Sermon for Advent 1A 2022

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

A new year in the Church’s calendar begins today, so Happy New Year. And what a New Year’s Eve party there was the night before last in St Andrew’s, in honour of our patron saint (whose day it is on Wednesday). I heard that there was lots to eat and drink, quizzes, party pieces, a right old knees up.

We’ve now arrived at “Advent” which comes from a Latin word means ‘coming’. But whose coming are we talking about? Obviously we’re beginning to think about God coming as a human being among us, with us and like us, in the person of Jesus. But although the readings today do mention the coming of God, they don’t mention the coming of Christ at Christmas.  So we need to learn from that, that Advent isn’t just about Christmas, it’s rather more far-reaching than that.

In Advent there are in fact three comings of God. The first, is when Jesus, the Son of God came to be born in the stable at Bethlehem. But today we focus more on the final coming of Jesus at the end of the world. But there’s a further coming we need to be aware of, namely, when God enters our lives every day. Every single experience can be an opportunity to make engage with God. And we’re reminded of that day-to-day contact with God in our services and especially in the celebration of the sacraments, as today in our Eucharist.

The lovely first reading from Isaiah invites us to go with God. It says,

Come, let us go to the house of the God of Jacob” 

Isaiah 2:3

Remember that Jesus himself is the real Temple of God. And, because the Christian community is united with Him, doesn’t that make us a part of God’s Temple as well? To be God’s Temple in the world – a awesome responsibility. And so we go to him and with him

that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths”.

Isaiah 2:3

He’ll show us the paths – to follow in our lives, the way that will lead us to meet him on that last day and so that along the way we may lead others to that path, principally through the way that we live our lives.

The Second Reading and the Gospel emphasise the need for preparedness for that final coming of Jesus, whatever form it may take. The first coming of Jesus in Bethlehem also helps us to prepare for that final coming. These readings are a warning and we really need this warning. On the one hand, you probably don’t like to think too much about how or when you’ll leave this world. But it’s a fact.

Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said that there were only two things certain in life: death and taxes. In today’s world there are many people who’re very afraid of death and who don’t want to talk or even think about it. Today’s readings don’t allow that.

Given the extent of the threats to our climate and our world from our reckless exploitation, I can’t help feeling that humanity in general is very like the people mentioned in today’s Gospel:

Before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing till the flood came and swept them all away

Matthew 24:38-39

People were doing very ordinary things. The things that we all do. But they were so busy doing them they failed to give any thought to where their lives were ultimately leading and what the goal of their life was, except perhaps an endless and often fruitless search for happiness – whatever that may mean. They were very busy, just like us. Maybe they were very successful, maybe they made a lot of money, maybe they had wonderful marriages, and lots of exciting experiences… But, they weren’t ready for God’s call at the end of their lives. The question is: how ready am I right now?

Maybe you think: “I don’t have to worry. At my check-up the other day the doctor said I have the heart of a teenager.” (I wish) But how many teenagers end up as statistics in the death toll on our roads every year, or committing suicide? Maybe for them, death is something that happens to other people, to old and sick people, though the Climate Change protests suggest that it’s the teenagers who’re the ones taking notice.

We live and work for today, for tomorrow, for next month, for next year, for our future, for our children’s future… But what about our real future in eternity? Our future with God?

So today’s Gospel says,

Of two men in the fields, one is taken, one is left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.

Matthew 24:40-41

This could mean that one is taken away by a natural or personal disaster (an earthquake or a heart attack) and the other left untouched. Or it could mean that God takes one away to himself and abandons the other. In either event, the meaning’s the same. Two men, two women who appear to be the same, doing the same thing. But there’s an important difference. One’s prepared and the other isn’t.

The trouble is we don’t know the hour or the day when the Lord will come.

If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into

Matthew 24:43

And, in many ways, that’s a blessing. On the one hand, if we did know, just imagine the anxiety of knowing what the time and the day, on the other hand, imagine the temptation to let our lives go completely to pot knowing that we could straighten everything out at the last minute. So it’s a question of always being ready.

Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”.

Paraphrase of Romans 13:11

The obvious question is, How do I prepare? St Paul writing to the Roman’s has some advice.

Let us give up all the things we tend to do under cover of darkness and live decently as people do in the daytime.” 

Paraphrase of Romans 13:13

Are there dark areas in all of our lives? Things we do, things we say, things we think, indulging in self-centred behaviour; things which we wouldn’t like other people to know about because they do harm to us or to others.

Instead, we need to develop our relations with God and with our brothers and sisters based on a caring and unconditional love for all. That of course includes future generations and those living in areas of the world threatened by the Climate Change going on as a result of excessive consumption. We need to learn how to find God, to find Jesus in every person, in every experience. We need to respect every person as the image of God. We’re to love our neighbours as ourselves, to love everyone just as Jesus loved us.

If, in our words and actions, our daily lives are full of the spirit of Jesus, then we’ve prepared. We don’t need to be anxious about the future or what’ll happen to us. Concentrate on today, on the present hour, the present situation and respond to it in truth and love and the future will take care of itself. Then we don’t have to fear no matter when Jesus makes his final call. Because we’d know he’s was going to say:

Come, my friend. I want to call you now; I want to share with you my life that never ends.

And we’d respond:

Yes, Lord, I am ready. I’ve been waiting for you all this time.

It’d be an encounter, not of strangers, but of two old friends.  

Amen.

Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King – 20.11.22

Circa 1980 – Guess who?

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

When I was a child, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s,  growing up on a council estate in Rotherham in South Yorkshire, I remember that my friends and I used to play all sorts of games in some rather dangerous places.

One of my particular memories is of us running wild on a building site when the estate was being expanded – no security fences in those days of course – those golden days of yesteryear when we didn’t  feel it was necessary to keep the estate kids safely away from the piles of bricks, rickety scaffolding, rusting machinery and half completed buildings.

