Nineteenth Sunday of Year B (1Kgs 19:4-8, Eph 4:2-5:2, Jn 6:35 & 41-51)

If you were going on a long journey one of the things you would take with you would be food and drink to refresh you as you travel. Without it we would be hungry and thirsty, we would struggle, and eventually we would die. In our first reading this morning the prophet Elijah is fleeing for his life as the evil queen Jezebel wants to kill him. He’s desperate and afraid, but God feeds him with bread from heaven so that he might have strength for the journey. It prefigures the Eucharist, the reason why we are here today, to be fed by God. We can have the strength for our journey of faith, and the hope of eternal life. We need the Bread of Heaven, the Body of Christ, to nourish us on our journey of faith. 

Jesus is the Bread of Heaven who alone can satisfy us. When we sing the Hymn ‘Guide me O thou great Redeemer’ and we say the words ‘Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more’ it is plea for the Eucharist, which alone can satisfy our every need. The Jews in this morning’s Gospel are not happy to hear Jesus describing Himself as the Bread which came down from Heaven. They cannot understand that he is the Bread of Life, they only see Him in human terms. He is not just a man, he is God, who was born among us, who preaches the Good News of the Kingdom of God and who dies and rises again for us. 

He offers people eternal life: ‘And I will raise him up on the last day’ (Jn 6:44), ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life’ (Jn 6:47) Through our participation in Baptism and the Eucharist we share in Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, and we have a pledge of eternal life in and through Him. ‘Myfi yw’r bara bywiol, yr hwn a ddaeth i waered o’r nef. Os bwyty neb o’r bara hwn, efe a fydd byw yn dragywydd. A’r bara a roddaf fi, yw fy nghnawd i, yr hwn a roddaf fi dros fywyd y byd..’ (Jn 6:51). Jesus is the living bread and if we eat Him then we will live forever. We need the Eucharist. It isn’t an occasional treat or a reward for good behaviour, like some heavenly lollipop. It is necessary and vital, we cannot truly live without it. It is what the Church is for, to feed the people of Christ with Christ. ‘And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ (Jn 6:51) Jesus dies on the Cross at Calvary for us. He gives his body to suffer and die for us, for YOU and ME, to save us and heal us. We don’t deserve it, we cannot earn it. It is the free gift of God, an act of radical generosity, so that we might be radical and generous in return. Jesus institutes the Eucharist on the night before He dies so that the Church might DO THIS in memory of Him, so that he might be ever present with us, to fill us with His love. Sacraments such as Baptism and the Eucharist are outward and visible signs of inward spiritual grace. They point us to a God who is generous, who wants us to have life in Him. 

So does this mean that we can just carry on regardless? BY NO MEANS! Christ gives us life, so that we may live in Him. As S. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, ‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ (Eph 5:1-2) There is something quite extraordinary and radical about this. It isn’t how most people in the world around us live. Christians are supposed to different, to live different lives in a different way, because we follow Jesus, and live like Him. We operate according to different rules and standards, those of Christ, and not of the world around us. 

All of us here this morning are Christians: we have responded to the call to follow Christ, to imitate Him, and His way of life. We practise forgiveness, whereas the world around us is judgemental and unkind — it writes people off. God never does that. We are all sinners, in need of God’s mercy, and that is why Jesus died for us, to heal us and restore us, so that we can be like Him. We will fail in this endeavour, every single day, because our own strength is not enough. We have to rely upon the God who loves and forgives us, who gives His Son to die so that we might live. So we live in a way which is different from the world around us: we are loving and forgiving, because we have been shown love and forgiveness. It is in experiencing God’s self-giving love that the world can find true meaning. Life in Christ is what true life means. Fed by him, strengthened by him, to imitate him and live out lives of self-giving love. It is hard and challenging, we need to do it together, so that we can support each other as we try and fail, and keep trying, together. The Christian life is not a glamorous thing, it doesn’t have the razzmatazz of a television show, it isn’t about celebrity or fame, or wealth, or power. It is about a slow gentle trudge, day by day, trying to be more like Jesus. It doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? 

The world around us can come up with far more enticing options, which might be fun for a while. But, eventually, we will see them for what they are — vain, empty, and silly. They offer nothing of value or worth. No, being a Christian isn’t glamorous, it won’t make you rich or famous, but it can save your soul and change the world. We want the world to become more Christ-like, where people are loving, forgiving, and compassionate. Where the hungry are fed, where people are comforted, and instead of being selfish, people become more selfless. It is a work in progress — we have been trying and failing for two thousand years, but we keep trying, knowing that God’s love and mercy are inexhaustible. Not glamorous, but worthwhile. Amen. 

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14th Sunday of Yr B Ezek 2:1-5, 2Cor 12:2-10, Mk 6:1-13

Appearances can be deceptive, things are not always what they seem. Much of what we do in church is much more than it seems, what can seem simple and straightforward is, in fact, much more complex. The simple pouring of water in Baptism, or the taking of Bread and Wine in the Eucharist, seem simple enough, and yet through them God is at work in our world, doing wonderful things, pouring out His Grace and His Love on us, to make us Holy. 

Our first reading this morning reminds us that it is not always comfortable or easy listening to a prophet — we have to hear uncomfortable truth. Prophets call us to repent from sin and turn back to God a call which lies at the heart of Christian Baptism It is identical with the message preached by John the Baptist, and Jesus, and the church exists to proclaim the same message, and to call people to be Holy, to live like saints here and now, and encourage others so to do.

In this morning’s epistle we hear the words of the Risen Lord Jesus to Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2Cor 12:9 ESV) They are wonderful words of encouragement, because first and foremost they remind us that it’s not about WE can do, but about what God can do in and through us. This is possibly the most important lesson we can learn as a Christian — we cannot earn our way to heaven, God does that for us, through His Son Jesus Christ, who dies on the Cross to give us life in and through Him. What greater demonstration could there be of weakness than in dying the death of a common criminal. God shows the world that power can paradoxically be demonstrated in abject weakness. As Christians we celebrate something shameful in the eyes of the world, because it is in fact the demonstration of God’s LOVE for us. 

God enters the world in the Incarnation as a weak baby, utterly dependant upon the Holy Family, Mary and Joseph, and dies rejected, and abandoned, a laughing stock, a complete failure in the eyes of the world, and yet it sets us free, it gives us life through His death, power made perfect in weakness. God does wonderful things through Paul, who was once an enemy of the church, no-one is beyond the reach of God’s love and he can do wonderful things through us, if we let Him.

The Christian life starts with Baptism, which is how we enter the church and we are filled with the grace of God, and prepared for the life of faith. It is the start of a process which should lead to heaven: by growing in faith, and being fed by Christ, with Christ, in Word and Sacrament; through prayer, and good works, where faith is lived out in our lives.It sounds simple enough, but it is actually difficult, it requires the love and support of a family, and that wider family we call the church, so that we can all support each other in living the Christian life together. 

In this morning’s gospel people misread Jesus, they fail to recognize who or what he is, they are amazed and in doubting Jesus they doubt God to be at work in the world. We need to believe that God can and will be at work, in and through us. They can only see Jesus in terms of the members of his earthly family. It’s understandable, I can remember going back to the church where I grew up to preach and celebrate for their patronal festival, I was worried how people who had known me all my life would react, would they see a small boy in shorts and spectacles. I needn’t have worried, they saw a priest and were thrilled to see me at the altar. Therein lies the difference, the people of Nazareth see Jesus and can only think, ‘carpenter’s son’. They cannot recognize the Messiah in their midst. 

We need to know who and what Jesus is. The world around us rejects Jesus, rather like the people of Nazareth, or fail to accept him as true God and true man. They doubt who he was, what he did, and what he said. But we are different, we are here because we do not. We can tell people about him, but unless they WANT to believe then they won’t, no amount of forcing will make them. If, however, they see Christians living out their faith in an attractive way, then all things are possible. 

Jesus sends the disciples out in pairs, not alone: their ministry is rooted in co-operation, working together to build up the Kingdom of God. The twelve travel light, and are utterly dependant upon God and the charity and goodwill of others. It looks radical, and it is. They proclaim the need for repentance, turn away from sin and the ways of the world, and to turn back to God. They display the healing of the Kingdom: ours is a God who longs to heal our wounds, to restore us, and offer us a radical alternative to the ways of the world. The church is a revolutionary organisation, which seeks to change the world one soul at a time, so that humanity is transformed more and more into the likeness of the God who loves them, into the likeness of Jesus Christ, who lived among us and died for us, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It may sound crazy, but that is what we have been doing for nearly two thousand years, and will carry on doing until Jesus comes again. We continue to offer new life in Christ through baptism, and to feed God’s people with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that they may have life in and through Christ, nourished by Christ and fed with Christ, to be transformed more and more into His likeness so that they and all creation 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.

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Augustine Sermon 272: on the Nature of the Sacrament of the Eucharist

What you see on God’s altar, you’ve already observed during the night that has now ended. But you’ve heard nothing about just what it might be, or what it might mean, or what great thing it might be said to symbolize. For what you see is simply bread and a cup – this is the information your eyes report. But your faith demands far subtler insight: the bread is Christ’s body, the cup is Christ’s blood. Faith can grasp the fundamentals quickly, succinctly, yet it hungers for a fuller account of the matter. As the prophet says, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” [Is. 7.9; Septuagint] So you can say to me, “You urged us to believe; now explain, so we can understand.” Inside each of you, thoughts like these are rising: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, we know the source of his flesh; he took it from the virgin Mary. Like any infant, he was nursed and nourished; he grew; became a youngster; suffered persecution from his own people. To the wood he was nailed; on the wood he died; from the wood, his body was taken down and buried. On the third day (as he willed) he rose; he ascended bodily into heaven whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. There he dwells even now, seated at God’s right. So how can bread be his body? And what about the cup? How can it (or what it contains) be his blood?” My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. What is seen is a mere physical likeness; what is grasped bears spiritual fruit. So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27] If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true! But what role does the bread play? We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: “The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.” [1 Cor. 10.17] Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. “One bread,” he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body,” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.” Be what you see; receive what you are. This is what Paul is saying about the bread. So too, what we are to understand about the cup is similar and requires little explanation. In the visible object of bread, many grains are gathered into one just as the faithful (so Scripture says) form “a single heart and mind in God” [Acts 4.32]. And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how, at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated. All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them. So let us give God our sincere and deepest gratitude, and, as far as human weakness will permit, let us turn to the Lord with pure hearts. With all our strength, let us seek God’s singular mercy, for then the Divine Goodness will surely hear our prayers. God’s power will drive the Evil One from our acts and thoughts; it will deepen our faith, govern our minds, grant us holy thoughts, and lead us, finally, to share the divine happiness through God’s own son Jesus Christ. Amen!

Trinity Sunday — Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17

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. 

We celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity today because in 1334 Pope John XXII decided that on the Sunday after Pentecost the Western Church would celebrate the mystery of the Trinity. It was already a popular feast, and had been kept in some form since the triumph of Orthodoxy over the followers of Arius in the 4th century. Nearly two hundred years before the Pope ordered that the feast be kept by the Universal Church, Thomas Becket was consecrated a bishop on this day, and kept the feast. Its popularity in the British Isles is shown by the fact that in the Prayerbook we number the Sundays between now and Advent not ‘after Pentecost’ but ‘after Trinity’. It defines the majority of the liturgical year for us.

