Homily for Trinity XVII

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

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

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

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

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

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Homily for Trinity XVI

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

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

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

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Twenty first Sunday of Year C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let us hasten to enter through the narrow gate, so that God may continue to transform our human nature, that His saving love and power may be at work in our hearts and our lives, so that we may be transformed with all the world, so that it may believe and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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The Eighth Sunday after Trinity Year C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we believe and how we act together are a sign and symbol of our relationship with God and one another. So then, let us live lives together which proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, so that when Our Lord comes He may find us ready and doing his will, and singing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

17th Sunday of Year C

It would be all too easy to see this morning’s first reading, where Abraham tries to save Sodom and Gomorrah, as being concerned with bargaining with God. Prayer doesn’t work like that. Prayer changes us, it doesn’t change God. What the reading from Genesis shows us is that we are in a covenant, a relationship with God, and that God is generous and loving. He wants the best for us.

This same understanding of God lies behind Paul’s advice to the Colossian church. They have received Christ Jesus the Lord, and these few words express the heart of the Christian Faith. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour, the one who saves us. He is Lord. That is to make a particular and important claim. In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament used widely by Jews and Christians, ‘Lord’ is a title for God, the Lord God. In the world in which Paul wrote it could be used to refer to the Roman Emperor. But Nero, the emperor at this time, isn’t ‘Lord’, Jesus is. So calling Jesus ‘Lord’ means that we accept both His divinity, and His authority, which is higher than anything of this world, even the Roman Emperor. Lord is used over seven hundred times in the New Testament, to reinforce the point that Jesus is God, and our supreme authority. These are bold claims to make. Yet, as people who have died with Christ and been raised to life in our baptism, we glory in Christ who has saved us from our sins by the Cross. Christ, who is the head of every ruler and authority. He loves us and has set us free. 

In today’s Gospel the disciples ask Jesus, ‘Lord teach us to pray’. Their words are our words. We want to know how to pray, what to say to God, how to have a conversation and a relationship with our Heavenly Father –- one that is meaningful and has value. They ask Jesus, and he shows them what to do and what to say.

The prayer, which we now call The Lord’s Prayer, starts with the word ‘Father’, it defines our relationship, our connection. It presupposes love, as a parent has for a child. It continues with the petition that the name of God, Our Father, may be ‘hallowed’, which means kept holy. It is the loving response of a child to a parent. In stressing holiness the prayer places God in His proper place, it ensures that things are done reverently. Then the prayer looks forward, ‘your kingdom come’ it looks for the coming of God’s kingdom. This goes hand in hand with ‘your will be done’ God’s kingdom is about doing God’s will, and it is our responsibility to do the Father’s will.

We then pray that we may be fed. That we may be nourished, that we may have bread for the journey of faith. This feeding connects to the petition that our sins may be forgiven, in the same way that we forgive those who sin against us. The two are linked –- feeding and forgiveness. Just as they are in the Eucharist, and so they should be in our lives. As those who are forgiven and forgiving we pray that we may not be led into temptation, that we may continue as forgiven and forgiving human beings.

This prayer is a model of what to say to God. What to ask for, and how to ask for it. It is both concise and profound. It is not lengthy or wordy; it does not ramble or drone on, but says what needs to be said. The prayer defines our relationship with God and with each other. It defines our spiritual life as one where we are fed and forgiven. It characterises what we are doing herein church today. We seek God’s forgiveness and forgive others, and we come to be fed by Word and Sacrament, to give us the strength to do God’s will and bring about God’s Kingdom. His kingdom of love and forgiveness is radically different from what might be if humanity were simply left to its own devices. God’s kingdom calls us forward to something greater, something more wonderful than we can imagine. And yet it is a reality. God forgives our sins , and gave His life for us, nailing our sins to the Cross, and suffering in His flesh so that we who have died with Christ in our baptism may also share His risen life. God loves us, and wants to help us. That’s why Christ can assure us that God listens to prayer and answers it, giving us the good things we need. Our prayer can be divided under four basic headings: ‘please’ ‘thank you’ ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you’.

Our prayer is a generous response to a generous and loving God, it takes people who know their need of God, and shows how those needs are satisfied at the deepest possible level. We ask God to teach us how to pray, and he shows us in a way which both defines and transforms our spiritual life. We are given this prayer to help us to bring about the Kingdom of love and forgiveness which is shown to us in the person, teaching, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are also given His Holy Spirit, to nourish us and transform us and all the world, so that it may believe and sing God’s praise and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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James Tissot The Lord’s Prayer, Brooklyn Museum

16th Sunday of Year C – Mary and Martha

It is easy for us in the twenty-first century to forget just how difficult it was to travel in the past. And how important hospitality was. In a world without service stations, hotels, and only few inns, you would depend on the kindness of strangers offering you a place to refresh and recuperate before returning to the road. 

In our first reading this morning, from Genesis, we see visitors arrive outside Abraham’s tent by the oaks of Mamre. It’s the scene pictured in the famous icon of the holy Trinity by Nicholai Rublev.  And these are not just any visitors, but God in embodied form, which is quite surprising, and very uncommon in the Old Testament. Abraham called the three persons Lord, the One God. He offers them water to cleanse themselves, and bread to nourish them. Sarah, Abraham’s wife,  takes three measures of flour. These we understand as representing faith, hope, and love, the virtues of the Christian life, which we receive in our baptism. Abraham takes a calf, which prefigures the sacrifice of Christ, the truly gentle one, who does not refuse the Cross. After the visitors have eaten, they promise that Sarah will have a son. In response to their hospitality, generosity and faithfulness, the patriarch and his wife are rewarded. Their kindness is repaid. 

In this morning’s epistle, we see that for Paul our actions as Christians are firmly rooted in our relationship with God and our understanding of His will. As Abraham’s vision of angels in Genesis gives us the merest glimpse of what God is like, in the Letter to the Colossians we see that the person of Jesus Christ is the image of the Living God, in Him we can see both what God is really like, who God is and what God does.

This morning’s Gospel follows on directly from last week’s Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is another story about making a journey, but a more positive side of travelling is shown by Martha’s welcoming of Jesus and his disciples into her home, continuing the theme of the earlier passage, although this time the travellers have arrived safely and haven’t been attacked by bandits. Martha is a model of hospitality, and looks after her guests: they’re hungry and thirsty after their travels. Martha puts her faith into practice. But she goes too far, and gets distracted by all the serving. She takes her eyes off Jesus. She forgets whom she is serving and why. However, she is not rebuked. Her service is valued. 

Her sister Mary has chosen to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him. Mary has chosen a good part, and is being nourished in her faith. However, the point is not simply to prefer the contemplative to the practical, or the spiritual to the physical. That would be Gnosticism. Instead we need to balance our physical needs with our spiritual ones. It is Mary who will anoint Jesus in Bethany just before His Passion. Thus faith and action need to be lived out together.

We are called to be generous as a church, both in our hospitality and our attentiveness to God. In our proclamation of the Good News, in our making the Word of God known, and inannouncing Christ, the hope of glory, through His Death and Resurrection.

As is so often the case in the Gospels it isn’t a case of ‘either…or’ but rather ‘both…and’. We need to be both active and contemplative, and always keep our eyes on Jesus, the centre of our faith, the great example of how to live a fully human life. Christians need to hospitable and welcoming, as well as prayerful. It’s something which lies at the heart of Rule of St Benedict. This begins by telling us to listen with the ear of the heart, and to welcome guests as we would welcome Christ, so that in all things God might be glorified. Prayer and service, love and contemplation, balancing physical and spiritual needs, is how God wants us to live. It is how we flourish. We are nourished at the Eucharist, so that we can live out our faith in our lives, in a balanced way. Ora et labora, pray and work, the monastic motto 

Jesus’ teaching is that the way to show real hospitality is to pay attention to one’s guest, rather than just fussing to show hospitality. Instead of busyness, God tells us this morning that, like the Good Samaritan, we should be attentive to God and his message for us in the Gospel. In doing this we, like Mary will choose a good part. This choice has a moral dimension: in truly listening attentively to what God says to us, our actions and our character will be formed, helping our growth in holiness. Nourished by Word and Sacrament we progress in living out the virtues of faith, hope, and love0, which we received in our baptism, and prepare for our inheritance with the Saints in glory. We do not achieve this through prayer and contemplation alone, but by making our prayer and our work, all that we do and all that we are, a response to God and our neighbour. We are truly living in love, a love which is the nature of God and which binds together the persons of the Trinity, a love which transforms both us and our world. A love which we share so that all the world may sing the praises of to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. 

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The Ascension (Acts 1:1-11, Lk 24:44-53)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us prepare for this by living the life of faith, strengthened by Him, proclaiming his truth, praying for the gift of His Spirit at Pentecost, that the Church may be strengthened to proclaim His saving truth and the baptism of repentance, so that we and all the world may sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Easter VI: John 14:23-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maundy Thursday

On the night before He suffers and dies, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ teaches His disciples something new: ‘When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’ (Jn 13:12-15 RSVCE) The God who created all that is kneels at His disciples’ feet and washes them. It is an act of complete humility and service. It shows us in the most concrete and direct way possible that God loves us. It reminds us as Christians that we are washed in our baptism, to cleanse us from sin, and that we need to continue to ask God for forgiveness throughout our lives. It is particularly relevant to those of us who are ordained, and called to fashion our lives after the example of Our Lord, following HIS example and living it out in our lives. This is a most wonderful and humbling task which can fill us with both joy and fear and I would humbly ask that you continue to pray for me as I continue to serve God and you, His people.

It is loving service for our Lord to feed his disciples with His own Body and Blood. Tonight, Christ institutes the Eucharist, taking bread and wine that they might become His Body and Blood, which will soon suffer and die for US. The Church exists to carry on the offering of the Son to the Father, to make it present across space and time. That is why we are here, tonight, to gather as disciples of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to be fed by Him, with Him and for Him. He has given us an example that we should copy. We listen to Jesus and we do what He did. 

On this night Christ institutes the priesthood and sets his disciples apart to carry on His saving work in the world. We who follow in their footsteps are shown in the clearest possible way that to love Him, to care for His people, is to serve them. We are to imitate the mysteries which we celebrate: offering our lives in His service and the service of His church. It is truly extraordinary that we should have such a responsibility placed on our shoulders. We are all of us, if the truth be told, incapable of such a task if we were acting solely in our own strength and our own abilities. But through the grace of God, and with the help of the prayers of you His people, it is our hope that we may conform ourselves ever more closely to Christ, our great High Priest.

Tonight, in St John’s account Jesus talks about love an awful lot: He says, ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (Jn 13:34-35 RSVCE) ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ (Jn 15:12 RSVCE) and ‘This I command you, to love one another’ (Jn 15:17 RSVCE). Tonight we see what He means: love is service and sacrifice, generosity and humility. As Christians we are to be people of love, formed by it, living it out in our lives to proclaim God’s love to the world. As St John says, ‘By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.’ (1John 3:16-18 ESV) We should be challenged by this, to transform the world with love. As Mother Theresa said, ‘Prayer in action is love, love in action is service’. Christ shows us that and asks us to imitate Him, in His Passion and Death, suffering as He suffered, being generous and humble as He is, in our love and service. 

God shows us what true love, true glory, and true service are. The world cannot fully understand this: it goes against everything people are told about putting themselves and their lives first, to judge their importance or worth by what they own, rather than how they live their lives. In its selfish searching, what it truly wants and needs is to be healed, to be embraced by a loving God. That is why it tomorrow on the cross our Lord’s Arms will be flung wide open to embrace the world with God’s love.

Let us then prepare ourselves, let us have our feet washed by Christ, let us be fed by Him, with Him, strengthened by Him, to fashion our lives after his. Let us prepare to go to Calvary with Him, laying down our lives in His service, picking up our Cross and following Him, to death and beyond, to the new life of Easter. Let us live His risen life, and share our joy with others, that the world may believe and trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now, and forever.

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Lent IV Year C: The Prodigal Son

Today is a day for celebration. a day for rejoicing, just like every Sunday, as we rejoice that it was on a Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead. This day of the week is special for Christians. And the time is soon coming when we will remember how Jesus suffered and died for love of us. We get ready to celebrate through fasting and prayer, through giving things up, and today we don’t have to. The rules are relaxed, we can have a day off. We mark this in a variety of ways: since Ash Wednesday I’ve worn purple vestments in Church on Sundays, but today I’m wearing something different. They’re rose-coloured, it’s a lighter, more joyful colour. There are flowers in church, some of which will be blessed and distributed later. Today was a day when servants had the day off, and could go home, to see their family, and visit the church where they were baptized, and as they went there they would pick flowers. It’s Spring, and there are many signs of joy and new life around us. 

So we give thanks to God for our mothers, who gave us life and showed us love, and for Mother Church, in which we were baptized, and given new life in Christ. As we give thanks for them, we are mindful of the love they have shown us, and the life they have given us, which leads us God, who while we tend to address Him as ‘Father’ loves us like a mother. In the Gospel this morning Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son, who runs away, and does what he wants to, wastes his inheritance and comes back penniless and sorry. It’s how we are with God. But God, like the Father in the parable loves his children, and longs to welcome us back, and embrace us in love. God loves us, and will do anything to see us back where we belong, back home, embraced, restored, and made whole again. It is the central message of the Christian Faith: GOD LOVES US! We don’t deserve to be loved, we have turned away from God’s love, but God doesn’t abandon us, or reject us, but welcomes us back, so that we may be transformed by that love. Love and forgiveness have the power to change us like nothing else. We see this throughout the Bible, think of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt. We see this most of all in Jesus, who loves us so much that He dies on the Cross for us. This love transforms the world. God then, is generous, extravagant, and loves us more than we can know or fully understand. But we can experience that love, in the Church, when we read the Bible, in our Baptism, in the forgiveness of sin, and in the Eucharist, where God’s love is made real, and we receive that generosity. We receive it and are transformed by it. It changes us, makes us more generous and loving, and builds up a community transformed by love, which can change the world. 

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Lent III Year C

Procrastination is a very human failing. All of us, myself included, would much rather put something off — especially if it is unpleasant. It’s understandable but it is also dangerous. Our time is limited, and we have a choice to make. Despite people’s outward reluctance to commit to organised religion nowadays, it is fair to say that there exists a great spiritual thirst both outside the church in the world around us and in the church itself. 

We are like people in the desert, not just in this period of 40 days of Lent, but throughout our lives. The modern world is deeply consumerist: shopping centres replace cathedrals and yet we are still thirsty, thirsty for the living water, thirsty that our needs may be satisfied. We all of us realise, deep down, that commercialism cannot save us: that what we buy doesn’t really nourish or satisfy us. There can be no commercial exchange with God. We cannot buy our way into heaven, or earn it through good deeds. We simply have to receive God’s gifts, that’s what grace is, and why God lavishes it on us. We are not worthy of them, and that’s the point. God satisfies our deepest needs and desires out of love for us, so that enfolded in his love we might become more lovely, filled with God’s love and grace. Only if we are watered by God can we truly bear fruit, only if we are born again by water and the spirit in baptism can we have any hope. This is what the season of Lent is for: it is a time to prepare for baptism — to share in our Lord’s death and His new life. We do this as individuals and indeed as an institution, so that the church may be born again, renewed with living water, so that it may be poured out over all the world to satisfy the thirst which commercialism cannot.

