Christ the King

On November 23rd 1927 the last words uttered by Blessed Miguel Pro SJ before he was murdered were, ‘¡Viva Christo Rey!’ “Long live Christ the King!’. The Mexican regime of that time was cruel and went out of its way to persecute Christians, including Miguel Pro, a twentieth century Christian martyr who died confessing Christ’s sovereignty over all things. His words are powerful, and inspiring. When we acknowledge Christ as King we are saying that He is above all human power and authority, and we affirm that God is supreme. We, as Christians, declare that our primary allegiance is to God alone, and not to the things of this world. Secular power is threatened by this, because it wants to assume for itself something that rightly belongs to God alone. The Church resists this out of a desire to honour and worship God, and to see God’s Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. 

In our first reading this morning from the prophet Ezekiel we see God speaking as a shepherd caring for His flock. This image lies behind Jesus’ description of Himself as the Good Shepherd in John’s Gospel (Jn 10:11-18). Jesus uses imagery from Scripture to show us that it is fulfilled in Him, that God’s promises are coming true. Jesus the Good Shepherd is a hopeful and encouraging image, one which we need as much as ever. God is not absent or disinterested in us or how we live our lives, quite the opposite:

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak (Ezekiel 34:15-16)

This vision of care, healing, and reconciliation, is exactly what Jesus promises and demonstrates in the Gospels. This should not surprise us, as there is a continuity between the Old and New Testaments. What is promised in the Old is fulfilled in the New. The Word of God finds its fullest expression in the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Christ takes the image for His Parable from the words of Ezekiel’s Prophecy:

“As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.” (Ezekiel 34:15-16)

So this morning we come to the last of Jesus’ parables concerning the end times, that of the Sheep and the Goats.  

As those involved in keeping animals will know, sheep and goats need to be separated. Sheep are hardier than goats, so they can sleep outside, whereas goats need shelter. Normally it is easy to distinguish them from each other since sheep’s tails point down, and goats’ tails point up. 

Once they are separated, Jesus speaks to the sheep:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ (Mt 25:34-36)

Jesus singles out those who have put their Christian faith into action in their lives. They have not simply believed in Jesus, but they have let their belief inform their actions, and done good works. They have fed the hungry, given refreshment to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, and visited the sick and prisoners. This is what God wants us to do, if we want to go to Heaven. The advice is clear, as with the other parables which we have been reading over the past few weeks. God is telling us how Christians should live in the world, making their love visible and demonstrating it in acts of service. 

God expects a lot from us. The Christian life is demanding, and a high standard is set for us. Likewise the choice is a stark one: eternal life or eternal punishment. It is important for us to remember that this morning’s Gospel is a parable which is meant to warn us, and give us the opportunity to live the way God wants us to, here and now, so that we can be prepared for the life to come. Each and every one of us can choose to try and live Gospel lives or not. God does not force us, we are free to reject His love, or to accept it and live lives which demonstrate that love to the world around us. It is clear that actions have consequences, and how we live our lives matters. That’s why Jesus’ teaching is clear and uncompromising.

We are faced with the question of how to live out our faith so that we are living lives of generous love and human flourishing. Can we manage on our own? No, alone we will not succeed. We need to rely upon each other, for help and support, but most importantly we need to rely upon God, and His Grace, as without it we are doomed to fail. Today we celebrate Christ’s universal kingship, that He is sovereign in Heaven and on earth, and that He rules in the hearts and lives of men and women everywhere. We serve him out of love, rather than obeying Him out of fear, and seek to make that love a reality in the world through acts of loving service. But we do this first and foremost because of our relationship with Christ. In showing mercy to others we are showing mercy to Christ, who in turn will be merciful towards us.

‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Mt 25:40)

In the Beatitudes Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy’ (Mt 5:7). Now we see what this looks like in reality. The Kingdom of God is above all else a place of love, freely offered. The throne of God is in fact the Cross: here Christ is raised up and reigns in glory, the glory of self-giving generous love. Christ bears forever the marks of the nails and the spear because they are the marks of love. As a well-known hymn puts it, ‘Crown him the Lord of love! Behold his hands and side,— Rich wounds, yet visible above, In beauty glorified’. This is glory of the Kingdom, and we are called to share and participate in it, to make it a reality here and now. 

So let us try to live in such a way, that Christ may rule in our hearts and lives, and that we may all be built up in faith, hope, and love together, and share in the joy and generosity of the Kingdom, so that all may know and love God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

Diego Velázquez, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Twenty-first Sunday of Year A

Our first reading this morning is from the prophet Isaiah and is about a change in the appointment of a royal steward. God’s will is that Eliakim is given the power to control the royal palace, as he is someone who can be relied upon and trusted. At a deeper level the prophecy anticipates our Gospel reading.

And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (Isa 22:22)

The words look forward to Our Lord’s promise to St Peter, and remind us that God keeps His promises, and that we can trust what we read and hear in Scripture. 

One of the most important questions in the entire Bible is found in this morning’s Gospel: who do you say that Jesus is? How we answer this question can tell us a lot about our faith. It matters, and it is central to who and what we are as Christians.

Jesus and his disciples ventured into the District of Caesarea Philippi, an area about 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The region had tremendous religious implications, as the place was littered with the temples of the Syrian gods. Here was the elaborate marble temple that had been erected by Herod the Great, father of the then-ruling Herod Antipas. Here people worshipped the Roman Emperor as a God himself. You might say that the world religions were on display in this town. It was with this scene in the background that Jesus chose to ask the most crucial questions of his ministry.

Jesus looked at his disciples and in a moment of reflection said: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples begin sharing with Jesus what they have heard from the people who have been following Jesus: Some say that you are Elijah; others say John the Baptist, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. It has always been this way. Jesus has been seen by the masses in so many different ways. But Jesus then asks his disciples, ‘But who do YOU say that I am?’ (Mt 16:15) Peter answers ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God’ (Mt 16:16) This is a big claim to make. Saying that Jesus is divine was certainly problematic, as it undermined what Jews thought about religion, and also the claims made by Romans about the Emperor. It is a very radical thing to say, that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Hope of Israel, who fulfils the promises in the Prophets. 

Nowadays you can speak of Jesus as prophet, holy man, teacher, or spiritual leader, and few will object. But speak of Him as Son of God, Divine, of the same nature as the Father, and people will line up to express their disapproval. This is not a new phenomenon, the history of the Church is full of people who have disagreed on matters of doctrine. This is reason why the Church repeats the words of the Nicene Creed week by week. It is to remind ourselves of what we believe. As Christians in worship we stand up and make a public declaration of our faith, something which would once have led to our death at the hands of the state, and still does in some places today. Nonetheless, we believe that the Nature and Person of the Son of God (who and what Jesus is and does) is an important thing; it is central to our faith. 

As a result of Peter’s confession of faith Jesus makes the following promise:

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:17-19)

Jesus gives Simon a new name, Peter, which means the rock, a rock upon which Christ will build His Church. We know from the Gospel that a wise man builds his house on rock not sand (Mt 7:24-27). The Church is built upon Peter because he confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Our profession of faith makes us Christians. Because of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, sin death and Hell no longer rule over humanity. Christ has conquered, and His victory is complete. Peter is then given the power to bind or loose, which is in effect the power to forgive sin, through Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. The Church exists to bring people closer to God and to create in the world a kingdom of peace and reconciliation to heal the wounds of sinful humanity. The Church exists to make humanity holy, through all that Christ has done for us, and to share this with others and transform the world into the Kingdom of Peace which is what God wills for our good and our flourishing. This is a radical and transformative vision which begins with our acknowledgement of sin, admitting that we have fallen short, and that we cannot sort things out ourselves alone. Only God can do this, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, he has. God longs to heal our wounds because that is what the Kingdom is based upon: healing, reconciliation, transformation. This is what takes an enemy of the Church, Saul, a man who zealously sought to destroy the Church, and makes him its most ardent advocate. 

