the source of all life and love.

This is what following Christ means in practice: living and dying like Christ, together, so that by this all will know that we are His disciples, through love lived out in our lives we proclaim the reality and the truth of our faith in Him. It’s something which we do together, and while it sounds easy in theory it is much harder in practice. We must try, and fail, and keep on trying. It is why we need to stay close to Christ in Word and Sacrament, to pray together, to support and forgive each other, so that we can live a life of love, not saccharin-sweet as the world sees it, but real, sacrificial love, the sort which has the power to transform the world so that it becomes more Christ-like. We thirst for this love, and only it can satisfy our deepest desires, so let us come, and drink of that living water, let us feast on Him who is the Living Bread and the True Vine, the Shepherd of our souls, who loves us so much that he died for us, and let us love Him and one another 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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Easter IV: The Good Shepherd

The Church’s Liturgical Year is a very good thing indeed. It divides up time and focusses our attention, allowing us the time to contemplate the mysteries of the Christian Faith. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is an event which requires contemplation. We need time to let it sink in, and to explore what it means for us and our faith. It is the defining moment of our faith, which gives Christians the hope that death is not the end, that this life is not all that there is, and that because of who Christ is, namely God, and what He has done: died for us to take away our sin, and rise again to give us the hope of eternal life in Him.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says of himself, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ It discloses something important about Who and What He is — He is one who tends, who looks after His sheep. The Jews in the Temple for the celebration of Hanukkah in the Gospel don’t seem to have been listening. Jesus has told them clearly and they do not believe that He is the Messiah. What Christ does in the Gospels testifies to Who and What He is, the Word made flesh, God with us.

Those of us who are in the Church, through our Baptism belong to Christ, we are His. So we are to listen to what Jesus tells us, in the words of Scripture and through prayer. Jesus knows us and we know him — in word and sacrament, through the outpouring of His grace, and so we follow Christ, we do what He tells us to do, to love, to forgive each other. We are humble, we don’t think of ourselves as better than we are, we know our ned of, our dependance upon God. We put our faith into practice in our lives, so that it becomes a reality in the world.

Christ offers us eternal life, as we share in His death, so we too share in His Resurrection, and are assured of eternal life with Him, something wonderful and freely given, and a reason why we, as the Church, celebrate Easter in an extravagant and exuberant way, because it is a sign that God loves us, and saves us. We are sharing in that Eternal Life here and now, as we are nourished by Him, in Word and Sacrament, strengthened by Him, to live His risen life, here and now. 

In Revelation, as St John experiences heavenly worship he states, ‘For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:17 ESV). The Lamb will be our shepherd: Christ will care for us, and keep us safe. A Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep as Christ has done through His Death and Resurrection. To drink living water is to experience the fulness of life in God, filled with the Holy Spirit. Christ guides us to that in our baptism, when we are filled with the Spirit and made part of the Church. 

So we listen to Christ’s voice, in the Bible. We hear Him speak to us, and through this we listen to Him, and obey Him. That is how we know Christ and follow Him. It affects who we are and how we live, as people of love, loved by God. We are prepared here on earth for the life of heaven, for worship, and closeness to God. We have a foretaste of that closeness in Holy Communion where Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, so that we may be transformed by it, more and more into His likeness. It changes us, so that we, by the grace of God, in the power of His Holy Spirit, may become what we are: made in the image of God. That image is restored in us by Christ’s death and resurrection. Through it we come to share in the intimacy of the divine life. As Christ says, ‘I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:30 ESV)  As Michael Ramsay said, ‘God is Christlike, and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all’ [God, Christ & the World: A Study in Contemporary Theology, London 1969, 98] When we see Jesus, we see God, when we hear Him speak, we hear the voice of God. We can know who God is, the creator and redeemer of the universe, through His Son, Jesus Christ. God is no longer distant, or an angry man on a cloud, but a loving Father, as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and a Son who loves us so much that He suffers and dies for us, to give us life in Him. This is God who goes after lost sheep, who longs to love and heal and reconcile, who can heal our wounds if we let Him.

God loves us; we can say this with the utmost confidence because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it all proclaims the same truth: God loves us, not because we’re worthy of it, but so that we might become what God is. It is what we celebrate at Easter, it lies at the heart, the core of our faith as Christians. It’s why we are what we are, and why we do what we do, to proclaim this simple truth to the world.

