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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (16th of the Year)
Gospel: Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
For several years a lawyer and a doctor had regularly played golf together. They were evenly matched, and there was a keen sense of rivalry. Then one spring the lawyer's game suddenly improved so much that the doctor was losing regularly. The doctor's efforts to improve his own game were unsuccessful, but finally he came up with an idea. At a bookstore he picked out three how-to-play golf texts, and sent them to the lawyer for a birthday present. It wasn't long before they were evenly matched again.

We often fall victim to “expert opinion” don’t we? We listen to someone, and if we think they are confident enough in what they are saying, we think that they must know. How many times has that “expert opinion” been proven wrong? How many times do we make judgements about people and situations – only to find these pre-suppositions to be inaccurate as well…?
I like the servants in this morning’s Gospel – they obviously wanted to create a good impression with their boss; but sadly knew little about farming. The servants have the bright idea that the weeds should be uprooted. The farmer, fortunately, considered this foolishness - such zealous weeding would damage the wheat. The problem, as I found out when I looked this up – not being a farmer myself – is that the two young plants look almost identical when very young and the darnel entwines its roots around those of the wheat. Therefore if you were to attempt to pull out the darnel, as the servants requested, you would also pull out the roots of the wheat and thus spoil the whole crop. Once it had been harvested, it was very easy to spot the darnel because its seeds were grey in colour and could therefore easily be removed.
As I have reflected on this parable, I have been asking some tough questions that seem to arise from it… Is Jesus questioning the right of the Jews to be called the Chosen of God? They had their own “experts” in the Teachers of the Law who were relying on that principle of chosen-ness but not on what responsibilities came with it. Does salvation belong to the one who is born into it, or to the one who truly accepts it? Is salvation creating an ‘us or them’ scenario?
The Law which established the Jewish nation is truly of God, and reveals His will and His purpose not only for Israel but for the whole human race. But it is fulfilled, brought to its completion, in the person of Jesus Christ, whose word has gone out to all the earth. The Law was there to make Israel a light for the nations, not to shut the nations out from God's Kingdom. Jesus goes on to say that, until the end of time, the children of the Kingdom and the subjects of the Evil One will be very hard to tell apart; no manner of physical appearance, social custom or tongue, no badge or identity card, will tell you who is who among the Children of God.
And there is another part to this story; at the end of time there will be judgement, that judgement which belongs to God alone. But that judgement is not our task. Our task is to preach the Gospel, to all the peoples of the world. And who are we to judge, in any case? Who are we listening to ourselves – in the clamour of the multitudinous voices out there, each demanding that their ‘truth’ is the correct one? Can we rely on ourselves as humans and what we believe to be our own expertise –and what if we get it wrong?
It can all be so confusing, can’t it? St Paul, in writing to the Romans, suggests that, “All creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time…and we too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as His children.” (8: 22ff).
The Christian Church was, for centuries, so confidently sure about what the wheat was and what the weeds were that the Church itself became a power of destruction. European history is littered with examples of this. The European Church, with confidence set about burning the weeds in an attempt to maintain its own purity as the wheat. We can learn from our history though and the Church has learnt from such mistakes. And the challenge that remains is still for each one of us today - Shall we preach the Gospel of Christ by turning hardened faces towards those who are 'different' to us, or by reaching out with words and acts of love?

We have been saved through God’s love – and are called to be His children. We cannot boast in this fact or of how well we have done – He has done it for us. What we can do is share that love with others so that, “at the end of the world… the godly will then shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom.”
For to Him belongs the power and the glory for ever and ever! Amen


Trinity Sunday 2014
Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20
Once there was a briar growing in a ditch and there came along a gardener with his spade. As he dug around it and lifted it up the briar said to itself, "What is he doing? Doesn't he know I am a worthless weed?" But the gardener took it into his garden and planted it amid his flowers, while the briar said, "What a mistake he has made planting me among these beautiful roses." Then the gardener came once more and made a slit in the briar with his sharp knife. He grafted it with a rose and when summer came lovely roses were blooming on that old briar.
Then the gardener said, "Your beauty is not due to what came out but to what I put in." - Source Unknown.

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday – it seems I get to preach this one most years! It stands almost alone in the calendar, marking a move away from Pentecost and into Ordinary Time, but not quite in either camp…In fact the Church has divided the Church Year into two almost equal parts; from Advent to Pentecost (with a focus on the price paid for our salvation) and then the second part from Pentecost to Christ the King (with a focus on the teachings of Jesus). Trinity Sunday is a kind of joiner between these two parts.

When it comes to thinking about the Trinity, there are so many ways to describe our belief. However, the overriding thought which has been part of my reflections this year, concerns the relationship of the Trinity. The Trinity is all about the relationship that exists between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the Trinity in the Church calendar because it proclaims the mystery of the divine nature as revealed by Jesus. The most amazing feature of our celebrations of the Trinity is that we have been invited to be part of that relationship. God has placed in each one of us the desire for relationship; especially a relationship with Him.

I had a chuckle when I read this morning’s Gospel in preparing for my sermon - can we spare a thought for the people (ok they were men) that Jesus was talking to? The Disciples had been on a roller-coaster ride of emotions over the last few weeks since His death and Resurrection. To these simple men, Jesus gives this incredible instruction – go out into the world… most of them had probably never even been beyond the borders of Israel – go out into the world? And then in typical fashion Jesus gives them this amazing reassurance, “And I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” It is as if Jesus is giving them the instruction to go out and share the wonderful news that God wants to be in a relationship with the people they meet, people like you and me.

Our Gospel today places the focus on our response to that invitation to relationship… How do we get our minds around that one? The Creator of the universe wants to be in a relationship with you and with me – WOW!! But wait, there are some parts of my life that I am sure God won’t be too happy with, perhaps there are areas where I would rather He wouldn’t look. Suddenly, I am feeling a bit uncomfortable; yes it’s a wow but somehow not as big a wow as before… Pretty soon it’s not a wow at all but something I fear or even dread. And it’s when I come to that space that I am reminded of the words of the gardener, “…Your beauty is not due to what came out but to what I put in…”


St Paul, writing to the Corinthians a second time, offers us some sound advice on how we can live that relationship in a practical way. “Rejoice and change your ways… encourage one another… live in harmony and peace… greet each other in Christian love… and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

And so we are faced with a response to God today – how will you and I respond to His invitation to be in relationship with us? May we constantly remind ourselves that He loves us and wants the best for us; even if we, like that briar, can’t see it for ourselves? To God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be the honour and the glory today and for ever. Amen


St Dunstan’s Day 2014

Gospel: Matthew 24: 42-46

Saint Dunstan retired to Canterbury towards the end of his life to teach at the Cathedral school. There is a sentence in the earliest biography, written by his friend, which tells us of the old man sitting among the boys, whom he treated so gently, and telling them stories of his early days and of his ancestors. And long after his death children prayed to him for protection against harsher teachers, and apparently those prayers were answered.
On Ascension Day, 988 Dunstan was warned by a vision of angels that he had only three days to live. He celebrated at the Eucharist and preached three times to the people during the service - in the last address he announced his impending death and wished the congregation farewell. That afternoon he chose the spot for his tomb, then took to his bed. His strength failed rapidly, and on Saturday morning (19 May), after the hymn at Matins, he called the clergy to assemble and they shared the Eucharist together before he received the anointing of oils and as he died, he uttered the words of thanksgiving from Psalm 111: "The Lord’s marvellous acts have won Him a name to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and merciful. He gives food to those that fear Him and He remembers His covenant for ever…"
I was drawn to that section of St Dunstan’s life as I read through the Gospel for today, especially because Jesus appears to warn the crowds of the opposite, “So be prepared, because you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.”  Dunstan was prepared, after a life of loving God and seeking to do His will, to make that final journey. I take comfort in the fact that he was able to reach out in gentleness to the boys at the school and give them that sense of comfort of knowing God. Jesus goes on to say, “If the Master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward.” Our reward is to be in His loving presence for eternity – wow!
There lies a challenge in those words for us today as well – how are we preparing ourselves to meet Our Lord? Some may argue, but yes Dunstan was a saint – no, he wasn’t; he only became one shortly after his death. He was a normal person, just like you and I, who was seeking the will of God in his daily life. Do we have that kind of faith and devotion? It’s tough in our modern times – it was tough back then too. In some ways it comes down to choosing to follow God on a daily basis, even when we don’t get it right…
St Paul, writing to the people of Corinth, says, “Our dying bodies make us groan and sigh…” Is it just me, or as I get older do those words take on a whole different meaning? There is a very real sense that we find ourselves feeling empty by what the world has to offer, a need for something more. That will only be fulfilled when we find ourselves in the loving embrace of the creator Himself.
So how do we prepare for that meeting?

I think for me, the first thing is to realise that we are part of a community – and that we need that community to help us, especially when times are tough. But also that we need to contribute to that community. Each of us has a part to play in the life of our Cathedral, it is no good to just sit here and to wish for things to be better or whatever – each of us needs to be involved in keeping this Cathedral the vibrant community it is.
Secondly we need to be gentle with each other – as Dunstan was gentle with the boys – and perhaps, most difficult of all, we need to be gentle with ourselves. We need to trust that God is in control and that He is working His will out through us. To remember the words of the Psalmist that God is gracious and merciful and that He will remember His covenant for ever. God loves us, and has called us to be part of the journey with Him – He will carry us through the difficult parts.
Finally we need to commit ourselves, on a daily basis, to seeking and following the will of the One who calls us into community. That is to love God and to love one another – to be a beacon of light and hope and peace to Benoni.
For to Him be the honour and the glory for ever. Amen

Fourth Sunday of Easter 2014

Gospel: John 10: 1-10

I heard an interview a few years back where a shepherd was discussing the difficulties of farming in Scotland – especially in the Highlands. Sheep often wander off into the rocks and then get themselves stuck in places they can’t get out of. Apparently the grass on the mountains is very sweet and the sheep love it so much that they are prepared to jump down 3m to get to a patch of it.
The problem is they can’t jump back up and may be there for days – bleating in distress once they have eaten all the grass. The shepherd explained that they have to wait until the sheep are so faint they can barely stand and only then can the shepherd be lowered on a rope to go and rescue the sheep – they quite literally pull it out of the jaws of death.
The interviewer asked the shepherd why they didn’t just go down to the sheep when they first spotted it? His reply was fascinating, and that’s why I remember it so well. He said, “The sheep are so foolish that they would turn and jump off the cliff in their fear and be killed…”

I was reminded of that interview as I prepared this sermon – especially because it speaks of our own foolishness, doesn’t it? How often do we only turn to God when it’s too late? We get so caught up in our own lives that we forget to look out for danger. Then, when we find ourselves in impossible situations and it seems as if we have lost everything, then we cry out to God…

We are reminded in the morning’s Gospel that the Pharisees, “failed to understand what He was saying to them.” (verse 6). Jesus has spoken about His sheep following Him, “Because they know His voice.” This speaks to me about relationship – in many ways, our journey through life is a journey about relationships, especially our relationship with God.
The Pharisees approached that relationship as strangers because they weren’t able to understand what that true relationship was about. It is a relationship based on the One who calls Himself in verse 11, “The Good Shepherd, who lays down His life…” As I read through this again, it struck me that it was a hymn to love. It’s no wonder the Pharisees couldn’t understand Jesus – they were unable to hear his words in their hearts. They were so busy arguing over the law and how the law interpreted things that they failed to see the purpose of the law and why it was given – to bring us into relationship with God and to show us God’s love.

Initially, I must say that I wasn’t too happy with describing myself as a sheep. I am not stupid and I don’t blindly follow others (usually). I have my own brain and I make my own choices… But the more I reflected on my journey, the more I see how often I have been selfish or self-focussed. How many times have I chosen my own path and ended up in a distressed situation? I guess I am just like a sheep – (pardon the pun) making baaa’d choices!

As St Peter puts it in the second reading, “You have gone astray like a sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (2:25). It is because God has called us into a relationship, because we have accepted being part of that relationship, that we can recognise His voice. And one of the problems we are facing in our modern world it is increasingly becoming more and more difficult to hear His voice. Society is becoming increasingly selfish and self-focussed – just look at how people behave when they get behind the steering-wheel! It is as if – again, pardon the pun – the devil is trying to pull the wool over our eyes, trying to drown out His voice…
This is why it is so vital for us to come to Church regularly… to hear His voice and to share our journeys together; to build up our relationships so that when we do find ourselves in difficult circumstances, we know where to turn. We can turn to the One who has come that we may have life and have it in all its fullness.