Thus, St Paul came to write to the Church in Rome:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33)

Paul knows this to be a reality because he can testify to the transforming power of God’s love. It is beyond words, beyond human understanding, because His love is a gift which asks for nothing in return. There is nothing we can give God. But we can live out the values of His Kingdom to enable us to flourish as men and women. We will often fail in this, just like St Peter, yet God’s love and mercy are always greater. We keep making mistakes, but God’s love is not conditional, we cannot earn it, it is freely offered to transform us. Thus, our faith is the work of a lifetime. Day by day God’s grace can perfect our nature, if we are humble enough to let God be at work in us. We pray that God’s grace may transform us so that, in this life and the next, we and all creation may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen

Mosaic from St Peter’s chapel in the crypt of Westminster Cathedral, London.
Fr Lawrence Lew OP, via Flickr,

The Assumption

TODAY THE CHURCH celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which commemorates her being taken up after death, body and soul, into Heaven. It is important to stress that Assumption is passive rather than active; Jesus ascends to Heaven, whilst Mary is assumed: one is active, the other passive. This is a profound difference. Jesus ascends because He is God, Mary is assumed because she is the Mother of God, and the model for all Christians to follow. Humble and obedient in her life, in her death she shares fully in the resurrection of her Son, and points the way for us as Christians. Where Mary goes, we hope to follow, trusting in the love and mercy of God. It is a sign to us as Christians that we can trust the promises of Christ who went to prepare a place for us, that where He is, we may also be. 

From the early days of the Church there is a tradition that Mary’s tomb, outside Jerusalem, is empty, and that her bodily remains are not there. From this developed the belief that after her death she was given a share in her Son’s glory, victory, and eternal life. This is both a reward for her faithfulness and humility, her obedience to God, and also as a sign to us that this is what Christ came to share with us, his people. God in Christ shares our human life, from beginning to end, and offers us eternal life in Heaven, which Mary enjoys. We can trust what God promises us, because God is loving and faithful, even when we are not. He is merciful, so that we can be transformed by His Love. This is the Good News of the Kingdom. We don’t deserve it, we cannot earn it, yet God gives it in loving generosity to heal all that has been marred by sin. 

In our first reading from the Book of Revelation, St John has a vision of Heaven:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (Revelation 12:1)

This is why Mary is often depicted this way in Art. At the foot of the Cross John was given a new family,

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)

John has been close to both Jesus and His Mother, Mary. In her earthly life, and now, John has a glimpse of her in Heavenly Glory, the Glory of her Son, Jesus Christ. The Church honours her as the Mother of God as without Mary saying, ‘Yes’ to God in the Annunciation, our salvation would not have been possible: we could not have the hope of heavenly glory, which she enjoys, close to God in this life and the next. 

Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come (Revelation 12:10)

John’s vision of Heaven shows us that we can have hope of eternal life, through Christ’s victory over sin and death. 

It is this hope which allows St Paul to write to the church in Corinth,

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1Corinthians 15:22)

Christ is the new Adam. Sunday, the day of His Resurrection is the first day of the week, and a sign of the New Creation, that God is healing the world of sin. Likewise, Mary is the new Eve, but whereas Eve is disobedient in the Garden, Mary is obedient in the Annunciation, she doesn’t say, ‘No’ she says, ‘Yes’ to God. Thus, Christ is born, and humanity can be saved, healed, and restored. Mary shares in her Son’s victory over sin and death as a Sign of the reality of the Resurrection, a promise made to humanity to share in God’s love and intimacy.

Our Gospel reading begins with a demonstration of Mary’s care and service. The Visitation is not a social call, but a sign of love, and an opportunity to proclaim the Kingdom. Her cousin Elisabeth is six months pregnant, and while her prayers for a child have been answered the realities of life mean that she needs help. Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, is busy in the Temple, so Mary comes in haste to help her cousin. As she arrives, Elizabeth’s baby leaps in her womb. John the Baptist greets Jesus and Mary with joy: even before his birth. He is a prophet, announcing the wonderful works of God. 

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:41)

Elizabeth recognises the wonderful thing that has happened, God’s promise is being fulfilled, He is faithful to His Covenant. As Elizabeth says to Mary, 

“Blessed is she who believed” (Luke 1:45)

Mary is indeed blessed in giving birth to the Saviour of humanity, blessed in her obedience, love, and service, and blessed after death to share in the Heavenly Glory of her Son. Mary trusts God, and so she is the example for Christians to follow in living our lives of faith. We need to be like her. 

That is why every evening the Church responds with Mary’s great hymn of praise, the Magnificat, which starts with the words, “My Soul doth Magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46). It shows her complete trust in God, a God who takes it upon Himself to deal with sin and death by giving us His Son. A God who establishes a kingdom of love, forgiveness, and generosity, through which the Church continues God’s work of love and reconciliation in the world. Despite all our sins and failures, God’s love and mercy is greater. All the readings this morning are rooted in the simple fact that God loves us, and Mary shows us how to respond to that love. Her Assumption gives us hope that when Jesus says:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’ (John 14:2) 

He is telling a great truth. God makes room for us, but can we make room for Him? Can we be like Mary, trusting God to be at work in us? Can we let His Grace perfect our nature, to live lives of hope and joyful service so that after our earthly life we may, in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, sing the praises of 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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Easter VII (The Sunday after Ascension) Acts 1:12-14, 1Peter 4:13-14, John 17:1-11

So that they may be one, as we are one

The ten days between Ascension and Pentecost is something of a strange time, a time of waiting, of anticipation, which speaks very powerfully to our present predicament. It is a time to wait and pray, which feels particularly apposite at this moment in time. Likewise the advice of the First Letter of Peter speaks powerfully when it says, ‘But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, … because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you’ (1Peter 4:13-14 ESV) We receive the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. He lives in us, and we can unite our sufferings with those of Christ, and be drawn ever closer to Him.

The Gospel this morning has taken us back to the Garden of Gethsemane, where in the seventeenth Chapter of John’s Gospel , after celebrating the Last Supper with His disciples, Jesus goes out to spend time in prayer. It can seem strange to suddenly look back to Maundy Thursday seven weeks after we have celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, but there is a very good reason to do such a thing. The prayer we have just heard is a conversation between God the Son and God the Father. It is a moment of intimacy, a private moment which shows us their relationship, something extraordinary, something wonderful, we don’t often think of prayer in these terms, but currently there is a world-wide initiative, called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ which calls upon Christians everywhere to do something wonderful together. Between the Ascension and Pentecost we are asked to be like the Apostles in the first chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, just like they did, and for us all to do this together, to pray for unity and the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Prayer is a funny old thing, and most people probably think of it as asking God for things: please watch over my parents as they travel, please help me pass this examination, hopefully in our language of prayer we can also find time to say thank you for all the good things of this life, and to say sorry for when we’ve not been good enough, and also time to say, ‘I love you’ the prayer of adoration that we may be drawn closer to God. It’s a powerful thing, and a wonderful thing. It is ordinary, yet able to do amazing things:

It can be all to easy in life to think that what God wants is something big and difficult, when actually the opposite is what is required. The key to it all is humility: knowing our need of God. Those who are poor in Spirit, those who are humble can be filled with God’s Spirit, because they rely upon Him, they know their need of him. They know that God can do what we cannot, and they trust Him.

There it is plain and simple: prayer, it can change the world, and for the last two thousand years it has been changing the church and the world, one soul at a time, the wonderful revolution of God’s love at work in the world. In His prayer before his Passion, Jesus prays that we may be one, as He and the Father are one. He prays for unity, it is Jesus’ will for the church, and it is clear that the first apostles did what Jesus wanted them to do, as we can see form the Acts of the Apostles. They listened to Jesus, and did what He told them to do. We have to do the same.

‘And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.’ (Acts 1:13-14 ESV)

Here is unity, unity of will and purpose, and we hope to share that here and now. They are devoted to prayer, and we can be too. While the church is not as united as we would like it to be, or as God would like it to be, we can at least say that we are trying to do God’s will. It is something that we can all try and do together. So let us do it. Let us pray for unity, and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, to fill the Church with love, with grace, with forgiveness, with reconciliation, that we can heal the wounds of the past, and be drawn into unity and love, by the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing our need of God, and our reliance upon Him. If we ask, God will both hear our request, and grant it (if it is His will). 

