Friday, 30 August 2013

14th Sunday after Pentecost 25 Aug 2013 Sermon

14th Sunday after Pentecost 25.8.13 Two masters

We cannot have two masters, as both readings tell us today. The epistle speaks of the flesh being at war with the spirit; the Gospel that we cannot serve both God and money.

When Joshua was about to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land he put an ultimatum to them: You must choose whether you will follow the God who has led you out of slavery or one of the other gods round about here (cf Joshua 24,15). Put like that they did not have much choice, at least as to what they said. Actually being loyal to the one true God is not so easy, as we find for ourselves.

Why do we find it so hard to trust in God? The same God who has created us, saved us, kept us in being, promised us eternal life as well as daily bread? Yet constantly we are tempted to disobey Him, to take some other course than the one He puts in front of us.

A lot of the problem is just the time factor. We know we are promised a reward in heaven but we want happiness right now.

So we are tempted to snatch at every passing thing that seems to offer happiness. But some things that seem as though they will make us happy will in fact make matters worse. All sin comes under this heading.

Sin is any time we try to do things differently than God wants us to do them. We make a calculation: if I do this particular action it will make me happy. Then we find we have been tricked.

This has been the story of the whole human race. Eden is repeated all over again, in every life, in every generation.

How can we get this right? How do we train ourselves to see past the shiny apple to the indigestion the apple will cause?

Lots of prayer, self-denial, sacraments and all the usual practices of our faith will help us to make sure our treasure is located in heaven, not here on earth.

It is not that we are miserable here and happy in heaven. We can be happy in both places. But it will not be sin that makes us happy here; it is holiness that does that. We sin to make ourselves happy and we fail miserably. If we obey the will of God we find that we are happy, even right now, leaving aside eternal life.

It is easy to see how holiness of life makes us happy if we think in terms of how other people treat us. If I am surrounded by murderers and robbers (to name two kinds of sin), does this make me happy? Certainly not. If I am surrounded by kind, honest, caring people? Then I am happy. Thus we see that holiness produces happiness.

The only reason this life is so difficult is that people disobey God. But if everyone would obey we would have a much happier world. So much tension and anxiety would dissolve.

The Lord provides for us, as we know. He has more than one way of doing that. One major way He provides is through moving us to do things in a better way. Thus to set up a society where people care for each other (the Kingdom of God).

It has to begin in one’s own soul. Not grasping, but giving. If we must grasp something then let it be the will of God. This will make us happy, short and long term.

As we are still a long way short of such a society God provides grace to deal with such hardship as we encounter; until better times come. But come they will, to those who trust in Him.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

13th Sunday after Pentecost 18 Aug 2013 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 18.8.13 Thanksgiving

When we ask God for something there are two levels to what we ask, a more immediate need, and then something deeper.

The more immediate need is seen in things like: I am hungry – I need food; I am unemployed – I need a job; I am in danger – I need safety....

The deeper need is something that we might miss altogether but is always there: I need to be in union with God; I need to draw closer to Him.

This is actually more important than the particular thing we are asking for. (If we don't see this then all the more reason we have the need.)

Our whole earthly life is based on this: We are here to know, love and serve God. The other things are just details by comparison with that overall objective. It is more important to be in union with God than to have food or money or health etc. No matter how urgent these needs are I still should want union with God more.

We don't have to mention this need every time we pray but just to understand the need is there. And if I don't get the thing I ask for the deeper part of the prayer will always be addressed. When we pray to God for anything He will always bring us closer to Himself.

So we can understand the story of the ten lepers. Our Lord gave them two blessings: freedom from leprosy, which was the lesser blessing; and the gift of faith, the greater blessing.

Only one of the ten accepted the second blessing. In thanking Our Lord for his healing the one leper activated the gift of faith; he saw things in a new light and his life was changed. His soul was healed as well as his body.

If we receive a blessing from God we should thank Him. This is not just good manners. It is necessary to thank Him so that the fulness of His bounty to us will take root.

Our thanksgiving includes the deeper element. We are not just grateful for the particular blessing but also that God has acted in our lives; has invited us to come closer to Him. We thank Him simply for being what He is, for being there all the time, for knowing what is best.

Thus we grow in understanding. This in turn will make us more perceptive and accurate in what we ask for, more able to recognise blessings, even in adversity.

The asking and the thanking become all merged in together like a busy office with the memos coming in and out. We thank for the last blessing as we make the next request. The line is always busy!

