Homily for Trinity XVI

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

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

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

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Homily for Trinity XV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is this generous God who comes to us today in Word and Sacrament, to heal us and restore us, to give us life in him. He entrusts to us the true riches of the Kingdom so that we may share them recklessly, generously with the world so that it may believe and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Homily for Trinity XII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is truly liberating to look at the world and say that it doesn’t really matter. All that really does is loving God, and loving our neighbour. It can be difficult, especially when times are uncertain, but we know that we can trust the God who loves us, who gives His life for us, who comes to us to feed us with Himself. So let us come and follow him and invite others to do so, so that all may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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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.

18th Sunday of Year C: True Wealth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is why we have come here, today, to be fed in word and sacrament, to be fed by God, with His Body and Blood and His Word. These things nourish us and prepare us for heaven. They transform our human nature and they fill us with the Divine life of love and forgiveness. We can start living out God’s kingdom here and now and change all the world; so that all may believe and be transformed to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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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 Sunday after Ascension (Jn 17:20-26)

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

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

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

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

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

So as we wait with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray that Christ may come, and send His Holy Spirit, that God may be at work in us, building us up, and giving us strength to live his life and to proclaim his truth, to offer the world that which it most earnestly desires, a peace, a joy, a freedom which passes human understanding, and the gift of eternal life in Christ. Let us proclaim it so that all the world may come to know and love God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easter VI: John 14:23-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easter III: Acts 9:1-6, Rev 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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.

29th Sunday of Year B: Mark 10:35-45

One day the Pope Gregory the Great decided to teach his brother Bishop, John the Faster of Constantinople, a lesson. John had just been granted the title ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’ by the Emperor of Byzantium, it sounds grand and it was. It makes a claim to be patriarch of the entire inhabited world. So Gregory adopted the title ‘servus servorum Dei — Servant of the Servants of God’ [John the Deacon (PL, LXXV, 87)]. It derives from a Hebrew superlative: God of Gods, Heaven of Heavens, Holy of Holies, Song of Songs, Vanity of Vanities. So it means the most servile, the lowest of the low, the servant of all. It is used of Canaan in Genesis 9:25 when he is cursed by Noah, and also it refers to this morning’s Gospel. It was a way of reminding his brother in Christ that service, not power or titles, lies at the heart of who we are as Christians.

This morning’s gospel reminds us that Christian leadership is not about lording it over people, but being like Christ. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a bishop, a priest, a deacon, or simply a baptised Christian; we all have to live up to the same standard: Jesus Christ, who served us, and call us to the service of others. 

It is a big ask, I grant you, we will all of us fall short, and fail to hit the mark. But we are to try, and keep trying, and we can have confidence that, ‘although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him’. The author of the letter to the Hebrews encourages to do this, and to hold fast to our confession: we can be sure about both WHO Jesus is, and WHAT he does. He is truly God and man, tempted but without sin, He loves us and makes peace by the blood of the Cross. He gives his life for us, out of Love.

The Cross is at the centre of all this, through the mystery of the Atonement, we can ‘have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace and receive help in time of need’. It is a mystery, not something to be explained, but something both to be experienced and lived out. It is a mystery which we will enter this morning, when Christ, as priest and victim offers himself for us, and we receive Him under the outward forms of bread and wine. It is a mystery prefigured in the prophets, especially Isaiah, which the Church reads in a Christological way, as pointing to, and finding fulfilment in Jesus Christ. In Acts Chapter 8 when Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch he is reading the passage we have heard this morning and he cannot understand it, or what it means, so Philip tells him about Jesus, and how Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus, and he is baptised. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ death, which shows us that God loves us, that he inspires the prophets to give comfort and chastisement to God’s people, so that they may love Him and serve Him.

In worldly terms Jesus looks like a failure: he is deserted, denied, and dies the death of a common criminal. But we are NOT to judge by the standards of this world: ‘it shall not be so among you’. We are not being counter-cultural just to be rebellious, to swim against the tide. Instead we are being faithful to Christ, we are holding fast to our confession, because it is TRUE, because it comes from him who is the WAY, who is the TRUTH, and the LIFE, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, whp loves us, and died for us.

In the verses which precede this morning’s Gospel, Our Lord has foretold his suffering and death for the third time in Mark’s account. He knows the cost, he knows what will happen: ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’. Jesus does it willingly, gladly, for love of us. It is a love made manifest in His birth, life and death. A love made manifest in the grace and mercy of God who creates and redeems the world, and who comes among us not as a king but as a servant. This changes us, and changes the world, it turns it around, and it asks us to do the same.