We can have peace through our relationship with the Trinity, the source of our peace, and joy, and love. Grounded in this relationship we need not be afraid or troubled – we are free to live lives which proclaim God’s love and victory so that the world may believe. Through God loving us, we can truly love him and each other. We experience this most clearly at the Eucharist when Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, which He as both priest and victim offers on the Altar of the Cross. That self same sacrifice which heals the world through the outpouring of God’s love feeds us here and now. We are fed so that we may be nourished and share in the divine life and the joy of heaven. We receive the free gift of God’s grace so that it may perfect our human nature, so that we may go where Our Lord is going, and share in the joy, and love, and peace of the Triune God, Father, Son, and 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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Easter III: Acts 9:1-6, Rev 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

Persecution is something we are used to in the church. For nearly two thousand years since the stoning of Stephen the deacon to the recent attacks in Sri Lanka, Christians have borne witness to their faith regardless of the cost. It is something to which we are all called. Not that we should actively seek it, but our faith, and our relationship with God is so important, that nothing, not even life itself is more important. Such is the love God has for each and every one of us. We have experienced it in the Triduum, and continue so to do as we continue our celebration of the great fifty days of Easter. We are filled with joy at Our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead. Through it we are changed, transformed, and filled with love, and empowered to change the world, so that it may be filled with God’s love.

In this morning’s first reading Saul tries to continue his persecution of the Church. Then he encounters Jesus, who doesn’t say, ‘Why are you persecuting my Church?’ but, ‘Why are you persecuting me?’ We are used to understanding the Church as the Body of Christ, and in the Acts of the Apostles Christ identifies Himself so closely with the Church that He and it are one and the same. That is how closely we are united with Christ through the Church. The Church, born at the foot of the Cross when the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John are given to each other exists to contemplate Christ, and to love Him, and be loved by Him. Through our baptism we share in Christ’s Death and Resurrection, and are His Body, and we fed with His Body, to be transformed more and more into Him.

Thus in the vision of Heavenly worship we see this morning in Revelation we see Heaven and Earth united in the worship of Jesus Christ, who is God. As Christians we are made for worship, to be united with God in love, and we prepare for heaven here on earth. It’s why we are here, to continue our celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead.

In this morning’s gospel the Risen Lord gives an invitation to his disciples, to ‘come and have breakfast’ but they don’t have any fish. So they go out and do what Jesus tells them, and they catch fish, 153 of them. The disciples don’t recognise Jesus until they catch the fish. When they follow His commands they recognise Him. So, we too must be obedient to Christ, and listen to Him.

Then Christ feeds his disciples breakfast before asking Peter if he loves him and commanding him to feed his lambs. It’s an important moment. Christ asks Peter the same question three times, ‘Do you love me?’ something which clearly looks back to Peter’s triple denial on the night of Jesus’ arrest before His Passion and Death. His triple denial is effaced by his triple confession. Peter is clearly upset: it’s his conscience at work reminding him of his failure, which leads him to say, ‘Lord you know everything, you know that I love you’. Jesus does not condemn him, he simply reminds Peter, so that he may be encouraged in his task: to feed Christ’s sheep, to be a shepherd, a good Shepherd, and to lay down his life for his sheep after the example of his Lord and Master. This is how Peter is to fulfil Christ’s command, ‘Follow me’. It reminds all of us called as bishops, priests, and deacons, that we too are called to feed Christ’s flock, both with the Sacraments of the Church, but in our teaching of the faith and the example of our lives. It’s important to who we are and what we do. They are Christ’s sheep, not our own. You belong to Christ and it is our duty to care for you and feed you.

