Sunday, June 30, 2019

No being, no pain and vice versa

Sermon for the second Sunday after Trinity

Job is quite right, you know.

If he had never been born, he would never have suffered the loss of his possessions, his family and his health. If he had died at birth, he would never have been in pain; he would never have known sorrow; he would never have known loss.

We can’t escape this fact at all, and it leads us to the biggest problem that we face as Christians and, indeed, one of the biggest questions that humanity faces, full stop!

Why should a good God create a world in which there is so much suffering? Surely, it is better not to exist than to exist in agony?

It’s something we have to grapple with, some of us more than most.

What can we say to Job?


There is no logical reason why a good God cannot permit suffering in the world. We can formulate answers that involve free-will, the actions of the Devil and God combatting Evil with a greater good, but human beings aren’t just thinkers. Given the actions of some human beings, sometimes we doubt that human beings are thinkers at all! However, we don’t react to Evil only with our minds and thus argue it out of existence. We feel the evil. We feel pain. We feel agony. And it’s horrible! So we want the evil, pain and agony to stop.

Perhaps, then, God is at fault for creating us to feel pain. Perhaps he’s at fault for allowing us to suffer like this.


If we could not feel pain, then we would know that nothing is wrong. We would not know that anything could be wrong. We would be unconcerned with the existence of others because their lives would not affect us. We would become utterly alone in ourselves, all cold and unfeeling.

We would be unable to know what happiness is because there would be no sadness. We would be indifferent to it.

We would be unable to know what beauty is because we would not understand ugliness.

Without pain, there would be no art, no poetry, no expression of what it is to be human. There would be no colour, nothing to take pleasure in, nothing to enjoy or to strive for or to succeed in.

And we would be unable to know God because we would not know love, happiness, and beauty.

Life would somehow be pointless.

It seems that if we could feel no pain, then life would be more obviously pointless than it is.

But it still feels horrible. We want to avoid suffering and pain! When we are in pain, pain is all there is to know and it overrides everything.


We have to understand that suffering is often too much for some people and we must be compassionate in these cases. Sometimes it is all we can do to keep going.  Job himself suffers, curses his birth, but neither curses God nor seeks to end it all by his own hand and, if you think about it, that’s remarkable!

Perhaps we can understand Job if we listen to St Paul.

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Job’s story is full of his attempt to work out what is going on between him and God and it isn’t easy in the slightest. His friends simply do not help him. Yet, Job still clings to his belief that God is good.

And that’s all we can do. Just cling on and help others to cling on.

This is why the Church is important. It should not be a law-court of judges seeking to denounce the sinner but rather a collection of sinners clinging by faith in God. We are a fellowship – a fellowship that recognises what sin is, but seeks not to condemn but offer that unconditional generosity to the sinner. The Church is a collection of human beings broken by evil and finding the cure in the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

We cannot have an answer for the pain and suffering of the children of God. Let us rather seek to know God and, in times of suffering, offer that pain up on behalf of all those going through the same thing who don’t know His love.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Commenting and Responses

I have just found out that I have been unable to respond to comments on this little blog. I hope this is very temporary.

I would like to thank people who have said some kind things about this blog and to reassure them that I have made necessary corrections which they pointed out.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Just the Job

Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity

God is a monster, isn’t he? After all, He uses poor Job just to win a bet with Satan.”

Lots of people have this view of the opening chapters of Job and it’s easy to see why. We do get a sense of God using us for His own ends. That can’t be right, can it?


Whose vision is it?

That’s the question to ask. We know Moses’ vision of God, and Isaiah’s vision of God, and Ezekiel’s vision of God, and St John’s vision of God, but who is having the vision of God in this story of Job? It’s not Job.

And that’s the key to understanding this.

The Bible is not just a collection of books of history. There are poetry, prophecy and wisdom as well – all God-breathed as St Paul tells us. We are not supposed to take poetry or proverb literally. The book of Job is not one of the history books in the bible. It’s not like Chronicles or Deuteronomy, or any of the Gospels or the Acts of the Apostles. It is classed as wisdom literature and placed among the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Wisdom books of Solomon and Jesus the Son of Sirach. It means we have to treat it as a story but to search within it for the truth that God has for us therein.

Look at the Heavenly Court in Job. What is this trying to tell us?


