Saturday, June 03, 2017

Pentecost : Homily / Sermon

Jesus said to them, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ (John 20:21)

Religion is the cause of conflict in the world. People will often tell you this. 

And we shouldn’t think that when we hear about the terrible things that happened in Manchester recently, and similar, even worse, atrocities in Egypt and Kabul since then, that this is just something to do with Islam. People who are not religious often see Religion itself, to be the principal source of dissension and conflict in the world, not just now, but also in history. 

After all wasn’t Northern Ireland about Protestants and Catholics? And Bosnia was Orthodox Christians and Muslims? And were not some of the worst atrocities in history committed by (so-called) Christians against the Jews? 
(I have to say “so-called” Christians about the Nazis - because it is so painful for me to think that what they did, is somehow associated with what I believe. But they thought they were Christians. And their mission was to rid the world of Jews.)

Of course, to say that all these terrible things are down to religion is much too simple. People use religion as their badge of identity in a conflict. It doesn’t make them a good catholic or protestant or jew or whatever if they use that banner in their fight. Al-Qaeda don’t represent Muslims any more than the Provisional IRA represented catholics or the Nazis represented Lutheran protestants. 

And today there is something more that we can say. On that first Christian Pentecost people of all races, all backgrounds and all languages were gathered in the city. Huge crowds with different cultures and customs. It may have felt threatening and uncomfortable for the local people. It was a recipe for misunderstanding and conflict. An opportunity for crime and division. 

Yet the Gift of the Holy Spirit did not divide, but unite. He did not make everyone the same, but he celebrated their differences. He did not make people pretend there were no variations  between them, but he helped them praise God for the colour and variety and diversity of the crowd. 

He did not set one against another, but he brought them together in truth. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ascension of the Lord : Homily / Sermon

Why are you men looking into the sky? (Acts 1:11)
[Words spoken by the men in white who spoke to the Apostles].

Just as the apostles gazed into the sky, with astonishment and amazement, so It is difficult for us to picture the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven.
In art, the Ascension is often pictured - a little oddly - by the sight of a couple of feet just visible, poking out of the bottom of a cloud. Sometimes, perhaps slightly better, it is shown as Jesus floating in the air - levitating in front of the apostles.
To the modern mind it is difficult to imagine, it seems like a magic trick, or like something out of Dr Who or Star Trek.

But perhaps the trouble with understanding the Ascension is that we think it is about the absence of Jesus - not his presence.

There’s good reason why we should think of it as explaining his absence. After all, he prepared his disciples for his departure. Rather enigmatically, he told them, You will see me, then you won’t see me. He told them that he was leaving them. The Gospels tell us he was taken from their sight, that he disappeared into the cloud, that he was carried up into heaven. It seems that the Ascension is the end of that time of appearances and physical presences of Christ. Now these 40 days are concluded, he is taken away, to be seen no more.

But if we remain only with this image, this idea, we entirely miss the point.
There are other things that Jesus says.
I will not leave you without comfort, he says.
I will be with you always, even till the end of time.
Where two or three are gathered together, I am in the midst of them.
This is my body, this is my blood, do this to remember - recall - me.

Before the Ascension, Christ was present in just one place, now he is present in every place.
In his earthly life, he sat and eat with his disciples by the lakeside, now we receive his body and blood, the bread of life, in every country, in every city of the world.
He walked the dusty paths of Palestine, yet now he strides through every land, borne by his Church.
He dwelt in one man and one place, yet now he dwells in every person who has been baptised into his life.
He healed a few of the sick, yet now he blesses millions of the sick through the sacrament of anointing.
He taught the crowds in the market place, from the boat, and on the hillside, yet now his words are read from every Church and chapel and pulpit.
He prayed in solitude on the Mount of Olives, yet now he prays in every believer.
In his body suffered for us on the cross, yet now we receive his risen and mystical body and blood in the Mass.
He showed love and compassion to the weak and vulnerable, yet now his people bring that compassion to every community of the world, caring for the hungry, the distressed, the victims of hatred and terrorism.

Now - we do not need to gaze up into the sky, like the apostles did: he dwells with us, he lives in us, and is not absent - but among us for ever.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Easter 6 (A) : Homily / Sermon

If you love me, you will keep my commandments
(John 14:15)

There are many words we may say without really meaning them.

We say “Sorry” just to get us out of a situation.
We say “Thank you” when we are not really grateful.
We say we love someone out of routine or habit or to get what they want.

Yet the person who is truly sorry not only says so, but shows that sorrow by their attitude, their anguish, their desire to make amends.
The person who is really grateful shows their gratitude by their generosity of spirit and their joy in receiving.
And the one who truly loves does so not routinely or selfishly, but with caring and compassion.

Words are powerful, but deeds are more so.

We may say we are sorry to God for our sins, but it is true contrition, real regret which deserves from him the fulness of forgiveness.
We may thank God in prayer and song, but it is the gratitude which comes from the heart which really fills us with joy.
And we may say that we love God as he loves us - but it is the heart that loves God in the neighbour, that truly dwells in him.

‘Keep my commandments’ does not mean follow all the rules, but open your hearts to him, be filled with his grace, receive the gifts of the Spirit, the Spirit of truth who is with us for ever.

It means that if we love him, we will love our neighbour, and love his commandments, because they are the gift we make of our lives to him.