Lent 3 - Gospel and Sermon
Posted on the 7th March 2021 in the category Resources
St John 2.13-22
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these thingsaway; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
So the Jews said to Him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of His body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture, and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Anyone who has ever ignored W. C. Fields saying, ‘Never work with children or animals’ will know that they are scene stealers. But neither the animals nor their handlers in this morning’s gospel (and there are enough of them) get the better of Jesus. The famous episode, when Jesus drives the animal dealers and the money-changers out of the Temple of Jerusalem (see Jn 2:13-25), happened during the Passover festival, and made a deep impression both on the crowd and on Jesus’s disciples. And we are left to ask ourselves how we interpret Jesus’ action where we are, now, in mid-Lent, still some way off Holy Week.
First it is important to be reminded of two things: first, the setting.
The Temple was a magnificent sight: more like a citadel; a high enclosure of ramparts, walls and, porticos, courtyards, all dominated at the centre by the high Holy of Holies. It was a place built for a purpose: animal sacrifice and festival worship on a grand scale in the open air, with dark, airless, dusty chambers at lower levels for animals to be stored before they met their fate. And it was never busier than at Passover. Therefore it would have been heaving with activity when Jesus made His appearance. Thousands of pilgrims from across the Mediterranean, east Africa, and the Near East; sacrificial animals (doves, sheep, cattle); and the small army of Levitical priests (there weren’t any retired priests in those days) regulating and performing the whole noisy, bloody, sacrificial business.
And it was of course business in another sense. Since only temple coinage could be used, people bringing in their foreign currency had to exchange it for Temple coinage, the only kind that could be used in transactions connected with sacrifices. All in all a wide open gate for corruption and deceit. Jesus called it a ‘den of thieves’, but other ancient authors also complained about those who defiled the place.
The second reminder concerns Jesus’s own action, which was highly personal. Do you remember that, as a young boy, on an earlier visit from Galilee, for an earlier Passover, He asked His Virgin Mother why she was surprised to find Him in the Temple, ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?’ Now He shouts at the dove sellers above the general racket, ‘Take it all away! Stop making my Father’s house a market place.’ No one would have been particularly surprised at a disruptive prophetic action, however much of an angry fuss and confusion it caused. Exposing abuse in God’s name is what prophets do, sometimes rather dramatically. But the real question on everyone’s lips was, by what authority did Jesus do this? “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” they demanded (Jn 2.18). But He had just claimed that God was His Father: God was His authority! Were they not listening? It was like being asked to put another light on, so you could actually see the lamp that’s just been lit. Jesus replied, ‘Were you to destroy this Temple, I will raise it in three days.’ At the time it was so mysterious a reply, that His challengers easily misunderstood the irony; and the misunderstanding took on a life of it’s own—during Jesus’s trial (Mk 14.58), and as He hung on the cross (Mk 15.29)—even as, on Good Friday they did actually destroy the Temple of God. And even afterwards those words still hung in the air as they were organizing the guard over His tomb (Mt 28.63). But later, after His resurrection, His disciples remembered, understood (Jn 2.22), and believed in Him.
So let’s ask again, how we interpret this famous moment where we are, now, in mid-Lent.
Let me suggest two ways. First, that Jesus’s body, Jesus’s heart, was and is the true temple, the place where God dwells: the place where true prayer, true sacrifice, true worship is offered. His is the relationship with God which those who repent and believe are enabled—by His death and resurrection—to share, to enter into, to live united with, and united together in. Destroyed and raised up, He is where God and mankind meet and live in communion.
And second that all those privileged places on earth, like this house of prayer, where God’s people come to worship and experience their unity in Christ, where God feeds and sustains that unity with the word, and body, and blood of His Son, are to be honoured and loved as houses of prayer and signs of God’s welcome, and mercy, and redemption for all peoples: near and far, shepherds and magi, village people and asylums seekers, neighbours and strangers. Not places simply for social resource and public convenience, but places from which charity flows like a river because they are places where, as we offer ourselves together with Him in the Eucharist, we pray:
Look, Father, look on His anointed face
And only look on us as found in Him.
Look not on our misusings of thy grace,
Our prayer so languid, and our faith so dim.
For lo, between our sins and their reward
We set the passion of Thy Son our Lord.
Lent 1 - Gospel and Sermon
Posted on the 21st February 2021 in the category Resources
21 February 2021
(As given at North Potteries Team Ministry)
The Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wilderness and He remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after Him. After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There He proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’, He said, ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’
‘All the world’s a stage’, wrote Shakespeare, ‘And all the men and women merely players; … / And one man in his time plays many parts, / His acts being seven ages.’ The ‘seven ages of man’, or as the News of the World used to claim, ‘All human life is here’. That’s what we are reminded of in our gospel this morning, except that, from what we learn from Jesus’s temptations in the other gospels, as someone once remarked there are perhaps not seven but three. Let’s run with that idea.