Peter is fed by the Lord before he is called to go and feed others, and to care for them. We too have come here today to be fed by the Lord, to be fed with the Lord, with His Body and Blood, under the outward forms of bread and wine, to share in his divine life, so that we may become what he is, and have a foretaste of heaven. We are fed so that we may go out and feed others, so that we may follow the example of the apostles and not cease teaching and preaching Jesus Christ. When we do this we will give honour and worship to God no different from the heavenly worship we have seen described in this morning’s second reading. This is the heavenly glory of which we have a foretaste here on Earth. We are called to bear witness to our faith in the world, so that it may believe. We are called to be witnesses, regardless of the cost. While we may not face persecution in this country; we are more likely to be faced with indifference, a coldness of heart, which denies the fact that what we are and what we say is important or has value. Yet we are to live lives which proclaim the fact that our life and death have meaning and value through Jesus Christ, who loves us, who died for us, and rose again so that we might have eternal life in Him. It is a gift so precious that we have to share it, we cannot keep it for ourselves. In sharing it, it becomes a greater and more wonderful gift. In sharing it we are preparing for that moment seen by St John when all of creation will sing the praise of God, filled with his love, healed and restored by him.

We are preparing for that moment here and now preparing to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, looking forward to that time when we and all creation will sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as it most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Easter II [Acts 5:27-32, Revelation 1:4-8, Jn 20:19-31]

In this morning’s first reading Saint Peter and the apostles are told by the authorities not to preach in the name of Jesus. Naturally, it is impossible for them to do this; they simply have to tell the world about Him and His Resurrection. They do this so that the gospel may be proclaimed: the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins through Christ. To be a Christian is to turn away from the ways of sin, the ways of the world — we are obedient to God, we hear what he is said in Christ and we obey him. The Church, then, must always be on its guard lest it ceases to be obedient to God and turns instead to the ways of the world, the ways of humanity. As St Paul says in his Letter to the Romans ‘be not conformed to this world’. It is a difficult thing to do. It is hard. It takes strength of character and confidence, and it will not be popular. But just as the apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name, and did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus Christ, so the Church is always called to do the same: to risk persecution, and to speak the uncomfortable truth which the world does not want to hear. This is our calling. 

When the disciples are sat in a locked room, afraid of persecution Christ comes among them and says, ‘Tangnefedd i chwi’ ‘Peace be with you’. Christ comes to give them peace. He gives them a peace which the world cannot give, because it is not of this world. The peace Christ which comes to give us is the peace won on the Cross, which has reconciled God and humanity. This wonderful relationship leads to the disciples being sent, as Christ was, to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, and of new life in Christ. Christ empowers His Apostles with the Holy Spirit, to forgive sins, and carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation. The church exists to do just this, to proclaim and reconcile, to carry on Christ’s work in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit.

All of us can, I think, understand Thomas’ frustration at not being there. It isn’t that he doubts, he wants to believe, and to experience the reality of his Risen Lord, and not to be left out. It’s a very human reaction. So when Jesus is with them again on Sunday, He greets them with Peace, and offers his hands and side to Thomas. He gives Thomas what he wants, proof that it is really Jesus, that he has truly risen from the dead. When faced with the reality of the Risen Jesus, Thomas can only say, ‘My Lord and My God’. Thomas confesses that Jesus is Lord and God, the sole supreme authority, above anything of this world. He worships God in Christ. We do the same, and we are blessed because we have not seen and yet believe. We believe because of the witness of Thomas, and others, down through the centuries, who have proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ, even at great personal cost. As St Peter and the apostles said, ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29 ESV) Christians around the world follow their lead, and to this day face imprisonment, torture, and death, for their belief in Christ. They do so gladly, because of who Christ is, and what He has done. We may not face suicide bombers in our churches, thank God. But we are no less resolved to bear witness to Christ. We may be ignored by the world around us, but we carry on bearing witness to the love and reconciliation which Christ brings, and which nothing else can. We continue, ‘so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31 ESV) Christ comes to bring us life, in His Incarnation, in His Life and Preaching, and in His Death and Resurrection. He gives us His Life, through our Baptism, and through the Eucharist. We are united with Christ, and transformed by Him, to live His life in the world, filled with His Holy Spirit. This is good news, which we long to share with others, so that they may come to know Christ, and experience His Love. The Church exists to deal with the mess we make as human beings, through what Jesus has done for us, in the power of His Holy Spirit. The Church is to be a community of reconciliation, where we are forgiven and we, in turn, forgive. It is to be a place where we are freed from sin, its power and its effects.

The disciples go from being scared and stuck in an upper room to missionaries, evangelists, spreading the Good News around the world, regardless of the cost, even of sacrificing their own lives to bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he rose again, on this day for us, that God loves us and tells us to love Him and to love one another. It is a simple and effective message which people still want to hear — we need to tell it to them, in our thoughts, our words and our actions.