This morning, at the very beginning of our service, the following words were said, ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ We said, ‘Amen’ to signify our assent and many Christians make the sign of the Cross as the words are said. At the end of the Eucharist I, as a priest, will pray that God will bless you as I invoke the name of the Trinity and make the sign of the Cross. These words and gestures are not random, or the result of a whim, but are part of our tradition of worship as Christians. This is how we express and declare our faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; through our words and actions. We say these words because they express our faith.These help us to reinforce what we believe and help us to live out our faith.We make the sign of the Cross, the thing that saves us, the centre of our faith.

In this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, and after a discussion of baptism, and the new life which God in Christ offers Jesus says, ‘And as Moses lifted up the Serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life’ (Jn 3:14-15 ESV). Jesus refers to an incident in the Book of Numbers: ‘Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.’ (Numbers 21:6-9 ESV) Jesus uses this story to help us to understand His coming Crucifixion. It will save whoever believes in Him, it is the supreme demonstration of HOW MUCH God loves us. The Love of God is such that He gave His only Son ‘that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ (Jn 3:16-17 ESV). God does not send Jesus to condemn humanity for its sin, its disobedience, but to save humanity THROUGH LOVE, through selfless, sacrificial, redemptive LOVE: dying for us, bearing the burden of our sin, and reconciling us to God, and each other, making the Kingdom of God a reality, and so that we can have a relationship with God, and each other which is rooted in LOVE, a love which is the very nature of God, how God is. 

The Love of God sees Jesus take flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, preach repentance and the nearness of the Kingdom of God, and die for us on the Cross. Then he rose again, ascended, sent the Holy Spirit to us at Pentecost, and promised to come again as our Judge. Fellowship, or Communion is what the persons of the Trinity — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — have between each other, and which we the Church are invited to share, with them and each other. It is the imparting of the grace, the undeserved kindness of God, of a God who dies to give us LIFE with Him forever. In the act of Holy Communion we are fed by Christ with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we might share in the divine life here on earth, and share it with others.

We can do this because we have been baptised. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ (Jn 3:5 ESV) In our baptism we share in Christ’s death and resurrection, we put on Christ, we are clothed with Him, we become part of His Body, the Church. We are re-born, born again. It is how we enter the Church; how we are saved. It defines us as Christians — we are baptised in the name of the God who saves us, and we are His.

Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and others cannot accept the fact that as Christians we say that we do not worship three Gods, but One God. They cannot accept that we believe that the Son is God, not less than the Father, likewise the Holy Spirit, and yet there are not three Gods but one God. These are not manifestations, but persons which share the same divine essence and yet they are distinct. The Father uncreated; the Son begotten; the Spirit proceeding. It is why we stand up and state our beliefs when we worship God. It matters. We do it regardless of the cost. Simply believing the Christian faith and declaring it publicly can lead to imprisonment or death in some countries around the world today. It is a serious business being a Christian, and wonderful, because we follow a God who shows that His very nature is LOVE. We are filled with that love, and share it with others.

Our faith matters. It can change lives. It can change the world, one soul at a time. It isn’t simply a private concern, something to be brought out for an hour on a Sunday morning and then hid away politely. It is the most important thing there is. It is something to fill us with joy. It is something that we should share with others, so that they might 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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An Easter Homily ascribed to John Chrysostom [PG 59:721-4]

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Εἴ τις εὐσεβὴς καὶ φιλόθεος, ἀπολαυέτω τῆς καλῆς ταύτης πανηγύρεως· εἴ τις δοῦλος εὐγνώμων, εἰσελθέτω χαίρων εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου αὐτοῦ· εἴ τις ἔκαμενηστεύων, ἀπολαβέτω νῦν τὸ δηνάριον· εἴ τις ἀπὸ πρώτης ὥρας εἰργάσατο, δεχέσθω σήμερον τὸ δίκαιον ὄφλημα· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν τρίτην ἦλθεν, εὐχαριστῶν ἑορτάσῃ· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν ἕκτην ἔφθασε, μηδὲν ἀμφιβαλλέτω· καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲν ζημιοῦται· εἴ τις ὑστέρησεν εἰς τὴν ἐννάτην, προσελθέτω μηδὲν ἐνδοιάζων· εἴ τις εἰς μόνην ἔφθασε τὴν ἑνδεκάτην, μὴ φοβηθῇ τὴν βραδυτῆτα. Φιλότιμος γὰρ ὢν ὁ Δεσπότης δέχεται τὸν ἔσχατον, καθάπερ καὶ τὸν πρῶτον· ἀναπαύει τὸν τῆς ἑνδεκάτης,ὡς τὸν ἐργασάμενον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης· καὶ τὸν ὕστερον ἐλεεῖ, καὶ τὸν πρῶτον θεραπεύει· κἀκείνῳ δίδωσι, καὶ τούτῳ χαρίζεται. Καὶ τὴν πρᾶξιν τιμᾷ, καὶ τὴν πρόθεσιν ἐπαινεῖ. Οὐκοῦν εἰσέλθητε πάντες εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν, καὶ πρῶτοι καὶ δεύτεροι τὸν μισθὸν ἀπολάβετε, πλούσιοι καὶ πένητες μετὰ ἀλλήλων χορεύσατε, ἐγκρατεῖς καὶ ῥᾴθυμοι τὴν ἡμέραν τιμήσατε, νηστεύσαντες καὶ μὴ νηστεύσαντες εὐφράνθητε σήμερον. Ἡ τράπεζα γέμει, τρυφήσατε πάντες· ὁ μόσχος πολὺς, μηδεὶς ἐξέλθοι πεινῶν. Πάντες ἀπολαύσατε τοῦ πλούτου τῆς χρηστότητος. Μηδεὶς θρηνείτω πενίαν· ἐφάνη γὰρ ἡ κοινὴ βασιλεία· μηδεὶς ὀδυρέσθω τὰ πταίσματα· συγγνώμη γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ τάφου ἀνέτειλε· μηδεὶς φοβείσθω τὸν θάνατον· ἠλευθέρωσε γὰρ ἡμᾶς ὁ τοῦ Σωτῆρος θάνατος· ἔσβεσεν αὐτὸν ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ κατεχόμενος· ἐκόλασε τὸν ᾅδην κατελθὼν εἰς τὸν ᾅδην· ἐπίκρανεν αὐτὸν γευσάμενον τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ. Καὶ τοῦτο προλαβὼν Ἡσαΐας ἐβόησεν· Ὁ ᾅδης, φησὶν, ἐπικράνθη. Συναντήσας σοι κάτω ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ καθῃρέθη· ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ ἐνεπαίχθη. Ἔλαβε σῶμα, καὶ Θεῷ περιέτυχεν· ἔλαβε γῆν, καὶ συνήντησεν οὐρανῷ· ἔλαβεν ὅπερ ἔβλεπε, καὶ πέπτωκεν ὅθεν οὐκ ἔβλεπε. Ποῦ σου, θάνατε, τὸ κέντρον; ποῦ σου, ᾅδη, τὸ νῖκος; Ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ σὺ καταβέβλησαι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ πεπτώκασι δαίμονες· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ χαίρουσιν ἄγγελοι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ νεκρὸς οὐδεὶς ἐπὶ μνήματος. Χριστὸς γὰρ ἐγερθεὶς ἐκ νεκρῶν, ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἐγένετο· αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.  
If anyone is a devout lover of God, let them rejoice in this beautiful radiant feast. If anyone is a faithful servant, let them gladly enter into the joy of their Lord. If any are wearied with fasting, let them now reap their reward. If any have laboured since the first hour, let them receive today their just reward. If any have come after the third hour, let them celebrate the feast with thankfulness. If any have arrived after the sixth hour, let them not doubt, for they will sustain no loss. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let them not hesitate but draw near. If any have arrived at the eleventh hour, let them not fear their lateness. For the Master is gracious and welcomes the last no less than the first. He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour just as kindly as those who have laboured since the first hour. The first he fills to overflowing: on the last he has compassion. To the one he grants his favour, to the other pardon. He does not look only at the work: he looks into the intention of the heart. Enter then, all of you, into the joy of your Master. First and Last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor dance together. You who have fasted and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it. The fatted calf is served: let no-one go away hungry. Come all of you, share in the banquet of faith: draw on the wealth of his mercy. Let no-one lament their poverty; for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no-one weep for their sins; for the light of the forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no-one fear death; for the death of the Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed death by undergoing hell. He has despoiled hell by descending into hell. Hell was filled with bitterness when it tasted his flesh, as Isaiah foretold: ‘Hell was filled with bitterness when it met you face-to-face below’ – filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing; filled with bitterness, for it was mocked; filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown; filled with bitterness, for it was destroyed; filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains. It received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven. It received what it saw, and was overpowered by what it did not see. O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom. Christ is risen, and the grave is emptied of the dead. For Christ being raised from the dead has become the first-fruits of those who sleep. To him be glory and dominion to the ages of ages. Amen.

Lent IV – Mothering Sunday

Lent is a time of preparation. We prepare to celebrate the Death and Resurrection of Jesus by forty days of praying, fasting, and almsgiving. We recognise how we fall short of how God wants us to live our lives and we try, with God’s help, to repent, to turn away from sin , and to turn back to God. It is hard work, and so it is nice to have a chance to relax our disciples and emphasise joy and celebration. Today is such a day. We recognise this by wearing rose rather than purple, a lighter, more joyful colour. We have flowers, and we rejoice in the warmth of spring. Traditionally it was a chance to go back to your mother church, the church in which you were baptised, and thus to spend time with your family. Because of this it is often conflated with Mother’s Day, a celebration which began in America, and is of an entirely secular character.

The church, however, is used to adapting, and it is good to celebrate. We all have mothers, whether they are still with us, or not. They give birth to us, and hopefully show us love. Likewise, the Church is mother to us all: we find new life in her, through our baptism, and we become part of a greater family, where we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, where we are all part of one family. This identity is in fact the most important one we have, it is how God knows us. Like any relationship it can have its problems, but it is through our common baptism that we enter the church, and come to new life in Jesus Christ. So we give thanks for our mothers, who gave us life, and for the church which gives us new life.

In our Old Testament Reading this morning we see the birth of Samuel, the prophet, who would anoint David as King of Israel. His mother, Hannah, had longed for children, and promised that any children she had would be dedicated to the service of God. He does lead the people of Israel to worship God. He is a true prophet. Just like Sarah, the mother of Isaac, Rebekah, the mother of Jacob, Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin and Samson’s mother, we see women who long for children, women who trust God.

