Twenty-first Sunday of Year A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Assumption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is telling a great truth. God makes room for us, but can we make room for Him? Can we be like Mary, trusting God to be at work in us? Can we let His Grace perfect our nature, to live lives of hope and joyful service so that after our earthly life we may, in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Homily for the 17th Sunday of Year A

The last time the world experienced something like current pandemic was a century ago, in the  Spanish ‘Flu outbreak of 1918-1920. But because of news blackouts and the trauma of the Great War, it was largely forgotten about. It’s quite understandable. You want to shut the door on the past and get on with life. While it is understandable, it isn’t necessarily the most healthy way of dealing with a traumatic situation. Instead, we are much better when we acknowledge how we feel, and give ourselves permission to feel thaåt way. 

Over the last few months all of of us have felt some strong difficult emotions: Fear, Pain, Anger, Loneliness, Frustration, to name but a few. I know that I have, and that I’m not alone. These are perfectly normal and natural feelings. They occur many times in the Bible, throughout the Psalms, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the Book of Job. Closing churches for public worship is not something that happens often, normally only in times of plague or civil unrest. It is disconcerting, and while we are beginning the process of reopening, and worshiping together again, I suspect that it will continue to feel very strange for some time to come. That’s ok! We can acknowledge the strangeness and then try to get on with things together. This morning’s first reading gives us a starting point: Solomon replies to God’s invitation, ‘Ask what I shall give you’ by asking for understanding to discern what is right. We too need to rely on God to give us the wisdom to do the right thing. We also need to acknowledge that we are not in control, all things are in the hands of God, a God who loves us.

Likewise in Paul’s Letter to the Romans we see that when we cannot even find the words to pray to God, we need not worry. We have the words of others. We have the words of the Lord’s Prayer, how Jesus taught the disciples to pray. But when words, even those of others, fail us, we know that God hears the cry of the human heart. We simply need to put ourselves into the presence of God and trust Him to be at work in us. A God from whose love we can never be separated. This is something precious, something wonderful, something to give us encouragement and hope for the future. 

As Christians, we believe and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. Through repentance and faith, we enter into a relationship with a generous and loving God, who demonstrates that love and generosity most fully by dying on the Cross and rising from the Tomb. This is heart of our faith, that God does something wonderful for us, to show us how to live, and to deepen HIs relationship with us. 

That’s all well and good, but what difference does it make to us, here, now? The question is, how can the negative emotions which we feel be turned into something positive? The answer is: by handing them over to God whose Kingdom is a place of healing and reconciliation. This is what the Cross shows us: torture and death become the greatest demonstration of healing love. God doesn’t have a magic wand to wave in order to make everything right. No, love is costly, it involves sacrifice, and it can transform the world. 

So, at one level, God has done the hard work for us. The question is how do we cooperate with God and His grace, to make the Kingdom a reality here and now? Jesus gives us some advice in the Sermon in the Mount: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5: 3). To be poor in spirit is to be humble, to know and acknowledge our need of God, our reliance upon Him. We do this when we pray, ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, deled dy deyrnas, gwneler dy ewyllys; megis yn y nef, felly ar y ddaear hefyd. ’ It’s God’s Kingdom, God’s Will, and God’s Church, not ours. If we truly believe this, then wonderful things are possible. 

Our experience over the last few months has taught us what really matters: the communities in which we live, our family, our relationships, the people we love. They cannot be bought or sold, but are of infinite value, because they are rooted and grounded in love. Only by living out the same costly love and reconciliation shown to us by Jesus Christ can we have any hope of achieving anything. Jesus’ teaching isn’t theory, but something we need to put into practice in our lives. Relationships are characterised by giving love and offering forgiveness, and through that we all grow in love together. The transformation starts with us, we have to be the change we want to see. It starts with conversion, turning towards a loving God, a God whose arms are flung wide to embrace the world upon the Cross. This is how we need to live, to live like Jesus: generously, loving and forgiving.

We have an example to follow, but the truth is that we aren’t very good at it. It is easy not to: just spread a bit of gossip, harbour a grudge, there are thousands of little ways to undermine the Kingdom. And we all fall into them, despite our best intentions. I know that I do, we all do. The point is not that we fail, but that we keep trying. That’s why it is the work of a lifetime, a lifetime of failing, seeking forgiveness, and trying to love, trying to live out the Kingdom. It is something we cannot achieve on our own, we need God, and we need each other: a community of faith. Only such a community of faith that we call the Church can offer the world the healing and reconciliation it longs for and needs, now more than ever. God’s love, lived out in our own lives, is the pearl of great price, the treasure which is old and new, two thousand years old, and yet lived out anew in the lives of Christians every day. We pray that we might live our lives for each other and for the glory of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lent I

The Church has entered the season of Lent, and she goes, with her Lord, into the desert for forty days, to pray, to turn away from sin, to turn back to God, to fast, to be generous in almsgiving. We do this to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ passion, Death and Resurrection in Holy Week and Easter. We get ready to celebrate the holiest week of the Church’s year by having something of a spiritual spring clean. This is a very good thing indeed. We need to do it, so that we can be reminded where we need to put some work in.

Our first reading this morning take us right back to the start of the problem of human sin: Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. They are tempted by the serpent to do what God has told them not to do. Thinking that you know better than God, and choosing to do what you want to do is where the sin of pride comes from. Adam and Eve prefer to trust the serpent, who promises that they will become like God. They are disobedient: they do not listen to what God says, and act in accordance with it. But rather than knowing good and evil, all they know is that they are naked, and cover their nakedness. The serpent makes empty promises, and they are taken in by them. Such is the power of lies. 

But while we have heard how sin and death came into the world, we also hear in our second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans how disobedience is countered by the obedience of Jesus Christ. It is obedience which will see Our Lord die on the Cross for us. Christ will bear the burden of our sin, to pay the debt which we cannot. This is what we are preparing to celebrate: one act of righteousness which ‘leads to justification and life for all men’ (Rom 5:18 ESV). To be justified is to be declared righteous in the sight of God. We are guilty, yet God declares us innocent. We deserve punishment, and yet are rewarded. It is remarkable. Such is God’s love for us that our slate is wiped clean. Each and every one of us deserves to be cast aside, for our sins, like those of Adam & Eve separate us from God and each other. Yet God did not leave us in slavery to sin, but sent His Son, so that we might have life in and through Him. This is the Good News of the Gospel. 

In the Gospel this morning we see Jesus at a crucial point, between His Baptism and the calling of the first disciples: Peter and Andrew, James and John. Christ goes into the desert for forty days, to be alone, to pray and to fast, and the church keen to imitate our Saviour likewise goes into the desert so that we may grow closer to God, that we may be purged and prepared to celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. 

Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, a place traditionally associated with the prophets and with encounter with God. After fasting for forty days and forty nights He is hungry. This is no surprise at all. He has been fasting for forty days, Our Lord is starving – he is fully human not some superhero who is immune to human feelings and needs. So the devil tempts Him by saying, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ (Mt 4:3 ESV). The temptation works on several levels. By doubting that Jesus is God and asking Him to prove it the devil is continuing to mock the God he refuses to serve. It is a temptation to be relevant: Jesus is hungry and needs to eat, but is being tempted to use the creative power of God simply to serve an appetite. The world tempts us to be relevant, and to conform ourselves to it, rather than let the world be conformed to the will of God. Jesus’ reply to the devil, that man does not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God, reminds us that as Christians we are fed by Word and Sacrament, nourished by God so that we may grow in faith, and hope, and love. 

Christ is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and told to throw Himself down. This is the temptation to be spectacular, to do something for show, again something which the contemporary church seems rather keen on. But nothing should be done for show; we are called to follow Christ simply and humbly, trusting in Him. The devil wants to put God to the test, it is an act of disobedience, contrary to the humble obedience which sees us live trusting in God, relying upon Him, formed by Him.

Christ is finally tempted to turn away from God the Father, to worship a false god. He is offered much in material terms –- all the world and its splendour -– wealth and power –- a huge temptation for humanity, and one into which many people give. The Church too has given in, and continues so to do. We have to be weak, powerless and vulnerable, utterly reliant upon God so that God can be at work in us, as we humbly worship and serve Him. It may look foolish in worldly terms, but that is the point –- we are not meant to be conformed to the world, but as we seek to grow in faith, in humility, and obedience, we allow God to be at work in us –- taking us and transforming us into His likeness.

The temptation to worship a false God: money, power, or success is always there, and many in the church give in to feelings of ambition, and if they are not ‘successful’ end up bitter, cynical, and miserable. But success is itself empty, popular favour can disappear like a puff of smoke. It is fleeting, it does not last. Whereas in Christ we are offered something that will last: eternal life with God in heaven. 

So as we undertake to follow Christ in our Lenten pilgrimage we do so in our weakness, so that we may rely upon God, and Him alone. We do so joyfully, knowing that Christ’s victory which we will celebrate at Easter is total and complete – it is justification and life for all.

Let us pray that we may receive grace to follow Christ so that we may prepare to celebrate His Death and Resurrection and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Baptism of Christ

Baptism is something with which we are familiar in the Church. But for the vast majority of Christians baptised as infants, it isn’t something we necessarily remember. We are too young to recall the event. But whether we can remember it or not, we know that it happened, and that it marked our entry into the Church, where we were clothed with Christ and  we were born again, by water and the Holy Spirit. And as Christians we are baptised for many reasons, the first of which is that Jesus was baptised, something which the Church celebrates today. 

At one level it looks a little strange. Baptism washes us from our sins, and Jesus is not a sinner, so He does not need to baptized. Hence John the Baptist’s response, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14 ESV). Our Lord replies by saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15 ESV). Jesus’ baptism is one of obedience to the will of God the Father. That is why our first reading is the first of the Servant Songs in the prophecy of Isaiah. The prophecy is fulfilled when the Father speaks the first verse, at the moment of Jesus’ baptism. He gives Him as a covenant to the nations, a covenant that will be made on the Cross, to save humanity. Christ is a light for the nations, as Simeon states at the Presentation in the Temple, Christ will open the eyes of the blind, and set prisoners free. This is the reality of the Kingdom of God, something of we, through our baptism, are a part.

Today God does a new thing, which lies at the heart of the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom by St Peter in this morning’s second reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It is the same proclamation that we find in Isaiah. There is a consistency in proclamation down through the centuries, a guarantee of its truth. God the Father expresses His love for His Son, whose obedience to His Father’s will shows humanity that by saying ‘Yes’ to God, the ‘No’ of Adam and Eve can be undone. Christ fulfils all righteousness, and in so doing points His public ministry towards the Cross.  This is where righteousness and obedience lead: to death and suffering, to display God’s love and finally, once and for all to restore humanity. What is foolish in the eyes of the world, is in fact the greatest possible demonstration of love. We will see that love made visible here this morning, where Christ offers Himself to the Father, and offers the Church His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, so that we may feed on Him, so that He may transform us, so that we may come to share in the very life and nature of God. Through our Baptism and the Eucharist the Kingdom becomes a living reality in us. We are transformed to live its life, and transform the world.

Last Sunday we celebrated Our Lord’s manifestation to the Gentiles. Now this Sunday, at the start of Christ’s public ministry, He is again made manifest. God the Father acknowledges the Son in the flesh, and sends the Holy Spirit, the bond of their love. The fulness of the Divine Trinity is united and manifest on earth to proclaim that Christ is Lord, and the Kingdom has become a reality. Christ does not need to be baptised, as we do, but does so to fulfil all righteousness and to sanctify the waters of baptism for those whom He would redeem, to show us the way to new life in Him. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus shows humanity the way to the Father, through himself. The world sees the generous love of God, which heals and restores us, from the darkness of the dungeon of sin and evil, to the light and life of the Kingdom of God. As our baptism is a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so His baptism points to the Cross, where streams of blood and water flow to cleanse and heal the world. We see the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the obedience of Son, and all for us, who are so weak and foolish, and who need God’s love and healing, and forgiveness.

We need this, the whole world needs it, but is too proud to turn to a God of love, for fear of judgement, knowing that they deserve to be cut off forever, and yet it is exactly such people, such lost sheep that Our Lord comes to seek, whom He enfolds in His loving arms on the Cross, whom He washes in the waters of baptism, so that all may be a part of Him, regardless of whom they are, and what they have done. Salvation is the free gift of God and open to all who turn to him.

Ours is a faith which can transform the world, so that all humanity can share in God’s life and love, each and every one of us can become part of something radical and revolutionary, which can and will transform the world one soul at a time, it may sound strange, crazy even, but that is the point. Rather than human violence, cruelty, and murder, the only way to transform the world is through the love of God. This is what the church is for, what it’s all about; it is why we are gathered here, to be strengthened and nourished, through prayer, the Word of God, and the Sacraments of the Church, strengthened and nourished to live out our faith in our lives to transform the world. Nothing more, nothing less, just a revolution of love, of forgiveness, and healing, which the world both wants and needs, so let us live it so that the world may be transformed and 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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Christmas 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midnight Mass 2019

The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about ninety miles, with some fairly large hills involved. It would probably have taken Mary and Joseph ten days to travel there, walking with a donkey. It was a huge effort: in order to be with family, and to comply with the demands of the census. Amidst the joy and the wonder of this holy night it is good to begin by pondering the fact that the Holy Family were tired, even before the Blessed Virgin Mary went into labour. Tonight is a time for many emotions: joy, wonder, love and fear, as we celebrate God working among us. 

The prophet Isaiah in tonight’s first reading speaks of a future centred upon the birth of a royal baby. It is a message of hope, a light shining in the darkness, which looks forward to the star of Bethlehem, announcing the birth to the world. The boy will free us from burdens and break the rod of our oppressor. The wonderful mystery which we celebrate here tonight is that through Jesus Christ sin will have no power over us. He will bear our burden on the Cross. Christ is born for us so that He may die for us. His life begins lying against the wood of the manger, as it will end against the wood of the Cross. This is the justice and righteousness to which Isaiah looks forward: a God whose entire life and being proclaim the love of God. Christ is the true son of David, a Wonderful Counsellor, in Him God shows His true might, the Eternal Son show us the heart of love of the Everlasting Father, Christ is the Prince of Peace, as He gives us peace from God, not human peace, but something far more wonderful. All that Isaiah proclaims is made manifest tonight in this little child. The world can never be the same.

St Paul writes to Titus to remind him that God’s grace has been revealed. Her tonight we see the kindness of God in giving His only Son to be born for us, making the salvation of the human race possible. Christ gave Himself for us, to redeem us from sin. Here tonight God is born as a baby, so that humanity might become divine. This is generosity on a scale we can hardly imagine, because God’s love is so all-encompassing, so utterly wonderful. As we celebrate His coming in the flesh we also look forward to His Second Coming, when our Saviour will return. We are to prepare for this by celebrating the mystery of our salvation, and allowing it to transform our lives.

So the King of Israel, the Saviour of the World is born not in a palace, but surrounded by farm animals. As Isaiah prophesied, at the very start of his prophecy: ‘The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib’ (Isa 1:3 ESV). So the animals kneel to honour their Creator, born in their midst. ‘He whose godhead made him rich became poor for our sake, so as to put salvation within the reach of everyone’ [Theodotus of Ancyra (Homily 1 on Christmas: PG 77: 1360-1361) ]. 

Meanwhile out in the fields there are shepherds, looking after their sheep. Jerusalem is only six miles away, and these are the sheep needed for Passover, and other Jewish festivals. Shepherds are interesting in that David, Israel’s second king was one, and scripture talks of God shepherding His people Israel. The Messiah, the saviour, is prophesied in terms of a shepherd. St Matthew quotes the prophet Micah: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’ (Matt 2:6 ESV quoting Micah 5:2). An angel comes to the shepherds to tell them the wondrous news which has just taken place. They are afraid, terrified in fact, and rightly so. It is so completely out of the ordinary. We have so domesticated this pastoral scene that we forget that here we have ordinary people faced with an angel and the glory of God, something so amazing that humans cannot bear to look at it. It’s too bright, too wonderful. And there’s not just one angel, but a multitude of the heavenly host, an army of angels, thousands of them, more than you can count, singing the praise of Almighty God. The worship of heaven comes down to earth for a moment to celebrate this wonderful event. Words cannot describe it, though we will get close to it this night as we celebrate the Eucharist. For here too heaven and earth will meet, and Christ who is the living bread come down from heaven, born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, will take bread so that it may become His Body, to feed us, so that we might share His divine life.

It’s a radical action, which turns our world upside down. Ours is a God who shows strength and power in His weakness, in His dependance upon others, to show us what true kingship is really like. Whereas Caesar claims the title Augustus, literally one who is worthy of honour, the one worthy of true honour is born not in Rome, but in Bethlehem. As the angel announces to the shepherds, ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ (Lk 2:11 ESV). Jesus is our saviour, not some Roman Emperor. He is the Messiah, the one who can save us and all humanity, and he is lying not in a cot in a palace, but in a manger, surrounded by animals. God defies human expectations, and human understanding, to do something wonderful, and unexpected, because this is what the Kingdom of God looks like: it turns our human world on its head. The Son of God is born in a stable, and adored by shepherds. The most important event in human history happens tonight, and for two thousand years the Church has proclaimed its truth, that God is with us, is born for us, to set us free from sin, to give us eternal life, and to pour out God’s love and reconciliation upon a world that longs for healing and wholeness. Tonight the mystery of God’s love is made manifest, may we be filled with that love, and may our voices echo the song of the angels in giving praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Advent IV ‘He will save his people from their sins’

The story of salvation history, of humanity’s relationship with God can be characterised by one phrase: , ‘Paid ag ofni, Do not be afraid!’ Again and again God speaks to His people to tell them to be of good heart, to reassure and encourage them. This morning’s readings are a case in point. Joseph is afraid at the fact that his intended wife, Mary is with child. Rather than take her to court and divorce her publicly for infidelity, he intends to deal with the matter privately. Joseph is a just man, one who walks in the Law of the Lord. Joseph is someone close to God, so it is no surprise that God speaks to him in a dream. The angel is clear: the child that will be born is of the Holy Spirit, He will be the Son of God, and His name will be Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. 

