Advent II Year C

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Remorse is always a prisoner of the past; it does not shrug its shoulders and forget it. The past is present; the fault is ever before the eyes, but there is no way to undo it….
Repentance is also self-reproach, like the other states, but it is never sterile; it lays hold of the past by undoing it through penance. Both Judas and Peter denied Our Lord, but Judas repented unto himself, which was regret and remorse, and took his own life; Peter repented unto the the Lord, which produced a new man

Fulton Sheen , On Being Human, Garden City, 1982: 73
 
The prophets are not always prophets of doom, they also proclaim the message of hope to Israel, in the midst of exile, when times look dark, they are to wrap the cloak of integrity around themselves, and put the crown of the glory of God upon their heads. It is the message of trust, trust in God alone as the source of our hope, the only rock on which to build a life of faith.
As the people of God we are to trust in and to live lives which prepare for the second coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as our Saviour and our judge. To be a Christian, then, is to live a life where our love for each other, and for God, increases day by day as St Paul puts it. We are to grow in virtue by being virtuous – it’s simple, practical and fairly un-glamourous. It takes prayer, a lot of prayer, undertaken by all of us.
In this morning’s gospel we see the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, as he prepares the way for the Lord. He proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins: calling the people of Israel to turn away from the ways of selfishness and sin, to turn back to God. He is a prophet who fulfils prophesy, what Isaiah looks for is fulfilled in John the Baptist In our baptism we promise to turn away from sin, the world, and the devil; we turn away from what the world thinks and does, because our baptism makes us pure and blameless, following the Commandments of God, and shown to us in the life of Jesus Christ. We turn away from the world and we turn to Christ. We are in the world, but not of it. 
The church, then, must be a voice crying in the wilderness. What we proclaim may well be at odds with what the world thinks we should say and do, but we are not called to be worldly, to conform ourselves to the ways of the world. We live in a fallen world, which is not utterly depraved but which falls short of the glory of God, but the church exists to conform the world to the will of God. To say to the world, come and have life in all its fullness, turn away from selfishness and sin, to have life in all its fullness in Jesus Christ.
Now, the world may not listen to us when we proclaim this; it may well choose to ignore us, to mock us, even to persecute us. We have to be prepared to do this regardless of the cost, to ourselves or indeed others. We must bear witness to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and their saving work even if it means shedding blood, of losing our lives, because it says to the world: we trust in something greater than you, we know the truth and it has set us free, we are free to love God and to serve him, and to invite others to do the same, to be baptised, to turn away from the world, and be fed by word and sacrament, built up into a community of love, offering the world a radical alternative, and holding fast to the truths which the church holds dear, since they are given us by God.
 
It’s a big, a daunting task, which, if it were up to us individually, we would have no chance of achieving. But it is something which we can do together, as the body of Christ, and relying upon God alone: it is his gospel, his church, and his strength in which we will accomplish this. Too often we trust in ourselves and fail, we need to trust in God and ask him to bring about the proclamation of the Gospel through us. We need to be like John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Lord who will come again as our Saviour and our Judge.  

 

This is what we await in Advent: the coming of Our Lord as a baby in Bethlehem and his second coming as Our Judge, bearing in his glorious body the wounds of love, borne for us and our salvation. So let us prepare to meet him and live lives which proclaim his saving love and truth to a world hungry for meaning and love and thereby honour God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the consubstantial and coeternal Trinity, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Thoughts for the Day from Mother Mary Clare SLG


Our life proves the reality of our prayer, and prayer which is the fruit of true conversion is an activity, an adventure – and sometimes a dangerous one – because it brings neither peace nor comfort, but always challenge, conflict and new responsibility. 

We must try to understand the meaning of the age in which we are called to bear witness. We must accept the fact that this is an age in which the cloth is being unwoven. It is therefore no good trying to patch. We must, rather, set up the loom on which coming generations may weave new cloth according to the pattern God provides.

We must learn to wait upon the Spirit of God. As he moves us, we are led into deeper purgation, drawn to greater self-sacrifice, and we come to know in the end the stillness, the awful stillness, in which we see the world from the height of Calvary. 

Christ the King


The question of Pilate was that of all dictators who presume that the power of government is final and absolute. Our Lord reads to the arrogant Roman the lesson which he and all of his tribe in all ages and all lands need — that their power is derived from God, therefore it is in its foundation legitimate, and in its exercise it is to be guided by His will and used for His purposes

Fulton Sheen Thinking Life Through 1955: 202


We, all of us, have a fairly well defined idea of kingship in our heads: from the benevolent saintliness of Edward the Confessor, to the tyrannical corpulent Henry VIII. Human kingship can be something of a mixed bag: depending upon an accident of birth, and sadly while one may have power, without the knowledge and humility to use it well and in the service of others. Thus, we would seriously err were we to extrapolate divine kinship from its flawed human counterpart. If I were to ask you the question, ‘what does a king look like?’, you may well reply that he wears a crown of gold, and a cloak of red or purple velvet. He looks impressive and dignified; everything about him makes you go ‘Wow!’ It’s quite understandable – it’s how we expect a king to look, it’s what we’ve grown up to expect: whenever we see pictures of kings they look like this.
In this morning’s gospel we are given an entirely different picture of kingship. Our Lord will soon receive the outward trappings and will be hailed as a King. And in the mockery people will not realise that the joke is really on them. Christ is truly a King, but not in a way that the world can easily understand. His kingdom is not of this world; the way of God is not to use threats, mockery, or violence. Instead, Christ becomes incarnate, becomes a human being, to bear witness to the truth. He who is the way, the truth, and the life, comes that we might know the truth and that the truth might set us free. As those who follow him, we as Christians are to be free, to stand against this world and its power, to show it another way: where weakness can triumph in the face of anger, where love can overcome bitterness. The world around us cannot understand this, it could not at the time of our Lord’s passion, and it cannot even today. One needs to experience it before one can begin to understand it. Christ shows the world his reign of glory by being nailed to a cross and now exalted in glory and coming to be our judge he bears in his body the wounds of nail and spear, the wounds of love, wounds which heal and reconcile humanity.
In his dealings with Pilate, Christ foreshadows the church and its dealings with secular power. Just as Pilate could not wait for an answer, so the world around us can only treat the church with impatience and contempt: neither then nor now can we hope to be understood, we are instead to be threatened to capitulate to a secular power – for the Romans and their power, read the whim of politicians and the tyranny of so-called ‘equality legislation’. As the body of Christ, we exist to love and to serve God and one another, and call the world to repent and to believe and to be healed by God. We have bishops to be our Chief shepherds, as successors of the apostles, those called and set apart by Christ to be shepherds and not hirelings, laying down their lives like Christ and for Christ, and not solely to sit in the High Court of Parliament. We then may advise the state, for its own good, but primarily so that the church may continue to preach the gospel and make disciples of this nation and every nation. The world may not understand us, it may not listen to us, or like whom we are and what we do or do not do on, but we cannot allow ourselves to be conformed to the world and its ways. In loving and serving God we call the world to conform itself to his will.
Only then can we bring about that radical transformation envisaged in the Gospels: living as a community of love and not fear. It is through living it out in our lives and as the church that we can show the world a better way of being, a way which acknowledges Jesus Christ as King of all the universe, where his way of love washes away our sins with his blood, reconciles us to God and each other, and forgiving others as we ourselves are forgiven. Where the world wants blame we have to live out the love and forgiveness, which we ourselves have received from God in Christ Jesus. This then can truly be a kingdom and not of this world.