In our second reading St Paul writes the church in Corinth to warn them to keep vigilant: the church can never be complacent. For us Lent is to be a time when we learn not to desire evil: we have to turn away from sexual immorality and idolatry, sins which separate us from God. In the last few generations the laissez-faire attitude in the world around us has not empowered people, it is not made them happier. It has just given us a world where people worship false gods: Reason, Consumerism, Fulfilment, Money and Power. The ways of the world will always leave humanity empty. It’s why the Gospels show Jesus living a radically different life, a life in all its fullness, which he offers to people: to turn their lives around, losing their lives to find true life in him. He suffers and dies for love of us, to heal us, and restore us, so that we may share in his life of love, nourished by his body and blood, strengthened by his word and sacraments, and to share this free gift of the world around us.

The message of the Gospel is that time is short, we’re in danger, just like the men murdered by Herod or those eighteen people killed by the tower. What can we do? The answer is simple, repent, turn away from sin, and believe in God. We need to take advantage of the grace which is offered us in Christ, to turn back to God, and to live lives of faith which bear fruit in good works. The good news is that we’re not just condemned, which is what we deserve, we are given another chance. God is merciful, God loves us, God forgives our sins, and longs to see humanity united with Him in Heaven. 

The gospel acts as a warning to us: that we are in danger if we continue to sin. We are, however, not simply condemned but we are offered another chance to repent, to turn back to God. The gardener gives a fig tree another chance. This is grace: the free gift of God, not something which we have earned. Only through God’s grace can we hope to bear fruit. The gardener, who created humanity in Paradise, who will offer himself as both priest and victim upon the tree of life, to bleed and die for love of us, this gardener will meet Mary Magdalene by the empty tomb on Easter Day, so that we and all humanity may share Christ’s risen life.

God wants us to love Him, and to flourish, to have a lively faith, filled with His love, and sharing it with others. It really is that simple. We are called as Christians to repent, and to keep on repenting, turning away from sin, and turning back to God. We are forgiven, and we are loved. That’s what the Cross demonstrates: God’s love and forgiveness. It doesn’t need to be repeated because it stands for all time, and fundamentally changes our relationship with God and each other. Ours is a faith rooted in love, freely given for the life of the world. 

So let us turn away from the ways of the world, its emptiness, its false promises, its immorality, the ways of emptiness and death. Instead let us be nourished by the living water, which satisfies our deepest thirst, which makes us turn our lives around. Let us live in him, who loves us, who heals us and who restores us. The world may not understand this, it may be scandalised by it, it will laugh at us and mock us, in the same way that it mocked our Lord on the way to Calvary and upon the Cross. Let us share in His sufferings, knowing that we are loved by Him who died for love of us. Let us live as a witness, to share in his work of drawing all humanity to him: so that all people may come to the living water and find new life in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever. 

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Lent I Year C (Deut 26:1-11, Rom 10:8-13, Lk 4:1-13)

The Christian journey through Lent is something of a journey through the desert. It is characterised by fasting, penitence and charity as these are the ways in which we can prepare our souls and bodies to celebrate Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We are sorry for our sins, but also joyful in knowing that Christ has overcome sin and death. There is a joyful character to what we do and who we are because of what Christ has taught us and done for us. It’s a hopeful, and a healing time. It’s a chance to give ourselves a bit of encouragement in our spiritual lives, and to get ready. 

Our first reading this morning from Deuteronomy is an account of the festival of first fruits, a Jewish Harvest Festival. The prayer is an account of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land. It is a prayer of gratitude, ‘And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you’ (Deut 26:10-11 ESV) which also forms part of the Jewish Passover ritual. As Christians, Christ takes us from the wilderness of sin to the promised land of reunion with God the Father and each other. This greater passover sees humanity freed from sin and death through the love of God. This is what we are preparing to celebrate with joyful expectation. 

Likewise, our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans begins by quoting from Deuteronomy, (30:14) just before Moses offers Israel the choice between life and death, good and evil. But for Paul ‘if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.’ (Rom 10:9 ESV) This is the heart of our faith as Christians: Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, or any power of this world. He saves us, by His Death and Resurrection. We believe this and bear witness to our belief. 

Our Gospel this morning takes right back to the beginning. Just after His Baptism, as He begins His public ministry, Jesus goes out into the desert to be alone, to be quiet, to fast and to pray, to be close to God the Father. While He is in the desert Jesus is tempted by the devil. The devil begins by saying, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ It is a temptation to be relevant, Jesus is hungry. The devil is saying, ‘If you’re the Son of God then do this’, something which the crowd will say to Jesus as He goes to be crucified. They both demand that God prove Himself, rather than accepting the presence of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God the Father, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ (Lk 3:22 ESV) Jesus is pleasing to God because He is obedient, whereas Satan is all about disobedience, not listening to God, not obeying Him. Jesus has been led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and whereas the first Adam causes sin to enter into the world by eating forbidden fruit, Christ, who is the second Adam, conquers by not eating. ‘The desert, the opposite of a garden becomes the place of reconciliation and healing.’ [1] Jesus who is the Living Bread come down from Heaven, conquers Satan with the Word of God, Himself the Word made flesh who will feed us with Himself, to give us life in Him. The Church exists to feed Christ’s sheep with Word and Sacrament, and to proclaim that He is the Son of god and Saviour.

Jesus’ second temptation is to have power. The devil says to Him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ (Lk 4:6-7 ESV) Jesus prefers heavenly glory and the salvation of humanity to worldly power. The devil can only offer a false god and fleeting power, whereas Christ stands for what is true and eternal. The temptation to have power, symbolised by worshipping the devil, leads to the misuse of power. It’s a very human failing. The church stands condemned for the mistakes of the past and the present, but in recognising this there is the possibility of a more humble church in the future: reliant upon God and not on the exercise of power. At its heart, the Good News of the Kingdom is about repentance: turning away from the our sins, turning back to our loving Father and asking for His forgiveness. 

The third temptation, the temptation to put God to the test, is to be spectacular and self-seeking. Whenever we say, ‘look at me’ we’re not saying, ‘look at God’. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’. God does not need to prove anything. He loves us, and sent His Son for us. Jesus’ throwing himself from the Temple would be a spectacle, but it wouldn’t achieve anything. The high place Jesus will go up to is the Cross on Calvary, where He will suffer and die to save humanity. This is what God wants, to show His love for the world, not just a stunt. 

The devil departs, Jesus’ faith is stronger than temptation. The temptations are real, and Jesus shows US that we can resist them. It isn’t easy, quite the opposite, but it is POSSIBLE. This should encourage us as we try to follow Jesus’ example, and grow in holiness this Lent. God does not as the impossible of us, just that we try, and repent when we fail. We grow in holiness in Lent through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Prayer offers us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with God. It’s more about quality than quantity: true repentance, for what we’ve done and failed to do, and a resolve not to do so in the future are what are needed. Almsgiving helps us to be charitable and generous, to care for those in need, just as God is generous towards us.

Fasting is key, because it helps us subjugate our appetite. It isn’t a holy diet, but rather an exercise of the will and a mastery of the flesh: we control what we eat and do, rather than being controlled by our appetites. Just as prayer is not about getting God’s attention or changing His mind, but rather changing who and what we are, making us more loving, humble and dependant on God, so fasting stops us being slaves to our desires. It sets us free, and helps us to listen to God, and draw closer to Him. It helps us enter into Christ’s suffering, so we can follow the way of the Cross. We do this joyfully, because we are following Christ, learning to resist temptation, aided by prayer and a generous heart. Christians are made as well as born, and this Lenten season helps us to grow in faith, hope, and love, so that we may celebrate Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection with greater joy. 

[1] Ratzinger, J. (2007) Jesus of Nazareth, London: Bloomsbury, 27.

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Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1-2 & 12-17, 2Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6 & 16-18

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, the beginning of her Lenten journey towards the great festival of Easter. The entire Christian community is invited to live this period of forty days as a pilgrimage of repentance, conversion and renewal. 

In the Bible, the number forty is rich in symbolism. It recalls Israel’s journey in the desert: a time of expectation, purification and closeness to the Lord, but also a time of temptation and testing. It also evokes Jesus’ own sojourn in the desert at the beginning of His public ministry. This was a time of profound closeness to the Father in prayer, but also of confrontation with the mystery of evil. 

The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery. In these forty days may we strive to draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example. We seek to conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism. For the whole Church may this Lent be a time of grace in which God leads us, in union with the crucified and risen Lord, through the experience of the desert to the joy and hope brought by Easter. [1]

Fasting, repentance, prayer, and even the imposition of ashes were not unknown to Jews. That is why we as Christians carry on the tradition such things are wise and beneficial as we enter the desert of Lent. They remind us that, first and foremost, we should recognise our own brokenness, our own sinfulness, and our own turning away from a God of Love and Mercy. While we may admit this, outward signs are not enough. There is nothing that we can do in a solely exterior fashion: ripping our clothes, placing ashes upon our foreheads, which will, in and of itself, make a blind bit of difference. What matters, where it really counts, is on the inside. To rend one’s heart, is to lay ourselves open, to make ourselves vulnerable. It is in this openness and vulnerability, that we let God do His work.

It would be all too easy when faced with today’s Gospel to argue that outward displays of fasting, piety, and penitence, do not matter. But this is not what Jesus is getting at. What He criticises are deeds which are done to comply with the letter but not the spirit of the law. This mechanised approach to piety, a clinging to the external nature of religion, without any concern for its inward spiritual aspect, is where the fault lies. When things are done for show, when our piety is paraded as performance, so that the world may see how good and religious we are, then we are nothing but an empty shell, a whitened sepulchre. The reward that such people receive is likewise an empty one.

Instead, Jesus upholds the standard practice of Judaism, but emphasises that what matters is that what we do outwardly is completely in accordance with our interior life. Our actions are an outward manifestation of our relationship with God and with one another. So Lent is to be a time when we as Christians are to seek to be reconciled with God and each other, and to be in full communion with God and his church. Our outward acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving need to be done in tandem with, rather than instead of, paying attention to our interior life: otherwise our efforts are doomed to failure.

The God whom we worship is one of infinite love and mercy. This is demonstrated most fully and perfectly on Good Friday, when we see what that love really means. Then, for our sake, God made Him who was without sin into sin, so that we in Him might share the goodness of God. Or, as St Isaac of Nineveh, a seventh century Syrian saint puts it:

The sum of all is that God the Lord of all, out of fervent love for his creation, handed over his own Son to death on the cross “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for its sake.”(Jn 3:16) This was not because he could not have saved us in another way, but so that he might thereby the better indicate to us his surpassing love, so that, by the death of his only-begotten Son, he might bring us close to himself. Yes, if he had had anything more precious he would have given it to us so that our race might thereby be recovered. Because of his great love, he did not want to use compulsion on our freedom, although he would have been able to do so; but instead he chose that we should draw near to him freely, by our own mind’s love. [2]

As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.’ [3]

As dreadful as we might be, or think we are, as utterly undeserving of the father’s love, nonetheless, as the parable of the prodigal son shows us, there are no lengths to which God will not go for love of us. The love and mercy which flows from Jesus’ stricken side upon the cross at Calvary are still being poured out over the world, and will continue to be so until all is reconciled in him. In his commission of Peter after his resurrection, Jesus entrusts to His Church the power to forgive sins, to reconcile us to one another and also to God. This reconciliation is manifested by our restoration to fellowship with God and his Church. 

It is not the most comfortable or pleasant thing to see ourselves as we really are. To stand naked in front of a full length mirror is, for most of us, I suspect, not the most pleasant experience. And yet, such a self-examination is as nothing when compared with us completely baring our heart and soul. It is not a pleasant task. But we know that God will judge us in love and mercy. He has taken away our sins on the Cross. So, despite our apprehension, we have nothing to fear. All that awaits us is the embrace of a loving father. No matter how many times we fail, no matter how many times we run away or reject his love, His arms, like those of His Son upon the Cross, remain open to embrace us. To heal all the world of the wounds of sin and division.

Austin Farrer, a twentieth century Anglican theologian wrote:

If there are any of you determined to live a more Christian life, there is one resolution you need to make which is, out of all proportion, more important than the rest. Resolve to pray, to receive the sacraments, to shun besetting sins, to do good works – all excellent resolutions; but more important than any of these is the resolution to repent. The more resolutions you make, the more you will break. But it does not matter how many you break so long as you are resolute not to put off repentance when you break them, but to give yourself up to the mercy which will not despise a broken and a contrite heart. Converted or unconverted, it remains true of you that in you, that is, in your natural being, there dwells no good thing. Saints are not people who store goodness in themselves, they are just a people who do not delay to repent, and whose repentances are honourable. [4]

So then, may this Lent be for us all a time of repentance, a time for us to turn away from all which separates us from God and our neighbours. Let it be a time for reconciliation, for healing and growth. May the faith which we profess grow in our souls and shine forth in our lives to give Glory to God the Father, to whom with God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most right and just all Might, Majesty, Glory, Dominion, and Power, now and forever….

[1] H.H. Pope Bendict XVI Catechesis at the General Audience 22.ii.12: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-conquering-our-spiritual-desert

[2] from The Heart of Compassion: Daily Readings with St Isaac of Syria, ed. A.M. Allchin, tr. S. Brock, London, DLT, 1989, 13

[3] from The Heart of Compassion: Daily Readings with St Isaac of Syria, ed. A.M. Allchin, tr. S. Brock, London, DLT, 1989, 37

[4] Farrer (1976) The Brink of Mystery (ed. C. Conti), 17, quoted in Harries, R. (ed.) (1987) The One Genius: Readings through the year with Austin Farrer, London: SPCK, 60.

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The Sunday before Lent (Exodus 34:29-35, 2Cor 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36)

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

Fulton Sheen The Life of Christ 1970: 158

Our readings this morning have an important message: being close to God changes you. At its heart Christianity is a religion of transformation: in the Incarnation Christ became what we are, so that we might become what He is. God doesn’t want us to stay as we are. God is active in the world, through the power of His Holy Spirit. When we encounter Him in prayer, in reading Holy Scripture, and in the Sacraments, we are changed by that encounter. We become something which we were not before, our faith is deepened, we grow in holiness, and we reflect more fully the light of Him in whose image we were created. 

In our reading from Exodus we see Moses’ encounter with God on Mt Sinai and its effects. The people of Israel are afraid to come near Moses because he reflects the divine radiance of God’s presence. He was to be veiled and covered because it was too much for them, they couldn’t cope. It is not so for us under the New Covenant. We have a hope, we can be bold, we can be near to Christ. He gives us the Eucharist, where we cannot only see the glory of God, but we can partake of His Very Self. 

Our reading from Luke’s Gospel this morning begins on the eighth day, the first day of the Week, the day of the New Creation. Jesus and his closest apostles go up a mountain to pray. They go to be near God, and they experience the glory of God’s presence. Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah, often understood as the Law and the Prophets. They appear in glory, the glory of God’s presence, ‘and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem’ (Lk 9:31 RSVCE) They speak of Christ’s exodus, his departure from this life, and, after His Resurrection, His Ascension and return to the Father. They talk about Christ’s death, as He has already to His disciples. They are looking to the Cross as the final definitive manifestation of God’s Glory. As we prepare to enter Lent, a time of prayer and fasting, we too look to the Cross, our only hope, and all salvation history points to it. From Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, who is substituted by the ram in the thicket, a type of Christ, the Lamb of God, the bronze serpent lifted up in the desert, that those who look on it might live, the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. Scripture points to the Cross, as the Transfiguration does, as a manifestation of God’s glory. It’s the culmination of salvation history. The Cross is the central point in the light of which everything makes sense. It gives us life, and joy, and fills us with love.

