Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Prodigal God

Sermon for the fourth Sunday in Lent

The common carp lays about three-hundred thousand eggs in one go. That’s a lot! So why aren’t the rivers and ponds absolutely full of carp?

In fact, it’s counted a success if a mating pair of fish see a pair of their offspring to grow up to adulthood. If only two fish survive out of all the eggs the female carp can lay, then that’s a lot of eggs wasted. It seems very wasteful of the common carp.

In our current day and age, we are very conscious about wasting things. Councils have got better at providing recycling for bottles, plastic and paper. Our waste food goes into compost bins and we are encouraged to re-use water in a water-butt. We seem to have a keen eye for spotting where things are wasted.

We know the prodigal son all too well. We see how he wasted his inheritance and leads a life that ends up in the pig-sty. Yet, perhaps we ought to see that his tendency to be wasteful might be genetic. Isn’t the father just as wasteful?


Let’s look at the evidence. First, the father is willing to give up half of all that he possesses for his son to waste, not knowing what he will do with it. Second, when the son does return, the father throws a lavish party for him. No wonder the other son seems put out – he doesn’t get that treatment!

It’s clear that Our Lord tells the parable in order to show how God works, and if that is how God works, then He’s just as wasteful as we are! Surely we can be excused wastefulness if God is like that? Look, He wastes this world on us and He even wastes His Son on sinful human beings!


You know very well that there is something not quite right with that argument. We’re comparing two kinds of extravagance – Gluttony and Generosity – and they are opposites when it comes to the way we deal with the good things that God gives us. What we need to do is to look at the direction of how these gifts are being used. The father of the Prodigal Son gives what he has to His son. The son takes what he has and uses it all up on himself. The father shows Generosity; the son shows Gluttony. Gluttony is a sin that we only seem to associate with eating too much. Eating too much is indeed Gluttony, but it is not all that Gluttony is. C.S Lewis would remind us that we can be gluttonous by insisting that we have a piece of toast which must be done exactly to our desires or not at all.

Gluttony also breeds the sin of Envy in others. If Jacob lavishes his attention on Joseph for his own pleasure and not for Joseph’s own good, then it is natural that the other brothers become envious and thus sell Joseph into slavery. Gluttony and Avarice together divide the world into the “haves” and the “have-nots” and we become obsessed with who has what. We can see this so clearly in Society now. See how many political movements are formed out of envy due to gluttony which is rife in society. See how one group having a significant political power means that another group seek to redress that balance. That’s how political revolutions take place!

The key is that human beings learn to be generous. We need to turn our gifts and belongings outwards to other for the love of each other, not because we are forced to. We need to view the idea of tax as our opportunity to contribute to society rather than something that takes away from what we have. We need to be willing to give of ourselves for the real benefit of others not for how it makes us feel – that’s the mistake that Jacob makes when he spoils Joseph. Gluttony can hide very well. Repentance is key here.


Of course we remember that repentance is more about turning to God than turning away from sin. Turning away from sin is the by-product from turning to God. In turning our point of view out from ourselves and our own good, we turn our gluttony into generosity, and this makes the difference between extravagance and waste. Wasting things robs them of the power to benefit anyone else. Generosity does not rob anyone, it passes along and keeps passing things along until it is stopped by gluttony.

The carp may be extravagant in laying so many eggs, but the ecosystem of the river benefits from that extravagance so that it remains living and beautiful.

The father may be extravagant in celebrating his son’s return, but the son is able to live again and live more wisely to everyone’s benefit.

God is extravagant in grace and mercy. He forgives so freely and even sends His son to die for us so that we might be reconciled to Him, and then He throws a party in Heaven at our return. God so loves the world…

Not only are we to turn our extravagance outwards to other people for their sake, but we need to turn it upwards to God. The more we are extravagant in thanking Him and praising Him, just like the shepherd finding the lost sheep and the woman finding the lost coin, the more we will pass on to our broken, gluttonous, prodigal, and miserable society those abundant gifts of God for all our benefits.

Rather than being wasteful, our extravagance becomes an investment!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

"I know! I know!"