St Matthew clearly understands the Birth of Jesus as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, which we heard as our first reading this morning. You ‘shall call his name Immanuel.’ (Isa 7:14 ESV) Jesus: God saves, Immanuel, God is with us. Names matter. What does is mean to say that God is with us? Is it an expression of solidarity? Or something more? In Jesus God is with us, and shares our human life, from birth to death. This is not some remote divine figure, but one intimately acquainted with all of human existence. This changes the dynamics of our relationship somewhat. God is not external, but someone who understands us, and loves us, whose entire existence is about communicating Divine Love and Reconciliation. This is all the Church has been about at its core for the past two thousand years, proclaiming the same message of hope and salvation.

He will save his people from their sins: the angel’s words to Joseph could not be clearer. Jesus is God’s rescue mission, to save humanity from their sins. It leads to the Cross, and so as we prepare to celebrate His Birth, we know that His life will end here, on Cross, where He who was without sin, became sin, experiencing all the alienation and estrangement which it produces. As we prepare the most joyous of feasts, we are mindful of the cost of God’s love. This is a love which will see the bonds of love which unite Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ruptured, as the Son experiences death and desolation, so that we no longer have to. This is the Good News of the Kingdom of God, which the Church exists to proclaim and live out, to continue God’s work of love and reconciliation. 

Jesus will be born so that Scripture might be fulfilled, or as St Paul puts it in the beginning of his Letter to the Romans: ‘which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures’ (Rom 1:2 ESV). The Church has always proclaimed this truth, because it is true. On the road to Emmaus, before He reveals Himself to them in the Eucharist,  Jesus explains the Hebrew Scriptures to them: ‘And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself’ (Lk 24:27 ESV) The Church interprets Scripture as pointing to Jesus Christ because that is what Our Lord Himself does. We follow His example. It is how the Apostle Philip explains Scripture to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:35. Scripture, the Word of God, points to the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. He is its author, its focus, and the interpretative key, who unlocks its meaning. 

The final words Jesus says to His disciples before His Ascension are ‘And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matt 28:20 ESV) The one who is God with us, as he departs this earth, promises to remain with us. And through His Holy Spirit, he does. He is with us in Scripture, and especially in the Eucharist, when we feast on His Body and Blood, given for us, so that we might have life in Him. God gives Himself for us, so that we might become what He is, so that we might share the Divine life of love forever. This is what salvation looks like, and tastes like. The act of love which we are preparing to celebrate in Our Lord’s Nativity should draw us to love God and our neighbour, to live out the love which becomes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, which will become flesh and blood that we can touch and taste, here, this morning, to feed us, so that we might share His divine life. So let us imitate the mystery we celebrate, let us be filled with and transformed by the divine life of love, let us like Mary and Joseph wait on the Lord, and be transformed by him, to live out our faith in our lives so that the world might 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. Amen.

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Advent I (Year A)

Just over one hundred and one years ago a war ended that was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’. Instead the last century has seen very little peace. We are lucky in Western Europe that we have experienced 70 years without conflict, but there have been wars elsewhere. Humanity is still plagued by warfare: the loss of life, the crimes committed, lives blighted. So when we hear the prophecy of Isaiah in this morning’s first reading it is truly joyful. Beating swords into ploughshares and turning spears into pruning hooks sounds wonderful indeed. Growing crops and tending vines provides us with food and drink. It is a sign of peace, joy, and prosperity. And at the time when Christ was born, and we are preparing to celebrate the yearly memorial of his birth at Christmas, this prophecy was fulfilled. There was peace in the Roman World when Christ was born, scripture was fulfilled. And we look forward to such peace coming again, and we work for it, together. The messianic age which we look forward to  shows us what truly following Christ looks like in practice. If we walk in the light of the Lord, we are freed from the darkness of sin and destruction, which threatens to overwhelm us. 

This same message is found in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, our second reading this morning. It is an encouraging message, that another way is possible. Instead of sleep-walking towards damnation and destruction, we can be awake and ready to follow Christ. Every day is another day closer to Christ’s Second Coming. He will come again, as our Saviour and our Judge. We need to be ready, putting on the armour of light, putting on Christ, through our baptism, and living out the faith of our baptism in our lives. The capital of the Roman Empire was renowned for tolerating some pretty immoral behaviour. It was everywhere, all around the Christian community there. Were they tempted to join in? Of course! But St Paul advises them to resist the pleasures of the flesh, drunkenness, quarrelling, nastiness: all the sorts of things we can get up to if left to our own devices.

St Paul speaks to us, to encourage the church and its members, you and me, not to give into the culture of the world around us, but to stay close to Christ. It is easy in theory, but tricky in practice. It’s easier when you’re part of a community. We can help and support each other, in good times and bad. It’s why people join Slimming World or Weightwatchers. They’re trying to change their lifestyle and eating habits, and find the support of a group a great help. Never think that small groups do not have the power to change the world. We are living proof of it as Christians, and it is why we are HERE today: to support each other, to be built up in love together, to turn away from the ways of the world, and to follow Christ. 

We follow Christ and we are ready. We prepare for Christ to come among us. That’s what Advent means, Christ’s coming. We prepare for three comings: the first our annual commemoration of His birth in Bethlehem, at Christmas, where the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The second coming of Christ will be at the end of time, when He will be our Saviour and our Judge. The third coming we prepare for is even nearer. It happens day by day, and week when Christ comes to us in the Eucharist, in His Body and Blood, under the outward forms of Bread and Wine, the Banquet of the Kingdom, anticipated by the ploughshares and pruning hooks of Isaiah, tools to help produce Bread and Wine, a prophecy which looks forward to the peace of the Messiah and a banquet of Bread and Wine. Food of the Kingdom, food for our journey of faith, to give us strength and new life in Christ. Christ comes to us in the Eucharist to give us strength and to transform us, into His likeness. This is the reality of God’s love for us, shown to us on the Cross, and in the Resurrection, a pledge, a sure sign of love, love we can touch and taste, love which transforms us.

We need it, and we need it together. It is why we gather together on the day when Christ rose from the dead to celebrate His triumph, and ask for His prayers. Because as St Matthew’s Gospel tells us, we need to be ready. We need to be ready because ‘the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ (Mt 24:44 ESV) It could be that between my writing these words and delivering them, Christ will come. Christ could come today, or in thousands of years’ time. It doesn’t matter when He comes. We need to be ready, prepared to meet Him, freed from sin, and living out our faith in our lives, having heeded the warnings to prepare ourselves. That’s why Advent is a penitential season, we are reminded of how we fall short, and try, with God’s grace, to amend our lives and follow Christ.

That is why in this morning’s Gospel reading Christ says, ‘For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.’ (Mt 24:37 ESV). Before the flood in Genesis we se that humanity was corrupt and violent, and sinful. The point Christ is making is that this is how the world will be; Christians should not be like this, because we have put on Christ, we are walking in the light, supporting each other, as a community of faith, living out the love we have been shown in Christ. At a time we do not expect, Our Lord will return, so we need to be ready, so that whenever He comes Christ may find us ready, and prepared to meet him.  

We need to prepare our hearts, our souls, our minds, all of our life, we need to live and act, to think and speak like the people of God, fully alive in him, having turned away from the ways of the world, to live fully in him, we are to live this way, and invite others so to do, so that the Kingdom of God’s peace and love may truly be found here in earth, where humanity is truly valued, where violence, death, murder, and immorality are no more.

The time is short, the time is now, it really matters; we need to come to the Lord, learn his ways and walk in his paths, living decently, living vigilantly, preferring nothing to Christ, and inviting all the world to come to the fullness of life in Him. This is how we celebrate His coming at Christmas and as Our Saviour and Judge, by following him, fed by Him, restored and healed by Him, and sharing His church’s message with all the world, so that it too may 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.

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Remembrance 2019

We are gathered here on this special day to do a number of things together. First and foremost we give thanks for the safe deliverance of these islands from the World Wars of the previous century. These were wars on a scale never before seen. The first was supposed to be the ‘war to end all wars’, yet within twenty years a greater conflict began which brought even more death and suffering to millions across the world. Hardly a day has gone by in the past century when there has not been a conflict somewhere in our world. 

It is now one hundred years since we first marked the anniversary of the Armistice by stopping in silence for two minutes, and praying: in remembrance of all those who gave their lives for our country, and for all who suffer as a result of war. For one hundred years we have engaged in a public act of remembrance. 

In 1919 the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, commissioned a cenotaph (which means empty tomb) to stand in Whitehall, London, as a focus for an act of remembrance, when most of the war dead lay buried overseas. The original wood and plaster structure, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, was only intended to stand for one week, but it proved so popular that a permanent one was created in Portland Stone ready for the 1920 Armistice Day.

Since 1919, the Cenotaph has become the central focus for national commemoration especially during the National Service of Remembrance held on Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday nearest to 11th November. Its meaning has developed and the Cenotaph now memorialises those who have given their lives in all conflicts since the First World War.

Throughout the country, local memorials were erected to remember the dead of the First and then the Second World War. Like the Cenotaph in London, these became the focus for local Remembrance ceremonies and we keep this tradition here in Maenclochog today, starting our Remembrance Service outside at our Village War Memorial. 

Our act of remembrance is not simply to recall a past event, or to bring the dead to mind, but something more. By remembering today, the sacrifice of countless men and women, we continue to show our thanks for the peace and prosperity which we now enjoy. 

We give thanks for to all those who have served, and continue to serve this country, both at home and abroad, and for the continuing work of the Royal British Legion in supporting veterans and their families. As a country we have asked much of our sons and daughters, and we continue so to do. ‘Cariad mwy na hwn nid oes gan neb; sef, bod i un roi ei einioes dros ei gyfeillion.’ ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13). They died that we might live. 

Their sacrifice calls to mind another sacrifice, made on a hill outside Jerusalem, ‘ble bu farw ein Harglwydd Iesu Grist drosom ni’. We remember this sacrifice too, as Jesus died for us. It is the heart of the Christian Faith, and the greatest demonstration possible of the saving power of love.

Love is at the heart of remembrance. Our human love comes from God, the source of all love. This love has the power to heal wounds, to comfort grief and loss. One hundred years on from the end of the First World War, the world still needs healing. This is beyond our capabilities as human beings. We need God’s help. Our God loves us, and longs to heal our wounds. He gave His Son to die for us, on the Cross, a painful death at the hands of enemy soldiers. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. His tomb was empty, and just as with the empty Cenotaph in London we are reminded that death is not the end. The Christian belief in the Resurrection of the dead and the life to come gives us all hope.

On the first Remembrance Day, one hundred years ago, two minutes silence was introduced. At 11 o’clock, as well as remembering the fallen, we take time to pray for peace. There are two words for peace in Welsh, ‘heddwch’, and ‘tangnefedd’. The first, ‘heddwch’ means an end to hostilities, the Armistice ceasefire which we celebrate today. But ‘tangnefedd’, the other kind of peace, is something far deeper and richer. It is the peace of God, the shalom of the Hebrew Old Testament. This is the gift of God, a feeling of wholeness, which brings about healing. So when Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ ‘Gwyn eu byd y tangnefeddwyr: canys hwy a elwir yn blant i Dduw’ (Mt 5:9) He is envisaging something both radical and world-changing: something which heals, which forgives, and which loves. Today we commit ourselves to making peace a reality: here and now — in our community, in our families, in our relationships, in what we are, in what we say, and in what we do. We can never be too busy to do this. When we take the path of peace we honour the memory of those who gave their lives so that we might live. 

So let us therefore commit ourselves to help create the peace which Christ came to bring, for the glory of God, and the good of all human kind. Our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us another way to live — the way of love and gentleness. In memory of what Christ did here on earth, and continues to do, we can experience the peace of the Kingdom of God, where wounds are healed and divisions are reconciled. Today we give our thanks for those who sacrificed themselves for us, and we honour their memory by treasuring the peace won at so great a cost. 

Almighty God, hear our prayers and thanksgivings for all whom we remember this day. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

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Trinity XIX

It is hard to find something as universally loathed as paying taxes. We just don’t like doing it. We know we have to pay them, but we would prefer not to do so. At its root, celebrations of the Harvest have their roots in taxation. They were a way to thank God for the good things of creation, but also to thank the tribe of Levi which had no ancestral land, as their inheritance was the Lord their God. 

That’s all well and good, we should be grateful to God, and we should demonstrate it openly. Saying, ‘thank you’ to God is important, just like saying, ‘please’, ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you’. We communicate with God because we have a relationship with Him. We recognise that everything comes from Him as gift, and so we hope that our service is pleasing to the Lord, we don’t earn our justification through our works, but we are grateful.

This morning’s Gospel presents us with two very different figures: a Pharisee, a member of a religious élite and a tax-collector, one of the most loathed people in the Roman World. He was a traitor who had sold out, he had bought the right to collect taxes on behalf of the occupying power, the Romans. He would recoup the cost by charging a premium, on top of the taxes. He extorted his costs from people who had no choice but to pay him, and that’s how life was. No one likes to pay taxes, but when you know that the tax-collector is charging you more than you should be paying, you despise him even more. It isn’t fair, but the rights to collect taxes were auctioned off to the highest bidder, who was expected to recoup their costs. 

The Pharisee is a member of the religious élite, a student of the law, the power behind the synagogues, someone who keeps the Letter of the Law. Jesus himself was much more like a Pharisee than a tax collector. Jesus was educated and articulate about the scriptures. He, too, added his own oral interpretation to the laws that were written. The apostle Paul was a Pharisee. Are we Pharisees? What does Jesus want us to see of ourselves in this parable? If we return to the text, we’ll see that Luke tells us that Jesus directed this parable at ‘some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others’. I’m ok. I’m a fine upstanding member of the community. I’m not like this or that person who has done something wrong. Each an every one of us does this. We want to find someone to look down on, to say I’m better than them. Well, here’s a home truth, WE ARE NOT! Because in God’s eyes, we are all sinners, we all fall short, and it doesn’t matter by how much. 

So, this story, though it may at first seem straight-forward, quickly raises many questions. The text obviously indicates that the behaviour of the tax collector is preferred over the behaviour of the Pharisee. That much is clear. But the question is: why? Why, exactly, is the one right and the other wrong? Is this a story about prayer and how we should pray? Is the Pharisee wrong in thanking God for what he considers the blessings in his life? Is he wrong to be glad that he is not a thief or an adulterer? Often when we characterize this story, we think of the Pharisee as standing in the centre of the room, trying to draw attention to himself, praying loudly. Based on those assumptions, we criticize the Pharisee for his showiness, his pride, his big ego. But the text only shows that he was standing by himself, praying, and that the tax collector was standing far off, praying as well. What is it that is misguided in the Pharisee? What is it that the tax collector has struck on? 

Nothing that the Pharisee says or does is in itself wrong. But where he goes off-course is in thinking that his list of righteous acts will earn him God’s favour. But he is wrong in two important ways: First, he is wrong because he acts as if without his list of good deeds he is not good enough to receive God’s grace. And secondly, he is wrong because he acts as if he is so great as to by his own actions make himself worthy of God’s grace. This Pharisee seems to get the picture wrong from both angles. And I think we might be able relate to this. We often feel like we don’t really deserve or aren’t truly worthy of God’s love, as though we need to earn it. On the other hand, our actions, and our attitudes about our actions sometimes suggest that we become too full of pride about how good we are, or at least about how much better we’re doing than some others of whom we know! We begin to act as though we just have to do enough good things and we’ll be fine, as if we have a quota of righteous acts to fulfil before God will be forced to let us in on the grace deal.

In truth, it’s the tax collector, standing far off, beating his breast, who’s got it right. He cries, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This is enough — not too little: this tax collector admits his sin and his need for God. And not too much: this man doesn’t make any claims about himself, try to puff himself up, try to act as though he could possibly manage without God. 

Can we do the same? We forget that none of us are worthy of God’s grace — as the letter to the Romans tells us, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ But we also forget that none of us are excluded from God’s grace, unworthy though we are. And that means for the Pharisee and the tax collector, that our good deeds, and our ever-present sinful behaviour — neither of these privilege us or exclude us — or privilege or exclude our neighbours — from God’s grace. God asks us to live faithfully — not as a test to see if we deserve grace, but as a path of discipleship that will give us deeper satisfaction in our relationship with God.

The Eucharist, Christ’s gift of Himself to us, is not a reward which we earn, bur neither is it to be treated lightly, ignored, or downplayed. It is the most precious thing which we have. Far more precious than the silver or gold that we use to contain it. Because it is Jesus Christ, who gives Himself to us, so that He can transform us, so that we can grow together in love, more and more into His image and likeness. Christ comes to preach the Good News of the Kingdom, to call people to repent, to turn away from their sins. He heals the sick, the blind, the lame. He raises the dead to life. This is God’s love for us. What can we give God? Our love and our thanks. Have mercy upon us sinners, and help us to live faithfully so that we might sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Homily for Trinity XIII

It’s very easy to be judgemental, and to write people off when they do something wrong, or something with which we do not agree. It is particularly easy when emotions run high, and we feel rather than think. Emotion clouds our judgement, and we give way to anger. This is never a good thing to do. 

In our first reading this morning from the Book of Exodus we hear that the people of Israel have fashioned for themselves a golden calf, an idol, a false God, whom they worship. They are a stiff-necked people: stubborn and obstinate, who will not listen to God, or do what leads to their flourishing. They deserve to be destroyed, and yet Moses prays for them to God, to be merciful, and to remember His covenant with His people. In this we see God’s grace and loving-kindness at work. It reminds us that false gods are not a good thing, and if we follow them, then we are not following God, honouring Him, or living in a way which will lead to our flourishing. 

In our second reading from St Paul’s First Letter to Timothy we see that Paul has gone from being a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent opponent, to something else. He has become a champion for the Christian Faith, that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief’. His words are ours too. Like Paul we have received God’s mercy. We don’t deserve it, just as the Israelites didn’t. That’s the point, we don’t earn forgiveness, God in his love and mercy forgives us, so that we might become something other than we are. This is the wonderful truth at the heart of the Gospel.

It is something which the scribes and pharisees in the Gospel cannot understand. Our Lord hangs around with tax collectors and sinners. These are people who collect taxes for the Romans. They were corrupt, because they had to bribe officials to get the job, and were expected to skim some extra off the top to settle their debts, and provide for themselves. Jesus goes out of His way to spend time with people who were despised, collaborators with a foreign power. The religious authorities, by contrast, are judgemental and superior. Jesus eats with people who are beyond the pale, defying social conventions, and looking beyond them to see people who need God’s love and mercy.

