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

God has an amazing ability to surprise us, and confound our expectations. It is a manifestation of God’s love for us, a love which sees us change and grow. We see this clearly in our first reading this morning. Elijah the prophet has been experiencing a crisis of faith. He is being persecuted by Jezebel, the wicked idol-worshipping Queen of Israel, and filled with despair, it all seems pointless and hopeless. Then God comes to him not in the wind, nor the earthquake, but in a still, small voice. Quietly, God promises that He will be faithful to those who have not worshipped idols. No matter how bleak the situation may appear, there is a fundamental trust that God is in control, and that all will be well. Elijah has faith in God, and in the power of that faith he brings Israel back to worship God. But he needs to learn the lesson that God is the God of love and mercy, and not just zeal: Elijah has been a fierce defender of God, he has put the prophets of Baal to death on Mt Carmel, but he now must see God’s gentleness in the still small voice, not in the fire or the whirlwind . It is an important lesson of the spiritual life. The gentleness of God is shown to us first and foremost in the Incarnation, where God is born among us in the quiet of Bethlehem. Such lessons are hard to learn. The world values noise and activity, yet God works in ways which defy our expectations and surprise us. 

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

This morning’s Gospel carries straight on from the miraculous feeding which we heard last week, as Jesus goes to send the crowds back home, he sends disciples ahead so that they might be ready for Him.

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.

Prayer is important, it is as important as the food we eat, the air we breathe, because it is about our relationship with God. Throughout the Gospels Jesus spends time alone, spends time close to the Father as this relationship is crucial. Where Jesus leads we should follow his example, and stay close to God in prayer. We tell God our hopes and fears and listen for Him to speak to us. Prayer precedes both the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes and the Walking on Water. When we start with prayer, we can let God do wonderful things.

When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 

It’s getting dark, and the disciples are out in the middle of the lake, in deep water; will the boat sink, what can they do? The Sea of Galilee can be a treacherous place, and they are afraid. Then something happens. 

And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 

But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

The disciples cannot believe that they are seeing Jesus, they think that it is a ghost, not a human being. But it is Jesus, and He encourages them, His presence can give them confidence. Once again, Jesus tells the disciples, and He tells us, ‘Paid ag ofni’ not to be afraid, not to fear the world, but to trust in Him. 

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’

As usual, Peter is the first to react, he takes the lead. Jesus speaks a single word to him, ‘Come’. He speaks it to each and every one of us as Christians, to come, to follow Him. We are called to be close to Jesus, and to live out our faith in our lives strengthened by prayer. Will we trust Jesus enough to follow Him? This is the challenge of the Christian life, our challenge to accept Jesus’ invitation and walk with Him.

“So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.’

Peter listens to what Jesus says, and obeys Him. Peter does something miraculous, something extraordinary: he walks on water, until he is distracted by the world around him, and becomes frightened. Likewise, in the power of God, we can do wonderful things, if we are not distracted by the cares of the world around us. If we listen to what Jesus tells us and do it.

But Peter becomes frightened; he starts to sink, as do we all when the cares of this world overwhelm us. His reaction is to cry ‘Lord, save me’ which Jesus does. Indeed, through Christ’s offering of himself upon the Cross Jesus saves each and every one of us, taking the sin of the world upon Himself so that we might be freed from sin, fear, and death. That same sacrifice will be made present, so that we the people of God, can be fed by God, to be strengthened to have life in Him, to be close to Him. 

Peter is rebuked for lacking faith, he still has to learn to trust Jesus. We too need to trust God, to have faith in Him, so that He can be at work in us and through us.

Once the wind has died down, the disciples bow down and worship Jesus, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ Our fulfilment is worship. This is what we are made for as humans and as Christians. We are to worship God, in our love and our prayer, so that our whole lives are an act of worship, drawing us ever closer to the source of life and love. So that all we say or think or do may proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, so that they may believe and 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. Amen. 

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The Eighteenth Sunday of Year A (Mt 14:13-21) The Feeding of the Five Thousand

I must admit that our readings this morning have unsettled me somewhat. The joyful character of both Isaiah and the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand in Matthew’s Gospel seem far removed from how life is here and now for many people. The feelings of hope, joy, celebration, and social interaction, are far removed from the fear and concern which have been characterising our daily lives. And yet, despite our fears, there remains in Scripture a promise of hope for the future, as God says in the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘Paid ag ofni, Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’ (Isa 43:1). We respond in trust, not that things are fine now, but that they will be. God is someone whom we can trust, who will never disappoint us. As the Psalmist says, ‘our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Ps 46:1) if we cast our burden upon Him, He will sustain us (cf. Ps 55:22). 

In our first reading this morning we hear God’s generous promise to His people. In the manner of a market trader God offers nourishment and refreshment, but not for profit! It is free! God offers water, wine, milk, and bread, food to nourish us, and drink to refresh us. It is a foretaste of the banquet of the Kingdom, in the Eucharist, where we are nourished and fed by God. The passage speaks of God’s covenant with His people, a relationship of love, that we can trust. God, who knows our needs, freely gives to his people love and grace, so that they may have life in all in all its fullness. These promises are fulfilled in Christ, who makes an everlasting covenant with us through His Body and His Blood. 

God’s generosity is freely offered, but it can be rejected. We see this in our second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Unlike the joy and optimism of the previous chapter which we heard last week, here are Israelites who reject Christ and cause St Paul great sorrow and anguish. The rejection of God’s generosity is painful, but it is the price of freedom. We cannot be compelled to accept what God offers, that would not be generous. Instead, we are free to accept or reject what God holds out for us. 

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

When the people hear where Jesus has gone they follow him, they walk out from the towns into the desert, wanting to see Jesus, and to hear him teach them. When Jesus gets out of the boat he sees a great mass of people and has compassion on them. He is moved by the sight of them, and their need. Jesus heals the sick to show that the Kingdom of God is a place of healing, where humanity can be restored through an encounter with the divine. Jesus’ actions and words proclaim the power of God to heal and restore humanity.