So as we prepare to enter the season of Advent, where we will prepare ourselves to greet the King of the Universe born in a stable in Bethlehem, let us acknowledge Christ as our King, whose Sacred Heart burns with love for us, whose wounds still pour out that love upon the world, and let us live as people loved, healed, restored and forgiven, that the world may believe and all creation acknowledge God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for the Twenty Fourth Sunday after Trinity

When faced with an example of evil, of horror, human sinfulness on a grand scale it can be hard to know exactly what to say and do, as terror has the ability to paralyse us. It may not seem much but we can pray and trust God, and in His love and mercy. Compared to this all the sin and hate and bitterness of the world melts away. 
When Jesus talks to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, he speaks of a future which is uncertain and unpleasant, a future which we inhabit. And yet in this uncertain future we can be absolutely certain of one thing: namely that we are loved by God, as this is demonstrated by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ on the Cross, where he carries the burden of our sins, past present and future, each and every act of murderous terrorism, all the sin which separates us from each other and from God. It is this confidence which inspires the author of the Letter to the Hebrews – he knows and trusts in the love of God shown to the world in Christ Jesus, to heal and restore humanity. There may be times when we don’t feel this to be true, when faced with an unrelenting torrent of human misery that we fall into despair. We want God to act, to sort things out, and yet, he already has, that is the point of Calvary, it is the place where human sin and Divine Love and Forgiveness meet, and where death is swallowed up in the victory of the Resurrection. We get upset if God doesn’t act in the manner or time of our choosing, while forgetting that He already has, once and for all.
We can rest assured that in the end Love will win, it has fewer guns and bombs, but more friends, and as Christians we know that Divine Love has a human face, a human heart, who says of those crucifying Him ‘Father. forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Even as he dies, in pain and agony, in naked humiliation, his thoughts are for those whom he loves, whom he came to save. This is something to cling to, someone in whom we can put our trust. This is why, day by day day and week by week, for nearly two thousand years the church does this in memory of Him, so that we are mindful of the fact the Christ as both priest and victim offers himself upon the altar of the Cross to take away our sins, and we come to be fed by Christ and with Christ, with His Body and His Blood, so that we may be healed and restored, given a taste here on earth of the glory which awaits those who truly love and follow him.
This why we are here today, because we know that death, and sin, and hatred, and fear could not overcome Divine Love: Our Lord rose on the first day of the week, victorious over sin and death. We are an Easter people and ‘Alleluia’ is our song. WE know that nothing, not even death itself can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and we can put our trust in Him. We can be fed by Him, and with Him, so that we can share in that life of divine love here and now, so that He may transform our human nature, giving us a pledge of immortality here and now to strengthen us, to restore us, to heal our wounds, and fill us with His Love.
His victory is complete and total, its effects extend through time, it is eternal, the Love of God can change our lives, if we let it. So, let us come to Him to be transformed, and filled with His Love, strengthen to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom so that all may repent and believe, and give Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. 

Homily for All Saints


The feast which we celebrate today is something of an historical accident, it began as the dedication of a chapel to All Saints in St Peter’s in Rome by Pope Gregory III in the eighth century, but it gives us a chance to consider saints, what they are, and what it means to be one. In short there are two things which we need to know about all the saints: that there are many of them and that they are all on our side.
Though, at first glance, the example of the saints and their number can also appear unnerving, even off-putting: when we consider the example of the saints, of lives lived in unity with God’s will and purpose we can begin to feel that we humble Christians with our ordinary hum-drum lives and simple faith cannot live up to the example set by the saints and that heaven has no place for us.
       But on this feast of All Saints, I would like to begin by considering the saints themselves.  Many people, if you were to ask them what they thought about a Saint would probably reply that they are better than the rest of us, but they somehow earned their reward amongst the church triumphant, but this is quite wrong. No one can earn their way into heaven, and the church has never subscribed to a doctrine of salvation through works. This is not to say that a Saint is simply a sinner, revised and edited. The lives and examples of the saints show us the way to Heaven because they reflect the gospel and the person of Jesus Christ. All of us, in our baptism, receive the grace of God, his free gift whereby our souls are infused with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. We all of us receive the same grace as all the Saints Triumphant, we are given, through our baptism all that we need to get to heaven, through the free gift of God.
We as Christians need to follow the example of the Queen of the Saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and like her say yes to God, and conform our lives to His will. We have to accept the divine invitation, cooperate fully with the divine will, and live out our faith in our lives.
       It is no surprise then that Jesus begins his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount with the phrase, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. To be poor in spirit is to lack a sense of one’s own importance, it is the exact opposite of feeling self-satisfied or rejoicing in the fact that we have attained wealth or status or anything that is seen as important in the eyes of the world. The kingdom of God, as proclaimed by Jesus turns our human expectations on their head. Thus, the fact that we do not count ourselves worthy of a place means that we are in fact worthy of one.
We are used nowadays to a ‘go-getting’ world where you are deemed to have succeeded by a confidence bordering on arrogance, where all that matters is your own success. Whereas, in the kingdom of heaven those who are meek, and gentle and kind, those who think about others before themselves will be rewarded in a way which exceeds their expectations – Jesus’ vision of the world lived in accordance with the will of God does turn our understanding upside down.
To be poor in spirit is to be humble, to know that you’re a sinner, that you are no better than anyone else, and that you need God’s love and mercy. It is the exact opposite of pride, that foundational sin, whereby humanity thinks it knows better than God, and wants to go its own way. It is not masochism or self-pity, but instead a recognition of our reliance upon God and God alone. If the way to salvation is narrow then the door itself is low down, and only through humility may we stoop to enter. That is why Jesus says this first, because those who are poor in spirit, those who are humble and know their need of God, can live out lives in accordance with God’s will.
The church has always been a school for sinners; we will all of us get it wrong, fail miserably, but hopefully love and forgive one another, and ask God for forgiveness, remembering that he is loving and merciful. In all this, we can be sure that the world will not understand us.
We as Christians have to practice what we preach, and live out our faith in our lives, so that it can become something infectious (in a good way) and bring about the transformation of the world we as Christians long for (by the grace of God).
If we are courageous, kind, and humble, then we can give the world an example to follow, as opposed to the violence, greed, corruption, and a shallow cult of celebrity, which seem to characterise our modern world. We can truly offer an alternative, which shows that we are in the world but not of it, and in which the light of the Gospel will shine.
Thus when we consider what constitutes proper behaviour for human beings and how we should live out our faith in our lives the picture of the saints in heaven becomes a far less off-putting one. What God requires of us, and what the saints have demonstrated was their willingness to do what God asks of us, no more and no less.
So let us, on this feast of All Saints, be filled with courage, ready to conform our lives to God’s will and live out our baptism and our faith in the world – as this is what we are called to do, and our reward will be great in heaven.

Homily for the 21st Sunday after Trinity (Bible Sunday)