The heart of our faith and the Gospel is forgiveness — no matter how many times we mess things up, we are forgiven. It is this reckless generosity of spirit which people find hard to believe that they too can be forgiven, by a loving God, and by their fellow Christians. That we can, despite our manifold shortcomings be a people of love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. That God’s Grace will in the end not abolish our nature, but perfect it, that being fed by Christ, with Christ: so that we too may become what He is. That faced with the sad emptiness of the world, and its selfishness, its greed, we can be filled with joy, and life, and hope. That like the first apostles we too can spread the Gospel: that the world may believe.

So let us be filled with the joy of the Resurrection this Easter, let us share that joy with others, may it fill our lives and those of whom we meet with the joy and love of God, who has triumphed and who offers us all new life in Him, that all that we do, all that we are, all that we say or think 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, dominion and power, now and forever.

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Easter (John 20:1-18)

It has been quite a week. Last Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the Messiah. People were celebrating, waving branches in the air, and in a few days the same crowds were shouting that He should be crucified. It’s quite something of a reversal. Jesus is tortured and killed, and laid in a nearby tomb. All the disciples’ joy and hope has evaporated. Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb early in the morning, to be close to Jesus, to anoint the body for burial. She gets to the tomb and sees the stone rolled away. Where’s Jesus? He’s not there. So she runs to Peter and John to tell them. 

Mary sees the stone rolled away, in the darkness, she doesn’t understand but says to Simon Peter ‘they have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre and we know not where they have laid him’. Her concern is for the dead body of Jesus. She does not know, she does not yet believe. As Mary has run away from the tomb, John and Simon Peter run towards it. John sees the cloths but does not go in. Peter goes in first and sees everything. Then John sees and believes: he believes that God has raised Jesus from the dead. It is his love for Our Lord and Saviour which allows him to see with the eyes of faith, to make sense of the impossible, of the incomprehensible.

Peter and John go back home, but Mary stays there, weeping. She sees the angels, and finally she sees Jesus, but does not recognise Him. It is good that this takes place in a garden, as it was in a garden that Adam and Eve ate from the tree and sin and death came into the world. Now, in a garden, Christ the second Adam, having conquered sin and death on the Cross, rises to new life. The first tree was a tree of death, whereas the Cross is the Tree of Life, and through it, we as Christians, through our baptism share in Christ’s death and His risen life. 

It is extraordinary and wonderful news. Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death. Humanity is reconciled to God, and given the hope of eternal life in Christ. It should cause us to celebrate because God who took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and was born in Bethlehem, has died and risen again for us. For you and me. We do not need to be afraid of death, because we are assured that beyond it there is life in God. Love has conquered, love has won, and we are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song. Because of what happened today Christians celebrate on every Sunday, and have for nearly two thousand years, on ten thousand successive Sundays, the fact that Christ is risen, and nothing can be the same because of this wonderful fact.

Death and hell could not hold Him, and so we rejoice. Our hearts are filled with joy because the tomb is empty, and Christ is risen. In dying and rising again, Jesus has changed history; he has changed our relationship with God, and with one another. He has broken down the gates of Hell to lead souls to Heaven, restoring humanity to the loving embrace of God, to open the way to heaven for all humanity, where we may share in the outpouring of God’s love, which is the very life of the Trinity. His death means that our death is not the end, that we have an eternal destiny, a joy and bliss beyond our experience or understanding: to share in the life and love of God forever –- this is what God does for us, for love of us.

WE are people loved by God, loved so much that there is nothing God would not do for us. He rescues us from death to give us life, life with Him, forever. So we should celebrate this most wonderful news, and it should affect us and change us. Nothing can ever be the same because of what happens today. We are changed by it, and called to live Christ’s risen life in the world. We are called to be something different, something out of this world, living by different standards and in different ways, living lives of love not selfishness, self-satisfaction and sin. In our baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life with him, we are to live this life, and to share it with others: ours is a gift far too precious to be kept to ourselves, it is to be shared with the whole world, every last human soul, that they too may believe, perfecting creation, and bringing all of prodigal humanity into the embrace of a loving Father, filled with His Spirit, conformed to the pattern of His Son. This is our life, our calling, to have the singularity of purpose of those first disciples, who saw and believed, who let God in Christ change their lives and share this great free gift of God’s love.