One of the games we loved playing involved finding a huge  heap of sand or half completed wall – anything we could climb up on. The first one to the top of the heap or wall would claim the kingdom and shout, “I’m king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal.” The rest of us would charge the kingdom. Some tried pulling the king down. Others tried pushing the king off the castle. We all wanted to take over the kingdom.

Each attack on the king was in some way an unspoken demand for proof. “If you’re really the king, prove it. Defend yourself. Show us your power and strength. Save yourself and your kingdom. Because if you don’t I’ll take it for myself.” Each one of us wanted to climb the heap of sand and proclaim that we were king (or queen of course) of all that we surveyed!

It was a great game. We had a lot of fun and I’m sure many of you played very similar games, if not the same!

But when we look back and reflect on how we played, I wonder if it did begin to nurture in us an outlook that has become a bit of a problem.

You see from being children we have grown up – but many of us have never stopped playing the game. We have become adults and ‘King of the Castle’ has become a way of life.

Our heaps of sand or half built walls, our high places are now made up of our personal success and money, power and control or reputation and popularity.

For some of us, the heaps of sand have become our families, our children, or the fairy tale of living happily ever after. Others have climbed the walls of being right, holy, or respectable.

Often our kingdoms have become ways of thinking, political parties, or social groups. Our nation and even our church have become king of the castle playgrounds.

There are all sorts of kingdoms. Each one of us can probably name the sand heaps of our lives, the sand heaps on which we have played king or queen of the castle.

The adult version of king of the castle has become about filling our emptiness, fighting our fear, and ultimately establishing some type of order and control.

What began as a child’s game has become the reality of our adult lives.

For many of us life is a constant scrambling to establish and maintain our little kingdoms, to convince ourselves as much as anyone else that we are okay, we are enough, we are the king or queen. And isn’t that a hard way to live?

Today, the Feast of Christ the King, celebrates and reminds us that playing king of the castle does not have to be the final reality of our lives.

Life can be different. We do not have to spend our lives trying to get to the top of a three-foot heap of sand. We do not have to spend our lives trying to keep our balance on top of a half-built wall as others try to push us off.

Christ the King invites us to stop playing the game. Life does not have to be, was never intended to be, an ongoing game of king of the castle.

If we choose to stop playing the game, it means we must give up our little kingdoms. We cannot celebrate Christ the King if we continue fighting our way up the sand heap.

We can have one or the other but not both.

Today in our service we will again pray, “your kingdom come.” It rolls off our tongues with ease and familiarity.  But I wonder if we really know what we’re asking for and do we really mean it? Implicit in that prayer is the request, “my kingdom go.” “Your kingdom come, my kingdom go.”

It’s one thing to pray for God’s kingdom to come. It’s another to let our kingdom go. After all we’ve been kings and queens of our own castles for a long time. Or at least we’ve convinced ourselves that we have.

It’s not easy to let go of our kingdoms and more often than not I think we try to negotiate a deal with God. “Ok God. Prove you are the king and then I’ll step down. Show me evidence of your kingdom and then I’ll let go of mine.”

The leaders, the soldiers, one of the criminals – they all want the same thing. They want to see proof that Christ is the king. They want to see evidence of his kingdom. We all do. After all, if Jesus is really the king, the one to rule our lives, and we are supposed to believe that – then let him prove it. “Save yourself if you are the Messiah of God. Save yourself if you are the King of the Jews. Aren’t you the Messiah? Then prove it. Save yourself and me.”

At one level I think we want to see Jesus come down from the cross. We want to see his wounds disappear. We want to see a well-dressed king – one with physical strength, military might, and political power. We want to see something spectacular, something beyond the realities of our ordinary lives.

At a much deeper level, however, these demands are about more than just Jesus saving himself from death, from physical pain, from political defeat.  At this deeper level we are crying out: “Save yourself and us from our own unbelief. Save yourself and us from our need to control. Save yourself and us from the fear that this little heap of sand I call my kingdom is all that there is to my life. Show me. Right now. Prove who you are.”

But you know what – he won’t do it – at least not in the way we usually want. Jesus will not offer us proof of his kingship. Instead he offers us the kingdom. He invites us to share in his kingship.

That happens in the silence of the deepest love.

The leaders are scoffing at Jesus. He responds with silence. The soldiers are mocking him. He responds with silence. One of the criminals derides him. He responds with silence. All are demanding proof. None are getting what they ask for. Jesus does not take himself or the criminals off the cross. He doesn’t answer the leaders. He refuses to respond to the soldiers. He is silent.

In that silence the other criminal begins to understand. It’s not about getting proof of Christ’s kingship – it’s about letting go of our own kingship. It’s about coming down from our little heaps of sand and realising that we already are, and always have been, royal members of God’s holy kingdom.

This realisation underlies the criminal’s cry, “Jesus remember me. Remember me not because of what I have done or left undone. Remember me in spite of those things. Remember me not because of who I am, but because of who you are.” His cry to be remembered is the cry of one who has emptied himself of everything, has let go of every last kingdom, and whose very life and existence are entrusted to the God who remembers. That is the reign of Christ.

The reign of Christ does not mean we now have all the answers, that everything is fixed, that there is no more pain, or that every problem has been eliminated. Jesus will not take us off our crosses. Instead, he gets up there with us. He does not fix our lives. Instead, he enters into the reality of our ordinary existence. We are remembered – and right here today, in the reality of our everyday lives, in the midst of our pain, in the midst of our dying, in the midst of our brokenness, in the midst of our guilt – Christ the King says to us, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Amen

May God bless you and all those you hold dear during this coming week and always.

