23rd Sunday of Year B: Jesus heals us

All of us in our lives have at some point known what it is to feel unwell. You long to feel well again, to be restored to health. In the same way, the human soul longs for intimacy with the Creator, with God, who loves us, and who made us in His image. We long for God, the ultimate human longing. And yet God longs to heal us, to restore us. It is why He sent His Son to born among us, to proclaim His Kingdom, and to die and rise again for us. Our God is a God of healing, who out of love for us gives Himself for us, so that we might live in Him.

In this morning’s Old Testament reading we see Isaiah prophesying about the Kingdom of God, and the Messiah: it is wonderful. Blind people see, Dumb people speak, the lame walk. People with disabilities were often seen as outcasts, ritually impure, and cursed by God through sin. The Messiah will, however, bring healing, and bring the outcasts back in. Isaiah speaks of joy, refreshment and new life in God, it’s what the Kingdom of God looks and feels like. And it’s what we will experience here this morning. These are the promises fulfilled in the Word made flesh. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who took our flesh and lived and died to heal us, to restore in us the image of God, in which we were created.

This is why in the Gospels Jesus performs miracles: not to show off his power, or to attract followers, or to win popularity or power, but to show God’s healing love for people who know their need of God. The miracles are first and foremost prophetic acts which announce God’s Kingdom among us: a kingdom of love and mercy and healing, where humanity is restored and valued.

This morning’s second reading from the Letter of St James shows us how to live our lives as Christians in an authentic manner. We are all equal in the eyes of God. We should not make the distinctions of which the world around us is so fond. Here in church we don’t have special seats. I sit where I do because I am leading God’s people in worship, not because I’m ‘special’, or better than anyone else. Set apart, certainly, but in order to bring the people of God closer to Him and each other. If we live our lives without judging others, we can be as free as the deaf mute healed by Jesus. The ways of the world will not bind and constrain us; we can instead serve Him, whose service is perfect freedom. 

In the Gospel this morning we can ask the question ‘Is Jesus a racist?’ Does the derogatory way in which He talks to the Syrophoenician woman mean that Jewish people are somehow superior? Not at all! Jesus takes the existing common prejudice to show howGod’s love, mercy, and healing are for all those who turn to Him. The woman shows faith in God, and her daughter is healed. Rather than being an exclusive event for the Chosen people, healing and salvation are for all who turn to God. 

This morning’s Gospel shows us God’s love and God’s healing. It is what we all need. I certainly need it: as I’m weak, broken, vulnerable, and sinful, and in need of what only God can give us. All of us, if we were to be honest are in need too. We need God to be at work in our lives, healing us, restoring us, helping us to grow more and more into his image. It would be foolish or arrogant to think otherwise: that we know it all, that we’re quite alright, thank you very much. Can we come to Jesus, and can we ask him to heal us, through prayer, through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the true balm of Gilead which can heal the sin-sick soul? We can and we should, indeed we must so that we can continue to live out our baptism as Christians.

God heals us and cleanses us of our sins, and restores us, so that we can have life in Him, and life in all its fulness. We don’t deserve it, that is the point. We’re not worthy of it. We haven’t earned it. We cannot. God gives it to us in His love and mercy: that is GRACE. Undeserved kindness given to transform us more and more into God’s likeness. It is given, just like the Eucharistic Banquet of Christ’s Body and Blood, so that God can be at work in us, and through us. It is given so that we may be healed and transformed. We may not look or even feel any different, but bit by bit, and week by week we are being changed more and more into God’s likeness. 

God’s Kingdom of love and healing is a reality which we can experience here, this morning, where God gives His own self, His Body and Blood to us, to heal us and restore us. 

The world around us is DEAF to Jesus. It does not want to, or is not able to listen to the proclamation of the Kingdom. It longs for the healing which God offers, but is unable or unwilling to hear what God offers, through His Son, Jesus Christ. We have to pray that God may be at work in our world, and that We respond to people as they seek God, and His healing love. God heals us so that we might encourage others to know God’s love. That’s what the Church is for: a place of healing, a hospital for sick souls, full of people who need God. 

As those loved and healed by Him we need to live out the reality of our faith in our lives, showing the love and forgiveness to others which God shows to us. So that all of our lives 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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Twenty First Sunday of Year B [Jn 6:56-69]

Life can be complicated, it requires us to make choices, which have effects: they define what we become, who we are. Our actions have consequences. In this morning’s first reading from the Book of Joshua, the people of Israel have a choice to make: do they want to worship the God of Israel, or other gods. Joshua is clear: he and his household will serve the Lord. The people of Israel follow his example, they make a commitment to worship God, and Him alone. They make a promise to be faithful. They will, in time break it, at which point they are punished, though God is forgiving.

It is a question of commitment, which involves love and sacrifice — the two go hand in hand. It is what marriage is all about, and it also describes God’s relationship with us, and ours with God. It will see Jesus die on the Cross for us, to show us just how much God loves us, and wants to restore our relationship with Him, and each other. It is wonderful , but it isn’t something God forces us into: we are free to accept it, or to refuse it. It is a free gift. 

In the Gospel Jesus tells the worshippers that He is the living bread, and if they eat Him they will have eternal life. These are bold claims to make. They would have been quite extraordinary two thousand years ago, and they still are today. What Jesus is promising goes against everything which they know and understand about their faith. He calls them to do the unthinkable. At that time they caused people to stop following Jesus. They could not cope with the realism of the Eucharistic discourse in John Ch. 6.

Thus, is it hardly surprising that His disciples reply, ‘This teaching is difficult, who can accept it’. That is a normal reaction. But it is not one which Jesus will leave unchallenged. As he is the living bread which came down from Heaven so He will go back. After His death and Resurrection, He will ascend to the Father. Our being fed with the Lord’s Body and Blood is important, and what It is is clearly linked with who He is: God, born for us, who gives himself for us. It is linked to the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News – the words are Spirit and Life – and God gives himself so that His Church may be nourished by Word and Sacrament.

It is sad to think that even then ‘many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.’ Jesus had said something difficult, something troubling, something which turned the accepted order on it its head. People were unable or unwilling to accept what Jesus asked of them, and so He turns to his disciples and asks them if they want to go away too. Peter the leader of the disciples is the first one to reply, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ (Jn 6:68-69 NRSV).

Here Peter is confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. To be a Christian is to make the same confession as Peter, and to have the same hope of eternal life in and through Jesus Christ. 

The teaching is hard to accept, difficult to understand, but we can EXPERIENCE it, when we receive Holy Communion. For Peter, and for us, BELIEF precedes KNOWLEDGE. We believe and then we come to know.  And like St Peter we can say, ‘To whom can we go?’ Who else offers us this? No-one, other than Jesus Christ; He alone can save us. He alone can offer us the fullness of life. People often think that wealth or fame can make us happy, and this may be true for a while, but such pleasure is fleeting and transitory. It vanishes like a puff of smoke. Only in Jesus can we know true freedom, and everlasting life.

When we gather together as Christians on a Sunday morning we, like Saint Peter, publicly declare our faith in who Jesus is, and what He does. This may not seem a radical act to us. However in the Roman Empire people were expected to worship the emperor as a living God. The thought of burning incense in front of a picture of Queen Elizabeth II would strike us now as not only strange, but wrong, and idolatrous. We worship God, and God alone. And for doing so, countless Christians have been killed over the past two thousand years, and continue to be even today.

We come so that we may hear the words of eternal life, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and so that we may be fed by Him, and fed with Him, with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we can live forever because of Him. We can have a foretaste of the Heavenly banquet of the Kingdom, here and now, we can be fed with Jesus so that we can be transformed more and more into His likeness and prepared, here and now, for eternal life with God, and that we start living that life here and now, so that our faith is not simply a personal or a private matter but one which affects who and what we are, and how we live our lives, so that our faith affects who and what we are, and what we do, so that the Eucharist is our bread for the journey of faith, so that strengthened by Christ and with Christ, we may live lives which proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. This is how are supposed to live together as a Christian community, living in love, fed with love itself, here in the Eucharist, where we thank God for His love of us. As children of God, loved by God, we are to imitate him, we are to live after the pattern of Christ, who offered himself, who was a sacrifice who has restored our relationship with God. 

Jesus has come to give us hope through the Eucharist, and the promise of eternal life in and through Him. He does this to show us that God LOVES us, to the extent that he died for love of us. He gives Himself so that we might live in and through Him. Let us be filled with that love, and share it with others so that all may have life in and through Christ. Amen.

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Twentieth Sunday of Yr B (Prov 9:1-6, Eph 5:15-20, Jn 6:51-58)

Over the past few weeks our readings from St John’s Gospel have focussed on Jesus’ teaching about the Bread of Life. After the Feeding of the Five Thousand Jesus teaches people at great length, beginning with His statement, ‘I am the bread of life’ (Jn 6:35) It is an extended meditation on what the Eucharist, the central and primary act of Christian worship, is. It is where we follow Jesus’ command to ‘to this in memory of Him’. At one level it is strange: the bread and wine do not look or taste any different after prayers have been said, but what we are eating and drinking IS different, because Jesus says that it is, because God is active in the world, and we have a relationship with Him. The way in which God acts is mysterious, we struggle to UNDERSTAND it, but we can EXPERIENCE it, through Holy Communion, where Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood. 

In our first reading this morning from the Book of Proverbs we see Wisdom. In the Christian tradition she is identified with Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh. She is issuing an invitation: she has built a house, the Church. She has hewn seven pillars, the sacraments, the means of God’s grace to be active in our lives. The people of God are called to eat and drink, to live, and to walk in the way of insight, that is in following Jesus Christ. The New is prefigured in the Old. The Hebrew Scriptures point to, and find their fulfilment in Jesus Christ, who is the Wisdom of God, and the Word made Flesh. We are invited to His banquet, so let us come to be fed at the table of the Lord. 

Likewise St Paul advises the church in Ephesus not to behave in a worldly manner, but to put God at the centre of our lives. He ends by invoking the names of the three persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in a context of right worship, of praise of Almighty God, as that is what we as Christians are supposed to do: to love God and to serve him, through prayer and worship, through entering into the mystery of the Three in One. To be caught up in the outpouring of divine love, and to have a foretaste of it here on earth.

After feeding the Five Thousand in John’s Gospel, a sign of the generous nature of God’s love for humanity, Jesus embarks upon an extended discourse upon himself as the Bread of Life. John’s account of the Last Supper focuses on Christ washing the disciples’ feet, and their obeying Christ’s example and commands. There is no institution narrative, instead the Eucharistic teaching in John’s Gospel is centred around Jesus’ explanation in Chapter 6, so that a long time before Jesus’ suffering and death we can see what it is all about. It’s a process which starts with John the Baptist at the start of the Gospel, where he sees Jesus and says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn 1:29) The Lamb points to Passover and the freedom of the people of God, freedom from sin and its effects.

Jesus begins the last section of his teaching with the bold claim that, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ These are some extraordinary claims to make, they would have sounded shocking to a first century Jew, and some two thousand years later they still sound shocking, and yet the offering of Christ’s body for the sins of the world as a sacrifice which is re-presented, made present again and offered to God the Father upon the altars of the church, is what the church is for, it is what we are for. It is why we come together to worship on the day when Christ rose from the dead, a sign of the new life we share in Christ, through baptism and the Eucharist.

It is done so that we may have life in us, and have it for eternity, so that we may share in the pledge of eternal life given to us in Christ, who will raise us up forever with Him. Such is the nature of God’s love for us: it is freely given, we do not earn it, we do not deserve it. It is something given to us, so that by it, and through it, we may become something greater, something better than we are.

Such is the power of God’s sacrificial love at work in our lives; such is the treasure which we have come here today to receive. If it were ordinary food then we would eat it, and it would become what we are, our flesh and blood; but instead we, who eat it, become what it is: the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We share in His divine life, we are healed by His divine love, by his sacrifice the wounds of sin and division are healed so that humanity, made in the image of God might be ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven by God, to live to his praise and glory.

God loves us. God dies for us, and rises again for us. As a sign, a pledge and a token of His love, He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist, so that we might come to share that divine life and love. The process of transformation which will end in Heaven is begun here and now, so that we can live the life of the Kingdom of God here and now, and transform the world around us into what God wants it to be. This is the revolution which God seeks to accomplish through us, through His Church, that fed by Christ and with Christ we transform the world around us, living lives of love and forgiveness which can and will change the world. 

Such wonderful news is truly worth pondering and considering in detail given its potential effects in our lives, so that bit by bit we are slowly and sure becoming more Christ-like, fed by Him, fed with Him, and encouraging others so to do 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, Amen. 

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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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17th Sunday of Year B [2Kings 4:42-44, Eph 3:14-21, John 6:1-21]

When I was 17, I went to Rome on a study trip, during the last week of July and the first week of August, a bit like the weather has been here for the past few weeks, it was 28℃ (82℉) when we landed at 10pm. When we arrived at  our accommodation a friend of mine went to the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth before going to bed. He got a terrible shock. When he turned on the tap marked ‘C’ and out came boiling hot water. C in Italian stands for Caldo or Hot. He needed to turn on the tap maked ‘F’ for Fredo, or Cold. But he was so used to cold water coming out of a tap marked ‘C’ that he misread the signs.

This mistake is easily made, especially since we are so used to seeing the letter ‘C’ on cold taps back home. It shows us how things can go wrong when we misread the signs. In today’s Gospel we have several examples of people misreading signs. First, we have the Apostle Philip. He is asked by Jesus where they can buy bread for the crowd to eat. He replies that 200 denarii would only buy them a mouthful each. Six months wages just for a mouthful! So Philip says that there is no way that the people can be fed. He cannot believe that such a thing is possible.

The Apostle Andrew fares a bit better. He shows Jesus a boy with two fish and five barley loaves, the bread of the poor. But he cannot see the point and asks ‘what is that between so many?’ The disciples give the wrong answers to Jesus’ questions, because they cannot read the signs.

The crowd are also a bit of a mixed bag. They have followed Jesus because they are impressed by his wondrous healing of the sick. Once they have miraculously been fed, they recognise the sign as a declaration of Jesus’ identity, but they misinterpret it. They are about to take Jesus by force and make him king. But this is not what Jesus’ kingship is about, he isn’t a political ruler. His kingship is not of this world. All have expectations which are met, but not necessarily in the way they were expecting. Our God is a God of Surprises.

The context of the Gospel story is important. It was just before the Passover, the festival commemorating Israel’s journey from slavery in Egypt, across the Red Sea towards the Promised Land. It is a festival of Hope and Freedom, of Liberation, of a God who will feed them with manna from heaven.

It is also the same time that Jesus will celebrate the Last Supper with his disciples, instituting the Eucharist, which Christians have faithfully celebrated ever since and which is the reason why WE are here today. The blessing, breaking and sharing of bread is a serious matter. A time for remembering and looking forward.

The fact that it is a serious matter explains why Jesus will devote so much time and effort to teaching the people about this in the Gospel passages we will read over the next few weeks. It matters because the Eucharist is how we encounter Jesus and how we are fed by him. 

In the Gospel, it is Jesus who takes the initiative. He recognises that people are hungry, and that they need to be fed. He is a good shepherd who looks after his flock. So He takes the basic foodstuff, bread, to show us how God works with simple things. These may be, like the barley loaves, poor, the kind that the world despises and looks down its nose at. But for God, nothing or indeed nobody, is scorned or cast aside. Ours then is a God who takes what is available and uses it. Jesus takes what he is given and thanks God for it, in recognition that all that we have, our lives and all of creation, is a gift, for which we should thank God.

It is through prayer and blessing that bread can be broken and distributed and provide sustenance, on a scale and in a way that defies our expectation and understanding. Not only are a huge number of people fed, but as a sign of the super-abundance of God’s love and mercy, there is more left over at the end than there was to begin with. Thus, in giving thanks to God and sharing his love, the kingdom of God, of which the bread is a sign, grows, when it is shared. It satisfies people’s deepest needs. The more you share it, the more there is.

Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and distributes bread to demonstrate what the Kingdom of God and the message of the Gospel is. This looks forward to the Institution of the Eucharist, just before Passover. It points to that great Passover, when the world is freed from the slavery of sin, washed in the Red Sea that flows from Calvary, and given the Law of love of God and neighbour.

This miraculous feeding by the shore of the Sea of Galilee will happen here today, when we, the people of God, united in love and faith offer ourselves and like the little boy, give the bread that we have, so that it may be taken, blessed, broken and given so that we may be partakers in the mystical supper of the Kingdom of God. We eat the Body of Christ not as ordinary food — that it may become what we are — but that WE may become what HE is. THIS is our bread for the journey of faith. THIS is the sign and token of God’s love. THIS is the means by which we too may enjoy forever the closer presence of God.

So then, as the five thousand received and were satisfied, let US prepare to eat that same bread, the body of Christ, which satisfies our every need and fills us with a foretaste of the Kingdom 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 for ever. Amen.

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16th Sunday of Yr B (Jer 23:1-6, Eph 2:11-22, Mk 6:30-34, 53-56)

Some monks came to see Abba Poemen and said, ‘Abba, we have noticed some of the brothers falling asleep during the early morning service, should we wake them up so that they may pray more devotedly?’ He said, ‘Well I, for my part, when I notice a brother falling asleep lay his head in my lap so that he may sleep more soundly’

It is perhaps not surprising that amongst the men and women who lived in the Egyptian desert, and who developed the monastic tradition one of the most inspiring is a man whose name means ‘Shepherd’ in Greek. His name is indicative of the way he is. His care and gentleness towards his brothers is an example of how to be a Christian: gentle, non-judgmental, forgiving, and loving. It shows us that to be Christian is to be Christ-like, gentle and loving.

Living as we do here, out in the countryside, surrounded by fields, I suspect that the imagery in this morning’s readings is not completely lost on us. We are used to sheep and the shepherds who look after them. The care and devotion which a Shepherd should devote to his flock is a sign of God’s love and care for us, and to those of us who have been given any sort of pastoral responsibility in the church it serves as a reminder of who and what we are supposed to be: its cost, and the responsibility we share for the care of Christ’s flock, the burden and the joy. It is frightening to think how little our own strength and skill is compared to the task — we have to rely upon God, and his strength and not our own. 