It is getting late, the sun is fast moving towards the West, and the disciples tell him to send the crowds away so that they can buy food. Instead Jesus says that the people do not need to go away, and tells the disciples to give them something to eat. The disciples obey Him, but cannot see how five loaves and two fish can possibly feed the thousands of people who have come to be close to Jesus.

The five loaves represent the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The Books of the Law, the Torah, which show Israel how to live, and how to love God. The two fish represent the Law and the Prophets, so that, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ (Mt 4:4) The law and the Prophets point to Jesus, the Word made flesh: they find their fulfilment and true meaning in Him. The hopes of Israel, for the future, for a Messiah, are fulfilled in Him. Just like Israel after crossing the Red Sea here the People of God are fed by God in the desert. There is so much food left over at the end that there is enough to fill twelve baskets, one for each of the disciples, and for each tribe of Israel. In human terms, five loaves and two fish is not enough to feed everyone, but it is more than sufficient in divine terms. Just like at the Wedding feast in Cana, here we see that the Kingdom of God is a place of joy and abundance, of generosity, which isn’t concerned with scrimping or with the ‘good enough’,rather it is a place of lavish excess. This is what the church is supposed to be like: this is meant to be the model for our lives as Christians.

The multiplication of the loaves is not some conjuring trick, meant to amaze us, or to show us how powerful God is. It is a sign of God’s generous love for humanity. This is what God does for us, so that we can respond in a profound and radical way, and thereby change the world. Jesus has been rejected by the people of Nazareth and He responds by feeding people until they are satisfied, until they have had enough, and there is still plenty left over. Likewise, God’s love and mercy are inexhaustible, and are shown and poured out upon the world in Jesus Christ and in his death upon the Cross for our salvation.

Jesus takes the bread and fish, He blesses them, He breaks them and He gives them, actions which look forward to the Last Supper on the night before He died. Jesus told His disciples to carry on doing this in remembrance of Him, so that the Church could continue to be fed by Him and with Him, as a sign of His love for us, so that we might have life and forgiveness in Him.

Let us today be fed with the living bread, the bread which came down from heaven, so that it may feed our souls, so that we may be healed and restored by him. Let us be moved by the lavish generosity of God, and encouraged to live it out in our lives, in our thoughts, our words, and our actions, so that all that we are, all that we say or think or do, will proclaim the truth of God’s saving love to the world, so that we too can enter into the joy of the Lord and come to the banquet of the Kingdom, where all are welcomed, and healed.

Filled with God’s grace, may we live generously and encourage others to share in the generosity of the Kingdom, so that all come to believe 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. Amen. 

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Homily for the 17th Sunday of Year A

The last time the world experienced something like current pandemic was a century ago, in the  Spanish ‘Flu outbreak of 1918-1920. But because of news blackouts and the trauma of the Great War, it was largely forgotten about. It’s quite understandable. You want to shut the door on the past and get on with life. While it is understandable, it isn’t necessarily the most healthy way of dealing with a traumatic situation. Instead, we are much better when we acknowledge how we feel, and give ourselves permission to feel thaåt way. 

Over the last few months all of of us have felt some strong difficult emotions: Fear, Pain, Anger, Loneliness, Frustration, to name but a few. I know that I have, and that I’m not alone. These are perfectly normal and natural feelings. They occur many times in the Bible, throughout the Psalms, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the Book of Job. Closing churches for public worship is not something that happens often, normally only in times of plague or civil unrest. It is disconcerting, and while we are beginning the process of reopening, and worshiping together again, I suspect that it will continue to feel very strange for some time to come. That’s ok! We can acknowledge the strangeness and then try to get on with things together. This morning’s first reading gives us a starting point: Solomon replies to God’s invitation, ‘Ask what I shall give you’ by asking for understanding to discern what is right. We too need to rely on God to give us the wisdom to do the right thing. We also need to acknowledge that we are not in control, all things are in the hands of God, a God who loves us.

Likewise in Paul’s Letter to the Romans we see that when we cannot even find the words to pray to God, we need not worry. We have the words of others. We have the words of the Lord’s Prayer, how Jesus taught the disciples to pray. But when words, even those of others, fail us, we know that God hears the cry of the human heart. We simply need to put ourselves into the presence of God and trust Him to be at work in us. A God from whose love we can never be separated. This is something precious, something wonderful, something to give us encouragement and hope for the future. 

As Christians, we believe and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. Through repentance and faith, we enter into a relationship with a generous and loving God, who demonstrates that love and generosity most fully by dying on the Cross and rising from the Tomb. This is heart of our faith, that God does something wonderful for us, to show us how to live, and to deepen HIs relationship with us. 

That’s all well and good, but what difference does it make to us, here, now? The question is, how can the negative emotions which we feel be turned into something positive? The answer is: by handing them over to God whose Kingdom is a place of healing and reconciliation. This is what the Cross shows us: torture and death become the greatest demonstration of healing love. God doesn’t have a magic wand to wave in order to make everything right. No, love is costly, it involves sacrifice, and it can transform the world. 

So, at one level, God has done the hard work for us. The question is how do we cooperate with God and His grace, to make the Kingdom a reality here and now? Jesus gives us some advice in the Sermon in the Mount: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5: 3). To be poor in spirit is to be humble, to know and acknowledge our need of God, our reliance upon Him. We do this when we pray, ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, deled dy deyrnas, gwneler dy ewyllys; megis yn y nef, felly ar y ddaear hefyd. ’ It’s God’s Kingdom, God’s Will, and God’s Church, not ours. If we truly believe this, then wonderful things are possible. 

