Good Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maundy Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lent IV Year C: The Prodigal Son

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

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

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Lent III Year C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sixth Sunday of Year C (Lk 6:17-26)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let us prepare to rely upon God, filled with His Joy and Love, sharing it with others so that they may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Fifth Sunday of Year C (Luke 5:1-11)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This treasure has been entrusted to us, so that we can share it with others, so that the world may believe. So that it may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever. Amen

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Candlemas

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

This feast then is the fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by Malachi, which also looks to our purification in and through the death of Christ and his atoning sacrifice of himself, which will be be re-presented here, made present so that we can share in it, so that we can be healed and restored by the very Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it:

Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. 

It is hard to see how it could be any clearer. Just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac on Mt Moriah, so now God will gladly give His only Son, Jesus Christ, on the altar of the Cross, to restore our relationship with Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epiphany III Year C (Luke 4:14-21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Baptism of Christ Year C (Lk 3:15-17, 21-22)

The prophet Isaiah contains much that can lift the soul, and this morning’s first reading is no exception: ‘Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’ (Isa 43:1ESV) It is a verse which naturally speaks to us of baptism, as does the one which follows it: ‘When you pass through the waters I will be with you’ (Isa 43:2 ESV) God says not to be afraid, a perennial human problem, which we overcome by trusting Him. In our baptism God has redeemed us, because in it we share in Christ’s Death and Resurrection. It is how we are known to God, and named. It’s a wonderful thing, Baptism. And in Luke’s Gospel we see that people were keen on it. They’ve come out into the wilderness to be baptised by him. John has been preaching a baptism of repentance (Lk 3:3) turning away from sin, being washed, cleansed, and able to live new lives. 

We then have to ask ourselves the question, why is Jesus there? Jesus is not a sinner, he has no sins from which to repent, and yet he is there. Something is clearly going on. An explanation is that in His Baptism Jesus is in solidarity with sinful humanity: he does not wish us to undergo anything that he would not himself. He is an example of how to come to God and have new life. As a sign of divine approval after the Baptism, as Jesus is praying, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove, and God says, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ (Lk 3:22 ESV) Here, at this moment, we see the fullness of the Godhead, a manifestation of glory and divine presence. Just as in Noah’s Ark God makes his love manifest in the form of a dove so now He brings us peace and love. The Divine Trinity makes itself manifest in recognition of the Son’s obedience to the Father, and looks forward to the Cross, where God’s love is poured out upon the world, and through which we are saved, as by our own baptism, a sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection. In His Baptism as in His Death, Christ shows us the way to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Ans so all of our life as Christians is Trinitarian. We are baptised in the name of the Holy and Life-giving Trinity. Our worship this morning began by invoking their name, through them we are sanctified and restored, so that we can be gathered as wheat into the barn, rather than the chaff which will be burned with unquenchable fire. It is a matter of life and death, of being with God, loved by Him, and redeemed by Him, or rejecting that love. It is not for nothing that God speaks through the pophet Isaiah, saying, ‘Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’ (Isa 43:7 ESV) This is what the church is fo: to fulfil the will of God, to do His work, to bring people everywhere to salvation in and through Him. Through this we know that God loves us, ‘because you are precious in my eyes, and honoured and I love you’. (Isa 43: 4 ESV) This is Good News. God loves us, he tells us in Scripture, and shows us in His Son. It is why we are here today, so that we might be reminded of how much God loves us, and how He loves us in His Son Jesus Christ, who shows us the way to the Father, who dies for us, and sends His Holy Spirit upon us, that we might live in Him. 

It is the will of God that humanity come to share in the Divine Life, that we might have the hope of heaven, and as a sign of that on the night before Christ died he took bread and wine and said, ‘This is my Body …. This is my Blood …. Do this.’ And we do. For nearly two thousand years the Church has baptised and nourished people with the Eucharist so that they might know that they are loved by God, and saved by Him. Baptism and Eucharist — how we are saved and given eternal life by God. 

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus shows humanity the way to the Father, through himself. The world sees the generous love of God, which heals and restores us, from the darkness of the dungeon of sin and evil, to the light and life of the Kingdom of God. As our baptism is a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so His Baptism points to the Cross, where streams of blood and water flow to cleanse and heal the world. We see the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the obedience of Son, and all for us, who are so weak and foolish, and who need God’s love and healing, and forgiveness.

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

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

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Epiphany 2019

There are lots of people nowadays who want to deny Jesus’ birth, or at least cast doubt upon it: where and when and why it was. They prefer to argue that Christians have just made it all up. Why? Because they feel threatened by it. They want to ignore Jesus, who and what he is, what he does, and the claims he makes. They are threatened because He is the King of Israel, the Universal King. He is our Saviour and our God. He brings life, and asks us to follow Him. He’s dangerous and revolutionary. Far better to tame Him, or ignore Him. But that won’t do!

The opening words of Isaiah 60, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’ (Isa 60:1 ESV) foretells the star which leads the Wise Men to Jesus. It shines as a light in the darkness, and points to Him who is the light of the World, a light which the world cannot understand or overcome. He is the Light of the World, in Him our salvation has arisen, a light which can never be put out. The nations shall come to His light, Christ is made manifest to the gentiles, made clear, and obvious. Kings come to the brightness of His rising, and they bring gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. They come to honour Christ, who is priest, prophet, and King. They come to worship God made man; they come to pay their homage to the Saviour born among them. They come with camels and bringing gold and frankincense to worship their king and their God. They come to Bethlehem, and not to a royal palace, or a throne. This is what true kingship is, true love, that of God and not of humanity.

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

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

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

The incarnation of the Son of God is the pivotal event in earth’s history: through it salvation has dawned, and humanity is offered freedom and new life in this little child. He is proclaimed to all the world as the King of the Jews and the Saviour of the World, the Messiah. Herod’s reaction was fear of being overthrown which leads him to murder the newborn children in Bethlehem in order to safeguard his position. The world’s reaction is more complex. Mostly it’s indifference, nowadays. At its root is pessimism for the future: things will just get worse. But in Christ a new hope has dawned. We have hope because Christ is born and made manifest to the world. When the Wise Men saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy, and they came, and they fell down, knelt and worshipped him, because he was God become man in the womb of a Virgin. Our salvation is made manifest to the world, the whole of creation rejoices that God is with us. It is a great reason for joy, and the joy of the Lord is our strength (cf. Nehemiah 8:10) 

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

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

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

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Christmas 2018

Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν·

Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3

He became human so that we might become divine

Few of us here today have much experience of living under despotic regimes. We are fortunate indeed. A large part of humanity has not been so lucky, and even today there are plenty of people who are not able to come together as we do, to celebrate the wonderful news given by the angels to the shepherds outside Bethlehem. Peace on earth, and good will amongst men seem in fairly short supply. What can we do? We can pray, and we can worship Almighty God, who comes among us.

We have come here tonight to celebrate something which defies our understanding and expectations. The simple fact that the God who created all that is took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born for us in Bethlehem as the Messiah, the Anointed of God, who would save us from our sins, should still feel strange and odd. It simply doesn’t make sense, nor indeed should it. In human terms, Mary should have been stoned to death for extra-marital infidelity, and some thirty three years later her son is executed as a blasphemer, a rabble-rouser, a trouble maker, in an awkward backwater of the Roman Empire, having gathered round himself a small group of misfits and undesirables appealing to the baser elements of society. There is nothing respectable here. And yet here we are, some two thousand years later, celebrating the birth of a child who changed human history and human nature, because we do not judge things solely by human standards. We come together so that we may ponder the mystery of God’s love for us, a God who heals our wounds, who restores broken humanity, who offers us a fresh start, who can see beyond our failures and shortcomings, and who becomes a human being so that humanity might become divine, so that we may share in the divine life of love, both here on earth and in heaven. The Word became flesh, and lived among us. These few words express what the Christian faith is all about, and how it can change the world.

If that isn’t a cause for celebration, I don’t know what is. We are so familiar with the story of Christmas that I wonder whether we, myself included, really take the time to ponder, and to marvel at the mystery which unfolded two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. God, who made all that is, comes among us, taking flesh in the womb of a young girl through the power of His Holy Spirit, so that in His Son we might see and experience God and His love for us. 

God comes among us not in power or splendour but as a weak, vulnerable child, depending on others for love, and food, and warmth. He is laid in an animal’s feeding trough, insulated from the cold hard stone by straw  — hardly a royal birth, and not what we would expect of God, and that’s the point. It is supposed to be surprising, and to shock us. So now God would be with his pilgrim people on earth – sharing all of human life, from birth to death, so that we might, through him, share the Divine Life of Love, that of God the Holy Trinity: a relational God who invites humanity to share that relationship, who offers it freely, and to all. The sheer exuberance of such an offer, is almost profligate: it is generous in a way which defies our human expectation and our human understanding. 

Throughout his life all that Christ says and does shows us how much God loves us. The Word becomes flesh, and enters the world, he dwells among us, a wondrous mystery which provokes us to worship, to kneel with the shepherds and to adore the God who comes among us, who shares our human life so that we might share His divine life, not because we asked for it, not because we deserve it, we haven’t worked for it, or earned it, rather it is the free gift of a loving and merciful God, this then is the glory of God – being born in simple poverty, surrounded by outcasts, on the margins of society, to call humanity to a new way of being together, where the old order is cast aside, turning the world upside down and offering us the possibility of living in a radically different way, a way of peace and love and joy, not one of power. Heaven comes to earth, born in the womb of a Virgin, so that we might behold the glory of God in a new-born child. So that we might experience the love and truth of God.

