All Saints: Become who you are

Homily for the Feast of All Saints, 2015

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I hope you all survived your Halloween parties this week.

Anyone dress up?  No?  You normally look like this?

I’m not a dressing up sort of person – well, except on Sundays, obviously…

Anyway, last night, Halloween:  All-Hallow’s-eve.    The eve of the Holy Ones.

Well, it’s no longer the eve,

it’s the day

of the Hallows,

The day of every Saint.   Let it shine on the shadows and the fears that haunt you.

In the old European folk tradition, all ghosts and ghouls had one last party just before All Saints’ Day.   But that party had to be over well before first light.  Why?    Because evil dare not step foot on the day of the Holy Ones, the Saints.   Evil flees in terror before them.

The tradition of people dressing up as ghosts and witches was a way of acknowledging fears of the unknown and the dark, and then laughing at them.   Yes, sometimes fear needs to be mocked.  It’s hell’s greatest weapon.  With Christ and the army of saints and angels, we can do that.

Us humans, we’re only little.   Fears, terrors, illnesses, failures, deaths taunt us every day.  But here’s the thing:  all of that evil can dance around as much as it likes, but sooner or later it’s going to run straight into the power, the raging furnace, of God’s Love and it will be burnt up and shown up for the nothing that it is.

Followers of Jesus believe this.   The Saints let that belief capture their hearts and fill them with its power.

All followers of Jesus are saints;  those whom we call Saints are people who’ve simply  become who they are. I am a Christian, and I will become a Christian.  I am saint and, in God’s power, I will become a Saint, I will become who I am.

So many people become what society, or other people, expect them to be; you become a Saint by becoming the person that God wants you to be.

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Become you, by loving the saint in you:  that sacred, holy, irreplaceable person touched by Jesus that you are, and are meant to be.  That is in you, that is your true Christ-self, it can never be lost or taken away,  and it terrifies the demons.   So let it grow.  Feed your inner saint with daily prayers, the Eucharist and deeds of mercy.

And, if you want to become a Saint, become friends with a Saint.   Ask them to walk with you, to pray for you.   You ask me to pray for you, ask them as well.  Every morning, I say, ‘Mary, my mother, S. David, S. Timothy, help me through this day, wind your prayers around me’.

The Saints of this parish are more than our friends.   They are our family.   Jesus makes it so.   Did you really think death can separate us?

‘The Saints do not know sin, they only know mercy, and see it as their mission to bring that mercy to all’   Thomas Merton

When people think about haunting, they usually mean places spooked by bad spirits.   But the Church believes the world is also haunted by a much greater power of goodness.   There are places haunted by God’s Saints and Angels.    People have told me that they love being alone in Church, even if it’s just to clean and tidy, because there’s a presence, an atmosphere of peace, a sense of being in a sanctuary, a safe and holy and good place.   Absolutely: it’s one of the many places haunted by the Holy Spirit, and His friends.

Every time you feel that the world is cursing and oppressing you, feel the presence of Jesus and the Saints alongside you.   There are forces of compassion – Saints, Angels, guardian angels, visible and invisible, straining at the leash, waiting for your invitation.    Invite them to be with you.  Ask for their prayers, ask them to help you love your inner saint because you are a holy one, a sacred one, touched by God.

Become what you are, and the demons will fall before you.

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Me, next to a saint, on her confirmation. Pentecost 2015
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Text Message

A homily for Bible Sunday, S. Luke’s Canton, 25th October 2015

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I’m holding in my hand something little,

and that’s falling falling apart.

It’s small, fragile, and the pages don’t all hold together

but it’s the reason I’m standing here, today.

I was given this Gideon’s New Testament when I went to secondary school.  For a long time, it just stayed by the side of my bed.  Sometimes, if I felt scared of the dark, or worried, I’d instinctively hold it.

It happened

one evening, when I found myself opening it, out of curiosity.    I was reading the story in Matthew’s gospel of Jesus walking beside the sea of Galilee.   All the passage says is that Jesus walks up to two fisherman, Simon Peter and Andrew, and just says, ‘Come and follow me’.

I can’t explain why, but I was overwhelmed by the deep sense that I wasn’t reading the words of a dead man, but of a Living Reality, a Presence, a Voice, mysterious, awesome, yet intimately near, calling to me,

saying to me,

what it had said to Peter, to Andrew, to you, to everyone,

‘Come’.

I knew that Christ is for Real.

