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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Nativity of St John the Baptist

Prophets have a difficult job to do: they tell people uncomfortable truths. People don’t like hearing such things: it makes them feel uncomfortable. Being told that you need to repent from your sinful ways and return to the Lord your God isn’t exactly going to make you popular. People prefer to feel comfortable, nice and warm and fuzzy, God loves you, everything is fine, no need to worry! It isn’t surprising that prophets are often ignored, mistreated and killed. They tell people not what they want to hear, but what they NEED to hear. 

This morning’s reading from the prophet Isaiah looks forward to a Messianic future — it points to Jesus, who He is and what He does, and that is exactly what John the Baptist, His cousin will do. He will be the Voice crying in the wilderness, who will prepare the way of the Lord who by his preaching of the Kingdom, and calling people to repent and be baptised ushers in the public ministry of Jesus, who will tend his flock like a shepherd, because He is the Good Shepherd. 

John is not interested in glory, or riches, or drawing attention to himself. All he wants to do is to point to Jesus, the Messiah. He speaks to a Jewish world which has a corrupt religious establishment, which is so bound up with following the Letter of the Law of Moses, that it has forgotten about the Spirit, that needs to come back to God, and repent of its sinful and foolish ways, which has made following the teaching of rabbis an idol in itself. He will bear witness to the truth, even at the risk of his own life: he will be killed to satisfy the whim of corrupt and sinful rulers. He has a vocation, to call people back to God, to point out where people are going wrong, and show them the right path.  Not only is he a prophet, but also the fulfilment of prophecy: In Malachi 4:4:5-6 we find the following, ‘“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

John comes from a priestly family, his father Zechariah is a temple priest, his mother Elizabeth, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s cousin, also comes from a priestly family. They’ve tried to have children for years, and finally their prayers have been answered. When Elizabeth meets Mary, the child in her womb leaps for joy. Even before John is born he announces  that God is with us, he is a prophet from his conception. His father cannot believe that they’re going to have a baby, and when the Archangel Gabriel tells him, he fails to trust God, and is struck dumb as a result. But in this morning’s Gospel Elizabeth announces that her son’s name is John, meaning ‘God is gracious’ not Zechariah, after his father. “‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him” (Lk 1:66 ESV). He will be the last of the prophets, the forerunner, the one who points to Christ, who baptises Him, and who through his proclamation of Baptism and Repentance helps to bring about the movement which Jesus started, which we now call the Church. He recognises that Jesus is the Lamb of God, pointing to His Death, for our sins. 

He is the only saint — with the exception of the Virgin Mary — whose birth the liturgy celebrates and it does so because it is closely connected with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. In fact, from the time when he was in his mother’s womb John was the precursor of Jesus: the Angel announced to Mary his miraculous conception as a sign that “nothing is impossible to God” (Lk 1:37), six months before the great miracle that brings us salvation, God’s union with man brought about by the Holy Spirit.

(Pope Benedict XVI Angelus 24.vi.12 http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20120624.html)

John recognises Jesus, that in Him, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God has become human, like us. It is this wonderful mystery which lies at the heart of our faith as Christians. 

John the Baptist was the forerunner, the ‘voice’ sent to proclaim the Incarnate Word. Thus, commemorating his birth actually means celebrating Christ, the fulfilment of the promises of all the prophets, among whom the greatest was the Baptist, called to ‘prepare the way’ for the Messiah (cf. Mt 11: 9-10)

(Pope Benedict XVI  Angelus 24.vi.07 http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20070624.html)

We honour John because he points to Jesus, because he proclaims Him, Jesus the Messiah, the fulfilment of all prophecy, the Word made flesh, and the Lamb of God, who dies that we might live. He points the way for us to follow as Christians, so that we can be close to Jesus in Word and Sacrament, and so that we might proclaim Him in our lives. We need to have the same level of commitment as John, and the same depth of love for God. 

That is how we live out our faith in our lives, and that is how we can become saints:

Perhaps the chief mark of sanctity is an utter simplicity in the face of the divine will, and of divine promises. Such was the attitude of Christ himself.

We think of seriousness as something which needs to be forced, or put on. Whereas to genuine faith, seriousness is just naked simplicity; it is non-hypocrisy, non-evasiveness, non-sophistication, in the face of the normal environment of the believing soul, which is the ever-present will of God. To be serious, you have only to open your eyes; a man driving on a mountain road does not relax attention to the hairpin bends, and a Christian finding his way in the will of God does not lose sight of the way-marks.

Sanctity is never out of date; and sanctity is nothing but entire simplicity towards God.  