The word is made flesh so that prophesy might be fulfilled, so that the hope of salvation might be dawn, so that a people who have languished long in darkness might behold the glory of God where heaven and earth meet, in a stable in Bethlehem, where men and angels may sing together ‘Alleluia, Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace to people of goodwill’ The worship of heaven is joined with earth on this most holy night, that in the quiet and stillness all the earth might be filled with the praises of Almighty God, who stoops to save humanity in the birth of His Son. 

The Son who lives and dies and rises again for us will be here tonight under the outward forms of bread and wine so that the heavenly banquet may nourish our souls. He gives Himself so that we might share His Divinity, so that God’s love can transform our human nature, having redeemed it in His Nativity. So let us come to sing his praises, and be nourished with His Body and Blood and experience here on earth the joy of Heaven and the closeness and the love of God, let it fill our souls with joy, and let us live lives which recognise the wondrous thing which happens tonight, that it may be a reality in our lives, that we may may proclaim in word and deed the reality of the Word made flesh, so that others may be drawn to kneel and worship like the shepherds, like the Holy Family of Mary and Joseph, and come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

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Advent IV Year C

The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have taken Mary and Joseph about a week on foot, it’s hard work, and uphill all the way. Bethlehem was associated with two figures in the Bible: David, Israel’s second king, and his ancestor Ruth, the Moabitess, whose love and devotion to her mother in law Naomi are inspiring. It is a hill town, and source of water about five miles south of Jerusalem, where shepherds would raise sheep for the Passover sacrifice in the Temple, first-born males, holy to the Lord. A fertile, fruitful place, a place of promise. It is a place with the prophet Micah sees as the starting place for a future for Israel. One ‘whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days’ (Micah 5:2 ESV) The Incarnate Word of God, who has always been, and will always be: Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Good Shepherd, who will ‘shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.’ (Micah 5:4-5a ESV) He will be our peace, because He makes peace, ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’ (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV) What is prophesied by Micah is fulfilled in Jesus. All scripture points to Him, and finds its fulfilment in Him, the Word made Flesh. 

In the letter to the Hebrews we see the prophecy of Psalm 40:6-8 fulfilled in Christ. The sacrifices of the old covenant are replaced in the new covenant with the sacrifice of God for humanity. Sacrifice is fulfilled and completed, once and for all. It is this sacrifice, which the church pleads and re-presents. The eternal offering of a sinless victim, to free humanity of its sins, to restore our relationship with God and one another. It is an act of perfect obedience: the body prepared by God for Christ to do His will and sanctify humanity, to heal us and restore us.

In this morning’s Gospel Mary does not tell Elizabeth that she is pregnant. By the power of the Holy Spirit, John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, announces the coming of the Saviour by leaping for joy in his mother’s womb. It’s important. There’s no time to waste: Mary arose and went with haste to see her cousin Elizabeth and tell her the Good News. Time is of the essence for us too: not for the frantic fulfilment of consumerism and the world around us: last-minute presents, or enough food to satisfy even the most gluttonous. No, we have to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our lives, so that Christ may be born again in US, so that we may live His life and proclaim his truth to the world.

Through the prompting of her son and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth can cry ‘Blessèd are you among women, and blessèd is the fruit of your womb!’ Elizabeth recognises that Mary’s obedience, her humble ‘Yes’ to God undoes the sinfulness of Eve. That she who knew no sin might give birth to Him who would save us and all humanity from our sin. It is through the love and obedience of Mary that God’s love and obedience in Christ can be shown to the world, demonstrated in absolute perfection, when for love of us he opens his arms to embrace the world with the healing love of God on the Cross. He will be the good Shepherd, laying down his life for his flock that we may dwell secure. We prepare to celebrate Christmas because it points us to the Cross and beyond, in showing us once and for all that God loves us.

We honour Mary because in all things she points to her Son, Jesus. It’s not about her, it’s all about Him. We honour the Mother of God; we worship the Son of God. We worship Him who died for love of us, who gave himself, as the Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, to die so that we might live. The process of salvation starts with a young woman being greeted by an angel, and saying, ‘Yes’ to God. Her cousin Elisabeth recognises this. Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, leaps in her womb. While not yet born, he recognises the presence of a Saviour, and proclaims Him. Our salvation is very close indeed. We can feel it. We know that God keeps His promises. We can prepare to celebrate the festival with JOY, because we know what is about to happen: a baby will be born who will save humanity from their sins, whom John the Baptist will recognise as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.This is the Good news we share with the world around us: that God loves us, was born for us, and dies for us. Everything, all that Jesus is and says and does, from His taking flesh in the womb of His mother, His Birth, His life, Death and Resurrection proclaim God’s love to us:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 33:14-16 ESV)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.’ (Jeremiah 29:11-13 ESV)

So my dear brothers and sisters let us prepare to meet Him, living out our faith in our lives, and encourage others so to do. So that that the world may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Advent II (Baruch 5:1-9, Phil 1:3-11; Lk 3:1-6)

Prophets have a job to do which is both simple and difficult: they proclaim the word of the Lord God, calling His people to repentance, to turn away from their sins, and to turn back to the Way of the Lord. It sounds simple in theory, but in practice it is difficult. People don’t want to listen, or be challenged. It is easier to stay as you are, and not to worry, but that simply won’t do in the long run.

John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah, goes out into the wilderness, a desert place, where people have an encounter with God. He preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Jews were used to the idea of ritual washing and cleanliness, but this was something more, something which would turn your life around. Changing your ways is both an event and a process: you have to will to do it, and to persevere in doing it. At its heart it involves wanting to live the way God wants us to love: being loving, and forgiving others as we have been forgiven. It sounds easy enough, but doing it day after day, week after week, year after year is hard. We fail, and keep failing, but GOD STILL LOVES US. He doesn’t turn away from us, even when we turn away from Him, because that is what love, mercy, and forgiveness are all about. God wants to change the world profoundly. That’s what Isaiah’s prophecy quoted in Luke Gospel is all about. The promise of salvation offers the world a radical change, as we see in the prophet Habakkuk, ‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’ (Habakkuk 2:14 ESV) All the prophecy in the Old Testament points to, and finds its fulfilment in, Christ: ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,’ (Col 1:19). We will see God’s glory both in the baby born in Bethlehem, and when Christ shall come at the end of time as our Saviour and our Judge. We are prepared for this by the message of the prophets, and especially by John the Baptist, who quite literally prepares the way of Lord. 

So we need to be prepared, by saying sorry to God, by asking for His forgiveness, and by turning our lives around, so that ‘that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 1:6) We’re a work in progress, and for the past two thousand years this is what the church has been, and will continue to be, until Christ comes again. We will fail, on a daily basis, that’s not the point! The point is that we keep trying, and keep asking for forgiveness, and keep trying to live the Christian life. It’s a big, daunting task, which, if it were just 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.

The church, then, must be a voice crying in the wilderness. What we proclaim may 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. 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, in Jesus Christ and turn away from selfishness and sin.

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 must, however, be prepared to do this regardless of the cost to ourselves. We must bear witness to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and their saving work in the world, even if it means 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 it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.’ (Phil 1:9-11 ESV)

God offers the world a radical alternative, built on LOVE, which is shown most clearly in the Cross, when Jesus died for love of us. For love of us, whose sins nailed him to it. God loves us so that we might become lovely, and gave His life for us, so that we may come to share His life . This is our hope, this is the hope of Advent, the hope proclaimed by the prophets which we need to live out in our lives. Only then can the world come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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All Saints – Matthew 5:1-12

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, as a way of commemorating all the members of the Church triumphant, thousands and thousands of them. It reminds us that our worship on earth is joined that of heaven, and we are one church together, joined in the worship of Almighty God The feast gives us a chance to consider saints, who and 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 Good News 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. 

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus goes up a mountain, just like Moses to teach people how God wants them to live their lives. In what He teaches them, Jesus is always the first and greatest example. and that there are saints in Heaven is because they have lived Christ-like lives, they have lived the life of the Kingdom of God among us, and now enjoy eternity in God’s presence, caught up in the outpouring of love and worship. Heaven is not so much a place, but much more about a relationship with God, made possible by Jesus Christ. 

Jesus says many things in the Gospel passage this morning which should strike us as odd if we look at them in worldly terms. That’s the point! Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God, and about Himself. 

What greater example could there be of humility than the fact that Jesus Christ was born among us, and shared our human life. The simple fact of the Incarnation, which we will prepare to celebrate at Christmas, changes everything. He comes to share our humanity so that we might share His Divinity. It is an act of such generosity that the only proper response is worship. We honour a God who is characterised by generosity and humility. 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 meek will inherit the earth. Because in God’s eyes their gentleness and kindness is what really matters. 

We are used nowadays to a ‘go-getting’ world where you are deemed to have succeeded by possessing 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 first and foundational sin, whereby humanity thinks it knows better than God, and wants to go its own way. Humility 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. They can live out their baptism, and share in Christ’s death and new life.

The most surprising Beatitude is the last one: ‘Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ (Mt 5:11-12 ESV) Jesus is talking to His disciples, who are following Him. He looks to their future and tells them what it will be like, it mirrors His own coming rejection and death in the Gospel. It looks to the Cross as the place of Love, Humility , and Reconciliation, where Christ will restore humanity, and inaugurate the Kingdom, in a New Covenant, in His Blood, and after three days rise again to show us that our destiny is to be with God in Heaven. God keeps his promises and loves us. If we want to be saints, then we have to be like Christ, share in His suffering and death, be prepared to be rejected by the world, and dismissed as irrelevant. 

