Pentecost 2017

The feast of Pentecost was well-known to Jews in Jesus’ time. Fifty days after the Passover, they celebrated God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai. It was an important feast as the Jews saw their whole life as tied up with the observance of God’s law. Jerusalem was full of people from all over the Mediterranean world who had come to celebrate this festival.

Although they are present in Jerusalem, the disciples have other things on their mind. Fifty days after our Lord’s death and resurrection, the disciples are carrying out Jesus’ instructions given just before his Ascension, to stay in Jerusalem and pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. An amazing thing happens. Suddenly, men who were once afraid to leave a locked room get up and go out to tell people what God has done in his Son, Jesus Christ. They are inspired. They are on fire.  Filled with the love of God, they are able to go and share the Good News of the Kingdom.

At the Annunciation the angel Gabriel proclaims to Mary ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ (Lk 1:35). Jesus Christ takes flesh in the womb of his mother by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are told that the Spirit hovers over him at his Baptism, like a dove. All His life and ministry is totally connected with God the Father in the power and union of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus’ Ascension God gives the Holy Spirit to the church. This is what we celebrate today!

In the Gospel passage we have heard today Jesus twice greets the apostles with the words ‘Peace be with you’. What he offers them is not simply an absence of noise or distraction but something far more wonderful. It is something we cannot fully understand though it is something which we can experience. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have peace with God and each other. The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of love and peace. Jesus then gives the apostles a commission: ‘as the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (Jn 20:21). They are sent to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom in word and deed, laying down their lives in God’s service.

Jesus breathes on them, to empower them, that they may receive the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus tells them that whoever’s sins they forgive are forgiven. This is an extraordinary claim. But Jesus can make it because he is God. Through Him the church has become a place of healing, where we may be reconciled to God and to each other. Surely my brothers and sisters, this is is the most tremendous thing, a gift of a truly generous God.

The Jews in the Acts of the Apostles are amazed to hear the Good News in their own language, spoken by a rag-tag assortment of Galilean fisherman and other ordinary men. It is incredible. It is miraculous. And it points towards the present reality where there is not a country on this earth which has not heard the good news of Jesus Christ. But there is still work to do and it is wonderful to read that the Bible is currently being translated into 250 new languages.

Thus the work of proclamation is not finished. It is thanks to the preaching of the Good News started by the Apostles at Pentecost that we are Christians today, and that millions of people have come to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ. So, for those of us who are in Christ, who have entered the church through our Baptism, we have an important job to do. We need to tell people about Jesus.

The church is wonderful in its diversity, because we are all different, we don’t speak the same language, or have the same culture. We don’t look the same, we are not clones or robots. We are empowered through our having received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, in our Confirmation, indeed through all the sacramental actions of the church; the outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace. This is how the Holy Spirit works, how it builds us up in love. Through the sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, the Eucharist, we are nourished spiritually to keep doing what God wants us to do.

Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth give us a vision of how the Holy Spirit unifies the Church. When we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come’ in the Lord’s Prayer every day we are praying for the Church and the world to be filled with God’s love through the Holy Spirit. That we might be drawn ever closer together, so that we may truly be one. This is Christ’s prayer for the Church in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 17. That the church should be one, united in love and in faith. It is God’s will. We cannot ignore it. We have to do all that we can to work towards it, and it is this desire for unity in the church which has seen an initiative ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ started by The Most Rev’d Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, be taken up across the world, so that in the days from Ascension to Pentecost the church has prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit to bring us closer together, in love and unity, to proclaim the good news, the people may come to know Jesus. It is the start of something great, where the church is renewed through the Holy Spirit, and it is something we can join in with. So let us pray:

Renew your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost.

Grant to your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of Blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen.

Come Holy Spirit, in your power and might to renew the face of the earth.

Almighty God, your ascended Son has sent us into the world to preach the good news of your kingdom: inspire us with your Spirit and fill our hearts with the fire of your love, that all who hear your Word may be drawn to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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Pentecost 2015

Before our Lord ascended to his Father in heaven he told his disciples to wait, to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Around them in Jerusalem people would have been waiting to celebrate Pentecost where they gave thanks for the Law, given to Moses on Mt Sinai. It was a time of celebration, of joy, but for the Church it was something more.

       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.

