Sermon for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B. ‘God’s Plan for your life’

Sermon for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 22-23

‘God’s plan for your life . . .’

Well, in marketing spiel, that’s a sermon title to bring in the crowds 🙂 For after all, wouldn’t it be good to know God’s plan for our lives. So good indeed that one of the most oft quoted verses in the Scriptures, is Jeremiah 29:11 plans

It is so popular that it is plastered on a thousand devotional posters – ten thousand fridge magnets, and I have no way of counting how many bumper stickers it might perhaps be found on – which is odd. It’s odd for a couple of reasons. For the prophet Jeremiah is not exactly someone associated with a message which we’d all want to buy into.
God’s plan for Jeremiah was that he go into the heart of the darkness of God’s people to announce God’s impending judgement on their wickedness – and boy did he suffer as a result – one in the long line of those God sent to his people to call them to repentance culminating in his sending his Son whom they crucified . . . so quoting Jeremiah on ‘God’s plan for your life’ . . . well we might say that it is asking for trouble!

And Jeremiah, as one faithful to God’s plan for his life does not hold back – who is this people he is called to? Well by the time of the prophecy about God’s plan they are in exile and The LORD addresses these words to them : Your hurt is incurable, your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you.

All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you; for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are so numerous. Jer 30:12-14

Apart from the use of oil etc. to produce such commercial tat, the real problem with fridge magnet theology is that fridge magnets aren’t large enough 🙂 ‘I have plans for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. . . . because you are incurably sin sick – all those false gods you have run after have let you down and I’ve taken you into exile because of them . . .’ These are the people that God has plans for . . .

And immediately we understand that God’s plans for us have little or nothing to do with ‘the house we’ve always dreamed of’, ‘things working out well in our careers’, or ‘finding the man or woman of my dreams and living happily ever after’. God’s Plan for his people is that he will save them from the consequences of their abandonment of Him – put another way, that he will save them from death and hell, in and through Jesus . . . and without wishing to harp on about a theme I have spoken of these past weeks, of all those ‘fridge magnet dream’ plans . . . where is Jesus in any of them???

So when Jesus comes, this is precisely to whom he comes, those who in their hearts are still in exile – those of whom the prophet Isaiah wrote “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

Jesus puts it plainly You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition. The commandment of God, his Life giving word is abandoned – we saw this played out last week in the gospel – the words that Jesus speaks are Light and Life, but his disciples abandon Jesus words, for teaching more attuned to the darkness of their wicked hearts. Like people who avoid going to the doctor for whilst in their heart of hearts they know they are ill, they do not wish to be confronted with their condition – they do not wish to be well, so when the Light shines in the darkness it is for judgement  ‘that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.’

So, let us come to James the brother of Jesus and pillar of the Jerusalem church – and his meditation upon how God’s plan is worked out in us when we come into the light.

Firstly he begins with this acknowledgement – Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. When Jesus says to the wealthy man who calls him good teacher ‘Why do you call me good, only God is good.’ He is pointing to one of the most fundamental truths of existence, the Goodness of God. What else can explain God’s desire to rescue his people who have utterly abandoned him – what else can explain God’s plan for us, indeed a plan that extends to the whole created order as our abandonment of the command of God has led to a Creation which mirrors the humans who have sought to act as God within it. The Goodness of God we may well say is that which gives Hope, when humanly there is only despair – God’s Goodness is Life from Death.

James goes on ‘In fulfillment of his own purpose [putting his plan into Action] he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.’ He gave us birth by the word of truth – through His Living Word, His Word made flesh, God gives us new birth. ‘Into a living hope’ as St Peter puts it, ‘by the resurrection of the dead’ – there you are again, a people beyond hope are given Hope, a people who are dead in sin and wickedness are given new birth, by this Word – that they might become a kind of first fruits of his creatures . . . The Genesis narrative of ‘creation’ is nothing more nor less than a foreshadowing of THIS Creation. God coming to his people in Jesus is His plan, ‘since before the foundation of the world’ Jesus indeed is the lamb who was slain, from before the foundation of the world. Before ever there was sin, before ever there was a world, God’s plan has been to rescue his people and to reveal his Goodness.

Yet, this plan requires our participation You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  Be quick to listen! Quick!! — the Living Word speaks – ‘This is my beloved Son – listen to Him!’ – The Words he speaks are Spirit and truth – they are Life eternal. Quick to listen. Slow to speak – as James will remind us in a couple of weeks, our words are dangerous – not least those who presume to be teachers, for too easily does the preacher end up teaching human precepts as doctrines. This is why I ask that you pray for all those who presume to teach that they may, both by their life and doctrine, set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments. That my brothers and sisters is why we should pray for our clergy – not that their lives will work out well according to the standards of the world, but that they might ever hold fast to the Life giving word of truth and not descend into the evil of teaching human precepts as doctrines, which Jesus condemns.

Quick to listen – slow to speak – slow to become angry. The Church has always taught that anger is one of the wicked thoughts, the deadly sins (in Catholic tradition) – that the only valid anger was anger against our own sins. For too easily we stand in angry judgement of others and find ourselves, in the words of the crucified thief, under the same condemnation. ‘Man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness’ – and who would dare presume to announce Their anger to be that of the Living God??

