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Matthew 16: 13-20

Who do people say the Son of Man is?

Most of us try hard to present a good face to the world and in the main we probably do a pretty good job of hiding those bits about ourselves which make us feel ashamed. It’s fairly easy to do this with someone whom you don’t know very well, but it’s very difficult to disguise selfishness, greed, arrogance or pride from someone with whom you share a great deal of your life.  Those who are close to us will see us as we really are, and their opinions are important because they will contain truth which hasn’t been deceived.

People saw Jesus as all sorts of things. Some saw him as a prophet, some as a preacher and no doubt many people saw him just as a miracle worker. And all of these understandings were true. But the opinion that he really valued was the one which came from Simon Peter. Someone who knew him well, because they’d shared so much together. Jesus was sure about his own vocation, but it was important to him that those people with whom he was in close relationship should recognise something else in him; something which made him very special indeed.

We know from the gospels that the disciples must have talked about Jesus amongst themselves. They must have shared their experiences of him with each other. We all do this about anyone who’s an important person in our group. But it was at Caesarea Phillipi that all of this came together for Peter and convinced him that his master was the Messiah.  And as he was brought to this point so Jesus was able to see that this revelation to Peter was nothing less than the work of God.

And what happened to Peter must happen to us as well. People will sometimes tell you about quick and dramatic conversion experiences; but perhaps to be brought to the point where you can confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, needs a bit more than a quick burst of emotion. Perhaps it needs being in the company of other men and women who are often as confused as you are, and with whom you can share your doubts and your fears.

Perhaps it means watching what Jesus continues to do and teach through other people.

Perhaps it means being in a relationship with Jesus, for a fairly long period, even if you aren’t really able to explain or understand just how you can be in such a relationship.

And perhaps it means accepting that our conversion is an on-going business, and that we shall grow more and more in faith as we journey on.

Perhaps it means all of these things, together with an understanding that we’re just like Peter.  We too, are on a journey. We can be brought to an acceptance of Jesus as Lord and we can then deny him and doubt him. But like Peter we’ll be restored and forgiven each time that we go back.

 If we’re honest we shall all admit that we pass through times of doubt and difficulty after we’ve accepted Jesus as Lord of the Universe. It’s not as though we believe and that’s that. Our journey will continue with many ups and downs. There will be times of glorious certainty, but there will also be times, perhaps long times, of doubt and almost of despair when we may feel tempted to give up. But it’s at those times when the seed of faith may well be growing most strongly inside of us without our awareness.

Confessing Jesus as Lord is indeed not the end. It’s rather ,the end of the beginning ; the beginning of a life whose beauty and fullness will only become crystal clear when we pass through the gate of death and know even as we are known.

May God give us all the grace to live in this faith.

Matthew 10 vv 26 to 33

Do you know the command which is most often repeated in the Bible?

Perhaps you think it’s an instruction to love God and neighbour, or to pray more earnestly, or maybe to give more wholeheartedly to a charitable cause.

Well, you’d be wrong. The most often repeated command is :

“Don’t be afraid.”

And we find those words in three different verses of today’s gospel reading.

The first disciples of Jesus had plenty to be afraid of. Jesus had just told them that they’d be persecuted, betrayed and put to death . So why shouldn’t they be afraid?

It’s true he eventually told them that God would look after them , but did you notice that the first reason he gave them for not being afraid was that everything which is presently secret will be made known?.

Perhaps you might think that actually, this is a good reason to be afraid. After all, how would you feel if all your secret thoughts and peccadillos became common knowledge? You might be a bit scared for the consequences of that!

But the point which Jesus is making is that the time will come when the perseverance and patience needed to follow him will come to light. Truth will be known, and all those who have lived with this integrity despite the mocking and the   persecutions, will be vindicated.

This is the teaching of Jesus, which is a lot deeper than a quick “God will look after you” sound bite.