Our experience over the last few months has taught us what really matters: the communities in which we live, our family, our relationships, the people we love. They cannot be bought or sold, but are of infinite value, because they are rooted and grounded in love. Only by living out the same costly love and reconciliation shown to us by Jesus Christ can we have any hope of achieving anything. Jesus’ teaching isn’t theory, but something we need to put into practice in our lives. Relationships are characterised by giving love and offering forgiveness, and through that we all grow in love together. The transformation starts with us, we have to be the change we want to see. It starts with conversion, turning towards a loving God, a God whose arms are flung wide to embrace the world upon the Cross. This is how we need to live, to live like Jesus: generously, loving and forgiving.

We have an example to follow, but the truth is that we aren’t very good at it. It is easy not to: just spread a bit of gossip, harbour a grudge, there are thousands of little ways to undermine the Kingdom. And we all fall into them, despite our best intentions. I know that I do, we all do. The point is not that we fail, but that we keep trying. That’s why it is the work of a lifetime, a lifetime of failing, seeking forgiveness, and trying to love, trying to live out the Kingdom. It is something we cannot achieve on our own, we need God, and we need each other: a community of faith. Only such a community of faith that we call the Church can offer the world the healing and reconciliation it longs for and needs, now more than ever. God’s love, lived out in our own lives, is the pearl of great price, the treasure which is old and new, two thousand years old, and yet lived out anew in the lives of Christians every day. We pray that we might live our lives for each other and for the glory of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Homily for the Ascension (Acts 1:1-11 Eph 1:17-23 Mt 28:16-20)

Today can often feel a somewhat strange day, a day of slightly mixed emotions, and this year more than most, when we are not able to be together to pray, to worship Almighty God, and be nourished with Holy Communion. We are not celebrating Jesus’ departure from the earth, but His return to God the Father, Christ’s abiding presence with us, and what He asks of us, and promises to us. It is a day of celebration and expectation, looking forward to the future in love and hope. 

The disciples have had six weeks to used to the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead, having carried the burden of our sins and experienced the pain and estrangement which separates God and humanity. That wound has been healed by His glorious wounds. Before Jesus returns to the Father, He makes the apostles a promise: they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4), receive power, and be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Christ is looking forward to Pentecost, to the church’s future, in which we live now.

In Matthew’s Gospel, before Jesus leaves the apostles, He gives them a commission, they are sent out to do something together. Jesus begins (Mt 28:18) by stating that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him. He is God, God is sovereign, and rules over everything, and it reminds us of the moment during Christ’s temptation by the devil, before the start of His public ministry, which we read on the First Sunday of Lent. The devil offers the world to Jesus, but it is not his to give, it belongs to God, who created it. Our worship is rooted in the fact that we have a relationship with a God who made us, redeemed us, and loves us. 

Jesus tells the apostles (28:19) to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The church exists to be sent out to make disciples. Baptism is what makes us Christians. In it we share in Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection, and through it God gives us the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. Through our faith in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, filled with the hope of heaven, our supernatural end, to enjoy the vision of God, who is love. Loving God and our neighbour, this is the very heart of the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom, along with the call of Jesus and John the Baptist that we should ‘Repent and believe the Gospel, and be baptised’. For two thousand years our message has been the same. 

Jesus tells the apostles to teach us all that He has commanded them (28:20). The Church is called to hand on what has been delivered to it, this is tradition, and it stops us from making mistakes, by deviating from what Christ teaches us through the Church. Our religion makes demands of us, and calls us to be faithful to the apostles’ teaching, and to live it out in our lives, putting theory into practice and becoming living witnesses of the Kingdom. This is difficult, and it is where Christians fall down most often. But the Good News is that in Christ we have forgiveness of sin. We can repent, and turn away from our mistakes, and turn back to a God who loves us. We are not abandoned or cast aside, but embraced in love. 

Finally Jesus says to the apostles, ‘Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (28:20) Christ is with us. How? In four ways: first in Scripture, the Word of God, which speaks of Christ, and finds its fulfilment in Him. It is true, and the source of truth. He is with us in the Sacraments, outward visible signs of the inward spiritual grace God pours out upon us, to fill us with His love. He is with us in the Holy Spirit which he pours out upon us, to strengthen us, and fill us with love. And finally He is with us in the Church, which is His Body, where we are united with Christ, in a relationship with Him, and each other. 

Jesus makes promises which are true. We can trust Him, and like the apostles we can prepare for the Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in prayer, and joyful expectation, knowing that we will never be abandoned, but that we are always united to, and loved by 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. Amen

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Easter IV (The Good Shepherd)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can have peace through our relationship with the Trinity, the source of our peace, and joy, and love. Grounded in this relationship we need not be afraid or troubled – we are free to live lives which proclaim God’s love and victory so that the world may believe. Through God loving us, we can truly love him and each other. We experience this most clearly at the Eucharist when Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, which He as both priest and victim offers on the Altar of the Cross. That self same sacrifice which heals the world through the outpouring of God’s love feeds us here and now. We are fed so that we may be nourished and share in the divine life and the joy of heaven. We receive the free gift of God’s grace so that it may perfect our human nature, so that we may go where Our Lord is going, and share in the joy, and love, and peace of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Easter II (John 20:19-31)

AT this precise moment in time I suspect that many of us are feeling frustration. I know that I am. We are frustrated that we are not able to worship together, and celebrate the joy of Easter, of Christ’s triumph over Death and Hell. We feel left out and unhappy. This is perfectly understandable. We should feel deprived, because we are, even if it is to serve a greater good, preventing infection and saving human life. But it is also an opportunity for us to take our frustration and longing and offer it to God, that He may take it and transform it, by uniting it with the suffering of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

We are also in good company this week with the apostles, and one in particular: St Thomas, who was not with the other disciples when Our Lord appeared to them on that first Easter Day. Thomas is frustrated, angry even, he cannot believe that the Resurrection is a reality, he wants to experience it, and God takes his longing and transforms it into a profound expression of faith, love, and hope. What God did then, He continues to do now. He can take our emotions, sanctify them, and transform them, so that we are filled with Divine Love and Mercy, which ever flow from Our Lord’s Most Sacred Heart, pierced by a spear, and from which flowed blood and water: healing streams of compassion, poured out upon the world. 

