The First Sunday of Christmas

As we approach the end of another year it is natural both to look backwards and forwards, to what has been, and what will be. Ideally we would do both in a positive fashion, grateful for what has been, and hopeful for the future. It isn’t as easy as it sounds: the world feels a worried, troubled place with the risks of war and terrorism, political instability, economic insecurity, and unpredictable weather, to name but a few. It isn’t pleasant to dwell on such matters, and it seems that there isn’t that much that you or I can do about them.

As Christians we are called to be people of joy and hope, emotions which are encapsulated in the Feast of Christmas, which we continue to celebrate for either twelve or forty days, leading up to the Epiphany or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Church, unlike the world around us, doesn’t stop celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ for some time yet because it is so important to take some time to think about God has done for us in being born for us. The shops around us have cleared their shelves for Valentine’s Day or Easter Eggs, but we are not so hasty. The awesome truth that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has taken flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that the Son, Jesus Christ has been born for us, should make us pause.

God is not remote, a distant disinterested Creator. He becomes human, and is born like we are. God gets involved, and shares a human life, its joys and its pains, and its end: death. God does this for us. This is grace, an unmerited gift, something we don’t deserve, so that we might know His love. God becomes a human being so that humanity might become divine, so that we might share in the Divine life of love. God loves us, not because we deserve it, or that we have somehow earned our way to Heaven, but so that we can know Him, love Him, and serve Him, in Earth and in Heaven.

God shows his love for us in being born as one of us, sharing our humanity, so that we might share His Divinity. In Jesus Christ we can see and know who and what God is. This is the mystery of the incarnation. It is something we cannot fully understand, in this earthly life at least, but it is something we can begin to experience. We can have hope for the future, in and through Christ, however bad the world around us is. Through Him we can know something of healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness. No matter how many mistakes we make, and what ever mess we are in, it is something which God in Christ can deal with. This is not to say that God has a magic wand to wave over our problems, but rather that we see our problems in the broader context of God’s love for us, another way becomes possible, and this is where the Kingdom breaks into our lives.

Our first reading this morning sees the prophet Isaiah proclaiming the hope of the Messiah, hope for the people of Israel, which is fulfilled in the baby born in Bethlehem, Jesus, our Saviour. Isaiah trusts God to fulfil His promise, and looks to the future with hope. He sees the future in terms of a wedding – a cause of great joy. It signifies a restored relationship, something Jesus will bring about himself, on the Cross, to heal our wounds through His. This is Good News, and it fills us with joy.

The reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians reminds us that the Incarnation has changed everything. It is an event in history which happens at the right time, when people are mature enough to understand what is happening. God sends His Son, born of Mary, to redeem us, and to adopt us, to bring us into God’s family, so that we can receive our inheritance, the gift of the Holy Spirit, to fill us with God’s love. We are included, we are adopted. Rather than being disinherited, which is what we deserve, men and women are adopted through Christ. In Jewish law inheritance was about passing property from fathers to sons, Paul shows how Jesus has re-written the rules: men and women are treated equally, and brought into the inheritance of the Kingdom of God’s love. This is great news, a departure from the ways of the past, a sign of radical equality in and through Christ – salvation is God’s free gift, restoring the dignity of humanity.

In Luke’s Gospel we see shepherds who have just been told the most wonderful news: the Messiah, the Saviour is born in Bethlehem. They decide to go and see what God has told them. They make haste, they hurry, they are excited. They see Mary and Jospeh and the baby lying in a manger, a stone trough for animal feed. They see a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, just like the lambs they raise to be sacrifices in the Temple. They see One, who from his birth has been marked out to be the sacrifice on the Cross which will restore Israel, and bring about a true passover. The shepherds see something amazing and they tell people about it – it is Good News. God loves us this much. They go back to their flocks praising God for what they have seen – salvation in their midst, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Mary said “Yes’ to God to bring these things about, now she ‘ponders these things in her heart’ she reflects on what has happened. Having been obedient she turns to God in love and worship and prepares to be obedient to the law of Moses, and the covenant, the agreement which God first made with Abraham, two thousand years previously. Mary and Joseph are obedient to the Law and so their Son is circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21). He receives the sublime name, Jesus, that is to say God is our Saviour.

God saves us. We hear His words in Scripture, and here in the Eucharist we are fed by God and  fed with God, with His Body and Blood, broken and shed for us, that through His death we might have life in Him. So let us come and share in God’s generous gift to us, to heal us, to restore us, and give us hope in Him.

God’s salvation, the saving of humanity, is an act of love and obedience. So as we continue to celebrate Christmas and are filled the joy of the Incarnation, let us also reflect upon the fact that Love and Obedience and Suffering go hand in hand. They are costly, and likewise, for us in our Christian lives, following Christ means embracing love, obedience, and suffering, bearing witness to the truth that God loves all of us, gave his life for us, and asks the same of us.

And so may we begin the New Year full of joy and hope, mindful of the costly Love of God. As we recall the obedience of Mary, may we like the ox and ass in the stable kneel and worship the Lord of Creation, the Word of God Incarnate. Let us be like the shepherds and share our faith with others in what we are, and do, and say. Let us fashion our lives after the example of Our Lord and Saviour, to whom with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed, as is most just and right, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory, now and forever…

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Christmas Midnight Mass

Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν·

Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3

He became human so that we might become divine

If you have seen any of the Star Wars films then you will be used to the idea of a world under the thumb of a despotic tyrannical regime. A world which longs for deliverance.Two thousand years ago the people of Israel were similarly in a bad way. They were occupied by a foreign power, Rome. They were part of a foreign empire, ruled by pagans. They longed to be free. All hope seemed lost. Their souls were crushed. Had God abandoned them? Their prophets had told them to expect the Messiah, who was an anointed Saviour of the house and lineage of David. He would save them, free them, give them hope, light in the darkness. This is exactly what the prophet Isaiah looks forward to in tonight’s first reading. People knew the prophecy but could barely hope that they would see it fulfilled.

We are now in a very different situation: we can say with confidence that a child is born to us, the Son of God, born of the Blessèd Virgin Mary. This helpless baby is our Mighty God and the Prince of Peace, the Creator and Ruler of all that is, all that ever has been, and all that will be. This night, in a small hill town God comes among us, God is with us, Emmanuel.

And so, to comply with the Imperial census demands, Joseph and Mary travel to his ancestral home, thereby fulfilling the prophecy of Micah: ‘But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and 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.’ (Micah 5:2-4).

Bethlehem in Hebrew means the House of Bread and in the House of Bread is born tonight the one who will be the Living Bread, come down from Heaven. He will be the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd of His people, Israel. We are told in the Gospel about shepherds out in the fields. They are raising the lambs to be used in the Passover sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem. When these lambs are born they are wrapped in strips of cloth to keep them safe, so that they may be without spot or blemish, and thus be an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord. And so the One who is to save Israel from her sins, Yeshua, which means God saves, is born and treated like a Passover Lamb. He is wrapped in strips of cloth, swaddling clothes, just like the lambs on the hilltops. He is the Lamb of God, the true passover of Israel, who will go to His death willingly, led like a lamb to the slaughter. He was anticipated in Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, by the ram caught in the thicket. He is born for us, the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins and those of the whole world.

The shepherds are greeted by angels who announce the Good News, that the prophecy is fulfilled, here and now. The Messiah is born in Bethlehem. These hard-working farmers eagerly go to see God come to earth. God meets humanity not in a blaze of glory and triumph, but as a vulnerable new-born baby, who needs a mother to feed him, who needs others to provide him with warmth and security. The Word of God, through which everything was created, lies silent and helpless. Here we see real love – open, vulnerable, all gift, holding back nothing, but risking all to come among us, to heal our wounds, to save us, to show us how to live.

All the tinsel, and excess, all the consumerism, and even the ignorance and unbelief of the modern world cannot cover up the sheer wonder of this night. In the stillness and darkness something wonderful happens, which we cannot fully understand. God comes among us, born as a baby, to share our life, so that we might share His. Our God longs for a relationship with us, and brings it about, so that we might have life in and through Him.

The Son gives us a life in which to live. He offers up himself for us upon the Cross, where He dies for us. He gives himself to us under the signs of bread and wine so that we might share his divine life. As the shepherds hurried to meet him, let us too yearn for that divine encounter. Let us long to be fed by Him, fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, so that we can share His life, life in all its fullness.

When the Holy Family came to Bethlehem the town was overcrowded. There was no room for them. The weather was cold, and we can speculate that their welcome was too. As we celebrate the birth of Our Saviour we have to ask ourselves: Have we made room for Jesus in our lives? Have we really? If we haven’t, then no fine words can make up for it. We have to let our hearts and our lives be the stable in which the Christ child can be born. We have to see Him in the outcast, in the stranger, in the people which the world shuns, and we have to welcome them, and in welcoming them to welcome Him. This is how we live out His love in our lives. This is the true meaning of Christmas – this is the love which can transform the world. It is radical and costly. It terrified the might of the Roman Empire, and showed human power that it was as nothing compared to Divine Love. Soul by individual soul, for the past two thousand years, the world has been changed by ordinary people living out the love shown to the world in this little vulnerable child.

So, tonight, let us receive the greatest gift which has ever been given and share it with others, living it out in our lives, regardless of the cost, so that the world 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. Happy Christmas

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A thought for the day from Fulton Sheen

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

As God was  physically formed in Mary, so he wills to be spiritually formed in you. If you knew he was seeing through your eyes, you would see everyone as a child of God. If you knew that he worked through your hands, they would bless all the day through …. If you knew that he wants to use your mind, your will, your fingers, and your heart, how differently you would be. If half the world did this there would be no war!

The Ven. Abp Fulton J. Sheen How to find Christmas Peace,  taken from  Advent Meditations with Fulton J. Sheen, Liguori Publications: Liguori MO, 2007

Advent III Year B

As Christians our vocation is a simple one: joy. This is not, however, worldly joy, the fruit of consumerist excess, a joy of stuff: what we have, what we can buy, or own, or sell, but something far deeper and far richer, which comes from God. We are to be people of JOY, filled with it, and sharing it with others.

We rejoice that our yearly memorial of Our Lord’s nativity is drawing near – a birth which changes everything, which brings about the salvation of humanity. This is the most wonderful news that the world could ever hear, and hear it they must.

In this morning’s Gospel John the Baptist has been preaching a baptism of repentance, a turning away from sin towards the arms of a loving God. He has been stark and uncompromising in his message, as a prophet should be. The people to whom he has been preaching find themselves in an awkward situation, and yet they are drawn to the Good News. They can’t quite understand what’s going on: Is John the Messiah? If he isn’t, who then is he? He calls people to the baptism of repentance in the knowledge that Christ’s gift of His Spirit is coming. He is preparing for the Kingdom of God to be a reality in people’s hearts, and minds, and lives

The state, the church, and the world around us all seem to be in a mess. There is political instability, fears for the future, tyrants and demagogues in power. The peace which the Messiah came to bring it seems as elusive as ever, whereas the human capacity to create misery in the most dreadful ways makes us realise that we still have some considerable distance to travel. One possible answer is the need for repentance: to change our hearts and minds and to follow Christ.

Our readings this morning speak of the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom of love and freedom: good news to those who are oppressed, a healing love which binds up the broken-hearted, a kingdom of healing and of renewal, which proclaims liberty, which releases prisoners. It turns the world on its head, and offers something completely different: comfort to those who mourn, a mantle of praise, a garment of joy and salvation, which we have put on in our baptism.

In all our sadness and sin, we look forward to our yearly remembrance of our Lord’s incarnation. We prepare our hearts, our minds, and our lives, to go to Bethlehem, to see God come into the world naked, vulnerable, and homeless, utterly reliant on Mary and Joseph. We also prepare to meet him as he will come again, as our Saviour and our Judge. It is a daunting prospect, yet we know and trust that he saves us, that by his wounds on the cross we are healed, our sins are forgiven.

We are to rejoice, strange though it might seem, just like the people of Israel in captivity, in a God who loves us, who heals and restores us, who gives us real hope for the future. In the midst of our sorrow we are to place all our hope and trust in God who loves us, and who saves us.

We are to rejoice, as S. Paul reminds the Thessalonians, we are to be filled with a joy which leads to prayer, to a relationship with God. We give thanks to God for what Christ has achieved and will achieve. It encourages us to hold fast to what is good and abhor what is evil. In living out our faith we are drawn ever closer to the God who loves us and saves us. We draw close to Jesus in His word, and in the Sacrament of the Altar, where we are fed with His Body and Blood, so that we can be sanctified by God, and share in his divine life and joy.

We are to share this joy with others, to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people, and not just in our words but our deeds. If we share what we have, if we are generous, if we work for justice and are clothed with humility, showing our joy in mutual love, God’s kingdom will be advanced. We, here, now, know that Jesus will come and will judge us by the standard of love which he set for us to follow. Let us trust God and share that trust in prayer, that his will may be done, and that he may fill us with his love.