Noting all that – our slowness to listen to the Word, our alacrity to speech and anger, the apostle counsels Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. It is the language of New Creation – of gardening, tilling and keeping the soil of our hearts. In an echo of his Brother Jesus’ parable, James would have us tear out the weeds – all those things which Jesus lists which defile us – ‘For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’ All those things which strangle the Word of Life and truth. Seek to tear them out to make soil fit for ‘the implanted word that has power to save your souls’

The Word of Christ, in us, which alone has power to heal and save our souls . . . I will say little on this point, but to note that it is in this day when the language of sin and soul has all but disappeared even from the discourse of the Church, Lord have mercy on us, that the evil of euthanasia rears its head . . .

But let us be clear – this welcome for the word is not simply a meditative exercise – as we are to rid ourselves of the rank growth – active – so James says in receiving the word, Act on it!! But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. There are many many deceptions abroad in this age. As James points out, if we do not bridel our tongue, we deceive ourselves, our religion is worthless, for we are unrestrained, our energy is wasted. But  one of the most clever schemes of our enemy is that of encouraging mediation on the word as healing in and of itself – this is no better to us that gazing lovingly at the medicine in the bottle – or seeking to feed ourselves by reading ‘Good Food magazine’ but never cooking. It is the religion of nice thoughts, it is a vapour and a mist, and highly seductive for that for it requires no effort on our part. cf Luke 13:24 The man Jesus heals he commands – ‘take up your mat and walk.’ God has given us birth to be a kind of first fruits of his creatures and like new born babies we move from passivity, to the strenuous work of participation in His Life . . . Yes, Meditate upon the word – accept it – and Do it. Those who love me, obey me, Jesus says – again Those who hear my words and do them are like those who build their house on the rock, that in the day of Judgement, they may stand firm. As James, Jesus’ brother and our puts it – But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world . Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength – love your neighbour as yourself – do this and you will live –

As I said – the Jeremiah fridge magnet is not large enough; wanting God’s plans for us to be about Our hopes and dreams,it is cut off half way through.

God has a far better plan for our lives – Hear the Word of the LORD For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. I will bring you to myself – I will give you my life, in and through Jesus my beloved Son – the Bread of heaven, the Word of Life

Sermon for Ordinary 20 – Year B – Irrelevant Church

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

Irrelevant Church

‘Make every effort to enter in at the narrow gate,
for many I tell you will try to enter and will not be able to’

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned at the end of the sermon the Church in Syria – which is undergoing the most horrendous persecution imaginable. To many of us no doubt, inculcated as we are in a secularised understanding of our faith, this may well seem to us to be little more than just another example of what is called ‘Religion’ gone bad – but is it? Or is there something far more consequential happening? For as I briefly set out last time, the Church in Syria is no ordinary Church – it’s not just another church.

The Scriptures tell us that St Paul, following his conversion set out to preach the gospel in Damascus which of course is in modern day Syria, and the Church which sprang from that teaching remains there to this day. Some of the oldest Christian writings, the New Testament aside come from that Church, most notably the letters of St Ignatius, the second bishop of Antioch, whom the Tradition teaches was himself a disciple of our own St John the Evangelist. These letters were written around the turn of the first century. Liturgically it has hardly changed for nearly two thousand years, and its language ‘Syriac Aramaic’ is thought to be the language which Jesus himself spoke.

The idea that there is nothing more troubling in the mass martyrdom which is being inflicted on this church than the World describes as Religion gone bad is, I suggest a failure to grasp the significance of the attempted anihilation of the One Church which can truly trace its ancestry directly back to the Traditions of the Apostles. Because they have barely changed

Compare and contrast the church in much of the West – by the Way there are Syrian Orthodox in Dunedin – here Churches left right and centre are driven along by the waves of history – changing form and shape to match the current culture. Seeking to be ‘Relevant’. Over just the last 20 years or so we have seen a whole raft of ‘new forms of church’ or new movements of church – one after the other after the other – seeker sensitive church, messy church, emergent church, liquid church, purpose driven church – and I’m sure folk could come up with other multiple variants – all established on an erroneous proposition, that is we come up with a ‘culturally relevant’ form of worship – people will flock in and become disciples of Jesus . . . but actually they don’t.

Which when you think about it isn’t all that surprising, firstly because it starts from a false premise, that Worship is all about the worshipper and not The One whom we Worship. Worship which is moulded to the worshipper cannot fail to be idolatrous – what is revealed is not the Living God, but the reflection of the worshipper.

I remember in one of my churches a middle aged lady used to go on at length about needing worship music which would ‘get the young people in, the sort of music which young people enjoy today’. Well that is problematic 🙂 For ‘Young people’ are not a coherent group – I know some young people who enjoy Bach, others who like Garage music – a growing number it seems, although I may be wrong who have little or no interest in music at all. Whilst it is not difficult to stereotype the attitude of consumer churches in terms of the French Revolutionary who saw the mob pass the sidewalk table at which he was drinking his coffee and said ‘They are my people! I must follow them!’ in reality the situation is even more absurd than suggested by that example. One who seeks to follow culture, be it musical or otherwise, is going to find not one, but a plethora of mobs going in 101 different directions – and consequentially following the one that most mirrors their own prejudices. Church in our own image.

I remember another young man in the village where I was Priest telling me not long after I’d arrived – ‘The Church needs to get with it’ To which the only logical response is ‘With which ‘It’ should the Church get?’

