Sunday, 26 November 2017

Christ the King, Year A

Mt 25:31-46; Ezek 34:11-17
Today I want us to consider why we should want a king.
The past couple weeks we’ve seen the deposing of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. He was something like a king, and they didn’t want him.
Angela Merkel in Germany is currently struggling to get re-elected. Somewhat like Theresa May, she seems at risk of going from complete control to being a power of yesterday.
Earthly rulers rise and fall. They are inherently transitory.
The Lord Jesus, however, is king forever.
But why do we want a king? Especially, given that we live in a democratic age.

The image of kingship we hear in our readings this year, Year A, is both frightening as comforting.
Frightening, because the king will come to judge. How many of us feel truly comfortable being judged on the criteria the Lord listed:
Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, caring for “the least of these”.
Being judged in frightening.
But, it’s also an indication of power:
If you’re going to have a king, its good to have a king who is powerful enough to DO things.

What of comfort? The king is also portrayed as a shepherd.
This is a consistent Bible image of the Lord’s rule: He governs by shepherding.
And what does a shepherd do?
He leads the flock to water, he takes them to be fed in good pasture, he brings them to shelter in cold, and he defends them against wolves
-this is all good stuff that we need.

Let me note something else, however:
There is something the modern western mentality that is more concerned with FREEDOM than it is with food, water, and flourishing.
“No one’s going to tell ME what to do”, might be the typical attitude.
Better to starve in freedom than to be fat in slavery -who wants a king?

The point is this:
When we look to the Lord Jesus we see that this is a false opposition:
He BOTH gives us freedom, and, cares for us.
Until the final judgement, we are free to sin or free to love -we are free.
And His caring for us doesn’t oppose our freedom.
He shepherds us by teaching, sanctifying and governing.
He teaches us the truth that is His very self, so we know reality, know how to live, know fulfilment in His commandments.
He sanctifies us by His grace, by His sacraments, nourishing us by the food that is His very flesh in the Eucharist.
He governs us both through His Church and through His providence -directing the events of our life to the good, even to bring good out of evil.

So do we want a king?
The devil has no king. He reigns in Hell. He says, “I will not serve”.
The saints of God, however, see that the Kingship of Christ is a kingship that deserves our allegiance. A shepherd king.
Let us each, today, choose to serve.
Serve our neighbour, the “least of these” mentioned in the Gospel text today.
Serve our King, the shepherd. A king worth serving.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

No sermon text this week

Our deacon is preaching this weekend.

You can read and listen to an old sermon by Fr Dylan for this week here

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Catacombs & Resurrection, Remembrance Sunday, 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

1 Thess 4:13-18
Today our nation keeps Remembrance Sunday, when we remember all those who died in the great wars of the last century.
I would like to share with you, in particular, what it means for us AS CHRISTIANS, to remember the dead, and to do so by commenting on what we saw in our recent youth pilgrimage to Rome when we visited the catacombs.

In our second reading we heard St Paul speak about those who have died in Jesus. He spoke also about grieving, and he said that he didn’t want them to grieve in the way that “those who have no hope” grieve. This is an important distinction: both Christians and unbelievers both grieve, both are sad at their separation from their departed loved ones:
but the Christian grieves “with hope” -and this makes a colossal difference.
St Paul would have seen this difference between the pagans of his day and the Christians, and that difference is also something that we can see visibly manifested in the ancient catacombs of Rome.

The catacombs, as our pilgrimage group saw, were underground tunnels specifically dug to be places to bury the Christian dead. There were a great many such catacombs in Rome but the one we saw, of St Callistus, compromised 12 miles of tunnels, carefully dug in 4 levels, more than 20m deep. The catacombs were dug to be a sacred and dignified place to bury the dead, and the walls and slabs sealing the graves were decorated with many symbols that expressed what the Christians believed about life after death.

