Thursday, 29 January 2015

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 25 Jan 2015 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 25.1.15 Authority

The strange thing about this world is that it was made by God, but He is not acknowledged by most of the inhabitants of that world!

Many do not believe in Him. Many believe in false gods. And those who do believe in the true God often ignore Hm.

How did such a strange state of affairs come to be in place?

Ever since the original sin there has been a disconnection between man and God.

The coming of God as Man has re-connected us but we still see lots of signs of disconnection - not least that there is still so much sin being committed.

The Gospel today illustrates the good that can happen when things are put in the right order.

The centurion understands the chain of command: when he says ‘go’, they go. So when Jesus says ‘be healed’ they stay healed!

The centurion has the whole Roman army behind him to back up his authority. The Christian has the whole of Heaven behind him when he gives a command. At least this is how it is meant to work.

If we would obey God the rest of creation would obey us. The only reason that spiders bite us, and sharks eat us, and all the others things that express disorder in our world - is that the chain of command is broken.

We should all be doing whatever God tells us to do; and that on every topic.

Then there would be a smooth flow of authority through the whole universe.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Ch 7,14).

Australia Day (Jan 26) is a good chance to think of turning from our sinful ways.

Australia, like probably every other nation, commits the same sin of ignoring God; putting Him to the side.

We try to run our affairs without Him. We are not allowed to mention Him in public debate because it might offend someone who does not believe in Him!

But that does not change the fact that He is still there, and is still the origin of all things

There is little likelihood of any sort of national repentance to God in the near future. So we who understand the issue must make a sort of bridging repentance. We pray on behalf of others, as Abraham did at Sodom (Gen 18, 16-33).

Lord, hear our payers for this troubled land that thinks it can get by on its own.

Do not treat us as our sins deserve. We have repeated the same sins of the Israelites and gone down the same path.

We have put pleasure ahead of His holy will. We have made for ourselves false gods.
We have abandoned the Sabbath. And countless other things of the same sort.

And yet we ask Him to bless us.

He has blessed us in spite of our obstinacy, for example in the prosperity of our country, and that we have enjoyed peace all these years.

We have had abundant chance to notice His blessings but we have grown complacent instead, thinking it is all our own doing.

And many will say He has not blessed us enough; that He is at fault for the world being the way it is.

But look at the chain of command – we have broken it. (Is 53,6: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way).

This is why the graces have dried up.

If we pick up the chain – if we obey Him – everything else will obey us, and our fortunes will be restored.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 18 Jan 2015 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 18.1.15 Two miracles

The miracle of Cana was Our Lord’s first public miracle, the first of many.

Of all the other miracles there is one in particular which could be understood as a completion of this first miracle. First, He changes water into wine. Later, He changes wine into blood.

The first miracle represents God’s bounty, for which we are grateful - things such as life, food, wine, all the things we enjoy and value.

If that was all we would probably be happy with that.

But God wants to go further. So He gives us the second miracle.

And this is why He has so few friends. Because the second miracle (turning wine into blood) is a source of anguish to the world.

The same God who will bless us beyond our dreams also asks for some response.

He asks us to be involved, to participate.

This means that we learn to give as He does, to be willing to suffer for the good of others.

Jesus is asking us to accept this higher blessing. Is this a blessing – to be invited to share someone’s suffering? We come to see that it is so.

St Hilary observed that to be human is to be more than just beasts in the field; content to graze, making sure the stomach is full.

We are meant for higher things, to know the difference between good and evil, to keep the commandments.

But not to stop there either. We are not just to obey God but to share in His life. We are not just His servants, but His children.

To share in the life of God means, as far as it is humanly possible, to be like God Himself; to be like Our Lord in His humanity: especially to be able to give of ourselves.

Of all the qualities a human has the one we admire most is the ability to give one’s life for another. Thus we honour people who have done that, like fallen soldiers.

We don’t admire someone who just knows how to have a good time; but we do admire someone who makes some kind of sacrifice.

Of all the things Jesus did in our midst, by far the most admirable is that He died for us.

This is the level He takes us to; that we are (at least in principle) willing to lay down our lives for each other.

When Our Lord asked the apostles: can you drink the cup which I must drink (Mk 10,38) - it was the cup of sacrifice He meant. Can you be that close to Me that you will do as I did?

The first cup (wine) is easy to drink. That is merely to enjoy the bounty of God’s creation.

It is the second cup (blood) which is a much stronger drink. It requires character to drink from this cup.

If we are able to drink from it with full understanding and commitment it means we have grown to be genuine disciples of Our Lord.

And this is why Our Lord is not as popular as He ought to be - because this second level sounds too much like ‘religion’, too much like hard work!

