Lent III John 4: 5–42

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homily for the 20th Sunday of Year C


… it has been said that Christianity does not suit the modern man, therefore scrap Christianity. Now let us say, Christianity does not suit modern man, therefore let us scrap modern man
Fulton Sheen Philosophies at War, 1943: 98–99
We are more than used to seeing Christianity as a religion characterised by love: love of God and love of neighbour, which is quite right. It can be all too easy for this to be transformed into a religion of niceness, but at no point in the Sermon on the Mount does our Blessed Lord say ‘Blessed are the nice, for they will have a nice warm fuzzy feeling deep inside’. We are not called to like people but to love them. It is costly and difficult, and the religion of nice offers us syrupy sentiment in place of costly love. It plays down the cost and difficulty of living a Christian life, and offers us something superficial and worthless.
It is difficult when we read passages like this morning’s gospel. Our Lord comes not to give peace but division. Given the massive strides made in the last fifty years towards Christian unity and healing the wounds of our past and divisions, this can sound shocking or even wrong. And yet what Christ comes to bring will cause division because it forces people to make a choice – do we wish to follow the ways of the world or the Gospel? These two can never be reconciled – only in the City of God can we see the rule of love. Only by choosing Christ over the world can His love rule in our hearts and our lives. It is a difficult and a costly choice – we will face ridicule, we will be considered fools, who have chosen a hard and difficult path over the easy path of the ways of the world.
People have always rejected Christianity, ignored it, or treated it with contempt, because it is difficult and costly, it asks a lot of us, and what it offers can be easily mocked – when we proclaim it by our words and actions we have to expect to be treated like Jeremiah and thrown down a well, what we stand for is dangerous and awkward, a truth which the world does not wish to hear. It isn’t as though living the Christian life is easy – we will fail often, we will be like Jeremiah sinking in the mud – but the love and grace of God can lift us up, this can heal and restore us, and help us to continue our pilgrimage through this life and the next.
We are, as this morning’s epistle puts it, surrounded by ‘so great a cloud of witnesses’ martyrs, those who have borne witness to the faith, the saints whose life and prayers can strengthen and inspire us – they show us the path we should tread. We have to look to Jesus and to His Cross to see God’s love for us. What is shameful in the eyes of the world, we can see as glorious – true love which gives regardless of the cost, which forgives sins, which heals and restores broken sinful humanity, which gives us the hope of heaven. This is grace the free gift of God, giving Himself who shared our humanity so that we might share His divinity, strengthened by Word and Sacrament to live out our faith.
The world cannot understand this, it doesn’t make sense, it isn’t logical, it shouldn’t happen. But it does, and it calls the world to something different, something radical and world-changing, which can re-form human society in the image of God and His Love. It will be hard: the world will laugh at us and our feeble attempts to follow God. Yet, we believe in a God who loves us, and who would never laugh at us, or belittle our feeble efforts to follow Him and conform ourselves to Him. So may the fire of God’s love be kindled in our hearts and lives, that we may be ablaze for Him, aflame with love for God and neighbour, love our enemies and our friends, and lets us change the world, not just this village, or this county, but all of God’s creation, all of humanity, that they may know God’s love and that it may rule in their hearts and lives.
That is why we have come here, today, to be fed in word and sacrament, to be fed by God, to be fed with God, with His Body and Blood and His Word, so that it may nourish us and prepare us for heaven, so that it can transform our human nature and fill us with the Divine life of love and forgiveness, which we can start living out here and now and change all 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.

Sermon for Evensong (Trinity X)


