“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
Jesus reminded his Jewish followers that God had chosen them to be a people through whom he would show the world just what he was like. They were to do this by watching and imitating God. They weren’t chosen because they were his favorites. They were chosen for service.
They were chosen to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Through them, God was going to bless everybody, and here was Jesus really opening this up in his own person. By teaching all who would listen, that they mustn’t respond to bad treatment with more of the same, because that wasn’t the way of the God who wanted to reveal himself to the whole world, through them.
The Jewish people knew all about being treated unfairly by their many enemies. Their history is soaked in oppression; it must have been almost unbearable to have been occupied by nation after nation of foreigners who’d conquered them. They knew all about being treated harshly. They’d been conquered in war; taken into exile. Imprisoned, taxed, tortured and killed. And the Roman occupation at the time of Jesus was just another in a long line.
On top of all this there were divisions within Jewish society itself. Just like the way in which we can see our own society divided. A few people were very rich, often at the expense of ordinary folk , most of whom were poor; some, very poor indeed.
The justice system, which we can read about in the Old Testament, and to which Jesus refers in our passage today, and expands in Mathews version of the same account ,was designed so that revenge didn’t run away into escalating violence.
“An eye for an eye” might seem harsh to us, but it was a lot less harsh than the blood feuds which were so common in the Middle East, and which we can still see in Muslim communities today, which often turn a blind eye to vengeance in the name of “family honour.”
And so it can help us to see that what we might consider to be permission to meet violence with violence was really an attempt to keep violence in control by setting strong limits to revenge.
Jesus, took this seed of God’s word, and grew it up into the plant which it contained. The plant which would show very clearly, the astonishingly patient love of God. The God who wanted Israel to reflect his patient and gentle love into the world in which they lived.
The examples which he gave, might seem strange to us , but they were very real instances of the kind of thing which was common place in the time of Jesus.
We don’t insult someone by hitting them on the right cheek with the back of our right hand. But this was a pretty standard way of insulting someone 2000 years ago. Modern soldiers don’t order civilians to carry their packs, but this was a standard procedure for the Roman Army.
So we need to see these illustrations as little examples designed to give us the general idea. We need to think our own situations through like this. What would we need to do in order to reflect God’s generous love into our world despite the pressure and the provocation which we may be facing? How should we behave in spite of our own anger and frustration?
And when we’ve worked out the answers and try to live by them, we’ll fail time after time. All of our good intentions and our fresh starts will seem to evaporate with the rising sun.
But when we feel like this, we should remember the good news was that Jesus didn’t just talk about all of this. He did it himself. When he was mocked, he didn’t respond. When he was challenged he often replied with humorous stories which forced his opponents to think again. When he was struck, he took the pain. When he was nailed to the cross, he prayed for his executioners.
The Sermon on the Mount, of which this passage is a part, isn’t just about how to behave. It’s about discovering the living God in the loving and dying Jesus.
And when we begin to make that discovery then we can begin to learn how to reflect that love in our own lives, into a world that needs it so badly. Yes, this will take time, and yes, we shall often fail. But we have no reason to despair.
Everything that’s necessary has been done. We know how we need to respond, and it’s really very simple.
As we believe on the Lord, his Holy Spirit takes possession of us and changes us into images of Jesus.
This transformation of us into Christ is called sanctification, and it’s going on in us often at a level of which we are not always aware.
But it is taking place, sometimes very quickly, and sometimes very slowly. Please believe this, and draw comfort. Especially if a part of what you’ve heard today makes you feel uncomfortable.
Yes, of course we need all the help that we can get. We need the presence of Jesus in each other. We need to meet him in his Holy Word and in the sacraments of the Church. We need to be constantly reminded through the sacrament of reconciliation, so sadly almost forgotten now, that God loves us despite our failures.
But when we do allow him to serve us like this; as he’s formed in us, so do we begin to think, talk and act like him. And then, we too will learn to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.