We may not face imprisonment, torture and death in this country, but many Christians do. Instead we are scorned and ignored, or put in a corner and given a patronising pat on the head. What do we do? We are loving, and generous, and forgiving, because that is what Jesus showed us. We can confront the world around us because we belong to a new community, the community of faith, built on our relationship with Jesus Christ, who came to save humanity from itself. He came that we might have life and have it to the full, and that is what the Beatitudes mean. We live the life of God’s Kingdom here and now. We live the life of heaven here and now, because of who Christ is, and what he has done for us, to transform the world around us one soul at a time. It may sound crazy, but it is what God wants us to do, and what Jesus showed us to do, and how to do it. 

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.

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‘The Way’ on Eucharistic Adoration

No study of united worship, however slight, could possibly be complete without touching on the Holy Eucharist, which is the highest point of all earthly worship. In an Armenian version of the Apocryphal Lives of the Prophets there is to be found an episode which stands out from the rest of the book by its spiritual beauty. In describing the death of Jeremiah, the writer tells us that the prophet had managed to rescue the Ark of the Covenant, and he took it, with all that was contained therein, and hid it under a rock, and with his ring he impressed on the rock the Name of God. Then a luminous cloud hid it so that nobody is able to find the Ark or read the Name. During each night there is a cloud of light, for the Grace of God never departs from that place. It seems to me there is in this account a fitting symbol of the place occupied in worship by the Blessed Sacrament. We come to that great sacrifice conscious of a luminous cloud, covering the very secret of God and his dwelling-place. We are aware that there, most truly, is to be found the centre of our worship, that there, are depths of adoration to be explored, and, at the end, the secret of God’s love. I do not think that either doctrine or theory can ever fully explain the Blessed Sacrament to the worshipper, for he is always conscious of an experience which refuses to be expressed in words. He knows that in some degree he has come into actual contact with the Living God, he knows that God has drawn out of him something which is the the height of his being, he knows that this adoration which is drawn out of him is strengthened and shared by the experience of those around him, and that, because of this union with them, he can give and receive more than if he were alone. This then is, and always must be, the climax of united worship, and it is a climax which, unlike all other earthly summits, permits of endless extension.

Whatever we may have found in worship at the Blessed Eucharist, we may be sure that still further treasure awaits our search. The Holy Grail did not leave this earth with Galahad, as the legend suggests, for it is still found by those who search in adoration for the secret of God’s love. For each spiritual adventurer, leaving self wholly behind in worship, the shrine which hides it is still opened. 

from pp. 142-3

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29th Sunday of Year B: Mark 10:35-45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ all human existence, all life, all death, and all suffering find both meaning and value. This truth is unsettling, it is deeply uncomfortable, and yet it is deeply liberating. In living out the truth in our lives we live a service which is perfect freedom. In conforming ourselves to Christ we find meaning and identity. So let us lay down our lives that we may live fully and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

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28th Sunday of Year B Mark 10:17-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26th Sunday of Year B – Mark 9:38-50

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, my brothers and sisters, let us keep Christ as the centre of our lives — the greatest treasure we could ever have, the gift of a generous God, who calls us to follow Him, and to proclaim Him in our words and actions. Let us glory in His Cross, by which we are saved and made free, the greatest gift of Love, given to set us free from the ways of sin and death. Let us live for Him, and proclaim the nearness of His kingdom, so that others may come to know him, and love Him, so that all the world may give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

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A Thought for the day from Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

The Cross and the Incarnation

To understand the meaning of the saving death of Christ, we must understand the meaning of the Incarnation. Each of us is born into time out of non-being. We enter a fleeting, precarious life in order to grow into the stability of Eternal Life. Called out of naught by the word of God, we enter into time but within time we can find eternity, because eternity is not a never-ending stream of time. Eternity is not something — it is Someone. Eternity is God himself, whom we can meet in the ephemeral flow of time and through this meeting, through the communion which God offers us by grace and love in mutual freedom, we can also enter into eternity to share God’s own life, become in the daring words of St Peter, ‘partakers of the divine nature’.

The birth of the Son of God is not like ours. He does not enter time out of nought. His birth is not the beginning of life, of an ever-growing life; it is a limitation of the fullness that was his before the world began. He who possessed eternal glory with the Father, before all ages, enters into our world, into the created world, wherein man has brought sin, suffering and death. Christ’s birth is for him not the beginning of life, it is the beginning of death. He accepts all that is inherent in our condition and the first day of his life on earth is the first day of his ascent to the cross.

Metropolitan Anthony, Meditations on a Theme (Mowbrays 1972) 120-1

Twenty-fourth Sunday of Year B – Who do you say Jesus is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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23rd Sunday of Year B: Jesus heals us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As those loved and healed by Him we need to live out the reality of our faith in our lives, showing the love and forgiveness to others which God shows to us. So that all of our lives may give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fifteenth Sunday of Year B [Amos 7:7-15, Eph 1:3-14, Mk 6:14-29]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

christ-preaching-in-the-synagogue-at-nazareth-14th-c-fresco-visoki-decani-monastery-kosovo

Eleventh Sunday of Year B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trinity II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christus_heilt_einen_Besessenen

The Ninth Sunday of Year B

Those of us, myself included, have a great responsibility, as members of a religious authority. Often in the Gospels we see Jesus and the Pharisees on opposing sides. Jesus is critical of them, especially when they get the wrong end of the stick, following the letter of the religious law, while not considering its spirit. It reminds us that we need to consider not only what we do, but also why we do it. 

I have something of a confession to make this morning: I am greatly saddened by the fact that Sunday has become a day much like any other, with shops being open, people made to work, and various social activities happening, which have rather spoiled the character of the day. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a strict Sabbatarian by any means, but for a variety of reasons both religious and non-religious, I have to say that they idea of having a day free from work and worldly concerns, is a good thing. In fact it is more than that, it is a Divine Command. God tells us to do this for OUR OWN GOOD. The command in Deuteronomy is not simply to abstain from work, but to rest in a way made holy by God, so that we may worship Him, and enjoy His rest. It has a purpose, which is the worship of Almighty God. It is what humanity is for. 

In Mark’s Gospel this morning we see the dangers of a prescriptive legal approach — the Pharisees follow the letter of the law, but have forgotten the Spirit — the reason why things are encouraged or forbidden. The sabbath exists for rest, and to Glorify God. Quibbling over a mouthful of food is petty, and small minded. The sabbath was made for us, for rest is good, and one should not work without rest. It is cruel and inhuman. It reminds us too that we need to make space for God in our lives, that the worship of God is important. We gather as Christians on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week to celebrate Jesus’ death and Resurrection, by means of the Eucharist, where we do what Jesus commanded us to do, until He comes again. For one hundred thousand successive Sundays we have gathered to do this, because it matters, it is important: we are fed with the Bread of Angels, with the Very Body and Blood of Christ, so that we may be healed and given a foretaste of Heaven. 

Jesus heals a man with a withered hand to proclaim that that the Kingdom of God is a place of healing, and reconciliation. That is why Jesus comes among us to proclaim the Good News. The Church then is not just a cozy club for religious people but exists also for the benefit of non-members. We exist to carry on that same proclamation, ‘to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ (2 Cor 4:6 ESV) It is a hard job, harder than ever, as people are far less willing to listen, and we are not always terribly confident 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. 

(2Cor 4:7-12ESV)

All around the world, even in strict repressive regimes like China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, Christ is being proclaimed — people come to know Him, to love Him, and to trust Him. We have to ask ourselves the question, ‘Does our faith matter enough to us that we are willing to die for it, if necessary?’ ‘See how these Christians love one another, and how they are ready to die for one another’ (Tertullian, Apology, 39).That’s the level of commitment we need. It is after all a serious matter – people’s souls are at stake here! Jesus didn’t come so that people could blithely ignore Him. He upset people, who then wanted to kill Him. The Church exists to proclaim the same message, that Jesus died for love of us, to save us from Hell, from our sins, and rose again, and promises eternal life with the Holy Trinity. 

We have a pledge of it here, this morning in the Eucharist — Christ’s VERY SELF, His Body, and Blood are given to us, to feed us, and heal our withered souls. It is the supreme demonstration of God’s love for us, a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary — we eat and drink the same flesh and blood which was wounded for our transgressions, which died to save us. This is how much God loves us, and longs to heal our wounds, and restore our relationship with Him, and with each other. It affects who and what we are, as St Paul says, ‘always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.’ (2Cor 4:10 ESV) Christ’s Body and Blood are eaten and drunk, so that they may transform us, so that we may come to share in the Divine Life and Love which saves us. As St Augustine says, ‘Be what you see and receive what you are’ (Sermon 272). It affects what we are and what we do, and we want to share it with others, that they may come to know Jesus, and experience His healing love. It has been the Church’s raison d’être since the beginning: in the Acts of the Apostles we find, ‘And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (Acts 2:42 ESV). Prayer, the Eucharist, and the teaching of the Church are central to our lives as Christians, because they help us to grow in faith, and love, together, as the church. They’re not optional extras that we can dip in and out of when they’re convenient for us, they are absolutely central to who and what we are as Christians. We cannot be Christians without them. It is that simple. It is why we keep Sunday as a special day, so that we can come together and do what the Church has always done, so that we may have life and have it in all its fullness. 

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

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

POPE LEADS BENEDICTION AFTER CORPUS CHRISTI PROCESSION IN ROME

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easter VII [Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; 1 Jn 5:9-13; Jn 17:6-19]

On Thursday the Church celebrated the Ascension, when the Risen Christ returns to his Father’s side in Heaven. The Apostles haven’t been left or abandoned, instead Jesus tells them to wait ten days, until the feast of Pentecost. To wait and to pray for the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus shows us that we are made for heaven, 

For all those of us who live after the moment of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven, we too are called to wait, to wait for His Holy Spirit, and to wait for Him to come again as our Saviour and our Judge. But if we are honest, none of us likes waiting, let’s be honest! There’s an old joke that if you put three Scotsmen together for long enough they will form a bank, three Welshman, and they will form a male-voice choir, and three Englishmen will form a queue. While it may be a characteristic which has come to define us, as British people, we do it rather grudgingly, and with a sense of resigned reluctance. And yet, our vocations as Christians is JOY, the joy of the Lord is our strength. We wait in eager expectation, and filled with the joy of Easter, of the Risen Christ, who promises us His Holy Spirit. We wait that God might continue to be generous towards us, and all who believe in Him. 