‘Remorse  is the negative presence of God in the soul, as grace is the positive presence of God. Remorse is incomplete, for it is self-disgust divorced from God; but remorse can become sorrow, and then hope, the moment the soul turns to God for help.’
Fulton Sheen Lift up your Heart 1942: 17
“Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
We all of us sin, a lot, in what we think or say or do, or indeed do not say or think or do. If we say that we have no sin then we deceive ourselves. The simple fact is that I am a miserable sinner; I am to be pitied for the wretched way in which I do or do not do things. I am no better or worse than any of you, we’re all the same in this, and yet somehow God has called me to serve him, and to say this to you, and he calls each one of us to live out our baptism in our lives.
Possibly the hardest thing to learn is the fact that God loves us: he heals us, and restores us. Most of us if the truth be told struggle with this world-shattering truth – God loves us. We don’t feel worthy of the love, that we are good enough to be loved in the first place, or that we can do anything back.
It is, I suspect, the work of a lifetime and beyond to try and come to terms with the fact that God loves us, that he gives himself for us, that he loves us so much that he opens his arms on the Cross to embrace the world with his healing love. This is what Grace is, the free gift of a generous God, who loves not because we ARE worthy of His love, but that through His love, we may BECOME worthy of it. His grace perfects our human nature, and because we are loved and forgiven, healed and restored in Christ, we can love and forgive others; we can share in Our Lord’s work of healing and reconciliation. God takes the initiative so that we do not have to, he does what we cannot so that our nature may be transformed by him, but first it needs to be accepted, so that it can transform us, and we can then transform others, and eventually transform the whole world.
This is exactly what the Church has been doing for the last two thousand years, saving it, one soul at a time, showing the world that God loves it, and helping it to experience that love as a reality in its life, the one true reality. It all started with a young girl in Nazareth hearing the words ‘Hail, full of grace the Lord is with you’ this is how much God loves us, a God who takes a risk, and uses ordinary unsurprising people to be extraordinary, to do extraordinary things and live extraordinary lives. It is strange and surprising, and it’s not what we would expect to happen, but that’s just how God works. He can take the raw material that in earthly terms is not terribly promising and do things with it. God uses us the people of God to serve him in the Church and the World, to make us saints who may enjoy his closer presence for all eternity.
God loves us, so that we can love each other and love Him, with a love that is costly and pure and generous, a love which forgives the sins of others just as we ourselves have been forgiven. This is the love that can change the world, by transforming our human nature, perfecting it by the Grace of God, rather than abolishing it, so that we can have life in all its fullness, so that we can be prepared for a life of beatitude in Heaven in the closer presence of God.
It is this radical revolutionary love which lies at the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ, it is from this gospel love that the Church’s concern for the world, and politics, and social action flows, for these are not an end in themselves, but a means of bringing about the Kingdom of God among us in all its fullness. We are called as Christians to participate in something radical, revolutionary, and world-changing, something which scared the Roman Empire, and which has outlived it; it is by no means perfect, or the finished article – that’s the point: the Church is a work in progress called to transform the world. It will fail, it’s made up of human beings like us; the Church has been failing ever since Peter denied Our Lord three times, and it will continue to do so, as it cannot rely upon itself and its own strength, but rather upon the God who loves us, who heals us and restores us. In his strength and his truth, we may live out our faith, our hope, and our love, and through His grace transform the world that it may sing 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 the Eighteenth Sunday of Year C: A Sermon about Stuff


The poor in spirit are those who are so detached from wealth, from social position, and from earthly knowledge that, at the moment the Kingdom of God demands a sacrifice, they are prepared to surrender all.
Fulton J Sheen The Cross and the Beatitudes, 1937: 54
There is a profound difference in quality between the possessions that we need and use, and actually enjoy, and the accumulation of useless things that we accumulate out of vanity or greed or the desire to surpass others
Fulton J Sheen Way to Happiness, 1954: 45
The world around us tells us constantly that if you want to be happy, to be yourself fully and most really then what you need is more stuff: a new car, a mobile phone. It’s the latest model – it’s been improved, you can’t do without it! The world tells us this and we listen, we take it in and we do what it says. We all of us do this, I’ve done it myself. It says you can have what you want TODAY, we’ll even lend you the money for it and charge you an interest rate which is usurious and wrong. It will make you and your family happy, in a way that nothing else can.
Nothing could, in fact, be further from the truth. Salvation by stuff has never and will never work. It leaves us empty, craving more and more, never satisfied. Hence Our Lord’s teaching in this morning’s Gospel: ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ (Lk 12:15) Wanting more stuff is never a good idea; Our Lord tells us this and warns us against it, and we do not listen.
So He tells us a parable – there’s a man who’s got loads of stuff, he’s well-off in worldly terms, he has done well. All he’s interested in is keeping his stuff, building bigger barns into which to put stuff, so that he can sit back, and relax and take life easy.
Then he dies, quite suddenly, and learns that important lesson: you can’t take it with you when you go – you can’t put pockets in your shroud, and when you are dead then stuff doesn’t really help you. It may buy you a swankier funeral, a more expensive coffin, a more expensive hearse to transport your dead body, but basically you are dead, and even if you spend thousands of pounds having your head frozen in liquid nitrogen, you are still dead. Money and stuff can’t help you with that. It has never been able to, nor will it. So Our Lord encourages us to be rich towards God, and to turn away from the world and its vanity.
In St Paul’s letter to the Colossians, just after this morning’s second reading finishes we read this:
 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’ (Col 3:12–17)
This is the life which stores up treasure in heaven, when we have ‘Set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (Col 3:2) This is what a Christian life really looks like, when lived out in the world. This is the sort of radically different life which can and does both change and transform the world: offering it a way that is different to the way of stuff. It is the way of love and forgiveness, of knowing that as Christians that we are loved and forgiven, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. That we can be a community which lives out this radical love and forgiveness in the world to offer it a new way of being, which turns the ways and values of the world on its head. It is that radical, that revolutionary, and that revolution has to start right here and today. We are listening to Our Lord speaking to us through His Scriptures; he calls us to live this life for our own good and the glory of the God who made us, the God who loves us, and the God who saves us: to be free from the tyranny of stuff and sin, and to live for him.
This then is what the Church is meant to look like, and be, and live out in the world, like a lamp set upon a lamp stand or a city upon a hill, shining, attractive, a light amidst the darkness of this world, a radical alternative, life in all its fullness. So let’s live it, together.
That is why we have come here, today, to be fed in word and sacrament, to be fed by God, to be fed with God, with His Body and Blood and His Word, so that it may nourish us and prepare us for heaven, so that it can transform our human nature and fill us with the Divine life of love and forgiveness, which we can start living out here and now and change all 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 from Mother Mary Clare SLG