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I remember seeing on the tv a while back these youngsters pointing to the mobile (cell phone) of an older person and saying, ‘aw, how sweet, he uses it as a phone’.

It seems that most younger people don’t use their phones as, er, phones, nowadays.   They use their palm top devises to navigate, to look things up, to stay in touch, to text.

I actually love the whole thing about text messages.   Right now, my phone is turned off (at least, I hope it is) and when I turn it on again, I may well see a little sign that says a message has been sent and is there, inside, waiting.

And this is what happens in Church, when the scriptures are read, when the  gospel is proclaimed, when the liturgy is prayed together.   In that experience,  we are all texted.  That message from God, that Word of the Spirit, goes inside us.

You might be aware of it as it happens, or your mind might be on the Sunday lunch, or the worry that crushes you, or the joy that overwhelmes you, or the boredom that saps you.  No matter:   the text has been proclaimed with liturgical power, and has gone into you, into your soul.

Now we should seek to listen with attentive hearts during the liturgy but, here’s the thing, by the courtesy of heaven, the text  touches  you in worship, wherever your  mind is.

I often say to parents with little children in church, ‘look, don’t worry if your whole conscious time is spent feeding and cwtching your child; the presence and reality of God’s Word is still touching you’.

In liturgy, the text message is penetrating the depths of your soul, whether you feel it or not.  Welcome that.  Be open to that.   Let God’s message, God’s Word, keep on doing that to  you in season and out of season; let Jesus’ Word, wash over you, again and again and again.

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“This is the Word of the Lord”

“Thanks be to God”

For Christians, the Bible is not the Word of God.   No, the Bible says that Jesus is the Word of God.    Jesus is the communication, the message of God.  What God wanted to say to us, could not be said by a mere linguistic sign-symbol system.   No, what God wanted to say to us could only be articulated by flesh and blood, by the eyes and heart and touching-healing reality of a human body, in Jesus.

Our canon is Christ

No, the Bible, points us to Jesus, the Word of God, and sometimes it does that clearly, and sometimes it does it in a very frail, stumbling, awkward way.   Sometimes we read a passage in scripture and it points us to Jesus by inversion because we think, rightly, this cannot, literally, be what God is like.

Thousands of years ago, S. Augustine taught us the principle of interpretive charity.   He said that as God Himself is Love, He can only ever communicate what He is.  So if we’re not reading a passage as a message of Love, we’re not reading it in the right way.   The interpretation of scripture can never contradict the shape of that Love revealed to us by a man hanging on a cross, arms outstretched, praying for compassion on those driving nails into His hands.

Through very human writers, through, through figures of speech, through idiom, hyperbole, rage, desire, hope, pain, joy, the writers of the Bible are pointing us beyond their words, to the Word, Who is Jesus, Who can only speak one language:  Love.  Because that’s what He is.

 

‘I grew up kissing bread and books’  Salman Rushide.

I will always kiss the gospel,

I will always

kiss the scriptures,

not just as a priest, but as a Christian, as a reader,

because through them,

We encounter the text, the touch, the very presence

of Jesus Himself.

Our Lady
Verbum factum est

 

 

Humility’s Way

Homily for Trinity 20, October 18th, 2015

Flower through Asphalt, Per Ola Wilberg
Flower through Asphalt, Per Ola Wilberg

Well last week it was a great joy to add Megan to our altar serving team at S. David’s.   Just a few weeks before, Jacob joined us too.  There’s still room for more in our altar serving crew, especially at S. Timothy’s….

So…

don’t be shy!

There’s no need to be.  In Church, a server is an amazing thing to be.

I know that that can’t be said for the wider world.   Many years ago, I worked in a canteen as a server.  It involved laying up tables, bringing food to them and clearing away afterwards.   I was rubbish at it, and I was sacked… But, one of my sharpest memories of those days is just how rude people can be to those who serve.  Customers would frequently shout, yell and make sarcastic comments to us.  They’d often talk to us like we were nothing.  Which is why, in our restaurant, customers who were kind and polite got served more quickly, with bigger portions and were charged less.

There’s something very revealing about how we treat those who have less power than we do.  We all know someone who’s really nice to those who are above, or on the same level as them, but who ignore or belittle anyone who has less clout than they do.

Is that person me?   How do I treat the one who is not as strong as I am?

Hmmm ….