The Antiochene Orthodox Church should give we Western Consumer Christians pause for thought. They have lasted 2000 years without seeking to ‘get with it’ – in modern terms wwe might call them anachronistic, for they are utterly irrelevant – yet it is they who are the focus of yet another wave of terrible persecution, one which unlike any previous may possibly lead to their extinction. Apparently the only way their light could be extinguished through murder, sometimes crucifixion – bearing eloquent witness to their Lord, for whose sake they have lost all things.

Which brings us to our Lord Jesus HImself – who shows what is to our eyes a remarkable disinterest about accommodating himself to his hearers, rather unflinchingly calling his hearers to shape their lives to his.

Over and over and over again in the gospels, we hear Jesus speaking words which seem almost to be designed to drive people away. He says that he speaks in parables so that people ‘may not understand’!! He goes on ‘none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all you have’ – the sort of saying which left St Ignatius, even as he made his away across the East towards his martyrdom in Rome questioning whether even he, who had sat at the feet of St John was truly a disciple of Jesus. How nonchalantly the modern Christian assumes that he or she is a follower of Jesus . . .

Or again the encounter of Jesus and that young enthusiastic man – ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He says he has kept all the commandments – he’s kept his nose clean and led what to his surrounding society looks like a ‘good life’ – but Jesus tells him, if you truly want to be healed, sell your possessions and give to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven, and then follow me . . . and he went away sorrowful for he had many possessions. And Jesus turning to those who were following him told them ‘truly I tell you – it is harder for a Rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven, than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle’. The one thing Jesus didn’t do was run after him and try and change his teaching to adapt itself to the young man. Actually his teaching was perfectly adapted to him – he gave him the Truth – for He is the Truth.

Or Jesus response to the question ‘Lord will only a few be saved’ responds saying – ‘Make every effort to enter in at the narrow door, for many will try to enter and will not be able’ – how alien these words sound to our understanding of Jesus – it perhaps is not going to far to say that we imagine saying, ‘broad and easy is the way that leads to life and many their are that find it – for after all, all that is required is that we are true to our own version of the truth – but hard and narrow is the way that leads to destruction, because after all, most people are good . . .’ We find the words of Jesus an embarrassment and give people almost the directly opposite message. We think the words of Paul about fighting against powers and principalities odd – hey Paul! Dont be ridiculous mate – what’s all this about the quenching the flaming arrows of the evil one?? That’s SO medieval . . . and in smug contentment at our modern way of looking at things we stroll away, and from somewhere we hear muffled laughter . . .

We remember that this gospel reading comes at the end of a long sequence leading on from the feeding of the 5000. In the wilderness . . . Jesus begins by challenging those who have flocked after him ‘you’re only here because I filled your bellies . . .’ Someone, laughing sidles up to him and whispers in his ear . . . “Hey – just keep giving them bread – look at the crowd you’ve got – don’t get all spiritual on them. 5000 – a church of 5000!!! think of that!!! Go on – turn these stones into bread . . .” Who we might well ask is this peddler of Relevance??? “Do something to draw the crowds!! Bring them in Then you can stick them with the hard sell, when you’ve got them gathered – put on some spectacular show – jump off the Temple even!!! Or . . . look Jesus – you really need to get with it – and I’ll see they turn up for you Sunday after Sunday . . . just follow the techniques, get yourself a decent strategic plan, it will all come right, just do what I tell you, here by my book, here’s the strategy!!” – Or to translate and unmask the god of this age, “just bow down and worship me . . .”

But Jesus is not listening to Satan, Jesus caps of his unpalatable [sic] teaching with these words – Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. Jesus seems curiously unconcerned with trying to put the message in terms that are easy to take on board – Rather he confronts us with the Truth and once more we see Jesus as the Church Growth Failure he is, with his stubborn refusal to ‘get with it’, to be ‘Relevant’ When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” And Jesus’ pastoral response?? You think This is difficult to accept??? This is just the beginning!! Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. This message you reject – my words are Spirit and Life . . . But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

From 5000 to  . . . 12 . . . nice work Jesus . . . but he hasn’t finished. “Do you also wish to go away?”  For he knows that amongst the few who are left is one who will betray him, one who will deny him. Peter at least speaks the Truth we all need to hear and know deep within our hearts – “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. None will be saved without at first recognising this Truth, That Jesus body is Real Food, That Jesus Words are Words of LIfe – however much they seem pointing in exactly the opposite direction – for the way to Life is through our dying to ourselves, The way to life is through the Cross of Jesus and our taking our own up in self denial – try and sell that as an idea for a new church . . . So much if not all of this contemporary frenzy with ‘new forms of church’ has one root and it is a Rotten root. The root of ‘we must do something to survive . . .’ But the way to Life is only found in and through the Cross of Jesus – through our dying to ideas about relevance or 101 other deceitful messages whispered in our panicking ears . . .

Through the Cross comes Life. As Jesus looks at the 12 he knows that one will betray him, one will deny him, and nine who will forsake him. At the Cross, the only disciple is John . . . At the Cross Jesus says to Mary his Mother about John, behold your son – and to John, behold your mother. It is the disciples who goes to the Cross, who becomes the seed and pillar of the Church, the body of Jesus Christ.