In the person of James and John we see what it is to be a Christian, to live a Christian life: it is to be conformed to Christ. They start by getting it wrong, then they learn what it is all about. It is to be open to the possibility of suffering and to accept it. In worldly terms it looks like a failure, but in bearing witness to our faith we show how that we too are able to drink the cup offered to us. We are able to become an example which people want to imitate and follow because WE point them to Christ, the restorer of all relationships, the healer of the world, who offers life in all its fullness. It is the most terrific news. People may not want to hear it, but they need to hear it. They prefer to ‘lord it over’ others and to go after the false gods of worldly power, money, and success: things which are empty, things which are of no value or worth compared to the love of God in Christ Jesus, the greatest free gift to humanity.

In Christ all human existence, all life, all death, and all suffering find both meaning and value. This truth is unsettling, it is deeply uncomfortable, and yet it is deeply liberating. In living out the truth in our lives we live a service which is perfect freedom. In conforming ourselves to Christ we find meaning and identity. So let us lay down our lives that we may live fully and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy 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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28th Sunday of Year B Mark 10:17-31

One of the good things about moving house, especially from a larger one to a smaller one is that it makes you think about stuff. We have lots of stuff, each and every one of us. It’s understandable in that we live in a world which is built upon selling us stuff we don’t really need. But if you buy this you will feel happy, you can show it to your friends. And despite our best efforts to the contrary we all fall prey to it. We buy into the consumerist narrative, we think that things can make us happy, but it isn’t really the case. We need to ‘seek the Lord and live’ [Amos 5:6 ESV]. But such things are easier said than done, and that is the point. 

The young man in this morning’s Gospel knows that, and that is why he has kept God’s commandments. Jesus calls him out, on his use of the phrase ‘Good Teacher’ Only God is Good. God is in fact the source of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth. Jesus is, because He is God. 

Jesus looks at the man and loves him, because God is Love. God loves us, that’s why He sent Jesus to be born among us, to live among us, to die for us, and rise again. It’s the heart of our faith: God loves us. If I said nothing else this morning or ever after, know that you are loved by God, and let this love transform your life. 

Then Jesus turns to the man and says, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ [Mk 10:21 ESV] It is stark, and uncompromising. All of us here haven’t done it, I haven’t, and it troubles me. But even if we haven’t followed Jesus’ exact words it is important to note that what He is saying is that God wants us to be generous, to share what we have with others. Now is a time when we give thanks for the Harvest, we thank God for His generosity towards us, in giving us food, the wonders of His Creation, even the wind and the rain, but most of all for giving us His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

God is generous towards us, and expects us to be generous in return. It isn’t that much to ask, is it? We are called to live generously, to be a generous Church, full of generous Christians. We are, but it is good to be reminded of the fact, even if it makes us a bit uncomfortable on times. That is ok. Christianity can, and should be uncomfortable. As comforting and traditional harvest time is, it should make us think about how we treat God’s world, whether we share our bread with the hungry, how we put our faith into action in the world, and do God’s will. We have to keep trying, and we can always do better. 

It’s hard living the Christian life, it takes effort, and sacrifice, and we probably don’t feel that we are doing a good job at it, but that is ok. The disciples are amazed at Jesus saying that it is hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus goes on qualify His statement and says, ‘Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ [Mk 10:24 RSVCE] If you trust in riches you’re like the man who built bigger barns,  [Lk 12:13-21] Stuff cannot save you, you cannot buy your way to heaven, you need to have confidence in God, and God alone. 

The world around will tell us otherwise. It will tell us that we need to care about wealth, and power, and stuff. That it’s the way to be happy, to be powerful, and successful, to gain respect, and value in the eyes of others and ourselves, that this is where happiness and respect lie. It is certainly a seductive proposition, and many are seduced by it, both inside the church and outside. The temptation to be relevant, to give people what they want rather than what they need, to go along with the ways of the world. To be seduced by selfishness, self-interest, and sin. But we need to get some perspective: these things do not matter in the grand scheme of things. Wealth, power, and influence, are of no use to us when we are dead. They won’t help us to stand before our maker. We cannot take them with us when we depart from this world, for there are no pockets in shrouds. They may benefit our immediate family and friends, but even that is no guarantee of anything in the long term. Would we not rather, when all is said and done be remembered as kind, generous, loving people, quick to forgive, and seek forgiveness. Isn’t this a better way to be? 