We can even thank God for hearing the next request... Father I know You always hear Me (John 11, 42)

It is like a love relationship where the two parties interact freely, constantly giving and taking, asking and receiving. If we are close to God this is how it will work. Our thanksgiving is not stiff or formal but joyful and spontaneous

If a prayer is not answered we can still be strong enough in faith to be grateful to God in the more general sense – that He has lost none of His goodness. If we were not blessed one way it will come in another way, and better still. We thank Him for His activity and see His blessings unfold.

We do this as the whole Church and as individuals. As the Church we pray for big items like the conversion of the whole society, peace on earth, no more killing and hatred - and we expect that these things will happen; and would happen a lot faster if there was more thanksgiving going on.

The more thanksgiving there is the more spiritual power is released. (Cf 2 Cor 9,12, the effect of almsgiving is not only to help in need but to increase the level of thanksgiving.)

Less complaining, less bitterness, less jumping ship - and we will see a much more vibrant Church, and happier world.

For which we can give thanks!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

12th Sunday after Pentecost 11 Aug 2013 Sermon

12th Sunday after Pentecost 11.8.13

A former Australian Prime Minister stated in answering a question that ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy’.

This expresses the kind of realistic pessimism which characterises so much of our world view. We do not expect things to be easy; nor to go overly well. We brace ourselves for disappointments. We take it as routine that a fair amount of what we hope for will just not happen; that a certain amount of suffering is inevitable.

The statement itself, however, can be taken different ways.

In the original state of things Life was meant to be easy. If Adam and Eve had obeyed God’s commands they (and we) would still be in the Garden of Eden, where there would be no difficulty of any kind, no suffering, no disappointment, neither sickness nor death.

However, as sin has intervened, the whole situation has changed. And from that point on it is true to say that Life was not meant to be easy. Though we say this, not from a fatalistic point of view but from seeing, in the plan of God, that suffering is a necessary component of restoring creation to its original purpose.

Take up your cross daily, and follow Me, says Our Lord. He sets the tone. He did not find life on earth easy, taking on Himself the sins of the world. And He asks us, as His disciples, to take some share (a much smaller one) in the same process.

All this suffering is meant to make life easy again. We suffer only until things get back on the rails; till once again the human race is in union with God. Then we would be able to relax and enjoy life without any shadow. An earthly paradise - theoretically possible, at least. In any event Heaven is such a paradise.

It is not just random bad luck that we suffer so much. It is because, firstly, we have not obeyed our Creator and Saviour. And, secondly, we suffer to get things back into place.

We feel like the man on the side of the road (Good Samaritan parable). We have been robbed by the devil of our true heritage. We should not be in this position, but we are anyway.

What to do about it? We hope that someone comes along and helps us. Someone has come. Our Lord Himself stops to help us, and put us back on our feet.

We have all been robbed (original sin) but not all equally grasp the rescue (Baptism). We who have been baptized have been rescued and are in a better position to understand.

Gradually the hope dawns on us that this world, despite all its difficulty, can once again be a place of beauty, where every person and thing is in union with God’s will.

We do not complain about our ‘bad luck’, but keep focused on the road to recovery.

The closer we come to God the better everything starts to look (at least in potential).

And we ourselves change in the process. The more we let the Good Samaritan heal us the more we become like Him - able to be Good Samaritans ourselves.

The more rescued we feel the more we want to offer the same freedom to others.

We offer them the joy of the discovery we have made – that life was meant to be easy, and will be again, if only we turn to the source of all goodness and beauty. To give people hope is better than giving them food and medicine etc.

Even if the world does not improve we can establish for ourselves an interior life whereby we live by the rules of the kingdom. And enjoy inner peace in the process.

We will not allow ourselves to be robbed again. We will re-claim the life and the kind of life that Almighty God always wanted us to have.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

11th Sunday after Pentecost 4 Aug 2013 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 4.8.13 Resurrection

The stories we heard in childhood end with ‘and they all lived happily ever after’.

After a few years of bruising by this earthly life we might be tempted to think that only in fairy stories do they find such happiness. But in fact we are promised the same thing, only a much better and longer happiness – eternal life in heaven.

We believe this, not just because we want to believe it (as we are accused) but because it is true. In the light of today’s epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15) let us review the reasons for our hope of eternal life.

If we believe that God created the world and keeps it in being it stands to reason that the same God would love His creation and that what He creates expresses something of His own nature. He himself is Life; He cannot die. He is eternal, immortal, indestructible. There is a certain vitality about Him. He cannot be sick, or deteriorate over time. He is above and beyond all that. Immutable.