First, it presents to us the problem of why there is Evil in the world. We see God enthroned and Satan, the Accuser, taunting God about the depth of Job’s love for Him. And we see God permit Satan to afflict Job. That’s important. God says, “Behold, all that he hath is in thy power.” And later, God says, “Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.” God does not command Satan to afflict Job. God states a fact. Satan, being an angelic being, has power over human beings. And Satan, being an angelic being, is as free to choose as we are.

Satan does not have to inflict suffering on Job, but he does because he hates God. He’s the one who is trying to score points over God.

And God allows it. Why?


As St John walks with Jesus, the Lord sees a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples ask Him, saying, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus answers them, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”

So God is using us to win an argument?

There are two things here. First, we are Creations of God. This means that He gets to use us in the way that He chooses. Yet, the evidence that we have about Him is that He values us as individuals and rejoices in how He has created us. If God treats us as mere instruments and vessels to play with, why does Jesus Christ come in to save the world?

This brings us to the second point. God is not using us – He is using the results of Evil against Evil. This is hard to see because we don’t have a complete picture. We will never know the mind of God which is why He implores us to trust Him. The man was born blind for some reason we don’t know, but God uses the man’s blindness to bring good into the world. And where Good is, Evil cannot be.

A man has the palsy and look! His friends, people who love him so much, deliberately break through the roof of a house just so that he might be cured of his sickness. Not only do they love this man, but they also have faith in Jesus and this faith is communicated to the multitudes of people within the house crowding around Jesus. And yet further, the man’s sins are forgiven and the Lord’s power to forgive sins is displayed for all! At every stage, Satan’s wickedness is used by God to bring about something wonderful to draw human beings closer to His Love.


This is why we have to have faith. We can’t see the bigger picture. The story of God’s throne room in the book of Job is just that – a story. We will see suffering and it will test our love and faith to the limit. Yet, we do believe in a God Who has power over Death itself and not even that can separate us from His love.

The suffering of humanity does deserve an answer. This answer will never be found in textbooks, nor in lectures, nor even in sermons.

The suffering of humanity is answered by faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Power of Normality

Sermon for Corpus Christi

It’s always at the Elevation of the Host when the little voice says to you, “You fool! Look at you gazing up at a little disc of bread. Look at you bowing down to a cup of water and wine! How pathetic!”

Truly, the Eucharist is the source for hilarity among those non-Christians who mock us. Truly, the Eucharist is a major concern to our beloved Protestant brethren who fear that we are committing idolatry.

Let’s do that, then. Let’s step outside and look at us bowing down to a bit of bread and a cup of wine.


What are we expecting to see when the Host is lifted up, or the chalice? Are we really expecting to see the change?

Did the Disciples see the change at the Last Supper?

Does St Paul mention a change in his second letter to the Corinthians?

If not, why do we expect one?

Or, rather, do we want to see the change and just get very frustrated that we don’t? After all, the lack of seeing the difference does make it a bit of a problem when we talk with Protestants. If no change can be seen, why should we suppose that it happens at all.

Yes, we should use the eyes of faith. St Thomas Aquinas says,

“Verbum caro panem verum 
Verbo carnem éfficit: 
Fitque sanguis Christi merum,
Et si sensus déficit,
Ad firmándum cor sincérum
Sola fides súfficit.”

“The Word-Made-Flesh by a word 
makes the true bread become flesh, 
and wine become the Blood of Christ. 
And, if the sense fails,
to confirm the sincere heart
 faith alone is enough.”

Our Lord is very clear. He tells us through St John that His flesh is meat indeed and His blood drink indeed. At the Last Supper, He says of the bread, “this is My Body,” and of the cup, “this is My Blood of the New Testament.” This is what St Thomas is saying to us. Our senses might deceive us, but we know what Jesus has said and we have faith in Him.

When we find ourselves staring at bread and wine and those doubts set in, we do have to ask ourselves, “what are we expecting to see if things are really different?” Do we expect it to glow with some ethereal light? Do we expect to see sparks shooting from the chalice?

Or do we expect Christ Himself to be present in a completely normal way even as He walks among the people of Israel as a completely normal human being? The Word was made Flesh! Do we expect Him to look different from human beings if He came to be with us as a human being? He takes upon Himself normality. He takes upon himself the humdrum, every-day, boring, usual form that we have in order to work His greatest miracle of redeeming humanity from the clutches of Evil. That is the power of Christ’s normality!