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent (Mattins)

Why is the school swot so infuriating?

You know the type. The moment the very question mark has escaped the teacher’s lips, that spotlessly clean hand goes up with a barely suppressed, “me, me, me! I know! I know!” The worse thing is, the swot does know, every single time.

People who are right are hard to bear at times, especially when they are so smug about it. It’s that smugness that we find so infuriating. What we really object to is that school swots give their answers in a way that suggests that they are better than we are because they know more. Clearly, we recognise the sin of pride in their activity. School swots see greater worth in knowing things than appreciating their relationship with the people around them. Their knowledge is valued above love, and that is pride. The fact that it’s always “me, me me!” shows where their priorities lie.

Yet, if we’re not careful, we might forget something.


The school swot is a child. Children need to learn. The school swot may know the answer and thus doesn’t need to be taught what the answer is. The lesson that needs to be learned is that the way that we present our knowledge has repercussions. We see that most when we listen to Joseph tell his brothers and his father Jacob of his dreams.


The fact of the matter is that Joseph’s dreams are absolutely spot on. They do foretell the future accurately. They also reveal much about Joseph’s attitude to other people. We can see how his attitude has been shaped by Jacob’s love for him and we can see that this comes out in the way that he speaks. He is a tell-tale on his brothers but his concern is about how much credit with Daddy he will get if he does tell on his brothers. Even before his dreams, he is behaving in a thoroughly objectionable manner. He needs to learn.

Actually, we learn a lot about what God is like here. We can see how He looks into the hearts of Joseph’s brothers and sees boiling away in them the indignation, the anger, the cruel intentions which Joseph’s actions have caused. In the great incomprehensible mind of God, we can begin to see how He can use the situation not only to fulfil Joseph’s dreams but also to teach him how to behave and how to love. It is the brothers who cause Joseph’s suffering and languishing in slavery and prison, but it is God who uses this suffering to make Joseph better. Joseph does the right thing and learns to trust in God. He stops loving himself for his own sake and starts loving God more. He grows up from being the spoiled child and is raised to the height of Pharaoh’s deputy but as a humbler, kinder, less self-interested man.


Children have a lot to teach us grown-ups for, in them, we see ourselves more obviously. We can see ourselves fighting over positions of power, over titles, over riches. If the worst that a child can do is say, “me, me, me, I know!” then perhaps we should listen to their answer rather than despising them for knowing. They will learn how to behave in time at the hands of teachers who have their best interests at heart.

If we trust God then we will be taught humility but only if we’re willing to receive the lesson. When we see someone trying to show off, we can fall into resentment and indignation, but that isn’t the Christian way. We must bless and not curse. The son of Sirach says,
“Better is he that laboureth, and aboundeth in all things, than he that boasteth himself, and wanteth bread. My son, glorify thy soul in meekness, and give it honour according to the dignity thereof.”
And, in the letter to the Hebrews, we read,
“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
We have to remember that show-offs and swots are immensely forgivable and that, in showing off, they have revealed themselves to be just as vulnerable and in need of learning and growing as we are. By trusting in God when our patience is tested and bearing up when we suffer the unfairness that others’ actions inflict on us, then we do grow, and we grow from the solid Rock that is Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Scale of Political Supernovae

Perhaps, one day, I will get back to my love of Astronomy. There is a great deal of beauty in studying the Universe beyond our little planet and way beyond our little Sun. At every scale, there is something worth studying. We can look at moons and meteors, comets and coronae, planets individually and in context with the others. We have just started to pick up on planets orbiting distant stars. Each time, we can increase the scale from the astronomically parochial Earth-Moon system to galactic, intergalactic and even further beyond. I’ve long been interested in the shape of the entire Universe my own mathematical journey once gave me the language to discuss large-scale structures.

