Sunday, September 24, 2017

Worry worries

Sermon for the fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

That Thing has happened again. You know very well - That Thing that happens that causes you a week of sleepless nights; That Thing that makes you not want to eat; That Thing that you dwell on constantly, worrying about it, giving you that cold feeling of dread.

After the eighth sleepless night, in which your bedclothes are just as knotted as your insides, you turn for comfort in the Holy Scriptures, hoping to hear some good news from the mouth of Our Lord. You open the Bible and read the words:

“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.”

Easier said than done, you might say. That Thing is important and can’t really be ignored. Indeed all kinds of horrible things will happen if we ignore That Thing. Yet, if we disregard Our Lord’s words, then surely we fall into sin. If Our Lord instructs us not to allow ourselves to be troubled, then is anxiety itself actually a form of sin?

[PAUSE]

We know that sin is any activity on our part by which we miss the mark. We aim for Our Lord and we miss because of our own failure. If we are anxious about something, then it distracts us from the business of worship and prayer that connects us with God. If our time of prayer is interrupted by thoughts of That Thing, then it is separating us from God. It certainly looks as if anxiety has the characteristics of being a sin, because giving into it stops our worship.

“But that’s not fair!” you cry. And you’re right!

Anxiety is a truly modern disease. More and more people are showing signs of it, and turning everywhere for a remedy. It is a recognised mental illness which is why seeing it as a sin is, in many ways, inappropriate and perhaps quite offensive because anxiety itself is not our fault. We often don’t have a choice how we feel about the situations in which we find ourselves, especially when That Thing crawls out of the grave to haunt us again. But do we have a choice about putting ourselves in that situation in the first place?

[PAUSE]

Our Lord sets anxiety in the context of the battle in the human heart between God and Mammon. He says that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. That is practically the definition of what it means to worship. Our worship is our treasure, our heart’s delight, worth giving up anything else for. Anything that we prize more than God Himself is an idol and must be torn down. It is because we are fallen human beings that these idols are here in our hearts in the first place. In this case, the feelings of anxiety actually do us a massive favour – they point out what we truly value. That feeling of dread that That Thing inspires is a sign that we have to examine our hearts for an idol and work to tear it down.

When we start feeling anxious, then that is a sign for immediate prayer to bring the cause of anxiety to God and to pray that He would expose whatever idol is within us and help us work for its removal. Our Lord Himself gives us the key thing to help us with our anxiety.
“seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Once we understand that anxiety arises because of our relationship with the world around us, then we see that, by seeking God first and His righteousness, we are given the ability to cope with our anxieties.

This isn’t something that happens immediately, which is why we have to keep seeking God. We sin because we miss the mark. We can only ever hit the mark with God’s help but, in order to fire the arrow, we have to let it go and trust God to guide it.

[PAUSE]

There is one more key thing to remember. What we worship is something of the greatest value to us. And God Himself sees us as more valuable than sparrows and lilies. But how much more valuable? Perhaps we only need to look at the Cross to find out how much more He really does value us.

Does That Thing regard us the same way?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Wholly leprosy!

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Just what is wrong with the conduct of the other nine lepers?

They do exactly what Jesus tells them to do. They go and show themselves to the priests. They follow the example of Naaman who was told to wash himself seven times in the Jordan to be free of his leprosy and did so rather grudgingly. They have learned that if a great prophet tells you to do something in order to be rid of leprosy, you do it.

Jesus says, “Go, shew yourselves unto the priests” and that is what they do, and they are cleansed from their leprosy – all ten!

So why are the nine lepers given such a bad press?

[PAUSE]

Well, they aren’t given a bad press at all. They go their way and, like so many of us, disappear into the archives of History. It is the one leper that turns back who is remembered though, sadly, we never know his name.