When we get discouraged we need to remember this, because it’s easy to lose sight of God’s purpose and to forget the message of the Gospel. God’s truth is powerful; he holds the future and he controls our destiny. We are in his hands, and even if persecution ends in death it can’t kill the soul. So we don’t need to fear those who mock us and oppose God’s work, because their power is actually very limited.

These words of Jesus remind us that nothing can take us outside of the love of God. We matter more than sparrows and God is concerned for far more than our hairstyle! His love is sure and all we need to do is to proclaim his truth and trust his love.

Jesus was accused of the most amazing things. His opponents were able to look at the face of love and say that his activities were linked to Beelzebub, the ruler of the world of evil. So, if we are following Jesus, trying to live our lives in accordance with his leadership, then we shouldn’t be alarmed or surprised if we’re treated in the same way as he was. Indeed, the time to worry is perhaps when everything in the garden is, so to speak “rosy” and no one finds any fault at all with what as a follower of Jesus we proclaim either by what we say or by what we do. If we follow Jesus then our relationship with other people will be just like his, and our relationship with God will be like his as well, because he’s promised to speak to God for us and to call us his friends.

On the other hand , if we choose to deny our discipleship then , of course we shall avoid the risks of persecution , but we shall also miss out on the bond which Jesus has with God. And we can’t call ourselves Christian if we choose that path. We just can’t have one of these relationships without the other.

Many Christians in our world, face severe persecution, very similar to those which Jesus is recounting in today’s Gospel reading. Thank God that we shall probably never have to face this kind of extreme situation. Nevertheless it can take courage to let our own relationship with Jesus be known to others. We shall be laughed at for telling the truth, when a “white lie” would help us avoid trouble. We shall be called a killjoy when we decline to take part in a group activity which is perhaps morally dubious, or when we won’t accept a popular opinion which runs counter to the teaching of Jesus. Indeed if we take a stance on  a law which we know is contrary to the teaching of Christ, we know that even within our own so called “enlightened” society there will be the possibility of a heavy price to pay.

There is certainly a time and a place for discretion, but there are also many times when we need to acknowledge clearly that we belong to Christ; that God’s Kingdom needs to be told and his love trusted.

If Jesus is real to us then we have no need to fear the consequences of making him known to others through both our silence and our speech.

May God bless us all to that end.

Corpus Christi

John 6: 51-58 Corpus Christi

We all want to be healthy, and we worry when we’re sick. So, we protect our bodies when we do things which we know might injure us; and we try to avoid cuts at all costs.  If you’re like most people, you suffer when your body receives a cut.

We find it hard to think of injuring ourselves on purpose for any reason, and the sight of blood for many people is something which makes them look away. 

So it’s almost impossible to think about giving our flesh for someone to eat; and it’s easy for us to imagine the reaction from those who heard the words of Jesus about eating his body.

Jesus said in the gospel passage for today that he was the “living bread that came down from heaven”.  He told us that this bread is “his flesh which he would give for the life of the world” and that “whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood would have eternal life and would be raised up on the last day.”

Try to imagine the effect that such words would have had on a Jewish crowd. For them, just as for us, even thinking about eating the flesh of another person was repulsive. 

It was, and still is, against the Jewish Law to eat animal flesh from which the blood hasn’t been properly drained.  The Jews would have found these words of Jesus absolutely horrific.

And there’s more!  Jesus goes on to say that he shares God’s life in a special way and wants to bring other people into this relationship with God through sharing his own life, his own flesh and blood, with them.

To the Jews, this would have been blasphemy.

So then, how can we take these difficult words?  What do they mean for our relationship with Jesus?

Well, first of all we need to realise that even modern religious practice makes use of ancient ideas.

It’s a fact that every life lives off another living thing. Many pagan religions recognised this, and would often hold sacred meals in which they thought they were sharing in the life of their god. They believed that by eating meat sacrificed to their god, they would share in their god‘s life.

And Christianity uses this kind of language as a way of understanding how believers take divine life into themselves.  The beginning of St. John’s gospel tells us that at the incarnation the “Word was made flesh”. 