To illustrate His point Christ tells two parables. In the first, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, a man leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go after one which was lost. The point is that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. The scribes and pharisees think that they are righteous, but are not. The sinners and tax-collectors know that they are not righteous, but by being close to Jesus, in their humility, repentance is possible. It’s a key to the Christian life, turning away from sin, and turning back to God. It is less of an event and more of a process, something which we keep doing, throughout our lives. It’s easy to fall back into sin, but God does not abandon us. He keeps going after the lost sheep. This is good news: we are not written off. But we have to keep our end up. We have to believe in God, and trust Him, and repent, turn away from our sin, and turn back to God. 

The scribes and the pharisees think that everything is alright between themselves and God. They keep the letter of the Law, but are far away from its spirit. The sinners and tax-collectors know that things aren’t right, which is why they are drawn to Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t wait for them to change before deeming them worthy of Him, instead he receives them and eats with them. God in Christ comes alongside us, seeking the lost, because God LOVES us. As St Paul says, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’. To save us from sin, to save us from something which we could not save ourselves from. 

How does He do this? On the Cross, where Christ demonstrates God’s love for us, dying the death of a common criminal. It shouldn’t make sense. It is scandalous. But such are the lengths God will go to for love of us. Through God’s love we are reconciled and forgiven. As a sign of this Christ comes to eat with us here, this morning. He gives himself, His Body and Blood for us, and He feeds us with them, so that we might have life in Him. We can touch and taste the reality of God’s love. 

It’s an excuse for a party, as Christ says in the Gospel, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost’. God is not like the grumbling scribes and pharisees, being judgemental. He rejoices to welcome sinners back into the fold. He is merciful, and we have received that mercy. So let us rejoice that God has sought us out, and brought us back and restored us. As we celebrate the feast of the Kingdom of God, here today, may we be encouraged, and filled with God’s love and mercy, so that He may transform our lives. Strengthened by His Body and Blood may we live lives of faith and encourage others to do so, so that all people may give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. AMEN.

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The Eighth Sunday after Trinity Year C

Ours are certainly interesting times in which to live. But as Our Lord says in this morning’s Gospel, ‘Do not be afraid’ (Lk 12:32) or as the Lord says to Abram ‘Do not be afraid…I am your shield’ (Gen 15:1). We can put our trust in one who will not abandon us, a God who loves us.

In our first reading this morning we see how Abram trusts in God to continue his household. It is an example of faith, of trusting the promises and providence of God, even when the situation looks bleak. 

In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear words addressed to a community of believers facing persecution, who are tempted not to believe in Jesus, and revert to their former Jewish faith. The author has explained that Christ is our great High Priest, and that His Sacrifice has atoned for our sins. In today’s passage we hear an overview of salvation history from the creation of the universe to the time of the patriarchs. Just as the people of Israel sought to return from their exile in Egypt, we too seek our eternal homeland: heaven. We ‘desire a better country, that is a heavenly one’ and we trust that our real homeland is in Heaven with God. This is the end of our journey of faith; a better place where the worries of this world are cast aside.

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus comforts his followers. It reminds us that the Church began small. Two thousand years later it looks huge. We may feel that we are only a tiny part of it, that we are not big enough, and that is ok. When the Church began it was fragile and faithful, a flock uncertain of what the future would hold. But God loved the early Christians, just as He loves us, and longs to see us flourish. God gives us the Kingdom, a realm where where God is in charge, and we live lives of freedom, love, and fulfilment. The kingdom is a place of generosity, where gifts are shared. It looks radically different to the world around us, where wealth, status, power, and possessions matter, and give people value. But these are in Luke’s words ‘purses that wear out.’ In the kingdom of God, on the other hand, all of humanity has infinite value and dignity. This is because we are all made in the image and likeness of God. This is what gives us value, and not any other reason. God pours out His Grace upon the church freely, out of love, so that humanity might flourish, and have life in all its fulness. 

Christians have the hope of heaven, of sharing in the divine nature, together, with the saints. To be united with love itself, the love that created all that is. The love which redeemed us through the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. That is why the second part of our Gospel reading this morning tells us to be prepared and ready for Our Lord’s Return.

Jesus, having ascended to the right hand of God the Father in Heaven will return, as our Saviour and as Judge of all. Should we be afraid? Jesus tells us constantly not to be afraid. There is a choice for the hereafter: Heaven or Hell. It is up to us: what we believe and how we live our lives. The central message in the proclamation of the Kingdom is ‘Repent and Believe’. We can choose to turn away from sin, to turn to God, believe in Him, and live our lives accordingly. Or we can choose not to. We have a greater choice to make, which lasts for ever. Do we trust in a God who loves us so much that His Only Son died for us. Do we gather at this altar and receive the Eucharist so that we may be transformed by Him? 

If we do these things, we will open ourselves to living the Christian Life. The faith of our hearts will affect who we are and what we do. We can be filled with joy as we await a judge who comes in mercy and love. One who heals our wounds, and restores in us the image of the God who not only created us but all that exists. Our Christian faith leads us to action, which can transform the world around us, so that God’s kingdom becomes a reality, here and now. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. What greater treasure is there than eternal life in heaven with God? This is offered to us freely. Nothing this world proffers comes close. It is all fleeting: wealth, power, privilege, do not last. But we can trust in the eternal promise of a God who loves us, and we can be ready to greet Him, when he comes again. Through the power of Christ’s sacrificial Death we have the hope of heaven and the assurance of sins forgiven. This is GOOD NEWS. It helps us see the vanity of the world for what it is. 

We all need to be ready for Jesus, when He comes. We don’t know when this will be, but we are told it will be late and when we do not expect. Also Jesus will not come as we might expect. Instead of appearing as a judge, as someone powerful, Jesus reconfigures our understanding of power and authority. Rather than being someone who expects to be served, Jesus will come again to continue to serve. God, the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all creation, will come and put on an apron and care for us. This image defies our expectation and understanding. It gives us a foretaste of the glory that is to come, where we will be transfigured like Our Lord, and experience the fulness of God’s kingdom.

But for this to take place we need to be careful, we need to be vigilant. Just because we don’t know when Jesus will return doesn’t mean that we can take things easy. Nor can we afford to be lax or lazy, and negligent in the way we treat others. That would be to go against the message of the Gospel. We need to both think and act as though Jesus will return NOW, during this very Eucharist to judge and serve us. As we will welcome His Eucharistic presence with open hands and open hearts, so all of our lives should be open and welcoming to Him. We need to prefer Jesus and His Kingdom to anything else, for where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. We can have no excuse for not choosing Jesus and His message of the Kingdom over the cares and concerns of this world. This is, of course, easier said than done, but if we, as a Christian community, support one another, then we can do this together. The Kingdom of God is not something we can bring about in isolation, or as individuals. We need to do it together, as the body of Christ, by building up a community of love, and encouraging one another. 

What we believe and how we act together are a sign and symbol of our relationship with God and one another. So then, let us live lives together which proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, so that when Our Lord comes He may find us ready and doing his will, and singing 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.

The Transfiguration

The world around us has a good idea of what it thinks glory is. Most of the time it is seen as human success and triumph. Just think of people winning a gold medal at the Olympics, people waving flags and making lots of noise, open-topped buses, parades, and the like. God’s idea of glory is something entirely different. In fact, it is the exact opposite of human glory. We will see God’s Glory today on three high places: Mt Sinai, Mt Tabor, and on the hill of Calvary.

We visit the first of these high places in our first reading from the Book of Exodus. Moses goes up Mount Sinai to receive the Law, the Ten Commandments, God’s rules to show Israel both what to believe and how to live, just as Jesus will later teach in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Moses spends time in the close presence of God, and this changes him. When he comes back down the mountain we learn that he is shining, he has been transformed and transfigured by his close encounter with the Divine. It is an experience which takes time, it doesn’t happen instantly. God tells Moses to come up the mountain and wait. The Patriarch waits six days before being invited to climb up further. Moses spends forty days on the mountain, which prefigures Our Lord’s forty days in the wilderness before the start of his public ministry and our own forty days of Lent.

In the passage from Book of Exodus we see a glimpse of the glory of God and the worship of heaven. It is the same glory that the Apostles see in the Transfiguration, recorded by Luke. This is a glimpse of heaven, a foretaste for us of what Christ gives us His Church. The glory of the Transfiguration is something which the Second Letter of Peter stresses. As Christians we do not follow a false or made-up religion — it is not a work of fiction. It is a life-changing reality. Through spending time with Jesus, the disciples such as St Peter, saw their own lives transfigured and transformed by the power and the love of God.

Jesus has been with the disciples in the Jezreel Valley in Galilee and this morning He goes up Mt Tabor and takes his closest disciples with him to show them something of the glory of God. He ascends the mountain to pray, to be alone with God the Father. Jesus’ public ministry was rooted in prayer, in being close to the Father, in listening and speaking with Him. As Christians we are to follow this example, and do likewise.

Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah to show His disciples and the Church that He is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. They point to Him and they find their fulfilment in Him: He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Peter makes a very human response. He knows that it is good to be here and that what he is experiencing is life-changing. Peter’s suggestion to make three booths points to the Feast of Tabernacles when Jews remembered the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai. But, despite Peter’s hope, this experience is not to be prolonged. This is just a glimpse of the future glory, a moment to be experienced, and not a place to dwell.

When God speaks He tells us three things about Jesus: first that He is the Son of God, secondly that He is loved, and thirdly that we should listen to Him. What Jesus says and does should affect us and our lives. Like Moses and the disciples, we have to be open to the possibility of being radically changed by God.

Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after he has risen from the dead. Jesus has another height He must climb: the hill of Calvary, where He will suffer and die upon the Cross. There He takes our sins upon Himself, restoring our relationship with God and each other. This is real glory – not worldly glory but the glory of God’s sacrificial love poured out on the world to heal and restore it.

“Three important scenes of Our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross; and on the third, He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory and that of all who would believe in His name”

Fulton Sheen The Life of Christ 1970: 158

We are here this morning to see the self same sacrifice with our own eyes, and to touch and taste what God’s love is really like. We go up the mountain of the altar and experience the glory of God, so that God’s love may change us. We are given a foretaste of heaven, and prepared to be changed by God. This is true glory – the glory of the Cross, the glory of suffering love lavished upon the world. 

The Transfiguration looks to the Cross to help us prepare ourselves to live the life of faith. It helps us to comprehend true majesty, true love and true glory. The wonderful glory that can change the world and which lasts forever, for eternity, unlike the fading glory of the world, which is here today and gone tomorrow.

So let us behold God’s glory, here, this morning. Let us touch and taste God’s glory. Let us prepare to be transformed by His love, through the power of His Holy Spirit, so that we may be built up as living stones, into a temple to God’s glory. That we may be healed, and restored, and given a foretaste of eternal life. May God take our lives and transform us, so that everything that we say, or think, or do, proclaims Him. Let us tell the world about Him, so that all people may believe and trust and have new life 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 Sunday after Ascension (Jn 17:20-26)

The Sunday after the Ascension, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, is one of those strange in-between times, not quite Pentecost yet. So we wait with the Apostles for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We wait, and we pray fervently that God will pour His Spirit into our hearts, and our lives, to fill us with His Love. 

In the Gospel this morning we are in the middle of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, which is the summit of His teaching just before His arrest and Passion. It is a moment of profound intimacy where Christ prays to God the Father. He prays not only for His disciples, but for those who will believe in Him through their word. That’s you, and me, and countless Christians down through the ages. Just before Christ’s arrest and Passion He prays for us. Such generosity and love should amaze us. Christ prays that we should be one, that there should be unity in the church. Sadly throughout its history this has not been the case, and it should shock us to the core. Unity is Christ’s will for His Church. It puts our petty human divisions into perspective. They’re bad and wrong; they’re not the will of God. It’s serious, and it matters, and we shouldn’t be making it worse, we should be growing together in love. We should do this because it is Christ’s will, we listen to Him, and do what He tells us. That isn’t the only reason, however. Christ prays that the Church may be one, ‘so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ (17:21 ESV) In other words the truth of our witness and proclamation of the Gospel is contingent upon our unity. If we’re divided people won’t believe us. Which is the right or the proper bit? How can you tell? It isn’t always easy. 

Christ gives us His glory, which is His Passion and Death. To follow Christ leads to a Cross, and onward to new life. But if we want to follow Christ then we cannot ignore pain and suffering. We’ve signed up for it. All of us have, in our baptism, when we received the water of life without price. We have to bear witness to Christ regardless of the cost. People may well think we are fools for believing what we do. The idea that Christians are simple-minded, or deluded, or weak, has been around for a long time. A religion for women, slaves, and children, said the pagan Celsus around AD 180 (cf. Orig. contra Celsum 344) It’s a silly idea, but plenty of people still believe it, even today. We can convince them otherwise by means of rational argument, but also by the example of our lives, as authentic faith is attractive, real, and convincing. 

Christ speaks to us, and teaches us so that our joy may be complete in Him, filled with His love, and the Holy Spirit. The world’s reaction to this is a negative one: because what we are, what we stand for, and how we live as Christians is to be opposed to what the world around us stands for: selfishness, greed, which it makes into false gods, as though material wealth, or power, or status could save us – such things are transient and fleeting. The world offers us a short-cut, an easy road. Whereas if we are following Christ, then we are walking the way of his Passion, we are walking the Way of the Cross, dying daily to sin, and letting God’s grace be at work in and through us. It is not easy, it is difficult, most of us are unable to manage, we will fail, and we need the love and support of the Christian community to help us, even the first Christians, those who had been with Jesus, needed each other’s help and support, so they can continue what Jesus started.

We need to be together, to meet together to pray for our needs and those of the world, and to be nourished by the word of God, the Bible, and the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, not because they’re something nice to do on a Sunday morning: an add-on, an optional extra that we can opt into and out of as we feel like, but because as Christians they are crucial to who and what we are, if we are to remain in the love of God then we have to live this way. Only then can we offer the world an alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin. It will hate us for doing this, it will despise us and persecute us, it will call us hypocrites when we fail to live up to the example of Jesus; but as Christians who live in the love of God we forgive each other our trespasses, so that we can live out that same radical love and forgiveness which sees Jesus die upon the Cross for love of us and all the world, this is love which can transform the world. It is a message of such love, such forgiveness that the world cannot or does not want to understand it. We may not understand it, but we know that it can be experienced, and we are living testimony to its power. It turns our lives around and sets us free to live for God and to proclaim his saving truth in our words and actions, calling the world to repentance, to turn to Christ, and to be renewed in and through Him. In his power, with His Truth, filled with His Love we can transform the world, one soul at a time.

So as we wait with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray that Christ may come, and send His Holy Spirit, that God may be at work in us, building us up, and giving us strength to live his life and to proclaim his truth, to offer the world that which it most earnestly desires, a peace, a joy, a freedom which passes human understanding, and the gift of eternal life in Christ. Let us proclaim it so that all the world may come to know and love God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Easter VI: John 14:23-29

Relationships are tricky things. We cannot live without them, we would be lonely to an unbearable degree. As human beings, we are made for relationships: they help make us who we are. But, they both need and require work and effort. You cannot simply take them for granted, and expect everything to be all right. As Christians we believe that our primary relationship is not that with our parents, spouse or children, or our friends, and neighbours; but with God. A God who created us, a God who redeemed us, in His Son, Jesus Christ. A God who loves us. 

In the Book of Revelation we have a vision of the New Jerusalem, the perfection of God’s Creation, a foretaste of heaven. It is a place where the Glory of God provides illumination, and the lamp which holds the light is the Lamb. In other words, the Lamb, who is Christ, perfectly displays the glory of God. Christ shows us who God is, and what God’s glory is like. On either side of the river of the water of life is the tree of life. The water of life represents our baptism, and the tree of life is both the tree giving eternal life in the Garden of Eden, and the Cross, through which we have eternal life in Christ. And leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. The Church, then, is to be a place of healing, and reconciliation, where people may encounter Christ, and His healing love. That’s why we have a cross on our altar, as our central focus, to remind us of what it’s all about, to remind us how God’s glory is made manifest in our world. God’s glory, and God’s love, the two go together. 

And so, in the Gospel, Christ tells us that whoever loves Him keeps His word. If we love God, then we listen to what He says, and act accordingly. Something which is simple in theory and difficult in practice. The point is that we try, and fail, and ask for forgiveness, and reconciliation, and keep trying. It’s a process, and we won’t get better until we try. Think of riding a bicycle. You have to practice and persevere until you are able to do it. The hard bit is to get going in the first place. Once you’re moving, balance becomes easier, and then it’s a matter of steering, braking, and stopping. Our spiritual lives are far more complicated than riding a bike, but the basic analogy holds true. Keeping Christ’s word involves doing it: loving God and neighbour. As a result of this we experience God’s love. We will do that today most fully in the Eucharist, where Christ gives Himself to us, His Body and His Blood. We are fed by Christ, so that we can be transformed by Him. Christ promises us that the Father and the Son will come to us and make their home with us. It’s a relationship fully realised. We are invited into a relationship, and to experience that relationship in its fulness. That’s what being a Christian means. It allows us to love God, and to express that love in worship, to express our beliefs, and honour the God who loves us by meeting together, being nourished by Word and Sacrament, and praying together. Our response to the Love and Glory of God is, of necessity, AWE. God has done what we cannot, and despite our failures and shortcomings, continues to love us. That is true generosity. We cannot give anything back to God, God does not need our worship, but rather, by being thankful, and showing our love for the God who loves us, we become generous, and loving.