Never once did Our Lord tell these witnesses of His to write. He Himself only wrote once in His Life, and that was on sand. But He did tell them to preach in His Name and to be witnesses to Him to the ends of the earth, until the consummation of time. Hence those who take this or that text out of the Bible to prove something are isolating it from the historical atmosphere in which it arose, and from the word of mouth which passed Christ’s truth.
Fulton Sheen The World’s First Love, 1946: 45
On this Sunday the Church bids us give thanks for the gift of Holy Scripture: for the fact that we are able to tell the story of Jesus and the beginnings of the church through the words of the New Testament, that we can see Christ, the Word made flesh as the inspiration and fulfilment for all scripture. Prophesy is fulfilled in and through Him, it points to Him, it finds its true meaning in Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
       In this morning’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah is looking forward to a messianic future, where people’s deepest needs are satisfied. Our most basic needs are for food, water, shelter, warmth, clothing, and love. Christ fulfils these needs himself; he gives us himself, under the outward forms of bread and wine, he feeds us with His BODY and BLOOD, what richer food is there than this for our bodies and our souls, for those who are thirsting, who long to come to Christ, they come to the waters, the waters of baptism, through which they enter the Church, through which they die to the world and live to Christ, they are regenerate, born again, to new life in Him.
       ‘You that have no money, come, buy and eat!’ We, all of us are poor spiritually, and we cannot buy our way into Heaven, such is the cost of human sin and disobedience, that only Christ’s offering of Himself could pay the debt which we cannot, to we come to God poor and open-handed, relying upon his love and mercy, his grace, to heal and restore us. In Christ a New Covenant has been cut in His Blood, upon the Cross, to save humanity from its sins, and to restore us, to give us the hope of eternal life in Him, and through Him. Christ is the Son of David, Israel’s true and eternal king, the King of Heaven, the King of all the Earth, our Ruler, and our Judge, who has conquered all through his death and resurrection, and who reigns supreme, Lord of our hearts, the Lord of All, whose word has gone out into all lands, so that across the world people acclaim Him as their Lord and King. In Christ we can seek God and find Him, we can call upon Him, and know that he will listen, that He will hear our prayer, as His Son has taught us how to pray, and promised that our prayer will be answered.
       It is God who calls us to repentance, to turn away from sin, from all which separates us from God and each other and to turn to Him, to come in penitence and faith, to say sorry, to seek a fresh start, and to try not to repeat those sins in the future, it’s a process which we have to repeat every day, of every week of our lives here on earth, it’s why we meet together regularly as Christians, to be nourished, healed and restored by God, nourished with Word and Sacrament, to journey as the pilgrim people of God, loving Him, and each other, seeking his forgiveness, and that of our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that we can try to live out our faith, and journey together towards Heaven and the eternal joy of God’s presence. We don’t deserve it, but nonetheless God gives it to us in a generosity which we cannot understand, but only experience.
       This is why the church teaches and preaches rooted in Holy Scripture, so that we can be close to Christ, through it we proclaim the One who was born for us, who died and rose again for us. Thus the church has an educative role, to be a school for the saints, who are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. If we are honest then we recognise that despite our good intentions that we all fall short of the mark, of what we know God wants us to do, and quite of often of what we and our own consciences would have us do, and so we need to come to God, to ask for forgiveness, and to seek His grace to live out our faith in our lives, turning away from sin, back to the God who loves us and saves us.
       The world around us doesn’t care for such things: it’s too much like hard work; it’s far too much trouble to get up on a Sunday morning, and there are far more interesting things to do anyway, the delights of the world are too tempting, they entice people and while entry to the church through baptism is free it costs us our lives, in that we live for Christ, so that we can say  with the Apostle Paul that it is no longer I who live but Christ living in me (Gal. 2:20) It is difficult and costly, and worthwhile. The world around us and a great part of the church nowadays prefers to go soft on moral matters, and to preach a gospel of cheap grace, which doesn’t make demands on people, it is the church of NICE, of fuzzy felt, of fuzzy sentiment, of social convention, it is not challenging, it doesn’t make people feel awkward, GOD FORBID! we’re Anglicans after all. That if you don’t turn to God, and seeks his forgiveness that you are saying yes to a future without God: hellfire and damnation are a reality, and the way to them is broad and easy. Paul and Timothy faced this same problem nearly two thousand years ago, and we face it today. It is not easy to stand here and say such things, I’m a miserable sinner, who will have to answer to God on the day of judgement for all that I am and do, part of which is the proclamation of the truth of the Kingdom, and calling the people of God to repentance, to turn away from sin, from an easy faith which says that sin doesn’t matter, which downgrades and undervalues who Christ is and what he does. Let us come to Christ that we may have life, in Him, and through Him, fed by Him, fed with Him, in Word and Sacrament, to be filled with His love and forgiveness, and to live out our faith in our lives, so that in word and deed we may proclaim the Good News of His Kingdom, so that the world may believe and give glory… 

St Luke


One of the penalties of being religious is to be mocked and ridiculed. If Our Lord submitted Himself to the ribald humour of a degenerate Tetrarch, we may be sure that we, His followers, will not escape. The more Divine a religion is, the more the world will ridicule you, for the spirit of the world is the enemy of Christ

Fulton Sheen, Characters of the Passion, 1946: 56

St Luke was a physician by profession and having learned to cure the body, he met Him who could cure both body and soul, his Gospel is filled with healing miracles, here is a God who cares for the weak, the marginalised, the vulnerable. It also fulfils prophesy, such as that of Isaiah, who looks forward to the coming of the Messiah as a time of healing, this is a God who keeps his promise, who restores his people.  It reminds us that true peace and healing are the gift of God, and a sign of his love. It is a love shown in its fullness in the person and life of Jesus Christ; it is His suffering and death which bring us peace beyond our understanding.
            In this mornings Gospel we see something of the early spread of the Gospel, people are sent out by Jesus to prepare the way for Him, they are to be prophets, heralds, announcing the nearness of the Kingdom of God. They are sent out as lambs in the midst of wolves it sounds risky and vulnerable, its not easy or comfortable, it doesnt make sense, but thats the point: only then can we be like the Lamb of God, and proclaim his message of healing and reconciliation. If were concerned about the shortage of labourers in the Lords vineyard, then we need to pray, to ask God to provide, to trust and rely upon Him, and in His strength alone. Only then are we looking at things the right way: if we trust ourselves, our strength and abilities, we will surely fail. But if we trust in God, all things are possible. Its a hard lesson, and in two thousand years we havent managed to learn it and completely put it into practice, but we can, however, keep trying, as ours is a God of love, of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.
            The heralds of the kingdom travel light, unlike most of us nowadays: they are unencumbered by stuff, and instead they are reliant upon others to provide what they do not have. They are dependent upon the charity of others they rely upon God and his people. They live out a faith which stresses our interconnectedness, our reliance upon those other than ourselves. Its quite strange for us to hear, were used to being told that its all about me: what I am, what I can do, what I have. These are the values and ideas of the world; those of the kingdom are entirely different. The interesting thing is that the seventy (which includes St Luke) listen to what Jesus tells them, they obey Him, and when they return they have done what He asked them to do. Their obedience bears fruit amidst the disobedience of the world, of selfishness and sin – they are sent out like lambs in the midst of wolves so that they can trust in God and not in themselves, and through their reliance upon Him and not their own efforts or strength they bear fruit for the glory of his kingdom. Here then is the pattern for our lives, Christ calls us to follow in the footsteps of the seventy, to fashion our lives after their example, so that we too might be heralds of the Kingdom, who rely upon God rather than humanity. So that we can say with the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Galatians: But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal 6:14).
            Such is the power of the Cross: this instrument of humiliation and torture displays Gods glory and saving love to the world. That is why we are here today to see the continuation of that sacrifice enacted in front of our very eyes, so that we are able to eat Christs Body and drink His Blood, so that our human nature may be transformed by His Grace, we are fed by God, with God, strengthened to live out our faith in our lives, to walk in the light of this faith, as heralds of the Kingdom, proclaiming the Gospel of repentance, of healing and reconciliation, brought about by Christ on the Cross, so that the world may share in the new life of Easter, lled with the Holy Spirit.
It is not an easy task, or indeed a pleasant one, the world will mock us, as it mocked Him. It will tell us that we are irrelevant and turn its back on us, just us it ignored Him. Let us trust in Him, proclaiming His peace and mercy, so that the world may believe and may be healed and be transformed and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for the 19th Sunday after Trinity Year B


