Sunday, 27 January 2019

What is the Bible?, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 1:1-4; 414-21; Neh 8:2-10
Today I’d like us to consider the importance of the Bible, and what the Bible is.
In our first reading we heard how all the people gathered around Ezra and listened as he read the Scriptures to them and explained the ScripturesProverbs Gospel text we similarly heard how the people gathered around the Lord Jesus in the synagogue to hear Him read from the Scriptures.
We are gathered following that same pattern.
But what are we reading? What is the Bible? And, can we trust it?

First, we need to note how our holy scriptures are different from those of other religions.
Our scriptures don’t contain myths, the way Greek fables of their pagan gods did.
Our scriptures don’t, for the main part, contain instructions on how to live -though they do contain a few books of proverbs and a few books of law.
Rather, our scriptures are primarily about recording certain events of HISTORY, records of certain EVENTS.

The Jewish-Christian claim is that God was active in history:
In a particular place, in a particular people, the “Chosen people” of the Jews:
He did things among them, and for them.
He revealed Himself to them, and revealed how He wanted them to live.
If you want to know ABOUT the one true God, then you need to see what He has DONE.
There is a unity of WORD and DEED in Him, as the Hebrew word “dabar” indicates.
As a consequence, if we are to know God, and know what He teaches us, then we need to know what He has DONE in those events called, “salvation history”.

This leaves us with a problem, however, because the scepticism of the modern mind has taught us to doubt everything.
In particular, it has taught us to doubt the accuracy of the history recorded in the Bible.
Now, we can note that not ALL parts of the Bible have the same historical accuracy:
The Genesis accounts often summarise hundreds of years in a few sentences.
The Creation accounts likewise summarise, and mix symbolism with fact. Was the devil a literal serpent? Was the Original Sin eating a literal fruit? There is no need to think so.
That said, the key thing about the Bible is that it is recording a narrative, recording a history of events, a CHAIN of events, recording it from the beginning to the end, from Creation to the Apocalypse.
God showed Himself in what He DID.
And so, when we gather at Mass, we READ about what He did.

The culmination of what He did and said was in Jesus Christ, when God took FLESH.
This is why the historical accuracy and specifics of the 4 Gospels is very detailed.
This is why, as we heard St Luke say at the start of His Gospel:
The Gospels record only what “eyewitnesses” (Lk 1:2) saw -witness that they knew and questioned,
About “events that have taken place among us” (Lk 1:1) -not myths far away,
And recorded in “an ordered account” (Lk 1:3).

The narrative that the Bible unfolds is the account of God’s relationship with His Chosen People, of His “love story” with His chosen people.
YOU are a part of that narrative, a part of that history.
You are called to be grafted onto the life and promises that God gave to His Chosen People.
But you can only become a part of that lifestory IF you know that story,
if you know that history.
And that is why we read the Bible, at home, and at Church
-to know the history and narrative that we are a part of.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

The Epiphany of Cana, 2nd Sun Ordinary time, Year C

Jn 2:1-11
Today I’d like us to consider what God is like, to consider what God has SHOWN Himself to be like, and, in particular, what He has shown Himself to like as He relates to YOU.
It is the unique “arrogance” of the Christian religion is that we claim to know God Himself. We make this claim, not on the basis of what we have figured out ourselves, rather, we make this claim on the basis of what God has said and shown in Jesus Christ, we make this claim because we accept Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus has manifested, shown, what God is like.

Today, in our reading, we close a threefold epiphany, a series of three Sundays of epiphanies.
There is a great hymn, which sadly were not singing this year, “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”, which recounts this threefold epiphany.
The word ‘epiphany’ means a manifesting, a showing.
We had the epiphany to the wise men who came from the east.
What did this manifest? It manifested that God’s plan included all the nations.
His plan was particular, in a single nation, the Jews -this is where and how He showed, manifested Himself.
But His plan reached out from that particularity to call all the nations, to call non-Jews like ourselves.

