Friday, September 30, 2011

27th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon


For the third week we are in the vineyard. Two weeks ago we heard about the labourers in the vineyard. Last week we heard about the sons of the vineyard owner, and this week it is the tenants, and the servants, who come to the forefront of our attention.

Yet in each parable there is a constant figure in the background. We don't learn much about him, but he is vital to all three stories. He, of course, is the Vineyard owner.

The parallels are fairly obvious. The owner of the vineyard is the Father, God himself. He hires, pays, orders and owns. The vineyard is his.

And the characters in the stories are us. The workers, the sons, the servants, the rebellious tenants. At times good, at times bad, but at all times responsible to the Owner.

But what about the vineyard? It is not simply the Jewish people, or the world, or human society, or even 'the kingdom of heaven'. The Vineyard is God's Creation, his purpose, the workings of his love, his entire plan for humanity. This is truly what it meant when we say the Vineyard is the House of Israel.

And we are imperfect stewards. Sometimes rebellious. Sometimes obstinate. Yet often rewarded beyond what we deserve.

And the final reward is not material comfort, nor even the contentment from the well being of others, but the satisfaction of an invitation to the Vineyard of the Father, the Kingdom of God, the House of Israel.

Friday, September 23, 2011

26th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

Which of the two did the father’s will? (Matthew 21:31)

Change Graphic

This weekend we are back in the vineyard - though this time we are not with the workers, but with the owner’s family. One lad agrees to work but doesn't, while the other refused to work, yet does.

The basic message, so familiar from the life of any family, is simple and clear: when words and deeds do not match, it is the deeds which matter.

So often we find it so hard to say what is truly on our hearts. We find it hard to say sorry, yet we will undertake acts to heal rifts with others. We find it hard to admit that we are in the wrong, yet we will quietly correct ourselves. Like the typical teenagers in the parable we claim that we know best, yet follow the advice we are given anyway.

Words are important, deeds more so. We might win an argument, yet convince no one. The most persuasive argument will always be our example. We can tell our children to be honest, but if they see us being dishonest, then they will learn the example, not the words. We can gather together each week and profess our faith, but if that does not make a difference to our lives, who will ever think it is something worth sharing.

By their fruits shall you know them, says Jesus. St Francis of Assisi said to his followers 'Preach the Gospel - use words if necessary'. Deeds speak louder than words.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

25th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

Why be envious because I am generous? (Matthew 20:15)


It is sometimes said that there are two topics of conversation which should never be aired in polite company. One is politics and the other is religion. So, to bring both religion and politics together is especially dangerous. Yet this is what todays Gospel seems to do.

Here we have the labourers in the vineyard paid the same rate whether they worked all day or just for one hour.

Now the political mind looks at that story in terms of fairness and justice.

On the one hand it could be said that the parable underlines the rights of the employer, the vineyard owner, to do what he wishes with his money - to pay what he likes to whom he likes when he likes. No place for unions or regulations or a minimum wage here.

But on the other hand another political mind may disagree and say that the parable underlines the need for all to be supported, everyone to receive a basic wage, all to be given a living income whether work is available or not.

Which is right? Well both and neither. The Gospel deals with political issues, but also does far more.

Political life and questions are about fairness and justice, about rights and entitlements. They are all important in their own way. The Church supports struggles for justice, the promotion and protection of human rights – the right to a living wage and the right to own property.

But the Gospel does not stop there. The Gospel is not about rights – but about responsibilities. It is not about justice and fairness, but about love. It is about doing what is right, but also about doing more than is needed.

The Good Samaritan does not only stop to help, but he takes the wounded man to the inn. The man owed a great sum of money does not only give the debtor time to pay, but wipes out all the debt. The vineyard owner does not only find work for those seeking it – but pays them more than they are due.

The Church must challenge politicians. It must promote human life, human rights, peace and justice – but it can never be restricted to them. For God’s love is greater, more generous, than any legislator or political policy could ever be.


Friday, September 09, 2011

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily / Sermon

‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18:21)


This week we celebrate the Victory, or the exaltation of the Cross.

It has often seemed to me a matter of great wonder that an action of such pain and suffering and brutality should have become the subject of some of the most moving artworks, and some of the most poignant music in the history of humanity.
In the first few centuries, Christians were so appalled by crucifixion that they never portrayed it in art. Yet the cross was a constant theme of prayer and reflection. St Paul talked of glorying on the cross of Christ. St John, sees the cross, the resurrection, an the ascension all as one - the raising up of Christ. In the second century, St Justin, points out how the plough, the ship's sail and even the form of the human body echo, in God's creation, the form of the cross.

And in the fourth century it was Constantine, the Emperor, who discovered that in bearing the standard of the cross he was victorious, so Christian went from being a persecuted minority faith to the religion of the empire.

Yet this Victory of the Cross is not a military victory, or a victory of numbers, or even a victory of right thinking over foolishness

The cross is sign of hope, sign of redemption, sign of victory because it welds together two interwoven truths of our faith - suffering and salvation.

And this is the great mystery of forgiveness. The overcoming of hurt and pain. The healing of hatred and division. Forgiveness which never gives up, but perseveres even seventy times seven.

The little crosses of our hurts and grievances, are but faint images of the deep shadow of His cross.

Friday, September 02, 2011

23rd Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

The evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge.


This is common sense on the face of it. When there is a dispute, a disagreement between two people, it is very difficult if not impossible to distinguish between who is right and who is wrong. It is the word of one against the other, A matter of 'he said- she said', and we are more likely to believe the one with the greater authority or position or the one who is closest to us, whether or not he or she is right or wrong.

So, of course, if there are more than two or three witnesses, then there are other eyes, other ears, and other voices to say who is and who is not right and true. But today's Gospel is about far more than settling disputes. Jesus is teaching us that our faith, our belief, our worship is not an individual matter - far from it. To be a believer means to be part of a community, to part of the Church. It means, in a deep sense to be part of the Body of Christ - and he dwells in us because we are part of his Body.

While Christ may always be near to us in our private prayers, it is when two or three or more are gathered in his name that he is most fully present. While the Spirit may guide us to right decisions in our lives, it is the Church in the person of the priest who can bind and loose, who can release us from our sins.

As the Poet John Donne wrote, no man - no person - is an island, entire of itself. All of us are connected together, most especially in the Church, and just as it is only by the word of several witnesses that we can have certainty of the truth, so it is that by the Faith of several witnesses, we receive and share and live the Truth himself.