Fr Simon

Reflection for Remembrance Sunday – 13th Nov 2022

Matthew 5:1-12

Every year well over 40 million Poppies are sold in aid of the work of the Royal British Legion. Poppies now come in many different forms: the traditional paper ones, but also large plastic ones and increasingly knitted ones, they’re projected onto buildings and also form public art installations, like the 888,246 ceramic poppies used in the “Blood swept lands and Seas of Red” installation at the Tower of London in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI or the hundreds of knitted poppies cascading from the War Memorial in Lairg to mark the 100th anniversary of its dedication in 1922.

In his book, “Where the Poppies Blow”, historian John Lewis-Stempel writes of how the soldiers in the trenches engaged with the natural world through the horror, and boredom, and filth, but sometimes unexpected beauty of the trenches – “above all, nature healed, and, despite the bullets and blood, it inspired men to endure”.

Did you know that many of the British soldiers spent much of their time in the trenches gardening. Some of these were for the necessary and practical purpose of producing fresh food to keep them relatively healthy. Actually by the end of the WWI it’s suggested that the British Army was self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. But it wasn’t just fruit and veg, they also made small flower gardens at the rear of their trenches.

Will you please send as soon as possible two packets of candytuft and two packets of nasturtium seeds?

wrote Captain Lionel Crouchto his father in Chelmsford in 1915.

Life in the trenches was often extremely boring.  For about four years of the Great War in many places neither side advanced or retreated more than a few miles.  So the cultivation of a garden was something to do. Some stretches even ran a sort of “Britain in Bloom” to add a bit of competitive edge.  Of course at another level these gardens were a powerful remembrance of home and those lost.  In a life which often seemed so randomly cruel, they provided the soldiers with a modicum of control and order in their disordered and horribly distorted world. 

It’s out of this unique environment that the Poppy emerged as the defining symbol of remembrance for British society.

Before the war, in the untilled soil of northern France and Belgium the Poppy did’t normally thrive in the way that the blue cornflowers did and filled the same role in the French popular imagination as the Poppy does in the British.

But this was a unique environment, in which the Poppy – which reminded so many soldiers of the cornfields back home in England, thrived. The artillery barrages of both sides, ploughed and churnedup no-man’s land and the explosions helped spread the poppy seeds around the mud churned land.The nitrogen of the explosives as well as the rotting remains of dead animals and soldiers created a very fertile environment in which these poppies flowered abundantly. So it wasn’t a poetic image, but a reality of this beauty in a seemingly God-forsaken place, which led Canadian Physician John McCrae on the day after leading the prayers at the ad hoc funeral of one of his dearest friends to write.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

John Macrae

From those words written in 1915, through the first Poppy Appeals of the 1920s, through to the millions we see at this time of year across our country, the simple red Poppy has become a most eloquent expression of the deep sorrow and gratitude that so many feel for those who’ve given their lives in time of war.

In the Poppy we’re remembering the sacrifice of those whose names are written on the war memorials in our communities, many marking their 100th anniversaries this year and next. In the Poppy we glimpse an image of the bravery and brutality of war.  Perhaps we see in this simple flower, and in its short and brilliant flowering, the image of a generation cut down all too soon. 

But rather than simply looking back, in the Poppy we should also look forward. In the trenches flowers became a sign of hope and deep spiritual epiphany. That in these simple flowers emerging through the mud and rubble of that seemingly God-forsaken landscape of no-man’s land, something good and something beautiful might and could and should emerge.

God has given us the capacity to remember. Where would we be without it? How sad it is when dementia robs people of their memories. Yes, memory is a great gift, but it comes with the obligation to remember well; to remember fully; to learn the lessons of the past and to apply them intelligently. In this we all have our own part to play. Today let us try to remember the past in a way that better equips us for the future.

In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew we heard the beginning of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”. In these, the Beatitudes, we hear the promise and blessing that God reveals to us in His sonJesus Christ. 

What’s striking about them is that these blessings begin not with those who are comfortable in life, or in the happiness that we might wish for. Blessing emerges instead for those, like the soldiers of the trenches, who dwell in darker places of life – the sorrowful, the persecuted, the hungry. And it’s through these places that we come to know and understand the promises of God for comfort, for mercy and for the kingdom of heaven.

In the Poppy we see the same picture. That even in the shattered, broken reality of the trenches something new and positive might and should emerge.

So as we wear our Poppies, as we lay them in remembrance we not only look back with sorrow and thankfulness, we look forward with joy and hope and recommit ourselves to the truth and blessing that we might be peacemakers, and that by so doing we may truly become the children of God of love and peace.

Amen

Sermon for Third Sunday before Advent – 06.11.22

Job 19:23-27a  • Psalm 17:1-9  •  2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17  •  Luke 20:27-38

Well, here we are in November and the church year is beginning to draw to a close. As well as everything associated with The Season of Remembrance, our thoughts also turn to the end times, the return of Christ, and, as we will confess in the Creed later on in our service, “the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Our Scripture readings during these weeks generally reflect this emphasis and so it is with what we have heard this morning. Our Holy Gospel for today, from Luke 20, speaks about “The God of the Living and the Children of the Resurrection.”

The original setting for this text was during Holy Week, in Jerusalem, as Jesus was teaching there. His opponents were lining up, taking turns, trying to trap him in something he might say. For instance, some of his enemies tried to catch Jesus with a question about paying taxes to Caesar, thinking that no matter which way he answered, they would trap him – that he would either say something to incriminate himself with the Roman authorities or else he would anger the Jewish nationalists. But Jesus saw through their trap and answered with a brilliant response that actually put them on the spot.

That challenge didn’t work and so along come some Sadducees wanting to try their hand with a trick question, aiming to make Jesus look bad.

“The Sadducees,” you say? Who were they? Well, I’m glad you asked. A little background will help us understand where they’re coming from. The Sadducees were a group within Judaism that had certain distinctive beliefs. For one thing, the only part of the Hebrew Scriptures that they accepted as authoritative was the Torah, that is, the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Another distinctive belief of the Sadducees was that they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.