To the One, the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls, to Him be all the honour and glory, all might and majesty and power, now and for ever. Amen

Easter Sunday 2014 – Cathedral 9am

Gospel: Matthew 28: 1-10

I came across this just yesterday:
            Jesus painted no pictures – yet the world’s greatest artists were inspired by Him.
            Jesus wrote no poetry – yet hundreds of the greatest poems pay tribute to Him.
            Jesus composed no music – yet Bach, Handel, Beethoven and others wrote some of
            the most beautiful music in praise of Him.
            Jesus preached and taught for only 3 years – Socrates taught for 40, Plato 50, and
            Aristotle for 40 years. Yet more people follow Jesus’ teachings than theirs.
            The reason is easy to find – He did all things out of His love for us

Although we have followed Jesus through the last week of his life as we have journeyed through Holy Week, it was not the same for us as it was for the Apostles, we knew how the story would end. The Apostles did not. All along we knew that on the third day he would rise again. They had no such comfort. For them, his death was the end; they would never see him again. They had let him down at the very moment when he needed them; and now they would never be able to ask his forgiveness.

The Gospels do say he warned the Apostles that he would suffer and die, and then rise again. But the Gospels also say that they simply did not understand what he meant. Many, though not all, of the Jews at the time believed in resurrection from the dead; but they were thinking of a general resurrection in the future, when God would finally establish his Kingdom on earth and all the righteous would be gathered together in eternal bliss. They never imagined that one person would be resurrected ahead of all the rest.

So it is not surprising that the first reaction of the disciples to the report of the Resurrection was not joy, relief, gladness and rejoicing. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to perform that act of love for one who is dead. But they discover the strange, hard to grasp truth that stands at the centre of our faith - he is not here, he has risen. The tomb is empty. This empty tomb that once held the corpse of our Saviour and our God is the place that roots our religion in the world of history, the created world that God so loved. The women who came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body were told by the ‘young man dressed in white’: ‘He has been raised; he is not here’. And they went out frightened but also filled with great joy as they rushed to tell the Apostles what the angel had said.

In all the Resurrection appearances in the Gospels there is this mixture of belief and unbelief, of slow recognition and incredulity, of being sure but not yet sure. He was the same and yet transformed. They hesitated; it was all too good to be true.

And today, when we celebrate the fact that Jesus, whose death on the cross we commemorated on Friday, has risen again, we cry ‘alleluia’ because we are cheering the fact that he’s won. He has proved stronger than death, that final, common enemy of the whole human race, and so, in Christ, the whole human race has won. We can spend the rest of the year thinking about all the implications of that victory for us – of how exactly we relate to Jesus and his victory, of the love and power of God it reveals, of the life with God it promises. Indeed, that is what we do, for, as Christians, it is our belief in the Resurrection of Jesus that lies at the foundation of all that we believe.

The resurrection is continually happening for us. The light, the vision, is pouring into us. Our eyes may be dazzled by the light or blinded by seeing it. We try to open our blinded eyes to see him in Himself and in one another. At the same time the Resurrection is not yet, for us. It is still awaiting us.

And we have the knowledge that Jesus opened His arms for us on the cross and He went into hell for us so that we don’t have to. Jesus went up to heaven and handed the keys to St Peter and told him to open the gates for you and me – and He is waiting to welcome us home.

To God be the glory for ever. Amen Alleluia


Gospel: Matthew 27: 11-54

If I think back on one of my earliest memories as a child, it was of going off on a journey with my family. If my memory is correct it was to visit my aunt in Phalaborwa. There was the incredible feeling of driving through two massive elephant tusks to enter the town in those days – of knowing that we were almost at the end of the rather long trip. I suspect it was probably just me needing a wee, but there was a huge sense of relief in knowing we were there.

I wonder what was going through the mind of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem? Was he filled with excitement, or maybe foreboding, or possibly fear and dread – knowing that He had come to the end of His journey? Certainly there is huge excitement in the air – with the crowds waving branches around and throwing cloaks on the ground. The crowd hails him exultantly as 'he who comes in the name of the Lord', but that same crowd, fickle as ever and reflecting our own moral instability, will in a few days cry out with the demand for his crucifixion.

But Palm Sunday also marks the story of God's people from their origins in Abraham culminating in God's only begotten Son, Jesus - a journey that took almost 2,000 years – as reflected in the prophecy of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. It is a story of the love God has for His creation – a love so strong that God was willing to go to any lengths to prove it. If we reflect on that journey, how many times did God have to show His love after the Israelites had turned away from it? Finally, having realised that we are incapable of living up to that calling – God became one of us to show us the way. The big problem was the fact that the Israelites were not sure of that way. They had a map but no clue as to the way to read it.

Most people are afraid of the unknown – they prefer to go with the familiar, don’t they. The crowds in Jerusalem, when faced with a choice, went with the familiar. They could understand a guy like Barabbas – they knew what they were getting. But Jesus represented an unknown – who was He? He did not appear as the Messiah they were expecting – a strong military leader like Judas Maccabeus – instead preferring to be the original servant leader. So they chose the known and familiar path…

I guess there are times in our own lives when we would rather choose the familiar as well? When it seems easier to just go with the crowds, rather than choosing what might be different? And particularly today, we live in a world which is filled with confusing and conflicting messages. It is hard to choose which path to follow or to know which way is right. St Paul, writing to the Philippians, understood this very well and suggested that the best way forward was to copy the attitude that Jesus had. “He did not demand and cling to His rights as God. He made Himself nothing; He took the humble position of a servant…”

 Earthly powers attempt to emphasise their might and dignity through inflicting ridicule and humiliation on those who oppose them – how often don’t we see that happening? It is their pretensions to supremacy that are being held up as vain and empty. Christ, the Lord of Glory, in his humility, questions the foundations on which all earthly power is founded. At the end of Matthew’s crucifixion scene the Centurion ‘and those who were with him’ said ‘truly this man was the Son of God.’ The representative of Caesar, standing beneath the throne of the cross acclaims the true king whose identity is now clear for all to see.
As we stand at the beginning of our journey through Holy Week – are we filled with that same sense of awe and wonder? Do we have that relief that we have finally arrived? Perhaps we need to reflect on who we choose to follow as our leader. Do we follow the ways of the world or the One – to whom belongs all glory, all power, all majesty and all love. Amen


Fourth Sunday in Lent 2014

Gospel: John 9: 1-25

A teacher gave her class of Grade 2’s a lesson on the magnet and what it does. The next day in a written test, she included this question: "My full name has six letters. The first one is M. I pick up things. What am I?" When the test papers were turned in, the teacher was astonished to find that almost 50 percent of the students answered the question with the word Mother. A few days ago I made a marvellous discovery. In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament the word for “compassion” comes from the root word, “womb.” The picture is that of a birthing, of something new being born. So the concept of compassion is bound up in motherhood. If we apply this to our human experience, it means that our compassionate acts always give the other person another chance – just as a mother does . We don’t hold past failures against them and offer a “fresh start.” Mothers usually are the first to give their children that second chance? I know that I want this for myself from others; but am I willing to give it to the other person?

Today we celebrate Mother’s Day as we celebrate the Fourth Sunday in Lent. This traditionally marks the halfway point on our journey to Easter and is a pit-stop in the process – so indeed we can celebrate! And it is right and fitting to remember our own Mother’s today as we celebrate, as well as Mary, the Mother of God Incarnate and the Church. As I reflected on the role of my own Mum, compassion for others was always a strong feature in our home. In many ways, I am where I am today because of her love and her prayers – so publicly may I say, “Thanks Mum”. All too often, I know I forget to say this.

Compassion features in this morning’s Gospel as well. Jesus encounters a man born blind and people around are very quick to assume that this blindness was as a result of sin. They ask Jesus the question, “Who sinned, this guy or his folks?” They assume that it was a generational curse or a lack of faith. Can we just pause and think of the poor blind guy in the process, what was he thinking? Jesus, ever full of compassion, probably sees the man’s discomfort and sets the record straight, “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

I think it’s important to see that Jesus is not just talking about the physical cure, which is an important result of Jesus’ actions, but not the most important. As so often in the Gospels, sight is a sign of faith, and the more important consequence of this whole event is that the man comes to faith in Jesus. A great part of the way this event is told us by St John is to show us the contrast between the faith of the man, and the blindness of the Pharisees. They refuse to believe the man. They refuse to believe the evidence before them – why? Because they lack compassion! They are blind to the works of God, even though the Jewish Scriptures ought to have prepared them for the coming of the Messiah, who would open the eyes of the blind.

It seems to me that an awful lot of the time, we too can be blind to the works of God. God is doing remarkable things in our own lives, bringing us to faith, feeding us with His Word and with His very body. We get caught up in questions of WHY so often in our prayer life, “why has this happened God?” Too many times we pray to God to take us out of difficult situations; perhaps we should rather be praying that God would guide us through them. We can be so focussed on changing our circumstances in our prayer that we lose sight of God’s ability to transform us.
As Mark Batterson writes in his book Draw the Circle, “We’re so focussed on God changing our circumstances that we never allow God to change us! So instead of ten or twenty years of experience, we have one year of experience repeated ten or twenty times.”

St Paul, writing to the Ephesians, understands our human condition and suggests we walk in compassion in the light of Christ. We don’t have to understand the question why, we should focus our energy on dealing with the situation in such a way that God can be glorified. “Live as children of the light… For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.” ((Eph 5: 9). If that light is within us, we need to trust that God is in control and that all will be well. We need to trust that God’s compassion will be enough for us.

And so as we go out may we remember the love and compassion of our mothers; may we remember as we journey to the Cross of Calvary – that most powerful display of God’s compassion – His Son; and may we remember that we are precious in God’s eyes. As He looks with compassion on us, we are called to carry that compassion out into the world. And the things is… when others see us filled with His compassion, it’s like that magnet – it picks them up!
To God be the glory. Amen

7th Sunday of the Year

Gospel: Matthew 5: 38-48

“For many people the very idea of God has ceased to have any meaning. It is like the survival from a half-forgotten mythology. Before it can begin to have any meaning for them they have to experience His reality in their lives. They will not be converted by words or arguments, for God is not merely an idea or a concept in philosophy; He is the very ground of existence. We have to encounter Him as a fact of our existence before we can really be persuaded to believe in Him.” – Bede Griffiths, The Golden String, 12

Ancient ethics was based on the law of tit for tat – if you harmed someone in some way – then you could expect the same punishment to be handed down to you. Jesus quotes it as, “Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth.” Strangely this law was seen as a law of mercy – it could only be handed down by a judge or judges and was never literally carried out (at least not that I can see).

“But I say to you…” Jesus basically throws that law out for it has at its core the concept of retaliation; which has no place in the Christian life. Jesus also does away with the concept of “It’s my right” and replaces it with “It’s my responsibility” or “It’s my duty”. We hear a lot about the first statement in our land but seldom do we hear the second…

Jesus sums up His teaching with these amazing words to end the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Now this for me is the hardest part of Jesus’ teaching; let me give an example… I received a parcel slip in my mailbox on Thursday; I went to the Post Office on Friday to collect (as one does). “No, sorry but we returned that yesterday,” was the response I got from the guy behind the counter. SO Postal workers go on strike and I am held accountable and responsible for their actions?

Now I have checked throughout the Bible – nowhere does it say it is going to be easy. And this is basically the whole teaching of the Bible; we can only realise our true human potential when we love as God loves, when we forgive as God forgives…
As I said to the children this past week, a few years ago I realised something when I got frustrated in traffic. Someone cut me off, I got angry and called them the son of a hairy coelacanth, then realisation hit me… I was getting angry, the other driver wasn’t even aware of my existence, I wanted them to feel remorse for their driving habits, and they were never going to get my message. I resolved then and there to do things a little differently – I would rather pray for them… Now we have the situation where, when I drive, I go into my bubble and don’t see anyone. The children at school often say, “We drove next to you and waved, but you didn’t see us.” I was probably praying!

When we ground ourselves in God and His love; when we are really serious about His existence in our lives then life takes on a whole new meaning. When we acknowledge God as a reality in our daily lives, then we begin to live as He wants and we become in some way a beacon of light to those around us. We become a little more perfect as He is perfect.
To Him be the honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen

6th Sunday of the Year – Cathedral
Gospel: Matthew 5: 21-37

Plato spoke about the human soul as being like a charioteer who has two horses. The first horse is mild, obedient and placid; the second horse is unbroken and wild. The first horse is reason and the second is passion. Plato cautioned allowing one horse too much freedom or fearing if one horse should break free – what would the outcome be? He may as well have been speaking about leadership.