It may seem strange to see suffering and death as a manifestation of God’s Glory, but it is, because it demonstrates how much God loves us, and the healing and reconciliation which is achieved by it. It is painful, costly, and wonderful. The mystery of God’s love made manifest, for all to see. And because Christ is willing to undergo this for love of us, God can say, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ (Lk9:35 RSVCE). In Christ’s death we will see suffering transfigured by love, to make a new community of healing and reconciliation which is the Church. We, here, this morning, are part of the manifestation of God’s glory in the world. We have been changed by our encounter with God, in our Baptism and in the Eucharist, sharing His Death, and living His Risen life. 

When God speaks at the Transfiguration He tells us three things about Jesus: he is the Son of God, he is loved and we should listen to him. He is God, he is loved, and filled with love, to pour it out upon us, we should listen to Him as He shows us how to have life in all its fulness. We should imitate Him. What he says and does should affect us and our lives, that’s why we are Christians. Because of this we have to be open to the possibility of being changed by God. It’s real. I know in my own life how God has been at work in it. I’ve changed and developed. It’s not easy or even pleasant, in fact it can be quite the opposite, and that’s the point. Being conformed to Christ, and sharing in His Passion is difficult, and costly, but we trust God to be at work in us, transforming us more and more into His likeness, preparing us for Heaven, and helping us to live as saints here in earth. The church takes sinners, and tries to make them saints, it’s what we’re for, it’s what we do, each and every one of us is called to this in our baptism.

That is why we are here this morning: to see the sacrifice here with our own eyes, to touch and to taste what God’s love is really like. We are here to go up the mountain and experience the glory of God, what God is really like, so that God’s love may transform us. We are given a foretaste of heaven, and prepared to be transformed by God. This is true glory: the glory of the Cross, the glory of suffering love lavished upon the world. The Transfiguration looks to the Cross to help us prepare for Lent, to begin a period of fasting and prayer, of spiritual spring cleaning, of getting back on track with God and each other, so that we may be prepared to celebrate Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, to behold true majesty, true love and true glory: the kind that can change the world and last forever. It’s for eternity, not like the fading glory of the world, here today and gone tomorrow, but something everlasting, and wonderful.

So let us behold God’s glory, here, this morning, let us touch and taste God’s glory, let us prepare to be transformed by his love, through the power of His Holy Spirit, built up as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. Healed, restored, and reconciled. Given a foretaste of eternal life with him, so that God may take our lives and transform us, so that everything that we say, or think, or do, may proclaim him, let us tell the world about him, so that it too may believe and trust and have new life in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

The Seventh Sunday of Year C

All of Salvation History, the entirety of the Bible, and the history of the Christian Church is at a profound level the story of God’s Generosity. The creation of the universe out of nothing, and the salvation of humanity though the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ are demonstrations of the scale of that Generosity. It’s hard to get your head around the extent to which God’s love is poured out on the world.We don’t deserve it, we cannot earn it, nonetheless we continue to receive it through the Church, through prayer, the sacraments, Holy Scripture, in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

In our first reading this morning we see an encounter between David and Saul. David could kill Saul. Abishai wants to. David, however, will not put forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed. Saul is the anointed King of Israel, and despite their differences, David shows generosity of spirit, because ‘The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness’ (1Sam 26:23). We have received generously from God, and we should thus be generous as a result. 

In the Epistle we see the difference between the first Adam, and the Second one, who is Christ. The first brought death and sin, the second brings life and reconciliation. Christians are to follow the example of Christ, who transforms our humanity, and manifests the loving and generous nature of God to us.

There is at the heart of Christianity a radical idea, love your enemies. It seems counter-intuitive. Our enemies want to harm us, we should resist them, we should crush them. No we are to love them, because love is the heart of the Gospel. God is loving towards us, being born as one of us to transform us, by His Grace. He gives himself to die, for love of us, that we might be healed and reconciled. Love can end conflict. This is what Christ shows us. He ends the enmity between God and humanity by dying for us. As Christians we are to follow Christ’s example and put love into practice in our lives. Jesus asks us to follow His example, living it out in a way which is radically different to the ways of the world.

The world around us isn’t good at forgiveness, or turning the other cheek. It prefers to write people off: that’s how they are, and how they’re going to stay. Well, they will, unless we do something about it. In showing forgiveness and generosity we recognise the fact that we are human, flawed, and we make mistakes, and that change is possible: things don’t have to stay the same. Everyone loves those who love them. The point is in loving those who do not love us, that they become lovely to us, and loveable in themselves. Only love can transform what is filled with hate and anger. 

As St John writes, ‘Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.’ (1John 4:7-12) At the heart of it all is the Cross, the great demonstration of God’s love. All that Christ teaches us in this morning’s gospel is made manifest on the Cross. We see God die for us, and in the Eucharist, Christ gives us His Body and Blood so that we can be transformed to do His Will, and live His Risen life, preparing us for Heaven, here and now. 

God gives Himself for us: ‘for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.’ (Lk 6:35-36) We can be merciful because God has shown us mercy, and continues so to do. The transforming power of God’s love and mercy is shown fully in the Mystery of the Eucharist, where we are fed by God, fed with God, so that His Love might transform us. This is generosity, shown to us so that we might be generous in return. Through God’s generosity we have the opportunity to live in a different way, and encourage others so to do. It offers the world a way out of selfishness and sin, a chance to be God’s people living life in all its fulness. Is it easy? By no means! What Jesus proposes is something costly and difficult, which requires us to go against the human instincts which lead us to be selfish, judgmental and unkind. But if we all try to do this together then we will be built up as a community of loving generosity, which makes it possible for people to be transformed into the people God wants us to be. It’s what the world wants, and longs for. 

So how do we live the life God wants us to live? The simple answer is by trying, failing, and keeping on trying. The Christian faith has at its centre Love and Forgiveness. God shows these to us in Jesus Christ, and we have to show them to one another. The Church, you and I, all of us, are called to love and forgive each other, as we will fail. And we will fail often. We can’t earn our way to Heaven through what we do, Jesus has paved the way for us through His Death and Resurrection. We can, however, try to live out our faith in our lives, loving and forgiving each other when we fall short.Not being judgemental and overcritical. Then we can be built up in love, together, as a community reconciled to God and each other. It sounds simple and straightforward, but in practice it is really difficult. This is why we have to keep trying, allowing God transform us more and more into his likeness, through His Grace.

Through the love of God being poured into our hearts, and through that love forming who we are and what we do, that self-giving sacrificial love shown to us by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in his dying for us, so that we might live in Him, let us be attentive to the Word of God, the Word made flesh, and not simply listen but also act –- relying not upon our own strength but upon the love and mercy of God, seeking His forgiveness, to do His Will.

When we are formed by God together then we can be built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. We proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, through forgiveness and sacrificial love. Clothed in the humility of our knowledge of our need of God’s love and mercy, let us come to Him, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, to be healed and restored by him, so that we can live lives which speak of the power of his kingdom 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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Sixth Sunday of Year C (Lk 6:17-26)

The world around us has many clever and subtle ways of going after false gods. One of the most prevalent in our modern world is consumerism. Feeling a bit down? Shopping will cheer you up! You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home, just click a button and what you want will be sent to you. But it is a transitory pleasure, it doesn’t last. As Christians we know that our source of true happiness and joy is to be found in God alone. This is something which our readings this morning make very clear.

The prophet Jeremiah shows the difference between trusting in humanity, and trusting in God. Where we put our trust matters, because it shapes who and what we are. Against a model which stresses human self-sufficiency, we see that reliance upon God leads to human flourishing, having life in all its fulness.

Our death is something which we all need to face. Each and every one of us will die, it is inescapable. But because of who Christ is, and what He has done, we do not need to be afraid. The heart of our faith is that Christ died for us, to take away our sins, and was raised from the dead, to give us the hope of eternal life in Him. If it is not true, then the church is a sham, we’ve been fed lies for two thousand years. It would be the greatest deception of humanity ever, we would be truly pitiable. But it is true, and Christ’s Death and Resurrection have in fact changed everything. We have the hope that those who are in Christ share in His Death and Resurrection through their baptism. For us life is changed and not ended, and we have the hope of being united with God in Heaven, which we prepare for here on earth.

This is what lies behind the account in Luke’s Gospel. People come from all over the place, from far and wide, to be healed by Jesus. This is what God is all about, the healing of humanity, taking away our fears, our troubles, and giving us the peace ‘which passeth all understanding’. God’s love is made manifest in the healing miracles of Jesus Christ because it represents life in all its fulness. We are loved, healed and reconciled by God, so that we can live in a new way — living the life of the Kingdom, the life of Heaven, here and now.

To be poor in the world’s eyes is to lack money, possessions, power, and influence. All these worldly things don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We have God, and are filled with his love, and that’s what really matters. God satisfies our hunger, or as St Augustine put it, ‘You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.’ (Confessions 1.1.8) We have the source of everlasting Joy in God. But being a Christian won’t make us popular in the eyes of the world, quite the opposite. We will be seen as strange, dismissed as hypocrites, because we don’t buy into the emptiness of the world around us. 

At its heart Christianity looks dangerous and suspect to the world around us, and so it should. We are not conformed to the ways of the world, but rather to the will of God. We don’t just go along with things, because that’s what everyone does, instead we follow a higher authority. We cannot be bought off with baubles and trinkets, with wealth or power, things of this world, because we acknowledge something, someone greater, namely God. We live as God wants us to live, acknowledging Him before all things. There’s something strange and different about us, because we are not like other people. 

It’s not easy being like this, in fact it’s difficult, very difficult, and it’s why we, as Christians need to support each other in living out our faith together, as a community of faith. Christians face persecution around the world, people are forbidden to convert to Christianity, they are not free to meet and worship, and risk beatings torture, imprisonment, and even death for doing so. It’s real and it is happening around the world as we speak. 

Here in this country we are more likely to face indifference, someone might say, ‘Why do you believe in all that claptrap? Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites’. Our faith is not nonsense, but rather profound, meaningful, and wonderful. We do, however, need to live it out in our lives. It needs to make a difference to who and what we are, so that others might see the truth of the Gospel lived out in our lives. What we do here in church prepares and nourishes us to love our neighbour. We hear God’s word, and are nourished by it. We pray together for the Church and the World, and those in need. 

Above all, we are nourished by Christ, with Christ, with His Body and Blood, so that He may transform us more and more into His likeness. The Eucharist makes the Church, it is the source and summit of our life together. Through it we are united with each other and with Christ in this, the sacred banquet of the Kingdom of God. This is the medicine for which our souls cry out, so that they may be healed by Christ and prepared to live out our faith in Christ’s Death and Resurrection in the world, putting our trust in God, so that He might be at work in and through us, sharing His love with a world which longs for it. 

So let us prepare to rely upon God, filled with His Joy and Love, sharing 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. Amen. 

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Fifth Sunday of Year C (Luke 5:1-11)

Much of the church nowadays is anxious about where we are and where we are going. It isn’t that surprising: we live in an uncertain and anxious world. Our response as Christians is to trust in God, who says through the words of his prophet Jeremiah, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.’ (Jer 29:1-13). God has plans for us, plans for good and not evil, he has a plan for you, and for me. Indeed each of us as we enter the church through our baptism can find that God has something in store for us. Each of us is called by God to be a Christian, and to live out our faith in our lives. Each of us is an individual, unique, made in the image of God, and our callings are likewise unique. It can be a scary business answering that call. I know, I spent over twenty years running away from it, not feeling good enough for what God wanted me to do. It’s ok. It turns out that I’m in good company as our readings this morning make clear. 

In this morning’s first reading the prophet Isaiah has an experience of God’s presence in the Temple in Jerusalem. He does not describe his emotional state, other than what he says speaks of human unworthiness in the divine presence. When he is confronted by the majesty of God, the singing of angels, the smoke of incense, all he can say is ‘Woe is me. For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips’ Isaiah is aware of his human sinfulness and the gulf between himself and God. Yet his guilt is taken away, and his sin atoned for — the prophet who will tell of the Messiah, who will save humanity, is prepared for this by God, he is set apart. When God asks ‘Whom shall I send, who will go for me?’ Isaiah can respond ‘Here I am, send me’ It’s quite a journey in a few verses, and that’s the point. God doesn’t call those who are equipped, He equips those whom He calls.

Likewise St Paul, ‘the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle because [he] persecuted the church of God’ is living proof of the redemptive power of God’s love at work in the world. He preaches Christ crucified and resurrected, to show us that Christ died for us, and that we can have new life in him. God can (and does) take and use surprising people to show us that we are loved. That is the wonder of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. No-one is beyond its reach, or of God’s forgiveness and loving mercy. 

In the Gospel, Jesus begins by using a fisherman’s boat, so that the large crowd at the lakeside can see and hear him, it’s simple, honest, and what’s there. When he has finished teaching Jesus tells Simon Peter to ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch’. Peter cannot see the point — they’ve not caught anything in the entire night, he’s tired, he just doesn’t see the point. 

And yet he is obedient, he does what Jesus asks him — and they catch so many fish that their boats almost sink under the weight of them, a catch which points forward to another miraculous catch of fish after Jesus’ resurrection (in Jn 21:1–11), it is a sign of the Church: a miraculous number of people given new life in Christ. Peter is obedient, he listens to what God says and obeys, and wonderful things happen.

Peter’s response to the miracle is telling: he falls at Jesus’ knees and says, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’. It is an authentic human response to the presence and generosity of God – and one which I recognise. Peter recognises his own unworthiness and his complete reliance upon God. Peter is not worthy of his calling, none of us are and that’s the point, but because Peter knows he isn’t that’s how God can be at work, in and through his humility and reliance upon God, not himself. The next thing Jesus says to him is ‘Do not be afraid’ – in Christ we do not need to be afraid of anything, if we trust in him, and let his love be at work in us, if we trust God.

Once they reach the land the disciples leave everything and follow him, they display metanoia: they let God change their heart, their mind and their life. This is the response of a sinner to the love of God. Now it can be all too easy to see such passages as we have this morning as solely of interest to those of a calling to the priesthood. That’s understandable, but it’s also deeply wrong. The message in our readings applies to each and every one of us, here, and all over the world. As Christians we are all to kneel in the place of Peter, to recognise our reliance upon and trust in God, and be prepared to be ‘fishers of men’. 

The calling of the disciples is the calling of the entire baptised people of God: a calling not to be afraid, but to respond to the God who loves us and saves us, a calling to live out in our lives by word and deed the saving truths of God, so God can use us for His glory and the spreading of His Kingdom, so that others may come to know His Love, Mercy, and Forgiveness. It’s what we’ve signed up for, to profess the faith of Christ Crucified, to share it with others.

This treasure has been entrusted to us, so that we can share it with others, so that the world may believe. 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. Amen

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Candlemas

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 mikvah, 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, Jesus Christ, on the altar of the Cross, to restore our relationship with Him.

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

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

The promise made to him by God, revealed through the Holy Spirit, has been fulfilled in the six-week-old infant in his arms. Simeon can prepare to meet his God happy in the knowledge that Salvation has dawned in this little child. As Christ was made manifest to the Gentiles at Epiphany, so now His saving message is proclaimed, so that the world may know that its salvation has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Simeon speaks to 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. The Feast prepares for the coming season of Lent by changing our focus and attention from Jesus’ birth to His death, for our sins, upon the Cross.

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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Epiphany III Year C (Luke 4:14-21)

In this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus back on home turf, as it were, in Nazareth, where he grew up. He goes to the synagogue, to pray and to teach on the Sabbath. When he stands up to read He is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he reads from the 61st chapter, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

As we have seen from St Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism two weeks ago, the Holy Spirit is indeed upon Him, He is filled with it. Jesus has been anointed, he is the Messiah, the Anointed One, He is the Christ. 