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, particularly at this moment in time. It isn’t that Thomas 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. Christ gives Thomas what he wants, proof that it is really Jesus, who 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 become missionaries, evangelists, spreading the Good News around the world, regardless of the cost, even of sacrificing their own lives simply 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 and mercy — 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. Amen.

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Easter 2020 [John 20:1-9]

Easter is for Christians a time of celebration, a feast which we continue to celebrate for fifty days until Pentecost. We do this because it is the most important day of the year for us, because Jesus Christ not only died for us on the Cross, but rose again from the dead. For Christians Death does not have the last word, it is not the end, quite the opposite, it is the start of New Life.

We are used to hearing the proclamation of the Easter message, to the point that we can run the risk of becoming immune to the strangeness of what we are celebrating. Easter is odd: bodies don’t usually rise from tombs. In today’s Gospel, Mary of Magdala simply cannot understand what is going on. St Peter goes into the tomb and sees the cloths lying there, but only the other disciple, St John, both sees and believes, because he looks with the eyes of faith. John has listened to what Jesus has said, and understands what has happened, and how it has been foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures. He sees and understands because he LOVES.

This Easter we are not able to worship together, as we usually do. Instead, for our own safety and the safety of others, we have to worship on our own. But this does not mean that our worship ceases, not at all. This is a hard and a painful time for all of us, because as Christians we are a family, we worship TOGETHER. But while we are not able to do this together physically, we can still be united spiritually. So what can we do? We can read scripture, and we can pray: for the church, for the world, for each other, for all dealing with the current pandemic, for the sick and suffering, and for the dead and dying. We do this because God hears our prayers, and because prayer changes us. It makes us more loving, more generous, more forgiving, and more keen to seek forgiveness. 

This is how we grow in faith, and we can do it whether we are together, or we are apart. It is difficult in this current isolation, but it is by no means impossible. We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia’ is our song. We are called to rejoice, regardless of what is happening, regardless of what we may face in this life, because the source of our joy is God, as the prophet Nehemiah says, ‘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) God does not disappoint us, and Christ’s resurrection is as true today as it ever was. Christ has conquered sin and death, and risen victorious from the grave, breaking down the bars of Hell and leading souls to Heaven, so we rejoice. As St Paul writes to the Church in Rome: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:35-39 ESV) So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, ‘Pasg hapus i chi gyd!’ ‘A Happy Easter to you all!’ May the joy and peace of the Risen Lord fill your hearts and lives, both now and always. Amen. 

If you wish to, you can make a Spiritual Communion: the means of grace by which someone, prevented from sharing in a celebration of the Eucharist, nonetheless shares in the communion of Jesus Christ. Please pray the prayer below:

My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

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Maundy Thursday 2020

I WOULD LIKE to begin this evening by sharing something with you from my own experience: In February 2012 I was fortunate to have undertaken a pilgrimage to Rome with other pilgrims from Leicester, Nottingham and the Midlands. The journeys both to and from the Eternal City were not entirely unproblematic. Due to the first snowfall in Rome in twenty-five years both our arrival and departure were somewhat delayed. Our flight home was finally cancelled on the Saturday afternoon, and we had spent several hours waiting in the airport to try and find out what was going on. Tired and confused, we got back on a bus and returned to the Hotel where we had been staying.

As part of our pilgrimage we had celebrated the Eucharist in a variety of local churches — a generous gesture, but one which had been planned long in advance. It was now Sunday, and nothing had been arranged — we had all expected to be back at home, what could we do? We couldn’t simply walk into a church, so we went to one of the larger rooms on the first floor and rearranged the furniture. Priests had vestments with them, some wine was bought, and we had some bread and water with us already, a couple of wineglasses and a plate. Forty or so of us squeezed into this upper room, some stood, some reclined on the beds, or sat. We had gathered on the outskirts of the city as the first Christians, to whom the Apostle Paul wrote his letter did, on that the day of the Lord’s Resurrection we had gathered in a way not unlike Our Lord and the Disciples did on this very night. It all felt very real, we were aware that despite the strange, slightly cobbled-together nature of things, God was very close indeed; we were doing just what Christians have done ever since our Lord and Saviour commanded us to do it in memory of him.

That is why the church celebrates this evening the fact that before Jesus was arrested, on the night before He suffered and died for us, He took bread and wine, gave thanks to God for them, and gave them to His disciples, and told them to DO THIS in remembrance of Him. For nearly two thousand years, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, the church has continued to obey Christ’s command. And we will continue so to do until the end of time. 

Yet this year it feels profoundly different: I am not able to celebrate the Institution of the Eucharist in church with you, the people of God. Instead, in isolation, at home using a sideboard in the dining room, I will begin to enter the three holiest days of the Church’s Year, by doing what the Church has always done. We are united in spirit even if we cannot be together physically, for our own safety and health, and that of others, especially the most vulnerable. The domestic setting of this evening’s liturgy mirrors its origins in an upper room in Jerusalem, and at one level it does not matter WHERE it is done, but that it is done. That it is done in isolation is painful, for me and for you, but our pain and isolation gives us a window into the pain and isolation which Our Lord Jesus Christ felt in His Passion and Death. We are being invited this year to share in Christ’s sufferings, so that we may be transformed by them. As Christians we follow Christ and enter into His Passion, so that we may also share the joy of His Resurrection. That’s the point: there is HOPE. Now as then, death is not the end. Despite the pain, the betrayal, the fear, the anger of the crowd, they do not have the last word.

