Strive to Enter the Narrow Door to Salvation~The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading 1: IS 66:18-21

Responsorial Psalm: PS 117:1, 2

Reading 2: HEB 12:5-7, 11-13

Holy Gospel Reading: Luke 13:22-30

Liturgical colour: Green.

 

In today’s Gospel we are told that Jesus is travelling from town to town, “teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem,” . During these travels, on one occasion, somebody asked him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”  Let us notice his response. He turns the question around: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Jesus won’t let us leave our religious questions at arm’s length. He always brings the matter directly home to us. “You ask about other people. ‘Will they be saved?’ But what about you? Will you be saved? Take heed, repent and believe, lest you be lost, shut out at the end.”

Jesus does it this way, he turns the question around. He does this many times in the gospels. For examples of thism let us think of the lawyer who wanted to justify himself, and so limit the “Love your neighbour ” commandment, and who asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” But Jesus turned the question around with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and he basically ends up asking the lawyer, “Are you being a neighbour to the person in your path, to the one in need?”

Or let us think of the woman at the well. When Jesus starts to get too close with his knowledge of her sinful life, she tries to deflect the conversation into a discussion about at which mountain to worship. But Jesus doesn’t let the conversation stay in deflected. He wants this woman to repent and to realize her thirst to receive the living water.

Or maybe we can think of the people who ask Jesus, “What about those Galileans who were massacred at the temple?” His response? “Do you think that those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus turns the question around, and he redirects the questioners to their own spiritual need.

So also in our Gospel reading for today. Someone asks Jesus, “Will those who are saved be few?” He answers, “What about you? Will you be saved? Strive to enter through the narrow door.”

And today, In answer to this question, Jesus would say the same thing to each of us: “Will you be saved? God’s Word always is meant to be applied personally, to reach deep into our hearts and into our lives, calling each one of us to repentance and to faith.

Jesus is speaking to you, to me, and to all  today when he says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  you may well ask, “what’s this business about ‘striving’? I thought salvation was a matter of grace, not works. And what’s this thing about ‘the narrow door’? I thought salvation was open to everyone, open wide, not narrow.”

Well, glad you asked those questions. Let’s deal with them one by one. First, “strive.” “Strive to enter,” Jesus says. How can he say that? Here’s how. Yes, salvation is a matter of grace, God’s free gift in Christ to each and everyone of us.  All who are saved are saved purely and exclusively out of the free grace of God in Christ, and not by our own merit in any way whatsoever.

So what does Jesus mean here when he says, “Strive to enter”? I think it’s helpful if we look at this word “strive.” The Greek word here in our text is “agonizomai,” from which we get our English word “agonize.” “Agonizomai” means to strive, to struggle, to exert enormous effort. It’s the word the Greeks used to describe athletic contests for example. And this is the word that’s used here when Jesus says, “Strive,” agonize, “to enter through the narrow door.”

We don’t contribute anything to our salvation by our striving. No, because we have been given this as a free gift. But as we come to Christ and enter through that narrow door, it will involve a struggle. There will be much agonizing along the way.

We all know that living the true Christian life is not easy. There are all these forces  which constantly pull against us, to attempt to keep us from entering through that narrow door. We have got Satan, we have the world, and we have our own sinful flesh working against us. It’s like a tag-team wrestling match, and those three are on the other side, tagging in and out, each taking a turn to see if they can defeat us and pin us to the mat. So it is a struggle.

Satan, the world, and the sinful flesh–that’s who we’re agonizing against. Satan will assault us and assail us. He will lure us with temptations. He’ll whisper in our ears lies that say, “God doesn’t love us. Look at what’s happening! Give up.”

Then there’s the world. Listen to the lies of our culture: “There often doesn’t seem to be sin anymore as these things have become commonplace. Everything is seen as OK by the world. We are told by the world that we don’t need to repent. The world questions even if there’s a God out there anyway? As long as you’re a good person, that’s what counts is often the worldly belief.”

