Tuesday, 26 January 2010

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 24 Jan 2010 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 24.1.10 Authority

One might think that in the pursuit of happiness the natural thing to do would be to assert oneself, with statements such as, No one is going to tell me what to do; I will decide my own course, set my own destiny...I will take as much as I need or want, seeking my own happiness.

The paradox we discover, however, is that if we are humble and obedient we will be free. If we try to break free (from God) we become slaves.

One cannot outsmart God. If we submit to Him; if we admit we are created not creators - we will find freedom. Not the freedom to do anything we like but the freedom that comes from being true to our nature - like a racehorse running, a bird flying, a fish swimming. Doing what we are meant to do. We don’t expect a bird to swim, or a fish to fly, nor a human to live well if he is opposing or resisting the will of God.

The moment he comes into line with that will he takes off like an eagle. He cannot be god, but he can be fully who and what he is, and that is enough for happiness.

This is all that God is asking of us, to submit to His superior judgment and wisdom, to be what He has made us and be happy with that; just see what comes.

It has to be a constant submission, not just once or here and there, but habitual, daily, reaffirmed and made into a whole attitude.

The centurion had great faith because he could see how simply it all works. He saw the whole thing in terms of authority. For God to heal a sickness all He had to do was give an order. If He would say to an unclean spirit, Go, he would go. Or to a dead man, Come out, and he came out. Or to the winds and the waves, Be still, and they were still! He had the power to order things about, even spirits.

The centurion was onto this idea. He, as a commanding officer, could order other soldiers about but not sickness. Jesus, being higher up the chain of command could order sickness.

What about us? We may not be able to boss things around as Jesus did, but we can be a lot more comfortable if we are prepared to take our place in the chain of command. If we obey whatever is above us whatever is below will obey us, at least in general terms.

If we obey God, let Him work in us, not trying to overturn Him, His goodness will work in us and through us onto other aspects of creation, and we will exert a healing, saving, improving influence on whatever is around us.

We may not work every single miracle or get every single thing working as we like but things in general will certainly work a lot better.

It is more a passive cooperation with God. We let His light shine through us like glass - which is one of the images used for Our Lady. She lost none of the power of God as it impinged upon her. Just as if we were looking directly at the sun it would hurt our eyes, and if we were looking at the sun through a clear window that would also hurt our eyes - and that is the power of God coming through a pure heart.

We cannot choose which miracles to work. If I had the power to move a mountain I would still have to ask God where He wanted the mountain!

As delegates of His power we take part in the process. We are privileged to be included. We do not try to be gods but seek our true place with the real God.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 17 Jan 2010 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany. 17.1.10 Water, Wine and Blood.

We have just celebrated Our Lord’s coming into the world at Christmas, and then His being revealed to the world at Epiphany.

Now through today’s Gospel we have moved to His adult life and His first public miracle.

He changes water into wine symbolizing that when the divine enters the human it acts to improve things.

He takes what is there and makes it better. He could make water into wine and He could multiply bread many times over but He did not come just to satisfy our appetite for food and drink.

He came to turn us from water to wine, we could say; to take our frail human nature and turn us into something better; to make us partakers of His divine nature. Especially to make us into images of Himself, able to love as He loved, to give of ourselves as He gave of Himself.

His coming into the world had to be a good thing; could not fail to improve the situation, but a lot of things would have to happen before the full effect of His coming would be felt.

The wedding feast of Cana is a turning point. The power for good which Our Lord has brought is starting to be exercised and will spread to the ends of the earth. So the mood is festive.

But its spread will not be easy, and not without much sacrifice on His part and the part of His followers.

His goodness would be rejected by many. It is hard to believe than anyone would want to reject healing and salvation but they did.

The main objection to what He brought was the fact that it would require a change of way of life.

If He only healed the sick and handed out free food and drink there would be no objection. But when He asks us to be humble, to love our neighbour and forgive our enemy, and keep the commandments, then we are inclined to resist.

The devil hates all that kind of thing and incites rebellion to it in the human heart, and he has a lot of success. It was not difficult for Satan to stir up hatred to Our Lord, and ever since to His followers, and this is what makes our life difficult.

However, God is able to bring good even out of evil and in this case also. The more Our Lord was rejected the more scope it gave Him to love in return. It gave Him a chance to work another and greater miracle. This time it was not water-into-wine but wine-into-blood.

He gave His own blood to drink to all who would believe in Him and would seek to share His life.

And this we have been doing ever since. This is the drink we have. It is better than wine insofar as the good it does us.

Wine is nice but it is just a drink; it does not change us into different people. The blood of Christ does change us; does enable us to become like Christ. It turns us into people who can lay down our lives for others.

We are challenged to accept this strong drink ; to let ourselves be transformed. Can you drink the cup which I must drink? We can, with His help.

When we drink His blood in Holy Communion we are expressing two different moods. On one hand we are festive, like at a banquet, receiving with the joy of thanksgiving for the great gift of Himself. On the other hand we are sombre, bracing ourselves for inevitable suffering, gathering strength from Him to suffer in His name.

May He sustain us all till we can enjoy the heavenly banquet without end.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Feast of the Holy Family 10 Jan 2010 Sermon

Feast of the Holy Family 10.1.10

This feast teaches us a lot about the way that God thinks and the way He works in our world.