In today’s gospel, the disciples are at it again, jostling for the best places in Jesus’ new world.    James and John ask Jesus if they can have the top seats in the new Kingdom.   With dark humour, Jesus tells them that he won’t be the one choosing who goes where when He is raised to glory.   The professional killers who are going to nail Him to a cross will do that.

For Jesus, glory is not the world’s idea of success and power; no, in heaven’s eyes, glory is humble, non-violent love, stretching out its arms to save a world.

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Sanctuary cross, S. Peter’s Fairwater, Cardiff

Coming first.   Taking the best seat.   Filling  your conversation with self-praise, being stronger, faster, more successful – that’s what the world does, that’s how the world works, and Jesus wants no part in it.

Jesus talks about turning our very ideas of success and power on their heads.   To come first in my world, He says, means putting your power and gifts at the service of the littlest, the least and the overlooked.  That’s the way of true humility.

“We strain to see your mercy seat, and find you kneeling at our feet”  Brian Wren

There’s so much to say about humility, but I wonder if a big part of it is how we see the world.   Because humility sees all the things that arrogance and pride do not.  Humility always notices who has their hands in the sink doing the washing up.   Humility notices the faces of those who wait on tables.  Humility hears the voices of children and the hopes and dreams of the ignored, the shut-up and despised.  It sees these things, and the people involved;  it uses its power to stand (and kneel) besides them.

That’s what Jesus does.

It’s why, in Church, a server is an amazing thing to be.  Because in God’s eyes, humble, loving service makes you a King, and what makes you truly great, is knowing just how much you need Him and other people.

Jesus,

Through our weakness

and our need for you,

set us free.

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One day Abba Macarius was walking home, when he met the devil.   The devil  was sighing deeply, “Macarius, you are causing me so much grief!”

“Why?” said Macarius.  “Is it because I stay up praying all night?”

“No” says they devil, “I don’t sleep”.

“Is it because I fast?”

“No” says the devil, “I don’t eat”.

“Is it because I shun riches, and live in the desert?”

“No” says the devil, “I live here too”.

“Then what is it?”

“It’s your humility, Macarius.  Against your humility,

I am powerless”.

Eye of the needle

  • Homily for 19th Sunday after Trinity

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The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally.  S. John Chrysostom

 Admit it. This week you’ve been feeling a bit smug.

Through radios, tvs, and newspapers

You’ve been learning about

the zombie apocalypse that’s going to sweep England

any

Minute

Now…..

Plastic bags in English shops will no longer be free

but will cost about 5p.

In Wales, we’ve been crippled, (crushed!)

with 5p bags for years now.

So, dear Daily Mail,

do you know what?

Everything is going to be alright.

No, really!

We too thought they were essential, but, somehow, some way, we’ve struggled,

Coped

Pulled together

and learnt to live without

Free plastic bags.

Syrian refugee children could learn so much from our resilience.

This week I read that, because of the vast quantity of disused bags swirling around our seas and oceans, there are tiny, microscopic particles of plastic that have entered the food chain and infected us all.

Let’s learn to live without rubbish, especially if it scars our world.

When you think about it, there’s all sorts of stuff we can learn to live without and still be happy, fulfilled, at peace.

It’s a case of beginning to see things with new eyes, and a new heart.

I love the fact, that, for hundreds of years, the early Christians were accused of being atheists. Why? Because they didn’t believe in the gods everyone else worshipped.

They rejected Caesar, Mars and Mammon

They didn’t believe that Caesar, the Roman Emperor, was god. The early Christians thought it was amazingly good news that Jesus is King, and Caesar isn’t.

Yes it is.

The Christians didn’t believe in Mars, the god of violence, and power. The first Christians, like Jesus, renounced violence and went around waging non-violent love.

And, maybe strangest of all, the early Christians didn’t believe in Mammon – the god of money, stuff, clothes, riches. Mammon was addictive. The more you had of him, the more you wanted.

Well, the Christians didn’t believe in him. They expressed this joyful non-belief by sharing everything they had.

They were atheists. They refused to fawn over kings, worship violence, or bow to money. They rejected Caesar, Mars and Mammon.

And you can see this attitude in Jesus, this morning.

A rich guy, a genuinely nice chap – comes to Him. ‘Good master, what must I do to have life in its fullness?’

‘Do what’s right,’ says Jesus.

‘Yes,’ says the young man, ‘I follow the commandments, I read the Guardian. I’m always saying such nice things about poor people and immigrants. So, yeah, basically, I’m a good guy. But, there’s something missing.’

