All posts by admin

John 17: 22-26

John 17: 20-26

In a few moments when we stand up to repeat the words of the Creed, one of the sentences we shall say is : “I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”.

Now, the word “catholic” just means “universal” or “world -wide”, and there is a “world- wide church” made up of Christians of many different traditions;  Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Anglicans, Orthodox, and of course Roman Catholics.

Many people say “catholic” when they mean “Roman Catholic” but if we used our language accurately this confusion just wouldn’t be there.

So in this great prayer which we’ve just heard, Jesus was praying  that his followers in every generation after him, would belong to one holy and world-wide church.

In particular, he was asking that we should all be one, united by the teaching of his first followers, the apostles. That’s what one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church means.

Unfortunately, the sad fact is that although all Christians do indeed belong to the world wide church, that one church is broken by our own divisions; by our disunity, if you like.

And this is a good reason for people outside of church, not to take us seriously when we start talking about loving each other.

Why should anyone believe what we preach if we don’t follow the teaching ourselves? Not only do we criticise Christians of different denominations; we frequently fall out in lumps even within our own tradition.

People sometimes stop coming to church when a particular priest is different from his predecessor, and they look for another church where the priest is either more traditional  or more liberal, depending on their own preferences. Perhaps we should stop treating the church as a kind of club for like-minded people, and pay a bit more attention to what Jesus said.

It’s important to distinguish between disunity and difference. There’s nothing wrong with difference. Difference is necessary for the health of the Church. St Paul made this point when he wrote to the Christians at Corinth.

When he compared the Church to a real body, he said: “If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members yet one body. The eye can’t say to the hand “I have no need of you”. Nor again the head to the feet “I have no need of you”.

There are many different ways of telling the same good news about Jesus. Different churches should develop different customs and different ways of worship. All of these contribute to the life of the world wide, or universal church. And this is a very good thing.

But it’s a very bad thing when differences are allowed to turn into divisions. And this can happen so easily. I don’t think that divisions happen because people aren’t committed to Jesus.

I think they happen because people are so committed to their own kind of striving to be faithful to the gospel, that they become blind to the strivings of others.

And then when they eventually open their eyes, they wake up to find that they’re separated. It’s certainly not something which they seek, or at least, I hope it’s not.

I think it comes from a kind of neglect of looking out for each other. A neglect of community, or a neglect of love.

And when this happens, some churches try to abolish difference altogether, whilst others begin not to care much about being separated.

The modern Roman Catholic church won’t tolerate much difference, and in this respect it’s similar in its thinking to the many churches of the Protestant Tradition which keep forming new sects in order to preserve what they see as being the true gospel.

It’s sad isn’t it, because none of us are living in accordance with the great prayer of Jesus.

The real sin of disunity isn’t what happened hundreds of years ago. The real sin lies in what isn’t happening now. For the most part the divisions in the church came about by neglect of love for each other rather than by the deliberate separation into which it just grew. And our sin is the refusal to deal with the mess which we’ve inherited.

Sadly, the divisions of the past, which came from the differences between good people of both sides, are now really no more than quarrels of little mean people, concerned mostly for the strength of their own group.

We need to clear up these, by now irrelevant divisions and at the same time to be warned by them. Because we live once again in age when the real disagreements of good people are leading us into new divisions; into another denial of the one spirit into which we were all baptized.

We need to go back to the good news of the unity between Jesus and God; the unity between the Father and the Son; the unity of love into which our own baptism introduces us. And the result of living together within this unity which cuts across race, gender, or class will be to show all who look at us what it means to be filled with the spirit of the living God, The Holy Spirit of love who will move all of God’s children through the Son to live in the glory of the Father.

For ever. Amen. 0000000000000

Ascension

Relativity

All of you will have heard of Albert Einstein. And what I’m about to remind you of comes directly from his famous theory of special relativity.

Imagine two identical twins. One of them sets off on a space journey and returns after two years of space travel at almost the speed of light. He’ll be exactly two years older. But his twin who stayed behind on earth will have aged thirty years. Weird but true. We think of time as existing in chunks, but that’s only the way we perceive it. A physicist will speak of the space-time continuum. Time slows down if you’re travelling fast. And before you tell me that we can’t travel that fast, let me remind you that the Hadron collider can accelerate sub atomic particles to almost the speed of light. And whilst we’re talking about sub atomic particles, did you know that something as small as an electron can disappear from one place and reappear in another without going through the space which separates the two places? This is a fact, and much of our modern science is built on so called “quantum weirdness”

We live in a really strange universe, and indeed, some scientists have suggested that our universe is just one of an infinite number of parallel universes.

