Sunday, June 25, 2017

12th Sunday of the Year (A) : Homily / Sermon

Do not be afraid (Matthew 10:26)

 

Fear is in the air at the moment. There is the fear, the dreadful fear that was experienced in that terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in London. There is the subsequent fear that this disaster could be repeated and the fear that must be felt by those being evacuated from their homes. There has also been the fear that has followed terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. And also, of course, the fear that hangs in the air over the state of the economy and how the currently uncertain political situation will develop. 

 

And in this atmosphere, we hear the words of Jesus: Do not be afraid. They occur twice in today’s Gospel. Similar words occur many times and in many situations throughout the Old and New Testaments. Words of comfort. Words of reassurance. 

 

Yet do they really mean anything? And are they really words of encouragement and hope or just empty expressions in the face of disaster? Certainly people of no faith would say so. How can we realistically, honestly, say to those facing calamities as we have seen recently, they should not fear, that they should trust in God. These words might seem almost cruel. Why should the afflicted not fear? 

 

But these expressions, though understandable, are quite wrong. 

 

Fear leads to despair. It blights our lives. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we live in fear of the worst that can happen, we become frozen in in-action, shut inside our homes, never venturing out, never living our lives, stripped of our joy. 

 

And fear leads not only to despair, but also anger, and suspicion, and to hatred. In fear, people turn against those who are different, those who disagree, those who might have some connection, however small, to the cause of our fear. In fear we see only the negative, the wickedness in people. We are blinded by blood-tinted spectacles. 

 

Jesus’ words challenge us to move away from fear. Not to foolhardiness - which would be to pretend that the dangers and perils don’t exist - but rather to Courage, that virtue which knows that there are perils, and confronts them, but will not be ruled by them. 

 

Jesus is leading us not to close our minds to difficulties, but to change our hearts in hope; not to see only the wickedness and weaknesses of people, but to appreciate their immense goodness and generosity and compassion. We have seen so many examples of this: the police and firefighters who helped victims of the fire; the donations of goods, time and money, to help those who have become homeless; the imam who protected the man who would have killed his fellow muslims; the doctors nurses and health care workers who have assisted the injured and the bereaved and the distressed. 

 

Do not afraid does not mean empty blind hope, that pretends all is well when it is not, but facing the dangers, defying the disaster, confronting the wickedness, with hope - hope in God, and hope in the goodness of his people. It means living the Love of God, because, as St John says perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

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.