And if the issues with Satan and the world aren’t enough, we each have got our own sinful flesh to contend with: “ I know what I want, and I’m going to get it. I won’t listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice telling me otherwise. No, I want to make my own decisions type of thing! And if I’m going into sin, and I know it–well, I’ll just repent later on, I suppose. This way I can keep doing what I want, and I can rationalize it all away.”

So see what we’re up against. It is indeed a struggle, an agonizing, to live as a Christian and to keep the faith. It’s like St. Paul says in Acts 14, “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Being a Christian is not easy. It does call for a constant striving, and so Jesus says here, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”

And then there’s this “narrow door”. What does Jesus mean by that? To say that the door is “narrow” is telling us that there’s just one way in. There are not many doors. There are not many roads that lead to the Kingdom of God. There is only one way. It’s through Jesus, through faith in him alone, and in nothing else!  Jesus says in John 14, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Or again, in John 10, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” The narrow door is Jesus!

This door is narrow, is telling us it’s the only one, but this door is indeed always wide open! Jesus has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Trust in him, and we will be saved! This is all because of that “journey to Jerusalem” Jesus was on. There, in Jerusalem, Jesus’ “arms’ length” extended far and wide when he stretched out his arms on the wood of the cross. Those arms, those arms of Jesus, took in all the sins of the world, including yours and mine. Whatever we have done wrong, our sins against God and mankind, the ways we have disobeyed God and hurt the people around us–all these are paid for, paid in full, by Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, dying sacrificially for us, so that we now are forgiven.

And having done this, Jesus rose from the dead, showing us what is in store for us through faith in him. Eternal life! Jesus’ arms are extended to embrace us and to welcome us as a brother or sister in God’s kingdom. The door is open. Enter in!!

There is a great feast waiting for each of us there. And we will be joining many, reclining at the table at the wedding feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end–with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a whole multitude coming from the east and the west, the north and the south. Will you be there, seated with them at the feast of salvation? If we had to answer on the basis of our works or merit, we’d have to say no. But Jesus turns the question around in a good way and answers with a great big yes!!!  Jesus is our Lord and  Saviour, He wins the victory for us.

“Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Today this narrow door is open, and it is open wide!! Enter through Jesus, and we shall be saved

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Facts and Myths: The Life of Mary Magdalene ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading 1: SGS 3:1-4B OR  2 COR 5:14-17

Responsorial Psalm: PS 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

Gospel: JN 20:1-2, 11-18

Liturgical colour: White.

Today is the day when we honour the Feast day of Mary Magdalene, who was a very dedicated follower of Jesus. There are many Legends around about the life of Mary Magdalene. In fact, Mary Magdalene is probably most well-known for false details and unproven facts in her life.  Mary is often identified as a former prostitute, but there is no evidence in the Bible that substantiates this. Too often, people identify her with being the sinful woman from the city that anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. But there are is no Biblical evidence in the Holy text as to the actual identity of that woman, and as such, there is no true reason to believe that it might be Mary Magdalene. Sometimes, Mary Magdalene has been confused with Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ and Martha’s sister, but biblical evidence has Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene as two totally different people. There are also some biblically unsubstantiated myths of Mary Magdalene being married married to our Lord Jesus that are spread around. I have also seen on some church websites, that Mary Magdalene was thought to be the author of the Fourth Gospel, that we call the gospel of John, and that she was actually the “beloved disciple” described in that gospel, but yet again, true biblical text accounts certainly do not support this stance. So besides learning that we can’t believe everything which we may read on the internet, what can we learn about Mary Magdalene?

Well, she wasn’t a prostitute, highly likely she didn’t anoint Jesus’ feet,  she wasn’t married to Jesus, and she didn’t write the Fourth Gospel, so what do we really know about the Truth of the life of Mary Magdalene? Very little of her life is known to us by the texts of the Bible.  We can assume that her name “Magdalene” refers to Magdala, a town near Tiberias (in present day Israel), where she must have lived or grown up, but we don’t even know that for certain.