Again and again outsiders who wanted to alleviate the simplicity and austerity of their way of life found no one ready to receive the money or goods offered. Thieves were therefore no threat, partly because the hermits had nothing worth stealing but also because they wanted to have less and not more:
When Macarius was living in Egypt, one day he came across a man who had brought a donkey to his cell and was stealing his possessions. As though he was a passer-by who did not live there, he went up to the thief and helped him to load the beast and sent him peaceably on his way, saying to himself, ‘We brought nothing into this world (1 Tim. 6:7) but the Lord gave; as he willed, so it is done: blessed be the Lord in all things.’
A brother was leaving the world, and though he gave his goods to the poor, he kept some for his own use. He went to Antony, and when Antony knew what he had done, he said, “ If you want to be a monk, go to the village over there, buy some meat, hang it on your naked body and come back here.”
The brother went, and dogs and birds tore at his body. He came back to Antony, who asked him if he had done what he was told. He showed him his torn body. Then Antony said, “Those who renounce the world but want to keep their money are attacked in that way by demons and torn in pieces.”
Macarius and Antony as cited by Benedicta Ward in The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (London: Penguin Books, 2003) 53.
The key message in this morning’s Gospel is to put it plain and simply that God calls us to be generous. We know that this is how God is towards us, so we are to follow his lead and example. It sounds simple and straightforward, and to put it simply, it is. But it isn’t easy – oh no, far from it; it’s fine in theory but when it comes to practice it is a different matter entirely.
People simply don’t like doing it! Following Christ makes demands upon us: who and what we are, what we do, how we live our lives. It is far easier to be selfish, self-absorbed, to love wealth, power, and influence, than to love and follow Christ.
SO this leads me to my next question this morning, how do we? How do we live lives of generosity? I suspect that there’s no magic formula, no deep spiritual insight other than to say simply by doing it! The more we try and do it, then the easier it gets. If we get on with it TOGETHER then: it is less strange, there is camaraderie, and it gets easier. This is what being a Christian community, and living a Christian life together looks like. It’s easier if we do it together, we can love, forgive and support each other, carrying each other’s burdens.
The world around will tell us otherwise. It will tell us that we need to care about wealth, and power, and stuff. That it’s the way to be happy, to be powerful, and successful, to gain respect, and value in the eyes of others and ourselves, that this is where happiness and respect lie. It is certainly a seductive proposition, and many are seduced by it, both inside the church and outside, the temptation to be relevant, to give people what they want rather than what they need, to go along with the ways of the world. To be seduced by selfishness, self-interest, and sin. But we need to get some perspective: these things do not matter in the grand scheme of things. Wealth, power, and influence, are no use to us when we are dead, they won’t help us to stand before our maker, we cannot take them with us when we depart from this world. They may benefit our immediate family and friends, but that is no guarantee of anything in the long term. Would we not rather, when all is said and done be remembered as kind, generous, loving people, quick to forgive, and seek forgiveness. Isn’t this a better way to be?
What does matter, however, is firstly loving God, and listening to Him, and secondly loving your neighbour – putting that love into practice. This is the core of our faith, what we believe, and how we are supposed to live our lives. The costly love of God and neighbour is how we need to live, to be fully alive and live out our faith in action. This is what Jesus shows us in the Gospels, this is what he teaches and why he dies and rises again for us, and we need to listen to Him, and to follow His example.
It’s why he gives us the Eucharist – to make us one in Him, and to give us strength. It is why we are here this morning, so that we can be nourished body and soul with word and Sacrament, so that we can be transformed more and more into His likeness, fed with the bread of life for our journey of faith, strengthened to live like Him, to live with Him, and in Him, strengthened by the gift of his Holy Spirit, poured into our hearts. So let us come to Him. Let us be fed by Him and with Him, and transformed more and more into his likeness, to live out the same generous self-giving love in the world, let us lose our life so that we may truly find it in Him, who is the source and meaning of all life.

A thought from Henri Nouwen

All of this is simply to suggest how horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be. Why is this so? Why do we children of the light so easily become conspirators with the darkness? The answer is quite simple. Our identity, our sense of self , is at stake. Secularity is a way of being dependant upon the responses of our milieu. The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated, as Thomas Merton says, by social compulsions. ‘Compulsive’ is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation. Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised. Whether I am a pianist, a businessman or a minister, what matters is how I am perceived by the world. If being busy is a good thing, then I must be busy. If having money is a sign of real freedom, then I must claim my money. If knowing many people proves my importance, I will have to make the necessary contacts. The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of failure and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same – more work, more money, more friends.

These very compulsions are at the basis of the two main enemies of the spiritual life: anger and greed. They are the inner side of the secular life, the sour fruits of our worldly dependencies. What else is anger other than the impulsive response to the experience of being deprived? When my sense of self depends on what others say of me, anger is a quite natural reaction to a critical word. And when my sense of self depends on what I can acquire, greed flares up when my desires are frustrated. Thus greed and anger are the brother and sister of a false self fabricated by the social compulsions of the unredeemed world.

Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for nit coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who making them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.

It is not so strange that Anthony and his fellow monks considered it a spiritual disaster to accept passively the tenets and values of their society. They had come to appreciate how hard it is not only for the individual Christian but also for the church itself to escape the seductive compulsions of the world. What was their response? They escaped from the sinking ship and swam for their lives. And the place of salvation is called desert, the place of solitude.

 

Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, London: DLT, 1990: 14-16

Twenty-fourth Sunday of Year B ‘Who do you say that I am?’


We must learn to wait on the Spirit of God. As he moves us, we are led into deeper purgation, drawn to greater self-sacrifice, and we come to know the stillness, the awful stillness, in which we see the world from the height of Calvary
Mother Mary Clare slg
Picture the scene if you will: you’re walking along a dusty road, going uphill in the heat towards Caesarea Philippi, and Jesus asks the question, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ You answer, saying what you’ve heard people say, ‘some say John the Baptist, others Elijah or one of the prophets’ Jesus has been proclaiming the Good news of the Kingdom of God. Then Jesus asks, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Then, quick as a flash Peter replies, ‘You are the Christ, the Messiah’. Jesus asked his disciples then, and through the Gospel he asks each and every one of us today the question, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ It is a question which we all need to answer. Are we happy to say that he’s a prophet, but just a man, to deny his divinity, or can we say that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. If we are happy to say this is this simply the end of the matter or is more asked of us? At that time Jesus tells His disciples not to tell anyone of Peter’s confession of faith, it isn’t the right time. Instead he goes on to tell them what the Son of Man will undergo and suffer, how he will be rejected by the religious authorities, be killed and rise again. Peter is at one level understandably annoyed – he’s declared his belief only to see it rejected by others, it’s worse that sad, it’s awful, why should Jesus have to suffer and die? But Peter can only see things from a human point of view, he forgets that the suffering is already foretold, as in the Suffering Servant in Isaiah in this morning’s first reading, and Jesus’ proclamation will lead to rejection, torture and death. It is sad, and awful, and very human, and yet in the midst of the pain and rejection we see something of divine love. This is how much God loves us, that he gives his own Son to live and die for us, for you and me, so that we might live in Him.
          It also makes demands upon us: how we live our lives is important, as the Letter of James is at pains to point out – we are to live lives which proclaim our faith in word and deed. Jesus also invites those of us who follow him to take up our own cross and follow Him. What Jesus does for us and for humanity is wonderful, an amazing demonstration of God’s love for us, and he calls us in following Him to bear our own Cross: to follow Him in living out that same suffering love, to show the same compassion to the world, the same forgiveness. To follow Christ is to experience pain and anguish, heartache and loss, there is no magic wand to make things disappear, but rather as we try to live out our faith, stumbling and failing as we go, we are drawn ever more into the mystery of God’s love and forgiveness, we become people of compassion, of reconciliation, who can see beyond petty human trifles, squabbles, and arguments, to the Kingdom of God where restored humanity can be enfolded for ever in the love of God.
          Opposed to this we say the ways of the world: of money, of power; yet none of us can be saved by our possessions, and once we die they are of no use to us, and what then? All the wealth and power in the world cannot save our soul, cannot make us truly happy in the way that following Christ, and entering into his suffering can. God’s love is shown most fully when Christ dies for love of us, when he bears the weight of human sin, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. This is how the Messiah reigns, not on a throne, but on a Cross. And when he comes at the end of time to judge the world, as he surely will, a judgement of which the Apostle James is all too well aware, let us not be among the adulterous and sinful generation of those who are ashamed of Christ, but let us instead be in Him, conformed to Him, fed by His Body and Blood, showing our faith through our works, conformed to the Passion of our Lord and Saviour, giving of ourselves out of love, love of God and of our neighbour, costly self-giving love, which gives regardless of the cost, gladly and freely, generously, and in losing our life so we can find it in Him, and truly live in Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,