The first temptation – “If you are really God’s son, then tell these stones to become bread” – corresponds to the first stage of a person’s life, our youth. It’s often said that the front part of our brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last regions of the brain to mature, in our mid- to late 20s. This area is responsible among other things for controlling impulses. In other words, there’s more than ten years difference between being 20 and being 30: your brain is very different. If you are over 30, think back with that in mind.
When we’re young we’re not good at controlling impulses. If there’s an itch, you scratch it. In our youth we learn that passions are not necessarily wrong, but that we should reject passions outside of God’s will, even if we have to go ‘hungry’ for what we want. (As an aside, we might notice that some people never do seem to grow up; or escape this stage of life.)
What of the second temptation, and the second age of human life? – “If you are really God’s son, throw yourself down”. This is a temptation to pride and self-interest. Satan was tempting Christ to show off, to depend on appearances, to do something miraculous just because He could, rather than to reveal God and build up faith. “They’ll not understand sacrifice, a crucified God, a pierced heart. Do some flying instead! That’ll get their attention.”
And so the temptation of the second stage of our lives, when we are concerned to make a name for ourselves, is to impress others: power, influence, self-fulfilment, building the cv. You may have resisted the sins of youthful impulse, and so Satan says, ‘Very well, if you trust God – be a celeb; do something heroic, make a name for yourself!’
Then there’s Satan’s third temptation, the one specially reserved for our ‘third age’! – “If you will worship me, I shall give to you everything.”
In ‘the autumn of our lives’ we want security, and the assurance of possessions. We shiver at Jesus’s words to Peter in John 21.18 “… when you were young, you put your own clothes on and went where you liked; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you, and lead you where you don’t want to go.’
Say then you’ve avoided the traps of the flesh as a young person, and even the snares of pride as your midriff grows, it’s doubtful that in old age you’ll let go completely and leave this world with as little to your name as when you came into it. Storing up goods and money only gives an illusion of control. It distracts millions from the treasure they should be building up with God, Who knows what we are made of without any possessions.
Well, perhaps you don’t believe in the Devil, and don’t take temptation all that seriously either. That will be just fine by him. He’ll be pleased to know he’s dead. God is existence itself, love and truth, and calls Himself “I AM who I AM”. The Devil is quite happy to remain in disguise, calling himself, “I am who I am NOT”.
Dear friends, let us ask the saints, who help us recognise holiness in every age of man’s life, to pray for us and strengthen us to choose He who is, and not him who is NOT.
Ash Wednesday - Homily
Posted on the 17th February 2021 in the category Resources
God sees in secret
Today, Ash Wednesday, Lent begins, in which the Gospel (Mt 6:1–6 16–18) invites us to assume these three penitential ways of behaving: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. They all involve renunciation. Almsgiving involves a partial renunciation of our goods, our money, to meet the needs of people more in need than us. Fasting is a voluntary renunciation of our food, of our tastes, out of a matter of personal hygiene, of education of our most elementary instincts, but also here out of a need for equity and sharing with those who are most without. Prayer, then, is an even more radical renunciation of our will, to place ourselves in the hands of a greater, wiser and more benevolent will for all, not just for us, as our Father teaches.
The sixth chapter of Matthew's Gospel enumerates these three under a shared heading: that is, “Do none of them to be admired by others!” And then Jesus speaks about each of them in a few, very clear words, which repeat a pattern. Three key words emerge in the course of Jesus’s teaching: hypocrisy, reward and secrecy.
Jesus teaches there are two things we must do …
First of all, we must not be hypocrites, or not behave like hypocrites. Hypocrisy would be doing these works publicly, to be praised by the people, to seek the approval of others. In this case, we would have already received our reward, namely the satisfaction, the recognition of others. "Do not be like the hypocrites", says the Gospel (which is certainly a poke at the Pharisees, who gave alms in the synagogues and in the streets or pray standing at the corners of public squares, or take on a sorrowful appearance to show others they fast). But, it is also common behaviour that is warned against here. We ourselves, without even realizing it, can assume behaviour of this kind: advertise ourselves or seek success. This is not the real reward.
Second, we must act out of a secret encounter with God himself. There is indeed a reward, but this happens “in secret”. “When you give alms, your left may not know what your right is doing, so that your alms remain secret”; “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret”; “When you fast, perfume your head and wash your face, so that people do not see that you are fasting, but only your Father who is in secret”.