This is the same as saying that the flesh of Christ contains God’s life for us all.

It’s easy to understand that food and life go together.  Unless we eat we die. Food, symbolised by bread, which will of course eventually rot, keeps us in physical life, which as we know, ends in death.  This was the bread, or manna, which Moses gave to Israel in the desert.

Living bread for the Christian Community, which is the new Israel, keeps us in a lasting life that triumphs over death.  If we want lasting life we must eat this bread of life.

God the Father gives Jesus, the bread from heaven.  The work of Jesus is to give lasting life to believers.  This is the work which God has given him. And our work is to believe this.  Eating and drinking can be understood as taking the very life of Jesus into the centre of our hearts. 

We need to saturate our hearts and our minds and our souls with Jesus, the very life of God.  We need to be so filled with him that his very self becomes a part of us. 

We know now that the gospel passage which we’ve just heard may be taken as a reference to Holy Communion. 

Bread can’t be shared until it’s broken.  Wine can’t be drunk until it’s poured out.  We take the bread and drink from the cup with the knowledge that it was shared with us out of love; as God’s sacrifice for us

The heavenly food is made available through the breaking and bleeding and death of Jesus.  This sharing of himself is made mysteriously present in the Eucharist, and Jesus explains that through the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood, we will be raised up with him on the last day.  It’s his promise to live through us as we receive him.

In the Eucharist Jesus invites us to the fullness of life that only the Son of God can give. A life more glorious than anything we can imagine.   How can we turn away from the one who gave himself for us, and continues day by day to say:

“My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.”

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday

Have you ever met someone who’s in love with themselves? Someone who thinks they’re the best thing since sliced bread? Someone who thinks that the world just couldn’t do without them? I have, and I expect you’ve met people like that, too.  They’re not really very pleasant because they love themselves so much that they never have time for anyone else. They can’t give love away, because they don’t have any left over. All very sad, because they don’t really know the meaning of love at all.

But I expect you’ve also met other people who really love someone else very much. Maybe you do. Perhaps your husband, or your wife, or your partner. And in this case, if your love is one hundred per cent you’ll always put them first.

One of the things about love like this, about real love, is that it just can’t exist unless it’s shared with someone else. And when you’re very close to another person like this you often know what they’re thinking before they actually say anything. Two people in love really do, as the song says, “become one”.

I want to tell you a story about a young couple called Peter and Elizabeth. I expect you know them.

Peter and Elizabeth were very much in love. They lived for each other, and their love could be seen very clearly from the way in which they gave themselves to each other. Peter always put Elizabeth first, and Elizabeth was exactly the same with Peter. They were, as we said just now, “two, become one”.

And so, there was great delight when their love for each other was fulfilled through the birth of a beautiful little boy. It was as though baby Jack was in himself, all that they meant to each other. He was in person, the love which Peter bore for Elizabeth and at the same time he was in person the love which Elizabeth was continually offering to Peter.

Jesus spoke of a relationship of love between himself and the God whom he called Father. A relationship which we can begin to understand a little bit, as we think about human relationships of love. Relationships like the one between Peter and Elizabeth and baby Jack.

In St John’s gospel, Jesus says “All that the Father has is mine”.

He also said:

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”

As well as:

“I am in the Father and the Father is in me”

So, St John’s gospel tells us, time after time, that Jesus shows us God as he really is, and as he always has been. Through Jesus we see into the hidden heart of Almighty God. The life of Jesus shows us what God is like in a way which we can understand.

The God whom we worship, before he’s anything else, is love. And love can’t exist by itself. The love which we see between Jesus, and his heavenly father, shows us in human terms, the love which is at the very heart of God, – the love which is God.

This is why we can say that from all eternity the Father begets the Son in order that he might give himself away in love. And this Son responds by continually giving himself back in love to his Father. And the way in which this takes place is through the Holy Spirit, the love in person, of the Father and the Son for each other

Our faith is that this Son of God, who’s outside of our time, entered time and became human in the body of Mary.