They did not believe in the resurrection, so they were “sad, you see.” (Sorry I just couldn’t resist that rather lame attempt at humour and of course I am just kidding about the name)!

But the fact is, that unlike other groups within Judaism, such as the scribes and the Pharisees, who did believe in a bodily resurrection, the Sadducees did not. And that is what lies behind their question here to Jesus- a question that they hope will trip him up and make him look bad. So, they frame a ridiculous scenario in order to pose a question that will make a belief in the resurrection look absurd.

Here’s how it goes: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.”

Now, let’s just take a pause here. The Sadducees are citing one of the laws written in the Torah. It’s the case of what to do when an Israelite man dies childless, what to do so that that man’s name does not die out, but so that his line will carry on and have heirs and keep that man’s land and property within the family. This was a big deal in ancient Israel, according to God’s plan at that time. And so the provision in the law of Moses was that in such cases, which would be relatively rare – in such cases of a man dying childless, if that man has a brother, then that brother should take the widow as his wife, which would do a couple of things: it would carry on the deceased man’s genealogical line and his allotted family property, and it would also be a way of caring for the widow, who otherwise might be economically vulnerable.

So that’s the set-up, the premise for what follows, the marriage prescribed in the Law of Moses. That part, the Sadducees state correctly. But then they take this law to the extreme, to get at what they’re really driving at, which is to make a belief in the resurrection sound ridiculous – to make Jesus sound ridiculous.

So anyway, here they go: “Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife and then he died without having any children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died.” Do you get that? Instead of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” they’re painting a picture of “One Bride for Seven Brothers.”

“Afterwards the woman also died.” Well, no wonder! Attending so many funerals would get anybody down!

OK, so the ridiculous scenario is this: The one wife had been married to all seven men.

And the question comes – “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

The Sadducees think they’ve got him! “Try to wriggle out of this one, Jesus! Let’s see you try to defend your silly belief in a bodily resurrection now!”

Well, guess again!

Now this incident is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and our text in Luke does not include the first thing Jesus says back, which is, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” You see, the Sadducees did not know their scriptures well enough, they did not understand them, and they also underestimated the power of God to do something as great and wonderful as to raise up the dead.

And they don’t understand the temporal nature of marriage, either, that it is an estate established by God for this life only, but not for the age to come. Jesus says, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” You Sadducees don’t have to worry about “whose wife she will be,” because she won’t be the wife of any of them at that time. The estate of marriage is for this life only.

Those who attain to the age to come and to the resurrection from the dead do not marry, “for they cannot die anymore.” Thus there is no need to carry on the line, to be fruitful and multiply, there’s no need to make sure the one left behind is economically secure.

The promise of the resurrection of the dead, the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come is a promise not just for the ancient nation of Israel, for the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a promise also for us today.  God’s promises do not have an expiration date.

Dear friends, this is how we are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead: We are worthy solely because of Jesus Christ. What has He done to make us worthy of everlasting life? He has conquered death! By his death he has destroyed death. That is, when Christ died on the cross, he took away the guilt of all our sins.

God’s own Son has died in our place, and if we are trusting in him for forgiveness, when our time comes we will not die but live. Christ himself rose, victorious from the grave. And you, beloved child of God, you have been joined to Christ, and so you will rise with him!

May God bless you and all those you hold dear during this coming week and always.

Amen

Fr Simon

Sermon for All Souls 2nd November 2022

Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 23; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from his prison cell on Christmas Eve, 1943 wrote:

There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. 

At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent that the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. 

Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

November is a month for remembering. All around people are wearing poppies, a symbol that we remember the lives of those lost in war. But this evening, we come, possibly with some trepidation, to remember quietly those who we’ve loved but see no more.

It isn’t easy to remember, when remembering brings back the pain of our loss. It isn’t easy to remember when the relationship we shared had its difficulties or when we feel that there were things we wanted to do or say but didn’t get the chance. Sometimes remembering is perhaps the last thing that we feel that we want to do or are able to do…

The Christian faith has a strong tradition of remembering. As Jesus approached his own death he shared a simple meal with his friends. He urged them to bring Him into their presence every time they broke bread or drank together. He knew that he was going to die but he wanted them to know that in spite of that he’d never leave them.

This act of remembrance like the Eucharist that we will share together shortly, is about life and all that lies ahead and not simply about something in the past. For many of us there are times of day or simple acts that remind us of someone we’ve lost. Sometimes the act of remembering will trip us up as momentarily we forget what’s happened, at other times the act of remembering can be a great comfort and strength.

In the short piece I read at the beginning, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes of how, as we work through our grief, we develop a new perspective on the one that we love but see no more.

We don’t just remember them as a saint but start to remember them in all the richness of who they were, in the things that drove us mad, as well as their more positive traits, and we’re grateful for it all.

As we remember the things that made us laugh and the things that made us cross, the things that made us proud and the ways they could embarrass us, it’s as though the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are coming back together again…

When we lose someone dear to us, it’s as though a jigsaw puzzle has been thrown up into the air and all the pieces have been scattered far and wide. As we remember, the pieces start to come together – only the picture isn’t quite the same. We have to look closely at what is emerging, but there, in the new picture, is the possibility that we can still love the one we’ve lost and that the life we shared with them is one of the things that has shaped the person we are today.

As we remember tonight we should be encouraged by the words we heard from Wisdom:

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them … Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect.

Wisdom 3:1,9

Hope for the Souls of the departed, but also for us that they have left behind.

And also by Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome so frequently heard at funerals:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Romans 8:38-39

So absolutely nothing, not even our grief, can separate up from the love that we’ve shared with those we’ve lost – love is stronger than death because love is of God.