God will give us a new heart and put his Spirit within us, just as he did on the day of Pentecost. So we in the Church are to wait to prepare to live as the people of God, filled with his love, and forgiveness, and proclaiming his Truth to the world. That’s what this time between the Ascension and Whitsun is for: to pray to God, for Him to be at work in us, and in people all around the world. Indeed there is now an initiative called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ which encourages people to pray in this time between the Ascension and Pentecost. To pray for the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, that people may come to know Christ, and that we may all be one — for the unity of Christians everywhere. If heaven is our home, which it is, as we are made for relationship with God, and each other, then we should prepare, here and now, for what awaits us. We should pray that, through the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, we are built up in LOVE.

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 God 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 both who we are, and what we do.We belong to God, and we do what He tells us to do, so that we may flourish, that we may have life and have it to the full.

We are to be one, as Jesus and His Father are one — one in mind, heart, and soul, filled with LOVE, sanctified with the truth which comes from the Holy Spirit. This is Christs’s will, it isn’t a pipe-dream, or an optional extra. We have to do it. If we really love Jesus then how can we be other than wishes us to be. The pain and division will not be healed in a moment, there is no magic wand to be waved, life is not like that. We have to start by praying, and working for unity, doing what we can to make Christ’s will for the Church a reality. 

Christ speaks to us, and teaches us so that our joy may be complete in him, filled with his love, and the Holy Spirit. The world’s reaction to this is a negative one: because what we are, what we stand for, and how we live as Christians is to be opposed to what the world around us stands for — selfishness, greed, which it makes into false gods, as though material wealth, or power, or status could save us — such things are transient and fleeting. The world seeks to offer 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 certainly not easy, it is difficult, most of us are unable to manage on our own, we need the grace of God. We need the Eucharist to strengthen us on our journey of faith, and we need the love and support of the Christian community to help us, even the first Christians, those who had been with Jesus, needed each other’s help and support, so they can continue what Jesus started.

We need to be together, to meet together to pray for our needs and those of the world, and to be nourished by the word of God, the Bible, and the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, not because they’re something nice to do on a Sunday morning: a sort of add-on, an optional extra that we can opt into and out of as we feel like, but because as Christians they are crucial to who and what we are, if we are to remain in the love of God then we have to live this way. Only then can we offer the world an alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin. It will certainly 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, in encounter with Jesus, and we are living testimony to its power to change lives. 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. And let us share these gifts with others, so that they may come to believe and give glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever…

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Easter III [Acts 3:12-19; 1John 3:1-7] Luke 24:36b-48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Duccio, Maesta, Altarpiece, Siena Cathedral

Easter II

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

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

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

The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them…. The Cross had asked ‘Why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree?’ The Resurrection answered: ‘That sin, having done its worst, might exhaust itself and thus be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death.’

Thus there emerges the Easter lesson that the power of evil and the chaos of the moment can be defied and conquered, for the basis of our hope is not in any construct of human power but in the power of God, who has given to the evil of this earth its one mortal wound—an open tomb, a gaping sepulchre, an empty grave.

Fulton J. Sheen Cross-Ways

This morning as we rejoice in the joy of the Risen Lord, as we are filled with joy, with hope and with love, we can reflect on what the Resurrection does: when Jesus comes and stands among the disciples he says ‘Peace be with you’ Christ’s gift to the world in His Death and Resurrection is Peace, the Peace ‘which passes all understanding’. He shows the disciples His hands and side so that they can see the wounds of love, through which God’s Mercy is poured out on the world to heal it and restore it. In this peace Christ can say to them ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’ as the baptised people of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church is to be a missionary community — one sent to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world, that it may share the joy and life of the Risen Lord.

As well as giving the Apostles the Holy Spirit, ordaining them as the first bishops of the Church, we see that the power of the Cross to bring peace to the world is also the power to absolve sins — priests and bishops can absolve the people of God in God’s name, and by God’s power — this is what the Cross achieves — reconciling us to God and each other. The Church, then, is to be a community of reconciliation, where we are forgiven and we, in turn, forgive, where we are freed from sin, its power and its effects.

When Christ breathes on the disciples and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ it is this gift of God’s Holy Spirit which transforms them from frightened people sat in a locked room in fear into the confident, joyous proclaimers of the Gospel, such as Peter in his sermon to the people of Jerusalem. In Peter’s sermon we see that all that Christ is and does is confirmed by Scripture — it is the fulfilment of prophesy, such as we find in Isaiah 25:6-9:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’

As the Church we know that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who gives freedom to Israel, a freedom from sin — a bringing to completion of what God started in the Exodus, in the crossing of the Red Sea — we too are free, freed by the waters of baptism, sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection.

Thomas was not present with the disciples, he cannot believe in the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection unless he sees with his own eyes, and feels with his own hands — such is his grief, such is his love for Jesus. Our Lord says to him, ‘Doubt no longer but believe’ which leads to his confession, ‘My Lord and my God’. Blessed are we who have not seen and yet have come to believe, and through this belief we have live in Christ’s name, we have the hope of eternal life and joy with him forever.

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

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

It’s a tall order, perhaps, but one which God promises us. That is what the reality of the Resurrection is all about, it’s either nothing, in which case we are the most pitiable of deluded fools — idiots who are more to be pitied than blamed, or it is the single most important thing in the world. It should affect all of us, every part of our life, every minute of every day, all that we do, all that we say, all that we are. This may not fit in with a reserved British mentality, we think we’re supposed to be polite and not force our views on others. But this simply will not do. We are, after all, dealing with people’s souls, their eternal salvation, it’s a serious matter. And what we offer people is entirely free, can change their lives for the better, and make life worth living.

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

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Good Friday

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

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

Fulton J Sheen The Eternal Galilean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maundy Thursday

Tonight Jesus does many things, many things which we still do in the Church. To put it simply we do them now because He did them nearly two thousand years ago, and told us to do them. So we do; it’s plain and simple.

Preparations were being made to celebrate the Passover, Israel’s journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Lambs were slaughtered in the Temple for the Passover, at the same time that Jesus will die tomorrow. He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Tonight He gives the Church the Eucharist, the memorial of His Passion and Death, so that we, the Church, can feast on His Body, and drink His Blood, to have life in Him. For doing this we were once condemned as atheists, and cannibals, followers of strange rites. People died for doing this. It was once a risky business, and in countries around the world it still is.

But we come here to do what Jesus did, to be with Him, as His earthly ministry reaches its climax. We gather as disciples of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to be fed by Him, and with Him. He has given us an example that we should copy. We do things as the Church, not because they’re nice, not because they make us feel good, but because Jesus told us to.

Jesus begins this evening by removing his clothes, taking water, and washing his disciples’ feet. He, the son of God, who was with His Father before the universe and time began, kneels before his disciples, and serves them. He takes the place of a slave or a servant and shows us as Christians that to follow Him is to serve. Never did a cross redeem nature from the curse: never was a lamb set upon the altar that could take away the sins of the world, until God took on the nature of the servant. We as Christians are to serve one another; we are to wash one another’s feet, to help each other to pray for each other, and not to think that any of us is better than the other.

Despite what the world may think about clergy: that we are weak, ineffectual, and well-meaning, or that we love to lord it over our flock, to stand pontificating six foot above criticism, we are in all things to fashion our life and example after Christ. In giving an example of service before the Last Supper, in praying for and setting apart his disciples as the first priests of his church, we who follow in their footsteps are shown in the clearest possible way that to love him, to care for his people is to serve them: we are to imitate the mysteries which we celebrate: offering our lives in His service and the service of His Church. It is truly extraordinary that we should have such a responsibility placed on our shoulders. We are all of us, if the truth be told, incapable of such a task if we were acting solely in our own strength and our own abilities. But through the Grace of God, and with the help of the prayers of you, God’s people, it is our hope that we may conform ourselves ever more closely to Christ, our great high priest.

Priests are amongst other things set apart for the service of God and the administration of His sacraments. At this time on this night, Jesus gives us himself, His Body and Blood to feed us, to nourish us, to strengthen us and to help us become what he is. So that we may share in the outpouring of love which is the very life of God, that we may be given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, that we may experience something of the joy and love and life which awaits us in heaven, forever united with the triune God.

To do this Our Lord takes bread and wine, simple ordinary foodstuffs, to transform them, to make something other than they are to view them with new meaning and new life, to strengthen and heal his mystical body of the church with his own true body and blood. It is remarkable and extraordinary, words cannot fully express our awe that we poor wretched sinners, though unworthy are fed by our Lord as both priest and victim. It is not something for us to understand with our minds, but a mystery for us to enter with all our lives.

Jesus, receiving the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them saying: drink ye all of this, for this is my blood for blood of the new and everlasting covenant which will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven. This is my blood, he says, which is to be shed. The blood shed and this blood are not two different things, but one and the same. Tomorrow it shall be shed from my side, tonight you drink it and behold it in the cup.