What does matter, however, is firstly loving God, and listening to Him, and secondly loving your neighbour –- putting that love into practice. This is the core of our faith, what we believe, and how we are supposed to live our lives. The costly love of God and neighbour is how we need to live, to be fully alive and live out our faith in action. This is what Jesus shows us in the Gospels. This is what He teaches, and why he dies and rises again for us. And we need to listen to Him, and to follow His example. 

25th Sunday of Year B Mark 9: 30-37

Christianity is apparently ‘a religion for the weak and feeble-minded, attractive to social undesirables, the silly, the mean, the stupid, women, and children.’ (cf. Celsus quoted in Origen Contra Celsum 3:44 & 3:59) You would be forgiven if thought these were the words of Richard Dawkins, or some other New Atheist critic of Christianity. They are in fact a paraphrase of the pagan philosopher Celsus, written around ad 175. This line of argument is something Christians have had to counter for over 1800 years.

It is not true, and it relies upon the idea that the weak are somehow worse than the strong. It’s familiar from the writings of Nietzsche and others. The culture around us despises the weak. You want to be strong. Strength is good. Sadly strength is fleeting: we are not born strong, nor do we die strong. Strength comes and goes. And none of us is as strong as we think we are, or might like to be. The simple fact is that we are weak, and that’s OK. Our human weakness is not something terrible, it is simply how we are, and reminds us that we are relational beings, we exist in relationship with others, and need to rely upon the help and support of others, and primarily God. 

Jesus begins the Gospel this morning by reiterating his teaching which we heard last week. He stresses the importance of His Death and Resurrection as the culmination of His earthly ministry. The disciples are bewildered and afraid. They cannot understand or appreciate what Jesus is saying to them. They love Jesus, and have seen Him do wonderful things: heal the sick, feed the hungry, and even walk on water. They have seen scripture fulfilled, but cannot yet understand where it is all pointing: to Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Instead they fall back on that very human desire, to form a pecking order, to know who is the greatest of the disciples.

Rather than telling the disciples off for being childish, Jesus teaches them that, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ (Mk 9 35 ESV) He then takes a child and says, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’ (Mk 9 37 ESV) Children aren’t high up in the pecking order, they don’t know everything, and are dependant on their family. Jesus is proposing something of a revolution, turning human values on their head. The Incarnate Word of God will wash His disciples’ feet before the Last Supper. He embodies servant leadership, he doesn’t lord it over people. The ways of the Kingdom of God and this world are opposed to each other. True greatness will often look like weakness and servility in the world’s eyes. It doesn’t matter. What matters is living a life characterised by sacrificial self-giving love. 

As St Paul says in the opening Chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians, God’s weakness is stronger than our strength. (1Cor 1:25) It is a paradox. This paradox is made apparent on the Cross, where God shows us that sacrificial love can change the world, and heal our wounded souls and restore broken humanity. It is part of the Mystery of the Cross, the mystery of God’s love. In a moment of weakness and powerlessness, where evil and sin appear to have triumphed, this is the supreme demonstration of LOVE, an act of such generosity which has the power to reconcile humanity. It is, with Christ’s Resurrection, the centre of our faith. 

The ways of the world can be found in the first reading this morning, from the Book of Wisdom, they point forward to Christ’s suffering and death. Christ is condemned to a ‘shameful death’ so that through it God might demonstrate His LOVE to the world.

Love can only be offered. It can be accepted or rejected, and it lies at the heart of any relationship. God gives Himself to us so that we might live in Him. He gives Himself today under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that might feast on His Body and Blood, and have life in Him. He offers himself to us, so that we might share in His Death and Risen Life. Love is vulnerable, and its vulnerability is most evident on the Cross, where Christ opens his arms to embrace the world in love.

Christ’s life on earth ends as it begins: He is naked and vulnerable. God’s weakness truly is stronger than human strength because it is the only thing which can truly change the world, heal our wounded souls, and restore broken humanity. Nothing else can. Without it we are condemned to the ways of selfishness and sin, which characterise so much of the world around us. The church is not immune as it is made up of frail, sinful human beings, just like you and me. We need God to be at work in our lives, to transform us more and more into His image. Recognising our own shortcomings is the first step in a process whereby God can be at work in our lives, transforming us more and more into His likeness. We need God’s grace to be at work in us, and recognising this is a sign of humility, that we know our need of God. This is not weakness, quite the opposite. 