Memories don’t just connect us to the past, memories are also what connects us with the future, with hope and new life. As we remember, as the fragments of the jigsaw come back together again and we see exiting new possibilities emerging, we become ever more aware of the bond of love that cannot be broken. As Bonhoeffer says:

gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” 

Amen

A Sermon for All Saints 2022

A Last Beatitude (Malcolm Guite)

And blessèd are the ones we overlook;
The faithful servers on the coffee rota,
The ones who hold no candle, bell or book
But keep the books and tally up the quota,
The gentle souls who come to ‘do the flowers’,
The quiet ones who organise the fete,
Church sitters who give up their weekday hours,
Doorkeepers who may open heaven’s gate.
God knows the depths that often go unspoken
Amongst the shy, the quiet, and the kind,
Or the slow healing of a heart long broken
Placing each flower so for a year’s mind.
Invisible on earth, without a voice,
In heaven their angels glory and rejoice.

In this poem, Malcolm Guite points to something that underlies today’s celebration. Saints are simply people through whom we catch a glimpse of the unknown God. God can and does reveal Himself to us through the people around us. He doesn’t need their permission or even their awareness that they’re revealing God to others – it may be just a smile or a helping hand or a kind word or it may be a prophetic cry that will change the course of history. 

Every year on the first of November (or thereabouts) we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. In our worship, we consciously join ourselves to the saints in heaven. We put into practice our faith in the idea of the communion of saints. Now you may be wondering why we honour all the saints at one go. Well in the early days of the Church, martyrs were remembered on the anniversary of their death. The first three centuries were times of persecution for Christians and as a result, the number of martyrs increased dramatically. The number of free days for new saints in the calendar decreased rapidly; so finally in the fourth century, this day was set aside each year to commemorate all the saints who couldn’t be fitted in with a day of their own. 

But this day is also a reminder to us that we are all called to be saints of God. All Saintstide is a reminder to us of our call to holiness. Ronald Knox, a Roman Catholic theologian, commented that “the Church in Heaven is all saints, but the Church on earth is all sorts”. There are all sorts of us in the Church of God. All sorts of denominations. All sorts of theologies. All sorts of liturgies. All sorts of personalities. And we are all, all sorts of us, called to be the saints of God. We the people of God have potential to be all sorts of saints. 

As Pope Francis once said:

The Saints are not supermen and neither are they perfect. They lived normal lives marked by sadness and joy, hardships and hopes, before reaching the glory of heaven. But when they witnessed God’s love, they followed him with all their heart, unconditionally and without hypocrisy; they dedicated their life to serving others, they bore suffering and adversities without hatred and responded to evil with good, spreading joy and peace.

We’re all called to walk along the path of sainthood. Probably a rather difficult thing for any of us to accept. We probably don’t think of ourselves as being particularly holy; besides, aren’t we supposed to be humble? 

So today we remember all those Christians who have lived before us. We celebrate that we are surrounded by a community of believers, those from every age who have served Christ and who have lived the life of faith. We celebrate that we are on that same path of becoming. C.S. Lewis wrote, 

How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.” 

So how do we come to the place where it becomes irresistible to us and we accept our call to holiness? 

It begins, I suspect, by recognising that even the greatest of the saints was a real person. A real person with real struggles and that should convince us of their humanity. So what does it mean to be one of God’s saints? Mother Teresa who died in 1996 was often referred to as a living saint. In 1982, during a visit to San Francisco to mark the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis of Assisi, the diminutive nun was asked how it feels to be called “a living saint.

Possibly, people see Jesus in me,” she replied. “But we can see Jesus in each other. Holiness is meant for all people.

The Bible’s full of helpful tips on this. For instance, today’s readings see God’s faithful saints being called to praise God’s saving acts and promises in Psalm 149, an angel giving hope to an oppressed people by explaining that empires and rulers will be destroyed by God and replaced by “the saints of the Most High” in Daniel. In Ephesians we’re reminded that we shouldn’t take God’s promises for granted, that it’s through the “seal” of the Holy Spirit that we are living in God’s power and protection, and in Luke, Jesus gives us teaching on values that sound like a pretty steep hill to climb. In it Jesus addresses a large gathering, saying, “Blessed are you…” So begins the teaching that has become known as ‘the beatitudes’.

So who are the blest ones? Who is it that God favours? Who is that God looks wearily at? Who is it that Jesus warns of troubles and woes? God blesses the poor, those who are hungry or tearful and those who are persecuted, or rejected because of their faith. No surprise there, and we can perhaps imagine the crowd murmuring their agreement, but then Jesus changes tack. He draws attention to the opposite, and delivers a warning to the rich, those who are well fed or joyful and to the well-regarded. 

While it seems obvious that God blesses the poor and the sad, do we really believe that God curses the rich and the happy?

The Beatitudes can be seen as a set of values intended to shape how we understand God, the world, and our place in it. Rather than seeking ways of being blessed ourselves, through poverty, hunger, or sadness, we should respond by seeking out those who’re in need, and sharing what we have. 

Is Jesus not actually saying, woe to you who tenaciously hang on to your riches, fullness, and laughter, ignoring those who are poor, hungry and sad.

On All Saints Day we’re reminded that ‘Saints’ who are blessed by God, not only those who society at large recognises as being of exceptional virtue, but also the vulnerable, the forgotten and the outcasts. 

Blessèd are the ones we overlook
In heaven their angels glory and rejoice.” 

Amen.

Sermon for Pentecost 20 – 23rd October 2022

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22; Psalm 84:1-; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee and the Tax collector — that’s the name often given to the parable that we hear in our gospel reading for today.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been on a long trip through Luke’s gospel – a trip we usually take in Year C in the season after Pentecost.

And over these these past few Sundays in Luke it’s been rather like attending an Elton John concert.