The most personal story about Mary Magdalene from the Bible is from Luke chapter 8. Mary Magdalene is identified in a list of women who provided for Jesus and the disciples out of their own resources. Mary Magdalene was freed from seven demons (accdg to the text), but it is not clear exactly what kind of bondage she was freed from. It could’ve been from anything. Mental illness? Physical illness? Other sin? We just don’t truthfully know. What we do know, was that Mary was restored to health when she was freed and given new life in Jesus.

Mary Magdalene loved Jesus very deeply –  possibly even maybe more deeply than anyone else. She held a very important place in both his life and his ministry – she was present both at Jesus’ crucifixion and at his burial. She was one of the devoted women who came early in the morning to the empty tomb that first Easter Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene was the first one to actually see the resurrected Jesus, according to John, and the one who ran to tell the others.   Mary Magdalene can teach us how to love Jesus completely by her example. So what can we learn from Mary Magdalene’s devotion to Jesus?

Firstly, we can learn persistence from Mary. She was the first one to be at the tomb that morning. For three days after burial, the custom was to visit the tomb of a loved one. When Mary arrived at Jesus’ tomb, she was stunned. The huge rock, which was supposed to seal the tomb, was gone. Immediately, she went to go get help, as she believed that the body had been stolen. After the disciples came and saw it for themselves, they went back home. Only Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb, not wanting to leave the tomb. Somehow, she could not give up. She didn’t expect to see Jesus, but this persistent woman couldn’t pull herself away either.

Sometimes we give up on God far too easily. We pray a quick prayer asking God to help, and when we don’t hear a positive answer in our own timing, we wonder why God had ignored our prayer. Or we may ask God to intervene in a situation and then we solve the problem ourselves or take it into our own hands. We can tend to move on too quickly when there’s no immediate action. Mary Magdalene persisted. She waited. She didn’t let outward appearances deter her from what she was seeking. She wanted to see Jesus even though it looked impossible, so she stayed. Mary Magdalene was persistent.

The Second thing we can learn from Mary Magdalene is Sincerity. Mary did not put on false airs and graces or act her way through this situation. We can see Mary’s heart all the way through in her actions. When a man who she assumed to be the gardener asked what she was looking for, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” This woman sincerely believes that she can carry Jesus’ adult male body back to the tomb. She knows that if she found his body, she would find the strength to carry him back to his tomb, no matter how impossible it seemed. Mary Magdalene was totally sincere when she offered to carry Jesus’ body back to the tomb where it belonged.

At times, we as Christians tend to put on a good show. When someone dies, we want everything to look good, so we cover up our true feelings. Rather than admitting that this is tragic and nobody can understand it, we parade around patronizing platitudes: “I guess God missed her too much,” or “She’s in a better place now,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Instead of acknowledging the senselessness of some loss, we try to give answers that we have no business giving. Mary Magdalene did not hide how she felt. She did not give explanations that she couldn’t know. She just opened her heart and said what she felt. Mary single-heartedly sought the return of the body of Jesus whom she loved. Mary Magdalene was sincere.

Thirdly, we can learn enthusiasm from Mary Magdalene. Once she realized to whom she was speaking, once she recognised the gardener as her precious teacher (“Rabboni”), once Jesus told her to go share the news of his resurrection, nothing could stop her from telling others. Bernard of Clairvaux called Mary Magdalene the “Apostle to the Apostles”, because of her role in telling Jesus’ disciples about the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene brought the news to the disciples: “You’ll never believe it, but I have seen the Lord!” Then she told them what she had seen and experienced. She was the only one who stayed at the tomb, and she was the only one who saw Jesus. But Mary was so excited she could not keep her enthusiasm to herself. She was bursting at the seams to share the best news she had ever heard. Mary was enthusiastic.

Mary Magdalene holds a very unique place in the history of  Our Lord Jesus. She was the first one to find the empty tomb on Easter and the only one, in the gospel of John, to meet Jesus face to face. We can learn a lot from her, but especially, we can learn from her persistence in waiting for Jesus, her sincerity in searching for Jesus, and her enthusiasm in telling others about the good  news of Jesus. Her witness to us is inspiring. Though she’s got with some people a bad reputation through evidenceless myths throughout the years, Mary Magdalene has a lot to teach us about how we are deeply to love Jesus, to wait on Jesus timing persistently, and to search for Jesus in our hearts sincerely. We ought to Enthusiastically tell others about our dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus. And our devotion to Jesus should shine forth in the world in everything we do and say.