We know that we have a problem, which we are unable to solve on our own. In His love and mercy, God sends His only Son to be born for us, to live and die for us, and rise again for us. He gives us His Body and Blood as a pledge and token of our future hope, to heal us and restore us, so that we might become what He is. In this we share in Christ’s suffering, as to follow Christ is to follow the Way of the Cross, a hard road, but one which leads to the joy of Easter, and New Life in Christ. We are transformed through LOVE and SUFFERING, a journey which starts with child-like trust in the God who LOVES us. It starts with humility, knowing our need of God, and trust in a God who loves us, and who can transform us. 

So my brothers and sisters, let us come to Him, trusting Him to be at work in our lives, filling us with His Love, sharing His suffering, pouring out His Grace upon us. Let us stay close to Him: nourished by His Word, the Bible, and the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, where we receive a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet, our food for the journey of faith, transforming us into His Divine likeness, strengthening us to live out our faith through acts of loving service, putting our faith into practice so that the world around us may repent of its foolish ways , and come to know and love God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. christ-children-02

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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Twenty First Sunday of Year B [Jn 6:56-69]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such wonderful news is truly worth pondering and considering in detail given its potential effects in our lives, so that bit by bit we are slowly and sure becoming more Christ-like, fed by Him, fed with Him, and encouraging others so to do so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever, Amen. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So then, as the five thousand received and were satisfied, let US prepare to eat that same bread, the body of Christ, which satisfies our every need and fills us with a foretaste of the Kingdom of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now, and for ever. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Trinity II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter IV — The Good Shepherd [Acts 4:5-12; 1John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18]

If you ask people about Wales they will probably mention Rugby Football, Singing, and Sheep. The first two we do with great passion or hwyl, and thanks to the large amount of hills and mountains there are here, it is ideal countryside for rearing sheep. As animals go, they often don’t get a good press: they are seen as simple creatures, unable to give birth without assistance, it’s hardly flattering to be compared to sheep, and yet throughout the Bible we see references to sheep and shepherds, important for a nomadic people.

Sheep are gentle creatures, they need help and protection, so that they don’t wander off, and are protected from wolves. The relationship between God and Israel is often described as like a shepherd and his sheep. They know each other, there is a close bond between them, and they need the care and protection of a shepherd. They love company, they like to be together in a flock. Their needs are simple: grass and water. They are not violent or nasty, but they need to be cared for, and loved, and helped.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus says of himself, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (Jn 10:11 ESV) Jesus lays down His life for us. He offers it willingly, and out of love, to die, and to be crucified for us. This is the heart of our faith as Christians: Jesus loves us, Jesus dies for us, and rises again. It is simple, profound and extraordinary. God loves us this much, that he suffers the most painful, shameful, and degrading death for us, to demonstrate love in action. 

Such love requires a response from us, and John, the beloved disciple puts his finger on it in this morning’s epistle, ‘By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers’ (1John 3:16 ESV). We lay down our lives for each other, in love and service. This is what being a Christian looks like in practice — we do the right thing, regardless of the cost. The world around us will tell us to be selfish, and self-centred, to think of ourselves before others, the ‘I’m alright Jack mentality’. It is selfish, and sinful, and wrong. We offer the world something different, sure it is costly, but it proclaims the simple truth that another way is possible, and that we march to the beat of a different tune. We can have the courage and the confidence to do this because Christ rose from the dead, and offers eternal life to those who follow Him. This life is not all that there is. We are preparing for the hope of Heaven, made possible by Christ, by living out our faith here and now. It has the power to the change the world, a soul at a time, because we ARE revolutionaries. We want people to join us, and be like Jesus. He lays down His life for us, and expects to follow His example, and lay down our lives to follow Him. It takes commitment, it isn’t just something you do in a building for an hour on a Sunday morning, it takes over your entire life. I know, for a variety of reasons. Firstly in ordination I offered my life to Jesus, for the service of his church, and secondly in last twelve months I got married, and we got a dog. Marriage and dog ownership are both lifelong commitments, and are both about learning to love, and forgive. My life is far more wonderful and richer than I could have imagined because of the commitments I have made. Yes, they are costly, but they are wonderful. To a world scared by commitment I would have to say, don’t be afraid, dive in, and have a go. You will make mistakes, but as love and forgiveness go hand in hand, through them you have the chance to change, to blossom, and become something other than you were before. This is true for the Christian faith. It offers salvation, through faith, as St Peter puts it in this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, ‘And 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 ESV) Jesus offers what no-one else can, salvation and eternal life to those who believe in Him, and follow Him. This truly is good news, true freedom, which the world needs to hear. No-one else can save them, money in the bank, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, they may be pleasant and useful, but they can’t save you. Only Jesus, the Good Shepherd, can do that. He still offers the chance to become bart of His flock, under the One Shepherd, to have life, and life in all its fulness, eternal life, with Him, forever. Just as the apostles testified to the healing power of His name, so that same healing is offered to all who believe and trust in Him. It’s not a magic wand, but a chance to enter into a relationship which can take away our sins, heal our souls, our bodies and our lives. 