He would not like death any more than we do and the book of Wisdom tells us that.
Death was never of God’s fashioning; not for his pleasure does life cease to be; what meant his creation, but that all created things should have being? No breed has he created on earth but for its thriving; none carries in itself the seeds of its own destruction. Think not that mortality bears sway on earth; no end nor term is fixed to a life well lived (1,13-15 Knox)

Ultimately death is the absence of life. Death is what you get when you don't have God.

If we believe that Jesus Christ came as God among us we see the same affirmation of Life. He demonstrated His power over sickness and death. If He could raise others from the dead could He not raise Himself? There is a certain very powerful vitality evident in Him.

Then there is proof from the historical record. There were witnesses to the Risen Jesus. These witnesses have spoken and written of their experience. They could be making up a story, the sceptics will say. But see how these first believers lived. They were transformed from timid to bold so quickly.

In proclaiming the Resurrection they would be far more likely to lose their lives. Who would take that risk for a made-up story?

Yet they took on the whole world with this extraordinary and unpopular message And then, despite all odds, the belief did spread. By their fruits you shall know them. So much success could not come from a lie.

Why did Our Lord not appear to everyone? He wanted to invite faith through love. Only those who loved Him could perceive Him. He was saying, in effect, If you want to experience this new life you have to be united with Me; you have to love Me. You have to believe first.

It is not: I will believe it when I see it, but I will see it when I believe it.

Piece all these things together and we can see the reasonableness of our faith. Is it so unlikely to be true when it makes sense from every point of view?

And if we live out this belief in our own lives we will see that it is true. We will discern the life-giving power of God at work in our lives and in the world.

And we will discover something else. While it is nice to think that we will live forever that is still not the main point. With all the delights of heaven our greatest happiness is being with God, dwelling in love. Being alive is great; but living in this divine love is what makes that life worthwhile. It is the fulfilment of our being, the whole reason that God created us in the first place.

Next time we go to a funeral, or stand around a sick bed, we can take comfort from this. That we will live forever if we hold firm to this belief.

May the Lord of life bring us through all doubt and confusion to that glorious state.

Monday, 5 August 2013

10th Sunday after Pentecost 28 Jul 2013 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 28.7.13 Serious prayer

If prayer is communing with God then there are degrees of how well or how badly we can do that.

If our prayer is just words and we are not really engaging with God then the prayer will be ineffective.

But if we really are authentic with Him, laying ourselves bare in His sight, then there is a much greater chance of the prayer being heard and making a difference.

In today’s parable the publican made this kind of prayer. Though his prayer was very brief it was heartfelt and therefore effective.

The Pharisee prayed for much longer but he was all hot air; not really engaging with God; just sounding his own praises.

What we need when we pray is a recognition of our true position before Almighty God, a recognition of our true status (humility), really seeing what is what, how things really are.

When we do that our prayer is going to be heartfelt, particularly with regard to sin and sorrow – necessary to get on level ground with God, from where we can then ask for other things.

‘I am sorry’ – we can say the words, but how deeply we mean them is another matter.

If we really do recognise that our sin is an offence against the majesty of God; and against the order of nature – then our sorrow will take us to the point that we will not sin again.

We will not sin again because we can see clearly (by God’s grace) what really is the truth.

The Church teaches that when we confess our sins we require firm purpose of amendment.
If we are sorry enough for our sins we will have this firm purpose of not re-offending.

We have turned the corner, crossed the threshold, made a quantum leap. The chains that bound us have been broken and we will not return to captivity.

Heaven is full of repentant sinners. No one sins in heaven but the people there still have free will. They do not sin because they do not want to sin. They can see a better way of doing things.

In this life it is not so easy for us to see the right way forward; but God will help us to see it once we ask His help.

The beginning of the whole process is in humility. Can we humble ourselves in God’s presence, or will pride keep us captive?

The Pharisee could not be forgiven his sins because he did not think he had any. Many today do not see their behaviour as an offence against God. They do not acknowledge His authority over them.

This prevents them (while this attitude lasts) from being forgiven, and will greatly impede anything else they ask for as well.

But we do acknowledge our sinfulness, and more generally our total dependence on God for all that we are and have.

If we keep that dependence in view, never letting it slip, we will make progress. Our behaviour will improve and so will the quality of our prayer.

The publican had hit on a gold mine by discovering the value of humble heartfelt prayer.

This is all that God asks of us: just to be humble before Him.

It sounds easy but our track record indicates that we do not find it easy. Pride was, after all, the first sin, and the besetting sin of the fallen angels.

Lord, make us humble enough to pray for more humility! Teach us to pray so that our prayer can be heard.