So let our hearts be filled with joy, having died with Christ and raised to new life with him. Let us take that new life, and live it, in our thoughts, our words, and deeds, and share that life with others that the world may believe, that what happened outside a city two thousand years ago has changed all of human history and is still changing lives today. Christ died and is alive so that we and all the earth may have life and have it to the full, sharing in the life and love 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.

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Good Friday

Today something amazing happens: Christ dies for us. He who became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, suffers and dies for us. We come to contemplate the Word made Flesh, God incarnate, suffer and die for us. In this we may truly know God, and His Love for us, who took flesh for our sake, and now dies that we might live. 

In today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah we see all of Christ’s suffering and death foretold, and interpreted:

 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.’ (Isa 53:3-5 ESV) 

Because of what happens today we are healed. The wounds of sin, which cry out for healing, can be healed in Christ. Such is God’s love for us. What sin has destroyed, love restores. This is the heart of our faith as Christians: God loves us so much that His Son becomes incarnate and suffers and dies for love of us. Words cannot fully express the mystery of God’s love. Instead, we come to gaze upon our Crucified Lord, to behold His love for us and prepare to eat His Body, broken for us.

Christ is our great High Priest, who as both priest and victim offers Himself upon the altar of the Cross to bleed and die for us, to bear our sins, and to reconcile us with God the Father. He dies that we might live. People find this idea difficult, they are not comfortable with it. That’s the point. Christ’s death should make us feel uncomfortable because it reminds us that OUR sins have put Him there. He bears our burden, and that of all humanity, past, present, and future, and through His wounds we are healed. 

Sin is a serious business. It is the human refusal to listen to God, and to cooperate with the Divine will for our flourishing. We are made in the image of God, but sin marrs that image in us. It is a serious problem, and one which we cannot put right ourselves. We cannot earn our way to heaven, through faith or good works. That is why Christ dies for us. Instead we have to rely upon grace, the unmerited love and mercy of God. We have to accept it, so that we can be transformed by it. God saves us because of His love and mercy. Today we see that love and mercy enacted in Our Lord’s Passion and Death. 

At the heart of our faith is the idea that God became what we are, so that we might become what He is. It’s the truth of the Incarnation, and it underpins what happens today. Christ dies for us, so  that we might share His Risen life. But, before we can, Christ experiences the physical torture caused by our sins. He experiences the desolated of being forsaken by God, the effect of sin, and cries out the opening words of Psalm 22: ‘My God my God why hast thou forsaken me: and art so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?’ And yet in the midst of this we, as Christians, can have hope and even joy. What the world sees as disaster and failure, we recognise as a triumph. Christ is executed for sedition and blasphemy, for claiming to be the King of the Jews and the Messiah, the Son of God. What in the eyes of the world is shameful: dying alone, naked and vulnerable, is in fact the greatest demonstration of God’s love. Love freely given, from His Incarnation, to His Death and beyond, this is the Good News, the proclamation of the Christian Faith: ‘we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,’ (1Cor1:23 ESV). A stumbling block to Jews because following Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (ESV) ‘And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. ’ The messiah cannot be crucified, but He is. Greeks love wisdom, logic, and Philosophy. The idea that God would die for humanity doesn’t make sense. Gods are vengeful or indifferent at best. The idea that God loves us enough to die for us is crazy. And so it is, and we rejoice in the absurdity of it. God reconciles humanity through degradation, torture, and suffering, to show us the reconciling power of His Love, stronger than death, or sin. What looks like failure is in fact VICTORY. Today, Christ conquers sin and death, all that separates God and humanity, and by His stripes we are healed. 

We don’t deserve it and we haven’t earned it, that’s the point, that’s what grace is, unmerited kindness, reckless generosity. It is there to help us become the people God wants us to be: to be strengthened, fed, healed, and restored by him: to die to sin and be raised to new life, and to share that life and love with others, that the world might believe and be saved through him. Christ pays the debt which we cannot to reconcile humanity to His loving and merciful Father. Christ shows us the meaning of true love: that we might live it out in our lives, forgiving one another, bearing our own cross, and living lives of love for love of Him who died for love of us.

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life, and our resurrection, through him we are saved and made free. Amen.

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