So as we stay put, and wait and pray with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray that God may be at work in us, that He will fill us with his love, and transform our lives, 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. Let us pray that we are strengthened so that we can proclaim in word and deed what wonderful things God has done through his Son, Our Saviour Jesus Christ. That all that we are and do may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father, and that the world may be filled with his love so that all 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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Easter II (John 20:19-31)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easter 2020 [John 20:1-9]

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

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

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

This is how we grow in faith, and we can do it whether we are together, or we are apart. It is difficult in this current isolation, but it is by no means impossible. We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia’ is our song. We are called to rejoice, regardless of what is happening, regardless of what we may face in this life, because the source of our joy is God, as the prophet Nehemiah says, ‘Go on your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10 ESV) God does not disappoint us, and Christ’s resurrection is as true today as it ever was. Christ has conquered sin and death, and risen victorious from the grave, breaking down the bars of Hell and leading souls to Heaven, so we rejoice. As St Paul writes to the Church in Rome: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:35-39 ESV) So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, ‘Pasg hapus i chi gyd!’ ‘A Happy Easter to you all!’ May the joy and peace of the Risen Lord fill your hearts and lives, both now and always. Amen. 

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

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

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Maundy Thursday 2020

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

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

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

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

Christianity is a joyful religion, which celebrates the fact that God loves us, was born as one of us, lived and died and rose again, for us. At the end of this evening’s Gospel Reading Jesus speaks to his disciples thus, ‘For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.’ (John 13:15 ESV) Christ gives His disciples an example of service to remind them that is particularly relevant to those of us who are ordained, and called to fashion our lives after the example of Our Lord, following HIS example and living it out in our lives. This is a most wonderful and humbling task which can fill us with both joy and fear and I would humbly ask that you continue to pray for me as I continue to serve God and you, His people. It is loving service for our Lord to feed his disciples with His own Body and Blood. Tonight, Christ institutes the Eucharist, taking bread and wine that they might become His Body and Blood, which will soon suffer and die for US. The Church exists to carry on the offering of the Son to the Father, to make it present across space and time.

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

As Mother Theresa said, ‘Prayer in action is love, love in action is service’. Christ shows us that and asks us to imitate Him, in His Passion and Death, suffering as He suffered, being generous and humble as He is, in our love and service. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lent III

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Samaritans are right, for they know that, ‘that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.’ (Jn 4:42 ESV), and they like St Paul can rejoice in their sufferings, and so can we, because God has given us hope, and poured His love into our hearts, the love that casts out fear. Whatever happens, we can put our trust in someone who will never disappoint us, whose promises are sure, and who loves us. So let us come to Him, let us trust Him that He may take us and fill us with His love so that we may share it with others so that the world may believe and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen

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Christmas 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homily for Trinity XII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Fire is a powerful thing. It gives us heat and light. It cooks our food. When fire is controlled is a source of great joy. But when it is unchecked it is destructive and deadly. 

In the Church we are most used to the imagery of fire at Pentecost, when flames appear on the heads of the disciples as they are filled with the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit is given to us, in our Baptism, at ourConfirmation, and in the Sacraments of the Church. It is in the Spirit that we are be built up, and made holy, so that the image of God may be restored in us. It inspires us, and equips us to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

In our first reading this morning from the prophet Jeremiah we hear the continuation of the argument against false shepherds and prophets who have been leading Israel astray. God reminds us that He is near, and has not abandoned us, even though falsehood is uttered in His Name. Thanks to the faithfulness of men like Jeremiah the truth will out in the end. As He says, ‘let him who has my word speak it faithfully’ (Jer 23:28 ESV). The faithful proclamation of the Word of God, first in Israel, and now in the Church, is truly Good News. ‘Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord’ (Jer 23:29 ESV). As Christians we follow the Word made flesh, who sends the Holy Spirit, which came like fire, so that we might be united with the God who loves us and saves us. 

In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, which continues where last week’s reading finished, we hear more of salvation history. The Exodus, and Israel’s entry into the Promised Land, are presented as examples of living by faith. The writer develops this to explain that through who Christ is, and what He has done for us, we have a greater Passover, from death and sin, to eternal life. We are surrounded by ‘a great cloud of witnesses’ by the providence of God, and His love for humanity. First and foremost we look to Jesus Christ, ‘the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Heb 12:2 ESV).

At the heart of it all is the Cross, which has reconciled us to God, and to each other. By the power of the Holy Spirit He took flesh in the womb of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was born for us, so that he might be offered as a lamb without blemish, a perfect offering of love to God the Father. 

In the Gospel, Our Lord says that He came to cast fire on the earth, and looks towards His Passion. The fire speaks of a choice to be made, a decision on our part, whether we will follow Him, or not. It also anticipates to the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is a fire of renewal and inspiration, to fill His Church with life and power. From the Incarnation, Christ comes to infuse us with the love of God. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is nothing more than humanity being completely filled with God’s love. 

We have been imbued with the same Spirit as the first apostles. The same love should burn in our hearts. Has God abandoned us? Surely not! Then we must pray that God will kindle that fire in our hearts. 

Holy Spirit, Divine Consoler, We adore You as our true God, with God the Father and God the Son. Amen. 

We pray that God pours out His Holy Spirit upon us so that we are built up in love, together. We pray that we are inspired to continue the work of God’s kingdom, here and now. So that we and all creation will sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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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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The Seventh Sunday of Year C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When we are formed by God together then we can be built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. We proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, through forgiveness and sacrificial love. Clothed in the humility of our knowledge of our need of God’s love and mercy, let us come to Him, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, to be healed and restored by him, so that we can live lives which speak of the power of his kingdom so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen

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Candlemas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epiphany III Year C (Luke 4:14-21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epiphany 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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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 III Year C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A thought from Thomas Merton

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

Cistercian Quarterly Review 18 (1983): 215-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Advent III Year B

As Christians our vocation is a simple one: joy. This is not, however, worldly joy, the fruit of consumerist excess, a joy of stuff: what we have, what we can buy, or own, or sell, but something far deeper and far richer, which comes from God. We are to be people of JOY, filled with it, and sharing it with others.

We rejoice that our yearly memorial of Our Lord’s nativity is drawing near – a birth which changes everything, which brings about the salvation of humanity. This is the most wonderful news that the world could ever hear, and hear it they must.

In this morning’s Gospel John the Baptist has been preaching a baptism of repentance, a turning away from sin towards the arms of a loving God. He has been stark and uncompromising in his message, as a prophet should be. The people to whom he has been preaching find themselves in an awkward situation, and yet they are drawn to the Good News. They can’t quite understand what’s going on: Is John the Messiah? If he isn’t, who then is he? He calls people to the baptism of repentance in the knowledge that Christ’s gift of His Spirit is coming. He is preparing for the Kingdom of God to be a reality in people’s hearts, and minds, and lives

The state, the church, and the world around us all seem to be in a mess. There is political instability, fears for the future, tyrants and demagogues in power. The peace which the Messiah came to bring it seems as elusive as ever, whereas the human capacity to create misery in the most dreadful ways makes us realise that we still have some considerable distance to travel. One possible answer is the need for repentance: to change our hearts and minds and to follow Christ.

Our readings this morning speak of the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom of love and freedom: good news to those who are oppressed, a healing love which binds up the broken-hearted, a kingdom of healing and of renewal, which proclaims liberty, which releases prisoners. It turns the world on its head, and offers something completely different: comfort to those who mourn, a mantle of praise, a garment of joy and salvation, which we have put on in our baptism.

In all our sadness and sin, we look forward to our yearly remembrance of our Lord’s incarnation. We prepare our hearts, our minds, and our lives, to go to Bethlehem, to see God come into the world naked, vulnerable, and homeless, utterly reliant on Mary and Joseph. We also prepare to meet him as he will come again, as our Saviour and our Judge. It is a daunting prospect, yet we know and trust that he saves us, that by his wounds on the cross we are healed, our sins are forgiven.