Once we get used to the idea that God Himself would come down from Heaven and take on human nature we can then consider how He would go about doing that.

The normal way of doing things from our worldly way of thinking, would be to get things moving as quickly as possible and sort out the biggest trouble areas.

If I were coming as Saviour of the world I would arrive as quickly as possible and get straight to work.

Look at what Our Lord does. He comes as a baby and even that depends on finding the right woman to be His mother. He has to get her consent and then wait for nine months to be born, and then have to flee to another country to avoid being killed. This all seems very indirect.

And then when back in safety He waits till He is thirty years old before embarking on any public disclosure of who He is and what He has come to do!

But Our Lord’s apparent slowness in rescuing us could not be for any reason of indifference on His part. There must be something deeper at issue.

He has come to save us and the long preparation is to instil in us the necessary virtues and attitudes to how one is to be saved.

He wants to teach us how to be kind, forgiving, generous, patient and all the other virtues associated with everyday life (and especially everyday family life).

If we can learn those things then we are nine tenths of the way to being saved. If we do not learn them then no amount of miracles or sermons will save us anyway.

By way of teaching us this long process of getting ourselves in order He presents us with Himself, Mary, and Joseph making up the Holy Family. A very holy household, not a sin from one year to the next!

Out of the reach of most households? Not so far out as we might think.

There are many spheres of human talent. There are people who are good at many different things. The people who are the very best at certain things exhibit their talent and the rest of us pay money to go and see them.

So we might go to a concert to see someone playing the piano and he is a master at it and one of the best in the world. Or we might go to see the very best football or cricket teams.

I might wish I could do that as well as they can, but I know that I could never be that good. I just don’t have the talent, and in any case I would not have the time to practise, and furthermore it is not God’s will for me to do that anyway.

In those cases, true, I could never play the piano like that or kick goals like that... but I CAN learn to be kind gentle, forgiving etc, the attainable stuff of family life.

Many things are beyond our grasp but not these things, the things of everyday life. And they are definitely and certainly God’s will for every single person.

We can learn to be kind, forgive injuries, put the other person first... these things are within our reach, with time and application. And they cannot be dismissed as belonging only to saints.

They are achievable, and also essential. Especially are they important in the family setting where so much of our lives are spent.

By giving so much attention to family life Our Lord is signalling that this is a high priority area for us. Maybe we cannot be as holy as the Holy Family but we can at least grow in holiness, becoming more like them.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Feast of the Holy Name 3 Jan 2010 Sermon

Feast of the Holy Name 3.1.10

The Holy Name of Jesus has a character all of its own, being of all the names in the world the only one that carries power to heal the sick or cast out demons, and to be also the most blasphemed name by those who hate or fear it.

Like the Person Himself the name cannot be ignored - we must be either for Him or against Him.

If we invoke His name it is something we cannot do lightly; we must be prepared to commit to a serious encounter. On the other hand, for all its seriousness, there is no limit to how often we can contact Him. Indeed He wants us to call on Him constantly, and for every need great or small, as well as thanking and praising Him.

The name was chosen by God Himself: it means ‘God saves’. The name in this case expresses the main identity of the Person. He comes as one who saves; it is His primary purpose in coming.

Every time we address Him we are implicitly asking for salvation, acknowledging we need saving.

If we call on Him in the right way we are immediately receiving some of that salvation. To invoke His presence is to put ourselves in contact with His power. We speak of certain people as having a powerful ‘presence’; they cannot be easily ignored. Well, Our Lord is far and away the most powerful of all and the least easily ignored.

He is of such importance that the stance we each take towards Him will determine our fate for all eternity!

We will enjoy eternal life or be cast into eternal damnation simply on the basis of whether we are for Him or against Him.

This might seem taking matters too far, and those who speak of Our Lord as just another prophet or holy man would protest that He is not that important. He is just one more player on a crowded stage of religious figures.

Many would routinely list Him with Gandhi and Martin Luther King and (more recently) Nelson Mandela! We have many saviours in the modern mindset. All this is just setting up smokescreens to hide from the fact that Jesus is the only one worth worrying about.

We can admire other figures and even follow them to some extent, but Jesus must be the last word and the ultimate focus. If we admire others it can only be that they lead us to Him (thus Saints).

Why is He so important? Simply because He is God and there is only one God and if that one God comes to earth as Man we must take Him seriously.

It is only God who can give or withhold eternal life. The Saviour is also our Judge. He does not want to condemn; but He will condemn those who do not accept Him as Saviour.

The divinity of Jesus seems to be the crucial point of dispute. If we think of Him as God we cannot fail to bow down before Him and speak His name with great reverence. But if we think of Him as just one more also-ran among the complicated history of religions in the world then we will treat Him lightly.

So, we assert and affirm His divinity at every opportunity.

Some go further than ignoring Him; they positively hate and blaspheme Him. These are acting at the bidding of the devil who will do anything to discredit Jesus.

Many who blaspheme are probably only being careless and do not have the full malice of what they are saying. But once we understand the power of this Name we would rather choke than speak it irreverently.

Instead we speak it with honour and the more humbly we invoke Him the more of His power will be evident in our midst.

Blessed be His Holy Name. Blessed be the Name of Jesus, true God and true Man.