But the most basic and important symbol expressed was the reverence shown to the dead body itself. This contrasted with the rather confused and conflicting notions that the different pagans held about what happens after death.
Some, held a very physical but limited view of the afterlife, they left food and coins to be used by the dead after death, and would pour oil and food into holes in graves -thinking that the dead somehow needed such sustenance.
Others, like Plato, said the body was a thing to be escaped from in death -all that mattered was the soul. This was expressed by the practice of burning the body in cremation and scattering ashes.
Christians, however, held that the body is a good thing, and that there will be a resurrection of the body. Thus they reverenced the body in burial.
But they believed the resurrected body would be transfigured and glorified and thus did not need to be buried with trinkets, coins, food etc.
The vast catacombs thus testify to the greatness of the faith of those Christians that the body would rise again.

As a pilgrimage group we celebrated Mass in one of the underground chapels in the catacombs.
In doing that we joined in the practice of the ancient Christians who offered Mass in those chapels to pray for those who had died.
It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone who has died UNLESS you have HOPE that there is something more that lies ahead for him or her. The Bible makes in point in the 2nd book of Maccabees, where it comments on Jewish temple sacrifices that were offered for those who had died, and notes that we only pray for the dead because we believe they will rise again (2 Macc 12:44).
We today, and especially in the month of November, likewise pray for those who have died:
We pray that God will have mercy on them in the judgment;
We pray that God will comfort them as they pass through the purifications of purgatory;
And we pray that God will sped and hasten that purification for them.

To bring that to a conclusion: How do we remember the dead?
As a memory or the past? Or, as those who have a future, a resurrected future symbolised by the respect we show their bodies?
How we remember them with affect whether we grieve like pagans, or grieve like those “who have hope”.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

He Practiced what He Preached, 31st Sunday Ordinary Time Yr A

Mt 23:1-12
Today I’d like us to consider WHO it was that truly “practiced what He preached”.
The phrase, “to practice what you preach”, is one is one of those that everyone still knows today, even though they have forgotten the Jesus who first coined the phrase.
My point to you, today, however, is that the Lord Jesus truly DID practice what He preached, and I’d like us to consider just a few examples of that.

He taught that we should pray.
And the Gospels record that He prayed: waking early before His disciples and ascending the hill to pray; going to the Temple and the synagogue to pray.

He taught that we should hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 5:6).
And He hungered for it so much that He reached down from heaven, became one of us us, and sought out the lost (Lk 19:10).

St Thomas Aquinas remarks that we see this especially upon the Cross -the Cross is the model of every virtue:

He taught that we should forgive our brother when he offends us (Mt 18:22).
And He forgave as He hung upon the Cross (Lk 23:34).

He taught that we should be meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29).
And He humbled Himself to die upon the Cross (Phil 2:5-8).

He reaffirmed the 4th commandment to honour our mother and father (Mk 10:19).
And as He hung upon the Cross He cared for His mother by entrusting her to St John (Jn 19:26).

He taught that we should trust our Heavenly Father, who cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the sky, and much more for us (Mt 6:26).
And as He hung upon the Cross He entrusted Himself to the Heavenly Father saying, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”(Lk 23:46).

He taught that we should turn the other cheek when we are struck (Mt 5:39), and when Annas’s soldier struck him He simply took it (Jn 18:22).

He taught that, “Greater love has no man than that He lay down his life for his friends”(Jn 15:13), and He DID lay down His life for us -even without us having proved ourselves worthy of being called His “friends”.

How might we sum up everything He did?
We might remember that the crowds said of Him, “He has done all things well”(Mk 7:37).

How might we sum up the effect of His teaching?
We might recall that the first time soldiers were sent to arrest Him they returned empty-handed, they returned to their masters and said simply, “No one has ever spoken like this man”(Jn 7:46).

Why did His teaching have such an effect on the people? Because He practiced what He preached.
And He calls on us to do the same: To preach what He preached; and, to live as He lived.

To conclude, He is thus the ultimate teacher, the ultimate “rabbi”.
And though the Church has never taken the second half of today's Gospel literally: we call our earthly teachers, “teacher”, and our earthly dads and priests, “father”, nonetheless, none deserve these titles as purely as Christ did -which is what the Lord is indicating in this text.
He practiced what He preached.