The power behind all of this must be way beyond our ability to understand; and it’s this power which belongs to God.

I make these points because there’s a tendency today to dismiss parts of the Gospel narratives as fanciful fairy tales which carry deeper truth. However, when you set those gospel reports alongside the weird stuff which science now takes as routine, you may well conclude that perhaps they’re not fanciful at all.

But why would God bring Jesus through death and then move him from this world into what is commonly called “heaven”? And where is heaven? Did Jesus take off like a space ship and zoom away until he got there?

There is deeper truth beneath the surface accounts; of course there is, so perhaps I can remind you of what, as Christians, we believe. It makes a lot of sense and helps to challenge a lot of modern liberal thought.  

Love is the most powerful force there is. We know this from our own experience. So whatever else God is he’s a God of love. He created us as an expression of his love because love always expands. He created us in His own image in order to reflect His love back to him and onto everything in creation; and we’ve failed.  All of us.

But God never gives up. He’s shown us in the resurrection of Jesus that he’s quite capable of creating a new person from the old one. Using the same kind of stuff but which is also different. That’s what all those stories about the resurrection of Jesus are trying to tell us. And this new creation will never die.

Where did Jesus go as a result of the Ascension? Well, the universe which we live in is pretty strange and God’s heaven is linked to it. It’s very close, just beyond our perception, but it’s there all right and the Ascension tells us that God’s dimension of reality is open to human beings. Jesus has taken our humanity there, and although the way in which our humanity will be finally embodied is not for us to know just yet, we can rest content that one day heaven and earth will be joined together. There will be no more death, decay , suffering or tears. We shall all rise from death and our hope is that God’s mercy will let us enjoy the beauty of heaven forever.

And so, a novelty has been introduced into heaven.  And that novelty is our human nature. This whole movement places our humanity in the presence of God.  It’s a glorification not only of Christ, but of all human nature.

Christianity teaches that human life draws its dignity not from any particular rights which we think are due to us, but from the fact that because of the Ascension of Jesus , being human means being permanently involved in the presence of God.

It has been said that because of the Ascension we can think of the human race as like a person standing in water up to the neck, safely living because the head is above the surface. This is a good thought; Christ the Head, giving life to those who remain below.  Christ is now raised above the heavens, but he still experiences on earth, whatever sufferings we, his members feel.

Christ, while in heaven, is also with us .  And we, while on earth are also with him. 

He is with us in his God head and his power and his love.  He didn’t leave heaven when he came down to us from God; and he didn’t leave us when he ascended to heaven again.

 “I am with you always”, says the Lord, “Even until the end of the world.”   Amen.

John 14: 23-29

Jesus said; “If you love me, you will obey my commands, and I will ask the Father to send you another Counsellor to be with you forever.”

So it seems that in order to receive this Counsellor sent by God, we must love and obey Jesus. Well, what can this mean for us today?  

St John teaches us that obedience is the only test for love.  It was by obedience that Jesus showed his love of God; and it’s by our obedience that we show our love of Jesus . Many people will tell you that love is all about feelings, but according to the Gospel which we’ve just heard, we’re wrong to try to measure our love of Jesus by the strength of any feelings that we might or might not have.  St John never spoke of love as a feeling or an emotion.  For him, love was always shown by obedience.

It’s not easy to know that you love Jesus.  And this is where that difficult word, translated as “Counsellor” comes in. The word is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit.  And it’s when we begin to try to talk about the Holy Spirit that we meet all kinds of misunderstandings and difficulties.

Many Christians feel that they’re a failure in their faith and that there’s something wrong with them.  They listen to others who tell them that they feel the presence of Jesus in their hearts, or maybe place great emphasis on speaking in tongues. And because they know that their faith isn’t lived on an emotional high they think that somehow they’ve missed the point.

Perhaps they struggle with prayer, and wish that the gift of easy talk to God had been given to them. And so they tell themselves that because this hasn’t been their experience, then they must be a kind of second-class Christian. But this is a sad and painful mistake.

