Saturday, January 30, 2016

4th Sunday of the Year (C) : Homily / Sermon

*’I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.’ * (Luke 4:24)

In today’s Gospel Jesus’ own people turn against him. They reject his ministry and his miracles. Not for the first - and indeed not for the last time - the response to Jesus is not love or admiration or worship, but violence and a thirst for destruction.

What is going on here?

On the face of it, it seems that is just an illustration of the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt”. Come, on - they say - who is this great preacher and wonder-worker we’ve been hearing about? He’s no one special! He grew up with us. He went to school with us. He worked with us. He’s only the Son of Joseph!

But those very words tell us that there is something more far reaching, much deeper going on here. When we, the reader, about hear about Jesus escaping death, our thoughts are turned to his death and his suffering and indeed his resurrection. And when we, the reader, hear those words “Son of Joseph” we are immediately reminded of the story just a few paragraphs earlier of the conception and birth of Christ of a virgin.

The name “Son of Joseph” sets Jesus clearly amongst his people and his home community: but knowing that he is Son of Mary indicates far more.

First, he is greater than kith and kin, greater than blood and race, greater than family and ethnic relationships. Christ is recognised by the widow of Zarephath, and Namaan the Syrian. He comes for all people of all languages, all races, all locations. He is a human son, but as Son of God he is King of all people. Deeply rooted in the faith and scriptures and soil of his people, but in now way bound or limited by them. As St Paul says, in Christ there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. In him there is no black or white, rich or poor, citizen or refugee.

And second, to understand Christ is not so much a matter of knowledge - of his parentage, his home, his family and his language: no, it is a matter, more than anything of faith and of love. It is not about puzzling over this Son of Joseph, whom we know, but worshipping this Son of Mary, whom we trust. To turn to Christ, is to live in love - to go beyond the questioning and jealousies of the mind, to embrace him with the heart of love. And live that love.

*Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful.

Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.* (1 Corinthians 13)

Love - as Paul says - does not come to an end. Christ avoids the fury of the crowd, just as he will rise from the dead. Because he loves us. And we are called to live that love.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) : Homily / Sermon

He sent me to bring the good news to the poor ... (Luke 4:18)



I don't whether you've ever thought about this, but "news" seems a very modern word. 


I remember when I was in Oxford an old chap telling me how he, as a child, had heard the news of the end of the First World War - they didn’t get the news on the 11th of November, via a telephone message to the house of the Squire, like in Downton Abbey - but almost a week later, via a telegraph to the local railway station. 

No hourly news bulletins, or rolling news in those days!


When we think about "news" we think about the way it is delivered to us - and all of these depend on a certain technology. Radio, (only about 100 years old) - or by the marvels of television  (little more than 50 years in our homes) or through 24 hour satellite or cable tv and through computers (about 20 years ago) and even more recently through our phones and tablets (for the last ten years or so). And even the oldest, and most familiar way in which news has been given to us, the Newspaper, has appeared only within the last two centuries. "News" is very much a feature of the modern world - events from the other side of the world - fire, floods and tsunamis, and this very week snow storms in North America - these are instantly before us. 


So perhaps its a bit of a surprise that they had "news" in the ancient world. No papers, no radio or tv or internet, no mobile phones, no iPads - how could it be? 


But let's go back to what “News" actually is. People (myself included) will often say that all the media are interested in is bad news - disasters, wars, conflict - and while there's some truth in that, we must be careful not to miss the point. We don't hear on the news about places where there is no war, or no conflict, or no disasters, not because its not bad, but because its not news. You'll never see on the Front page of the Sentinel "Nothing Happened today" - no news, is no news!


No - news is an event, a happening, a change. It is something out of the ordinary, beyond the run of the mill, which disrupts the routine. It excites our emotions, moves our hearts, stirs us with anticipation. It might make us weep, or foster hateful or lustful thoughts and feelings, but if it leaves us cold and disinterested, then it is not news. 


There has always been news, irrespective of the technology, and the story of Christ is news beyond news. 


At the birth of Christ, the angels cry Lo! Behold! and the shepherds rush from the fields to Bethlehem. Herod hears the news of the birth of the child and reacts with fear and anger. John the Baptist tells his followers - Behold the Lamb of God, and they turn to him. In today's Gospel, Jesus proclaims the news of his coming in Nazareth, and the hearers are outraged. And the apostles told the extraordinary news of his teaching and miracles, of his betrayal and his arrest, of his death and his resurrection, and people are moved to join them and follow him, or arrest and imprison them.  


This the greatest news story ever. The scoop beyond all scoops. News that moves hearts by word of mouth, by journeys and by letters, by speeches given in market places and in the courtrooms, by charity and by martyrdom. News which moves the heart and saves the soul. 


Good news!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) : Homily / Sermon

This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)


Wedding at Cana in Galilee

Throughout this year of mercy, we will be hearing mainly from St Luke’s Gospel, but today, on the first “Green” Sunday, it is the Gospel of John which speaks to us. We shouldn’t be surprised - it is the first miracle of Jesus, and in many ways the beginning of his ministry. “He let his glory be seen” : it is not just the beginning of his ministry of teaching, but also the beginning of his revealing as the Word made flesh. 

