Sunday, 14 September 2014
Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, of the triumph of the Cross of Christ. There are a great many truths we can rejoice in on this day (even if it might seem odd to rejoice in such a bad thing as the DEATH of Jesus), but the thing I wish to focus on this year is how it serves as a model for how God brings good out of bad.
Our Faith teaches us, as a certain and foundational truth revealed in Sacred Scripture, that God created the world perfect: without sin and without suffering. Our experience of life is so marked by these two intertwined realities that we find it hard to imagine existence without them, yet, Scripture attests that God made the cosmos without them, and that these two things entered creation together: sin, and with that disruption to the fabric of the cosmos, suffering.
The point is this, however: that God did not abandon His Fallen creation. Rather, He fashioned the remedy out of the problem.
An image of this was described in our first reading, with the serpent on the staff:
The serpents' bite brought death,
Then, God had Moses fashion an image of a serpent and mount it on a staff, lifted it up, and all who gazed upon it were saved.
Similarly, the death of Christ on the Cross, the putting-to-death of God-made-flesh, this rejection of God was the ultimate expression of all of humanity's rejection of God, the rejection that brings death to the world.
Yet, the death of Christ was “according to the plan and foreknowledge of God”(Acts 2:23), to be the means of our salvation.
So that when we fall in sin we might look upon Him who was 'lifted up', turn to Him and be saved.
God fashioned the solution out of the problem.
And so it is repeatedly in my life.
When I sin, or fail, or suffer: out of this problem my solution is fashioned.
For example, I have some grand scheme, and it fails. But then, in my weakness I let myself be humble, I turn to Him who is 'lifted up', and my weakness brings me to His strength.
More particularly, when fail in those particular 'failings' that are sins: again, my weakness forces me to turn to His strength: to His mercy, His forgiveness. I turn to Him who is 'lifted up', and my sin, ironically, brings me to His grace and virtue.
And my sufferings too, not just the moral ones but the physical ones:
Sometimes they come with such timing that they prevent my sins;
Sometimes they come on such occasions that they make me humble;
And ALWAYS they come in such a way that I can bring them to Christ, I can look to Him 'lifted up' -and find, in Him, something better that what I have lost in my suffering.
So, today, as we celebrate the triumph of the Holy Cross, let us recall how God brings great things out of evil, how He fashions the solution out of the problems we create, and in whatever situation we find ourselves, let us turn to Him 'lifted up' upon the Cross.
Sunday, 7 September 2014
Today we keep our annual harvest festival, when we give thanks to God for the good things He gives us, and we bring symbols of the first-fruits of the harvest here to church.
This year, for our harvest thoughts, I'd like to draw our attention to a teaching from Pope Francis about how we MIS-USE the harvest, how we WASTE food -words that he particularly addresses to us in the rich affluent West.
As you are hopefully aware, Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned what he refers to as our "throw-away" culture (Message for World Food Day, 16th October 2013), noting the way that in the West we dispose of things very freely:
“This scrap culture has also made us insensitive to waste, including food waste, which is even more reprehensible when in every part of the world, unfortunately, many people and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. [but] Consumerism has led us to become accustomed to the superfluous and the daily waste of food, which we are sometimes no longer able to value correctly, as its value goes far beyond mere economic parameters. Note well, though, that the food we throw away is as if we had stolen it from the table of the poor or the hungry!" (Pope Francis, World Environment Day, 5th June 2013)
Pope Francis is saying this, in part, because he is from Latin America, because he has lived amidst poverty levels that most of us can't really comprehend. And it seems to be God's gift to the Church at this moment in time that those of us in the West are being harangued by this non-Western pope.
But, he is also saying this in continuity with others popes and as part of the duty of every pope to live out what we heard in our first reading, from Ezekiel. About how the shepherd of the people is to be a guard against evil, a "sentry" denouncing wickedness -in the hope that the wicked man might turn from his evil ways and live.
So, How are we to respond to what the Pope is saying?
Well, part of the antidote to living a "throw away" lifestyle is to instead buy things with the intention of GIVING many things away. So it's suitable that we accompany our harvest thanksgiving by giving to others, as we do each year. This year our collection will go to support those suffering in Gaza. Pope Francis has been saying a lot over the summer to draw our attention to the suffering of those in Gaza and Iraq, and especially to draw the attention of the world to the plight of Christians per se in those countries -who have suffered particular neglect, and we have a particular duty to remember them, for they are our brothers and sisters in the Faith.
We had a collection for Iraq a few weeks ago, and so today's will be for Gaza, and there are envelopes for that on your pews.
In doing this we are, at least in part, living out what we heard St. Paul speak about in our second reading, about how love fulfils every one of the commands.