We here, tonight, have come together as the people of God, to be fed by God to be strengthened by him, to live lives in his service. Both tonight and tomorrow, we will see how God loves us. In his service, in his giving of himself to be taken, beaten, falsely accused, scourged and crucified, God shows us what true love, true glory, and true service are. The world cannot understand this: it goes against everything people are told about putting themselves and their lives first, to judge their importance or worth by what they own, rather than how they live their lives. And yet this world is wounded by sin, the image of God is marred. In its selfish searching, what it truly wants and needs is to be healed, to be embraced by a loving God. That is why it tomorrow on the cross our Lord’s Arms will be flung wide open to embrace the world with God’s love.

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

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Rembrandt Christ washing the disciples’ feet, (c.1645)  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Palm Sunday 2018

If anyone asks you why you are untying it [the ass the disciples were sent to find], this must be your answer, ‘The Lord has need of it’ (Lk 19:31). Perhaps no greater paradox was ever written than this: on the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord, and on the other hand his ‘need’. His combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was a consequence of the Word becoming flesh. Truly, he who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we might become rich. Our Lord borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; he borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed a multitude; he borrowed a grave from which he would rise; and now he borrows an ass on which to enter Jerusalem. Sometimes God pre-empts and requisitions the things of man, as if to remind him that everything is a gift from him.

Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ

Today seems like a triumph. Jerusalem is celebrating: the people treat Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as the triumphal entry of the Messiah. People lay down their clothes and wave palm branches The crowd cry out ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessèd is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ (Mt 21:9 ESV) They cry out for God to save them, and that is exactly what he will do in a few days time, upon the Cross. This is a God who keeps his promises and who also defies our expectations. The crowd in Jerusalem is expecting a king of the Davidic line. One who would be seen as a challenge to the ruling élite, the status quo. But in Christ God gives Israel something else: a King of the line of David, yes, but one who rules with love, who has no desire for power, or honour. Those who have power are threatened by him: he turns their world on its head, he is awkward, an inconvenience. Jesus does not want their power, as he has come to be and do something completely different: what is taken as a political coup is in fact a renewal of religion, the fulfilment of prophecy, and a new hope for Israel.

In riding into Jerusalem Jesus is fulfilling the prophecies of Zechariah (9:9) and Isaiah (62:11). The King of Israel comes riding on a donkey: a humble beast of burden, which carried his Mother to Bethlehem for his birth, and carried the Holy Family into exile in Egypt. It is an act of humble leadership which fulfils what was foreseen by the prophets. It shows us that Jesus Christ is truly the one who fulfils the hopes of Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures look forward to the deliverance of Israel, which is enacted in front of their very eyes. God is saving His people, but they cannot see it. In a few days time it will all have changed, love will turn to hatred; joy to sadness.

This is why today and throughout Holy Week we will have readings from the prophet Isaiah, which are known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant. This morning we see the servant being mistreated, he is struck on the back, his beard is torn out, he is spat at and insulted. This will all come to pass as Our Lord goes to the Cross on Good Friday, it is the fulfilment of prophecy. God will show us how much he loves us by enduring such treatment.It shows US what humanity is capable of: anger, hatred, bitterness, mob rule, the desire to have a scapegoat, someone to blame. This is fallen, sinful humanity at its worst, and we will see more of it over the coming days. It should shock us, we should feel sick to the pits of our stomachs, because it shows us why Christ had to die – to take our human sin, to overcome sin, the world, and the Devil will the redemptive power of God’s LOVE.

And so it begins: a week when Our Lord and Saviour makes a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He is hailed as the Messiah, it is a cause for celebration and joy. It is a week which will see Him betrayed by a close friend, arrested,  abandoned, tried and killed as a common criminal. Strangely enough, the world around us can still be just as fickle, just as quick to turn someone from hero into pariah. Lest we think that somehow we’re better, more advanced, more civilised, as though we’ve learned our lesson. The plain unvarnished truth is that we’re not. We need the annual reminder which the church gives through its liturgical year – a chance to be confronted by stark realities, and to be brought up short by them. What Christ says and does in this coming week He says to us, he does all this for us – to HEAL us, to RESTORE us, so that we can live His risen life HERE and NOW, as the people of God, fed by Him, fed with Him, sharing in His Death and Resurrection though our baptism, trusting in Him.

In our pilgrimage through Lent, through our prayer, our fasting, we hope to increase our closeness to Christ, so that following Him, and meditating upon His Passion, we may be transformed by His love, following in His footsteps, entering into the mystery of God’s LOVE poured out on the world. In the next few days we will go to the Upper Room, to have our feet washed, we watch and wait with Christ, we walk the way of the Cross, we gaze upon Christ crucified to see just how much God in Christ loves us – the lengths to which God will go to demonstrate that love, and make it a reality in our lives. Let us prepare to celebrate Easter: Our Lord’s rising from the tomb, His conquering death, so that we may have new life in Him.

In his Letter to the Christians in Philippi, written in prison in Rome in ad62, St Paul lays great stress upon the Humility of Jesus Christ. It is not a popular virtue these days, in fact the world around us would have us be quite the opposite: full of ourselves, with a high opinion of ourselves. Our is a world which is more and more characterised by sin and selfishness. The individual is all that matters: me and what I want, that’s what counts. At the root of it all is pride, thinking that we are more important than we are, making ourselves the centre of things, whereas we need to put God at the centre of things, and learn to be thankful.

Gratitude is characteristic only of the humble. The egotistic are so impressed by their own importance that they take everything given them as if it were their due. They have no room in their hearts for recollection of the undeserved favours they have received.

Fulton Sheen On Being Human 1982: 325

We need to have the mind of Christ, a mind devoted to love and service of God. Christ doesn’t just do what he wants to, but everything he says and does is the will of God the Father. It is a mind which lays down his life bearing the sins of all humanity, past, present , and future, out of love. This is humility and obedience in action: embracing the most shameful death possible, for love of us. Thus we should love Jesus, we should worship Him, because He is God, and He loves us. It is extraordinary, it goes against everything that we think about God, that scorning majesty, He embraces shame and sin, total utter degradation to save us. The Saviour of the World will suffer and die, and rise again, for us. This is why we are thankful — because God in Christ Jesus has done this for us, poor sinful humanity, to save us from ourselves, to save us from the Hell which we deserve, and to show us that God loves us, and longs to reconcile us to Himself and each other. He des this to heal the wounds of sin and division, so that we might have life, and life in all its fulness, with Him, for ever.  This is why Jesus is willing to suffer, to be vulnerable, to take our human frailty and to redeem it through His suffering, through His vulnerability, to show the World that God’s ways are different from ours, and that this is the only way to sort out our problems, through what Jesus does, and who He is. This is the example for us to follow — the way of suffering love and humility.

Today and in the coming week we will see what God’s Love and Glory are really like: it is not what people expect, it is power shown in humility, strength in weakness. As we continue our Lenten journey in the triumph of this day and looking towards theHoly and Life-giving Cross and beyond to the new life of Easter, let us trust in the Lord. Let us be like him, and may he transform our hearts, our minds and our lives, so that they may have live and life in all its fullness. We are fed by the word of God and by the Sacrament of His Body and Blood to be strengthened, to share in His divine life, to fit us for Heaven, and to transform all of creation that it may resound his praise and share in his life of the Resurrection, washed in His Blood and the saving waters of Baptism: forgiven and forgiving so that all that we say, or think, or do, all that we are may be for the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever…

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Lent III – The Cleansing of the Temple

It is hard for us to imagine, but for Jews in Jesus’ day, the Temple was the most important building in the world. It was the religious centre of Israel, a busy place, where devout Jews and others came to pray, to be near God. In this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus in quite an uncompromising mood: this is no ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ but rather here is the righteous anger of the prophets, a sign that all is not well in the world. Sin separates us from God and each other, it isn’t how we’re supposed to be.

When Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God on Mt Sinai the first is, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.’ Could it be that the temple traders, in their desire to profit from people’s religious observance, have broken this first and most important commandment? Has their desire for making money, for profit got in the way of what the Temple is supposed to be about: namely, worshipping God? It’s become a racket, a money-making scheme to fleece pilgrims who have come from far away and who do not have the right money or the correct sacrificial animals with them. This is no way to worship God, a God who loves us, and who showed that love by delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt.

The temptation to have power, to be concerned above all else with worldly things: money, power, success, and influence, are still a huge temptation for the Church and the world. We may not mean to, but we do, and while we think of God as loving and merciful, we forget about righteous anger, and our need to repent, to turn away from our sins — the desire to control others and to be so caught up on the ways of the world that we lose sight of who and what we are, and what we are supposed to do and be. This is why we have the season of Lent to prepare ourselves, and to repent.

The Jews demand a sign, and Christ prophesies that if they destroy this temple then he will raise it up in three days: He looks to His death and resurrection to show them where true worship lies — in the person of Jesus Christ. Christians should be concerned with a relationship, our relationship with God, and with each other. Likewise Christians can all too easily forget that Jesus said, ‘I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them’. The Ten Commandments are not abolished by Christ, or set aside, but rather His proclamation of the Kingdom and Repentance show us that we still need to live the Law of Moses out in our lives: to show that we honour God and live our lives accordingly. In His cleansing of the Temple, Christ looks to the Cross and to the Resurrection, He shows how God will restore our relationship. The Cross is a stumbling-block to Jews, who are obsessed with the worship of the Temple, and it is foolishness to Gentiles who cannot believe that God could display such weakness, such powerlessness. Instead the Cross, the supreme demonstration of God’s love for us, shocking and scandalous though it is, is a demonstration of the utter, complete, self-giving love of God, for the sake of you and me — miserable sinners who deserve condemnation, but who instead are offered love and mercy to heal us and restore us.

When we are confronted with this we should be shocked — that God loves us enough to do this, to suffer dreadfully and die for us, to save us from our sins, and from the punishment that is rightly ours. We do not deserve it, and that’s the point. But we are offered it in Christ so that we might become something other and greater than we are, putting away the ways of the world, of power and money, selfishness and sin, to have new life in and through Him.