In the Gospel, Christ tells us that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in His name. As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, we look forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As our focus changes, we realise that all of this is the unfolding of the mystery of God’s love, for us. Christ gives us his peace. In Welsh there are two words for peace. The first, heddwch means an absence of conflict, worldly peace. The second, tangefedd, is the peace which comes from God. Christ can give us the peace which comes from a relationship with God, bought by His Blood on the Cross. This is the peace we enjoy as Christians, not an absence of conflict, but the deep peace of being loved by God, and loving Him in return. It is the peace of a relationship. Nothing earthly can compare to it, because we are made in the image of God, and filled with His Love. Because of this we can be a church, a community of love, living out our faith, nourished by Word and Sacrament. Christ also promises us His Holy Spirit. Our focus shifts from Easter towards Pentecost, as the fulfilment of the Resurrection. Christ rises and ascends so that we can receive the Spirit, and experience the fulness of new life in Christ. As was prophesied by Joel ‘And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.’ (Joel 2:28 ESV) As Christ, the Word made flesh, is the fulfilment of prophesy, our joy and our peace. All scripture points to Him, and finds its fulfilment in Him. Our life in the Church is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, living the new life of His Kingdom. So let us live it, and share it with others so that all creation 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. Amen.

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Easter V ‘Love one another as I have loved you’

St Thomas Aquinas teaches us that to love is to the will the good of the other (STh I-II, q.26 a.4,[Respondeo dicendum quod, sicut Philosophus dicit in II Rhetoric, amare est velle alicui bonumCCC 1766). To love, then, is not simply an act of passion or emotion: something we feel, but something we choose to do. The commands to love God and our neighbour, found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, are central to the Christian Faith, as taught and exemplified by Our Lord. To choose someone else’s good reminds us that we do not exist for our own sake, and that our lives are lived in community and relationship with others. We are called to be loving and generous, just as God as been loving and generous towards us in Christ. We seek to cooperate with God in promoting human flourishing. 

Jesus is quite explicit in this morning’s Gospel, ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:34-35 ESV) We are to love each other as Jesus has loved us. We are to lay down our lives, as Christ has for us. In this love and service we can truly love each other. This makes who and what we are manifest to the world around us. It makes Christianity something attractive because people can see the difference it makes. We are people of love and a community of love, willing good, and helping to make it a reality. It is a radical and world-changing idea, underpinned by selfless love, which Christ commands of us, His Church, to help transform the world through His Grace that humanity might come to have life, life in all its fullness. 

In the Acts of the Apostles we see St Peter realise that salvation is for Gentiles as well as Jews, that all are called to be baptized into Christ and receive His Holy Spirit. In the Book of Revelation we see God promise, ‘To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.’ Acts 21:6 ESV) God promises to quench our spiritual thirst, which nothing else can satisfy. John’s vision of the future explains why, in the Gospel, Christ states that He will only be with the disciples on earth a little while, and where He is Going they cannot come. They cannot go to the Cross, to reconcile God and humanity, nor can they yet go to Heaven, because Christ has not yet died, risen, and ascended. Because of what Christ has done, the New Creation is possible. Humanity can be united with God forever. We have a vision of a future without pain or suffering, because what is offered is unity with God, the fullness of human existence. This is the Christian hope of Heaven. Because of what Christ has done, and where He has gone, we can have this hope, through our baptism, by which we are saved. 

These are not idealist pipe-dreams but the reason why we are Christians. Because we have a hope of heaven, we want to see a world transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, into a place of peace, and joy, and love, to prepare us for the joys of heaven. Christ gives us this commandment so that we may have life and have it to the full, in and through Him, the source of all life and love.

This is what following Christ means in practice: living and dying like Christ, together, so that by this all will know that we are His disciples, through love lived out in our lives we proclaim the reality and the truth of our faith in Him. It’s something which we do together, and while it sounds easy in theory it is much harder in practice. We must try, and fail, and keep on trying. It is why we need to stay close to Christ in Word and Sacrament, to pray together, to support and forgive each other, so that we can live a life of love, not saccharin-sweet as the world sees it, but real, sacrificial love, the sort which has the power to transform the world so that it becomes more Christ-like. We thirst for this love, and only it can satisfy our deepest desires, so let us come, and drink of that living water, let us feast on Him who is the Living Bread and the True Vine, the Shepherd of our souls, who loves us so much that he died for us, and let us love Him and one another so that all the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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Easter IV: The Good Shepherd

The Church’s Liturgical Year is a very good thing indeed. It divides up time and focusses our attention, allowing us the time to contemplate the mysteries of the Christian Faith. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is an event which requires contemplation. We need time to let it sink in, and to explore what it means for us and our faith. It is the defining moment of our faith, which gives Christians the hope that death is not the end, that this life is not all that there is, and that because of who Christ is, namely God, and what He has done: died for us to take away our sin, and rise again to give us the hope of eternal life in Him.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says of himself, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ It discloses something important about Who and What He is — He is one who tends, who looks after His sheep. The Jews in the Temple for the celebration of Hanukkah in the Gospel don’t seem to have been listening. Jesus has told them clearly and they do not believe that He is the Messiah. What Christ does in the Gospels testifies to Who and What He is, the Word made flesh, God with us.

Those of us who are in the Church, through our Baptism belong to Christ, we are His. So we are to listen to what Jesus tells us, in the words of Scripture and through prayer. Jesus knows us and we know him — in word and sacrament, through the outpouring of His grace, and so we follow Christ, we do what He tells us to do, to love, to forgive each other. We are humble, we don’t think of ourselves as better than we are, we know our ned of, our dependance upon God. We put our faith into practice in our lives, so that it becomes a reality in the world.

Christ offers us eternal life, as we share in His death, so we too share in His Resurrection, and are assured of eternal life with Him, something wonderful and freely given, and a reason why we, as the Church, celebrate Easter in an extravagant and exuberant way, because it is a sign that God loves us, and saves us. We are sharing in that Eternal Life here and now, as we are nourished by Him, in Word and Sacrament, strengthened by Him, to live His risen life, here and now. 

In Revelation, as St John experiences heavenly worship he states, ‘For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:17 ESV). The Lamb will be our shepherd: Christ will care for us, and keep us safe. A Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep as Christ has done through His Death and Resurrection. To drink living water is to experience the fulness of life in God, filled with the Holy Spirit. Christ guides us to that in our baptism, when we are filled with the Spirit and made part of the Church. 

So we listen to Christ’s voice, in the Bible. We hear Him speak to us, and through this we listen to Him, and obey Him. That is how we know Christ and follow Him. It affects who we are and how we live, as people of love, loved by God. We are prepared here on earth for the life of heaven, for worship, and closeness to God. We have a foretaste of that closeness in Holy Communion where Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, so that we may be transformed by it, more and more into His likeness. It changes us, so that we, by the grace of God, in the power of His Holy Spirit, may become what we are: made in the image of God. That image is restored in us by Christ’s death and resurrection. Through it we come to share in the intimacy of the divine life. As Christ says, ‘I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:30 ESV)  As Michael Ramsay said, ‘God is Christlike, and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all’ [God, Christ & the World: A Study in Contemporary Theology, London 1969, 98] When we see Jesus, we see God, when we hear Him speak, we hear the voice of God. We can know who God is, the creator and redeemer of the universe, through His Son, Jesus Christ. God is no longer distant, or an angry man on a cloud, but a loving Father, as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and a Son who loves us so much that He suffers and dies for us, to give us life in Him. This is God who goes after lost sheep, who longs to love and heal and reconcile, who can heal our wounds if we let Him.

God loves us; we can say this with the utmost confidence because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it all proclaims the same truth: God loves us, not because we’re worthy of it, but so that we might become what God is. It is what we celebrate at Easter, it lies at the heart, the core of our faith as Christians. It’s why we are what we are, and why we do what we do, to proclaim this simple truth to the world.

We can have peace through our relationship with the Trinity, the source of our peace, and joy, and love. Grounded in this relationship we need not be afraid or troubled – we are free to live lives which proclaim God’s love and victory so that the world may believe. Through God loving us, we can truly love him and each other. We experience this most clearly at the Eucharist when Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, which He as both priest and victim offers on the Altar of the Cross. That self same sacrifice which heals the world through the outpouring of God’s love feeds us here and now. We are fed so that we may be nourished and share in the divine life and the joy of heaven. We receive the free gift of God’s grace so that it may perfect our human nature, so that we may go where Our Lord is going, and share in the joy, and love, and peace of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

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Easter (John 20:1-18)

It has been quite a week. Last Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the Messiah. People were celebrating, waving branches in the air, and in a few days the same crowds were shouting that He should be crucified. It’s quite something of a reversal. Jesus is tortured and killed, and laid in a nearby tomb. All the disciples’ joy and hope has evaporated. Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb early in the morning, to be close to Jesus, to anoint the body for burial. She gets to the tomb and sees the stone rolled away. Where’s Jesus? He’s not there. So she runs to Peter and John to tell them. 

Mary sees the stone rolled away, in the darkness, she doesn’t understand but says to Simon Peter ‘they have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre and we know not where they have laid him’. Her concern is for the dead body of Jesus. She does not know, she does not yet believe. As Mary has run away from the tomb, John and Simon Peter run towards it. John sees the cloths but does not go in. Peter goes in first and sees everything. Then John sees and believes: he believes that God has raised Jesus from the dead. It is his love for Our Lord and Saviour which allows him to see with the eyes of faith, to make sense of the impossible, of the incomprehensible.

Peter and John go back home, but Mary stays there, weeping. She sees the angels, and finally she sees Jesus, but does not recognise Him. It is good that this takes place in a garden, as it was in a garden that Adam and Eve ate from the tree and sin and death came into the world. Now, in a garden, Christ the second Adam, having conquered sin and death on the Cross, rises to new life. The first tree was a tree of death, whereas the Cross is the Tree of Life, and through it, we as Christians, through our baptism share in Christ’s death and His risen life. 

It is extraordinary and wonderful news. Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death. Humanity is reconciled to God, and given the hope of eternal life in Christ. It should cause us to celebrate because God who took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and was born in Bethlehem, has died and risen again for us. For you and me. We do not need to be afraid of death, because we are assured that beyond it there is life in God. Love has conquered, love has won, and we are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song. Because of what happened today Christians celebrate on every Sunday, and have for nearly two thousand years, on ten thousand successive Sundays, the fact that Christ is risen, and nothing can be the same because of this wonderful fact.

Death and hell could not hold Him, and so we rejoice. Our hearts are filled with joy because the tomb is empty, and Christ is risen. In dying and rising again, Jesus has changed history; he has changed our relationship with God, and with one another. He has broken down the gates of Hell to lead souls to Heaven, restoring humanity to the loving embrace of God, to open the way to heaven for all humanity, where we may share in the outpouring of God’s love, which is the very life of the Trinity. His death means that our death is not the end, that we have an eternal destiny, a joy and bliss beyond our experience or understanding: to share in the life and love of God forever –- this is what God does for us, for love of us.

WE are people loved by God, loved so much that there is nothing God would not do for us. He rescues us from death to give us life, life with Him, forever. So we should celebrate this most wonderful news, and it should affect us and change us. Nothing can ever be the same because of what happens today. We are changed by it, and called to live Christ’s risen life in the world. We are called to be something different, something out of this world, living by different standards and in different ways, living lives of love not selfishness, self-satisfaction and sin. In our baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life with him, we are to live this life, and to share it with others: ours is a gift far too precious to be kept to ourselves, it is to be shared with the whole world, every last human soul, that they too may believe, perfecting creation, and bringing all of prodigal humanity into the embrace of a loving Father, filled with His Spirit, conformed to the pattern of His Son. This is our life, our calling, to have the singularity of purpose of those first disciples, who saw and believed, who let God in Christ change their lives and share this great free gift of God’s love.

So let our hearts be filled with joy, having died with Christ and raised to new life with him. Let us take that new life, and live it, in our thoughts, our words, and deeds, and share that life with others that the world may believe, that what happened outside a city two thousand years ago has changed all of human history and is still changing lives today. Christ died and is alive so that we and all the earth may have life and have it to the full, sharing in the life and love 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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Good Friday

Today something amazing happens: Christ dies for us. He who became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, suffers and dies for us. We come to contemplate the Word made Flesh, God incarnate, suffer and die for us. In this we may truly know God, and His Love for us, who took flesh for our sake, and now dies that we might live. 

In today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah we see all of Christ’s suffering and death foretold, and interpreted:

 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.’ (Isa 53:3-5 ESV) 

Because of what happens today we are healed. The wounds of sin, which cry out for healing, can be healed in Christ. Such is God’s love for us. What sin has destroyed, love restores. This is the heart of our faith as Christians: God loves us so much that His Son becomes incarnate and suffers and dies for love of us. Words cannot fully express the mystery of God’s love. Instead, we come to gaze upon our Crucified Lord, to behold His love for us and prepare to eat His Body, broken for us.

Christ is our great High Priest, who as both priest and victim offers Himself upon the altar of the Cross to bleed and die for us, to bear our sins, and to reconcile us with God the Father. He dies that we might live. People find this idea difficult, they are not comfortable with it. That’s the point. Christ’s death should make us feel uncomfortable because it reminds us that OUR sins have put Him there. He bears our burden, and that of all humanity, past, present, and future, and through His wounds we are healed. 

Sin is a serious business. It is the human refusal to listen to God, and to cooperate with the Divine will for our flourishing. We are made in the image of God, but sin marrs that image in us. It is a serious problem, and one which we cannot put right ourselves. We cannot earn our way to heaven, through faith or good works. That is why Christ dies for us. Instead we have to rely upon grace, the unmerited love and mercy of God. We have to accept it, so that we can be transformed by it. God saves us because of His love and mercy. Today we see that love and mercy enacted in Our Lord’s Passion and Death. 

At the heart of our faith is the idea that God became what we are, so that we might become what He is. It’s the truth of the Incarnation, and it underpins what happens today. Christ dies for us, so  that we might share His Risen life. But, before we can, Christ experiences the physical torture caused by our sins. He experiences the desolated of being forsaken by God, the effect of sin, and cries out the opening words of Psalm 22: ‘My God my God why hast thou forsaken me: and art so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?’ And yet in the midst of this we, as Christians, can have hope and even joy. What the world sees as disaster and failure, we recognise as a triumph. Christ is executed for sedition and blasphemy, for claiming to be the King of the Jews and the Messiah, the Son of God. What in the eyes of the world is shameful: dying alone, naked and vulnerable, is in fact the greatest demonstration of God’s love. Love freely given, from His Incarnation, to His Death and beyond, this is the Good News, the proclamation of the Christian Faith: ‘we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,’ (1Cor1:23 ESV). A stumbling block to Jews because following Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (ESV) ‘And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. ’ The messiah cannot be crucified, but He is. Greeks love wisdom, logic, and Philosophy. The idea that God would die for humanity doesn’t make sense. Gods are vengeful or indifferent at best. The idea that God loves us enough to die for us is crazy. And so it is, and we rejoice in the absurdity of it. God reconciles humanity through degradation, torture, and suffering, to show us the reconciling power of His Love, stronger than death, or sin. What looks like failure is in fact VICTORY. Today, Christ conquers sin and death, all that separates God and humanity, and by His stripes we are healed. 

We don’t deserve it and we haven’t earned it, that’s the point, that’s what grace is, unmerited kindness, reckless generosity. It is there to help us become the people God wants us to be: to be strengthened, fed, healed, and restored by him: to die to sin and be raised to new life, and to share that life and love with others, that the world might believe and be saved through him. Christ pays the debt which we cannot to reconcile humanity to His loving and merciful Father. Christ shows us the meaning of true love: that we might live it out in our lives, forgiving one another, bearing our own cross, and living lives of love for love of Him who died for love of us.

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life, and our resurrection, through him we are saved and made free. Amen.

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Maundy Thursday

On the night before He suffers and dies, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ teaches His disciples something new: ‘When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’ (Jn 13:12-15 RSVCE) The God who created all that is kneels at His disciples’ feet and washes them. It is an act of complete humility and service. It shows us in the most concrete and direct way possible that God loves us. It reminds us as Christians that we are washed in our baptism, to cleanse us from sin, and that we need to continue to ask God for forgiveness throughout our lives. It is particularly relevant to those of us who are ordained, and called to fashion our lives after the example of Our Lord, following HIS example and living it out in our lives. This is a most wonderful and humbling task which can fill us with both joy and fear and I would humbly ask that you continue to pray for me as I continue to serve God and you, His people.

It is loving service for our Lord to feed his disciples with His own Body and Blood. Tonight, Christ institutes the Eucharist, taking bread and wine that they might become His Body and Blood, which will soon suffer and die for US. The Church exists to carry on the offering of the Son to the Father, to make it present across space and time. That is why we are here, tonight, to gather as disciples of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to be fed by Him, with Him and for Him. He has given us an example that we should copy. We listen to Jesus and we do what He did. 

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

Tonight, in St John’s account Jesus talks about love an awful lot: He says, ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (Jn 13:34-35 RSVCE) ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ (Jn 15:12 RSVCE) and ‘This I command you, to love one another’ (Jn 15:17 RSVCE). Tonight we see what He means: love is service and sacrifice, generosity and humility. As Christians we are to be people of love, formed by it, living it out in our lives to proclaim God’s love to the world. As St John says, ‘By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.’ (1John 3:16-18 ESV) We should be challenged by this, to transform the world with love. As Mother Theresa said, ‘Prayer in action is love, love in action is service’. Christ shows us that and asks us to imitate Him, in His Passion and Death, suffering as He suffered, being generous and humble as He is, in our love and service. 

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

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

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Lent V Year C

The world around us loves to be judgemental, to judge people when they do wrong, and to take delight in their fall from grace, especially if they are famous or powerful. We put people on pedestals, and we are surprised when they fall off. More than that, the media encourages us to be critical of others. It’s gossip on a grand scale, and it is deeply corrosive, because it sets us up to think that WE are somehow BETTER. It isn’t that we do no not do the same things, but only that we haven’t yet been caught, or had our misdeeds paraded in public. We all, each and every one of us, myself included, say and do things which we should not, which hurt others, and for which we need forgiveness. We can ask God for forgiveness, because of what Christ did for us, taking our sins upon himself, on the Cross. It’s taken away, dealt with forgiven, all of it. God loves us, and in turning to God for forgiveness we are turning away from sin, and trying to live our lives in a new way. The Christian life is a constant repetition of this process, failing and trying again, and keeping on so that bit by bit, gradually we let God be at work in us, to transform us, making us less judgemental, less prone to the cult of celebrity, more loving, more forgiving, and building up a community that is filled with a radical transforming love, a force for good, a beacon of hope, which clings to the Cross as our only hope, and shares that love with the world around us.