Because what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel, is that he recognises the difficulties of following him, and he won’t leave us to struggle with them alone.

He promises to send the Holy Spirit, to help us live the Christian life; and when he goes on to say that the world cannot recognise the Spirit, he’s pointing out that we can only see what we’re fitted to see. 

An astronomer will see far more in the sky than an ordinary man.  Someone who knows about art will see far more in a picture than someone who’s ignorant about these things.

 What we see or get from any experience depends a great deal on what we bring to it.  A person who’s removed God from their life will never listen for him, and yet it’s when we wait in prayerful expectation that God’s Holy Spirit comes to us.

This obedient, trusting, waiting love leads to the presence of God. It’s only to the man or woman who’s looking for him, that God reveals himself.  It’s only to the man or woman who, in spite of failure, is reaching up, that God reaches down.  Knowing God is dependent on love; and love is dependent on obedience.

When we’re obedient and open to God in this way then we’ll begin to be aware of the Holy Spirit working within us just as Jesus promised.

 Perhaps we need to stop comparing ourselves and our experiences to others and start thinking more seriously about some of the things which Jesus taught.

For instance, he said that just as we recognise the presence of atmospheric wind by its effects, so will we recognise the presence of the Holy Spirit by His effects.

Do you know a Christian person who’s patient, or kind, or gentle or faithful?  Do you know a Christian person who’s loving or joyful or who seems to be at peace? If you do then you know  a Christian in whom the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work.

Some of these men and women might well be reluctant to say that they’re the living fulfillment of the promises which Jesus made, but it’s when we begin to see with the eye of faith that we also begin to understand that they are.

As we follow Jesus in loving obedience and as we open and prepare ourselves for him so will we become aware of the truth of his promises about the Holy Spirit.

 Perhaps one of the most significant times on our journey will be the realization that we meet him most commonly within the ordinary happenings of everyday life.  He’s there in every loving encounter that we experience.  He’s there at that moment when a piece of Scripture suddenly takes on a deeper meaning for us. 

He’s there when the words of a preacher seem to be directed at us personally.  He’s there when at the very moment of temptation a saying of Jesus flashes unbidden into our minds.

 And so, the next time that we begin to doubt some of the basic teachings of our faith; the next time that we begin to entertain a strong suspicion that all this talk about the Holy Spirit is outside of our experience, then we need to remember these things; because the promises which Jesus made are for all of us.

The peace which he offers us is such that no experience of life can ever take it from us. And no sorrow, no danger no suffering can ever make it less. This is the peace which he wants to give us.

All we need to do is to accept it.

Amen.

Lent 5

John 8: 1-11

On Friday of this coming week we shall celebrate a Requiem Mass in St Mary’s church as we say goodbye to our dear friend Michael O’Flaherty.

I have no doubt that the church will be full to overflowing and I also know that although it’s the fifth Friday in Lent, there will be many floral tributes.

No one will raise any objection or criticise the breaking of a Lenten tradition, and this reminds me of a report I read earlier about an Anglican churchwarden who didn’t like his parish priest.( Can you believe such a thing?!) Anglican Lenten Traditions are quite similar to ours and our hero was deeply shocked when he found out that the priest was planning a wedding during Lent.

“What!” he said “Flowers in church during Lent !”.

 And so he didn’t wait to discover the very sad circumstances behind the wedding. Instead, he made the most enormous fuss, and caused a scene which took weeks to calm down.

Now, I don’t know your position, but I believe that however precious our Lenten observances might be, they should never be so set in stone, that human need is always ignored. 

And the gospel story which we’ve just heard is a very telling comment by Jesus about religious observance and human need.

The church warden that I spoke about just now couldn’t see beyond his wish to keep up the Lent Traditions. Just as the Scribes and the Pharisees weren’t at all concerned about a woman whose life was in a mess. They considered her to be a worthless adulteress and made her a pawn in their game with Jesus.

In both cases, enthusiasm for Tradition came before respect for other people and a wish for their well- being and salvation.