Christ brings good news to the poor: poverty is a grim thing, it makes life bleak and hard. But it is probably their fault, they are probably feckless and undeserving. This mindset is still with us today, and it is wrong. We should be ashamed that we haven’t more to eradicate poverty, and be mindful of those who are poor. The kingdom of God should be a place where all are cared for, and where our needs are met. The good news is also for those who are spiritually poor. As Jesus will say in the Sermon on the Mount ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God’. The good news of the Gospel is for those who know their need of God, their spiritual poverty. That’s all of us: we need God’s love in our hearts, and our lives, to transform us.

Christ brings freedom for the captives. Those who are slaves to sin, and that’s all of us, can find true freedom in Christ. We can be free from what sin is and what sin does. Christ brings sight to the blind, both in healing the blind, but also in helping us all with our own inner blindness: the bits of our life we are ashamed of, or would rather forget about. It allows us to see the world with new eyes, where everyone is our brother and sister, where we can be one in Christ, the unity Christ came to bring.

Christ brings healing to the broken. That’s good because I know I need it. I’m broken, you are, each and every one of us is, and Christ can heal that. It is what the Kingdom and God’s love are all about — being a place of healing, where we can come to share in the Divine life, where our wounds are healed by His wounds on the Cross, and by the Eucharist, where Christ gives himself to heal us and restore us.

Christ brings the proclamation of the day of salvation: Jesus comes to save us from our sins, hence the Incarnation. God becomes human so that humanity might come to share the divine life. Christ dies for us on the Cross, and rises from the dead, overcoming death, the world, and the devil, so that we need not fear. The message of salvation is for all people, to come and have life in and through Christ, believing in Him, trusting Him to be at work in our lives.

These are big claims to make, and that’s the point. What we see here this morning is Jesus proclaiming the fulfilment of Scripture, the Good News of the Kingdom of God. It is extraordinary, and radical, and it changes who we are, and how we live our lives. Something new and wonderful is happening, something which changes the world. 

Jesus’ words also show us that prophecy is being fulfilled: what the prophets point to in the future is now becoming a reality in the person of Jesus Christ. The Word made flesh is the fulfilment of the Word of God. This is what we believe as Christians, and why we read the Old Testament. The New is prefigured in the Old, the Scriptures point to Christ, and they find their fulfilment in Him. What Isaiah is prophesying is closely related to the so-called ‘Servant Songs’, which foretell Jesus’ passion and Death. Here at the beginning of His public ministry we see a link forward to His Death: everything points to the Cross as the greatest fulfilment of prophecy and demonstration of God’s love for humanity.  Good news indeed!

But rather than making people jump for joy, Jesus’ words have the opposite effect: he makes people angry and uncomfortable, for several reasons. First, it isn’t what they want to hear. People understood the Messiah in political terms — he would wreak vengeance on the enemies of Israel. They wanted to free from the yoke of oppression. But it is they, and not the Romans, who are the problem — they fail to recognise the Messiah, or follow Him. They fail to recognise the wonderful things, the miracles that God is doing among them. The people in Nazareth can only see the little boy, the son of Mary and Joseph, and not the man standing before them. They are blind to both who God really is and what God does. They should not be angry or upset, quite the opposite. This a cause for celebration, one envisaged in Nehemiah, ‘Go on your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10 ESV) The Kingdom of God is a cause for celebration. It is what we look forward to in heaven and it is what the church is for: to celebrate who Christ is and what Christ does, and encourage people to know Him, love Him, and believe in Him. 

‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ we, here, today, have heard this among us, we have come to be fed with Word and Sacrament, to be fed by Christ, to be fed with Christ, to have new life in Him, and to share that new life with others, a new life and a freedom which the world cannot give. So let us be fed to have new life in him, to live that life and share it with others, for the joy of the Lord is our strength. It is our vocation as Christians to be filled with that joy and to share it with others. 

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Epiphany II Yr C Jn2:1-11

In this morning’s first reading the prophet Isaiah is looking forward to a Messianic future, giving Israel a vision of something to hope for, how things will be when the Messiah comes. In the feast of the Epiphany kings saw God’s glory in Bethlehem. In the Baptism of Christ we saw God’s glory manifest in the Holy and Life-giving Trinity, in the obedience of the Son of God, and the way to salvation through baptism. Now in the first of Jesus’ signs we will see the fulfilment of prophecy. In Isaiah the joy of God’s kingdom is understood in terms of a marriage, such as we see in this morning’s Gospel. Everyone loves a party, and what better excuse could there be than a wedding: the joining together of a man and a woman, a sign of love, and joy, and commitment, something made holy and fruitful by God. 

At one level it symbolises God’s relationship with humanity brought about by the Incarnation: where God becomes human, so that humanity might come to share the divine life. The sheer joy of salvation, of hope in Christ, in uniting what sin had destroyed. What Isaiah looks forward to, is made real in Jesus Christ. And so the first of Jesus’ signs, demonstrations of the Kingdom of God takes place at a wedding, at Cana, in Galilee. 

It happens on the third day, just like the manifestation of God’s Glory in thunder and lightening at in Sinai in Exodus 19:16, it is less dramatic, but no less extraordinary. Jesus’ mother is there, so is He, and so are His Disciples. Marriages in the Bible are a community celebration. Lots of people are invited. It would be shameful for them to run out of wine, it’s not hospitable. Mary tells Jesus that they have no wine. And while Jesus’ reply may look like he’s upset, he doesn’t ignore her, or fail to comply with her request. His Hour has not yet come, and it will not, until Jesus dies upon the cross. It comes when He dies for our sins, when He makes a new Covenant in His Blood, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, who as both priest and victim reconciles humanity and divinity, and gives us the hope of heaven.

Mary simply says to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you’. She stands as a model of Christian obedience: the key to the Christian life is to follow Mary’s example, and do whatever Christ tells us, nothing more, nothing less, just that. Our life 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.

There were six stone water jars there, for purification, holding twenty or thirty gallons each, about the size of a modern wheelie bin: one hundred and eighty gallons, or about six hundred and eighty litres, or the equivalent of one thousand four hundred and forty pints of beer, given that ancient wine was drunk diluted with two parts water. It’s a lot of wine to drink, and that’s the point: it’s a sign of the super-abundance of the Kingdom of God. It shows us that Christ is a type of Melchisedek, the priest-king of Salem, a priest of the most High God, who in Genesis 14:18-20 offers bread and wine to Abram. The steward is amazed, it’s the best wine he’s ever tasted. 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. 

It’s a reason for celebration, our being saved by Christ, and our vocation as Christians is JOY. We are called to be filled with Joy, the Joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The one whom we worship, the one who saves us, liked nothing better than to hang around at parties with social undesirables, and was accused of being a drunkard. In both Luke [7:34] and Matthew [11:19] we see Jesus rejoicing in such name-calling, ‘for 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) 

Our Christian lives are to be one of celebration, that we are saved, that God loves us. It is why we are here today at the Eucharist, a foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb, and the joy of heaven. It is 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.

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 III Year C

If there is one thing which we could all do with at the moment, I suspect that it is GOOD NEWS! It really does seem to be in short supply, and it is fair to say that the world longs for it. We want to be cheered up, we don’t want to be as we are. We know that something is wrong, and we wish there was a solution. There is, and His name is Jesus Christ, a mighty one who will save, as prophesied by Zephaniah. The Messiah, the one to save Israel from her sins, and not just Israel, but all humanity.

In St Luke’s account, which we have just heard, John the Baptist preached the good news to the people (Lk 3:18) and the Good news is this: ‘His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ (Lk 3:17 ESV) What? I hear you say, this is GOOD news? It is. We have a choice to make: Do we want to follow Jesus or not? There is a choice of destinations after death: Heaven or Hell? Where do you want to go? Do you want to have a relationship with the God who loves you, who created you, and offers you salvation? This may seem stark, but it is part of Advent, to consider the four last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. 

We are able to make a choice. We are not simply consigned to Hell, to an eternity without God’s love and mercy, because of what God has done for us, through His Son, Jesus Christ, whose coming we celebrate. The Word became flesh, He shared our humanity, so that we might share His Divinity. Christ died for us, so that we might live forever with Him. This is the hope of Heaven which we celebrate at the Incarnation. God loves us. God saves us, and we are able to accept that salvation, and encourage others to do so. This is Good News, for all the world. It is why we can say with St Paul, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’ (Phil 4:4 ESV) We can rejoice because in Christ we are offered salvation.

We do not deserve it, because we sin, which separates us from God and each other. And yet God is both just and merciful: we deserve to be punished, but God redeems humanity through His Son. This is the mystery of our redemption, that God demonstrates His love for us. ‘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 3:16-17 ESV) If we believe in Jesus, if we trust Him, then we can be saved. In our baptism we share in His Death and resurrection. In the Eucharist we are given a pledge of His love, we eat His Body and drink His Blood, so that He may transform us. Such is the mystery of God’s love for us, which is why we follow Christ’s command to DO THIS. It reminds us day by day, and week by week that God loves us. 

God loves us. If I preach nothing else, know that we are loved by God, and that His love has the power to transform us, you and me, and the entire world, if we would only let Him. The world is sick and hungry, and the remedy is Jesus Christ, who came as a baby in Bethlehem, and who will come again as our Saviour and our Judge, a Judge who offers us pardon and peace, a peace which surpasses all understanding. 

‘And we, what shall we do?’ (Luke 3:14 ESV) John the Baptist is clear, be honest, don’t be greedy, don’t sin. Instead be loving and generous: put that love into practice in your lives and live out your faith. We have in Christ an example of how God has been generous towards us, so we are called to be generous in return. We are called to be a generous and forgiving church, a place of healing and reconciliation, which manifests God’s love to the world, and offers salvation to all who turn to Christ. ‘And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.’ (Zephaniah 3:19 ESV) God longs to heal the lameness of our sin, to take outcast humanity and gather it into the feast of the Kingdom, to clothe us in a garment of praise and thanksgiving, which is the garment of our Baptism, when we put on Christ. He longs to feed us with Himself, so that we might be nourished by Him, and have life in Him, healed by Him, and given the promise of eternal life. This is the hope which Advent brings, and it is the cause of our JOY. 

Christians are joyful because we know what God has done for us, and He is the source of our joy.  We can trust Him, and His joy is everlasting. Unlike the things of this world, which are fleeting, and do not last, God’s joy, His love, and His faithfulness are everlasting. We know this through Christ, who came that we might have joy, and have it to the full: ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.’ (Jn 15:9-11 ESV)  This Advent let us listen to what Jesus says, and do it, following His commandments, living out our faith in our lives, and encourage others so to do. So that that the world may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

30th Sunday of Year B: Mark 10:46-52

Ours is a world which is characterised by FEAR: it is everywhere. We are afraid concerning Britain’s exit from the European Union, how our climate will change in the future, at the state of global politics and whether there will be another World War, a nuclear cataclysm, or a global pandemic. In short we know that all is not right with the world. We’re not entirely sure what to do about it, but we know that something is wrong. 

This situation is not unlike that faced by the people of Israel in exile, as addressed by the prophet Jeremiah. They have turned away from the Lord, and worshipped false gods and seen their land destroyed and captured, and been driven into exile in Babylon. And yet there is hope. God has not abandoned his people, but gives them a promise of healing, and of a bright future. The people will return weeping, sorry for their sins, and looking for God’s compassion and forgiveness. As then, so now. At this time of year we give thanks to God for another harvest being safely gathered in, we give thanks for all those who work, so that we might have food to eat, and things to drink. We also need to say sorry for the way in which we treat God’s Creation, the world in which we live: that we are not always good stewards, that we pollute the world, that we live in a world which produces enough food and yet people are hungry. We need to share what we have, so that all may be fed. This is how God wants us to live, and the greatest harvest we can offer is the harvest of our souls living lives of love, kindness and generosity. 

On the way out of Jericho in the Gospel this morning we have a deeply instructive picture. Bartimaeus is sitting by the roadside, a blind beggar, unable to work, a man who has to rely upon the charity of others to live. He hears a commotion, and asks who is coming by. He is told that it is Jesus of Nazareth, so he cries out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ In his words he does two things: he recognises who Jesus is, that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will save Israel, the one spoken of by the prophets; and he asks for mercy, for God’s forgiveness and compassion. The people around him tell him to be quiet, he’s an embarrassment, he’s making a fuss! But he cries out all the more, he won’t be silent, he is not afraid to make a scene. Jesus asks them to call him. At which point the attitude of the crowd changes, and they tell Bartimaeus, ‘Cheer up, Get up, he’s calling you.’ Jesus asks Bartimaeus, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He asks to recover his sight, so Jesus says, ‘Go on your way, your faith has made you well.’ His sight is restored, and Bartimaeus follows Jesus along the road.

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

It is a way which will lead to Jesus’ death on the Cross, where He offers Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It is through this that God’s promise of healing first made through the prophets can be put into effect. Because God has done this we can be healed and restored, and we are able to say, ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’. We are able to celebrate a harvest, knowing that the greatest harvest we can offer God is the harvest of souls, like Bartimaeus, who have faith, and who follow Jesus on the Way. 

We all long to be on the path that leads to God, a God who saves us, who loves us, who heals and restores us. As it says in John’s Gospel ‘I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ If we walk with the eyes of faith we will be on a straight path, to the one who heals and restores humanity.

All the world needs to cry, ‘Jesus, son of God have mercy on me’. We need to know our need of God, we need to be healed and restored by him, like Bartimaeus. The world needs this to be fully alive in God, to turn away from sin and the ways of the world: living for others rather than ourselves, loving God and our neighbour. We should remember what Jesus said earlier in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 2:17) ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Christ came on our behalf, to bind up our wounds, to call us to follow Him.

The sin which mars God’s image in us, which separates us from God, which stops us from being what we can be, is borne by Jesus on the Cross. He binds our wounds by bearing the mark of nails, he heals us with the stream of his blood which flows on Calvary. By his stripes we are healed. We are healed by him so that we may see clearly and travel along the path of faith. It is a straight path on which we should not stumble, journeying with our wounded healer, to live out our faith in our lives as those healed and called by Christ and made part of his body, the church, healed by his sacraments, fed by his word and his Body and Blood, to be strengthened on our journey of faith, it is why we are here today, to be fed by him and with him, that our wounds may be healed.

We are all of us sinners in need of the love and mercy of him who bled for us on Calvary and who rose again for us, that we might share new life in him. Let us be fed by him, restored and healed by him, to have life in all its fullness. For we follow the one who heals us not out of blind obedience or fear but through joy, the joy of being free and truly alive in Christ. So let us live that life and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

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26th Sunday of Year B – Mark 9:38-50

Moving house can be a very difficult and uncomfortable thing. We get used to places, and things and people, and the thought of leaving them can make us anxious. It’s understandable — we get used to things and people, and they get used to us, it feels comfortable, secure, it isn’t threatening. But life is never static, and we have to face change, even when we don’t want to. In a similar way the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, can strike us as strange, uncomfortable, and disconcerting. 

Today’s Gospel is one such example, with its vivid metaphors of plucking out eyes, or cutting off hands or feet. It is hard to understand if we take it at face value. It is important to state at the outset that Jesus is not telling us to literally maim ourselves. The true meaning is somewhat deeper, and more profound.