In the prophet Isaiah we that God is doing a new thing, a way in the wilderness, streams in the desert. It’s the hope that the Messiah will bring a new way of living, which refreshes people, which satisfies that deep inner thirst, which nothing of this world can. Only Christ can give us living water, so that we can live in, and for, and through Him.

St Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, is writing to a church experiencing persecution, while he is under house arrest in Rome, and yet Paul’s message is one of hope for the future, because of what God has done for him, Paul. He has been forgiven, and made righteous, through Christ’s Death and Resurrection. He is called to share in that suffering and death, and he’s a work in progress. He hasn’t got there yet. He’s on the way, but he trusts God to be at work in him, through Christ.

In this morning’s Gospel we see a woman caught in the act of adultery. By the law of Moses she should be stoned to death. But Jesus shows the world another way –- it is the way of love and not of judgement. Every single one of us sins: we say, and think, and do things which we should not, which separate us from God and our neighbour. But instead of condemning humanity, God in Christ loves us and gives himself for us. He suffers and dies and rises again to show us the way of LOVE. He gives us His Word and feeds us with His Body and Blood so that we can share in his divine life, so that we can have a hope of heaven.

Rather than condemning the woman, Jesus challenges those around him: ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her’. Rather than judging others we need to look at ourselves and recognise that we too are sinners. It should force us to take a long, hard look at ourselves — at our lives, and recognise that we need to conform ourselves to Christ — to live, and think, and speak like him. We need to be nourished by him, healed and restored by him, to live lives which proclaim his love and his truth to the world, living out our faith in our lives so that the world may believe.

Once the people had gone ‘Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”’ We are loved, healed and restored by God, but with that comes a challenge: as Christians we are to turn away from sin. We are challenged to turn away from the ways of sin, the ways of the world, to find life in Him. The perfection that comes through faith in Christ, and is from God, is based on faith. We need to ‘know him and the power of his resurrection, and … share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death’.

This is what we are trying to do in Lent, preparing our souls and our lives so that we celebrate His Death and Resurrection and our reconciliation with God. It is done so that God’s grace may perfect our nature and fit us for heaven, sharing the divine life of love, through a conscious turning away from the ways of the world, of sin, and of death: losing our lives to find them in him. It’s difficult. St Paul in his Letter to the Philippians didn’t find it easy, nor should we. Just because living the life of faith is something difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. We will fail, but our failure is not necessarily a problem. What matters is that we keep trying, together: supporting, loving and forgiving each other to live a life of love, so that the world may believe. Let us then recognise our human sin and weakness and through God’s help turn away from it. We are called to transform the whole world and everyone in it, so that they may have live and life in all its fullness. We are fed by the word of God and by the sacrament of His Body and Blood to be strengthened, to share in His divine life, to fit us for Heaven, and to transform all of creation that it may resound his praise and share in his life of the Resurrection, washed in His Blood and the saving waters of Baptism: forgiven and forgiving so that all that we say, or think, or do, all that we are may be for 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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Lent IV Year C: The Prodigal Son

Today is a day for celebration. a day for rejoicing, just like every Sunday, as we rejoice that it was on a Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead. This day of the week is special for Christians. And the time is soon coming when we will remember how Jesus suffered and died for love of us. We get ready to celebrate through fasting and prayer, through giving things up, and today we don’t have to. The rules are relaxed, we can have a day off. We mark this in a variety of ways: since Ash Wednesday I’ve worn purple vestments in Church on Sundays, but today I’m wearing something different. They’re rose-coloured, it’s a lighter, more joyful colour. There are flowers in church, some of which will be blessed and distributed later. Today was a day when servants had the day off, and could go home, to see their family, and visit the church where they were baptized, and as they went there they would pick flowers. It’s Spring, and there are many signs of joy and new life around us. 

So we give thanks to God for our mothers, who gave us life and showed us love, and for Mother Church, in which we were baptized, and given new life in Christ. As we give thanks for them, we are mindful of the love they have shown us, and the life they have given us, which leads us God, who while we tend to address Him as ‘Father’ loves us like a mother. In the Gospel this morning Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son, who runs away, and does what he wants to, wastes his inheritance and comes back penniless and sorry. It’s how we are with God. But God, like the Father in the parable loves his children, and longs to welcome us back, and embrace us in love. God loves us, and will do anything to see us back where we belong, back home, embraced, restored, and made whole again. It is the central message of the Christian Faith: GOD LOVES US! We don’t deserve to be loved, we have turned away from God’s love, but God doesn’t abandon us, or reject us, but welcomes us back, so that we may be transformed by that love. Love and forgiveness have the power to change us like nothing else. We see this throughout the Bible, think of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt. We see this most of all in Jesus, who loves us so much that He dies on the Cross for us. This love transforms the world. God then, is generous, extravagant, and loves us more than we can know or fully understand. But we can experience that love, in the Church, when we read the Bible, in our Baptism, in the forgiveness of sin, and in the Eucharist, where God’s love is made real, and we receive that generosity. We receive it and are transformed by it. It changes us, makes us more generous and loving, and builds up a community transformed by love, which can change the world. 

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Ash Wednesday [Joel 2:1-2 & 12-17, 2Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6 & 16-18]

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, the beginning of her Lenten journey towards the great festival of Easter. The entire Christian community is invited to live this period of forty days as a pilgrimage of repentance, conversion and renewal. 

In the Bible, the number forty is rich in symbolism. It recalls Israel’s journey in the desert: a time of expectation, purification and closeness to the Lord, but also a time of temptation and testing. It also evokes Jesus’ own sojourn in the desert at the beginning of His public ministry. This was a time of profound closeness to the Father in prayer, but also of confrontation with the mystery of evil. 

The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery. In these forty days may we strive to draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example. We seek to conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism. For the whole Church may this Lent be a time of grace in which God leads us, in union with the crucified and risen Lord, through the experience of the desert to the joy and hope brought by Easter. [1]

Fasting, repentance, prayer, and even the imposition of ashes were not unknown to Jews. That is why we as Christians carry on the tradition such things are wise and beneficial as we enter the desert of Lent. They remind us that, first and foremost, we should recognise our own brokenness, our own sinfulness, and our own turning away from a God of Love and Mercy. While we may admit this, outward signs are not enough. There is nothing that we can do in a solely exterior fashion: ripping our clothes, placing ashes upon our foreheads, which will, in and of itself, make a blind bit of difference. What matters, where it really counts, is on the inside. To rend one’s heart, is to lay ourselves open, to make ourselves vulnerable. It is in this openness and vulnerability, that we let God do His work.

It would be all too easy when faced with today’s Gospel to argue that outward displays of fasting, piety, and penitence, do not matter. But this is not what Jesus is getting at. What He criticises are deeds which are done to comply with the letter but not the spirit of the law. This mechanised approach to piety, a clinging to the external nature of religion, without any concern for its inward spiritual aspect, is where the fault lies. When things are done for show, when our piety is paraded as performance, so that the world may see how good and religious we are, then we are nothing but an empty shell, a whitened sepulchre. The reward that such people receive is likewise an empty one.

Instead, Jesus upholds the standard practice of Judaism, but emphasises that what matters is that what we do outwardly is completely in accordance with our interior life. Our actions are an outward manifestation of our relationship with God and with one another. So Lent is to be a time when we as Christians are to seek to be reconciled with God and each other, and to be in full communion with God and his church. Our outward acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving need to be done in tandem with, rather than instead of, paying attention to our interior life: otherwise our efforts are doomed to failure.

The God whom we worship is one of infinite love and mercy. This is demonstrated most fully and perfectly on Good Friday, when we see what that love really means. Then, for our sake, God made Him who was without sin into sin, so that we in Him might share the goodness of God. Or, as St Isaac of Nineveh, a seventh century Syrian saint puts it:

The sum of all is that God the Lord of all, out of fervent love for his creation, handed over his own Son to death on the cross “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for its sake.”(Jn 3:16) This was not because he could not have saved us in another way, but so that he might thereby the better indicate to us his surpassing love, so that, by the death of his only-begotten Son, he might bring us close to himself. Yes, if he had had anything more precious he would have given it to us so that our race might thereby be recovered. Because of his great love, he did not want to use compulsion on our freedom, although he would have been able to do so; but instead he chose that we should draw near to him freely, by our own mind’s love. [2]

As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.’ [3]

As dreadful as we might be, or think we are, as utterly undeserving of the father’s love, nonetheless, as the parable of the prodigal son shows us, there are no lengths to which God will not go for love of us. The love and mercy which flows from Jesus’ stricken side upon the cross at Calvary are still being poured out over the world, and will continue to be so until all is reconciled in him. In his commission of Peter after his resurrection, Jesus entrusts to His Church the power to forgive sins, to reconcile us to one another and also to God. This reconciliation is manifested by our restoration to fellowship with God and his Church. 

It is not the most comfortable or pleasant thing to see ourselves as we really are. To stand naked in front of a full length mirror is, for most of us, I suspect, not the most pleasant experience. And yet, such a self-examination is as nothing when compared with us completely baring our heart and soul. It is not a pleasant task. But we know that God will judge us in love and mercy. He has taken away our sins on the Cross. So, despite our apprehension, we have nothing to fear. All that awaits us is the embrace of a loving father. No matter how many times we fail, no matter how many times we run away or reject his love, His arms, like those of His Son upon the Cross, remain open to embrace us. To heal all the world of the wounds of sin and division.

Austin Farrer, a twentieth century Anglican theologian wrote:

If there are any of you determined to live a more Christian life, there is one resolution you need to make which is, out of all proportion, more important than the rest. Resolve to pray, to receive the sacraments, to shun besetting sins, to do good works – all excellent resolutions; but more important than any of these is the resolution to repent. The more resolutions you make, the more you will break. But it does not matter how many you break so long as you are resolute not to put off repentance when you break them, but to give yourself up to the mercy which will not despise a broken and a contrite heart. Converted or unconverted, it remains true of you that in you, that is, in your natural being, there dwells no good thing. Saints are not people who store goodness in themselves, they are just a people who do not delay to repent, and whose repentances are honourable. [4]

So then, may this Lent be for us all a time of repentance, a time for us to turn away from all which separates us from God and our neighbours. Let it be a time for reconciliation, for healing and growth. May the faith which we profess grow in our souls and shine forth in our lives to give Glory to God the Father, to whom with God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most right and just all Might, Majesty, Glory, Dominion, and Power, now and forever….

[1] H.H. Pope Bendict XVI Catechesis at the General Audience 22.ii.12: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-conquering-our-spiritual-desert

[2] from The Heart of Compassion: Daily Readings with St Isaac of Syria, ed. A.M. Allchin, tr. S. Brock, London, DLT, 1989, 13

[3] from The Heart of Compassion: Daily Readings with St Isaac of Syria, ed. A.M. Allchin, tr. S. Brock, London, DLT, 1989, 37

[4] Farrer (1976) The Brink of Mystery (ed. C. Conti), 17, quoted in Harries, R. (ed.) (1987) The One Genius: Readings through the year with Austin Farrer, London: SPCK, 60.

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Epiphany III Year C (Luke 4:14-21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epiphany II Yr C Jn2:1-11

In this morning’s first reading the prophet Isaiah is looking forward to a Messianic future, giving Israel a vision of something to hope for, how things will be when the Messiah comes. In the feast of the Epiphany kings saw God’s glory in Bethlehem. In the Baptism of Christ we saw God’s glory manifest in the Holy and Life-giving Trinity, in the obedience of the Son of God, and the way to salvation through baptism. Now in the first of Jesus’ signs we will see the fulfilment of prophecy. In Isaiah the joy of God’s kingdom is understood in terms of a marriage, such as we see in this morning’s Gospel. Everyone loves a party, and what better excuse could there be than a wedding: the joining together of a man and a woman, a sign of love, and joy, and commitment, something made holy and fruitful by God. 

At one level it symbolises God’s relationship with humanity brought about by the Incarnation: where God becomes human, so that humanity might come to share the divine life. The sheer joy of salvation, of hope in Christ, in uniting what sin had destroyed. What Isaiah looks forward to, is made real in Jesus Christ. And so the first of Jesus’ signs, demonstrations of the Kingdom of God takes place at a wedding, at Cana, in Galilee. 

It happens on the third day, just like the manifestation of God’s Glory in thunder and lightening at in Sinai in Exodus 19:16, it is less dramatic, but no less extraordinary. Jesus’ mother is there, so is He, and so are His Disciples. Marriages in the Bible are a community celebration. Lots of people are invited. It would be shameful for them to run out of wine, it’s not hospitable. Mary tells Jesus that they have no wine. And while Jesus’ reply may look like he’s upset, he doesn’t ignore her, or fail to comply with her request. His Hour has not yet come, and it will not, until Jesus dies upon the cross. It comes when He dies for our sins, when He makes a new Covenant in His Blood, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, who as both priest and victim reconciles humanity and divinity, and gives us the hope of heaven.

Mary simply says to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you’. She stands as a model of Christian obedience: the key to the Christian life is to follow Mary’s example, and do whatever Christ tells us, nothing more, nothing less, just that. Our life is rooted in obedience: we listen to God and we obey, for our own good, and the good of the Kingdom, so that we are not conformed to the world and its ways, but rather to the will of God, so that we can truly enter into the joy of the Lord, in humble obedience, fed by Him, and fed with Him, who died for love of us in obedience to the will of the Father.

There were six stone water jars there, for purification, holding twenty or thirty gallons each, about the size of a modern wheelie bin: one hundred and eighty gallons, or about six hundred and eighty litres, or the equivalent of one thousand four hundred and forty pints of beer, given that ancient wine was drunk diluted with two parts water. It’s a lot of wine to drink, and that’s the point: it’s a sign of the super-abundance of the Kingdom of God. It shows us that Christ is a type of Melchisedek, the priest-king of Salem, a priest of the most High God, who in Genesis 14:18-20 offers bread and wine to Abram. The steward is amazed, it’s the best wine he’s ever tasted. The steward had a point: you serve the best wine first, while people are sober and can appreciate it, but the Kingdom of God turns human values on their head — the joyous new wine of the Kingdom is finer than any human wine and is lavished upon undeserving humanity, so that it might transform us, so that we might come to share in the glory of God, and his very nature. 

It’s a reason for celebration, our being saved by Christ, and our vocation as Christians is JOY. We are called to be filled with Joy, the Joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The one whom we worship, the one who saves us, liked nothing better than to hang around at parties with social undesirables, and was accused of being a drunkard. In both Luke [7:34] and Matthew [11:19] we see Jesus rejoicing in such name-calling, ‘for the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”’ (Matthew 11:19) 

Our Christian lives are to be one of celebration, that we are saved, that God loves us. It is why we are here today at the Eucharist, a foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb, and the joy of heaven. It is where we drink the wine of the Kingdom the Blood of Christ so that we may be transformed by the power and the grace of God, so that we may share his Divine life, and encourage others to enter into the joy of the Lord.

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

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The Baptism of Christ Year C (Lk 3:15-17, 21-22)

The prophet Isaiah contains much that can lift the soul, and this morning’s first reading is no exception: ‘Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’ (Isa 43:1ESV) It is a verse which naturally speaks to us of baptism, as does the one which follows it: ‘When you pass through the waters I will be with you’ (Isa 43:2 ESV) God says not to be afraid, a perennial human problem, which we overcome by trusting Him. In our baptism God has redeemed us, because in it we share in Christ’s Death and Resurrection. It is how we are known to God, and named. It’s a wonderful thing, Baptism. And in Luke’s Gospel we see that people were keen on it. They’ve come out into the wilderness to be baptised by him. John has been preaching a baptism of repentance (Lk 3:3) turning away from sin, being washed, cleansed, and able to live new lives. 

We then have to ask ourselves the question, why is Jesus there? Jesus is not a sinner, he has no sins from which to repent, and yet he is there. Something is clearly going on. An explanation is that in His Baptism Jesus is in solidarity with sinful humanity: he does not wish us to undergo anything that he would not himself. He is an example of how to come to God and have new life. As a sign of divine approval after the Baptism, as Jesus is praying, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove, and God says, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ (Lk 3:22 ESV) Here, at this moment, we see the fullness of the Godhead, a manifestation of glory and divine presence. Just as in Noah’s Ark God makes his love manifest in the form of a dove so now He brings us peace and love. The Divine Trinity makes itself manifest in recognition of the Son’s obedience to the Father, and looks forward to the Cross, where God’s love is poured out upon the world, and through which we are saved, as by our own baptism, a sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection. In His Baptism as in His Death, Christ shows us the way to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Ans so all of our life as Christians is Trinitarian. We are baptised in the name of the Holy and Life-giving Trinity. Our worship this morning began by invoking their name, through them we are sanctified and restored, so that we can be gathered as wheat into the barn, rather than the chaff which will be burned with unquenchable fire. It is a matter of life and death, of being with God, loved by Him, and redeemed by Him, or rejecting that love. It is not for nothing that God speaks through the pophet Isaiah, saying, ‘Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’ (Isa 43:7 ESV) This is what the church is fo: to fulfil the will of God, to do His work, to bring people everywhere to salvation in and through Him. Through this we know that God loves us, ‘because you are precious in my eyes, and honoured and I love you’. (Isa 43: 4 ESV) This is Good News. God loves us, he tells us in Scripture, and shows us in His Son. It is why we are here today, so that we might be reminded of how much God loves us, and how He loves us in His Son Jesus Christ, who shows us the way to the Father, who dies for us, and sends His Holy Spirit upon us, that we might live in Him. 

It is the will of God that humanity come to share in the Divine Life, that we might have the hope of heaven, and as a sign of that on the night before Christ died he took bread and wine and said, ‘This is my Body …. This is my Blood …. Do this.’ And we do. For nearly two thousand years the Church has baptised and nourished people with the Eucharist so that they might know that they are loved by God, and saved by Him. Baptism and Eucharist — how we are saved and given eternal life by God. 

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus shows humanity the way to the Father, through himself. The world sees the generous love of God, which heals and restores us, from the darkness of the dungeon of sin and evil, to the light and life of the Kingdom of God. As our baptism is a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so His Baptism points to the Cross, where streams of blood and water flow to cleanse and heal the world. We see the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the obedience of Son, and all for us, who are so weak and foolish, and who need God’s love and healing, and forgiveness.

