23 October, 2014

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (A) 2014 - Worship

Matthew 22:15-22

Jesus said to them ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’.
I believe that our current translation loses a great deal of meaning by abandoning the language used in the King James Bible. As many of you will know, in the Authorised Version this saying goes like this, ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.’ The word used is “render” rather than “give”, and render finds it origin in a word meaning ‘to give back’ something. So Jesus invites us to give back to the state that which belongs to it without grudging, while focusing on giving back to God that which belongs to him alone, our worship.

This saying must have been very poignant for the early Church at a time when many Christians were demanded to renounce their faith and to worship an image of the emperor under the threat of death. Yet, up to our days thto God the things that are God’s’ demand us to worship God with perseverance, not in a woolly, when-I-can-be-bothered sort of way, but in a serious and committed sense.
is saying should remind us of the correct ordering of our civic and religious duties. 
For too long we have looked at this saying as some sort of justification for our spiritual sloth; giving to the emperor is fulfilled by paying taxes; while giving to God by some sort of lukewarm worship and occasional attendance to church services. In reality, to render ‘

Worship is not something that we just do once a week, it demands commitment in every aspect of life. Praying daily is worshipping God. Visiting that person in difficulties and giving generously to the Church is worshipping God. Taking good care of spouse, family, neighbours, and of that person whom we find really annoying is worshipping God. Holding on tight to the Cross of Jesus, uniting our distress to his, every time we suffer wrong or pain is worshipping God. Giving joyfully for the relief of the needy is worshipping God. Approaching the sacraments as often as possible, and in particularly Holy Communion, is worshipping God. Giving workers a liveable wage and campaigning for equality, even though many Christian brothers and sisters would disagree with us, is worshipping God. Working for a fairer society transformed by the Love of God, is worshipping God. Through all these examples we offer true worship and we render to God that which is due to him.

One of the Eucharistic prayers that I often use celebrating Mass puts at the very centre of our Christian life a plea to God the Father that he would help us to worship in the all-encompassing way I have just described. In this prayer, as we render ‘to God the things that are God’s’, as we offer to Him all that we are and all that we have ever received in the Eucharist, as the Body and Blood of Christ are present on the altar as a gift received from God and as an offering to Him, the priest says,
Lord of all life,
help us to work together for that day
when your kingdom comes
and justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth.

Jesus said to them ‘Render unto Emperor the things which are Emperor’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
At the end of our gospel reading we are told how Jesus’ opponents react to this saying. The Pharisees and those who accompanied them leave in amazement, they do not leave in anger or frustration; we are told that ‘they were amazed’ (22).
The Pharisees expected a Messiah who would revolt against the Roman occupation. Yet, they find in Jesus something which they did not expect or thought possible. Jesus shows himself as another type of Messiah, someone who wishes his followers to engage with human societies and to transform them through their presence. Earlier in Matthew we are told that the Apostle Peter had an even stronger reaction when Jesus prophesied his own death – Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him, because he too was expecting a Messiah who would free Israel from its military oppressors.

The Pharisees come to Jesus trying to catch him out and they leave in amazement having seen a glimpse of the mission entrusted to the followers of Jesus – we are invited to redeem and radically transform the world from within, not through force or bloodshed, but through worshipping God in everything that we do with perseverance, daily rendering to God what is duly his – that is, our life. 
Jesus said to them ‘Render unto Emperor the things which are Emperor’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

21 September, 2014

Homily for the Feast of St Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist 2014

Matthew 9:9-13
Jesus saw ‘a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, Follow me.’ (9:9)

Jesus is back in his small home village of Capernaum where he had settled at the beginning of his ministry, and here he goes about healing and making disciples among peoples that probably knew him. Our gospel reading does not say whether or not Matthew was among the number of residents of Capernaum, whether he knew Jesus before this occasion, but we can speculate that in the closely knit community of a small village Matthew would have at least known vaguely about that Jesus who had left the Capernaum, who was rumoured to have miraculously healed many in the region, and was now travelling with a motley crew of disciples, sometimes attracting the wrong kind of people. Matthew may have had an idea about Jesus, but he wasn’t a disciple, that is, until the moment Jesus spotted him and called to him, ‘Follow me’.
This little gospel story outlines the call of Matthew (or the call of Levi as it is referred to in the gospels of Mark and Luke); yet these few verses also express something about our own call, our own vocation to be disciples.