‘In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.’ [J.H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845) Ch.1, §1 Part 7] If we are changing into Jesus Christ, then we’re on the right track. If we listen to His word in Scripture; if we talk to him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him and with Him in the Eucharist, by Christ who is both priest and victim, so that we might become what He is – God. If we’re forgiven by Him, through making confession of our sins, not only do we come to understand Jesus, we become like him, we come to share in his divine nature, you, me, all of humanity ideally. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet — we are prepared to enter the new life of the Kingdom, and to live it.

Lent should be something of a spiritual spring clean, asking God to drive out all that should not be there, preparing for the joy of Easter, to live the Risen Life, filled with God’s grace. In our baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life in the Spirit. Let us prepare to live that life, holding fast to Our Lord and Saviour, clinging to the teachings of his body, the Church. Let us turn away from the folly of this world, the hot air, and focus on the true and everlasting joy of heaven, which awaits us, who are bought by his blood, washed in it, fed with it. Let us proclaim it in our lives so that others may believe so that all may praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epiphany 2018

Most people nowadays don’t really pay much attention to the stars in the sky. Lots of people in our modern world thanks to increased levels of light pollution barely notice them, or may just be able to point out a few constellations. If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself somewhere where the nights are dark, like say Mid Wales then on a clear night you can see something magical: the sky is covered with stars. People looked at them, named them, and studied them. They mattered, because people believed, rightly or wrongly, that events on earth and in the heavens were somehow linked. Wise Men in the East saw a conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in the constellation Pisces, which was believed to represent the Jews , which coincided with a comet moving in the sky. So, on the basis of their observations they travelled hundred of miles to Israel, the land of the Jews, and go to the royal palace in Jerusalem, to find out what is going on.

The Wise Men are told that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, so they travel further, in order to see something wonderful. As they come they are fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah which is the first reading this morning. It is a sign that when God comes among us He will be seen by the nations, the Gentiles, people who are not Jews. It is the first moment when we can say with St Paul that, ‘the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’ (Eph 3:6)

The Manifestation of Our Lord to the Gentiles, which the church celebrates today, is a deepening of the splendour of the Incarnation: what began at Christmas becomes deeper, and more wonderful. With the arrival of the Wise Men from the East, the whole World is told that God is with us. Gentiles are made co-heirs, ‘members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’.

The promise is made through the words of the prophet Isaiah in this morning’s first reading. The light which is shown by the star which the Wise Men follow is the Light of the World, the true light. Kings and the nations come to its brightness, they come to worship God made man; they come to pay their homage to the Saviour born among them. They come with camels and bringing gold and frankincense to worship their king and their God. They come to Bethlehem, and not to a royal palace, or a throne. This is what true kingship is, true love, that of God and not of humanity.

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

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

In the gifts which the Wise Men offer Jesus they show us that they recognise and understand who and what He is. They kneel before Him, something we do for Kings and God. He is both. They honour Him: they recognise that God is with us, that salvation has come to the world in the person of this small child. It is truly an event of cosmic proportions, which changes how humanity relates to itself and to God. The Wise Men come and kneel and they worship and adore the Lord of creation and the Word of God Incarnate. The King of all is not in a Palace but in a simple house in Bethlehem, and He meets us here today under the outward forms of Bread and Wine, to heal us, to restore us, and to give us life in Him. Let us come before Him, offer Him the gifts of our life, and our love, and our service so that we may see His Kingdom grow.

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

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

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The First Sunday of Christmas

As we approach the end of another year it is natural both to look backwards and forwards, to what has been, and what will be. Ideally we would do both in a positive fashion, grateful for what has been, and hopeful for the future. It isn’t as easy as it sounds: the world feels a worried, troubled place with the risks of war and terrorism, political instability, economic insecurity, and unpredictable weather, to name but a few. It isn’t pleasant to dwell on such matters, and it seems that there isn’t that much that you or I can do about them.

As Christians we are called to be people of joy and hope, emotions which are encapsulated in the Feast of Christmas, which we continue to celebrate for either twelve or forty days, leading up to the Epiphany or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Church, unlike the world around us, doesn’t stop celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ for some time yet because it is so important to take some time to think about God has done for us in being born for us. The shops around us have cleared their shelves for Valentine’s Day or Easter Eggs, but we are not so hasty. The awesome truth that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has taken flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that the Son, Jesus Christ has been born for us, should make us pause.

God is not remote, a distant disinterested Creator. He becomes human, and is born like we are. God gets involved, and shares a human life, its joys and its pains, and its end: death. God does this for us. This is grace, an unmerited gift, something we don’t deserve, so that we might know His love. God becomes a human being so that humanity might become divine, so that we might share in the Divine life of love. God loves us, not because we deserve it, or that we have somehow earned our way to Heaven, but so that we can know Him, love Him, and serve Him, in Earth and in Heaven.

God shows his love for us in being born as one of us, sharing our humanity, so that we might share His Divinity. In Jesus Christ we can see and know who and what God is. This is the mystery of the incarnation. It is something we cannot fully understand, in this earthly life at least, but it is something we can begin to experience. We can have hope for the future, in and through Christ, however bad the world around us is. Through Him we can know something of healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness. No matter how many mistakes we make, and what ever mess we are in, it is something which God in Christ can deal with. This is not to say that God has a magic wand to wave over our problems, but rather that we see our problems in the broader context of God’s love for us, another way becomes possible, and this is where the Kingdom breaks into our lives.

Our first reading this morning sees the prophet Isaiah proclaiming the hope of the Messiah, hope for the people of Israel, which is fulfilled in the baby born in Bethlehem, Jesus, our Saviour. Isaiah trusts God to fulfil His promise, and looks to the future with hope. He sees the future in terms of a wedding – a cause of great joy. It signifies a restored relationship, something Jesus will bring about himself, on the Cross, to heal our wounds through His. This is Good News, and it fills us with joy.

The reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians reminds us that the Incarnation has changed everything. It is an event in history which happens at the right time, when people are mature enough to understand what is happening. God sends His Son, born of Mary, to redeem us, and to adopt us, to bring us into God’s family, so that we can receive our inheritance, the gift of the Holy Spirit, to fill us with God’s love. We are included, we are adopted. Rather than being disinherited, which is what we deserve, men and women are adopted through Christ. In Jewish law inheritance was about passing property from fathers to sons, Paul shows how Jesus has re-written the rules: men and women are treated equally, and brought into the inheritance of the Kingdom of God’s love. This is great news, a departure from the ways of the past, a sign of radical equality in and through Christ – salvation is God’s free gift, restoring the dignity of humanity.

In Luke’s Gospel we see shepherds who have just been told the most wonderful news: the Messiah, the Saviour is born in Bethlehem. They decide to go and see what God has told them. They make haste, they hurry, they are excited. They see Mary and Jospeh and the baby lying in a manger, a stone trough for animal feed. They see a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, just like the lambs they raise to be sacrifices in the Temple. They see One, who from his birth has been marked out to be the sacrifice on the Cross which will restore Israel, and bring about a true passover. The shepherds see something amazing and they tell people about it – it is Good News. God loves us this much. They go back to their flocks praising God for what they have seen – salvation in their midst, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Mary said “Yes’ to God to bring these things about, now she ‘ponders these things in her heart’ she reflects on what has happened. Having been obedient she turns to God in love and worship and prepares to be obedient to the law of Moses, and the covenant, the agreement which God first made with Abraham, two thousand years previously. Mary and Joseph are obedient to the Law and so their Son is circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21). He receives the sublime name, Jesus, that is to say God is our Saviour.

God saves us. We hear His words in Scripture, and here in the Eucharist we are fed by God and  fed with God, with His Body and Blood, broken and shed for us, that through His death we might have life in Him. So let us come and share in God’s generous gift to us, to heal us, to restore us, and give us hope in Him.

God’s salvation, the saving of humanity, is an act of love and obedience. So as we continue to celebrate Christmas and are filled the joy of the Incarnation, let us also reflect upon the fact that Love and Obedience and Suffering go hand in hand. They are costly, and likewise, for us in our Christian lives, following Christ means embracing love, obedience, and suffering, bearing witness to the truth that God loves all of us, gave his life for us, and asks the same of us.

And so may we begin the New Year full of joy and hope, mindful of the costly Love of God. As we recall the obedience of Mary, may we like the ox and ass in the stable kneel and worship the Lord of Creation, the Word of God Incarnate. Let us be like the shepherds and share our faith with others in what we are, and do, and say. Let us fashion our lives after the example of Our Lord and Saviour, to whom with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed, as is most just and right, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory, now and forever…

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The Parable of the Talents Mt 25:14-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Parable of the Talents – Rembrant

Sixteenth Sunday of Year A Mt 13:24-43

If I were to mention Hell to you, you would probably expect me to also mention damnation, the wretched sinful nature of humanity, and why we all deserve to burn for ever in eternal fire and unquenchable brimstone, striking the pulpit in the manner of a Non-Conformist preacher. You would naturally think this was somewhat out of character for me. But here I stand I can do no other. This morning’s Gospel is quite stark and uncompromising in its portrayal of judgement and the afterlife, and we have a choice to make. We have got used to people not talking about Hell nowadays, we’re far too polite to mention such things. It’s certainly not the Anglican way to dwell on such matters. But we cannot simply bury our heads in the sand and forget that such things exist. We need to understand them.