The Way of Jesus has nothing to tantalise our consumer sated appetites. It has no USP – like its Saviour there is nothing in her that we should desire her – the Church that bears his name has no business chasing after the herd of cats that are our modern consumer preferences.

The Syrian Orthodox Church does nothing to draw the crowds, it never has – yes it does send out missionaries – and today there are from that first church 4 million believers world wide, even here in Dunedin!, but it has done nothing to adapt itself to the world around – rather by patiently and at times such as this, under fierce persecution, worshipped God in Jesus Christ through the Word and the Sacrament, Words of Life and the Bread of eternal Life. It has not turned to left or right, but rather enduring, to the end, faithful perhaps to The Very End.

May God in his infinite love and mercy grant that we too may be drawn in truth to Jesus Christ – and may we not be found wanting when he comes

Hungry for Jesus – Sermon for Ordinary Time 20 – Year B

Sunday 20th in Ordinary Time – Year B – 16th August 2015

Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Hungry for Jesus

Perhaps one of the more significant things that we have to wake up to as the Church in these times, is the realisation that we do not know how to think as Christians. Not that Christians cannot think, but that when they do they largely do so in exactly the same way as people amongst whom they live. Indeed we may well be surprised to hear that their may be such a thing as Christian Thought at all.

To begin to think Christianly is as I suggested a few weeks ago to have our imaginative world Filled by the Reality of Jesus Christ, Crucified, Risen and Ascended. In other words to see Reality only in terms of that which it is, the realm over which we declare Jesus Christ to be Lord to the glory of God the Father.
As I recently pointed out, for many many years this was precisely how the Church did its thinking. And as a result developed ways of speaking of God in Christ, and being the Church. We call these The Tradition – and they include the Catholic Creeds, the teachings of the Church Fathers and certain ways of doing and being church.

As a shadow of the One who was to Come, Solomon, the son of David by Bathsheba, prayed for Wisdom. Christ in his coming IS the embodiment of Wisdom – and the Church as His body, as it grew Grew in Wisdom. The teachings of the Church and the Creeds being the embodiment of that Wisdom, the Holy Spirit leading her into all truth as Jesus said.

A very simple example of that was the way in which the Early Church Fathers understood the significance of our bodies for our Life in Christ. This to us may well sound very strange. We imagine Christian Faith as a set of ideas. That Faith might have a bodily aspect seems a little odd to us. Yes we might be able to understand that we need a body to live out our faith in. After all if you are going to share your bread with the poor, you need hands to do it with – but children of the Enlightenment that we are, we tend to understand that we are chiefly our minds, and that all that is happening when we feed the poor is that our faith – in our head, or brain – directs our inanimate body in a certain way. Now certainly that is in part true, but it is a very shallow understanding of the truth of the matter. Our forebears understood these things far better than we – indeed they understood everything it often seems to me, far better than the best of us ever shall. We have traded Wisdom for the riches of the world, we have eaten afresh of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – and the Church in the West has withered as a result.

But lets come back to that issue – that of the body and its place in our Salvation. A few weeks ago I was with someone who in passing had told me that his life was so full of appointments and busyness, that he had little or no time to be fed – he was not studying the faith, or spending long hours in prayer with the Scriptures. As it happened I spent the morning with this man and later that day something struck me – which was that in the time we were together he had eaten two large meals.
Now we might have thought nothing of this . . . but the Fathers, those early teachers of the Church would have instantly seen a connection, which came to me later that day and which I passed on to him. Which was this – that the Body and the Soul are so intimately connected, that if the body is full of food, the Soul is left hungry – for to be full is to be full, and if we are full of food, there is no room for the Spirit. My friend was substituting bread that perishes for the bread that one may eat and live forever. Having a full belly led to a contentment which made us slothful in prayer – I passed this insight on and told him that in part I recognised it because it was a discovery I’d made about myself. That if I’d had a large meal – my sense of the Spirit of God, my desire for reading the Scriptures, my thirst for study of the Traditions, and above all, my hunger for Christ was blunted at best and all but killed off at worst.

This of course was no news to those of the Old faith – they knew these things intimately, indeed it was my reading the Fathers that alerted me to this and brought me to myself in this respect. Regular, not dramatic, gentle fasting – was a part of their discipline of faith, for they knew that to be physically full led surely to spiritual emptiness . . .

Which of course leads us to the greatest challenge to us as a Church in this place and this time, that we are very comfortable – yes we grumble a little if some suffering common to all people comes our way, but generally we are comfortable. The words of Jesus – ‘woe to you who are well fed now’, at best bounce off deaf ears, at worst are reworked so that they mean something completely different and we don’t have to be discomforted by Jesus himself.

And yes I do mean it that way – it is better not to have heard, than to hear and twist the words of Jesus . . .And if we don’t want to pay attention to Jesus, he will not force himself upon us.

So to return to where I started, thinking Christianly for a start means listening to the Wisdom of the Tradition. Why is the Church falling asleep? Because she is too well fed on food that perishes, and busy lives – and because she is too well fed, too full, she has all she has and imagines, if she would never say it out loud that she has no need  to pay attention to Jesus. And he withdraws, he shakes off his sandals – after all, in our words and deeds we are making it clear, ‘We don’t need Jesus’.
As I said last week – I was recently at a Church conference where the Board in charge of this aspect of the Church’s life had produced a list of words to express the heart of what we are about – Jesus was totally absent from that list . . .