Likewise in the Gospel we see Mary at the foot of the Cross. As she watches her Son put to death , He entrusts her to a new family, with John, the Evangelist and Beloved Disciple as her Son. We honour her as the Mother of God, and as an example of Christian love in action. She lives a life which is obedient to God, regardless of the cost. She is a model for us to follow in trusting God, just like Hannah before her. As she watches her Son die, she knows the cost of love. Such is God’s love for us, and this is what we are preparing to celebrate – God’s love for us. Our human love helps us to understand this. Mary becomes a mother to John, the Evangelist, hers is a life characterised by love and care. It is a model for how the church SHOULD be ; a place of care, of love and support – we may fail in this, but we need to remember that the God whom we serve is one of love and forgiveness, He forgives us our sins, so that we might become more like Him.

In this morning’s Epistle we hear St Paul writing to the Church at Colossae. He encourages them to live Christ-like lives, living out their faith in their lives, so that other people may know who and what we are. We do this together, as a family, a Christian community, sharing the common task of bearing witness to the faith of our baptism. It takes effort on our part: we have to try to do it, but we are not alone in our efforts. God gives us the Church, so that we can do it together. We can meet together to pray, to read the Bible, and most importantly to celebrate the Eucharist together, so that we can be faithful to Our Lord Jesus Christ, who told us to DO THIS in memory of Him, so that we can be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, fed BY Christ, and fed WITH Christ, so that We can become what He is. We can share in His life, and be transformed more and more into His likeness. This is our soul’s true food, the greatest medicine we could ever receive, the Bread of Eternal Life, and the Chalice of Everlasting Salvation. Christ dies for us, to show us what true love is, so that we can share in that love, and share that love with others. This is why we died in baptism and were raised to new life in Christ, to share in His Body and Blood, and to live that life out in the world, growing more and more into His likeness, to be prepared for Heaven where we might enjoy His love forever.

So let us come to Him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, to live lives of love, and encourage others so to do, so that all may give glory to the Father, the Son, and 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: Gen 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mk 1:4-11

 

January is a time for making resolutions: we start the New Year full of optimism, full of promise, but despite our good intentions, most of us, myself included, have probably broken them by now. We mean well, and we fail. And that’s the point. We try to turn over a new leaf, but we find it hard to stick to. The God whom we worship understands temptation and sin, because he lived as one of us. He is a God of love, of mercy, and forgiveness. How ever many times we fall short we be assured that we will be welcomed, healed, restored and pardoned. God loves us as we are. We do not need to earn his love, or deserve it. He loves us and longs for us to have the fulness of life in Him. Today Jesus shows us the way back to the Father,

The ideas of baptism, of becoming regenerate, born again in Christ, of repentance, a change of mind, turning away from sin, and turning to Jesus Christ seem, as ever, to be just what we need as human beings, men and women, who despite our best efforts to the contrary just find it all too easy to be and do what we know we shouldn’t.

John the Baptist goes out into the desert in this morning’s Gospel. He goes out into the wilderness, to a place on the margins, of society and of human habitation, to take people out of their comfort zone, where they feel safe, to a place of encounter with God. John is ‘proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. His message is a simple one: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. What he does – pouring the water of the River Jordan over people –  signifies their turning back to God, a new start, a new beginning, wiping the slate clean. What starts as something symbolic becomes something more with the Baptism of Jesus – it becomes a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

Jesus does not need to be baptised, he has no sins from which to repent, there is nothing which separates Him from God, the Father. He is both God and man, and yet He is baptised – out of obedience to the will of the Father and for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – so that we can see God in action in the world. The heavens are torn open, and the Spirit of God is active in the world. God has taken flesh in the womb of Mary and is born among us, recognised and worshipped by the Wise Men. Now he shows us the way back to the Father, through obedience and humility, through repentance, turning away from the ways of sin and the world, and turning back to the God who loves us. This is what the church is all about – proclaiming the same message, going the same thing, sharing in the same grace, which we do not deserve, we haven’t worked for or earned, but which God in His love and mercy gives us. We receive adoption, we become part of the family of God, we are born again, of water and the Spirit, we are ‘in Christ’, clothed with Him.

The utterly unnecessary nature of the act of Jesus’ Baptism discloses something profound about the nature of God and His love for us. God gives us more than we ask for, because it is in His nature to be generous in a way which astounds us. There is something reckless, profligate, and extravagant, utterly over the top, about the love of God, which should prompt us to react in a similar way.

John’s baptism of water prepares the way for the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Christ, through which we enter the Church, it shows us a new way of life, life in the Spirit, life with God, which has a profound effect on our lives, who we are and what we do. It opens a possibility to us, of living in a new way, a way of love, which mirrors the generosity shown to us by God. It shows us in the Church what it is to be truly alive and how to live in a new way. It points to another act of God’s extravagant love – that Christ dies on the Cross, to take away our sin, to carry our burden, which separates us from God and each other. This sacrifice is made present here and now so that under the outward forms of bread and wine we may partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, so that our souls may be nourished and our lives transformed by God’s very self – a solemn moment, the holiest thing on earth, the most wonderful moment of our lives. Here, now, God continues to give himself so that we can continue to be transformed, something which begins at our baptism, to prepare us for heaven, and so that we can live the life of the Kingdom of God here and now – living out that self-giving, reckless, extravagant love and forgiveness in our own lives, and in the world around us.

It sounds easy, being extravagantly loving and forgiving, and yet for two thousand years we have struggled with it. It is easier to be selfish and sinful. Yet, despite our shortcomings, God continues to forgive us, so that we can carry on trying to be the people he wants us to be, which we need to be together, as a community of love and forgiveness, which is what the Church is.

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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Advent III Year B

As Christians our vocation is a simple one: joy. This is not, however, worldly joy, the fruit of consumerist excess, a joy of stuff: what we have, what we can buy, or own, or sell, but something far deeper and far richer, which comes from God. We are to be people of JOY, filled with it, and sharing it with others.

We rejoice that our yearly memorial of Our Lord’s nativity is drawing near – a birth which changes everything, which brings about the salvation of humanity. This is the most wonderful news that the world could ever hear, and hear it they must.

In this morning’s Gospel John the Baptist has been preaching a baptism of repentance, a turning away from sin towards the arms of a loving God. He has been stark and uncompromising in his message, as a prophet should be. The people to whom he has been preaching find themselves in an awkward situation, and yet they are drawn to the Good News. They can’t quite understand what’s going on: Is John the Messiah? If he isn’t, who then is he? He calls people to the baptism of repentance in the knowledge that Christ’s gift of His Spirit is coming. He is preparing for the Kingdom of God to be a reality in people’s hearts, and minds, and lives

The state, the church, and the world around us all seem to be in a mess. There is political instability, fears for the future, tyrants and demagogues in power. The peace which the Messiah came to bring it seems as elusive as ever, whereas the human capacity to create misery in the most dreadful ways makes us realise that we still have some considerable distance to travel. One possible answer is the need for repentance: to change our hearts and minds and to follow Christ.

Our readings this morning speak of the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom of love and freedom: good news to those who are oppressed, a healing love which binds up the broken-hearted, a kingdom of healing and of renewal, which proclaims liberty, which releases prisoners. It turns the world on its head, and offers something completely different: comfort to those who mourn, a mantle of praise, a garment of joy and salvation, which we have put on in our baptism.

In all our sadness and sin, we look forward to our yearly remembrance of our Lord’s incarnation. We prepare our hearts, our minds, and our lives, to go to Bethlehem, to see God come into the world naked, vulnerable, and homeless, utterly reliant on Mary and Joseph. We also prepare to meet him as he will come again, as our Saviour and our Judge. It is a daunting prospect, yet we know and trust that he saves us, that by his wounds on the cross we are healed, our sins are forgiven.

We are to rejoice, strange though it might seem, just like the people of Israel in captivity, in a God who loves us, who heals and restores us, who gives us real hope for the future. In the midst of our sorrow we are to place all our hope and trust in God who loves us, and who saves us.

We are to rejoice, as S. Paul reminds the Thessalonians, we are to be filled with a joy which leads to prayer, to a relationship with God. We give thanks to God for what Christ has achieved and will achieve. It encourages us to hold fast to what is good and abhor what is evil. In living out our faith we are drawn ever closer to the God who loves us and saves us. We draw close to Jesus in His word, and in the Sacrament of the Altar, where we are fed with His Body and Blood, so that we can be sanctified by God, and share in his divine life and joy.

We are to share this joy with others, to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people, and not just in our words but our deeds. If we share what we have, if we are generous, if we work for justice and are clothed with humility, showing our joy in mutual love, God’s kingdom will be advanced. We, here, now, know that Jesus will come and will judge us by the standard of love which he set for us to follow. Let us trust God and share that trust in prayer, that his will may be done, and that he may fill us with his love.

The world around us is full of pain and anguish, and the only way for it to be healed is in Christ, who was bruised for our transgressions and wounded for our iniquities. He still bears those wounds as the wounds of love. As he flung out his arms on the cross, so he longs to embrace the world and fill it with his peace and love. He will not force us; he is no tyrant in the sky. It is the world which must turn to him in love and in trust, and turn away from sin. Our task is always only all things to be joyful in the Lord, and to live out our faith to help the world turn to him.

It isn’t an easy thing to do, and after 2000 years of trying we may seem as far away as when John proclaimed the coming of God’s kingdom. We could just give up, or we can try, and keep trying, no matter how many times we fail, secure in the knowledge that God loves us and forgives us. The One who calls us is faithful, and He will do this. Let us trust in Him, be fed and nourished by Him, with Him, filled with His Holy Spirit, so that all the world may come to believe and trust in Him, 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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Jesus and Nicodemus Lent II

The sight of a crucifix has a continuity with Golgotha; at times its vision is embarrassing. We can keep a statue of Buddha in a room, tickle his tummy for good luck, but it is never mortifying. The crucifix somehow or other makes us feel involved. It is much more than a picture of Marie Antoinette and the death-dealing guillotine. No matter how much we thrust it away, it makes its plaguing reappearance like an unpaid bill.

Fulton J. Sheen Those Mysterious Priests 1974: 101—102

 

Our Baptism is a wonderful thing, and it is why each and every one of us is here today. It is how we enter the Church, how we become part of the body of Christ,  it is how our souls are infused with the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, it is how we are regenerate, born again, sharing in His death, and His resurrection. It is something for which people have traditionally prepared during this season of Lent, for Baptism and Confirmation at Easter, so that they can die with Christ and be raised to new life with Him. We enter into the mystery of Christ’s saving work so that we may conformed to it and transformed by it, by Love, by believing and trusting in Christ, publicly declaring our faith in Him, and praying for His Holy Spirit, so that our lives may be transformed – living for Him, living in Him, and being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ.

To be drawn into His likeness means coming closer to His Cross and Passion: just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (Jn 3:14). Just as the serpent in the desert brought salvation to the people of Israel, so now the Cross is our only hope – the sacrifice of God for humanity, not something we can give God, but something he gives us – a free gift of infinite value. God gives it to us and to all the world for one simple reason – love, for love of us – weak, poor, sinful humanity, so that we might be more lovely, more like Him. God sends His Son into the world not to condemn it, but so that the world might be saved through Him – an unselfish act of generosity, of grace, so that we might be saved from sin and death, from ourselves, so that we can share new life in Him.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ John 3:16-17 (ESV) These few words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus in John’s Gospel encapsulate what we believe as Christians, and why we believe it, may we live them, strengthened through prayer, our study of the Bible, nourished by Our Lord’s Body and Blood, forgiven and forgiving, preparing to be caught up forever in the love of God.