 Austin Farrer, The Brink of Mystery, London 1976: 153-4

So let us be inspired by the example of St John the Baptist, and love and follow God with simplicity, and encourage others so to do, so that all the world may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Eleventh Sunday of Year B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trinity II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christus_heilt_einen_Besessenen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pentecost

For most people up to 1965, Pentecost, or Whitsunday, was probably associated with gifts: new clothes, a Bank Holiday on Whitmonday, and trips, picnics, and ice-cream. The bank holiday was moved to the last Monday in May, and there it has stayed. While Pentecost is with Christmas and Easter one of the three major feasts of the Christian Year, its roots are older.

Fifty days after the Passover, the Jews celebrated Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, a week of weeks, the grain harvest in Ancient Israel, and the giving of the law to Moses on Mt Sinai, it was an important festival, and Jews would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Law, which defined them as Jews, and regulated how they lived their lives. They would offer their first fruits in the Temple, rather like our harvest festival, and read the Book of Ruth, whose story is centred around harvest time.

The disciples have gathered in the Upper Room, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, where Christ instituted the Eucharist, and washed his disciples’ feet. They have gathered together because Jesus told them to be together and to pray, for ‘you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses … to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). They are filled with the Holy Spirit, tongues of fire rest upon them, and they speak in a variety of languages. People from all over the world, who have come to Jerusalem for the feast hear the mighty works of God, they hear a proclamation of who Jesus is, and what he has done. People think they are drunk, but it is nine o’ clock in the morning. The prophecy of Joel is fulfilled. God can and does do wonderful things. And he will still, if we let him. 

Jesus promised his disciples that he will send ‘the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.’ (Jn 15:26-27 ESV) He also promises that, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’ (Jn 16:13-15 ESV) 

We know that Jesus speaks the truth, that his promises can be trusted, that he pours his Holy Spirit upon the Church on the day of Pentecost, and continues so to do until he comes in glory as our Saviour and our Judge. He wants us to tell people about Him, and how he came to show the world LOVE.

The Apostles have obeyed Jesus’ command, they have waited and prayed, and they are filled with the Holy Spirit, so that they can proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, so that they can make Jesus known, so that people can come to know him and be filled with his love. People are amazed and perplexed, they simply cannot understand what is going on, some people assume that the disciples are drunk. Just as once people called Jesus a drunkard and a glutton because he used to hang around with the wrong sort of people. 

Instead St Peter can show that what is happening has been prophesied by the prophet Joel, whom he quotes (Acts 2:16-21) to show that Christ, the Word made flesh is the fulfilment of Scripture, it finds its true meaning in and through Him. He can preach Christ crucified and risen, for our salvation: ‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses’ they have seen and can testify that Jesus is alive. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) Peter and the apostles can confess their faith in Christ and bear witness to him. It has an immediate effect: (Acts 2:37) ‘Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”’ To which Peter replies, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ (Acts 2:38-39) 

This is what the church is called to proclaim, so that people can come and have new life in Christ. You and I are to tell people about Jesus, so that they can repent and believe. Then, later in the Acts of the Apostles we see them all living a recognisable Christian life: ‘And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ (Acts 2:42) 

This is what we are called to be and to do as Christians, to a life where we are close to Christ, in Word and Sacrament, so that we may be strengthened to live the life of faith, and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ so that the world may believe. It is just as true here and now as it was there and then: Jesus promises his spirit to transform and empower people to tell the Good News of the Kingdom. ‘And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged.’ (Jn 16:8-11) Sin, that which separates us from God, and each other is tied in with not believing in Jesus, who he is, what he does. He is God, and he dies for love of us, to reconcile us, to heal our wounds. He is the true Balm of Gilead which heals sin-sick souls, and He gives himself here, under the outward forms of bread and wine, to heal us, to restore us, Righteousness: having been obedient to the will of the Father, dying and rising again, He returns from whence he came, so that He can send the Holy Spirit. Judgement: the ruler of this world has been judged, the world, the flesh and the devil can have no power over us as Christ has overcome them. They offer us death, whereas Christ has brought us life, eternal life in Heaven. God’s judgement on the world was to offer His Only Son to die, to heal its wounds, and reconcile its differences. God’s judgement is LOVE, and he calls us to live as people of love. To live out the same sacrificial redemptive love in the world, to transform it, into the world God wants it to be, where people are filled with love, and live lives of love, where they are generous and peaceful, loving and forgiving. Fed by Christ and fed with Christ we can be transformed more and more into His likeness, inviting others to share in His LOVE, so that they and all the world may know the love 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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