We are whole beings – Body, Soul and Spirit. The Spiritual and the Physical are interwoven and affect one another intimately. The Gospel reading today comes towards the end of a lengthy dispute between Jesus and those who have come looking for him. Immediately before it he has fed the five thousand – and now the crowds come after Him, but as Jesus discerns ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’ . . . but that bread perishes – just as your physical body will perish. You eat, you are full, your belly empties, you are hungry, but you keep going back to the bread that does not satisfy – it keeps giving out – and eventually it will give out for good. The sheer fact that physical food keeps giving out on us is a sign that there is some other food!! Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

Like myself and my friend the other day, we fill up over and over with food that perishes – yet we do not work for the food that endures for eternal life. To put it most sharply – we substitute the temporary fulness of food, of busy lives which only serve to bolster our sense of self importance – we substitute these things that are passing away for the very Life that Jesus offers.

And this substitution is a revolt against him. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Whoever eats me will live because of me – Jesus cannot put it more plainly than this

Jesus Christ is our Very Life. What can we say of a Church body which in a hundred separate words does not once mention Jesus when it speaks of ‘the heart of what it is about’? It has surely found some substitute – it is not hungry for the bread that endures to eternal life but satisfied with that which perishes . . . and so it perishes.

God so loved the World that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but should have eternal life. That belief in Jesus goes way beyond thoughts about Him – to believe in Jesus is to Know in our very Souls that Apart from Him we have no Good thing – that in Him is all our Life . . . that we shall refrain from being full physically, or ‘busy’ for we know that to do so weakens our Love for Him

As I said last week, Christian Life is not a ‘way of life’ – nor is it a set of moral ethics or virtues – indeed the Romans saw this clearly and denounced it as not even being a religion! No it is none of these things – it is Life itself in the One who gives himself to us in Word and Sacrament. We feed on Him – He is our Life. This is why we should always come to the Eucharist – not with full bellies as those Corinthians whom St Paul denounced did – but Hungry. Hungry for the Word of Life – This is my Body – This is my Blood.

St Paul’s words as he writes to the Ephesians sound ‘too spiritual’ for our ears Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Giving thanks at all times to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – Giving Thanks – Eucharisteo is the verb – At the Eucharist we give thanks for Everything, for Christ is our Everything and in Bread and wine he gives himself to us

Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

May the LORD awaken the deepest of hungers for him in our hearts that we might make every effort to enter in at the narrow gate


‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

I’ve just been reading yet another of those seemingly endless and interminable articles in the ‘Christian’ media on ‘why it is so hard to love ourselves . . .’, and consequently teaching us to learn to do so, in the hope that eventually we might love ourselves and then love our neighbours . . .

Brothers and sisters, heaven cannot wait.

Actually, with one or two exceptions, we all love ourselves and to a point where perhaps we have lost the plot – and as witness I cite the innumerable blog posts etc. cited above


So just to make it clear

Love your neighbour as yourself



I give an example

Do we have enough food to eat today?

Do we know of anyone who doesn’t?

Share our bread with them



Do we have enough clothes to keep you warm and protected from the elements?

Do we know of anyone who doesn’t?

Share our clothes with them



Do we have sufficient money etc to live in a house that is warm?

Do we know anyone who doesn’t?

Share what we have with them so that they also may be warm – indeed we might even welcome them into the warmth of our house – it will cost nothing – we may even find new friends and thus break the cycle of our narcissitic isolation which leads to the sort of articles we waste our time writing and reading.


You see, we love ourselves enough to make sure that we take care of our basic needs – this is the embodied understanding of love which the entire Scripture points us to in Christ who loves us in the flesh,  by the giving of his body.

Loving ourselves involves taking care of our physical needs – as St Paul puts it  in an aside ‘For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it’. By and large, we love ourselves plenty. Indeed many if not most of us have ‘ample goods laid up for many years’. (Luke 12 vs 19)

We have food and clothes and warmth for today, and tomorrow, and day after day after  day – we love ourselves so much, we even have planned for years down the line . . .

Our problem is not that we do not love ourselves, it is that our self love has blinded us to our neighbour  (Luke 16:19-31)


The irony of all this is that if we obeyed Christ in this regard – shared our bread with the poor etc. we may well enter into a way of Life in which our narcissitic obsession with self acceptance became nothing more than a dream that fades from our memories as the light shines into the darkness


. . . and pray for me, a sinner also



Sermon for Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Year B – 2015

Sermon for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35,41-51

Value-Free Christianity . . .

St MAry's Holy Islanbd

A couple of weeks ago we thought about the proposition ‘God loves us too much to give us what we want. . .’ and I ended with the reason that God desires to give us his very self, but we desire far lesser ends. We seek a comfortable life, or one thing or another. Things that in themselves are not bad, for all God creates is good, but things which fade into the background when we See who God is, in and through Jesus Christ. To rework something CS Lewis wrote – we choose to be content playing with mud pies in a slum, when a life at the Seaside is offered us.

God in Jesus Christ has given us his very self – we might well say, there is nothing else God can give us, for he has given us all he has in Christ Jesus. He has given us his Son, he has given us his LIFE.