Love Your Who? Say WHAT?? ~ Br. Chip Noon, Novice

“Go and do likewise.”

Four words upon which kingdoms have fallen, thousands wounded or killed, the message of Jesus torn to shreds and replaced by…what? Hate, contention, violence, and many seriously nasty things.

Martin Luther, who, along with other dissenters of his time, insisted that “by faith alone” (sola fide) are people saved. In fact, this Gospel alludes to that when we hear:

“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”

We can interpret this to mean that we don’t have to perform good works, buy indulgences, or do any physical thing to achieve salvation. Luther was wrestling with his faith and understanding of the Bible for a long time – and quite fervently – when he happened upon this concept as a new door opened for him by the Holy Spirit. “By faith alone.”

Well, it turns out that Luther added the word “alone” (allein in German in which he was later writing to explain his epiphany. He said that he had to add it because that was how colloquial German would say it. This is a long historical/philological argument that we don’t have to delve into here. Let Luther sum it up by saying that in his reading, both Ambrose and Augustin used the word “alone.”

And so, back and forth for ages is the concept bantered. And fought over. And worse. But I was struck by Jesus’ command, “Go and do likewise.” And where did this phrase come from? It came from the scholar of Jewish law when he asked “And who is my neighbor?”

Thus, the parable of The Good Samaritan.

So then if we are to be saved, we must treat our neighbors as ourselves. And in this example, the Samaritan tends to the victim, takes him to an inn, continues to care for him, and then gives money to the innkeeper to continue to care for the man.

What then? Is it sola fide or do we have to perform acts in following the law?

Even the readings for today are not definitive. Moses says we already have this love of the Lord in our hearts and in our mouths. “In our mouths” implies to me that we have to act and profess what we believe. Take an action.

In the Psalm, God will protect us and rebuild the cities. But also “Turn to the Lord in your need and you will live.”

And in the Second Reading…but wait, now I’m even getting caught up in the maelstrom.

Look, we can sit in our warm studies and contemplate God and never see or talk to another person…so long as we love the Lord our God we’ll be saved. But if we see a person in need, we must help her or him.

Yet for the Love of God, we cannot go out and do battle to make others believe as we do! We cannot kill in God’s name. We cannot lay cities waste to get our point across. We cannot not love our neighbor as ourselves.

And one more thing from today’s Gospel: We really shouldn’t try to test Jesus our God. We are the only ones who may need testing.

Lord, today help us to recognize our neighbor in everyone we meet, and yes Lord, help us to find ways to help our neighbor.

Amen.

 

Shepherds and Leaders ~ Br. Chip Noon, OPI

Brothers and Sisters this is a homily after the Gospel. But sometimes it is necessary for those who are shepherds to give some advice to the sheep who are lost. Take it or leave it.

All throughout the Bible, salvation history is giving us lessons about our place in the world. Some of these lessons are hard to take. Some easy. Today’s lesson is a little of both, I think.

Let me jump to today’s times. If we look around at our town, neighborhood, faith community, there seem to be those who are turning this message a bit on its head. What I mean is that there are some people who are waiting for the shepherd to come and help them. They are in trouble or in difficulty or just angry at what’s happening and they want a strong shepherd, leader, father-figure to fix things. I sometimes wish for this as well.

I am the good shepherd, says the Lord,
I know my sheep, and mine know me.

This is today’s Alleluia from the Apostle John.

“In verdant pastures he gives me repose,” from the Psalm. “In good pastures I will pasture them…” from the First Reading.

Now who is doing this pasturing, feeding, protecting, leading? The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. And we, who are shepherds, are enjoined to go out and find lost sheep and take care of them. Not just the clergy, not just religious…everyone is responsible for the lost sheep. Who among us will not go out and find the sheep that is lost?