Now, look at Jesus. Yes, of course he’s concerned about tradition and the Law of Moses; after all he quotes it often enough. He very cleverly upheld it in the story which we’ve just heard, but in such a way that those who were so intent on punishing a lawbreaker were forced to look at their own hypocrisy first. But he’s much more concerned that all people, who are equally precious in God’s eyes, should be made aware of God’s mercy, forgiveness and salvation.

“Woman” he said, after her accusers had left, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one , sir” she replied.

“Neither do I condemn you” said Jesus. “Go away and sin no more”

Can you imagine the effect of this acceptance and forgiveness on her? Can you doubt that she would respond to God’s love flowing to her through Jesus in a way which would make any other religious tradition pale into insignificance?    

So whatever you’ve chosen to observe during Lent, you should be clear that it should never be a way of appearing “holier than thou”, or indeed, a way of manipulating someone else.

No; It should always be seen against its effect on other people.

Hopefully, we’ve been moving through Lent with serious joy, trying to grow closer to God. And so, yes, it’s important to look inward. But we must also always look outwards towards the well- being and salvation of those with whom we have to do.

And we do well to remember that no matter how careful our Lenten Observance is, we are all, in one way or another, in the position of the woman in this beautiful Gospel story.

So as we hear God’s forgiveness declared today; how do we react?  Do we perhaps expect it, and take it for granted? Or is it to us, as to this woman, the word of life, and a reprieve from a death sentence?  Amen.

The Prodigal Son

Luke 15: 11-32 . In Israel, 2000 years ago, it would have been unheard of for a son to have asked his father for his share of any eventual inheritance. To do that was the equivalent of saying that you wished your father was dead.

Also, for the father to have given his son what he asked for would have needed him to sell off a portion of his land, a transaction which would have brought terrible disgrace with it.

And we can add to this, the shame which the younger son would also have caused by leaving home. In his culture, it was the responsibility of the youngest son to care for his parents when they became old. To abandon this duty would have been shocking in the extreme.

Finally, when he’d squandered everything, the younger son was reduced to eating pig slops. For a Jew, to have anything to do with pigs was bad enough. To care for them and to share their food was about as low as you could get.

So, the picture which Jesus drew about this young lad was about as dark as it could be. Human beings didn’t get much worse than this.

But his Father loved him. And I don’t suppose there’s a parent sitting in this church today who doesn’t feel their heart strings pulled as they think of the older man looking out, each day and anxiously scanning the horizon.

Never giving up hope, and then actually running out in joy to welcome back the lad who’d caused so much shame and disgrace.

In that culture senior figures were far too dignified to run anywhere, but this one didn’t give it a second thought.

“That”, said Jesus “is what God is like”.

The younger son had absolutely nothing to commend him to his father, or to anyone else. But the father’s closing line says it all.

This, my son, was lost, but now is found; he was dead, but now he’s alive again “

How could this not be a cause for celebration?

We don’t have to think very hard to understand exactly how the critics of Jesus saw all of this.

They knew Jesus was teaching that the Kingdom of God was coming in through what he was saying and doing. They’d criticized him continuously for eating and drinking with people who any decent religious person would avoid like the plague. And here he was, through this parable, saying once more, that God was working through him to welcome back those  men and women who, like the prodigal son, had reached rock bottom.

Jesus certainly saw this as a cause for celebration, and he showed his joy by mixing with these people whom the religious authorities despised so much. People who’d seen the love of God the Father in the words and work of Jesus, and who’d responded to this by coming home.

But what about the older brother? The one whom Jesus clearly thought, represented the religious Pharisees.

It’s fair to say that he certainly didn’t want the younger one back. He didn’t even recognise him as his brother. “This son of yours “is the way in which he talks about him to his father. As far as he was concerned there was no place for his younger brother anymore. He was effectively dead by what he’d done and there was no way back.

It’s not hard for us to recognise the self-righteous arrogance of this man, because I suspect there’s a bit of him in most of us. “I’ve always obeyed you “he said to his father. “And yet here you are, pouring out your favours on him, and ignoring me. “

But the father’s reply is still shot through with generosity and compassion even to his self-centred older son.

 Can you see how Jesus is trying to tell the religious elite, that even though God’s generosity was reaching out to people whom they least expected to respond, there was still plenty left for them? They could lock themselves out of the party if they wanted, but they weren’t free to say that it was because God didn’t love them, just as much as he loved all of his children.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves how the story might end? Because maybe Jesus wants us to work this out for ourselves. I wonder if the brothers were ever reconciled? And if they were who would have found the most difficulty in trying to understand their father’s behaviour ?

