Tuesday, 20 September 2011

14th Sunday after Pentecost 18 Sep 2011 Sermon

14th Sunday after Pentecost 18.9.11 Cynicism

In a world where words are many but the truth is not so frequent it is easy to become cynical about people, their intentions, their reliability; to be cynical about religion itself.

This cynicism can take two forms:
One is to become anti-Church altogether, seizing on every failure by individual Christians as proof that our religion is fraudulent or an illusion. There is no God, no ultimate truth, they say.

Another is when people within the Church say it is impossible to be as good as the Gospel demands; and instead they only partially commit to pursuing the will of God. This is a pragmatic approach; in attempting to be ‘realistic’ they deny the power of God to transform us as people.

Both these views tend to be self-fulfilling. If I live as though there is no God or as if He is not relevant to my life then my relationship with Him will be affected. I will not be calling on His help, will not be asking His forgiveness; will not be likely to agree with His commandments, let alone keep them.

The fact is that no matter how poorly people behave, no matter how bitter against God and His Church people become, it is possible for us to live good lives, to uproot sin; it is possible for the Church to be the purified Bride of Christ.

In Adelaide just lately there has been talk of scandals regarding priests. Across the world for the last decade we have heard of many such scandals. These things are tragic. But they do not change the truth about God himself, nor His promises.

We must not allow the misbehaviour of other disciples to weaken or to extinguish our faith.

If anything it should strengthen our resolve to do better. The fall of another reminds us of two things: that there is an ideal that we should be striving for; and that it is very easy to fall from grace and fail to reach that ideal.

So we believe in the good as attainable and we are made wiser in terms of how to achieve that good. We learn from our sins and mistakes. What can we do to make this less likely to happen again?

When confronted with failure we call more fully, more humbly on the power of God.

We call on Him for mercy for sins committed.

We call on Him for the grace that will change our hearts, so that we will recognize our sin and weep for it. That we will be genuinely contrite and see with new eyes the right way to go.

That we come to see the rightness and even the beauty of God’s commands, and thus be more likely to keep them.

We pray for each another; we exhort each other. We are capable of both good and evil. With a little attentiveness and divine help we can achieve the good.

Part of the process is not to let cynicism rob us of what is really possible as well as desirable.

If the Church were to close tomorrow many would cheer but it would not improve the state of the world.

We are offering the one light that will show the way out, the one real solution. We have only one Saviour. We cannot afford to block the one door to freedom.

We don't have to cover up or excuse fault in the Church. We can admit that bad things happen, even very bad things. All the more we can apply ourselves to repentance and reparation, and to avoiding repetition.

This Church, though full of sinners, does keep before the world the reality and goodness of God. The teaching is there; the graces are there. We know what we have to do and we are enabled to do it. If we resist all temptations to cynicism we will see better days.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

13th Sunday after Pentecost 11 Sep 2011 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 11.9.11

The story of the Ten Lepers challenges us to make sure we are not one of the nine who never came back to give thanks.

The ‘nine’ symbolise that part of the human race (probably nine tenths would be a fair estimate) which does not have much time for God.

If God has any purpose in the minds of such people He is there to fix their problems and once He has done that He can go back into recess. And if He does not fix the problems then He is guilty of letting them down!

How important it is for us to have the right attitude towards Almighty God. We have difficulty with this because we find His ways so mysterious, and so much is beyond our understanding.

It will help us to get onto the right wavelength with God if we can focus on what He wants to happen; on what He regards as important.

When God looks at human affairs what is He looking for?

While we are likely to be thinking about money, health, our houses, our cars, our football team, our social life etc etc, God is thinking about our souls, about whether we are in union with Him or not.

God values the things we value, where possible, but His main point is Salvation. That is the big one for Him. We are here on this earth to know, love, and serve God. We are preparing for heaven.

So we see that can be operating at different levels. Take the question of ‘being good’, holiness of life. How much of our attention goes on trying to become better people in terms of being kind, generous, merciful - as against making more money, or getting a better house and the like?