One occurrence that always makes me rather wistful is the supernova – the death of a largish star. When a supernova occurs, it spells the death, not only of the star itself but also the deaths of the planets that surround it. A star ages when it runs out of hydrogen to use as fuel and subsequently begins to create heavier and heavier elements as it tries to keep its core running. It’s like a nuclear reactor but runs on smashing atoms together rather than tearing them apart. As you smash atoms together, you begin to create heavier elements: helium, lithium, carbon, oxygen, and iron. This means that the star can start to collapse in on itself because it is so heavy. This will heat the core up to an extent that it will puff off any remaining gases and lighter particles at an alarming rate. This is the supernova. It is bright, brilliant and, in the scale of the universe very short-lived. What remains can be a dwarf star, neutron star or even the famous black hole.

To put it into perspective, our little Sun will probably not go supernova but rather form a less spectacular event called a nova. It’s like a supernova but on a smaller scale.

But it’s all a question of scale.

On the small scale, our Sun going nova will destroy all life on Earth. It will boil the gas giants of Jupiter and Saturn, evaporate Mercury and Venus, and leave the Earth a cinder floating in space. That’s the small scale. On the scale of the Universe? It will be like a tiny bubble in your lemonade appear and disappear barely noticed.

All of this is way beyond the scale of human beings. In the scale of the Universe, we come and go from irrelevance into irrelevance. Nothing that we do matters to this vast expanse of space.

But it does to God.

And God works on all scales.

I look at our politics of the last few years and I see what I can only understand as the beginnings of a supernova. Political activity and unrest are getting more fervent, social structures are colliding, breaking apart and reforming. In the UK we are heading out into the unknown as Brexit seems to be changing all that we understand about Parliament and challenging our understanding of democracy. It’s frightening, exhilarating, disturbing and the cause of much stress. An end is coming, but also a beginning. A Reformation.

Even when a star dies, its component parts blown into space have the potential to create new structures. The same is true here.

For example, the Established Church is in decline and will soon go supernova. It cannot hold onto integrities which cannot be reconciled because, for all its good intentions and prayers, one integrity has roots that are not of God. It will fall, and what will be left will be component parts which will need to regroup in order to survive. Pope Benedict is right; the Church of the Future will be smaller, less grand but much more faithful.

All this is happening on scales beyond the individual.

Brexit will, in all probability happen. If it does not, then there will be a political crisis and loss of faith in democracy the like of which this country has not seen. Brexiteers will not take a rescinding of Article 50 lightly. If Brexit does happen, then there will be a scale of resentment from the pro-Europeans that will poison political relationships for years to come. It seems that we are in between a rock and a hard place.

We can go absolutely potty and focus in on our little bubble, or little piece of politics. We can become monomaniacally pro-Brexit or con-Brexit and bleat and swear and threaten and bewail when the worst happens. The monomaniac is so sure of his understanding, so at home in his echo chamber, and so utterly convinced of the worst, that he has become a Kripkean Dogmatist. The monomaniac of either party faces his own supernova as that single issue becomes so concentrated that a single event will cause an explosion of personal energy to the extent that life will never be the same again.

Monomaniacs need to change scale for their own health. We need to make our prayers to God and look up.

A time will come when Brexit will be a dim memory, an obscure word in the dictionary which people no longer see as significant in their lives. We need to learn to see ourselves beyond our political upheavals. What politics do we want? How can we live with those of an opposite political ideology? God is on every scale and it is in every scale that we need to make our prayer, not just in the narrow focus of our own monomania. Indeed, if we’re not “monomaniacal” about God, then perhaps we are worshipping an idol of our own making.

Brexit will come and Brexit will go and, until then, we must be courageous and deny our monomaniacal pursuit of doom by remembering that there is always hope. We must be courageous to enjoy the life that God gives us, even in the face of turmoil. The supernova will happen, and there will always be a remnant left behind as the wind blows the lightweight material away. God will not forget us. He is here on our scale, whatever that will be!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Back to School already?

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent (Mattins)

Around about the end of July, many shops will proudly announce their new season called “Back to School”. Given that the school year has only just ended, it seems rather an unkind reminder for those who have to go back to school, especially teachers!

For many people, school days are not the best days of your life. There is a great fear in having to learn something, especially when you don’t want to learn that thing. When have you had to solve a quadratic equation in your life? When has your knowledge of ox-bow lakes or the chemical composition of sulphuric acid actually been useful beyond the pub quiz? Well, you never know…

What’s the point of learning things that you don’t want to learn?