We presume that, following the Jewish Law, the nine lepers go to the priests and make the appropriate sacrifices for them to become part of the community of God again. They have to make an atonement offering in order to be fully reconciled with society and with the system that allows them to worship God.
That’s what they are told to do, and they do it because they are indeed cleansed of their leprosy. And then they are allowed to worship God properly again.

So why the big deal about the one who turns back? The one who does not immediately go and show himself to the priests? The one whom we nearly remember?

[PAUSE]

In turning back, the tenth leper has realised something. Like the others, he is made clean, but he cannot function in Jewish society for he is a Samaritan. Nonetheless, he sees that his cleansing is to do with the very person who has told him to see the priests. He perceives the work of God, not at the hands of the Law or the old priesthood, but in the person to whom he has called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”. He realises that Jesus is not just a prophet, not just a priest, not just a wise teacher, but something greater.

This Samaritan realises what many others do not, that this Jesus is the true means of reconciliation with God and thus in a spirit of humble gratitude gives thanks to this man who is God Incarnate. At first, this man is cleansed from his leprosy, but his faith in Our Lord brings him back to God and thus he is made whole again.

What of the other nine? They get what they want: they are reintegrated into society and healed from their disease. Until they turn to Christ, they cannot receive from the Jewish Law the wholeness of life in God – a life which goes beyond this earthly life and into Eternity itself. The Law only says what is, God alone makes the difference.

[PAUSE]

Our lives on earth are cycles. We fall ill, we receive treatment, we heal, but we fall ill again. The same is true with our spiritual health. We sin, we confess, we receive forgiveness, but we sin again. Nonetheless, we always have the option of turning to Christ in order to find true wholeness. This is not a wholeness of our body, but a true wholeness that comes from reconciliation with God in Christ. Our bodies ail and age, our spirits rise and fall, yet wholeness comes with seeking Christ in all things. Then, when we are whole in Him, we bear the fruit of the Spirit of God.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sorrow upon sorrow

Today, we remember the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady who had to witness the Crucifixion and Death of her beloved son, and Our beloved Lord.

Praying Lauds this morning, I held in my heart all those who are suffering loss at the moment and I rather feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of sorrow that this world contains.

Grief is a terrible thing because it has its roots in the most precious love and yet, when the object of our love is hurt, damaged, or ripped from us, the pain is so unbearable that we feel we daren't love again because there is nothing left of us that we can afford. Like Our Lady, we are faced with a bleakness of a world without love, without joy, and without worth. Our purpose has gone and, often, we blame ourselves for its loss with a text book all of whose sentences begin, "If only I'd..."

There are the famous stages of grief but, to the one suffering, such psychobabble is not helpful - it's just words.

And it is appalling to watch your friends go through their grief: you end up with a grief of your own born of frustration and guilt that you can't reach out and help them, because the wounds lie within the most intimate part of their being: places to which only a very few have access, and maybe only the Divine touch. The fear for the friend is that any attempt to comfort will stab like a red-hot dagger into the cause of grief and cause more hurt at a time when healing is supposed to be occurring.

It might appear that Our Lady has it easy because at least her son rose on the third day. How can she possibly know the sorrows that we go through now - the ones that won't get solved by a miraculous resurrection as was hers?

Of course she can sympathise and empathise. It is all a question of time.

What we go through today in our grief, she went through. If we feel that we  have no hope, then so did she. If we feel that our world is dark and without joy, then so did she as she witness the darkness over the Earth as if it were the end of Time itself. Every day of our grief, we stand with Our Lady at the foot of the cross. Every day of our grief takes us to good Friday when we see Life dead and mangled upon the cross. We participate in that Good Friday always in our sorrow and we will do so for the rest of our lives on Earth. Unlike Our Lady, we do have the benefit of hindsight. We know that the Resurrection is a fact, a fact that leads us to the resurrection of the dead at the end of Time's meaning. She has to live in the hope that her son's word's of His resurrection are true.