It is that same sacrifice which we see here this morning, which we can taste and touch, which we can eat and drink, so that our lives and our souls can be transformed to live Christ’s risen life. It is something which we treat with the uttermost reverence because it is God, given for us, because it can transform us to live as children of the Holy Spirit, freed from the shackles of this world, free to live for Him, to live as He wants us to, His new creation, of water and the Spirit. This is what the Church has done on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, in memory of Him, to make the holy people of God. To make us holy: so that everything which we say, or think, or do, may be for His praise and glory, living out the faith which we believe in our hearts, as a sign to the world that the ways of selfishness and sin are as nothing compared with the generous love of God.

So great is this gift, that we prepare to celebrate it with this solemn season of prayer, and fasting, and abstinence, to focus our minds and our lives on the God who loves us and who saves us. We prepare our hearts and minds and lives to celebrate the mystery of our redemption, so that our lives may reflect His glory, so that we may live for Him, fed by Him, fed with Him, with our lives and souls transformed by Him. We are transformed so that we can transform the world so that it may live for Him, living life in all its fullness: living for others, living as God wants us to live. Living the selfless love which saves us and all the world, living out our faith, and encouraging others so to do, can and will conform us to Christ, so that we may be like Him, and become ever more like Him, prepared for eternal life with Him, so that we 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.

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Third Sunday of Year A [Mt 4:12–23]

If you go to S. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the Chapel of Keble College, Oxford, you can see one of the most popular and reproduced works of Religious Art in the world: Holman Hunt’s painting, The Light of the World. It shows our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ standing at a door with a lantern. The door has no handle; it needs to be opened from the inside: Jesus may be the Light of the World, but he does not force himself upon us, we have to welcome Him into our hearts and our lives. His coming into the world which we celebrate at Christmas, which was made manifest to the world at Epiphany, was not the entry of a tyrant, forcing himself upon the world, but as a vulnerable and loving baby, entirely dependent upon the love and care of others, God comes among us. His coming is foretold by the prophet Isaiah, He is the fulfilment of prophesy, he is the light of the nations, and a cause of great joy: to be a Christian, to follow Christ is it not to be filled with the joy and love which comes from God; we can be serious in our zeal, but should never be miserable: our vocation is to live out our faith, in love, and hope, and joy in our lives, to draw others to Him.

Of our many failings as followers of Christ there is nothing worse than to see strife and division amongst Christians, as S. Paul found in Corinth: it has no place in the church, it isn’t what God intended for us, it’s not how things should be. It has to be resisted: wounds have to be healed, transgressions forgiven, and unity restored. It’s part of how we live out our faith in our lives, it’s why we pray and work for Christian Unity, and why it matters for our proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom of God.

If we turn to the words of this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To repent as Christ is asking us to, as St John the Baptist proclaimed before him is to change our mind, to make a change of direction in our lives, away from sin, and to Christ, it is what we promise in our baptism and it is how we are supposed to keep living our lives. It’s hard, I know, I fail on a daily basis, and yet I keep trying, turning back to a God who loves me, who took flesh of the Virgin Mary and became incarnate for me, and for you, and all who have ever or will ever turn to Him. Ours then is God of love and mercy, a God of forgiveness who calls us to turn to him, so that we may have life and have it to the full.

We turn away from what separates us from God and each other, we turn to God in Christ, to be close to Him in Word and Sacrament, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, so that we might share His divine nature, so that we might be given a foretaste of heaven, so that we may be strengthened to live out our faith in our lives, so that the world may believe – the Kingdom is close at hand, and Christ calls us, the baptised people of God, to share in the work of His kingdom. He asks that we follow Him, that we go where He goes, that we do what He does – it sounds easy enough, but it’s not, it’s something which we need to do together, and while I can endeavour to help you along the way, I cannot without your help, your prayers, your love, and your support. As Christians we are inter-dependent, we rely upon each other, we’re in it together.

In the Gospel, Jesus sees Andrew and Simon Peter and then James and John the sons of Zebedee and says ‘Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people’. He calls them to share in God’s work of saving souls. They drop everything and follow him: it’s immediate and matter of fact. Jesus goes around preaching the good news of the kingdom, and the need for humanity to repent, and to be baptised, and he heals the sick, just as he can heal the sickness in our souls. This is good news indeed.

We need to be like lights in the world, shining in the darkness, so that Christ can knock on the door of people’s hearts. We need to be like those first disciples who heard what Jesus said, who listened, and did what He told them, who were close to Jesus, so that our faith is a reality in our lives. We need to be strengthened and fed by Him who is the greatest medicine for our souls, who comes to us here, this morning,  in His Body and Blood, to heal us, to restore us and strengthen us to follow him, so that the world may believe and 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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An Advent Meditation

The whole problem of our time is not lack of knowledge but lack of love

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

The season of Advent has an interesting character: it is one of joyful waiting, as we await our yearly remembrance of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’s Birth, the dawning of the new hope of Salvation for mankind. It is also a season of penitence, when the church considers the Four Last Things, one for each week of Advent: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. Such matters are nowadays rather passed over in our Christian discourse, and while this is understandable, it is not a good thing. Human life on earth, is, by its very nature finite: we are born and we die, we may live for minutes, or decades, even a century – but in the end death comes for us all. This is not morbid, it is a fact of life. The world around us finds death strange and scary: it is sanitised, medicalised, shut away in a hospital or a care home. What was once commonplace and domestic has been put out of sight and out of mind as we seem no longer willing or able to face our own mortality.

As Christians we have hope that this earthly life is not all that there is, we believe that Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem, died on the Cross, and rose again on that glorious Easter morn, and after forty days ascended into Heaven to show us that this is our hope, this is the fruit of our reconciliation with God, and each other. As the Preface for the Dead puts it:

Tuis enim fidelibus, Domine, vita mutatur, non tollitur: et dissoluta terrestris hujus incolatus domo, aeterna in caelis habitatio comparatur.

For the life of thy faithful people, O Lord, is changed, not taken away: and at the dissolution of the tabernacle of this earthly sojourning, a dwelling place eternal is made ready in the heavens

Hence the Christian talk of a good death, a happy death. It is nothing to be feared, but rather to be embraced, as a means to an end, namely the hope of unity with God.

After death comes judgement, and the simple answer is that no single human being deserves to go heaven (with the obvious exception of the Holy Family). We all deserve to go to Hell, ours is a fallen world and we sin, each and every one of us, every day in a multitude of ways. It is that simple, and we cannot work out way to heaven through works, but rather through God’s grace and mercy, through our Baptism, which makes us one with Christ. He gave S. Peter the power to loose and bind, to remind us that sin is a serious matter, it destroys the soul, hence the sacrament of reconciliation, an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of God, of forgiveness and mercy. The message Our Lord first declares is exactly the same as John the Baptist ‘καὶ λέγων ὅτι Πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ· μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’ (Mk 1:15 ESV) This is the message of Advent: repent and believe in the Good News of the Kingdom of God, Good News which starts at the Annunciation, which brings about Our Saviour’s Birth. This is why we say Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

This leaves us a question, ‘Will we follow Him?’ There are two ways, one leads to Heaven, one leads to Hell; the road to Heaven, the life of faith is not an easy journey, it’s hard. That’s why we have the Church, a frail body, comprised of sinners, but who trust in God’s mercy, and though we keep failing, yet we stumble on, knowing that Heaven is our goal, that the way of the world leads to a future without God, bleak, cold, and devoid of love.

God is a God of mercy, a God who will judge us, knowing that His Son has paid the price, conquering sin and death, so let us believe in Him, trust in Him, and follow Him, let us prepare to celebrate His Birth with joy, and commit ourselves to walking in His way, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let us experience that mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, let us be fed with His Body and Blood, nourished by His Word, and the teaching of His Church, praying together, loving and forgiving together, so that together our hope may be of Heaven, where we and all the faithful 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.

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Homily for Lent I

It is all too easy to see the forty days of Lent, the season of preparation for our celebration of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection as a time of sadness and misery. Too often it is seen in entirely negative terms: we focus on what we are giving up. Now the practice of abstaining from bodily pleasures is a good and ancient one, not in and of itself, it is not some sort of holy diet, but rather we turn away from something we enjoy so that we may focus upon something else. The other practices of Lent: prayer and almsgiving are there to focus our minds upon God and other people, so that we may enter the desert of repentance with joy, thinking of the needs of others and growing closer to the God who loves us and longs for our healing, our repentance.
     
  In this morning’s first reading we see a covenant between God and humanity, a sign of God’s love for us, and a promise of reconciliation between God and the world which underlies what Jesus does for us, it allows us to have hope, to see things in an entirely positive way, and to see behind what we do, that it is a means, a means to an end, namely our sanctification, rather than an end in itself. In our second reading from the first letter of Peter, he draws the link between Noah’s ark, which saves people through water, and baptism, which is prefigured in it. Lent is a season of preparation for baptism, so that we can die with Christ and be raised like him and with him to new life in him. For those of us who have been baptised it is good to have a chance to spend the time in Lent praying, drawing closer to the God who loves us, and living out our faith in our lives – we can all do better, especially when we try, and try together, supporting each other, so that we might grow in holiness as the people of God.
When St Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying ‘Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria.’ When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried to the city. When he had found the tanner …. he said to him, ‘Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you.’
He replied, ‘I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of the city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds while I will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart.’
When St Antony heard this he said, ‘My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near to the measure of such words.’
It is a very human failure, for far too often we make things far too complicated when all we need to do is to keep things simple. In the story from the Desert Fathers, which we have just heard, St Antony, the founder of monasticism, a great and a holy man, is put to shame by a man who spends his days treating animal skins. The key to it all is the tanner’s humility, his complete absence of pride, and his complete and utter trust in God – his reliance upon him alone.
In this morning’s Gospel we see the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry – he is baptised by John in the River Jordan before immediately  going into the desert for forty days. He goes to be alone with God, to pray and to fast, to prepare himself for the public ministry of the Proclamation of the Good News, the Gospel.
During this he is tempted by the devil: he faces temptation just like every human being, but unlike us, he resists. The devil tempts him to turn stones into bread. It is understandable – he is hungry, but it is a temptation to be relevant, which the church seems to have given into completely: unless we what we are and what we do and say is relevant to people, they will ignore us.
There is the temptation to have power, symbolised by worshipping the devil. It leads to the misuse of power. The church stands condemned for the mistakes of the past, but in recognising this there is the possibility of a more humble church in the future – a church reliant upon God and not on the exercise of power.
There is the temptation to put God to the test – to be spectacular and self-seeking. Whenever we say ‘look at me’ we’re not saying ‘look at God’.
Jesus resists these temptations because he is humble, because he has faith, and because he trusts in God. It certainly isn’t easy, but it is possible. It’s far easier when we do this together, as a community, which is why Lent matters for all of us. It’s a chance to become more obedient, and through that obedience to discover true freedom in God. It’s an obedience which is made manifest on the Cross – in laying down his life Jesus can give new life to the whole world. He isn’t spectacular – he dies like a common criminal. He has no power, he does not try to be relevant, he is loving and obedient and that is good enough.
It was enough for him, and it should be for us. As Christians we have Scripture and the teaching of the Church, filled with his Spirit, to guide us. We can use this time of prayer and fasting to deepen our faith, our trust, our understanding, and our obedience, to become more like Jesus, fed by his word and sacraments – to become more humble, more loving, living lives of service of God and each other.  It leads to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ Words as true now as then, which the world still longs to hear, and which we need to live out in our lives, 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.
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Lent III Yr A (John 4:5-42)