What was it that drew people to Jesus? It was because He appealed to their reason and he was passionate – in other words, Jesus had an authority and it was appealing. Unlike the Jewish authorities of His day, who were bound by the laws of Moses, Jesus spoke about going beyond those laws and living the truth behind them.

It has been said that someone could fulfil the Law of Moses by simply sitting in a chair at home – you are not murdering, stealing, committing adultery etc. Jesus, however, says that one needs to actively go out to fulfil the law. To love God and one’s neighbour means one has to leave the chair and actively seek God’s will for the neighbour – to love them.

How passionate are we when it comes to living that Gospel message? Are we full of excuses when it comes to actually doing something? Do we have all sorts of “reasons” why we can’t, rather than actually going out and doing?

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said… but I say.” He spoke with an authority that few had heard. Only the Pharisees were able to interpret the Law, but their failing was their inability to make the Law relevant for the times. Jesus cut through all that and spoke with a passion about really getting to grips with what the Law was meant to be – a tool to discover the will of God.

It is no good just doing something because you have been told to do it… it must come from the heart. God has called each one of us to respond to His love… not because someone has said it is the right thing to do, but because God has transformed us to want to do what is right. And when we are passionate about following God’s love – we are like beacons of hope and light to the world.

St Paul understood what it meant to accept that love. It meant that we have to look to further the will of God, and not of self. Everything we do should show the face of Christ to those around us. We have a choice – each and every day – to choose to accept and follow God… or to follow self and hope for something to change. As St John puts it, “We love, because He first loved us.”

2nd Sunday – Remembrance Sunday 

Gospel: Luke 20: 27-38 

In April this year, Aileen and I had the privilege of watching one of the College pupils place a cross on the grave of her great-great grandfather in a cemetery in France. He had fallen in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and she was only the second member of her family who had ever visited his grave. It was an incredibly moving experience to see her standing in front of his tombstone. This tribute to a man who gave his life in World War I was all the more poignant because it followed our journey through the trenches and through a concentration camp a few days before. On Remembrance Sunday we remember all who have given their lives in the fight for freedom and equality.

It is often when we are faced with the finality of death that we begin to question if there is something more to this life? It is in these difficult circumstances that the Sadducees step forward to ask Jesus this rather strange question… whose wife will this lady be in the afterlife? What they cannot fathom, because they had shut their minds to the possibility of an afterlife, is that they are in fact talking to the One who will become responsible for the afterlife… that Jesus is the Saviour. 

In answering them, typically Jesus does not berate them for their beliefs. Instead He points to the promise that we become the children of God, raised up to new life. He then points them in the direction of Scripture and quotes Moses, whose law they had used to come up with this daft question… From their position as the rich and powerful of society the Sadducees can see nothing beyond the current world order. Yet in clinging to their privileges they set a deadly limit to their ambitions. They have nowhere to go but down (literally in this case where the grave will be their resting place), and thus furiously hold onto their position, opposing those who challenge

St Paul encourages us in the second reading to stand firm and take comfort from the promises of God, revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that we are loved by God. There was still confusion about life and death and life-after-death when St Paul was writing, and his purpose was to clear up some of the confusion about the day of Christ’s return. For St Paul, it is the calling of each Christian to adhere to the teaching of Christ and to not worry about the vagaries of life about them; he points out that God has called us to salvation so that we can share in Christ’s glory. 

And therein lies the hope we have as Christians – the knowledge that we die, we are going home… I was having a discussion with some of the kids at school this week and they asked about death. I said I have no fear of death – the manner of my death however… There is a poster in our College Vestry which says: ”When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep like my Gran – not screaming in terror like her passengers!”

It was Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, of Jock of the Bushveld fame, a South African, who began the two minutes silence for remembrance after the First World War. His son had been killed on the Somme and he wanted to pay tribute to his memory. The King heard of this event and sent word throughout the Commonwealth for all countries to do the same. And so on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11am, the date and time when the armistice was signed, we pause and remember… We remember those who gave their lives, and we remember the One who first gave His life that we might live.

It is often tradition for the Last Post to be played, a pause and then the Reveille… to signal their rising to new life in Christ…

“At the going down of the sun, and in the morning… we will remember them.”

St Michael and All Angels 

Gospel: Matthew 18: 1-10

In this day and age it is very difficult to determine who is right and who is wrong – isn’t it? One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist; someone is a hero of the liberation or a murderer. If we think about the average soldier in the trenches in the First World War, was he aware of any honourable cause that separated him from his counterpart across the mud? It was easier twenty two years later – it was a fight for democracy and freedom from fascism. But today…?

Well, today we rejoice in the fact that God understands our confusion, He knew that we would find these things difficult, that’s why He created the angels before He created humans. They have many tasks, but chief among them is to look after us. In the midst of our confusion and the chaos around us, angels point us gently in the direction of God’s will. Their number was set when they were created, no more no less. And today we can thank God for their ministry among us. The Bible is full of references to them and to their role in the life of God’s people, but perhaps the following true story can illustrate what I mean…

John Paton was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands. One night hostile natives surrounded the mission station, intent on burning out the Patons and killing them. Paton and his wife prayed during that terror-filled night that God would deliver them. When daylight came they were amazed to see their attackers leave. A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Christ. Remembering what had happened, Paton asked the chief what had kept him from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, "Who were all those men with you there?" Paton knew no men were present--but the chief said he was afraid to attack because he had seen hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords circling the mission station.

The angels were created, as we are, with freedom of choice. ST John reminds us of this in his vision of the battle that erupted in heaven between those who supported God and those who thought they were better than others. I have it on good authority that it wasn’t a pretty battle – there were feathers everywhere! What I find most interesting about this conflict is that God doesn’t get involved – He can’t because the angels were exercising their God-given right to choose.

St Michael and his supporters went up against Satan and his followers, and were victorious! That saw them kicking Satan and his followers out of heaven and sending them to earth to do their worst. Satan and his followers know that they have a limited time and so are trying their best to confuse and destroy… But we don’t need to be scared or afraid of this spiritual warfare which is happening all around us at this time; the guys who defeated Satan and his followers are on our side and they are the one’s protecting us from harm. We thank God for them today.

Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that we need to be like children if we are to inherit the Kingdom of God – to have that simple faith, and the know just like when we were young. When we were young we knew right from wrong – it was wrong to steal from the cookie jar, but we still did it? When we were young we just knew… it wasn’t about fancy discussions or theories, we just knew God was awesome!

8th Sunday after Pentecost (15th of the Year)

Gospel: Luke 10: 25-37 

"The vine clings to the oak during the fiercest of storms. Although the violence of nature may uproot the oak, twining tendrils still cling to it. If the vine is on the side opposite the wind, the great oak is its protection; if it is on the exposed side, the tempest only presses it closer to the trunk. In some of the storms of life, God intervenes and shelters us; while in others He allows us to be exposed, so that we will be pressed more closely to Him." - B.M. Launderville 

This quote, which I came across recently, highlights our relationship to one another, doesn’t it? When the storms of life batter us we need each other in order to deal with what comes our way. Sometimes we can be the vine and later we are called on to be the tree for others. If we try to go it alone, we will quickly be destroyed. 

In this morning’s Gospel we have the famous story of the Good Samaritan, a story only found in St Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is approached by a lawyer who asks for advice on how to achieve eternal life. Jesus refers him to the laws, given by Moses, in the Old Testament, which he duly quotes. However, there is a sense that the lawyer has a book learning rather than a heart learning concerning the law, because he wants to investigate it further. Jesus responds by telling the story of the reckless traveller who was on the dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. He shouldn’t have been travelling unaccompanied, but thought he could go it alone. He gets robbed and beaten up for being foolish. Perhaps that is why the priest and the Levite don’t want to get involved; it was the man’s own fault for getting into that predicament. 

There is a real sense that we can focus on the negative elements in this story; the robbers, the priest, the Levite. But that is to miss the point Jesus is trying to make to the lawyer. Jesus wants him to experience giving selflessly and being positive about human nature. The potential to do great things lies deep within every person, and it wants to come out, but too often, we suppress it because of our own prejudices or fears. When we can overcome these feelings we can see Jesus in the marginalised and the poor, and we can reach out to them, offering our support. The easiest examples of this are the people begging on the street corners. How often do we see the same people asking for money or food? Have you ever tried to talk to them, asked them their names or listened to their stories or even just treated them with common courtesy? We fall victim to our fears that they want to rob us, or are responsible for their own fate or whatever excuse we can find, don’t we? 

The Early Church Fathers saw in the Good Samaritan story the pattern of our own lives. The wounded man is an image of our own fallen nature, broken and bleeding alongside life’s road. The priest and Levite represent our own damaged hearts; our inability to reach out in compassion to others in need. It is Jesus who enters this world in mercy and love to bring healing and to carry us to His Father; healing our wounds through His precious blood on the cross and lifting us to the Father in His resurrection. All of this is accomplished through the grace of our Lord Jesus as He makes us part of His body, the Church. 

As St Paul tells the Colossians in our second reading, as Christians we need to live a life “fortified, in accordance with His glorious strength, with all power always to persevere and endure, giving thanks  with joy to the Father who has made you able to share the lot of God’s holy people and with them to inherit the light ” And this means that all of us who have been baptised, and are therefore members of His body, the Church, are called to share in His ministry of love to the world – by showing through our actions His love for every human being, and so proclaiming the good news of salvation which Jesus offers through His Church to the world. 

Nowhere does it say this will be easy, or that there won’t be a cost. There is the danger that the oak tree may fall, however, the vine knows it is the safest place to grow. And that vine binds itself to the oak so that that they can’t be separated easily. There is a clear teaching in our readings of reaching out in love because He has done that for us. The lawyer replied, “The one who showed pity.” Jesus said, Go, and do the same yourself.”

EASTER (1) 2013

Gospel John 20: 19-31

Have you ever stood at the airport and waved goodbye to a family member that was returning to their home or going overseas? There is a real sense that it might be a long time before you see them again, isn’t there? Sometimes it can seem as if we may never see them again… and that is even more difficult. We stand at the airport feeling devastated, not too sure about our emotions’ we know that they will be ok and continue their life on that side, but here it is as if they have left us only with the memories of our time together. I guess that’s why so many people cry at airports – that sense of loss. We have had the wow factor of Easter but now find ourselves wondering about what it all means – no wonder they call this Low Sunday. 

Thomas was a straight speaking northerner. He told Jesus he didn't understand what he was talking about in John 14:5 "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" He was convinced Jesus was dead and didn't believe the testimony of the other disciples. He was skeptical. He wanted proof for himself. In many ways Thomas is the forerunner of the modern generation - like the engineer he was – he wants empirical proof before he commits to something. “Unless I touch where the nails have been, place my hand into where the spear was…” There is a sense that Thomas was standing at the gate, having watched His Lord leave…

Jesus appears to the disciples a week later, this Sunday of you like. This time Thomas is there. Perhaps the idea that Jesus might have risen from the dead meant Thomas didn't want to miss anything. We don't know if Thomas ever put his finger in the nail marks! But we do know that the sight of the risen Jesus was enough for Thomas to acknowledge that Jesus was "My Lord and my God!"  

Thomas was a Jew. To call anyone God was blasphemy if it were not true. After three years with Jesus and seeing him live, teach, perform miracles, die and reappear with a resurrection body Thomas was convinced. This man was God. His declaration is the climax to John's gospel. It illustrates the belief John wants for his readers. Not an intellectual belief that Jesus was the Son of God, whatever that may mean to someone. Or that Jesus died and rose again. But that Jesus was God and man, who came to earth to show us how to live and offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for sin on the cross. Those who have trusted in his death will rise with him to new life. A life lived in a right relationship with God.  

So you could say this is a story of Thomas’ doubt, however, it is the miracle of faith that we are ultimately left with. Minds are opened, and hearts swell as, as in verse 28, Thomas ultimately utters the words, "My Lord and my God!" All because of a personal touch and a vision of our Lord. Without it, all of us just continue to wallow around in our own doubt, or remain a hostage to the world's rules that cling to the impossibilities – we just stand forlorn at the gate.  

Thomas was no different from the other disciples; he was just a week late! The other disciples also needed a personal encounter with the risen Jesus JUST AS MUCH AS THOMAS DID.