But today I fear that some of us are waiting for the shepherd to come and save us. The strong man, the leader, the capable woman, the boss, the politician…somebody who is going to fix the disordered world we find ourselves in today. It’s in every headline, every news story or broadcast, every political missive that comes in our mail or on our smart phone. “We need someone who can fix these problems! We need a leader!”

And then, “I am someone who can fix these problems! Make me your leader!”

You know where this is going. So let me get back to reality. All of today’s readings tell me one thing. I am a shepherd and I need to take care of my sheep. The One I trust, as it says on our coins, is God. There is no message that anyone other than God will save us. No matter what’s going on in our lives, everywhere, not just in the readings, we are urged to take matters into our own hands. Yes we are to rely on God, but here where we are temporarily living, we need to rely on ourselves.

No, I am not speaking as one who thinks there should be no help from others. I am saying that the shepherd is ourselves, not some politician, boss, or pastor. When we begin to take charge of our own lives, with God’s help, then we are fulfilling the lessons of today’s Gospel. We are the sinners. We must repent. And we must tend to our own sheep, our own neighbors.

And if you remember the Gospel of Luke, you know who your neighbor is. Sometimes we are the fallen man needing help, sometimes we are the Samaritan. But Jesus tells us that help is given by those who can and not to be expected from anyone but God.

So maybe I need forgiveness for venturing into a quasi-political diatribe. But today’s readings have led me down that path. Then if I need forgiveness, please forgive. If I need applause, please rejoice.

In all cases, let us rely on the Lord to show us the path. And then let us assist those we find on the path with us.

Lord, Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

Amen.

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi~The Body and Blood of Christ ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Liturgical colour: White.

Reading 1: GN 14:18-20

Responsorial Psalm: PS 110:1, 2, 3, 4

Reading 2: 1 COR 11:23-26

Gospel: LK 9:11B-17

When many think of The body and blood of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, they usually think of the Holy Eucharist we take during Mass. Yes of course the Holy Eucharist is indeed one important part, but is by no means all that today’s Solemnity represents.

In our Catholic Tradition we use the term ‘ The Body Of Christ’ in three totally separate but yet interconnecting ways. The first way we use it is to refer to Our Lord Jesus himself, we stress the full humanity of the Incarnate Son of God. He was formed in his mother’s womb, He was born and grew just as we do. He touched the untouchable leper with his human yet godly hands. He walked through the towns, villages and fields of his native land. He spoke God’s word in a human way. He ate and drank as we do. He suffered like we do. He was tortured, he was crucified for our sins and he was suffered bodily death and burial.

But Our Lord Jesus is no longer dead, He is Risen and is glorified in his body. He is no longer bound by earthly  time as we are, and as he himself was in his earthly life. He is alive and with us. He is the Lord actively reigning in his own creation.

The second usage we have is to refer to the humanity, the men and women and children who form the embodying of the life of Jesus in each and every generation, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus, our living Lord, is the Head of his Body the Church. By baptism every Christian has the serious vocation of being the embodying of Jesus in whichever place, situation and time of their own lived life. Through our human bodies we are to make present his kingdom and to reveal his presence. As Christians, we are not here  to say that ‘we are here in place of Christ’ but rather that ‘In this place where we are, Christ is also  in this place’.

What is true of the individual Christian is even more vibrantly true of the complete Body of Christians who are under the active Headship of the Risen lord Jesus. Every church community, or any other gathering of Christians, has the on-going duty of being an embodying of Jesus in this particular place and in this particular time. It is the individuality of each Christian life that is essential in the building up of the Church and of the fruitfulness of its mission

But how are we to be able to live up to this our calling unless we are constantly nourished by Jesus himself? Hence our third usage of ‘The Body – and Blood – of Christ’ is to refer to the celebration of the Eucharist at the heart of every Christian community. ‘The Eucharist makes the Church, and the Church makes the Eucharist’. The Eucharist is medicinal and healing, it is also the power for our mission. Whereas other food is eaten so that it becomes us, with this food which Jesus himself gives us we become him because it is him which we are truly receiving.