Christianity is a joyful religion, which celebrates the fact that God loves us, was born as one of us, lived and died and rose again, for us. At the end of this evening’s Gospel Reading Jesus speaks to his disciples thus, ‘For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.’ (John 13:15 ESV) Christ gives His disciples an example of service to remind them that 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.

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, utterly 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.

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 be 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 come to 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. Amen. 

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St John Henry Newman: The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World

“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” John xii. 32.

A GREAT number of men live and die without reflecting at all upon the state of things in which they find themselves. They take things as they come, and follow their inclinations as far as they have the opportunity. They are guided mainly by pleasure and pain, not by reason, principle, or conscience; and they do not attempt to interpret this world, to determine what it means, or to reduce what they see and feel to system. But when persons, either from thoughtfulness of mind, or from intellectual activity, begin to contemplate the visible state of things into which they are born, then forthwith they find it a maze and a perplexity. It is a riddle which they cannot solve. It seems full of contradictions and without a drift. Why it is, and what it is to issue in, and how it is what it is, and how we come to be introduced into it, and what is our destiny, are all mysteries. {84}

In this difficulty, some have formed one philosophy of life, and others another. Men have thought they had found the key, by means of which they might read what is so obscure. Ten thousand things come before us one after another in the course of life, and what are we to think of them? what colour are we to give them? Are we to look at all things in a gay and mirthful way? or in a melancholy way? in a desponding or a hopeful way? Are we to make light of life altogether, or to treat the whole subject seriously? Are we to make greatest things of little consequence, or least things of great consequence? Are we to keep in mind what is past and gone, or are we to look on to the future, or are we to be absorbed in what is present? How are we to look at things? this is the question which all persons of observation ask themselves, and answer each in his own way. They wish to think by rule; by something within them, which may harmonize and adjust what is without them. Such is the need felt by reflective minds. Now, let me ask, what is the real key, what is the Christian interpretation of this world? What is given us by revelation to estimate and measure this world by? The event of this season,—the Crucifixion of the Son of God.

It is the death of the Eternal Word of God made flesh, which is our great lesson how to think and how to speak of this world. His Cross has put its due value upon every thing which we see, upon all fortunes, all advantages, all ranks, all dignities, all pleasures; upon the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It has set a price upon the excitements, the rivalries, the hopes, the fears, the desires, the efforts, the {85} triumphs of mortal man. It has given a meaning to the various, shifting course, the trials, the temptations, the sufferings, of his earthly state. It has brought together and made consistent all that seemed discordant and aimless. It has taught us how to live, how to use this world, what to expect, what to desire, what to hope. It is the tone into which all the strains of this world’s music are ultimately to be resolved.

Look around, and see what the world presents of high and low. Go to the court of princes. See the treasure and skill of all nations brought together to honour a child of man. Observe the prostration of the many before the few. Consider the form and ceremonial, the pomp, the state, the circumstance; and the vainglory. Do you wish to know the worth of it all? look at the Cross of Christ.

Go to the political world: see nation jealous of nation, trade rivalling trade, armies and fleets matched against each other. Survey the various ranks of the community, its parties and their contests, the strivings of the ambitious, the intrigues of the crafty. What is the end of all this turmoil? the grave. What is the measure? the Cross.

Go, again, to the world of intellect and science: consider the wonderful discoveries which the human mind is making, the variety of arts to which its discoveries give rise, the all but miracles by which it shows its power; and next, the pride and confidence of reason, and the absorbing devotion of thought to transitory objects, which is the consequence. Would you form a right judgment of all this? look at the Cross. {86}

Again: look at misery, look at poverty and destitution, look at oppression and captivity; go where food is scanty, and lodging unhealthy. Consider pain and suffering, diseases long or violent, all that is frightful and revolting. Would you know how to rate all these? gaze upon the Cross.

Thus in the Cross, and Him who hung upon it, all things meet; all things subserve it, all things need it. It is their centre and their interpretation. For He was lifted up upon it, that He might draw all men and all things unto Him.

But it will be said, that the view which the Cross of Christ imparts to us of human life and of the world, is not that which we should take, if left to ourselves; that it is not an obvious view; that if we look at things on their surface, they are far more bright and sunny than they appear when viewed in the light which this season casts upon them. The world seems made for the enjoyment of just such a being as man, and man is put into it. He has the capacity of enjoyment, and the world supplies the means. How natural this, what a simple as well as pleasant philosophy, yet how different from that of the Cross! The doctrine of the Cross, it may be said, disarranges two parts of a system which seem made for each other; it severs the fruit from the eater, the enjoyment from the enjoyer. How does this solve a problem? does it not rather itself create one?

I answer, first, that whatever force this objection may have, surely it is merely a repetition of that which Eve felt and Satan urged in Eden; for did not the woman see that the forbidden tree was “good for food,” and “a tree {87} to be desired“? Well, then, is it wonderful that we too, the descendants of the first pair, should still be in a world where there is a forbidden fruit, and that our trials should lie in being within reach of it, and our happiness in abstaining from it? The world, at first sight, appears made for pleasure, and the vision of Christ’s Cross is a solemn and sorrowful sight interfering with this appearance. Be it so; but why may it not be our duty to abstain from enjoyment notwithstanding, if it was a duty even in Eden?

But again; it is but a superficial view of things to say that this life is made for pleasure and happiness. To those who look under the surface, it tells a very different tale. The doctrine of the Cross does but teach, though infinitely more forcibly, still after all it does but teach the very same lesson which this world teaches to those who live long in it, who have much experience in it, who know it. The world is sweet to the lips, but bitter to the taste. It pleases at first, but not at last. It looks gay on the outside, but evil and misery lie concealed within. When a man has passed a certain number of years in it, he cries out with the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Nay, if he has not religion for his guide, he will be forced to go further, and say, “All is vanity and vexation of spirit;” all is disappointment; all is sorrow; all is pain. The sore judgments of God upon sin are concealed within it, and force a man to grieve whether he will or no. Therefore the doctrine of the Cross of Christ does but anticipate for us our experience of the world. It is true, it bids us grieve for our sins in the midst of all that smiles {88} and glitters around us; but if we will not heed it, we shall at length be forced to grieve for them from undergoing their fearful punishment. If we will not acknowledge that this world has been made miserable by sin, from the sight of Him on whom our sins were laid, we shall experience it to be miserable by the recoil of those sins upon ourselves.