So, as we look at Jesus, our understanding of love helps us to see just how the love which Jesus shows for the God whom he calls Father, represents in our history, the love begun by God before time was created. 

So to say that God is love and that God is Trinity actually turns out to be two ways of saying the same thing.

This teaching of God as three in one will always remain a mystery. But it’s given to us, not so that we might explain away, or nail God down. It’s given to us by God who’s come into our human world, shown himself to us and invited us to know him as he really is.

That’s what the Gospels are about. They show us in a particular human life what God is like. They show us in the life of Jesus, the love between Father and Son, given and received through the Spirit.

We can’t know what it must have been like for Jesus to have been so filled with God’s Spirit that the Father’s life and presence saturated him.

But because Jesus was human, we do know that the way in which the Holy Spirit lives in us must be of the same pattern.

So, just as the Father and the Son find their oneness through love. God intends us to find our unity in the same way. We are created to give ourselves away to each other and to become one in self-giving love. We are created in the image of God.

And what a mess we’ve made! Just consider how in your own life you’ve refused to be the image of the living God by turning away from self-giving; by holding a grudge, or by refusing reconciliation.

And then give thanks to the Father and the Son. The Son who took flesh, became human and offered himself on our behalf in an act of total self-giving to the Father on the cross.

An act which released the Spirit of self giving love into the world to remake men and women in their relationships to God and to each other.

We are all the product of God’s love. We are all very precious to Him. He loves us all equally and doesn’t have any favourites.

God became man in Jesus, so that in Jesus we could become joined to God. That’s the meaning of the love of God.

A love which is so big that He gives Himself away to us in Jesus so that our lives might become one with His. So that we might actually share in His divinity. So that through the Holy Spirit we might share in the love which the Father and the Son have for each other.

So that we might share in the love of the Holy Trinity whose special day we are remembering today. 

Pentecost

Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, and we rejoice at that great outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the first followers of Jesus. An event which is often referred to as the church’s birthday.

But for reasons which will soon become obvious, I’m going to begin by taking you back to the Feast of the Ascension; a Feast which we celebrated just over a week ago.

Now, I don’t know how you picture the Ascension. Perhaps you take it as a literal rising up from the grave followed by a kind of “take off” up to heaven. In which case you’ll understand just how scared a particular gentleman was, in a story which my brother in law, Alan, loves to repeat.

Alan used to live quite close to a church yard in Bristol which adjoined a fairly busy main road and whose surface was a few feet above the pavement. A bit like the church yard which belongs to the Anglican parish church in Sidmouth.

As dusk was approaching on a particular autumn afternoon, a grave digger who’d almost completed his task, climbed up out of the freshly dug grave and spoke to a passer- by on the other side of the wall. “Excuse me, mate,” he said “Do you know what the time is?”

Well, I don’t think the passer by stopped to give the grave digger an answer!

Maybe he had a very literal understanding of resurrection and ascension, but, you see, perhaps one of the most important things about the Ascension is not whether it’s literally true, but rather that it teaches us something new about heaven. It teaches us that because Jesus took it there, our human nature is always in the presence of God

And now, as a result of Pentecost, as a result of the coming of the Holy Spirit in this new way, God’s life is also made permanently present through human life. So you see, Ascension and Pentecost actually go together. They link the human with the divine; in both directions, so to speak.

This means that being religious, or knowing Jesus, can have nothing to do with escaping from being human. You may think you know Jesus because you come to church, have warm feelings and act in a very pious way. But if you also live your life by behaving badly to other people, then I’m afraid your behaviour shows you to be sadly mistaken, because you’re actually living a lie.

It was the departure of Jesus that made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit; and what the Holy Spirit makes present is done on an entirely human level.  The Holy Spirit, the Spirit that was in Christ, constantly makes Jesus present to each of us and continues Christ’s work through us.

Think about this for a moment; we’re agents of the Holy Spirit. He channels the words and actions of Jesus, through us; but they originate in Jesus.