One of the concerns that many have about religious belief is the idea that it indoctrinates people. We can certainly see how some Muslims are indoctrinated into beliefs that are damaging to themselves and certainly to others. Christians, too, are not immune and some people find themselves being bullied into belief by Christians who seem to derive their worth by forcing their religion on others. There is now such thing as spiritual abuse in which religious belief is used to control another for selfish or secular reasons, or even to enforce beliefs that aren’t actually necessary to the Christian Religion.

The process of Indoctrination involves teaching children a set of beliefs uncritically. What does that mean? Should we be allowed to question whether or not God exists? Should we be allowed to think that Our Lord and Saviour is not present in the Sacrament of the Altar? Of course, we should! It’s part of our human condition that we are free to question whatever is presented to us. God gives us free-will and we are not truly human unless we use it. Indoctrination is therefore dehumanising.

The son of Sirach talks of the benefits of pursuing the Wisdom of God. “Wisdom exalteth her children, and layeth hold of them that seek her. He that loveth her loveth life; and they that seek to her early shall be filled with joy. He that holdeth her fast shall inherit glory; and wheresoever she entereth, the Lord will bless.”

We are presented with good reason to seek after wisdom and this means careful study of the Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Church. What we do notice from this is that we are being presented with the choice whether or not to seek after this wisdom. Wisdom is there like the pearl beyond price lying hidden in the field. People will sell all that they have to possess it for the search for Wisdom is a search for God Himself and His wisdom is expressed perfectly by His Word – Our Lord Jesus Christ! “They that serve her shall minister to the Holy One: and them that love her the Lord doth love. Whoso giveth ear unto her shall judge the nations: and he that attendeth unto her shall dwell securely.”

Seeking wisdom is hard work but we know that because living is hard work especially in this sinful and fallen world. “If a man commit himself unto her, he shall inherit her; and his generation shall hold her in possession. For at the first she will walk with him by crooked ways, and bring fear and dread upon him, and torment him with her discipline, until she may trust his soul, and try him by her laws. Then will she return the straight way unto him, and comfort him, and shew him her secrets.” This is why we often dread learning: it challenges cherished beliefs and lifts us out of our comfort zones.

We can also fear learning because we can be shown up for being wrong. The fact that we are free to believe does mean that we can be wrong. The son of Sirach tells us that if we go wrong, Wisdom will forsake us, and give us over to his own ruin. “Observe the opportunity, and beware of evil; and be not ashamed when it concerneth thy soul. For there is a shame that bringeth sin; and there is a shame which is glory and grace.”

The beauty of the love of God means that if we go wrong, there is always a way back to Him. In healing the paralytic, Our Lord shows that sins can be forgiven very easily by God. In so doing, He shows up the wisdom of the Pharisees as being defective. Their love does not go far enough. The Pharisees will strain at a gnat in order to prove someone wrong and yet swallow a camel by refusing to see that it is love that fulfils the Law, not blind obedience to it.

If we can go wrong, if we can even doubt the existence of God Himself and thus be convinced to lose our salvation, how can we be certain of anything?

The answer is Faith.


Faith is a type of knowledge because it is given by God. We can doubt that He exists but then we need to turn to Him and ask for our faith to be strengthened. God is always approachable. Yes, our faith can be tested to breaking point but, that’s true of any belief that we have. Our knowledge is imperfect and the imperfect vanishes away when the perfect comes. What we think we know is only a shadow of what is. Our freedom to think can certainly challenge that Faith but if we are willing to recognise the Holy Ghost as the One Who walks alongside us albeit invisibly, then we always have the way to God.

This does mean that we need to be patient with those who go astray because it could so easily be we that go astray. No, we must not accept any heresy or deviation from the Wisdom of God, but we must recognise God’s gift of freedom of thought to everyone even if it means their rejection of God – that’s the pain of love. Our only recourse is to bear witness to the Faith that is once delivered to the saints revealed by Almighty God written for our edification and taught by those who seek His Wisdom in humility and love. And let us use our Lent to go back to school and learn the Truth of God in Faith, Hope and Love.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Publishing publishing

I have just taken the unusual step of deleting the Stations of the Cross that I blogged in 2011, shortly after my departure from the CofE.