Then, last week, we had the epiphany at the baptism of the Lord Jesus.
At the Baptism the voice from heaven and manifested, “You are my Son”.
As I said last week, that showed God’s plan for us to become adopted children, to become “sons in the Son”, by becoming united to His only Son, Jesus.

Finally, today, there is another epiphany, at the wedding feast of Cana.
What did the Lord reveal in this miracle? Two things.
First, very basically, that He is a God of power.
He is not simply a source of wisdom, not just teacher of how to live, rather, it showed that He is active, He DOES things, as He DID something in that first miracle He worked at Cana.

There is, however, a deeper symbolism in this miracle, that our first reading points us towards:
Marriage as symbol of how God relates to us, of how God relates to YOU.
From before all time, God chose you.
From before all time, He called you and wanted you.
And the image He uses for how He desires you is MARRIAGE.
All religions across history have marriage.
But only the Jewish-Christian religion has this epiphany that marriage is a symbol of how God desires you and wants you, and wants YOU to want HIM.

This is an amazing thought.
How does God want you? How much does God want you? The way a bridegroom yearns for His bride.
And the relationship He wants us to return to Him is the love of a bride for her bridegroom.

This image is so important in the Bible that it occurs again and again in the Old Testament, and in the New.
The Jewish people, God’s CHOSEN people, were chosen by Him as a bridegroom chooses a bride.
But they were repeatedly unfaithful to Him.
They repeatedly sinned against Him, followed false gods, mixed a bit of true religion with a bit of worldliness, as we can try and try and mix worldliness with our following of Christ.
But the pattern of the Old Testament is that God was a faithful husband even when Israel was an unfaithful wife. He stuck with her, He allowed her to comeback, and come back, and come back.
And HE does the same for you and me.
We, like the wise men who came from the east, have been grafted into the Chosen people.
We, have this beautiful marriage image of how God has revealed Himself:
He loves you, He yearns for you, as a bridegroom for His bride.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Baptism & Reception into Full Communion, Baptism of the Lord

Today is wonderful day for the parish, with two adults becoming Catholic: Ian Wheeler is being baptised and Marjorie Isaacs is being Confirmed and received into Full Communion.
They’ve both been preparing for a year, because it’s a major step.
It a useful moment for each of US to think about what this all means, and today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a good moment.

Why was the Lord Jesus baptised?
He didn’t have any sins, so He didn’t need to have His sins washed away.
And He didn’t need any of the other things that baptism gives.
So WHY was He baptised?
For us.
So that WE might have a way of being UNITED to Him.
When we are baptised, we join to HIM who was baptised.Our baptism is about being united to Him.

St Paul puts it this way:
The “old man”, Adam, must die in us, in order that the “new man”, Christ, might live in us (Rom 6:4-5; 1 Cor 15:22).
So when we are baptised we descend into the tomb with Christ, that we might rise from the tomb with Him.
St John thus calls it a new birth, saying we must be “born again”(Jn 3:5), by baptism.

The Lord Jesus wanted us to be united to Him, and so He established the sacrament, the ritual, of baptism, so that by adoption, we might share in what He possesses by nature.
When the Lord Jesus came out of the water a voice spoke from heaven and said, “You are by Son, the Beloved”.
By baptism, we also become adopted children of our heavenly Father.
When the Lord Jesus came up out of the water the Holy Spirit visibly descended on Him in the form of a dove.
By baptism, we receive gift of that same Spirit.
Water washed the body of the Lord Jesus.
By our baptism, the Original Sin we inherit from Adam is washed away,
and, if we are adults, our personal sins are washed away too.

Baptism, however, is not the END of our union with Christ, rather it is the beginning.
The FULNESS of the Holy Spirit is given in another sacrament, Confirmation.
The RENEWAL of baptismal forgiveness of sins is restored each time we go to the sacrament of Confession.
Marjorie was baptised as an Anglican, years ago.
Today, Marjorie comes to the fullness of what she received in her baptism, a twofold fullness:
On one hand, the fulness of the Holy Spirit, in Confirmation.
On the other hand, the fulness of Communion with the universal Church, the Catholic Church.
What she already had as an Anglican was real, but it lacked the FULNESS she will receive today.
Baptism makes us adopted children of our heavenly Father.
Baptism thus makes us part of the “family” of God, which is His Church.
Today, by being received into that Full Communion she gets the fulness of her baptism.
For Ian, He receives all of this today.
For him, the process is different, in that he now must rise to cooperate with all those graces.