The utmost secrecy, therefore, to the point of being taciturn - uncommunicative to others: this is the real reward. The real reward is not to receive any external approval, but only internal confirmation from God, of God. This is especially true for prayer. It is significant that the only recommendation that Jesus makes to us in this respect does not concern the need for public, community prayer (which remains formational and necessary for each one), but that of personal prayer, in the silence of our room.
“Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Ask yourself, do you believe it. Are you prepared to go into the secret place and be honest with God, and God be honest with you?
Lent Message 2021
Posted on the 13th February 2021 in the category Resources
A video recording of the Bishop's Lent message (slighty different to the one below) can be found here.
We shall soon be approaching the anniversary of the first lockdown—23 March, just before the Annunciation last year—and we’ll be looking back over an unprecedented year of disruption to our daily lives, not experienced outside wartime. Among the most serious disruptions have been those to the Church’s public worship, and to the deep rhythms of our individual religious experience, not experienced by almost any previous generation of Christians in this country. All the people of God, whether ordained and non-ordained, have had to depend on more or less unsatisfactory ways of praying, worshipping God, and offering ourselves and receiving him in the Sacraments. Now, as we place all our hope in the vaccination programme as our pathway out of the present (and to many people the most difficult) period of lockdown, we find ourselves on the threshold of Lent, that period every year as we approach Easter, when we are instructed to spend some time in self-examination.
Whatever the special challenges of the pandemic and lockdown, it is still true that the season of Lent is about penitence. And penitence always requires us to see ourselves more clearly in the light of God’s holiness and justice. That is true this year like every year. From 17 February, Ash Wednesday, each of us begins again, at the foot of the Cross, recognising that the death of Our Lord is first and foremost my business, the result of my betrayals, my sins. Only as you or I face up to this truth can we begin to open ourselves up to the good news we will hear at Easter – that the debt is paid, the prison doors are unlocked. What I couldn’t do for myself, God in Christ has done for me and done in me. When I know myself, I know how weak I am; and that, as St Paul says, is when we start to use God’s strength. I receive into my broken self the deathless life of Our Risen Lord.
All of us in the parishes of The Society will be making this same journey in the weeks ahead. Indeed it’s a journey very familiar to all Christ’s disciples, his learners: going to the places of our weakness, so that there we may encounter the strength and life of God. For a relatively short spell (it’s only six weeks! so there’s no need to panic) we are asked to look within and find the roots of the world’s disaster in us; not to search for them outside, and pin the blame on others or on unbelievers.
All our hearts are still on the way to full conversion, and so the work of the Cross, finished in itself once and for all on Calvary, is still working itself through in the life of each Christian. Lent is our best opportunity to let God move more deeply and permanently into the areas of our lives that still resist His grace. And it is something we do by prayer, fasting, and being more sacrificial.
During this period I hope that we shall be continuing to think and pray about the challenges that face The Society as a body, our relation to others in the Church of England, and to the global body of the Church catholic. I hope that they will give us a chance to know ourselves better, so that we can more fully encounter the grace and gift of Christ crucified.
But this brings us back to where we started. Self-examination and self-knowledge are needed by all of us, and I trust that this Lent will be a time of spiritual refreshment that will help us find out more of what we need, and how to open ourselves to what God seeks to give. We must pray together that The Society will become a deeper fellowship in which, knowing our weakness, we can gain the strength of God in our lives, and become more and more eager to share the Easter Gospel in a world of suffering and sin.
I hope that you will find the daily devotions below helpful. May God bless you and keep you safe.
1 Daily Gospel Readings
These are the daily Gospel readings for the Eucharist on each day of Lent
2 Rosary Meditations ‘of Holy Week’ (St John Eudes)
Those of you who are familiar with the Rosary will be able to use the following pattern easily.
First Holy Week Mystery / Monday: The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem / St John 12.12–19
Second Holy Week Mystery / Tuesday: The Anointing at Bethany / St Matthew 26.6–13
Third Holy Week Mystery / Wednesday: The Institution of the Eucharist / St Mark 14.22–26
Fourth Holy Week Mystery / Thursday: The Crucifixion of Jesus / St John 19.18–30
Fifth Holy Week Mystery / Friday: The Death and Burial of the Lord / St Matthew 27.57–60
Those who are unfamiliar with it may prefer to meditate on just one ‘mystery’ (one moment in the life of the Lord) per weekday, Monday to Friday. Better to say one decade of the Rosary prayerfully than the whole mechanically. If you don’t own a Rosary perhaps buy one, but you have ten fingers!
