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.

The Holy Family


The Church celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, not as an excuse for the saccharin-sweet pictures of babies and family much loved by advertising executives, and secular descriptions of Christmas and the family in general. We celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as the paradigm of human life and love. The union of husband, wife, and child is the basis of human life, human society, and the church. It brings both rights and responsibilities – it shows us how to live and how to flourish. It is rooted in love – it is costly, it requires sacrifice. As parents and children we know this all too well. The loving care and nurture we see embodied in the Holy Family reminds us of our duty to live out the same in our lives, so that we may truly flourish as human beings made in the image of God through walking in His ways.
This morning’s Old Testament Reading reminds us of the need to respect and care for our parents, to do for them what they did for us. Such gentleness and care is at the heart of our faith insofar as it allows us to live out in our lives something of the love and care shown to us by God in Christ, the love and care shown to Him by his own mother and father – the care for Him, His safety and well-being which define the relationship of love. As opposed to the fear of Herod who can only see the coming of the Christ-child as a threat to his own earthy power, in Joseph we see a father who is protective, who puts his family’s needs before his own. This generous self-giving love lies at the heart of our faith: it is shown in every part of Our Lord’s life: from the Annunciation, in his Birth, His life, His proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom, in His healing of the sick, His forgiveness of sins, in His Passion, His Death and Resurrection.  It is central to S. Paul’s understanding of how Christians should live together: in love – letting everything we say or think or do be rooted in that genuine, costly, self-giving love which comes from God.
          This love lies at the heart of our faith, of our understanding of the human family, and how we seek to live out our faith in our lives, fashioning human society as one rooted in generous love. It makes us as the Church, a family, all equal, loved and redeemed by God, a family which we enter through our baptism, where we are clothed with Christ, where God enters a new covenant with humanity, a new covenant in the body and blood of His Son, which is given to us in Communion, so that we feast in the Banquet of the Kingdom, where humanity is given a foretaste of heaven, where we come to share in the divine life of love shown to the world in Christ Jesus Our Lord and Saviour. So let us live out this love in Our lives, may all that we think, or say, or do, proclaim the love shown to us in Christ and the Holy Family, for our good, and that of the world, that it may see and believe and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Sermon for Evensong Trinity III

“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  Our Lord asks this question to the disciples and he asks it to us – to challenge us to live out our faith amidst the storms of this life. This year the Third Sunday after Trinity also falls on the Feast of the Translation of St Richard of Chichester, Bishop and champion of the church against the state. I like many people came to know him through the words of his prayer, most of which was recited by him upon his deathbed: Thanks be to thee my Lord Jesus Christ for all the benefits Thou hast given me, For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me. 
Richard had a difficult and eventful life, trying to reform the life and practices of the clergy, and defending the church from interference by the state – some things it would seem in this country never change! In the face of a secular power who wished to tell the Church what to do, Richard said No. He was a man of great learning and sanctity, a great friend to the poor who lived out his charity in his life, but above all else he was a man of principle who resisted the encroachment of secular power into matters which belong to the Church. Oh that we had his like amongst our bishops nowadays! Someone to tell the lower House of Parliament to mind its own business and not meddle in matters which do not concern it, that the Church cannot be bullied into accepting the will of such a godless brood of vipers: corrupt, amoral, and enslaved to a godless ideology – seeking to conform the Church to the world and to make up a perversion of the Gospel after their own tastes.  And may God have mercy on their souls.
The only way to resist is by being both polite and firm, but most of all by practising that charity which lies at the heart of the Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – in our care for the poor and the downtrodden, in our living out of our faith. If we follow the example of St Richard, and refuse to compromise the Gospel and live out our faith we can truly said to be following Christ, who came to call the world to repentance, to turn away from selfishness and sin.
We cannot let the light of our faith be hidden under a bushel, it has to shine as a light to the world, dispelling the darkness of sin and sloth, or that polite indifference so inimical to the zeal of the gospel. Only through this can the Church grow to be like the mustard tree so that all may be safe in its embrace, freed from sin, and rejoicing in the new life of Christ. It’s not easy, but that’s the point, when was anything worthwhile easy to achieve? Let us remember that we have that greatest of treasures, the pearl of great price which is faith in Christ, so let us share it, unafraid of the storms of this world since we trust in Him, who has overcome this world, sin and death, for our sake. Let us trust him, and love him, and each other, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now, and forever.