The disciples have been walking through Galilee talking amongst themselves about who is the greatest, who is the most important. Jesus has countered this by stressing the importance of service. Now John, the beloved disciple, someone close to Jesus, points out that they have seen someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but because he was not one of them, the disciples tried to stop him. Jesus tells them not to,  as no-one working a miracle in Jesus’ name will speak evil of Him. They are doing good. And God’s ways are sometimes beyond our human understanding. The Kingdom of God is truly Good News, and it has healing at its very core. That is what matters, more than affiliations, more than human divisions. Likewise to give water to the thirsty is to care for people, to look after their immediate needs. It is an act of loving kindness and service. It is faith put into practice.

We have to be careful because our actions matter, they affect people. People who are new to the Christian faith, who are learning the Way, are particularly vulnerable. If they are led astray by the wrong kind of example, by the wrong sort of teaching, then it is a serious thing. Those of us who are Christians have a great responsibility to do the right thing. The disciples have been petty and small-minded, they have been concerned more with their own power and prestige than judging actions correctly, and seeing them for what they really are. With power comes responsibility, the responsibility to do the right thing, for the right reasons, and to build up the church, by setting a good example. We will try to do this, and we will fail. The important thing is to recognise when you fall short, ask for forgiveness, and try to do the right thing. The temptation is always there to seek to be important, to seek power and prestige. To be filled with pride, like the disciples, is a bad thing, a very human failing, Clergy are prone to it, and in fact we all are, if we are honest. We like praise, and honour, but when they become an end in themselves, then something is wrong. What matters is that we glorify God, that we advance His kingdom, a kingdom of love, and forgiveness and healing, where people come to know who they truly are in Christ. 

Thus Jesus’ vivid metaphors of cutting off hands or feet or eyes reminds us that what really matters is Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He has done, on the Cross, for love of us. Nothing of this world matters in comparison with Christ. Power, wealth, honour, praise, are all worthless. They are baggage which hinders us on our spiritual journey to and in Christ. It is hard to rid yourself of these things, even with God’s help, His Grace. It takes practice, and effort. I’m certainly no better than you at this. I am not a super-Christian. I was not ordained because I’m better at it than anyone else. Quite the opposite! I’m weak, I’m a sinner, who needs love and mercy, who needs God to be at work in my life. I’m aware that I need to set a good example, and that I will be judged for how I shepherd Christ’s flock. And yet somehow God in His love and mercy can use me, and can use all of us, despite our failures and shortcomings, to advance His kingdom, here on earth. Knowing our need of God, His Grace and His mercy, keeps us humble. It reminds us on whom we need to rely: God and Him alone. 

Only then can we be salt, flavouring and preserving the world around us, only can we truly be at peace with one another, when we understand things properly and act accordingly. Living as a Christian community means owning to our shortcomings, and being humble enough to let God transform us, bit by bit, day by day, more and more into His likeness. We learn by carrying our Cross, a burden much lighter than our sin, a burden which can and will transform us. Pride, that great human sin, makes us think that we are important. We occupy a place that rightly belongs to God, and God alone. The disciples think they’re important, and lose sight of the fact that what really matter is who Jesus Christ is, and what He has done for us, dying on the Cross, and rising to new life, so that we can live in Him. It is why we come together on the first day of the week, the day He rose from the dead, so that we can share His risen life, nourished by Him.

So, my brothers and sisters, let us keep Christ as the centre of our lives — the greatest treasure we could ever have, the gift of a generous God, who calls us to follow Him, and to proclaim Him in our words and actions. Let us glory in His Cross, by which we are saved and made free, the greatest gift of Love, given to set us free from the ways of sin and death. Let us live for Him, and proclaim the nearness of His kingdom, so that others may come to know him, and love Him, so that all the world 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-fourth Sunday of Year B – Who do you say Jesus is?

In the Gospel this morning we see the importance of Questions and Answers. Jesus first asks the question, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ The disciples answer, saying what they’ve heard people say, ‘some say John the Baptist, others Elijah or one of the prophets’ J. Jesus then asks the question, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29 ESV) He asks that question to His disciples, and he asks it to us: Who do we say Jesus is? Just a man? A Holy Man? A spiritual teacher? Or something more? Are we happy to say that he’s a prophet, but just a man, to deny His Divinity, or can we say that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. If we are happy to say this is this simply the end of the matter or is more asked of us? We have to say that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Nothing else will do! Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, Unitarians, and many other people will say many things about Jesus, but not that he was the Messiah, the Anointed One, who would save people from their sins. He is truly God, and truly man, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Peter confesses who Jesus is, but then Jesus goes on to teach His disciples ‘that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.’ (Mk 8:31 ESV) Because Jesus is who He is, the Messiah, the Son of God, then He has to die. In our first reading from the prophecy of Isaiah it is clearly foretold that the servant, that is Jesus, will be rejected and mistreated, and killed. Now Peter clearly doesn’t like it, he doesn’t understand how people could treat Jesus this way. Peter can only see things in human terms, and despite confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter doesn’t want Jesus to suffer and die. He doesn’t fully understand what this means. It has to happen, so that Scripture might be fulfilled, and to show the world how much God loves us. God loves us SO MUCH that he gives his own Son to suffer and die, so that we might live. 

So Jesus says to the assembled crowd, including His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mk 8:34-5 ESV) We are Christians, through our common baptism, we follow Christ, we do what He says. So this applies to each and every one of us. We have to deny ourselves, take up OUR cross, and follow Jesus. 

We have to deny ourselves — Now I know that I’m not good at saying, ‘No’. But I have to, I try to, and that’s the point. Denying ourselves means that we don’t put ourselves, or thoughts and desires at the centre of our lives — we put God there, where He belongs. God gives us GRACE to do this: through prayer, through reading the Bible, through the Sacraments of the Church, to help us.

We have to take up our Cross. The Cross is an instrument of torture and death, and it means pain and suffering. That is not pleasant or easy. We can understand why Peter says what he does, but the Christian life is not easy or without suffering. Mother Teresa, St Teresa of Calcutta once said that, “Suffering is a sign that we have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss us and that he can show that he is in love with us by giving us an opportunity to share in his passion.” (My Life for the Poor, 77) When we suffer, we are close to Christ, we share in His Passion, and are conformed to His image. It is part of the mystery of God’s love, that it can transform us, but that transformation is not pleasant or easy, but in it we experience God’s LOVE. 

We have to follow Jesus, we have to do what He says, which sounds easy in theory, but in practice is rather difficult. It is something which we do together, as a Church. Love and forgiveness sound easy, but they aren’t.  They make demands on us, and force us to do things that we might not like to do. But we can support each other, and rely upon the grace of God to help us as we try to do this.  

Our Faith is first and foremost about our relationship with Jesus Christ, someone who loves us so much that He dies for us. He takes away our sins, and restores our relationship with God and each other. And he gives himself here to us today, under the outward forms of bread and wine, in His Body and His Blood, to heal us, and restore us.

What Jesus does for us and for humanity is wonderful. It is an amazing demonstration of God’s love for us. He calls us to follow Him and bear our own Cross. To follow Christ in living out that same suffering love, to show the same compassion to the world, the same forgiveness. To follow Christ is to experience pain and anguish, heartache and loss, there is no magic wand to make things disappear. But rather, as we try to live out our faith, stumbling and failing as we go, we are drawn ever more into the mystery of God’s love and forgiveness. We become people of compassion, of reconciliation, who can see beyond petty human trifles, squabbles, and arguments, to the Kingdom of God where restored humanity can be enfolded for ever in the love of God. 

Opposed to this are the ways of the world: the ways of money, and of power. Yet none of us can be saved by who we are or our possessions. Once we die they are of no use to us, and what then? All the wealth and power in the world cannot save our soul. They cannot make us truly happy in the way that following Christ, and entering into his suffering can. God’s love is shown most fully when Christ dies for love of us, when he bears the weight of human sin, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. This is how the Messiah reigns, not on a throne, but on a Cross. And when he comes at the end of time to judge the world, as he surely will, a judgement of which the Apostle James is all too well aware, let us not be among the adulterous and sinful generation of those who are ashamed of Christ, but let us instead be in Him, fed with Him, living His life, so that the world may come to believe and give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

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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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22nd Sunday of Year B – Living like Jesus

How we live our lives matters greatly. It is important because what we do helps to form our moral character, how we know to do the right thing. Human beings are creatures of habit. The more we do things, the more they become second nature. We become what we think or do often. There’s no point in just having the appearance of someone good. Outward conformity isn’t what God wants of us. Quite the opposite! We need to bear in mind God’s word to Samuel,‘for the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ (1Samuel 16:7 [ESV]) 

So how do we live the life God wants us to live? The simple answer is by trying, failing, and keeping on trying. The Christian faith has at its centre Love and Forgiveness. God shows these to us in Jesus Christ, and we have to show them to one another. The Church, you and I, all of us, are called to love and forgive each other, as we will fail. And we will fail often. We can’t earn our way to Heaven through what we do, Jesus has paved the way for us through His Death and Resurrection. We can, however, try to live out our faith in our lives, loving and forgiving each other when we fall short.Not being judgemental and overcritical. Then we can be built up in love, together, as a community reconciled to God and each other. It sounds simple and straightforward, but in practice it is really difficult. This is why we have to keep trying, allowing God transform us more and more into his likeness, through His Grace. 

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is uncompromising when dealing with the hypocrisy of the Scribes and the Pharisees: their religion is a façade, a sham, something done for show, for outward appearance, whereas we know, from the teaching of the prophets onward, that God looks at what is truly in our heart. If our motives are suspect then, we’re in trouble. The point is simple: what we do affects who and what we are, hence the need for the people of Israel to observe the statutes and ordinances without any additions or subtractions. 

Likewise, the advice of the Letter of James is that people should in all gentleness and humility both listen to the word of God and do what it says, so that their thoughts and words and actions proclaim the truth that Christ died to save them from their sins and rose again that they might have new life in Him.

Rather than the pharisaic obsession with exterior cleanliness (and the letter of the Law) Our Lord and Saviour is concerned with the cleanliness of people’s souls, as it is from within, from the human heart, that sinfulness can spring. His point is a simple one: we become what we do, and thus the formation of a moral character is important, and can only be brought about by doing the right things.

The problem is that, despite our best intentions, we will fail in our endeavours. So what do we do? Is it simply a case that having tried and failed we are written off, cast aside and prepared for hell and damnation? By no means! Just as in the Gospel Jesus commands his followers to keep forgiving those who sin; our lives should be ones where we are continually seeking God’s forgiveness and that of our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that slowly and surely, as part of a gradual process, as people forgiven and forgiving, we try day by day to live out our faith in our lives. It is something which affects us all, each and every one of us, and it is only when we can live it out in our lives that our proclamation of the Kingdom can look authentic rather than running the risk of being accused of hypocrisy. 

So, we seek forgiveness and forgive others, by being close to God in prayer, in reading the Bible, and in the sacraments of the Church, and in the love and service which we have for each other as a Christian community. A Christian community which recognises that we fail but also that together we can be something greater and more wonderful than we would be if we are apart.

In recent years as a reaction to the frantic pace of modern life people are re-discovering slowness. There is a slow food movement even slow television. We are encouraged to be mindful and meditate. These are good things, an antidote to the modern obsession with instant results and gratification.

This is the work of a lifetime, a work of slow progress, and frustrating setbacks. It is not easy. To succeed we need to rely upon God to be at work in us throughout our lives. The French Jesuit priest and poet, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote :

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new.

….

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

….

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

[Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Making of a Mind: Letters from a Soldier-Priest 1914-1919 (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 57.]

Through the love of God being poured into our hearts, and through that love forming who we are and what we do, that self-giving sacrificial love shown to us by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in his dying for us, so that we might live in Him, let us be attentive to the Word of God, the Word made flesh, and not simply listen but also act –- relying not upon our own strength but upon the love and mercy of God, seeking His forgiveness, to do His Will.

When we are formed by God together then we can be built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. We proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, through forgiveness and sacrificial love, rather than by being bitter and judgemental and blind to our own faults: like the scribes and Pharisees: eager to point out the sins of others and yet blind to their own faults, failures and shortcomings. Instead, clothed in the humility of our knowledge of our need of God’s love and mercy, let us come to Him, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, to be healed and restored by him, so that we can live lives which speak of the power of his kingdom 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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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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Fifteenth Sunday of Year B [Amos 7:7-15, Eph 1:3-14, Mk 6:14-29]

When the Church talks about calling, it often refers to the call of Isaiah, and Isaiah’s response, ‘Here am I! Send me.’ (Isa 6:8) and while it is good to respond to God’s call in our lives, I suspect that far more people, myself included, feel a lot more like the prophet Amos in this morning’s first reading: ‘I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.’ (Amos 7:14-16 ESV). Ours then is a not a God who calls the qualified, but who qualifies those called. We may well feel unworthy, or unable to carry out what God wants, and that is fine. God works through us, not because we are capable, but because we rely on Him. Amos tells the uncomfortable truth to the priest and to the king of Israel, and reminds them that their actions have consequences. The plumb line is true, it is a mark of the uprightness that God expects of Israel, the standard of the Law, the Torah. They have fallen short, and will be judged. This is what prophets do, they call people back to God, to walk in His ways. 

It is what John the Baptist has done to Herod Antipas in this morning’s Gospel: he has married his brother’s wife, Herodias, while his brother is still alive. Leviticus 18:16 prohibits this, so Herod has broken God’s moral law, he has sinned. John has preached a message of repentance, to turn away from sinful behaviour, and to turn back to God. It doesn’t make for easy listening, especially when we know that we have all fallen short of what God expects from us. While Herod wants to listen to John, he is WEAK, he doesn’t want to lose face and acquiesces to Salome’s demand. 

Rather like John the Baptist, each of us, through our baptism, is called to bear witness to our faith in our lives. This is what martyrdom is, bearing witness, regardless of the cost. We are called by God to be an example and to live out our faith in our lives. In our baptism we put on Christ, we are conformed to him, as priest, when we pray, as king, when we serve, and prophet, when we proclaim His Kingdom. Our prayer, service, and proclamation are the ways in which we live out our faith as something real in our lives, something which Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we do for the glory of God, whatever the cost. Few of us nowadays here in the UK are likely to bear witness to our faith at the cost of our life. Around the world plenty of Christians are, because they value Christ more than anything in this world, even life itself. Nothing is more important or valuable than Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who comes to us in His Word, the bible, and under the outward forms of bread and wine in the Eucharist, to feed us, and to transform us more and more into His likeness. 

When Jesus’ preaching comes to the ear of Herod he thinks that John has been raised from the dead. This anticipates and points forward to the Resurrection when Jesus will rise from the dead. Jesus and John are proclaiming the same message: Repent of your sins, and turn back to and believe in God. They both do marvellous things because they are both filled with the Holy Spirit. What they are, and what they do, is exactly what the church, you and me are called to, the same message, the same proclamation, the same miracles. If we trust in the God who loves us, then God can and will do wonderful things with and through us.

Herod doesn’t want to kill John, his conscience is pricked, he knows that he has done wrong. He is in a position where he does not want to risk losing face, in a culture where honour and shame are still motivating factors this is understandable, even if it doesn’t make it right. So Herod gives in to Salome’s wishes, and John pays the price of telling truth to power. Are we willing to do the same?

We do so as heralds of the Kingdom of God which is still becoming a reality in the world around us, it is a work in progress until Christ comes again and renews all things in Himself. In the meantime we can rest secure that we are a part of God’s plan for the world, a plan of LOVE, which sees Jesus die upon the Cross for our sins, and rise again to give us the hope of heaven. The redemption of the world in and through Jesus Christ is a reality, one which will become visible and present upon the altar this morning, where we obey His command to ‘Do this in memory of Him’ Christs’s sacrifice upon the cross is made present to us, so that we can share in His Risen Life, and the glory of Heaven here and now. We have a foretaste of heavenly glory to strengthen us on our journey of faith. We have hope for the future because of what God has done for us, and we have a pledge of it here this morning, in Christ’s Body and Blood. 