And where do we fit into this story? If we had to take a part in a play based on what we’ve learned today which character would we choose as the one who most resembles us?  Are we with the younger brother; grateful that God accepts us just as we are. Happy to go to God understanding that we have absolutely nothing to commend ourselves to him, just throwing ourselves on his love.

Or do we have more sympathy with the older brother? Do we perhaps pride ourselves that we’re really pretty good servants of the Lord?

 Do we think the church wouldn’t function quite as well if we left it? Do we feel that those late comers, who have little idea of what we do and how we do it, are really as good as us? And by our attitude, do we let them know it?

Many churches have older brothers and sisters, as well as prodigal sons and daughters, and you will be able to recognise them amongst both lay people and priests. 

But even so,  we  must ask God to help us want to celebrate the party of his  love in such a way that we welcome not only the younger brothers who’ve come back from the dead, but also the older brothers who think that actually, there’s not much really wrong with them.

So, perhaps it’s time we took a look at ourselves in order to find out who we resemble. And when we have a better idea of the truth, maybe we will be able to welcome our brother in love, and move from the position of either sinner or Pharisee into warmth of our Father’s acceptance, just as we are.

An acceptance which will change us, because it will actually cause us to be born again.  

Amen.

Special Notice March 2019


“Fr Anthony is no longer attached to the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

On 8th March at Plymouth he was incardinated by Bishop Mark as a `Diocesan priest.”

Lent 3

Luke 13: 1-9. Have you ever been in a situation when things are going so badly wrong that you can’t believe it’s happening to you? Perhaps you might even have cried out in desperation “God, what have I done to deserve this”

I think we can all probably remember times when we’ve felt that God hasn’t treated us fairly. Why should we suffer like this? What’s God up to? Why does he let it happen? Aren’t we supposed to be his friends? Why isn’t he looking after us?  It’s just not fair.

You may even have wanted to get back at God for being so mean. Perhaps you’ve even said to Him: “If that’s what it’s all about then you can forget about me coming to church.”

 We’re all children really and that’s just the kind of thing that a child might say in order to hurt his or her parents. I can remember my eldest son saying to me when he must have been no more than three years old, “I’ll run away then, and you wouldn’t like that, would you?” 

And from here, it’s only a small step to blame God for everything that happens which as far as we can see, isn’t fair.

I‘ve met people who’ve told me that they don’t believe in God, because a God of love wouldn’t have allowed their elderly mother to die. Now, please don’t misunderstand me , of course we must grieve for the death of an elderly relative, but to somehow blame God for it, isn‘t really on.

But even when we forget about these extreme cases we’re still left with the massive problem of suffering.

It’s one thing to shout at God because you’ve lost an elderly relative that you love dearly, but it’s quite a different situation when a thirty year old man with two tiny children dies in agony with a devastating cancer; or when a young couple with all of their lives in front of them, lose a healthy baby with no apparent explanation.

Or when a barbaric tyrant breaks into a place of Jewish worship and slaughters the worshippers. Or when a tower falls onto a group of bystanders and kills eighteen of them.

Or when a 33 year old Jewish preacher who was so obviously one with God, dies in agony, nailed to a wooden cross in front of his family and friends.

 What kind of God would let this happen?

It was just as usual in the time of Jesus as it is today, to believe that if something bad happened to you then it was a punishment from God for something wrong that you’d done. We may not usually go about saying this, but when the chips are really down, well, perhaps we’re not quite so sure.

But Jesus said a definite “No”. The Jewish worshippers weren’t murdered because they were bad. The people at Siloam didn’t die under the tower as a kind of punishment by God.

And the bad things that happen to us should never be seen in this light either. Sometimes of course, bad things happen as a direct result of our own foolishness. If we smoke then we can’t blame God for the lung cancer. If we build houses on a flood plain then we can’t blame God when they disappear under the sea.

But Jesus wasn’t teaching about this kind of exception. I think his message was that we’re all in this together. In God’s eyes we’re all sinners, and if punishment is to be expected, then no one is exempt. 

You see, God isn’t in the business of picking out the really bad ones and dealing with them, in order to make an example so that the rest of us who aren’t too bad really, might be encouraged.

