Thursday, 25 August 2016

14th Sunday after Pentecost 21 Aug 2016 Sermon

14th Sunday after Pentecost 21.8.16 Seeking the Kingdom

In the Garden of Eden God provided everything needed. It was there for the taking, and would still be there if we had not sinned.

There was no working week there; every day was a holiday. If there was work to do it would have been entirely pleasurable and easy. There was no pain or sickness, nor death.

(This much sounds like Heaven to us, but Heaven is actually much better again.)

When expelled from the garden much of that set-up collapsed, but the basic idea remained that God would provide for us. Only from then on we would have to experience suffering, as we felt the friction between good and evil.

So has been our history ever since.

We have, with varying success, sought to bring ourselves back to God (individually and communally).

We have confessed our sin, made good resolutions, performed good works, and now find ourselves reminded (Gospel) of the need to seek first the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is that place where everyone obeys God trustingly and lovingly, where no one cuts corners, or even less would cheat or exploit another.

We are still a long way from that world, but we can establish the kingdom at least in this part of the world where we find ourselves.

The difficulty is that in a world where God has been lost to view, people generally do not seek His will, nor keep His laws; resulting in much chaos.

We must hold firm while the ground seems to be shifting beneath us; we still reaffirm and recommit to the basic understanding that only in God can we find happiness.

The closer we can get our politics, our economics, our social and moral landscape to His will, the better for all.

If we cannot make the world a visibly better place, we can at least be purified of our own sins, and thus made more ready for heaven.

The purification required is that we would have a complete trust and love of God, and like small children would trust in Him always to provide.

Thus, as in the Gospel, we cannot be too preoccupied with worldly things – food, clothing etc. We are so narrow in our concerns, so short-sighted, so selfish - compared with what we are really offered by God.

We have become cynical in our adulthood. We doubt that genuine goodness is possible, or in any event that it won’t be to our advantage in such a world.

But we do not give God enough chance to show He means his word,

How can we say He does not provide when we disobey Him so continuously?

Piece by piece we must give him our whole lives, our whole world. He has dominion over every part of this world, but we do not let Him rule unless we turn away from sin.

God will help us. When He expelled us from the garden it was always with the idea that He would give us something better; and that has been the promise ever since.

He wants to help us get this right. It is a complex operation, always correcting and re-directing our desires – but it can be done, with the help of grace.

We crucify nature, with all its passions (Epistle) and come to share in super-nature. We are no longer bound by the constant quest for short-term pleasure; seeking instead a higher order of happiness.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

13th Sunday after Pentecost 14 Aug 2016 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 14.8.16 The goodness of God

The lowest level of faith is when we believe in God if the last thing that happened was favourable; and we cease to believe in Him if the last thing to happen was a disappointment.

We have to do better than that.

We need a faith which is robust, indestructible. If the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church, nor must they prevail against any one of us.

Faith is a direct relationship between me and God. It does not depend on any other circumstance, or even on any other person.

If God never changes nor should our faith. We hold a constant relationship with Him no matter how much circumstances may fluctuate.

We are not accustomed to being so logical or so cool. Our emotions usually have too much influence to allow us to be so detached.

But like all spiritual qualities, faith can be increased, and this is part of our prayer today – that our faith will be as strong as it needs to be.

God never changes, but we do. On this point we must never change – that we have certain, unwavering trust that God will always be there for us; always working for our good and that of the whole world.

If He appears to have deserted us it cannot be so. He has His reasons, whether we understand them or not.

When we pray we tend to focus on our troubles, and what we need. If we have many needs, we may feel overwhelmed, and we might carry that feeling into our prayer, with the result that the prayer lacks conviction. We ask God to help, but we do not really think that He will.

If instead we begin the prayer with focus on God and His attributes, leaving aside for the moment our many needs – then we will experience a big difference.

The three young men in the furnace spent their time praising God! (Dan 3) The holy man Job, on hearing he had lost everything, said: Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1,21). The grateful leper returned praising God at the top of His voice (Lk 17,11-19).

Focusing on God, rather than ourselves gives us an entirely different viewpoint. We are beginning the prayer in strength rather than weakness.

The Church has always understood the need for prayer of praise.

It is easier to praise after receiving the desired blessing, but we should train ourselves to do the same both before and after the result.

Glory to God in the highest… Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. (Ps 150)
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 1 Chronicles 16:34 |
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Psalm 105:1 |
And countless other such exhortations.

It might seem superfluous to tell God of His own goodness, but it is an expression of love, and also it serves to remind us of His goodness, and that in turn will strengthen our faith.

When afraid or sad, or in any negative state of mind, we need reassurance. The praise of God will gradually revive us.

At first it might sound just like words, but the deeper reality will seep through and give us more courage, hope, joy etc.

This will be so especially if we praise God regularly, and work it into our normal patterns of thought. If we are always extolling the goodness of God we have a much stronger basis for understanding what is happening around us, and for absorbing any suffering that comes our way.

Our troubles will melt in the light of God's goodness. If He is so good how can anything bad have power over us? It cannot, and therefore we must be happy, even if we did not know it!

Let us imitate the leper, and all the other people in the Bible who have expressed great joy at the goodness of the Lord.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

12th Sunday after Pentecost 7 Aug 2016 Sermon

12th Sunday after Pentecost 7.8.16 All in need

We can feel sorry for other people with the various problems they have.