So all three meanings come together, three separate but united parts..three in one, in a similar way to the three in one of The Holy Trinity. Our Lord Jesus which we read about in the gospel, truly gives himself to us so that we might become him and we become members one of another in the holy communion and mission of his Holy Church:

As I who am sent by the Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.

This communion and mission is itself embodied in our Tradition history as the one holy catholic and apostolic church we proclaim in the Creed. We are not just in communion with those we who are currently present in our church or at our work, but with all the men and women whom we will never meet, those who speak in languages which we will never understand, who are praying for us as we are praying for them in the one Body of Christ. And as Jesus is Lord of both the living and the dead, so the dead too form one Body with us.

At the heart of this communion is the sacrifice of Calvary, the broken, tortured, crucified body and the shedding of the blood of Christ’s love for the world. This sacrifice of Calvary can never cease in its power. It eternally throbs through every atom of creation and throughout every second of time. But Jesus’s priestly work continues. He is our Eternal High Priest and the Everlasting Victim for our sins, enabling our salvation. In our sacrifice of the Mass we repeatedly re-enter into Our Lord’s self offering to the Father. In the prayers around the consecration of the Eucharist, we place our prayers of thanksgiving and of petition for the living and the dead into his one Calvary Prayer. Within our worship of the Body and Blood of the Lord present on the altar, we place our own self-offering sacrifice of our Christian bodily life.

I appeal to you dear brothers  and sisters by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12.1)

All our Christian activity is taken up into the Eucharist just as the Eucharist is at the same point the nourishment of our hope and our courage and our salvation ‘until the Lord returns’. Our daily prayerfulness within Christ includes all creation as we pray ‘in the name of everything under heaven’ and we pray

Father may this sacrifice which has made our peace with you, advance the peace and salvation of all the world.

Three In One??? Trinity Sunday ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

Today is Trinity Sunday.

Trinity Sunday is a difficult day for priests, who often feel they have to try to explain the idea of God as Trinity. It’s sometimes an even more difficult day for our parishioners, because they have to listen to us priests, trying to explain the Trinity. It’s a difficult day for priests because we find we have to talk about God. You may think we are always talking about God, but in my experience most of us actually talk rather little about God. We talk a lot about what God wants of us. We talk even more of what God has done for us and is doing for us. That, after all, is the Gospel. But we don’t talk very much about who God is. Perhaps they leave that to the liturgy and the hymns, which probably do it better than sermons usually can.

Have you ever tried to express your feelings when you feel something very deeply? That’s what usually happens when we talk about God, really talk about God, actually trying to say who God is – this is one of those times when language fails us. The only words you can find are terribly makeshift, totally inadequate, and not at all what you want to express, but you must use what you’ve got and try to express yourself. Not to say anything would be worse. You must say what you can and hope the words point to what you can’t really say. So it is with the Trinity. There are several Christian ways of trying to say who God is. The one that says the most about God is the one we use in the creeds, when we say we believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God is those Three and the Three are one God. The Christian shorthand for that is: God is Trinity. But if that says the most about God, it is also the most difficult thing Christians say about God.

How to explain the Trinity? We haven’t done that yet, simply because we can’t wrap our heads around the concept. The story is told of St Augustine of Hippo, the great philosopher and theologian. He was preoccupied with the doctrine of the Trinity. He wanted so much to understand the doctrine of one God in three persons and to be able to explain it logically. One day he was walking along the sea shore and trying to understand just how one God can be in three persons. Suddenly, he saw a child all alone on the shore. The child made a hole in the sand, ran to the sea with a little cup, filled her cup with sea water, ran up and emptied the cup into the hole she had made in the sand. Back and forth she went to the sea, filled her cup and went and poured it into the hole. Augustine drew up and said to her, “Little child, what are you doing?” She replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.” “How do you think,” Augustine asked her, “that you can empty this immense sea into this tiny hole and with this tiny cup?” She answered back, “And you, how do you suppose that with your small head you can comprehend the immensity of God?” With that the child disappeared.