       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, you and me are called to proclaim, so that people can come and have new life in Christ. Then 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.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsivenot initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable.
Fulton Sheen Rejoice, 1984, 9
One of the great things about the Christian faith is that we worship a God whom we can trust, who keeps his promises. The prophet Ezekiel looks to a future when God’s people are sprinkled with clean water and gathered together. It is a promise which finds its fulfilment in the Church – we are given a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone – a generous, loving heart, one filled with the love of God, and are called to share that love with others.
          The event which the Church celebrated on Thursday, and continues to celebrate today: Our Lord’s Ascension, can be a tricky one with which to come to terms. However, just as Jesus came to earth, by the power of the Holy Spirit and took flesh in the womb of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to share our nature, and to heal and restore us, so now Our Risen Lord, having triumphed over death and hell, rises in glory to take our human nature into the Godhead, to point us to our ultimate destiny – eternal life  with God The words of the angels in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles also points to His second coming at the end of time. His words to his assembled followers apply to us as well – you be my witnesses to the ends of the earth and you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. Their reaction is to constantly devote themselves to prayer – they have an intimate relationship with God. They don’t simply say ‘Oh well that’s lovely, let’s get on with the rest of our compartmentalised life’ but rather they trust in God, they do what he tells them to do, and all of them pray together. In having prayer at the centre of their lives God can be at work in them, and through them in the world, in the power of His Holy Spirit.

          Thus, the prayer of Jesus before His Passion takes on a deeper significance in that it finds fulfilment in the day of Pentecost. We are called to pray, to stay close to God, nourished by Word and Sacrament, and in the power of the Spirit, poured upon us in our Baptism and Confirmation, to bear witness to Christ in the world. In the Eucharist we are fed by God, and fed with God, so that we can share His risen life, and experience the love of God, the love of God seen in Christ, who gives himself for love of us, as a sacrifice, where he is both priest and victim, to restore us and our relationship with God and each other. Having prayed and being nourished by the word of God we prepare to be nourished by God, to be strengthened to pray for His Holy Spirit, and to share the love of God with others, so that we grow together in love and unity.

Homily for 17th Sunday of Year C: Luke 11:1-13



Prayer is helplessness casting itself on Power, infirmity leaning on Strength, misery reaching to Mercy, and a prisoner clamouring for Relief.
Fulton J Sheen Life is Worth Living, 1954: 213
‘Lord teach us to pray’ the disciples ask Jesus in this morning’s Gospel. Their words are our words, we want to know how to pray, what to say to God, how to have a conversation – one that is meaningful and has value. They ask the Lord, and he shows them what to do and what to say. 
The prayer starts with the word Father, it defines our relationship, our connection. It presupposes love, as a parent has for a child. It continues with the petition that the name of God, Our Father, may be hallowed, kept holy. It is the loving response of a child to a parent. In stressing holiness it puts God in his proper place, it ensures that things are done properly. Then the prayer looks forward, ‘your kingdom come’ it looks for the coming of God’s kingdom, which goes hand in hand with ‘your will be done’ God’s kingdom is tied up with doing God’s will, the responsibility is ours to do it. We then pray that we may be fed, that we may be nourished, that we may have bread for the journey of faith.  This feeding goes with the petition that our sins may be forgiven, in the same way that we forgive those who sin against us. The two are linked – feeding and forgiveness, and so they should be in our lives. As people who are forgiven and forgiving we pray that we may not be led into temptation, that we may continue as forgiven and forgiving people.
It is a model of what to say to God, what to ask for, and how to ask for it. It is concise and profound, it is not lengthy or wordy; it does not ramble or drone on for ages. It says what needs to be said, it defines our relationship with God and each other, it defines our spiritual life as one where we are fed and forgiven. It characterises what we are doing here today, to seek God’s forgiveness and forgive others, and to be fed by Word and Sacrament, to do God’s will and bring about God’s Kingdom, a kingdom of love and forgiveness, which looks radically different from what might be if humanity were left to its own devices – it calls us forward to something greater, something more wonderful, than we can imagine. And yet it is a reality – God forgives our sins , giving his life for us, nailing our sins to the Cross, suffering in his flesh so that we who have died with Christ in our baptism may also share His risen life, fed by Him, fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, transformed by the sacrifice of Calvary, loved redeemed and nourished, forgiven and forgiving, to transform the world so that it may be conformed to God’s will, that His name may be Holy, so that all creation may sing His praise. So that the Church, which is Christ’s body, may bring about God’s kingdom and do God’s will. 
It is a generous response to a generous and loving God, it takes people who know their need of God, and shows how those needs are satisfied at the deepest possible level. We ask God to teach us how to pray, and he shows us in a way which both defines and transforms our spiritual life and all of creation, conforming them to the will of God, helping to bring about the Kingdom of love and forgiveness which is shown to us in the person, teaching, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the giving of His Holy Spirit, to nourish us and transform us and all the world, so that it may believe and be transformed to sing God’s praise 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.