Peter and I went to see Elton John a few years ago, and much to our surprise we were presented with two solid hours of hit songs sung by Elton himself.

No warm up acts, no obscure singles by up and coming artists – All ‘killer’, no ‘filler’, if you know what I mean – Hit after hit after hit from the main man himself!

In the gospel recorded by St Luke, Jesus rattles off well know hit after hit too — We had The Good Samaritan (Luke 10); the Wedding Feast (Luke 12); the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (Luke 15); last week, the Persistent Widow, and now today — hit after hit after hit; no warm ups, no covers, no B sides!

Today I’d like us to consider three aspects of this latest of Jesus’ greatest hits (the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector), the players, the point, and the power!

(1) The players in the parable (who are they? why does it matter?)

(2) The point of the parable (what it teaches us)

(3) The power of the parable (how can it change our lives?).

So first then, to the Players:

Two men go into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Two men; two very different identities and identity is at the heart of this parable, as it is very much at the heart of twenty first century life.

In a piece titled Who Do You Think You Are, podcaster Wesley Morris said we are “in the midst of a great cultural identity migration. Gender roles are merging. Races are being shed. In the last [few years] we’ve been made to see how trans and bi and poly-ambi-omni we are.”

Everything touches on our identity, even the selves we mediate through Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat – images of how we want the world to identify us.

If you asked the players in today’s parable “Who are you? What defines you?” you’d get two very different answers.

Who was the Pharisee? Even the name of this group is thought to be about identity — the Hebrew word it comes from, perushin, literally means “separated or special ones.”

Pharisees got their identity by being separate, set apart, holier than everybody else. So, this Pharisee prays: “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, not even like this tax collector.”

Now put the question of identity to the tax collector.

Remember Rome was a long way from Palestine. It would take huge bureaucracy to collect taxes directly from there, so Rome sub-contracted the job.

Some Jews became “tax farmers,” private citizens who collected taxes for Rome, and the system was set up so they had to collect more than Rome demanded to make their own profit. Nobody in Jewish society was more despised than tax collectors.

The identities of these two men couldn’t have been more different.

Just look how they prayed.

The Pharisee stands confidently before God, but away from the others in the temple. He knew he was righteous, and his prayer was completely self-directed:“I thank God that I . . . I don’t steal or commit adultery; the law says fast once a week, I fast two; it says give ten percent of what you earn, I tithe even on what I buy.”

The tax collector prayed differently. He beat his breast, which some of us do during mass sometimes, as a sign of penitence. He looked down, a sign of humility. Rather than “God, look how righteous I am,” he said “God, have mercy on me because of how righteous I’m not.”

Two men; two prayers; two different identities. They are the players in this parable

And so to the purpose: Jesus says “I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went home justified rather than the other (the Pharisee) . . . .” This parable is answering a particular question. That’s its purpose. Like last week’s parable of the Persistent Widow, this parable addresses questions about who is qualified to enter God’s kingdom. And the answer was shocking — because It’s not the religious chap, the one who tithes and fasts.

Fasting — is good. Jesus assumed his followers would fast. Tithing, sharing our blessings with the poor, serving others with our wealth — is good. Giving is hard — but it’s good.

It’s not the Pharisee’s practice of tithing he has to change; it’s not his commitment to the religious practice of fasting he has to lay aside; it’s thinking that those things make him righteous. They don’t!

The one person who gets in is the one who knows he doesn’t have the price of admission. The purpose of the parable is to drive home one truth: Good works won’t buy a place in Gods Kingdom; His merciful Grace is the only game in town.

So what about the power of this particular parable?

Almost every commentator warns us to watch out for a trap.

The story is dangerous because we could just adopt different criteria for righteousness before God.

“Ok, maybe I can’t keep all the commandments like the Pharisee, but . . . what if I look down my nose at all the religious types and turn the situation on it’s head?” Still trying to justify ourselves, this time by our great humility, we find our mouths praying the words: “God, I thank thee, that I am not like the Pharisee!” That’s a sure sign that actually our hearts haven’t changed at all.

Who is the hero of the story? It’s not the Pharisee, and it’s not even the Tax Collector with the heart of gold — it’s God. Our God saves not because we keep the law or even because know we can’t. This God saves for one reason: He loves us.

And that, my friends, is the power of this parable. Power to change.

Understand that God knows you completely, but he loves you completely. God knows us — he knows how much we want to buy him off, how so many times our own pride lies underneath our religion — he knows us to our depths, but he loves us to the skies. And that changes hearts.

As I end my sermon this morning, please just take a moment to close your eyes and listen.

Who are you? What is your identity?

You are not your CV or the job you have or had.

You are not your Facebook account.

You are not the rules you keep or what other people think of you.

You are not your sexuality or race.

You are not your brokenness.

You are, quite simply, God’s beloved.

God already knows all about you — your failures, how sometimes you’re unhappy, how you feel awkward or out of place or alone. And he loves you. Love like that has the power to change you and set you free, reconciled to your creator and your redeemer.

Amen

May God bless you and all those you hold dear during this coming week and always.

Fr Simon

A Sermon at a Service of Thanksgiving for the Queen – 9th October 2022

Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the Royal Dockyard Chapel in Pembroke Dock, Wales.

Thanksgiving for the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 95; Romans 12:1-18

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

Isaiah 6:1

King Uzziah was one of the good kings of Judah. He was an intelligent and innovative king, under whom the state of Judah prospered. The prophets Hosea, Isaiah, Amos, Jonah and Zechariah lived and worked during his reign. King Uzziah was sixteen when he became king, and reigned for 52 years from 790 to 739 BCE. He

did what was right in the eyes of the Lord

2 Chronicles 25:2

and sought the Lord

during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God.