Trinity XIV Evensong


From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: an instruction sent by Abba Moses to Abba Poemen:
A brother asked the old man, ‘Here is a man who beats his servant because of the fault he has committed; what will the servant say?’ The old man said, ‘If the servant is good, he should say, “Forgive me, I have sinned.”’ The brother said to him, ‘Nothing else?’ The old man said, ‘No for the moment he takes upon himself the responsibility for the affair and says “I have sinned,” immediately the Lord will have mercy on him. The aim in all these things is not to judge one’s neighbour. For truly, when the hand of the Lord caused all the first-born of Egypt to die, no house was without its dead.’ The brother said, ‘What does this mean?’ The old man said, ‘If we are on the watch to see our own faults, we shall not see those of our neighbour. It is folly for a man who has a dead person in his house to leave him there and go to weep over his neighbour’s dead. To die to one’s neighbour is this: To bear your own faults and not pay attention to anyone else’s wondering whether they are good or bad. Do no harm to anyone, do not think anything bad in your heart towards anyone, do not scorn the man who does evil, do not put confidence in him who does wrong to his neighbour, do not rejoice with him who injures his neighbour. This is what dying to one’s neighbour means. Do not rail against anyone, but rather say, “God knows each one.” Do not agree with him who slanders, do not rejoice at his slander and do not hate him who slanders his neighbour. This is what it means not to judge. Do not have hostile feelings towards anyone and do not let dislike dominate your heart; do not hate him who hates his neighbour. This is what peace is: Encourage yourself with this thought, “Affliction lasts but a short time, while peace is for ever, by the grace of God the Word. Amen.”’ [1]
There is something very human and recognisable about the prophet Jonah: God speaks to him, and tells him to go to Nineveh to proclaim the Word of the Lord, he tries to escape, and do what he wants to do, it all goes horribly wrong until Jonah prays to God and goes to Nineveh, and issues a call to repentance, which the people of Nineveh, from the king downwards take to heart, they fast and pray, and are spared. So far so good: all is well, or so we might think. This is not, however, the end of the matter: Jonah is angry that God has forgiven the people of Nineveh. This is quite understandable, as the people of Assyria, who live in Nineveh are enemies of Israel, these are people who will conquer Israel, and lead its people off into captivity and exile. Job’s dilemma is a simple one, how can the God of Israel be loving and forgiving towards the enemies of his people?
      Jonah’s fundamental problem is that his conception of God is far too small, too nationalistic, and he forgets that God, is first and foremost a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. There is a tendency to argue that in the Old Testament God is a God of judgement, retribution, who rains down fire from heaven, whereas in the New Testament we see in Jesus Christ a God of Love.  This is a false dichotomy, a trap into which Christians have been falling, and continue to fall, from which they need help. From Marcion in the second century adto the liberal German protestantism of Adolf von Harnack and others, and the Jesus Seminar of late twentieth century America, we see people who, when faced with a difficult and complex picture of God, have preferred to make the complex simple, and to refashion the Divine into what they want it to be, rather than live with the fact that at one level God is ‘beyond our ken’ that the love and mercy of God are beyond our human comprehension.
      This is for a perfectly good reason, namely that intellectual comprehension is not the point, but rather the love, mercy and forgiveness of God is something which is to be experienced rather than understood. It is something demonstrated to the world when Our Lord Saviour, who took our flesh for our sake was scourged, and nailed to a Cross to die for us, to bear the burden of our sins, to pay the debt which we cannot, to heal us and restore us. The world did not understand this two thousand years ago, nor does it today. What looked like failure was in fact a great victory, the King of Heaven and Earth reigns nailed to the wood of a Cross. His flesh bears forever the mark of nails and spear as they are the wounds of love: God’s love of us, frail, sinful humanity, and through these wounds we are healed and restored, in them we find the inexhaustible store of God’s mercy poured out for and upon us.
      God does not need to do this, but as a God of love and mercy, who longs to heal and restore humanity made in His image what else can he do? As those healed and restored by him we are to live lives of radical love and forgiveness like those Christians in the Egyptian Desert who practised what they preached, and through their faith and humility inspired others to come to Christ and to follow Him, turning away from the ways of the world, and to Christ, who alone can heal and restore us, the God of love and mercy. Let us be healed and restored by him, and share that love and mercy with others so that they too may praise 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.  


[1] Sr Benedicta Ward(tr.) The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, London: A. R. Mowbray 1975: 120-121

Trinity XIV 23rd Sunday of Year B ‘Let us be healed by Him’


From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: ‘When blessed Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying, “Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria.” When he heard this, the old man got up and took his stick and hurried into the city. When he had found the tanner … he said to him “Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you.”
He replied, “I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of this city, small and great will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds, while I alone will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart.”
When blessed Antony heard this he said “My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near the measure of such words
When Our Lord begins the Sermon on the Mount, he starts by saying ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God’ To be poor in spirit is not to have a false idea of who and what you are, and it is to know your need for and dependence upon God, and God alone – to trust Him to be at work in your life, to heal and restore you.  That is how we are to live as Christians. In this morning’s Old Testament reading we see Isaiah prophesying about the Kingdom of God: he speaks of joy, refreshment and new life in God, it’s what the Kingdom of God looks and feels like – these are the promises fulfilled in the Word made flesh, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who took our flesh and lived and died to heal us, to restore in us the image of God, in which we were created.
This is why in the Gospels Jesus performs miracles: not to show off his power, or to attract followers, or to win popularity or power, but to show God’s healing love for people who know their need of God. The miracles are first and foremost prophetic acts which announce God’s Kingdom among us: a kingdom of love and mercy and healing, where humanity is restored and valued. This morning’s second reading from the Letter of St James shows us how to live our lives as Christians in an authentic manner. Just as St Antony was not afraid to see a greater example of faith than his own lived out in the world, by a man who tanned animal hides in urine all day long, hard, demanding and smelly work; so we should not make the distinctions of which the world around us is so fond. If we live our lives without judging others, we can be as free as the deaf mute healed by Jesus. The ways of the world will not bind and constrain us; we can instead serve Him, whose service is perfect freedom.
To return to the desert for an example ‘A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which abba Moses was invited, but refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him saying “Come for everyone is waiting for you”. So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug with him filled with water and carried it with him. The others came to meet him and said, “What is this, father?” The old man said to them “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him
This morning’s Gospel shows us God’s love and God’s healing. It is what we all need. I certainly need it: as I’m weak, broken, vulnerable, and sinful, and in need of what only God can give us. All of us, if we were to be honest are in need too – we need God to be at work in our lives, healing us, restoring us, helping us to grow more and more into his image. It would be foolish or arrogant to think otherwise: that we know it all, that we’re quite alright, thank you very much. Can we come to Jesus, and can we ask him to heal us, through prayer, through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the true balm of Gilead which can heal the sin-sick soul? We can and we should, indeed we must so that we can continue to live out our baptism as Christians.
 As those loved and healed by him we need to live out the reality of our faith in our lives, showing the love and forgiveness to others which God shows to us. So that all of our lives may give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

Trinity XIII 22nd Sunday of Yr B ‘Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers’


From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: an instruction sent by Abba Moses to Abba Poemen
A brother asked the old man, ‘Here is a man who beats his servant because of the fault he has committed; what will the servant say?’ The old man said, ‘If the servant is good, he should say, “Forgive me, I have sinned.”’ The brother said to him, ‘Nothing else?’ The old man said, ‘No for the moment he takes upon himself the responsibility for the affair and says “I have sinned,” immediately the Lord will have mercy on him. The aim in all these things is not to judge one’s neighbour. For truly, when the hand of the Lord caused all the first-born of Egypt to die, no house was without its dead.’ The brother said, ‘What does this mean?’ The old man said, ‘If we are on the watch to see our own faults, we shall not see those of our neighbour. It is folly for a man who has a dead person in his house to leave him there and go to weep over his neighbour’s dead. To die to one’s neighbour is this: To bear your own faults and not pay attention to anyone else’s wondering whether they are good or bad. Do no harm to anyone, do not think anything bad in your heart towards anyone, do not scorn the man who does evil, do not put confidence in him who does wrong to his neighbour, do not rejoice with him who injures his neighbour. This is what dying to one’s neighbour means. Do not rail against anyone, but rather say, “God knows each one.” Do not agree with him who slanders, do not rejoice at his slander and do not hate him who slanders his neighbour. This is what it means not to judge. Do not have hostile feelings towards anyone and do not let dislike dominate your heart; do not hate him who hates his neighbour. This is what peace is: Encourage yourself with this thought, “Affliction lasts but a short time, while peace is for ever, by the grace of God the Word. Amen.”’ [1]
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is uncompromising when dealing with the hypocrisy of the Scribes and the Pharisees: their religion is a façade, a sham, something done for show, for outward appearance, whereas we know, from the prophets onward that God looks on the heart, and if our motives are suspect then, we’re in trouble. The point is simple: what we do affects who and what we are, hence the need for the people of Israel to observe the statutes and ordinances without addition or subtraction. Likewise, the advice of the Letter of James is that people should in all gentleness and humility both listen to the word of God and do what it says, so that their thoughts and words and actions proclaim the truth that Christ died to save them from their sins and rose again that they might have new life in Him.
Rather than the pharisaic obsession with exterior cleanliness (and the letter of the Law) Our Lord and Saviour is concerned with the cleanliness of people’s souls, as it is from within, from the human heart that sinfulness can spring: his point is a simple one we become what we do, and thus the formation of a moral character is important, and can only be brought about by doing the right things.
There is a problem, however, that despite our best intentions we will fail in our endeavours. So what do we do? Is it simply a case that having tried and failed we are written off, cast aside and prepared for hell and damnation? By no means! Just as in the Gospel Jesus commands his followers to keep forgiving those who sin; our lives should be ones where we are continually seeking God’s forgiveness and that of our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that slowly and surely, as part of a gradual process, as people forgiven and forgiving, we try day by day to live out our faith in our lives. It is something which affects us all, each and every one of us, and it is only when we can live it out in our lives that our proclamation of the Kingdom can look authentic rather than running the risk of  being accused of hypocrisy.
So, by seeking forgiveness and forgiving others, by being close to God in prayer, in reading the Bible, and in the sacraments of the Church, and in the love which we have for each other as a Christian community, which recognises both that we fail but also that together we can be something greater and more wonderful than we could apart, 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 do this together then we can be built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory, which proclaims his love and truth to the world, which shows how forgiveness and sacrificial love can build up, rather than being bitter and judgemental and blind to our own faults: like the scribes and Pharisees, eager to point out the sins of others and yet blind to their own faults, failures and shortcomings. Instead, clothed in the humility of our knowledge of our need of God, his 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.