Pentecost (Yr C)

About fifty days ago around the time that the Jews celebrate the Passover from slavery in Egypt to freedom, we celebrate Easter – Our Saviour Jesus Christ’s rising from the dead. Now as they celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples have witnessed the Resurrection, they have seen Our Lord ascend into Heaven, and now He sends His Spirit on them, so that they may be filled with it, strengthened by it, strengthened to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Salvation of mankind.
            It is easy to marvel at the thought of the apostles speaking in more languages than the Eurovision Song Contest, but it also marks the transition of the Apostles from men who were afraid, who hid in the Upper Room, to those who spread the Gospel. We do not however simply celebrate the events of the past, but rather the reality of the present. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to the Church, which we receive in the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Order – a gift to strengthen and empower God’s people, the New Israel, the Spirit of life, which raised Jesus from the dead, which gives life to his Church.
            In this morning’s Gospel Jesus says to his disciples, which includes you and me by the way, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’.  We will love God and our neighbour and live lives like Jesus. It sounds simple, but in practice it isn’t. We need to love Jesus and keep his word so He and the Father will make their home with us. In St Paul’s Letter to the Romans we see what life in the Spirit is like. It is a turning away from the ways of the world and the flesh – not despising it, since Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ came in the flesh in the Incarnation, it was in the flesh that Our Lord ascended into heaven taking our flesh into the life of the Godhead, so that where he has gone we may also go. We are to sit lightly to the world and its ways, and through submitting to God to find perfect freedom in him. In the service of the Triune God we can be truly free, free to live for him and to proclaim his truth to the world. If we love God this is what we are called to be, how we are called to live. Only in the Spirit can we enter fully into the divine life of love, and live out this love in the world. In the power of this love we can begin to understand the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation, his life, death, and resurrection, and we can let these mysteries shape our lives as Christians.
            God will make his home with us in his word – Holy Scripture and the sacraments of his Church – outward signs of the inward grace which he lavishes on us in the power of his Spirit. That is why we are here today – to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, to see the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, to stand by the Cross so that we may be washed in the blood and water which flows from his side. In this we see God’s love for us, and we are strengthened to live the life of the Spirit – we can remain close to the God who loves us and saves us. We can be taught by his Spirit to remain in the faith which comes to us from the Apostles who first received the Spirit on this day. Let us live strengthened by Spirit, nourished by word and sacrament, in holiness and joy, proclaiming the truth and love of God, so that the world may believe and give glory to 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.

The Ascension of the Lord Mt 28:16-20

We have come here today to celebrate Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. The world around us may well find the idea quaint or laughable – or at least physically impossible. But it is no less hard to believe than Our Lord becoming incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or his rising from the dead at Easter. The world, with the greatest confidence, will tell us that what we are celebrating are myths and fairy stories, but they fail to get the point of what’s really going on.
          Our Lord ascends, body and soul into heaven, to the closer presence of God the Father, and to prepare for the sending of the Holy Spirit on his disciples at Pentecost. He who shares our humanity takes it into heaven, into the very life of the Godhead; so that where he is we may be also. We have seen the promise of new life in Easter, a new life which is in the closer presence of God, which we celebrate today. We can see where it leads – what started at the Incarnation finds its goal and truest meaning in the unity of the human and the divine.
But rather than seeing this as an end it is surely far better to see in it a beginning – a beginning of the Church as we know it – a church which goes and makes disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Our Lord commanded us. This is exactly where we have been for nearly two thousand years. Inspired by the Holy Spirit they did what their Lord commanded them to do and that is why we are here today celebrating this fact.
But like them we too are called to follow Our Lord’s commands and to share his good news with the world so that it may believe. We are called to live lives where our faith is enfleshed in us – it is not abstract and private, but concrete and public. The Atheist who finds our beliefs laughable now joins forces with an Enlightenment Rationalist who wishes faith to be a private matter rather than a public one. This will not do: Our Lord did not say ‘Don’t do this if it’s inconvenient’ or ‘There’s no need to make a fuss in public about me’. He speaks as one given authority, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’, so we can gladly place ourselves under His authority, to do his will.
He makes us a promise: ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ He is with us by sending His Spirit on the Church at Pentecost and ever since. He is with us in his Word, Holy Scripture and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. It is through this (and the other Sacraments of the Church) that God’s grace can perfect our human nature – so that we can prepare to share the divine life of love in Heaven. Where our Lord goes we can hope to follow, through his sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross, a sacrifice made present here and on the altars of churches all throughout the world, to strengthen us, so that we may be close to him, sharing in the divine life of love poured out on us.
We can hope to follow Him, and to spend eternity contemplating the Beatific Vision, caught up in that love which is the Divine Nature, sharing in the praise of all creation of the God who creates, who redeems, and who sustains all. We can have this hope because Christ has gone before us, he has prepared the way for humanity to follow him and share in the divine life of love.
Let us prepare for this by living the life of faith, strengthened by Him, proclaiming his truth, praying for the gift of His Spirit at Pentecost, that the Church may be strengthened to proclaim His saving truth and the baptism of repentance, so that we and all the world 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.