Friday, 29 November 2013

Last Sunday after Pentecost 24 Nov 2013 Sermon

Last Sunday after Pentecost 24.11.13 Seeking the highest good

On the last Sunday of the year we think about the last of everything; the last day, the end of the world, the end of our lives, and related themes.

We are warned (by the severe tone of the Gospel) that we are playing for high stakes. These are very important realities. We must come to some sort of serious response to these things.

The more we understand about our situation the more we can make sense of this life and prepare for the next one.

We can identify three levels of response to the knowledge that things as we know them will come to an end one day.

Seeking physical safety. If we are told there could be an earthquake coming, or an asteroid is going to hit the earth, or something of that sort, we could be alarmed and simply seek refuge from the danger. But that would be merely a physical response. OK there is a disaster coming; let’s see how we can minimise the damage and the loss of life.

No thought, necessarily, for whether we should change the way we are living, or repent of our sins. Just try to stay alive.

Today’s Gospel and several other passages in the Bible put the matter in simple terms: either you line up with the will of God or you will see your entire world torn apart, and yourself with it.

This should move people to repentance but it still may not.

It is not that God wants us to think of Him only as a possible source of punishment. He wants us to see Him in a much more positive light than that. But if we limit ourselves to physical reality we are warned that anything we pin our hopes on will be taken from us.

Seeking Heaven Taking a higher view of things we are meant to look deeper (read the signs) into the word of God; to be worried not only about the body but the soul.
I want to get to heaven and avoid hell. This is much more to the point. If I lose my life from an asteroid no great matter - as long as my soul is in a state of grace and I go to Heaven. We understand that our physical lives are nowhere as important as the life of the soul. And eternity is a long time compared with a few years on earth.

So we seek to do whatever we have to do to reach Heaven and keep out of Hell. This is certainly better than just worrying about our bodies but it is still short of where God wants us to be.

Seeking God If we want to avoid Hell, why? What is wrong with Hell? The worst thing about Hell is not the flames; not keeping company with the devil; nor any other discomfort -but the absence of God.

And the same principle applies in Heaven. The best thing about Heaven is not that we are happy all the time or able to do whatever we please - but that we are in the presence of God and can see His face.

God wants us to seek Him for His own sake. We go beyond worrying about physical safety; even beyond spiritual safety, to this highest point – seeking union with God, the greatest good we can seek; and, after all, the happiest state we can reach.

So the best way to be happy is not to seek it on too narrow a basis but let ourselves be lifted up beyond where we would ever be able to go by our own efforts; to be ec-static, taken outside of ourselves, to bask in God’s glory.

The biggest disaster facing the human race is not anything physical but that it does not and might never recognize the God who is its Creator and Saviour. To know Him better and to make Him known must be our life’s work.

Friday, 22 November 2013

26th Sunday after Pentecost 17 Nov 2013 Sermon

26th Sunday after Pentecost (Readings from 6th Sunday after Epiphany) 17.11.13

The Church is to be the leaven in the bread. This means we should be enriching and enlivening the faith of those who have faith, and drawing to the faith those still without it.

It does not help in this process that we hear so often of scandals within the Church – the more sordid ones which make the news, or the more commonplace examples of lapses from Christ-like behaviour - when we fail to be charitable, or tell the truth etc, and our neighbours notice.

The impact of the negative example gives an idea of the power we would have for good effect if we could achieve it. It shows at least that the Church is noticed and a lot of eyes are upon us as to how we behave.

A lot of our present struggle is whether the Church is leavening the world or the other way round. Much of worldly thinking has infected the Church, eg an over-emphasis on individual freedom, or an indiscriminate syncretism of religions.
We have to be very clear that the Church is teacher of the world, and not the other way round.
Yes, we can learn from the world sometimes, but only as to detail, never as to basic belief and policy. So, for example, if we have an atheist neighbour who is generous with his possessions we can learn from him to be generous, but not to be an atheist.
Two things we must do.

One, to be on our best behaviour anyway, because good is always preferable to evil.

Two, we must give to the world a clear and consistent picture of the value of holiness and the need and advantage of following Our Lord.

To follow Him is not just an option we might get around to someday, but absolutely essential.
He is the only God, our Creator and Saviour. There is nowhere else to go.

Yet we have the situation where many will say (because of the scandals), Why would you want to belong to a corrupt organisation like the Church?

It still remains true, however, that while we deplore the scandals, everyone should be a member of the Church (a good member).

No amount of sin by individual members of the Church will change the fact that God does exist; that Christ is the Saviour; that the Church is the vehicle of His salvation.

While He may sometimes operate outside the boundaries of the Church it is His preferred will that everyone be a member of that Church. The Church is to be a tree whose branches are so big that it covers the whole world.

As Christ is King of all, so His kingdom, embodied in the Church, stretches to all corners of the earth – not only geographically, but culturally, morally, in authority and practice.

We do not proclaim ourselves. We are not saying that we are better than anyone else, only that the Church is a better place to be than anywhere else.

For ourselves we must avoid the obvious evils which give scandal, but also attend to the more subtle things – like being charitable, forgiving, generous etc. Even when others are not doing these things.

And all of this without being smug or self-satisfied. None of this is possible just by our own will power but joined to Christ we can do it.

Only He can provide the increase, as He has done so far. In spite of the Church’s frailties we have grown in size, and many good fruits have been achieved.

Let us be assured and re-assured in our mission and pray that the Lord will continue to multiply our efforts, advancing our good intentions, directing, strengthening, and purifying us at the same time.