We are to rejoice, strange though it might seem, just like the people of Israel in captivity, in a God who loves us, who heals and restores us, who gives us real hope for the future. In the midst of our sorrow we are to place all our hope and trust in God who loves us, and who saves us.

We are to rejoice, as S. Paul reminds the Thessalonians, we are to be filled with a joy which leads to prayer, to a relationship with God. We give thanks to God for what Christ has achieved and will achieve. It encourages us to hold fast to what is good and abhor what is evil. In living out our faith we are drawn ever closer to the God who loves us and saves us. We draw close to Jesus in His word, and in the Sacrament of the Altar, where we are fed with His Body and Blood, so that we can be sanctified by God, and share in his divine life and joy.

We are to share this joy with others, to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people, and not just in our words but our deeds. If we share what we have, if we are generous, if we work for justice and are clothed with humility, showing our joy in mutual love, God’s kingdom will be advanced. We, here, now, know that Jesus will come and will judge us by the standard of love which he set for us to follow. Let us trust God and share that trust in prayer, that his will may be done, and that he may fill us with his love.

The world around us is full of pain and anguish, and the only way for it to be healed is in Christ, who was bruised for our transgressions and wounded for our iniquities. He still bears those wounds as the wounds of love. As he flung out his arms on the cross, so he longs to embrace the world and fill it with his peace and love. He will not force us; he is no tyrant in the sky. It is the world which must turn to him in love and in trust, and turn away from sin. Our task is always only all things to be joyful in the Lord, and to live out our faith to help the world turn to him.

It isn’t an easy thing to do, and after 2000 years of trying we may seem as far away as when John proclaimed the coming of God’s kingdom. We could just give up, or we can try, and keep trying, no matter how many times we fail, secure in the knowledge that God loves us and forgives us. The One who calls us is faithful, and He will do this. Let us trust in Him, be fed and nourished by Him, with Him, filled with His Holy Spirit, so that all the world may come to believe and trust in Him, 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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A thought for the day from Fulton Sheen

Lightness of spirit is related to Redemption, for it lifts us out of precarious situations. As soon as a priest goes in for revolutionary tactics in politics he becomes boringly serious. This world is all there is, and therefore he takes political involvements without a grain of salt. One rarely sees a Commisar smile. Only those who are ‘in the world, not of it’ can see events seriously and lightly. Joy is born by straddling two worlds — one the world of politics, the other of grace.

Fulton J. Sheen Those Mysterious Priests 238

Bible Sunday (Trinity XX 30th of Yr A) Neh. 8:1-4a, 8-12 Col. 3:12-17, Mt 24:30-35

The joy of the Lord is our strength

We are, generally speaking, more than glad to have a reason for a celebration. Especially when the weather is lousy, the news is gloomy and the Church appears to be in something of a mess. However if I were to say that the reason for having the celebration was ‘listening to a sermon’ then I suspect that you would be more than a little bit surprised. There’s nothing to celebrate here … it is just what we do in church.

But in this morning’s first reading from the Book of Nehemiah, it is exactly what happens. The Jewish people have been in exile in Babylon and have returned to Jerusalem. The scribe and priest, Ezra, and the governor, Nehemiah, are celebrating the Jewish New Year. Ezra reads from the Torah, the Books of the Law, the Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, and the Levites explain the scriptures, translating them from Hebrew into Aramaic and explaining them to the people. It is basically what we have done here in church this morning. It doesn’t seem like much of a reason for a celebration. The people are overcome with emotion, perhaps at being back home in Jerusalem, or perhaps at having the scriptures read and explained to them. Ezra tells them to feast, to drink sweet wine. We will follow their example here this morning, as we have done on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, since our Lord was raised from the dead, because the joy of the Lord is our strength.

God delighted to send His Holy Spirit so that Jesus Christ, His Son, might be born of the Virgin Mary for us. Christ preached the Good News of the Kingdom to remind humanity how to live as God wants us to live, so that we might thrive, so that we might be filled with His Joy, and be strong in Him. Christ became what we are, so that we might become what He is. He died for us, so that we might live in Him, and share in that Divine Life for ever.

All of this to show God’s love for His people, so that we might share in the joy of the Lord. God delights in His people following His Law, in hearing it explained so that they live, and live life to the full.

It is exactly the same ass when S. Paul is writing to the church at Colossæ, in Asia Minor. He addresses them as ‘chosen of God, holy, and beloved’ terms used to describe the Jews as God’s people – a relationship He now has with the Church – this is our inheritance as the Church, to be a people chosen by God, holy and beloved, and as such we are to be clothed with compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, forbearance, and forgiveness. This is because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts and souls at our baptism. We are, above all else, to be a people of love: not the saccharin-sweet thing of Hollywood movies, but real, genuine, costly love. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. It is demanding, and difficult. It means loving each other as Christ has loved us: in exactly the same way and to the same extent. In so doing, we know that we are living as God wants us to live: we are to be people formed by the word of God – the Bible. The word of Christ is to dwell richly in our hearts, in such a way that it bears fruit in our lives. It leads us to worship God, to sing His praises, thankful for all that God has done for us, and giving thanks to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, who died for us.

Thus, when Jesus talks about the end of time, the time of judgement, when He will come again to judge the living and the dead, we know how we are to live as Christians. Whether this happens today or a hundred thousand years in the future, we know how to live. We know that that we are to live by, and be known by our faith, what we believe and how we put it into practice in our lives. We will know when it is time, but what matters is what we believe and how we live. We can trust Jesus, His words will not pass away. He came to proclaim the Kingdom of God’s love here on earth. He proclaimed it, and He died for it: making peace with His Blood. It is why we meet on the day when Our Lord rose again, so that we might feed on His Body and Blood. We are fed by Him, with Him, so that we might share in His Divine, and be strengthened to live out our faith, and be conformed more and more to the will of Our Heavenly Father, and share His joy that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever.

 

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Albert Dürer, Christ at Emmaus, 1511 (Small Passion)

Mary’s Fundamental Title

The description ‘Mother of God’ … is … the fundamental name with which the Community of Believers has always honoured the Blessed Virgin. It clearly explains Mary’s mission in salvation history. All other titles attributed to Our Lady are based on her vocation to be the Mother of the Redeemer, the human creature chosen by God to bring about the plan of salvation, centred on the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word.

Let us us think of the privilege of the ‘Immaculate Conception,’ that is, of Mary being immune to sin from conception: she was preserved from any stain of sin because she was to be the Mother of the Redeemer. The same applies to the title ‘Our Lady of the Assumption’: the One who had brought forth the Saviour could not be subject to the corruption which derives from original sin. And we know that all these privileges were not granted in order to distance Mary from us but, on the contrary, to bring her close; indeed, since she was totally with God, this woman is very close to us and helps us as a mother and a sister. The unique and unrepeatable position that Mary occupies in the Community of Believers also stems from her fundamental vocation to being the Mother of the Redeemer. Precisely as such, Mary is also the Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI General Audience 2 January 2008

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Jesus heals the Syro-Phoenician Woman’s daughter

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

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

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

Jesus Christ was never afraid to court controversy, or to challenge a religious hierarchy. Generally speaking it’s the Pharisees who tend to get both barrels so to speak. Jesus has a problem with hypocrisy: when what we say and what we do don’t match up. The Pharisees are so concerned with outward conformity to the letter of the Law of Moses that they have forgotten what the spirit is. While they stress the need for outward purity in terms of hand-washing, they need to remember that what is far worse is how what people think and say and do affects who and what they are. In their rigid outward conformity they have forgotten that at a fundamental level the Law of Moses needs affect our lives and to be lived out in them.

It is a great challenge to each and every one of us to live up to this. It is both simple and difficult, and something which we all need to do together, as a community, so that we can support each other, and help each other to live out our faith in our lives. Otherwise we are the blind leading the blind, valuing outward conformity over the conversion of the soul, more concerned with appearance than reality and making a mockery of God and religion. It is an easy trap into which we can and do fall, so let us be vigilant and encourage each other not to fall into it, and to help each other out when we do.