In this morning’s first reading, we see what happens when it goes wrong (there’s advice for bishops here). The Kings of Israel are supposed to be shepherds, to care for and protect their flock. But they are not true shepherds as they exercise power selfishly, which destroys and drives away the sheep. The rulers seek power for its own sake, to make themselves feel grand and important, they become cruel and selfish. The rulers don’t care for the well-being of the people, who have scattered, gone wandering off, as the mood takes them. It’s all gone horribly wrong; and yet God, the true shepherd of our souls, does not leave his people comfortless. He promises to give them a good Shepherd, and points towards his son, the Good Shepherd, who will lay down his life for his sheep. The prophet Jeremiah looks forward to a future when there is a Messiah, a Good Shepherd, who is Christ, the Righteous Branch of David, who lays down his life for his sheep. This is care, this is self-giving love. This is how to rule, and care for the people of God, not in the exercising of arbitrary power. 

In St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we see the work of the Good Shepherd and its fruits. He gives us life through his death. Through him the flock is united. Sin, that which divides, that which keeps us apart from God and each other, has been overcome by Jesus. He restores our relationship to one another and to God the Father, by laying down his life, by giving himself for us upon the cross and here in the Eucharist, where we the people of God are fed by God, are fed with God, to be built up into a holy nation, to become more like him, to have a hope of heaven, and of eternal peace and joy with him. In conquering the world and sin, Christ shows us that there is nothing God cannot do or indeed will not do for love of us. All divisions, all human sinfulness can be reconciled through Him who was sinless, who gave himself to be tortured and killed that we might be free and live forever. Paul sees the church in architectural terms: we have foundations in the teachings of the church, in the words of prophets which point to Jesus, and in teaching which comes from Jesus, through his apostles. We need to pay attention to this, as abandoning such things and preferring something modern and worldly causes this carefully constructed edifice to fall down. Buildings need foundations, and strong ones too. 

In this morning’s Gospel we see a picture of what good shepherds are like. Jesus and the apostles have been teaching the people, it’s a wonderful thing but it does take its toll. Jesus tells his disciples that it is time to have a rest, to spend some time alone, in prayer and refreshment. The people are so many; their needs are so great that the apostles have not had time to even eat. It is a recognisable picture, and it shows us how great was the people’s need for God, for God’s teaching, for his love and reconciliation. Jesus does not simply send the people away. Instead while the apostles are resting he takes pity on them because they are like sheep without a Shepherd. Jesus, who is the good Shepherd, will lay down his life for his sheep, to heal them and restore them. 

His people are hungry and in need of healing. So they will be healed by God, fed by God, and fed with God. God offers himself as food for his people and continues to do so. He will feed us here today, feed us with his body and blood, with his word, so that we may be healed and fed, so that we may be nourished, so that we may be strengthened to live our lives, that we may live lives which follow him, and that we may have the peace which passes all understanding. 

It’s a wonderful gift, which comes at a tremendous cost, which shows us how loving and generous God is towards us His people. Our response should be gratitude that we are fed in this way, that we have been reconciled to God through him. We should live lives fashioned after his example, lives which show his love and his truth to the world, lives which proclaim his victory, lives which will attract people to come inside the sheep-fold, to have new life in Jesus, to be with Jesus, to be fed by him, to be fed with him. 

It’s a difficult thing to do, to live this life, to follow His example But with God’s help, and by helping each other to do it together, we can, and thereby give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

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A Prayer of Padre Pio (after receiving Communion)

Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have you present so that I do not forget you. You know how easily I abandon you.
Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak, and I need your strength, so that I may not fall so often.
Stay with me, Lord, for you are my life, and without you, I am without fervour.
Stay with me, Lord, for you are my light, and without you, I am in darkness.
Stay with me, Lord, to show me your will.
Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear your voice and follow you.
Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love you very much, and always be in your company.
Stay with me, Lord, if you wish me to be faithful to you.
Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is, I want it to be a place of consolation for you, a nest of love. Amen.

S. Pio of Pietrelcina

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Trinity II

Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mk 3:35 RSVCE)

One would naturally assume that Jesus’ friends and relatives would the people closest to Him, and you would be wrong. This morning’s Gospel shows us how they get the wrong end of the stick: they think he’s crazy, and they want Him to stop healing people and telling them about the Kingdom of God. At one level they are right, it is a crazy thing to do, but it is also wonderful, not what the world wants, but what it needs: wounds are healed, relationships restored, and we can begin to live as God wants us to. Jesus friends and relations do have a point: they want Him to stop, to eat, to rest, as up to this point in Mark’s Gospel we have seen frenetic activity, there is a breathless quality to the account. But they can only see practical concerns and fail to notice the importance of what is going on in His public ministry. 

The religious authorities are not on Jesus’ charismatic healing ministry — they accuse him of being possessed by an evil spirit, whereas what He is doing is proclaiming in word and deed the power of God to heal, and to free people from the power of evil, something Jesus will demonstrate finally upon the Cross. Jesus points out the inconsistency in the charges laid against Him, if He is possessed by the Devil, how can he cast the Devil out? His accusers have failed to see the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, at work in Him. Their refusal to see God at work is a sign of their pride and hardness of heart — they cannot discern the works of God, and write of as evil a wondrous demonstration of God’s love for humanity. Such is the Sin against the Holy Spirit, a wilful rejection of God.

While Jesus’ dismissal of His relatives appears harsh and uncaring, He is making a wider point about the nature of the Society which Christianity seeks to bring about. In a world where kin, and family relationships mattered where they defined who and what you were, something radically different is offered. What matters is not who your parents and siblings are, but that you have through Christ entered into a new relationship with God, and other believers. We are brothers and sisters in Christ through our baptism, and because we do the will of God: we love God, and love our neighbour.

We do what God wants us to do, and we live out our faith in our lives, but how do we know what the will of God is?

In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, ’Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ (Rom 12:2). So we are in the world, but not of it, we are opposed to the ways of the world, we march to the beat of a different drum. This sounds easy, but in fact it is very difficult. The world around us, our friends, even our family, will put pressure on us to go along with worldly ways: ‘You don’t have to go to church every Sunday, come shopping instead, I’ll buy you lunch.’ It is easy to give in to such things, I know, I have, from time to time. It is tempting, and easy to give in, but over time we lose the habit and drift away. 

Doing what is good, acceptable and perfect, means that there are things which we do not do, as Paul warned the church in Thessalonica what holy living looks like. In a world where there was considerable sexual freedom, he urges something different:

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour,’ (1Thess 4:2-4). It is not, however, advice on what not to do. There are positives as well: ‘pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit,’ (1Thess 5:17-19). Prayer is one of the key ways we can be close to God, and know His will. if we combine this with reading Holy Scripture and the regular reception of the Eucharist then we are on the right track. 

Through Christ we are in a new relationship with each other: as the Church we are part of a family, together with billions of Christians across both space and time, we share our baptism, and we are nourished by Word and Sacrament, in the Eucharist, which makes us the holy people of God. We are made a family together in Christ, with Christ, and through Christ. This is what Christ came to be, reconciling people to God and each other. As he says, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (Jn 10:10 RSVCE) We share that life together in the Church. It keeps us close to Christ and to each other, and helps us grow in holiness.

That’s all well and good in theory, but in practice we come up against the problem outlined in our first reading from Genesis: we make a mess of things, and don’t do what God wants us to. That’s why Jesus came among us, and died upon the Cross, where He bears the weight of all the sins of humanity, past, present, and future. God can and does sort things out, in Christ. 

Confident of our faith in Jesus Christ, we can echo the words of St Paul in this morning’s Epistle, ‘knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.’ (2Cor 4:14 RSVCE).It’s why we celebrate Easter in particular, and Sundays in General: the day Christ rose from the dead, the first day of the week, the eighth day, the New Creation. We have the same hope as Paul because of what Christ has done for us. It is all about GRACE, the unmerited kindness of God, which we desire, but do not deserve. We cannot work for it, it comes because of the generous love of God, His loving kindness. Paul can look to a heavenly future where the trials of this life are past, where we live for ever in the presence of God, and are filled with His glory. This is our hope as Christians, through what Christ has done for us, to fill us with His love and His life. 

Here this morning, in the Eucharist, at the Altar, Christ will give Himself for us, His Body and His Blood, so that we can feed on Him, be fed by Him, and be fed with Him, so that our souls can be healed. What greater medicine could there be for us, than God’s very self? What gift more precious or more wonderful? Our soul’s true food. We eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood so that we might share His Divine life, that we might be given a foretaste of Heaven here on earth.

Come Lord Jesus, come and heal us, and feed us with Your Body and Blood, fill us with your life and love, so that we may share it with others, so that they too may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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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!

Pentecost

For most people up to 1965, Pentecost, or Whitsunday, was probably associated with gifts: new clothes, a Bank Holiday on Whitmonday, and trips, picnics, and ice-cream. The bank holiday was moved to the last Monday in May, and there it has stayed. While Pentecost is with Christmas and Easter one of the three major feasts of the Christian Year, its roots are older.

Fifty days after the Passover, the Jews celebrated Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, a week of weeks, the grain harvest in Ancient Israel, and the giving of the law to Moses on Mt Sinai, it was an important festival, and Jews would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Law, which defined them as Jews, and regulated how they lived their lives. They would offer their first fruits in the Temple, rather like our harvest festival, and read the Book of Ruth, whose story is centred around harvest time.

The disciples have gathered in the Upper Room, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, where Christ instituted the Eucharist, and washed his disciples’ feet. They have gathered together because Jesus told them to be together and to pray, for ‘you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses … to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). They are filled with the Holy Spirit, tongues of fire rest upon them, and they speak in a variety of languages. People from all over the world, who have come to Jerusalem for the feast hear the mighty works of God, they hear a proclamation of who Jesus is, and what he has done. People think they are drunk, but it is nine o’ clock in the morning. The prophecy of Joel is fulfilled. God can and does do wonderful things. And he will still, if we let him. 

Jesus promised his disciples that he will send ‘the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.’ (Jn 15:26-27 ESV) He also promises that, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’ (Jn 16:13-15 ESV) 

We know that Jesus speaks the truth, that his promises can be trusted, that he pours his Holy Spirit upon the Church on the day of Pentecost, and continues so to do until he comes in glory as our Saviour and our Judge. He wants us to tell people about Him, and how he came to show the world LOVE.

The Apostles have obeyed Jesus’ command, they have waited and prayed, and they are filled with the Holy Spirit, so that they can proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, so that they can make Jesus known, so that people can come to know him and be filled with his love. People are amazed and perplexed, they simply cannot understand what is going on, some people assume that the disciples are drunk. Just as once people called Jesus a drunkard and a glutton because he used to hang around with the wrong sort of people. 

Instead St Peter can show that what is happening has been prophesied by the prophet Joel, whom he quotes (Acts 2:16-21) to show that Christ, the Word made flesh is the fulfilment of Scripture, it finds its true meaning in and through Him. He can preach Christ crucified and risen, for our salvation: ‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses’ they have seen and can testify that Jesus is alive. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) Peter and the apostles can confess their faith in Christ and bear witness to him. It has an immediate effect: (Acts 2:37) ‘Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”’ To which Peter replies, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ (Acts 2:38-39) 

This is what the church is called to proclaim, so that people can come and have new life in Christ. You and I are to tell people about Jesus, so that they can repent and believe. Then, later in the Acts of the Apostles we see them all living a recognisable Christian life: ‘And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ (Acts 2:42) 

This is what we are called to be and to do as Christians, to a life where we are close to Christ, in Word and Sacrament, so that we may be strengthened to live the life of faith, and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ so that the world may believe. It is just as true here and now as it was there and then: Jesus promises his spirit to transform and empower people to tell the Good News of the Kingdom. ‘And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged.’ (Jn 16:8-11) Sin, that which separates us from God, and each other is tied in with not believing in Jesus, who he is, what he does. He is God, and he dies for love of us, to reconcile us, to heal our wounds. He is the true Balm of Gilead which heals sin-sick souls, and He gives himself here, under the outward forms of bread and wine, to heal us, to restore us, Righteousness: having been obedient to the will of the Father, dying and rising again, He returns from whence he came, so that He can send the Holy Spirit. Judgement: the ruler of this world has been judged, the world, the flesh and the devil can have no power over us as Christ has overcome them. They offer us death, whereas Christ has brought us life, eternal life in Heaven. God’s judgement on the world was to offer His Only Son to die, to heal its wounds, and reconcile its differences. God’s judgement is LOVE, and he calls us to live as people of love. To live out the same sacrificial redemptive love in the world, to transform it, into the world God wants it to be, where people are filled with love, and live lives of love, where they are generous and peaceful, loving and forgiving. Fed by Christ and fed with Christ we can be transformed more and more into His likeness, inviting others to share in His LOVE, so that they and all the world may know the love 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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Easter III [Acts 3:12-19; 1John 3:1-7] Luke 24:36b-48

This morning’s Gospel account of the post-Resurrection is quite a surprising one. Disciples have just come straight from Emmaus, where they recognised Jesus in the breaking of the Bread, which is confirmed by the disciples, who said that the Lord has appeared to Simon Peter. And then, all of sudden, Jesus is there among them, and says, ‘Peace be with you’. They are startled and afraid — they cannot believe it. He was dead. They saw Him die on the Cross. People don’t rise from the dead. And there He is in front of them. It is immediate, and abrupt, and startling. It is no wonder that they think that they are seeing a ghost, a spirit. They need reassurance, they cannot yet believe. Jesus invites them to inspect His hands and feet, to see the mark of the nails, to gaze in wonder at the wounds of love, to see that God loves them. He’s not a ghost, but a living being — flesh and blood. They’re happy, but they still cannot believe, so Jesus says, ‘Have you got anything to eat?’ They give Him a piece of grilled fish, and He eats it in front of them. He’s not a ghost, He’s alive, living, breathing, and eating. God takes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and lives among us, dies, and is raised to new life, to show us what God has in store. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which we celebrate at Easter, which we keep celebrating for weeks, truly is Good News. it takes a while for this to sink in to His disciples, they cannot take it in. It is extraordinary, but it is TRUE.

Jesus then reminds the disciples that before His death, he had told them that everything in the Jewish Scriptures about Him must be fulfilled. He has to suffer and die, for our sins. He does this willingly, out of love, because He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. It takes them time to understand that He has risen from the dead, and likewise they’re not going to understand the entirety of salvation history immediately. It takes time, even just reading the readings at the Easter Vigil takes time, and this is just a snapshot of what the Old Testament contains in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings. Most of the writings of the Early Church do just what Jesus did, they go through Scripture to see how it points to Jesus, how it finds its fullest meaning in and through Him, the Word made Flesh. I could stand here for hours, days weeks even, and only scratch the surface. Obviously I’ll spare you that, but in the rest of the time that I have to live on earth, I know that I can only begin to tell people about Jesus, and explore how the Bible points to Him. But I need to do it, to explain to people who and what Jesus is, and does, and to say to the world around us the words of St Peter from our first reading this morning, ‘Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,’ [Acts 3:19 NRSV]. The call to follow Jesus and to believe in Him requires a change of heart and mind, a change in how we live our lives, something we have to keep on doing all our lives, a constant commitment to turn from the ways of the world, the ways of sin, to turn to Christ, and follow Him.

Christ explains how His Suffering and Death are foretold in Scripture, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed in His name to all the world. So all of Scripture points to Him, even the awkward, and hard to understand bits, the bits which we would prefer not to read. And we need to tell people about Jesus, who he is, what He does, and why it matters.

He came to offer people an alternative to the ways of the world. You can find temporary happiness in many things, but shopping isn’t going to save your soul. Only Jesus can do that. Amazon, or the High St can do many things, but they’re not going to save you, forgive you your sins, or give you eternal life. Stuff doesn’t save, Jesus does. Our materialistic culture tries its best to hide from this fact. We fill our time with business and distraction. We do all sorts of things which we enjoy, which provide transitory pleasure. But lasting happiness can be found in Christ, and in Christ alone.

I’m as bad as anyone else at this. I admit it. I don’t deserve to be standing here saying this to you. I’m no better than you, probably I’m worse. I certainly don’t feel worthy to be called a shepherd of Christ’s flock. And that’s the point: I’m not, and it’s alright, none of us is, or ever has been, or ever will be. It’s not about us, but about what God can do through us, if we let Him. This is the reality of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. He does what we cannot do, so that we can live in Him.

We don’t need to worry because we find our JOY in Him, in Jesus, our Risen Lord. We are witness, just like those first disciples in Jerusalem, charged to tell people the same Good News, that Jesus died, has risen, and offers NEW LIFE to all, regardless of who they are, and what they’ve done. This is he demonstration of God’s love for the World, ‘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 sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ [John 3:16-17 RSVCE] God’s grace does not abolish our human nature, but perfects it, through faith, through the sacraments, outward and visible signs of inward spiritual grace, so that through Baptism and the Eucharist in the Church, people come to know Jesus, the Word made flesh, and share His Risen life, and are given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, prepared by a loving Father.

People may not wish to come. They may be too busy. It may not mean anything to them, they can write it off as religious claptrap, an irrelevance in the Modern World. But it is still offered to them, and to everybody. To come to know Jesus, to trust Him, to love Him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, to have new life, and the forgiveness of sin through Him, and Him alone. For as St Peter says, ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’ [Acts 4:12 RSVCE], so my brothers and sisters in the joy of Easter let us share this 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, dominion and power, now and forever.

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Duccio, Maesta, Altarpiece, Siena Cathedral

Fifth Sunday of Year B, Mark 1:29-39

It can be hard for us nowadays to imagine what life was like before the National Health Service, when medical care was there for those who could afford it. If we are unwell we see someone and we are treated, and hopefully we recover. In the Ancient World it was not so. Infections and Mental Illness were not understood, people could not do anything, they needed hope, they needed healing.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has called the first disciples from their nets by the Sea of Galilee and they have gone to the Synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus has taught on the Sabbath, and healed a man possessed by an unclean spirit. He has shown that God longs to heal humanity, to restore us, and make us whole. He leaves the synagogue and goes to Peter and Andrew’s home in Capernaum, and finds Simon Peter’s mother-in-law ill with a fever. It’s serious, and it’s life-threatening. He takes her by the hand, lifts her up, and she is immediately restored to full health: she gets up and looks after them. Mark’s account is simple and straightforward, and goes along at a tremendous breathless pace. The healing is miraculous and instantaneous. It takes your breath away. It is a powerful demonstration of the reality of God’s love for us: if we let God be at work in our lives then wonderful things are possible, but we have to trust Him. I know that I really struggle with that, and I suspect that I’m not alone in feeling that way.