We might dismiss goodness as more or less looking after itself. It is something I could switch on if needed. But God regards this question as the most important.

So we can be at cross purposes with God. We wonder why He does not give us the things we ask for, while He wonders why we ask for the wrong things.

In the midst of all the confusion comes the real God seeking to direct us.

All He wants is for people to take Him seriously; and He will pour down lots more blessings on us if we do that, even the lesser blessings that we worry so much about now.

But if we put those lesser things before Him He might take them from us or withhold them when we ask for them - because if we deny Him we are denying the whole purpose of our existence.

We have to be like the one leper who did see further than his physical health to the state of his soul; who did see that it was necessary to worship God and thank Him.

It is not so hard to see this. It is a common experience in this life for people who have it all in terms of money and power still to feel an emptiness inside, a lack of purpose in their lives.

In our own lives we know that when we do something good, something that requires some sort of self-sacrifice – that action will bring more satisfaction than merely enjoying some physical or material experience.

We honour people in our history who have given themselves for others, not those who have been self-indulgent. We do not erect statues for people who have looked out only for themselves.

When we take the larger spiritual view we discover that we are grateful – grateful not just for this or that blessing but for the whole scheme of things. We can see past individual disappointments to the greatest good – union with God, now and in eternity.

Deo Gratias!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

12th Sunday after Pentecost 4 Sep 2011 Sermon

12th Sunday after Pentecost 4.9.11 Loving neighbours

There was a story during the week of a pensioner in New Zealand found in his apartment, having been dead for a year. Stories like that do emerge with some frequency.

The mayor of the place where the man lived said that people should take more notice of their neighbours. It may not be easy to do that.

In our current society there is a high value put on privacy and more and more places have big fences around them, and one cannot even reach the front door, but has to speak through an intercom at an outer gate.

For all the modern ways we have to communicate there is an increasing isolation and alienation in our societies.

So we come to today’s parable of the Good Samaritan. Who is our neighbour? Anyone and everyone; specifically whoever is near us at any given moment.

The Gospel actually demands more of us than just keeping a check on our neighbour to see if he is still alive.

It is a good thing to feed a hungry man, or to shelter a homeless one. But Christian obligation goes further than that.

We are to see other people in spiritual terms: to see that each person has a soul to be saved; that he is made in the image of God. If possible we will bring him not just physical care, not just friendship, but bring him the faith.

If we look at another person and try to assess what he needs? Maybe he looks down and out, lonely, sick... or maybe he looks prosperous and happy, well-fed. In either case, or any case, every person needs to know God, needs to be in union with Him.

And we do what we can to enable that to happen. It is no easy matter. It is not just problems of privacy and difficulty of communication that apply, but present day assumptions about ‘imposing’ our religion on others.

I am not saying we must go about preaching to our neighbours, but at least to be aware that faith is always what people need even if they don't know it, or even if they would actively deny it.

Whether we can reach them or not is another matter, but the basic need remains in place.

At least if we know it we will see people in a new light.

We, like everyone else, are tempted to be caught up in the rat race of modern life; to regard other people as just so many black ants that can be in the way of where we are trying to go.

It is so easy to be impersonal towards large numbers of people in all directions. Yet, if we pause to reflect we realize that every other person is just like we are.

Think of yourself and all your fears, hopes, joys, sorrows, achievements, disappointments - and then think that every other person you see has the same things, more or less.

We are all the same; all in the same boat with these things.

We learn to see ‘others’ as subjects not just objects.

Each person is a subject, a centre of many thoughts and desires; above all a soul that God Himself wants to win.

When we realize this we cannot be indifferent to any other person. We don't have time to get to know everyone but we can at least wish them well on the way to salvation.

We offer our prayers, sufferings, everything to help others on their way, as we hope they will do for us. So we develop and express our communal identity in the Church, truly the Body of Christ.

All the while, not neglecting the basic practical charity of looking out for each other.

Nobody will be left dead and alone if we live like this. We will know each other’s value.