The healing of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenecian woman can appear to be troubling at first: the Kingdom which Jesus comes to inaugurate is meant to be a place of healing, so its initial absence is troubling. The disciples can only see the woman as a troublesome annoyance, she’s making a fuss. The reward for her faith and tenacity is God’s healing. She shows more love, more care than the people of Israel. And through her the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. We look to her example as a forerunner in the faith and like her we pray:

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

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

We are fed so that we might be healed, to strengthen us to live out our faith together, not in outward conformity, keeping up appearances, for the sake of propriety, but so that we can be healed, and helped to live out our faith together. That filled with joy we might share our faith with others, so that they too may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

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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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A thought from Henri Nouwen

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

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

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

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

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

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A prayer of Dr Pusey

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

Evensong – Trinity II


Abba Poemen said, ‘There is no greater love than that a man lays down his life for his neighbour. When you hear someone complaining and you struggle with yourself and do not answer him back with complaints; when you are hurt and bear it patiently, not looking for revenge; then you are laying down your life for your neighbour.’
When Abba Apollo heard the sound of singing from the monks who welcomed us, he greeted us according to the custom which all monks follow … he first lay prostrate on the ground, then got up and kissed us and having brought us in he prayed for us; then after washing our feet with his own hands, he invited us to partake of some refreshment…
          One could see his monks were filled with joy and a bodily contentment such as one cannot see on earth. For nobody among them was gloomy or downcast. If anyone did appear a little downcast, Abba Apollo at once asked him the reason and told each one what was in the secret recesses of his heart. He used to say ‘Those who are going to inherit the Kingdom of heaven must not be despondent about their salvation … we who have been considered worthy of so great a hope, how shall we not rejoice without ceasing, since the Apostle urges us always, “Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks”?’
The community founded here by St David was a monastic community, which looked to the Desert Fathers and Mothers of Egypt and the Levant as their source and inspiration: as it was here that through prayer, the recitation of the Psalms and of the reading of Holy Scripture that their common life was formed. There is a little bit of the Egyptian desert here at least in spirit. There are those who would wish to characterise Christianity in general and monasticism in particular in negative terms, as gloomy, focussing on what one cannot do, and yet when we consider the parting advice of St David to his followers, he began with ‘Byddwch llawen’ ‘Be joyful’ just like the Desert Fathers quoted earlier. The Christian vocation then is one of JOY, we are to be joyful Christians, joyful in the knowledge that God loves us, that God died and rose again for us. To have the humility to accept the fact that God loves us, not because we are loveable but so that we might become so, requires that we circumcise the foreskin of our heart, or perhaps more literally ‘cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more’ (JPS Tanakh). The advice given in Deuteronomy 10-11 has at its heart the gentleness and generosity which lies at the heart of the Christian faith, in the same way that St Paul despite many trials and tribulations en route to his eventual execution in Rome remains joyful and generous.
       This is how we live out our faith in our lives, not jealously guarding our faith as some treasured possession too precious to be sullied or shared, but by recognising that such things were given to us freely, and so should be likewise shared freely. We can be serious, as after all there are souls at stake, it is a serious business, but not so much that our seriousness of purpose and resolve should ever overshadow the generosity and joy inherent in our loving God and our neighbour.
       The Christian life may be many things but it is certainly rarely easy, which is why it needs to lived together by a community of faith, so that we can support each other when times are tough, as St Antony the Great said: ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we win our brother, we win God. If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.’ How we support each other is how we live out our faith in our lives, and how we as Christians convert others – actions speak louder than words – and if our faith affects who we are and what we do and how and why we do it then it will be attractive, it cannot fail to be – hence the need for joy, given that one may catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It is the joy of being loved by a God whose service is perfect freedom. This is the pearl of great price, and the heart of the Gospel, so let us live it together in love.

Lent IV – Looking to the Cross

For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.
It is far too easy nowadays to see the church in a negative way –  it’s the fashionable thing to do – as the church we’re corrupt, we’re filling people’s heads with nonsense. We can be characterised as strange, quaint, and out of touch. It suits people to see us entirely in negative terms: as opposed to certain things. We are prescriptive: we limit people’s freedom, and in failing to practice what we preach, we can be written off as hypocrites, with no right to proclaim objective truth, to offer the world a moral framework, within which to live its life; to offer the world an alternative paradigm, a new way of living and of being through which to have life, and have life in all its fullness. It’s less a valid criticism and more of an excuse for people not to bother. It’s an easy way out, which saves people from the more difficult task of living Christ-like lives of love and self-sacrifice. The church does not claim to be perfect, but rather a collection of sinners justified by the grace of God, through faith in Christ.
          The simple truth is that people like to moan and grumble – we all do, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone, but there is a fundamental difference between being dissatisfied with the way things are and longing for change, and hopefully bringing about good change, change in a god-ward direction, and the corrosive moaning rooted in selfishness, which betrays a lack of trust in God. The Israelites in the desert represent this negative moaning, they are unable or unwilling to trust God to lead them on a journey towards the Promised Land, and while they realise their mistake their poisonous moaning has disastrous consequences for them. And yet even in this they are not abandoned by God, they gaze on the bronze serpent, they look to that which prefigures the Cross, through which God heals his people, taking their sins upon himself. That’s why it appears in stained-glass windows in churches, because it points to the Cross, it’s why when talking about the Cross Jesus mentions it, so that people might understand how and why God loves them and how it might affect their lives.
St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians can state with confidence, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast(Eph 2:8-9). It’s not about what we can do, but about what God can do for us. Our relationship with God is the result of a gift, which we can receive and which can transform our lives, if we only let go, and let God…
          This morning’s gospel reminds us of the fundamental truth that God loves us – it is the heart of the Good News – the Gospel, what we preach and what we live as Christians. There are few words as comforting as ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (Jn 3:16-17). They may be familiar to us, they certainly should be, but we must not let our familiarity with them cloud the significance of simply stating that God loves us, does not condemn us, but saves us, in and through Jesus Christ. That’s why we are Christians, it’s why we’re here, and recognising God’s love for us will have a transforming effect upon our lives.
In the Incarnation Jesus comes among us as a poor helpless baby, laid to rest in the rough wood of an animals’ feeding trough. He is cared for through the love of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who in her love, her service, and obedience, stands as the model for all Christians to follow. She is the first Christian, the greatest, a pattern for us to imitate, of loving trust and obedience, of care and costly love, and a foreshadowing of our great mother the church, through which we are saved by grace through faith.
          Upon the rough wood of the cross, Jesus will suffer and die for us – such is the cost of human sin. His mother, Mary, stands by and watches and weeps. As the church we too should watch and weep for the wounds of human sin and division which still scar Christ’s body. We feel helpless. What can we do? We should do all that we can to live God’s life of sacrificial self giving love: living lives of light, which shine in the darkness. It isn’t easy, but if we try and do it together then all things are possible, through him who loves us.
          The salvation and eternal life which Christ offers freely to all, comes through the church, which we enter in baptism, where we are nourished in word and are sacrament, where we are nourished, given food for the journey, strengthened and taught, to live his risen life, to share in the joys of Easter.
          God cares so much about the world and its people that he takes flesh, and lives a life of love, amidst the messiness of humanity, to show us how to live lives filled with love, life in all its fullness. God in Christ comes among us not to condemn the world but to offer it a way of being, of being truly alive in Him. God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. The spiritual needs and searching which characterise people in the world around us can be satisfied in God and in God alone, through the church. We can rejoice, and relax our Lenten discipline for a little while to give thanks for the wonderful gift of God’s love in our lives, in the church, and for the world.
          But we also need to trust God, to listen to what he says through Scripture, to be fed by him, and to live lives in accordance with his will and purpose, together, as a family, as a community of love, cared for and supported by our mother, the church. And in so doing we look to Our Lady as Mother of Our Lord and Mother of the Church, as a pattern for love and obedience, as a model for all mothers: loving and tender, putting the needs of others before self, self-giving, sacrificial, and open to both joy and pain, trusting in God.