It may be granted, then, that the doctrine of the Cross is not on the surface of the world. The surface of things is bright only, and the Cross is sorrowful; it is a hidden doctrine; it lies under a veil; it at first sight startles us, and we are tempted to revolt from it. Like St. Peter, we cry out, “Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee.” [Matt. xvi. 22.] And yet it is a true doctrine; for truth is not on the surface of things, but in the depths.

And as the doctrine of the Cross, though it be the true interpretation of this world, is not prominently manifested in it, upon its surface, but is concealed; so again, when received into the faithful heart, there it abides as a living principle, but deep, and hidden from observation. Religious men, in the words of Scripture, “live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved them and gave Himself for them:” [Gal. ii. 20.] but they do not tell this to all men; they leave others to find it out as they may. Our Lord’s own command to His disciples was, that when they fast, they should “anoint their head and wash their face.” [Matt. vi. 17.] Thus they are bound not to make a display, but ever to be content to look outwardly different {89} from what they are really inwardly. They are to carry a cheerful countenance with them, and to control and regulate their feelings, that those feelings, by not being expended on the surface, may retire deep into their hearts and there live. And thus “Jesus Christ and He crucified” is, as the Apostle tells us, “a hidden wisdom;”—hidden in the world, which seems at first sight to speak a far other doctrine,—and hidden in the faithful soul, which to persons at a distance, or to chance beholders, seems to be living but an ordinary life, while really it is in secret holding communion with Him who was “manifested in the flesh,” “crucified through weakness,” “justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, and received up into glory.”

This being the case, the great and awful doctrine of the Cross of Christ, which we now commemorate, may fitly be called, in the language of figure, the heart of religion. The heart may be considered as the seat of life; it is the principle of motion, heat, and activity; from it the blood goes to and fro to the extreme parts of the body. It sustains the man in his powers and faculties; it enables the brain to think; and when it is touched, man dies. And in like manner the sacred doctrine of Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice is the vital principle on which the Christian lives, and without which Christianity is not. Without it no other doctrine is held profitably; to believe in Christ’s divinity, or in His manhood, or in the Holy Trinity, or in a judgment to come, or in the resurrection of the dead, is an untrue belief, not Christian faith, unless we receive also the doctrine of Christ’s sacrifice. On the other hand, to receive {90} it presupposes the reception of other high truths of the Gospel besides; it involves the belief in Christ’s true divinity, in His true incarnation, and in man’s sinful state by nature; and it prepares the way to belief in the sacred Eucharistic feast, in which He who was once crucified is ever given to our souls and bodies, verily and indeed, in His Body and in His Blood. But again, the heart is hidden from view; it is carefully and securely guarded; it is not like the eye set in the forehead, commanding all, and seen of all: and so in like manner the sacred doctrine of the Atoning Sacrifice is not one to be talked of, but to be lived upon; not to be put forth irreverently, but to be adored secretly; not to be used as a necessary instrument in the conversion of the ungodly, or for the satisfaction of reasoners of this world, but to be unfolded to the docile and obedient; to young children, whom the world has not corrupted; to the sorrowful, who need comfort; to the sincere and earnest, who need a rule of life; to the innocent, who need warning; and to the established, who have earned the knowledge of it.

One more remark I shall make, and then conclude. It must not be supposed, because the doctrine of the Cross makes us sad, that therefore the Gospel is a sad religion. The Psalmist says, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy;” and our Lord says, “They that mourn shall be comforted.” Let no one go away with the impression that the Gospel makes us take a gloomy view of the world and of life. It hinders us indeed from taking a superficial view, and finding a vain transitory joy in what we see; but it forbids our immediate {91} enjoyment, only to grant enjoyment in truth and fulness afterwards. It only forbids us to begin with enjoyment. It only says, If you begin with pleasure, you will end with pain. It bids us begin with the Cross of Christ, and in that Cross we shall at first find sorrow, but in a while peace and comfort will rise out of that sorrow. That Cross will lead us to mourning, repentance, humiliation, prayer, fasting; we shall sorrow for our sins, we shall sorrow with Christ’s sufferings; but all this sorrow will only issue, nay, will be undergone in a happiness far greater than the enjoyment which the world gives,—though careless worldly minds indeed will not believe this, ridicule the notion of it, because they never have tasted it, and consider it a mere matter of words, which religious persons think it decent and proper to use, and try to believe themselves, and to get others to believe, but which no one really feels. This is what they think; but our Saviour said to His disciples, “Ye now therefore have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” … “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” [John xvi. 22; xiv. 27.] And St. Paul says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” [1 Cor. ii. 9, 14.] And thus the Cross of Christ, as telling us of our redemption {92} as well as of His sufferings, wounds us indeed, but so wounds as to heal also.

And thus, too, all that is bright and beautiful, even on the surface of this world, though it has no substance, and may not suitably be enjoyed for its own sake, yet is a figure and promise of that true joy which issues out of the Atonement. It is a promise beforehand of what is to be: it is a shadow, raising hope because the substance is to follow, but not to be rashly taken instead of the substance. And it is God’s usual mode of dealing with us, in mercy to send the shadow before the substance, that we may take comfort in what is to be, before it comes. Thus our Lord before His Passion rode into Jerusalem in triumph, with the multitudes crying Hosanna, and strewing His road with palm branches and their garments. This was but a vain and hollow pageant, nor did our Lord take pleasure in it. It was a shadow which stayed not, but flitted away. It could not be more than a shadow, for the Passion had not been undergone by which His true triumph was wrought out. He could not enter into His glory before He had first suffered. He could not take pleasure in this semblance of it, knowing that it was unreal. Yet that first shadowy triumph was the omen and presage of the true victory to come, when He had overcome the sharpness of death. And we commemorate this figurative triumph on the last Sunday in Lent, to cheer us in the sorrow of the week that follows, and to remind us of the true joy which comes with Easter-Day.

