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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Ash Wednesday: Rend your hearts and not your garments

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, ‘the beginning of her Lenten journey towards 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, 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 draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and 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 the imposition of ashes were not unknown to Jews; that is why we as Christians carry on the tradition. The advice given by the prophet Joel in today’s first reading is both wise and salutary as we enter the desert of Lent. It reminds us that, first and foremost, we are to recognise our own brokenness, our own sinfulness, our own turning away from a God of Love and Mercy. While we may recognise this, any outward sign is not good enough. There is nothing that we can do in a solely exterior fashion — ripping our clothes, placing ashes upon our foreheads, which will, in 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, and in this openness and vulnerability, to 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, are criticised, that they 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 which such people receive is likewise an empty one.

Instead, Jesus upholds the standard practice of Jewish cult, but what matters is that what is done outwardly is completely in accordance with our interior life, it is 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, 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, which will be demonstrated most fully and perfectly on Good Friday, when we see what that love means, when for our sake God made him who was without sin into sin, so that we in him might become the goodness of God. Or as St Isaac puts it ‘as a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.’ As dreadful as we might be, 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. 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 to God. This reconciliation is manifested by our restoration to communion 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 baring our heart and soul. It is not a pleasant task, but given that God will judge us in love and mercy, having taken away our sins upon the cross, 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, how many times we would run away or reject his love, his arms, like those of his son upon the cross, remain open to embrace the world, to heal the wounds of sin and division.

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.[2]

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 neighbour, a time for reconciliation, for healing and growth, that the faith which we profess may grow in our souls and be shown 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] 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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Advent II Mark 1:1-8

If you ask children and young people today what they want to be when they grow up most will now answer that they want to be famous, they want to be a celebrity, not famous for being something, just famous. Such isthe power of the modern idea of celebrity, people famous for being famous. Such is the world in which we live: shallow, skin-deep, concerned with self above all else, selfish, self-absorbed, and sinful.

In the beginning of Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, someone who has clearly got something of a reputation: people are coming from all over Judaea to hear him preach. John does not use this as an opportunity for his own glorification, but rather points to the one who is to come after him, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Unlike celebrities who point to themselves John the Baptist points to another – it’s all about Him, not me. This is humility in action – being firmly rooted and knowing your need for God.

Advent is a season of penitence and preparation, saying sorry and getting ready. Recognising that we fall short of what God expects of us, and yet also remembering that He is a God of love and mercy. This is shown clearly in the opening of this morning’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah. God speaks through the prophet saying, ‘Comfort my people’ a God who longs for healing and restoration, and who will bring it about in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The prophets look for the coming of one who will ‘feed his flock like a shepherd’ who will ‘gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.’ (Isa 40:11). Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and John the Baptist is the one who will say to the people of Judah ‘Behold your God’ (Isa 40:9). In the church we prepare to do exactly the same thing, to say to the world, ‘Here is your God’.

At the heart of it all lies the proclamation of the Gospel, St Mark’s Gospel, which we begin this morning. At the start of a new liturgical year we can proclaim a new beginning, just like John the Baptist. It is a change to start off with a clean, fresh page. The Good News of Jesus Christ is a proclamation, like that in the prophet Isaiah which says, ‘Behold your God’. That is who and what Jesus IS. The Messiah, the Son of God, the one who fulfils, scripture, in this case Malachi (3:1) Moses (Exod 23:20) and Isaiah (40:3). John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He calls the people of Israel to turn away from what separates them from God and each other, and to seek God’s forgiveness. It sounds simple enough, but facing up to the wrong that we say, think, and do, is no easy thing at all. Recognising that we have fallen short of what God expects of us is the first step to turning back. It’s hard to face up to the truth, but we have to if we want God to do something about it. We need to remember that God loves us and is merciful. This is the reason why He sends us His Son, to be born for us, to live for us, to die for us, to rise again for us, to send us His Holy Spirit, and to come again to judge us. Our God is not a tyrant in the sky, but a loving Father.

It probably does us all some good to think like this from time to time, not so that we feel wretched and depressed, but so that we recognise our need for God, that we turn to him again, that this time of Advent is part of our ongoing spiritual journey – turning away from sin and towards Christ. The Christian faith is the work of a lifetime, and of a community: it is something we all have to do together.

In the Gospel the people of Israel recognise the proclamation of John the Baptist; they come to him and confess their sins and are baptised. His message is a simple one, Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. He calls people to turn back to a God of love, and he points forward to the one who is to come, he points to Jesus, who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.

The Church exists to carry on the same proclamation, the same message, to point to the same Saviour. At one level, the idea of judgement worries me deeply, as I suspect if I were all up to me and my efforts, and were I simply to be judged on my own life I would not get to heaven – I cannot earn my way there. I, like all of you, and indeed all of humanity, are simply miserable sinners in need of God’s grace, his love and his mercy. We need Christ to be born, we need Him to die for our sins, and to rise again to give us the hope of eternal life with Him.

Thankfully, we as Christians know that he will come to be our judge is our redeemer, who bore our sins upon the cross, he is loving and merciful. Just as the arms of the prodigal son’s father are wide open to embrace him, so too Christ’s arms are flung wide upon the cross to embrace the world, our judge will come bearing wounds in his hands, his feet, and his side, because they are the wounds of love. We can have hope and confidence in this.

John the Baptist’s message is uncomfortable and yet it is GOOD NEWS – our prayers are answered- that for which we hope, for which our soul deeply longs is truly ours. It may not be what people want to hear, but it is, however, what people NEED to hear. Thus people flock to him, they are aware of their sin, aware of their need of God, of His love, mercy, and forgiveness. His message is one of repentance, of turning away from sin, from the ways of the world, a world which seeks to change our celebration of our Lord’s nativity into an orgy of consumerist excess. His is the birth, his is the way by which we can find true peace, we can turn to Christ, we can be like Him.

How then do we respond? We respond by living lives of godliness and holiness, by striving to be found by him at peace, a peace which prepares for His coming. We are patient, we wait in expectant hope, living out our faith, and encouraging others so to do so that all the world may be saved 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 to the ages of ages.

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Remembrance 2017

‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’  Cariad mwy na hwn nid oes gan neb; sef, bod i un roi ei einioes dros ei gyfeillion. Jn 15:13

We come here today to remember, to remember and give thanks for a sacrifice. As Christians, we remember and give thanks for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which reconciles us with God and gives us the hope of everlasting life in him. Fel Cristnogion ry’n cofio ac yn diolch am aberth Iesu Grist, sy’n ein cyfiawnhau â Duw ac yn rhoi gobaith i ni fywyd tragwyddol ynddo. As we meet him week by week and day by day in Word and Sacrament, for He is truly present in Scripture and in his Body and Blood, what we are doing is not simply recalling the events of the past, but experiencing those events and their effects here in the present. The sacrifice and its effects are a reality in our lives.

Likewise when we recall the sacrifice made by people from this village, this country and all over the world, our remembrance must likewise be an active one which has an effect in our lives. We recall the generosity of those who have tried to ensure that we can live lives free from warfare and suffering, a generosity which must leave a mark on our lives, and help us to learn from the mistakes of the past and not repeat them in the future.

No-one has not been touched by the events of the past one hundred years. Many people, members of our own families, gladly offered, and still continue to offer themselves for the safety and security of humanity. An act of remembrance has a deeper significance when we know that members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces are on active service overseas, working for peace and stability, for a safer, fairer, world, where people can live in peace and plenty. We remember too all the victims of warfare, the countless millions who have lost their lives in a century characterised by conflict. Our reaction will, I suspect, of necessity, be a complex one: a mixture of sadness and thankfulness, gratitude and grief. While we are grateful to live in comparative peace after a period of wholesale slaughter, we cannot fail to be moved by the cost of military and civilian lives, which continues to this day.

It is important to see the sacrificial self-giving love of God in Christ’s passion as the pattern of our own lives. We as Christians are called in our baptism to share in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and this can be lived out in any number of ways. We can remember, too, the vision of peace which characterises the understanding of the Messiah in the prophets. It is a time when the lion will lay with the lamb, and when swords will be beaten into ploughshares. So it seems as though we’re not there yet and in many ways this characterises much of the two thousand years following Christ’s birth. Humanity it seems, while it deeply wants the vision of messianic peace finds itself engaged in warfare of one sort or another, mostly for political ends, with the cost being borne by ordinary men, women and children.

So is there a way out of this endless cycle? In short, Yes. In the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross, who gave himself and suffered for our sins and the sins of all humanity: past, present and future. The slaughter of millions of people which characterised the wars of the last century is an act of brutality which nails Jesus to the cross. And yet he goes to his death gladly, for love of us. It is this act of total self-giving which shows us what true love is, and how we too need to fashion our lives after this pattern of love. We must always remember that Jesus’ loving self-giving is done for the healing of sin and division – for the reconciliation of humanity with God. While we are conscious of our failings and shortcomings and need for God, we must always remember that we are a people who are forgiven, who are loved by God in a way which has the power to transform our lives. Our lives can be transformed when and if we learn to love not only our friends and family, but our enemies, only then can swords be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks. Only then can the peace for which people fought, struggled and died become a reality in our world. By our trusting in the superabundance of God’s mercy and the power of the cross in our lives can we realise our hopes and dreams for peace. But we need to co-operate with a merciful and loving God, by living out lives which are informed by and filled with our faith, to bring about the peace for which we long, and which is the will of Almighty God.