This, as any mother can tell you, is not easy, it’s difficult, really hard, but its rewards are likewise great. So let us, as we continue our Lenten journey towards the cross, where God shows his love for us most fully and completely, giving his body to be broken and his blood be shed for us, a sacrifice which will be made present here today under the outward forms of bread and wine, to strengthen us to live the risen life of Easter, to offer the world an alternative to selfishness, to self-centredness, to the sin which continues to separate us from God, an alternative shown to us in a self-giving love of mothers, and of our mother the church. So that we may join the Angels in our song of love and praise to the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom..

A Thought for the Day from the Desert

The fear of the Lord is our cross. Just as someone who is crucied no longer has the power of moving or turning his limbs in any direction as he pleases, so we also ought to fasten our wishes and desires, not in accordance with what is pleasant and delightful to us now, but in accordance with the law of the Lord, where it hems us in. Being fastened to the wood of the cross means: no longer considering things present; not thinking about one’s preferences; not being disturbed by anxiety and care for the future; not being aroused by any desire to possess, nor inflamed by any pride or strife or rivalry; not grieving at present injuries, and not calling past injuries to mind; and while still breathing and in the present body, considering oneself dead to all earthly things, and sending the thoughts of one’s heart on ahead to that place where, one does not doubt, one will soon arrive
John Cassian, Institutes, Book IV ch.35

Sexagesima Year B


About 1700 years ago the passage from the Book of Proverbs which is the Old Testament Reading which we have just heard was at the centre of a theological controversy which threatened the nature and existence of Christianity as we know it. Arius, a priest of Alexandria used the passage ‘The Lordcreated me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the rst, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forthto prove that Wisdom, which was understood as the Logos, the Word of God, the Creative Intelligence was not pre-existent, that it was a creation, and that ‘there was a time when he was not’. He may have been attempting to uphold what he understood as monotheism and the supremacy of God the Father, but in so doing he threatened the very nature of Christianity itself: denying the eternal nature of the Son of God, seeing Him as a creature, something created, something less than God.

        His position caused something of a fightback, and the church began to define the nature of God the Father, and God the Son with greater clarity, and while the orthodox position sometimes found favour with Imperial power, and sometimes did not, in the end political power could not enforce heresy. The views of Arius while condemned by the church and seemingly dead and buried once again found widespread fame with the arrival in 2003 of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, with which you are no doubt familiar. I’ve read it, it is a rip-roaring page-turner of a book, but it is not based on the truth, it is a work of fiction, which may be plausible, which may be fun to read, but which is not true.  The idea that the church and state colluded to airbrush out the truth and replace it with an official version is simply not borne out by the facts. After Constantine, his son Constantius II reversed the policy of his father and was sympathetic to the Arians. This is hardly the practice of a cover-up, indeed the facts do not support the hypothesis – it’s fanciful but basically no more than a conspiracy theory.
        The Church formulated its beliefs in creedal statements first at Nicæa and later revised at Constantinople just over 50 years later, these are the words which we are about to say to express what the Church believes about God – we say them because they are true and because they help us to worship God.
        The second reading this morning from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians is a statement of belief, an early creedal statement which focuses on who and what Jesus Christ is and what he does, written only some thirty years after his Crucifixion. Christ is the first-born in whom all creation has its existence. Creation exists because God was pleased to dwell in him in all his fullness and through him to reconcile all things whether in heaven or on earth. Christ’s great work is to reconcile all things in heaven and earth, making peace by the blood of his Cross. Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection alter the created order in a fundamental way and are the outpouring of God’s love on the world, to heal it and restore it. This encapsulates what we believe as Christians and why we are here today to pray, to be nourished by Word and Sacrament, so that through our participation in the Eucharist, in Holy Communion, we may partake of His Divine nature, and be given a foretaste of heaven.
        Christ became human so that we might become divine. This profound and radical statement lies at the heart of the Prologue to John’s Gospel, a passage which we cannot hear too often, simply because it is wonderful and it manages in a few verses to cover the entirety of salvation history from the Creation of all that is to the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh and lived among us and we beheld his glory full of grace and truth. God became a human being, for love of us, to show us how to live, and to give us the hope of heaven, or as John’s Gospel later puts it ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ (Jn 3:16-17) The Christian life therefore is one characterised by joy, by hope, by love, and forgiveness, it is to be freed from the way of this world given that we celebrate a Divine authority which is before and over all things. At the heart of our faith as Christians is a wonderful message of freedom, knowing that this life is not all that there is, that we are called to have life in him and life in all its fullness, and to live for and through him. This is our faith: it is what we believe and what we are to live, here and now, for the glory of Almighty God and the furthering of his kingdom.

        So let us live it, supporting each other in love, in prayer, and forgiveness – helping each other to proclaim by word and deed the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world which longs to hear it, which longs to be freed from selfishness and sin, to come to new life in the living waters of baptism and to live out that life in the Church, the Body of Christ, loved by Him, fed by Him, fed with Him, restored and healed by Him, set free from the ways of selfishness and sin to have life in all its fullness, even eternal life in Him.

Sermon for Evensong (2nd Sunday after Epiphany)

Our two lessons this evening provide us with contrasting pictures of people in their relationship with God and each other, understood in sexual terms. Now it is an accusation often levelled at the Church that it is all we are concerned with, though that is in fact far from the case, and whereas the Victorians pretended that sex did not exist, modern humanity especially since the 1960s has acted as though nothing else does.
       In our first lesson the Prophet Isaiah is looking forward to a future when Israel, having returned to God and been purified, is understood as a land wedded to God. It looks forward to a Messianic future, one which we as Christians see as brought to fulfilment in Jesus Christ, who is the righteousness and the salvation of Israel, who gives himself for love of us, that we may be pure and holy and through Him. The image of married love and intimacy is profound: it speaks of mutual love and generosity, it is what God wills for our human flourishing, it is the place for children to be born and brought up, in love.
       Whereas the Church in Corinth is in a really bad way: as well as taking each other to court, Christians would appear to be behaving in a way which falls short of Christian morality. They appear to have understood freedom from the law as though it were freedom from any law: extreme antinomianism – that anything goes; that they can just do as they please. This is, however, not the case. How we live our lives, and what we do with our bodies matters. For those of us who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit, we are called to be in Christ, clothed with him, and living a new life, conformed to him and not to the ways of the world.
       There are some in the Church in Corinth who have been arguing that all things are lawful, to which Paul has to counter that while something may be lawful, it may not be advantageous, as Christians like others in the ancient world would generally subscribe to an idea of virtue ethics, put simply ‘you are what you do’ or in greater depth, our actions help form our moral character – we become what we do habitually, and thus the more we do the right thing, the more we are disposed to do such things, and thus to progress in virtue.
       While they claim the freedom from being made subject to anyone, they would appear to be subject to base appetites, to lust and gluttony, neither of which help in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus the proper place for sexual activity remains holy matrimony, where a man and woman are joined; they become one flesh, in a life-long exclusive union where children may be born.
       Christians are to love their bodies, as ours is not a spiritual religion, which despises the flesh, but which rather wishes to see it used for the glory of God and for our mutual flourishing. We receive the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity in our baptism, where we are regenerate, born anew in Christ, we are not our own in that we now live for God, and we glorify him in our bodies by how we live our lives.

       The messianic hope expressed in this evening’s first lesson finds its fulfilment in Christ and in the Church which is his body, we were bought at a price, not thirty pieces of silver, but life of God’s only-begotten Son, who suffered and died for us, for you and for me, and for the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future. How else can we begin to try and repay such love and such generosity than by living the life that God wills for our human flourishing – gentle, generous, and exhibiting the same costly love which Christ showed to us.  This glorifies God and shows due respect to the wonders of creation and salvation, it helps to form our moral character and to live out true faith and charity in our lives, supporting one another, praying for each other, forgiving one another when we fail, and being built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. And by living out our faith in our lives we will proclaim the truth and the freedom of the Gospel – others will come and see and enter into the joy of the Lord 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.