Last week we pondered how God in Christ has descended to the very depths of all that is, and then ascended to far above the heavens – that he might fill all things and in that filling all things he might sanctify them, so that with the eye of faith, the eye that has seen the self emptying love of God in Jesus Christ -‘whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ – sees everything in the Light of Christ. This is one way of expressing what it means to walk in the Light. It is as if we look out at creation and everywhere we look and everyone we see has a large flag stuck out of their head saying ‘belonging to God the Father in and through Jesus Christ’. To see with the eye of faith is to see the world as it is – to see that Christ fills all things.

In the words of the beautiful ancient hymn, St Patrick’s breastplate

Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

So with the eye awakened by faith we See Christ in and through all that is good. We see The Good, in and through the good. Our failure of faith is to confuse the good, with the Good, the Creator with the Creation, that sets off the insatiable fires of hellish longing, ‘if only I had. . .’ when God has given us all he has, himself.

As most folk know, there are a couple of ‘significant’ wedding anniversaries amongst us this weekend – and marriage provides us with a model for this seeing. For in the Self giving of husband and wife – we See through that to The Self Giving of Christ to the Church as St Paul so fully sets it out in Ephesians. Marriage is like everything good a Sacrament of God’s self – giving. And this passage is worth quoting at length in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

Note what St Paul says, This is a great mystery and I am applying it to Christ and the Church – each of you however should love his wife as himself. In other words the good of Christian marriage, points beyond itself to The Good – which is Christ and his selfemptying love for the Church.

Now lets follow this a little further . . . lets imagine that in a marriage, a husband only loved a wife because of what she did for him, or gave to him. Put another way, if it wasn’t for those things there would be no love. We would say and rightly, that in a true marriage, it is the Self giving of the person which is the foundation, apart from which there is no marriage. The husband gives himself totally in love to his Wife, and the wife gives herself totally in love to her husband. Now of course the things the husband does for the wife and vv may be expressions of that self giving, but at the heart is the desire to give yourself totally to your spouse, to become one flesh. In other words, no other person will do. Someone else could well serve you in the same way, but it is the person who is fundamental and in a real sense – someone else could not serve you in the same way.

So it is with God and the things of God. It is in Loving God in and for himself, that the good things he give come into proper perspective. But if we do not love God, then the Things the good things assume a false significance. They loom in our imagination – our imagination is filled with things, not full of the vision of Christ himself, a vision which gives the things a radically different dimension. The things become idols, and lead us not to Life in its fulness but to death – we chase after the things for love of them, not love of God. We desire marriage, not for the sake of Christ, but for itself – and thus marriage loses its meaning, for it as with All things, are given precisely that we might know Christ – for to know him Is eternal life.

Put another way, because Christ Fills all things, we can only know the Truth about anything in so far as we Know Jesus Christ . . . Apart from the Intimate Knowledge of Jesus Christ – Knowing Him and seeking to Love him – the idea of Christian Values is meaningless.

When you read the accounts of the Early Church, you realise that they seemed as it were to be straining at gnats from our perspective. Why, WE might ask does it matter at all what we think about God?? Heresies and conflicts over heresies were always about what seem to us to be very minor and obscure matters, but as I suggested last week, perhaps, if we are not as a starting point seeing the world around us in and through Jesus Christ, perhaps it is our perspective that is skewed??

Which is what is most unhelpful about all this talk of Christian values and why talking about ‘values’ can rapidly lead us away from Christ. Let’s take for example what many would take to be the core Christian value – so much so that it is not at all uncommon to say ‘It’s all about Love isn’t it . . .’ . . . But the problem is this. Apart from Jesus we do not know what Love is. So we put up this ‘value’ – by the way, actually it is a Virtue and not a value and that downgrading in itself is not unimportant – and we say ‘It is all about Love’ and if we are at all alert we will say, hang on where is Jesus in this? And we might say  – well Jesus shows us what love is, true, but Love has no existence apart from Him and in saying Jesus shows us what love is it is as if Jesus reveals something other than himself – but as John says ‘God is Love’

As I said last week – He fills All things – so to speak or think of anything apart from him is not to know it at all. One cannot Know anything about the Christian Virtues apart from Him – for He HImself is the centre of all things and in him all things hold together. Apart from Him they fall apart.

To say we are only interested in Christianity for the sake of its values, is like saying ‘I’m only interested in marriage for the sake of having someone make my breakfast . . .’

Here I think we suffer from the modern account of ‘Religions’ in which Christian existence is but one of many – but what is utterly unique about Jesus is this – he is the only one who says All that I say and do has but one purpose – to point to me, so that you might Know God and thus Know the Life He desires to give, his very self. And this teaching of Jesus comes to a single focus here in John’s gospel ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven – I am the Life and Light of the World – I am the Good shepherd. Over and over and over again the teaching of Jesus turns out to be teaching about Jesus, and through Him that we might Know God.

In fact Jesus sharpens the focus even further in the Gospel for next week –  ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. . . .

And it is not long before what Jesus is saying finds disciples leaving him, left right and centre – whoever eats me, will live because of me . . . I am Offering you Life in all its fullness, and it is to be found Here, In me . . . and some want a code for good living – others want, well a million and one things – but all God has to give is His very self

Why do they leave? In a sense because it is utterly outrageous – offensive even to our modern sensibilities – that Anyone might claim to be the Bread of heaven – that anyone might say ‘whoever eats me will live because of me’ – and of course it is utterly outrageous. If we are searching for values, for ‘a better way to live our lives, then the bookstalls, the internet, the world is full of people offering advice – and you can patch together a pretty reasonable existence out of it . . . but to find our life in Jesus Christ is . . . well it can only be known in Knowing Him.