Faith and understanding began only after the risen Jesus made himself known personally to each of them. And isn't it exactly the same for us. We remain solidly in our own skepticism until the Lord breaks through the locked doors of our hearts. The miraculous news in all of this is that God searches and finds us even when we don't want to be found. Even when we lock ourselves away from the world; even when we try to keep out the good news, Jesus breaks through that door.

I suppose what I am trying to say in a roundabout way, is that we have all been doubting Thomas' at some point in our lives – we have all stood at that gate. But it is into our doubting and searching hearts where Jesus breaks in and reveals himself to us. God knows our need for a first-hand encounter. That is why God came to us in the person of Jesus -- took on flesh so that we could see him, touch him, hear him, and be touched by him. And he died for all of us -- died on a cross, raised up for all to see. We have been given a vision of God's sacrificial love in the person of Jesus. And we are touched by God's Holy Spirit, who breaks through and breathes life into our faithless and doubting hearts, causing us to cry like Thomas, "My Lord and my God." And God does this because He thinks we ARE PRECIOUS – we are worth it… He loves us. 

And so as we stand at the airport, we can know that it is never a goodbye – it is only a farewell until we meet again. {And as we go into the service of Baptism now, those words echo in our hearts, as we hear the words and speak of our faith in the Risen Lord, may we open our hearts to welcome Him as our Lord and our God}. Amen


Gospel: Luke 23: 1-49 

We commemorate the 99th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One this year, one of the bloodiest conflicts the world has ever seen. There have been numerous books released in recent years which tell of the horrendous conditions of the conflict on the Western Front; many discuss the mindset of those involved. It was the done thing for officers to carry only a side-arm (Webley revolver) as they attacked enemy trenches. What intrigues me is what went through their minds as they prepared themselves and their men to “go over the top” before a battle. In the face of almost certain death, they had to exhibit calm indifference to bolster the men under their command. A word of encouragement here, a laugh shared there, perhaps a gentle reprimand over there… and then holding a football whistle to their lips and leading those men to face the onslaught. One can only imagine the thoughts that went through their minds… 

What was going through Jesus’ mind as he rode into Jerusalem? Did He know that He was facing certain death? Was He conscious that the same cheering crowds, leading Him into Jerusalem, would be the same crowds that would cheer for His crucifixion five days later?

With His intimate knowledge of scripture, Jesus would have known the reading from Isaiah, “I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting…” (verse 6), do you think He would have understood that was His own fate that Isaiah was foretelling? Isaiah was writing those words during the Babylonian exile, where Jews had been forcibly removed from their homeland… echoing the words of Psalm 137. 

There is almost something theatrical in the way that Jesus orchestrates His arrival in Jerusalem – He chose to ride in on a donkey; fulfilling one of the prophetic symbols of the Messiah found in Zecharaiah 9:9. Unlike that image however, Jesus doesn’t come in with warriors brandishing swords or giving vent to primal battle cries – rather the crowds are carrying harmless palm branches and singing sacred hymns of praise to God. Jesus, for one of the first times in His public ministry, allows the people to publicly acclaim Him as the Messiah. It’s almost as if Jesus is deliberately pushing the boundaries… how many of the people in the crowd that day would remember their own words and actions as they saw Him hanging from the cross? 

In our liturgy today we have two seemingly separate and contradictory stories – the triumphal entry and then the horrendous crucifixion – and it can cause us confusion as we enter into the mystery that is Holy Week. As Christians we are called to enter into the anguish of those who travelled alongside Jesus and who expected so much from Him and who were so confused as the events unfolded… expressed so clearly by the two Disciples on the road to Emmaus… we follow their journey. For some people it is all too confusing and they simply give up – often to the detriment of their spirituality. We need to press on in faith to complete the picture that makes up the Easter story. 

Epictetus, a famous Greek stoic philosopher, used to complain that people would come from all over the world to attend one of his classes and simply stare at him throughout their time together. They stared at him as if he was a famous statue and missed the point of his talk and so refused to hear his teaching.

Herod was guilty of that too… he saw Jesus as a spectacle to be gazed at rather than hear what His message was about. Perhaps that is why Jesus refused to talk to him, and that irritated Herod so he mocked Jesus. He treated Jesus as a joke and no threat to his rule as king of Galilee. Sadly there are people who are exactly like Herod today – they give Jesus no room in their hearts and no influence in their lives and believe they can get on without Him. Are there times in our lives when we are guilty of that? 

St Paul understanding the human condition suggests we make up our own minds about Jesus, “who was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” St Paul so movingly sets out the reality that is God’s love for us – Jesus sets aside all He is and becomes human and in the process is given the glory by God for obeying His will. This mystery of love is so great that we can never fully understand it, all we can do is experience it in our daily lives and wonder at it. 

We stand at the parapet, waiting for the whistle to go over the top into the world we live in – we have as our captain, Jesus. He moves amongst us, offering us advice, encouragement, perhaps admonishing us gently. He leads us out and into the unknown for us, and He has the confidence – because He has been there before. May we have the courage to follow His lead and to boldly go into the onslaught, offering Him as our guide and hope. For to Him belongs the honour and the glory, now and for ever.


Transfiguration Sunday 2013

Gospel: Luke 9: 28-36

In a convent in Ireland, the 98-year-old Mother Superior lay dying. The nuns gathered around her bed trying to make her last journey comfortable. They tried giving her warm milk to drink but she refused it.

One of the nuns took the glass back to the kitchen. Then, remembering a bottle of Irish whiskey that had been received as a gift the previous Christmas, she opened it and poured a generous amount into the warm milk. Back at Mother Superior's bed, they held the glass to her lips. The frail nun drank a little, then a little more and before they knew it, she had finished the whole glass down to the last drop.

As her eyes brightened, the nuns thought it would be a good opportunity to have one last talk with their spiritual leader. "Mother," the nuns asked earnestly, "Please give us some of your wisdom before you leave us." She raised herself up in bed on one elbow, looked at them and said: "Don't sell that cow!" 

In times of stress and doubt we so often return to the familiar to seek reassurance before going forward, or turn to those we know we can trust just to make sure we are on the right path. The nuns turned to their Mother Superior to guide them, Jesus turned to Moses and Elijah. In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus knows that His journey is entering a crucial time – He is facing Jerusalem and all that might mean… a stressful point no doubt. And in the midst of that stress Jesus takes Peter, James and John, His three closest friends up a mountain to pray.

At the start of His public ministry Jesus had chosen His weapon to fight the Devil… Holy Scripture. At this stressful point in His life He returns to that weapon in the persons of Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the Prophets. It is as if these two princes of Israel’s life and thought come together to encourage Him to press on to His fate in Jerusalem. It’s appears that Jesus is seeking to follow the will of His Father and just needs to make sure that what he is doing is ok. And in response we hear the voice of the Father, “This is my Beloved Son, listen to Him.” 

Jesus has needed reassurance that He is about His father’s business – and having the Father’s encouragement – Jesus can now turn towards Jerusalem and what waits for Him there.  

If only we could be so certain of the Word of God when it comes to the times of stress in our own lives! Could you imagine how wonderful it would be to be so comfortable with God’s Word that we return to it and gain strength from it? Wait, what am I saying… that’s exactly what we are called to as Christians! The challenge we face in the modern world we find ourselves in is to make time on a daily basis to seek God’s Word for us – for surely then our world is transformed! 

And just what is this transfiguration; what made Moses’ and Jesus’ appearance change? With Jesus we know it was an opportunity to see Him in His glory… but I think it was also an opportunity to reflect the Love of the Father. Moses face was transformed because he had seen the Lord’s love for humanity, the penny had dropped and he realised the relationship that God wants to have with each one of us – a transforming love, a transfiguring relationship – if only we would open ourselves up to receive Him. It is like a toddler learning to walk, taking those first uncertain steps, desperate not to fall and then reaches a handhold to steady himself or herself and before long is able to walk a little further and then further still and then to run.

So it is with us and God’s transfiguring love. We begin with hesitant steps, hoping that we won’t be let down – daring to trust that His word is true. And after a few, “what we perceive as let downs” and usually of our own making, we trust a little more. Doubt then rushes in and we find ourselves reaching for a handhold to steady ourselves. And when we feel secure we begin the next step… and the next. As we trust His love, so we begin to hand more over to Him and so we journey through life – sometimes stumbling, but moving forward. 

I’m not for one second going to promise that the journey will be an easy on – it may be scary at times! Moses frightened the Israelites when he came down the mountain, the Disciples were frightened when they saw Jesus aglow. What matters is not our fear, but our willingness to let go of the handhold and to take that next step. 

St Paul, writing his Second Letter to the Corinthians explains the nature of this new Covenant, this new agreement with God and us, and how it must and will transform how we see life and each other. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord.” (3: 17b-18). 

And so dear friends, as we begin our journey towards Easter this coming week, may we make time to be sure of Our Father’s will, may we make time for His Word and may we be transfigured by His love.
To His Honour and Glory.


Epiphany 2013 

GOSPEL – Matthew 2: 1-12

Have you ever considered your hands? They have an immense power to do all sorts of things – they have the power to heal a child’s cry, to inflict pain as well as pleasure; the power to assist and resist – and yet we so often take them for granted. 

In 1999 Pope John Paul II, while on a visit to India, went to visit the home of Mahatma Gandhi. He removed his shoes as he entered the home to honour this holy Hindu, and placed his empty hands down in greeting. A journalist accompanying the Pope got into conversation with an old Indian woman, who had known Gandhi and been sent by the Indian government to witness this event. She said 'Gandhi did not have anything. He had only his two empty hands and his Hindu belief. But the powerful British empire, with all its gunboats and armies, was not able to win the fight against his empty hands. They had no chance against a small faithful Hindu. And so it is with the Pope. He didn't have any armies either. He had only two empty hands like Gandhi, but the Russians were not able to win the fight against his belief, his deep trust in a liberating God.'

This was a moment of revelation that changed the journalist's life forever.

 In this mornings Gospel we have the final instalment in our Christmas journey – the Epiphany – the coming of the Wise Men from the East. There is a real sense that this is one of the forgotten feasts in the Church’s calendar. Most people have already put away their Christmas decorations by the second of January – as Aileen said to me, “we have too much Christmas before Christmas and not enough after.” Epiphany marks the end of Christmastide and so our decorations should only be taken down today – the 12th Day of Christmas. And before you all start singing and wondering… its 12 lord’s a-leaping! 

The Wise Men understood that a King had been born and followed the star that emerged at His birth. It is only natural that they would go to the Royal Palace in Jerusalem – surely that is where a King would be born? Their question troubles King Herod greatly and after ascertaining that the new king would be born in Bethlehem, he sends them on their way, requesting they come back to tell him where they found the new king, so he too can go to honour him…

 In the translation I was reading as I prepared for this sermon, it says in verse 11 that the Wise Men, having entered the house and bowed down in worship, “they opened their treasure chests and handed him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Theirs was a journey of discovery, of seeking a truth – possibly even of finding faith. They had to go home by another route and unwittingly left a trail of grief and destruction behind them. On going home, did they realise they did not feel at ease in their own culture; did their journey change them? Did this discovery of the Christ mean that they changed their beliefs when they returned to their homeland – probably not? However, I believe the journey did change them in some way?

 The Wise Men had left the stable with empty hands– they handed over their gifts - but they left with full hearts. Herod, in contrast, who wanted to keep his hands on his own gifts – was left angry and bitter – and slaughtered children in response. The Herods of this world cannot receive the gift, for it would mean letting go of their own fullness and self-satisfaction. They can only see the powerless child as a threat.

 This Christmas most of us will have given and received gifts. We have probably looked for gifts that our friends do need. Even more profoundly our gifts are, like those of the magi, in recognition of who are the people whom we love. We delight in their humanity- like the Pope did with Gandhi. If we give them books or wine, it is not just because they need these things, but because we take pleasure in the pleasure that they will have in them. We celebrate their enjoyment.

 Just as the Wise Men were exhilarated by the discovery of a new celestial body in the cosmos, so may we share in the excitement of the Magi at this epiphaneia or appearance of God-made-human, revealed to us in order to demonstrate the infinite love God shared with His creation. God reveals Himself in the form of a simple child, not only to kings, but to simple shepherds, to you and me as a sign of His universality. The whole of creation groans in this act of divine birth, as Mary, the Virgin Mother, brings Christ into the world, acting as the instrument of God's generosity.