Everyone likes to satisfy the sense experiences; not everyone wants to go to a spiritual level.

We may not be ready ourselves for that second cup. Let us say that every time we receive Holy Communion we can think of ourselves as being changed within, and becoming a better person; and our capacity to love is increased each time.

It is not all suffering in this life, of course. Many times we are allowed to taste of the festive cup of wine – meaning, any legitimate enjoyable experience. But when the occasions come we must be prepared to taste from the second cup as well.

Thus we have feasting and fasting in our lives.

Both cups are good for me and I will take them both.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Feast of the Holy Family 11 Jan 2015

Holy Family 11.1.15 St Joseph

The Holy Family is the model for all families to imitate. It might seem, however, that so much holiness puts any serious imitation out of our reach.

My family is not like that! - we might say. Nor likely to become so.

If so much holiness seems inaccessible to us it might help if we approach from the nearest side.

Which of the three is the least holy, and therefore closest to us in terms of imitation? Is it not the humble Joseph, the one we mention least?

Joseph, although himself very holy, also has an approachable ordinariness about him.

If we focus on him it gives us a way of understanding where we can connect with the Holy Family.

Joseph was ordinary insofar as he had an ordinary job and did ordinary things, like being a carpenter.

He really had two ‘jobs’. One was to be a carpenter; the other to be the husband and father of the Holy Family! He was called to greatness and he achieved it, but still without attracting attention to himself.

It must have been easy to overlook him. When the people of Nazareth were trying to work out how Jesus came to have such knowledge they referred to Him as the ‘carpenter’s son’ (Mt 13,55)

So, to them, Joseph was just a carpenter, not one of the best people that has ever lived - as we now regard him.

What was the secret of his holiness? Simply that whatever God asked him to do he did it without hesitation and without complaint.

Four times he responded to messages from Heaven. Take Mary to be your wife; go to Egypt; come back from Egypt; live in Galilee (Mt 1 and Mt 2).

These things were not easy, but whether he understood or not he always did the right thing. It is always a good thing not to argue with God (cf today’s Gospel: Jesus being found in the temple. Mary and Joseph were not complaining; they were learning!)

This is what holiness is: to do the will of God, and quick!

And this is where we come in: we can follow the same principle. If God asks me to do something - however humble a task – if I do it cheerfully and promptly it becomes an action which will enable other good things to happen.

This was Joseph, and his good actions made it easier for the other two members of the Holy Family to do what they had to do.

A million people doing little things well, every day, will generate a lot of grace.

Our Lord told the apostles: if you want to be great, be a servant (Lk 22,26). It is the opposite of the usual worldly way.

The greater the disciple the more likely he is to prefer humble work, and as little as possible recognition.

So it comes to this: Be ordinary, be humble, be obedient; and do whatever we do for the glory of God.

This is the formula, and it will work in any family – at least to improve things. Any genuine holiness must have a good effect even if it is not immediately appreciated.

So we find that the Holy Family is accessible to us after all. They spent most of their time doing just ordinary things, but doing them to please God

We do not have to be intimidated by their greatness; we can operate on the same principle even if we will never do it as well as they did.

May Jesus, Mary and Joseph help us in our ordinariness to achieve all desired results, for now and eternity.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Feast of the Holy Name 4 Jan 2015

Holy Name 4.1.15

We have the story in today’s epistle: about how a crippled man was able to stand up straight and tall because Peter called on the Holy Name of Jesus.

There is another story in the Acts of the Apostles where a man called Simon the Magician sought to buy the power of the apostles to work this kind of miracle (Acts 8, 9-24)

Simon was greatly rebuked for this because he was clearly not in the right spirit of the matter.

The gifts of God are beyond sordid considerations of money. We cannot buy His power or His influence.

But we can have access to His power if we approach in the right spirit - which includes humility and willingness to accept whatever answer God gives.

Jesus’ name gives us access to Him. The Saviour has come; He who saves is His name.

If we call on His name we will experience salvation, or at least some of its effects. Maybe physical cures, definitely spiritual progress; deepening whatever faith we presently have; becoming more attuned to His mind, heart, and will.

His name is not a magic word and we should not attempt to use it as such.

When we call on His name we are seeking to draw closer to One who is perfect, and we derive power from Him, but more importantly, goodness.

It is usually the case that we need mercy from Him too, and that is freely available.

Simon the Magician tried to buy the power to heal. Because he did not have the Spirit of Jesus He could not have the Name (though he could have asked for mercy, the same as anyone else).

The name will only ‘work’ for us if we have all the right intentions.

It comes to this: that we must be good disciples. The better the disciple the more power will be available when the Holy Name is invoked. And calling on the Name will make us better disciples, meaning that what we cannot achieve now we may be able to achieve with perseverance.