And like most of John’s Gospel this is a story which is deeply symbolic and laden with meaning. 


Yet it is also a very human story, and a very human situation. It is a miracle, yes, but one which is almost secret, known to few, without drama or spectacle. 


Jesus is present, with friends and family, at a community celebration. Yet it is one in which something goes badly wrong - as we know things sometimes do. The conversation between the son and mother reveals a little tension, perhaps. She asks him to do something, and expects him to … Yet he protests. It is not unlike the story Jesus tell much later of the two sons: one promises to do what he is asked, yet neglects to, and the other refuses to do what he is told, yet thinks better of it, and later he does. And Jesus, like the second son in the story, complains, yet nevertheless does as his Mother bids. It seems, perhaps, that the Mother knows the Son better than he does himself. At heart, putting the quiet miracle aside for a moment, this is a tale familiar to any family. The young man Jesus appears to say “Oh Mum! … Why do I have to do everything?” There are no slamming doors … but we get the idea. 


Yet there is a difference. Because a miracle, however quiet, however secret, however hidden, is performed. And to those who know this, his glory is revealed, and future generations will come to know this tale as one of the most familiar in Scripture. 


And the tale lends itself to much spiritual interpretation. 

It is the revelation of the divinity of the man Jesus, of the incarnation of the Word made flesh.

It provides an introduction to the sacraments - baptism, in which water becomes the gateway to salvation, replacing the ceremonies of the Jewish law; the mass, in which the wine becomes the precious blood of Christ; and of course marriage, in which man and woman become one flesh. It is an image of transformation, in which the ordinary becomes extraordinary - which can have so many echoes with our daily lives.

In laying before us a wedding feast, it symbolises also the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the glory of Heaven.

And it is also a course an indication of the role of Our Lady, bringing  our prayers before the feet of her son, she who knows him so well, loves him so much and places such faith in his mercy. 


Yet for all this, perhaps the most striking feature of the story is not the fact that it reveals a typical depiction of a human, a family situation, nor that it is a miracle, nor that it lends itself to so many symbolic interpretations, but that it is all of these. Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, shares the joys of a human family, parties with the people… As we travel through this Year of Mercy and hear mostly the words of St Luke’s Gospel we will hear of him healing the sick, caring for the poor, teaching the needy, feeding the hungry, sharing our sorrows, embracing their suffering - and it all begins with this great moment of Joy, and of Hope. A celebration - in which heaven and earth are united and embrace. A moment of mercy. An outpouring of love. 



Friday, January 08, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord (C) : Homily / Sermon

Someone is coming who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals (Luke 3:16) 



Taking down the decorations is always something of an anti-climax, isn’t it? Although people will say they should come down on 12th Night - no one seems to know whether that means the 5th or 6th of January, and now that we keep the feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday in the new year that doesn’t seem very relevant anyway. Most people seem to want to take their decorations down even before new year - and probably, let’s be practical, before they go back to work. 


And it’s a Job. A necessary and important Job. But a Job nonetheless. A task to be performed, but done just because it has to be done. It's like washing up after Christmas Dinner, or tidying and cleaning house or hall after a party. Collecting pulled crackers and streamers, paper and crumbs. Just a necessary chore. No Joy and anticipation here. 

After all - it’s over now. That’s the end of this joyful time. Now we return to work. We dont sing or here those comforting and cheery songs about chestnuts roasting by a open fire. We won't be  ‘laughing through the snow’ now - but rather (if it ever comes) trudging through it - it's dark, dreary, wet. January is a depressing month. We are now very much ‘In the bleak midwinter’. 


But there could not be a greater contrast in our moods with today’s Gospel and the celebration today. Perhaps it is too convenient for us to think that once the child is born and safe in his Mother’s arms that it is all over. Well every Mother, every parent knows that is not the case: Now - it has just begun!


Christmas to Epiphany is not an ending, but a beginning: “one is coming who is greater than I am” John the Baptist says. (Throughout this year of mercy we are reading through St Luke’s Gospel, and) Soon we will hear of Jesus’ miracles, of the call of his disciples, of the beginning of his preaching. We will hear of the excitement of the crowds, the controversy amongst the religious leaders, the anxieties of kings. We will hear of adulation and trepidation - of plaudits and of plots. We see what was present and worshipped in the crib unfold into a life lived for all of us - its teaching, its mystery, its sacrifice. 


And there is one of the decorations which could stay with us a little longer, because it is no decoration, but a holy icon. [The crib will stay for a few weeks.] In the old English tradition, the crib would stay in the Church 40 days after Christmas, right until Candelmass, 2nd February, and no bad thing - after all the Kings have only just arrived - [why should we pack them away so soon]. 


The crib, if you like, is the acorn of the faith, the mustard seed. From something tiny and almost secret a great tree will emerge. The virgin and spouse speak to us of the power of love and prayer. The shepherds call us to humility. The kings beckon us to glory. 


Yet Someone, something, very great, more powerful is about to emerge. We are not fit to undo the strap of his sandles. 


The story has just begun ...