So the real work of Christian witness is the task of the Holy Spirit. In a very real sense when a Christian person is moved to Christian action, this is the Holy Spirit at work. Christ walks into hospitals, homes and prisons today, wearing your skin and talking with your voice.  Everything that Christ did for his disciples the Holy Spirit will do for us.

Just as Christ taught, corrected and encouraged his disciples, so the Holy Spirit teaches, strengthens and corrects us.

We know the Holy Spirit, we know Jesus, as a result of the way in which he changes our lives. The Holy Spirit becomes joined to us in a very real way, so that through us Christ continues his work.

Now, much of what we hear about the Holy Spirit has to do with dramatic things. Signs and wonders. Tongues of fire and ecstatic experiences, and I don’t want to suggest that these aren’t important.

You may or you may not be blessed in this way. This may be one way in which the Holy Spirit shows Himself in your life. But please don’t worry if this isn’t your experience, because it’s more important to be able to recognise the Holy Spirit who brings Christ, by the effects that take place in your life.

Do you remember Jesus said something very similar about the Holy Spirit in a conversation which he had with Nicodemus?  He made the point that we learned things about the wind by looking at the results of a storm. He was also making the point that  we should recognise the activity of the Spirit by the results of his work.

And the way in which the Spirit works is by using all of those ordinary things which are available to us. Our powers of reasoning, for example, which include the ability which we’ve been given to listen and to learn.

He’ll  also use  other Christian men and women by giving them gifts of teaching and preaching and advice. Some people are used by the Spirit as channels through which He’ll draw us closer to Him through music or art or loving concern. But again and again his communications with us are through other human beings.

I’ve laboured this point because it’s very common for us to want to think that religious experiences are all about getting away from the ordinary things of every -day life, and soaring into the heavenly realms to be close to the Lord and away from all the dreary common stuff.

The tragedy is that this is actually a mistake, because it’s quite easy to be religious without necessarily being a Christian.

But think for a  moment. God’s most amazing revelation of Himself was through the humanity of Jesus. Wouldn’t it therefore be quite likely that He’d use the Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, within the ordinary bits of His creation. Bits like me and you?

And so, don’t worry if you don’t speak in tongues , or if when people ask you whether you’ve  been born again, you feel that you don’t really understand them.

The thing to worry about is when any warm feelings you might have about knowing Jesus become a substitute for his work. Work which will always bring you closer to the common and messy things of everyday life; the sick, the suffering, the poor and those on the margins. Worry when the most important thing about your Christian life is the way in which you worship rather than the way in which you treat other people.

God will keep His promises made through Jesus about the presence and the work of The Holy Spirit. My prayer is that our eyes and our ears may be opened to His presence and work all around us and through us; for that is where he is and what he does.

He can even work through the retelling of a silly story about a grave digger!

Amen.

John 17: 1-11

This gospel reading gives us an account of the beginning of the great prayer of Jesus for his followers. A prayer which is full of love and thanksgiving, a prayer from the heart of Jesus to the heart of his Father, and one which, if we’re honest, leaves us feeling that our own prayers are pretty poor efforts.

Now, perhaps for much of the time you’ll find prayer hard work. You’ll be tempted to give up, or to say what you feel you should, as quickly as you can, without letting on to all of your more holy friends that you have difficulties which you can’t imagine they would ever share!

Some of them will tell you it’s childish to ask God for things because God knows what we need, and will always do the best for us. Proper grown up prayer, they will say, should be confined to thanksgiving and praise.

And this, I think, is one of those beliefs which can make honest prayer so very difficult.

We must never forget that the prayer which Jesus gave us is full of requests to God. Requests for food, for forgiveness and for protection .And what’s more, he told us to pester God, just like we might pester a neighbour for something we badly need, even when the neighbour’s gone to bed.

So, uncomplicated prayer is good for us, not because our prayer somehow changes God’s mind but because through it, God helps us to understand that we’re his children and he’s our loving Father.