In this passage there are four elements to the call to discipleship that I would like to highlight to you. 
First, being a disciple requires great humility. We read that Jesus says, ‘I have come to call not the righteous but sinners (13)’ so in order to hear and to respond to his call we must acknowledge that we are all sinners and that Jesus alone can change our life for the better. Surely, at the beginning of every Mass we ask God for forgiveness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are ready to acknowledge our problem, our addiction to sin; whatever that may be, however big or small we consider it to be. Self-righteous, needlessly proud, haughty people cannot easily hear Jesus’ call. Yet, if we daily cultivate humility and keep a close look on our conduct of life we would be ever more ready to hear Jesus calling each of us. He says, ‘I have come to call … sinners’; he comes to call us.

Secondly, being a disciple requires a great deal of courage (or fortitude). We read that St Matthew ‘got up and followed Jesus (9)’. For him getting up meant to physically abandon the tax booth at which he had sat for days on end, and to begin to change his life one baby-step at a time right from that very moment.I say courage, because discipleship requires a radical (and daily) change of life; and this is not easy. Becoming a disciple is not like starting a diet, we can’t say, ‘The diet starts next Monday’, but we have to start here and now, afresh every day, when Jesus says ‘Follow me’.
Doing this requires a lot of courage, that virtue that allows to do what is right regardless of the time, of personal circumstances, and of potential losses.
It always makes me giggle how we are so ready to sing hymn lines such as ‘We’ll be turning the whole world upside down’, but we can’t actually be asked to move a single finger in order to reorient our lives towards what really matters, towards religion.

Thirdly, being a disciple requires learning constantly from Jesus. In our reading he says to the Pharisees, ‘Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”’ (12), but this does not mean that Jesus is inviting only his opposers to do some learning. He invites us all to relearn the meaning of the Scriptures as seen in the light of his blessed presence. 
All too often one hears of so-called Christians who use Bible verses to hurt others, or to put them down. That is not discipleship; in fact, that is not Christianity.
Discipleship means to engage in a lifelong learning enterprise wherein we are taught by Jesus and by the faith of his Church – a learning that is manifested in practice through love, compassion, and encounter with others.

Fourthly being a disciple requires love for community. In our reading we see that Jesus ‘sat at dinner in the house, [where] many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples (10)’; therefore we too must be part of this community of people. We must learn to sit comfortably with many tax-collectors and sinners, because (as mentioned in the first point) we are all sinners and we are all striving to do better and better each day.
The call to be a disciple we receive from Christ is a personal, individual call; but the outworking of this vocation is only possible within the community (the “society”, if you want to use an old-fashioned Anglican word) that is the Church. We cannot be serious about the Christian life if we are obstinate about going it alone, or splintering off when things don’t go our way. Jesus is always surrounded and accompanied by the mixed community of the Church. This community is his own mystical body and he cannot be separated from her, regardless how much people refuse to acknowledge this. If we want to be genuine disciples of Christ we must be part of that group of people, without exalting ourselves above fellow disciples and above other sinners; with love for others, with forbearance, kindness, and words of encouragement for everyone.

Jesus saw ‘a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, Follow me.’ (9:9)
How do we respond to these words? Humility? Courage? constant learning? Love for community?
May St Matthew help us with his prayers to follow Jesus ever more closely every day. Amen.

30 August, 2014

Homily for the Feast of St Bartholomew, Apostle 2014

1Corinthians 4:9-15

To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless.’ (4:11)
Recently I purchased a book about religious art containing detailed explanations of common symbols which traditionally accompany the representations of saints. The book relates these symbols to their proper saints – these are object or characteristic which clearly mark out who a particular saint was or what he or she did. So if you found yourself looking at a sacred image and you don’t know who it is of, you can use this book to decipher, as it were, the image; you can look up the objects and symbols and consequently identify the saint.

On the front of your welcome sheet I have printed a fairly stern image of the St Bartholomew. We can see that he is holding a book and a knife – albeit a large knife. Immediately, even if Bartholomew weren’t standing in front of some rather camp wallpaper bearing his name, the knife and the book should help us identify him. The book is an indication that he had something important to do with the spreading of the gospel and the knife is clue an about his death. However, there is another way of picturing St Bartholomew – something that is a clear giveaway.