The doctrine of the inner relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in such a way that each of them is fully and equally God, yet there are not three Gods but one, cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind. It is a mystery. But, we continue to try. St. Patrick certainly did it his best. He gave us a visual example in the shamrock or three leaf clover. As the shamrock is one composed of three, so, he said, is the Trinity: Three in One and One in Three. In the story of salvation we usually attribute creation to the Father, redemption to the Son and sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, though they are distinct as persons, neither the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Spirit ever exists or acts in isolation from the other two persons of the Godhead, just as a three leaf clover without all three leaves is incomplete.

If we expected today’s readings to give us a clear and elaborate presentation of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, we have found out that they simply do not. The doctrine of three persons in one God, equal in divinity yet distinct in personality, is not explicitly spelled out in the Bible. In fact the very word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. Early Christians arrived at the doctrine when they applied their God-given reason to the revelation which they had received in faith. Jesus spoke about the Father who sent him (the Son) and about the Holy Spirit whom he was going to send. He said that the Father had given him (the Son) all that he has and that he in turn has given to the Holy Spirit all that he has received from the Father. In this we see the unity of purpose among the three persons of the Trinity.

We believe in the Triune God, and to embrace a doctrine we cannot fully comprehend or explain. It is another thing entirely to base our understanding of God on what we see God doing. So, let me make the most important statement about the Trinity that I can make, and that is — Our understanding of the Trinity, or as much as we can understand of the Trinity, is based on what we see God has done and is doing in the world. Let me give you some examples.

In the Old Testament, God is Creator of both the world, and of the nation of Israel through whom he will bless the world. Of course, God is present as Spirit, and the Messiah is both prophesied and foreshadowed in various theophanies (appearances of God, such as the angel who wrestles with Jacob). But primary on the stage of the unfolding drama of the Old Testament is the God of Israel, Yahweh, El-Shaddai, Elohim, Adonai, and all the other names by which God is called and worshipped.

In the New Testament Gospel accounts, the emphasis is upon Jesus — his birth, his baptism, his message, his life, his death, and his resurrection. But God the Father approves his Son, and the Holy Spirit descends upon — anoints — Jesus for ministry.

In the New Testament Book of Acts and the epistles, the Holy Spirit is at the forefront, equipping, enabling, guiding, empowering the early church. In the Book of Revelation, God the Father, Son, and Spirit are all present, each featured in a way that is both consistent with the Old Testament, witnesses to the New Testament, and brings fully into being the Kingdom of God in its closing chapters.

Okay, that surveys the “What is the Trinity?” question, even though I am sure you probably have more questions now than when we began. But to keep this from being merely an academic exercise, we need to turn our attention to “Why do we care?” This is what’s important and what we need to understand. Doctrine is important, but doctrine comes from the lived experiences of God’s people as they interpret the work of God in the real world. First, the reason we should care about the Trinity, and be aware of the uniqueness of the One-in-Three and Three-in-One is this: Without a balanced view of all three persons of the Trinity, we can misinterpret the work of God in this world. For instance, if we emphasize some aspects of God in the Old Testament, and subordinate Jesus and the Spirit, then we come away with a picture of a god of wrath and judgment, who has little compassion. One very well known Baptist preacher did just that after destructive tornadoes, when he compared the tornadoes that hit Oklahoma with the story of Job who lost all of his children to a mighty wind that collapsed Job’s house. If we emphasize the person of Jesus to the exclusion of God the Father and the Holy Spirit, we miss out on the fact that God sent Jesus because “God so loved the world…” The purpose of God is to redeem the world, not just the individuals in it. Salvation is the work of God, and that salvation extends not just to individuals but to God’s creation as well. Another famous and trendy preacher was quoted as saying that Jesus is coming back to burn up the world, so he can drive a huge SUV because he’s not worried about this physical earth. Not a good theological position, in my estimation. Finally, if we emphasize the Holy Spirit, and the charismatic experiences and gifts of the Spirit, it it is easy to loose sight of God as Creator, Son as Redeemer, and the role that the Holy Spirit played and plays in both of those aspects of God’s work.