And so, too, as regards this world, with all its enjoyments, yet disappointments. Let us not trust it; let {93} us not give our hearts to it; let us not begin with it. Let us begin with faith; let us begin with Christ; let us begin with His Cross and the humiliation to which it leads. Let us first be drawn to Him who is lifted up, that so He may, with Himself, freely give us all things. Let us “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and then all those things of this world “will be added to us.” They alone are able truly to enjoy this world, who begin with the world unseen. They alone enjoy it, who have first abstained from it. They alone can truly feast, who have first fasted; they alone are able to use the world, who have learned not to abuse it; they alone inherit it, who take it as a shadow of the world to come, and who for that world to come relinquish it.

from Plain & Parochial Sermons Vol. 6. No. 7

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Lent III

The people of Israel in the Book of Exodus are a rum old lot. They have been saved from slavery and misery in Egypt, and all they can do is complain and find fault. People can be strange, stubborn infuriating creatures. We can I hope recognise something of ourselves in them: stubborn, wilful, and sinful. But lest we get too disheartened it is important to recognise that Moses strikes the rock at Horeb, as the Lord commands him, and out flows water. As St Paul puts it ‘For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.’ (1Cor 10:4 ESV) This water, like the parted water of the Red Sea prefigures Christ, the living water, and our baptism, through which we enter the Church. Through it we are regenerate, born again to eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, whose side was pierced on Calvary, and whence flowed blood and water. This water speaks to us of the grace of God poured out upon us, his people, to heal us and restore us, to help us live his risen life.

So as we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, we can do so joyfully because God’s love has been poured into our hearts — what matters is what has been done to us, by God, out of love, so that we can be like him. He is the reconciliation which achieves what we cannot: restoring our relationship with God and each other, healing our wounds, and giving us eternal life in Him. This is our faith as Christians, which can help us and strengthen us in times of uncertainty, such as we are living in today. Christ died for us, because God loves us, and we can trust in that.

Picture the scene — it’s the middle of the day, the sun is blazing overhead, he’s been walking for hours, days even. Jesus is tired — as a man, a human being, he is no different from you or me — he ate and drank,  he was thirsty.. Mid-day is certainly no time to be drawing water from a well — it’s something you do first thing in the morning, as the sun is rising. What sort of a woman is drawing water at mid-day? Hardly a respectable one, but rather someone shunned, someone beyond the pale, cast out of polite society as an adulteress who is living in sin. Jesus asks the woman for a drink — Jesus is defying a social convention — He’s breaking the rules. The woman is really surprised — Jews are supposed to treat Samaritans as outcasts, they are beyond the pale: treated something like the Roma in Eastern Europe – outcasts, second class, scum, to be despised and looked down upon. And yet Jesus asks her for water, he initiates the conversation and the encounter, with an outsider, to bring her in.

Jesus offers her living water, so that she may never be thirsty again. The woman desires it, so that she will never be thirsty again, or have to come to the well to draw water, she’s fed up of the work, and fed up of being an outcast, and having to do it at antisocial hours when the community can see who and what she is. Jesus knows who and what she is – He recognises her irregular lifestyle. He also sees her need of God — her need for the water of grace to restore her soul, and inspire her to tell people the Good News. The woman’s testimony is powerful because she has experienced God’s love as a living reality and she simply has to tell people about it. She brings them to Christ so that they can be nourished, so that they too can experience the grace of God.

People are interested in who and what Jesus is, what He’s got to say, and they believe and trust in Him as the Messiah the Anointed of God, as the Saviour of the World, a title recently taken up by the Roman Emperor. These are big claims to make, and dangerous ones, which along with Christ’s healings will soon lead to His condemnation and death. In plenty of parts of the world the proclamation of the Good News still leads to imprisonment, torture and death, even today. And yet as Christians we are called to bear witness regardless of the personal cost, so that the world may believe. Here in the West we have as a church become comfortable, we forget about persecution, or view it at a safe distance. We’re not involved, it doesn’t matter that much to us. Are we far from the grace of our baptism? Have we not encountered Jesus in Word and Sacrament? Are we too afraid of the World? The world which Christ overcomes on the Cross.

To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. If we are changing into Jesus Christ, then we’re on the right track. If we listen to His word; if we talk to Him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him in the Eucharist, by Christ both priest and victim, to become what He is — God; if we’re forgiven by Him, through making confession of our sins, not only do we come to understand Jesus, we become like him, we come to share in his divine nature. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. This is what we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. Christ gives us the living water of baptism, and His Body and Blood so that we might have the promise of eternal life, and be transformed into His likeness. This is the point of the Incarnation, God becomes human, so that humanity can share the life of God. 

The Samaritans are right, for they know that, ‘that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.’ (Jn 4:42 ESV), and they like St Paul can rejoice in their sufferings, and so can we, because God has given us hope, and poured His love into our hearts, the love that casts out fear. Whatever happens, we can put our trust in someone who will never disappoint us, whose promises are sure, and who loves us. So let us come to Him, let us trust Him that He may take us and fill us with His love so that we may share it with others so that the world 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. Amen

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Lent I

The Church has entered the season of Lent, and she goes, with her Lord, into the desert for forty days, to pray, to turn away from sin, to turn back to God, to fast, to be generous in almsgiving. We do this to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ passion, Death and Resurrection in Holy Week and Easter. We get ready to celebrate the holiest week of the Church’s year by having something of a spiritual spring clean. This is a very good thing indeed. We need to do it, so that we can be reminded where we need to put some work in.