He lays down His life for us, and He gives himself here today, under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we can be healed by Him, and given a foretaste of heaven in His Body, and His Blood. Here today, as on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, we meet to be fed by Christ, and fed with Christ, to be healed, to know his love, love you can touch and taste. 

What more wonderful proof could we ask for than this, to feast on the Body and Blood of Him who died for us, and rose again. Who gives himself so that we might have life. Let us be filled with His Love, and His Life, let it transform us, and all the world that it may come to know Him, to trust Him, to love Him, and be fed by Him, to give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever…

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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

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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The Baptism of Christ: Gen 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mk 1:4-11

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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

26th Sunday of Year A Mt 22:28–32

Have you ever made a promise and not kept it? I know that I have. And all of us, if we are honest, have to admit that we have, all of us, from time to time done this. It is not the most comfortable of things to come face-to-face with one’s own shortcomings, but if we are to live the Christian life, really, wholly, and fully, then it is something that we need to do.

In this morning’s gospel, Jesus is talking to the chief priests and elders, the religious leaders of his day, the people supposed to lead the people of Israel in their relationship with God. He has entered Jerusalem in triumph, cast out the money-changers from the temple, and cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit. What we are witnessing in the gospel is a religious reform. Those who are supposed to have brought people closer to God are to be understood as defiant and rebellious; they are the problem rather than the solution.

Jesus begins by asking a question, what do you think? These simple words speak profoundly of the freedom given to humanity by God. We are not forced, but rather invited to engage in a conversation, God does not compel us. Of the two sons, clearly the one who overcomes his initial reluctance and ends up doing the will of his father, working in the vineyard, is the example for us to follow. He experiences repentance, turns away from this form of behaviour and does what is best for him.  The son is not a hypocrite; he is just stubborn, rebellious, and disobedient – but he repents.

The other son begins with an outward show of respect: he looks like a dutiful son, addressing his father as Sir. But he is basically a hypocrite, as true obedience comes not in the outward displays of respect, but in doing the will of God. The chief priests and elders have rejected Jesus and soon will be calling out for his death, they will take the Messiah, the one who could save them from their sins, and kill him. What greater turning away from God could there be?

Tax-collectors and prostitutes were the lowest of the low, the one cheated, the other was sexually immoral, both were on good terms with the Romans, they were not the kind of company a religiously observant Jew would keep. And yet, despite their sins, they are willing to repent, they know they need for God, and God loves them, heals their wounds, and welcomes them into his kingdom. The religious authorities stand convicted by their own lips:  in recognising that it is more important to do the will of God rather than simply to say that one will, they highlight their own hypocrisy: they have been told by John the Baptist whom they ignored, and now when Jesus tells them again they will ignore him too.

Are we then, here today, going to follow the example of the hypocritical Jewish religious authorities and make an outward show of our closeness to God, while refusing to repent of our sins, or are we going to be like the tax collectors and prostitutes, who know their need of God, who know their own shortcomings, who believe and trust in God, who want to be healed by him, and turn away from all that separates us from God.

God to show his love for us gave himself for us, upon the cross, where Jesus Christ is both priest and victim, this same sacrifice will become as present here this morning as it did on a Hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago. God will give himself to us in his body and his blood, under the outward forms of bread and wine, to heal us, to draws closer to himself, to show us how much he loves us. So then let us taste and see how gracious the Lord is, but most of all, and may we all do the will of our Father in Heaven. Let us turn away from what we have been and conform ourselves to the will of God, fed by him, strengthened by him, loved by him, forgiven by him, and built up as a living temple to His glory.

And now 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…

Trinity XIV, 24th of Yr A, Matthew 18:21-35

 

How do we live as a Church? How do we live out our faith in an authentic and attractive way? These are questions which trouble us in the Church, and so they should, for they lie at the heart of what it is to be a Christian, to follow Jesus. They help us to understand that how we live our lives affects how we proclaim the Good News, the saving truth of Jesus Christ, to the world and for the world.