The world around us is full of pain and anguish, and the only way for it to be healed is in Christ, who was bruised for our transgressions and wounded for our iniquities. He still bears those wounds as the wounds of love. As he flung out his arms on the cross, so he longs to embrace the world and fill it with his peace and love. He will not force us; he is no tyrant in the sky. It is the world which must turn to him in love and in trust, and turn away from sin. Our task is always only all things to be joyful in the Lord, and to live out our faith to help the world turn to him.

It isn’t an easy thing to do, and after 2000 years of trying we may seem as far away as when John proclaimed the coming of God’s kingdom. We could just give up, or we can try, and keep trying, no matter how many times we fail, secure in the knowledge that God loves us and forgives us. The One who calls us is faithful, and He will do this. Let us trust in Him, be fed and nourished by Him, with Him, filled with His Holy Spirit, so that all the world may come to believe and trust in Him, 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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A thought for the day from Fulton Sheen

Lightness of spirit is related to Redemption, for it lifts us out of precarious situations. As soon as a priest goes in for revolutionary tactics in politics he becomes boringly serious. This world is all there is, and therefore he takes political involvements without a grain of salt. One rarely sees a Commisar smile. Only those who are ‘in the world, not of it’ can see events seriously and lightly. Joy is born by straddling two worlds — one the world of politics, the other of grace.

Fulton J. Sheen Those Mysterious Priests 238

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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Advent 1 Year B Mk 13:24-37

When I was a child I loved reading books. My favourite place in the world was a library, and I can still remember going there one day and my father gave me a bookmark on which the following words were written, ‘Be alert, the world  needs all the lerts it can get!’  The pun was a good one, I enjoyed it, and can remember it decades later. It makes a serious point, namely how do prepare to meet Jesus? Advent is a season of preparation, when we prepare to meet Jesus, both as a baby born in Bethlehem, and as our Saviour and Judge, who will come to call the world to account.

The world around us sees preparations for Christmas as most concerned with cards, decorations and shopping. The Church sees things somewhat differently. What matters are our souls and our lives: who and what we are, what we do, and why we do it.

We, here, this morning, as Christians are living between Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the world. We are to be ready, and to spend our time considering the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. They await us all, each and every one of us, so how will we prepare for them?

In this morning’s gospel, our Lord tells us to stay awake, to be on our guard, to be prepared, because we do not know the time when our Lord will return in glory to judge both the living and the dead.

Jesus tells us not to be found asleep, in the sleep of sin. An attitude which says ‘I’m alright’, ‘I don’t need God’. It is this sleep which affects many people, both those who come to church, and the vast majority who do not. That’s not to say they don’t try and live good Christian lives. We all do, instinctively. And yet any mention of the last things tends to conjure up images of fire and damnation, hell and brimstone preachers, thumping pulpits and putting the fear of God into people. Such is the characterisation of the religious as extremists, something increasingly common. Yet, such people have a point – their message is true – but I suspect that they put it across in a way which strikes people as unpalatable, and so they switch off and go to sleep.

And yet, what they say matters, it is true and we could all do with being reminded of it. How we live our lives matters, it affects who and what we are, and the world around us. We have but one life to live on Earth, and we must try, with God’s grace, to do the best we can. We live in a world which does not care about such questions, apparently people’s lives are their own business, and we have no business calling people’s actions into question, but this will not do. Our actions affect us, our character, our lives, and the lives of people around us – our actions have consequences, which is why our lives and how we live them matter. What we do and say matters and the Church exists to call people to repentance – to turn around and change the whole of their lives and follow Christ in their thoughts, their words, and their deeds – for the Kingdom of God is close at hand.

Lest we get too afraid, we can turn in confidence to the words of Isaiah in our first reading this morning. The prophet is looking forward to the redemption of Israel, the coming of the Messiah, a new future after exile. Against a picture of human sin, and rebellion against God, there is the implicit possibility of something better. In those times when God can seem absent, there is the possibility that God as a loving parent is giving us space and time to reflect and repent. Isaiah is convinced both of the power and the love of God, to remake us, and restore us, to enrich us with his grace, and give us the gifts of his spirit, as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth.

We’re not being left alone in all this. God both tells us the nature and source of the problem, and provides us with a solution. He even helps us along our way: he strengthens and encourages us, to turn our lives around, and follow him. That we be vigilant – and take care of the state of our lives and our souls, and those around us, that we are awake, rather than indulging in the self-satisfied sleep of sin.

For God asks of us – that we, this Advent, turn our own lives around, and prepare ourselves to meet our Lord, at the Eucharist, when he meets us at his altar in His Body and Blood, and in His Words proclaimed in Scripture. We also need to look forward to meeting our Lord in the yearly remembrance of His Nativity, and in his coming in glory as our Saviour and our Judge. If we can look beyond the commercialism of a sad, cynical world, we can see that God was prepared to go to any length to meet us, to be with us and heal us. Can we not prepare ourselves, our souls and our lives to meet Him?

Ours is, after all, a God of love and mercy, born as a helpless child in a stable, who gives Himself out of love for us, to suffer and die to restore our relationship with God the Father and each other, who gives us Himself under the outward forms of bread and wine so that we might have life in Him. He sends us His Holy Spirit to strengthen us, so that we can be alert, stay vigilant, and prepare to meet Him.

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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!

The Parable of the Talents Mt 25:14-30

Oh No! This morning’s Gospel is a parable about money. Does it mean that Fr is going to keep on about the Parish Share and the state of the Diocesan Finances? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, I’m not. I just thought that I’d clear that one up right away, just to put your minds at rest, so that we can get on with the task of drawing closer to the word of God, and to be nourished and strengthened by it.

Reading Holy Scripture, the Bible, can be a strange affair: sometimes it fills us with joy, sometimes it just leaves us confused. Speaking personally, I find the parable of the talents troubling, mostly because I tend to feel rather like the slave who was given one talent and who hid it in the ground. That may well be my own sense of unworthiness informing my reading of the passage. It reminds me of the need in all things to trust in God, and for his grace to be at work in me. The judgement thankfully is not my own, but rather God’s – a loving father who runs to meet his prodigal children. This is a God we can trust, who wants to see us flourish in His kingdom of love, mercy, and forgiveness.

No parable has been more misused than Jesus’ parable of the talents. Once a parable is abstracted from Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God, once it is divorced from its apocalyptic context – pointing to the future, such misreading is inevitable: speculation begins, for example, about how much a talent might be worth nowadays or whether the Master’s observation that the money could have been put in a bank might mean that Jesus approves of taking interest. Speculative uses of the parable have even been employed to justify economic practices that are antithetical to Jesus’ clear judgement that we cannot serve both God and mammon. After all, money is a means, and not an end – which is where we and the world often go wrong.

Jesus is not using this parable to recommend that we should all work hard, make all that we can, to give all that we can. Rather, the parable is a clear judgement against those who think they deserve what they have earned as well as those who do not know how precious is the gift they have been given. The gift is our life, and we will be judged on what we do with it.

In the parable the slaves have not earned their five, two, and one talents. They have been given those talents. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus indicated that those called to the kingdom would produce different yields. These differences should not be the basis for envy and jealousy, because our differences are gifts given in service to one another – so are the talents given to the slaves of a man going on a journey. It is not unfair that the slaves were given different amounts. Rather what is crucial is how they regarded what they had been given.

The servant who received one talent feared the giver. He did so because he assumed that the gifts that could only be lost or used up. In other words the servant with one talent assumed that they were part of a zero-sum game – if someone wins, someone else must lose. Those who assume that life is a zero-sum game think that if one person receives an honour someone else is made poorer. The slave who feared losing what he had, turned his gifts into a possession – it was a thing, and it was his thing. But by contrast, the first two slaves recognised that trying to secure the gifts that they had been given means that the gifts would be lost – so they use the gifts for the glory of God. The joy of the wedding banquet is the joy into which the Master invites the slaves who did not try to protect what they had been given is the joy that comes from learning to receive the gift without regret, without fear – simply humbly, joyfully and lovingly.

The parable of the talents, just like the parable of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids, is a commentary on the life of the Kingdom, stories of slaves who continue to work, who continue to feed their fellow slaves, until their master returns – they are parables which teach us how to be a church of loving service. These parables teach us to wait patiently as those who have received the gift of being called a disciple of Jesus. We are not necessarily called to great things. Rather, Jesus’ disciples are called ‘to do simple things with great love’ to quote S. Theresa of Calcutta. The work that Jesus has given us to do is simple and it is learning to tell the truth and love our enemies. Such work is the joy that our Master invites us to share. It is in doing this work that we are separated – sheep from goats.

It may sound pedestrian, or even humdrum, but living the Christian life, living the life of the Kingdom, is at a day to day level a bit of a slog. It is about keeping on keeping on – loving, forgiving, praying – nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, fed by Him, and with Him, freed from the fear which is the antithesis of the Kingdom, rejoicing in the gifts which God gives us, being thankful for them, and using them for God’s glory. We none of us deserve the gift of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ – we have not earned it, it is not a reward, but the gift of a loving God, which we are called to receive, and for it to transform our lives.

It is what each of us, and indeed all of us together are called to be, in this we can be built up in love, together, and invite others to enter into the joy of the Kingdom, so that they may come to believe in and serve God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed this is most right and just all Might, Majesty, Glory, Dominion, and Power now and for ever…

The Parable of the Talents – Rembrant

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.

Living the Life of the Kingdom: Micah 3:5-12, 1Thess 2:9-13, Matt 24:1-14

Our blessed Lord began His public life on the Mount of the Beatitudes, by preaching, ‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the earth.’ He finished His public life on the hill of Calvary by practising that meekness: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’

Fulton J. Sheen The Cross and the Beatitudes, 1937: 3

The Prophet Micah has some tough words this morning for those who lead people astray. Those who tell people what they want to hear will be the downfall of Israel. It is something which can easily be the downfall of any organisation: just tell people what they want to hear, don’t make any demands on them, just make them feel comfortable, all motherhood and apple pie. The church can and does easily fall prey to this and its fruit is apathy. People don’t want a church to make them feel comfortable, but to challenge them, and inspire them to be something better, by the grace of God. Thus we are called to holiness of life, or as St Paul puts it, ‘to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.’ (1Thess 2:12) We put our faith into practice – walking the walk and talking the talk, together in an act of witness to the world, to call it to repentance, and to be formed as part of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, where we are forgiven and built up in love.

It is probably a good thing that Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was not an advertising executive. Fundamentally He tells it like it is – there is a simplicity and a directness to Him that is not always comfortable. He does not tell us what we want to hear, but rather he tells us what we need to hear, which is often far from pleasant or comfortable. He has been teaching in the Temple, about the Kingdom of God, and how to live out the faith in our lives and now He turns to the future.

The Temple was the single most important place on Earth for religious Jews, it was the centre of their life; it was where they came close to God. The prospect of its destruction was surely the most dreadful prospect, something not to be countenanced at all. Yet it would happen, and rather than hide behind the false hope of a pleasant image, he teaches people the plain unvarnished truth. Rather than a sugar-coated pill he gives us a bitter draught, so that we can be prepared.

False teaching is always a possibility for the Church – people want to pervert the Gospel, to twist it for their own ends and to suit their own agenda – it is happening now, and has always happened. We need, therefore to be vigilant, to know what we believe and why, so that we can discern the true from the false, the good from the bad.

In human terms, the future looks bleak – human beings have an immense capacity for doing the wrong thing, and yet in the midst of all this we know whom we can trust, whom we can look to, where we can place our hope and our confidence. The possibility of being tortured or killed for professing faith in Jesus Christ is still very real, here and now, in the world in which we live. It’s a deeply unpleasant thought, and while none of us I suspect would like to undergo such treatment, we have to be prepared for the possibility, we have to be willing to stand up and be counted, to know that we place Christ before and above all things.

At one level it is quite understandable, what Christ stands for, what we stand for: love, forgiveness, selflessness, are never going to be popular in a world obsessed by power and wealth. But we’re not here to win a popularity contest, but rather to bear witness to the truth of Christ, and to know that we are set free by it. The love of many may grow cold; indeed it has, so we need to be that love in the world to make Christ known and to call others into His loving embrace. Against a human nature which takes a perverse delight in selfishness and sin, in not living how God wants us to, we need to take a stand.

Fundamentally the calling to be a saint is there for each and every one of us. We are called to be like Christ, and through our baptism to die to the ways of the world and live for him. In our baptism we are given the grace of God and His Holy Spirit, we are given all that we need to get to Heaven, because Christ loves us, and gave Himself to die for us, to take away our sins, to show us what love and forgiveness really look like, so that we can do the same.