Of course, we have to pray for the right things, but those people who tell you the right things are all those spiritual ones like becoming more generous and high minded, aren’t necessarily correct.  If we’re going to be honest with God we should pray for what we want and not just for what we think we ought to want.

So, when you pray, think about what you need or want, and then ask for that. It doesn’t matter very much if you just want help to pay the gas bill, or need a new car. Pray for that. You could let world peace rest for a bit, because you may not be ready just yet, to want that passionately.

When we pray, we need to come before God as honestly as we can, because pretending to him is just wasting our time.

God accepts us as we are, and when we come to him honestly he’s delighted to listen to us.

In true prayer God meets us where we are, and will gently move us on. If we acknowledge our most childish desires to God in prayer, then God will help us to grow up a bit by very patiently showing us that in fact we have deeper and more mature desires. And it’s only by taking the risk in prayer that this can be revealed to us.

It’s pointless in pretending that we have deep spiritual desires when we don’t. We need to grow up into those. After all, if a child is treated like an adult, he or she will never grow up. Prayer is the way in which our Father in heaven leads us, each one by a different path, to be with him.

All prayer is answered if it’s real and not just make-believe. Either God gives us exactly what we ask for, and this is very common, or else God will know that we’re now ready to receive more than we asked for. It’s quite likely  that we won’t recognise this at the time of asking, and it may well be that it’s only as we look back that we realise just how God was getting us to understand that our deeper desire was for more than we asked.

The way to grow is to recognise that we haven’t grown, and God doesn’t mind that at all. Because like everything else, prayer starts from God and not from us. It’s God who decides that we shall pray, and it’s God who answers our prayers. God is within us, keeping us in being and making us ourselves. Everything we have is God’s free gift to us, and because we so often forget this, from time to time he reminds us . He wants us to see his gifts for what they are, and so he gives them to us in answer to our prayers.  Answers, and miracles then, aren’t just special acts of God’s love, they’re tokens of his permanent love made particularly visible to us.

It’s when we lay our true desires before God that we can begin to see them more clearly. Quite often we may find that they aren’t the things which we really want after all, and as we pray, God leads us to realise that what we really want is God himself. But that’s the end, I think, not the beginning,

For Jesus, the cross was his prayer to bring about that which he’d failed to do. To bring it about through his loving acceptance of failure. And the Father’s answer to that prayer was the resurrection. Christ’s resurrection and ours.

And so it doesn’t matter whether or not we can produce fine words for God. It doesn’t matter that we fail. What matters most is that we’re honest. All our prayers, our simple requests; our struggles to find words for feelings which we fear to bring to God, are joined to this great prayer of Jesus, and so really become a sharing in the prayer of the cross.

And that’s why the Eucharist is the greatest of our prayers, because it’s the sign, the sacrament of the cross. The way by which we’re joined to the prayer and the sacrifice of Jesus, and through it taken right into the loving heart of God.

Amen.

John 14: 15-21

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

It seems then, that in order to receive this Counsellor sent by God, we must love and obey Jesus. So, 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 recognize 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 realisation 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 we begin to doubt some of the basic teachings of our faith; the next time 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.

John 14: 1-12

“Jesus said “ No one comes to the Father except through me.”

What a breath-taking claim. There are about five thousand million people alive today and countless millions have lived in the past. Most of them have thought about God in one way or another, and now amongst all these teeming millions it’s being claimed that no one comes to God except through this individual Palestinian carpenter. What can this amazing statement mean?

Well, a road between two places ends or begins at either place. Which place is the beginning and which is the end depends on the way you choose to look at the map. And so I think we come to the Father in Jesus Christ not because he’s revealed to us the way by which we may go, but because Jesus is the way in which the Father comes to us. And when the Father comes to us in the human life of Jesus, it isn’t to show us how to be successful at coming to him. It isn’t to give us a few tips so that we can use this knowledge to let ourselves in to God’s presence.  Because after all, Jesus came to us as a complete failure.