It goes without saying that we, as human beings sin. We say and think and do things which estrange us from each other and from God. Recognising this is part of what one might like to term Spiritual Maturity. That is recognising that we miss the mark, and fall short of what God wants us to be. If this was the end of the matter then we could quite rightly wallow in a pit of misery and regret, out of which we could never climb by our own efforts.

Thankfully the solution can be found encapsulated in this morning’s Gospel: Peter asks Our Lord how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him – should it be seven? Jesus reply, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times’. Jesus is making reference to the establishment of the jubilee year in Leviticus 25:8 – ‘You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.’ This jubilee of the Old Covenant is made real in Jesus – here is the forgiveness and the renewal for which Israel longs. It is radical, and powerful, and can transform us, and the world.

Jesus explains his message of forgiveness with the use of a parable. A dishonest servant owes a debt which he cannot pay, and begs for the chance to try. However, when faced with a debtor of his own, he fails to exhibit any of the mercy and kindness which has been shown to him. For this he is rightly and justly punished. This parable reminds us that as we beg God to forgive our sins, we also need to forgive the sins of others.

It really is that simple. This is why when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray he says, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. As Christians this is how we pray. However, these cannot simply be words that we say with our lips, they also need to be actions in our lives. We need to live out the forgiveness which we have received. Thus, the Kingdom of God is a place where God’s healing love can be poured out upon the world – to restore our human nature, to heal our wounds, and to build us up in love, for our own sake, and for the sake of the Kingdom.

We see this forgiveness in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Here are people learning not to judge others, learning to live as people of love, freed from all that hinders our common life together. If we consider for a second the fact that for the first three centuries of their existence Christians were persecuted for their faith. They were sentenced to death for preferring Christ to the ways of the world. And yet they were not angry. Instead they lived out the love and the forgiveness which they had received. It was this powerful witness which brought others to believe and follow Christ.

We have to follow the example of the early Christians and try to live authentic lives together. This means forgiving each other, and living in love, by putting aside petty rivalries, squabbles, slights, and all the little everyday annoyances. For how can we ask God for forgiveness if we are not be ready, willing, and able to show the same forgiveness to our brothers and sisters? We would be hypocrites: more to be pitied than blamed for failing to grasp the fact the heart of the Gospel is love, and forgiveness.

That is why we celebrate the Cross of Christ – the simple fact that for love of us Jesus bore the weight of our sins upon himself, and suffered and died for us. He showed us that there was no length to which God would not go to demonstrate once and for all what love and forgiveness truly mean. It is our only hope, the one thing that can save us from ourselves, and from that which divides, wounds, and separates us from each other and from God.

It may seem utterly incredible that the Gospel promises unlimited forgiveness to the penitent, but how can we learn to forgive others without first coming to terms with the fact that we are forgiven? The slate is wiped clean, but this does not mean we can sit back and say ‘I’m alright Jack’. We cannot be complacent, but instead we should humbly acknowledge that we rely upon God for everything.

Sin matters. It matters so much that Christ died for it. He rose again, to show us that as the Church we are to have new life in Him. The Kingdom is here, now, amongst us. It is up to us to live it, as a community of truth and reconciliation. We need to show that same costly love which our Lord exhibits upon the Cross, and proclaim that same truth to our world, and pray that it 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.

Judgement would hold nothing but terror for us if we had no sure hope of forgiveness. And the gift of forgiveness itself is implicit in God’s and people’s love. Yet it is not enough to be granted forgiveness, we must be prepared to accept it. We must consent to be forgiven by an act of daring faith and generous hope, welcome the gift humbly, as a miracle which love alone, love human and divine, can work, and forever be grateful for its gratuity, its restoring, healing, reintegrating power. We must never confuse forgiving with forgetting, or imagine that these two things go together. Not only do they not belong together, they are mutually exclusive. To wipe out the past has little to do with constructive, imaginative, fruitful forgiveness; the only thing that must go, be erased from the past, is its venom; the bitterness, the resentment, the estrangement; but not the memory. 

Anthony of Sourozh, Creative Prayer, 2004, p.72

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Some words of S. Teresa of Calcutta

  • Love to pray, since prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself. Ask and seek and your heart will grow big enough to receive him as your own.
  • Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.
  • Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.
  • Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.
  • The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.
  • At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.’
  • Live simply so others may simply live.
  • Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.
  • We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.
  • I must be willing to give whatever it takes to do good to others. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me, and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.

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