Sunday, 26 June 2011

26th June 2011, Mission Week

There is no sermon text today because the sermon was from our Mission Week preacher, Fr Francis Maple OFM Cap

Sunday, 19 June 2011

19th June 2011, Mission Week

There is no sermon text today because the sermon was from our Mission Week preacher, Fr Francis Maple OFM Cap

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Pentecost, Shaftesbury

Acts 2:1-11
I recently got a new gadget for my birthday: a smartphone that includes a calendar with all my schedules, task lists, and even the priestly prayers of the Breviary that I need to say.
The guy in the shop who showed it to me said it would change my life, which is rather odd, because I didn’t actually ask for my life to be changed –I was rather happy with it the way it was, thank you.
Like many such gadgets, it’s supposed to make my life easier.
And, I’ve been reflecting recently on how many aspects of modern life are supposed to make our life easier, and yet, modern life seems more and more complicated; time seems more and more pressured; expectations get higher and higher, and ‘stress’ is often described as one of the defining characteristics of modern life.

Today, on Pentecost, I want to briefly remind you about an ‘app’ you can’t download on your iphone, but it nonetheless the best download available to beat stress: the Holy Spirit.

For most of us, a deepest root of stress lies in feeling that we are ALONE with our problems, that there is task to do that I can’t do alone, and yet I somehow feel alone in attempting it.
At Pentecost we should remember that Jesus told the Apostles that He would send them another helper. The word 'Paraclete' that Jesus used when He promised the Holy Spirit, that word has a number of meanings, including helper, protector, and support. In all of them what is clear is that there is another PERSON being offered to us as a help to us. We were not created to carry our burdens alone. We were created to have the person of the Holy Spirit helping within us.

It is easy to see in the Bible, that the Spirit changes the character of those in whom He comes to dwell, He re-creates them, and we heard a clear example in our first reading (Acts 2:1-11). Before Pentecost the apostles were afraid, they couldn't cope, they hid in the Upper Room. I imagine that they suffered from some form of stress: They had already received the command to go and preach the Gospel to all nations (Mt 28:19) but were fearful and in hiding, powerless to go and do what they'd been told to do. However, when the Spirit came upon them they went forth into the streets and preached courageously. What they were unable to do by themselves, they were able to do with the strength of the Helper sent to them by Christ.

If we want to live in Third Millennium in a life that is free of the stress that overpowers and destroys so many, then we need to make use of the Helper that Jesus promised to send us. And if we want to make use of that Helper then we will need to pray to Him to ask Him to come, and as well as praying, we will need to make room in our hearts for His action and will.

There is, however, a certain irony that is involved in having the help of the Holy Spirit:
We have to first put in the effort and time involved in connecting with Him.
To put your life on a new footing, to pray, takes time.
And that might well seem like another burden to your stressed life.
But it’s a burden that ultimately lifts its own weight.

An example of the spiritual investment of time that we benefit from making lies in our parish mission next weekend. If you are to benefit from what is on offer, you need to invest the time to attend the events. A whole week of sermons might seem like a lot of lost time, but as the great Pope John Paul II put it, time with God is never time lost, but time re-gained (Dies Domini, n7).

In the shop, the guy selling the smartphones said I’d have to learn how to use it, I’ve have to invest the time and effort, but that it would then save time and save effort.
Whether or not that’s true for an iphone, its certainly true of the one who Jesus called 'the Helper' –the most important ‘app’ for any of us to download

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Ascension Year A, Shaftesbury

Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23
One of the defining aspects of today’s feat of the Ascension is the question of ‘hope’.
We heard St Paul refer to ‘hope’ in our second reading when he spoke of “what hope His call holds for you”(Eph 1:18).

I want to illustrate the question of what we should be hoping for, by indicating not what the early Christians hoped for, but what the Jews hoped for –which is the same thing as what the disciples of Jesus hoped for BEFORE they understood what Jesus was teaching them. And I want to make this point by referring to the issue of the “kingdom”.

For the Jews of the Old Testament, "the kingdom" referred to the glory days of the Jewish people: it referred to the time when King David and his descendants ruled Israel as a wealthy and independent nation. After the Jewish people were conquered and taken into captivity in Babylon it was the hope of the RESTORATION of “the kingdom” that was the defining hope of the Jewish people. Because even when they were released from captivity in Babylon and they were allowed to return to the Promised Land, they were not independent, they were not a "kingdom" –they were ruled by other kingdoms.
So, the defining hope that animated the Jewish people was the hope of the restoration of "the kingdom". It was this that they were expecting the Messiah to do for them.

The disciples of Jesus, when they first began to follow Jesus, had this same expectation and the same hope of what "the kingdom" was about.
It seems that all through the time when Jesus walked among them and taught them they still maintained this very political hope of a restored "kingdom". And so it is that we heard them ask, before the very moment that He ascended up to heaven, "Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"(Acts 1:6).

What happened at that Ascension radically changed what it was they hoped for, and radically changed their whole notion of what "the kingdom" was about. Their hope became a hope of heaven rather than a hope merely for a restored political kingdom on earth.
We can see an indication of this in something as simple as the number of times that the word "kingdom" is used in the Bible:
Before the Ascension, Jesus uses the word "kingdom" 105 times in the Gospels (according to my word count using, excluding 14 uses of the word in other contexts
After the Ascension, the later books of the new Testament use the word "kingdom" only 32 times (excluding 4 uses of the word in other contexts

That word count indicates SOMETHING of the shift in understanding that occurred, but the word count alone fails to reveal the even deeper shift in the meaning and interpretation that was put on the concept of "kingdom":
"the kingdom" that they hoped for was no longer a restored political empire but “the kingdom of heaven”. And, once they understood this central truth that Jesus had spent so long trying to explain to them, the language and metaphor of "kingdom" became much less significant, and so they used the word "kingdom" much less.

Now, very simply, for ourselves, we need to be sure that our hopes are likewise affected by today's feast of the Ascension. Jesus has been taken up into “glory” and this is the same "rich glory He has promised the saints will inherit"(Eph 1:18). And everything else that I hope for as I live in this passing world needs to be a hope that is relative to that true hope of heaven. Where He has gone, we hope to follow.