 The star that brightens the Bethlehem night sky is symbolic of the new light that comes into the world, dispelling the darkness of evil and ignorance, replacing them with truth and knowledge, as Christ reveals himself to the whole of mankind.

 But the heart of all these celebrations is the one who needs no gifts from us but is pure gift. His very being is given to him by the Father from all eternity, and he comes to give himself to us in turn. To receive that gift, then we too need empty hands. We need to recognise that God's fullness of life is what we most deeply yearn for and create a space to receive it.

 As we go into this New Year, may we offer ourselves – with open hands – as a gift for God…

Lord Jesus, may we give ourselves to you

With empty hands and full hearts,

May we be a gift for you in the world

To Your honour and glory.


Fourth Sunday – Year A (2011)

 Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12 

Between the great things that we cannot do and the small things we will not do, the danger is that we shall do nothing. - Adolph Monod.  

One of the most effective social and industrial reformers in 19th-century England, Lord Shaftesbury, probably did more for ordinary working men, women and children than any other social reformer. His desire to make a difference began very simply. When he was a schoolboy at Harrow, as he was walking down the street one day, he watched a pauper’s funeral procession go past. The coffin was in a poorly made and hastily put together box, and was being wheeled in a handbarrow by four very drunk men. They were singing rude songs loudly and laughing and joking amongst themselves (as intoxicated people do – so I’m told). And as they pushed the barrow up the hill, the coffin fell off and burst open. The young Shaftesbury decided in that moment that he would dedicate his life to making sure that such things wouldn’t happen again.

 People need to experience something for themselves before they believe with utter conviction that it is true…perhaps this is why Jesus’ words appealed to those who had gone through the wringer in life. Jesus says that they are truly blessed because they have found God through their difficulties. They will have discovered that life is impossible if you try to rely on yourself only – you need others. It is when the chips are down that you discover who your friends are but also how much you need them. 

In Matthew’s Gospel, this mornings reading comes early on in Jesus’ life, shortly after He had been baptised, tempted and chosen His first disciples. In essence St Matthew has Jesus setting out His stall, if you like, giving the reader a sense of what is to come – a summary of Jesus’ teaching. It is as if Matthew is writing to encourage people who have had these experiences to continue reading – if you have ever been down in the dumps, realising your complete need of God; if you have ever felt that the world has crushed you for being too gentle, if you have ever wept for a loved one who has died, if you have ever desperately needed God in your life, if you have ever been humiliated because you have refused to follow the crowd in doing something you know to be wrongTHEN THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU!

 Ultimately the Beatitudes are an unfolding of God’s incredible love for us. The Beatitudes are about the things that love will suffer, they are about what love will willingly endure, the things that love will find itself able to give – eventually this will find fruition in that extreme example of Love, the cross. The Beatitudes teach us that no matter what we are going through, God’s Love will always triumph. It may not triumph in the way the world thinks or expects it to, but it will triumph for Love is the will of God.

 Jesus says that it is the person with singleness of heart who will see God – the people who are in heaven may not necessarily be the people we would think. They may not necessarily be the people who have busied themselves doing all sorts of worthy things (but who are very conscious they have done them) nor those who have spent their lives flicking the metaphorical dust off their shoulders because they’ve never taken the risk that is often involved in trying to do something right. The people best prepared to share God’s life may be those who quietly seek the will of God and try each day to follow His will, even if it means making mistakes on the way.

 The eight Beatitudes compliment each other with interwoven meanings: they are not mutually exclusive. The gentle are poor in spirit, knowing the weakness both of themselves and others and are merciful in their dealings with others because of this. We live in a world which so often seems to reward the rich, the aggressive, the brash, those who seek to take advantage of others and care about no one but themselves. The Beatitudes invite us to reflect on our priorities in life and the place of God’s Love in our daily routine.

 They were never meant to be a list of rules, as with Moses on Mt Sinai. The Greek word translated as blessed (makarios) describes a joy that has its secret within itself; a joy which is independent of all the changes and chances of life. It is a joy that seeks us through our pain, that joy which sorrow and loss, and pain and grief, are powerless to touch, that joy which shines through tears and which nothing in life or death can take away. The greatness of the Beatitudes is that they are not about a wishful future joy, or the promise of future glory, they are triumphal shouts for the permanent joy that is ours and that nothing in the world can ever take away! 

May we experience that joy as we go out into the world, prepared to face whatever comes our way, knowing that we go out in His name and to His glory. Amen

LENT 3 – Julian of Norwich

 GOSPEL: John 4: 5-26

 Of all people, it was an Afrikaans Presbyterian friend who introduced me to Julian of Norwich at University. We had decided to spend an hour after lunch once a week in quiet reflection in the Rhodes Chapel as part of our Lenten discipline. One day he came to me and asked if I could rework a text he had been given, writing it in modern English for him. The text came from the 17th chapter of Revelations of Divine Love in which Julian describes the bodily thirst of Jesus on the cross. It was the beginning of a wonderful journey for us and an introduction into Julian’s work.

 Born around 1342, Julian became an anchoress (someone who lives in a cell attached to the Church). At the age of 30 she became desperately ill and believed she was dying. It was during this time of illness that she had her visions which she then wrote down as the short text, reflecting and praying her way through these visions for another 20 years before writing them out in the long version, which we have today.

Although Julian lived in a time of great turmoil with the Black Death and peasant revolts happening around her, her theology was optimistic, speaking of God's love in terms of joy and compassion as opposed to law and duty. For Julian, suffering was not a punishment that God inflicted, as was the common understanding. She believed that God loved and wanted to save everyone. She believed that behind the reality of hell is a greater mystery of God's love.

In describing Jesus’ thirst on the cross, Julian wrote, “I saw four reasons for this drying out. The first was a loss of blood, the second was because of the pain which accompanied this, the third was that he was hanging in the air as a cloth to dry, and fourthly because his body was in need of a drink and none was offered him… Showing me Christ’s pains filled me with pain… For my pain seemed beyond bodily death and I asked, “is any pain in hell like this?” And my reason answered me, “hell is a different pain, for there is despair.” Of all the pains which lead to salvation, this is the greatest – to see the Lover suffer. How could any pain be greater than to see him suffer? Here I knew that I loved Christ, so much above myself because there was no pain that could be suffered like the sorrow that I had when I saw him in pain.

 In a similar fashion, Jesus is in need of a drink in today’s Gospel. He asks the Samaritan woman for a drink. She is surprised by His request, for Jews and Samaritans did not usually mix or speak to each other, let alone ask for help from one another. Her idea of God was one of righteous judgement and harsh discipline – she had no knowledge of a God of compassion – a belief that swayed her judgement (she had had 5 husbands and was with a sixth man?). Jesus however, recognises that she has a thirst for something more as well. Like Julian long after her, she had no idea what the outcome would really mean for her. Similarly, like Julian, her life was transformed by the encounter and she was filled with hope.

 In my reflections on this reading, as well as on Julian’s writing, I often wonder just how thirsty are we? Do we really thirst for that “Living Water” in a way that transforms our lives or are we scared of what that will mean for us? How often do we worry about what life throws at us and become overwhelmed with the weight of our worry? Julian spoke out against the people who were filled with doubt and anger at God by reassuring them with the words, “And all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

 As we journey on towards Easter, may our prayer be that Jesus would transform our lives in some way, filling us with hope and above all God’s Love. May we have the strength to face the challenges that life throws at us and may we be faithful in our choices. May we know the certainty that Jesus is the Messiah and that He is there in the midst of our struggles, with us, no matter what. As Julian reminds us, “He did not say 'You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted'. But he did say, 'You shall not be overcome.' God wants us to heed these words so that we shall always be strong in trust, both is sorrow and in joy.”

May we press on towards Easter secure in the knowledge that Jesus is here. May we journey towards that terrible cross and joyous tomb knowing, “that all shall be well and that all shall be well and that all manner of things shall be well!”


St Dunstan’s Day 2011

Gospel: John 14: 1-14

 I can remember watching a television programme many years ago – I think it was around the time of the 1988 Winter Olympics - it featured blind skiers being trained for slalom skiing, impossible as that sounds. Paired with sighted skiers, the blind skiers were taught on the flats how to make right and left turns. When they were able to get that right, they were taken to the slalom slope, where their sighted partners skied alongside them shouting, "Left!" and "Right!" As they obeyed the commands, they were able to negotiate the course and cross the finish line, depending solely on the sighted skiers' word. It was either complete trust or catastrophe. I was reminded of that as I was thinking about today’s sermon – how close is that line between just being an ordinary person and being called a saint?

 I decided to start the sermon by googling (for the older folk asking the computer) what does it mean to be a saint – in 3 seconds it had come back with 137 000 000 hits! Many of the sites that I read through have an idea that the Saints were special people who were so full of God’s love and/or grace that they lived an almost idyllic life; where little happened to sway them from their journey of faithfulness. In other words, the Saints were completely different to you and I.

 A Saint is someone who recognises their own sinfulness and who relies completely on God’s grace to just get through the day – in other words one who fights constantly between complete trust and catastrophe! With that thought in mind I revisited the life of St Dunstan and I came across some aspects of his life I had not read before…

As a young boy he suffered a terrible illness, nearly fatal, which guided him to accept the religious life. He threw himself into what became a lifelong passion for learning and mastering many kinds of artistic craftsmanship. He was taken to the court of the King, who liked him immensely, however, there were some who found him precocious. They persuaded the king to ask him to leave the court – and as he did, they beat him up and threw him into a cesspit! He managed to crawl out and escaped to Winchester. The Bishop asked him to become a celibate monk – at first he refused, unsure of the celibacy question – then his body broke out in a series of boils (perhaps as the result of his swim in the cesspit). This made up his mind and he took the vows of a monk.

 It was just after this profession of faith that the devil supposedly came to taunt him as he worked in the smithy. He grabbed the devil by the nose with red-hot pincers and refused to release him unless the devil let him continue his work in peace. Another legend has it that Dunstan nailed a horseshoe to the devil’s hoof when he was asked to shoe the devil’s horse, causing the devil much pain. Dunstan agreed to remove the shoe only if the devil promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is over the door…this is claimed as the origin of the lucky horseshoe!

 Following the death of one of his patrons and his father, Dunstan became a wealthy and influential man and was invited to the new King’s Court. Again some people found him to be unacceptable and out of jealousy contrived to convince the king to sack Dunstan once more. They nearly succeeded… but for a nearly fatal hunting accident. As the king was chasing a stag, it leapt to its death, followed by the dogs chasing it and almost the king’s horse. The king realised he had acted shamefully towards Dunstan and vowed to make amends if his life was spared; his horse stopped at the edge of the precipice. The king summoned Dunstan on his return to the palace and left for Glastonbury, where after praying in front of the altar, he gave Dunstan the kiss of peace and led him to the abbot’s throne.

 Following the kings’ assassination two years later, and Dunstan finding the newly crowned king sexually cavorting with his mistress instead of being at a banquet in his honour, Dunstan was forced to flee to France where he came across a more rigid form of Benedictine spirituality than he was used to. He brought these ideas back to England when he returned, following the election of Edgar as king. He became Bishop of Worcester and then of London as well before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury…

 John Calvin said, “Faith is not a distant view but a warm embrace of Christ.” What was it that drove Dunstan to go through these difficult times? How often did he think that his life was a catastrophe? Were there times when he doubted his own calling? One really gets the sense that here was a man who you either liked or disliked, intensely!

 I think he was just like you and I – trying to live his life according to God’s word. He struggled to get through the difficulties of each day, sometimes not knowing where to turn. Throughout all of this, he clung to that warm embrace of Christ and through holy fear became a leading light in the world. In the same way, each one of us called to examine our lives and see our failings realistically, to take them to the foot of the cross daily and to listen for the call of Our Saviour as He guides us to left or right. For us, as living saints today, the choice remains either complete trust in our loving Father or catastrophe.

 Perhaps the best way to describe the life of a saint is they are people who know right from wrong and still choose to do what is right. Jesus said, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me… anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing… you may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.”

 To Him be the honour and the glory, now and for ever. Amen


Gospel: John 6: 51-58

There is an old legend from Hong Kong, which is really about Jesus. It goes like this.  Bamboo was a great much loved plant which grew tall and true in the garden. One day the master of the garden came and cut down Bamboo. He hacked off his branches and stripped off his leaves. He split him down the middle and took out his heart.