On our own, each one of us individually doesn’t stand much of a chance, it’s far too difficult, it’s not how it is supposed to be.Rather we need to live out our faith together, as a community of believers, helping each other, supporting each other, praying for and forgiving each other, being built up in love together, so that together we can truly be the people of God, forgiving each other, loving each other, and helping to make the Kingdom a reality here and now.

We come to be nourished by Him, to be fed by the Word of God, nourished in our faith, to be fed with His Body and Blood, to be given a foretaste of heaven, fed by Him, fed with Him, to be built up in love together, strengthened and nourished to live out our common calling to sainthood, and to encourage others to join us, as this is what God wants us to do – this is life in all its fullness, following the Truth which sets us free from the ways of the world – its selfishness, its lust for power and control, its fear and anger, all those things which separate us from God and each other.

So let us come to Him, let our lives be transformed by Him, so that we can live out our faith together, in our common calling, and encourage others so to do, so that they too 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.

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)

29th Sunday of Year A, Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity: Isa 45 1-7, 1Thess 1:1-10, Mt 22:15-22

People get in a fluster about coins. It is nothing new, currently people are worried that, despite there being about 500 million in circulation, the old round £1 coin is no longer legal tender. Such things are important. They are part of our lives – how we pay for things. Their size, shape and decoration matter too, otherwise those in power would not bother to design the coins we use. Our gospel this morning is all about a denarius, it is a small silver coin, about ¾ of an inch in diameter, the size of a modern 5p, or a penny. It was a day’s wage, the pay given to the labourers in the vineyard , or one thirtieth of the bribe given to Judas Iscariot, and the cost of the Roman poll tax, about £50 in today’s money.

Jesus and the Pharisees have something of a troubled relationship: they just do not seem to be able to understand what he is saying or why he is saying it. All they can do is to try and catch him out, to find a way to entrap him. In the gospel they must think that they have finally got him on the horns of a dilemma. They ask him the question, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ If he says, ‘no’ then he’s allied himself with zealots, religious extremists, he has made a provocative political statement for which he can be denounced. If he says, ‘yes’ then they can write him off as a collaborator, he is not one of us, he is not a real prophet, a true son of Israel. All the Pharisees are interested in is understanding what Jesus says in political terms. Their opening pleasantries ring hollow, they don’t mean what they say; they are just trying to butter him up with empty flattery.

Jesus turns the tables on them by asking them to show him a coin used to pay the tax, so that he can ask ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answer ‘Caesar’s’ allowing him to say, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s’. Whereas the Pharisees come filled with malice, with a desire to catch him out, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to show them the proper order of things: pay your taxes but give God what is owed to him – a heart filled with love, love of God and of each other, a life which proclaims this love in the service of others and through the worship of Almighty God. This is where real power lies, this is the truly subversive aspect of Jesus’ teaching, which he proclaims in the Temple, in the heart of the religious establishment – to show people how to live, and live life to the full.

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Jesus does not get drawn into the argument whether it is idolatrous to use Roman coins with pictures of pagan gods on them , and the  inscription, ‘TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F. avgvstvs pontif. maxim.’ Paying a Roman tax with a Roman coin is fine, but what matters more is rendering to God the things that are God’s.

Jesus is asking us all a difficult question. What do you and I, all of us, render to God in our personal lives? If we claim to be disciples, then what does that actually mean in the way we speak and act?

We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We are to be generous, forgiving and kind, to the point of extravagance, because that is how God has been to us. It is a radically different way of living which shows that while we are in this world, we are not of it. Instead, we render to God the worship which is His by right, not just in church, but in all of our lives.

Thus as Christians we follow a differnt set of rules, we show that we can live lives of freedom. In the power of the Holy Spirit the Truth can be proclaimed, the truth which sets us free from the ways of the world, free to love and serve God. This freedom can be seen in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians to whom Paul writes. Rather than worshipping idols, they serve the living and true God, they are an example to Christians of how to live. Their lives proclaim the truth which they serve. This is the dark truth of which the prophet Isaiah speaks, these are the hidden riches.

As opposed to either the collaboration of the Herodians or the rigourist harshness of the Pharisees, Jesus proclaims the freedom and love of the Kingdom of God. It is a place of welcome – the image is that of the wedding feast to which all people are invited. People are too busy or preoccupied to come; others just don’t want to be invited: they mistreat the people who invite them. But this does not stop the invitation being offered to all, it still is. It is why we are here today, so that we can be nourished by Word and Sacrament, we can join in the wedding feast, so that we can be strengthened in love and in faith, to proclaim the reality of the Kingdom of God, to be an example to others to draw them in to the loving embrace of God – to be healed and restored by Him.

We see this love and healing most fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the costly love in action which restores our relationship with God and each other. Thanks to this we are here today to be restored and renewed, to be built up in love together, it is a reality in our lives.

Let us come to him, to be healed and renewed, strengthened, built up in love, so that we 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.

18th Sunday after Trinity: Matthew 22:1-14

Oswald Golter was a missionary in northern China during the 1940s. After ten years service he was returning home. His ship stopped in India, and while waiting for a boat home he found a group of refugees living in a warehouse on the pier. Unwanted by anyone else the refugees were stranded there. Golter went to visit them. As it was Christmas-time wished them a merry Christmas and asked them what they would like for Christmas.

“We’re not Christians,” they said. “We don’t believe in Christmas.”

“I know,” said the missionary, “but what do you want for Christmas?” They described some German pastries they were particularly fond of, and so Oswald Golter cashed in his ticket, used the money to buy baskets and baskets of the pastries, took them to the refugees, and wished them a merry Christmas.

When he later repeated the incident to a class, a student said, “But sir, why did you do that for them? They weren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus.”

“I know,” he replied, “but I do!”

Most people like being invited to attend a party. Almost everyone here would greet an invitation with joy: if it were a wedding, all the more. There will be lots to eat and drink, music, dancing, everything you could want at a celebration. In this morning’s Gospel reading this is the image Jesus uses to introduce his parable, the Parable of the Wedding Feast. We can all sympathise with the king in the parable. He has every right to be annoyed. He has invited people and they are either too busy to bother to come or mistreat those whom he sends to invite them.

The Good News of the Christian Faith, which this parable embodies, is one of generous hospitality: God is generous towards us, and so we are expected to be generous to one another. In this morning’s gospel, Jesus has gone to Jerusalem. He has cleansed the Temple, he has healed the sick and the lame, and is preaching about the love of God. In his parable we see salvation history condensed into a paragraph. And we see how God sent the prophets to invite people to God’s feast – but they are too busy, too concerned with matters of this world, they ignore the prophets, some of the prophets are killed, the city, Jerusalem, is destroyed, and still they do not come. So God’s invitation is widened: all are welcome.

And yet, if we turn to our own day, the invitation is still made, but people are ready or unwilling to come to God’s banquet. They are too busy, their lives are too full, and going to a Eucharist on a Sunday morning is seen as one choice among many, with people preferring to read the paper, wash the car, or spend time with their nearest and dearest. Lest we think that we are somehow better for being here are, we can ask ourselves how much have we done? How committed are we? We could all of us, I suspect, do more for the sake of the gospel.

This parable gives us a clear example of one of the main themes of Matthew’s gospel: Jesus comes to feed us. He has found the 5000 and 4000, to show the world the abundant and generous nature of God’s love. The kingdom God is about food in particular food for the poor. This is a feast of God’s abundance. The food given by Jesus is not only to feed the hungry, but to stage a banquet, to which we and all humanity, despite our unworthiness, are invited. God will give himself as both priest and victim upon the altar of the cross, to feed humanity with his body and blood, to heal our wounds – to make us become what he is.

This generous invitation comes with a challenge, how can we sit down at the Lord’s banquet, when there are those who will die for a lack of food? The church is called to be a community of holiness, where Jesus expects those called to his kingdom to bear fruit. Only when we are poor enough in spirit to know our need of God, and yet able to feed others, can we be sent to be living truly Christian lives. We all need to be clothed in wedding garments: a garment of baptism making one in the body of Christ, a garment of generous hospitality, putting God’s love into practice in our lives by showing that love to others, and a garment of repentance and we are sorry for our sins and shortcomings and turn back to a God who loves us and who will never abandon us. This is what the future looks like, and the time of the Lord’s banquet is now, and forever. We are fed by him in the words of Holy Scripture, and most importantly with His Body and Blood, to enter more fully into the very life of God, to be formed by him, strengthened by him – given bread for our journey, and to go out and feed others and invite them to the great King’s feast. We are called to share the generous gift we have received with others, so that they may share in the joy of the Kingdom and give glory to God the Father God the Son of God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed this is most right and just all Might, Majesty, Glory, Dominion, and Power now and for ever…

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Harvest (John 6:27–35)

Meddai Iesu wrthynt, ‘Myfi yw’r bara bywyd.’ 

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.’ 

In the second chapter of the Book of Genesis we read that, ‘the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.’ Thus, to work the land is to engage in something which takes us back to the very beginnings of humanity. It is the most ancient profession and indeed an honourable one. The practice of coming together to offer our praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for the goodness of creation and a harvest safely gathered in is, likewise, an ancient and honourable thing. Just as the Ancient Israelites gave thanks for their harvest in the promised land, so do we. We should, as part of our worship of God offer him the best of all that we have as a response to a loving and generous God. Mae popeth yn rhodd gan Dduw All things are a gift from God, it is right that we are thankful to God who created all things.

But while this is important, we need to be careful. Is what we are engaged in a bit of cosy folk religion, a matter of duty, an excuse to be seen, or perhaps something more? When this church was built, its congregation, who lived on and worked the land would gather on the 1st August for Lammas, or Loaf-Mass to give thanks for a successful grain harvest. With the renewal of the Church in the mid nineteenth century the idea of a harvest celebration became popular once again. This is a good thing, the world is better when filled with grateful, loving people.

But as well as giving thanks to God, we also need to be shocked, challenged, and changed by the example and teaching of Jesus in the Gospel. Are we as a church and a society, content simply to be fed, or is God asking more of us. Our faith is not something we can simply keep safe in a box, to put on like a hat for church on Sunday – it needs to be more than that. Our faith must form all that we are, and all that we do, and say, and think. Our belief in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ needs to form the very ground of our being. This faith, like a plant, needs to be tended, watered, and protected from weeds. It needs to be nourished, encouraged, and taught, and shared with others.

The crowd in the Gospel story have not grasped the meaning and importance of their being fed. They have not understood its spiritual meaning but are rather interested in the prospect of another free meal. Jesus, however, feeds them as a sign of their heavenly food, the bread of eternal life. Rather than working for the food that perishes we too need to work for the bread of life, which is Christ himself. We need to meet at the Lord’s table to be fed by his word and his very self, his body and blood under the forms of bread and wine. We need to have our bread for the journey for our life of faith together. God is the sustenance of life itself, of our very existence, for those who trust in him, and he will fill our every need, by giving us that which we cannot work for ourselves, and for which we hunger most. That is why a celebration of Harvest is best done within the context of a Eucharist, a Thanksgiving to God for Who and What He is, and What HE does for us.

Our desire is surely for a world where none are hungry, where all are loved and cared for. This requires our co-operation with the will of God, and our trust in him. By our being fed by his word and the Eucharist our faith will strengthened and renewed. Our lives can be transfigured, enabling us to transform the world around us, conforming it to the will of God. We can only do this through being nourished body and soul by God – through our participation in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper – fed by God, with God, for God’s work in the world. When we eat normal food it becomes what we are. But here when we eat, we become what it is, we a re transformed more and more into the God who loves us and saves us. Only this can satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst, and give us true peace, and hasten the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. Whilst we are thankful, we also need to be mindful that the kingdom of God is something happening right here and right now, and it has the power to transform the world around us, starting with us here today: the true harvest for the Church is the harvest of souls, of those who love Jesus Christ and are nourished by Him and with Him. We are grateful for all that we are, and are given by God, which makes us want to share it with others. It may not look it, but it is a radically different way of life. If we take Jesus seriously when He says, ‘Myfi yw’r bara bywyd’ ‘I am the bread of life’ then we eat Him so that we might share in His life, and share that life with others. This is our faith as Christians, and it provides us with the hope that we may live with Him forever.

We share His life with others so that they may enter into the joy of the Lord, and receive the precious gift of new life in Christ. The gift is free but it comes with the obligation to share it with others. We do this willingly because it is not a hardship, or an imposition, but rather a joy, a gift which so precious that not to share it would be selfish and wrong.

So let us share it with the world so that it may believe and give glory to God the Father God the Son of God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed this is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power now and for ever

A thought for the day from S. Thérèse of Lisieux

I saw that love alone imparts life to all the members, so that should love ever fail, apostles would no longer preach the gospel and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. Finally, I realised that love includes very vocation, that love is all things, that love is eternal, reaching down to the utmost limits of the earth.

Beside myself with joy, i cried out: ‘O Jesus, my love, my vocation is found at last – my vocation is love! I have found my place in the church, and this place, Jesus, you have given me yourself; in the heart of the Church, I will be love. In this way I will be all things and my wish will be fulfilled.

But why do I say ‘beside myself with joy’? It is, rather, peace which has claimed me, the calm, quiet peace of the sailor as he catches sight of the beacon which lights him to port. The beacon of love.

I am only a weak and helpless child but my very weakness which makes me dare to offer myself, Jesus, as a victim to your love. In the old days, only pure and spotless victims of holocaust would be accepted by God, and his justice was appeased by the most perfect sacrifices. Now the law of fear has given way to the law of love, and I have been chosen, though weak and imperfect, as love’s victim.

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26th Sunday of Year A Mt 22:28–32

Have you ever made a promise and not kept it? I know that I have. And all of us, if we are honest, have to admit that we have, all of us, from time to time done this. It is not the most comfortable of things to come face-to-face with one’s own shortcomings, but if we are to live the Christian life, really, wholly, and fully, then it is something that we need to do.

In this morning’s gospel, Jesus is talking to the chief priests and elders, the religious leaders of his day, the people supposed to lead the people of Israel in their relationship with God. He has entered Jerusalem in triumph, cast out the money-changers from the temple, and cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit. What we are witnessing in the gospel is a religious reform. Those who are supposed to have brought people closer to God are to be understood as defiant and rebellious; they are the problem rather than the solution.

Jesus begins by asking a question, what do you think? These simple words speak profoundly of the freedom given to humanity by God. We are not forced, but rather invited to engage in a conversation, God does not compel us. Of the two sons, clearly the one who overcomes his initial reluctance and ends up doing the will of his father, working in the vineyard, is the example for us to follow. He experiences repentance, turns away from this form of behaviour and does what is best for him.  The son is not a hypocrite; he is just stubborn, rebellious, and disobedient – but he repents.

The other son begins with an outward show of respect: he looks like a dutiful son, addressing his father as Sir. But he is basically a hypocrite, as true obedience comes not in the outward displays of respect, but in doing the will of God. The chief priests and elders have rejected Jesus and soon will be calling out for his death, they will take the Messiah, the one who could save them from their sins, and kill him. What greater turning away from God could there be?

Tax-collectors and prostitutes were the lowest of the low, the one cheated, the other was sexually immoral, both were on good terms with the Romans, they were not the kind of company a religiously observant Jew would keep. And yet, despite their sins, they are willing to repent, they know they need for God, and God loves them, heals their wounds, and welcomes them into his kingdom. The religious authorities stand convicted by their own lips:  in recognising that it is more important to do the will of God rather than simply to say that one will, they highlight their own hypocrisy: they have been told by John the Baptist whom they ignored, and now when Jesus tells them again they will ignore him too.

Are we then, here today, going to follow the example of the hypocritical Jewish religious authorities and make an outward show of our closeness to God, while refusing to repent of our sins, or are we going to be like the tax collectors and prostitutes, who know their need of God, who know their own shortcomings, who believe and trust in God, who want to be healed by him, and turn away from all that separates us from God.

God to show his love for us gave himself for us, upon the cross, where Jesus Christ is both priest and victim, this same sacrifice will become as present here this morning as it did on a Hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago. God will give himself to us in his body and his blood, under the outward forms of bread and wine, to heal us, to draws closer to himself, to show us how much he loves us. So then let us taste and see how gracious the Lord is, but most of all, and may we all do the will of our Father in Heaven. Let us turn away from what we have been and conform ourselves to the will of God, fed by him, strengthened by him, loved by him, forgiven by him, and built up as a living temple to His glory.

And now to God the Father God the Son of God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed this is most right and just all Might,  Majesty, Glory, Dominion, and Power now and for ever…

25th Sunday of Year A: Mt 20:1-16

The First shall be last and the Last first

A CHILD stands in front of their mother with a strange look upon their face. ‘But mummy’ they cry, ‘I want to eat my Pudding first.’ The child’s mother explains how it is necessary that they eat their dinner first. The child remains unconvinced, though as they become aware that they’re not going to have their own way, all they can say is ‘It’s not fair.’ At one level, almost all of us would prefer Sponge and Custard to Brussels Sprouts. It is simply more fun to eat. At a deeper level we are all concerned by matters of fairness. Our God gives us a vision of justice, where in the words of the Magnificat, he puts down the mighty from their seat and has exalted the humble and meek. The kingdom of God can truly turn this world around.

So, when we turn to this morning’s gospel, we see in the parable of the vineyard a vision of divine justice and generosity. At one level it looks deeply unfair that those who have worked all day should receive the same pay as those who’ve worked for only one hour. If this were simply a matter of business and employment practice, the way the workforce should probably go on strike.

Thankfully, this is a parable. It contains a deeper truth about God and his relation with humanity. In the kingdom of God, all are equal. It is as plain and simple as that. There is no such thing as a better class of Christian. God treats us all in the same way and fundamentally loves each and every one of us. I, though I serve God and his people as a priest was not chosen for being a better Christian in the first place, nor am I better than anyone of you. This morning’s gospel reminds us of the important truth that salvation is the free gift of God, which we receive and baptism and is strengthened through the sacraments of the church. We cannot earn our way to heaven – it isn’t that simple. And we should always remember that heaven is full of sinners, whom God loves and who love God, and trust in his love his mercy and his forgiveness. The more we experience and understand the overwhelming love and generosity of God, the stranger it becomes. All we can do is to listen to what God says in the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, our God is rich in forgiveness his thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. And if the truth be told, it is a good thing that this is the case.

As Christians we need to respond to this generous love and if we are to be truly thankful then it should affect us who we are and how we live our lives. We need to live our lives like people who are loved and forgiven, and in turn show love and forgiveness to those around us. It’s difficult for us to do on our own, but thankfully we live in a community called the church where we receive forgiveness, where we can be fed by word and sacrament, where we can strengthen and encourage one another, through prayer and acts of charity, to live the truth of the gospel in our lives. If you’re looking for a model of how to live as a Christian, can I recommend the last six verses of the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:

42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

And to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most just and right, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever…

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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The 23rd Sunday of Yr A: Ezek 33:7-11, Rom 13:8-14, Mt 18:15-20

The Church is hardly out of the media these days for one reason or another. Numbers in the pews are dropping off the cliff and, depending on your point of view, the Church is either too closely aligned with the views of the world, or too much at odds with them. Regardless of where you stand it is fair to say that the church is afraid. Are we actually afraid of the truth of the Gospel? Have we forgotten that Christ comes to set his people free? And yet this freedom is not absolute, it is a limited freedom. The church has always stated that certain behaviours or actions are not in keeping with the Christian way of life. The church has proclaimed certain moral truths: that life is sacred from conception to a natural death, that the only proper place for sexual activity is between a man and woman who are married to each other, based on Holy Scripture as the revelation of God’s will to promote human flourishing. As an ordered society it has the right to discipline its members, for their own good, and the good of their souls, to regulate their behaviour so that it conforms with wth Scripture and ultimately the will of God.

It is not popular to stand up and do this. It never has been, nor will it ever be popular to bear witness to the truth. The prophet Ezekiel has a difficult task: to call the wicked to repent from their evil ways, or to be responsible for them. Through the prophet God calls his people back to Him. Though they are wayward they are given a chance to repent, to return to the ways of human flourishing. Sin can separate us from God and each other, it is divisive, it wounds, whereas the kingdom of God is a place of healing. As Christians we believe that Our Lord and Saviour died upon the Cross bearing the weight of our transgressions: He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who once and for all deals with the problem – human sinfulness and its effects upon us and the world. Under the New Covenant St Paul can repeat the same message. Earlier, at the start of Chapter 12 he has reminded the Roman Christians  ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,’ (Rom 12:2). He has criticised where they have gone wrong in the past and is looking to a future where they can put such immorality behind them. He is insistent: ‘Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.’ (Rom 13:11-14) . For the Church after Pentecost we await Our Lord’s Second Coming as Judge of All. While He is merciful, for those who reject Him there remains the possible of Hell for eternity.

It is why at the beginning of his public ministry Christ proclaims the same message as John the Baptist: ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand’. To repent is to turn away from sin, to turn towards God, to be healed and restored by him. It is why our acts of worship as Christians often start with the recognition that we have fallen short; that we need constantly to turn to God, and ask for forgiveness, for the strength to live the kind of lives which lead to human flourishing. It affects each and every one of us, you and me, and we need help – we simply cannot manage on our own, we’re not strong enough. One can and should point out where someone is going wrong, but unless there is a conscious recognition of having fallen short, it is as though the grace of God can be resisted. Such stubbornness is part of the human condition, and it is why for two thousand years the Church has proclaimed the Love and Forgiveness of God, and its message can always be lived out better in our lives. The Church exists to continue to call people to repentance, to carry on the healing and reconciling work of Jesus, here and now. It is offered freely, and may be rejected – God is after all not a tyrant who forces us.

We can recognise the problem and its effects but also be assured of a solution in the person of Jesus Christ, whose forgiveness is for all, who gives us baptism so that we might have new life in Him, and gives himself under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we might feed on His Body and Blood to be healed and restored by Him.

This is neither cosy nor comfortable. But  it is rather a radical transformative message, one which has the potential to change not just us, and who and what we are, but the entire world. This is the Good News of the Kingdom.  Here in the Eucharist we are soon to be in the presence of the God who loves us, and who saves us, who heals and restores us. We have a foretaste of heaven; we can come far closer to God than Moses did on Mt Sinai. We have the medicine for which our souls cry out. So let us come to Him and let His Grace transform our lives.

At the end of this morning’s Gospel we see a promise made by Jesus firstly that prayer will be answered and of his presence among us. Part of repentance, the turning away from the ways of the world, is the turning towards God in prayer, listening to Him, being open to his transforming love in our lives, so that God’s grace can perfect our human nature, and prepare us for heaven here and now – so let us live the life of the Kingdom, having turned away from all that separates us from God and each other, with tears of repentance and a resolve not to sin, and with tears of joy that God gives himself to suffer and die for love us. We cannot be lukewarm about this: for it is either of no importance or interest to us whatsoever, or the most wonderful news which should affect who we are and what we do.

There can be no complacency, no simply going through the motions, turning up to be seen, to provide a veneer of social respectability. It is a matter of life and death, whose repercussions are eternal. We have a choice to make. Do you wish to follow the ways of the world, the ways of sin and death? Or would you heed the warning?

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Some words of S. Teresa of Calcutta

  • Love to pray, since prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself. Ask and seek and your heart will grow big enough to receive him as your own.
  • Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.
  • Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.
  • Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.
  • The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.
  • At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.’
  • Live simply so others may simply live.
  • Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.
  • We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.
  • I must be willing to give whatever it takes to do good to others. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me, and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.

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The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity: Who do YOU say that I am? (Mt 16:13-20)

We live in a strange world, where in a little over fifty years we have experienced more profound and rapid social change than any other generation in history. Such a thing is hard to come to terms with, but there is a vocal group here in the West whose aim is to make the Church conform itself to the world around us. I for one am unable in all conscience to accept their revisionist agenda for a simple reason. In the twelfth chapter Paul’s Letter to the Romans the apostle writes ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds’ (Rom 12:2). Paul tells the Church in Rome, and he tells us not to be like the world around us, not to bow to secular pressure, or follow their lead. Instead, the Church exists to call the world to repentance, to turn its back on the false ways of the world and to be conformed to Christ, and ‘to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’ (Rom 12:1). It isn’t easy, it is challenging and demanding and costly. The Christian Faith does after all make demands on those who follow it, especially regarding what we do and how we live our lives.

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, in fact 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. 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 you could worship 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’s always been this way. Jesus has been seen by the masses in so many different ways. But Jesus asks then asks his disciples, ‘But who do YOU say that  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 problematic, it undermined what Jews thought about religion, and the claims made by Romans about the Emperor. It is a 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, indeed in the fourth century A.D. it looked as though the church has been taken over by Arians followers of Arius, who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. And yet, in the end, Orthodoxy won the day. But still nowadays Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and others deny Jesus’ divinity. They are WRONG: He is God, consubstantial, and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The reason why the church repeats the words of the Nicene Creed week by week is to remind ourselves of what we believe. As Christians in worship we stand up and make a public declaration of faith, something which would once have led to our death at the hands of the state, and nowadays in some states still does.

As Christians we should not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified. But as well as making this public declaration, we need to live lives which show this faith being lived out in practice.