One of my favourite religious anecdotes comes from Northern Ireland, and relates to this morning’s Gospel, after hearing it read someone asked, ‘What if you’ve not got any teeth?’, to which the preacher responded, ‘Teeth will be provided!’ amidst the humour there lies a serious point – It is real, and  we have a choice to make. Do we want a future without God, cut off from Him, through Sin?  Do we want to condemn ourselves to an eternity of misery, cut off from His love? Or do we want to have life in Christ, life in all its fullness.

Jesus comes to save us from Sin, Death, and Hell. He does this first by proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom and secondly by dying for us on the Cross, bearing the burden of our sins, and overcoming the power of death and Hell, and rising again to New Life. The Church preaches Christ Crucified, and offers salvation in and through Christ alone.

But lest we get too gloomy, let us pause for a moment to consider something important. In the Gospel, the time for the separation of wheat and weeds is not yet. There is time, time for repentance, time to turn away from Sin, and to turn to Christ. The proclamation of the Kingdom is one which calls people to repent, and to believe, to have a change of heart, and to turn away from the ways of the world, the ways of selfishness, which alienate us from God and each other. It is not merely an event, but rather a process, a continual turning towards Christ, and reliance upon His love and mercy, a turning to Him in prayer, being nourished and transformed by our reading of the Bible, and being nourished with the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

The good news is that we are not simply condemned, and we, all of us, have time to make sure that we are wheat and not weeds. Ours is a generous and a loving God, who longs to see His people reconciled, healed, and redeemed. The fact that the wheat and the weeds can grow together until the harvest is done for the sake of the wheat, lest it be pulled up by accident. Ours then is a patient God, who provides us with the opportunity for repentance, time to turn our lives around and follow him. And the Church, just like the world is people good and bad, on various stages of a journey, as earth is a preparation for heaven, we are given all the chances possible to rely on God’s transforming grace in our lives.

It is a hopeful message, a message of healing and reconciliation, that God does not simply give up on us, but rather does all he can to make sure that we are wheat and not weeds. It is the wonder of the Cross, that God sends his Son out of love for humanity, of you and me, to suffer and die for us, to show us the depth of God’s love, That he rises from the tomb so show us that death is not the end, to give us hope. It is the best news there is. And we are told about it now, so that we can do something about it, and we can tell other people too. We can share the message so that others can hear, and repent, and believe, and live new lives in Christ, freed from slavery to sin. So that all the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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15th Sunday of Year A – The Parable of the Sower – Matthew 13:1–23

If, this morning, I were to go and stand  outside my local supermarket with a suitcase full of £20 notes and give away free money, you would be surprised if anyone refused the offer. There would in fact be a large queue. People would text and phone their friends. They would come from far and wide and would gladly take what I would give them and would go away happy.

And yet, we as the church offer something of far greater value than some bank notes: the love of God and life in all its fullness. If I were to stand in the middle of this village and talk to people about the love of God in Christ Jesus I doubt that there would be the same kinds of crowds, or a similar level of acceptance.

Jesus never had such problems, quite the opposite in fact, in the Gospel He has been teaching people about the Kingdom of God, and how it creates a new kind of family for us to belong to. He has been quoting from the prophet Isaiah, and now there are so many people who want to listen to what he has to say that he has to go into a boat on the Sea of Galilee to use a cove like a natural auditorium or theatre so that people can see and hear Him. He tells a parable to explain the Kingdom in a way that people could understand. A sower scatters seed, and it falls into various kinds of ground, some plants get choked by weeds. Others fall into thin soil and quickly wither and die. But some fall into good soil and produce a miraculous harvest. It’s a parable about people hearing the proclamation of the Kingdom of God: it’s easy to forget about it, to get choked by the cares of the world, to buckle under the first bit of pressure, but if you listen to what God says, and let it grow in your heart and your life then miraculous things can and will happen. Ours is an extravagant God, a generous God, a God who loves us.

The Church has always struggled with the fact that there are those who are unwilling or unable to receive the message of the Gospel of salvation. It seems so strange that people just aren’t interested in who Jesus is, in what He does, and why it matters.

I certainly don’t understand why anyone would think like that. It makes perfect sense to me, as a man of faith who loves Jesus. I want to tell people about Him. That is why I’m standing here talking to you. It is thanks to the example of a great and holy priest, Fr Glyn Bowen, who lived next door but one to us when I was a child. He was a humble, loving man, who lived out his faith and inspired me and countless others to follow Jesus.

We cannot do everything ourselves, we have to leave some things up to God.  But we can hope and trust along with the apostle Paul that ‘the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ (Rom 8:21 NRSV). We must remember that the spread of the Good News, like all things, is in God’s hands. Unlike in the supermarkets, the Church’s offers are not time-limited. We should not allow people’s reluctance to accept the gospel to detract us from our main purpose. We as Christians are to love God and to love our neighbour, in thought word and deed. This is the key to our faith.

By living lives which proclaim the gospel truth, that there is much more to life than the false enticements of this world, we become fruitful evangelists, with the word of God dwelling in us deeply. As Christians, all of our lives need to be filled with Christ-like love. It cannot be otherwise. Through regular prayer, and reading of the scriptures, but most of all through regular reception of Holy Communion, we can be fed by the Lord, with the Lord,  to become living temples to His glory.

For God is seeking the healing of his people as noted by the prophet Isaiah which Jesus quotes:

You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.” (Mt 13:14-15 NRSV)

Isaiah is giving a message of hope to Israel, to trust in God, and turn towards Him, so that they may be healed. It is fulfilled in Jesus, who brings about that healing on the Cross, when He reconciles us to God and each other. ‘And I would heal them’, Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah ends with a promise of God’s healing. It is a promise which Jesus fulfils on the Cross. Here He shows us that God wants to heal His people, and has sent His Son to do it. This is the Good News of the Kingdom.

We can have a truly loving community in and through Christ, who has taken our sins upon Himself, and reconciled us to God and each other. It allows us to live in an entirely different way to the ways of the world, the ways of sin and division. And in the growth of the Church we can see the New Life and miraculous harvest which God offers.

The people of our generation are reluctant or scared to accept God’s love. They have become inherently suspicious of the idea of a free gift. The only way that they can be encouraged to accept it is by seeing in the lives of people around them examples of how the free love of God affects our lives. We need to reflect God’s love in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds.

So then, let us pray that we may be fed by Him, nourished by Him, strengthened to live lives of gospel truth which proclaim the generous love of God to all those around us. Let us show this love to one another, letting God work in our lives, and helping us to love Him and to love our neighbours, so that the world around us may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. AMEN.

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Trinity Sunday

We celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity today because in 1334 Pope John XXII decided that on the Sunday after Pentecost the Western Church would celebrate the Trinity. It was already a popular feast. Nearly two hundred years previously Thomas Becket was consecrated a bishop on this day, and kept the feast. Its popularity in the British Isles is shown by the fact that we number the Sundays between now and Advent not ‘after Pentecost’ but ‘after Trinity’. It defines the majority of the liturgical year for us.

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

In this morning’s epistle we heard the closing words of Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. Their relations have not been been easy or pleasant. Paul has written urging reconciliation, something which the church always needs, and something at the heart of our faith. This is because it is what Jesus achieves on the Cross, our reconciliation with God and with each other. Paul urges the church to embrace in love, as we will soon do during the Peace. He ends with words which are very familiar to us: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ (2Cor 13:13) We often repeat these words, and call them ‘the Grace’.

This Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the unmerited kindness we have received through him, which we do not deserve. We have not earned it, but receive it through Him. The Love of God is such that He gave His only Son ‘that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ (Jn 3:16-17). The Love of God sees Jesus take flesh by the Holy Spirit, to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, preach repentance and the nearness of the Kingdom of God, and die for us on the Cross. Then he rose again, ascended, sent the Holy Spirit to us at Pentecost, and promised to come again as our Judge. Fellowship, or Communion is what the persons of the Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – have between each other, and which we the Church are invited to share. It is the imparting of the grace, the undeserved kindness of God. In the act of Holy Communion we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we might share in the divine life here on earth.

We can do this because we have been baptised. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus tells the apostles to go and make disciples ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19). This is the central act of our faith, it is how we enter the Church; how we put on Christ; how we are saved. It defines us as Christians.

In public prayer, at the end of Psalms and Canticles, we end with the words, ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit ; As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.’ This is a doxology which means ‘Words that praise God’ We say these words because they express our faith.

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

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

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Easter VI – John 14:15-21

I once asked a nun who had been professed many years what she found most difficult about the religious life. The answer I received was a surprising one: ‘Obedience’. She could cope with poverty and chastity, with stability, and the ongoing change of character, but she found it hard to do what she was told, to be obedient.

It is not for nothing that the opening words of the Rule of St Benedict are: ‘Listen my son to the words of the Master’. I, like her, struggle with obedience. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, all of us do too. We like to have our own way, to do what we want, when we want, and how we want to do it. We are wilful, and proud, we want to have our own way, we don’t want to listen to someone else: a spouse, a parent, a priest, or God. Such is the nature of the human condition. This is the reason why God was born as a man, preached the Good News, and taught a new way to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God. For this he suffered, and died.

And for us as the church, the first thing we need to do is to listen to Jesus, to do what he tells us, to be obedient to him. If we love him we will keep his commandments, we will love God and each other with the same costly self-giving love that Jesus shows on the Cross.It’s quite a big ask, following in his footsteps, dying to self and living for God. It does however lie at the heart of it all. When Jesus says, ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you’ in the Upper Room with His disciples, on the night before he dies, He is looking to the Cross and beyond, as the demonstration of real costly self-giving love. The agony of brutal torture awaits him, a painful death for the love of humanity, to save us and heal us. 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.’

