Sunday, May 16, 2021

Persecution preparation

Propers for the Sunday in the Octave of the Ascension

Sermon for the Sunday in the Octave of the Ascension

So what now?

The Lord ascends into Heaven and then there is this pause as the disciples wait for something to happen.

After standing around and being told by the angels about the Second Coming of the Lord, the disciples do the only thing that they can: they go home to their common room and stay together.

They're lucky. They know what they are waiting for.

What are you waiting for?

[PAUSE]

St Peter reminds us that the end of the world is nigh. It's a bit rich of him because, two thousand years later, we are still waiting for the end. There are lots of elaborate theories - premillennialism, postmillennialism, even some very spurious theories like The Rapture. So much ink has been spilled trying to predict or to determine when the end will happen.

But, after telling us that the end is near, St Peter tells us what we should be doing. We are to be sober, prayerful, and charitable. Nowhere does he say that we need to be obsessing about the end. Indeed St Peter is mindful that the Lord has told him that no-one - not even the Son - knows when the end will happen.

For St Peter, it's not when or how the end happens, it is that it happens. We are to prepare to meet Christ at any moment and that means living the faith. 

Indeed, rather than preparing for the end, we ought to be preparing for our faith to be tested by our living in this world. Our faith is tested by the suffering induced by living in a world that has become hostile to God. Our Lord says that this will involve persecution. 

Certainly this means the physical persecution that the Church has seen under the Emperors Diocletian and Decius, but there is also spiritual persecution that comes from other people, even Society itself, and from the Devil.

In Africa and Asia, there is gross physical persecution and we cannot forget our brothers and sisters being tortured and killed for the Faith. In the West, we have a different type of persecution - this is very much an attack on our spirits. We are encouraged to drop our Faith, or relax our standards, or accept that which is immoral. We are encouraged to receive the superficial expression of being virtuous in exchange for the struggle to be virtuous in our hearts. We are being told to shut up because we offend others just by telling the truth, and that our love, this true and wonderful life-affirming Holy Love that is God, is really hate-speech and the denial of the individual's right to control what other people think.

This is persecution nonetheless and we must be sober. This means we must not allow our spiritual senses to be filled by being drunk in the spirits of this world. We must stand firm using subtlety, generousity and that love which is not a simple feeling of "niceness" but that thing that underpins all of existence. If we think of love as just a feeling then we are drunk on the worldly spirit of deception and are no longer sober.

[PAUSE]

We are not to look for the end but be sober, prayerful and charitable. That end will come soon enough and not in the way we expect. 

So what are you waiting for?

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Praying for sacrifice

Propers for Rogation Sunday

Sermon for Rogation Sunday

Does He really mean it? Can we really ask anything of the Father in Jesus' Name and it will be given to us?

There are people who really believe that you can ask God for whatever you want: as long as you add the words, "in Jesus' Name" to your prayer, you will get it! A fast car, a big house, smart suits, et c. In fact, they also say that if you don't get what you want then it's a sign that you don't have enough faith in God.

They are wrong.

[PAUSE]

As we listen to Our Lord in the garden on the night He is betrayed, we hear Him ask God to take the cup of suffering from Him. That's what Jesus wants. And God says, "No!"

There are some who say that this is evidence of a cruel God, of a weak Jesus and of the complete foolishness of the Christian Faith.

But listen again.

Jesus prays if it is possible that the cup would pass from Him, yet not what He wills but what His Father wills. He knows that He must suffer on the Cross: any human being of healthy mind would follow his instincts and run to preserve his life. 

But it is not possible for the cup to pass from Him. Yet rather than follow His human instincts, the Lord bends His will to obey His Father. It is His humanity that moves to fit the truth. The Son does not bend truth to fit His own will.

And this is how we pray in the Name of Jesus. We pray the truth.

We bring to God the things that we think we need and, having prayed fervently for them, we sacrifice them to His will. In doing so, we are admitting three things.
We admit that we are utterly dependent on God for His goodness. We admit that we do not know enough about ourselves or each other to pray for the right thing. We admit that we trust God to give us what we need for our good even when He gives us precisely what we are praying against.

To pray in the Name of Jesus is to sacrifice our will to His. Remember: to sacrifice means to make holy, to set apart for God. The more we make this sacrifice, the more we align ourselves to God and the deeper our prayers become.

[PAUSE]

Sacrifice means the pain of separation. If there were no pain then what we are giving in sacrifice cannot be worth much to us, nor can loving God.

We can pray for a loved one to recover from cancer, and pray with tears and wailing. But when she dies and our prayers seem unanswered then we remember that we sacrifice our tears, our sorrow, our grief and anger. We give our loved one back to God. And God Who weeps over the death of Lazarus takes her into Him. Her death is made holy. Our grief is sanctified. Our love grows.