This is because I have published them in book form for £3 from Lulu.

I have been trying to publish more books that I have found in bits and pieces on my laptop before another change in my life occurs, hence the flurry of activity. It's a sort of mental spring-clean or intellectual download, I suppose.

I am very grateful for the patronage of so many people who find worth in what I write and hope that they might continue to find some aspect of God therein.

Sunday, March 10, 2019


Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent (Mattins)

What does God make of the #MeToo campaign?

In recent years, we have seen high profile figures accused and convicted of horrible abuses of their power and influence. While this is horrible in itself, the fact that many of these abuses have been at the hands of leaders within Christ’s Church is clearly rocking the faith of so many people. It’s understandable that members of the clergy are being regarded with suspicion and that the loss of trust in the Church is growing.

Yet, we also have the other problem of false accusation in which people’s lives are blighted by mistaken, misunderstood or even malicious individuals. The destruction to an innocent person’s reputation by false accusation is devastating even if there is a clear proof of innocence.

A proof of innocence? Surely, it’s innocent until proven guilty. If only members of society would remember that…

So what does God say to those who cry #MeToo?


“Whatsoever is brought upon thee take cheerfully, and be patient when thou art changed to a low estate.For gold is tried in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity.”

That sounds very much like a slap in the face for anyone who has suffered abuse or has been wrongly accused. Does this mean that we are to roll over and just take the abuse?

If we know anything about God, it is that He is good and righteous. We believe that He will come to be our judge. All the way through Holy Scripture, we learn of His fairness from hearing the blood of Abel crying from the ground, granting the barren Sarah a son while yet comforting Hagar, restoring Job’s fortune, restoring the sight of the blind, up to the glorification of the Faithful in the Revelation of St John the Divine. Do we think that God does not hear the complaints of those who have been denied justice?

The fact of the matter is that in the act of becoming Christians, we have to be prepared for our faith to be tested. “If thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation. Set thy heart aright, and constantly endure, and make not haste in time of trouble.Cleave unto him, and depart not away, that thou mayest be increased at thy last end.” This is why the Bishop gives each candidate a little slap when they are confirmed to remind them of this. As far as this life is concerned there will always be injustice. True justice can only be meted out by the hand of God Himself Who alone is in possession of all the facts. To forget that and seek our own judgment is an act of faithlessness in God.


But we have been given law by which crimes and injustice can be shown for what they are. No human being should ever have to undergo sexual harassment or any form of abuse. Perpetrators of abuse must be punished, and God’s Love for both victim and perpetrator will ensure that this will happen. But we have to keep faithful and not become vigilantes seeking our own punishment on those who have abused us. The #MeToo movement highlights two injustices – the silencing of those who have been abused and those who have had their lives ruined by what amounts to being guilty until proven innocent. Neither is acceptable and yet the balance is very difficult to strike. We cannot sacrifice the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” for any reason for otherwise we will find ourselves back in slavery to those whose whims declare what guilt and innocence are, and thus throwing God aside in favour of man-made laws which have caused so much suffering in the past.

We forget, however, that the rule of law is God’s gift to us, and we must learn to trust it and use it appropriately.

We can look at the examples of the saints like St Oscar Romero shot while saying Mass after asking the United States to stop arming the corrupt Salvadoran Government during the Civil War, or like St Martin of Porres who through patience overcomes the racial discrimination which prevent him from taking Religious Orders and serving the poor in Peru, or like St Damien of Molokai who would rather succumb to leprosy than allow the voice of those shunned by Society on account of their disease.