We need this, the whole world needs it, but is too proud to turn to a God of love, for fear of judgement, knowing that they deserve to be cut off forever, and yet it is exactly such people, such lost sheep that Our Lord comes to seek, whom he enfolds in his loving arms on the Cross, whom he washes in the waters of baptism, so that all may be a part of him, regardless of whom they are, and what they have done. Salvation is the free gift of God and open to all who turn to him.

Ours is a faith which can transform the world, so that all humanity can share in God’s life and love, each and every one of us can become part of something radical and revolutionary, which can and will transform the world one soul at a time, it may sound strange, crazy even, but that is the point. Rather than human violence, cruelty, and murder, the only way to transform the world is through the love of God. This is what the church is for, what it’s all about; it is why we are gathered here, to be strengthened and nourished, through prayer, the Word of God, and the Sacraments of the Church, strengthened and nourished to live out our faith in our lives to transform the world. Nothing more, nothing less, just a revolution of love, of forgiveness, and healing, which the world both wants and needs, so let us live it so that the world may be transformed and 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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Christmas 2018

Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν·

Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3

He became human so that we might become divine

Few of us here today have much experience of living under despotic regimes. We are fortunate indeed. A large part of humanity has not been so lucky, and even today there are plenty of people who are not able to come together as we do, to celebrate the wonderful news given by the angels to the shepherds outside Bethlehem. Peace on earth, and good will amongst men seem in fairly short supply. What can we do? We can pray, and we can worship Almighty God, who comes among us.

We have come here tonight to celebrate something which defies our understanding and expectations. The simple fact that the God who created all that is took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born for us in Bethlehem as the Messiah, the Anointed of God, who would save us from our sins, should still feel strange and odd. It simply doesn’t make sense, nor indeed should it. In human terms, Mary should have been stoned to death for extra-marital infidelity, and some thirty three years later her son is executed as a blasphemer, a rabble-rouser, a trouble maker, in an awkward backwater of the Roman Empire, having gathered round himself a small group of misfits and undesirables appealing to the baser elements of society. There is nothing respectable here. And yet here we are, some two thousand years later, celebrating the birth of a child who changed human history and human nature, because we do not judge things solely by human standards. We come together so that we may ponder the mystery of God’s love for us, a God who heals our wounds, who restores broken humanity, who offers us a fresh start, who can see beyond our failures and shortcomings, and who becomes a human being so that humanity might become divine, so that we may share in the divine life of love, both here on earth and in heaven. The Word became flesh, and lived among us. These few words express what the Christian faith is all about, and how it can change the world.

If that isn’t a cause for celebration, I don’t know what is. We are so familiar with the story of Christmas that I wonder whether we, myself included, really take the time to ponder, and to marvel at the mystery which unfolded two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. God, who made all that is, comes among us, taking flesh in the womb of a young girl through the power of His Holy Spirit, so that in His Son we might see and experience God and His love for us. 

God comes among us not in power or splendour but as a weak, vulnerable child, depending on others for love, and food, and warmth. He is laid in an animal’s feeding trough, insulated from the cold hard stone by straw  — hardly a royal birth, and not what we would expect of God, and that’s the point. It is supposed to be surprising, and to shock us. So now God would be with his pilgrim people on earth – sharing all of human life, from birth to death, so that we might, through him, share the Divine Life of Love, that of God the Holy Trinity: a relational God who invites humanity to share that relationship, who offers it freely, and to all. The sheer exuberance of such an offer, is almost profligate: it is generous in a way which defies our human expectation and our human understanding. 

Throughout his life all that Christ says and does shows us how much God loves us. The Word becomes flesh, and enters the world, he dwells among us, a wondrous mystery which provokes us to worship, to kneel with the shepherds and to adore the God who comes among us, who shares our human life so that we might share His divine life, not because we asked for it, not because we deserve it, we haven’t worked for it, or earned it, rather it is the free gift of a loving and merciful God, this then is the glory of God – being born in simple poverty, surrounded by outcasts, on the margins of society, to call humanity to a new way of being together, where the old order is cast aside, turning the world upside down and offering us the possibility of living in a radically different way, a way of peace and love and joy, not one of power. Heaven comes to earth, born in the womb of a Virgin, so that we might behold the glory of God in a new-born child. So that we might experience the love and truth of God.

The word is made flesh so that prophesy might be fulfilled, so that the hope of salvation might be dawn, so that a people who have languished long in darkness might behold the glory of God where heaven and earth meet, in a stable in Bethlehem, where men and angels may sing together ‘Alleluia, Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace to people of goodwill’ The worship of heaven is joined with earth on this most holy night, that in the quiet and stillness all the earth might be filled with the praises of Almighty God, who stoops to save humanity in the birth of His Son. 

The Son who lives and dies and rises again for us will be here tonight under the outward forms of bread and wine so that the heavenly banquet may nourish our souls. He gives Himself so that we might share His Divinity, so that God’s love can transform our human nature, having redeemed it in His Nativity. So let us come to sing his praises, and be nourished with His Body and Blood and experience here on earth the joy of Heaven and the closeness and the love of God, let it fill our souls with joy, and let us live lives which recognise the wondrous thing which happens tonight, that it may be a reality in our lives, that we may may proclaim in word and deed the reality of the Word made flesh, so that others may be drawn to kneel and worship like the shepherds, like the Holy Family of Mary and Joseph, and come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

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Advent IV Year C

The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have taken Mary and Joseph about a week on foot, it’s hard work, and uphill all the way. Bethlehem was associated with two figures in the Bible: David, Israel’s second king, and his ancestor Ruth, the Moabitess, whose love and devotion to her mother in law Naomi are inspiring. It is a hill town, and source of water about five miles south of Jerusalem, where shepherds would raise sheep for the Passover sacrifice in the Temple, first-born males, holy to the Lord. A fertile, fruitful place, a place of promise. It is a place with the prophet Micah sees as the starting place for a future for Israel. One ‘whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days’ (Micah 5:2 ESV) The Incarnate Word of God, who has always been, and will always be: Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Good Shepherd, who will ‘shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.’ (Micah 5:4-5a ESV) He will be our peace, because He makes peace, ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’ (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV) What is prophesied by Micah is fulfilled in Jesus. All scripture points to Him, and finds its fulfilment in Him, the Word made Flesh. 

In the letter to the Hebrews we see the prophecy of Psalm 40:6-8 fulfilled in Christ. The sacrifices of the old covenant are replaced in the new covenant with the sacrifice of God for humanity. Sacrifice is fulfilled and completed, once and for all. It is this sacrifice, which the church pleads and re-presents. The eternal offering of a sinless victim, to free humanity of its sins, to restore our relationship with God and one another. It is an act of perfect obedience: the body prepared by God for Christ to do His will and sanctify humanity, to heal us and restore us.

In this morning’s Gospel Mary does not tell Elizabeth that she is pregnant. By the power of the Holy Spirit, John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, announces the coming of the Saviour by leaping for joy in his mother’s womb. It’s important. There’s no time to waste: Mary arose and went with haste to see her cousin Elizabeth and tell her the Good News. Time is of the essence for us too: not for the frantic fulfilment of consumerism and the world around us: last-minute presents, or enough food to satisfy even the most gluttonous. No, we have to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our lives, so that Christ may be born again in US, so that we may live His life and proclaim his truth to the world.

Through the prompting of her son and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth can cry ‘Blessèd are you among women, and blessèd is the fruit of your womb!’ Elizabeth recognises that Mary’s obedience, her humble ‘Yes’ to God undoes the sinfulness of Eve. That she who knew no sin might give birth to Him who would save us and all humanity from our sin. It is through the love and obedience of Mary that God’s love and obedience in Christ can be shown to the world, demonstrated in absolute perfection, when for love of us he opens his arms to embrace the world with the healing love of God on the Cross. He will be the good Shepherd, laying down his life for his flock that we may dwell secure. We prepare to celebrate Christmas because it points us to the Cross and beyond, in showing us once and for all that God loves us.

We honour Mary because in all things she points to her Son, Jesus. It’s not about her, it’s all about Him. We honour the Mother of God; we worship the Son of God. We worship Him who died for love of us, who gave himself, as the Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, to die so that we might live. The process of salvation starts with a young woman being greeted by an angel, and saying, ‘Yes’ to God. Her cousin Elisabeth recognises this. Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, leaps in her womb. While not yet born, he recognises the presence of a Saviour, and proclaims Him. Our salvation is very close indeed. We can feel it. We know that God keeps His promises. We can prepare to celebrate the festival with JOY, because we know what is about to happen: a baby will be born who will save humanity from their sins, whom John the Baptist will recognise as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.This is the Good news we share with the world around us: that God loves us, was born for us, and dies for us. Everything, all that Jesus is and says and does, from His taking flesh in the womb of His mother, His Birth, His life, Death and Resurrection proclaim God’s love to us:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 33:14-16 ESV)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.’ (Jeremiah 29:11-13 ESV)

So my dear brothers and sisters let us prepare to meet Him, living out our faith in our lives, and encourage others so to do. So that that the world may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Advent III Year C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent I Year C: Jer 33:14-16; 1Thess 3:9-4:2; Lk 21:25-36

Advent is a time to be alert, to be watchful, because we are to be ready for Christ when He comes: in our hearts, through faith, in our annual remembrance of His birth at Christmas, and when He will come again as our Saviour and our Judge. We need to be ready, which is why we have this season of preparation, to help us. We don’t say the Gloria in excelsis, so that it may ring out with joy, as we join our voices with the angels celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas.We use purple, a dark colour which reminds us both of royalty and penitence. We serve a King, and we are aware of our own shortcomings, and our need to prepare to meet Christ. It is good and healthy to be reminded of how we have all fallen short, to ask God for forgiveness and mercy, and to be reminded that God is loving and merciful, and has taken away our sins on the Cross, to save us.

In our first reading this morning, the prophet Jeremiah declares that God fulfils His promises: we can trust Him. He will cause a righteous branch to spring forth, His Son, Jesus, who embodies justice and righteousness. Jesus shows us how to live, declares God’s love, and dies for love of us. In the Letter to the Thessalonians   we see the injunction to be loving one another and all people, because LOVE is the heart of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. God loves us, so we should love one another. This is how we should live and be pleasing to God, and prepare for the fact that Jesus is coming again. 

If we consider the parable in today’s Gospel, the parable of the Fig Tree, two things are apparent, firstly fig trees are clearly visible and easily recognisable in the Middle Eastern Landscape – when Our Lord comes it will be apparent to all and sundry. Secondly, figs, as fruit take a long time to ripen, so as their visibility shows us that the Kingdom of God is close at hand, their long ripening shows us that we need to be prepared to wait, for all things will happen at their appointed time, a time which even the Son Himself does not know.

In the meantime we need to guard against Drunkenness and Hangovers (not those caused by the inevitable Christmas party) but the metaphorical kind –- a lack of alertness, a sluggishness with regard to the Gospel, and an excessive concern with the worries of this life, instead we need be alert and watchful which will allow us to ‘stand tall when others faint’. We need to be prepared to meet Jesus as our Saviour and our Judge, freed from the cares of this world

God has made a promise, through the mouth of His prophet, Jeremiah, a promise of salvation and safety, which is brought about through the Blessed Virgin Mary’s ‘Yes’ to God, which will lead to the Incarnation and thereby the Salvation of the whole world wrought upon the altar of the Cross. It is this faithful and loving God whom we wait for, a merciful judge. Thus, Advent, the preparation for the coming of Jesus as new-born infant and Judge is a time of hope and joy. We can like the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church in Thessalonica be filled with joy for the Lord, resolute in our prayer for and encouragement of one another as a Christian family. 

This prayer and encouragement leads to an increase of love for both God and our neighbour. This is what living the Christian life means, something we do all through the week. This is the preparation we, as Christians, need. It is something which we cannot do on our own; we need to do it together, encouraging one another to live lives filled with the love which comes from God, which is God’s very nature as a Trinity of persons. This love and a freedom from the cares of this world is what Jesus comes to bring us, this is our deliverance, our liberation from sin. It is this love and freedom which makes God give himself to us this morning under the outward forms of Bread and Wine, a love we can touch and taste, which will transform us, and fill us with His love.

What greater present could we offer to the Infant Jesus than hearts filled with love and lives lived in the true freedom proclaimed by the Gospel. Thus, at one level it doesn’t matter whether the Second Coming is today or in a million years time, what matters is living lives infused with the values of the Kingdom of God, a joyful and yet a serious business. We know what we should be doing, and this is something we as Christians need to do together, praying for the Grace of God to help us, to strengthen us and fill us with that Love which comes from Him. We may feel unsure, unsafe, and worried but relying on God as part of His family, the Church, we can take courage and be alert to take part in that great adventure which is the Kingdom of God.

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30th Sunday of Year B: Mark 10:46-52

Ours is a world which is characterised by FEAR: it is everywhere. We are afraid concerning Britain’s exit from the European Union, how our climate will change in the future, at the state of global politics and whether there will be another World War, a nuclear cataclysm, or a global pandemic. In short we know that all is not right with the world. We’re not entirely sure what to do about it, but we know that something is wrong. 

This situation is not unlike that faced by the people of Israel in exile, as addressed by the prophet Jeremiah. They have turned away from the Lord, and worshipped false gods and seen their land destroyed and captured, and been driven into exile in Babylon. And yet there is hope. God has not abandoned his people, but gives them a promise of healing, and of a bright future. The people will return weeping, sorry for their sins, and looking for God’s compassion and forgiveness. As then, so now. At this time of year we give thanks to God for another harvest being safely gathered in, we give thanks for all those who work, so that we might have food to eat, and things to drink. We also need to say sorry for the way in which we treat God’s Creation, the world in which we live: that we are not always good stewards, that we pollute the world, that we live in a world which produces enough food and yet people are hungry. We need to share what we have, so that all may be fed. This is how God wants us to live, and the greatest harvest we can offer is the harvest of our souls living lives of love, kindness and generosity. 

On the way out of Jericho in the Gospel this morning we have a deeply instructive picture. Bartimaeus is sitting by the roadside, a blind beggar, unable to work, a man who has to rely upon the charity of others to live. He hears a commotion, and asks who is coming by. He is told that it is Jesus of Nazareth, so he cries out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ In his words he does two things: he recognises who Jesus is, that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will save Israel, the one spoken of by the prophets; and he asks for mercy, for God’s forgiveness and compassion. The people around him tell him to be quiet, he’s an embarrassment, he’s making a fuss! But he cries out all the more, he won’t be silent, he is not afraid to make a scene. Jesus asks them to call him. At which point the attitude of the crowd changes, and they tell Bartimaeus, ‘Cheer up, Get up, he’s calling you.’ Jesus asks Bartimaeus, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He asks to recover his sight, so Jesus says, ‘Go on your way, your faith has made you well.’ His sight is restored, and Bartimaeus follows Jesus along the road.

The first followers of Jesus were known as followers of the Way, (Acts 9:2) and this is what Bartimaeus becomes: he follows him on the way, both literally and metaphorically. He trusts Jesus, he has faith in Him, and he follows Him. In Mark’s Gospel the story of Bartimaeus acts as a bridge between the teaching and miracles of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and his time in Jerusalem which leads up to His death. He will enter Jerusalem on a donkey, as the Messiah, and will teach the people of Jerusalem how to follow God, fulfilling the hope and expectation of the prophets. Bartimaeus has faith which allows him to see, whereas the people of Jerusalem cannot see that Jesus is the Messiah, they are blind, whereas Bartimaeus can see, and follows Jesus on the Way. 

It is a way which will lead to Jesus’ death on the Cross, where He offers Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It is through this that God’s promise of healing first made through the prophets can be put into effect. Because God has done this we can be healed and restored, and we are able to say, ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’. We are able to celebrate a harvest, knowing that the greatest harvest we can offer God is the harvest of souls, like Bartimaeus, who have faith, and who follow Jesus on the Way. 

We all long to be on the path that leads to God, a God who saves us, who loves us, who heals and restores us. As it says in John’s Gospel ‘I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ If we walk with the eyes of faith we will be on a straight path, to the one who heals and restores humanity.

All the world needs to cry, ‘Jesus, son of God have mercy on me’. We need to know our need of God, we need to be healed and restored by him, like Bartimaeus. The world needs this to be fully alive in God, to turn away from sin and the ways of the world: living for others rather than ourselves, loving God and our neighbour. We should remember what Jesus said earlier in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 2:17) ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Christ came on our behalf, to bind up our wounds, to call us to follow Him.

The sin which mars God’s image in us, which separates us from God, which stops us from being what we can be, is borne by Jesus on the Cross. He binds our wounds by bearing the mark of nails, he heals us with the stream of his blood which flows on Calvary. By his stripes we are healed. We are healed by him so that we may see clearly and travel along the path of faith. It is a straight path on which we should not stumble, journeying with our wounded healer, to live out our faith in our lives as those healed and called by Christ and made part of his body, the church, healed by his sacraments, fed by his word and his Body and Blood, to be strengthened on our journey of faith, it is why we are here today, to be fed by him and with him, that our wounds may be healed.

We are all of us sinners in need of the love and mercy of him who bled for us on Calvary and who rose again for us, that we might share new life in him. Let us be fed by him, restored and healed by him, to have life in all its fullness. For we follow the one who heals us not out of blind obedience or fear but through joy, the joy of being free and truly alive in Christ. So let us live that life 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.

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Twenty-fourth Sunday of Year B – Who do you say Jesus is?

In the Gospel this morning we see the importance of Questions and Answers. Jesus first asks the question, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ The disciples answer, saying what they’ve heard people say, ‘some say John the Baptist, others Elijah or one of the prophets’ J. Jesus then asks the question, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29 ESV) He asks that question to His disciples, and he asks it to us: Who do we say Jesus is? Just a man? A Holy Man? A spiritual teacher? Or something more? Are we happy to say that he’s a prophet, but just a man, to deny His Divinity, or can we say that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. If we are happy to say this is this simply the end of the matter or is more asked of us? We have to say that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Nothing else will do! Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, Unitarians, and many other people will say many things about Jesus, but not that he was the Messiah, the Anointed One, who would save people from their sins. He is truly God, and truly man, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Peter confesses who Jesus is, but then Jesus goes on to teach His disciples ‘that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.’ (Mk 8:31 ESV) Because Jesus is who He is, the Messiah, the Son of God, then He has to die. In our first reading from the prophecy of Isaiah it is clearly foretold that the servant, that is Jesus, will be rejected and mistreated, and killed. Now Peter clearly doesn’t like it, he doesn’t understand how people could treat Jesus this way. Peter can only see things in human terms, and despite confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter doesn’t want Jesus to suffer and die. He doesn’t fully understand what this means. It has to happen, so that Scripture might be fulfilled, and to show the world how much God loves us. God loves us SO MUCH that he gives his own Son to suffer and die, so that we might live. 

