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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.

Luke 6: 27-36

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.

Amen.

Mark 7; 1-8.

Most people have a preference for a particular way in which to worship, and that’s fine.
But problems arise when we begin to worship the tradition to which we belong, rather than the God to whom the tradition should point. Some Christians aren’t really happy unless they’re immersed in clouds of incense, bowls of holy water and a Latin Mass.
And on the other hand some are unhappy unless they’re continually singing choruses, swaying with their arms in the air, speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit, and asking you if you’ve been “saved.”

Well, my preference is for traditional Catholic simplicity, but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy sharing worship with my more flamboyant Catholic brethren. And although I think many Protestant liturgical traditions are very dull and have denied themselves access to much joy and grace, I respect the integrity behind their traditions.

However, I do have a problem with any tradition which defines itself by excluding others. I do have a problem with Christians who tell you that they have all of the answers. With Christians who aren’t prepared to tolerate any way of worship which is different from their own. With Christians who show by their intolerance and opposition that, actually, they don’t really understand what it means to love one another. With Christians whose behaviour shows that they’ve stepped outside of the Gospel.

And I think this is what Jesus was saying in the reading which we heard just now. Jesus wasn’t opposed to the Temple traditions of his time. He was opposed to the hypocrisy which was a part and parcel of the lives of many of the outwardly religious people with whom he had to do.
He was critical of people who followed the Temple traditions, the ceremonial regulations and the food laws, to the letter , and who then treated their neighbor as though they were something which they’d just stepped in.

You see, it doesn’t matter how tightly we’re attached to a particular tradition. It doesn’t matter how clean our ritual worship of God is, within whichever tradition to which we belong. It will be made dirty when we are made unclean by the way in which we live our lives.

Jesus had some very severe criticism for some of the religious leaders of his day and we’ve heard a bit of it just now. I think the Pharisees probably got a worse press than they deserved, because some of them undoubtedly cared for their people. But I guess many of them went through a kind of charade, with an outward show of religiosity which covered up a selfish and proud inner nature .

I expect most of us know people like this; but, you know perhaps it’s more important for us to look at our own behavior before we get judgmental. We need to ask ourselves questions like:

What is there in our religion that is pharisaic?

Are we seriously trying to get nearer to Christ, or are we like those Pharisees who made strenuous efforts to win people to their own religious views without bringing them any nearer to God?

Do our efforts to win people really help them to open their lives to God or just draw them into our own habits and prejudices?
Do we have a formal outward appearance of piety which hides flaws in our lives?

The passage which we heard just now tells us that theft, murder, adultery, greed, sexual immorality, jealousy, envy and deceit, will make our clean rituals dirty. And these are the things which we should attend to before we fill up the thurible or refuse to share worship with someone, because we differ on a fine theological point.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God who is Father of all. And yet I know Baptists who don’t have much to do with Roman Catholics; I know Roman Catholics who don’t have much to do with Anglicans and I know many Anglicans who don’t have much to do with anybody, including each other!

Do you really think that people who don’t belong to any church tradition can look at us and say “see how those Christians love each other”?
Isn’t it time we stopped our silliness and took God seriously.

The God who said, through Jesus “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. The God who loves us all so much that he gave us his only begotten Son, so that in him we might live for ever?

Amen.

A Note on Gift Aid

At the end of December 2016, weekly Gift Aid envelopes were discontinued in our three parishes of Axminster, Lyme Regis and Seaton.  Our parishes now take advantage of the Gift Aid Small Donation Scheme or ‘GASDS’ which allows us to claim back tax (within certain parameters) from cash put anonymously into the plate at Mass.

Understandably there was initial concern at the change, but the administrative burden on our parish volunteers is now very much lighter as there is now no need to record an individual’s donation each week.

Bank Standing Orders:

There are advantages to our parishes for individuals to donate by ‘Gift Aid’ by Bank Standing Order (BSO).  With the GASDS plate arrangement, there is an annual ceiling figure per parish above which tax cannot be claimed, so Parish Gift-Aid Organizers (and our Treasurer) would be happy to discuss Gift Aid with anyone who would like to become a donor in their own right. Our Gift-Aid contacts are:

Axminster – Peter Porteous
Lyme Regis – Mike Hamerton
Seaton – Tom and Julie Dunnon

Our Treasurer – Monica Watts-Hunt

Please see one of the above if you would like to become a Gift Aid donor through Bank Standing Order.

There is a new envelope for One-Off Gift Aid Donations

These envelopes will be held by the Parish Gift Aid parish contacts for the strict purpose of collecting ‘one-off’ donations from donors who are not registered in the parishes for Gift Aid. The occasions when these envelopes might be used are by visitors to the parish or for donations during special services such as a wedding. The envelopes are accountable to HMRC so our Parish contacts are briefed to give them out and collect them back for counting .

If you have any query concerning Gift Aid, please contact your church contact as above after Mass or call the Axminster presbytery office (number on the website).

Biography – Fr. Anthony

Fr Anthony attended Grammar School in Bristol before reading for a BSc in Chemistry at Leeds University. He remained at Leeds for a post-graduate year in order to study chemical engineering and fuel science, and was subsequently appointed as a process engineer within the Gas Industry.