Once the Sabbath was over at sundown, the people of Capernaum bring people to Him who are sick, and in need of healing, and he heals them. The Kingdom of God has become a reality in the person and actions of Jesus. And then early the next morning, before dawn Jesus goes away to pray. He finds a deserted place, a place where He can be alone with God to pray. It reminds us of the need for prayer and quiet in our own lives – we need time to be with God, to talk to Him, and to listen to what He has to say to us. We live in a world filled with noise and distraction, where social media and mobile phones vibrate and flash to get our attention to draw us in. Instead if we want to be close to God and let His power be at work in us we need to be silent and find a deserted place if only for a few minutes to let a healing encounter take place. God meets us when we are alone, when we are silent, when we are vulnerable, when we no longer rely on our own strength but hand ourselves over completely to Him. This is not an easy thing to do, but it is the only way for God to be at work in us: we need to make space for Him.

And then it is over, Simon and the other disciples find Jesus and call Him back to the people who need Him. But rather than simply staying where He is, He moves them on to the next towns, so that He may preach there, for that is why He came out. As well as healing the sick Jesus has a message to proclaim: repent and believe the Good News(Mk 1:15). He calls people to turn away from sin, to turn back to God, and to know that the Kingdom is near. The disciples can only see people’s needs, they need to understand that there is a wider context too. So Jesus preaches, He explains the Scriptures so that people can understand that prophecies are being fulfilled in Him, and He casts out demons so that people can see the Healing which the kingdom promises is a reality there and then.

Which of us can say that we don’t need Christ’s healing in our lives? I know that I do, the truth is that we all do. If we are close to Him in prayer, if we listen to Him, if we have the humility which says, ‘I need God’s help’ then we can be open to the transforming power of His Love. Here this morning, in the Eucharist, at the Altar, Christ will give Himself for us, His Body and His Blood, so that we can feed on Him, be fed by Him, and be fed with Him, so that our souls can be healed. What greater medicine could there be for us, than God’s very self? What gift more precious or more wonderful? Our soul’s true food. We eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood so that we might share His Divine life, that we might be given a foretaste of Heaven here on earth. For two thousand years, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, the Church has done THIS, to obey Christ’s command, and so that the healing work begun in Galilee might be continued here, now, among us.

Let us listen to His words. Let us be close to Him in prayer. Let us come to Him, to the One who loves us, who heals us, who gives Himself upon the Cross to die for us. To the One who rises again to give us the promise of eternal life in Him. Let us come to be healed, to the table of the Lord to be fed with Him, so that He might heal us, and restore us, so that we might have life, and life to the full in and through Him. Let us live out our faith, and proclaim Him, 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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Candlemas 2018

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

This feast then is the fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by Malachi, which also looks to our purification in and through the death of Christ and his atoning sacrifice of himself, which will be be re-presented here, made present so that we can share in it, so that we can be healed and restored by the very Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it:  ‘Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.’ It is hard to see how it could be any clearer. Just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac on Mt Moriah, so now God will gladly give His only Son to restore our relationship with Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let us burn, like the candles which God has blessed, let our faith be active to give light and warmth and hope to the world, so that it may feel that love and warmth, and come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Homily for Epiphany III [Gen 14: 17-20; Rev 19:6-10; Jn 2:1-11]

The feast of the Epiphany which we celebrated a couple of weeks ago, is the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. It shows the world that Jesus Christ is God born among us, and points forward to two marvellous miracles. The first is the Baptism of Christ, which we celebrated last week. Jesus shows humanity the way back to the Father, through baptism, and we see the Holy Spirit active in the world. Secondly, this morning, we turn to the first of Jesus’ miracles which took place at a wedding in Cana.

A wedding is a very happy event, celebrated by the whole community, and a jolly good excuse for a party, which in some cultures can go on for many days. Jesus, His Mother, Mary, and the disciples have been invited to a local Galilean party. The happy couple were fairly young, and probably not all that well off. Even so, they would have still put on a huge spread with lots of wine to wash it down. To run out of wine would be seen as a cause of shame and disgrace. The couple and their families would have been shown up in public. This is a culture which valued such things highly, so losing face is a very serious matter indeed. Consequently, when Mary tells Jesus that they have run out of wine, what we are looking at is something of a disaster, a source of shame, a nightmare to be avoided at all costs.

Jesus’ reply to His Mother, ‘Woman … come’, could be seen as curt and dismissive. However, He is not being rude, instead His remark refers to a far larger context than the wedding, the whole of His Earthly ministry in fact. He tells His Mother that it is isn’t their problem, and states that His hour has not yet come:It is not yet His time. Jesus’ hour comes with His Death upon the Cross, when he will wipe away our sins, and take all our shame upon himself.

Mary’s response is instructive. Despite what Jesus says to her she instructs the servants to, ‘Do whatever He tells you’. In this simple phrase she shows us that the key is obedience to the will of God: Listen to what God says and do it. It is that simple and straightforward. As Christians we need to follow her example. Our life should be rooted in obedience: we need to listen to God and obey, for our own good, and the good of the Kingdom. We need to follow the will of God and not be conformed to the world and its ways. We need to truly enter into the joy of the Lord, in humble obedience, be fed by Him, and fed with Him, who died for love of us, in submission to the will of the Father.

Everyone is happy with the miraculous wine; it gives you to all who taste it. Our vocation as Christians is JOY. The joy of the Lord is our strength [Nehemiah 8:10]. We read in the Gospels that Jesus liked nothing better than to hang around at parties with all sorts of people, especially social undesirables. He was even accused by Scribes and Pharisees of being a glutton and a drunkard. In both Luke [7:34] and Matthew [11:19] we see Jesus rejoicing in such name-calling, ‘the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”’ [Matthew 11:19] [Also cf. Deut 21:20 ‘and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’’ The next verse talks of death by stoning, and looks forward to Our Lord’s Crucifixion at Calvary.]

Jesus enjoys eating and drinking because feasting is a sign of the Kingdom of God. It is clearly shown in the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”’ [Isaiah 25:6-9] Here prophecy is fulfilled and we see a glimpse of the banquet at the end of time which is our hope in Heaven

Jesus tells the servants to fill the water jars to the brim. Most of us have outside our houses one or two wheelie bins, which each hold about 30 gallons, or 240 pints of beer. Multiply that by 6 and you’re looking at the equivalent of 1,500 pints of beer, in the Ancient World people drank their wine diluted down to about 5% abv, or two parts water, one part wine.

The wedding party was well underway. An extravagant party, but it points to something greater than itself. It is a foreshadowing of the joy of the Kingdom. It is a taste of the lavish excess that our God, whose love and generosity are beyond our understanding, wishes to bestow on us, as a sign of His love for us.

The world today struggles somewhat with extravagance, and rightly so: when we see the super-rich riding around in gold-plated supercars we are right to be concerned, yet in the Gospel we see something strange. The head steward had a point: you serve the best wine first, while people are sober and can appreciate it. The Kingdom of God, however, turns human values on their head – the joyous new wine of the Kingdom is finer than any human wine. It is lavished upon undeserving humanity, so that it might transform us, so that we might come to share in the glory of God, and his very nature. Christ therefore becomes the true master of the feast, as He will feed humanity from the abundance of the Heavenly Wedding Feast [Revelation 19:6-9], as He will feed us here, today.

Thus, as we start this new year, we see a three-fold dawning of the Glory of God in Christ Jesus. First Our Lord’s manifestation to the Gentiles, the proclamation of the Messiah to the whole world, Then His Baptism, which shows us the way to the Father, a sign of love and obedience, and now the Wedding Feast at Cana, a sure sign of the superabundance of God’s love. It is shown to us here today in the Eucharist, where we drink the wine of the Kingdom, the Blood of Christ.This transforms us by the power and the grace of God, so that we may share his Divine life, and encourage others to enter into the joy of the Lord. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world [Jn 1:36]. He holds nothing back for love of us. He replaces the sacrificial system of the Jews, so that as both Priest [cf. Melkisedech] and Victim he may reconcile us to God.

The Wedding at Cana points to the Cross, as it is when Jesus’ hour comes, when He sheds his blood for us It removes all our shame, all the sins of humanity, so that we can enjoy forever the banquet of God’s love prepared for us in Heaven, and it is shown and foreshadowed here under the outward forms of Bread and Wine. So let us feast on the Body and Blood of Christ so that we may be transformed more and more into His likeness. Let us live out our Joy, and share it with others so that they may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

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Advent 1 Year B Mk 13:24-37

When I was a child I loved reading books. My favourite place in the world was a library, and I can still remember going there one day and my father gave me a bookmark on which the following words were written, ‘Be alert, the world  needs all the lerts it can get!’  The pun was a good one, I enjoyed it, and can remember it decades later. It makes a serious point, namely how do prepare to meet Jesus? Advent is a season of preparation, when we prepare to meet Jesus, both as a baby born in Bethlehem, and as our Saviour and Judge, who will come to call the world to account.

The world around us sees preparations for Christmas as most concerned with cards, decorations and shopping. The Church sees things somewhat differently. What matters are our souls and our lives: who and what we are, what we do, and why we do it.

We, here, this morning, as Christians are living between Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the world. We are to be ready, and to spend our time considering the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. They await us all, each and every one of us, so how will we prepare for them?

In this morning’s gospel, our Lord tells us to stay awake, to be on our guard, to be prepared, because we do not know the time when our Lord will return in glory to judge both the living and the dead.

Jesus tells us not to be found asleep, in the sleep of sin. An attitude which says ‘I’m alright’, ‘I don’t need God’. It is this sleep which affects many people, both those who come to church, and the vast majority who do not. That’s not to say they don’t try and live good Christian lives. We all do, instinctively. And yet any mention of the last things tends to conjure up images of fire and damnation, hell and brimstone preachers, thumping pulpits and putting the fear of God into people. Such is the characterisation of the religious as extremists, something increasingly common. Yet, such people have a point – their message is true – but I suspect that they put it across in a way which strikes people as unpalatable, and so they switch off and go to sleep.

And yet, what they say matters, it is true and we could all do with being reminded of it. How we live our lives matters, it affects who and what we are, and the world around us. We have but one life to live on Earth, and we must try, with God’s grace, to do the best we can. We live in a world which does not care about such questions, apparently people’s lives are their own business, and we have no business calling people’s actions into question, but this will not do. Our actions affect us, our character, our lives, and the lives of people around us – our actions have consequences, which is why our lives and how we live them matter. What we do and say matters and the Church exists to call people to repentance – to turn around and change the whole of their lives and follow Christ in their thoughts, their words, and their deeds – for the Kingdom of God is close at hand.

Lest we get too afraid, we can turn in confidence to the words of Isaiah in our first reading this morning. The prophet is looking forward to the redemption of Israel, the coming of the Messiah, a new future after exile. Against a picture of human sin, and rebellion against God, there is the implicit possibility of something better. In those times when God can seem absent, there is the possibility that God as a loving parent is giving us space and time to reflect and repent. Isaiah is convinced both of the power and the love of God, to remake us, and restore us, to enrich us with his grace, and give us the gifts of his spirit, as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth.

We’re not being left alone in all this. God both tells us the nature and source of the problem, and provides us with a solution. He even helps us along our way: he strengthens and encourages us, to turn our lives around, and follow him. That we be vigilant – and take care of the state of our lives and our souls, and those around us, that we are awake, rather than indulging in the self-satisfied sleep of sin.

For God asks of us – that we, this Advent, turn our own lives around, and prepare ourselves to meet our Lord, at the Eucharist, when he meets us at his altar in His Body and Blood, and in His Words proclaimed in Scripture. We also need to look forward to meeting our Lord in the yearly remembrance of His Nativity, and in his coming in glory as our Saviour and our Judge. If we can look beyond the commercialism of a sad, cynical world, we can see that God was prepared to go to any length to meet us, to be with us and heal us. Can we not prepare ourselves, our souls and our lives to meet Him?

Ours is, after all, a God of love and mercy, born as a helpless child in a stable, who gives Himself out of love for us, to suffer and die to restore our relationship with God the Father and each other, who gives us Himself under the outward forms of bread and wine so that we might have life in Him. He sends us His Holy Spirit to strengthen us, so that we can be alert, stay vigilant, and prepare to meet Him.

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11th Sunday of Year A (Mt 9:35-10:28)

Sheep are lovely creatures, their lambs gambol in fields, their wool keeps us warm, their meat is tasty. They do, however, have something of a bad reputation – they are seen as simple, stupid creatures, who munch grass all day and are a bit dozy and clueless. They can be seen very negatively, as an unthinking herd, or as wandering off and getting caught in thickets. It is no wonder then that one of the images in this morning’s Gospel is likewise not generally seen as positive. ‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd’ (Mt 9:36) Jesus has compassion on them, Matthew uses a word which means to be moved deep inside, it is a gut feeling, a feeling of compassion, of love and care. Like sheep without a shepherd they can wander aimlessly. They need direction; they need help.

We could be forgiven for thinking that that such feelings belong in our past. We’ve grown up, we’ve moved beyond all that. But, if anything the events of the last few weeks tell us clearly that where there is an absence of leadership people get worried. They start to panic. They’re not sure what is going on, or how they are going to find safety and security . So the world around us is a mess, our politicians don’t seem to be much help, and we’re not sure that the Church is any better. It is a sad indictment of the age in which we live, but THERE IS HOPE. We can always, and in all things trust in Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, and who lays down his life for the sheep.

After Jesus has said this He proceeds to call labourers for the Lord’s harvest. He summons the twelve apostles to share his work of proclamation and healing. They are to be sent out for the healing and reconciliation of the nations and to preach the Good News of the Kingdom. He gives them power and authority to do God’s work in the world. It is no easy task – they are to be flogged and handed over for trial. They are to face persecution in the world for doing the work of God. As co-workers with the Lord, fellow shepherds, they too will lay down their lives for their flock, and such is the lot of those called to serve God as bishops, priests and deacons.

In the book of Exodus Moses is addressed by God: ‘Indeed the whole earth is mine but you shall be for me a priestly people and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’ (Exod 19:5-6) As the church is the New Israel, bought through the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood, then these words apply to us. We are to be priestly and holy. We are to honour God and worship Him, and encourage others so to do. We do this by being close to God in our reading of Holy Scripture and our participation in the sacraments of the New Covenant – primarily Baptism and the Eucharist.

Christ has compassion on the people and gives them the shepherds that they need and want, to guide and direct them along the right path, to feed them, and lay down their lives for the sheep, as in all things they will look to Jesus as their pattern and example. His entire life and ministry points towards His Death and Resurrection, where He lays down his life in obedience to the will of the Father to reconcile humanity to God and to each other. It is this sacrifice and self-oblation which the church sees re-presented in the Eucharist, where on one hundred thousand successive Sundays the Church, through its priests and bishops has done what Jesus did on the night before He died with his apostles in the Upper Room. The Eucharist makes the holy people of God, because in it we are fed by Christ and fed with Christ, fed with the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We are given here and now a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet – humanity eats the bread of Angels, pointed to by the manna in the Desert. We are called to share in the Body and Blood of Christ do that we might live in Him and He in us.

Words cannot adequately describe the wonder of this mystery, that we poor, frail, sinful humanity are called to share in the life of God, to be nourished by it, strengthened by it, to live the life of faith here and now. So to a world desperate for answers, which has given up trusting in God, and indeed in just about anything, we can say ‘Come and see’. The church can offer something that people can trust, someone whom they can follow. A true shepherd to guide them, guard them, and lead them.

So let us cast our cares aside and follow Him, let us be nourished by Him, and invite others to so that they 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, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and for ever.

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Corpus Christi – Dom Gregory Dix on the Eucharist

At the heart of it all is the eucharistic action, a thing of absolute simplicity – the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of bread, and the taking, blessing, and giving of a cup of wine and water, as these were first done with their new meaning by a young Jew before and after supper with His friends on the night before he died. Soon it was simplified still further, by leaving out the supper and combining the double grouping before and after it into a single rite. So the four-fold action Shape of the Liturgy was found by the end of the first century. He had told His friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning ‘for the anamnesis‘ of Him, and they have done it always since.

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.

Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, London, 1945p.743-4

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The Sixth Sunday of Year A

Septuagesima is the Sunday roughly seventy days before Easter, or three weeks before the start of Lent.It reminds us that in the Church names and time are important things: they are used to divide and to mark, to draw our attention to things. Historically, the countdown to Lent is a chance to change our focus, with Candlemas our celebration of Christmas drew to a close, and we began to look to the Cross, to Our Lord and Saviour’s Passion. So we begin the countdown to our Lenten observance of prayer and fasting, we begin to get ready to prepare for the most solemn part of the Christian Year: Holy Week and Easter. It’s the Church’s equivalent of an advanced warning – we need to be on the lookout, we need to be prepared, if you like it is the spiritual equivalent of dealing with the current spate of bad weather and power cuts.

We have a choice. That’s what free will is, we are not compelled. We are not forced, we can choose what we want to do. We can follow the ways of the world, ways which will lead to spiritual death, or we can follow Christ, who came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it, to show us the new Covenant in the Old, to show us that our is God of Love, of Healing, and of Reconciliation. And the Good news is that this loving God calls people to be in a covenant relationship with Him, a covenant cut on the Cross, bought with the Blood of His Son, which leads to the Resurrection, to New Life in and through Him.

What we do and how we do it are important things, and they matter – there are times when we make the sign of the Cross, when the names of the Trinity, the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned, we bow our heads at the name of Jesus, and we bow or genuflect to altars and aumbries, from which we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ to honour the God who loves us and who saves us. Many of us may receive flowers or other tokens of affection this week – they demonstrate in a physical way the feelings which we have inside. The church’s ritual is just like this – it enacts what it represents and allows us to make a physical demonstration of the faith which we have inside us. The gestures are not empty; rather they are full of meaning, and full of faith, they help us to express it and live it out in our lives.