First, find a place and a time of day when you can be quiet and still to pray.
O God, whose only-begotten Son, by His life, death and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life; grant, we beseech Thee, that we, meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
3 Two prayers for daily use
Sermon - 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Posted on the 7th February 2021 in the category Resources
On leaving the synagogue, Jesus went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; he also cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.
In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ And he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils.
Having passed Candlemas (the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple) last week, the Church has now entered into a short period of preparation for the beginning of what the Orthodox call ‘the Great Lent’: the ‘big’ Lent, the big fast, in preparation for the Great Feast, Easter. And thus, on this rather quiet Sunday, while we all remain under tight restrictions waiting for the vaccine to work, and while so many worshippers are hesitant to attend public worship, or find that their local church is once again closed, the gospel reading somewhat ironically and quietly returns our attention to the reality of sickness and its effects on our lives, and to the first instance of Jesus’s power of healing.
This Sunday’s Gospel (Mk 1.29-39) powerfully presents Jesus to us as a healer, without any of the details that normally accompany such moments (special words, spittle and paste, even prayer). He simply takes a person’s hand. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and Jesus, taking her by the hand, helped her to her feet, and healed her. It certainly made enough of an impression that it aroused the gossip and interest of ‘the whole town’ (v.33), for that evening it seems all the sick in Capernaum were brought to him, whatever was troubling them in body, mind or spirit. He ‘healed many… and cast out many demons’. From this first miraculous moment in the earliest of the gospels, all four evangelists agree that liberation from illness and infirmity of every kind was the main feature of Jesus’ public activity, alongside his teaching.
In his world, as in ours, illness was a sign of the action of evil whether in individual lives, in families and neighbourhoods, or in the world at large. Who would challenge that as we see the forces of pain and fear, separation and loss, that have been unleashed in our lives by the pandemic we’re currently battling. In contrast, healing manifests the opposite: it reveals that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus Christ came to pull evil up by the roots, and moments of healing always stand out in the gospel as a manifestation – a display – in individual lives of the triumph that his death and resurrection have brought to all lives.
A few verses on, in the next chapter, Jesus remarks ‘those who are healthy have no need of a doctor, but only those who are sick” (Mk 2.17). On that occasion he was stressing that it was sinners he came to call and save, not those who were sure of their own goodness. But the saying also reinforces what we all know: that when any of us is ill, we cease to be self-sufficient. We begin to know our need of others – their help, their presence, their consolation and encouragement. It is a typical and inescapable human experience, and one that, again, we are all experiencing at the moment whether or not we have succumbed to the virus. We know our need of others, and that others need us. Our minds and anxieties are filled with those whose illness and distress is endured alone, and the help we want to be able to give.
When, as happens often enough in the gospel, illness has become long and difficult, and a person’s suffering is prolonged, human beings become overwhelmed, and alienated from one another. In our present situation, again, we only need to fear becoming ill to experience for ourselves the depression and dehumanization that the virus, like many other conditions, is bringing to others.
So how should we react to such an evil? Well, first, with the appropriate science and treatment of course! Medical skills and therapies arise out of the same desire to alleviate the pain and separation that illness causes. Especially in emergency times like ours new responses are being developed at all times.
But the word of God teaches us that there is one crucial attitude that’s required of us in order for us to face illness and its wide-ranging effects on our own and others’ lives, and that of course is trusting faith in God, and in his oceanic mercy and goodness. Time and again in the gospels Jesus repeats ‘your faith has made you well’ (see Mk 5.34, 36). But faith in what? In the love of God. It is the relationship which God constantly seeks and requires for his wonders to be worked in our lives. This is the real answer which radically defeats evil. It was the relationship between Christ and his Father which defeated sin and death. ‘Just as Jesus confronted the Evil One with the power of the love that came to him from the Father’, says Pope Benedict, ‘so we too can confront and live through the trial of illness, keeping our heart immersed in God’s love.’
Many more of us have come close to the intense suffering and grief of others recently, or know those whose medical and nursing care is being called upon to a hitherto unknown degree. Among them we hear of those who were able to bear suffering because God gave them a deep serenity. As we celebrate this coming Thursday the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, that centre of God’s great promise of healing, let us all hold tight to the truth that it is Christ himself who has taught mankind – at one and the same time – both ‘to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. In this double aspect he has completely revealed the meaning of suffering.’ (St John Paul II, Salvifici doloris, 30).
May the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, help us live this mission to the full.
Thursday 11 February, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, is also this year’s World Day of the Sick: