Trinity VII Year A

At one level, God is completely beyond our understanding: we cannot comprehend the majesty of God, or the depth of God’s love for us. Yet in Christ, the Word made flesh, we catch a glimpse of what God is like. Likewise Jesus speaks in parables to explain what the Kingdom of God is like – to convey in words and images which we can understand, something of the majesty and wonder of the life lived in union with God.

This morning’s gospel gives us four images to ponder: the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, it is a a small thing, only a couple of millimetres across, which can grow into a plant large enough that birds can nest in it. Likewise our faith may be small, we may not think that we’re terribly good at being a Christian, at following Jesus, but if we live out our faith in our lives together, then our faith can, like a mustard seed, grow into something amazing: it can be a place of welcome, a place that birds can call home. It becomes a reality in the world, something which we share, a place of joy, filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Kingdom is like yeast – a small bit can rise an awful lot of dough. It’s alive, and it makes bread – a basic foodstuff – that nourishes us, that gives us life. It reminds us that Jesus is the living bread who came down from heaven, which is why we are here, now, today, to share in that same living bread. We are here to partake in the feast of the Kingdom, where Christ gives himself for us, under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we may have life in him, and have it to the full, it gives us life, it nourishes us, and gives us a foretaste of heaven, and of eternal life in Him.

The kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field, or a pearl of great price, it is something so wonderful, so valuable, that it becomes the single most important thing in our life: it comes before everything else, because it is about our relationship with the God who created us, who loves us, and who redeems us. We celebrate the single most significant event in human history, which shows us how much God loves us, the riches of His grace poured out upon us, and the wonder of having faith in Him.

The kingdom is like a net full of fish – good and bad. It hasn’t been sorted out yet. It is a work in progress – we should not be so presumptuous to think that we are good fish, nor so pessimistic to think that we are bad. Rather we show our faith by living it out in our lives – the kingdom is here among us, right here, right now. We are to live resurrection lives and to proclaim the truth of our faith to the world, so that it too may believe.

The kingdom is like someone who brings things out, both old and new – rooted in scripture, the Word of God, and in the tradition of the Church – rooted, grounded, authentic, recognisable, not making things up as we go along, or going along with the ways of the world, because it suits us. There is something refreshing and new about orthodoxy, because it is rooted in truth, the source of all truth, namely God. It is old and new, a well which never runs dry, because it is fed by God, something which can refresh us, and which gives true life to the Church.

The challenge for us, as Christians is to live out our faith in the God who loves us and who saves us. We should not compartmentalise our lives so that our faith is a private matter. It needs to affect all of who and what we are, what we think or say or do. It is something primary, and foundational, not an optional extra, not some add-on, but the very ground of our being. It is a big ask; and if it were simply up to each and every one of us, then we would, without doubt, completely and utterly fail to do it. Yet such is the love and forgiveness of God, that His mercy is never-ending, and as people forgiven by God, we likewise forgive each other and are built up in love together, so that the work of the Kingdom is a corporate matter, a joint effort – we’re all in it together – it is what the church is for – a bunch of sinners trying to love God and serve Him, and likewise loving and serving each other, and the whole world.

We can do it in the strength of the Holy Spirit of God, so that we can pray, so that we can to talk to and listen to God. The Spirit is poured out upon each and every one of us in our baptism, whereby our souls are infused with all the spiritual grace we need to get to heaven. We can follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, and likewise spread the good news, and live the life of the Kingdom. We can be confident in Christ’s victory, over sin, death, and the world, and strong in the power of His Spirit, live out our faith and share the joy of being known and loved by God, so that the world may 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.

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Trinity Sunday

We celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity today because in 1334 Pope John XXII decided that on the Sunday after Pentecost the Western Church would celebrate the Trinity. It was already a popular feast. Nearly two hundred years previously Thomas Becket was consecrated a bishop on this day, and kept the feast. Its popularity in the British Isles is shown by the fact that we number the Sundays between now and Advent not ‘after Pentecost’ but ‘after Trinity’. It defines the majority of the liturgical year for us.

This morning, at the very beginning of our service, the following words were said, ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ We said ‘Amen’ to signify our assent and many Christians make the sign of the Cross as the words are said. At the end of the Eucharist I, as the priest, will pray that God will bless you as I invoke the name of the Trinity and make the sign of the Cross. These words and gestures are not random, or the result of a whim, but are part of our tradition of worship as Christians. This is how we express and declare our faith; through words and actions. These help us to reinforce what we believe and help us to live out our faith.

In this morning’s epistle we heard the closing words of Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. Their relations have not been been easy or pleasant. Paul has written urging reconciliation, something which the church always needs, and something at the heart of our faith. This is because it is what Jesus achieves on the Cross, our reconciliation with God and with each other. Paul urges the church to embrace in love, as we will soon do during the Peace. He ends with words which are very familiar to us: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ (2Cor 13:13) We often repeat these words, and call them ‘the Grace’.

This Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the unmerited kindness we have received through him, which we do not deserve. We have not earned it, but receive it through Him. The Love of God is such that He gave His only Son ‘that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ (Jn 3:16-17). The Love of God sees Jesus take flesh by the Holy Spirit, to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, preach repentance and the nearness of the Kingdom of God, and die for us on the Cross. Then he rose again, ascended, sent the Holy Spirit to us at Pentecost, and promised to come again as our Judge. Fellowship, or Communion is what the persons of the Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – have between each other, and which we the Church are invited to share. It is the imparting of the grace, the undeserved kindness of God. In the act of Holy Communion we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we might share in the divine life here on earth.

We can do this because we have been baptised. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus tells the apostles to go and make disciples ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19). This is the central act of our faith, it is how we enter the Church; how we put on Christ; how we are saved. It defines us as Christians.

In public prayer, at the end of Psalms and Canticles, we end with the words, ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit ; As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.’ This is a doxology which means ‘Words that praise God’ We say these words because they express our faith.

Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and others cannot accept the fact that as Christians we say that we do not worship three Gods, but One God. That we believe that  the Son is God, not less than the Father, likewise the Holy Spirit, and yet there are not three Gods but one God. These are not manifestations, but persons which share the same divine essence and yet are distinct. The Father uncreated; the Son begotten; the Spirit proceeding. It is why we stand up and state our beliefs. It matters. We do it regardless of the cost. Simply believing the Christian faith and declaring it publicly can lead to imprisonment or death in some countries around the world today.

Our faith matters. It can change lives. It can change the world. It isn’t a private concern, something to be hid away politely. It is the most important thing there is. It is something to fill us with joy. It is something that we should share with others, so that they might 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 2015

 

Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν· ‘He became human so that we might become divine

Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3

 

Love tends to become like the one loved; in fact, it even wishes to become one with the one loved. God loved unworthy man. He willed to become one, and that was the Incarnation.

Fulton Sheen The Divine Romance New York 1930: 70

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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, just the rantings of religious extremists.

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.

If that isn’t a cause for celebration, I honestly 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, 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, laid in an animal’s feeding trough, insulated from the cold hard stone by straw – beginning his life as he will end it placed in a stranger’s tomb.

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, 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.

Sexagesima Year B


About 1700 years ago the passage from the Book of Proverbs which is the Old Testament Reading which we have just heard was at the centre of a theological controversy which threatened the nature and existence of Christianity as we know it. Arius, a priest of Alexandria used the passage ‘The Lordcreated me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the rst, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forthto prove that Wisdom, which was understood as the Logos, the Word of God, the Creative Intelligence was not pre-existent, that it was a creation, and that ‘there was a time when he was not’. He may have been attempting to uphold what he understood as monotheism and the supremacy of God the Father, but in so doing he threatened the very nature of Christianity itself: denying the eternal nature of the Son of God, seeing Him as a creature, something created, something less than God.

        His position caused something of a fightback, and the church began to define the nature of God the Father, and God the Son with greater clarity, and while the orthodox position sometimes found favour with Imperial power, and sometimes did not, in the end political power could not enforce heresy. The views of Arius while condemned by the church and seemingly dead and buried once again found widespread fame with the arrival in 2003 of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, with which you are no doubt familiar. I’ve read it, it is a rip-roaring page-turner of a book, but it is not based on the truth, it is a work of fiction, which may be plausible, which may be fun to read, but which is not true.  The idea that the church and state colluded to airbrush out the truth and replace it with an official version is simply not borne out by the facts. After Constantine, his son Constantius II reversed the policy of his father and was sympathetic to the Arians. This is hardly the practice of a cover-up, indeed the facts do not support the hypothesis – it’s fanciful but basically no more than a conspiracy theory.
        The Church formulated its beliefs in creedal statements first at Nicæa and later revised at Constantinople just over 50 years later, these are the words which we are about to say to express what the Church believes about God – we say them because they are true and because they help us to worship God.
        The second reading this morning from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians is a statement of belief, an early creedal statement which focuses on who and what Jesus Christ is and what he does, written only some thirty years after his Crucifixion. Christ is the first-born in whom all creation has its existence. Creation exists because God was pleased to dwell in him in all his fullness and through him to reconcile all things whether in heaven or on earth. Christ’s great work is to reconcile all things in heaven and earth, making peace by the blood of his Cross. Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection alter the created order in a fundamental way and are the outpouring of God’s love on the world, to heal it and restore it. This encapsulates what we believe as Christians and why we are here today to pray, to be nourished by Word and Sacrament, so that through our participation in the Eucharist, in Holy Communion, we may partake of His Divine nature, and be given a foretaste of heaven.
        Christ became human so that we might become divine. This profound and radical statement lies at the heart of the Prologue to John’s Gospel, a passage which we cannot hear too often, simply because it is wonderful and it manages in a few verses to cover the entirety of salvation history from the Creation of all that is to the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh and lived among us and we beheld his glory full of grace and truth. God became a human being, for love of us, to show us how to live, and to give us the hope of heaven, or as John’s Gospel later puts it ‘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) The Christian life therefore is one characterised by joy, by hope, by love, and forgiveness, it is to be freed from the way of this world given that we celebrate a Divine authority which is before and over all things. At the heart of our faith as Christians is a wonderful message of freedom, knowing that this life is not all that there is, that we are called to have life in him and life in all its fullness, and to live for and through him. This is our faith: it is what we believe and what we are to live, here and now, for the glory of Almighty God and the furthering of his kingdom.

        So let us live it, supporting each other in love, in prayer, and forgiveness – helping each other to proclaim by word and deed the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world which longs to hear it, which longs to be freed from selfishness and sin, to come to new life in the living waters of baptism and to live out that life in the Church, the Body of Christ, loved by Him, fed by Him, fed with Him, restored and healed by Him, set free from the ways of selfishness and sin to have life in all its fullness, even eternal life in Him.

Sermon for Evensong Trinity XII

It has been said that in the hereafter there are two smells: brimstone and incense. Needless to say, we should prefer the latter to the former, and also it reminds us of the religious practice of our brothers in faith the Jews: incense was offered in the Temple to God every morning and evening, a laudable practice which the Church continues.
It should also remind us that the Church Militant here in Earth just like the Church Triumphant in Heaven is focussed on one thing: the worship of Almighty God. This building was built for the glory of God, to give us something of a foretaste of Heaven and as a place of worship, where the praises of God might be sung: as above, so below:
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev 4:8-11)
We praise God and thank Him in our worship not because He needs or wants it, but for the simple reason that he is worth it. We are grateful for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life;but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
Our worship expresses our hope, our thanks and our praise, it reminds us to be grateful for what God has done for us, in giving His Son to be born for us, to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom to us, to die for us and to rise again for us, to show us how we might have life and life in all its fullness in and through Him.
Therefore our vocation as Christians is to be a joyful people. There is nothing worse than seeing a sad miserable Christian: we are called to proclaim Good News, to live out the new life of our baptism, regenerate, born again, singing the praises of God who rather than condemn us loves us and saves us, who gives himself as priest and victim upon the altar of the Cross so that we might feed on Him, to heal our wounds, to transform us, so that His Grace can perfect rather than abolish our nature – it is wonderful, utterly mind-blowing, it has the power to transform the entire world if only we could stop getting in the way, and let the transformative power of God’s love be at work in the world.
We proclaim this Good News in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds, and the more we do it, the more it shapes our character, making us people of praise, people of worship – it can become all-encompassing, taking all of who and what we are, and using it for God’s good purposes. This is what Our Lord means when he says ‘whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ (Mt 16:25) This is life in all its fullness for we are never more fully alive than when we worship God, demonstrating our love for Him, and letting His love shine through us.
This characterised the first Apostles – how could they do otherwise after what God had done for them in Jesus, and we should be just like them, with the same singularity of vision and purpose.

So let us worship God not only with our lips but with our lives, so that all we are, all we say, all we think, all we do, may praise 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.