Sunday, 27 September 2015
I want to speak about two things today: Jealousy and Thanksgiving.
In both our first reading and in our Gospel text we heard disciples of the Lord being jealous about supernatural gifts that were given to others. The young man ran to Moses to complain that the supernatural gift of prophecy had been given to two men who weren't in the Tent (of meeting) -the two men had been given something, and the young boy didn’t think they should have it. Similarly, in the Gospel we heard how John complained to the Lord that the gift of casting out devils had been given to someone who wasn't in their group. In both cases we can detect jealousy about what had been given to someone else.
Now, jealousy is an odd sort of thing. These days I often find myself getting jealous of young men with hair. I still have some hair, but not as much or as thick as it once was. And I find myself jealous.
So, what is jealousy? St Thomas defines jealousy as a type of SADNESS that we experience at the good of another.
I see a young man with hair, and instead of being happy for him, happy that he has hair, somehow, I feel sad instead.
St Thomas adds further that the reason for such sadness is that we somehow imagine that the reason I DON’T have something is because this other person has it. The young man not only has hair but he has an iPhone 6S –and there is a limited number of those to go around, so I somehow feel that his having it means I don't. And I feel sad.
And sometimes, as in today's Gospel, we can feel sad in jealousy because even though we DO have something we don't want others to have it TOO, we are POSSESSIVE, we think that someone else having something nice DETRACTS from my having it too. To return to that Scriptural example, John had the gift of casting out devils, but he was sad that this gift was also being shared by others -his jealousy was linked with a possessiveness about it.
Such a sadness is a silly thing, even if it's a real thing. It can consume us and stop us enjoying the goods things we have because we are focussed on the good things that OTHER people have. It's a sadness, a sadness that leaves us sad. But there is a remedy: giving thanks.
Let me note four things that happen when I give thanks:
First, my giving thanks renders back to God the thanksgiving that I OWE Him.
Second, I become happier by focussing on what’s right rather than on what might seem wrong. I shift my focus away from my sadness at others, and shift my attention to what I have myself. And in giving thanks to God for it and in remembering that I have it, and I enjoy it more. And I become happier.
Third, my thanksgiving to God for his gifts to me frees me of the possessiveness linked with jealousy, because I recall that I don’t truly possess any of these things -they are talents on loan from God.
Finally, my turning back to God reminds me of His goodness towards me. Nothing in life makes us happier than knowing that we are loved (c.f. My previous sermon quoting Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino, n.iii). And nothing reminds us that we are loved more obviously than seeing the signs of such love, and giving thanks to God focuses exactly on such signs.
To sum that up. Jealousy is a real thing, but not a good thing. It is a sadness in me when I see someone else with something good.
The remedy is to give thanks. Thanks in the morning, thanks during the day, thanks, especially, as habit at the end of the day before going to bed.
Thanks: To see the good that I HAVE, not what others have; to see it as a sign of God’s love for me; to rejoice in seeing that good, and to rejoice in knowing it as a sign that I am loved.
Sunday, 20 September 2015
Sunday, 13 September 2015
When Christ hung upon the Cross very few people recognised Him for WHO He truly was.
In terms of what He WAS: He was the Son of God, He was the Messiah, He was the Chosen One they were all waiting for.
But, in terms of what He LOOKED like: He was battered, bruised, bleeding, ugly.
There was one person, however, and St Mark’s Gospel makes a point of noting it, there was one person who at that very moment, in the Messiah’s weakness and ugliness, that recognised Him. St Mark notes that the centurion who stood at the foot of the Cross, who had seen Him suffer, had seen how He reacted to all that happened to Him –that centurion was moved to faith in Jesus. This pagan centurion declared, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”(Mk 15:39). It was precisely at that most UNLIKELY moment that the centurion confessed who Jesus was.
That account of the centurion is recorded for us by St Mark, and the account we heard in today's Gospel text was also from St Mark. Many commentators note a deliberate parallel St Mark gives in these two confessions. The confession we heard today by St. Peter also truly recognised Christ, with St. Peter saying, “You are the Christ”, the Son of the living God (Mk 8:29, cf Mt 16:16). St Peter’s words didn't recognise Him at the Cross, but the words of the Lord Jesus at that moment pointed St Peter towards the Cross. The Lord’s words followed St Peter’s confession of who He was by declaring that the Christ was going to suffer and be killed, and referred directly to the “cross”(Mk 8:34).