‘God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us’
People can be strange, stubborn creatures, and the picture given to us of the Israelites in Exodus should strike something of a chord – we can recognise something of ourselves in it. But lest we get too disheartened it is important to recognise that Moses strikes the rock at Horeb, as the Lord commands him, and out flows water. This water, like the parted water of the Red Sea prefigures our baptism, through which we enter the Church, through which we are regenerate, born again to eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, whose side was pierced on Calvary, and whence flowed blood and water, this water speaks to us of the grace of God poured out upon us, his people, to heal us and restore us, to help us live his risen life.
            So as we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, we can do so joyfully because God’s love has been poured into our hearts – what matters is what has been done to us, by God, out of love, so that we can be like him. He is the reconciliation which achieves what we cannot: restoring our relationship with God and each other, healing our wounds, and giving us eternal life in Him.
            Picture the scene – it’s the middle of the day, the sun is blazing overhead, he’s been walking for hours, days even. Jesus is tired – as a man, a human being, he is no different from you or me – he ate and drank, and was knackered. Mid-day is no time to be drawing water from a well – it’s something you do first thing in the morning. He asks the woman for a drink – he’s defying a social convention – he’s breaking the rules. She’s surprised – Jews are supposed to treat Samaritans as outcasts, they’re beyond the pale, they’re like the Roma in Eastern Europe. Jesus offers her living water, so that she may never he thirsty again. The woman desires it, so that she will never be thirsty again, or have to come to the well to draw water. Jesus knows who and what she is – he recognises her irregular lifestyle, but also her need of God – her need for the water of grace to restore her soul, and inspire her to tell people the Good News. Her testimony is powerful because she has experienced God’s love as a living reality and she simply has to tell people about it. She brings them to Christ so that they can be nourished, so that they too can experience the grace of God.
To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. If we are changing into Jesus Christ, then we’re on the right track. If we listen to his word; if we talk to him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him in the Eucharist, by Christ both priest and victim, to become what He is – God; if we’re forgiven by Him, through making confession of our sins, not only do we come to understand Jesus, we become like him, we come to share in his divine nature, you, me, all of humanity ideally. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
            Lent should be something of a spiritual spring clean, asking God to drive out all that should not be there, preparing for the joy of Easter, to live the Risen Life, filled with God’s grace. In our baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life in the Spirit. Let us prepare to live that life, holding fast to Our Lord and Saviour, clinging to the teachings of his body, the Church. Let us turn away from the folly of this world, the hot air, and focus on the true and everlasting joy of heaven, which awaits us, who are bought by his blood, washed in it, fed with it. So that we too may praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever…

Homily for the 21st Sunday of Year C


To the bad conscience God appears always the God of wrath. The boy who broke the vase by throwing a ball at it says to his mother: ‘Now Mummy, don’t get mad.’ Anger is not in the mother; anger is in the boy’s projection to his mother of his own sense of justice. Anger is not in God; anger is in our disordered selves.
Fulton Sheen Preface to Religion,  1946: 50
The Cross of Calvary stands at the crossroads of three prosperous civilizations as eloquent testimony to the uncomfortable truth that the successful people, the social leaders, the people who are labelled niceare the ones most capable of crucifying the Divine Truth and the Eternal Love.
Fulton Sheen Peace of Soul, 1954: 69
Growing up is probably best described as not an easy or indeed a pleasant process. Learning right from wrong, what to do and how to do it, takes time and invariably involves mistakes. The problem comes not from making mistakes themselves but rather from not learning from them. Learning lessons requires humility – knowing that you do not know everything, that you have much to learn, that you are not the finished article but rather a work in progress. That through God’s grace working in you, you may become something greater, something better than you are. 
This recognition of one’s 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 big 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’s a question of engagement – are you a bystander or have you been fed by God, with God, and through the grace of the sacrament lived out your faith in your life – living out the love of God in your life? Have you been around when the Gospel has been taught, or have you both listened to it and lived it out in your life?
It isn’t an easy thing to do – it is costly, difficult, and hard and it is something which we need to do together. That’s after all what the Church is for – it’s a collection of sinners trying to live in response to the love of God which has been poured out on us. It’s something which we have to do together – loving each other, loving our enemies, living out forgiveness as we have been forgiven and loved by God. It’s a radically different way of life to that which the world would encourage us to practice. It isn’t easy, it’s really difficult, and we willfail at it, but that’s the point! The point is not that we fail and that’s it, but that we keep trying, loving and forgiving, together, built up as the body of Christ, humble enough to let God be at work in us, transforming our nature by his Grace – making us the people of God, living out his love in the world.
We have come here this morning to be fed by Word and Sacrament, to be nourished by God, with God, to have false ideas of who and what we are stripped away, and recognising our dependence upon God and each other, to try and live out our faith – to grow in holiness together as the people of God, loved, healed, and restored by him – and through this to grow up into the full stature of Christ and to transform the world that it may reflect more fully the glory of God. The Gospel really is this radical, it’s not nice, or comfortable, it’s challenging and difficult, and utterly wonderful, releasing people from the slavery of this world and its false ideas to live in the freedom and love of God.
We 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 forgives sins, which heals and restores broken sinful humanity, which gives us the hope of heaven. This is grace the free gift of God, giving Himself who shared our humanity so that we might share His divinity, strengthened by Word and Sacrament to live out our faith.
The world cannot understand this, it doesn’t make sense, it isn’t logical, it shouldn’t happen. But it does, and it calls the world to something different, something radical and world-changing, which can re-form human society in the image of God and His Love. It will be hard: the world will laugh at us and our feeble attempts to follow God. Yet, we believe in a God who loves us, and who would never laugh at us, or belittle our feeble efforts to follow Him and conform ourselves to 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.
God takes the initiative in Christ to help us to have life in its fullness – it’s not a life without rules, or discipline, it isn’t easy, it’s costly and difficult, but it is good and rewarding. It may not feel like that, we may struggle to experience its goodness or even its rewards in this life, but it prepares us for an eternity with God, in his closer presence. Humility is the key – in it we recognise our utter dependence upon God, our own sinfulness, our need to be loved and to share that love with others. God loves us not because we are loveable, but that through His love we might become lovely. 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 can transform ourselves and 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.

Homily for 17th Sunday of Year C: Luke 11:1-13



Prayer is helplessness casting itself on Power, infirmity leaning on Strength, misery reaching to Mercy, and a prisoner clamouring for Relief.
Fulton J Sheen Life is Worth Living, 1954: 213
‘Lord teach us to pray’ the disciples ask Jesus in this morning’s Gospel. Their words are our words, we want to know how to pray, what to say to God, how to have a conversation – one that is meaningful and has value. They ask the Lord, and he shows them what to do and what to say. 
The 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, kept holy. It is the loving response of a child to a parent. In stressing holiness it puts God in his proper place, it ensures that things are done properly. Then the prayer looks forward, ‘your kingdom come’ it looks for the coming of God’s kingdom, which goes hand in hand with ‘your will be done’ God’s kingdom is tied up with doing God’s will, the responsibility is ours to do it. 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 goes with 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, and so they should be in our lives. As people who are forgiven and forgiving we pray that we may not be led into temptation, that we may continue as forgiven and forgiving people.
It is a model of what to say to God, what to ask for, and how to ask for it. It is concise and profound, it is not lengthy or wordy; it does not ramble or drone on for ages. It says what needs to be said, it defines our relationship with God and each other, it defines our spiritual life as one where we are fed and forgiven. It characterises what we are doing here today, to seek God’s forgiveness and forgive others, and to be fed by Word and Sacrament, to do God’s will and bring about God’s Kingdom, a kingdom of love and forgiveness, which looks radically different from what might be if humanity were left to its own devices – it calls us forward to something greater, something more wonderful, than we can imagine. And yet it is a reality – God forgives our sins , giving his life for us, nailing our sins to the Cross, suffering in his flesh so that we who have died with Christ in our baptism may also share His risen life, fed by Him, fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, transformed by the sacrifice of Calvary, loved redeemed and nourished, forgiven and forgiving, to transform the world so that it may be conformed to God’s will, that His name may be Holy, so that all creation may sing His praise. So that the Church, which is Christ’s body, may bring about God’s kingdom and do God’s will. 
It 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 and all of creation, conforming them to the will of God, helping 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, and the giving of His Holy Spirit, to nourish us and transform us and all the world, so that it may believe and be transformed to 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.