‘Great,’ says Jesus, ‘just one thing you need then: how about you give all your possessions to the poor, turn your back on a world that is going to crucify me and come and live in real solidarity with my brothers and sisters? Use your riches for sharing, to bless life, to bring joy to others. I will show you a way to live without them.

‘Sure, everyone will think you’re crazy. Your family and friends will think you’re mad,

‘But join us,

‘And I’ll show you how to live without their approval.

‘And, in their place, we’ll make you rich in community, in relationships, in all the things that money can’t buy.

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Harvest, Messy Church, made with seeds, beans and pulses

‘In my world, the poor man is king, the child is lifted up and money is for sharing. Oh, and we all wash each other’s feet.

‘You’ll love it. I love you. Join us. ‘

But, given the choice of touching heaven Himself – Jesus,

And of all that He brings

The rich man walks away.

He is still in love with his money, his world,

and his plastic bags.

Jesus says, “it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle, than for the rich to even begin to understand what I’m talking about”

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so share our lives

No matter what

 A homily for Trinity 18

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There I was, in town, on Thursday afternoon, having a quiet drink with my old mate, Steve –

and about seventy thousand other red shirted Welsh rugby fans….

Fantastic! And plenty of other nationalities there too.   The English boys were actually making me smile because they were wrapped in Fijian flags singing, “bread of heaven, bread of heaven, Fiji now and evermore, Fiji now and evermore”.

Well, there was only one response to that.  Everyone in the Owain Glyndwr started singing Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’ at the top of their voices.

It was all good natured, and I love that about rugby.   You could not move because of the fans, but there was not a policeman in sight.  There didn’t need to be.

I love my rugby.  I love winding up my English rugby friends (and they me).  But I love unity more.  Differences?  To love, to solidarity –

Meh.

Nationalism has never really appealed

except for a 24 hour period after the general election

Me? – I’m patriotic about the human race.

Humans:  Whoever we are, we all hurt, rejoice, feel hunger, sadness, pain.   All of us need, pretty much, the same things.  We crave love, friendships, relationships, in which we are held, no matter what.

In Genesis, it describes how we are hardwired for intimacy, for connection, for one-ness with another.    And in relationships that do that, in relationships where human beings commit to each other, we image, we reflect, the heart of God Himself.

How does God love you?

For better, for worse,

for richer, for poorer,

in sickness

and in health

And death shall not part

Because Jesus has touched death for all human beings, as the letter to the Hebrews says.

Messy Church, S.Timothy's
Learning from the little children:  Messy Church, S. Timothy’s.   

Jesus throws down a massive invitation:  to love -faithfully, persistently, friends, enemies, neighbours, strangers.

No human being is unwanted.    There never has been, and never will be, a redundant person – that’s the language of the money god, not the living God.

The Pharisees try to trap Jesus.   ‘Master, is it ok for a man to divorce his wife?  Because, Moses says it is’.

The most sacred laws of the Old Testament made it quite easy for a man to divorce his wife -to just make her redundant.   And when a man divorced his wife, it could mean social death for her:   Poverty, insecurity, misery.

But, like the prophets, Jesus goes to the deepest sources of the Hebrew Bible.    That’s never what God intended, says Jesus,  that was never the plan, the dream.   What God has always wanted is for human beings to learn to love as He does, with passionate fidelity and commitment, no matter what.  Our relationships, our marriages, our friendships, are gifts from God, and those gifts, those people,

are not disposable.

And yes, divorce happens.   Some people end up being married to a living nightmare.  Some marry, and it just doesn’t work.

Life can get messy, human beings are amazingly fragile and if we had to wait until we were right in order to be loved, well, we’d all be pretty lonely.

So yeah, divorce, happens, and, you know what?  From ancient times, Orthodox Christians have just dealt with it

because God can make all things new.

And, today is a new day.

‘Go home, and love your family’  Mother Theresa

A young woman once asked Mother Theresa of Calcutta what she could do for world peace.   Without missing a beat, Mother Theresa said, ‘go home, and love your family’.   It all springs from there.

So, whoever you are, however you find yourself,

Married, single, divorced, gay, straight,

The invitation is the same:

To love the people now in your life

with the Love that God has for you,

which means loving faithfully,

passionately, compassionately, in pain and joy,

In good times and bad

Every day,

No matter what

And to never give up.

Ever,

Simple!

Well…..

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