If this is the case then we must expect the bread and wine to look completely normal in order for it to be the Body and Blood of Christ and to give us the grace of the sacrament that He promises us. We must expect to look at that little white disc and for it to smell and taste like unleavened bread. We must expect to taste a bit of watered-down wine, for, in that complete normality we truly take of the Body and Blood of Christ. In that normality, we are transformed. We become the new normal until we receive our final normality as guests at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

So take and eat. What do you see? Is all normal?



Sunday, June 16, 2019

Undescribably Trinal

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

How did Isaiah know that it was the Lord sitting upon the throne? He mentions absolutely nothing about the figure on the throne, unlike the prophet Daniel and St John the Divine who both have some descriptions of the One Who sits upon the throne. Isaiah tells us all about the throne room and the seraphic attendants, so why doesn’t he tell us about God?


 The presence of the Lord clearly fills Isaiah with fear because he is a man of “unclean lips”. This is our first clue as to how Isaiah knows that he is in the presence of God. We see exactly the same behaviour in St Peter who begs Our Lord, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man!” In the presence of God, we become aware of the sin that clings so closely to us and it causes us distress. Where God is, sin cannot be and vice versa. This is why we cannot behold God in all His majesty.

Does this tell us why Isaiah doesn’t describe God to us?


Why is it that Daniel and St John can describe the One on the Throne, but Isaiah can’t? Surely, they are all sinful men like we are?

Or perhaps Isaiah is struggling to find the words. While Daniel and St John see God as a human figure, perhaps Isaiah doesn’t. Isaiah can describe the seraphim, but not God. This actually puts Isaiah in company with Moses who does not see God’s face, but His back. This does mean that Daniel and St John are seeing God in form that they can handle, just like Moses and Isaiah. It doesn’t matter how He reveals Himself, these men know God when they see Him and they know Him by faith despite their sins.


Every encounter with God that we see in Holy Scripture is there from God to tell us about Him. At every stage, He seeks to make Himself visible to people who simply are not able to see Him in full by reason of the sins that afflict us all. This is not a God who turns away from sinners, but rather still wants to be known by sinners. At every stage, He confronts us in love to bring us back to Him. This is why we get a glimpse of the Holy Trinity at the Baptism of the Lord. It is at the waters of Baptism where the wounds of sin are cleansed and thus our eyes begin to be opened, just like St Paul after his experience on the road to Damascus.

Even then, we don’t have the same experiences as Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, or St John but we do encounter God and we will know Him when we do encounter Him because we encounter Him in ways deeper than sight and sense. This is the essence of our hope and faith. We don’t know what we can expect when we encounter God but, when the time comes, we will know it because we believe and keep believing through prayer and study and following His commandments.

We don’t have to understand how the Holy Trinity works in order to be sure that this is what God has shown us about Himself. We don’t have to try and describe the indescribable just to satisfy ourselves that we know God.

Of course, not every voice we here, not vision that we see, nor experience that we have will be from God. We do have to try every spirit that says that it comes from God but this is where God has helped us before we start. God is Eternal, and will not change His message. The Holy Trinity is as present in the first Chapter of Genesis as He is in the last Chapter of Revelation. If any spirit tries to change what we believe about God that is different from what the Church has always taught, then we must turn our back on it. God is faithful to us always, even if we are not faithful to Him.


The Feast of the Holy Trinity is an exercise in knowing God, not understanding Him. Just as we will never know what goes on in the minds of our families and friends, so we will never know Who God is. Yet, if we are willing, we can know God’s presence with us intimately and find peace in Him that words cannot describe, just like Isaiah cannot describe the One upon the Throne.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Holey spirits

Sermon for Whitsunday

There are times when humanity hates itself. There are times when humanity thinks of itself as parasites on the face of God’s good earth. There are times when humanity, looking at the destruction that it wreaks upon the beauty of nature, turns away from God declaring that it should never have been born.

Sometimes, we are just sick of ourselves, and we don’t know what to do. Some of us lie down and accept it, finding ways of numbing the dull ache and silencing the voices that depress us. Sometimes we hit out at all and sundry that we perceive are the problem, and end up tearing ourselves apart. We hear St Paul say to us, ”the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”

And then we remember that God created us to be flesh and spirit. Why would he create a being that is at war with itself? Are we really a failed experiment?