SS Peter and Paul, Apostles


We cannot choose our family, we may not like them, we may find them difficult to get along with, it is not always easy to get along with them, but we do so because of the ties of blood and kinship, because blood is thicker than water. The Church is a family rather than a society of friends, we are related to each other through our baptism: we have been clothed with Christ and share in his death and new life. Living in the Church means being part of a family where our relationship with each other flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ.
            In this morning’s Gospel Jesus asks his disciples ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ and he asks us ‘Who do you say that I am?’  It is a question which we have to answer. The world around us can provide us with any number of answers – there are those who deny that Jesus even existed, that he’s made up, a figment of an over-active religious imagination, there are those who say that he was a human being, a prophet, a charismatic healer and rabbi, misunderstood, who died, but whose resurrection is doubted. This will not do: either Jesus is exactly what he says he was, or he is a liar and a fool. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who brings freedom and liberation, he is God, the God who created the world and who redeems it, by giving himself for us.
            Can we give this answer? If we do that’s not the end of the story, but only the beginning. At the end of John’s Gospel, Our Lord asks Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ he asks it three times, and each time he replies, ‘Feed my sheep’. Peter replies, ‘Lord you know everything, you know that I love you’ Our Lord knows that Peter loves him because he shows this love by feeding the sheep given to him to tend. We show our love for God by living out our faith in our lives, by bearing witness to what we believe in our hearts in what we say, and think, and do in our lives. We bear witness, we are not afraid to confess our faith in a world which demands that we compromise it, that we sacrifice to its idols.
            In the Acts of the Apostles we see King Herod persecuting certain members of the Church. We too have to expect persecution in our lives as it is what the powers of this world want to conform us to their will. They can try, but they will never win: Christ’s victory over sin, the world, and the devil, wrought upon the altar of the Cross, where he as priest and victim offers himself for us, is complete and total, its effects extend through time and space. We who are called to follow him are called to take up our own Cross daily and to bear witness to our faith and risk all for love of him who died for us. This is what being baptised means – it isn’t something ‘nice’ we do to children as the excuse for a party or substitute for a wedding – it is sharing in Christ’s death and new life, it is taking a stand against those who wish us to worship false gods: money, power, sex, the European Court of Human Rights, the High Court of Parliament, pleasure, influence.
            This is why St Peter is a firm foundation upon which to build the Church: he is not a man of power or intellect, but he trusts in Christ, he is rooted in him, he recognises and proclaims his divinity to the world, just as St Paul trusts and proclaims Christ to the world, as he says in his Letter to the Galatians, ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Gal 2:20) As Christians, Christ is our identity: we share his death and new life and proclaim his saving truth to the world.
            Our faith is precious, just like the Word of God and the Sacraments of the Church – they are precious and they nourish our body and soul, we celebrate them as God’s transforming presence among us – a gift which transforms us by God’s grace, his free gift, so that we can become like him and have eternal life in him. It is the transforming power of our faith which frightens the world: for two thousand years it has transformed the lives of countless billions of people just like you and me, like nothing else before or since. It cannot be silenced, political regimes cannot eradicate it, other faiths cannot stamp it out, thanks to the courage of those who bear witness to their faith, who live it out it in their lives. We are here today to celebrate God’s saving love, a saving love which transformed the lives of men like Peter and Paul, which transforms bread and wine into the very body and blood of Christ, so that we may feed on Him, and be transformed by Him, given a foretaste of heaven, strengthened for our earthly pilgrimage and the journey of faith, bearing witness to Him who loves us.
            There is something quite subversive about this: it stands in opposition to the power of this world, it is something which the world cannot contain or control, because it is of the Holy Spirit. So let us come to be fed by Him who died for love us, fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, to be strengthened by Him to live out our faith in our lives, to confess that Jesus Christ is God to the glory of the Father, to proclaim him to the world, so that the world too may believe and that all humanity may repent and believe in the God who loves them and saves them. Let us transform the world so that it may serve God, and Him alone, and 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.

Homily for the 12th Sunday of Year C: Zech 12:10–11, Gal 3:26–29, LK 9:18–24


Christianity does not begin by reforming society; it begins by regenerating men.
Fulton Sheen Missions and the World Crisis(1963) 62
To be in the Church is surely the most wonderful of all things, it may not really feel like it, in fact it may well feel the complete opposite, but that may in fact be the point: the Church is not simply made up of people whom I like or whose company I keep, but rather of all the baptized. Through our baptism we enter the Church, we put on Christ, we share in his death and resurrection, we are regenerate: born again of water and the Holy Spirit to share new life in Him and to live out that new life and love in the World.
        This is what Christ gives us freely, as a gift through his offering of himself upon the Cross. Thus, the prophet Zephaniah in this morning’s first reading can say that ‘I will pour out a spirit of grace and a plea for mercy when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced’ it anticipates the saving work of Christ, it is a prophesy which finds its fulfilment in Him. That is why a few verses later at the start of Chapter 13 he says ‘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’. Our baptism and the death of Christ on the Cross is that fountain which washes us from our sins and uncleanness, which heals and restores us to live Christ’s risen life.
        This is why St Paul in his letter to the Galatians can extol the wonderful nature of baptism – we are all equal in our common baptism, there are no distinctions whatsoever between those who are saved in Christ, who have put on Christ. There is then an equality in baptism and salvation, which makes Christianity radically different, we are the new Israel, the body of Christ, and the community of the baptized is open to all those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ. In becoming his we are called to be like him and to share in both his joy and sufferings, so that we find our true identity and true meaning in our lives when we put on him.
        It is not then for nothing that Our Lord asks ‘But who do you say that I am?’ It is a question which he asks his disciples and which he also asks each and every one of us, ‘Who do we say that he is?’ Some long-haired proto-hippie communist? A prophet? A misunderstood charismatic healer? Or God? The Creator and Sustainer of all, begotten of his Father before all worlds; con–substantial, co–eternal, and the only name under heaven or earth by which we may be saved, the gate, the sheep–fold, the Good Shepherd, Our Great High Priest and willing victim, pierced for our transgressions, wounded for our iniquities, to cleanse us and all humanity of its sin and uncleanness, to heal and restore us, so that we may share his risen life, and have eternal life in Him.
        Our response to this has to be to take up our Cross and follow him – we have to be ready to be crucified, to suffer and die just like He did, and to live in a world which sees us and our faith as of no relevance or importance whatsoever, where we are to be pitied and blamed by ‘enlightened’ secularists and atheists who with a patronising sneer despise us and all for which we stand. Their attitude is not different from those Roman magistrates who condemned our forebears for refusing to worship a human being, the emperor, and saving that honour for God, and God alone.
        As Christians we honour and worship the God who loves us, who gave himself for us, gladly and willingly, to heal and restore our human nature, so that we might be born again not of the flesh but by water and the Spirit, so that we and all the world might be transformed and have the fullness of life in him.
        Since we are all one in Christ Jesus let us follow him, let us live lives where we carry our Cross each and every day and love him and serve him, in that knowledge that whatever happens there is nothing which can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Our lives may not be easy, but whatever we face good or ill we do so in the knowledge that we are loved by God, and that in living out our faith in Him in the world, His grace is at work in us, transforming us through the sacrament of his Body and Blood which we have come here to receive, to be strengthened for our journey of faith, proclaiming Christ’s truth and saving love to the world, and following him, by taking up our cross, and losing our lives for his sake, for what indeed would it profit someone to gain the whole world but lose his own soul? Power, wealth, possessions, position, honour, all the things of this world are empty and without meaning or worth compared with Christ.
        Let us follow him, and deepen our trust and faith in Him, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and pray that his grace may be at work in us So that we may believe and be transformed, and share our faith with others that they too may believe and be transformed 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.

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity: Luke 15:1-10


There are three different ways in which we may judge others: with our passions, our reason and our faith. Our passions induce us to love those who love us; our reason makes us love all people within certain limits; our faith makes us love everyone, including those who do us harm and are our enemies.
Fulton Sheen Way to Inner Peace (1955) 110.
You can tell a man by the company he keeps, or so the saying goes. The Scribes and the Pharisees certainly subscribe to this idea and in this morning’s Gospel are not afraid to express it. They are more than happy to be judgemental – to only be seen with the right sort of people, certainly not with sinners, outcasts, people who ‘aren’t like us’ It’s a good thing that God doesn’t treat humanity like it treats itself: as to put it simply the human judgement of others, to which each and every one of us falls prey from time to time, has no place in the Christian Faith at all. God in Christ seeks the lost, the outcast, the people outside the religious in-crowd, seeks them out and eats with them. How shocking! It offends our human sensibilities and breaks down human distinctions to show us the radical freedom of the Kingdom of God.
        We are each and every one of us sinners, we are not worth of having God come to and eat with us, but that is exactly what happens day by day and week when Christ feeds us with himself, so that we may become what he is, so that we can be transformed by grace and share in the divine life. That is why we are here this morning to be fed by Him and with Him, to be healed and restored by Him, to share in His life.  God takes the initiative, He goes to seek out the lost, He doesn’t wait for them to come to Him. The banquet of the Kingdom is one to which everyone is invited, if they turn away from sin, if they repent and believe the Good News of Jesus Christ.
        God does the hard work, so that we have the simpler task of turning away from all that separates us from Him and each other. To do this takes humility – knowing our need of God, and his grace and mercy, knowing that without his help we are and can do nothing.  Our response to His love is to love Him and our neighbour – to put our faith into practice in our lives. This is a cause of joy in heaven, whereas its opposite, the reaction of the Scribes and Pharisees is to moan and begrudge, to criticise. It is a response of misery and bitterness, a smallness of mind and heart. Such feelings should have no place in the Church.
        Christ is the Good Shepherd, who goes after the lost sheep to carry them back on his shoulders – likewise the Church is meant to be there for those outside it, to welcome them back inside the fold rejoicing. Our faith then should be the cause of our joy, a deep happiness that comes from being known and loved by Our Heavenly Father, who sent His Son to die for us, so that we might live.
        With our joy there comes freedom, a freedom from being constrained by the ways of the world, from conforming to its ways, a freedom to welcome them to Banquet of the Kingdom, where the clothes that matter are those of baptism a sign of humility, where God gives himself to feed us to transform our human nature, to prepare us for eternal glory. So let us cast our cares on him so that his grace may be at work in us So that we may believe and be transformed, and share our faith with others that they too may believe and be transformed and give glory to of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

The Ascension of the Lord Mt 28:16-20

We have come here today to celebrate Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. The world around us may well find the idea quaint or laughable – or at least physically impossible. But it is no less hard to believe than Our Lord becoming incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or his rising from the dead at Easter. The world, with the greatest confidence, will tell us that what we are celebrating are myths and fairy stories, but they fail to get the point of what’s really going on.
          Our Lord ascends, body and soul into heaven, to the closer presence of God the Father, and 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.
But like them we too are called to follow Our Lord’s commands and to share his good news with the world so that it may believe. We are called to live lives where our faith is enfleshed in us – it is not abstract and private, but concrete and public. The Atheist who finds our beliefs laughable now joins forces with an Enlightenment Rationalist who wishes faith to be a private matter rather than a public one. This will not do: Our Lord did not say ‘Don’t do this if it’s inconvenient’ or ‘There’s no need to make a fuss in public about me’. He speaks as one given authority, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’, so we can gladly place ourselves under His authority, to do his will.
He makes us a promise: ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ He is with us by sending His Spirit on the Church at Pentecost and ever since. He is with us in his Word, Holy Scripture and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. It is through this (and the other Sacraments of the Church) that God’s grace can perfect our human nature – so that we can prepare to share the divine life of love in Heaven. Where our Lord goes we can hope to follow, through his sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross, a sacrifice made present here and on the altars of churches all throughout the world, to strengthen us, so that we may be close to him, sharing in the divine life of love poured out on us.
We can 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 who creates, who redeems, and who sustains all. 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.