May His kingdom come.

Friday, 15 November 2013

25th Sunday after Pentecost 10 Nov 2013 Sermon

25th Sunday after Pentecost (Readings: 5th Sunday after Epiphany) 10.11.13 Another chance

‘Give me time, and I will pay you...’ – the words of the debtor in Our Lord’s parable on mercy (Mt 18, 21-35).

The one in debt will always plead for more time to repay. Perhaps with more time circumstances will change; something will ‘turn up’ and all will be set right.

We could see our whole time upon this earth as ‘more time’; each extra day of our lives a chance to draw closer to Almighty God; to repair the damage our past sins have caused; to resolve on a better way of life from now on.

He is so patient with us, as indicated in today’s Gospel. He lets the weeds grow alongside the wheat, the bad people mix with the good - in the hope that they will become good.

We are not naturally so patient. We wonder, at least as a first reaction, why God does not remove all the bad people? We have to be careful whom we want removed. At another time He might have been removing us!

God wants to give everyone the greatest possible chance of being saved. He gives another chance, in fact, many other chances – every day is one.

No, the bad people probably don't deserve another chance but then neither did we.

It is not a question of deserving, but of pure generosity on God’s part. He hopes, and so should we, that all those presently away from Him will take up His offer of mercy.

The epistle makes the same point. You must bear with one another’s faults... the Lord’s generosity to you must be the model of yours.

We must make allowances for each other. Instead of just hating those who offend us, we desire their change of heart. We give them ‘more time’, another chance. In the hope that they will turn into better people than they are right now. This is what Christ would do, and what the Christian must do.

If we are all one Body in Christ then the health of all depends on the health of each one. Just as with the human body if one part is hurting it is enough to make the whole person uncomfortable.

The Body of Christ is torn by so much hatred, hardness of heart, division. We all suffer from this. All the more reason that anything we can do to restore peace is going to help.

Even if others don't change it is still better for the peace of the Body and the good of one’s own soul, if we live with this attitude.

We must be what we would like others to be.

We give others a chance just as we would hope they would do for us, and not foreclose too quickly.

Our Lord said we should forgive others seventy times seven (Mt 18,22). We must forgive repeatedly, even if there is no sign of improvement. Always governing our reaction is the hope that the offending person will change.

Even Our Lord Himself could not convert everyone from bad to good, but this did not deter Him from keeping to the same policy; and even giving His life in atonement for sin.

He knew, as He did this, that there would be many who still would not change; but He went ahead. So must we. It is not so much whether we succeed or fail with this policy as simply that it is the best way to follow. It brings out the best in us and may bring out the best in others.

We tend to see this forgiving of others as a very difficult business; something we might just manage to do if we really put in an effort.

But it is meant to come easier than that. It is no more than passing on a very small part of the mercy and forbearance that we have already received from God.

We have another chance to give others another chance!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

24th Sunday after Pentecost 3 Nov 2013 Sermon

24th Sunday after Pentecost (4th Sunday after Epiphany readings) 3.11.13 Seeking deeper faith

Our Lord rebukes the apostles for their lack of faith. The problem was not that they asked Him for help. It must have been that their manner of asking betrayed a lack of trust in Him.

He had already worked many miracles in their sight, so they should have had more confidence in Him by now.

Much of our prayer is of a similar kind to that of the apostles so maybe we are doing something wrong too!

In fact we are never more likely to pray than when facing a crisis; and at such a time we are likely to have a certain amount of panic in our manner.

It is fine to ask for help at such a moment, and indeed we are encouraged to bring our requests to Our Lord.

But He wants us to understand that if we have Him with us that should be the end of the matter as far as worry and fear go.

The apostles were conscious of the storm around them; but not so conscious that they had the Saviour with them in the boat.

They could see the problem but not the solution.

They had God with them; and so do we have Him with us.

Therefore the solution must always be greater than the problem. Nothing can overcome us if we have God on our side, in our midst.

This rings true with the intellect but we still have some work to do to have this belief in our hearts as well. So that we not only believe He is here with us but also feel it in the depths of our being.

We need more faith. We of little faith need to be We of much faith.

We need a faith which is so much a part of us that it comes naturally to the surface when needed. As easy as counting to ten.

Faith has to be a language for us, as natural as our first speaking language. It takes no effort for us to speak that language. Just so it should be no effort to trust in God, when a crisis is on.

How can we achieve this kind of faith? Ask Our Lord for it! The same God whom we must believe in will help us to have that belief.

In the non-crisis times we can seek Him out as much as possible. Let Him take possession of our minds and hearts so that we ‘have’ Him on hand when there is a need.

All the while contemplating His power and goodness.

His power is demonstrated by His miracles. Even the winds and the sea obey Him. Couple that with raising people from the dead and we have a great deal of power in our midst.

Then there is His goodness. All His actions are directed to our benefit; ultimately our salvation; in the meantime making things as easy for us as they can be.

Goodness and power in infinite supply and He is at our service. We cannot tell Him what to do but we can certainly ask Him to help, and He will always come up with a way forward.

True faith is habitual, like language, and it will express itself naturally.

Only those who do not know the Lord will cry out in panic. We will just mention to Him that there is a problem.

Some of the problems we face are more complex than just being in a boat on rough sea. Things like the loss of faith on the part of so many people in our time. This sort of problem is much harder to fix and will take more than one miracle.

But the principle is the same. Whether immediately or over centuries He will achieve His purpose. He has the will and the means to help us. All we have to do is believe, and even this He makes easy for us.