So how are we going to respond to the amazing generosity of God? Are we content to say, ‘Thank you very much!’ and carry on regardless as though none of this matters? Are we content for religion to be a matter of private devotion, rather than the core of our being, who we really are, the centre of our lives? Are we so conformed to the world that we act as though God is not important? If God can do such amazing things for us, can we not do more for God? It’s hard, we can all do better, and try harder; our lives are pressured, but that is why we are a Christian community. We do things together: we support each other, both in prayer and action, we cannot do it on our own, we can only do it TOGETHER, by the grace of God, working in and through us. It is His church, of which we are members, called to love and serve Him. God provides all that we could ever want or need with regard to faith, hope, and love. If we trust Him and rely upon Him alone then we can bear witness so that the world will come to believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Nativity of St John the Baptist

Prophets have a difficult job to do: they tell people uncomfortable truths. People don’t like hearing such things: it makes them feel uncomfortable. Being told that you need to repent from your sinful ways and return to the Lord your God isn’t exactly going to make you popular. People prefer to feel comfortable, nice and warm and fuzzy, God loves you, everything is fine, no need to worry! It isn’t surprising that prophets are often ignored, mistreated and killed. They tell people not what they want to hear, but what they NEED to hear. 

This morning’s reading from the prophet Isaiah looks forward to a Messianic future — it points to Jesus, who He is and what He does, and that is exactly what John the Baptist, His cousin will do. He will be the Voice crying in the wilderness, who will prepare the way of the Lord who by his preaching of the Kingdom, and calling people to repent and be baptised ushers in the public ministry of Jesus, who will tend his flock like a shepherd, because He is the Good Shepherd. 

John is not interested in glory, or riches, or drawing attention to himself. All he wants to do is to point to Jesus, the Messiah. He speaks to a Jewish world which has a corrupt religious establishment, which is so bound up with following the Letter of the Law of Moses, that it has forgotten about the Spirit, that needs to come back to God, and repent of its sinful and foolish ways, which has made following the teaching of rabbis an idol in itself. He will bear witness to the truth, even at the risk of his own life: he will be killed to satisfy the whim of corrupt and sinful rulers. He has a vocation, to call people back to God, to point out where people are going wrong, and show them the right path.  Not only is he a prophet, but also the fulfilment of prophecy: In Malachi 4:4:5-6 we find the following, ‘“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

John comes from a priestly family, his father Zechariah is a temple priest, his mother Elizabeth, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s cousin, also comes from a priestly family. They’ve tried to have children for years, and finally their prayers have been answered. When Elizabeth meets Mary, the child in her womb leaps for joy. Even before John is born he announces  that God is with us, he is a prophet from his conception. His father cannot believe that they’re going to have a baby, and when the Archangel Gabriel tells him, he fails to trust God, and is struck dumb as a result. But in this morning’s Gospel Elizabeth announces that her son’s name is John, meaning ‘God is gracious’ not Zechariah, after his father. “‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him” (Lk 1:66 ESV). He will be the last of the prophets, the forerunner, the one who points to Christ, who baptises Him, and who through his proclamation of Baptism and Repentance helps to bring about the movement which Jesus started, which we now call the Church. He recognises that Jesus is the Lamb of God, pointing to His Death, for our sins. 

He is the only saint — with the exception of the Virgin Mary — whose birth the liturgy celebrates and it does so because it is closely connected with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. In fact, from the time when he was in his mother’s womb John was the precursor of Jesus: the Angel announced to Mary his miraculous conception as a sign that “nothing is impossible to God” (Lk 1:37), six months before the great miracle that brings us salvation, God’s union with man brought about by the Holy Spirit.

(Pope Benedict XVI Angelus 24.vi.12 http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20120624.html)

John recognises Jesus, that in Him, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God has become human, like us. It is this wonderful mystery which lies at the heart of our faith as Christians. 

John the Baptist was the forerunner, the ‘voice’ sent to proclaim the Incarnate Word. Thus, commemorating his birth actually means celebrating Christ, the fulfilment of the promises of all the prophets, among whom the greatest was the Baptist, called to ‘prepare the way’ for the Messiah (cf. Mt 11: 9-10)

(Pope Benedict XVI  Angelus 24.vi.07 http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20070624.html)

We honour John because he points to Jesus, because he proclaims Him, Jesus the Messiah, the fulfilment of all prophecy, the Word made flesh, and the Lamb of God, who dies that we might live. He points the way for us to follow as Christians, so that we can be close to Jesus in Word and Sacrament, and so that we might proclaim Him in our lives. We need to have the same level of commitment as John, and the same depth of love for God. 

That is how we live out our faith in our lives, and that is how we can become saints:

Perhaps the chief mark of sanctity is an utter simplicity in the face of the divine will, and of divine promises. Such was the attitude of Christ himself.

We think of seriousness as something which needs to be forced, or put on. Whereas to genuine faith, seriousness is just naked simplicity; it is non-hypocrisy, non-evasiveness, non-sophistication, in the face of the normal environment of the believing soul, which is the ever-present will of God. To be serious, you have only to open your eyes; a man driving on a mountain road does not relax attention to the hairpin bends, and a Christian finding his way in the will of God does not lose sight of the way-marks.

Sanctity is never out of date; and sanctity is nothing but entire simplicity towards God.  

 Austin Farrer, The Brink of Mystery, London 1976: 153-4

So let us be inspired by the example of St John the Baptist, and love and follow God with simplicity, and encourage others so to do, so that all the world 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.

icon_of_john_the_baptist_28georgia2c_15th_century29

Eleventh Sunday of Year B

While I like gardening, I don’t do enough of it in practice, I’m sometimes forgetful, and not fond of weeding. There is, however, something wonderful about taking seeds or cuttings and placing them in compost and watching them grow. It never ceases to give me a thrill. Once they have grown you end up with something that you can eat, smell, look at, or even sell: it is a source of joy, of nourishment of body and soul. It is an image used by the prophet Ezekiel this morning to look forward to a future where God’s people are sheltered, it looks to a Messianic future, to one fulfilled by the church, as the Lord plants the twig on the lofty mountain of Calvary. The Cross is our only hope, it is the Tree of Life, through which we have life, and all people can rest secure. Ezekiel’s image is used by Jesus in the parable of the Mustard Seed to show people how his prophecy is being brought about in and through Jesus, the Messiah. This is the promised Kingdom of God, becoming a reality in and through Christ. 

We in the West live in an age of anxiety, where we are all worried: what are we doing? Are we doing the right thing? Could we or should we do something different, something more? The Church is in a mess, numbers are falling, what are we going to do about it? Perhaps rather than worrying, we might pause for a second to consider that people have noticed a downward trend in Christian belief and practice over the last two hundred years. It is not something new, but it is complex and long-standing, and cannot be easily reversed. But it is God’s church, and God calls us to be faithful, and to trust in Him.

In the parable of the Kingdom with which this morning’s Gospel (Mk 4:26-34) starts, the one who scatters the seed does not know how things grow, and for all their sleeping and rising they cannot influence matters, they just have to sit back and let something mysterious and wonderful happen. That is how God works.

The church founded by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and entrusted to his apostles began as a small affair, just a few people in a backwater of the Roman Empire, written off as deluded followers of another charismatic prophet. It isn’t an auspicious start; it isn’t what a management consultant would tell you to do. But a small group of people had their lives turned around by God, and told people about it, and risked everything, including their own lives to do so. The Church has now grown to point where there are several billion Christians on earth. Here in the West the picture may currently look rather bleak, but the global picture is far more encouraging, people are coming to know Christ, to love Him, and serve Him. And even if we have been going through some bad harvests over here, the trick is to keep scattering the seed as they will grow in a way which can defy our expectations. It is after all God’s Church not ours. 

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, a small thing, only two millimetres in diameter, and yet in the Mediterranean climate it could grow into a bush as large as 3’ x 12’. It has a small beginning, but there is the possibility of remarkable growth, and the image of birds nesting in its shade signals divine blessings (cf. Judg 9:8-15, Ps 91:1-2, Ezek 17:22-24) Jesus is taking the imagery of Ezekiel and showing how it will be brought to fulfilment in and through the Church. Such is the generous nature of God, that we have somewhere where we can we can be safe, and where we can grow in faith. Such is Divine Providence that God gives us the Church as means of grace, so that humanity may be saved. Through the saving death of His Son on the Cross, we can be assured of salvation in and through Him, a sacrifice which will be made present here this morning in the Eucharist, where Christ feeds us, His people, with His Body and Blood, to nourish and strengthen us.

Thus we can, like the Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, always be confident:we can put our trust in God, as we know that we cannot be disappointed. On the Cross, God’s victory is complete, so we please God by following his commandments: loving Him and loving our neighbour, motivated by the love of Christ, shown to us most fully when he suffers and dies for us, to heal us and restore us, to bear the burden of our sins: ‘he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.’ (2Cor 5:15 ESV) 

And so in the Church we live for Christ — our thoughts, words, and actions proclaim the saving truth of God’s love for humanity. If we seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others, and are forgiving ourselves then we can be built up in love. If we are devout in prayer, nourished by the word of God, and by the Sacrament of his Body and Blood we are built up in love, our souls are nourished and we can grow into the full stature of Christ. So let us come to Him, and be fed by Him, healed and restored by Him, living in love and encouraging others so to do, for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom.

If we are faithful, if we keep scattering seed in our thoughts, our words, and our actions, then wonderful things will happen. We have to trust God to be at work in people’s lives, and be there for them when they do respond. If we can be as welcoming as the Mustard Tree then we will have ensured that people have a place where they can come to know Jesus, and grow in love and faith. The trick is not to lose heart, but to trust in the God who loves us, who gave His Son to die for love of us. If we are confident of who Christ is, and what He has done for us, then as people filled with the love of God, we will carry on the Church’s mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and people will come to know and trust that love which changes everything, 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.
parable_of_the_mustard_seed

A thought from Thomas Merton

The basic and most fundamental problem of the spiritual life is the acceptance of our hidden and dark self, with which we tend to identify all the evil that is in us. We must learn by discernment to separate the evil growth of our actions from the good ground of the soul. And we must prepare that ground so that a new life can grow up from it within us, beyond our knowledge and our conscious control. The sacred attitude is then one of reverence, awe, and silence before the mystery that begins to take place within us when we become aware of our innermost self. In silence, hope, expectation, and unknowing, the man of faith abandons himself to the divine will: not as to an arbitrary and magic power whose decrees must be spelt out from cryptic cyphers, but as to the stream of reality and of life itself. The sacred attitude is then one of deep and fundamental respect for the real in whatever new form it may present itself. The secular attitude is one of gross disrespect for reality, upon which the worldly mind seeks only to force its own crude patterns. The secular man is the slave of his own prejudices, preconceptions and limitations. The man of faith is ideally free from prejudice and plastic in his uninhibited response to each new movement of the stream of life. I say ‘ideally’ in order to exclude those whose faith is not pure but is also another form of prejudice enthroned in the exterior man — a preconceived opinion rather than a living responsiveness to the logos of each new situation. For there exists a kind of ‘hard’ and rigid religious faith that is not really alive or spiritual, but resides entirely in the exterior self and is the product of conventionalism and systematic prejudice.

Cistercian Quarterly Review 18 (1983): 215-6

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

As Christians we worship One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: they are not three Gods, but one God. That the three persons of the Trinity are one God is itself a mystery. The mystery of God’s very self: a Trinity of Persons, consubstantial, co-equal and co-eternal. We know God most fully in the person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, born of the Virgin Mary, who died upon the Cross for our sins, and was raised to New Life at Easter, who sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In Christ God discloses who and what he is, we know Him as someone who pours out LOVE, who is interested in reconciliation. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our faith matters. It can change lives. It can change the world, one soul at a time. It isn’t simply a private concern, something to be brought out for an hour on a Sunday morning and then hid away politely. It is the most important thing there is. It is something to fill us with joy. It is something that we should share with others, so that they might believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Easter VI [Acts 10:44-48, 1 Jn 5:1-6, Jn 15:9-17]

During the Easter season we spend time exploring what Baptism is, and what it means. It is a good thing to do, it is after all how we enter the Church. Also Lent is a season of preparation for baptism, which happened at Easter so that people could die with Christ, and by raised to life by Him, and with Him. For those of us baptised as infants, it isn’t something we remember, so it is good to have an opportunity to reflect on what it is, and what it means. 

In this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter has been preaching the Word of God to Cornelius at Caesarea, and it has an amazing effect — they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and so Peter calls for them to be baptised. The Good News isn’t just for Jews — gentiles like Cornelius, the Roman centurion, his relatives and close friends are welcome as well — this is good news indeed. The church exists to break down human barriers, and to unite people in Christ. We are, all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ, and we enter into a new relationship with God and each other. We are called to be a family, where we find our true identity as those called into a relationship with God, and with each other in the Church. It is a relationship expressed through our communion with God and each other in the Eucharist, the central act of Christian worship, where we do what Jesus commanded us to do, and we are fed by Him, and with Him, with His Body and Blood, to have life in Him, to be nourished in our journey of faith.

In our reading from the First Letter of John we learn that faith is the foundation of love — we can love because we believe in God who loves us, and demonstrates that love in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. We believe that He is the Messiah, the Anointed Son of God, who comes to give us life and freedom. We respond by loving Him, and keeping God’s commandments, we listen to what God says to us, and we do it, not out of fear, but out of love for Him who loves us. Through our baptism we are born again of water and the Spirit, and in this we can like Christ overcome the world 

So how do we live out this faith? We do so by living an other-worldly life — by not going along with the ways of the world: selfishness, greed, business. Instead we follow the way of radical love shown to us in Jesus Christ, a love which pours itself out in extravagant generosity, which holds nothing back, which welcomes, reconciles, and heals. We love our neighbour, we are hospitable, we care for the vulnerable. We live lives which put our faith into practice, lives filled with love of God and neighbour, which proclaim the truth of God’s Kingdom to the world, and call it to repent, to turn from the ways of selfishness and bitterness and death, to come to Christ, and have life in all its fulness. ‘By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (Jn 13:35) So let us joyfully live lives of love, to proclaim God’s love to the world.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, we continue Jesus’ advice to his disciples in the Upper Room on the night before He died. Those who follow Christ are called to abide in Christ’s love, to remain in it, to live and make our home there. It means being in the Church but also standing by the Cross, where Christ’s love is made manifest to the world. If we love God and each other, and lay down our lives for Him, we do so at the Cross, washed by the Blood of the Lamb, and fed by Him, and called to live lives of sacrificial love for love of Him who died for love of us. God is love, ‘love has a particular trait: far from being indulgent or fickle, it has a task or purpose to fulfil: to abide. By its nature love is enduring. Again, dear friends, we catch a further glimpse of how much the Holy Spirit offers our world: love which dispels uncertainty; love which overcomes the fear of betrayal; love which carries eternity within; the true love which draws us into a unity that abides!Pope Benedict XVI Address to World Youth Day Vigil We see that love most fully in the Eucharist where Christ continues to give Himself to us, out of love, to hear our wounds, to restore our relationship with God and each other, to give us a foretaste of heaven here and now. There is nothing on earth as precious as this, nothing more wonderful than this sign and token of God’s love for us.