So Jesus says to the assembled crowd, including His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mk 8:34-5 ESV) We are Christians, through our common baptism, we follow Christ, we do what He says. So this applies to each and every one of us. We have to deny ourselves, take up OUR cross, and follow Jesus. 

We have to deny ourselves — Now I know that I’m not good at saying, ‘No’. But I have to, I try to, and that’s the point. Denying ourselves means that we don’t put ourselves, or thoughts and desires at the centre of our lives — we put God there, where He belongs. God gives us GRACE to do this: through prayer, through reading the Bible, through the Sacraments of the Church, to help us.

We have to take up our Cross. The Cross is an instrument of torture and death, and it means pain and suffering. That is not pleasant or easy. We can understand why Peter says what he does, but the Christian life is not easy or without suffering. Mother Teresa, St Teresa of Calcutta once said that, “Suffering is a sign that we have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss us and that he can show that he is in love with us by giving us an opportunity to share in his passion.” (My Life for the Poor, 77) When we suffer, we are close to Christ, we share in His Passion, and are conformed to His image. It is part of the mystery of God’s love, that it can transform us, but that transformation is not pleasant or easy, but in it we experience God’s LOVE. 

We have to follow Jesus, we have to do what He says, which sounds easy in theory, but in practice is rather difficult. It is something which we do together, as a Church. Love and forgiveness sound easy, but they aren’t.  They make demands on us, and force us to do things that we might not like to do. But we can support each other, and rely upon the grace of God to help us as we try to do this.  

Our Faith is first and foremost about our relationship with Jesus Christ, someone who loves us so much that He dies for us. He takes away our sins, and restores our relationship with God and each other. And he gives himself here to us today, under the outward forms of bread and wine, in His Body and His Blood, to heal us, and restore us.

What Jesus does for us and for humanity is wonderful. It is an amazing demonstration of God’s love for us. He calls us to follow Him and bear our own Cross. To follow Christ in living out that same suffering love, to show the same compassion to the world, the same forgiveness. To follow Christ is to experience pain and anguish, heartache and loss, there is no magic wand to make things disappear. But rather, as we try to live out our faith, stumbling and failing as we go, we are drawn ever more into the mystery of God’s love and forgiveness. We become people of compassion, of reconciliation, who can see beyond petty human trifles, squabbles, and arguments, to the Kingdom of God where restored humanity can be enfolded for ever in the love of God. 

Opposed to this are the ways of the world: the ways of money, and of power. Yet none of us can be saved by who we are or our possessions. Once we die they are of no use to us, and what then? All the wealth and power in the world cannot save our soul. They cannot make us truly happy in the way that following Christ, and entering into his suffering can. God’s love is shown most fully when Christ dies for love of us, when he bears the weight of human sin, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. This is how the Messiah reigns, not on a throne, but on a Cross. And when he comes at the end of time to judge the world, as he surely will, a judgement of which the Apostle James is all too well aware, let us not be among the adulterous and sinful generation of those who are ashamed of Christ, but let us instead be in Him, fed with Him, living His life, so that the world may come to believe and give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

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23rd Sunday of Year B: Jesus heals us

All of us in our lives have at some point known what it is to feel unwell. You long to feel well again, to be restored to health. In the same way, the human soul longs for intimacy with the Creator, with God, who loves us, and who made us in His image. We long for God, the ultimate human longing. And yet God longs to heal us, to restore us. It is why He sent His Son to born among us, to proclaim His Kingdom, and to die and rise again for us. Our God is a God of healing, who out of love for us gives Himself for us, so that we might live in Him.

In this morning’s Old Testament reading we see Isaiah prophesying about the Kingdom of God, and the Messiah: it is wonderful. Blind people see, Dumb people speak, the lame walk. People with disabilities were often seen as outcasts, ritually impure, and cursed by God through sin. The Messiah will, however, bring healing, and bring the outcasts back in. Isaiah speaks of joy, refreshment and new life in God, it’s what the Kingdom of God looks and feels like. And it’s what we will experience here this morning. These are the promises fulfilled in the Word made flesh. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who took our flesh and lived and died to heal us, to restore in us the image of God, in which we were created.

This is why in the Gospels Jesus performs miracles: not to show off his power, or to attract followers, or to win popularity or power, but to show God’s healing love for people who know their need of God. The miracles are first and foremost prophetic acts which announce God’s Kingdom among us: a kingdom of love and mercy and healing, where humanity is restored and valued.

This morning’s second reading from the Letter of St James shows us how to live our lives as Christians in an authentic manner. We are all equal in the eyes of God. We should not make the distinctions of which the world around us is so fond. Here in church we don’t have special seats. I sit where I do because I am leading God’s people in worship, not because I’m ‘special’, or better than anyone else. Set apart, certainly, but in order to bring the people of God closer to Him and each other. If we live our lives without judging others, we can be as free as the deaf mute healed by Jesus. The ways of the world will not bind and constrain us; we can instead serve Him, whose service is perfect freedom. 

In the Gospel this morning we can ask the question ‘Is Jesus a racist?’ Does the derogatory way in which He talks to the Syrophoenician woman mean that Jewish people are somehow superior? Not at all! Jesus takes the existing common prejudice to show howGod’s love, mercy, and healing are for all those who turn to Him. The woman shows faith in God, and her daughter is healed. Rather than being an exclusive event for the Chosen people, healing and salvation are for all who turn to God. 

This morning’s Gospel shows us God’s love and God’s healing. It is what we all need. I certainly need it: as I’m weak, broken, vulnerable, and sinful, and in need of what only God can give us. All of us, if we were to be honest are in need too. We need God to be at work in our lives, healing us, restoring us, helping us to grow more and more into his image. It would be foolish or arrogant to think otherwise: that we know it all, that we’re quite alright, thank you very much. Can we come to Jesus, and can we ask him to heal us, through prayer, through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the true balm of Gilead which can heal the sin-sick soul? We can and we should, indeed we must so that we can continue to live out our baptism as Christians.

God heals us and cleanses us of our sins, and restores us, so that we can have life in Him, and life in all its fulness. We don’t deserve it, that is the point. We’re not worthy of it. We haven’t earned it. We cannot. God gives it to us in His love and mercy: that is GRACE. Undeserved kindness given to transform us more and more into God’s likeness. It is given, just like the Eucharistic Banquet of Christ’s Body and Blood, so that God can be at work in us, and through us. It is given so that we may be healed and transformed. We may not look or even feel any different, but bit by bit, and week by week we are being changed more and more into God’s likeness. 

God’s Kingdom of love and healing is a reality which we can experience here, this morning, where God gives His own self, His Body and Blood to us, to heal us and restore us. 

The world around us is DEAF to Jesus. It does not want to, or is not able to listen to the proclamation of the Kingdom. It longs for the healing which God offers, but is unable or unwilling to hear what God offers, through His Son, Jesus Christ. We have to pray that God may be at work in our world, and that We respond to people as they seek God, and His healing love. God heals us so that we might encourage others to know God’s love. That’s what the Church is for: a place of healing, a hospital for sick souls, full of people who need God. 

As those loved and healed by Him we need to live out the reality of our faith in our lives, showing the love and forgiveness to others which God shows to us. So that all of our lives 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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22nd Sunday of Year B – Living like Jesus

How we live our lives matters greatly. It is important because what we do helps to form our moral character, how we know to do the right thing. Human beings are creatures of habit. The more we do things, the more they become second nature. We become what we think or do often. There’s no point in just having the appearance of someone good. Outward conformity isn’t what God wants of us. Quite the opposite! We need to bear in mind God’s word to Samuel,‘for the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ (1Samuel 16:7 [ESV]) 

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

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is uncompromising when dealing with the hypocrisy of the Scribes and the Pharisees: their religion is a façade, a sham, something done for show, for outward appearance, whereas we know, from the teaching of the prophets onward, that God looks at what is truly in our heart. If our motives are suspect then, we’re in trouble. The point is simple: what we do affects who and what we are, hence the need for the people of Israel to observe the statutes and ordinances without any additions or subtractions. 

Likewise, the advice of the Letter of James is that people should in all gentleness and humility both listen to the word of God and do what it says, so that their thoughts and words and actions proclaim the truth that Christ died to save them from their sins and rose again that they might have new life in Him.

Rather than the pharisaic obsession with exterior cleanliness (and the letter of the Law) Our Lord and Saviour is concerned with the cleanliness of people’s souls, as it is from within, from the human heart, that sinfulness can spring. His point is a simple one: we become what we do, and thus the formation of a moral character is important, and can only be brought about by doing the right things.

The problem is that, despite our best intentions, we will fail in our endeavours. So what do we do? Is it simply a case that having tried and failed we are written off, cast aside and prepared for hell and damnation? By no means! Just as in the Gospel Jesus commands his followers to keep forgiving those who sin; our lives should be ones where we are continually seeking God’s forgiveness and that of our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that slowly and surely, as part of a gradual process, as people forgiven and forgiving, we try day by day to live out our faith in our lives. It is something which affects us all, each and every one of us, and it is only when we can live it out in our lives that our proclamation of the Kingdom can look authentic rather than running the risk of being accused of hypocrisy. 

So, we seek forgiveness and forgive others, by being close to God in prayer, in reading the Bible, and in the sacraments of the Church, and in the love and service which we have for each other as a Christian community. A Christian community which recognises that we fail but also that together we can be something greater and more wonderful than we would be if we are apart.

In recent years as a reaction to the frantic pace of modern life people are re-discovering slowness. There is a slow food movement even slow television. We are encouraged to be mindful and meditate. These are good things, an antidote to the modern obsession with instant results and gratification.

This is the work of a lifetime, a work of slow progress, and frustrating setbacks. It is not easy. To succeed we need to rely upon God to be at work in us throughout our lives. The French Jesuit priest and poet, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote :

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new.

….

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

….

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

[Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Making of a Mind: Letters from a Soldier-Priest 1914-1919 (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 57.]

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

When we are formed by God together then we can be built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. We proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, through forgiveness and sacrificial love, rather than by being bitter and judgemental and blind to our own faults: like the scribes and Pharisees: eager to point out the sins of others and yet blind to their own faults, failures and shortcomings. Instead, clothed in the humility of our knowledge of our need of God’s love and mercy, let us come to Him, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, to be healed and restored by him, so that we can live lives which speak of the power of his kingdom so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen

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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.
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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.

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Easter IV — The Good Shepherd [Acts 4:5-12; 1John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18]

If you ask people about Wales they will probably mention Rugby Football, Singing, and Sheep. The first two we do with great passion or hwyl, and thanks to the large amount of hills and mountains there are here, it is ideal countryside for rearing sheep. As animals go, they often don’t get a good press: they are seen as simple creatures, unable to give birth without assistance, it’s hardly flattering to be compared to sheep, and yet throughout the Bible we see references to sheep and shepherds, important for a nomadic people.

Sheep are gentle creatures, they need help and protection, so that they don’t wander off, and are protected from wolves. The relationship between God and Israel is often described as like a shepherd and his sheep. They know each other, there is a close bond between them, and they need the care and protection of a shepherd. They love company, they like to be together in a flock. Their needs are simple: grass and water. They are not violent or nasty, but they need to be cared for, and loved, and helped.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus says of himself, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (Jn 10:11 ESV) Jesus lays down His life for us. He offers it willingly, and out of love, to die, and to be crucified for us. This is the heart of our faith as Christians: Jesus loves us, Jesus dies for us, and rises again. It is simple, profound and extraordinary. God loves us this much, that he suffers the most painful, shameful, and degrading death for us, to demonstrate love in action. 

Such love requires a response from us, and John, the beloved disciple puts his finger on it in this morning’s epistle, ‘By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers’ (1John 3:16 ESV). We lay down our lives for each other, in love and service. This is what being a Christian looks like in practice — we do the right thing, regardless of the cost. The world around us will tell us to be selfish, and self-centred, to think of ourselves before others, the ‘I’m alright Jack mentality’. It is selfish, and sinful, and wrong. We offer the world something different, sure it is costly, but it proclaims the simple truth that another way is possible, and that we march to the beat of a different tune. We can have the courage and the confidence to do this because Christ rose from the dead, and offers eternal life to those who follow Him. This life is not all that there is. We are preparing for the hope of Heaven, made possible by Christ, by living out our faith here and now. It has the power to the change the world, a soul at a time, because we ARE revolutionaries. We want people to join us, and be like Jesus. He lays down His life for us, and expects to follow His example, and lay down our lives to follow Him. It takes commitment, it isn’t just something you do in a building for an hour on a Sunday morning, it takes over your entire life. I know, for a variety of reasons. Firstly in ordination I offered my life to Jesus, for the service of his church, and secondly in last twelve months I got married, and we got a dog. Marriage and dog ownership are both lifelong commitments, and are both about learning to love, and forgive. My life is far more wonderful and richer than I could have imagined because of the commitments I have made. Yes, they are costly, but they are wonderful. To a world scared by commitment I would have to say, don’t be afraid, dive in, and have a go. You will make mistakes, but as love and forgiveness go hand in hand, through them you have the chance to change, to blossom, and become something other than you were before. This is true for the Christian faith. It offers salvation, through faith, as St Peter puts it in this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, ‘And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’(Acts 4:12 ESV) Jesus offers what no-one else can, salvation and eternal life to those who believe in Him, and follow Him. This truly is good news, true freedom, which the world needs to hear. No-one else can save them, money in the bank, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, they may be pleasant and useful, but they can’t save you. Only Jesus, the Good Shepherd, can do that. He still offers the chance to become bart of His flock, under the One Shepherd, to have life, and life in all its fulness, eternal life, with Him, forever. Just as the apostles testified to the healing power of His name, so that same healing is offered to all who believe and trust in Him. It’s not a magic wand, but a chance to enter into a relationship which can take away our sins, heal our souls, our bodies and our lives. 

He lays down His life for us, and He gives himself here today, under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we can be healed by Him, and given a foretaste of heaven in His Body, and His Blood. Here today, as on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, we meet to be fed by Christ, and fed with Christ, to be healed, to know his love, love you can touch and taste. 

What more wonderful proof could we ask for than this, to feast on the Body and Blood of Him who died for us, and rose again. Who gives himself so that we might have life. Let us be filled with His Love, and His Life, let it transform us, and all the world that it may come to know Him, to trust Him, to love Him, and be fed by Him, to give praise 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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Good Friday

Love has three and only three intimacies: speech, vision, and touch. These three intimacies God has chosen to make his love intelligible to our poor hearts. God has spoken: he told us that he loves us: that is revelation. God has been seen: that is the incarnation. God has touched us by his grace: that is redemption. Well indeed, therefore, may he say: ‘What more could I do for my vineyard than I have done? What other proof could I give my love than to exhaust myself in the intimacies of love? What else could I do to show that my own Sacred Heart is not less generous than your own?’

If we answer these questions aright, then we will begin to repay love with love …. then we will return speech with speech which will be our prayer; vision with vision which will be our faith; touch with touch which will be our communion.

Fulton J Sheen The Eternal Galilean

Prophets have a job to do. They tell people things, usually uncomfortable home truths. It isn’t a popular job, and generally speaking prophets are not treated well. A number of them end up being killed. There is a tradition that Isaiah was sawn in half on the orders of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah. Amos was tortured and killed, Habbakuk and Jeremiah were stoned. And John the Baptist was beheaded to satisfy the whim of Salome. Telling the truth is a risky business. When we proclaim the truth of our faith to the world around us we are met with contempt and unbelief.

The prophets look towards a future, with an anointed leader, a Messiah, the Christ. They point towards Jesus, and they like all of the Hebrew Scriptures find their fullest meaning in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Christ is the fulfilment of Scripture – it finds its truest and fullest meaning in Him, and Him alone. The Scriptures point to something beyond themselves, to our Lord and Saviour, and it is thus understandable that tIsaiah has been called the fifth Gospel, because of his prophesies especially concerning Our Lord’s Birth, Suffering and Death.

This is not a new phenomenon; in the 8th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we see the meeting of Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch, who is reading this very passage which we have just heard — the Suffering Servant. Philip asks him if he can understand what he is reading. He replies that he cannot, unless someone shows him the way. ‘Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35 ESV). Isaiah’s prophesy of the Suffering Servant is fulfilled in Jesus and this is the proclamation of the Church: we proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified. The proclamation remains the same, as the church continues to understand Isaiah, and all the Old Testament as pointing to Christ.

We read scripture so that we can understand it, and see in its words how it discloses the truth of the Word made flesh, who suffered and died for our sake. Isaiah, in the Songs of the Suffering Servant, prophesies Our Lord’s Passion and Death. Thus it makes sense, it can be understood, and the more we come to understand, the more we come to know just how much God loves us, and how that tale of love is told through history.

Today Christ is both priest and victim, and upon the altar of the Cross he offers himself as a sacrifice for sin, for the salvation of humanity. A new covenant is made in his blood which restores the relationship between God and humanity, we are shown in the most graphic way possible how much God loves us, and thus how much we are to love God and to love each other, with that costly self-sacrificial love embodied by Our Lord in his Passion and Death.

After scourging him the soldiers put a purple robe around our Lord, they crown him with thorns, and give him a reed for a sceptre. They think they’re being clever and funny: they’re having a laugh, mocking a man about to be executed. But this is God showing the world what true kingship is: it is not pomp, or power, the ability to have one’s own way, but the Silent Way of suffering love. It shows us what God’s glory is really like: it turns our human values on their head and it inaugurates a new age, according to new values, and restores a relationship broken by human sin.