Trinity XIV, 24th of Yr A, Matthew 18:21-35

 

How do we live as a Church? How do we live out our faith in an authentic and attractive way? These are questions which trouble us in the Church, and so they should, for they lie at the heart of what it is to be a Christian, to follow Jesus. They help us to understand that how we live our lives affects how we proclaim the Good News, the saving truth of Jesus Christ, to the world and for the world.

It goes without saying that we, as human beings sin. We say and think and do things which estrange us from each other and from God. Recognising this is part of what one might like to term Spiritual Maturity. That is recognising that we miss the mark, and fall short of what God wants us to be. If this was the end of the matter then we could quite rightly wallow in a pit of misery and regret, out of which we could never climb by our own efforts.

Thankfully the solution can be found encapsulated in this morning’s Gospel: Peter asks Our Lord how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him – should it be seven? Jesus reply, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times’. Jesus is making reference to the establishment of the jubilee year in Leviticus 25:8 – ‘You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.’ This jubilee of the Old Covenant is made real in Jesus – here is the forgiveness and the renewal for which Israel longs. It is radical, and powerful, and can transform us, and the world.

Jesus explains his message of forgiveness with the use of a parable. A dishonest servant owes a debt which he cannot pay, and begs for the chance to try. However, when faced with a debtor of his own, he fails to exhibit any of the mercy and kindness which has been shown to him. For this he is rightly and justly punished. This parable reminds us that as we beg God to forgive our sins, we also need to forgive the sins of others.

It really is that simple. This is why when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray he says, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. As Christians this is how we pray. However, these cannot simply be words that we say with our lips, they also need to be actions in our lives. We need to live out the forgiveness which we have received. Thus, the Kingdom of God is a place where God’s healing love can be poured out upon the world – to restore our human nature, to heal our wounds, and to build us up in love, for our own sake, and for the sake of the Kingdom.

We see this forgiveness in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Here are people learning not to judge others, learning to live as people of love, freed from all that hinders our common life together. If we consider for a second the fact that for the first three centuries of their existence Christians were persecuted for their faith. They were sentenced to death for preferring Christ to the ways of the world. And yet they were not angry. Instead they lived out the love and the forgiveness which they had received. It was this powerful witness which brought others to believe and follow Christ.

We have to follow the example of the early Christians and try to live authentic lives together. This means forgiving each other, and living in love, by putting aside petty rivalries, squabbles, slights, and all the little everyday annoyances. For how can we ask God for forgiveness if we are not be ready, willing, and able to show the same forgiveness to our brothers and sisters? We would be hypocrites: more to be pitied than blamed for failing to grasp the fact the heart of the Gospel is love, and forgiveness.

That is why we celebrate the Cross of Christ – the simple fact that for love of us Jesus bore the weight of our sins upon himself, and suffered and died for us. He showed us that there was no length to which God would not go to demonstrate once and for all what love and forgiveness truly mean. It is our only hope, the one thing that can save us from ourselves, and from that which divides, wounds, and separates us from each other and from God.

It may seem utterly incredible that the Gospel promises unlimited forgiveness to the penitent, but how can we learn to forgive others without first coming to terms with the fact that we are forgiven? The slate is wiped clean, but this does not mean we can sit back and say ‘I’m alright Jack’. We cannot be complacent, but instead we should humbly acknowledge that we rely upon God for everything.

Sin matters. It matters so much that Christ died for it. He rose again, to show us that as the Church we are to have new life in Him. The Kingdom is here, now, amongst us. It is up to us to live it, as a community of truth and reconciliation. We need to show that same costly love which our Lord exhibits upon the Cross, and proclaim that same truth to our world, and pray that it may come to believe and 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.

Judgement would hold nothing but terror for us if we had no sure hope of forgiveness. And the gift of forgiveness itself is implicit in God’s and people’s love. Yet it is not enough to be granted forgiveness, we must be prepared to accept it. We must consent to be forgiven by an act of daring faith and generous hope, welcome the gift humbly, as a miracle which love alone, love human and divine, can work, and forever be grateful for its gratuity, its restoring, healing, reintegrating power. We must never confuse forgiving with forgetting, or imagine that these two things go together. Not only do they not belong together, they are mutually exclusive. To wipe out the past has little to do with constructive, imaginative, fruitful forgiveness; the only thing that must go, be erased from the past, is its venom; the bitterness, the resentment, the estrangement; but not the memory. 

Anthony of Sourozh, Creative Prayer, 2004, p.72

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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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