What we say, and what we do matter. For a start being a Christian isn’t something we just do for an hour on a Sunday morning, without any connection to the other 167 hours in a week. We enter the Church through baptism, and through prayer and the sacraments, being fed with the Word of God and His Body and Blood, we can be transformed to be like the one who saves us, and who loves us. It doesn’t cost us any money, it’s free, it’s all gift – the grace of God, poured out on us, on you and me, to heal us and to restore us. You’d be a fool to turn this down, wouldn’t you?

It is free, but with it there comes a commitment: a commitment to Christ and His Church, to living our lives in a way which is recognisably Christ-like. This morning’s Gospel tells us that we need to be careful – even the words which we use and the thoughts which we have matter. They matter because they form who and what we are. To be a part of the Christian community has as its basis and starting point reconciliation: reconciliation to God and each other – we need to confess our sins, our faults, and our failings to God, and using the ministry of a priest. It isn’t something which we should leave to the secular courts, or the law of the land, because what is at stake is the state of our souls and our relationship with Christ and with His Body, the Church.

All of our life matters, even the smallest thing, even a thought or a glance. It matters because we are what we do, and what we do helps to form our moral character – we get used to it, it becomes normal and instinctive, it is how we put our faith into practice in our lives. It’s not easy, it’s difficult, and I’m certainly not standing here as a moral super-hero telling people off, but rather as a sinner redeemed by God’s love and mercy, who knows that it’s something which we cannot do alone, we need God, and we need each other – it’s a community effort, and through God’s mercy, and our prayer and support we can be built as living stones as a temple to God’s glory. We can do it together, we are doing it, but we need to keep on trying, together – living simple, transparent lives, letting our ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ be ‘No’, so that the whole of our lives together proclaims the faith of our hearts, that we are set free to live the life of the Kingdom here and now, that we are prepared to keep renewing our commitment to God and each other, so that the world around us 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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Epiphany IV

In the marriage act, love is triune: wife gives self to husband and husband to self and out of that mutual self-giving is  born the ecstasy of love. The spirit too must have its ecstasy. What the union of husband and wife is in the order of the flesh, the union of the human and the Risen Christ is in Holy Communion

Fulton J. Sheen Those Mysterious Priests, 1974: 157

Everyone loves a party, and that is right and proper, and what more wonderful thing is there to celebrate than a wedding, the joining of a man and a woman that they may become one flesh. Marriage is an image used of Christ and his church: it speaks of a deep union, a profound and meaningful relationship, one of self-giving love, commitment, something wonderful and mysterious. We have not come here this morning to celebrate a wedding but rather the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have come to do what he told his disciples to do at the Last Supper, and the church has done ever since, and will until the end of time. We have come so that we may be fed, be fed by Christ, be fed with Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit God is active in our lives, transforming us, by his grace, so that our human nature may be transformed, into His Divine nature.

If we were to listen to the many voices around us which criticise Christianity, we would think that we were of all people the most pitiable, ours is either a weak death-cult of a failed Jewish magician and wonderworker, or a strange oppressive force which actively works against human flourishing and actualisation.

But nothing could be further from the truth, we celebrate love, and forgiveness, we are imbued with faith, hope, and love in and through God at our Baptism, and as our vocation as Christians is JOY. The one whom we worship, the Son of God made flesh liked nothing better than to hang around at parties with social undesirables, and was accused of being a drunkard by religious authorities. Most of us have outside our houses one or two wheelie bins, which are a similar size to the water jars in the Gospel. They hold about 30 gallons, or 150 litres, or 200 bottles of wine. Multiply that by 6 and you’re looking at 1,200 bottles of wine, a hundred cases, and this was after the wine ran out, what we’re dealing with in the wedding at Cana must have been some party, it must have gone of for a couple of days, and it is only a foreshadowing of the joy of the Kingdom, it points to something greater than itself: this is what is in store.

Our starting point as Christians is Mary’s advice to the servants: Do whatever He tells you. Our life as Christians is rooted in obedience: we listen to God and we obey, for our own good, and the good of the Kingdom, so that we are not conformed to the world and its ways, but rather to the will of God, so that we can truly enter into the joy of the Lord, in humble obedience, fed by Him, and fed with Him, who died for love of us in obedience to the will of the Father.

The world around us struggles somewhat with extravagance, we distrust it, and rightly so: when we see Arabian oil magnates riding around in gold-plated supercars we are right to be concerned, yet in the Gospel we see something strange. The steward had a point: you serve the best wine first, while people are sober and can appreciate it, but the Kingdom of God turns human values on their head – the joyous new wine of the Kingdom is finer than any human wine and is lavished upon undeserving humanity, so that it might transform us, so that we might come to share in the glory of God, and his very nature. Thus, at the Epiphany we celebrate three feasts: Our Lord’s manifestation to the Gentiles, the proclamation of the Messiah to the whole world, his baptism, to show us the way to the Father, a sign of love and obedience, and the Wedding Feast at Cana, as a sign of the superabundance of God’s love, shown to us here today in the Eucharist where we drink the wine of the Kingdom the Blood of Christ so that we may be transformed by the power and the grace of God, so that we may share his Divine life, and encourage others to enter into the joy of the Lord.

All this is brought about by Christ on the Cross, where the Lamb of God is sacrificed, a new passover for a new Israel, the people of God, to free us from our sins, and to give us new life in Christ. It’s crazy, it doesn’t make sense: how and why should God love us so much to go far beyond what Abraham did with Isaac on the mountain of Moriah. The ram caught in the thicket points to Christ, who is the Lamb of God, even then, at the beginning God shows us his love for us, he prepares the way, by giving us a sign, to point us to Christ, to his Son.

Such generosity is hard to comprehend, it leaves us speechless, and all that we can do is to stand like the Beloved Disciple S. John at the foot of the Cross and marvel at the majesty of God’s love. It affects S. Paul in his preaching, a man who began persecuting the Church, who was present at the martyrdom of S. Stephen, has his life transformed by Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ saving us does not make sense, it is an act of reckless generosity, like helping a wedding party drink to the point of excess, it is not supposed to make sense. In rational terms we are sinners, who do not deserve God’s mercy, and yet he shows us his love in giving us his Son, to be born for us, to work signs and wonders, to bring healing and to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God’s love, his mercy, and forgiveness.

So let us come to him, clinging to His Cross, our ONLY HOPE, let us be fed with him, and by him, to be strengthened, healed, and restored, and to share this is with the world, so that it 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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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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Christ the King Year C

The death of Our Lord on the Cross reveals that we are meant to be perpetually dissatisfied here below. If earth were meant to be a Paradise, then He Who made it would never have taken leave of it on Good Friday. The commending of the Spirit to the Father was at the same time the refusal to commend it to earth. The completion or fulfilment of life is in heaven, not on earth.

Fulton Sheen, Victory over Vice, 1939: 99

Today the Church celebrates the last Sunday before Advent as the Solemnity of Christ the King, as a feast it is both old and new, while a relatively recent addition to the calendar, what it represents is something ancient and profound: as Christians we recognise the sovereignty of God over the world, and we ask that Christ may rule in our hearts and lives, so that we may live lives of love, so that our faith is proclaimed by word and deed.

Before we start Advent, the beginning of the Church’s year, the season of preparation for our yearly remembrance of Our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem; we stop for a moment to ponder Christ’s majesty, His kingship, and what this means for us and for the world. As someone of the House of David, it is good to start by looking back. Just as the Lord said to David ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel’ (2Sam 5:2) this also looks forward to Christ who is the the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down His life for His sheep. In him we see the meaning of true kingship, and true sacrifice.

In this morning’s epistle, St Paul praises his Lord and Saviour as ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’ (Col. 1: 15–20). It places Christ before and above everything, it sets the scene for our worship of him.

Jesus Christ shows the world His kingship when He reigns on the Cross. It bears the title ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’ it proclaims His kingship, but those who are standing by cannot understand – if he is the Messiah, who saved others, why isn’t he saving himself? His kingship is not marked by self-interest, he rules for the sake of others, or as St Paul puts it ‘making peace by the blood of his cross’. Thankfully in Luke’s Gospel the penitent thief can say to him ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (Lk 23:42). The thief recognises Jesus’ kingly power, he acknowledges it, and puts himself under it. We need to be like him. We need to acknowledge Christ as our Lord and King; we need to recognise both who he is and what he does. We need to, the whole world needs to, acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.

Jesus’ kingship is not the ruthless exercise of power by a dictator; it is rather shown by sacrificial self-giving love, to reconcile God to all things. It is costly, and His Body still bears the wounds of love, which heal our wounds of sin and division. But He is also transfigured and glorious, so that we can have confidence in whom we worship. As He gives himself for us on the Cross, He gives himself to us under the forms of bread and wine; he feeds us with himself, so that our nature may transformed, and we may be given a foretaste of heaven.

So let us worship Him, let us adore Him, let us acknowledge His universal kingship, the Lord and Redeemer of all. What looks to the world like defeat is God’s triumph, it opens the gates of heaven, it inaugurates God’s kingdom of peace and love, into which all may enter. So let us enter, and encourage others to do so, so that the world is transformed one soul at a time, let us invite people to enter into the joy of the Lord, that they may believe and to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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30th Sunday of Year C

Humility is not self-contempt but the truth about ourselves coupled with a reverence for others; it is self-surrender to the highest goal.

Fulton Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living, 1955: 121

Most of us, I suspect, almost all of us don’t really like paying taxes; we know that we have to, but we’d rather not. There were taxes in Jesus’ day and tax collectors were privatised in the Roman Empire: they had to pay for the contract to collect the taxes, and recouped the cost of gaining the contract by over-charging people. They were not popular people, they were resented, they were hated, and with good reason.

We know that in this morning’s Gospel that the tax-collector is supposed to be the villain of the piece; the Pharisee, a religious authority, is supposed to be the person to whom we look up, the example one might expect to follow. Jesus’ parable, then, turns our understanding of the world on its head. The key to understanding it lies in Luke’s opening comment regarding those: ‘who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt’ (Lk 18:9). There is a fundamental problem with the difference between how they think of themselves and others. The Pharisee isn’t praying, he isn’t talking to God, he’s praying to himself, justifying what he thinks of himself, saying to God, ‘Look at me, am I not good?’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Lk 18:13). His prayer is that God will be merciful. He is so conscious of his own sin and need of God that he opens up a space in which God can be at work. It is in this space that we all need to be. We need to recognise that we need God to be at work in us, that we need to rely upon him to change us, to transform us – so that we can become the people that God wants us to be. All the prayer, all the rituals, all the externals of religion, are of no use unless they go hand in hand with an attitude which recognises that we need God, that we are sinful, and need his love and his mercy to transform us.

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

Now is this the kind of life we really want to lead? Is this really the path of human flourishing? Or are we called to something better, something greater, something more lovely? So let us put our trust in the God who loves us and who saves us, let us know our need of him and his transforming grace to fill our lives and transform all of his creation so that the world may believe and be transformed to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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The Ascension

One of the loveliest things about today is that it tends to focus, in religious art at least, on feet:  the smelly things we like to keep hidden away from the world. Today we see Jesus’ in all their glory going back to where they came from, but they go back differently than they descended: they go back marked with nails, wounded, bearing the marks of God’s love, it is this love which fills us in the Church, the same love which feeds us in His Body and Blood.

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.

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

We can all hope to follow Him, and to spend eternity contemplating the Beatific Vision, caught up in that love which is the Divine Nature, sharing in the praise of all creation of the God 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.

Easter IV

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

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

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

We are to bear witness to our faith in the world so that it may believe. We are called to be witnesses regardless of the cost. We may not face persecution in this country; we are more likely to be faced with indifference, a coldness of heart, which denies the fact that what we are and what we say is important or has value. Yet we are to live lives which proclaim the fact that our life and death have meaning and value through Jesus Christ, who loves us, who died for us, and rose again so that we might have eternal life in him. It is a gift so precious that we have to share it, we cannot keep it for ourselves. In sharing it, it becomes a greater and more wonderful gift. In sharing it we are preparing for that moment seen by St John when all of creation will sing the praise of God, filled with his love, healed and restored by him.

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

20th Sunday of Year B: I am the Living Bread


This morning’s Gospel is taken like those from the two previous Sundays from the extended discourse in John’s Gospel on the Bread of Life which follows the miraculous feeding of the Five Thousand. But, you may say, not this again, we’ve got the point, it’s time to move on, we understand; to which one may counter that what we are dealing with here is not something to understand, but rather something to experience.
In the Book of Proverbs we see Wisdom, who in the Christian tradition is identified with Christ, the Word made Flesh, issuing an invitation: she has built a house, the Church, she has hewn seven pillars, the sacraments, the means of God’s grace to be active in our lives, and the people of God are called to eat and drink, to live, and to walk in the way of insight, that is in following Jesus Christ. The New is prefigured in the Old, and the Hebrew Scriptures point to, and find their fulfilment in Jesus Christ, who is the Wisdom of God, and the Word made Flesh.
Likewise St Paul advises the church in Ephesus not to behave in a worldly manner, but to put God at the centre of our lives. He ends by invoking the names of the three persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in a context of worship, of praise of the Almighty, as that is what we as Christians are supposed to do, to love God and to serve him, through prayer and worship, through entering into the mystery of the Three in One, to be caught up in the outpouring of divine love, and to have a foretaste of it here on earth.
After feeding the Five Thousand in John’s Gospel, a sign of the generous nature of God’s love for humanity, Jesus embarks upon an extended discourse upon himself as the Bread of Life. John’s account of the Last Supper focuses on Christ washing the disciples’ feet, and their obeying Christ’s example and commands. There is no institution narrative, instead the Eucharistic teaching in John’s Gospel is centred around Jesus’ explanation in Chapter 6, so that a long time before Jesus’ suffering and death we can see what it is all about. It’s a process which starts with John the Baptist at the start of the Gospel, where he sees Jesus and says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn 1:29) The Lamb points to Passover and the freedom of the people of God, freedom from sin and its effects.
Jesus begins the last section of his teaching with the bold claim that ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ These are some extraordinary claims to make, they would have sounded shocking to a first century Jew, and some two thousand years later they still sound shocking, and yet the offering of Christ’s body for the sins of the world as a propitiatory sacrifice which is re-presented, made present again and offered to God the Father upon the altars of the church, is what the church is for, it is what we are for.
It is done so that we may have life in us, and have it for eternity, so that we may share in the pledge of eternal life given to us in Christ, who will raise us up forever with Him. Such is the nature of God’s love for us: it is freely given, we do not earn it, we do not deserve it; it is something given to us, so that by it, and through it, we may become something greater, something better than we are.
Such is the power of God’s sacrificial love at work in our lives; such is the treasure which we have come here to receive, if it were ordinary food then we would eat it, and it would become what we are, our flesh and blood; but instead we who eat it become what it is, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we share in His divine life, we are healed by His divine love, by his sacrifice the wounds of sin and division are healed so that humanity, made in the image of God might be ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven by God, to live to his praise and glory.
Such wonderful news is truly worth pondering and considering in detail given its potential effects in our lives, so that bit by bit we are slowly and sure becoming more Christ-like, fed by Him, fed with Him, and encouraging others so to do 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.

‘I am the Bread of Life’ Trinity X (19th of Year B)


I was somewhat troubled when I first read this morning’s Gospel. I find it all too easy to moan about all sorts of things, it is a very human failing, one to which we all, from time to time, succumb. But it’s something which Our Lord tells us not to do, and so I pray that through God’s grace I may live a life which more closely imitates Jesus, and follows His commands. It reminds me of a passage in the sermons of St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Church: ‘“You all say, ‘The times are troubled, the times are hard, the times are wretched.’ Live good lives and you will change the times. By living good lives you will change the times and have nothing to grumble about.”’ (Sermo 311.8) It reminds us that the work of the Gospel is at one level up to us, the Body of Christ, His Church. We have to live our faith out in our lives (as fine words butter no parsnips) and we have to live the change we want to see in the world. Christianity is a way of life, a way mocked and scorned by the world around us, written off as irrelevant, and yet close to the God who loves us and saves us.

       In the Old Testament reading this morning we see the prophet Elijah being fed, we see God providing food which gives strength, strength for the journey. It prefigures the Eucharist, it looks forward to 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.
       In the letter to the Ephesians we see that as children of God, loved by God, we are to imitate him, after the pattern of Christ, who offered himself, who was a sacrifice who has restored our relationship with God. It is this sacrifice, the sacrifice of Calvary, which has restored our relationship with God, which will be re-presented, made present here today, that you can touch and taste, that you can know how much God loves you; that you can be strengthened and given the hope of eternal life in Christ – that God’s grace can transform your human nature so that you come to share in the Divine Nature forever. Paul’s hope for the church in Ephesus should be ours to. This is how are supposed to live together as a Christian community, living in love, fed with love itself, here in the Eucharist, where we thank God for His love of us.
       In this morning’s Gospel we see Jews complaining, ‘how can he be from Heaven, from God, we know his Mum and Dad’. It is a difficult thing to understand, especially before Jesus suffers and dies, and rises again. It can be hard to understand who and what Jesus is. The Jews can see him only in purely human terms, they cannot see beyond this, the Messiah whom they long for is in their midst and they fail to recognise him. The notion of consuming human flesh and blood is so abhorrent to Jews that it would represent something sinful and polluting. Jesus’ answer is simple and challenging: stop complaining. We are to accept, we are not to moan, to complain, but instead to trust him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
       Jesus is the Bread of Life, the true nourishment of our souls. It is through him that we can have life as Christians. He came down from heaven and became incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. He was born as a human being, and in him our human flesh has been raised to eternal life, to glory with God. Jesus speaks of the Eucharist, the sacrament of his body and blood as providing us with eternal life, of opening the way to heaven. So we come to be fed by God, to be fed with God, to have a pledge and foretaste of the joy of heaven, of eternal life with God, to experience true love in the source of love – the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
       We can have such a hope because Jesus gives himself, to suffer and die, and rose again, for love of us. It is this life of love and sacrifice which we are to imitate. Jesus gives himself to us for the life of the world – it is through being fed by him that the world can truly live. 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, to draw others closer to Christ 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.