Sermon for Evensong of the Second Sunday after Easter: “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”


Death is an affirmation of the purpose of life in an otherwise meaningless existence. The world could carry on its Godless plan if there were no death. What death is to an individual, that catastrophe is to a civilisation – the end of its wickedness. This is a source of anguish to the modern mind, for not only must human beings die, but the world must die. Death is a negative testimony to God’s power in a meaningless world, for by it God brings meaningless existence to nought. Because God exists, evil cannot carry on its wickedness indefinitely. If there were no catastrophe, such as the Apocalypse reveals, at the end of the world, the universe would then be the triumph of chaos….
            Death proves also that life has meaning, because it reveals that the virtues and goodness practised within time do not find their completion except in eternity.
Fulton J. Sheen The Power of Love
It is always important to remember that even though Lazarus was raised from the dead he would still die. He was raised from the dead so that in him God might be glorified. As someone who believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, he like countless billions through the centuries could have the hope of eternal life in Christ. That is why Our Lord can say ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’ We can know and trust that death is not the end but rather a beginning, we feel grief at the loss of someone whom we know and love, but have hope that it is not the end of the story.
            The raising of Lazarus from the dead points to Jesus’ resurrection. It shows us that God’s power is beyond our understanding, and the events leading up to Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection are a means for God to be glorified. In all of these we see the Love of God poured out on the world in and through Jesus, true God and true man. Evil has not had the last world; fear and hatred are conquered by love, and that victory is final. This is the source of our joy – this is what we celebrate for 5o days, a week of weeks, a celebration which defines the nature of the church: we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. We rejoice that through our baptism we too share in Christ’s death and new life. We have the hope of heaven, where we may experience the fullness of love in God’s presence.
We have a foretaste of it here on earth – we are nourished by Word and Sacrament – given food for the journey of faith so that we may be prepared for what lies ahead. We have the Sacraments so that God may pour out his grace upon us, a free and unmerited gift, shared so that his love may abound in our lives. We have the Church and its teaching so that we may truly flourish and live the lives God intends us to, loving and supporting each other – living out our faith in our lives, sharing our love and joy with others, living out the forgiveness and reconciliation which we have received and sharing it with ours, helping in God’s work of healing and reconciling the world. It’s truly wonderful, gifts beyond our comprehension, which we do not deserve, but which we are given so that we may have life in all its abundance in Him. Our God is not an angry old man in the sky, but one who washes the feet of sinners and invites them to the banquet of His Kingdom, forever, having picked up the tab on Calvary.
So let us rejoice that we have been called to so great a feast and let us look 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.

Sermon for Evensong of the First Sunday after Easter: Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Luke 23:13–35


Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread
The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus are astounded when the man to whom they are talking does not know what has been going on: ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ He asks them so that they may tell him. They ‘hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’, they have been told of the Empty Tomb, but do not yet believe. They need Jesus to explain the Scriptures to them in order to show them that what happened had been foretold in the Law and the Prophets.
        In this evening’s first lesson from the Prophet Isaiah we have the greatest of the prophesies of Our Lord’s Passion and Death. It is read on Good Friday because it shows us how what happened was clearly foretold. In Acts 8, when the apostle Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch, he is reading this passage. When he is asked if he understands what he is reading he replies ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ Philip shows him how verses 7 & 8 of Isaiah 53 point to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
The Ethiopian needs Philip, the disciples need Jesus, and we need the Church to show us how scripture is to be read: it’s meaning is not necessarily plain and while anyone could read Scripture in any way in which they chose, the Church has never said that all interpretations are ok, or that any one is as good as another. Instead, the proper interpretation of Scripture is rightly the teaching office of the Church, through the Apostolic Tradition: to unfold the mystery of Christ, to proclaim Him, and to save souls.
The Church reads the Old Testament christologically, because it points to Christ, it finds its fulfillment and its fullest and truest meaning in him, who is the Way and the Truth. As Our Lord says, ‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ In other words through Our Lord’s suffering, and death, and resurrection we behold God’s glory, the glory of the divine life of love, poured out on the world to heal it and to save it. We see both what God is and how he loves us, to the extent of giving his only Son to die for us, to heal the wound of sin, to restore our humanity, and so that we may share eternal life with him.
As a foretaste of this heavenly joy he takes bread and blesses it and gives it to them. Christ, who as both priest and victim offered himself upon the altar of the Cross, as a willing, spotless pure and sinless victim, now feeds his people with himself so that they may share his risen life – so that they may be given a foretaste of the heavenly glory and the divine life of love. That is why we day by day and week by week we too come to be fed by him, so that we too may share, having first heard the Scriptures explained to us.
We see here in this evening’s second lesson how and why the Church looks and feels like it does, why it understands Scripture in the way that it does, how errors may come about, and how the Church guards against these by deciding what is authentic in terms of Scripture and Tradition. Almost two thousand years after these events took place there is something fresh and current about what we have heard read to us this evening, it doesn’t feel odd, or strange, or backward or outdated, but simply part of how the Church is. It is good that after two thousand years the message has not changed; it shows us that it is authentic: that it is of God, and not of the world.
So let us be like the disciples at Emmaus with warmed hearts, fed by our Lord with word and sacrament, sharing his Easter Joy and his victory over sin and the world and sharing his peace and joy with the world, so that it may believe and give praise to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

The First Sunday after Easter (BCP) John 20:19–23

The Disciples are afraid, tempers are still running high – they fear a backlash from the people who put Jesus to death, they have been told by Peter that the tomb was empty; Mary of Magdala has seen Jesus. They are confused – not knowing what to believe, or whom to trust. Into the midst of their fear and confusion comes Jesus, saying ‘Peace be unto you’. The first gift of the Risen Lord to his disciples is peace. He who was prophesied to be the Prince of Peace, who has brought about peace through his suffering and death, speaks what he has enacted in his own body. He shows them his hands and his side, as a sign that it is really him, that he is really alive – the Resurrection is a reality, not a fairy story, not idle gossip, not something which people want to be true but isn’t. It’s real in a flesh and blood way. It too was foretold in Scripture, and Jesus has told his disciples before his death what was to happen. But now having seen they believe.
Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord’ the peace of God leads to Joy, the joy of new life in him. This is where true joy is to be found. It is reinforced by the fact that Jesus repeats the words ‘Peace be unto you’ as it is in Christ alone that our true joy and peace can be found. It is in his death and resurrection that our relationship with God and with each other can have its truest meaning and fullest expression.
Immediately Jesus says to his disciples, ‘As the Father hath sent me, even so I send you’ The disciples are sent, sent to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, sent into the world to continue the saving work. Here we see the birth of the Church: it is thanks to them that we are here, today. Then he breathes on them, he gives them the Holy Ghost, to strengthen them, to encourage them, to equip them to be sent out to share the Good News, and build up his body, the Church. They are also empowered: ‘Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained’. In a moment which looks and feels a lot like ordination, we see men sent out to restore humanity, to restore their relationship with God and each other. It is through Christ’s death that such a restoration can take place, and here we see both ‘power and commandment’ given to men best understood as bishops. It reminds us that the Church is to be a place of healing and restoration. The fact that it is not always should encourage us to strive to follow this example, through the grace, the free gift of God working in us. We are sinners, and by God’s gift of his Son, we can be forgiven, redeemed, healed, and restored.
It is the most wonderful news, the greatest gift we could ever wish to receive. It reminds that, in the words of this morning’s Epistle ‘whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith’. We are regenerate, born again of God in our baptism, our sharing in Christ’s death, which overcomes the world; as we share in his death we also share in his new life. Our faith is in a crucified and risen Saviour, who loves us and who gave himself for us, who comes to us in word and sacrament, to feed us with himself, so that we might have life in all its fulness, life in him. It is the faith which we profess in the words of the Nicene Creed: orthodoxy rather than heresy concerning the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The Church must always be reminded that in Christ it has overcome the world; it does not need to be conformed to it – to a liberal spirit of the age which seeks to remake the Church and the faith which it professes in its own image, where clergy are little more than social workers, and bishops little more than managers – how meagre, how small-minded that such a great thing should be reduced to this pitiful and wretched state. As sucessors to the Apostles they need to realise their vocation and live it out, rather than be be conformed to the ways of the world, favouring error over truth. The Church has been here before and no doubt it will again. We need to stay close to Christ, close to his word in Scripture, fed by his body and blood, believeing in the faith which comes to us from his apostles, and in the knowledge that he has overcome the world, and that we know his truth which has set us free rather than to be slaves to the spirit of the age, and sharing his peace and joy with the world, so that it may believe and give praise to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Catechetical Easter Homily ascribed to John Chrysostom [PG 59:721-4]

Εἴ τις εὐσεβὴς καὶ φιλόθεος, ἀπολαυέτω τῆς καλῆς ταύτης πανηγύρεως· εἴ τις δοῦλος εὐγνώμων, εἰσελθέτω χαίρων εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου αὐτοῦ· εἴ τις ἔκαμενηστεύων, ἀπολαβέτω νῦν τὸ δηνάριον· εἴ τις ἀπὸ πρώτης ὥρας εἰργάσατο, δεχέσθω σήμερον τὸ δίκαιον ὄφλημα· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν τρίτην ἦλθεν, εὐχαριστῶν ἑορτάσῃ· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν ἕκτην ἔφθασε, μηδὲν ἀμφιβαλλέτω· καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲν ζημιοῦται· εἴ τις ὑστέρησεν εἰς τὴν ἐννάτην, προσελθέτω μηδὲν ἐνδοιάζων· εἴ τις εἰς μόνην ἔφθασε τὴν ἑνδεκάτην, μὴ φοβηθῇ τὴν βραδυτῆτα. Φιλότιμος γὰρ ὢν ὁ Δεσπότης δέχεται τὸν ἔσχατον, καθάπερ καὶ τὸν πρῶτον· ἀναπαύει τὸν τῆς ἑνδεκάτης,ὡς τὸν ἐργασάμενον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης· καὶ τὸν ὕστερον ἐλεεῖ, καὶ τὸν πρῶτον θεραπεύει· κἀκείνῳ δίδωσι, καὶ τούτῳ χαρίζεται. Καὶ τὴν πρᾶξιν τιμᾷ, καὶ τὴν πρόθεσιν ἐπαινεῖ. Οὐκοῦν εἰσέλθητε πάντες εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν, καὶ πρῶτοι καὶ δεύτεροι τὸν μισθὸν ἀπολάβετε, πλούσιοι καὶ πένητες μετὰ ἀλλήλων χορεύσατε, ἐγκρατεῖς καὶ ῥᾴθυμοι τὴν ἡμέραν τιμήσατε, νηστεύσαντες καὶ μὴ νηστεύσαντες εὐφράνθητε σήμερον. Ἡ τράπεζα γέμει, τρυφήσατε πάντες· ὁ μόσχος πολὺς, μηδεὶς ἐξέλθοι πεινῶν. Πάντες ἀπολαύσατε τοῦ πλούτου τῆς χρηστότητος. Μηδεὶς θρηνείτω πενίαν· ἐφάνη γὰρ ἡ κοινὴ βασιλεία· μηδεὶς ὀδυρέσθω τὰ πταίσματα· συγγνώμη γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ τάφου ἀνέτειλε· μηδεὶς φοβείσθω τὸν θάνατον· ἠλευθέρωσε γὰρ ἡμᾶς ὁ τοῦ Σωτῆρος θάνατος· ἔσβεσεν αὐτὸν ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ κατεχόμενος· ἐκόλασε τὸν ᾅδην κατελθὼν εἰς τὸν ᾅδην· ἐπίκρανεν αὐτὸν γευσάμενον τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ. Καὶ τοῦτο προλαβὼν Ἡσαΐας ἐβόησεν· Ὁ ᾅδης, φησὶν, ἐπικράνθη. Συναντήσας σοι κάτω ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ καθῃρέθη· ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ ἐνεπαίχθη. Ἔλαβε σῶμα, καὶ Θεῷ περιέτυχεν· ἔλαβε γῆν, καὶ συνήντησεν οὐρανῷ· ἔλαβεν ὅπερ ἔβλεπε, καὶ πέπτωκεν ὅθεν οὐκ ἔβλεπε. Ποῦ σου, θάνατε, τὸ κέντρον; ποῦ σου, ᾅδη, τὸ νῖκος; Ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ σὺ καταβέβλησαι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ πεπτώκασι δαίμονες· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ χαίρουσιν ἄγγελοι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ νεκρὸς οὐδεὶς ἐπὶ μνήματος. Χριστὸς γὰρ ἐγερθεὶς ἐκ νεκρῶν, ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἐγένετο· αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.  
If anyone is a devout lover of God, let them rejoice in this beautiful radiant feast. If anyone is a faithful servant, let them gladly enter into the joy of their Lord. If any are wearied with fasting, let them now reap their reward. If any have laboured since the first hour, let them receive today their just reward. If any have come after the third hour, let them celebrate the feast with thankfulness. If any have arrived after the sixth hour, let them not doubt, for they will sustain no loss. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let them not hesitate but draw near. If any have arrived at the eleventh hour, let them not fear their lateness. For the Master is gracious and welcomes the last no less than the first. He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour just as kindly as those who have laboured since the first hour. The first he fills to overflowing: on the last he has compassion. To the one he grants his favour, to the other pardon. He does not look only at the work: he looks into the intention of the heart. Enter then, all of you, into the joy of your Master. First and Last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor dance together. You who have fasted and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it. The fatted calf is served: let no-one go away hungry. Come all of you, share in the banquet of faith: draw on the wealth of his mercy. Let no-one lament their poverty; for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no-one weep for their sins; for the light of the forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no-one fear death; for the death of the Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed death by undergoing hell. He has despoiled hell by descending into hell. Hell was filled with bitterness when it tasted his flesh, as Isaiah foretold: ‘Hell was filled with bitterness when it met you face-to-face below’ – filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing; filled with bitterness, for it was mocked; filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown; filled with bitterness, for it was destroyed; filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains. It received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven. It received what it saw, and was overpowered by what it did not see. O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom. Christ is risen, and the grave is emptied of the dead. For Christ being raised from the dead has become the first-fruits of those who sleep. To him be glory and dominion to the ages of ages. Amen.

