Friday, May 18, 2012

Ascension Day: Homily / Sermon

Go out to the whole world! Proclaim the Good News! (Mark 16:16)


Nowadays, when someone witnesses an extraordinary event, the question which is always asked, after enquiring what actually happened, is "and how did you feel?" It seems in our day we are obsessed not only by knowing what took place, but also finding out how it touched people, what their emotional response was, how they felt.

The Ascesion is certainly an extraordinary event. So how did the disciples feel? It must have been a mixed bag of emotions. Sadness, distress even, that the close presence of Jesus they had known these past 40 days is to come to an end. Apprehension also, perhaps, that they now will need to make their way without his inspiration and leadership. Fear, no doubt, that they too might have to suffer persecution and hatred. Bewilderment, at what had taken place, struggling to sense of it all.

And in the midst of this turmoil of emotions, a clear message breaks through from the Lord himself. Not really words of comfort or reassurance - more words of inspiration and challenge: Go out to the whole world! Proclaim the Good News!

This is not a time for sorrow or fear, he is saying. Not even a time for joy and celebration. It is a time for action.

This is not a time to fear for the faith, but a time to spread it.
This is not a time to cower or hide to avoid persecution or ridicule, but a time to hold our heads high!
This is not a time to puzzle over what it all means, but to proclaim the truth with confidence.

It was true then. And it is true now.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Easter 6: Homily / Sermon

Love one another, as I have loved you (John 15:12)


Love is a word widely used, and widely abused. It refers to a rush of emotion. A stirring of urges. A blinding of reason and a driving passion. Love is powerful, and it is dangerous. It can drive people to madness, or murder. It inspires jealousy. It too often leads to heartache and tears.

Well, so you would think from watching popular dramas, or reading literature. So you would think from reading inside the newspaper where the more interesting human stories are told.

But of course, this is not the love which Jesus speaks of.

Why not? Well it is not because Christian love is unrealistic or idealised. Quite the opposite: it is the idealised, one-sided kind of love which leads to pain and anguish.

The love of God is real, realistic, because it is not one-sided, or deluded, but because it is mutual, it is shared - love one another as I have loved you. It is not the obsession or infatuation of one person for another, but a sharing of lives, of commitment. It is giving and receiving. It is not about choosing, but about being chosen. This is the love that bears fruit - because this is the love that will last.

And in this month of May, we celebrate the one who loved Christ into the world, and in the world. The one who loved him before the world ever knew him. The one who fed him and nursed him and hugged him and gave him up, to embrace him again in his death and resurrection. We celebrate she who in loving him, loves us too, and cares for us, and prays for us as our Mother.

When we sing our praises of Mary, we sing the praises of the Love that chose her, to go out and bear fruit, the fruit of her womb, fruit that lasts for eternity.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Easter 5: Homily / Sermon

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty. (John 15:5)


We used to have a vine. When we lived in Oxford - in very built up Cowley, not far from the University Press and the Car Factory - our house was bordered by an old stone wall, which clearly used to be part of a farm. And by the wall - probably long after the farm was ‘regenerated’ (as we now say) - some imaginative soul had planted a vine. And the vine had grown up the wall, and across the wall, and had wrapped itself over the wall, hugged the round top like fingers extending their grip. From a root which could hardly be seen it has hugged the wall and extended in all directions. And we got grapes. In a warm summer you could just about eat them, though usually they were a little bitter. More often, one of the parishioners collected them to make wine. I don’t know if she put them in a Vat and trod on them - and sadly I never got to taste the wine.

Then one stormy spring, in very strong winds, the wine was swept off the wall, thrown over back onto the edge of our driveway, and lay rather forlorn on the ground. Try as we might it was too big and too extensive just to lift back over the wall. It didn’t die, but that summer at least it was a sad reminder of its former glory, and bore no fruit.

And Jesus compares himself, and us, in his Church, to a vine.

Like a vine the Church draws life from a single root, and that is Christ. Separated from the vine, the branches die: drawing life from him, they thrive. We may think that we can go our own way, pick and choose what we believe and how we live, but separated from Christ we will certainly not thrive.

Like the vine the Church has spread in many different directions. Strong and vibrant in some places, thin and sparse in others. Some strong branches may bear little fruit, while newer and flimsier ones are more abundant. The vine sometimes veers off in unexpected directions. It is not always neat - but it is always connected to the root.

Like the vine the Church bears a fruit. Not always easily palatable at first taste, but with tending and understanding, it makes a very fine wine. And the wine, the fermented fruit, brings life from the tree.

And like the vine the Church needs tending. Life comes from Christ, but fruitfulness comes from our co-operation with him. A vine which is not cared for will wither. It may survive, but it may not be fruitful. A vine that is tended, and nourished and cared for will produce good fruit and excellent wine. So too the Church needs our commitment, our love, our obedience and our service - and if we do not give it, while it may not die, we may find it hard to draw life from it when we really need it.