Seventeenth Sunday of Year B (John 6:1-15)


As you were getting up this morning, to get ready to come to church, you probably went into your bathroom to wash your face and brush your teeth and turned on the tap marked ‘C’, and all was well. If you went on holiday to Italy and you wanted to have a drink, wash your face or brush your teeth, you may well stand by a sink and turn on the tap marked ‘C’ and you would get a nasty shock. It stands for Caldo the Italian word for Hot. What you needed to do instead was to turn on the tap marked ‘F’ for Fredo or Cold.
This mistake is easily made, especially since we are so used to seeing the letter ‘C’ on cold taps back home. But it shows us the problem of misreading the signs. In today’s Gospel we have several examples of people misreading signs. First, we have Philip: he is asked by Jesus where they can buy bread for the crowd to eat. He replies that 200 denarii would only buy them a mouthful each. Six months wages just for a mouthful! So Philip can see no way that the people can be fed. He is unable to see past the practicalities.
Andrew begins better. He shows Jesus a boy with two fish and five barley loaves, the bread of the poor. But he cannot see the point and asks ‘what is that between so many?’ The disciples cannot read the signs and give the wrong answers to Jesus’ questions
The people are also a bit of a mixed bag. They have followed Jesus as they are impressed by outward things, his miraculous healing of the sick. Once they have been fed, they recognise the sign as a declaration of Jesus’ identity, but they misinterpret it. They are about to take him by force and make him king. This is not what Jesus’ kingship is about, he isn’t a political ruler, and his kingship is not of this world. All three have expectations which are met, but not in the way they were expecting.
The context of the Gospel story is important. It was just before the Passover, the festival commemorating Israel’s journey from slavery in Egypt, across the Red Sea towards the Promised Land. It is a festival of Hope and Freedom, of Liberation, of a God who will feed them with manna from heaven.
It is also the same time that Jesus will celebrate the Last Supper with his disciples, instituting the Eucharist, which Christians have faithfully celebrated ever since and the reason why WE are here today. The blessing, breaking and sharing of bread is a serious matter then, and not just an excuse for a conjuring trick.
The fact that it is a serious matter explains why Jesus will devote so much time and effort to teaching the people about this in the Gospel passages we will read over the next few weeks. It matters because it is how we encounter Jesus and are fed by him.
In the Gospel, it is Jesus who takes the initiative. He recognises that people are hungry, and that they need to be fed. He takes the basic foodstuff, bread, to show us how God works with simple things. These may be, like the barley loaves, poor, the kind that the world despises and looks down its nose at, but for God, nothing or indeed nobody is scorned or cast aside. Ours is a God who takes what is available and uses it. Jesus takes what he is given and thanks God for it, in recognition that all we have, our lives and all of creation is a gift, for which we should thank God.
It is through prayer and blessing that bread can be broken and distributed and provide sustenance, on a scale and in a way that defies our expectation and understanding. Not only are the people fed but as a sign of the superabundance of God’s love and mercy, there is more left over at the end than there was to begin with. Thus, in giving thanks to God and sharing his love, the kingdom of God of which the bread is a sign, grows, is shared, and satisfies people’s deepest needs.
Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and distributes bread to demonstrate what the Kingdom of God and the message of the Gospel is. This looks forward to the Institution of the Eucharist, just before Passover. It points to the great Passover, where the world is freed from the slavery of sin, washed in the Red Sea that flows from Calvary, and given the Law of love of God and neighbour.
This miraculous feeding by the shore of the Sea of Galilee will happen here today, when we, the people of God, united in love and faith offer ourselves and like the little boy, give the bread that we have, so that it may be taken, blessed, broken and given that we may be partakers in the mystical supper of the Kingdom of God. We eat the Body of Christ not as ordinary food – that it may become what we are – but that WE may become what HE is. THIS is our bread for the journey of faith. THIS is the sign and token of God’s love. THIS is the means by which we too may enjoy forever the closer presence of God.
So then, as the five thousand received and were satisfied, let us prepare to eat that same bread, the body of Christ, which satisfies our every need and fills us with a foretaste of the Kingdom of God

Trinity VII Yr B

Some monks came to see Abba Poemen and said, ‘Abba, we have noticed some of the brothers falling asleep during the early morning service, should we wake them up so that they may pray more devotedly?’ He said, ‘Well I, for my part, when I notice a brother falling asleep lay his head in my lap so that he may sleep more soundly’
 
It is perhaps not surprising that amongst the men and women who lived in the Egyptian desert, and who developed the monastic tradition one of the most inspiring is a man whose name means ‘Shepherd’ in Greek. His care and gentleness towards his brothers is an example of how to be a Christian: gentle, non-judgmental, forgiving.

Living as we do here, out in the countryside, surrounded by fields, I suspect that the imagery in this morning’s readings is not completely lost on us. We are used to sheep and the shepherds who look after them. The care and devotion which a Shepherd should devote to his flock is a sign of God’s love and care for us, and to those of us who have been given any sort of pastoral responsibility in the church it serves as a reminder of who and what we are supposed to be: its cost, and the responsibility we share for the care of Christ’s flock, the burden and the joy. It is frightening to think how little our own strength and skill is compared to the task – we have to rely upon God, and his strength and not our own.

In this morning’s first reading, we see what happens when it goes wrong (there’s advice for bishops here). The Kings of Israel are not true shepherds as they exercise power which destroys and drives away the sheep. They don’t care for the well-being of the people, who have scattered, gone wandering off, as the mood takes them. It’s all gone horribly wrong; and yet God, the true shepherd of our souls, does not leave his people comfortless. He promises to give them a good Shepherd, and points towards his son, the Good Shepherd, who will lay down his life for his sheep. The prophet Jeremiah looks forward to a future when there is a Good Shepherd, who is Christ, who lays down his life for his sheep. This is care, this is self-giving love.

In St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we see the work of the Good Shepherd and its fruits. He gives us life through his death. Through him the flock is united; sin, that which divides, that which keeps us apart has been overcome by Jesus, he restores our relationship to one another and to God the Father, by laying down his life, by giving himself for us upon the cross and here in the Eucharist, where we the people of God are fed by God, are fed with God, to be built up into a holy nation, to become more like him, to have a hope of heaven, and of eternal peace and joy with him.
In conquering the world and sin, Christ shows us that there is nothing God cannot do or indeed will not do for love of us. All divisions, all human sinfulness can be reconciled through Him who was sinless, who gave himself to be tortured and killed that we might be free and live forever.

In this morning’s Gospel we see a picture of what good shepherds are like. Jesus and the apostles have been teaching the people, it’s a wonderful thing but it does take its toll. The disciples tell Jesus that it’s time to have a rest, to spend some time alone, in prayer and refreshment. The people are so many; their needs are so great that the apostles have not had time to even eat. It is a recognisable picture, and it shows us how great was the people’s need for God, for God’s teaching, for his love and reconciliation. Jesus does not send them away he takes pity on them because they are like sheep without a Shepherd, and he, the good Shepherd, will lay down his life for his sheep. His people are hungry so they will be fed by God, and fed with God. God offers himself as food for his people and continues to do so: he will feed us here today, feed us with his body and blood, with his word, so that we may be fed, so that we may be nourished, so that we may be strengthened to live our lives, that we may live lives which follow him, that we may have the peace which passes all understanding.

It’s a wonderful gift, which comes at a tremendous cost, which shows us how loving and generous God is towards us His people. Our response should be gratitude that we are fed in this way, that we have been reconciled to God through him. We should live lives fashioned after his example, lives which show his love and his truth to the world, lives which proclaim his victory, lives which will attract people to come inside the sheep-fold, to have new life in Jesus, to be with Jesus, to be fed by him, to be fed with him.

It’s a difficult thing to do, to live this life, to follow His example but with God’s help, and by helping each other to do it together, we can, and thereby give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

10th Sunday of Year B


This morning’s readings start at the beginning, which, as we know, is a very good place to start, we go back to the root of the problem of the human condition – sin, not listening to God, and not obeying God, and suffering which we experience as a result of it. It is the common inheritance of humanity – we think we know better, that we can assume a place which rightly belongs to God and not suffer as a result. Worst of all, in the Genesis story Adam and Eve cannot even own up to their failing, they eschew the humility of being honest to God, preferring to try and shift the blame to someone else.  If that were the end of the story, then it would make for some fairly bleak reading and we would have every right to feel rather glum this morning, but thankfully this morning’s second reading from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians can give us hope that this is not the end of the story, that we can have hope of a new future in Jesus Christ, and an eternal destiny thanks to him. Such is grace, the undeserved free gift of God, which should make us hopeful and thankful, and to live our lives in the light of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for our sake.
In this morning’s gospel we see that Jesus can provoke some strong reactions: it’s all a bit hot and bothered in Nazareth, there’s such a crowd around Jesus that he cannot even eat a meal, it’s clearly chaotic. Members of his family are so concerned for his safety and well-being that they want to restrain him, as they are not sure that he’s in his right mind – they cannot understand what is happening around them, and how it is that someone whom they know is doing this; the religious authorities likewise cannot understand his actions and accuse him of being possessed by an evil spirit.
Thankfully, Jesus is having none of it, and speaks to them in parables – How can Satan cast out Satan? How can they ascribe this to the devil? What they have witnessed are healings: they have seen humanity restored before their very eyes . The scribes have mistaken the kingdom of God for the action of the evil one, they, like Jesus’ relatives have fundamentally misread the situation. In ascribing Jesus’ actions, his preaching and his miraculous healing, to the powers of darkness, they have sinned against the Holy Ghost, which is apparently unforgiveable: they have mistaken the actions of God for those of the devil, they are blind, they are unable to see that what they are witnessing is the Messianic future foretold by the prophets – scripture is being fulfilled but they are unable or unwilling to recognise the fact.
       Then Jesus shows us that compared to our earthly ties, those of the kingdom are far wider, if whoever does the will of God is Jesus’ brother and sister then that should include all of us, and a whole lot more people – we are called into a relationship with God and with each other which transcends earthly ties and gives us a new paradigm within which to live. Thus to be in the church is to be part of Jesus’ extended family, called into a relationship with Him. It is a relationship characterised by the outpouring of God’s healing love upon us – Jesus’ miraculous healings in the Gospel are a sign of the Messianic kingdom, and they point to that great healing of all of humanity upon Calvary, where Jesus suffers and dies, taking our sins upon himself, paying the price which we cannot, so that in Christ humanity may be healed from the guilt and power of sin. It is that same sacrifice which is made present here, this morning, where we the people of God are given a foretaste of heaven, where we receive His Body and Blood, as a pledge of future glory, a healing remedy, the balm of Gilead to heal our sin-sick souls, the greatest spiritual medicine in all of creation, in all of history, is here for us now. So let us come to him, to be healed and restored by him, filled with his love and sharing that love with others.

Easter II

The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them…. The Cross had asked ‘Why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree?’ The Resurrection answered: ‘That sin, having done its worst, might exhaust itself and thus be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death.’        Thus there emerges the Easter lesson that the power of evil and the chaos of the moment can be defied and conquered, for the basis of our hope is not in any construct of human power but in the power of God, who has given to the evil of this earth its one mortal wound—an open tomb, a gaping sepulchre, an empty grave.

Fulton J. Sheen Cross-Ways

 
This morning as we rejoice in the joy of the Risen Lord, as we are filled with joy, with hope and with love, we can reflect on what the Resurrection does: when Jesus comes and stands among the disciples he says ‘Peace be with you’ Christ’s gift to the world in His Death and Resurrection is Peace, the Peace ‘which passes all understanding’. He shows the disciples his hands and side so that they can see the wounds of love, through which God’s Mercy is poured out on the world to heal it and restore it. In this peace Christ can say to them ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’ as the baptised people of God the Church is to be a missionary community – one sent to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world, that it may share the joy and life of the Risen Lord.
       As well as giving the Apostles the Holy Spirit, ordaining them as the first bishops of the Church, we see that the power of the Cross to bring peace to the world is also the power to absolve sins – priests and bishops can absolve the people of God in God’s name, and by God’s power – this is what the Cross achieves – reconciling us to God and each other. The Church, then, is to be a community of reconciliation, where we are forgiven and we, in turn, forgive, where we are freed from sin, its power and its effects.
       When Christ breathes on the disciples and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ it is this gift of God’s Holy Spirit which transforms them from frightened people sat in a locked room in fear into the confident, joyous proclaimers of the Gospel, such as Peter in his sermon to the people of Jerusalem. In Peter’s sermon we see that all that Christ is and does is confirmed by Scripture – it is the fulfilment of prophesy, such as we find in Isaiah 25:6—9:
 
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
 
       As the Church we know that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who gives freedom to Israel, a freedom from sin – a bringing to completion of what God started in the Exodus, in the crossing of the Red Sea – we too are free, freed by the waters of baptism, sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection.
       Thomas was not present with the disciples, he cannot believe in the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection unless he sees with his own eyes, and feels with his own hands – such is his grief, such is his love for Jesus. Our Lord says to him ‘Doubt no longer but believe’ which leads to his confession ‘My Lord and my God’. Blessed are we who have not seen and yet have come to believe, and through this belief we have live in Christ’s name, we have the hope of eternal life and joy with him forever.
       The disciples go from being scared and stuck in an upper room to missionaries, evangelists, spreading the Good News around the world, regardless of the cost, even of sacrificing their own lives to bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he rose again, on this day for us, that God loves us and tells us to love Him and to love one another. It is a simple and effective message which people still want to hear – we need to tell it to them, in our thoughts, our words and our actions.
       The heart of our faith and the Gospel is forgiveness – no matter how many times we mess things up, we are forgiven. It is this reckless generosity of spirit which people find hard – to believe that they toocan be forgiven, by a loving God, and by their fellow Christians. That we can, despite our manifold shortcomings be a people of love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. That God’s Grace will in the end not abolish our nature, but perfect it, that being fed by Christ, with Christ: so that we too may become what He is. That faced with the sad emptiness of the world, and its selfishness, its greed, we can be filled with joy, and life, and hope. That like the first apostles we too can spread the Gospel: that the world may believe.
It’s a tall order, perhaps, but one which God promises us. That is what the reality of the Resurrection is all about, it’s either nothing, in which case we are the most pitiable of deluded fools – idiots who are more to be pitied than blamed, orit is the single most important thing in the world. It should affect allof us, every part of our life, every minute of every day, allthat we do, all that we say, all that we are. This may not fit in with a reserved British mentality, we think we’re supposed to be polite and not force our views on others. But this simply will not do. We are, after all, dealing with people’s souls, their eternal salvation, it’s a serious matter. And what we offer people is entirely free, can change their lives for the better, and make life worth living.


So let us be filled with the joy of the Resurrection this Easter, let us share that joy with others, may it fill our lives and those of whom we meet with the joy and love of God, who has triumphed and who offers us all new life in Him, that all that we do, all that we are, all that we say or think may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever.

Easter Homily 2015

It is early in the morning; the sun has not yet risen when Mary Magdalene, Peter and John come to the tomb. They have seen their Lord and Saviour betrayed, falsely accused, flogged, and killed. We can scarcely imagine what’s going through their minds: grief, anguish, bitterness, Peter’s regret at having denied Jesus, of not being brave enough to say that he was a follower of Jesus, Mary and John who stood by the Cross, just want to be close to him in death as in life. They can’t take in what has happened: a week ago he was hailed as the Messiah, God’s anointed, the successor of David, now he has been cast aside: all his words of God’s love have fallen on deaf ears, he has been cast aside, ignored, a failure, a madman who wanted to change the world.
        Mary sees the stone rolled away, in the darkness, she doesn’t understand but says to Simon Peter ‘they have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre and we know not where they have laid him’ her concern is for the dead body of Jesus. She does not know, she does not believe. As Mary has run away from the tomb, John and Simon Peter run towards it. John sees the cloths but does not go in. Peter goes in first and sees everything. Then John sees and believes: he believes that God has raised Jesus from the dead. It is his love for Our Lord and Saviour which allows him to see with the eyes of faith, to make sense of the impossible, of the incomprehensible.
        As Christians we need to be like the Beloved Disciple: to love Our Lord and Saviour above all else, to see and believe like him, and through this to let God work in our lives. For what happened on that hillside nearly two thousand years ago, early in the morning, on the first day of the week is either nothing at all: just a delusion of foolish people, a non-event of no consequence or interest, something which the world can safely ignore or laugh at, mocking our credulity in the impossible, childish fools that we are; or it is something else: an event of such importance that the world will never be the same again.
        In dying and rising again, Jesus has changed history; he has changed our relationship with God, and with one another. He has broken down the gates of Hell to lead souls to Heaven, restoring humanity to the loving embrace of God, to open the way to heaven for all humanity, where we may share in the outpouring of God’s love, which is the very life of the Trinity. His death means that our death is not the end, that we have an eternal destiny, a joy and bliss beyond our experience or understanding: to share in the life and love of God forever – this is what God does for us, for love of us, who nailed him to a tree, and still do with our dismissals or half-hearted grudging acceptance, done for propriety’s sake.
        There can be no luke-warm responses to this; there is no place for a polite smile and blithely to carry on regardless as though nothing much has happened. Otherwise, we can ask ourselves: why are we here? Why do Christians come together on the first day of the week to listen to the Scriptures, to pray to God, to ask forgiveness for our manifold sins, to be fed by Christ, to be fed with Christ: with his body and his blood, for Christ: to be his mystical body, the Church in the world?
        We are called to be something different, something out of this world, living by different standards and in different ways, living lives of love not selfishness, self-satisfaction and sin. In baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life with him, we are to live this life, and to share it with others: ours is a gift far too precious to be kept to ourselves, it is to be shared with the whole world, every last human soul, that they too may believe, perfecting creation, and bringing all of prodigal humanity into the embrace of a loving Father, filled with His Spirit, conformed to the pattern of His Son. This is our life, our calling, to have the singularity of purpose of those first disciples, who saw and believed, who let God in Christ change their lives and share this great free gift of God’s love.