In dying on the Cross, our Lord is in fact reigning in glory — the glory of God’s free love given to restore humanity, to have new life in him. Jesus dies the death of an enemy of the state, but THIS IS GOD’S GLORY – to die in such a way, naked and vulnerable, shunned, and humiliated. This is GLORY, while the same people who a few days ago welcomed him as the Messiah, now mock and jeer and His life slips away. This is the Glory of God’s love for us, a love which will do anything to heal us, to reconcile us, to bring us back.

Jesus’ hands and feet and side are pierced and his head wears a crown of thorns, as wounds of love, to pour out God’s healing life upon the world. In his obedience to the Father’s will, he puts to an end the disobedience of humanity’s first parent. Here mankind who fell because of a tree are raised to new life in Christ through his hanging on the tree. Christ is a willing victim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Silent lamb led to his slaughter, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep that have gone astray. At the time when the Passover lambs are slaughtered in the temple, upon the Altar of the Cross, Christ as both priest and victim offers himself as the true lamb to take away the sins of the whole world, offers his death so that we may have life, new life in Him.

Death and hell, which are the reward of sin, have no power over us: for in dying, and being laid in a stranger’s tomb, Christ will go down to Hell, to break down its doors, to lead souls to heaven, to alter the nature of the afterlife, once and for all. Just when the devil thinks he’s won, then in his weakness and in his silence Christ overcomes the world, the flesh, and the devil. The burden of sin which separates humanity from God is carried on the wood of the Cross, upon the shoulders of the One who loves us.

On the way to Calvary our Lord falls three times such is the way, such was the burden, so we too as Christians, despite being reconciled to God by the Cross, will fall on our road too. We will continue to sin, but also we will continue to ask God for his love and mercy. But those arms which were opened on the cross will always continue to embrace the world with God’s love.

We don’t deserve it and we haven’t earned it, that’s the point, that’s what grace is, unmerited kindness, reckless generosity. It is there to help us become the people God wants us to be: to be strengthened, fed, healed, and restored by him: to die to sin and be raised to new life, and to share that life and love with others, that the world might believe and be saved through him. Christ pays the debt which we cannot to reconcile humanity to his loving and merciful Father. He shows us the meaning of true love: that we might live it out in our lives, forgiving one another, bearing our own cross, and living lives of love for love of him who died for love of us.

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life, and our resurrection, through him we are saved and made free.

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Lent V (Jn 12:20-33)

Imagine a scene if you will, it’s the Passover – the highlight of the Jewish Year. It is when they celebrate their journey from slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness of Sinai to the Promised Land. It’s a big deal. Some people have come who speak Greek, and are not Jews, to worship at the festival. They’re righteous God-fearing people They approach Philip, a disciple with a Greek name, it means ‘lover of horses’, and they ask him a simple question, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus – Syr, fe hoffem weld Iesu’ (Jn 12:21).  They want to see Jesus. It’s understandable – he’s a teacher, a man with a message. They long for an encounter with Him, to hear what He has to say.

Jesus speaks about his coming death upon the Cross, this is glory, not a human idea of glory, quite the opposite – dying the death of common criminal. It doesn’t make sense, in human terms, and it isn’t supposed to. As it says in the prophet Isaiah (55:8), ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.’ The point is that we need to do things, God’s way, not ours. Christ is the grain of wheat who dies, and who yields a rich harvest, in the Church, saving the souls of countless billions of people over the last two thousand years. The mention of wheat makes think of Bread, because (Jn 6:35), ‘Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’ This is why we obey His command to do this in memory of Him – in the Eucharist we will be fed with Jesus, the living Bread. His blood which he sheds for us is ours to drink, so that we can have a foretaste here on earth of the banquet of Heaven. It can transform our souls and bodies, so that we share His risen life.

Jesus calls us to follow Him, and to not care for life in this world – heaven is our home, it is what we prepare for here on earth, and if we want to share His glory, then we need to follow the same path of suffering love which takes Him to His Cross, and will take us to ours. As sales pitches go it isn’t going to win plaudits from an Advertising Agency, and that’s the point, it’s honest, it is the truth, plain and unvarnished, a truth which changes the world, and which sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32). Which sets us free because He hung on a wooden cross and died and rose again for us. That’s God’s glory – dying for love us, to set us free, free to live for Him, and with Him, forever.

Syr, fe hoffem weld Iesu’ (Jn 12:21 BCN) Mae’r rhain yn eiriau sy’n herio ni i gyd. These are words which challenge us all. When people see us, as Christians, do they see Jesus in us?

I have heard of these words being placed on a card in a pulpit so that they are visible on the lectern, for the preacher to see. It is quite an ask, that simple request, and I feel their great responsibility . When people hear me, or read my words, do they see Jesus? Do they see the God who loves them so much that He died for them? It is a burden to great for me, to carry that cross, and follow Jesus – I cannot do it in my own strength — my words and my life aren’t up to the task, and that’s alright, because it is in’t about me, it’s all about Him. As St Paul says (2Cor 12:9), ‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me’.

It is a great responsibility, that in what we do and say and think, people might see Jesus in us. We need to be living, breathing, walking advertisements for the Good News of Jesus Christ here and now. It is what we signed up to in our baptism, and we can use this time of Lent to consider important matters in out lives. Nothing could be more important than this: that people might see Jesus in who and what WE are, and what WE do.

How do we do this? We do it through the Grace of God, and by trying, by co-operating with that Grace. The simple answer is by trying, by making a conscious effort to live out our faith together, as a Christian community, filled with love, filled with grace, in the knowledge of the forgiving power of His blood which was shed for us. We need to do it together because we cannot just do it alone, we cannot save ourselves, only Christ can do that, nor is salvation solely an individual matter. Christ came to change the world, and He does, one soul at a time, through the Church, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace, the free gift of God to his people.

We will fail to practise what we preach, so that people can call us hypocrites, but the point is not failure but that we keep on trying. God will not abandon us, He dies for us, bearing the burden of our sins, so that we might become like Him, that’s why Jesus was born for us, lived, died, and rose again for us.

Because of this we can live no longer for ourselves, but for the God who loves us, and we can offer the world around us an alternative to the  way of selfishness and sin. We need to trust Him, and fashion our lives after His example, together, nourished by Word and Sacrament, carrying our own cross, trusting in His grace and proclaiming His truth, so that the world may believe and follow 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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Candlemas 2018

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

This feast then is the fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by Malachi, which also looks to our purification in and through the death of Christ and his atoning sacrifice of himself, which will be be re-presented here, made present so that we can share in it, so that we can be healed and restored by the very Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it:  ‘Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.’ It is hard to see how it could be any clearer. Just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac on Mt Moriah, so now God will gladly give His only Son to restore our relationship with Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epiphany 2018

Most people nowadays don’t really pay much attention to the stars in the sky. Lots of people in our modern world thanks to increased levels of light pollution barely notice them, or may just be able to point out a few constellations. If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself somewhere where the nights are dark, like say Mid Wales then on a clear night you can see something magical: the sky is covered with stars. People looked at them, named them, and studied them. They mattered, because people believed, rightly or wrongly, that events on earth and in the heavens were somehow linked. Wise Men in the East saw a conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in the constellation Pisces, which was believed to represent the Jews , which coincided with a comet moving in the sky. So, on the basis of their observations they travelled hundred of miles to Israel, the land of the Jews, and go to the royal palace in Jerusalem, to find out what is going on.

The Wise Men are told that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, so they travel further, in order to see something wonderful. As they come they are fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah which is the first reading this morning. It is a sign that when God comes among us He will be seen by the nations, the Gentiles, people who are not Jews. It is the first moment when we can say with St Paul that, ‘the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’ (Eph 3:6)

The Manifestation of Our Lord to the Gentiles, which the church celebrates today, is a deepening of the splendour of the Incarnation: what began at Christmas becomes deeper, and more wonderful. With the arrival of the Wise Men from the East, the whole World is told that God is with us. Gentiles are made co-heirs, ‘members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’.

The promise is made through the words of the prophet Isaiah in this morning’s first reading. The light which is shown by the star which the Wise Men follow is the Light of the World, the true light. Kings and the nations come to its brightness, they come to worship God made man; they come to pay their homage to the Saviour born among them. They come with camels and bringing gold and frankincense to worship their king and their God. They come to Bethlehem, and not to a royal palace, or a throne. This is what true kingship is, true love, that of God and not of humanity.

The wise men bring Jesus gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are and always have been expensive, costly, and precious things. Gold, is a precious metal, which does not tarnish, which is pure. It is a gift for a King: its purity points to a life of perfect obedience, the pattern of how life should be lived. Incense, from Arabia, was offered to God in the Temple in Jerusalem, as the sweet-smelling smoke rose, it looked like our prayers rising to God. It is a sign of worship, a sign of honour, and how humanity should respond to God. Myrrh, often used in the ointment was part of embalming, it speaks of death. Even in Christ’s birth, and appearance to the Gentiles, we see Christ’s kingly power, and his obedience to the will of the Father. We see His role in worship as our great High Priest, which leads Him to Death and Burial

Everything points to the Cross, where Christ will shed his blood for love of us, where he will die to reconcile us to God. It is an act of pure, self-giving love, which we as Christians celebrate. It’s why we come to the Eucharist, to share in Christ’s body and blood, to be fed by him, with him, and to become what he is.

In the gifts which the Wise Men offer Jesus they show us that they recognise and understand who and what He is. They kneel before Him, something we do for Kings and God. He is both. They honour Him: they recognise that God is with us, that salvation has come to the world in the person of this small child. It is truly an event of cosmic proportions, which changes how humanity relates to itself and to God. The Wise Men come and kneel and they worship and adore the Lord of creation and the Word of God Incarnate. The King of all is not in a Palace but in a simple house in Bethlehem, and He meets us here today under the outward forms of Bread and Wine, to heal us, to restore us, and to give us life in Him. Let us come before Him, offer Him the gifts of our life, and our love, and our service so that we may see His Kingdom grow.

As we celebrate the Epiphany we also look forward to Our Lord’s Baptism in the River Jordan and his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. He who is without sin shows humanity how to be freed from sin and to have new life in Him. In turning water into wine we see that the kingdom of God is a place of generous love, a place of joy, and of life in all its fullness.

So let us be filled with joy and love, may we live lives of joy, and love, and service of God and one another, which proclaim in word and deed the love of God to the world, that it may believe: so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Christ the King, Year A

In 1925 Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the Universal King to stress the all-embracing authority of Christ and to lead mankind to seek the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ. In a time of great misery and inequality: the Church was reminded of what the coming of Christ as Saviour and Judge meant, as well as ending the liturgical year by looking forward to Advent: the season of preparation for our Lord’s coming, in His Incarnation, and as our Judge. A season of reflection, a season of hope, and new life.

In today’s Gospel we have the last parable in Matthew which also gives us an apocalyptic vision of Our Lord’s Second Coming. The first thing to notice is that, as befits the Kingdom of God, all people will be there. This is not a Christians-only event. In the Holy Land to this day you will see herds of goats and sheep grazing together and at the end of the day they are separated by a shepherd who can tell the difference between them. Jesus does, however, give his reasons for making his judgement: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.’ To give food and drink and to make people welcome is fundamental to hospitality and is a sign of Love. Clothing the naked and visiting the sick and imprisoned is likewise showing concern for people, and their needs, showing our love to the world.

We believe that God is love and that we are called to show love ourselves in our lives. Our faith, therefore, is not simply private interior devotion, something that we do on Sundays for our benefit, and keep in a box like a Sunday hat. No!It is something we can put into practice in our lives, every day, everywhere.

Now in the parable in this morning’s Gospel the virtuous seem rather surprised and ask our lord when they did this to him. Jesus answers, ‘I tell you most solemnly, insofar as you did this to the least of the brothers of mine you did it to me.’ As St Antony, the founder of monastic tradition once said, ‘Our life and death is with our neighbour – if we win our brother we win God; if we cause our neighbour to stumble then we have sinned against Christ.’ So who are the least of Christ’s brethren? Who are the little people? Or to put it another way, who is the most important person in church? Is it Fr Neil? Or is it me? Is it a magistrate? Or a businessman? No … who are the least amongst our communities and who are the least outside them? And what are we doing to help them?

Some of the people who would have heard Jesus teaching this parable might well have thought, as Jews, that Israel were the sheep, and the gentiles were the goats, and I wonder whether we don’t all of us feel a little complacent at times. By the same token, the standards Jesus sets in this parable seem almost unattainable so we can feel that we simply cannot live up to them. So we need to be careful that we don’t just despair, that we don’t just give up, and don’t let our discipleship become one of apathy.

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God himself, became man and lived among us. He showed humility in washing His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, in eating and drinking with tax-collectors and prostitutes, the social outcasts of His day. He, unlike the society in which he lived, did not judge them. He loved them in order to proclaim in word and deed that the Kingdom of God was for ALL people – the people we might not like, the people we might look down our noses at, and with whom we might not wish to share our table. He gives himself to feed heal and restore them and us.

His love and humility are shown in that being condemned to death by those whom he came to save he does not cry out, he does not blame them, but instead asks, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ The Christ who reigns on the tree, and who will come again to judge the world, bears the marks in his hands, feet, and side, because they are the marks of LOVE. They remind us of God’s love for us, and when we eat and drink His Body and Blood at the Eucharist we are healed, and share in His Divine Life, so that we might become the Body of Christ, His Church. Strengthened by this Sacrament of Love we are called to live out our faith in the world around us. While we may not have lived up to the example He sets us, we can nonetheless try to do what we can. In acknowledging the Universal Kingship of Christ we recognise an authority higher than human power, higher than any monarch or dictator, and we are called to conform the world to His just and gentle rule. We are called to transform the world one soul at a time, and through acts of mercy and a life of prayer to make a difference.

We may not like the idea of judgement: it is big and scary, and most of us, if we are honest feel that we deserve to be condemned. Now rather than just thinking about judgement as a future event, let’s think about it as a process, something going on here and now. We all live under God’s judgement. Are there things which are hellish in our lives? The problems of cliamte change and how we treat God’s world don’t exactly look great. The way in which we do business with one another, the on-going financial crisis, poverty, hunger and the existence of food-banks show us that all is not well with our country. The wars which our leaders wage against each other seem very far away from the ideal where the lion lies down together with lamb, where swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks. For all this we will be called to account, like the servants in last week’s parable of the talents.

So what are we to do? First, we are to pray to God that we might have the strength and courage to follow the example of His Son, Jesus Christ. Secondly, we are to remember that God’s love and mercy were poured out on the world at Calvary, and continue to be poured out on us who know His forgiveness. Thirdly, that we are fed and strengthened in the Eucharist so that we may be transformed to go out into the world and be active in God’s service.Finally we are to remember that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do for Him. The people or the acts may seem insignificant to us, but not to God.

I would like to conclude this morning by asking you, what would our communities look like if we lived like this: giving food and drink to those in need; visiting those who are sick, or in prisons with or without bars – the prison of fear, loneliness, old age, depression, addiction, or abusive relationships? For such is the kingdom of God. Amen

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Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!

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

The joy of the Lord is our strength

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Jesus and Nicodemus Lent II

The sight of a crucifix has a continuity with Golgotha; at times its vision is embarrassing. We can keep a statue of Buddha in a room, tickle his tummy for good luck, but it is never mortifying. The crucifix somehow or other makes us feel involved. It is much more than a picture of Marie Antoinette and the death-dealing guillotine. No matter how much we thrust it away, it makes its plaguing reappearance like an unpaid bill.

Fulton J. Sheen Those Mysterious Priests 1974: 101—102

 

Our Baptism is a wonderful thing, and it is why each and every one of us is here today. It is how we enter the Church, how we become part of the body of Christ,  it is how our souls are infused with the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, it is how we are regenerate, born again, sharing in His death, and His resurrection. It is something for which people have traditionally prepared during this season of Lent, for Baptism and Confirmation at Easter, so that they can die with Christ and be raised to new life with Him. We enter into the mystery of Christ’s saving work so that we may conformed to it and transformed by it, by Love, by believing and trusting in Christ, publicly declaring our faith in Him, and praying for His Holy Spirit, so that our lives may be transformed – living for Him, living in Him, and being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ.

To be drawn into His likeness means coming closer to His Cross and Passion: just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (Jn 3:14). Just as the serpent in the desert brought salvation to the people of Israel, so now the Cross is our only hope – the sacrifice of God for humanity, not something we can give God, but something he gives us – a free gift of infinite value. God gives it to us and to all the world for one simple reason – love, for love of us – weak, poor, sinful humanity, so that we might be more lovely, more like Him. God sends His Son into the world not to condemn it, but so that the world might be saved through Him – an unselfish act of generosity, of grace, so that we might be saved from sin and death, from ourselves, so that we can share new life in Him.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ John 3:16-17 (ESV) These few words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus in John’s Gospel encapsulate what we believe as Christians, and why we believe it, may we live them, strengthened through prayer, our study of the Bible, nourished by Our Lord’s Body and Blood, forgiven and forgiving, preparing to be caught up forever in the love of God.

It is that same sacrifice which we see here this morning, which we can taste and touch, which we can eat and drink, so that our lives and our souls can be transformed to live Christ’s risen life. It is something which we treat with the uttermost reverence because it is God, given for us, because it can transform us to live as children of the Holy Spirit, freed from the shackles of this world, free to live for Him, to live as He wants us to, His new creation, of water and the Spirit. This is what the Church has done on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, in memory of Him, to make the holy people of God. To make us holy: so that everything which we say, or think, or do, may be for His praise and glory, living out the faith which we believe in our hearts, as a sign to the world that the ways of selfishness and sin are as nothing compared with the generous love of God.

So great is this gift, that we prepare to celebrate it with this solemn season of prayer, and fasting, and abstinence, to focus our minds and our lives on the God who loves us and who saves us. We prepare our hearts and minds and lives to celebrate the mystery of our redemption, so that our lives may reflect His glory, so that we may live for Him, fed by Him, fed with Him, with our lives and souls transformed by Him. We are transformed so that we can transform the world so that it may live for Him, living life in all its fullness: living for others, living as God wants us to live. Living the selfless love which saves us and all the world, living out our faith, and encouraging others so to do, can and will conform us to Christ, so that we may be like Him, and become ever more like Him, prepared for eternal life with Him, so that we all may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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