When I studied art history I remember being fascinated by the giant fresco last judgment by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. There, sat on a heavenly cloud below Jesus there is a naked old man who is dangling his own flayed skin, the sign of his martyrdom. So if you put two and two together, if you relate the knife in our picture and the flayed skin put on display as if it were an animal hide, you can decipher how Bartholomew was killed, he was skinned alive by his persecutors – oh, and then decapitated just to make sure.

To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless.
Over the past weeks news programmes and social Medias have featured many reports from Iraq and Syria that showed Christians facing daily persecutions for their faith. These people are suffering in the way Paul describes in our second reading, ‘hungry and thirsty …poorly clothed and beaten and homeless’. Many have been forced to leave their homes; many have been the object of violence; the Anglican Vicar of Baghdad has reported that a child whom he baptised a few years back has been cut in two. Many have been killed with a brutality and cold-bloodedness aimed to eradicate the Church from the land by blood or by fear. As you probably know, numerous photographs and videos which have been circulated are too shocking for the conventional media to air; but they have fo
und their way to us over the internet. They show mass crucifixions, beheadings, and innumerable other horrors. In fact, the way some Christians are suffering for the faith it is quite unpalatable for the Ten o’clock news.

One internet video that has become very popular for all the wrong reasons is the one of the beheading of journalist James Foley. I should say that I refuse to watch it and I would encourage you not to watch it either. However, what has not received the same volume of attention is James’ faith and an article he wrote about his captivity in Libya a couple of years back has not been picked up by the conventional media. James writes, ‘If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom.

We might feel helpless in front of so much atrocity. But these people being killed are our brothers and sisters, our siblings, flesh of our flesh as we all are fed by Christ. If we can’t physically rescue them, if we can’t follow them, we must help them in other ways. In fact, we have the weapon against so much violence at our disposal. We have a double edged sword in our hands, not the sword of violence which is the only resort politicians can think of, but the sword of prayer and almsgiving. God calls us to use this weapon daily, but especially now. Prayer is the glue that can enable their freedom. So I encourage you not to be silent and passive towards those who are imitating Bartholomew undergoing sufferings in order to bear faithful witness to Christ. I encourage you to pray for our family. Pray for our brothers and sisters; pray for the conversion of our persecutors. I encourage you to give alms. Give cheerfully and generously to the poor and to the church. These are the ways in which we can fight back against so much horror.

Let us pray,
O God, who will that the Church 
be united to the sufferings of your Son,
grant, we pray, to your faithful who suffer for your name’s sake
a spirit of patience and charity,
that they may be found true and faithful witnesses
to the promises you have made.
Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

29 July, 2014

Prayers for Peace

God, our refuge and strength,
bring near the day when wars shall cease
and poverty and pain shall end,
that earth may know the peace of heaven
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God our deliverer,
defender of the poor and needy;
when the foundations of the earth are shaking,
give strength to your people to uphold justice 
and fight all wrong,
in the name of your son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Most gracious God and Father,
in whose will is our peace:
turn our hearts and the hearts of all to yourself,
that by the power of your Spirit
the peace which is founded on righteousness
may be established throughout the whole world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 


Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, harmony;
where there is error, truth;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy. 
O Divine Master, 
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

O Loving God, 
your Son, Jesus Christ, 
came into the world to do your Will 
and leave us His Peace. 
Through the intercession and example 
of our Blessed Mother Mary, Queen of Peace, 
grant us the wisdom and humility 
to reflect that peace to the world. 
Inspire our thoughts, words and deeds 
to bear witness to your presence in our hearts. 
May your Holy Spirit fill us with every grace and blessing 
so that we may pursue what leads to peace for all humanity. Amen.

Under thy protection we seek refuge, 
O Holy Mother of God;
In our needs, despise not our petitions,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.

15 July, 2014

Assisted Suicide - A few resources

My Sunday homily against assisted suicide was received very well in the parishes; indeed, surprisingly a lot better than what I anticipated. St John’s worshippers were also pleased to receive a few copies of Archbishop Justin’s piece in The Times. As a result, I want to post a few links to people and organisations who are actively opposing Lord Falconer’s Bill, on so called “Assisted Dying”.

It is deeply regrettable that Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Rev’d Rosie Harper have also decided to publically support assisted suicide.

O Jesus, living in Mary,
Come and live in thy servants,
In the spirit of thy holiness,
In the fullness of thy might,
In the truth of thy virtues,
In the perfection of thy ways,
In the communion of thy mysteries.
Subdue every hostile power
In thy spirit, for the glory of the Father. Amen.