Friday, February 26, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Lent Two

Peter said to Jesus ‘Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (Luke 9:33)

Are there any jokes in the Bible? Well, not of the kind we might be familiar with today.
But there are plenty of stories which invite us to smile at the ridiculous of the words or the actions. Jesus riding into Jerusalem as king, but on a donkey, rather than a grand horse. The idea of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, of the blind leading the blind, or of a log in the eye. They all invite amusement, if not quite hilarity.
And today’s Gospel too: ‘Let us make three tents’, Peter says, floundering for words. Three tents! Even Mark makes apologies for him ‘he didn’t know what he was saying’.
But in a way he says something very important. He wants to makes this wonderful moment last for ever. He wants to bring it down to earth, preserve it in aspic, or carbonite, like a fossil.
He wants to make a heavenly moment into an earthly reality. And in that way he is sort of missing the point. Our other readings provide the key - in the first reading Abraham is told to look to the sky to see what his descendants will be like. And in our second reading St Paul tells us that ‘our homeland is in heaven’.
We fix our eyes on earth, our hopes on this life, our hearts on material goods - yet they never really satisfy, but however good they may be finally they disappoint.
Our true home is in heaven, the moments of joy are glimpses of eternity, this life a preparation for the life to come. Now we are preparing ourselves for paradise - and in this transfiguration we see Christ beckoning us through an open door.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

‘Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.’ (Luke 4:13)

These are menacing words, don’t you think? Defeated now, the devil slinks away, but not for long. He’s off to bide his time, wait for a while, lurk in the shadows, never too far away, just looking for his opportunity.

But we live in an age where people struggle with the idea of the devil. A man in a red suit with a long curly tail? Really!

And sure enough, even religious people, especially religious people, do not believe the devil exists. We surround ourselves with such a comfortable notion of faith, a God of love, the Good Shepherd, the forgiving Father. Wickedness and evil seem so far from what our faith and our idea of God is all about, that is it just so difficult to understand how he could allow there even to be a Devil.
And this is dangerous stuff. Fighting an enemy who you don’t believe exists, is wrestling with shadows.

It was the writer CS Lewis, I think, who said that the devil’s greatest achievement was convincing people that he doesn’t exist. We must not fall into that trap.

It’s not that we need to believe that he’s red and has horns and the tail, that he lives under the earth in fire and brimstone. But if we stop believing that evil can be a power, and even have a mind and a will, if we don’t recognise that the life of faith is a struggle and that obstacles often fall in our way, if we don’t accept that when bad things happen it may not be God’s will but might in fact be ill will, if we don’t accept these - then there is no battle to be fought, no struggle to be won. We are like those without hope.

He skulks in the shadows, waits in the darkness - and we may not even realise he is there.

Lent is our time in the wilderness - our time when we confront temptation and remember that there is a power of evil. Our time for recognising Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises.
And defeating him.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Fifth Sunday of the Year

‘He and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John’ (Luke 5:9)

This miracle story is also a parable of life. Peter, James and John are toiling in the boat, and to no avail. Try as they might, struggling as they do, nothing seems to go right. Surely, if they try harder, work longer, just cast their nets one more time they will get that catch which they need, which their hard work deserves?

That’s life. We can work hard. Be proud of our own efforts. Feel we deserve great rewards, yet it doesn’t seem to work out. The harder we try the less successful we seem. We think we only need to do just a bit more - but however many more bits we may add we do not seem to succeed.

And so, like us, dejected, the fishermen hit the shore. With a sense of failure.

And Jesus says: yes, you can do it - just cast out your nets. He challenges the fishermen to do what they have already done: and they are not so sure. We’ve tried that, they say. But he doesn’t ask for extra effort. He doesn’t ask them to try harder. He doesn’t say you’ve been doing it wrong. He just asks them to trust him. Trust harder. And when they trust him - then they are amazed. Not even a normal catch - they were ‘completely overcome’.

And so too, it can be for us. While hard graft and effort may end in frustration, great successes and achievements often take us by surprise: the great idea, the act of kindness, the work of art, the moment of vision or inspiration, the talent for music or sport or human compassion. They don’t just happen - but they seem to be so much more than the effort which we put in. We become amazed, not by what we can do - but by what God can do through us.

This is grace. The free gift of God. The nets bursting with blessings.

Not because we have tried, but because we have trusted.