The approach of the saints is a preparation to suffer injustice in order to achieve justice – a greater justice that pours down from the Throne of God. Our duty, as Christians, is to observe the two commandments that Our Lord gives us. When faced with injustice we turn to God first in prayer and pray, pray, pray so fervently that it hurts. Then we look at people, not at abstract laws and theoretical precepts and we seek true justice. While those who abuse and hurt and murder must and will be punished, every Christian must look for the good of all people, for each and every one of us is a victim of Sin either by being on the receiving end of it or by committing it. Humanity cannot simply be divided up into those who are oppressed and those who are oppressors because oppression by Evil does not work that way. We are all victims of Evil, and it is this injustice that is resolved through the Cross of Christ. Our motivation for justice must spring from Love and not a desire for power.

Our Lord is baptised in order to associate with everyone whom Evil touches. He identifies with sinners so that sinners can be identified with Him and find in Him, not only justice, but mercy, peace and love too. Ultimately, we will fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men: for as his majesty is, so is his mercy.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Where Wisdom may be found

Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday (Mattins)

We are very familiar with those three visitors who appear in our Nativity Sets. We hear them called Magi, three kings or the three wise men. You don’t doubt that they are wise because they have the sense to follow the star of Bethlehem to find Our Lord.

Is it wise, then, to follow your horoscope in the paper? After all, that is what the Magi are doing in some sense?

Is it wise to give up all that is familiar to you and strike out a living alone based on vague promises of wealth and happiness? After all, this is what Abraham does.

You can probably think of situations in which it is wise to do things which, at the time, seem strange, uncomfortable or just plain stupid. And there are times when it is strange, uncomfortable and just plain stupid to keep carrying on as we are. If you’ve been living in a tent on the same bit of ground for the past ten years and you hear reports of a tornado, do you stay where you are?

It seems that wisdom is something very desirable for us to have. But what is it?


There are several books in Holy Scripture which are described as being Wisdom literature: they are meant to sow wisdom in the people who listen carefully. These are the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, which we sometimes call the Song of Solomon, the Book of Wisdom, often called the Wisdome of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus which is often called the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, or just Sirach for short. In these books we find lessons in the nature of suffering, how to sing to God, good ideas for godly living. Even how to fall in love! Surely, though, the human race has been doing all these things without the need for the Bible. Why do we need this Wisdom Literature?

What many people don’t know is that the Wisdom of Sirach has a prologue in the Greek Old Testament written, apparently, by the grandson of Jesus the Son of Sirach. He says, “Many great teachings have been given to us through the Law and the Prophets and the others that followed them, and for these we should praise Israel for instruction and wisdom. Now, those who read the scriptures must not only themselves understand them, but must also as lovers of learning be able through the spoken and written word to help the outsiders.” What we see is that what we understand by wisdom is completely bound up in the Scriptures and the study of the bible. And this makes sense. Job may tell us about his suffering, but the book of Job is something deeper than that. It may not answer directly the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” but a careful study of it reveals much into human nature and how we approach people who are in pain and misery. Further, it reveals a God Who is not absent but rather takes pride in those who love Him.

Likewise, the Song of Songs may appear risqué but we see how God fits in to the business of human relationships. In all Wisdom literature, we find recorded the plain fact that Wisdom is the life lived in the fear of God. Of course, by “fear” we can certainly understand the sense of awe and worship when we are face-to-face with the Creator of the Universe. We have to let that fear into our lives because it is a fear that encourages pure love. It is not a fear that destroys it.


Wisdom is for every Christian. It is not just for those who are clever, have lots of degrees, or have written many books. We must remember that the Wise King Solomon was tempted into idolatry by his six hundred wives. Indeed, we live in a time when the most intelligent and most academic of people encourage us to give up on God and on our religion. There are even those who lead the Church who seek to draw us away from God by embracing the things of this world – they, too, are modern versions of Solomon. Wisdom is for us all. It is enshrined in Scripture and in the Tradition that arises from and interacts with it, and our fear and love for God compels us to receive it.


Lent is the perfect time for sharpening our Wisdom through careful study of the Scriptures, but we do need to ask God for His Wisdom first so that we don’t acquire the wisdom of the world that will reject Him. We should fear that we don’t love God enough and it will be this fear that drives us to know Him better. We remember that we are dust and unto dust shall we return, and we remember that God has given us the Scriptures and the Holy Ghost that we might go beyond our dust and into Eternal life in His love.