From the Son’s death springs life … He, who at Cana changed water into wine, has transformed his Blood into the wine of true love and thus transforms the wine into his Blood. In the Upper Room he anticipated his death and transformed it into the gift of himself in an act of radical love. His Blood is a gift, it is love, and consequently it is the true wine that the Creator was expecting. In this way, Christ himself became the vine, and this vine always bears good fruit: the presence of his love for us which is indestructible.

These parables thus lead at the end to the mystery of the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us the bread of life and the wine of his love and invites us to the banquet of his eternal love. We celebrate the Eucharist in the awareness that its price was the death of the Son—the sacrifice of his life that remains present in it. Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes, Saint Paul says (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). But we also know that from this death springs life, because Jesus transformed it into a sacrificial gesture, an act of love, thereby profoundly changing it: love has overcome death. In the Holy Eucharist, from the Cross, he draws us all to himself (cf. Jn 12:32) and makes us branches of the Vine that is Christ himself. If we abide in him, we will also bear fruit, and then from us will no longer come the vinegar of self-sufficiency, of dissatisfaction with God and his creation, but the good wine of joy in God and of love for our neighbour.The Wine of True Love 

So my brothers and sisters let us abide in Him, be nourished by Him and with Him, and bear fruit so that the world may come to believe and give glory the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever…

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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

Easter II

I have something of a confession to make: I’m a bit of a fan of St Thomas the Apostle, probably because it is my middle name, but I’ve always felt something of an affinity towards him. He is somewhat hard done by, and on the basis of this morning’s Gospel reading he is generally known as ‘Doubting Thomas’ which is something of a misnomer. If anything he should really be understood as ‘Believing Thomas’ but more about that in a minute.

None of us likes to feel left out, it crushes the soul. We’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives, and it is painful. Imagine the joy the disciples felt when Jesus appears to them on that first Easter Day. He gives them peace, and commissions them, sends them out, to be apostles, to proclaim the Good News to the world. When Jesus begins his public ministry He calls on people to repent from their sins, to turn away from them. Now that He has died for us and been raised from the dead, He commissions his apostles to forgive or retain sin. The Church exists to deal with the mess we make as human beings, through what Jesus has done for us, in the power of His Holy Spirit.

Thomas feels somewhat left out of it all. He wants to believe, but he needs to see with his own eyes, he doesn’t yet have Faith. So, a week later Jesus comes again and shows Thomas His hands and His side, the wounds of love, which take away our sin. He commands ‘Do not doubt, but believe’ and Thomas does. He says, ‘My Lord and my God!’ He confesses his belief in Jesus as Lord and God. He makes a radical statement of belief in WHO and WHAT Jesus is. He is our Lord and our God, our allegiance to Him is more important than anything else. It was this fact which caused the death of thousands of Christians over the next few hundred years. We are all used to seeing pictures of Queen Elizabeth, in homes, schools, and public buildings. Imagine for a second that had to kneel down in front of them and worship the Head of State as a god, offering prayer and incense. To us as Christians it is unthinkable — worship is something we give to God alone ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods beside me.’ (Exodus 20:1-2). We worship Jesus because He is God. Like St Thomas we kneel before him, and confess that He is Our Lord and our God, our Saviour, who LOVES us. The world around us may find this strange, that we make such a declaration, and we are not going to compromise over it.

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, filled with the Holy Spirit, 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 too can be forgiven, by a loving God, and by their fellow Christians. That we can, despite our manifold shortcomings be a people of love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. That God’s Grace will in the end not abolish our nature, but perfect it, that being fed by Christ, with Christ: so that we too may become what He is. That faced with the sad emptiness of the world, and its selfishness, its greed, we can be filled with joy, and life, and hope. That like the first apostles we too can spread the Gospel: that the world may believe.

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, or it is the single most important thing in the world. It should affect all of us, every part of our life, every minute of every day, all that 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.

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Good Friday

Love has three and only three intimacies: speech, vision, and touch. These three intimacies God has chosen to make his love intelligible to our poor hearts. God has spoken: he told us that he loves us: that is revelation. God has been seen: that is the incarnation. God has touched us by his grace: that is redemption. Well indeed, therefore, may he say: ‘What more could I do for my vineyard than I have done? What other proof could I give my love than to exhaust myself in the intimacies of love? What else could I do to show that my own Sacred Heart is not less generous than your own?’

If we answer these questions aright, then we will begin to repay love with love …. then we will return speech with speech which will be our prayer; vision with vision which will be our faith; touch with touch which will be our communion.

Fulton J Sheen The Eternal Galilean

Prophets have a job to do. They tell people things, usually uncomfortable home truths. It isn’t a popular job, and generally speaking prophets are not treated well. A number of them end up being killed. There is a tradition that Isaiah was sawn in half on the orders of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah. Amos was tortured and killed, Habbakuk and Jeremiah were stoned. And John the Baptist was beheaded to satisfy the whim of Salome. Telling the truth is a risky business. When we proclaim the truth of our faith to the world around us we are met with contempt and unbelief.

The prophets look towards a future, with an anointed leader, a Messiah, the Christ. They point towards Jesus, and they like all of the Hebrew Scriptures find their fullest meaning in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Christ is the fulfilment of Scripture – it finds its truest and fullest meaning in Him, and Him alone. The Scriptures point to something beyond themselves, to our Lord and Saviour, and it is thus understandable that tIsaiah has been called the fifth Gospel, because of his prophesies especially concerning Our Lord’s Birth, Suffering and Death.

This is not a new phenomenon; in the 8th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we see the meeting of Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch, who is reading this very passage which we have just heard — the Suffering Servant. Philip asks him if he can understand what he is reading. He replies that he cannot, unless someone shows him the way. ‘Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35 ESV). Isaiah’s prophesy of the Suffering Servant is fulfilled in Jesus and this is the proclamation of the Church: we proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified. The proclamation remains the same, as the church continues to understand Isaiah, and all the Old Testament as pointing to Christ.

We read scripture so that we can understand it, and see in its words how it discloses the truth of the Word made flesh, who suffered and died for our sake. Isaiah, in the Songs of the Suffering Servant, prophesies Our Lord’s Passion and Death. Thus it makes sense, it can be understood, and the more we come to understand, the more we come to know just how much God loves us, and how that tale of love is told through history.

Today Christ is both priest and victim, and upon the altar of the Cross he offers himself as a sacrifice for sin, for the salvation of humanity. A new covenant is made in his blood which restores the relationship between God and humanity, we are shown in the most graphic way possible how much God loves us, and thus how much we are to love God and to love each other, with that costly self-sacrificial love embodied by Our Lord in his Passion and Death.

After scourging him the soldiers put a purple robe around our Lord, they crown him with thorns, and give him a reed for a sceptre. They think they’re being clever and funny: they’re having a laugh, mocking a man about to be executed. But this is God showing the world what true kingship is: it is not pomp, or power, the ability to have one’s own way, but the Silent Way of suffering love. It shows us what God’s glory is really like: it turns our human values on their head and it inaugurates a new age, according to new values, and restores a relationship broken by human sin.

In dying on the Cross, our Lord is in fact reigning in glory — the glory of God’s free love given to restore humanity, to have new life in him. Jesus dies the death of an enemy of the state, but THIS IS GOD’S GLORY – to die in such a way, naked and vulnerable, shunned, and humiliated. This is GLORY, while the same people who a few days ago welcomed him as the Messiah, now mock and jeer and His life slips away. This is the Glory of God’s love for us, a love which will do anything to heal us, to reconcile us, to bring us back.

Jesus’ hands and feet and side are pierced and his head wears a crown of thorns, as wounds of love, to pour out God’s healing life upon the world. In his obedience to the Father’s will, he puts to an end the disobedience of humanity’s first parent. Here mankind who fell because of a tree are raised to new life in Christ through his hanging on the tree. Christ is a willing victim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Silent lamb led to his slaughter, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep that have gone astray. At the time when the Passover lambs are slaughtered in the temple, upon the Altar of the Cross, Christ as both priest and victim offers himself as the true lamb to take away the sins of the whole world, offers his death so that we may have life, new life in Him.

Death and hell, which are the reward of sin, have no power over us: for in dying, and being laid in a stranger’s tomb, Christ will go down to Hell, to break down its doors, to lead souls to heaven, to alter the nature of the afterlife, once and for all. Just when the devil thinks he’s won, then in his weakness and in his silence Christ overcomes the world, the flesh, and the devil. The burden of sin which separates humanity from God is carried on the wood of the Cross, upon the shoulders of the One who loves us.

On the way to Calvary our Lord falls three times such is the way, such was the burden, so we too as Christians, despite being reconciled to God by the Cross, will fall on our road too. We will continue to sin, but also we will continue to ask God for his love and mercy. But those arms which were opened on the cross will always continue to embrace the world with God’s love.

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

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

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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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Christ the King, Year A

In 1925 Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the Universal King to stress the all-embracing authority of Christ and to lead mankind to seek the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ. In a time of great misery and inequality: the Church was reminded of what the coming of Christ as Saviour and Judge meant, as well as ending the liturgical year by looking forward to Advent: the season of preparation for our Lord’s coming, in His Incarnation, and as our Judge. A season of reflection, a season of hope, and new life.

In today’s Gospel we have the last parable in Matthew which also gives us an apocalyptic vision of Our Lord’s Second Coming. The first thing to notice is that, as befits the Kingdom of God, all people will be there. This is not a Christians-only event. In the Holy Land to this day you will see herds of goats and sheep grazing together and at the end of the day they are separated by a shepherd who can tell the difference between them. Jesus does, however, give his reasons for making his judgement: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.’ To give food and drink and to make people welcome is fundamental to hospitality and is a sign of Love. Clothing the naked and visiting the sick and imprisoned is likewise showing concern for people, and their needs, showing our love to the world.

We believe that God is love and that we are called to show love ourselves in our lives. Our faith, therefore, is not simply private interior devotion, something that we do on Sundays for our benefit, and keep in a box like a Sunday hat. No!It is something we can put into practice in our lives, every day, everywhere.

Now in the parable in this morning’s Gospel the virtuous seem rather surprised and ask our lord when they did this to him. Jesus answers, ‘I tell you most solemnly, insofar as you did this to the least of the brothers of mine you did it to me.’ As St Antony, the founder of monastic tradition once said, ‘Our life and death is with our neighbour – if we win our brother we win God; if we cause our neighbour to stumble then we have sinned against Christ.’ So who are the least of Christ’s brethren? Who are the little people? Or to put it another way, who is the most important person in church? Is it Fr Neil? Or is it me? Is it a magistrate? Or a businessman? No … who are the least amongst our communities and who are the least outside them? And what are we doing to help them?

Some of the people who would have heard Jesus teaching this parable might well have thought, as Jews, that Israel were the sheep, and the gentiles were the goats, and I wonder whether we don’t all of us feel a little complacent at times. By the same token, the standards Jesus sets in this parable seem almost unattainable so we can feel that we simply cannot live up to them. So we need to be careful that we don’t just despair, that we don’t just give up, and don’t let our discipleship become one of apathy.

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God himself, became man and lived among us. He showed humility in washing His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, in eating and drinking with tax-collectors and prostitutes, the social outcasts of His day. He, unlike the society in which he lived, did not judge them. He loved them in order to proclaim in word and deed that the Kingdom of God was for ALL people – the people we might not like, the people we might look down our noses at, and with whom we might not wish to share our table. He gives himself to feed heal and restore them and us.

His love and humility are shown in that being condemned to death by those whom he came to save he does not cry out, he does not blame them, but instead asks, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ The Christ who reigns on the tree, and who will come again to judge the world, bears the marks in his hands, feet, and side, because they are the marks of LOVE. They remind us of God’s love for us, and when we eat and drink His Body and Blood at the Eucharist we are healed, and share in His Divine Life, so that we might become the Body of Christ, His Church. Strengthened by this Sacrament of Love we are called to live out our faith in the world around us. While we may not have lived up to the example He sets us, we can nonetheless try to do what we can. In acknowledging the Universal Kingship of Christ we recognise an authority higher than human power, higher than any monarch or dictator, and we are called to conform the world to His just and gentle rule. We are called to transform the world one soul at a time, and through acts of mercy and a life of prayer to make a difference.

We may not like the idea of judgement: it is big and scary, and most of us, if we are honest feel that we deserve to be condemned. Now rather than just thinking about judgement as a future event, let’s think about it as a process, something going on here and now. We all live under God’s judgement. Are there things which are hellish in our lives? The problems of cliamte change and how we treat God’s world don’t exactly look great. The way in which we do business with one another, the on-going financial crisis, poverty, hunger and the existence of food-banks show us that all is not well with our country. The wars which our leaders wage against each other seem very far away from the ideal where the lion lies down together with lamb, where swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks. For all this we will be called to account, like the servants in last week’s parable of the talents.

So what are we to do? First, we are to pray to God that we might have the strength and courage to follow the example of His Son, Jesus Christ. Secondly, we are to remember that God’s love and mercy were poured out on the world at Calvary, and continue to be poured out on us who know His forgiveness. Thirdly, that we are fed and strengthened in the Eucharist so that we may be transformed to go out into the world and be active in God’s service.Finally we are to remember that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do for Him. The people or the acts may seem insignificant to us, but not to God.

I would like to conclude this morning by asking you, what would our communities look like if we lived like this: giving food and drink to those in need; visiting those who are sick, or in prisons with or without bars – the prison of fear, loneliness, old age, depression, addiction, or abusive relationships? For such is the kingdom of God. Amen

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Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!

The Parable of the Talents Mt 25:14-30

Oh No! This morning’s Gospel is a parable about money. Does it mean that Fr is going to keep on about the Parish Share and the state of the Diocesan Finances? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, I’m not. I just thought that I’d clear that one up right away, just to put your minds at rest, so that we can get on with the task of drawing closer to the word of God, and to be nourished and strengthened by it.

Reading Holy Scripture, the Bible, can be a strange affair: sometimes it fills us with joy, sometimes it just leaves us confused. Speaking personally, I find the parable of the talents troubling, mostly because I tend to feel rather like the slave who was given one talent and who hid it in the ground. That may well be my own sense of unworthiness informing my reading of the passage. It reminds me of the need in all things to trust in God, and for his grace to be at work in me. The judgement thankfully is not my own, but rather God’s – a loving father who runs to meet his prodigal children. This is a God we can trust, who wants to see us flourish in His kingdom of love, mercy, and forgiveness.

No parable has been more misused than Jesus’ parable of the talents. Once a parable is abstracted from Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God, once it is divorced from its apocalyptic context – pointing to the future, such misreading is inevitable: speculation begins, for example, about how much a talent might be worth nowadays or whether the Master’s observation that the money could have been put in a bank might mean that Jesus approves of taking interest. Speculative uses of the parable have even been employed to justify economic practices that are antithetical to Jesus’ clear judgement that we cannot serve both God and mammon. After all, money is a means, and not an end – which is where we and the world often go wrong.

Jesus is not using this parable to recommend that we should all work hard, make all that we can, to give all that we can. Rather, the parable is a clear judgement against those who think they deserve what they have earned as well as those who do not know how precious is the gift they have been given. The gift is our life, and we will be judged on what we do with it.

In the parable the slaves have not earned their five, two, and one talents. They have been given those talents. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus indicated that those called to the kingdom would produce different yields. These differences should not be the basis for envy and jealousy, because our differences are gifts given in service to one another – so are the talents given to the slaves of a man going on a journey. It is not unfair that the slaves were given different amounts. Rather what is crucial is how they regarded what they had been given.