Wednesday in Holy Week Isa 50:4–9; Mt 26:14–25

Our Lord described himself as having a baptism wherewith he was to be baptized. John gave him the baptism of water, but the Roman soldiers have him his baptism of blood. After opening his sacred flesh with violent stripes, they now put on him a purple robe which adhered to his bleeding body. Then they plaited a crown of thorns which they placed on his head. They mocked him and put a rod in his hand after beating him on the head. Then they knelt down before him in feigned adoration.
Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ
In today’s first reading we hear ‘I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.’ (Isa 50:6 ESV) The suffering servant’s treatment points forward to Our Lord’s mistreatment at the hands of Roman soldiers and the crowd on his way to Calvary. It is brutal and unpleasant, even more so when we consider that He had preached and lived God’s love and healing and forgiveness. We see God incarnate mocked and physically abused by those he came to save. Nowadays the Church, certainly in this land, faces less scorn, hatred, and violence than elsewhere, but far more indifference, which is worse in many ways. People have grown cold to the message of love, and prefer to ignore it, safely cosseted in a cocoon of materialism, obsessed with self – spiritually empty and miserable.
          In the Gospel we see Judas is still concerned with material things, having criticised the reckless generosity of Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet, he now goes to the chief priests and asks them ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ (Mt 26:15 ESV). These are words for the church: we still have modern-day Judases willing to betray our Lord, his Gospel and his Church for the sake of ambition and advancement. Perhaps a pointy hat is today’s thirty pieces of silver, and too many in the church follow Judas in preferring the ways of the world to those of God. But we must follow Our Lord’s example and love them. This is after all what we are preparing to celebrate: the fact that the love of God can be ignored and rejected but never overcome – in Christ the victory of the Cross is complete and absolute, it restores our relationship with God and each other and allows us to live in a community of love, close to God, fed by him, with him, healed and restored by him, prepared for and given the hope of heaven where we may enjoy eternity in the presence of the Trinity.
          In Christ we see a life lived not for self, not to acquire wealth, or status, or power, but lived for others – to share with them the love of God, to heal and restore them – offering them an alternative to the ways of the world with its selfishness, its greed, the desire for power and domination. Instead, he offers humble service and power shown in weakness – this is the power of God to transform the world. This is what the Church is called to follow and live out in the world – a life of self-giving, sacrificial love – this is what we are called to in our baptism, that we may embody and live out the faith which we profess to help transform the world. We need to be reminded of it, day by day and year by year because the Church has to remain true to her calling to help share the love of God with the world around us, so that it may believe and be transformed after the likeness of our crucified and risen Saviour. After nearly two thousand years we have not got there yet, but we still press on, changing the world one soul at a time, confident in the victory and the saving love of him who died and rose again for us.
 So let us come to him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, healed and restored by Him, through the sacraments of the Church, his body, so that we may be prepared to celebrate with joy the triumph of His Paschal victory, so that we and all the earth may give 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

Homily for Tuesday in the Third Week of Lent: Mt 18:21-35


The forgiveness of God is one thing, but the proof that we want that forgiveness is the energy we expend to make amends for the wrong.
Fulton J. Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living (1955) 106–7
The need for forgiveness is something of which we are, I suspect, all too aware. The last few years have seen our politicians making fraudulent expenses claims, journalists engaging in shady, underhand and illegal practices, the church continues to be rocked by immoral behaviour which falls short of what it expects of its clergy. People are hurt and they find it very hard indeed to trust many of our public institutions. The wounds are deep, they will not be healed easily. It will take time, and effort, and energy. There needs to be the recognition of having done things wrong and a desire and heartfelt commitment to turn away from the sins of the past and to work to make things better: this is what repentance is, what it looks like in practice.
            Today’s Gospel begins with a very human question about forgiveness. In answer to Peter’s question Jesus tells him to forgive his brother not seven times but seventy-seven times. We are to forgive each other as many times as is necessary because God in Christ forgives us. God loves us even to the extent of giving His only Son to die for us, to take our sins upon Himself; to heal our wounds through the shedding of His Blood upon the Cross. God demonstrates to the world the costly nature of this forgiveness – it is not easy, it is painful, nasty, and cruel. But in the midst of this evil and cruelty God’s love and life shine through: an act of torture, sending an innocent man to His death, can become the place where our human nature is restored and we can share in the divine life of love.
            Our response to such divine compassion has to be that we, as Christians, live lives of love and forgiveness: we live it out as a sign to the world that the ways of cruelty and retribution do not achieve anything. This will not be easy, it will be difficult: impossible on our own, and still barely achievable when we do it as a community, unless we rely upon the God who loves us and forgives us, who heals and restores us. It will look like foolishness to the world, which demands retribution: there must be someone to blame, someone must pay the price.
Well, someone did, two thousand years ago in a town in the Eastern Mediterranean – a troublemaker, a prophet, who said he was the Son of God. He was not just a man, but God himself, who came to preach Good News to a world which did not want to hear him, which found it easier to kill a man who made people feel uncomfortable, who offered a radically different way of living and being. He offers the world unlimited forgiveness, not so that it can just carry on regardless, but so that it can be transformed into a community of radical love. This is not to disregard the matter of judgement: the master settles his accounts but is willing to give the servant a chance to make amends. We are the servant: we have a debt which we cannot pay. We have been forgiven, and so we are expected to do likewise. We live lives of truth and love and forgiveness to proclaim God’s marvellous love to the world and to invite it to join in. That is why every day we pray ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’ so that the ways of envy, of hatred, of retribution, are replaced with those of love and forgiveness. God does it for us, so that we can do it to others: recognising our human sin and weakness so that we can turn away from it. We are to transform the whole world and everyone in it, so that they may have live and life in all its fullness. We are fed by the word of God and by the sacrament of His Body and Blood to be strengthened, to share in His divine life, to fit us for Heaven, and to transform all of creation that it may resound his praise and share in his life of the Resurrection, washed in His Blood and the saving waters of Baptism: forgiven and forgiving so that all that we say, or think, or do, all that we are may be for 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 Baptism of the Lord

Though time is too precious to waste, it must never be thought that what was lost is irretrievable. Once the Divine is introduced, then comes the opportunity to make up for losses. God is the God of the second chance …. Being ‘born again’ means that all that went before is not held against us.

Fulton J. Sheen Peace of Soul

The Baptism of Our Lord in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, which we celebrate today, can leave us asking a question: if we are baptised to be born again by water and the Spirit, for our sins to be washed away, and to become part of the Body of Christ, the Church, why is Our Lord, who is without sin, being baptised. He does not need to be, but in being baptised shows us that God is not constrained by necessity. Christ does not need to be baptised, as we do, but does so to show us the way to new life in him.

In Christ’s Baptism we see a God who walks with us, who is not a cold, remote figure; but who, for love of us, comes among us, and is one with us, and who shows us the way to his Father. Christ’s Baptism is an act of obedience to God the Father, an act of humility and of healing and restoration – the work of God in Christ, done for our sake. What began at the Annunciation, and was brought about at the Incarnation, and made manifest to the whole world at the Epiphany, is deepened: the world is invited to share in the saving love of God through baptism.

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 or what they are, and what they have done. Salvation is the free gift of God and open to all who turn to him.

In our suspicious modern world that gift is spurned and mocked, by those who feel that they can no longer trust the church, or denounce it is as hypocritical, an oppressor of one group or another. To which we can only reply with open doors, open arms, and open hearts – the church may be full of sinners and hypocrites and there’s always room for a few more! God in Christ is nothing if not generous, and so the Church, his body is called to the same generosity of spirit. With the open invitation comes a call to repentance, to a fundamental change of mind, which sees us turn away from sin to God.

Here is where I suspect it gets difficult for humanity, we know that sin is wrong, but we enjoy it, we can soothe our conscience with the fiction that something is not a sin: that it doesn’t hurt or harm us, we can even twist the Gospel to our own ends. But these will not do, because in them we say that we know better than God – the sin of pride, that primal sin which separates humanity from God. This was the problem Christ comes to fix, to heal and restore our nature, through his grace, to feed us with Word and Sacrament that we might share in the life and love of God.

We need to take to heart the words of advice written by St Paul to Titus and the Church in Crete: given that ‘the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11) the Church has to respond to that grace, that free gift of a loving God, by living in a certain way, the Church is there to train us to renounce, to turn our back on ‘ungodliness and worldly passions’ – using our lives and our bodies which fall short of what is expected of us. Notice the word ‘train’: it’s a process, very few people indeed can run a marathon without training; we need help and practice to turn our lives around together, as a community of faith. It takes time, and hard work and love, but it is something which we can do together – people will fail, but can be picked up, and helped to continue, that’s what healing and repentance are all about. It’s about saying ‘we can be better, we can do better together’ if we truly let the love of God into our hearts and turn away from the past and look forward to a future of hope and glory in Christ. So then, let us live out our faith and our baptism together, turning from sin to new life in Christ, and encourage others so to do, 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.