The Word was made flesh not to make us better informed or to teach us new secrets which will unlock heaven for us. The secret of Christianity is that it has no secret. It just asks us to accept and submit to the way and the truth and the life which is God’s. And when we ask what that might be, Christianity does not take us to some special teaching or a code of laws. It takes us to a defeated human being hanging from a cross.

The gospel teaches that human beings don’t need to strive to come to God the Father, because God the Father is taking the whole human race to himself.

There’s no wisdom, or secret or special instruction by which we come to the Father. The good news is that the Father comes to us.  Christians don’t have faith in themselves; in their success or their understanding. Their faith is in the power of God, which appears as weakness. And by accepting this weakness, by living in the dark place by faith, they share in Christ’s victory.

In Jesus we don’t understand God, but we can watch God understanding himself. God’s understanding of God is that he throws himself away in love. He keeps nothing back for himself. God is love that accepts us without any conditions at all. A love that will let us be ourselves, even if we want to be his murderers.

God’s understanding of God is not that he has a special message with a special way of living to which he wants us to conform. God doesn’t appear to us as someone who wants to found a new and better religion with rules and regulations laid upon us for all time. He simply wants us to be fully human, like Jesus. To be fully human even if it kills us.

God says “I accept you as human beings, what a pity you have such difficulty in doing this yourselves, because you know ,you don’t need to pretend to be super-human. I accept you as you are.”

This was the message of Jesus. And we can be filled with it. To be in Christ, is to be filled with joy. To be filled with the Holy Spirit in such a way that the joy is sometimes too great for us to understand.

The Word made flesh was Christ crucified. But that is God’s way, and the way and the truth and the life for us is to be prepared to go into the dark with Christ. When we go into the dark with Christ, when we die with him then we live with him. And that life will one day soon show itself for what it truly is , and we shall live forever with the Father, through Christ in the joy which is the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

John 10: 1-10

Do you remember when you were quite small and at primary school, older people would often say to you:

“Never forget, your school days are the happiest of your life.”?

That used to puzzle me, especially when things weren’t going too well. I can see now how I was really being told that as I grew older I would have a lot more to worry about; but of course it wasn’t put quite like that.

It was also common to be asked “What do you want to be when you leave school?” and that wasn’t so bad. I can’t really speak for little girls, but I expect lots of them would say “a nurse” or “a teacher.”  However, I can speak for little boys, and I know most of them at one time or another would answer by saying that they wanted to be a train driver. The interesting thing is that, when I was small, it would have been very rare for a child to have been attracted to a particular job because of its salary, or because of the fame which was attached to it.

How things have changed!

You can’t turn the television on today without stumbling over a so-called “reality show”.

The X –factor; Britain’s Got Talent; The Voice; and I’m sure you could think of others.

Now, many of the contestants do have talent, but the vast majority of them don’t. They just want to be famous; they want “celebrity status”; and indeed it’s not uncommon today for a child to answer the question “What do you want to be when you leave school?” by actually telling you that they want to be a celebrity. They’re not much concerned about the type of work, but they’re very keen indeed on the money, the life style and the happiness which they think celebrities enjoy.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” But what does He mean? Many people in our modern world would say that a full life is one which has all of the things which money can buy. That’s why the cult of the celebrity is so popular. Fame, and the money which it brings, are seen as the way to a full and satisfying life. But Jesus certainly didn’t mean that.

Perhaps most of us have sometimes wondered what it might be like to win The Lottery. I know I have, but when I day dream like this it’s good for me to be reminded of one of my most treasured possessions. No amount of Lottery money could buy it. Let me tell you what it is.

It’s a little hand-made envelope and I found it on the table when I sat down for tea one evening in May, 40 years ago. The front of the envelope had the word “Daddy” written on it in a child’s hand. It was from my eldest son, James, who was six at the time. I opened the envelope and inside there was a little note; it just said; “I love you.”