[1] Sr Benedicta Ward(tr.) The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, London: A. R. Mowbray 1975: 120-121

Trinity XII – 21st Sunday of Year B – ‘Lord to whom can we go?’


After the miraculous feeding of the Five Thousand in John’s Gospel, Jesus proceeds with a long Eucharistic discourse on the Bread of Life, which reaches its climax in this morning’s passage.
       Those who eat the Body and Blood of Christ abide in Him and He in us: to abide, to remain, there is something comfortable and comforting about its permanence. We sing the hymn ‘Abide with me’ which expresses the hope that this might happen, the longing to be close to Christ.
Christ gives himself to us so we may have life in this world and the next – it is a tremendous thing to say, and a troubling one. Jesus is speaking in the synagogue in Capernaum to Jews for whom the consumption of human flesh and blood is anathema – it is unacceptable, and unthinkable. What Jesus is promising goes against everything which they know and understand about their faith. He calls them to do the unthinkable.
Thus, is it hardly surprising that His disciples reply, ‘This teaching is difficult, who can accept it’. That is a normal reaction. But it is not one which Jesus will leave unchallenged. As he is the living bread which came down from Heaven so He will go back. After His death and Resurrection, He will ascend to the Father. Our being fed with the Lord’s Body and Blood is important, and what It is is clearly linked with who He is: God, born for us, who gives himself for us. It is linked to the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News – the words are Spirit and Life – and God gives himself so that His Church may be nourished by Word and Sacrament.
It is sad to think that even then ‘many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.’ Jesus had said something difficult, something troubling, something which turned the accepted order on it its head. People were unable or unwilling to accept what Jesus asked of them, and so He turns to his disciples and asks them if they want to go away too. Peter the leader of the disciples is the first one to reply: ‘Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God.’ Who can offer what Jesus Christ does? Life, freedom, the Love of God. He has the words of eternal life, and the disciples have come to know that he is the Messiah. His words are our words, his confession of faith is ours so that we too can have that same closeness to Jesus that the disciples did.
We come so that we may hear the words of eternal life, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and so that we may be fed by Him, and fed with Him, with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we can live forever because of Him. We can have a foretaste of the Heavenly banquet of the Kingdom, here and now, we can be fed with Jesus so that we can be transformed more and more into His likeness and prepared, here and now, for eternal life with God, and that we start living that life here and now, so that our faith is not a personal or a private matter but one which affects who and what we are, and how we live our lives, so that our faith affects who and what we are, and what we do, so that the Eucharist is our bread for the journey of faith, so that strengthened by Christ and with Christ, we may live lives which proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. This is how are supposed to live together as a Christian community, living in love, fed with love itself, here in the Eucharist, where we thank God for His love of us. As children of God, loved by God, we are to imitate him, we are to live after the pattern of Christ, who offered himself, who was a sacrifice who has restored our relationship with God. It is this sacrifice, the sacrifice of Calvary, which has restored our relationship with God, which will be re-presented, made present here today, that we can touch and taste, that we can know how much God loves us; that we can be strengthened and given the hope of eternal life in Christ – that God’s grace can transform our human nature so that we come to share in the Divine Nature forever.

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


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

Trinity VII Yr B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A prayer of Dr Pusey

O our Saviour! of ourselves we cannot love thee,
cannot follow thee, cannot cleave to thee;
but thou didst come down that we might love thee
didst ascend that we might follow thee,
didst bind us round thee as thy girdle that we may be held fast unto thee;
Thou who hast loved us, make us to love thee,
Thou who hast sought us, make us to seek thee,
Tho who, when lost, didst find us,
be thou thyself the way,
that we may find thee
and be found in thee,
our only hope, and our everlasting joy.

Trinity V Year B

Abba Moses the Ethiopian


In Scetis a brother was once found guilty. They assembled the brothers, and sent a message to Abba Moses telling him to come. But he would not come. Then the priest sent again saying, ‘Come, for the gathering of monks is waiting for you.’ Moses got up and went. He took with him an old basket, which he filled with sand and carried on his back. They went out to meet him and said, ‘What does this mean, abba?’ He said, ‘My sins run out behind me and I do not see them and I have come here today to judge another.’ They listened to him and said no more to the brother who had sinned but forgave him.
The monks of the Egyptian desert knew a thing or two about human nature, and our ability to make snap judgements, to listen to gossip, to be stubborn, to judge a book by its cover, to write people off and dismiss them. As they tried to live as a Christian community, built up together in love, they realised that it all starts with us at a personal level – we need to try to live the change which we want to see in the world around us. We won’t be very good at it, but if we try, and if we trust in God and if we forgive others and are forgiven by them then, who knows what God might do in our lives.

       Likewise the people of Israel seem to be very good at grumbling and moaning at God – the do a lot of it in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, but are not quite so good at hearing what God has to say to them. The lot of the prophet, like Ezekiel in our first reading this morning, is not necessarily a happy one, but it is something which has to be done. He is sent to the obstinate, so a prophet may well be rejected, but he is called to proclaim the word of the Lord regardless. The prophetic vocation is what drives St Paul, the love of Christ compels him (cf. 2Cor 5:14).  Thus when he is speaking to the church in Corinth he can say “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Cor 12:9-10) It is after all not about Paul, but all about Jesus, who loves us, and who saves us, whose triumph over sin, the world, and the devil looks rather like defeat – the execution of a Galilean blasphemer is what brings about the healing of this world. It is through the grace of God, an unmerited kindness, which we cannot earn, given to us so that we might respond to God’s call and share in his life, justified by grace and sanctified through charity. We may not have an encounter like Paul on the Road to Damascus, but that does not mean that God cannot or will not be at work in our lives. Despite our weakness God can and does use us, ordinary, frail, sinful human beings for the furtherance of his kingdom. It doesn’t make much sense – it goes against everything which we would expect, as Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, ‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’(1Cor 1:18)

       The people of Nazareth are likewise more than a little surprised at the teaching and activity of someone whom they think that they know. There is something scandalously ordinary about the Incarnate Son of God – he grows up as a carpenter’s son in a backwater town. How can we take a God seriously who works like this? The people of Nazareth have this problem, and so Christ could do little because of their unbelief. Just like their forebears they are stubborn, unable and unwilling to look beyond the surface or to trust God to be at work. So Jesus heals the sick as a sign of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, forgiveness, healing and restoration, and turns instead to his disciples. He calls his disciples to share in his work: to carry it on, as a matter of urgency, to preach repentance – to turn away from self and sin towards God; and the nearness of the Kingdom, shown through healing, a sign of what God in Christ is doing, and will do on the Cross and through His Resurrection.