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Year C – Being prophetic


Many people nowadays want God, but on their own terms, not on his. They insist that their wishes shall determine the kind of religion that is true, rather than letting God reveal his truth to them. So their dissatisfaction continues and grows. But God finds us lovable, even in our rebellion against him.
Fulton J. Sheen ­Lift up your heart
Throughout the Scriptures we see that the calling, life and witness of the prophet is a difficult and a costly one. In this morning’s first reading we see Jeremiah being called to proclaim the word of the Lord. He is set apart for this task, he is made holy, and God says ‘I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations’ – in order to do what a prophet does, he has to be what a prophet is, function follows and flows from ontology, what he is, is prior, it is done to him, so that God may work through him.
            It is a difficult and a costly task, and a prophet has to be prepared for rejection: ‘they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.’ It is far too easy especially in the current climate for the Church to be downhearted, when we are assailed by secular power, but we have to be like Jeremiah, and trust in God safe in the knowledge that that the one who called is faithful and will not disappoint us. We can trust in God, we can have faith and hope in him, so that we can speak the truth in love.
            The People of Jesus’ home town cannot see what’s going on, they simply see what they want to see, they see a mouthy jumped-up carpenter’s son who has the temerity to challenge their preconceptions and their lack of faith, who tells is like it is, the uncomfortable truth, which they do not want to hear, but which they needto hear.
            Currently we are being told that our understanding of Holy Order and Marriage need to be changed to conform to the ways of the world; it can only be a matter of time before legislation allowing assisted suicide to be made legal will be considered, so that we no longer have to value life either at its beginning, or its end, that the vulnerable and inconvenient can be disposed of by medical means, cast off, in private and away from prying eyes. Against the vision of a secular state which does not truly value life from its conception to a natural death, which does not value marriage as the lifelong and indivisible union of a man and a woman for their mutual benefit and that of society, and for the procreation and education of children, which seeks to tell the church what it should do and how and why it should do it, we have to offer an alternative.
            It may not be popular to stand up and proclaim the ultimate and absolute Truth found in Scripture and the tradition of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, but that is what the Church is called to do. It may not be easy, people are not willing to listen, but prefer to mock and to jeer, to remain safe and secure in their liberal secular prejudices, looking down their noses at poor deluded fools who stand up for a truth which they see as only one out of a myriad possible options in this post-modern world. It is easier to persecute the church under the fig leaf of upholding equality and diversity, of protecting religion while undermining it, unless it conforms to the secular viewpoint.
            We believe in saying that certain actions are right and others are wrong, they will harm your soul, and affect your relationship with God and each other, that life is precious and must be valued, and we do this because we are loved by a God who lived among us, who died for us, to heal our wounds, who rose again, to give us the hope of glory. He knew rejection, throughout his earthly life, but he was not afraid to speak the truth in love, regardless of the cost. It’s generous; it’s extravagant, in a way which people just cannot understand – entering into glory by being executed like a common criminal, for the love of us, of you and me – to give us new life in him. He is the Truth, the Way and the Life.
            He knew that in the end the power of God’s love was greater than that of the world, the flesh and the devil – all these were beaten on a hill outside Jerusalem. So confident in his victory, in his strength and his truth, let us continue to proclaim it in word and deed 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

Homily for the Holy Family (Year C)

Sanctification does not depend on our geography or on our work or circumstances. Some people imagine that if they were in another place, or married to a different spouse, or had a different job, or had more money, they could do God’s work so much better. The truth is that it makes no difference where they are; it all depends on whether what they are doing is God’s will and done for love of him
Fulton J. Sheen Lift up your Heart
Christmas is a time for families, is a phrase with which I am sure we are all familiar. It comes as something of a shock to see that in a recent survey only 68% of British children live with both parents at the age of 14, with a quarter of children living in single-parent families. This is something about which we should be concerned for the simple reason that families matter, especially where the Church is concerned. It is not surprising that the Church sees the family as the domestic church, where parents and children should pray together and the Christian Faith should be taught – it should be a place where faith, hope, and love may abound.
          In our broken and fallen world we recognise that our human efforts may fall short of all that is expected of us, and as Christians we are not to judge others, as ours is to be a community of love, and forgiveness, and mutual support. We must nonetheless strive to do all that we can to see that something ordained by God – the lifelong union of a man and a woman for the procreation and education of children – given for human flourishing, is something that can be cherished, supported, strengthened and lived out, as a witness to the world, so that it may believe.
          In this morning’s Gospel we see the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – the example for Christian families of what to be and how to live. Mary & Joseph show love and concern for their absent child, they search for him. Jesus’ response may seem troubling at first; it doesn’t look like the response of a dutiful child. It does, however, point out the important truth that our first duty as children is not towards our parents, but to God – to love him and serve him. But as Our Lord ‘went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them’ he shows that he is obedient both to God andhis parents – his obedience show us how to live a Christian life after his example. His mother ‘treasured up all these things in her heart’ as she comes to see and understand what is going on – the family grows in love towards God and each other and becomes a place of human flourishing and an example to the world of how to live the life of faith. Mary and Joseph find Jesus after three days – a period of time which looks forward to His Death and Resurrection – even here and now as a young man, his life points towards its goal: the Cross and the Empty Tomb which gives life to all creation in Him, through Him and with Him.
          God gives us life in Christ so that we may live it and may flourish, where we can truly be what God wants us to be, and so that strengthened by Word and Sacraments we may become what he is. In the First Letter of John we see our relationship with God in terms of a family – the Father loves us and we are His children, not just called such, but through the new birth of our baptism this is what we are. The world does not recognise this, just as it did not recognise our Lord, or indeed follow him. The world may just want to see us in worldly terms or have us conform to worldly values, but we cannot allow this to happen – we are called to conform the world to the will of God, to show it how it may truly flourish and find its true meaning and value. The world will no doubt hate us for doing this, but this should not dissuade us from trying, and indeed succeeding, as we are one in Christ, who has overcome the world.
So let us live lives of faith, hope, and love, after the example of the Holy Family, and aided by their prayers, so that the world might believe and all creation resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the consubstantial and co-eternal Trinity, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.