Epiphany II: John 1:43-51

In John’s Gospel we have seen Jesus baptised by John the Baptist, we have heard John declare ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’, we have seen Jesus call Andrew and Simon Peter, disciples of John, to follow him. Now Jesus decides to go from Bethany to Galilee, to go back home. He begins by saying to Philip ‘Follow me’ a simple invitation, which he accepts. Coming from Bethsaida, the same city as Andrew and Peter it is certain that Philip knows them, and is well-disposed to join in with them, and to answer Jesus’ invitation. He then finds Nathanael and testifies that Jesus is he who is spoken of in the Law of Moses and the prophets, the Messiah, the saviour of Israel. Nathanael’s reply, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ looks like a proverbial saying – it reminds us of Jesus’ ordinary earthly existence, growing up in a backwater town. Nathanael’s initial scorn will be transformed; such is the power of God. Philip counters by saying ‘Come and see’, Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples who want to know where he is staying. This invitation to come and see for oneself lies at the heart of the proclamation of the Good News, it remains as key now as it did nearly two thousand years ago.
       Jesus sees Nathanael coming towards him and says ‘Here is an Israelite in whom there is no guile’ he’s plain-speaking, honest, there’s no flannel here. Nathanael is amazed before long has acclaimed Jesus as a teacher, the Son of God and King of Israel. Clearly something good can come out of Nazareth, good enough to save the world. For the kingdom to grow we cannot simply expect to open our doors and see people flood in, we have to invite people in, to say to them ‘Come and see’ and make sure that they see Jesus in Word, Sacrament, and in the lives of those around them. Having been called, they can respond to that call. This is what the church is for – to call people to be in a relationship with Jesus, to be nourished by him. We need to continue to repeat the simple invitation of Jesus ‘Come and see’, to come and see the one who is shown in the Law and the Prophets as the Messiah, the Anointed Saviour, so that people can become close to Him.
       This openness, this willingness to be changed by an encounter with Christ, encourages us to look outwards and share our faith with others – to live lives of joy, in the knowledge that God loves us and saves us. Our faith as Christians is not something which we keep to ourselves, but rather something which we share, and which affects all of who and what we are, and think, and say, and do. Ours is a radical faith which has at its aim to change the world. It may sound strange or overambitious, but if we acknowledge Jesus Christ as the King of Heaven and Earth, who came to save humanity, we have to call the world to follow him. Our faith then is not a private matter, or something which we just do on a Sunday morning for an hour or so, but rather something which changes our lives, and affects every part of who we are and what we do. What we see starting in this morning’s Gospel is something which we can bear fruit in our lives, if we accept the invitation to ‘Come and see’ and encourage others so to do.

       The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ, good news that God loves humanity, that He saves us, that He gives Himself to save us from our sins, and nourishes us with His Word and His Sacraments, so that we can have life in Him, and life in all its fullness. What starts with the Incarnation is still bearing fruit here and now, still encouraging people to come and see, to meet Jesus, to be nourished and changed by Him, let us accept His invitation, and offer it to others that they too may enter into the joy of the Lord 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.

A Thought for the Day from S. Anthony the Great

The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, ‘Speak a word; how are we to be saved?’ The old man said to them, ‘You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.’ But they said, ‘We want to hear it from you too, Father.’ Then the old man said to them, ‘The Gospel says,”if anyone strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.”‘ (Mt 5:39) They said, ‘We cannot do that.’ The old man said, ‘If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.’ ‘We cannot do that either,’ they said. So he said, ‘If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil,’ and they said, ‘We cannot do that either.’ Then the old man said to his disciple, ‘Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.’

It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.

He also said, ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalise our brother, we have sinned against Christ.’

Advent II Year B ‘Repent the Kingdom is close at hand’

As Christians we are called to live in between Our Lord’s Resurrection and his coming as our Saviour and our Judge. We know that our redemption has been brought about: by Jesus’ birth and by His Death and Resurrection. This is the greatest news of all human history, and, as Christians, we should be glad, we should live lives full of joy. And yet somehow we don’t – we are tired of waiting, or perhaps we are not convinced of the truth of the message, or perhaps too distracted by the cares and worries of daily life.
I wish that I could say that this doesn’t apply to me, but I’m afraid that it does, I’m not a better Christian, though I long so to be. Thankfully, Advent is a time of preparation, of waiting, and hopefully of putting our own spiritual house in order, to greet our Lord when he comes, as the baby born in Bethlehem and as the Judge of all mankind.
       At one level, the idea of judgement worries me deeply, as I suspect if I were all up to me and my efforts, and were I simply to be judged on my own life I would not get to heaven – I cannot earn my way there. I, like all of you, and indeed all of humanity, are simply miserable sinners in need of God’s grace, his love and his mercy. We need Christ to be born, we need Him to die for our sins, and to rise again to give us the hope of eternal life with Him.
It probably does us all some good to think like this from time to time, not so that we feel wretched and depressed, but so that we recognise our need for God, that we turn to him again, that this time of Advent is part of our ongoing spiritual journey – turning away from sin and towards Christ. The Christian faith is the work of a lifetime, and of a community: it is something we all haveto do together.
Thankfully, we as Christians know that he will come to be our judge is our redeemer, who bore our sins upon the cross, he is loving and merciful. Just as the arms of the prodigal son’s father are wide open to embrace him, so too Christ’s arms are flung wide upon the cross to embrace the world, our judge will come bearing wounds in his hands, his feet, and his side, because they are the wounds of love. We can have hope and confidence in this.
       John the Baptist, the last of the prophets is the voice crying in the wilderness of which the prophet Isaiah spoke. He has an uncomfortable and uncompromising message: Repent for the Kingdom of God is close at hand. It may not be what people want to hear, but it is, however, what people NEED to hear. Thus people flock to him, they are aware of their sin, aware of their need of God, of His love, mercy, and forgiveness. His message is one of repentance, of turning away from sin, from the ways of the world, a world which seeks to change our celebration of our Lord’s nativity into an orgy of consumerist excess. His is the birth, his is the way by which we can find true peace, we can turn to Christ, we can be like Him.
       John the Baptist’s message is uncomfortable and yet it is GOOD NEWS – our prayers are answered- that for which we hope, for which our soul deeply longs is ours.
 Regardless of what we might think or feel, from a divine perspective things look very different. A thousand years are like a day, just as the Psalmist says. Ours is a God of patience and mercy, who wants all to come to repentance, a God who loves Creation, and who created us in His image – He’s interested in the long game – a God of love and patience.

How then  do we respond? We respond by living lives of godliness and holiness, by striving to be found by him at peace, a peace which prepares for His coming. We are patient, we wait in expectant hope, living out our faith, and encouraging others so to do so that all the world may be saved 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 to the ages of ages.

Living the life of the Kingdom – The parable of the Talents

Oh No! It’s a parable about money. Does it mean that the vicar 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, which 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.
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 talent might be 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 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 one 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 one 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, he 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 are commentaries on the 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. Each of these parables teaches us to wait patiently as those who have received the gift of being called a disciple of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples are not necessarily called to great things. Rather, Jesus’ disciples are called to do the work that Jesus has given us to do: our work 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 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. 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…