       The Church then exists to carry on this work of proclamation, to live it, despite our weakness, our sinfulness, relying on Christ rather than ourselves, or our own strength. Indeed, in our weakness we are reliant upon Christ, and thus we acquire humility, through which God can truly be at work in us, building us up in love, fed by Him, in Word and Sacrament, fed with Him, given a foretaste of eternal life in Christ, so that we may be strengthened by him to bear witness to His saving truth, 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.

Trinity IV (Thirteenth Sunday of Year B)



Our society has got rather caught up with the cult of the individual, and while matters of healing and salvation have been seen as individual matters, they are best understood as community affairs: what affects us affects our family, our friends, and community, as we do not live in isolation, likewise Christ’s healing love is poured out on individuals who are part of a community.  Likewise the church is to be a place of healing and love, for individuals, and for the community.
Given the events of the last few days it is impossible for us not to describe our world as one in need of healing. Our human proclivity for violence seems as strong as ever, which reminds us that when things are left up to ourselves they don’t always end well.  We need some help, and that can only come from God.
       St Antony the Great once said ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we win our brother, we win God. If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.’ In the words of Rowan Williams:
‘Winning the brother or sister isn’t – in the perspective of St Antony – a matter of getting them signed up to something, getting them on your side, but opening doors for them to God’s healing. If you open such doors, you ‘win’ God, because you become a place where God ‘happens’ for someone else, where God comes to life for someone in a new and life- giving way – not because you are good and wonderful but because you have allowed the wonder and goodness of God to appear (and you may have no idea how). When we shift our preoccupations, anxiety and selfishness out of the way and some space appears for God, we ourselves are brought in touch with God’s healing. And so, in winning the brother and sister, we win God.’[1]
       This morning’s Gospel is concerned with healing, that of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with a haemorrhage. They show us the power of God to heal and restore humanity, which points to the Cross which is the greatest place of healing, where Christ bears our sins: for by his wounds we are healed, we are washed in his blood, healed and restored to new life in Him. Christ who was rich, for our sake made himself poor, so that we might become rich by his poverty. Likewise he gives himself under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we can be healed by Him. Unlike the physicians who have taken all of the woman’s money and not made her better but worse; Christ’s healing is free. The woman is afraid, but Christ does not want to single her out, but rather is conscious that someone is in need of healing, hence his words: ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’  She has faith: she believes that simply by touching his clothes, by being close to Jesus, that she can be healed. Likewise Jairus, a well-known pillar of the community, who sits at the front of the synagogue, falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him repeatedly: here is a desperate man, whose concern is not for his own station, but rather that his daughter may be made well and live. He comes to Jesus, who raises his daughter, who restores her to health and life. Jairus is humble; he knows his need of God.
       We, too, know that we need God’s healing, in our lives and in the world around us. We need to come to Jesus, so that we can be healed by Him, and restored by Him, to have life and life in all its fullness. We are given a foretaste of it here, this morning, in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, given to us so that we might be healed, body and soul, and given a foretaste of eternal life in Christ.
       Let us come to him, so that we too might be healed and restored by him, so that we might be built up in love, and our families and communities too might be healed and restored, living life in all its fullness – this is what Christ comes to bring to a world in need of healing. Let us come to him, so that we might be built up in love, so that the Kingdom may grow, so that we can invite others so share in God’s gift of his healing love, so that ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven by him, through Christ’s saving death, we 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.


[1]Rowan Williams Silence and Honeycakes: The wisdom of the desert , Oxford 2003: 104-5

11th Sunday of Year B


A monk was asked, ‘What is humility?’ and he said in reply, ‘Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all.’ Then a brother said, ‘What does it mean to be subject to all?’ The monk replied, ‘To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but always to give your attention to your own sins and pray without ceasing to God.’
There was an old man living in the desert who served God for many years and he said, ‘Lord, let me know if I have pleased you.’ He saw an angel who said to him, ‘You have not yet become like the gardener in such and such a place.’ The old man marvelled and said, ‘I will go off to the city to see both him and what he does that surpasses all my work and the toil of these years…’
            So he went to the city and asked the gardener about his way of life … When they were getting ready to eat in the evening, the old man heard people in the streets singing songs, for the cell of the gardener was in a public place. Therefore the old man said to him, ‘Brother, wanting as you do to live according to God, how do you remain in this place and not be troubled when you hear them singing these songs?’
            The man said, ‘I tell you, abba, I have never been troubled or scandalized.’ When he heard this the old man said, ‘What, then, do you think in your heart when you hear these things?’ And he replied, ‘That they are going into the Kingdom.’ When he heard this, the old man marvelled and said, ‘This is the practice which surpasses my labour of all these years.’
I rather like gardening, and I would hope that you do too: there is something wonderful about taking seeds or cuttings and placing them in compost and watching them grow. It never ceases to give me a thrill, and once they’ve grown you end up with something that you can eat, smell or look at, or even sell: it is a source of joy, of nourishment of body and soul. It is an image used by the prophet Ezekiel to look forward to a future where God’s people are sheltered, it looks to a Messianic future, to one fulfilled by the church, as the Lord plants the twig on the lofty mountain of Calvary. The Cross is the tree of life, through which we have life, and all people can rest secure.
       We in the West live in an age of anxiety, where we are all worried: what are we doing? Are we doing the right thing? Could we or should we do something different, something more? In the parable of the Kingdom with which this morning’s Gospel (Mk 4:26-34) starts, the one who scatters the seed does not know how things grow, and for all their sleeping and rising they cannot influence matters. The church founded by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and entrusted to his apostles began as a small affair, a few people in a backwater of the Roman Empire, and yet has now grown to point where there are several billion Christians on earth. Here in the west the picture may currently look rather bleak, but the global picture is far more encouraging. And even if we have been going through some bad harvests, the trick is to keep scattering the seed as they will grow in a way which can defy our expectations.
       We can like the Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians always be confident, we can put our trust in God, as we know that we cannot be disappointed, his victory is complete, so we please God by following his commandments: loving Him and loving our neighbour, motivated by the love of Christ, shown to us most fully when he suffers and dies for us, to heal us and restore us, to bear the burden of our sins – ‘he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.’ We live for Christ – our thoughts, words, and actions proclaim the saving truth of God’s love for humanity. If we seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others, and are forgiving ourselves then we can be built up in love. If we are devout in prayer, nourished by the word of God, and by the sacrament of his Body and Blood we are built up in love, our souls are nourished and we can grow into the full stature of Christ. So let us come to Him, and be fed by Him, healed and restored by Him, living in love and encouraging others so to do, for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom.

10th Sunday of Year B


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

Trinity Sunday


Today’s apparently the day which clergy dread, apparently we are petrified of the fact that today the Church celebrates the Triune nature of God, and that being required to preach about it, we might need to know some theology, and explain it to you. Apparently you don’t want this, though I cannot understand why – how could a Christian not want to deepen their faith and their understanding? At one level the Trinity could be seen as baffling: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons and one God, not three Gods, but a trinity of persons, co-equal, co-eternal, consubstantial. Yet what the Church celebrates today is not something abstract but something concrete and personal.
       The Church is a community, the Body of Christ, a fellowship of the baptised, who are loved, redeemed, and sanctified, by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We like to think of ourselves as loveable, as fairly good, decent, well-meaning people, but by divine standards we fail to come up to the mark, we’re not good enough, and all our efforts cannot make us get to heaven, such us the power of sin, of the human condition, and yet by the will of the Father, and through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ became incarnate for our sake, and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he showed us that God was not an angry, vengeful deity, but a loving Father who longs to welcome his prodigal children. God loves us not because we are loveable, that’s sin for you, but rather so that in being loved we might become loveable, so that God’s grace might transform our human nature, and prepare us for eternity with God. Along the way we will fail, again and again, we will get on each other’s nerves, but if we seek, give and receive forgiveness, then we can allow God’s redeeming love and forgiveness to be at work in us: ‘love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be, oh who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die’.
       Jesus Christ proclaimed the Good News of God’s love, which some accepted, many rejected, he was crucified to show us just how much God loves us, wretched sinful humanity, he sends his Spirit on the Church at Pentecost to strengthen it, to give it life, to live for God, and in God. We do not deserve it, I certainly don’t, the fact that I have been ordained does not make me a better Christian, I don’t have a hotline to the Divine, I can’t ‘have a word with the Man upstairs about the weather’, it just doesn’t work like that: all I know is that I am a wretched sinner who needs God’s love and mercy, every moment of every day. Thankfully, through the comfort of prayer, Holy Scripture, and the Sacraments of the Church, we can be built up in love – that’s how God works – we are not left comfortless, or without help or guidance, but like any loving relationship it cannot be one-sided, we have a part to play, which begins with our recognising our need for God, and for his love to be at work in us, to seek his forgiveness, and to be loving and forgiving to others, where we stay close to the channels of Divine Grace, so that our lives may be filled with them, so that they can transform our nature. It is an ongoing project, the work of a lifetime and beyond, which starts with humility, develops through obedience, and flourishes in charity.
       For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ John 3:16-17 (ESV) These few words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus in John’s Gospel encapsulate what we believe as Christians, and why we believe it, may we live them, strengthened through prayer, our study of the Bible, nourished by Our Lord’s Body and Blood, forgiven and forgiving, preparing to be caught up forever in the love of the consubstantial and coeternal Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, to who be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Pentecost 2015