So let our hearts be filled with joy, having died with Christ and raised to new life with him. Let us take that new life, and live it, in our thoughts, our words, and deeds, and share that life with others that the world may believe, that what happened outside a city two thousand years ago has changed all of human history and is still changing lives today. Christ died and is alive so that we and all the earth may have life and have it to the full, sharing in the life and love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. 

Homily for Lent V

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reflects upon who and what he is and what he has come to do (Mt 5:17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” Christ comes to fulfil the law rather than to abolish it, and to inaugurate a new covenant in his blood which will flow from Calvary. This has been pointed to in Scripture: in the first reading this morning the prophet Jeremiah looks forward to a future covenant that will bring faithless sinful Isræl back to the Lord their God. They broke the covenant, they were unfaithful, and though they were married to the Lord their God, here we see not divorce but covenant faithfulness – it’s how God is, this is God’s love in action: self-giving, sacrificial, and costly. Christ fulfils Scripture – it finds its fullness and its true meaning in and through him, the Word of God made Flesh for our sake. God in Christ restores and heals that which was broken through human sinfulness: ‘But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Isræl after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ Ours is a God who forgives our iniquities and forgives our sins through the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.
       Jesus Christ is our great high priest: priests offer sacrifice for sin, as on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement where once the people were sprinkled with blood each and every year, whereas under the New Covenant, the covenant of grace rather than law, Christ the mediator of the new covenant sheds his own blood as both priest and victim to reconcile us with God. He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, whose name means King of Righteousness, the King of Salem, better known as Jerusalem, brings out bread and wine, which point to the Eucharist, he is a priest of God Most High, before the priesthood of Aaron, the Levitical priesthood, so this is the true worship of Almighty God which points to Christ and finds its fulfilment in and through Him, who suffered for our sins.
In this morning’s Gospel some Greeks go up to Philip and say ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus’. They approach a disciple with a Greek name, and though they are not Jews themselves, they try to follow the law and to worship God. They are good people with an innate sense of the religious and they have a simple request: they want to see Jesus. Nearly 2000 years later there are people who will ask exactly the same question. What can be said to them? If they come to Mass on a Sunday morning, they will meet the Lord in Word and Sacrament. But will they also see Jesus in us Christians who are the body of Christ? We too are to be His presence in the world. Everything that we say, or think, or do, can proclaim Christ and his saving love to the world. It is our duty as Christians to try at all times and in every way to model our lives upon Christ’s, and by our sharing in his passion, death, and resurrection, to form our lives so that they may reflect his glory so that the world may believe. Each and every careless word and thoughtless action speaks to the world and says that we are hypocrites, who do not practice what we preach. We are perhaps judged more harshly nowadays than at any time before – ours is a world which does not know or understand forgiveness; but we should nonetheless try with all the strength we can muster to live Christ’s life in the world.
       ‘Now the hour has come for the son of man to be glorified’ Jesus Christ is looking towards his passion and death. God shows the world the fullness of glory, the most profound expression of self-giving love in the events of his passion and death. This is why we celebrate it: week by week and year by year. We prepare ourselves during Lent to walk with Christ to Calvary and beyond. We see how much God loves us, how much God gives himself for us: totally, completely, utterly. If we serve Jesus we must follow him, and where we are he will be too. In the midst of the troubles which beset the church, Christ is with us. When we are afraid or troubled, Christ is with us, he has felt the same feelings as us, and was given the strength to carry on. When the church is written off as an irrelevance, Christ is with us.
       When secularism appears strong, we should remember our Lord’s words: ‘now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown’. The World and the Devil are overcome in Christ’s self giving love, when on the cross he pays the debt which we cannot, he offers us a new way of living a life filled with love, a love so strong as to overcome death, a love which offers us eternal life.
       So then as we continue our journey through Lent our journey to the cross and beyond to the empty tomb of Easter, let us lose our lives in love and service of him who died for us, who bore our sins, who shows us how to live most fully, to be close to God, and filled with his love. Let us encourage one another, strengthen one another, and help each other to live lives which proclaim the truth of God’s saving love. All of us through our baptism share in Christ’s death and resurrection and we should proclaim this truth to the world. This truth, this way, this life, overcomes the world, and turns its selfish values on their head. Together we can love and strengthen and encourage one another to do this together: to be Christ’s body in our love and service of one another, in our proclamation to the world that God loves all humanity and longs, like the father of the Prodigal Son, to embrace us, to welcome us back. And as we do this, growing in love and fellowship we will fulfil the will 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… 

Lent IV – Looking to the Cross

For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.
It is far too easy nowadays to see the church in a negative way –  it’s the fashionable thing to do – as the church we’re corrupt, we’re filling people’s heads with nonsense. We can be characterised as strange, quaint, and out of touch. It suits people to see us entirely in negative terms: as opposed to certain things. We are prescriptive: we limit people’s freedom, and in failing to practice what we preach, we can be written off as hypocrites, with no right to proclaim objective truth, to offer the world a moral framework, within which to live its life; to offer the world an alternative paradigm, a new way of living and of being through which to have life, and have life in all its fullness. It’s less a valid criticism and more of an excuse for people not to bother. It’s an easy way out, which saves people from the more difficult task of living Christ-like lives of love and self-sacrifice. The church does not claim to be perfect, but rather a collection of sinners justified by the grace of God, through faith in Christ.
          The simple truth is that people like to moan and grumble – we all do, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone, but there is a fundamental difference between being dissatisfied with the way things are and longing for change, and hopefully bringing about good change, change in a god-ward direction, and the corrosive moaning rooted in selfishness, which betrays a lack of trust in God. The Israelites in the desert represent this negative moaning, they are unable or unwilling to trust God to lead them on a journey towards the Promised Land, and while they realise their mistake their poisonous moaning has disastrous consequences for them. And yet even in this they are not abandoned by God, they gaze on the bronze serpent, they look to that which prefigures the Cross, through which God heals his people, taking their sins upon himself. That’s why it appears in stained-glass windows in churches, because it points to the Cross, it’s why when talking about the Cross Jesus mentions it, so that people might understand how and why God loves them and how it might affect their lives.
St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians can state with confidence, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast(Eph 2:8-9). It’s not about what we can do, but about what God can do for us. Our relationship with God is the result of a gift, which we can receive and which can transform our lives, if we only let go, and let God…
          This morning’s gospel reminds us of the fundamental truth that God loves us – it is the heart of the Good News – the Gospel, what we preach and what we live as Christians. There are few words as comforting as ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (Jn 3:16-17). They may be familiar to us, they certainly should be, but we must not let our familiarity with them cloud the significance of simply stating that God loves us, does not condemn us, but saves us, in and through Jesus Christ. That’s why we are Christians, it’s why we’re here, and recognising God’s love for us will have a transforming effect upon our lives.
In the Incarnation Jesus comes among us as a poor helpless baby, laid to rest in the rough wood of an animals’ feeding trough. He is cared for through the love of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who in her love, her service, and obedience, stands as the model for all Christians to follow. She is the first Christian, the greatest, a pattern for us to imitate, of loving trust and obedience, of care and costly love, and a foreshadowing of our great mother the church, through which we are saved by grace through faith.
          Upon the rough wood of the cross, Jesus will suffer and die for us – such is the cost of human sin. His mother, Mary, stands by and watches and weeps. As the church we too should watch and weep for the wounds of human sin and division which still scar Christ’s body. We feel helpless. What can we do? We should do all that we can to live God’s life of sacrificial self giving love: living lives of light, which shine in the darkness. It isn’t easy, but if we try and do it together then all things are possible, through him who loves us.
          The salvation and eternal life which Christ offers freely to all, comes through the church, which we enter in baptism, where we are nourished in word and are sacrament, where we are nourished, given food for the journey, strengthened and taught, to live his risen life, to share in the joys of Easter.
          God cares so much about the world and its people that he takes flesh, and lives a life of love, amidst the messiness of humanity, to show us how to live lives filled with love, life in all its fullness. God in Christ comes among us not to condemn the world but to offer it a way of being, of being truly alive in Him. God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. The spiritual needs and searching which characterise people in the world around us can be satisfied in God and in God alone, through the church. We can rejoice, and relax our Lenten discipline for a little while to give thanks for the wonderful gift of God’s love in our lives, in the church, and for the world.
          But we also need to trust God, to listen to what he says through Scripture, to be fed by him, and to live lives in accordance with his will and purpose, together, as a family, as a community of love, cared for and supported by our mother, the church. And in so doing we look to Our Lady as Mother of Our Lord and Mother of the Church, as a pattern for love and obedience, as a model for all mothers: loving and tender, putting the needs of others before self, self-giving, sacrificial, and open to both joy and pain, trusting in God.

This, as any mother can tell you, is not easy, it’s difficult, really hard, but its rewards are likewise great. So let us, as we continue our Lenten journey towards the cross, where God shows his love for us most fully and completely, giving his body to be broken and his blood be shed for us, a sacrifice which will be made present here today under the outward forms of bread and wine, to strengthen us to live the risen life of Easter, to offer the world an alternative to selfishness, to self-centredness, to the sin which continues to separate us from God, an alternative shown to us in a self-giving love of mothers, and of our mother the church. So that we may join the Angels in our song of love and praise to the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom..

Lent III Year B


Lent can feel something like a spiritual spring clean, and that’s no bad thing. We, all of us, need opportunities for repentance, to turn away from sin, and to return to the Lord Our God. In this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus in quite an uncompromising mood: this is no ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ but rather here is the righteous anger of the prophets, a sign that all is not well in the world.
            When Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God on Mt Sinai the first is ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.’ Could it be that the temple traders in their desire to profit from people’s religious observance have broken this first commandment? The temptation to have power, to be concerned above all else with worldly things: money, power, success, and influence, are still a huge temptation for the Church and the world. We may not mean to, but we do, and while we think of God as loving and merciful, we forget about righteous anger, and our need to repent, to turn away from our sins – the desire to control others and to be so caught up on the ways of the world that we lose sight of who and what we are, and what we are supposed to do and be.
            The Jews demand a sign, and Christ prophesies that if they destroy this temple then he will raise it up in three days: he looks to his death and resurrection to show them where true worship lies – in the person of Jesus Christ. Christians should be concerned with a relationship, our relationship with God, and with each other. Likewise Christians can all too easily forget that Jesus said ‘I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them’. The Ten Commandments are not abolished by Christ, or set aside, but rather his proclamation of the Kingdom and Repentance show us that we still need to live these out in our lives, to show that we honour God and live our lives accordingly. In his cleansing of the Temple Christ looks to the Cross and to the Resurrection, a stumbling-block to Jews, obsessed with the worship of the Temple, and foolishness to Gentiles who cannot believe that God could display such weakness, such powerlessness. Instead this supreme demonstration of God’s love for us, shocking and scandalous though it is, is a demonstration of the utter, complete, self-giving love of God, for the sake of you and me – miserable sinners who deserve condemnation, but who instead are offered love and mercy to heal us and restore us.
            When we are confronted with this we should be shocked – that God loves us enough to do this, to suffer and die for us, to save us from our sins, and from the punishment that is rightly ours. We do not deserve it, that’s the point. But we are offered it in Christ so that we might become something other than we are, putting away the ways of the world, of power and money, selfishness and sin, to have new life in and through Him.
            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 in Scripture; if we talk to him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him and with Him in the Eucharist, by Christ who is both priest and victim, so that we might 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 – we are prepared to enter the new life of the Kingdom, and to live it.

            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. Let us proclaim it in our lives so that others may believe so that all 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 Christmas ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’

Ατς γρ νηνθρώπησεν, να μες θεοποιηθῶμεν·
Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3
‘He became human so that we might become divine’
IT may well surprise you to know that I have, on occasion, had recourse to the services of a turf accountant, I perhaps ought to explain the situation a little further. At the time I happened to have a friend whose Uncle was a world-famous Horse-Racing Trainer; he would, from time to time, mention a horse and a race and a date to me and I would pop down to the betting shop and put a few pounds on the horse to win, which it invariably did. It was, though without my parents’ knowledge or approval, a way of increasing my pocket money, which was welcome. Yet, due to the quality of the knowledge and information I had received, I was, unlike the rest of the people in the betting shop, not really taking much of a risk.
       Thankfully, God isn’t like this. The mystery of the Incarnation, of the Word made Flesh, which we celebrate tonight, tells us above else that God takes risks. In sending the Angel Gabriel to a young unmarried Jewish girl to tell her that she is going to bear God as a human baby, God is taking a risk. Mary could have said ‘No’ instead of which she says ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.’ It is this ‘yes’ which undoes the ‘No’ of Adam and Eve to God; but there was no guarantee that God’s offer would be taken up. Mary risked being shunned by her fiancé and by society in general: as a woman bearing a child ‘conceived out of wedlock’. The Incarnation was a source of shame: it was a scandal which put Mary, her unborn child and the Holy Family beyond the pale, outside the conventions of polite society, it broke the rules. It was scandalous, risky, and beyond our expectation or understanding, but it worked.
       Likewise, the place where the King of all the Nations was born was not a palace, nor even a private house – people could not or would not give them a place for Mary to give birth to her son.  Instead, in a stable, surrounded by animals, with no bed other than a feeding trough filled with straw, our salvation was wrought – though hardly the site one would expect. The first people to whom the birth was announced were shepherds – people on the margins of society, ritually unclean – unable to worship in the Temple, beyond the pale. Yet, as the prophets had envisaged God as the shepherd of His people Israel, caring for them and guarding them, so these simple shepherds, filled with simple faith, obeying the message of the angel, went, as they were – tired and dirty to worship the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. They like Mary said ‘Yes’ to God – they came as they were and they worshipped. The kingdom of God, as instituted by the birth of Jesus Christ, welcomes the outcast, the sinner – it defies our human expectation, it turns our world around.
       People had expected a Messiah from the family of David – it had been foretold by the prophets, Herod was afraid at the thought of being deposed, so afraid in fact that he arranged a mass murder in Bethlehem to try to safeguard his position. The zealous expected a great warrior leader to drive the Romans and Greeks out of Israel. But what God gives his world is something completely different – a weak, tender and vulnerable infant, who needs the love, care, and protection of a human family, to show us what love, simple faith and a trust in the intrinsic goodness of humanity can be. Rather than bringing war, the King of Peace was born, in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, a King who continues to feed us with his life-giving bread – his own Body and Blood, a scandal and yet a great gift, upon which we will feed this Christmas night.
‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ God, the Creator of the Universe, becomes a human being, so that we, all of us, might become divine – a profoundly strange and surprising turn of events. But just as the people of Israel had put a tent around the Ark of the Covenant and carried it around until the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, so now God would be with his pilgrim people on earth – sharing all of human life, from birth to death, so that we might, through him, share the Divine Life of Love, that of God the Holy Trinity: a relational God who invites humanity to share that relationship, who offers it freely, and to all. The sheer exuberance of such an offer, is almost profligate: it is generous in a way which defies our human expectation and our human understanding. Yet the person of Christ is a gift to the world, a gift which cuts through all our human conventions; a person who can be born, live and die and rise again and reign in a way which is scandalous – so scandalous in fact that people then and now prefer to deny the truth of God and cling to a neater human picture. Better to deny His divinity or His humanity than accept a mysterious reality.
All that God asks of us is that like Our Lady and the Shepherds, we say ‘Yes’ to him, that we accept the mystery, and let the birth of this little child change our lives and our world. For to be a Christian is to accept the risk and invitation of a vulnerable God, and to live out our lives in the light of this relationship, to live our lives in the knowledge of the reality and truth of the love of God. We need to let the light of the world shine through us, that the world may believe. We need to bear witness to Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. In the face of a world wearied by cynicism, which finds it easy to mock, we need to let our hearts, our homes and our lives be filled with the love which Jesus came to share. Amen

 

Be Prepared – Matthew 25:1-13

The Scouting Movement has as its motto ‘Be Prepared’ which rather sums up the message of this morning’s Gospel. As people who live in the countryside we are more than used to having a supply of candles and batteries ready at hand to deal with the inevitable winter power cuts caused by bad weather. It makes sense, so that we are not caught out – having to endure the cold and dark.
      The Gospel speaks of a more serious preparedness, one which we must all face.  Our earthly lives are finite, and we have to be prepared for our end. We know that as Our Lord came among us born as a baby in Bethlehem, so he will come as Our Judge, and we have to be ready to meet Him. Rather than face this future with a feeling of uncertainty, of dread, we can as Christians have hope, we can watch and wait in hope, in the darkness, in the knowledge that Christ loves us, that he gave himself for us, he died to take away our sins, and that we can live for and through Him. It need not catch us unawares, as we have been warned, so that we can be prepared, we can be ready, with the lamp of faith and good works ready, trimmed and burning – a light burning in the darkness.
      It is a very human fear, and clearly the Christians in Thessaly around ad55 were more than a little concerned about what might happen. They can have the hope that ‘so we will be with the Lord forever.’ (1Thes 4:17) and therefore confident in that hope, they can begin to live out their faith here and now. They can live out the justice and righteousness which is pleasing to God, as it is how he wants us to live, so that we can have life in its fullness in Him.
      If what we believe in our hearts and how we live our lives are in perfect sync with each other, then we need have no fear, as the promise of sharing in Christ’s Resurrection is there for us – we do not need to be afraid, and we can get on with the business of living our lives secure in our faith. When we do this we can begin to see something of the just and gentle rule of Christ, as we will transform the world, and will be truly alive, living the life of heaven here in earth. Each day, as Christians, we pray, and we say the prayer that Jesus taught us which includes the petition ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. So that our words are not empty, as well as praying for the coming of God’s kingdom, we have to do something about it – we have to show how prepared we are by listening to God and doing what he tells us.

      We pray, we are nourished by the word of God, in reading the Bible, we are nourished by the sacraments of the Church, by the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, so that we may be strengthened in our faith, strengthened to live it out in our lives, living out the sacrifice so that we may be drawn into its mystery, carrying our own Cross, and being conformed ever more and more to the example of Our Lord and Saviour, living in Him, living like Him, living the life of the Kingdom here and now, so Christ’s kingdom may come here on earth, that His will may be done. 

All you need is love

John, Paul, George, and Ringo, are not exactly what one might call theologians, but the title of their 1967 hit ‘All You Need is Love’ does seem (at one level) to encapsulate the message of this morning’s Gospel.
At its heart, Our Lord’s teaching combines two of the central commandments of the Law of Moses: Loving God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and loving our neighbour as our self. Out of the 613 commandments of the Torah, these two are central – Jesus cuts right to the heart of the Old Covenant to show that what he is teaching is the fulfilment rather than the abolition of the Law and the Prophets. We know from elsewhere in the Gospels that when someone asks the follow-up question, Our Lord tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, to show what costly love in action looks like.
It is a big ask – in Leviticus the Lord says ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’ (Lev 19:2) As people created in the image of God, we are called to be holy, to be like God, to live out this love and holiness in our lives, in what we say and do, and in how we treat people. It is something we do together, as the body of Christ in the world.
Christ shows the world what love looks like when he dies on the Cross – embracing the world with love, and reconciling the world to God and itself. This is what being the Messiah is all about. It is why Christ continues to give himself under the outward forms of bread and wine to heal and restore the world. This is why we are here today – to be fed by him, fed with him, so that our souls and bodies may be transformed more and more into his likeness. It is our food for the journey of faith, our manna in the wilderness of this world, to strengthen us to live out our faith. This is not some optional extra, but the heart of who and what we are. We listen to what Jesus tells us, and we are obedient to Him.
We do this together as people redeemed by Him, saved from self-absorption, singing a new song to call the world to have life and have it to the full. It is the most wonderful good news, which fills us with joy and confidence – a gift far too precious for us not to give it away, to share it with others so that they may be free.
The Pharisees are reduced to silence because they are faced with Truth, with God himself speaking to them. They cannot answer Jesus because he is what the Law and the Prophets look to for fulfilment. He shows how our duty to love God and to worship him is tied up with loving our neighbour, and living out our faith in our lives. He provides us with an ethical framework within which to live, to guide our thoughts and actions, not by casting aside the moral law but by fulfilling it – by showing us what love looks like. His death and resurrection shows us what love looks like in action. It is the same love which we can taste and eat here today, which shows us how to live – following Jesus’ example and his commands. We are to be people of love, not the saccharin-sweet sentiment of the movies, but the costly self-giving love shown to us by Christ, the love which gives without counting the cost – a love which can heal the wounds of the world, which can give us that which we truly long for.
We love God when we worship Him, when we listen to what he says and obey Him. We love our neighbour through living out the forgiveness which we have received through Christ, by showing the same love and care which Christ shows to us, in giving himself to die for us, and to be raised to give us the hope of eternal life with Him.
It is all about Love, a love which gives itself to fill us, so that we can have life and have it to the full. It is a love which we can touch and taste, which can transform our souls so that we can grow into the likeness of Christ. We are nourished by Word and Sacrament so that we can live out the holiness which is our calling. We live it out together, strengthening each other, building each other up in love, praying for our needs and those of the whole world, relying upon the God who loves us, and who gives himself for us, in his strength and power, transformed by his grace.

So let us come to Him, so that we can be transformed more and more into His likeness, and invite others to so that they 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.  

Matthew 22:15-22 Trinity XVIII 29th Sunday of Year A

Jesus and the Pharisees had something of a troubled relationship: they just don’t seem to be able to get him – to understand what he is saying or why. All they can do is to try and catch him out, to find a way to entrap him. In this morning’s gospel they must think that they have finally got him on the horns of a dilemma – they ask him the question ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ If he says ‘no’ then he’s allied himself with zealots, religious extremists, he has made a provocative political statement for which he can be denounced, if  he says ‘yes’ then they can write him off as a collaborator, he is not one of us – he is not a real prophet, a true son of Israel. All they are interested in is understanding what he says in political terms. Their opening pleasantries ring hollow, they don’t mean what they say; they are just trying to butter him up with empty flattery.
       He turns the tables on them by asking them to show him a coin used to pay the tax, so that he can ask ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answer ‘Caesar’s’ allowing him to say ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s’. Whereas they come filled with malice, with a desire to catch him out, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to show them the proper order of things: pay your taxes but give God what is owed to him – a heart filled with love, love of God and of each other, a life which proclaims this love in the service of others and through the worship of Almighty God. This is where real power lies, this is the truly subversive aspect of Jesus’ teaching, which he proclaims in the Temple, in the heart of the religious establishment – to show them how to live, and live life to the full.
       In the power of the Holy Spirit the Truth can be proclaimed, the truth which sets us free from the ways of the world, free to love and serve God. This freedom can be seen in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians to whom Paul writes. Rather than worshipping idols, they serve the living and true God, they are an example to Christians of how to live. Their lives proclaim the truth which they serve. This is the dark truth of which the prophet Isaiah speaks, these are the hidden riches.
       As opposed to either the collaboration of the Herodians or the rigorist harshness of the Pharisees, Jesus proclaims the freedom and love of the Kingdom of God. It is a place of welcome – the image is that of the wedding feast to which all people are invited. People are too busy or preoccupied to come; others just don’t want to be invited: they mistreat the people who invite them. This does not stop the invitation being offered to all, it still is. It is why we are here today, so that we can be nourished by Word and Sacrament, so that we can be strengthened in love and in faith, to proclaim the reality of the Kingdom of God, to be an example to others to draw them in to the loving embrace of God – to be healed and restored by Him.
       We see this love and healing most fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the costly love in action which restores our relationship with God and each other. Thanks to this we are here today to be restored and renewed, to be built up in love together, it is a reality in our lives.

       Let us come to him, to be healed and renewed, strengthened, built up in love.                                            

A Harvest Sermon

It is good to celebrate Harvest because it is a celebration of what the Church is all about.
If you were about to go to a foreign country the first words you would learn would probably be ‘Please, Thank you, and I’m sorry’ ‘os gwelwch yn dda, diolch, mae’n ddrwg gen i’ along with greetings like Hello and How are you? They’re basics of conversation, they help us to be understood, they make people willing to listen to us, because to use them is polite, not to use them is impolite.
We teach them to our children and encourage them to use them. And in the same way theta they’re useful in conversation when we pray, when we talk to God, and listen to Him, as we do in Church and in our lives we need to use these words in prayer. In our prayer we ask God for things, we say thank you to God for things, and we say sorry for what we’ve done wrong or haven’t done. It is important that our prayers just like our every day conversation are appropriate and polite – it helps form our character, and helps us to live out our faith.
Harvest is mostly about saying thank you to God, for the gifts of his creation, for the food we eat, for all that the earth provides As well as recognising the gift we realise that it is also our duty to share what we are given with the hungry, the poor and the need, so that all may be fed – it is no good living in a world where people go hungry – it produces enough food so that everyone can have enough to eat, so that everyone can say thank you to God for the gifts of his creation. It is up to us as the church to ensure that we live out the generosity which we receive from God in Our Lives.
This caring sharing vision of the world is what the prophet Isaiah envisions in his vision of the Kingdom of the Messiah – That’s here and now, it’s not some future hope, but rather it’s how we’re meant to be right here and now.
The celebration of harvest is not a new thing – it goes back to the central festivals of Judaism – Jesus gave thanks for the harvest – and so should we, because in giving thanks we recognise the greatness of God’s generosity, we recognise our own dependence upon God and each other, and we help to ensure a culture of thankfulness.
        In the feeding stories in the Gospels, one of which follows our second reading, Jesus thanks God and blesses the offerings of food. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist bread and wine are taken, blessed shared and given so that we the Church can carry on doing exactly what Jesus did, not because it’s nice or fuzzy or nostalgic but because he tells us to do it, and we listen to him. Christ alone can satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst – only when we are fed by Him, the living bread which came down from heaven can we have eternal life in Him.
As the Prophet Isaiah says: ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ We see this most fully in God’s gift of His Son, to show humanity how to live and to give Himself to die and be born again, to take away our sins and to restore our relationship with God and each other. It is an act of supreme love and generosity – giving people something which they do not deserve so that they may be transformed by it into the loving generous people God longs for us to be.
The miraculous feedings and the Eucharist point to the Cross where Christ gives himself for love of us- our response should be one of generosity and service, because it matters. The Church is decorated with the fruits of the Harvest through the generosity and effort of people who want to put their faith into action – we are grateful that they have done so much to help us celebrate – to help us to say thank you to God, to recognise all that we have to be thankful for. In our saying thanks to God, let our thankfulness not be something we do here once, but rather let it form our lives so that we may be thankful at all times and in all places. May we be grateful people, loving people, sharing people, whose faith shines through all that we are or say or do, nourished by the Word of God, by the sacraments of the Church so that we may filled with God’s love and transformed by His Grace, that we too may be an offering to God, sharing our love and our faith with the world around us, putting it into practice so that it too may reap a great harvest, a harvest of souls, to the Glory of God.
Let us work to prepare for a harvest of love, of generosity, and forgiveness, sowing seeds of love in the soil of our lives, and those of others, confident in the promises of God that He may reap the harvest, that the world may be transformed to sing his praise, to rejoice in his love, and to share it with others.

 Here is the proclamation of the covenant faithfulness of God, which finds its fulfilment in Christ, As we are mindful of this we give thanks to God and let that thankfulness become a defining characteristic of our lives, overflowing into all that we are or think or do, Thus we live out our faith, we live life in all its fullness and encourage others so to do so that they 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.

St Bartholomew

St Bartholomew is usually identified with the apostle Nathaniel, best known from his appearance in the first chapter of John’s Gospel when he asks, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ and to whom Our Lord says, ‘Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile.’ After Pentecost tradition holds that he went East; taking the Good News to Armenia or even India, and was martyred by being flayed alive.  He told people about Jesus and suffered a painful death for the sake of the Kingdom. He bore witness to the truth of Jesus’ life and resurrection, and lit a flame which burns to this day. We would not be here, doing what we do, believing what we do, and encouraging others so to do if it were not for the example and witness of people like St Bartholomew who preferred nothing to Christ, who was the very centre of their lives, who gave them meaning and purpose, and who told others so that they might believe and encourage others so to do.
In this morning’s Gospel we are presented with a challenging scene: it’s during the Last Supper, where Jesus takes bread and wine to feed his disciples with his Body and Blood, to explain what is about to happen, that he who was without sin might become sin so that we might have life, and life in all its fullness. In the midst of this we see the disciples arguing about who is the greatest. During the most momentous events of human history Our Lord’s closest friends are engaged in a squabble which seems childish and stupid, ‘I’m better than you’ ‘No I’m better than you’. Rather than being close to their Lord they’re involved in petty one-upmanship, thinking about themselves, about honour and position. It’s remarkably human, we can well imagine ourselves saying and doing exactly the same – we know it’s wrong, and we need to turn away from it.
      Rather than explode with anger, Our Lord makes a simple point ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’ In Christianity we have a different paradigm of leadership, that of the servant – here worldly values are turned on their head – the Kingdom offers an entirely different way of life, diametrically opposed to the ways of the world, something radical, something transformative, something which offers the world an entirely new way of living, where the service of others is seen as the most important thing. This is not power in worldly terms, the Creator and Redeemer of all humanity takes on a servile role – the greatest becomes the least, and encourages others to do likewise.
      Thus, rather than worrying about worldly power the disciples become servants, looking and acting like Jesus, they become transparent so that the light of Christ may shine through them in the world, so that their acts of loving service proclaim the truth, the beauty, and the goodness of the Kingdom. They go from worrying about power and position, the things of this world, to being concerned wholly with the Kingdom of God.
We need to do the same, nothing more, nothing less. In our baptism we put on Christ, we were clothed with Him, we shared in His Death and Resurrection, and were filled with grace and the Holy Spirit, so that we might follow Him, and encourage others so to do. We have everything we need to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles. We too are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might have life in Him, so that we can give our lives to proclaim Him to the world.

As Christians we need to live lives of service, the service of others and of the God who loves us and who saves us. We need to live out a radical alternative in the world, and for the world, to embody an alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, and helping others to enter into the joy of the Lord. We need to do this together, serving and loving each other, forgiving each other, bearing witness in the world, not conformed to it, so that it may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Ransomed, Healed, Restored, Forgiven

Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ was never afraid to court controversy, or indeed to challenge a religious hierarchy. Generally speaking it’s the Pharisees who tend to get both barrels so to speak. Jesus has a problem with hypocrisy: when what we say and what we do don’t match up. The Pharisees are so concerned with outward conformity to the letter of the Law of Moses that they have forgotten what the spirit is. While they stress the need for outward purity in terms of hand-washing, they need to remember that what is far worse is how what people think and say and do affects who and what they are. In their rigid outward conformity they have forgotten that at a fundamental level the Law of Moses needs affect our lives and to be lived out.
It is a great challenge to each and every one of us to live up to this. It is both simple and difficult, and something which we all need to do together, as a community, so that we can support each other, and help each other to live out our faith in our lives. Otherwise we are the blind leading the blind, valuing outward conformity over the conversion of the soul, more concerned with appearance than reality and making a mockery of God and religion. It is an easy trap into which we can and do fall, so let us be vigilant and encourage each other not to fall into it, and to help each other out when we do.
Likewise the healing of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenecian woman can appear to be troubling at first: the Kingdom which Jesus comes to inaugurate is meant to be a place of healing, so its initial absence is troubling. The disciples can only see the woman as a troublesome annoyance, she’s making a fuss. Jesus begins by saying that he has not come to help her – his mission is save the lost sheep of Israel. So she begs him, ‘Lord help me’ His reply, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs’ can seem at a superficial level to be rude and dismissive. Yet it elicits the following response: ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ To which Jesus replies ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ The girl is healed through the power of God, but Jesus’ initial withholding seems to be designed to show the centrality of faith in God as a prerequisite for the pouring out of God’s healing love upon the world.
As opposed to the exclusive view of Jesus’ mission being only to Jews, we see in this miracle that God’s healing love is for all, and the Gospel, the Good News of Christ, is for everyone, and that if we have faith, if we trust God to be at work in our lives then we will not be disappointed. We can put our trust in a God who loves us, who heals us, and who saves us, who offers freedom, healing and salvation for all, and who spared not His only Son for love of us.
As we are fed and nourished with the Word of God, and with the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, so that the healing love of God may be poured out upon us, to restore us, to strengthen us to live out our faith together, not in outward conformity, keeping up appearances, for the sake of propriety, but so that we can be healed, and helped to live out our faith together. Let us enter into the joy of the Lord, and encourage others to do so, so that they too may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Walking on Water

Fear is a very human feeling, we acquire it through learning, and yet it can be overcome, if we trust in God. Christains in Iraq, China, North Korea & Palestine – they face real danger, real persecution (we’re safe and comfortable by comparison) – and yet they trust, they pray (and so should we) and we should do all that we can to help them.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
This morning’s Gospel carries straight on from the miraculous feeding last week, as Jesus goes to send the crowds back home, he sends disciples ahead so that they might be ready.
 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.
Prayer is important, it is as important as the food we eat, the air we breathe, because it is about our relationship with God. Throughout the Gospels Jesus spends time alone, spends time close to the Father as this relationship is crucial. Where Jesus leads we should follow, follow his example.
When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
It’s getting dark, and the disciples are out in the middle of the lake, in deep water; will the boat sink, what can they do?
And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear.
But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
The disciples cannot believe that they are seeing Jesus, so he encourages them, his presence can give them confidence.
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’
As usual, Peter is the first to react, he takes the lead – Jesus speaks a single word to him, ‘Come’ he speaks it to each and every one of us as Christians, to come, to follow him, to be close to him, to live out our faith in our lives strengthened by prayer.
 So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
 And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
Peter listens to what Jesus says, and obeys him, and does something miraculous, something extraordinary, until he is distracted by the world around him, and becomes frightened, likewise we, in our lives can in the power of God do wonderful things, if we are not distracted by the cares of the world around us, if we listen to what Jesus tells us and do it.
Peter becomes frightened; he starts to sink, as do we all when the cares of this world overwhelm us. His reaction is to cry ‘Lord, save me’ which Jesus does, indeed, through his offering of himself upon the Cross he saves each and every one of us, taking the sin of the world upon himself so that we might be freed from sin, fear and death, that same sacrifice which will be made present here, so that we the people of God, can be fed by God, with God, with his Body and Blood to be strengthened to have life in him, to be close to him.
Peter is told off for lacking faith, because it is important, we need to trust God, to have faith in Him, so that He can be at work in us and through us.

At the end, once the wind has died down the disciples worship Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ The end of it all is worship, it is what we as humans and as Christians are for, to worship God, in our love and our prayer, so that all of our lives are an act of worship, drawing us ever closer to the source of life and love. So that all we say or think or do may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

The Multiplication of the Loaves

Picture the scene: Jesus has just been told that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been put in prison and killed, he himself has just been to Nazareth, where he was rejected, by the very people who should have accepted him. The atmosphere is tense, is he safe, will he too be arrested and killed? It is not for nothing that this morning’s Gospel passage begins with Jesus withdrawing to the desert – to be alone, to pray, to be close to God.