The servant who received one talent feared the giver. He did so because he assumed that the gifts that could only be lost or used up. In other words the servant with one talent assumed that they were part of a zero-sum game – if someone wins, someone else must lose. Those who assume that life is a zero-sum game think that if one person receives an honour someone else is made poorer. The slave who feared losing what he had, turned his gifts into a possession – it was a thing, and it was his thing. But by contrast, the first two slaves recognised that trying to secure the gifts that they had been given means that the gifts would be lost – so they use the gifts for the glory of God. The joy of the wedding banquet is the joy into which the Master invites the slaves who did not try to protect what they had been given is the joy that comes from learning to receive the gift without regret, without fear – simply humbly, joyfully and lovingly.

The parable of the talents, just like the parable of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids, is a commentary on the life of the Kingdom, stories of slaves who continue to work, who continue to feed their fellow slaves, until their master returns – they are parables which teach us how to be a church of loving service. These parables teach us to wait patiently as those who have received the gift of being called a disciple of Jesus. We are not necessarily called to great things. Rather, Jesus’ disciples are called ‘to do simple things with great love’ to quote S. Theresa of Calcutta. The work that Jesus has given us to do is simple and it is learning to tell the truth and love our enemies. Such work is the joy that our Master invites us to share. It is in doing this work that we are separated – sheep from goats.

It may sound pedestrian, or even humdrum, but living the Christian life, living the life of the Kingdom, is at a day to day level a bit of a slog. It is about keeping on keeping on – loving, forgiving, praying – nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, fed by Him, and with Him, freed from the fear which is the antithesis of the Kingdom, rejoicing in the gifts which God gives us, being thankful for them, and using them for God’s glory. We none of us deserve the gift of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ – we have not earned it, it is not a reward, but the gift of a loving God, which we are called to receive, and for it to transform our lives.

It is what each of us, and indeed all of us together are called to be, in this we can be built up in love, together, and invite others to enter into the joy of the Kingdom, so that they may come to believe in and serve God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed this is most right and just all Might, Majesty, Glory, Dominion, and Power now and for ever…

The Parable of the Talents – Rembrant

Living the Life of the Kingdom: Micah 3:5-12, 1Thess 2:9-13, Matt 24:1-14

Our blessed Lord began His public life on the Mount of the Beatitudes, by preaching, ‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the earth.’ He finished His public life on the hill of Calvary by practising that meekness: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’

Fulton J. Sheen The Cross and the Beatitudes, 1937: 3

The Prophet Micah has some tough words this morning for those who lead people astray. Those who tell people what they want to hear will be the downfall of Israel. It is something which can easily be the downfall of any organisation: just tell people what they want to hear, don’t make any demands on them, just make them feel comfortable, all motherhood and apple pie. The church can and does easily fall prey to this and its fruit is apathy. People don’t want a church to make them feel comfortable, but to challenge them, and inspire them to be something better, by the grace of God. Thus we are called to holiness of life, or as St Paul puts it, ‘to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.’ (1Thess 2:12) We put our faith into practice – walking the walk and talking the talk, together in an act of witness to the world, to call it to repentance, and to be formed as part of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, where we are forgiven and built up in love.

It is probably a good thing that Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was not an advertising executive. Fundamentally He tells it like it is – there is a simplicity and a directness to Him that is not always comfortable. He does not tell us what we want to hear, but rather he tells us what we need to hear, which is often far from pleasant or comfortable. He has been teaching in the Temple, about the Kingdom of God, and how to live out the faith in our lives and now He turns to the future.

The Temple was the single most important place on Earth for religious Jews, it was the centre of their life; it was where they came close to God. The prospect of its destruction was surely the most dreadful prospect, something not to be countenanced at all. Yet it would happen, and rather than hide behind the false hope of a pleasant image, he teaches people the plain unvarnished truth. Rather than a sugar-coated pill he gives us a bitter draught, so that we can be prepared.

False teaching is always a possibility for the Church – people want to pervert the Gospel, to twist it for their own ends and to suit their own agenda – it is happening now, and has always happened. We need, therefore to be vigilant, to know what we believe and why, so that we can discern the true from the false, the good from the bad.

In human terms, the future looks bleak – human beings have an immense capacity for doing the wrong thing, and yet in the midst of all this we know whom we can trust, whom we can look to, where we can place our hope and our confidence. The possibility of being tortured or killed for professing faith in Jesus Christ is still very real, here and now, in the world in which we live. It’s a deeply unpleasant thought, and while none of us I suspect would like to undergo such treatment, we have to be prepared for the possibility, we have to be willing to stand up and be counted, to know that we place Christ before and above all things.

At one level it is quite understandable, what Christ stands for, what we stand for: love, forgiveness, selflessness, are never going to be popular in a world obsessed by power and wealth. But we’re not here to win a popularity contest, but rather to bear witness to the truth of Christ, and to know that we are set free by it. The love of many may grow cold; indeed it has, so we need to be that love in the world to make Christ known and to call others into His loving embrace. Against a human nature which takes a perverse delight in selfishness and sin, in not living how God wants us to, we need to take a stand.

Fundamentally the calling to be a saint is there for each and every one of us. We are called to be like Christ, and through our baptism to die to the ways of the world and live for him. In our baptism we are given the grace of God and His Holy Spirit, we are given all that we need to get to Heaven, because Christ loves us, and gave Himself to die for us, to take away our sins, to show us what love and forgiveness really look like, so that we can do the same.

On our own, each one of us individually doesn’t stand much of a chance, it’s far too difficult, it’s not how it is supposed to be.Rather we need to live out our faith together, as a community of believers, helping each other, supporting each other, praying for and forgiving each other, being built up in love together, so that together we can truly be the people of God, forgiving each other, loving each other, and helping to make the Kingdom a reality here and now.

We come to be nourished by Him, to be fed by the Word of God, nourished in our faith, to be fed with His Body and Blood, to be given a foretaste of heaven, fed by Him, fed with Him, to be built up in love together, strengthened and nourished to live out our common calling to sainthood, and to encourage others to join us, as this is what God wants us to do – this is life in all its fullness, following the Truth which sets us free from the ways of the world – its selfishness, its lust for power and control, its fear and anger, all those things which separate us from God and each other.

So let us come to Him, let our lives be transformed by Him, so that we can live out our faith together, in our common calling, and encourage others so to do, so that they too 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.

Harvest (John 6:27–35)

Meddai Iesu wrthynt, ‘Myfi yw’r bara bywyd.’ 

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.’ 

In the second chapter of the Book of Genesis we read that, ‘the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.’ Thus, to work the land is to engage in something which takes us back to the very beginnings of humanity. It is the most ancient profession and indeed an honourable one. The practice of coming together to offer our praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for the goodness of creation and a harvest safely gathered in is, likewise, an ancient and honourable thing. Just as the Ancient Israelites gave thanks for their harvest in the promised land, so do we. We should, as part of our worship of God offer him the best of all that we have as a response to a loving and generous God. Mae popeth yn rhodd gan Dduw All things are a gift from God, it is right that we are thankful to God who created all things.

But while this is important, we need to be careful. Is what we are engaged in a bit of cosy folk religion, a matter of duty, an excuse to be seen, or perhaps something more? When this church was built, its congregation, who lived on and worked the land would gather on the 1st August for Lammas, or Loaf-Mass to give thanks for a successful grain harvest. With the renewal of the Church in the mid nineteenth century the idea of a harvest celebration became popular once again. This is a good thing, the world is better when filled with grateful, loving people.

But as well as giving thanks to God, we also need to be shocked, challenged, and changed by the example and teaching of Jesus in the Gospel. Are we as a church and a society, content simply to be fed, or is God asking more of us. Our faith is not something we can simply keep safe in a box, to put on like a hat for church on Sunday – it needs to be more than that. Our faith must form all that we are, and all that we do, and say, and think. Our belief in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ needs to form the very ground of our being. This faith, like a plant, needs to be tended, watered, and protected from weeds. It needs to be nourished, encouraged, and taught, and shared with others.

The crowd in the Gospel story have not grasped the meaning and importance of their being fed. They have not understood its spiritual meaning but are rather interested in the prospect of another free meal. Jesus, however, feeds them as a sign of their heavenly food, the bread of eternal life. Rather than working for the food that perishes we too need to work for the bread of life, which is Christ himself. We need to meet at the Lord’s table to be fed by his word and his very self, his body and blood under the forms of bread and wine. We need to have our bread for the journey for our life of faith together. God is the sustenance of life itself, of our very existence, for those who trust in him, and he will fill our every need, by giving us that which we cannot work for ourselves, and for which we hunger most. That is why a celebration of Harvest is best done within the context of a Eucharist, a Thanksgiving to God for Who and What He is, and What HE does for us.

Our desire is surely for a world where none are hungry, where all are loved and cared for. This requires our co-operation with the will of God, and our trust in him. By our being fed by his word and the Eucharist our faith will strengthened and renewed. Our lives can be transfigured, enabling us to transform the world around us, conforming it to the will of God. We can only do this through being nourished body and soul by God – through our participation in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper – fed by God, with God, for God’s work in the world. When we eat normal food it becomes what we are. But here when we eat, we become what it is, we a re transformed more and more into the God who loves us and saves us. Only this can satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst, and give us true peace, and hasten the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. Whilst we are thankful, we also need to be mindful that the kingdom of God is something happening right here and right now, and it has the power to transform the world around us, starting with us here today: the true harvest for the Church is the harvest of souls, of those who love Jesus Christ and are nourished by Him and with Him. We are grateful for all that we are, and are given by God, which makes us want to share it with others. It may not look it, but it is a radically different way of life. If we take Jesus seriously when He says, ‘Myfi yw’r bara bywyd’ ‘I am the bread of life’ then we eat Him so that we might share in His life, and share that life with others. This is our faith as Christians, and it provides us with the hope that we may live with Him forever.

We share His life with others so that they may enter into the joy of the Lord, and receive the precious gift of new life in Christ. The gift is free but it comes with the obligation to share it with others. We do this willingly because it is not a hardship, or an imposition, but rather a joy, a gift which so precious that not to share it would be selfish and wrong.

So let us share it with the world so that it may believe and give glory to God the Father God the Son of God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed this is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power now and for ever

25th Sunday of Year A: Mt 20:1-16

The First shall be last and the Last first

A CHILD stands in front of their mother with a strange look upon their face. ‘But mummy’ they cry, ‘I want to eat my Pudding first.’ The child’s mother explains how it is necessary that they eat their dinner first. The child remains unconvinced, though as they become aware that they’re not going to have their own way, all they can say is ‘It’s not fair.’ At one level, almost all of us would prefer Sponge and Custard to Brussels Sprouts. It is simply more fun to eat. At a deeper level we are all concerned by matters of fairness. Our God gives us a vision of justice, where in the words of the Magnificat, he puts down the mighty from their seat and has exalted the humble and meek. The kingdom of God can truly turn this world around.

So, when we turn to this morning’s gospel, we see in the parable of the vineyard a vision of divine justice and generosity. At one level it looks deeply unfair that those who have worked all day should receive the same pay as those who’ve worked for only one hour. If this were simply a matter of business and employment practice, the way the workforce should probably go on strike.

Thankfully, this is a parable. It contains a deeper truth about God and his relation with humanity. In the kingdom of God, all are equal. It is as plain and simple as that. There is no such thing as a better class of Christian. God treats us all in the same way and fundamentally loves each and every one of us. I, though I serve God and his people as a priest was not chosen for being a better Christian in the first place, nor am I better than anyone of you. This morning’s gospel reminds us of the important truth that salvation is the free gift of God, which we receive and baptism and is strengthened through the sacraments of the church. We cannot earn our way to heaven – it isn’t that simple. And we should always remember that heaven is full of sinners, whom God loves and who love God, and trust in his love his mercy and his forgiveness. The more we experience and understand the overwhelming love and generosity of God, the stranger it becomes. All we can do is to listen to what God says in the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, our God is rich in forgiveness his thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. And if the truth be told, it is a good thing that this is the case.

As Christians we need to respond to this generous love and if we are to be truly thankful then it should affect us who we are and how we live our lives. We need to live our lives like people who are loved and forgiven, and in turn show love and forgiveness to those around us. It’s difficult for us to do on our own, but thankfully we live in a community called the church where we receive forgiveness, where we can be fed by word and sacrament, where we can strengthen and encourage one another, through prayer and acts of charity, to live the truth of the gospel in our lives. If you’re looking for a model of how to live as a Christian, can I recommend the last six verses of the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:

42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

And to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most just and right, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever…

Jesus heals the Syro-Phoenician Woman’s daughter

The Prophecy of Isaiah is rightly called the Fifth Gospel. More than any other text in the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament, we see presented the Messianic hope, a hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Through his prophet God tells his people to maintain justice, to do the right thing for the right reasons, that salvation is coming, and that right soon. The promise and the hope is not just for Israel, but for anyone who joins themselves to the Lord, who love His Name, and keep His sabbath. God further declares that ‘His House shall be called a House of prayer for all peoples’ words which Jesus will use when cleanses the Temple of its money-changers. God is one who gathers the outcasts and more besides.

The Apostle Paul was born a Jew, trained in the law, a pharisee of the school of Hillel, who knows God to be faithful, but whose life’s work was to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom to Gentiles, to non-Jews, as God is merciful to all, He loves everyone, and longs to see us reconciled to Him, and each other.

This morning’s Gospel shows us a woman in need. Her daughter is seriously unwell, she’s desperate. She turns to Jesus and begs Him, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ She is respectful, and polite, but Jesus ignores her. Then the disciples urge Him to send her away, she’s a pain, she’s a Caananite, a Syro-Phoenecian, a foreigner, she’s not one of us. Jesus answers the woman, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ And up to this point Jesus’ ministry has focussed on Jews, and would seem to be exclusive to them. She comes and kneels before Jesus, she is completely dependant upon Him. All she can do is to cry out, ‘Lord, help me.’ And even then Jesus replies, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ His words sound harsh, rude and xenophobic, but for a first century Jew they were not strange at all, they were normal, they were expected of the Chosen People, who had forgotten the words of Isaiah. The woman, however, is not put off, she is persistent, and she uses Jesus’ words against Him: ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ She demonstrates complete trust in God, and her attitude is one of worship. And so ‘Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.’ In an instant it is all sorted out. Such is the power of FAITH.

Jesus Christ was never afraid to court controversy, or 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 in them.

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.

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. The reward for her faith and tenacity is God’s healing. She shows more love, more care than the people of Israel. And through her the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. We look to her example as a forerunner in the faith and like her we pray:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Like the woman in the Gospel we need God’s merciful love to be poured out upon us, we long for healing, and we do so through the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood. Like her we need to recognise that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, and that while we are not worthy, nonetheless God loves us and heals us. We are healed by the wounds of Christ on the Cross at Calvary, where His Body is broken and His Blood is shed for us, for you and me.

We are fed so that we might be healed, 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. That filled with joy we might share our faith 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 who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

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The Nineteenth Sunday of Year A Mt 14:22-33

Fear is a very human feeling, we acquire it through learning, and yet it can be overcome, if we trust in God. Christians in Iraq, China, North Korea & Palestine 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. The state of politics at home and abroad is troubling, to say the least. We are afraid that this is the closest we have been to the use of nuclear weapons since the 1960s.

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 which we should have heard 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, they think that it is a ghost. But it is Him, and he encourages them, his presence can give them confidence. He tells the disciples, and he tells us not to be afraid, not to fear the world, but to trust in Him.

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 as usual. 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. Will we trust Jesus enough to follow Him?

“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 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 too 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. We are 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 proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, so that they may believe and 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.

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