Then lifting him gently, he carried him to where there was a spring of fresh sparkling water amidst the dry fields. Then, putting one end of broken bamboo in the spring and the other into the water channel in his field, the master laid down gently his beloved bamboo. And the spring sang welcome, and the clear sparkling water ran joyously down the channel of Bamboo’s torn body into the waiting fields.

The rice was planted, and the days went by, and the shoots grew and the harvest came. And on that day was Bamboo, once so glorious in stately beauty, yet more glorious in his brokenness and humility. For in his beauty was life abundant, but in his brokenness he became a channel of abundant life to his master’s world.  

 Today we celebrate this great Feast of Corpus Christi - the Body of Christ - or more properly Corpus et Sanguis Christi - the Body and Blood of Christ. In our celebration today we give thanks for Christ’s gift of Himself, the Blessed Sacrament, given to us in this service that he commanded us to DO in memory of him. We celebrate today away from the solemn drama of Holy Week, where on Maundy Thursday we remember the last supper as a prelude to the suffering and death that was to follow. Eucharist comes from the Greek and means "thanksgiving"; and each year in Holy Week on Maundy Thursday, we give thanks for the Institution of the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist.

 As we look around us this morning, one thing we notice immediately about Holy Communion is that we are sharing, sharing a meal with each other. Everyone who comes into the Lord’s house should feel welcome to share the Lord’s meal at the Lord’s table - because a good family table always has room for guests. Some people ask why we allow children to take Holy Communion, saying that children cannot understand—well they can’t understand the Lord's Prayer either but we expect them to learn from saying it. We expect them to take part in church services and the communion, should we deny them the easy part—taking the bread and wine?

 John Wesley said that the bread and wine of communion was a 'converting ordinance'. In saying that, what he meant was, that by taking the bread and wine we were being spiritually nourished and encouraged into the faith. To use the analogy of the horse and cart, the bread and wine is the spiritual horse that brings along the cart of faith and understanding. We need to recognise that the gift of the body and blood of Christ is not something that we earn, or deserve or understand. It is a God given mystery, something which we enjoy without having to be able to fully comprehend.

 In our first reading, the presence of God was shown to the People of Israel in the wilderness, feeding them with manna, giving them water from the rock, and leading them to the Promised Land. Yet, the presence we celebrate today is of a deeper kind than they understood. Jesus says just as much in our Gospel, for the bread he gives is not like the bread our ancestors ate, for they are dead, but whoever eats the bread he gives will live forever. 

In his resurrection Jesus revealed our future. We journey towards that future, not strengthened by the old manna but by the Living Bread who will raise us up on the last day. The essence of that future is shown us in the Eucharist: Jesus the one Bread gives us the Spirit to make us one body, one spirit in him. We are caught up in the reconciling sacrifice which inspires us to honour each other as members of one body.

 Here the body and blood of Christ are consumed by us, transforming us, making us men and women in whom God dwells. In this common presence of Christ we have a unity in Christ, forming, as St Paul tells us, a single body. And this presence is not just a reality existing only when we celebrate the Eucharist, but is carried by us into the world throughout our daily lives.

 We find in St Thomas Aquinas’s reflection on the Incarnation of Christ an interesting point: God did not have to redeem us by assuming human body. There are bound to be other ways in which God could have saved us. The humanity of Christ, then, becomes an especially significant instrument of our redemption.

As with that legend of the bamboo, the humiliated and then raised and glorified body of Christ becomes a visible sign of redemption that stretches out across time and space to reach all creation, beginning with Adam. Let us prepare for that eternal bliss by rejoicing now in this wonderful feast; His gift of love. As we share together let us worship what St. Thomas Aquinas did not hesitate to call, "the greatest miracle that Christ ever worked on earth". As Aquinas, put it so well in the Office hymn that he wrote for this great feast, "Faith, our outward sense befriending, makes the inward vision clear".

To Him be the honour and the glory, now and for ever. Amen

25th Sunday Year A

Gospel: Matthew 20: 1-16

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once told of an incident that may have seemed insignificant at the time, but had a profound influence on the rest of his life. The winter he was 9, he went walking across a snow-covered field with his reserved, no-nonsense uncle. As the two of them reached the far end of the field, his uncle stopped him. He pointed out his own tracks in the snow, straight and true as an arrow's flight, and then young Frank's tracks meandering all over the field.

"Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the fence to the cattle to the woods and back again," his uncle said. "And see how my tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that."

Years later the world-famous architect liked to tell how this experience had greatly contributed to his philosophy in life. 

 "I determined right then," he'd say with a twinkle in his eye, "not to miss most things in life, as my uncle had.  

Its all a question of perception isn’t it? Jesus is talking about how we perceive life around us, or the afterlife rather. Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. It is important to bear in mind that this parable, like all the parables we find in the Gospels, is not a literal image of the kingdom of heaven. God can be compared to a householder with a vineyard, but unlike the householder He doesn’t need labourers, nor even need to plant and tend a vineyard.

 I found out something interesting about this reading as I was looking into it. A denarius a day was the minimum wage. If a labourer earned it, he and his family would eat; other­wise they would go to bed hungry. By paying all his workers a denarius, the householder provides them with basic necessities. Maybe those hired at the third hour were unlucky, and got missed earlier. Maybe those hired at the sixth hour had slept in. Maybe those hired at the ninth hour were ill and couldn't work a full day. Those hired at the eleventh hour sound incompetent. None of them is allowed to starve through misfortune, none through their own fault. All are accorded the dignity of doing at least something that contributes to their families' evening meal.

 The Gospels are full of stories of generosity: the loaves and fishes feeding thousands of people, the wonderfully large quantities of wine provided at the marriage at Cana, the indication that forgiveness should be almost without limit (seventy times seven times) and so on. Here the workers' payment seems totally independent of what they can claim to have done. But the message that comes through Matthew's parable is quite reassuring. There is no question in that story of measuring what anyone deserves. The question of payment or rewards handed out to the workers is simply a question of how generous the landowner is.

 That, I think, is why Paul could feel so confident about his future. He was intensely concerned about the people he worked with. He was very often extremely tactless and insensitive in the way he went about trying to help them. In some ways he probably made more mistakes than most of us could ever manage. But mistakes are not what matters: what matters is the generosity and love that provoke our responses to others, however clumsy they might be. 

One of the dangers in our lives as Christians is that we forget that our invitation to labour in God's vineyard is itself a gift. This is the danger that the parable of the householder and his vineyard illustrates. So Jesus is reminding us that every gift springs from the generosity of His Father, and it is not for us to place any limits upon this generosity. For whereas human gifts are often things we expect, even where we don't take them for granted, the Father's divine gift in giving us His Son is greater than anything we could expect or imagine.

And that is probably the basis for Paul's apparent confidence. He is so convinced of God's generosity that he can't see any other possibility. What Jesus achieved when he died and rose from the dead was so great that nothing can block its effects. He doesn't necessarily think that he has never done anything wrong. On the contrary he believes that what Jesus has done is so great that it can overcome any of his faults. If you think about it that is a strong message coming across from the teaching and actions of Jesus through the Gospel stories. He doesn't send people away because they are sinners.

 OK so what is OUR perception of Jesus? Do we think that we are better than other people because we have been Christians for longer, or because we come to Church regularly? Do we follow Jesus because we hope to gain wealth/fame/fortune etc in heaven… “well you know being a Christian is really hard but the rewards are out of this world?” Do we follow Jesus because He did really cool things?

 Is our perception of Jesus ‘aimed directly at my goal’ like Frank Lloyd Wright’s uncle? Or is Jesus our closest friend and an essential part of our daily life? Is it important when we discovered our relationship with Jesus or how long we have known Him? Or is it just that we know Him and that we love Him because He first loved us? Do we follow Jesus because we have a real relationship with Him?

 Are we so confident in Jesus’ grace, like St Paul or do we miss the most important thing in this life? May we know that we are precious and that the God we serve is a generous God who loves us more than life itself!

To Him be the honour and the glory. Amen

33rd Sunday Year A 

Gospel: Matthew 25: 14-30 

Almost 100 years ago thousands of men willingly volunteered to swap their civilian clothes for army browns. With promises of “I’ll be home for Christmas” they marched off to fight for a variety of reasons – King and Country, Lads Brigades, peer pressure, adventure. Today situated on the sites of their battles stand memorials that tell of the lie – Theipval lists the names of over 72 000, Menin Gate 55 000, Tyne Cot 35 000 – and those are just the missing, men whose bodies have never been recovered! After 4 bloody years over 15 million had died and over 20 million were casualties of war; no wonder it was called the War to end all wars. Sadly 21 years later another World War started, even bloodier than the First where over 60 million were killed. Today as we commemorate Remembrance Sunday, I just wonder at the motives of those young men – did they really believe in what they were tasked with fighting for?

 And as I reflected on that, other questions came to mind – do we really believe in the task set before us? I asked the question a few weeks ago – are we people who live the Good News or are we just living the news? And I guess if we really believe we are children of the Kingdom then Jesus is asking us to exercise that belief. Parents have brought their children for Baptism – do they believe their calling or are they just doing it because Granny says it must be done? And what of those who have been Baptised and, for whatever reason, no longer believe they are children of the kingdom – what happens to them?

 At the end of time, which St Paul warns will come like a thief in the night, we will be asked: “Have you done any good?” In this mornings Gospel Jesus talks about having hidden talents, the fear of not believing in our own or someone else’s giftedness. The servant claims that his master is a hard one, whose expectations are so great that the fear of failing to meet them has paralysed him – fearing failure, he didn’t even try to succeed. Jesus tells us that the master will not be very impressed by this inaction through fear… we are not in this world to play it safe. Of course we need to avoid doing wrong but we have to make the most of the time we have to do as much good as we can – never for our own glory but for His. It is the master who gives the talent after all.

 And God is a wonderful Master because He gives us free will, freedom to choose. God isn’t a manipulative puppet master, pulling the strings. If we ignore His calling in our lives and listen instead to the voices of fear – imploring us to do nothing – God will allow us to do nothing. But when the time of Gods’ reckoning comes, then we will weep and grind our teeth when we realise the opportunities we have missed, the extraordinary privilege we have neglected. To use the words of that Bette Midler song, “And those seeds with the suns love, in the spring become the rose.”

 Another thought which struck me as I read the passage again was how the master uses the same words to both the other servants, despite what they have earned with their talents. No comparison is made: if we are always obsessed with measuring ourselves against other people, how often do we fail to see their need?

Have you ever looked at someone else and thought how wonderful it would be to live their life? And yet, when difficult times come, their lives so often crumble?

 The Master invites each and every one of us to come and enjoy His goodness, just as we are, with what we have – faults and all. We can never be good enough on our own, but only through His grace. If we obsess about measuring ourselves against others then we will never be able to enjoy our own happiness but fall into miserable insecurity.

 Those men who marched off believed in something greater than themselves – were they afraid of the future? Was there a real fear of losing face, of not being a man? What are we afraid of when it comes to following Jesus? Can we dare to believe that His promises are in fact true? Can we dare to open our ears to hear the Lord who calls us, who asks for the best we have to give? 

Jesus did not attempt to avoid the future that lay ahead of Him, He allowed Himself to be delivered to the cross. The future offered pain and suffering and yet he still embraced it – WHY - so that He can offer you and me a future we need have no fear of. We can look forward to the time of the Master’s return for we have been about His business. We can look forward to hear his words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”



Reverend Joe Thompson

First Sunday in Lent – LOVE

Gospel: Luke 6: 27-36

“Dearest Jimmy,

No words could ever express the great unhappiness I've felt since breaking off our engagement. Please say that you'll take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you, I love you, I love you! Yours forever, Marie.

P.S., And congratulations on willing the lotto.”

We begin our Lenten preparations by looking at various themes which focus on aspects of our Christian faith. Our theme for today, as you have gathered from the readings is love. I think the more we reflect on Gods love, the more we realise how we fall short of the mark He has set for us and the more we realise our need to ask forgiveness. As we seek God's mercy by confessing our sins, we should remember the petition of the Lord's Prayer, 'Forgive us our sins as -- insofar as -- we forgive those who sin against us.' We have no right to seek God's mercy if we are not prepared to forgive those who harm us. Showing mercy is the greatest expression of love, the best way of doing good to those who harm us.

We could have no better Lenten resolution than to forgive when we've been hurt and apologise when we have caused pain, for forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian gospel. Jesus forgives people in order to restore human relationships, to create just order, and in the end to restore humanity. Sin damages relationships and just order. The only way to repair those damaged relationships and re-establish just order is for sin to be forgiven. Such forgiveness is at the heart of the instructions: 'Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.' Following these instructions would do something towards restoring just order.