Jesus said that we were all the same, and that we were all worthy of punishment, which would certainly come, unless we allowed God to help us. And the first step towards this help, was that old fashioned word “repentance”.

And maybe that’s a part of the meaning in the parable which we‘ve just heard, of the gardener digging around the fig tree, in order that it might bear fruit. Perhaps Jesus is the gardener and we’re represented by the fig tree.

We shall never understand suffering, at least on this side of death, but we should believe that God isn’t just some sort of divine headmaster ready with the heavenly stick to punish his naughty children.

The Christian God is a God of love, who never wants any of his children to suffer. But suffering seems to be a part of what it means to be human, and we just can’t get our heads around this, can we?

When I was studying theology, one of my teachers told us he believed that if it had been possible for God to have created the world, without suffering, then God would have taken it.

I found that hard to understand at the time; but now, the more I think about this, the more I can see just how true it is .God had to allow the possibility of suffering if he also wanted us to be able to turn away from evil of our own free will.

And because God is responsible for this unavoidable suffering, then he takes the responsibility upon himself and shares in the suffering of his world and his children, in the person of his only son, Jesus. Jesus the human embodiment of God. The God who suffers with his creation in order to bring it through suffering and death to its final glorious destination.

A destination which was glimpsed by St Paul when he wrote to the Christians at Rome;

“I consider that what we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. What then can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, or hardship, or persecution, poverty, hunger, danger or death? No, in all these things we have complete victory- there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.” What better can we do during this season of Lent than to offer our suffering to him, so that united with the sacrifice of Jesus, his cross might become our crown too. Amen.

The Transfiguration

Luke 9: 28-43.    Surprises often happen when we’re least expecting them. Sometimes when we’re tired or perhaps confused, or maybe a bit down.

Perhaps it was like that with Peter, James and John. They’d been following Jesus for some time now, and they must have wondered just who he was.

They must also have been really tired with the constant comings and goings of so many people, and the knowledge that the Authorities really weren’t best pleased with their leader. They were probably a bit frightened, too.

And now, here he was, leading them up a mountain path because presumably he wanted to say some prayers with them, and hill tops were good places to be alone without the press of the crowds.

We can work out how tired they must have been because we’re told they were very sleepy. And then, the surprise broke right in to their sleepiness, and for a moment they saw Jesus as he really was. Whatever they actually saw or heard, left them with absolutely no doubt that Jesus was God’s chosen one. They were convinced that he was the fulfilment of the Jewish Law, and the one of whom the prophets had spoken down through the ages. That’s what the presence of Moses who represented The Law, and Elijah, who represented The Prophets, was meant to tell them.

Now, will it surprise you if I tell you that you’ve probably had experiences like this as well?

Let me remind you of a few lines from a hymn which you might know.
It goes like this:

“Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings;
When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.”

Experiences like this can happen right out of the blue. Perhaps you’ve been saying some prayers; maybe even struggling, and wondering where on earth all those people who tell you that prayer is easy, have been all their lives. Perhaps you don’t know what to say, or where to start; you might even feel like giving up. And then, right out of nowhere, something grips you. You don’t need any words; you don’t need to say or do anything. You just know, at a very deep level that God is very close to you.

You may feel moved to tears without really understanding why .You might just feel a great sense of peace. But you won’t want the moment to end.

This was Peter’s experience wasn’t it?

“Master “he said, “It’s good for us to be here. Let’s put up three shelters; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”

He wanted to prolong the experience. He’d been given a glimpse of who Jesus was, and he didn’t want the moment to end. But it had to end.

You might become acutely aware of the presence of Jesus, in your prayers. Or perhaps through a beautiful sunset, or as you lose yourself in a piece of music or a song which is special to you.

It probably won’t happen very often, and it’s always something which is right outside of your control .You might want to stay with the moment, but in my experience, it can be very hard to do that. You just have to come away from it. It’s too intense.

And all of these things are “the light which surprises the Christian whilst he sings.” Just as the author of our hymn tells us, they’re nothing less than “The Lord who rises with healing in his wings.”

I think we’re given these rare experiences when we need them most. We can’t conjure them up, and often they come when things have been going badly, but not always. And sometimes I think God might well withhold them from us because He wants us to live by faith.