2 Chronicles 26:5

As long as Uzziah made a point of seeking God, God made him prosperous, but unfortunately after his mentor the prophet Zechariah died, Uzziah made many mistakes, failing to recognise that the power that he had came from God and not from his own efforts, so when he tried to usurp the role of the priests he was struck down with leprosy.

However we are not here to give thanks for the life and reign of Uzziah, we’re concerned with the life and reign of a different monarch, one who also ascended to the throne at a young age and ruled for an even longer time – Queen Elizabeth II. 

The Lord Lieutenant has reminded us of what the then Princess Elizabeth said in a broadcast address from Cape Town on her 21st birthday.

I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.

Priness Elizabeth’s 21st birthday broadcast on 21st April 1947

By now you should have picked up that our service this evening is focussed on the dedication and service to which this young woman devoted her life.

As a young girl she didn’t expect to become queen, but the abdication of her uncle Edward VIII put her father George VI on the throne and the rest as they say is history. As we heard in the first reading, a young Isaiah pledged himself to service by responding to God’s call:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’”.

Isaiah 6:8

In her coronation oath in 1953 a young woman as part of her response to the call to become queen said two very important things:

I will to my power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all my judgements.
and
I will to the utmost of my power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel.

From Queens Coronation Oath on 2nd June 1953

and then with her hand on the Bible she affirmed: “The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.” Also at that Coronation, as for kings and queens since before the time of Uzziah, she was anointed with oil as a symbol of her being ‘set apart’ for the task to which she was called and to which she pledged her life, just as clergy in some traditions are anointed when they are set apart at their ordination.

I don’t think that anyone here could justifiably claim that Queen Elizabeth failed to keep those solemn promises during her 70 yrs on the throne, a truly remarkable achievement by any standard and even more so in the life of someone so clearly in the public eye, whose every move and utterance was so carefully scrutinised.

What is it that Paul says to the Christian community in Rome? 

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

From Romans 12:9-18

Does that not perfectly describe the way that Queen Elizabeth lived out her Coronation promises? That of course is not a coincidence. The Queen’s Christian faith was the rock on which she built her life. She spoke often of how it sustained her at all times but especially when times were difficult.

Throughout her reign our Queen faced many trials and tribulations, as well as many joys, such as the birth of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Now we all know that love and friendship can bring great joy, but love and friendship also open us up to pain and grief. As has been quoted many times, not least by the Queen herself:

The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it’s perhaps the price we pay for love. To ignore this fact, or to pretend that it isn’t so, is to put on emotional blinkers which leave us unprepared for the losses that will inevitably occur in our own lives and unprepared to help others cope with losses in theirs.

 Dr Colin Murray Parkes in “Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life

Who can forget seeing the Queen at Prince Philip’s funeral service at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor sitting alone as a result of her assiduously observing Covid-19 restrictions? In doing so she was acting in solidarity with the many of her subjects who had to act similarly in relation to their families, she expected no special concession. In that very public act she was “weeping with those who weep”.

In the speech she made early on in the pandemic, she offered us words of encouragement when she said:

We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.

The Queen’s broadcast to the UK and Commonwealth 20th April 2020

Returning to King Uzziah, in the book of Judith we read:

Then great and general lamentation arose among the people, and they cried out to the Lord God with a loud voice. But Uzziah said to them, ‘Courage, my brothers and sisters! Let us hold out for five days more; by that time the Lord our God will turn his mercy to us again, for he will not forsake us utterly.

Judith 7:29-30

As we look back on Queen Elizabeth’s reign, two things stand out whatever your views about how countries should be governed and whatever the creed or faith by which you live your life. We see how faithfully she carried out the promises that she made on her 21st birthday and at her Coronation. And we see how her Christian faith sustained, nourished and supported her through the good times and the bad.

She exceeded Uzziah in the length of her reign but unlike Uzziah, she never turned away from God through arrogance or a lack of humility, no matter what happened she remained

ardent in spirit, served the Lord, rejoiced in hope, was patient in suffering and persevered in prayer.

We would all do well to learn from her example and do likewise.

Amen.

Sermon for Pentecost 18 – 9th October 2022

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15 ; Luke 17:11-19

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus speaks in the synagogue in Nazareth, and you might remember that He gets himself into hot water when He reminds the assembled company

there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian”.

Luke 4:27

In response His own townsfolk seek want to throw Him over a cliff. They also express scepticism that he was the Messiah, because they’d known him when he was a kid and his parents were – well just ordinary people and the expected Messiah would be someone rather more special and grand. 

Now today, we meet not one, but 11 lepers. In the OT reading from the second book of Kings, we meet Naaman the Syrian. He’s a successful general of the Aramean army who’s got early stage leprosy and wants to be healed. In the Gospel, we meet ten anonymous lepers who call upon Jesus to heal them.

Let’s start with Naaman.

Naaman’s a favourite of the Aramean king because he’s led very successful campaigns against Israel, which have effectively made Israel a subordinate state to Aram (now south-west Syria). Whilst away fighting, Naaman’s captured a Israeli girl who he’s brought back as a maid for his wife.

Naaman’s at the peak of his career. He’s boss of his family and has fearsome reputation and place of honour with his king. He then gets leprosy and, although it’s early stage, it’ll get steadily worse and eventually he’ll waste away – a unpleasant fate and an end to his glittering career and position in society. The Israeli girl’s been brought up with faith in Israel’s God Yahweh and she knows that Israel’s prophets such as Elisha can achieve great things though he needs to go back to Israel to visit the prophet. 

The King of Aram hears this and decides that it’s a good plan. Whether he’s motivated by a personal regard for Naaman or simply by wishing to hang on to the best general he’s ever had, we don’t know. But anyway, he sends Naaman with a letter for the King of Israel asking him to arrange Naaman’s healing.