Before our Lord ascended to his Father in heaven he told his disciples to wait, to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Around them in Jerusalem people would have been waiting to celebrate Pentecost where they gave thanks for the Law, given to Moses on Mt Sinai. It was a time of celebration, of joy, but for the Church it was something more.

       Jesus promised his disciples that he will send ‘the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.’ (Jn 15:26-27 ESV) He also promises that ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’ (Jn 16:13-15 ESV) We know that Jesus speaks the truth, that his promises can be trusted, that he pours his Holy Spirit upon the Church on the day of Pentecost, and continues so to do until he comes in glory as our Saviour and our Judge.

       The Apostles have obeyed Jesus’ command, they have waited and prayed, and they are filled with the Holy Spirit, so that they can proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, so that they can make Jesus known, so that people can come to know him and be filled with his love. People are amazed and perplexed, they simply cannot understand what is going on, some people assume that the disciples are drunk. Just as once people called Jesus a drunkard and a glutton because he used to hang around with the wrong sort of people. Instead St Peter can show that what is happening has been prophesied by the prophet Joel, whom he quotes (Acts 2:16-21) to show that Christ, the Word made flesh is the fulfilment of Scripture, it finds its true meaning in and through Him. He can preach Christ crucified and risen, for our salvation: ‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses’ they have seen and can testify that Jesus is alive. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) Peter and the apostles can confess their faith in Christ and bear witness to him. It has an immediate effect: (Acts 2:37) ‘Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”’ To which Peter replies, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ (Acts 2:38-39) This is what the church, you and me are called to proclaim, so that people can come and have new life in Christ. Then we see them all living a recognisable Christian life: ‘And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ (Acts 2:42) This is what we are called to be and to do as Christians, to a life where we are close to Christ, in Word and Sacrament, so that we may be strengthened to live the life of faith, and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ so that the world may believe.

Easter VII – Sunday after Ascension – A Radical Alternative

The prophet Ezekiel has a vision (in Chapter 36) of a messianic future, of the restoration of  Israel, which is found in his Son, Jesus Christ and the Church, we are those sprinkled with the clean water of baptism, who have been cleansed. God gives us a new heart and puts his Spirit within us, just as he did on the day of Pentecost, so we are to live as the people of God, lled with his love, and forgiveness, and proclaiming his Truth to the world.

This Sunday in the Gospel we are in the middle of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, which is the summit of his teaching just before his arrest and Passion. Christ has made God’s name known to us, we know him in a different way, we pray to him as ‘Father’ and we are his, we are not our own, despite the Western Liberal infatuation with personal freedom, we are God’s, which affects who we are, and what we do.

Christ speaks to us, and teaches us so that our joy may be complete in him, lled 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 – selshness, greed, which it makes into false gods, as though material wealth, or power, or status could save us – such things are transient and fleeting. It 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 on our own, we need the love and support of the Christian community to help us, even the rst Christians, those who had been with Jesus, needed each 0ther’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 selshness and sin. It will hate us for doing this, it will despise 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. 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.

So as we wait with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray 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 and a freedom which pass human understanding, and the gift of eternal life in Christ.

Easter VI – Love in Action

The prophet Isaiah has a vision of a Messianic future, a vision of hope, of plenty, and of love. His vision anticipates the grace and healing which God pours out on the world through His Son and the Holy Spirit. It is a vision of the future which we inhabit as Christians, through our common baptism and the grace of God. It may not always feel like we do: such is the power of human sin, and our human inability to trust in a God who loves us. Despite our failings, our inadequacy, our unworthiness, and our weakness we can trust in a God who saves us, a God who loves us, a God who makes promises and keeps them.
‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you’ Jesus in the Upper Room with His disciples is looking to the Cross and beyond, as the demonstration of real costly self-giving love. As St Isaac the Syrian says, ‘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.” 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 have 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.’
Christ tells us to abide, to remain in His love. How do we do that? By keeping his commandments – to love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourself. Christ speaks to us so that we may have joy, joy in all its fullness, so that we may begin to enter into that which is the life of the Divine Trinity – so that we can be caught up in the Divine Life of Love and Joy, freed from the cares of the world. We may enter into that life which is communion, of which we have a foretaste here on earth, a pledge of immortality,  the promise that God’s grace will perfect our human nature.
To reinforce the point Christ says, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ’ Christ loves us by laying down His life for us, and this is how we are to love one another, with that same costly, self-giving love, losing our life so that we may find it in Christ – redeemed by His suffering and death, and raised to new life with Him in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Living as we do in the aftermath of a twentieth century which has seen war and death on a dreadful scale we are mindful of the fact that verses in this morning’s Gospel were use to encourage men to fight for their country. Once, this was seen as good and proper, now we are troubled by what is seen as a mis-use of Scripture, and rightly so. We cannot undo the mistakes of the past, but we can learn from them, so that the love which lies at the heart of this passage inspires us to strive for peace and freedom, to follow Christ’s example and to carry our own crosses, and live out that same love.
If it is Christ who chooses us, and not we Him, God takes the initiative, not to force us but so that we may be drawn to come with Him out of love, on our pilgrimage of faith, strengthened by the Bread of Life, the bread for the journey, walking in the footsteps of Love. In Christ we have communion, fellowship, in Him is true community born, through we are reconciled to God and each other, so that we can share in the proclamation of the Good News, walk the pilgrimage of faith and be fed and transformed by grace.
This is not some future event, but right here and right now; we thirst for this love, and only it can satisfy our deepest desires, so let us come, and draw near to the living water, who is the living bread and the true vine, the shepherd of our souls, who loves us so much that he died for us, to Christ, that we may be in Him, and remain in his love. He does not choose us because we are worthy, but that by choosing Him, we may through His grace become so. So let us love Him and one another. 

Easter V: I am the Vine, You are the Branches

When the Apostle Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he comes across a man reading the prophesy of Isaiah: a financial expert, highly-trusted, and well-educated, a man of power and influence. He’s looking for something, he’s been worshipping God in Jerusalem. Philip asks him if he can understand what he is reading. He replies that he cannot, unless someone shows him the way. ‘Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35 ESV). Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled in Jesus and this is the proclamation of the Church: we proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified.
We read scripture so that we can understand it, and see in its words how it discloses the truth of the Word made flesh, who suffered and died for our sake. Isaiah prophesies Our Lord’s Passion and Death, and thus it makes sense, it can be understood, and the more we come to understand, the more we come to know just how much God loves us. The Scriptures, the entire of the Law and the Prophets point to Jesus Christ, they find their meaning and fulfilment in Him, who is the Word of God made flesh. Just like the story of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham points to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, where God gives his only Son for love of us, it is prefigured by the ram in the thicket, which points to that moment where John the Baptist can cry out ‘Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!’

Having been nourished by the Word of God, our unnamed Ethiopian desires baptism:  so that he may be ‘in Christ’ rooted and grafted, close to him, filled with His Spirit, so that he may bear much fruit.

When we are close to Christ, washed clean by our baptism, nourished by Word and Sacrament, we can truly be Christ’s disciples, living in Him, living for Him, proclaiming Him, and bearing much fruit, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit