The Twenty-second Sunday of Year A

The vocation to be a prophet is not an easy one. Prophets are tasked with telling people the plain, unvarnished truth about God. Their words can be quite unpalatable. Most, if not all, of us would much rather not hear hard truths. Therefore it comes as no surprise that in our first reading this morning, the prophet Jeremiah is feeling rejected and miserable. He has been prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, but, because this has not yet happened, he is seen as a fraud. Jeremiah starts to doubt God, and yet there is a burning fire within himself to call God’s people to repentance. However, when he announces this he is mocked. Jeremiah feels let down. 

Last week we read Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Following on from this, Jesus tells His disciples what must happen to Him:

He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Mt 16:21)

Jesus’ words must have come as something of a shock to the disciples. This isn’t what is supposed to happen to the Messiah, so Peter takes Jesus to one side and tells Him off! Peter cannot understand what needs to happen. He has forgotten prophecies like Isaiah 53 which tell of the Suffering Servant. Peter cannot take it in — he does not want Jesus’ prophetic words to take place. This is a very human response. We also don’t want such appalling things to happen. Then it is Peter’s turn to be told off. Jesus says to him:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mt 16:23)

In just a couple of verses Peter has gone from being the rock upon which the church will be built, to being Satan, the deceiver, the devil, and a stumbling block. Peter has run the whole length of the spectrum, from getting things right to getting them totally wrong. There are no half-measures with Simon Peter. He jumps in with both feet. He may be right or wrong, but he is certainly committed, and through this commitment Jesus sees Peter as a leader. But the disciples’ inability to understand what Jesus is saying has led him to try and oppose the will of God. Peter, the Rock, has become a stumbling-block, an obstacle, something to trip over. Peter can only see things in human terms, but God has something else in store. The Cross is inevitable for the simple reason that God loves us that much. However, the Cross is not just for Christ. It is for each and every one of as Christians: we are called to bear it ourselves.

As believers, we are to take up our Cross and follow Jesus. We should be under no illusion; it isn’t easy to take up the Cross. We cannot do it on our own, we have to do it together, as a community, relying upon God, and loving and forgiving each other. All the power, all the wealth in the world, is worth nothing compared to finding true life in Christ. Worldly things cannot save us, they cannot give us eternal life, they cannot wipe clean our sins. Only Jesus can do this, on the Cross. Only in Christ can we have life — life in its fullness. Only if we lose our old life by following Him, can we find what our human life can truly be.

Thus the Church, in following Jesus, offers a radical alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin, an alternative which has the power to change the world through being conformed to Christ. We can do this together, by living out our faith and encouraging others to do so; by living lives of profound love, something that is difficult, and costly, and wonderful. 

Today, through prayer, through our conversation with God, throughlistening to God, we are nourished by the Word of God, the Bible, to know that God loves us, and will help us to live out that love and forgiveness in our lives. We are also nourished by the sacraments of the Church, by Holy Communion, so that the love which God shows to the world on the Cross continues to be poured out upon us, so that we can be strengthened to live out the life of faith. It is food for our souls, so that we may be built up in love. Let us turn to the Living God, to be fed by Him, fed with Him, to have new life in Him, so that He can continue to transform our human nature and follow His example. Let us take up our Cross, as people ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven by the love of God on the Cross.

In the Letter to the Romans, St Paul describes what love in action looks like. We are guided as to how to put our faith, into practice in our lives: by living out the love and forgiveness which we have received, turning from the ways of the world and following the way of God. The Christian life is sacrificial in that it involves personal sacrifice, and also by uniting ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ. This world cannot save us, only Christ can do that. The ways of the world cannot give us true happiness, or eternal life. Their promises are false. Only Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6) can save us. Only Christ can transform us, and this transformation lies at the heart of the proclamation of the Kingdom. Only by losing our life can we find it.

As Christians we embrace paradox, because God loves us enough to be born as one of us, to proclaim and live out the truth, healing and reconciliation, which He longs to lavish upon us. In Christ, God dies so that we might live. Words cannot express just how earth-shattering and transformative Divine Love is. It is a mystery, in the fullest sense of the word. God’s love and mercy are greater than anything we can know or imagine. We keep making mistakes, but God’s love is unconditional, we cannot earn it, it is freely offered to transform us. Thus, our faith is the work of a lifetime. Day by day God’s grace can perfect our nature, if we are humble enough to let God be at work in us. We pray that God’s grace may transform us so that, in this life and the next, we and all creation may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.

A 4158

The Second Sunday before Advent: Mk 13:1-8

There was a time when you would see men walking around with sandwich boards, which declared, ‘The End is Nigh!’ It would be all too easy to mock them, or write them off as crackpots. They do, however, make a serious point. For all Christians, after Jesus’ Ascension, we are waiting for Jesus to come again, as our Saviour and our Judge. It might be today, or in a thousand years from now, but He is coming, and we need to be ready. We need to be prepared to meet Him. It is why, in the Season of Advent, which will soon be upon us, we consider the two comings of Jesus. The first is as a baby born in Bethlehem, the second will be as Our King, Our Saviour and Our Judge. The two comings are linked, and we need to be ready for both. 

People nowadays are worried by many things: Britain’s departure from the EU, the President of the United States of America, the threat of nuclear war, global climate change, the end of the world. The latter part of the twentieth century and the start of the twenty-first are full of dire warnings of impending doom. It’s scary stuff, it really is. But as Christians we know that whatever happens, we are loved by and saved by God, that we, and all things are in His hands. It can be hard to hold onto hope like this, but we can. 

The buildings of the Temple complex were soon to be destroyed by the Romans. The single most holy place in the world for Jews was about to be destroyed. It’s a frightening prospect, but it teaches an important lesson: not to be overly concerned with the stuff of this world, as it isn’t as important as we tend to make it. The disciples can’t quite understand that yet, but they will, in time.

What’s more important for Jesus is that the disciples aren’t led astray into strange beliefs, or following false Christs. The last two thousand years have seen some very strange versions, some might say perversions, of Christianity. What we believe matters, because it affects how we live our lives, it helps us give right praise to God, rather than something distorted, ugly and man-made. When Mark wrote his Gospel there were lots of strange ideas floating around about Jesus, and there still are today. It was a time of great uncertainty then, as now. There were wars and natural disasters which portend the end times. Christians were facing persecution then, and they are now too, all over the world. We are more likely to face indifference than persecution, but it knocks your confidence somewhat. You want hope and comfort, and the promise of something better. 

And we have that in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, and who rose again to show us that we have the promise of eternal life with God, ‘For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified’ (Heb 10:14). This is truly good news to a troubled world. It is the heart of our faith, and the source of our joy. Peter and Andrew, James and John want to know when it will take place. Jesus doesn’t tell them, but he gives them signs to be alert for, so that they can be ready.

I wasn’t a boy scout, but their motto ‘Be Prepared’ is a good one, especially for Christians, because Jesus is coming, and we need to be ready to meet Him. It is good to think about this as we prepare to enter Advent, the penitential season which looks towards Christmas, and our yearly celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is truly amazing thing, that God should be born as one of us, to save us from our sins, to give us the hope of Heaven. We need to prepare for it, because it is important: not the turkey and tinsel and the rampant consumerism, but the Incarnation of the Word of God. It changes the world, and has been doing so for the last two thousand years. We also know that Jesus will come to judge the world. It’s tricky that one, knowing that we will be called to account for what we have been, said, thought, and done.None of us deserve to go to Heaven, but God is loving and merciful, and forgives our sins when we are penitent, He gives us another chance when we make a mess of it. We keep doing it, and God keeps forgiving us, so that we can try to do what God wants us to do. I find such generosity staggering. The world around us can be judgmental, it likes to write people off as no good, as failures. Thankfully God isn’t like that, and the church shouldn’t be either. We have to be a community of healing and reconciliation, so that we can offer the world an alternative. It is both liberating and exciting to that you and I are part of it, and hopefully we want others to be as well. 

This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ (Heb 10:16). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah (31:33) to show us how Scripture is fulfilled in the Person of Jesus, who makes a new covenant with His Precious Blood on Calvary. God makes it possible for us to live this new life, triumphing over sin and death. Christ does this for us, what can we do for Him?

We can be ready to meet Him, and we can live the life He wants us to live, not worry whether Christ will come tomorrow or in a thousand years.