          When the people hear where he has gone they follow him, they walk out from the towns into the desert, they can’t just cross the lake, they want to see him, and to hear him teach them. When he gets out of the boat he sees a great mass of people and he has compassion on them, he is moved by the sight of them, and their need. He heals the sick to show that the Kingdom of God is a place of healing, where humanity can be restored through an encounter with the divine. His actions as well as his words proclaim the power of God to heal and restore humanity. Despite the danger, his concern is for others.
          It is getting late, the sun is fast moving towards the West, and the disciples tell him to send the crowds away so that they can buy food, instead Jesus says that they do not need to go away, and tells the disciples to give them something to eat. The disciples obey him, but cannot see how five loaves and two fish can possibly feed the thousands of people who are out there to be close to Jesus.
          The five loaves are the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, the Books of the Law, the Torah, which show Israel how to live, and how to love God. The two fish are the Law and the Prophets, so that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The law and the Prophets point to Jesus, the Word made flesh: they find their fulfilment and true meaning in Him. The hopes of Israel, for the future, for a Messiah, are fulfilled in Him. Just like Israel after crossing the Red Sea here the People of God are fed by God in the desert. There is so much food left over at the end that there is enough to fill twelve baskets, one for each of the disciples. What in human terms – five loaves and two fish – isn’t enough, is more than sufficient in divine terms, just like at the Wedding feast in Cana, here we see that the Kingdom of God is a place of joy and abundance, of generosity, which isn’t concerned with scrimping or with the ‘good enough’, it is a place of lavish excess. This is what the church is supposed to be like – this is meant to be the model for our lives as Christians.
          The multiplication of the loaves is then not some conjuring trick, meant to amaze us, or to show us how powerful God is, but a sign of God’s generous love for humanity – it is what God does for us, so that we can respond to it in a profound and radical way and thereby change the world. Jesus has been rejected by the people of Nazareth and he responds by feeding people until they are satisfied, they’ve had enough, and there’s still loads left over. Likewise God’s love and mercy are inexhaustible, and are shown to the world, and poured out upon the world in Jesus Christ and in his death upon the Cross for our salvation. 
κα καθς Μωϋσς ψωσεν τν φιν ν τ ρήμ, οτως ψωθναι δε τν υἱὸν το νθρώπου, να πς πιστεύων ν ατ χ ζων αώνιον.
Οτως γρ γάπησεν θες τν κόσμον στε τν υἱὸν τν μονογεν δωκεν, να πς πιστεύων ες ατν μ πόληται λλ χ ζων αώνιον. ο γρ πέστειλεν θες τν υἱὸν ες τν κόσμον να κρίν τν κόσμον, λλ’ να σωθ κόσμος δι’ ατο.
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.
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.
Jn 3:14-17
It is this self same sacrifice which Jesus, on the night before he died told his disciples to carry on doing in remembrance of him, so that the Church could continue to be fed by him and fed with him, as a sign of his love for us, so that we might have life and forgiveness in him. This then is our soul’s true food, our foretaste of heaven, our pledge of future glory, given to us so that we might have life in Him and have it to the full.
          Let us come to be fed with the living bread, the bread which came down from heaven, so that it may feed our souls, so that we can be healed and restored by him. Let us be moved by the lavish generosity of God, and encouraged to live it out in our lives, in our thoughts, our words, and our actions, so that all that we are, all that we say or think or do, will proclaim the truth of God’s saving love to the world, so that it too may enter into the joy of the Lord and come to the banquet of the Kingdom, where all are welcomed, and healed.
          The invitation is there, and as the baptised, those who are in Christ, we are to welcome others. God takes us, like the bread and the fish, and blesses us, so that we can can fulfil his will in our lives. Filled with his grace, we encourage others to share in it, so that they may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Living the Life of the Kingdom

At one level, God is completely beyond our understanding, we cannot comprehend the majesty of God, the depth of God’s love for us, and yet in Christ, the Word made flesh, we catch a glimpse of what God is like. Likewise Christ speaks in parables to explain what the Kingdom of God is like – to convey in words and images which we can understand, something of the majesty and wonder of the life lived in union with God.
       This morning’s gospel gives us four images to ponder: the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, a small thing, a couple of millimetres across, which can grow into a plant large enough that birds can nest in it. Likewise our faith may be small, we may not think that we’re terribly good at being a Christian, at following Jesus, but if we live out our faith in our lives together, then our faith can, like a mustard seed, grow into something amazing: it can be a place of welcome, a place that birds can call home. It becomes a reality in the world, something which we share, a place of joy, filled with the Holy Spirit.
       The kingdom is like yeast – a small bit can rise an awful lot of dough. It’s alive, and it makes bread – a basic foodstuff – that nourishes us, that gives us life. It reminds us that Jesus is the living bread who came down from heaven, which is why we are here, now, today, to share in that same living bread, to partake in the feast of the Kingdom, where Christ gives himself for us, under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we may have life in him, and have it to the full, it gives us life, it nourishes us, and gives us a foretaste of heaven, and of eternal life in Him.
       The kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field, or a pearl of great price, it is something so wonderful, so valuable, that it becomes the single most important thing in our life: it comes before everything else, because it is about our relationship with the God who created us, who loves us, and who redeems us. We celebrate the single most significant event in human history, which shows us how much God loves us, the riches of His grace poured out upon us, and the wonder of having faith in Him.
       The kingdom is like a net full of fish – good and bad. It hasn’t been sorted out yet, it is a work in progress – we should not be so presumptuous to think that we are good fish, nor so pessimistic to think that we are bad. Rather we show our faith by living it out in our lives – the kingdom is here among us, right here, right now, we are to live resurrection lives and to proclaim the truth of our faith to the world, so that it too may believe.
       The kingdom is like someone who brings things out, both old and new – rooted in scripture, the Word of God, and in the tradition of the Church – rooted, grounded, authentic, recognisable, not making things up as we go along, or going along with the ways of the world, because it suits us. There is something refreshing and new about orthodoxy, because it is rooted in truth, the source of all truth, namely God. It is old and new, a well which never runs dry, because it is fed by God, which can refresh us, and which gives true life to the Church.
       The challenge for us, as Christians is to live out our faith in the God who loves us and who saves us, to live it out in our lives, not compartmentalising our lives so that our faith is a private matter, but rather so that it affects all of who and what we are, what we think or say or do, something primary, and foundational, not an optional extra, not some add-on, but the very ground of our being. It is a big ask; and if it were simply up to each and every one of us, then we would, without doubt, completely and utterly fail to do it. Yet such is the love and forgiveness of God, that His mercy is never-ending, and as people forgiven by God, we likewise forgive each other and are built up in love together, so that the work of the Kingdom is a corporate matter, a joint effort – we’re all in it together – it is what the church is for – a bunch of sinners trying to love God and serve Him, and likewise loving and serving each other, and the whole world.

       We can do it in the strength of the Holy Spirit of God, so that we can pray, so that we can to talk to and listen to God. The Spirit is poured out upon each and every one of us in our baptism, whereby our souls are infused with all the spiritual grace we need to get to heaven. We can follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, and likewise spread the good news, and live the life of the Kingdom. We can be confident in Christ’s victory, over sin, death, and the world, and strong in the power of His Spirit, live out our faith and share the joy of being known and loved by God, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

The Parable of the Sower

I’ll let you into a secret – I’m really fond of church buildings, especially when they’re beautiful. There’s just something about them – built for the glory of God and as a foretaste of heaven, and a celebration of human creativity, they can lift the spirit. But at one level we can do without them. It would be sad if these stones which have echoed with the praise of Almighty God for nearly one thousand years were not here, and I’m certainly not advocating that we should simply knock down old buildings, and worship God in a garage or a front room. However a church is not a building, rather it is a gathering of the baptised, it always has been and always will be a group of people, people who are in Christ, whose nature and identity is bound up with and conformed to their Lord and Saviour.
        In this morning’s Gospel Jesus speaks of spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God. He uses an image to tell His story. Whether we have a garden or farm, if it’s only a window-box, then we will at some point have sowed seeds. There’s something quite miraculous about it. The seed grows; it becomes a plant, which in turn produces seeds, which can grow into plants, and so on. Without this we could not live, we would have no food, the earth would be a desert, our life wouldn’t just be miserable; there wouldn’t be any life at all.
        As the people of God we are both the sower and the seed – it’s up to each and every one of us to deepen our faith and understanding – to get the roots which will nourish us so that we can grow and flourish in our Christian lives, but we also need to scatter seed, to invite other people into the Kingdom. Christians do not appear by magic, rather they have been made through their baptism, through being taught the faith, through coming to know and love Jesus. If we want, as I suspect that we all do, to see the Kingdom advanced, if we want to see the Church grow, then each and every one of us has to tell people about Jesus, in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions, so that people can be invited to share in the joy of the Kingdom.
        One of the saddest parts of the parable has to be the plants which are choked by weeds. I speak as someone who tries to garden – in the beds outside my home I’ve planted various things, lots of roses, which both look and smell lovely, but the soil is so fertile and there’s so much bindweed and chickweed, that if I didn’t weed the soil then, very quickly, the beds would become overgrown – I wouldn’t have lovely plants to look at, or smell, I’d have a patch of weeds. This would be sad, regardless of the cost of the plants, and the effort of nurturing them, I would be deprived of the joy of a garden. The world around us has changed and developed in ways which we scarcely thought imaginable, but the thing which concerns me is that nowadays the cares of the world, the variety of things which one is able to do on a Sunday morning mean that people no longer necessarily gather together week by week, as Christians, as the Church, to be fed with Word and Sacrament, so that their souls can be fed, so that they can be nourished to live the Christian life. ‘Oh we need to go shopping’, ‘Tommy’s got rugby’, ‘Jane wants to ride her pony’ – we can make any excuse we wish, I should know, I have myself. It’s sad to see such potential go to waste, choked by the cares and concerns of the world, where people do not grow and develop as Christians because other things get in the way. When the plants grow as they are supposed to they bear fruit, they bear a wonderful harvest. Can we help to keep the weeds down, so that people can grow and develop into fully-grown mature Christians, nourished and helped to flourish.
        Our faith matters, we need to help people to come to understand that just as a garden needs work and effort for it bear fruit, so likewise Christians are made rather than born: we need to do all that we can to come together day by day and week by week to be nourished by Word and Sacrament so that we can have life in Christ, and life in all its fullness, helped to grow and develop into spiritual maturity, to be given a foretaste of heaven, and to grow more and more into the likeness of Our Lord and Saviour, who gives himself for love of us, to heal and restore us, to take away our sin.

        So let us come to Him, and encourage others so to do, that they may believe and may bear fruit and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Trinity III ‘Cast your burden on the Lord’

‘There’s just no pleasing some people!’ If one wanted to sum up the opening of this morning’s Gospel then it would be hard to find better words. It is a truth as true now as it was two thousand years ago: it’s a facet of human nature, and something which God can redeem. The people of Israel have had the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, who came to them preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins, living a simple life in the desert. His message is too hard for people, they think he’s mentally ill or possessed by an evil spirit. When Jesus comes, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, someone who clearly enjoys a party, as we see in the wedding at Cana in Galilee where he turns 180 gallons of water into the equivalent of 1100 bottles of wine, he’s a glutton and a drunkard. If you’re harsh and abstemious, it’s wrong, if you’re the life and soul of the party, that’s wrong too. The people of Israel are not searching for a golden mean, the midway between two extreme positions; they are simply unable or unwilling to accept either the difficult moral demands or the all-consuming joy of the Kingdom of God. ‘Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds’ Both John the Baptist and Our Lord bear witness to the truth of the Kingdom of God in their lives and in their deaths, and those who take no offense at Him will be blessed (Mt 11:6).
       The Kingdom of God preached by John and brought about by Jesus is not something for the wise and the intelligent – it does not require intellectual effort or knowledge. Instead it needs to be received like a child, simply, humbly and with trust. The key to it comes when we say ‘Yes’ to God, when we accept that we are loved and redeemed by Him, that His Love can save us from our sins, from pride, from intellectual arrogance, of thinking that weknow better, of being judgemental and unwilling to accept the harsh message of the prophet or the joyous celebration of the Messiah. At the heart of our faith is the mystery of the Incarnation, it’s why we celebrate Christmas, because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. In Christ, God takes our humanity, so that He can redeem it.
       At the heart of this morning’s Gospel is the astounding statement “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30) Christ will bear the burden of our sins, the sins of the world, of the past, the present, and the future, upon Himself on the Cross. The message of the Gospel is to lay down your burden, to rest in the Lord, to bear Christ’s yoke and learn from Him. We do so with child-like trust in the God who loves us and saves us, we do so with humility, knowing our need of God, to cast ourselves upon his love and mercy. We cannot win our way to heaven, or gain salvation through our own efforts but rather in and through Christ, through our Baptism, nourished by His Word and His Body and Blood, so that we can have life in Him.
       There is something truly refreshing about the simplicity of the message – Christ says to each and every one of us, to the whole world, lay down your burdens and find life in all its fullness in Him.

       So let us come to Him, let us be fed by Him, fed with Him, to have life in Him. Let us take His burden and follow Him, learning from Him, freed from sin, freed from the ways of the world, from hardness of heart. Let us enter into the joy of the Lord, and encourage others to do so, so that they may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Dying to Live: Trinity I

The death of Our Lord on the Cross reveals that we are meant to be perpetually dissatisfied here below. If earth were meant to be a Paradise, then He Who made it would never have taken leave of it on Good Friday. The commending of the Spirit to the father was at the same time the refusal to commend it to earth. The completion or fulfilment of life is in heaven, not on earth.
Fulton Sheen Victory over Vice 1939: 99
Living a Christian life is at one level a very simple thing: we follow Christ – we do what he told us to do, we fashion our lives after the example of His. We pray because he told us to, we read Scripture which finds its fulfilment and truest meaning in Him. We are baptised like He was, we come together to do just what He did with His disciples on the night before He died because he told us to ‘Do this’, so we do – to be fed by Himand fed with Himso that we may share His life, nourished by Him and given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.
          He calls us to follow Him by taking up our Cross and prizing our relationship with Him over all the things of the world. It’s a bit more tricky, it’s a bit more of an ask, in fact for many people it’s pretty much impossible – such are the enticements of the world, and the fact that the world around us wants us to relegate religion to the private sphere: it shouldn’t affect our lives, it’s something which one can take out of its neat little box and wear for an hour on a Sunday morning, like a hat or some gloves, and then forget about, having done one’s public duty.
          While this may be tempting, it simply will not do. We cannot truly follow Christ if we are not willing to lay down our lives for the sake of Him who died and rose again for us. Baptism and the Eucharist are free, but living out the faith will cost us our lives. And yet we should give them up gladly, even though the world may well deride us, call us fools. In the Gospel Christ says to His disciples, he says to us ‘Do not be afraid … have no fear of them … Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul’. We can laugh at those who pour scorn upon us for all that they promise is of this world, fleeting, and of no real value; whereas what Christ promises us is of God, will last forever, it is a glory which can never fade – it is ours and is offered to the whole world for free.
          To follow Him we need to die to sin, we need to turn away from all the selfishness which separates us from God and each other, and instead live out the radical love of the Kingdom – a love which forgives, a love which thinks of others before ourselves. It is no good seeing this in individual terms; it affects us as a society: we need to do this together – you and me, each and every one of us needs to live not enslaved to sin, but as slaves for Christ, whose service is Perfect freedom, freedom from the ways of the world and freedom to live the new life of the Kingdom of God, here and now.

          We are called as a church to live out our faith together, praying for each other, supporting one another, and relying upon God, and His grace, that unmerited kindness and free gift, which we do not deserve, but which has the power to transform us, to conform us to the pattern of His Son. This he pours out upon us in the Sacraments of His Church, so that we might be conformed to His will: fed by God, with God, to have life in Him. We can only do this if we rely upon God and do it TOGETHER, built up in love. 

Dom Gregory Dix on the Eucharist

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.

Dom Gregory Dix The Shape of the Liturgy, (London: 1945) 744

Easter V

Many people when they consider religion in general and the Christian Faith in particular are wont to see it in negative terms – religion is all about what you cannot or should not do. And it is worth considering that Jesus does give negative prohibitions, and the one thing he says more than anything else is ‘Do not be afraid’. As Christians fear should not be part of who or what we are – we are one with Christ who by His death and resurrection has restored our relationship with God and each other – as we are loved we are to love God and each other, the costly self-giving love shown to us by Christ.

We see this in the way in which Stephen, one of the first deacons, and the first martyr, prays for his murderers as they stone him to death, that God will forgive them. This is love put into practice – lived out in our life and death. Stephen bears witness to Christ, regardless of the cost – he proclaims His divinity, and His victory, and encourages us to do the same, so that following Stephen’s example and aided by his prayers we may be strengthened to live out our faith in our lives.

Our not being afraid comes from our belief in God – ‘believe in God and believe in me’ we can put our trust in the God who loves us and saves us. In trusting God our faith can grow and develop – in knowing that we are loved by God and that our eternal destiny is to be with God for ever we can grow and develop within the context of this loving relationship.
Christ says ‘I am…’ on seven occasions in John’s Gospel – it picks up God’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 3:14 – ‘I am who I am’ and tells us something about the nature of God. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Way – the way for us to live our lives, and the Way to heaven, the way to reconciliation to God and each other. He is the truth, the ultimate truth of God’s love for us, and the life – life in all its fullness, eternal life with Him forever. He shows us who and what God is, and what God does, for love of us, and believing and trusting in Him, we can live His risen life.

He feeds us with Himself in Word and Sacrament, He who is the Word of God, who is the Living Bread, so that we may have life and have it to the full. As our celebration of Easter, of His Resurrection turns towards His Ascension, and looks towards Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit so that the Church may live out its faith in His strength and power we can have hope. So let us live this love, fed by God, fed with God, healed and restored by Him, trusting in Him and living out His love in our lives – to proclaim His victory and to transform the world so that it may likewise live out this costly love and trusting in God may come to believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most meet and right all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

A thought for the day

From the Jerusalem Catecheses

The bread of Heaven and the cup of salvation 

On the night he was betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said: “Take, eat: this is my body.” He took the cup, gave thanks and said: “Take, drink: this is my blood.” Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, This is my blood, who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood?

Therefore, it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. His body is given to us under the symbol of bread, and his blood is given to us under the symbol of wine, in order to make us by receiving them one body and blood with him. Having his body and blood in our members, we become bearers of Christ and sharers, as Saint Peter says, in the divine nature.

Once, when speaking to the Jews, Christ said: Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall have no life in you. This horrified them and they left him. Not understanding his words in a spiritual way, they thought the Saviour wished them to practise cannibalism.

Under the old covenant there was showbread, but it came to an end with the old dispensation to which it belonged. Under the new covenant there is bread from heaven and the cup of salvation. These sanctify both soul and body, the bread being adapted to the sanctification of the body, the Word, to the sanctification of the soul.

Do not, then, regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.

You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ. You know also how David referred to this long ago when he sang: Bread gives strength to man’s heart and makes his face shine with the oil of gladness. Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul.

May purity of conscience remove the veil from the face of your soul so that by contemplating the glory of the Lord, as in a mirror, you may be transformed from glory to glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.