All you need is love

John, Paul, George, and Ringo, are not exactly what one might call theologians, but the title of their 1967 hit ‘All You Need is Love’ does seem (at one level) to encapsulate the message of this morning’s Gospel.
At its heart, Our Lord’s teaching combines two of the central commandments of the Law of Moses: Loving God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and loving our neighbour as our self. Out of the 613 commandments of the Torah, these two are central – Jesus cuts right to the heart of the Old Covenant to show that what he is teaching is the fulfilment rather than the abolition of the Law and the Prophets. We know from elsewhere in the Gospels that when someone asks the follow-up question, Our Lord tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, to show what costly love in action looks like.
It is a big ask – in Leviticus the Lord says ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’ (Lev 19:2) As people created in the image of God, we are called to be holy, to be like God, to live out this love and holiness in our lives, in what we say and do, and in how we treat people. It is something we do together, as the body of Christ in the world.
Christ shows the world what love looks like when he dies on the Cross – embracing the world with love, and reconciling the world to God and itself. This is what being the Messiah is all about. It is why Christ continues to give himself under the outward forms of bread and wine to heal and restore the world. This is why we are here today – to be fed by him, fed with him, so that our souls and bodies may be transformed more and more into his likeness. It is our food for the journey of faith, our manna in the wilderness of this world, to strengthen us to live out our faith. This is not some optional extra, but the heart of who and what we are. We listen to what Jesus tells us, and we are obedient to Him.
We do this together as people redeemed by Him, saved from self-absorption, singing a new song to call the world to have life and have it to the full. It is the most wonderful good news, which fills us with joy and confidence – a gift far too precious for us not to give it away, to share it with others so that they may be free.
The Pharisees are reduced to silence because they are faced with Truth, with God himself speaking to them. They cannot answer Jesus because he is what the Law and the Prophets look to for fulfilment. He shows how our duty to love God and to worship him is tied up with loving our neighbour, and living out our faith in our lives. He provides us with an ethical framework within which to live, to guide our thoughts and actions, not by casting aside the moral law but by fulfilling it – by showing us what love looks like. His death and resurrection shows us what love looks like in action. It is the same love which we can taste and eat here today, which shows us how to live – following Jesus’ example and his commands. We are to be people of love, not the saccharin-sweet sentiment of the movies, but the costly self-giving love shown to us by Christ, the love which gives without counting the cost – a love which can heal the wounds of the world, which can give us that which we truly long for.
We love God when we worship Him, when we listen to what he says and obey Him. We love our neighbour through living out the forgiveness which we have received through Christ, by showing the same love and care which Christ shows to us, in giving himself to die for us, and to be raised to give us the hope of eternal life with Him.
It is all about Love, a love which gives itself to fill us, so that we can have life and have it to the full. It is a love which we can touch and taste, which can transform our souls so that we can grow into the likeness of Christ. We are nourished by Word and Sacrament so that we can live out the holiness which is our calling. We live it out together, strengthening each other, building each other up in love, praying for our needs and those of the whole world, relying upon the God who loves us, and who gives himself for us, in his strength and power, transformed by his grace.

So let us come to Him, so that we can be transformed more and more into His likeness, and invite others to so that they 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.  

A thought for the day from St Isaac the Syrian

Love is the kingdom which the Lord mystically promised to the disciples, when he said that they would eat in his kingdom; ‘You shall eat and drink at my table in my kingdom’ (Lk 22:30). What should they eat and drink if not love?

When we have reached love, we have reached God and our journey is complete. We have crossed over to the island which lies beyond the world, where are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to whom be glory and dominion. May God make us worthy to fear and love him. Amen

Homily for the 31st Sunday of Year C


Humility is not self-contempt but the truth about ourselves coupled with a reverence for others; it is self-surrender to the highest goal.
Fulton Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living, 1955: 121
Last week the Gospel presented us with two people, a Pharisee and a tax-collector: one was a religious expert, a pillar of society, the other someone hated and despised. And yet, on the inside they were completely different – one was self-righteous, arrogant and full of himself, the other knew his need of God’s love and mercy. They show us what not to be and what we should be, and this week we see another one.
          Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector; he is someone who was hated, who has got rich by over-charging people. He starts off just being curious – he wants to see what all the fuss is about, he wants to see Jesus. He can’t see over the crowds so he climbs up a sycamore tree. When Jesus sees him, he tells him to come down quickly as Our Lord has to stay at his house today. He hurries down and welcomes Jesus with joy, he’s glad to see Him, to welcome Jesus into his house.
          The crowd are a bit miffed – they say, ‘Ooh … look at Him, what’s he going to that man’s house for?’ They just can’t see beyond outward appearances, they judge him – they just see a sinner, they don’t see someone who wants to see Jesus and love Him. The simple presence of Jesus has a transformative effect on Zacchaeus, he gives away half of his property to the poor and promises to repay those whom he has defrauded and to give them compensation. The Son of Man has come to seek out and save the lost – to show people that there is another way. This is the love of God in action – this is what happens on the Cross – God shows us the transforming power of His love, love shown to the un-loveable, so that they might become lovely.
          It is an idea which can be found in scripture – this morning’s first reading shows us that God is loving and merciful, and that God’s love and mercy can have an effect on our lives, if we trust in Him, if we invite Him in, so that his transforming love can be at work in our lives, and ‘may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1Thess 1:1112) It is through God’s grace, an undeserved gift, that people like Zacchaeus can be transformed, transformed by God and for God, and what was true for him is true for us, here, today.
          That is why, as Christians, we pray, why we come to Mass each and every week to be fed by word and sacrament, so that God’s grace and transforming love may be at work in us, transforming our nature, making us more like Him. Everything that we say or think or do in our lives needs to be an outworking of our faith, so that our exterior life and our interior life are in harmony with each other – so that our lives, like St Paul’s, may proclaim the Gospel. This is what we are called to, and how we are to live. Unless we start from the point where we know our need of God and rely upon him, where we too make that space where God can be at work in us, in our souls and our lives, we are doomed.
          Is this the kind of life we really want to lead? Is this really the path of human flourishing? Or are we called to something better, something greater, something more lovely? So let us put our trust in the God who loves us and who saves us, let us know our need of him and his transforming grace to fill our lives and transform all of his creation so that the world so that it may believe and be transformed to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

A thought for the day

Having withdrawn from the palace to the solitary life, abba Arsenius prayed and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness.’

Abba Nilus said, ‘The arrows of the enemy cannot touch one who loves quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded.’

Theophilus of holy memory, bishop of Alexandra, journeyed to Scetis and the brethren coming together said to abba Pambo, ‘Say a word or two to the bishop, that his soul may be edified in this place.’ The old man replied, ‘If he is not edified by my silence, there is no hope that he will be edified by my words.’

Trinity XXI Evensong


For the joy of the Lord is your strength
Living as we do in difficult and uncertain times it is all too easy to become downcast, to let the cares of the world, our worries and our frailties get us down. It can be all too easy not understand quite what God may have in store for us. We can be like Mary and Martha perplexed at why Jesus does not come immediately, why he goes away, only to return once they fear all hope is lost.
In such moments which happen to us all from time to time, we can trust that our vocation as Christians is one of JOY, a joy which comes from the Lord. The following words of Fulton Sheen are helpful in reminding us of this:
Lightness of spirit is related to Redemption, for it lifts us out of precarious situations. As soon as a priest goes in for revolutionary tactics in politics he becomes boringly serious. This world is all there is, and therefore he takes political involvements without a grain of salt. One rarely sees a Commissar smile. Only those who are ‘in the world, not of it’ can take events seriously and lightly. Joy is born by straddling two worlds – one the world of politics, the other of grace.
Those Mysterious Priests 1974: 238
In this evening’s first lesson we see the people of Israel celebrating. They are told to ‘Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord’ (Neh. 8:10). There is something about feasting and rejoicing which is good for the soul, the Christian faith should never be dour or miserable, we proclaim Good News to all the world. There is also the instruction to give to those who have not. Our faith is something which needs to be put into action – it requires a generosity of spirit, of showing love and care to all those around us – to care for the spiritual and physical well-being of our fellow men and women. This generosity and care, like that of God for us, forms the church into a community of love, a place where people may have an encounter with the living God, and through His Holy Spirit receive joy and peace.
As Christians it is up to us to help make this a reality here and now. We live in the expectation of Our Lord’s Second coming, so surely we should be doing what he tells us, living out our faith in the world, so that it may believe. Our lives need to be attractive, and filled with joy, freed from the cares of this world, freed to sing God’s praise, freed to share his love with others.
As people rooted in the joy and generosity which characterise the love of God, shown to us in Christ Jesus Our Lord, we can all be truly joyful, knowing that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Our strength as the people of God comes from Him who saves us out of love, who commands us to feast (as well as fast) a feast we celebrate day by day and week by week when we feed on the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion, to be strengthened body and soul to love Him and serve Him, and to live out His joy in our lives. It really is the most wonderful thing, it should leave us with beaming smiles and joyous expectation to share the love and joy with others. So let is live out our vocation, to be joyous Christians, servants of  a loving God, to the praise and honour of his name.