If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God, the Messiah – the anointed one who delivers us from our sins, and who died, rose again, and sends us His Holy Spirit; then this faith should affect who we are and how we live our lives. Only if we take our faith seriously, if we take the time and make the effort to pray regularly and to read the Scriptures, to come to Mass, not because they’re nice things to do, or to be seen to do them, but because they keep as close to Jesus, can we hope to grow in faith. Only then can we become living stones, built as a temple to God’s glory, on the foundation of the church which comes to us from the apostles, believing what the church has always believed, doing what the church has always done, or continuing in the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers, as St Luke puts it at the end of the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. This is how we live a Christian life, as well as living out our faith in our lives, sharing that faith with others, without being frightened or afraid, rude or triumphalist, but simply, humbly, and patiently. If it were not true, we would be the most pitiable of fools; but as it is true we have to live lives which embody that truth, in our words and in our deeds, so that we may proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, so that they may believe and 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.

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St Nicholas slaps Arius at the Council of Nicaea for his heresy

from Priesthood in Liturgy and Life by Fr Alban Baverstock SSC

The Christian priest pre-eminently exercises his priesthood at the Christian altar, offering the Christian sacrifice.  But it is surely clear that the Christian priest cannot satisfy the obligations which his share in the Eternal Priesthood lays upon him by the sole act of celebrating, occasionally or frequently, the Christian Mysteries.  At the altar or away from it, he is still a priest; and this priesthood must express itself in a life which is throughout an ordered ministry to God.  In other words the life of the priest must be liturgical.  His mass must be the summary for him, as for the great High Priest, of a life of self-oblation.  In the mysteries he offers himself in Christ.  His whole life must be a showing of Christ, impersonated in him, to God.  He must always be saying Mass.

A ready parallel meets us here in the apostolic injunction to ‘pray without ceasing’ [1Thess. 5.17].  This is rightly explained to mean more than that Christians are to be often at their prayers.  It means that the whole life of the Christian should be in a sense prayer, a coming to God, an energizing towards him.

And the parallel suggests an important conclusion as to the relation of the formal liturgy to the liturgical life, parallel to the relation between formal prayer and the life which is itself a continual prayer.  For the life of prayer, as experience abundantly proves, involves of necessity a due and constant attention to formal prayer.  Similarly the liturgical life, the life which is throughout a ministry to God, an oblation by the priest of himself in Christ and of Christ in him, depends very much on his formal celebration of the holy mysteries.  And the converse is true.  We shall never pray as we ought in our formal prayers unless our whole life breathes the spirit of prayer.  The priest will never say mass as he ought unless his whole life is imbued with the spirit of the mass, the spirit of oblation.

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Mary’s Fundamental Title

The description ‘Mother of God’ … is … the fundamental name with which the Community of Believers has always honoured the Blessed Virgin. It clearly explains Mary’s mission in salvation history. All other titles attributed to Our Lady are based on her vocation to be the Mother of the Redeemer, the human creature chosen by God to bring about the plan of salvation, centred on the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word.

Let us us think of the privilege of the ‘Immaculate Conception,’ that is, of Mary being immune to sin from conception: she was preserved from any stain of sin because she was to be the Mother of the Redeemer. The same applies to the title ‘Our Lady of the Assumption’: the One who had brought forth the Saviour could not be subject to the corruption which derives from original sin. And we know that all these privileges were not granted in order to distance Mary from us but, on the contrary, to bring her close; indeed, since she was totally with God, this woman is very close to us and helps us as a mother and a sister. The unique and unrepeatable position that Mary occupies in the Community of Believers also stems from her fundamental vocation to being the Mother of the Redeemer. Precisely as such, Mary is also the Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI General Audience 2 January 2008

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Jesus heals the Syro-Phoenician Woman’s daughter

The Prophecy of Isaiah is rightly called the Fifth Gospel. More than any other text in the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament, we see presented the Messianic hope, a hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Through his prophet God tells his people to maintain justice, to do the right thing for the right reasons, that salvation is coming, and that right soon. The promise and the hope is not just for Israel, but for anyone who joins themselves to the Lord, who love His Name, and keep His sabbath. God further declares that ‘His House shall be called a House of prayer for all peoples’ words which Jesus will use when cleanses the Temple of its money-changers. God is one who gathers the outcasts and more besides.

The Apostle Paul was born a Jew, trained in the law, a pharisee of the school of Hillel, who knows God to be faithful, but whose life’s work was to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom to Gentiles, to non-Jews, as God is merciful to all, He loves everyone, and longs to see us reconciled to Him, and each other.

This morning’s Gospel shows us a woman in need. Her daughter is seriously unwell, she’s desperate. She turns to Jesus and begs Him, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ She is respectful, and polite, but Jesus ignores her. Then the disciples urge Him to send her away, she’s a pain, she’s a Caananite, a Syro-Phoenecian, a foreigner, she’s not one of us. Jesus answers the woman, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ And up to this point Jesus’ ministry has focussed on Jews, and would seem to be exclusive to them. She comes and kneels before Jesus, she is completely dependant upon Him. All she can do is to cry out, ‘Lord, help me.’ And even then Jesus replies, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ His words sound harsh, rude and xenophobic, but for a first century Jew they were not strange at all, they were normal, they were expected of the Chosen People, who had forgotten the words of Isaiah. The woman, however, is not put off, she is persistent, and she uses Jesus’ words against Him: ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ She demonstrates complete trust in God, and her attitude is one of worship. And so ‘Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.’ In an instant it is all sorted out. Such is the power of FAITH.

Jesus Christ was never afraid to court controversy, or to challenge a religious hierarchy. Generally speaking it’s the Pharisees who tend to get both barrels so to speak. Jesus has a problem with hypocrisy: when what we say and what we do don’t match up. The Pharisees are so concerned with outward conformity to the letter of the Law of Moses that they have forgotten what the spirit is. While they stress the need for outward purity in terms of hand-washing, they need to remember that what is far worse is how what people think and say and do affects who and what they are. In their rigid outward conformity they have forgotten that at a fundamental level the Law of Moses needs affect our lives and to be lived out in them.

It is a great challenge to each and every one of us to live up to this. It is both simple and difficult, and something which we all need to do together, as a community, so that we can support each other, and help each other to live out our faith in our lives. Otherwise we are the blind leading the blind, valuing outward conformity over the conversion of the soul, more concerned with appearance than reality and making a mockery of God and religion. It is an easy trap into which we can and do fall, so let us be vigilant and encourage each other not to fall into it, and to help each other out when we do.

The healing of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenecian woman can appear to be troubling at first: the Kingdom which Jesus comes to inaugurate is meant to be a place of healing, so its initial absence is troubling. The disciples can only see the woman as a troublesome annoyance, she’s making a fuss. The reward for her faith and tenacity is God’s healing. She shows more love, more care than the people of Israel. And through her the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. We look to her example as a forerunner in the faith and like her we pray:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Like the woman in the Gospel we need God’s merciful love to be poured out upon us, we long for healing, and we do so through the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood. Like her we need to recognise that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, and that while we are not worthy, nonetheless God loves us and heals us. We are healed by the wounds of Christ on the Cross at Calvary, where His Body is broken and His Blood is shed for us, for you and me.

We are fed so that we might be healed, to strengthen us to live out our faith together, not in outward conformity, keeping up appearances, for the sake of propriety, but so that we can be healed, and helped to live out our faith together. That filled with joy we might share our faith 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 who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

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The Nineteenth Sunday of Year A Mt 14:22-33

Fear is a very human feeling, we acquire it through learning, and yet it can be overcome, if we trust in God. Christians in Iraq, China, North Korea & Palestine face real danger, real persecution (we’re safe and comfortable by comparison) and yet they trust, they pray (and so should we) and we should do all that we can to help them. The state of politics at home and abroad is troubling, to say the least. We are afraid that this is the closest we have been to the use of nuclear weapons since the 1960s.

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

This morning’s Gospel carries straight on from the miraculous feeding which we should have heard last week, as Jesus goes to send the crowds back home, he sends disciples ahead so that they might be ready.

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.

Prayer is important, it is as important as the food we eat, the air we breathe, because it is about our relationship with God. Throughout the Gospels Jesus spends time alone, spends time close to the Father as this relationship is crucial. Where Jesus leads we should follow, follow his example.

When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 

It’s getting dark, and the disciples are out in the middle of the lake, in deep water; will the boat sink, what can they do?

And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 

But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

The disciples cannot believe that they are seeing Jesus, they think that it is a ghost. But it is Him, and he encourages them, his presence can give them confidence. He tells the disciples, and he tells us not to be afraid, not to fear the world, but to trust in Him.

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’

As usual, Peter is the first to react, he takes the lead as usual. Jesus speaks a single word to him, ‘Come’ He speaks it to each and every one of us as Christians, to come, to follow him, to be close to him, to live out our faith in our lives strengthened by prayer. Will we trust Jesus enough to follow Him?

“So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.’

Peter listens to what Jesus says, and obeys him, and does something miraculous, something extraordinary, until he is distracted by the world around him, and becomes frightened. Likewise we, in our lives can in the power of God do wonderful things, if we are not distracted by the cares of the world around us. If we listen to what Jesus tells us and do it.

Peter becomes frightened; he starts to sink, as do we all when the cares of this world overwhelm us. His reaction is to cry ‘Lord, save me’ which Jesus does, indeed, through his offering of himself upon the Cross he saves each and every one of us, taking the sin of the world upon himself so that we might be freed from sin, fear and death. That same sacrifice will be made present here, so that we the people of God, can be fed by God, with God, with his Body and Blood to be strengthened to have life in him, to be close to him.

Peter is told off for lacking faith, because it is important, we too need to trust God, to have faith in Him, so that He can be at work in us and through us.

At the end, once the wind has died down the disciples worship Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ The end of it all is worship, it is what we as humans and as Christians are for. We are to worship God, in our love and our prayer, so that all of our lives are an act of worship, drawing us ever closer to the source of life and love. So that all we say or think or do may proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, so that they may believe and 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.

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The Transfiguration 

The world around us has a good idea of what it thinks glory is: most of the time it looks like 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 we will see is something entirely different, in fact it is the exact opposite of human glory. We see God’s Glory this morning on Mt Tabor, and on the hill of Calvary.
In the Prophecy of Daniel 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, it is a glimpse of heaven, a foretaste for us of what Christ has given us His Church. The glory of the Transfiguration is something which the Second Letter of Peter stresses – as Christians we do not follow a made-up religion – it is not a work of fiction, but rather through spending time with Jesus, 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 goes up the mountain to pray, to be alone with God the Father. His public ministry was rooted in prayer, in being close to the Father, listening and speaking to Him. As Christians we are to follow His 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 responds in a moment with a very human response, he knows that it is good to be here and it helps to change his life. His response points to the Feast of Tabernacles when Jews remembered the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai to Moses. But this experience is not to be prolonged, it is 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: He is the Son of God, He is loved and we should listen to Him – what he says and does should affect us and our lives – we have to be open to the possibility of being changed by God. Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after he has risen from the dead. The detail is important: Jesus will go up another mountain to suffer and die upon the cross, taking 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 it 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

That is why we are here this morning – to see the self same sacrifice here with our own eyes, to touch and to taste what God’s love is really like – to go up the mountain and experience the glory of God, so that God’s love may transform us. We are given a foretaste of heaven, and prepared to be transformed 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. To help us to behold true majesty, true love and true glory – the kind that can change the world and last forever, for eternity, not the fading glory of the world, here today and gone tomorrow, but something everlasting, wonderful.
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, built up as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. As those who are healed, and restored, reconciled, and given a foretaste of eternal life with him, so may God take our lives and transform us, so that everything that we say, or think, or do, may proclaim him, let us tell the world about him, so that it too 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.

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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Sixteenth Sunday of Year A Mt 13:24-43

If I were to mention Hell to you, you would probably expect me to also mention damnation, the wretched sinful nature of humanity, and why we all deserve to burn for ever in eternal fire and unquenchable brimstone, striking the pulpit in the manner of a Non-Conformist preacher. You would naturally think this was somewhat out of character for me. But here I stand I can do no other. This morning’s Gospel is quite stark and uncompromising in its portrayal of judgement and the afterlife, and we have a choice to make. We have got used to people not talking about Hell nowadays, we’re far too polite to mention such things. It’s certainly not the Anglican way to dwell on such matters. But we cannot simply bury our heads in the sand and forget that such things exist. We need to understand them.

One of my favourite religious anecdotes comes from Northern Ireland, and relates to this morning’s Gospel, after hearing it read someone asked, ‘What if you’ve not got any teeth?’, to which the preacher responded, ‘Teeth will be provided!’ amidst the humour there lies a serious point – It is real, and  we have a choice to make. Do we want a future without God, cut off from Him, through Sin?  Do we want to condemn ourselves to an eternity of misery, cut off from His love? Or do we want to have life in Christ, life in all its fullness.

Jesus comes to save us from Sin, Death, and Hell. He does this first by proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom and secondly by dying for us on the Cross, bearing the burden of our sins, and overcoming the power of death and Hell, and rising again to New Life. The Church preaches Christ Crucified, and offers salvation in and through Christ alone.

But lest we get too gloomy, let us pause for a moment to consider something important. In the Gospel, the time for the separation of wheat and weeds is not yet. There is time, time for repentance, time to turn away from Sin, and to turn to Christ. The proclamation of the Kingdom is one which calls people to repent, and to believe, to have a change of heart, and to turn away from the ways of the world, the ways of selfishness, which alienate us from God and each other. It is not merely an event, but rather a process, a continual turning towards Christ, and reliance upon His love and mercy, a turning to Him in prayer, being nourished and transformed by our reading of the Bible, and being nourished with the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

The good news is that we are not simply condemned, and we, all of us, have time to make sure that we are wheat and not weeds. Ours is a generous and a loving God, who longs to see His people reconciled, healed, and redeemed. The fact that the wheat and the weeds can grow together until the harvest is done for the sake of the wheat, lest it be pulled up by accident. Ours then is a patient God, who provides us with the opportunity for repentance, time to turn our lives around and follow him. And the Church, just like the world is people good and bad, on various stages of a journey, as earth is a preparation for heaven, we are given all the chances possible to rely on God’s transforming grace in our lives.

It is a hopeful message, a message of healing and reconciliation, that God does not simply give up on us, but rather does all he can to make sure that we are wheat and not weeds. It is the wonder of the Cross, that God sends his Son out of love for humanity, of you and me, to suffer and die for us, to show us the depth of God’s love, That he rises from the tomb so show us that death is not the end, to give us hope. It is the best news there is. And we are told about it now, so that we can do something about it, and we can tell other people too. We can share the message so that others can hear, and repent, and believe, and live new lives in Christ, freed from slavery to sin. 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.

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15th Sunday of Year A – The Parable of the Sower – Matthew 13:1–23

If, this morning, I were to go and stand  outside my local supermarket with a suitcase full of £20 notes and give away free money, you would be surprised if anyone refused the offer. There would in fact be a large queue. People would text and phone their friends. They would come from far and wide and would gladly take what I would give them and would go away happy.

And yet, we as the church offer something of far greater value than some bank notes: the love of God and life in all its fullness. If I were to stand in the middle of this village and talk to people about the love of God in Christ Jesus I doubt that there would be the same kinds of crowds, or a similar level of acceptance.

Jesus never had such problems, quite the opposite in fact, in the Gospel He has been teaching people about the Kingdom of God, and how it creates a new kind of family for us to belong to. He has been quoting from the prophet Isaiah, and now there are so many people who want to listen to what he has to say that he has to go into a boat on the Sea of Galilee to use a cove like a natural auditorium or theatre so that people can see and hear Him. He tells a parable to explain the Kingdom in a way that people could understand. A sower scatters seed, and it falls into various kinds of ground, some plants get choked by weeds. Others fall into thin soil and quickly wither and die. But some fall into good soil and produce a miraculous harvest. It’s a parable about people hearing the proclamation of the Kingdom of God: it’s easy to forget about it, to get choked by the cares of the world, to buckle under the first bit of pressure, but if you listen to what God says, and let it grow in your heart and your life then miraculous things can and will happen. Ours is an extravagant God, a generous God, a God who loves us.

The Church has always struggled with the fact that there are those who are unwilling or unable to receive the message of the Gospel of salvation. It seems so strange that people just aren’t interested in who Jesus is, in what He does, and why it matters.

I certainly don’t understand why anyone would think like that. It makes perfect sense to me, as a man of faith who loves Jesus. I want to tell people about Him. That is why I’m standing here talking to you. It is thanks to the example of a great and holy priest, Fr Glyn Bowen, who lived next door but one to us when I was a child. He was a humble, loving man, who lived out his faith and inspired me and countless others to follow Jesus.

We cannot do everything ourselves, we have to leave some things up to God.  But we can hope and trust along with the apostle Paul that ‘the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ (Rom 8:21 NRSV). We must remember that the spread of the Good News, like all things, is in God’s hands. Unlike in the supermarkets, the Church’s offers are not time-limited. We should not allow people’s reluctance to accept the gospel to detract us from our main purpose. We as Christians are to love God and to love our neighbour, in thought word and deed. This is the key to our faith.

By living lives which proclaim the gospel truth, that there is much more to life than the false enticements of this world, we become fruitful evangelists, with the word of God dwelling in us deeply. As Christians, all of our lives need to be filled with Christ-like love. It cannot be otherwise. Through regular prayer, and reading of the scriptures, but most of all through regular reception of Holy Communion, we can be fed by the Lord, with the Lord,  to become living temples to His glory.

For God is seeking the healing of his people as noted by the prophet Isaiah which Jesus quotes:

You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.” (Mt 13:14-15 NRSV)

Isaiah is giving a message of hope to Israel, to trust in God, and turn towards Him, so that they may be healed. It is fulfilled in Jesus, who brings about that healing on the Cross, when He reconciles us to God and each other. ‘And I would heal them’, Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah ends with a promise of God’s healing. It is a promise which Jesus fulfils on the Cross. Here He shows us that God wants to heal His people, and has sent His Son to do it. This is the Good News of the Kingdom.

We can have a truly loving community in and through Christ, who has taken our sins upon Himself, and reconciled us to God and each other. It allows us to live in an entirely different way to the ways of the world, the ways of sin and division. And in the growth of the Church we can see the New Life and miraculous harvest which God offers.

The people of our generation are reluctant or scared to accept God’s love. They have become inherently suspicious of the idea of a free gift. The only way that they can be encouraged to accept it is by seeing in the lives of people around them examples of how the free love of God affects our lives. We need to reflect God’s love in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds.

So then, let us pray that we may be fed by Him, nourished by Him, strengthened to live lives of gospel truth which proclaim the generous love of God to all those around us. Let us show this love to one another, letting God work in our lives, and helping us to love Him and to love our neighbours, so that the world around us 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. AMEN.

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The Fourteenth Sunday of Year A (Mt 11:16-19, 25-30)

There really is NO pleasing some people! It is completely impossible especially as some people are only happy when they are complaining or moaning about something. No I’m not talking about present-day church meetings, PCCs or even General Synod, I am reflecting on Jesus’ words to the people of His day in this morning’s Gospel.

It is a very human reaction – not being satisfied, and merely focussing on what you think are the negative points. John the Baptist lived a simple ascetic life and is accused of being possessed  by a demon. Jesus eats and drinks with the ‘wrong sort of people’ and is accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. Both approaches certainly have their place in the Christian life: feasting and fasting are part of who and what we are and do. They are both something that Jesus did and something that we should emulate in our own lives. But when we are worried about being seen eating with tax-collectors and sinners – collaborators with the occupying power, prostitutes, people who are beyond the pale and ‘not like us’: then we know that something is seriously wrong. If the the Church acted in this way, we would know that it was in a serious mess.

It’s just like the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. People who think that they are somehow better, morally superior, don’t really think that they need God. They think that they are ok; they are doing just fine thank you very much. They certainly have little need for religion or anything too extreme. The self-righteous attitude of the Pharisees is alive and well, and all around us. Jesus, however, associates with sinners for the simple reason that they know their need for God, they are not self-righteous, just humble. They know who they need to rely on, and also where their strength comes from.

Jesus’ teaching begins with gratitude. He gives thanks to the Father, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. In the prayer He gives us He starts by recognising both who and what God is, God who is the beginning and end of all things. It is a model for our prayers and our lives as Christians. We need to be GRATEFUL people. God has hidden things from the so-called wise and intelligent, those who think that they know it all, and do not pay any attention to Jesus’ words.

Instead, Jesus has revealed the truth to children, those who are weak and foolish. Simple, trusting souls [cf. Celsus] who know their need of God. The key then is humility. And for this our primary example is the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ. God humbled himself to share our humanity, so that we might share His divinity. Through being reliant upon God, and not ourselves we can be rid of the ego, the sense of pride which says, ‘you can do it on your own’. and instead we can put our trust in someone who has been entrusted everything by the Father. In other words we are in Jesus’ hands, and can rely upon Him alone, safe in the knowledge that all will be well.

Jesus’ message is a simple one, ‘Come to me all who labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.’ (Mt 11:28 RSV) Jesus gives us what we long for, something which the world around cannot give us, and He gives us it for free. It is the refreshment spoken of by King David in Psalm 23:1-2 ‘The Lord is my shepherd : therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture : and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.’ This is a God who keeps his promises to us, and these commitments are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Word made Flesh, the fulfilment of all Holy Scripture.

He calls us to take His yoke upon ourselves.  This is an act of submission, becoming like oxen pulling a plough, and beasts of burden. This image naturally leads us to think of Jesus carrying His Cross to Calvary. Paradoxically this is our rest, the easy task, our dancing with joy, this is the Kingdom of God.

It doesn’t make sense, and it is not supposed to, because it is radically different from anything we are used to. The opposite of worldly, selfish ways. Jesus is inaugurating a gentle humble Kingdom, which shows up the violence of the world for what it is: empty and destructive, sinful and selfish, only concerned with power and domination.

The Kingdom of God, however, offers freedom from this. For those who accept it there is gentleness and joy. Yet for those who refuse it there is the judgement of God. Jesus comes to save us from sin and judgement, and both He and His cousin, John the Baptist begin their ministry with the proclamation ‘Repent, the Kingdom of God is near.’ So my brothers and sisters let us turn away from the ways of the world, the ways of sin, selfishness, and death, and find our rest in Christ. Let us take his yoke, and bear his burden, in the joyous new life of His Kingdom. Let us encourage others to do so, that they may know His love and His peace, so that the world may be filled with his love, and so that all 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.

‘Learn of me,’ Jesus said, ‘for I am meek and humble of heart.’ Humility perfects us towards God, mildness and gentleness towards our neighbour.But be careful that mildness and humility are in your heart, for one of the great wiles of the enemy is to lead people to be content with external signs of these virtues, and to think that because their words and looks are gentle, therefore they themselves are humble and mild, whereas in fact they are otherwise. In spite of their show of gentleness and humility, they start up in wounded pride at the least insult or annoying word.

St Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life III:8

 

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The Thirteenth Sunday of Year A

Matthew 10:37-42

Is it easy to be a Christian? No it isn’t, and the answer shouldn’t really come as that much of a surprise. To put it simply God asks a lot of us, and this morning’s Gospel is no exception. Do I love my parents and my wife more than Jesus? Well it’s certainly a close run thing! Am I worthy of Jesus? No, the honest answer is that I’m not. But at least I’m honest about it, and I know that I’m not worthy of Him. I don’t deserve to be saved by Him, and I certainly cannot earn it. I do, however, take up my Cross and follow Him, because Jesus tells me to, and it is the right thing to do, as a Christian. We are people of the Cross, we glory in it, because it proclaims God’s love to the world.

We live in a world characterised by spiritual hunger. A world which has turned its back on Christ and His church. A world which sees itself beset by all manner of spiritual ills, and is desperate for answers and solutions. All we can say to those around us is, ‘Come and lose your life for Christ’s sake’, ‘Come and see’, and ‘Follow Him’. While Jesus is preaching the Good News of the Kingdom in Galilee His mind is on the Cross. He knows what His mission entails – the pain, the agony, the isolation. He calls us to follow Him, to be willing to lay down our lives as He did. In countries around the world right now, Christians know what this means, as they face imprisonment, torture and death for believing in Him. Despite persecution the church is growing in many lands. Sadly the culture of indifference we face here in the United Kingdom means that we are far more likely to be ignored or laughed at than killed, but there is nonetheless a great deal of opposition to us Christians and our beliefs.

So what are we to do? To put it simply our life and our actions, as well as our words need to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. If people can see Jesus in us, they will follow Him. It will not happen overnight, and there is no magic wand to be waved. All we can do is continue to offer the invitation, ‘Come and See’.

It is not surprising that in this morning’s Gospel Jesus talks about welcome – hospitality, making people feel at home and comfortable is part of who and what we are as Christians. It is at the heart of one of the many paradoxes of our faith – Jesus can make us feel both spiritually uncomfortable and challenged, and yet also comfortable, loved and accepted.

We can hardly be surprised that people may be unwilling to listen to or follow Jesus, as what He offers may be seen as too radical, too life-changing, too troubling. It’s too much of an effort! Few people believe in Hell, or life after death, they don’t believe that they have a soul to save, so they are not interested in how to save it!

Indifference means the denial of the distinction between the true and the false, right and wrong. Confusing charity and tolerance, it gives an equal hearing, for example, to speech which advocates the freedom to murder and to speech which advocates the freedom to live. Indifference is never a stable condition, but passes into polarization.

Fulton Sheen Missions and the World Crisis, Milwaukee 1963: 7

Ours is a polarised world where extravagant emotion lives alongside rampant indifference. The position is inconsistent, and so is modernity. The patient is sick, but perhaps the medicine is too bitter. And yet, God continues, through Christ, to welcome us, even when we don’t welcome Him. This is true generosity, as shown by Our Lord’s last words, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ The greatest welcome in the world is when God in Christ opens his arms on the Cross to embrace the world through a love which bears our sin, which reconciles us to God and each other. This foolishness and stumbling block is the heart of our faith:

But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:23-25 (NRSV)

The love of God, like the hospitality of God, is reckless and foolish, it is extravagant, and it doesn’t make sense. Just like serving the best wine at the Wedding in Cana, or feeding us with His Body and Blood, God did not choose to save his people through logic, non in dialectica complacuit Deum salvum facere populum suum, (Ambrose De Fide 1:5 42). God saves us out of love, not that we deserve it, but so that we might have life in and through Him.

This message of love is ours to live out, and we do that by carrying our cross and following Christ, losing our life so that we may find it in Him. We do it by being welcoming to others, inviting them to ‘Come and See’ that we might share it 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.

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The Twelfth Sunday of Year A (Mt 10:26-33)

 

The death of Our Lord on the Cross reveals that we are meant to be perpetually dissatisfied here below. If earth were meant to be a Paradise, then He who made it would never have taken leave of it on Good Friday. The commending of the Spirit to the Father was at the same time the refusal to commend it to earth. The completion or fulfilment of life is in heaven, not on earth.

Fulton Sheen Victory over Vice 1939: 99

We are not used nowadays to seeing religion being couched in negative terms, but its effects can be salutary. If I were to ask you the question, ‘What does Jesus say that we should not do most often in the Gospels?’ what would your answer be? Something to do with sin? It is, ‘Do not be afraid!’ Jesus tells us not to be afraid, to fear no-one, and to trust in Him.

Fear is a feeling induced by a perceived danger or threat, but if we are close to Christ and trust in Him then we need not be afraid. No perceived danger or threat can really harm us: we may suffer pain or even death, but if our trust is in Christ, if our identity is in Him, then we have nothing to fear. He created us, he has redeemed us, and our eternal destiny is to be with Him for ever.

Living a Christian life is at one level a very simple thing: we follow Christ – we do what he told us to do, we fashion our lives after the example of His. We pray because He told us to; we read Scripture which finds its fulfilment and truest meaning in Him. We are baptised like He was, and we come together to do just what He did with His disciples on the night before He died because he told us to ‘Do this’, so we do. We are fed by Him and fed with Him so that we may share His life, and be given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.

Jesus calls us to follow Him by taking up our Cross and prizing our relationship with Him over all the things of this world. It’s a bit tricky, it’s a bit of an ask! In fact, for many people it’s pretty much impossible. Such are the enticements of the world, and the fact that there are those who want us to relegate religion to the private sphere. They argue that our faith shouldn’t affect our lives, it’s something which we can take out of its neat little box and wear for an hour on a Sunday morning, like a hat or some gloves, and then forget about, having done one’s public duty. Religion is not a matter solely for the private sphere, it affects who and what we are, and the world around us.

While may be tempting to follow the Enlightenment ideal of privatised religion, it simply will not do. We cannot truly follow Christ if we are not willing to lay down our lives for the sake of Him who died and rose again for us. Baptism and the Eucharist are free, but living out the faith which they encapsulate will cost us our lives. And yet we should give our life gladly, even though the world may well deride us, and call us fools.

In the Gospel Christ says to His disciples, and he says to us, ‘Do not be afraid … have no fear of them … Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul’. We can laugh at those who pour scorn upon us for all that they promise is of this world, fleeting, and of no real value; whereas what Christ promises us is of God, it will last forever, it is a glory which can never fade – it is ours and is offered to the whole world for free, if only they would accept it.

To follow Jesus we need to die to sin, we need to turn away from all the selfishness which separates us from God and each other, and instead live out the radical love of the Kingdom – a love which forgives, a love which thinks of others before ourselves. It is no good seeing this in individual terms; it affects us as a society. We need to do this together – you and me. Each and every one of us needs to live not enslaved to sin, but as slaves for Christ. His service is perfect freedom, freedom from the ways of the world and freedom to live the new life of the Kingdom of God, here and now.

We are called as a church to live out our faith together, praying for each other, supporting one another, and relying upon God, and His grace, that unmerited kindness and free gift, which we do not deserve, but which has the power to transform us, to conform us to the pattern of His Son. This He pours out upon us in the Sacraments of His Church, so that we might be conformed to His will: fed by God, with God, to have life in Him. We can only do this if we rely upon God and do it TOGETHER, built up in love.

Only then can our lives, our words and our actions proclaim the saving truth which can change the world.

For two thousand years the church has been changing the world, one soul at a time, so that God’s will may be done, and His Kingdom may come here on earth, as in Heaven. We are radicals, and revolutionaries who believe that the Love of God can transform our Human nature. That water, bread, and wine are the most powerful things we have, when, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they wash us clean, and feed us with the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We are still being persecuted for this, by those who are afraid of what we are, and what God’s love can do.

Whatever they do, they cannot win. We cannot lose. We have nothing to fear, only a message of love to live out 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.

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11th Sunday of Year A (Mt 9:35-10:28)

Sheep are lovely creatures, their lambs gambol in fields, their wool keeps us warm, their meat is tasty. They do, however, have something of a bad reputation – they are seen as simple, stupid creatures, who munch grass all day and are a bit dozy and clueless. They can be seen very negatively, as an unthinking herd, or as wandering off and getting caught in thickets. It is no wonder then that one of the images in this morning’s Gospel is likewise not generally seen as positive. ‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd’ (Mt 9:36) Jesus has compassion on them, Matthew uses a word which means to be moved deep inside, it is a gut feeling, a feeling of compassion, of love and care. Like sheep without a shepherd they can wander aimlessly. They need direction; they need help.

We could be forgiven for thinking that that such feelings belong in our past. We’ve grown up, we’ve moved beyond all that. But, if anything the events of the last few weeks tell us clearly that where there is an absence of leadership people get worried. They start to panic. They’re not sure what is going on, or how they are going to find safety and security . So the world around us is a mess, our politicians don’t seem to be much help, and we’re not sure that the Church is any better. It is a sad indictment of the age in which we live, but THERE IS HOPE. We can always, and in all things trust in Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, and who lays down his life for the sheep.

After Jesus has said this He proceeds to call labourers for the Lord’s harvest. He summons the twelve apostles to share his work of proclamation and healing. They are to be sent out for the healing and reconciliation of the nations and to preach the Good News of the Kingdom. He gives them power and authority to do God’s work in the world. It is no easy task – they are to be flogged and handed over for trial. They are to face persecution in the world for doing the work of God. As co-workers with the Lord, fellow shepherds, they too will lay down their lives for their flock, and such is the lot of those called to serve God as bishops, priests and deacons.

In the book of Exodus Moses is addressed by God: ‘Indeed the whole earth is mine but you shall be for me a priestly people and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’ (Exod 19:5-6) As the church is the New Israel, bought through the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood, then these words apply to us. We are to be priestly and holy. We are to honour God and worship Him, and encourage others so to do. We do this by being close to God in our reading of Holy Scripture and our participation in the sacraments of the New Covenant – primarily Baptism and the Eucharist.

Christ has compassion on the people and gives them the shepherds that they need and want, to guide and direct them along the right path, to feed them, and lay down their lives for the sheep, as in all things they will look to Jesus as their pattern and example. His entire life and ministry points towards His Death and Resurrection, where He lays down his life in obedience to the will of the Father to reconcile humanity to God and to each other. It is this sacrifice and self-oblation which the church sees re-presented in the Eucharist, where on one hundred thousand successive Sundays the Church, through its priests and bishops has done what Jesus did on the night before He died with his apostles in the Upper Room. The Eucharist makes the holy people of God, because in it we are fed by Christ and fed with Christ, fed with the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We are given here and now a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet – humanity eats the bread of Angels, pointed to by the manna in the Desert. We are called to share in the Body and Blood of Christ do that we might live in Him and He in us.

Words cannot adequately describe the wonder of this mystery, that we poor, frail, sinful humanity are called to share in the life of God, to be nourished by it, strengthened by it, to live the life of faith here and now. So to a world desperate for answers, which has given up trusting in God, and indeed in just about anything, we can say ‘Come and see’. The church can offer something that people can trust, someone whom they can follow. A true shepherd to guide them, guard them, and lead them.

So let us cast our cares aside and follow Him, let us be nourished by Him, and invite others to so that they 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, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and for ever.

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Corpus Christi – Dom Gregory Dix on the Eucharist

At the heart of it all is the eucharistic action, a thing of absolute simplicity – the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of bread, and the taking, blessing, and giving of a cup of wine and water, as these were first done with their new meaning by a young Jew before and after supper with His friends on the night before he died. Soon it was simplified still further, by leaving out the supper and combining the double grouping before and after it into a single rite. So the four-fold action Shape of the Liturgy was found by the end of the first century. He had told His friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning ‘for the anamnesis‘ of Him, and they have done it always since.

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.

Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, London, 1945p.743-4

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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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Pentecost 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easter VII, The Sunday after the Ascension Acts 1:6-14, John 17:1-11

So that they may be one, as we are one

The Gospel this morning has taken us back to the Garden of Gethsemane, where in the seventeenth Chapter of John’s Gospel , after celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus goes out to spend time in prayer. It can seem strange to suddenly look back to Maundy Thursday seven weeks after we have celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, but there is a very good reason to do such a thing. The prayer we have just heard is a conversation between God the Son and God the Father. It is a moment of intimacy, a private moment which shows us their relationship, something extraordinary, something wonderful, we don’t often think of prayer in these terms, but currently there is a world-wide initiative, started by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ which calls upon Christians everywhere to do something wonderful together. Between the Ascension and Pentecost there is a period of ten days when we are asked to be like the Apostles in the first chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, just like they did, and for us all to do this together.

Prayer is a funny old thing, and most people probably think of it as asking God for things: please watch over my parents as they travel, please help me pass this examination, hopefully in our language of prayer we can also find time to say thank you for all the good things, and to say sorry for when we’ve not been good enough, and also time to say ‘I love you’ the prayer of adoration that we may be drawn closer to God. It’s a powerful thing, and a wonderful thing, and yet quite ordinary, yet able to do amazing things:

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (PL VII 34 col. 901)

A brother asked an old man, ‘What shall I do, father, for I am not acting like a monk at all, but I eat, drink and sleep, carelessly, and I have evil thoughts, and I am in great trouble, passing from one work to another, and from that work to the next.’ The old man said, ‘Sit in your cell and do the little you can, untroubled. For I think that the little you can do now is of equal value to the great deeds which abba Antony accomplished on the mountain and I believe that by remaining in your cell for the name of God and guarding your conscience you also will find where abba Antony is.’

It can be all to easy in life to think that what God wants is something big and difficult, when actually the opposite is what is required. The monk in the story needs to stay put and pray and that is all, why should we think that we are any different? The key to it all is humility: knowing your need of God. Those who are poor in Spirit, those who are humble can be filled with God’s Spirit, because they rely upon him, they know their need of him.

There it is plain and simple: prayer, it can change the world, and for the last two thousand years it has been changing the church and the world, one soul at a time, the wonderful revolution of God’s love at work in the world. In his prayer before his Passion, Jesus prays that we may be one, as he and the Father are one. He prays for unity, it is Jesus’ will for the church, and it is clear that the first apostles did what Jesus wanted them to do.

‘And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.’ (Acts 1:13-14 ESV)

Here is unity, unity of will and purpose, and we share that here and now, While the church is not as united as we would like it to be, or as God would like it to be, we can at least say that we are trying to do God’s will, and it is something that we can all try and do together. So let’s do it. Let’s pray for unity, and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, to fill the Church with love, with grace, with forgiveness, with reconciliation, that we can heal the wounds of the past, and be drawn into unity and love, by the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing our need of God, and our reliance upon Him.

So as we stay put, and wait and pray with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray that God may be at work in us, that he will fill us with his love, and transform our lives, 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 and a freedom which pass human understanding, and the gift of eternal life in Christ. Let us pray that we are strengthened so that we can proclaim in word and deed what wonderful things God has done through his Son, Our Saviour Jesus Christ. That all that we are and do may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father, and that the world may be filled with his love so that all 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 VI – John 14:15-21

I once asked a nun who had been professed many years what she found most difficult about the religious life. The answer I received was a surprising one: ‘Obedience’. She could cope with poverty and chastity, with stability, and the ongoing change of character, but she found it hard to do what she was told, to be obedient.

It is not for nothing that the opening words of the Rule of St Benedict are: ‘Listen my son to the words of the Master’. I, like her, struggle with obedience. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, all of us do too. We like to have our own way, to do what we want, when we want, and how we want to do it. We are wilful, and proud, we want to have our own way, we don’t want to listen to someone else: a spouse, a parent, a priest, or God. Such is the nature of the human condition. This is the reason why God was born as a man, preached the Good News, and taught a new way to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God. For this he suffered, and died.

And for us as the church, the first thing we need to do is to listen to Jesus, to do what he tells us, to be obedient to him. If we love him we will keep his commandments, we will love God and each other with the same costly self-giving love that Jesus shows on the Cross.It’s quite a big ask, following in his footsteps, dying to self and living for God. It does however lie at the heart of it all. When Jesus says, ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you’ in the Upper Room with His disciples, on the night before he dies, He is looking to the Cross and beyond, as the demonstration of real costly self-giving love. The agony of brutal torture awaits him, a painful death for the love of humanity, to save us and heal us. As St Isaac the Syrian says:

‘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.” 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 have 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.’

God dies for us, and freely offers us the gift of new life in Him. If we listen to him, then Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us, to encourage us: a generous gift from a generous God., so that we can experience the fulness of new life in him. A gift so wonderful that Jesus ascends to his Father before giving it to the church, a sign of God’s love and trust, given to strengthen and encourage, to build us up. Such is the power of obedience, where we recognise power greater than ourselves, needs greater than our own, when we turn from love of self to love of God and others The world around will never quite understand this, it simply cannot listen to Jesus or trust him, and so misses out on the fulness of God’s love, which awaits us in heaven. So we pray that we might be obedient, that we might listen to what Jesus says, and do it, and that God would pour out his Holy Spirit upon us, to strengthen and encourage us, to build us up in his love. By listening to what God says we find ourselves becoming more free than we could have been before

This is not some future event, but right here and right now; 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

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Theodore of Mopsuestia

Catechetical Homily on Baptism, 5

At one time, before the coming of Christ, death had true power over us and was fully indestructible in virtue of a divine verdict. Its power over us was immense. But through his Death and Resurrection, Christ our Lord abrogated that law and destroyed the power of death. And now the death of those who believe in Christ resembles a long sleep. As S. Paul says, ‘But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1Cor 15:20). Since Christ our Lord has subdued the strength of death with his own Resurrection, we can say, ‘We who are baptised in Christ Jesus have been baptised in his Death’; in other words, we know that Christ our Lord has killed death.

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Cyril of Jerusalem

Catechetical Lectures 18:6

A felled tree will bloom again; will not fallen man bloom again? What was sown and reaped sits in the barnyard; will not man, once cut off from this world, sit in the barnyard? The branches of vines and trees, when completely cut off, receive life and bear fruit if grafted on; will not man, for whom plants exist, resurrect after being buried? Comparatively speaking, which task is the greater: creating a statue or that did not exist before , or remaking one that was broken, using the same form? Cannot God who made us out of nothing make those who lived and are now dead rise again? …. Those things that were created for us come back to life once dead; will not we, for whom they live, rise again once dead?

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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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The Sunday next before Lent

“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

Over the last few weeks we have been reading through what we generally know as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus goes up to a high place to teach the assembled crowds how to live in a way that is pleasing to God and will bring about human flourishing. This morning we see Christ up a mountain doing something quite different. The world around us has a good idea of what it thinks glory is: most of the time it looks like human success and triumph, just think of people winning a gold medal at the Olympics, people waving flags, noise, pomp, pageantry, all fine and good in its place, but essentially something fleeting and transitory, it goes, it doesn’t last. As Claudio Ranieri the erstwhile manager of Leicester City knows all too well.

Rather than concentrate on human ideas of glory, this morning’s readings give us a glimpse of God’s glory. In the Book of Exodus we see Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the Law, the Ten Commandments to show Israel both what to believe and how to live. Moses spends time in the closer presence of God, so that when he comes back down the mountain he is shining, he is transformed and transfigured by the experience. It’s an experience which takes time, God tells Moses to come up and  wait there, he waits six days before being invited to come up further. He 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.

Jesus takes his closest disciples with him to show them something of the glory of God. He appears with Moses and Elijah to show them and us that He is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of God. Christ is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets because they all look to him, they find their truest meaning in Him, they are fulfilled by Him. That is why the Church has always read the Hebrew Scriptures in a Christological Way: they point to Christ, who is the Word made flesh. The Church has never abandoned them, for in them we see a richness of material, a depth of proclamation throughout the history of Israel and its relationship with God which points to Christ, which can only be explained by Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, he is what the prophets look towards, and their hope, and their salvation.

When God speaks he tells us three things about Jesus: he is the Son of God, he is loved, and we should listen to him –  He is God, the Second Person of the Eternal and Divine Trinity, who created all that is and who will redeem it. We should worship Him, and obey Him. He is loved by God, love is what God is, the relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is one of love, and our human love is but a pale reflection of God’s love for us, shown by his Son Jesus Christ on the Cross, where he dies for our sins. We should listen to him , what he says and does should affect us and our lives. – We have to be open to the possibility of being changed by God, ‘to live is to change, and to live well is to change often’ as John Henry Newman once said, love changes us, it is dynamic not static, it forms who and what we are.

Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after he has risen from the dead. The detail is important: Jesus will suffer and die upon the cross, taking 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 saving love poured out on the world to heal it and restore it.

As this is the Sunday before Lent, Quinquagesima, fifty days before Easter we have a chance to spend time time with God, we have the prospect of a penitential season, a chance to focus on what really matters, away from the noise and bustle of normal life, a chance through prayer, reading the Bible and Sacramental encounter to spend time with God, to be close to him, and to let his love and grace transform us more and more into his glorious likeness.

That is why we are here this morning – to see that self same sacrifice here with our own eyes, to touch and to taste what God’s love is really like – to go up the mountain and experience the glory of God, what God is really like, so that God’s love may transform us, given a foretaste of heaven, and prepared to be transformed 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 for Lent, to begin a period of fasting and prayer, of spiritual spring cleaning, of getting back on track with God and each other, so that we may be prepared to celebrate Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, to behold true majesty, true love and true glory – the kind that can change the world and last forever, for eternity, not the fading glory of the world, here today and gone tomorrow, but something everlasting, wonderful.

So let us behold God’s glory, here, this morning, and let us prepare to be transformed by his love, so 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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Sexagesima Yr A (7th in OT)

‘Set your heart on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness’

Hating people is quite easy, you just do it, you realise that they are bad and horrible, and nothing gives you more pleasure that thinking of them unhappy, in pain, tortured by their conscience if they have one. You may even long to see them dead, disemboweled, with their heads on spikes. It’s quite easy to feel like this, but we have to ask ourselves the question ‘Are such feelings good?’ ‘Is this what God really wants?’ The answer is an unequivocal NO. In the Gospels Jesus offers humanity a radical alternative, to the way of sin and hatred. He calls us to love our enemies, to wish the best for them, to fight all that they do to  us with love and forgiveness, it is radical, and it can change our lives, and indeed it can change the entire world, if we live it out.

In the Gospels over the past few weeks Jesus has been telling us quite a lot about how we should live our lives. This concentration should alert us to two facts: it is important and it isn’t easy. How we live our lives matters, as it is how we put our faith into practice and also it forms our moral character: we become what we do. Living a Christian life isn’t a matter of giving our assent to principles, or signing on the dotted line, it’s about a covenant, a relationship with God and each other, which we demonstrate not only by what we believe, but how our beliefs shape our actions.

The call to holiness of life is rooted in the goodness of the created order: God saw all that he had made and it was good. The path to human flourishing starts with the response of humanity to the goodness of God shown in the goodness of the world. It continues with the hope which we have in Christ that all things will be restored in Him, for in this hope we were saved.

Living out our faith in the world can be a tricky business: we cannot serve both God and money. A world which cares only for profit and greed, for the advancement of self, is surely a cruel uncaring world which is entirely opposed to the values of the Gospel. The Church has to speak out against poverty, injustice, and corruption, in order to call the world back to its senses, to say to it ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is close at hand’. The kingdom is the hope that we will live in a world where the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, and all humanity lives in the peace of God. Christianity is a radical faith which looks to nothing less than the complete transformation of the world – you may see us as idealistic, as dreamers not rooted in reality, but this Kingdom is a reality here and now, and it’s up to us to help advance it.

Such is the power of advertising that we are forever being bombarded with enticements to buy new clothes, to diet, to celebrate, to spend money so that it makes us happy, but also so that we feel guilty, we take out loans to finance our extravagance. Against this we need to hear the words of Jesus ‘Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing’. But, I hear you cry; you’re wearing fine clothes, and standing in a pulpit telling us about this. Indeed I am, but priests and deacons wear beautiful vestments not to point to themselves, not as a display, put to point us to God, the source of all beauty, to honour Him, in all that we do or say, to remind us why we are here today, to be fed by God, to be fed with God, in Word and Sacrament, so that we may be strengthened and transformed. A God who loves us so much that he died for us on the Cross, the same sacrifice present upon the altar here – given for us to touch and taste God’s love, this is the reality of God’s love in our lives.

So how do we respond to it? This is the kingdom of God, right here, right now, we’re living it, and we need to trust the God who loves us and saves us, and live out our faith in our lives, we need to embody the values of the Kingdom, and help others to live them so that we can carry on God’s work. Every day when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

As we look towards Lent let us all encourage each other to do God’s will in our lives so that we may hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom and do His will, living out our faith in our lives, helping each other to do this and inviting others in to share the peace and love and joy of the Kingdom, so that the world around us 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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The Sixth Sunday of Year A

Septuagesima is the Sunday roughly seventy days before Easter, or three weeks before the start of Lent.It reminds us that in the Church names and time are important things: they are used to divide and to mark, to draw our attention to things. Historically, the countdown to Lent is a chance to change our focus, with Candlemas our celebration of Christmas drew to a close, and we began to look to the Cross, to Our Lord and Saviour’s Passion. So we begin the countdown to our Lenten observance of prayer and fasting, we begin to get ready to prepare for the most solemn part of the Christian Year: Holy Week and Easter. It’s the Church’s equivalent of an advanced warning – we need to be on the lookout, we need to be prepared, if you like it is the spiritual equivalent of dealing with the current spate of bad weather and power cuts.

We have a choice. That’s what free will is, we are not compelled. We are not forced, we can choose what we want to do. We can follow the ways of the world, ways which will lead to spiritual death, or we can follow Christ, who came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it, to show us the new Covenant in the Old, to show us that our is God of Love, of Healing, and of Reconciliation. And the Good news is that this loving God calls people to be in a covenant relationship with Him, a covenant cut on the Cross, bought with the Blood of His Son, which leads to the Resurrection, to New Life in and through Him.

What we do and how we do it are important things, and they matter – there are times when we make the sign of the Cross, when the names of the Trinity, the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned, we bow our heads at the name of Jesus, and we bow or genuflect to altars and aumbries, from which we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ to honour the God who loves us and who saves us. Many of us may receive flowers or other tokens of affection this week – they demonstrate in a physical way the feelings which we have inside. The church’s ritual is just like this – it enacts what it represents and allows us to make a physical demonstration of the faith which we have inside us. The gestures are not empty; rather they are full of meaning, and full of faith, they help us to express it and live it out in our lives.

What we say, and what we do matter. For a start being a Christian isn’t something we just do for an hour on a Sunday morning, without any connection to the other 167 hours in a week. We enter the Church through baptism, and through prayer and the sacraments, being fed with the Word of God and His Body and Blood, we can be transformed to be like the one who saves us, and who loves us. It doesn’t cost us any money, it’s free, it’s all gift – the grace of God, poured out on us, on you and me, to heal us and to restore us. You’d be a fool to turn this down, wouldn’t you?

It is free, but with it there comes a commitment: a commitment to Christ and His Church, to living our lives in a way which is recognisably Christ-like. This morning’s Gospel tells us that we need to be careful – even the words which we use and the thoughts which we have matter. They matter because they form who and what we are. To be a part of the Christian community has as its basis and starting point reconciliation: reconciliation to God and each other – we need to confess our sins, our faults, and our failings to God, and using the ministry of a priest. It isn’t something which we should leave to the secular courts, or the law of the land, because what is at stake is the state of our souls and our relationship with Christ and with His Body, the Church.

All of our life matters, even the smallest thing, even a thought or a glance. It matters because we are what we do, and what we do helps to form our moral character – we get used to it, it becomes normal and instinctive, it is how we put our faith into practice in our lives. It’s not easy, it’s difficult, and I’m certainly not standing here as a moral super-hero telling people off, but rather as a sinner redeemed by God’s love and mercy, who knows that it’s something which we cannot do alone, we need God, and we need each other – it’s a community effort, and through God’s mercy, and our prayer and support we can be built as living stones as a temple to God’s glory. We can do it together, we are doing it, but we need to keep on trying, together – living simple, transparent lives, letting our ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ be ‘No’, so that the whole of our lives together proclaims the faith of our hearts, that we are set free to live the life of the Kingdom here and now, that we are prepared to keep renewing our commitment to God and each other, so that the world around us 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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A though from Teilhard de Chardin

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. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually — let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. 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.