We live in a time of seemingly unending persecution of the Church – it is very much as if we are at the end of days. More Christians died because they were Christian in the C20 – already the C21 looks as if the bride of Christ is being butchered once more and now right down to the root, as our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria are beheaded and crucified in their hundreds if not their thousands. There in the world’s oldest churches, places where unbeknownst to us the church has worshipped for almost two thousand years without a break . . . there above all, there is no talk of Christian values – only Christ.


On their doors, the IS militias paint this symbol – that of the Nazarene – the title of those Christians – a title of scorn – the very name they gave Christ in Matthews Gospel – ‘and he will be called a Nazorene’. In Life and in death bearing the name of the one who died for them, and is their life. No talk of values, just Christ. In Life and in death – for He has given His all for them, and He is their Life.

May we not be found wanting at the End

Sermon for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary time, Year B. (2015) “That He may fill all things”

Sermon for 9th Sunday after Trinity – Year B – 2015

“That he may fill all things”


‘They said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’




A joke, A Confession, A Question, and why we modern Christians seem to need our eyesight checking


Allegedly, the old jokes are the best – ‘Sunday school teacher – ‘what is small, flightless, nocturnal and has a long beak?’ A child hesitantly puts up their hand, ‘Well I know it sounds like a Kiwi – but given we’re in Sunday School, is the answer Jesus??’


This joke, which I first heard in an Anglicised form – (Squirrel replacing Kiwi) – at theological college, is interesting, in that if jokes are translatable within cultures, and we told it to a Christian of the Middle Ages, they wouldn’t See the joke . . . for undoubtedly Christians for the first thousand or so years of the Church’s history had a different way of speaking of the Reality of their existence – in that they might readily speak Christianly of any manner of things, and that it would seem utterly normal and entirely unforced to speak of any aspect of the created order, and Jesus Christ in the same breath.


That there was no dimension of life which we could begin to speak about in Truth, without beginning with Christ . . . That there was no dimension of life which we could begin to speak about in Truth, without beginning with Christ . . . That Jesus Christ was the key to understanding the True nature of Everything, Everywhere, and for all time – and that apart from Knowing Jesus Christ, one was as it were blind to the world . . . And if we see the world in that way, then perhaps we don’t get the joke?


Well I’ll come back to the Kiwi Jesus in a few moments, but let’s move on to the Confession. And for once, sorry to disappoint, it’s not one of mine. Rather the Confession of David, which may seem every bit as odd to our ears as the Kiwi Jesus Christ, and indeed perhaps to us at least, outrageous, but for precisely the same reasons.


We pick up the story from last week, as we remember – David – quietly humming Crimmond, ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want . . .’ wanders onto the roof of his palace, and . . . Oh Hello!!!’ David sins, taking the wife of another man, and when the consequences of his actions begin to appear, he compounds his sin by having her husband murdered, and then taking her as his wife and she bears him a child.

David we remember stands for all of us Western Consumers with power over so much, and no thought for the consequences – He sees, He LIKES, he sends (he uses a servant – we moderns perhaps use the internet) – and he takes . . . But for David, unlike us, the consequences of his consumer habits are visited directly upon him, and that swiftly. David is rudely awakend from his premise that He is the centre of the universe, and REALITY smacks him in the face. ‘the thing that David had done displeased the LORD’ Davids ability to send and to dispose depends utterly on his knowing that he is the Servant of the LORD. The one who Sends, the one who sent ‘a man named John’, the One who sent the One whom we are commanded to believe in.

The LORD Sends Nathan to David, and Nathan the prophet skillfully leads David to speak the Truth from his own mouth – reminding us all, do not judge your brother, for the measure you give will be the measure you get – ‘You are the man!’ ‘You are the sheep stealer who deserves to die, as you yourself have said’


So far, so comfortable – He’s done wrong and Nathan lays it out how David is going to get it as a consequence,  . . . But let us remind ourselves of what happens next . . . David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan said to David, ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.’


Well if talking about the Kiwi Jesus Christ was ridiculous, and silly to our ears – surely this is outrageous!!! What is more it is amplified in David’s Psalm of penitence which we recited together – ‘Against you, you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight’. What about Bathsheba? What about URIAH!!! Then to make it worse, Nathan goes on, ‘Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.’ And for those who can only interpret the Sunday School teacher in terms of religious naivety and silliness, it would be hard for them to hear the judgement pronounced upon the innocent child and not think of The LORD as some capricious deity, who lashes out at the innocent . . .


And I suggest again that our problem is that we don’t see the nature of reality in the same way as those who read and heard the Scriptures in the first thousand years or so of the Church – indeed that we are those whose responses reveal us to be those who cannot see. [I think it is sobering to reflect on our attitudes to previous generations in the light of Jesus’ denunciation of those who think they see, but do not See Him] I will return also to David’s outrageous confession and the dreadful consequences of his actions


A Joke, A Confession, and a Question . . . Why as Christians – as those who in Baptism are included in Jesus Christ – should we have a concern about the Created order?? Now just ponder that for a moment – and if you have an answer, what place does Jesus Christ play in it? What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ in terms of the ecological collapse we face?? What does the Creation have to do with Jesus??