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

Homily for the 12th Sunday of Year C: Zech 12:10–11, Gal 3:26–29, LK 9:18–24


Christianity does not begin by reforming society; it begins by regenerating men.
Fulton Sheen Missions and the World Crisis(1963) 62
To be in the Church is surely the most wonderful of all things, it may not really feel like it, in fact it may well feel the complete opposite, but that may in fact be the point: the Church is not simply made up of people whom I like or whose company I keep, but rather of all the baptized. Through our baptism we enter the Church, we put on Christ, we share in his death and resurrection, we are regenerate: born again of water and the Holy Spirit to share new life in Him and to live out that new life and love in the World.
        This is what Christ gives us freely, as a gift through his offering of himself upon the Cross. Thus, the prophet Zephaniah in this morning’s first reading can say that ‘I will pour out a spirit of grace and a plea for mercy when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced’ it anticipates the saving work of Christ, it is a prophesy which finds its fulfilment in Him. That is why a few verses later at the start of Chapter 13 he says ‘On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness’. Our baptism and the death of Christ on the Cross is that fountain which washes us from our sins and uncleanness, which heals and restores us to live Christ’s risen life.
        This is why St Paul in his letter to the Galatians can extol the wonderful nature of baptism – we are all equal in our common baptism, there are no distinctions whatsoever between those who are saved in Christ, who have put on Christ. There is then an equality in baptism and salvation, which makes Christianity radically different, we are the new Israel, the body of Christ, and the community of the baptized is open to all those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ. In becoming his we are called to be like him and to share in both his joy and sufferings, so that we find our true identity and true meaning in our lives when we put on him.
        It is not then for nothing that Our Lord asks ‘But who do you say that I am?’ It is a question which he asks his disciples and which he also asks each and every one of us, ‘Who do we say that he is?’ Some long-haired proto-hippie communist? A prophet? A misunderstood charismatic healer? Or God? The Creator and Sustainer of all, begotten of his Father before all worlds; con–substantial, co–eternal, and the only name under heaven or earth by which we may be saved, the gate, the sheep–fold, the Good Shepherd, Our Great High Priest and willing victim, pierced for our transgressions, wounded for our iniquities, to cleanse us and all humanity of its sin and uncleanness, to heal and restore us, so that we may share his risen life, and have eternal life in Him.
        Our response to this has to be to take up our Cross and follow him – we have to be ready to be crucified, to suffer and die just like He did, and to live in a world which sees us and our faith as of no relevance or importance whatsoever, where we are to be pitied and blamed by ‘enlightened’ secularists and atheists who with a patronising sneer despise us and all for which we stand. Their attitude is not different from those Roman magistrates who condemned our forebears for refusing to worship a human being, the emperor, and saving that honour for God, and God alone.
        As Christians we honour and worship the God who loves us, who gave himself for us, gladly and willingly, to heal and restore our human nature, so that we might be born again not of the flesh but by water and the Spirit, so that we and all the world might be transformed and have the fullness of life in him.
        Since we are all one in Christ Jesus let us follow him, let us live lives where we carry our Cross each and every day and love him and serve him, in that knowledge that whatever happens there is nothing which can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Our lives may not be easy, but whatever we face good or ill we do so in the knowledge that we are loved by God, and that in living out our faith in Him in the world, His grace is at work in us, transforming us through the sacrament of his Body and Blood which we have come here to receive, to be strengthened for our journey of faith, proclaiming Christ’s truth and saving love to the world, and following him, by taking up our cross, and losing our lives for his sake, for what indeed would it profit someone to gain the whole world but lose his own soul? Power, wealth, possessions, position, honour, all the things of this world are empty and without meaning or worth compared with Christ.
        Let us follow him, and deepen our trust and faith in Him, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and pray that his grace may be at work in us So that we may believe and be transformed, and share our faith with others that they too may believe and be transformed and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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.