[PAUSE]

Our prayers are valuable to God. They express our needs and desires so we need to make sure they are worth the sacrifice. They express ourselves to God. But this is a two-way street. If we expect God to hear us then we must be prepared to listen and obey. He has made sacrifices for us, after all.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

The Oily bird catches the Warm


 A reflection on St John's experience of being boiled in oil and how it should lead us into modesty and humility.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Presenting Temptation

Propers for the fourth Sunday after Easter

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Easter

What does it mean to be tempted? How do you understand what Temptation is?

[PAUSE]

There is a gift for you, all wrapped up in shiny paper and string. It sits on your table looking full of promise. And there is the label, "Open Me!"

Do you?

Well, of course you do. It's a gift for you. It has your name on it. It contains precisely what you've ever wanted. But wait! Just before you start undoing the string, what do you need to do?

[PAUSE]

Who's the present from?

Does it say?

You know full well that someone who loves you will have given you something thoughtful. You know full well that someone who hates you will have given you a very nasty surprise. And there is someone who hates you. He hates you because he hates God.

That present could be something that looks perfectly fine, but only later will it reveal its curse.

[PAUSE]

Each thought we have is a present. If we want to open that present, if we want to let that thought into our hearts and minds, then we need to check who it's from first.

God is the Father of lights. He is the source of all being, of all that is. He does not change. He does not vary His opinions or change His mind. What is good stays good. What is evil stays evil. 

This is important. We cannot say with regard to good, "that was then but this is now." The whole point of temptation is that it tells us that what was evil is now good and what was good is now evil.

"Ah!" says the present, "what about slavery. Slavery used to be good and now it's evil!"

No. Read the Bible. Listen to God. See how servants, bondsmen and handmaidens had rights with God - they weren't slaves. See how they were given stability and care. See how they were released from any debt. See how Onesimus and Philemon were reconciled as servants of each other.

Slavery has never been good. What changes are the meanings of words. The Devil uses words carefully to wrap up his lies and convince us that God has changed good and evil. It is with words that the Devil wraps up his presents for us.

[PAUSE]

When we pray, "lead us not into temptation" we can be sure that God will not tempt us to sin, but we have to recognise that we can be tempted and, further, tempted beyond our ability. Each one of us can fall. Each one of us can open that present even though we know we are not supposed to. When we pray, "lead us not into temptation" we pray that God would keep us away from those great temptations where we will fall away from Him.

The Cross of Christ is our protection. When we fall, we look to that Cross and we find forgiveness and truth. In the Cross of Christ our sins die and we emerge from the tomb at one with Christ.

The present that God gives comes wrapped in the truth, even when that truth hurts us deeply. It may not be an appealing present but it is much more wonderful than the cheap baubles with which the devil draws us to Hell.

[PAUSE]

As far as we can, we must check every thought that comes into our head and see if it comes from God. It requires practice and, when we fail, we can try again. The more we do, the more we resist the Devil and he will flee from us.

Have you opened that present yet?



Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Marking Eastertide

Propers for St Mark's Day

Sermon for St Mark's Day

How do the Four Evangelists know each other? This is an important question. If the Gospels have been written by four people who are in cahoots, we might have grounds for thinking that the whole story of Our Lord's life is made up. Let's look at these four evangelists.

St Matthew and St John are apostles as well as evangelists. St Luke was a disciple of St Paul and probably was not exposed to the fullness of the company of the Apostles. He writes his Gospel scientifically, interviewing people such as Our Lady and St Peter and collating the evidence. St Luke's Gospel uses the same evidence as St Matthew's, and St Matthew's has the same framework as St Mark's Gospel. This is why there are similarities. They are similar but they are not identical.

But what of St Mark and his Gospel?

[PAUSE]

St Mark's Gospel is written first and probably based on St Peter's words. St Matthew and St Luke use his Gospel as a basis. And yet, only in St Mark's Gospel may be found the statement that one of the disciples flees naked away from the arrest of Jesus. Why only in St Mark's Gospel?

We can't know for sure but, just as St John writes himself into his Gospel as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" so might St Mark have written himself into his Gospel as the disciple who flees naked into the night. If this is so, then St Mark is an eyewitness to some parts of the life of Jesus and would know St Matthew and St John. Since he is not recorded as one of the first Apostles, it's fair to say that St Mark is a little removed from them. 

But he still ministers. He accompanies St Paul and St Barnabas on their missions before he is at the centre of a dispute and they go their separate ways.

 This makes St Mark a credible witness to the Resurrection, more even than St Paul and St Barnabas. He stands a little far off and can see what is going on, even to his own embarrassment. His only vested interest is in telling the truth of what he sees even if this drives him to his own death. His words are corroborated by the other Gospels and by the Apostles.

[PAUSE]

St Mark is historically reliable as a witness to an extraordinary one-off event which he sees, not as one closest to Jesus, but as one who is able to see from a little distance. It means that his statement can be believed. It means that we can truly believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, Who lives among us as one of us, Who dies a painful, miserable death upon the Cross, and Who rises bodily from the dead for our salvation.

The Resurrection of the Lord is an historical fact - no myth, no legend. It really happened. St Mark shows us that Christianity is true and is worth believing. We should mark Mark's words.