But to close by returning, more directly, to the Pope's point about "wasting" food. I know, for myself, that it seems that the moment when the food is "wasted" is when I have done the BUYING, when I have bought more than I actually need -once it is home in the fridge it's too late: STUFFING myself in gluttony to avoid it rotting just adds one sin to another, it is to miss the point -I had bought more than was appropriate.
The way to avoid this, Pope Francis is saying, is to "value correctly" the food to begin with: to value it not merely economically but with respect to the poor, with respect to other humans. And, most fundamentally, to value it with respect to God -the source of all good things. The antidote to the "throw away" culture is to treasure and value things more because I see them all as coming form His hand. And so, giving thanks as we do today, is an important way to combat within ourselves the "throw away" culture the Pope is talking about.
Sunday, 31 August 2014
Today, I’d like to speak to you about the danger of being a good person: it may get you hated; it may get you killed.
I speak of this in the light of three things:
First, our first reading, from Jeremiah, which recalled how doing the Lord’s work had brought “insult [and] derision” (Jer 20:8) for him. Jeremiah was a good man, one of greatest of the prophets, but the Lord had given him a tough task: He lived at a time when the people were being unusually unfaithful to the Lord’s commands, and doom, destruction, and exile in captivity were about to descend on them as punishment for their sins. And he had job of warning them, while there was still time. But it was not a happy message, “I have to howl and proclaim: ‘Violence and ruin!’”(Jer 20:8). And instead of welcoming his message the people stoned an imprisoned him. And we sometimes face a similar reaction when we need to tell people things that they need pointing out to them: if they are stealing at work, or living with someone they shouldn’t be, or neglecting to care for their children etc.
Second, our gospel text, in which the Lord prophesied His approaching crucifixion and taught His disciples that ANYONE who wishes to be His follower has to recognise that it involves “taking up the cross”(c.f. Mt 16:24). And, among the most immediate aspects of that Cross is what other people do to us precisely BECAUSE we are following the Lord, because we are being good.
Thirdly, in light of St Edward. As you know, our parish pilgrimage was this Wednesday, and we went to the site outside Corfe Castle where our parish patron, St Edward, was martyred. He was killed, martyred. Why? Because he was a good person.
Now, its important for me to emphasise this point because people sometimes say to me: Why do we call St Edward a ‘martyr’, he was killed by his step-mother, so how does that make him a martyr?
[St Edward, you hopefully recall, was the boy king of Wessex: he became king in 975AD at the age of 13, and was murdered by his step-mother when he was 16 –she gave him a cup of poisoned wine and then stabbed him, which is why he is pictured holding those two symbols of his martyrdom (cup and dagger) in the statue of him here in our church.]
But WHY did she kill him, and why did those plotting with her want him dead?
We can see the answer to that question by looking at the reaction of the people to his death:
When St Edward was killed, the people of his day might of reacted in many ways. They might have said, “Well, that’s one more rich selfish king dead.”
But instead, they hailed him as a ‘martyr’ –a word that means a ‘witness’ to Christ. Historically, some martyrs died for refusing to worship the pagan Roman emperors, others died for attending the Mass, but a great many were killed because of the GOODNESS of their lives –and so the Christian tradition uses the title ‘martyr’ for those who were killed out hatred for a good life.
As we know, people respond to goodness in different ways: Many people respond to good people by being edified by their goodness, inspired by it. But it is also possible to look at a good man and feel angry, spiteful, vengeful. To cover up our own sin by hating someone who does NOT sin. As Scripture puts it, “The wicked man plots against the virtuous and grinds his teeth at him”(Ps 37:12). And to be hated and killed by the wicked on account of your goodness is one of ways of being a ‘witness’ a ‘martyr’ for Christ.
And, to return to the reaction of the people of his day when he, St Edward, was killed –and I think the people of his day knew his context and the motives behind his killing better than we can claim to know them today –they could see two clear motives behind his death:
(1) The people of his day recognised that he was killed by EVIL people who hated him for his saintly life.
(2) Further, politically, they recognised that he was killed by people who hated the fact that he stood with the Church and for the Church despite the many political manoeuvrings of his day against the Church.
To conclude, What does this mean for us? It means that we, too, need to be willing to suffer for being good –just as St Edward did, just as the Lord Jesus did: They crucified Jesus, and He taught that following Him likewise bring the cross. But there are two things it also brings: (1) in this life, the strength, joy, and consolation of having the Lord with us because we are being with Him, and, (2) in the next life, the fulfilment of the promise we heard Him make, that “He will reward each one according to his behaviour”(Mt 16:27)
Sunday, 24 August 2014
There is a pastoral letter from the Bishop this Sunday, available via the Diocesan website. Back to normal next weekend.