Jesus put this teaching into practice in his own life. We only have to recall the passion and Jesus’ words on the Cross: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. This is a perfect expression of the teaching he gave us. The root of the teaching is found in the first phrase: Love your enemies. Jesus is telling us clearly that we must not exclude a single person from our love no matter what they have done or will do. This is a task that will test us to our very limits.

In the Old Testament (Exodus 21;24) we read: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. This Law of Moses establishing that the punishment must not exceed the offence. It might seem harsh to us but it superseded the existing understanding that in revenge you could take a life for an eye, a life for a tooth.

This is the extraordinary challenge that Jesus lays before us: To love the people around us just as He loves us, just as He loves them. The problem is IT IS SO HARD! If I use an everyday example – driving in the traffic – has anyone else noticed how aggressive everyone seems to be?

So how does Jesus expect us to react to this aggression? Our natural instinct is to hit back or retaliate to their anger by swearing at them or showing them where paradise is. Rightly, we think the aggressor must be stopped, otherwise he will think he can get away with harming us and other people. But experience tells us that retaliation tends to escalate. Each of us strikes back with a harder physical or verbal blow. The innocent victim is reduced to the tactics of the guilty aggressor. In the heat of anger we may well say or do things which we will later regret. Retaliation doesn't work. Bitter, vengeful thoughts and actions destroy our peace of mind. Deep down we all long for the peace, which can only be achieved through reconciliation.

The Greek word agape (love) seems to have been virtually a Christian invention -- a new word for a new thing (apart from about twenty occurrences in the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is almost non-existent before the New Testament). Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Jesus. It is not a form of natural affection, however, intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is a matter of will rather than feeling for Christians must love even those they dislike. It is the basic element in Christ-likeness.

Read 1 Corinthians 13 and note what these verses have to say about the primacy (vv. 1-3) and permanence (vv. 8-13) of love; note too the profile of love (vv. 4-7) which they give. There is not much difference lexically between agape and phileo. Both involve a voluntary (I've decided to love you) and involuntary (I can't help but love you) response. One fascinating point: there is no command to love in scripture that ever uses phileo.

What we are talking about then in today’s Gospel is not some ethical system for the good of society or for our own self-interest but something way beyond this. What Jesus gives us is the very principle behind the creation of the universe: God’s infinite love for us all.

We are called to love because He first loved us… and that’s even better than winning the lottery! A young man said to his father at breakfast one morning, "Dad, I'm going to get married."

"How do you know you're ready to get married?" asked the father. "Are you in love?"

"I sure am," said the son. "How do you know you're in love?" asked the father.

"Last night as I was kissing my girlfriend good-night, her dog bit me and I didn't feel the pain until I got home."


Rev. Joe Thompson

Second Sunday of Easter - Year C 2010

Gospel: John 21: 1-19

Two weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, I was blessed to be able to walk through a WWI trench in Delville Wood where over 3000 South Africans lost their lives in the space of a week. It made me reflect on the friendships that were forged and lost in those horrible conditions – and of the friendships that survived.

A British publication once offered a prize for the best definition of what it means to be a friend. Among the many answers received were the following:

"One who multiplies joys, divides grief, and whose honesty is inviolable."

"One who understands our silence."

"A volume of sympathy bound in cloth."

"A watch that beats true for all time and never runs down."

The winning definition read: "A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out."

The Easter story is all about friendship, isn’t it? In the Upper Room all of the disciples vow that they will never leave Jesus, no matter what. Peter is horrified when Jesus says that Peter will deny Him three times – “No Lord surely not me!” And yet in a few hours time the Shepherd had been struck and the sheep were scattered. Peter had disowned Jesus three times, while the other disciples had deserted him.

At the beginning of today's Gospel we see Peter coping with the trauma of Christ's death by trying to put the dreadful nightmare behind him. Dazed and no doubt confused by all that has happened, and probably ashamed of his lack of friendship to Jesus, Peter reacts in the only way he can – he reverts to the familiar security of his former life as a fisherman. So he says, 'Guys, I don’t know what to make of all this - I'm going fishing.' And the other disciples join him.

Galilee is where Jesus would have met His disciples for the first time. He was the stranger who appeared from nowhere, calling to them, "Follow me!" They left their nets and their fishing to do just that. Now they had returned to Galilee, their own country, to their wooden boats. They fish all night but have caught nothing before Jesus appears to them on the shore.

Peter is in the boat, the man standing on the shore tells them to put out the net on the other side and there is a miraculous catch of fish. John says, “It is the Lord”, and the almost naked Peter jumps out of the boat in his eagerness to get to Jesus. They haven’t caught anything until Jesus standing on the shore directs them where to put out the net. This is often regarded as a way stressing the apostles (and our) inability to achieve any results unless we do things under the guidance of Christ. Peter is practically naked which is regarded as symbolising his spiritual nakedness, his plunging into the water symbolises his purification from the sin of denial.

There is a fire on the shore and Jesus tells them to bring one of the fish for breakfast – a normal act of friendship. Jesus is restoring their friendship with an act of forgiveness – it is as if He is saying, ”Come on now lets forget what you did and just enjoy being together again.”

Of course, this leads to the crucial part of the story - the whole sequence of the three-fold Do you love me questioning of Peter and the prophesy about his death. The three-fold question is obviously meant as a full forgiveness and rehabilitation for the three-fold denial of Jesus by Peter before the crucifixion. But it is also a reassertion of his particular role as the Shepherd of Christ’s Church and telling us about the nature of his authority. It is an authority based on love.

By healing the wounds of desertion and denial, Jesus re-gathered his scattered sheep -- his friends. He now appoints Peter as shepherd of His flock, who is to feed Christ's sheep with the word and bread of life, which are Jesus Himself.

The mission of the whole Church is to be fishers of humanity, drawing people of every nation to Christ, to gather together His scattered sheep and feed them. Our unity in Christ is celebrated in the Eucharist, which was foreshadowed in the meal on the shore.

The Church's mission is rooted in humble repentance and love for Christ and His flock. Peter, who had disowned the crucified Christ, would prove his love and loyalty by sacrificing his life for his master. The beloved disciple would show his loving commitment in a different way, as he spent his long life in contemplating the wonder of the Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, contemplating what it means to have Jesus as your friend…

It doesn’t matter where we are in our relationship with Jesus, He is always willing to make the effort to come out and find us. Even if it is in the everyday chores of this life, Jesus will meet us and share His love with us – because that is what friends do. They understand. You can weep with them, sing with them, laugh with them, pray with them – and as so many found in the horrors of the trenches, you can die with them too. Through it all and underneath it all - they see and know and love you for you. So what is my definition of a friend? Someone who is willing to journey alongside you and with whom you dare to be yourself. I probably got this from someone else, but it made sense to me on that Easter Sunday. I think it is a definition of our best friend… Jesus journeys alongside us and He is the one with whom we can dare to be ourselves.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, "What! You, too? I thought I was the only one." - C.S. Lewis.

May we rejoice in our friendship with Jesus and in our friendship with one another and may these bonds grow ever deeper. Amen

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2012
Rev Joe Thompson
St Dunstan's  Lent 5

 Gospel: John 12: 20-33

In Valladolid, Spain, where Christopher Columbus died in 1506, stands a monument commemorating the great discoverer. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the memorial is a statue of a lion destroying one of the Latin words that had been part of Spain's motto for centuries. Before Columbus made his voyages, the Spaniards thought they had reached the outer limits of earth. Thus their motto was "Ne Plus Ultra," which means "No More Beyond." The word being torn away by the lion is "Ne" or "No," making it read "Plus Ultra." Columbus had proven that there was indeed "More Beyond."

These words echo an event long before in Judea, where this group of Greeks ask the most wonderful question of Philip, “We want to see Jesus.” In His response, Jesus points to what lies ahead and suggests that through the cross there is more beyond death.  

It is also a moment of truth for Jesus. What is the old saying: Nothing concentrates the mind more wonderfully than the prospect of immanent death. And Jesus’ mind is concentrated wonderfully and he comes out with one of his most evocative sayings: Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest. 

We must again and again reiterate that this life is only part of life. This life is only the prelude, only the overture to the real life—the fullness of life itself promised us by God, eternal life. As Jesus says later in the Gospel (Jn 17:3): And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

 When our earthly life is over, when we have reproduced in our bodies the passion and death of our Saviour we like him will rise to newness of life. We shall, when cleansed from every stain of sin, take our place with him in the company of the saints. We shall see him as he really is and we shall become like him. All of which comes through having a personal meeting with Jesus – when we ask for ourselves, “I want to see Jesus.” 

Something like this occurs again and again throughout the Fourth Gospel: the Faith of the Church, which is none other than the understanding of Jesus by His disciples, is seen as emerging from personal encounter with Him. St John himself emphasises his, and his fellow Apostles', first hand experience of Christ. At the beginning of his first epistle he says that what he's talking about is 'what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands…'

We spend these next two last weeks of Lent in the shadow of the Cross. As we approach Good Friday, each day we think more on the terrible events that unfolded all those years ago. And as Christians our natural instinct is to accompany Jesus on that last journey and feel deeply for Him as we witness from a distance the brutalities and indignities He experienced for our sake.

The Cross does cast a shadow across the life of every Christian—we all experience loss, sorrow and suffering at one time or another. But knowing that our Divine Saviour walked that way before us gives us the strength to carry on. And we carry on full of hope precisely because of the victory He won for us on the Cross of Calvary.

As an aside, we should note that this is the first time in the Gospel of John that the voice of God is heard—because there is no voice at the Baptism and no account of the Transfiguration. With this announcement from heaven at such a crucial moment we see the extraordinary closeness between Jesus and the Father, their wills are absolutely united.

But perhaps to conclude we ought to look at the words from the Letter to the Hebrews: During his life on earth Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, with loud cries and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him from death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.

As we live in the realisation of that question for ourselves in our own lives, that we would see Jesus, may we understand that He offers us more and beyond our wildest dreams… His love that goes beyond this life. Amen.

Thirteenth Sunday – Year B
Gospel: Mark 5: 21-43 

The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their schoolwork during stays in the city's hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child and she went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain.

Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she took his hand, "I've been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs." When she left she felt she hadn't accomplished much. 

But the next day, a nurse asked her, "What did you do to Johnny?" The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize.

"No, no," said the nurse. "You don't understand. We've been so worried about Johnny, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, responding to treatment. It's as though he's decided to live.

Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a boy who was dying, would they?"   

Sickness and death are part of our fallen human condition. The very-down-to-earth experience of dealing with the reality of sickness and death in my own family has helped me to look at these experiences in the Gospel as more than just sanctimonious stories. More and more I am becoming aware of the power of hope and the influence of a future filled with promise. 

In this mornings Gospel we see hope at work exceptionally powerfully. As Jesus goes off with Jairus, the crowd follows Jesus, 'pressing on him', jostling him so that the haemorrhaging woman sees her chance to 'come up behind him in the crowd and touch his garment'. She is filled with a hope that somehow she will be cured if she just trusts in His power; perhaps she thought nobody would notice. 'At once she knew in her body that she was healed'. Jesus, however, 'at once knowing in himself that power had gone out of him, turns round in the crowd and asks': 'Who touched my clothes?'

When they reach the synagogue officer's house, Jesus 'sees an uproar', 'people weeping and crying aloud', professional mourners, no doubt. When He tells them the girl is not dead but sleeping they jeer at Him. Going into the house, and 'taking hold of the hand of the child', He speaks to her in Aramaic, 'Little girl, I say to you, get up'. At once she gets up.  

The vital phrase in this passage for me is surely the references to touching, to the woman who touches Jesus, and to Himself taking the little girl by the hand. In these down to earth, practical miracles Jesus graphically overcomes the ancient, almost instinctive and natural fears that keep people from reaching out to one another. Jesus challenges his followers to identify and disown any such rituals by which we are accustomed to avoid being contaminated, as we fear, by outsiders and outcastes. Jesus challenges us all to face up to whatever sinister prejudices and irrational beliefs there are which set us apart from our fellow human beings.

Jesus’ power to do these things is the power of perfect love – the love that moves Him to bring His healing and life-giving power to bear. It is this same love that would move Him to the Cross and pour out his blood to cleanse the entire world of sin. And through this amazing action, Jesus has filled us with hope and the promise of an incredible future. The challenge for us, as we have been touched by His love, is to go out and to show others who have lost hope what it really is about.

