Sunday, September 17, 2017

Wholly leprosy!

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Just what is wrong with the conduct of the other nine lepers?

They do exactly what Jesus tells them to do. They go and show themselves to the priests. They follow the example of Naaman who was told to wash himself seven times in the Jordan to be free of his leprosy and did so rather grudgingly. They have learned that if a great prophet tells you to do something in order to be rid of leprosy, you do it.

Jesus says, “Go, shew yourselves unto the priests” and that is what they do, and they are cleansed from their leprosy – all ten!

So why are the nine lepers given such a bad press?

[PAUSE]

Well, they aren’t given a bad press at all. They go their way and, like so many of us, disappear into the archives of History. It is the one leper that turns back who is remembered though, sadly, we never know his name.

We presume that, following the Jewish Law, the nine lepers go to the priests and make the appropriate sacrifices for them to become part of the community of God again. They have to make an atonement offering in order to be fully reconciled with society and with the system that allows them to worship God.
That’s what they are told to do, and they do it because they are indeed cleansed of their leprosy. And then they are allowed to worship God properly again.

So why the big deal about the one who turns back? The one who does not immediately go and show himself to the priests? The one whom we nearly remember?

[PAUSE]

In turning back, the tenth leper has realised something. Like the others, he is made clean, but he cannot function in Jewish society for he is a Samaritan. Nonetheless, he sees that his cleansing is to do with the very person who has told him to see the priests. He perceives the work of God, not at the hands of the Law or the old priesthood, but in the person to whom he has called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”. He realises that Jesus is not just a prophet, not just a priest, not just a wise teacher, but something greater.

This Samaritan realises what many others do not, that this Jesus is the true means of reconciliation with God and thus in a spirit of humble gratitude gives thanks to this man who is God Incarnate. At first, this man is cleansed from his leprosy, but his faith in Our Lord brings him back to God and thus he is made whole again.

What of the other nine? They get what they want: they are reintegrated into society and healed from their disease. Until they turn to Christ, they cannot receive from the Jewish Law the wholeness of life in God – a life which goes beyond this earthly life and into Eternity itself. The Law only says what is, God alone makes the difference.

[PAUSE]

Our lives on earth are cycles. We fall ill, we receive treatment, we heal, but we fall ill again. The same is true with our spiritual health. We sin, we confess, we receive forgiveness, but we sin again. Nonetheless, we always have the option of turning to Christ in order to find true wholeness. This is not a wholeness of our body, but a true wholeness that comes from reconciliation with God in Christ. Our bodies ail and age, our spirits rise and fall, yet wholeness comes with seeking Christ in all things. Then, when we are whole in Him, we bear the fruit of the Spirit of God.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sorrow upon sorrow

Today, we remember the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady who had to witness the Crucifixion and Death of her beloved son, and Our beloved Lord.

Praying Lauds this morning, I held in my heart all those who are suffering loss at the moment and I rather feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of sorrow that this world contains.

Grief is a terrible thing because it has its roots in the most precious love and yet, when the object of our love is hurt, damaged, or ripped from us, the pain is so unbearable that we feel we daren't love again because there is nothing left of us that we can afford. Like Our Lady, we are faced with a bleakness of a world without love, without joy, and without worth. Our purpose has gone and, often, we blame ourselves for its loss with a text book all of whose sentences begin, "If only I'd..."

There are the famous stages of grief but, to the one suffering, such psychobabble is not helpful - it's just words.

And it is appalling to watch your friends go through their grief: you end up with a grief of your own born of frustration and guilt that you can't reach out and help them, because the wounds lie within the most intimate part of their being: places to which only a very few have access, and maybe only the Divine touch. The fear for the friend is that any attempt to comfort will stab like a red-hot dagger into the cause of grief and cause more hurt at a time when healing is supposed to be occurring.

It might appear that Our Lady has it easy because at least her son rose on the third day. How can she possibly know the sorrows that we go through now - the ones that won't get solved by a miraculous resurrection as was hers?

Of course she can sympathise and empathise. It is all a question of time.

What we go through today in our grief, she went through. If we feel that we  have no hope, then so did she. If we feel that our world is dark and without joy, then so did she as she witness the darkness over the Earth as if it were the end of Time itself. Every day of our grief, we stand with Our Lady at the foot of the cross. Every day of our grief takes us to good Friday when we see Life dead and mangled upon the cross. We participate in that Good Friday always in our sorrow and we will do so for the rest of our lives on Earth. Unlike Our Lady, we do have the benefit of hindsight. We know that the Resurrection is a fact, a fact that leads us to the resurrection of the dead at the end of Time's meaning. She has to live in the hope that her son's word's of His resurrection are true.

Our Lady's sorrows are but a few days, but she carries them into Eternity because Our Lord carries His wounds into Eternity with Him. These days of her sorrow are given to Eternity so that all who sorrow may sorrow with her and in her, even if this hurt and pain may last for the rest of our earthly lives. We may not feel it, but we have been deemed by the Divine Will of the Crucified God Himself to be worthy of His concern in our grief through those of His mother. As we offer our own sorrows in participation with hers, we also hope to participate in the joy of seeing her son, beholding His face and weeping tears of true happiness.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Legally helpless or helplessly legal?

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Toddlers fall over – a lot! They have a knack of finding precisely the wrong moment, the wrong place, and the wrong situation to fall over, bump their heads and/or graze their knee. Lots of tears, lots of cuddles, lots of trying to kiss it better.

Do you expect the law of Gravity to help out and make the knee better? Well, why not?

[PAUSE]

The law of Gravity says that things fall down: apples, porcelain vases, jammy toast (jam side-down, of course) and toddlers. Yet, the law of Gravity is not Gravity itself. It isn’t the equations on a bit of paper that make things fall down – it’s Gravity. The laws of Gravity are just what we have written down to describe what Gravity does. By reading these laws, we can indeed predict the terrible demise of Aunt Hilda’s priceless Ming Vase, we can predict the tides, and we can even send a man to the moon using the laws that we have deduced from what we have seen. But the laws do nothing in themselves. The law of Gravity is powerless to help those who suffer from a fall.

The Law of Gravity walks by, utterly unable to help the one who has fallen and lies damaged.

[PAUSE]

The Law of the Land is based on the Moral Law which tells us what it right and wrong. It is constantly being reviewed and changed in its search for true and proportionate justice. When the murderer kills the child, he gets twenty years in prison without parole. Justice is done, but the law does not bring the child back to life.

The Moral Law walks by, utterly unable to help those parents in their loss.

[PAUSE]

In each case, the Law is good: it shows us how things should be, allows us to predict and seek what is right, but it cannot get off the paper on which it is written to save us from the effects it describes. It shows us right from wrong: it does not make right that which is wrong.
How can right come from wrong?

It takes someone who is law abiding, and yet sees how to go beyond it, to reach out and pour wine and oil into the wounds: the oil of the Holy Ghost to cleanse and purify; the Blood of Christ to heal and make firm.

It is the call of the Church to be the Good Samaritan while the Law walks helplessly by. It is the call of the Church, well-versed in the Law, who must reach out to those whom life in this fallen world has cast to the ground. It is a Church, vilified by a self-righteous and law-obsessed Society, that is called to pour her Holy Sacraments into the wounds of those who would receive them.

[PAUSE]

We are the Church. We have our call. We must obey the Law of Love, for Love’s sake.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Faith comes by hearing?

Horror of horrors! For those of you who are content with just reading this little blogling, please do not visit the ACC Mission of Our Lady of Glastonbury's podcast page where my voice may be heard on several sermons that I provide for them! This could severely damage your hearing!

Do visit the page to hear our Lay Reader Mr James Tuite podcast instead!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Trust in the Scriptures

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

According to some historians, St Paul didn’t write the letter to the Hebrews. They will also say that the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke are a rehash of St Mark’s Gospel and a mysterious collection of Our Lord’s saying called Q. They will say that, although the Gospels contain much historical data, they are too inconsistent on the facts of Our Lord’s life to be historically accurate.

How do you feel about that?

Surely we should trust our historians, after all that’s how we know what happened in the past.

Yet, if we trust in historians, then we simply cannot trust in the reliability of Holy Scripture. That looks as if it could cause Christians lots of problems. If Holy Scripture is not reliable, then the whole Christian Faith could be a sham.

[PAUSE]

Some people will try and get around this problem by saying that the Bible doesn’t have to be historically true, or scientifically true, but it is completely theologically true.

That’s fine to an extent, but think now! Perhaps you remember Bishop David Jenkins who didn’t believe that Our Lord was born of a virgin, or Bishop John Shelby Spong who did not believe that the Resurrection of Our Lord really happened, but was rather a spiritual resurrection, not a physical one.

Saying that the Bible is theologically true allows people to say silly things like that. Why? Because these people have their own personal theology based on their own idea of what God is saying to them.

What do we do? Our Faith is in jeopardy!

[PAUSE]

No. No it isn’t. Hear St Paul!

Such trust have we through Christ to Godward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.

Our trust isn’t in the Bible.

Again, our trust is NOT in the Bible.

Our trust is in God through Our Lord Jesus Christ. One thing the Gospels are very consistent on are those things we hear in our Creed. Our Lord was born of the Virgin Mary, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, He did suffer death, and He was buried. AND on the Third Day He did rise again according to the Scriptures and ascended into Heaven. All this the Church has believed even before the Creed was written down, even before the New Testament was written down. Our trust is in God through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Church consists of each one of us, and St Paul describes who we are as members of the Church. We are indeed “able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” The Church has carried the New Testament with her since her foundation in Christ and through all her faithful members.

Too many people treat the Bible as a collection of written words. This is where the historians and scientists make their great mistake and, in so doing, can kill the faith of many who are trying to worship God. Within every single word of the Bible is written our salvation, the inerrant truth about God. Those who begin with the assumption that there is no God may indeed be unconvinced by inconsistencies in the narrative. St Matthew says that on the day of Resurrection an angel rolls the stone away before the eyes of two Marys, whereas St Luke says that the stone has already been rolled away before the women get there. The inconsistencies are there because they tell us something both as individual Gospels, but also collectively, they say that the stone was indeed rolled away and that angels were seen.

If this breaks someone’s faith in Our Lord, then they have held too much to the letter and not tapped into the Holy Ghost with Whom the Church has been infused. If St Paul is to be believed, there are five hundred witnesses to Our Lord walking with them after His resurrection. It causes him to stop persecuting the Church and embrace that Faith. He has met the original disciples and perhaps in his youth, he has seen this Jesus preaching in the temple. Perhaps he was one of the Pharisees against whom Jesus speaks! He, like thousands, perhaps even millions, of Christians have died because of this Faith, not in the Bible, but in God through Christ.

[PAUSE]

The Church chooses the Gospels of St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke, and St John to be in the Bible because she recognises the Spirit of God walking among the written letters. If the historians reject them because of their methods of separation and reduction, then they will never find the truth. The Church has the Truth and we can believe it, and we can believe the Bible because the Church throughout the World believes it, always has believed it and always will.

If the Lord can make a deaf man with a speech impediment speak clearly, then He can certainly make the Holy Scriptures speak as clearly as well. We just need ears to hear.