St Mark is doing this very deliberately. The confession by the centurion of who Jesus was AT THE CROSS, and, the prophecy of the Cross to St. Peter at the moment when St. Peter is recognising WHO Jesus is, this all has a profound point:
WHO Jesus is is intrinsically linked with the Cross.
You cannot recognise the TRUE Jesus without recognising that He is the One who has come to die, come to die for us. He is “the suffering servant”(Isa 53), suffering with us and for us.
There are many practical points about how this applies to us, but let me note this one:
When we meet Jesus we often don't recognise Him, and we don't recognise Him because He comes to us in the Cross.
In contrast, when something nice happens to me, when the sun shines on my day off, when someone leaves me a nice cottage pie for my lunch, when my real ale tastes good -in these and many such moments I think: God is good, God is real, and I sense that I have met Him in that moment.
Other times, however, when He meets me in the Cross, I don’t recognise Him:
Someone asks me to do something when I'm already busy, my patience is tested, and instead of experiencing this as a moment of meeting Jesus as He had His patience tried on the Cross, I fail to realise that this, too, was a moment I could have met the Lord.
Again, someone is rude or abrupt to me, my love is tested, and instead of experiencing this as a moment of meeting Jesus as He had His love tested when people said insulting and rude things to Him as He hung on the Cross, I fail to realise that this too, was a moment I could have met the Lord.
Again, when I was sick and weak after my hernia operation this summer, my inner strength was tested, and instead of experiencing this as a moment of meeting the Lord who was weak on the Cross, who offered His sufferings for others as He hung on the Cross, instead of offering up my sufferings, I fail to realise that this too was a moment I could have met the Lord.
So, let us each ask ourselves when we recognise the presence of the Lord Jesus in our lives.
Because if we know Him for who He truly is, if we know Him as the One who suffered for us and even now is with us, then we shouldn't be surprised to recognise Him in tough moments as well as easy ones. Both are “blessed” moments –but in different ways.
And St Mark’s deliberate connection of the identifying of WHO Jesus is with the CROSS should remind us that it is often on the Cross that we find Him still today.
Sunday, 6 September 2015
Picking up on our second reading from St James, and thinking of our parish Harvest Festival this weekend, I’d like to spend a moment today considering how we look at “the poor” and how we look at ourselves.
Now it’s a noteworthy point that very few people I meet think of themselves as rich. I meet very few people who say, “I’m rich, I’m comfortable, I don’t know what to do with all my money”.
Instead, I meet parishioners who say things like, “We’re not going to be able to repair such-and-such this year because we’ve not got the money”.
Or, even if they’ve managed to go on holiday, might say something like, “It’s been wonderful to go on a proper holiday this summer, we’ve not be able to for years” -aware that money feels tight.
Such observations are real. And they indicate a true sense of not having the funds we would like to have.
However, a harvest festival is a moment to try and step back and see the bigger picture, and realise that for almost all of us in Shaftesbury, we need to acknowledge that there are most people in the world are much poorer than we are.
In our second reading St James said, “it was those who are poor according to the world that God chose”(James 2:5). Who were those “poor”?
The Israelites in slavery in Egypt, under the harsh yoke of the Pharaohs.
The Jews starving in hunger, wandering in the desert.
The captives in Babylon, homeless and driven from their land.
And, thinking of the imagery in today’s Gospel and first reading, “the poor” were:
The blind, the deaf, the lame.
And what did God do for such “poor”?
He gave the Jews a Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.
And the Lord Jesus gave sight to the blind, and healed the sick.
But, let us note, though St James repeatedly berates the wealthy for not caring for the worldly needs of the poor, nonetheless, the REAL blessings he says God offers the poor are something else.
He says that God chose them “to be rich in FAITH and to be heirs to the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him”(James 2:5).
That kingdom, the one established in the New Covenant in Christ, is an eternal kingdom in HEAVEN.
And the poor he speaks of are rich in “faith” because they have allowed their lowliness to be something that causes them to humbly reach out to the Almighty.
In contrast the Scriptural imagery portrays the rich as self-satisfied, as proud, and as not aware that they need to reach to the Lord.
To conclude, do we think of ourselves as “poor” or as “rich”?
In comparison to much of the world, most of us need to acknowledge that we are “rich” in possessions and thus need to be generous with them.
But, before the Lord, we are “poor” and needy, and the manner in which the Lord raises up the lowly is reminder that we need to be sure we remember our poverty before Him, because it is when we do that He raises us up too.