But we need to remember them, because like Peter, James and John, we shan’t stay on the mountain for long.

Our gospel passage tells us how very shortly after leaving the mountain top, they found themselves back in everyday life surrounded by people who needed Jesus to heal them. They met their friends who, we’re told, were unable to help the little lad who was having the epileptic fit.

We have to live our lives in the valley, not on the mountain top. And all too often the valley seems a dark and difficult place. But Jesus is right there with us. We won’t be aware of His presence for most of the time, and that’s why it’s so important to remember those times when you’ve met him on the mountain.

And then you can call on him from where you are in the valley, and you can be confident that He will hear you.

Amen.

Temptations of Christ

Luke 4: 1-13. Temptation to sin comes in all kinds of ways, but my guess would be that in popular opinion, the sins of the flesh are quite close to the top of the list.

Now, it may be that, resistance to this kind of temptation is an area in which you can claim the moral high ground. But before you feel superior to your neighbour whom you know is involved in a secret affair, what’s your position on drinking? Or how do you feel about your personal savings in the face of appalling world poverty?

Or whilst we’re at it, do you ever fantasize about getting even with someone for a wrong which they did to you, years ago?

The point I’m trying to make, of course, is that we all fall short somewhere or other and some of us fall short in many places at the same time.

Even if you’ve successfully resisted all of the evils that are commonly described as sin, you may well be left in a state of self-righteousness and pride. So, it seems that if we focus on how good we are we miss the point.  

People are often challenged,  or even taunted, to prove themselves. And Jesus faced a series of such challenges in the gospel reading which we’ve just heard. They were challenges to prove himself. They weren’t temptations to do evil things.

Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread, to jump from the top of the Temple, and to be Lord of all the earth. Some people will tell you that these things were bad in themselves, but we need to remember that the same Jesus turned water into wine, fed a crowd of people with five loaves and two fish, rose from the dead and is now proclaimed as “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords”.

His temptation wasn’t to do bad things, it was to do good things for the wrong reasons.  In the temptation story, Jesus is tempted to please someone other than God. He’s tempted to please his followers, leaders of nations around the world and even himself, by a series of demonstrations designed to show how good he was at getting things done.

But the point is that it’s only God who’s good, and our job is to do only those things which are pleasing to God. To do something good, or to refrain from doing something bad , simply or to satisfy our friends or families or ourselves isn’t enough ,  because it fails the commandment to worship God alone. This, I think, is the real meaning of the temptation to sin.

The temptations then,  invited Jesus to use God rather than to be used by him. But Jesus showed his true power by remaining loyal to God. All  of this  is in contrast to what Adam did.

He pleased himself, and because we’re human we share Adam’s nature and continue to do the same kind of things. All of us without exception, from the most holy person down; we are all as they say, “in Adam”.

 In Adam’s temptation and failure we see our own sinfulness very clearly and in Christ’s victory over temptation we see the victory that God makes possible for us. Like Adam we have a tendency to do what pleases us. Whereas Jesus always did what pleased God.

 No matter how hard we struggle, by our own efforts we shall all fall short. So, in the end all that counts is for us to be found in Christ.

Because we all share Adam’s nature, then inasmuch as we are in Adam, we shall fail. But, we also share Christ’s nature because we’ve been given a place within it through baptism and the Holy Spirit. We are in Christ, and therefore in Christ we share in the victory over temptation and sin. Yes, It’s probably quite true that we’re not in Christ as fully as we would like to be, but to grow in anything takes time. The work of the Holy Spirit is to change us as the hymn says, “from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place”

The glory of the gospel is that God has done everything in Jesus that is necessary for us to become a part of this great movement towards God. The work of the Holy Spirit is to make us holy, to sanctify us, to make us divine. 

Does that surprise you? At The Eucharist, when water is mixed with wine  the celebrant quietly says  “ As this water mixes with wine, may we share in Christ’s divinity, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

And so, I want to leave you with this thought. If you are rather an accomplished sinner, take heart. Don’t despair, God understands and loves you, just as much as he loves the greatest saint. You are in Christ and everything needful has been done. You are becoming divine. Rejoice in this, and you will find that God’s holy angels will be sent to help you just as they were sent to  wait on Jesus  all those years ago. 

Amen.