Our first reading this morning take us right back to the start of the problem of human sin: Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. They are tempted by the serpent to do what God has told them not to do. Thinking that you know better than God, and choosing to do what you want to do is where the sin of pride comes from. Adam and Eve prefer to trust the serpent, who promises that they will become like God. They are disobedient: they do not listen to what God says, and act in accordance with it. But rather than knowing good and evil, all they know is that they are naked, and cover their nakedness. The serpent makes empty promises, and they are taken in by them. Such is the power of lies. 

But while we have heard how sin and death came into the world, we also hear in our second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans how disobedience is countered by the obedience of Jesus Christ. It is obedience which will see Our Lord die on the Cross for us. Christ will bear the burden of our sin, to pay the debt which we cannot. This is what we are preparing to celebrate: one act of righteousness which ‘leads to justification and life for all men’ (Rom 5:18 ESV). To be justified is to be declared righteous in the sight of God. We are guilty, yet God declares us innocent. We deserve punishment, and yet are rewarded. It is remarkable. Such is God’s love for us that our slate is wiped clean. Each and every one of us deserves to be cast aside, for our sins, like those of Adam & Eve separate us from God and each other. Yet God did not leave us in slavery to sin, but sent His Son, so that we might have life in and through Him. This is the Good News of the Gospel. 

In the Gospel this morning we see Jesus at a crucial point, between His Baptism and the calling of the first disciples: Peter and Andrew, James and John. Christ goes into the desert for forty days, to be alone, to pray and to fast, and the church keen to imitate our Saviour likewise goes into the desert so that we may grow closer to God, that we may be purged and prepared to celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. 

Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, a place traditionally associated with the prophets and with encounter with God. After fasting for forty days and forty nights He is hungry. This is no surprise at all. He has been fasting for forty days, Our Lord is starving – he is fully human not some superhero who is immune to human feelings and needs. So the devil tempts Him by saying, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ (Mt 4:3 ESV). The temptation works on several levels. By doubting that Jesus is God and asking Him to prove it the devil is continuing to mock the God he refuses to serve. It is a temptation to be relevant: Jesus is hungry and needs to eat, but is being tempted to use the creative power of God simply to serve an appetite. The world tempts us to be relevant, and to conform ourselves to it, rather than let the world be conformed to the will of God. Jesus’ reply to the devil, that man does not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God, reminds us that as Christians we are fed by Word and Sacrament, nourished by God so that we may grow in faith, and hope, and love. 

Christ is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and told to throw Himself down. This is the temptation to be spectacular, to do something for show, again something which the contemporary church seems rather keen on. But nothing should be done for show; we are called to follow Christ simply and humbly, trusting in Him. The devil wants to put God to the test, it is an act of disobedience, contrary to the humble obedience which sees us live trusting in God, relying upon Him, formed by Him.

Christ is finally tempted to turn away from God the Father, to worship a false god. He is offered much in material terms –- all the world and its splendour -– wealth and power –- a huge temptation for humanity, and one into which many people give. The Church too has given in, and continues so to do. We have to be weak, powerless and vulnerable, utterly reliant upon God so that God can be at work in us, as we humbly worship and serve Him. It may look foolish in worldly terms, but that is the point –- we are not meant to be conformed to the world, but as we seek to grow in faith, in humility, and obedience, we allow God to be at work in us –- taking us and transforming us into His likeness.

The temptation to worship a false God: money, power, or success is always there, and many in the church give in to feelings of ambition, and if they are not ‘successful’ end up bitter, cynical, and miserable. But success is itself empty, popular favour can disappear like a puff of smoke. It is fleeting, it does not last. Whereas in Christ we are offered something that will last: eternal life with God in heaven. 

So as we undertake to follow Christ in our Lenten pilgrimage we do so in our weakness, so that we may rely upon God, and Him alone. We do so joyfully, knowing that Christ’s victory which we will celebrate at Easter is total and complete – it is justification and life for all.

Let us pray that we may receive grace to follow Christ so that we may prepare to celebrate His Death and Resurrection and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Quinquagesima (7th Sunday of Year A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we prepare to begin the season of Lent, we look to the Cross as our only hope, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us. May we live out the love and forgiveness which we see in Christ. May we turn away from our sins, and live out the perfection of Christ, to proclaim the truth of His Kingdom, and to call men and women to live lives from hatred and anger, filled with love and forgiveness so that they and all creation may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now, and forever. Amen.

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3rd Sunday of Year A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity, uniting heaven and earth through the sacrifice of Calvary, allowing all humanity to share the body and blood of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, feeding on him so that we may become what he is; enabling us to share eternity with him, and to live lives of faith and hope, and love. So then, let us join the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb and enter into the mystery of God’s self-giving love, so that we may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now, and forever.

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The Baptism of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epiphany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let us be filled with joy and love, may we live lives of joy, and love, and service of God and one another, which proclaim in word and deed the love of God to the world, that it may believe: so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen

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Christmas 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midnight Mass 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Advent III – He that will come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Advent II Yr A – REPENT

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

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

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

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

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

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Advent I (Year A)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The time is short, the time is now, it really matters; we need to come to the Lord, learn his ways and walk in his paths, living decently, living vigilantly, preferring nothing to Christ, and inviting all the world to come to the fullness of life in Him. This is how we celebrate His coming at Christmas and as Our Saviour and Judge, by following him, fed by Him, restored and healed by Him, and sharing His church’s message with all the world, so that it too may believe and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Christ the King Year C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the God we worship, and whom we hail as our true King. Christ has conquered on the Cross, Christ reigns as King of the Universe, and Christ reigns in our hearts, and in our lives, so that all we are, and all we do may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Trinity XXII

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trinity XIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

cana

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.