St Paul – writing to the Corinthians – challenges them to be generous with their gifts, to build up the people around them. “It is not that you ought to relieve other people’s needs and leave yourselves in hardship, but that there should be a fair balance. Your surplus at present may fill their deficit, and another time their surplus may fill yours…” (II Cor 8: 13-14) 

I guess the hardest thing for us to realise is our own calling to offer hope. Too often we think that there are others more suited to do this work, or better able etc. And how can we offer hope when things appear at a glance to be so hopeless? Never ever doubt the power of hope. That teacher was appalled at first glance and doubted she had made any difference, but just by her presence and touch she changed Johnny’s view of life.

Know that you have the power to effect change in other people’s lives. You have the power to instil hope – use your power often, use it freely, use it generously because it comes from Him. And to Him be the Honour and the glory, now and for ever. Amen


There has been a lot written this week about the anniversary of 9/11. One article in particular caught my eye, it was written 7 years ago but holds an amazing truth. It talked about the growing number of terrorist cells around the world – a relatively small number of people without huge material resources, yet with the potential to influence the whole of world history. The article went on to comment about the so called war on terror. But then the author wrote this –

But if the terrorists can change the world, why can’t we? If a small number of dedicated young men can gather like clandestine home groups to make their plans, can’t a network of Christ’s followers plot a disarming campaign in response? One that is sweeping in its scale, creative in its scope, daring in its execution and positive in its effect?

[The opposite of terror by Brian Draper] 

That really got me thinking – well, yes, why not, what’s holding us back? It all comes down to how we, as followers of Christ, answer the question that He poses to His disciples – “AND YOU, WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?” 

Today's Gospel reading contains both the glory and the shame of being a follower of Christ. Glory in that, like St Peter, we recognise and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; shame in that we often fail to fully live up to this confession, and betray our lack of understanding.

This is true on an individual level, as the Cathedral community, and true also of the Church as a whole. Like St Peter, we often think in selfish and secularised ways; we have the mind of the world, rather than the mind of Christ.  

That said, St Peter is also a great encouragement for all of us. Personally, we can take heart that he could be impetuous, prone to exaggeration (like all fishermen), and even betray Christ, and yet still be chosen to be the leader of the Apostles. Peter also has flashes of self-knowledge, as when he says to Jesus, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.' I love Peter – he gives every Christian hope! 

St Peter is also a microcosm of the Church. He can both have a true faith in Christ, but also fail to always live up to it. In the same way, the Church, guided by the Spirit of Christ, has always maintained the fullness of the faith, despite the individual and communal sinfulness of her members. As the bride of Christ, who gave Himself up for her to sanctify her, she is holy and the source of grace and salvation. 

Jesus knew the Father would not abandon him, but this does not lessen the intensity or integrity of his suffering. As followers of Christ, we are called to share in the suffering of Christ. This is a terrible but ultimately liberating truth. We might have a romantic view of how we want to suffer with Christ, but we can be sure that God will present us with a cross that will require real courage, and deep faith, hope and charity to undergo. May God who gives us the desire to suffer with Christ and be sanctified by him, give us also the grace to take up our cross and follow him. 

At this very moment some of us may be living out our Christianity in fear for our livelihood, trusting that God will provide but not too sure what tomorrow may bring. Yet others, in an increasingly secular society, may be cornered by legislation that deeply offends our Christian consciences. We may have a heavy career-price to pay if our convictions prevent us from following our leaders. Others may be subjected to victimization and vilification for no other reason than that choosing to wear in public the accepted Christian symbol - the Cross. I heard this week that a BA stewardess was asked to remove her crucifix because it may offend some passengers! 

Many of us, young and old, insist on living according to certain values. Day in, day out, we meet with jeers for being idealistic - out of touch with the reality which is capable of wealth, comfort, pleasure and success. I want to affirm you today in your courageously living up to your deep convictions – keep it up! 

What distinguishes us from wild animals is that we humans can identify and espouse ideals and insist on living by them, in the full knowledge that this will involve much personal sacrifice. By contrast, animals pursue gratification and survival by all means possible without any qualms of conscience.

And what distinguishes us as Christians is our answer to Jesus’ question. For us Jesus is the Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. As His followers we live in a loving relationship with Christ. It is a relationship that is far from comfortable, far from cosy. In fact, it is in many ways a difficult relationship, grounded on our resolve to remain His disciples, no matter what the cost to ourselves. 

It is in that spirit and in response to His question that we come today to reaffirm our role in the world and to offer ourselves to Him in this place. DG is about accepting our responsibility to maintain this Cathedral family as a beacon of light, hope and faith. It is about our standing up for Jesus in Benoni and committing ourselves to keeping His flame alight. DG is about our response – AND YOU ST DUNSTAN’S CATHEDRAL, WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?


I came across this quote last week, searching for a lesson for my Grade 11’s; it comes from an interview with the actress Jodie Foster in May 2000…

It’s your responsibility to conduct yourself ethically throughout the process – always ethically first – so that somewhere down the line, somebody’s going to let you live up to your own potential.” (Jodie Foster in discussion with Tamar Laddy of, May 2000)

 I like that quote for all sorts of reasons. Firstly it suggests that whatever we do in life begins with our own attitude – it is our responsibility. Secondly we cannot blame anyone else for our behaviour – it is also our responsibility (as Nelson Mandela said, “They could put me behind bars but they couldn’t imprison my mind”). Thirdly it speaks of others recognising something special in us that allows them the opportunity to release our potential. Simon Sinek, on giving a lecture on leadership, said, “leaders are people of power and authority… People who lead inspire us.” 

When I read this mornings Gospel, it came down to these factors for me – power and success. James and John come to Jesus with this seemingly strange request… they want to sit on either side of Jesus in His kingdom. They believe that these positions will be positions of power and will be a sign that they have become successful – remember that John was still quite young at this stage. What I love is Jesus’ response – did you notice it? He doesn’t get angry with them for asking such an impertinent question; He gets angry with the others because they get jealous of James and John, maybe they wanted those seats for themselves? 

In the Book of Daniel (7: 14) the Son of Man is depicted as a glorious figure coming in the crowds of heaven, “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him.” Wouldn’t we want to be seen with such a figure? But Jesus turns this image on its head, describing the Son of Man as one who, “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

The Lord of all creation has humbled Himself and come to serve the many. Jesus did not say this in order to humiliate us but to remind us of just how much He loves us. Just as Jesus didn’t get upset with the two disciples, He doesn’t get upset when we allow selfish ideas to cloud our judgement. And the main reason for that is the fact that Jesus recognises something precious in each one of us, something which we can forget from time to time – that God made each of us and loves. Our value doesn’t lie in what we can do or where we live or what car we drive; our value lies in what we are – children of the eternal Father (children by adoption through grace). As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “For the high priest we have… has been put to the test in exactly the same way as ourselves, apart from sin. Let us then, have no fear in approaching the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace when we are in need of help.” (4: 15-16). 

So what does all this have to do with us today you may ask? We have just held the Diocesan Synod and one of the thoughts I came away with was concerning leadership and success. Can we afford to sit back and just rely on God’s grace to get us through this life or does it require something more from us? Are we inspiring other people by the way we live our lives and the choices we make? 

There is a human tendency for us to define ourselves by what we do, and not by what we are. Jesus has already told His disciples about His coming suffering in disgrace and death a number of times and each time they have failed to understand what he means. Too often, they appear preoccupied with their own status in the coming kingdom. How is that like you and me – what are our expectations of God, do we count the cost of being a disciple and weigh it up against future glory?

I asked a question in our staff prayer group on Thursday morning – when last did we say I love you Lord, without taking it any further, so not asking for something in return? When last did you begin your day by simply saying, “I love you Jesus” 

I want to pick up on another part of what Jesus says in the Gospel when He says that the Son of Man comes for the many. Jesus isn’t talking about a payment of some debt to anyone. He means that His life, given in loving service, will be the means of setting people free. And when He says many, it is not in the sense of many but not all; rather in the sense of a multitude too great to count (as St John sees in the Revelation). This was important to Jesus because He mentioned it again at the Last Supper, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which will be poured out for many.” Here Jesus appears to be speaking of a new people of God, created and formed out of His life, death and resurrection. 

So the challenge for us today, for me, is to live ethically as children of a loving Father, knowing that as we do that to the best of our abilities, we will reach our true potential. That potential is not for our own glory or to prove that we are right – rather it is to the glory of the One who loves each of us more than life itself. It is a response to His calling, a simple response maybe, but a telling one and one we should strive for each day of our lives – I love you Jesus. Amen

All Saints 2012

Once, as an experiment, the great scientist Isaac Newton stared at the image of the sun reflected in a mirror. The brightness burned into his retina, and he suffered temporary blindness. Even after he hid for three days behind closed shutters, still the bright spot would not fade from his vision. "I used all means to divert my imagination from the sun," he wrote, "But if I thought upon him I presently saw his picture though I was in the dark." What we know is that if he had stared a few minutes longer, Newton might have become permanently blind! Whenever he closed his eyes, the brightness of the sun was still clearly visible. 

That’s what sainthood is about, isn’t it – it is about shining in people’s lives to the extent that whenever they think on us, they can see our light shining clearly. Of course, it’s not our light but rather God’s light that shines through us. Unfortunately so many people forget what it means to shine, or are too scared to allow the light into their lives or perhaps just choose to allow that light to die. 

In this mornings’ Gospel, Jesus pronounces the eight Beatitudes as he sits down to begin teaching the vast assembled crowd. The Sermon on the Mount calls people to live a life so morally upright we might be tempted to turn away and just say it is impossible. But there is something profound in Jesus words because He is calling us to this life by inviting us to live in Him and through Him. It is a kind of living worthy of those who are loved into being by God, those sustained and fulfilled by God’s presence.

I came across the following a few weeks ago and really liked it… What did Jesus see when he looked out over that crowd? When Jesus looks at the crowd, He sees them as they are. He connects immediately with their lived experience. They have come to Him because they want more. They don’t want to live life in the darkness anymore. They want to taste eternity even now... What Jesus sees before Him as He sits down to teach are people poor in spirit, mourning, meek and hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, people persecuted for the sake of righteousness, persecuted because they call on His Name. Had anyone else sat down on that mountain and saw that crowd, they may have said, “Worthless”, but not Him. Jesus sees them and says: “Blessed.” Can’t He see them, has He misunderstood? Or is He looking at them in a different way, a radically different way? 

Jesus knows the eternal love of the Father and He sees that love shining through them. So even in their worthlessness they are already blessed. It is their destiny that makes them blessed. The love of God that guides them to that destiny even now enables them to experience the blessedness of their eternal promise. Grace, the gift of God’s love, allows them to live the kind of life their Christ lives. 

From that early start, there have been an infinite variety of the Saints  -  not all of them will appeal to us equally; but we are bound to find some that appeal to us wherever we are in our journey of sainthood. The sheer numbers of Saints, as well as their inclusiveness ('from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages'), including all those hidden ones about whom we know nothing, but whom we celebrate especially on All Saints Day, all this strengthens our sense of what it is that we belong to: the human family of God from Adam to the end of the world, drawn together in Christ: both those who like us are still on the way, as well as those who already have a share in the blissful life of God. 

“But Fr Joe, I’m no saint, I’m not holy…” Here’s a newsflash – neither am I; but you are and, incredibly, so am I!  Holiness is to do with the extent to which a person has been open to the transforming life of God, and is therefore included in the community of salvation which we call the Body of Christ, or, as we say in the Creed, the 'communion of saints'. The Saints are linked to us in this Body. They sustain us in hope, because they are models for us, and reminders of what is possible for us too through the power of the Holy Spirit. And they pray for us incessantly, because of the love which unites them to us in the Body of Christ. 

So St Paul, in writing to the saints in Corinth, reminds them that they are people who have seen the glory of God shining on the face of Christ. St John in the Revelation sees the great multitude standing before the Lamb, clothed in white. Somewhere in that crowd stand you and I… not because of anything we have done but through the Grace and Love of God. 

So what does this mean for us today? If I say to you that you are a saint and blessed by God – how are you going to face today, how will you face what the week ahead holds? Each one of us is called to allow the light of Christ to shine through us in such a way that others are reminded of its brightness, especially when they are in the dark. Remember my words of two weeks ago… start each day with the reminder of what is important. Start each day by saying, I love you Lord.” To You be the honour and the glory, today and for ever. Amen.