Town gas production stopped after the discovery of natural gas in the North Sea, and after a year or so in customer service work Fr Anthony returned to University in order to qualify as a teacher. He taught chemistry and mathematics at a College of Further Education and did some occasional teaching in a local prison. A full time appointment as an Education Officer in a Young Offender Institution was followed by a secondment to Birmingham University to read for a Master’s degree in the Psychology of Education. Work with boys whose learning difficulties were associated with emotional and behavioural problems followed, and it was whilst he was Deputy Head at a special boarding school that Fr Anthony asked that his vocation to ordained ministry be tested. He gained a Theology degree from Exeter University and was subsequently ordained as an Anglican deacon and then priest. He served his Anglican title at St Gregory’s church in Seaton as assistant curate to Revd Tim Schofield before being appointed as an assistant chaplain at Wonford Hospital.

The last six years of his Anglican Ministry were spent as a Team Vicar in the Rectorial Benefice of Aberavon (Port Talbot), before returning to live in Seaton.

The decision to leave the Church of England was made shortly afterwards, and both Fr Anthony and Susan, his wife, were received into the Church of Rome at the same time. Three years of part time formation at Allen Hall Seminary followed, during which time Msgr Mark O’Toole was Rector. Fr Anthony was ordained deacon by Bishop Mark on 2 March 2014 and priest on 21 June in the same year. He was incardinated into the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and shortly afterwards began to work as a part time assistant Catholic Chaplain at HMP Exeter.

In August of 2016 he was asked if he would help as a permanent supply priest at Axminster, Seaton and Lyme Regis following the sad death of Fr Michael Koppel, and in March of this year, with the agreement of his Ordinary, Msgr Keith Newton, Bishop Mark appointed Fr Anthony as parish priest.

Fr Anthony has two grown up sons and two small grandsons who are the delight of his life. He believes there should be a seamless join between liturgical and pastoral work and to that end he puts great emphasis on sharing in the joys and the sorrows of those amongst whom he has been placed.

On 8 August 2018, Fr Anthony formally petitioned Bishop Mark O’Toole, Bishop of Plymouth, requesting incardination into the Diocese of Plymouth

On 24 January 2019, the Right Revd Mgr Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham wrote to Bishop Mark, informing him that  he had granted Anthony’s request for a Letter of Excardination from his Ordinariate, in accordance with Canon 2671., and on 10 March 2019 Bishop Mark incardinated Fr Anthony into the Diocese of Plymouth, with all the canonical rights and obligations which arise from that bond,

It’s been a long journey, but at last Fr Anthony can say with confidence that he believes he is  where he has been called to serve, and he is grateful for the privilege which you have given him.

PFG Constitution

It is laid down that every parish must have a Finance Committee to assist the Parish Priest in the administration of the goods of the parish.  The Constitution of the Finance Committee is governed by universal canon law and by the norms laid down by the Bishop.

For greater detail on its responsibilities, please click the link below

parish-administration-group-constitution

Gift Aid planning

The article from our Treasurer in the recent Three Parish Magazine (Issue 16, page 14) and also copied here on the website, will explain why the decision was taken to discontinue the weekly Gift Aid donations. It is through the Gift Aid Small Donation Scheme or ‘GASDS’, that our three parishes can now, within certain parameters, claim back tax from cash put anonymously into the plate at Mass.

You will appreciate that the weekly donation process has been running at a cost to the three parishes for such items as envelope purchase, the time given by volunteers, the keeping of weekly records of each parishioner’s donations, the counting arrangements and storage of used envelopes for seven years for audit purposes.

But there is, a potential difficulty with the GASDS plate arrangement in that there is an annual ceiling figure per parish above which tax cannot be claimed.  However! The arrangement for individuals who make Gift Aid donations has not altered and here there is no ceiling, except for that within each individual’s tax arrangements.

There are continuing advantages therefore to the parish of Gift Aid giving by Bank Standing Order, so if you are a regular donor, may we request you consider transfer to a Bank Standing Order arrangement?  It would be of considerable help to our parishes at a time of falling revenues in a rough world.

If you used to be a weekly Gift Aid donor, to give by monthly Bank Standing Order, there is no need to sign the Gift Aid Declaration form again.  It is just a matter of completing the Banker’s Order and also making a copy of the same form for our Treasurer so that he knows to expect the new donation.

Bank Standing Orders (BSO)

If you would like to transfer to a monthly, quarterly or annual donation, please would you 1) inform your Bank using the BSO form for the Parish you attend and 2) make a copy the same information for our Treasurer (Col Brian Williams). 

For the copy to the Treasurer, please forward the form and address it to ‘The Treasurer’ at: The Office, St Mary’s RC Church, Lyme Road, Axminster, EX13 5BE, in an envelope marked ‘In Confidence’.

For copies of the BSO form, these are available from:  Peter Porteous for Axminster;  Mike Hamerton for Lyme Regis;  Tom or Julie Dunnon at Seaton.

Please Note:  Our three parishes have unique BSO forms as they give the Bank details for each of our parishes.  If you would prefer to set up your BSO on line, then you will need the number from the paper form.  Please also remember to get a copy to the Treasurer!