Our Lady's sorrows are but a few days, but she carries them into Eternity because Our Lord carries His wounds into Eternity with Him. These days of her sorrow are given to Eternity so that all who sorrow may sorrow with her and in her, even if this hurt and pain may last for the rest of our earthly lives. We may not feel it, but we have been deemed by the Divine Will of the Crucified God Himself to be worthy of His concern in our grief through those of His mother. As we offer our own sorrows in participation with hers, we also hope to participate in the joy of seeing her son, beholding His face and weeping tears of true happiness.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Legally helpless or helplessly legal?

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Toddlers fall over – a lot! They have a knack of finding precisely the wrong moment, the wrong place, and the wrong situation to fall over, bump their heads and/or graze their knee. Lots of tears, lots of cuddles, lots of trying to kiss it better.

Do you expect the law of Gravity to help out and make the knee better? Well, why not?

[PAUSE]

The law of Gravity says that things fall down: apples, porcelain vases, jammy toast (jam side-down, of course) and toddlers. Yet, the law of Gravity is not Gravity itself. It isn’t the equations on a bit of paper that make things fall down – it’s Gravity. The laws of Gravity are just what we have written down to describe what Gravity does. By reading these laws, we can indeed predict the terrible demise of Aunt Hilda’s priceless Ming Vase, we can predict the tides, and we can even send a man to the moon using the laws that we have deduced from what we have seen. But the laws do nothing in themselves. The law of Gravity is powerless to help those who suffer from a fall.

The Law of Gravity walks by, utterly unable to help the one who has fallen and lies damaged.

[PAUSE]

The Law of the Land is based on the Moral Law which tells us what it right and wrong. It is constantly being reviewed and changed in its search for true and proportionate justice. When the murderer kills the child, he gets twenty years in prison without parole. Justice is done, but the law does not bring the child back to life.

The Moral Law walks by, utterly unable to help those parents in their loss.

[PAUSE]

In each case, the Law is good: it shows us how things should be, allows us to predict and seek what is right, but it cannot get off the paper on which it is written to save us from the effects it describes. It shows us right from wrong: it does not make right that which is wrong.
How can right come from wrong?

It takes someone who is law abiding, and yet sees how to go beyond it, to reach out and pour wine and oil into the wounds: the oil of the Holy Ghost to cleanse and purify; the Blood of Christ to heal and make firm.

It is the call of the Church to be the Good Samaritan while the Law walks helplessly by. It is the call of the Church, well-versed in the Law, who must reach out to those whom life in this fallen world has cast to the ground. It is a Church, vilified by a self-righteous and law-obsessed Society, that is called to pour her Holy Sacraments into the wounds of those who would receive them.

[PAUSE]

We are the Church. We have our call. We must obey the Law of Love, for Love’s sake.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Faith comes by hearing?

Horror of horrors! For those of you who are content with just reading this little blogling, please do not visit the ACC Mission of Our Lady of Glastonbury's podcast page where my voice may be heard on several sermons that I provide for them! This could severely damage your hearing!

Do visit the page to hear our Lay Reader Mr James Tuite podcast instead!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Trust in the Scriptures

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

According to some historians, St Paul didn’t write the letter to the Hebrews. They will also say that the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke are a rehash of St Mark’s Gospel and a mysterious collection of Our Lord’s saying called Q. They will say that, although the Gospels contain much historical data, they are too inconsistent on the facts of Our Lord’s life to be historically accurate.

How do you feel about that?

Surely we should trust our historians, after all that’s how we know what happened in the past.

Yet, if we trust in historians, then we simply cannot trust in the reliability of Holy Scripture. That looks as if it could cause Christians lots of problems. If Holy Scripture is not reliable, then the whole Christian Faith could be a sham.

[PAUSE]

Some people will try and get around this problem by saying that the Bible doesn’t have to be historically true, or scientifically true, but it is completely theologically true.