God dies for us, and freely offers us the gift of new life in Him. If we listen to him, then Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us, to encourage us: a generous gift from a generous God., so that we can experience the fulness of new life in him. A gift so wonderful that Jesus ascends to his Father before giving it to the church, a sign of God’s love and trust, given to strengthen and encourage, to build us up. Such is the power of obedience, where we recognise power greater than ourselves, needs greater than our own, when we turn from love of self to love of God and others The world around will never quite understand this, it simply cannot listen to Jesus or trust him, and so misses out on the fulness of God’s love, which awaits us in heaven. So we pray that we might be obedient, that we might listen to what Jesus says, and do it, and that God would pour out his Holy Spirit upon us, to strengthen and encourage us, to build us up in his love. By listening to what God says we find ourselves becoming more free than we could have been before

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 drink of that living water, let us feast on him who is the living bread and the true vine, the shepherd of our souls, who loves us so much that he died for us, and let us love him and one another so that all the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever

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Lent III John 4: 5–42

 

God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us

Hyperichius said, ‘The tree of life is high, and humility climbs it.’

He also said, ‘Imitate the tax-collector, to prevent yourself being condemned with the Pharisee. Follow the gentleness of Moses, and hollow out the rocky places of your heart, so that you turn them into springs of water.’

 

People can be strange, stubborn infuriating creatures, and the picture given to us of the Israelites in Exodus should strike something of a chord. We can recognise something of ourselves in it: stubborn, wilful, and sinful. But lest we get too disheartened it is important to recognise that Moses strikes the rock at Horeb, as the Lord commands him, and out flows water. This water, like the parted water of the Red Sea prefigures Christ, the living water, our baptism, through which we enter the Church. Through it we are regenerate, born again to eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, whose side was pierced on Calvary, and whence flowed blood and water. This water speaks to us of the grace of God poured out upon us, his people, to heal us and restore us, to help us live his risen life.

So as we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, we can do so joyfully because God’s love has been poured into our hearts – what matters is what has been done to us, by God, out of love, so that we can be like him. He is the reconciliation which achieves what we cannot: restoring our relationship with God and each other, healing our wounds, and giving us eternal life in Him.

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

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

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

To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. If we are changing into Jesus Christ, then we’re on the right track. If we listen to his word; if we talk to him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him in the Eucharist, by Christ both priest and victim, to become what He is – God; if we’re forgiven by Him, through making confession of our sins, not only do we come to understand Jesus, we become like him, we come to share in his divine nature, you, me, all of humanity ideally. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Lent should be something of a spiritual spring clean, asking God to drive out all that should not be there, preparing for the joy of Easter, to live the Risen Life, filled with God’s grace. In our baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life in the Spirit. Let us prepare to live that life, holding fast to Our Lord and Saviour, clinging to the teachings of his body, the Church. Let us turn away from the folly of this world, the hot air, and focus on the true and everlasting joy of heaven, which awaits us, who are bought by his blood, washed in it, fed with it. So that we too may praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever…

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Guercino Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 1640-1

Sexagesima Yr A (7th in OT)

‘Set your heart on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness’

Hating people is quite easy, you just do it, you realise that they are bad and horrible, and nothing gives you more pleasure that thinking of them unhappy, in pain, tortured by their conscience if they have one. You may even long to see them dead, disemboweled, with their heads on spikes. It’s quite easy to feel like this, but we have to ask ourselves the question ‘Are such feelings good?’ ‘Is this what God really wants?’ The answer is an unequivocal NO. In the Gospels Jesus offers humanity a radical alternative, to the way of sin and hatred. He calls us to love our enemies, to wish the best for them, to fight all that they do to  us with love and forgiveness, it is radical, and it can change our lives, and indeed it can change the entire world, if we live it out.

In the Gospels over the past few weeks Jesus has been telling us quite a lot about how we should live our lives. This concentration should alert us to two facts: it is important and it isn’t easy. How we live our lives matters, as it is how we put our faith into practice and also it forms our moral character: we become what we do. Living a Christian life isn’t a matter of giving our assent to principles, or signing on the dotted line, it’s about a covenant, a relationship with God and each other, which we demonstrate not only by what we believe, but how our beliefs shape our actions.

The call to holiness of life is rooted in the goodness of the created order: God saw all that he had made and it was good. The path to human flourishing starts with the response of humanity to the goodness of God shown in the goodness of the world. It continues with the hope which we have in Christ that all things will be restored in Him, for in this hope we were saved.

Living out our faith in the world can be a tricky business: we cannot serve both God and money. A world which cares only for profit and greed, for the advancement of self, is surely a cruel uncaring world which is entirely opposed to the values of the Gospel. The Church has to speak out against poverty, injustice, and corruption, in order to call the world back to its senses, to say to it ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is close at hand’. The kingdom is the hope that we will live in a world where the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, and all humanity lives in the peace of God. Christianity is a radical faith which looks to nothing less than the complete transformation of the world – you may see us as idealistic, as dreamers not rooted in reality, but this Kingdom is a reality here and now, and it’s up to us to help advance it.

Such is the power of advertising that we are forever being bombarded with enticements to buy new clothes, to diet, to celebrate, to spend money so that it makes us happy, but also so that we feel guilty, we take out loans to finance our extravagance. Against this we need to hear the words of Jesus ‘Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing’. But, I hear you cry; you’re wearing fine clothes, and standing in a pulpit telling us about this. Indeed I am, but priests and deacons wear beautiful vestments not to point to themselves, not as a display, put to point us to God, the source of all beauty, to honour Him, in all that we do or say, to remind us why we are here today, to be fed by God, to be fed with God, in Word and Sacrament, so that we may be strengthened and transformed. A God who loves us so much that he died for us on the Cross, the same sacrifice present upon the altar here – given for us to touch and taste God’s love, this is the reality of God’s love in our lives.

So how do we respond to it? This is the kingdom of God, right here, right now, we’re living it, and we need to trust the God who loves us and saves us, and live out our faith in our lives, we need to embody the values of the Kingdom, and help others to live them so that we can carry on God’s work. Every day when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

As we look towards Lent let us all encourage each other to do God’s will in our lives so that we may hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom and do His will, living out our faith in our lives, helping each other to do this and inviting others in to share the peace and love and joy of the Kingdom, so that the world around us may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Epiphany IV

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

Fulton J. Sheen Those Mysterious Priests, 1974: 157

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let us come to him, clinging to His Cross, our ONLY HOPE, let us be fed with him, and by him, to be strengthened, healed, and restored, and to share this is with the world, so that it may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

cana

Third Sunday of Year A [Mt 4:12–23]

If you go to S. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the Chapel of Keble College, Oxford, you can see one of the most popular and reproduced works of Religious Art in the world: Holman Hunt’s painting, The Light of the World. It shows our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ standing at a door with a lantern. The door has no handle; it needs to be opened from the inside: Jesus may be the Light of the World, but he does not force himself upon us, we have to welcome Him into our hearts and our lives. His coming into the world which we celebrate at Christmas, which was made manifest to the world at Epiphany, was not the entry of a tyrant, forcing himself upon the world, but as a vulnerable and loving baby, entirely dependent upon the love and care of others, God comes among us. His coming is foretold by the prophet Isaiah, He is the fulfilment of prophesy, he is the light of the nations, and a cause of great joy: to be a Christian, to follow Christ is it not to be filled with the joy and love which comes from God; we can be serious in our zeal, but should never be miserable: our vocation is to live out our faith, in love, and hope, and joy in our lives, to draw others to Him.

Of our many failings as followers of Christ there is nothing worse than to see strife and division amongst Christians, as S. Paul found in Corinth: it has no place in the church, it isn’t what God intended for us, it’s not how things should be. It has to be resisted: wounds have to be healed, transgressions forgiven, and unity restored. It’s part of how we live out our faith in our lives, it’s why we pray and work for Christian Unity, and why it matters for our proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom of God.

If we turn to the words of this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To repent as Christ is asking us to, as St John the Baptist proclaimed before him is to change our mind, to make a change of direction in our lives, away from sin, and to Christ, it is what we promise in our baptism and it is how we are supposed to keep living our lives. It’s hard, I know, I fail on a daily basis, and yet I keep trying, turning back to a God who loves me, who took flesh of the Virgin Mary and became incarnate for me, and for you, and all who have ever or will ever turn to Him. Ours then is God of love and mercy, a God of forgiveness who calls us to turn to him, so that we may have life and have it to the full.

We turn away from what separates us from God and each other, we turn to God in Christ, to be close to Him in Word and Sacrament, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, so that we might share His divine nature, so that we might be given a foretaste of heaven, so that we may be strengthened to live out our faith in our lives, so that the world may believe – the Kingdom is close at hand, and Christ calls us, the baptised people of God, to share in the work of His kingdom. He asks that we follow Him, that we go where He goes, that we do what He does – it sounds easy enough, but it’s not, it’s something which we need to do together, and while I can endeavour to help you along the way, I cannot without your help, your prayers, your love, and your support. As Christians we are inter-dependent, we rely upon each other, we’re in it together.

In the Gospel, Jesus sees Andrew and Simon Peter and then James and John the sons of Zebedee and says ‘Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people’. He calls them to share in God’s work of saving souls. They drop everything and follow him: it’s immediate and matter of fact. Jesus goes around preaching the good news of the kingdom, and the need for humanity to repent, and to be baptised, and he heals the sick, just as he can heal the sickness in our souls. This is good news indeed.

We need to be like lights in the world, shining in the darkness, so that Christ can knock on the door of people’s hearts. We need to be like those first disciples who heard what Jesus said, who listened, and did what He told them, who were close to Jesus, so that our faith is a reality in our lives. We need to be strengthened and fed by Him who is the greatest medicine for our souls, who comes to us here, this morning,  in His Body and Blood, to heal us, to restore us and strengthen us to follow him, so that the world may believe and and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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