What of all of us?
Today is a moment to remember the grace of our own baptism and confirmation, to recall the greatness of being part of the universal Church, God’s family.
And today is a moment, too, to recommit ourselves to our own baptism, to daily die and rise with Christ.

Sunday, 6 January 2019


Mt 2:1-12
Today we keep the feast of the Epiphany, when we recall the ‘wise men’ who came from ‘the east’(Mt 2:1). Today, I’d like us to focus on the wise men themselves, and see what their behaviour might teach us.

First, let us consider WHAT they came to do.
As we heard them say to King Herod, “we have come to do Him homage”(Mt 2:2).
WE, in contrast, come from a culture when before we do anything we habitually are taught to consider,
“What’s in it for me? How will I benefit?”
They, in contrast, came from a culture where it was natural to give honour, “homage”, to others.
They WANTED to do this.
They would have no expectation of benefit to themselves -it was foreign king, in a foreign land -but they felt it was right to honour Him, and so they came.

Second, let us consider WHY they came.
Again, the text told us, “we saw his star as it rose”(Mt 2:2).
Let me point something out to you:
millions of people would have seen that same star, but only these three men knew what it meant, only these three men came.
Why did THEY know?
They knew because they were attentive: they were looking, they were listening.
They were looking at the stars.
They were listening and reading the SCRIPTURES.
As I’ve noted in previous sermons on the Epiphany, they were from “the east” (Mt 2:1), they were called “magi”, meaning ‘wise men’ of the religion of ‘the east’: magi of the pagan seer ‘Zoroaster’. And they were attentive to his prophecy that,
“A VIRGIN will conceive and bear a son, and a STAR will appear blazing at midday to signalise the occurrence… When you behold the star follow it… Adore the mysterious child, offering him gifts with profound humility” (the magi Zoroaster).
And so, they saw the star, they brought gifts, and they did homage.

Third, let us consider WHO they listened to. I said they were attentive, I said that it was only because they were attentive that they knew what the star meant. But WHO were they attentive to?
Who ruled Palestine? The Romans.
Yet, the Magi didn’t go to the Romans, they went to the JEWISH authorities. Tales of the expectation of a JEWISH Messiah had spread through the region and the east, they thus came to see, as they said, “the infant king of the JEWS”(Mt 2:2).
And even though Herod was a wicked king, he was a JEWISH king, and so he was able to refer them to the JEWISH Scriptures and the prophecy that he would be born in Bethlehem (Mt 2:5-6).
They listened to the right people, and they thus came to the right place.

Finally, let me note their experience towards the end of this narrative: “they were filled with delight”(Mt 2:10).
Joy, as I have repeatedly noted before and will note again, joy is a typical fruit that we see produced in people who meet the Lord.
BUT not everyone experiences joy:
The Pharisees and Sadducees were filled with envy, and so just hated Him;
Pilate was too busy with his own concerns, and was just perplexed;
but to those open to Him, to those who repent of their sins in the wonder of encountering the-Lord-made-flesh, to those He brings joy.

To conclude, what do the lives of these ‘wise men’ have to teach us?
First, the need to be focused on giving, not receiving.
In particular, giving honour to God, and not asking whether we benefit from it, or whether it is easy
-it wasn’t easy for these men to travel over a thousand miles by camel.
Second, the need to listen to the right people.
If we are to understand God speaking in the events our lives, then we need to read the BIBLE regularly, and listen to God’s Church
-just as the wise men could understand the star because of their attentiveness to the right things.
Finally, the fact that meeting the Lord will bring us joy.
We should not serve God just because it benefits us,
BUT it does benefit us, and this gives us yet another reason to love Him.
All this is what we see in the lives of the ‘wise men’ who came from ‘the east’.