Even if we should reach a point of very strong faith we still may not be able to heal everyone or satisfy every request. We still have to defer to God’s holy will and accept however He views the situation.

But if we have faith we will also have trust and we will cheerfully let Jesus make His own decisions as to what needs to happen.

His name is not there just to make things easier, but to make everything accord with the will of God.

He is not visible to us, and it is hard sometimes for us to gauge His will, to know exactly what He wants.

But He does assure us He is never far away and encourages us to seek Him out. So we interact with Him constantly. We become more familiar with the sort of things He wants.

Whatever the situation it is always best to be close to Him.

He can act more freely if we are prepared to cooperate with Him.

It is not essentially about seeking favours from Him, but to be changed by Him.

The fulness of salvation is to make us free of all our faults and distortions; muddled thinking, weak wills. We will not know ourselves! But we will be a lot happier.

Money will not buy influence with Him; but if we do have to part with something to obtain His favour it would be our own will, our pride, our attachment to sin – if we hand these things over we will have the right to call on His Holy Name.

Blessed be God. Blessed be His Holy Name!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Sunday in Octave of Christmas 28 Dec 2014 Sermon

Sunday in Octave of Christmas 28.12.14 Salvation

The days of the Christmas octave include two feasts of martyrs, St Stephen, and today, the Holy Innocents.

And today’s Gospel contains the prophecy of Simeon, which predicts a sword for Mary’s heart.

This all tells us that our Christmas joy must be, for a time at least, shared with suffering.

Salvation has come among us but it is going to take time and work for us to get to the final state of victory.

To save people is not so easy. The Kingdom is among us but it meets with great resistance.

This is why Jesus was required to suffer, right from the start of His life. Even as a baby someone was trying to kill Him. This is how welcome salvation is. Here is the Saviour: OK, let’s kill him?!

Herod was trying to hold onto his petty kingdom. Compare this with the happiness he would have had if he had simply submitted to Christ.

It just shows us how foolish human behaviour can be; how easily we put the wrong values onto things.

Salvation requires that we see things the right way up, giving the right value to each person or object in our lives. This has to mean that God is the most valuable presence in our life. We love Him more than we love anyone or anything else.

This is not so easy to establish, even for ourselves, let alone to induce others to do it. But we cannot settle for less.

We can try to bargain with God. I want forgiveness but I do not want to change the way I live.

We want God when it comes to asking for favours (rain, love, employment) but we do not want to obey Him.

He says: Sorry, if you are going to be saved by Me, you have to change the way you think, the way you live, the way you structure your whole society. For one thing, stop trying to kill My Son, and prophets, and unwanted babies, and anyone else!

So we seek salvation on His terms

There is a certain amount of discipline required of us. We have to wait too, as the Jews did, though with some difference. They waited for the Messiah to come. We wait for Him to be accepted.

There has been a furious battle for His credibility. People throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the Church, trying to distance themselves from the Saviour.

Not this man, but Barabbas, the mob cried. Much the same cry goes up today. Not this man to be our Saviour - because they fear they will have to go to church and clean up their lives.

So people look for other forms of salvation - like having the freedom to do whatever they like.

This is licentiousness, not the true freedom Christ brings. False saviours, false gods – blind alleys.

But if, through all the falsehood, we can manage to latch on to the Real Saviour then we will experience great joy and freedom – the freedom which enables us to have complete control over our passions and desires; enables us to keep God’s commands without effort because we want the same things He wants.

In the light of the demonic fury which greets Him we have all the more reason to celebrate that He has come. It shows us at whose mercy we would be if He had not come!

So we do celebrate His coming, despite all the suffering and disorder that is still in our world.

We have a child-like trust that no matter how many the problems the good is bigger and better.

There is something to celebrate here and it will get better. The Saviour is in our midst.

Christmas Day 2014 Sermon

Christmas Day 2014

Jesus was born as a baby to identify with our human condition. He wanted to identify with our lives as far as possible.

It was necessary for Him to become human to save us. He could have just sent us a message from Heaven: OK you are forgiven. All is well.

This would have been salvation in another way, but it would have been only an ‘external’ salvation.

The method He chose is an ‘internal’ salvation insofar as we are saved by an internal transformation. We become different and better people.

This explains the apparent unhurried nature of the Saviour’s coming.

He could have come as an adult, and immediately begun His public ministry, leading to death and resurrection.

Instead it took thirty years before this happened. He wanted us to learn that the details are important, especially as regards family life, where we learn so much about right and wrong.

Hurrying is not always helpful. In fact it is what is wrong with the present world. Everyone is tearing about but often missing the main point of life (to know, love and serve God).