Feeling sorry for others is generally a good thing insofar as it is motivated by genuine charity. We do not want others to suffer, just as we do not want to suffer ourselves.

It could be, however, that our sorrow for others has a tone of superiority about it. If I see someone has a problem I do not have, such as a particular addiction, I might feel superior to him (like the Pharisee towards the Publican, Lk 18,9-14).

Our Lord said that we should remove the plank from our own eye before the splinter from our brother’s eye (Mt 7,5).

Taking today’s parable of the Good Samaritan, we might see ourselves in the role of the Good Samaritan, the one providing the help; or at least the one in the stronger position.

If we can provide the help we should do so, but first we need to see ourselves as the man lying by the side of the road.

We also are in need of being rescued, healed, forgiven, set free etc.

Some have more problems than others, but we all need the mercy of God; and that is where we must start.

We all need Salvation. We all need to be in union with Jesus Christ, and that is our first concern.

The man by the side of the road symbolises all of us – robbed by Satan of our true status; turned into outcasts when we should have been sharing in God's kingdom.

Our Lord comes as the true helper, giving us the thing we most need. Once lifted up by Him, cleansed of sin, re-orientated in our thinking by the Holy Spirit – we are then able to help each other; but always with that awareness of our frail humanity.

We can help each other make progress.

The whole of our lives, and the whole of human history, we have been trying to get back what we have lost.

God wants to restore us, even more than we want it (cf the father waiting for the prodigal son to return Lk 15, 20).

But such is sin, that once we have been led into the darkness, we do not always welcome the light. (cf Jn 3,19: men loved darkness more than light because their deeds were evil. Or: If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth (1 Jn 1,6)).

We do not always want to be ‘patched up’; still being attached to the sin.

So it takes an extra dose of grace to break through our defences, to the point that we will willingly turn away from all sin.

Once we do let Our Lord lift us up, we are then more desirous of helping others to know what we know.

If we have faith we want to share it, because we see how much good it can do.

Of course we should practise practical charity; helping the poor, the sick etc.

If that was all we had to do it would be easier, but we are also called to help others spiritually, and that is more demanding.

The idea of rescuing people spiritually is not new, but in the present secular climate we will be accused of imposing our views on others.

We impose nothing; we merely point out that there is a Saviour, and the good He can do.

He is the real rescuer, no matter what human intermediaries there may be.

Let us at least not stand in the way of what He wants to do. Let the Saviour save; let the Good Samaritan stand us all on our feet, as children of God.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

11th Sunday after Pentecost 31 Jul 2016 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 31.7.16 Hearing and speaking

Our Lord heals the deaf and dumb man. We take this symbolically to say that He opens our ears to hear the word of God; and opens our mouths to speak only what is good and edifying (Eph 4,29).

As a philosopher once observed, we have two ears and only one mouth; and this suggests that we should listen twice as much as we speak.

How many times do we say the wrong thing – false, unfounded, uncharitable, unhelpful? How we shoot our mouths off.

If we spent as much time listening as we do talking; if we really listened, to discern the word of God in the midst of all the noise and clatter round about, we would be much more settled, much more at peace; and many good effects would follow from that.

So we ask Our Lord to touch our ears, to hear what God is saying.

We do not hear the voice of God directly, but there are other ways we can find out what He is saying.

We have the Bible, the Catechisms, the Creeds, the Saints, Popes and Councils of the Church; the written and living word of God – all telling us what God wishes us to know

Then there is just about an infinite amount of written and audio material available today; some of it highly misleading; but if we are firmly grounded in the teaching of the Church, we can learn to separate the good fish from the bad (cf Mt 13,48).

We can also learn from our life experience. We learn from both the good and evil around us – what to do and not to do respectively.

And we ask Our Lord to touch our mouths, that we may speak always the best thing to say in each situation – all that is truthful, charitable, wise – as close as possible to what Our Lord Himself would say if He were in our place.

We will not let careless and loose words damage the cause.

We know how hard it is to control the tongue (cf James 3,1-12). We will improve in control if we have listened first; if we are settled in prayer, and strengthened by the grace of God.

If we are more at peace within ourselves we are less likely to be attacking others.

The monasteries had it right all along. Lots of silence, and much damage is avoided. How much sin results from loose talk.

Yet our social life is based on lots of talking. Silence makes people uneasy - and if not talking they have gadgets making sound.

We have to learn to step back from the ways of the world, and take a more spiritual view of things.

The rest of us have to live outside of monasteries, so we have to work out how to speak without sin, and without compromising truth and charity. Also we have to be discerning as to what we hear (or read, or watch).

We do not just listen to anything that happens to go in our ears; nor let just anything escape our mouths. We filter both.

We are quick to listen, and slow to speak (James 1,19). We speak only when our minds, and hearts, have processed what is about to come out.

Gentleness does not have to be weakness. We can speak to different people in different ways, as Our Lord did. He was gentle with sinners, and harsh with the unrepentant. In all cases He was aiming at the good of the person He was addressing.

We find it very hard to be angry, and still speak with charity. (Be angry and do not sin – Eph 4,26). We can get better at this with lots of prayer, and again, listening to the word of God. The saints would say what God told them to say. We want to learn how to do that.

‘Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.’ (1 K 3,10).