That’s fine to an extent, but think now! Perhaps you remember Bishop David Jenkins who didn’t believe that Our Lord was born of a virgin, or Bishop John Shelby Spong who did not believe that the Resurrection of Our Lord really happened, but was rather a spiritual resurrection, not a physical one.

Saying that the Bible is theologically true allows people to say silly things like that. Why? Because these people have their own personal theology based on their own idea of what God is saying to them.

What do we do? Our Faith is in jeopardy!

[PAUSE]

No. No it isn’t. Hear St Paul!

Such trust have we through Christ to Godward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.

Our trust isn’t in the Bible.

Again, our trust is NOT in the Bible.

Our trust is in God through Our Lord Jesus Christ. One thing the Gospels are very consistent on are those things we hear in our Creed. Our Lord was born of the Virgin Mary, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, He did suffer death, and He was buried. AND on the Third Day He did rise again according to the Scriptures and ascended into Heaven. All this the Church has believed even before the Creed was written down, even before the New Testament was written down. Our trust is in God through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Church consists of each one of us, and St Paul describes who we are as members of the Church. We are indeed “able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” The Church has carried the New Testament with her since her foundation in Christ and through all her faithful members.

Too many people treat the Bible as a collection of written words. This is where the historians and scientists make their great mistake and, in so doing, can kill the faith of many who are trying to worship God. Within every single word of the Bible is written our salvation, the inerrant truth about God. Those who begin with the assumption that there is no God may indeed be unconvinced by inconsistencies in the narrative. St Matthew says that on the day of Resurrection an angel rolls the stone away before the eyes of two Marys, whereas St Luke says that the stone has already been rolled away before the women get there. The inconsistencies are there because they tell us something both as individual Gospels, but also collectively, they say that the stone was indeed rolled away and that angels were seen.

If this breaks someone’s faith in Our Lord, then they have held too much to the letter and not tapped into the Holy Ghost with Whom the Church has been infused. If St Paul is to be believed, there are five hundred witnesses to Our Lord walking with them after His resurrection. It causes him to stop persecuting the Church and embrace that Faith. He has met the original disciples and perhaps in his youth, he has seen this Jesus preaching in the temple. Perhaps he was one of the Pharisees against whom Jesus speaks! He, like thousands, perhaps even millions, of Christians have died because of this Faith, not in the Bible, but in God through Christ.

[PAUSE]

The Church chooses the Gospels of St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke, and St John to be in the Bible because she recognises the Spirit of God walking among the written letters. If the historians reject them because of their methods of separation and reduction, then they will never find the truth. The Church has the Truth and we can believe it, and we can believe the Bible because the Church throughout the World believes it, always has believed it and always will.

If the Lord can make a deaf man with a speech impediment speak clearly, then He can certainly make the Holy Scriptures speak as clearly as well. We just need ears to hear.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Robbed of one's head or robbed of one's martyrdom

Image result for beheading of john the baptist


It's always a bit of a shock to us when we realise that people die horribly for the Christian Faith. Apparently, the Christian Faith is one of today's most persecuted religions. That seems rather glib compared with the Holocaust and because of the suffering of our Jewish brothers and sisters. We Christians have had genocides of our own certainly in the Middle East today, but also in such times as the Armenian Genocide of the last century. This is not a point-scoring exercise: it should make us all more compassionate for each other and not allow one more person to suffer for their faith.

Today, we watch aghast as the Last Prophet is beheaded just like our brothers at the hands of ISIS for no other reason than that his Faith is offensive. He is beheaded during a feast, a time of celebration, and thus kills the ability of those present to celebrate without his blood staining their festivities. St John is no fool: he knows that this day is coming. He knows that his words that he must decrease for Christ's sake bear a revolting irony. And yet he embraces it, just as St Bartholomew, in some narratives, embraces being skinned alive, as St Lawrence embraces the grid-iron and St John Intercisus embraces being dismembered slowly.

How do they do it? How could we ever hope to go through the same thing for the love of Christ?