So just to get this straight. The last time Naaman was in Israel, with his army, he was beating them to a pulp and now on the advice of a young Israeli slave girl, he’s back asking the King of Israel to heal him. A conquering king taking advice from a slave and begging a King that he’s just defeated to help him.

What an extraordinary turn of events – Naaman may be powerful in his household, he may be powerful in Aram and he may be powerful in battle. But with regard to his illness and in relation to being healed he’s completely powerless. If he wants to be healed, he’ll have to rely on God, and God’s agents in the form of the slave girl and the prophet Elisha. 

How often have you felt as though you had things all worked out, your plans are going well and then, wham, out of the blue, something happens over which you don’t have control? Something that takes you from where you were and where you were going and dumps you somewhere different. It’s at the very least disorientating and distressing and often devastating.

Now let’s consider the King of Israel. He receives a letter from his oppressor the King of Aram, requesting that he arranges for Naaman’s healing. He’s distraught. He’s being asked by his powerful neighbour to do the impossible. This can only mean one thing. The king of Aram is trying to find a pretext for picking another fight with Israel and if that’s the case, it’s very bad news indeed.

The King of Israel’s wrong about this, but from his perspective all the evidence is pointing towards his pre-conception, towards his fears about his relationship with his neighbour and towards his worst nightmare. How easy it is to be wrong about those we’re nervous about, about those we don’t understand, about those who’re of a different opinion, race or culture from us.

Elisha hears of the King of Israel’s distress and sends for Naaman, who arrives in style with pomp and ceremony at Elisha’s hovel. Naaman, his chariots, his men, loaded with gold and silver and fine clothes. Oh dear another humiliation for Naaman, who’s been sent from the splendour of the king’s palace to Elisha’s lowly dwelling.

And it gets worse, Elisha doesn’t even do him the honour of coming out to see him, he just sends a servant to give him instructions.

And worse – he tells Namaan to go and wash in the River Jordan, which at the best of times is a rather sluggish, murky river. Back in Aram, they have sparkling fresh rivers. A bit like telling someone from the Highlands where the Findhorn or the Spey are fresh and clear to go and wash in the River Clyde. And he doesn’t have to wash just once but seven times for goodness sake.

Well this all takes Naaman’s humiliation too far. He’s been humiliated by having to take advice from his wife’s servant, to go and ask for help from an enemy king, to go to the hovel of a foreign prophet who won’t even come to the door and now he’s been told to wash seven times in a semi-stagnant grubby river. Do what? Where? How many times? 

So what does he do? Well he does what you or I might do – he turns on his heal and stomps off in a huff, refusing to have anything more to do with it. How very human – to walk away from the one simple thing that could cure him of his problem, because of his pride, because it’s beneath his dignity, because it’s not what he was expecting.

The stories of Naaman and the Samaritan who returned to say thank you in the Gospel, have a number of things in common. Both refer to Samaria and concern healing from leprosy. Naaman (a Syrian) and the Samaritan are both foreigners: outsiders to the people of God (the Jews). Even so, God heals both from leprosy, despite their outsider status, and before they pledge any allegiance to God. Both are healed without being touched, and both are sent on their way with a command “Go”.

Whatever God’s criteria for showing mercy, as demonstrated through Elisha and Jesus, I suspect that they’re a sight more generous than ours. How often have we realised that we need help and tried to get it, but when it’s offered, it’s so different from what we’re expecting we either don’t recognise it as what we really need, or we reject it for any one of a whole host of reasons which ultimately amount to pride and how we think things ought to be and our rightful place in the order of things.

As is so often the case, those around Naaman can see that he’s nothing to lose (except of course his pride) and so they beg him to just give it a try. But so often we don’t pay enough attention to those around us who can see the obvious, because we think that they don’t know enough about it, or they’re seeing things in a far too simplistic way. 

Naaman eventually follows their advice and is cured, but for that to happen, he has to be cured of his pride. He has to humble himself to admit that he has a problem, to humble himself to accept the advice of a servant, to humble himself and go and ask his enemy for help, to humble himself by being prepared to go to the lowliest place for that help and to humble himself to take advice that seemed to him to be plain daft. He has to humble himself to many people who’re of a lower status than him – his wife’s servant, Elisha’s servant and his own servants, surrendering to each in turn.

That’s how the grace of God comes. Through humbling ourselves. If we’re too arrogant to listen to those that we don’t consider to be our equals, in status, intelligence, in skill, in race, in piety. If we’re too sure of the way God should come to us, then we may well walk away from something very special that could change our lives, or set us free from something that’s been afflicting us, simply because our pre-conceptions don’t allow us to see it for what it is – the life-changing grace of God.

Jesus command to the Samaritan leper who returns to say thank you, to get up and go comes with a promise: “your faith has made you well (literally saved you).” The good news that Jesus brings us through this encounter and through his mention of the story of Naaman that gets him into trouble at the start of his ministry, is the promise that God empowers people to step across boundaries and to share mercy with outsiders.

In this there’s something to be understood about the people who live at the margins of our communities, who’re treated as invisible or unlovely because of how they look or who they are or where they come from or what they’ve done. Jesus clearly notices and loves them as God’s children and calls us to do the same.

Throughout the Gospels, the poorest and most marginalised are recognised as blessed – precisely because they recognise their need of grace. Of course, they’re not unique in that need, one that we all share, but also one that money and security can obscure. Those who’re at the margins of society are often less susceptible to any notion of their own self-sufficiency. They tend not to take God’s blessings for granted. Their gratitude opens them to receiving the greater gift which God longs to bestow on each of us: a share in his own life and love.

The “fear of God” that the scriptures commend to us, is the recognition of our need of God, our inability to cope on our own and our gratitude for His blessings. These things take us beyond our fantasies of self-sufficiency to a place where we can be open to receive all that God can give us.

Amen.