If we were a failed experiment then there is no point in the Crucifixion. If God, in His Divine foreknowledge can see us sin and fall and kill and hurt and destroy and still call us “very good” then there is no failure, for St Paul says very clearly, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

We are born in sin, but we are not born sinners. At our birth, we inherit a world damaged by human beings who deny the reality of their own spirits and our very nature is broken by sin, cracked and infected by temptations and a weakness to fall to these temptations. We see right and wrong and we make judgements based on those perceptions but all we can do is condemn and, in condemning try to destroy Evil, only to destroy ourselves because we judge according to our broken, worldly ways. The fact of the matter is that we cannot destroy Evil because we are not capable of supplying the pure Good that is necessary to destroy it. We are not the source of Goodness, just the product of it.


Today, however, “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Today, this day of Pentecost, we are given precisely that which can destroy Evil, and we can take it into our very selves. Into our broken selves, into the cracks infected and stained with sin, into the heart of our darkness, God pours out His Spirit on all who would receive it. This is the fact of our Baptism: our broken human nature is cleansed. This is why we should baptise our babies born into the world to the joy of the angels in heaven, so that the evil which clings so closely may be inoculated against by the Holy Ghost.

We must remember that our spirits remain our own. Our spirit is not replaced by the Holy Ghost, but rather the Holy Ghost dwells within us wherever we would let Him. He dwells within the cracks caused by sin cementing us together with ourselves and with God Himself. Our human nature is healed by being filled with the Divine.


We can still sin. Our flesh and our spirit are still subject to our wills, so we must learn to live after the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We live lives of turning to Him, listening to Him and obeying Him – this is the life of repentance. We may falter and damage ourselves. Yet we may always turn to Him and He will heal us.


Perhaps, God created human beings who might choose fall so that we might also choose to receive Him more deeply than we really know. However, we must accept the consequences of our fall. The only way that this world will improve is if we fill it with the Holy Ghost. We should “do little things in love” as St Teresa of Calcutta says because we are little things created by the love of God. 

Sunday, June 02, 2019

God versus the genie

Sermon for the Sunday in the Octave of the Ascension

There are people who say that, if you pray hard enough, God will give you what you want. After all, we hear Our Lord specifically say, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” These people pray for fast cars, huge houses and more money than you could possibly want and expect their prayers to be answered.

What are we to do then? Pray for a fast car? Huge house? Lots of money?

How would we see God if He were to grant these wishes?

That’s the way to see it! God granting wishes!

If we pray like this then we have turned God into a genie. How does a fast car glorify God in Our Lord? He ceases to be glorified in the Son but rather taken for granted in His generosity. Our Lord Jesus cannot mean that He will always answer every prayer we send Him with a “yes!”


Our Lord says, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” That phrase “in my name” is crucial here. We need to think of it along the same lines as, “in the name of the Law.”

If a policeman says, “open up in the name of the Law!” you do it. How would you answer, “give me a candy bar in the name of the Law!” Would you feel obliged?

Of course, the context is important, too. We wouldn’t open up in the name of the law if the person demanding it was dressed in a stripy jumper, wearing a mask and carrying a bag marked “SWAG” nor would we object to a petulant shop-owner being told by a policeman to hand over a bar of chocolate for a diabetic who is in danger of falling into a coma.

Only a policeman on duty acting in accordance with the Law can demand things be done in the name of the Law. It’s true also that we can make a citizen’s arrest in the name of the Law but again, this has to be done in accordance with what the Law really says.

And so it is with Christ.


As Christians, we can only expect an answer to our prayers to be given when we are acting as emissaries of Our Lord Jesus Christ. To pray in His name is to accept His authority as our King and so we should pray to Him accordingly. Our goal is to glorify God in Our Lord Jesus Christ and that should be our focus.

But what about praying for the things we really want and need? Does not Our Lord tell us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread”?


Our first duty as a Christian is to pray. The act of prayer is an establishment of our relationship with God. Right at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer we say “Our Father”. This not only establishes our relationship with God but also reinforces the relationship we have with our fellow human beings. God is Our Father. He is not just Your Father. All true prayer is about recognising where we stand with God. We ask Him to provide our needs and the act of asking Him reinforces Him as Our Father in our lives. He knows what we need to live life before we even ask and the fact that we ask Him means that we are given something we often forget – a relationship with God as Our Father.

We can always ask for a fast car, huge house and lots of money but we must do so for the express reason of glorifying God in Our Lord Jesus Christ and not because we think our life would be better with it. There is only one way that our life will truly be better: Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and it is only through Him that we will find true, meaningful and Eternal happiness and the answers to all our prayers.