However, in the West we are being robbed of the opportunity for martyrdom.

If we just step back a bit, as soon as someone becomes a martyr, their belief becomes apparent to all around them. That's not exactly something that the Devil will want to encourage, so what obstacles can this wretch put in our way to prevent us from embracing martyrdom?

First, he can present it as something too much for us to endure. This is true. Not one of us really wants to think about the awful ways that we could be put to death and culture seems to take a morbid fascination with the details of death. We worry about whether we could hold on and thus despair of our own ability to be faithful. In our comfortable Western lives, the idea of suffering is contrary to anything that we could imagine. The key thing to remember is that we trust in Christ and, if ever we are called to suffer like this, that He would be there somehow to help us. We don't have to imagine it now, but rely on Him. Satan wants to undermine our trust in God's fidelity.

Second, the Devil can present us with an easy escape from martyrdom. Not all martyrdom involves death, though that is the popular usage of the word. Martyrdom is about the testimony that we bear and for which we are prepared to suffer by bearing it. The issues of Abortion, Euthanasia, Divorce, and physically expressed Same-Sex relations are all related to the issue of taking away the necessity for someone to suffer. Because it is not necessary to suffer, it becomes morally acceptable to take the easy way out. This is not the way out of Temptation that St Paul mentions in I Corinthians x.13. Again, there is a temptation of a lack of faith in God, but further, there is a temptation to see Sin as preferable to suffering for love of God.

For example, we can look at the suicide of Razis in II Maccabees xiv. He commits suicide rather than being taken by the wicked Nicanor. This cannot be a moral act, for wilful and intended suicide is still a form of murder. Samson fell to the Philistines who shamed and humiliated him: his death was incidental to his intended destruction of the enemies of God. Razis' situation is not. However it may be a sin, we can see that it cannot have the gravity of the suicide of one who is bored with living. His death forces us to be compassionate on all who are tempted to suicide such as those dying of painful, debilitating disease.

The same is true of each of the other temptations. It becomes the duty of the Church to reach out to those in this form of temptation lest they fall into sin. Indeed, it is the failure of members of the Church to provide mechanisms to prevent the spiritual damage that makes these issues all the more distressing. There are those who dispassionately cite chapter and verse and do nothing else save "pray," and there are those who capitulate and legislate that sin become morally acceptable for compassion's sake. Neither are acceptable.

Third, the Devil seeks to use the problem of Evil to discredit the love of God. The problem of suffering is horrible and yet inescapable. It is the reason why so many clever and respectable intellects have turned their back on the The Creator and, thus, on the One Who can give any form of suffering a worth greater than can be imagined. The answer to this is the Cross: an answer that the Atheist cannot accept, and yet the only answer the Christian can give. Yet it is the Cross that we must bear if we are to be martyrs to the Gospel of Christ of the reality of Salvation, of the remission of Sin, of the purification, justification, and sanctification of the soul and of the sure hope that we can and will be reconciled with God in Eternity.

At every stage, our opportunities for martyrdom in the West are being robbed by the politically correct. Ironically, it provides those who seek to be faithful to God, His Creation and Rule, with the opportunity for a different form of martyrdom - that of social death! This is what we see now. To oppose the Transgender Agenda, Same-Sex Marriage and the cry "Abortions for all, at any time, for any reason" is now seen as social suicide and estrangement often results. No longer are Traditional Christians allowed to voice their dissent without being seen as personae non gratae. Yes, we have the freedom of speech and we must accept the consequences for what we say. That's exactly what St John the Baptist did,

Yet, before we accept the world's punishment and embrace "Martyrdom," we ought to ensure that our witness truly is of the Love of God for the world, especially for every single individual human being. There's no way that the "God hates Fags" theology of the Westboro Baptist Church is Christian. Their suffering for this "creed" will be shown up on the Last Judgement for what it is.

Saying that, so will my suffering for the creed I profess.

And yours.