As some of you know I have an interest in Climate Change and the impact of the human on the Created order. And so I have read many books on it by ‘Christian’ Writers, but rather strangely, Jesus is all but absent from them. Almost without exception they read the same if written by someone other than a Christian, of any faith, or none, except obviously ‘God’ gets a mention, but not Jesus. Which is troubling. If Jesus Christ is the centre of God’s self revelation – if as Jesus tells us, ‘the work that God gives is to believe in Him’. If THE Work that God gives us is to believe in Christ . . .


What does that mean?? Our question might be to Jesus, what does it mean to believe in you?? Nothing less than to See Everything in terms of the Person of Jesus Christ, Incarnate, Crucified, Resurrected and Ascended . . . and our forebears in the faith shaking their heads and inviting us to see things as they did, with the eye of faith in Christ. With the eye of faith. Faith is not so much about what we think, but what we See . . . to be born of the Spirit is about our Sight, and Christ Fills our entire field of view


When God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, he took on materiality. God who is Spirit, embraced not just humanity, which is the focus of nearly all modern Christian piety be it liberal or Conservative, he embraced the whole Cosmos. This is the Gospel, of Jesus Christ. God in Jesus Christ is revealed as the Creator of all that is, and apart from Knowing Him, we cannot Know the Created order


Listen to St Paul as he writes to the Colossians. [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Like a drumbeat – ‘all things, all things, all things’ Whatever is going on on the Cross, it goes further, much much further than ‘a mechanism for dealing with human sinfulness’, insofar as we see sinfulness purely in terms of moral infraction. The descent of God in Christ into human flesh through the obedience of The Blessed Virgin Mary – his death upon the Cross – his resurrection from the Dead and his Glorious Ascension into the presence of the Father – is nothing less than God in Jesus Christ taking to himself the entire Cosmos. God was in Christ reconciling himself ‘to the world’


And so Paul again this time from our epistle this morning When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.


So back to our medieval friends . . . how we damn the medieval era, turning into a term of abuse . . . and yes there were things that were wrong, but brothers and sisters, human action would not have wrought the devastation we wise moderns have caused – because to look upon the creation was to see it in Sacramental terms. God in Christ had taken the Creation to himself, and as to wound our neighbour was an offence against God, so too to wound Creation, for was not Christ Sacramentally present in the materiality of bread and wine?? Had not God in Jesus Christ taken hold of all things?? Was he not Sacramentally present in the person who hungered? Was he not Sacramentally present in the very dirt of the ground, he descended into the lower parts of the earth . . . The medieval imagination would not permit for example ploughs driven by more than a couple of oxen, for the very ground was to be treated with reverance, after all were we not made from mud oursleves? Did not Jesus Christ take on the dust of which we are made?? Not that he WAS those things, – but that apart from HIm, theuir true nature could not be known.

That we might seek to release all the energy we could possibly do to extract every last ounce of everything from it, and then to fill the gaping wound in the earth with the detritus of our madness, would be understood for what it is an offence against Christ himself . . .


That, in a very sketchy outline is the Truth about the Creation and our lives in the light of it. That is why if the Sunday School teacher was perhaps hoping that the answer might have really been Jesus, he or she was groping towards some truth which the church has known since the beginning, yet has forgotten. And why David’s Confession is Truthful, against you, you only have I sinned, for in sinning against my neighbour, I have sinned against you O Lord, for you in Christ fill all things. I was blind and I did not see you . . .


And the child?? There is a line of thought which some Christians fall into when seeing the death of the innocent – that somehow in the mysterious purposes of God it is ‘necessary’ as ‘God works out his purposes and we are drawn as humanity deeper into the truth of God’ That brothers and sisters is Blasphemy . . . no, the child dies because our actions have consequences. That in losing sight of the one for, through and too all things are made – the one who fills all things – we lose sight of the reality of our very existence and becoem as blind bulls in shops of the most delicate china.

Yes, we may well come to our senses, see what we have done, and repent of destroying the created order, but the innocent will continue to die as a result of our consumptive madness. We were called to live our lives in the light of Christ who fills all things, we chose not to and the consequences were and are visited upon the countless innocent.


But has God no answer to this?? Indeed he does, His answer is the One who inhabited the dust of our lives, the Innocent one who died for the sins of the World, who stepping down so far taking up the lost and the last and the weak and poor and those who die for no fault of their own. God will see that they are recompensed and more than fully, for he raised Him who stepped down into the depths to the highest place, and feeds those who hunger because of our refusal to share, and gives abundant life to those who die in their powerlessness – for he gave up all power, he hungered and thirsted . . . and as The Innocent One – assumed all the innocent in His death and was raised with them . . .


In repentance we turn once more to the one who fills all things, we face Reality – and we too hear the words of the Lord to David ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.’ And in Love and mercy and Grace he once more says – come to my table – Here in Bread and Wine – here in heaven and Earth Woven together – here in my Body and my blood ‘Remember me’ . . . I have often said, we all need our eyes opened to the Truth manifested in the Eucharist – for it is the Truth about everything. For truly – he is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things. In that is God’s Judgement, In that is God’s Life extended even to us