The Christmas story did happen in one glorious night, but that was only the beginning of salvation, not yet the full reality.

So far He had arrived. This much means that everything else that needs to happen is in train. So we rejoice in anticipation of all that follows.

What follows? What still needs to happen?

Salvation originates outside of us but does not take effect unless we appropriate it for ourselves.

We are saved from inside by our own participation. Every little thing is important.

We are not saved by military might, but by the healing of whatever is wrong in us.

If we are proud we become humble; if timid we become brave; if lonely we find love; if unjust we become honest; if selfish, generous… in short, whatever is wrong is changed to its proper opposite state.

God (in the humanity of Jesus) lives a perfect humanity, and so sets up a new possibility for the rest of us.

We would prefer it to be easier than it is. If we could be saved by being handed a ticket to heaven, to be presented at the point of death – we would probably settle for that!

We might say it is too hard altogether, but we can do it by God’s grace.

We can interact with Him and obtain all the help we need.

We are not merely passive onlookers. Nor do we hide from Him.

No, we interact with Him. We ask Him to act in us, to help us change whatever needs changing, and that is salvation. If we really seek Him out we will make great progress.

We will reach a point where we apply His laws to our daily life, our homes, businesses, our whole society and culture. Everything human comes under the authority of the Saviour. Even nature will obey Him and recover from its present disorder.

This will happen only if we pray every day, not just the big feasts, but every day seek out the grace of God to guide us, forgive us, change us.

Salvation is a process, involving many things.

Mostly, though, it is just a matter of doing normal things well, like speaking courteously to our own family members. Do these things a billion times over throughout the world, and there has to be great improvement.

The Christmas feast has a certain strangeness about it - with so many supernatural things happening - but its effect on us in everyday life is very ‘normal’.

As God takes on our nature, we share more fully in His. That has to be an improvement!

4th Sunday of Advent 21 Dec 2014 Sermon

4th Sunday of Advent 21.12.14

We can take some comfort from the goodwill showed by people in Sydney and at other recent disasters. (Café siege, Sydney, Dec 2014).

There is a good and a bad aspect to this. The good aspect is that it shows people are capable of goodwill and generous compassion when sufficiently moved.

The bad aspect is that we seem to have reached a point of indifference to true religion. People have all sorts of different notions of death and life after death; and also of course of everyday morality.

This means that while there is sorrow over death (especially violent and unjust death) there is a very confused reaction, which is far short of what true repentance requires.

Feel-good ceremonies may be making matters worse. What we need is a large dose of clarity of thinking.

St John the Baptist described himself as a voice in the wilderness. He was, most of the time, a minority of one as far as telling the world what it needed to hear, but did not want to hear.

This is always the way for a true prophet, and John was the best of them all.

He should not have been lonely; everyone should have been agreeing with him. He spoke only the truth, and he offered the way to complete healing and restoration.

We also, as individuals and as the Church, can feel the same isolation.

Whenever we stand up for the truth we feel the chill winds of disapproval.

When it comes to the wrong thinking of the world we have to proclaim the truth, however unpopular.

And as we proclaim we also pray that the word will sink in and produce fruit – the fruit of repentance and conversion.

There are so many things that need to be prayed for, that it would take forever just to list them let alone to make the prayer.

Accordingly we might feel somewhat useless in terms of our ability to pray for any improvement in the world. Yet we must keep praying (and proclaiming).

For one thing, because it is the right thing, and therefore the best thing we can do.

For another thing because it is the way to success in building up the foundations on which other progress can be made.

Every little thing we can get right becomes a stepping stone to something else that can come right.

If you are praying in your house and I am praying in my house, it may seem to all of us that we are the only ones who think the way we do, but eventually we will have a convergence of prayer and things will start to move.

The modern term is ‘tipping point’ – a point where public opinion starts to change on a contentious topic. Pro-lifers refer to this in the battle against abortion. One day a majority of people will realize how appalling abortion is and change their ways. As happened with slavery.

This is levelling out the hills and valleys, as referred to by Isaiah, and then by John the Baptist.

The hills and valleys are the unhelpful twists and turns in human thinking whereby we have lost sight of the essential simplicity of the word of God.

God speaks; we listen and obey. It would be nice if this happened, but we have not reached such a profound level yet!

We have put up barriers to His word and made it harder for ourselves than it ever needed to be.

Now we can make it easier by applying simple obedience to God’s word on a daily basis.

It is the only way forward, however unlikely we might feel it to be.

We pray with the people who grieve the public disasters, and we pray also for them that they will see more clearly all the major issues about life, death, good and evil. That all may come to repentance and eternal life.