I don’t need to explain to you how the love of a child for his daddy is so amazingly precious. Celebrity status fades away in comparison. That little boy is in his mid-forties now, now but he still tells both me and his mother that he loves us. His younger brother does the same, and I thank God that my family has been blessed with so much love.

You see, love is the most precious thing there is, and when we’re blessed with human love it makes it easier to understand a little bit more about the love which God has shown us through Jesus.

We’ve just heard Jesus say “I am the Good Shepherd,” and this is one of seven sayings which he uses to tell us who He is in relation to us; indeed, who God is in relation to us.

You may remember Jesus also said;

“I am the bread of life; I am light of the world; I am the Way the truth and the Life; I am the Gate for the sheep; I am the True Vine; and I am the resurrection and the Life. “

These are all invitations into a lifelong relationship with Jesus, and they’re all statements of love.

A little while back I went to see “Les Miserables” at the cinema, and perhaps you’ll remember the closing scene when Valjean is dying. Let me remind you of a verse from the last song. It goes like this:

“Take my hand and lead me to salvation,

Take my love, for love is everlasting,

And remember the truth that once was spoken:

To love another person is to see the face of God “

You may believe then, that when, with love, we look into the face of Jesus we see nothing less than the face of God. The God who in Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laid down his life for his sheep.

This is a measure of God’s love for us.

I know that I would, without question, give my life for my children and grand-children; however, I would have to think long and hard if I was asked to do the same thing for someone else. But God did just this in Christ Jesus for all of us. He loves us that much; and it’s when the Holy Spirit moves us into a deeper understanding of this that we begin to appreciate what St John meant when he wrote;

“God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son so that all who believed in him should not perish but might have everlasting life.”

A life whose final glory awaits us when we move through death into a greater awareness of it’s fullness in God’s presence.  A life whose fullness has nothing to do with status or material wealth, but one which is overflowing with love.

A love which George Matheson described so well in his famous hymn, when he wrote:

O Love that will not let me go

I rest my weary soul in thee

I give thee back the life I owe

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

A love-filled life which Jesus spoke of in the promise which we’ve been thinking about just now. The promise which he made when he said: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”

Homily for Tom Corrigan

By Fr. Anthony

I first met Tom just over three years ago when I came to work in Axminster. He was, with Ruth, a faithful and committed Christian and I often wish that I’d known him in his younger days, because I know that he was full of stories and could tell them as only the Irish can.

It was a joy to minister to him and over the last three years, to take him the Sacrament both at home in Chard, and later, in hospital here in Taunton. Ruth will remember that visit quite clearly because we got lost en- route somewhere in the backwoods between Yarcombe and Churchstanton. But we made it and it was a pleasure to see how Tom was progressing.

I think the things which I will remember most clearly about Tom apart from  his smiling eyes were his great gentleness, and the way in which he was always pleased to see me.  He was as far as I knew him, a kind, patient, man; and although we haven’t used that piece of scripture today, do you remember that in his letter to the Christians at Corinth , St Paul wrote about love? He told us that love was patient, gentle and kind and so, you see, when we see a Christian person showing us patience, gentleness and kindness then we can recognise the presence of love in that person’s life. We can take heart then, because we know that Tom was filled with Christian love . St Paul also taught us that love never fails. Love lasts for ever. Love never dies because to be filled with love means to be filled with God.

Today is sad, because we can’t do any of those loving things which we need so much. We can’t get close to each other, we can’t hug each other, we can’t even shake hands, and the only “goodbye” that I can say to you today will be the one which I will say from this podium in a few minutes time. But these days will pass, and soon we will be able to do all of those things in church which I know Tom would have wanted. We will have a Requiem Mass and dare I say it, we’ll also have a party.

I think Tom knows this. Jesus said in the Gospel passage which we heard just now that he was going to prepare a place for his friends. A place where the love which is ours on earth can continue to grow. A place where Tom is waiting for Ruth and where their love will continue for ever, in the presence of the love of God our Father. It is to this God that we confidently commend Tom today. May he rest in peace, because he was truly a friend of Jesus. Amen