Who is God? He is our heavenly Father who made us, takes cares of us and calls us his dear children.
Who is God? He is Jesus Christ who gave his life on the cross to re-establish our relationship with God. He reveals the way to God and to eternal life.
Who is God? God is the Spirit in you giving you faith in God and guiding you in your daily walk as a Christian.
Faith in the Triune God acknowledges the might and majesty of God but at the same trusts in a God who cares. Amen.

A Better World: The Feast of St. Barnabas ~ Fr. Shawn Gisewhite, OPI

Do you ever wonder what it would take to make the world a better place. Less rotten? Less foolish? Less stupid? Less tasteless? Less dark?

I do. People at large would come up with a range of suggestions. Some people put their confidence in the political system. The government is there to improve things, and once a decade we change who is in power because we’re not convinced the current lot are fixing things well enough, so we try somebody else.

Others would say that capitalism is the answer. A video was put on the internet in November. It starts with a picture of a girl running in a field. The voice-over runs like this. “This child was born in the past year. She is expected to live to at least the age of 70. If she had been born just two centuries earlier, she would not have been expected to survive beyond her 30th birthday. The almost miraculous increase in life expectancy of the past two centuries is mainly the result of capitalism. By making life healthier, easier and better, capitalism has made life longer for billions of people around the world. Capitalism has given each of us a future, the chance to experience all that life offers. To defend and advance capitalism is to defend and advance our lives and those of our loved ones. What could be more important?” Get the world to embrace capitalism, things will improve further.

Others don’t like that, so they protest against capitalism, as if anti-capitalism were the answer.

Christians by and large reach for some better answers. Some would say that society will improve if we go back to the traditional values that we’ve lost. If the next generation can grow up once again knowing the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, things might be a little less hopeless. Others would say that religion in general holds the key. Others would say that God can make things better. Others would be more precise still, and say that the answer is Jesus.

Jesus tells us in these verses from Matthew’s gospel what it will take to make the world a better place. The answer is surprising. It’s not God, or Jesus. It’s the Christian church. It’s groups of disciples. It’s ordinary Christians. It’s you, and it’s me.

But it’s not automatic. If the Christian church is to be God’s answer to improve a world that is frequently dark, rotten and lacking taste, two things must happen.

First, we must not lose our distinctiveness.

 

The first thing that needs to happen is this: We must not lose our distinctiveness. We must not lose our distinctiveness.

Verse 13: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Jesus compares us to salt. He says we are like salt. You are the salt of the earth. What point is he making?

In the ancient world, there were two main uses for salt. It was used as a preservative. People didn’t have fridges, so they would put salt on meat to stop it from going bad. If that is what Jesus means, he is saying that the world will go rotten all by itself, just as surely as a sirloin steak won’t smell or taste good after a day in the hot sun. We are the salt that stops the rot. Today, he might have said (although there would be problems with saying it): You are the deep freeze of the earth. When society goes rotten, we shouldn’t criticize society in pious “letters to the editor”, but ask why the salt was not applied. It’s not the meat’s fault if it goes bad if nobody put it back in the fridge.

The other use for salt was to flavor things, a use it still has today. If that is what Jesus means, he is saying that we are in society to make it a better place, to give the place a little more taste.

Jesus doesn’t tell us which he means. Perhaps he’s being deliberately ambiguous, so that we think of it from both angles. In any case, the exact way in which the salt helps isn’t his point. He tells us that we are like salt so that he can say one thing: The salt must not lose its saltiness. Literally, it must not lose its taste, or it must not become foolish.

How does salt lose its saltiness? Like this. In the ancient world, they didn’t have beautifully white refined table salt. They used something a bit like rock-salt. You remember the recent snow? There were footpaths that looked like they were gritted but the snow was still settling. That was salt that had lost its saltiness. The water and snow had leached the actual salt out of it. What you had left you might still call salt, but it had no actual salt in it.

So that is what he is saying. We are here to have an influence on the world of some kind. There’s some positive influence involved, as we improve the flavor of the world. There’s some negative influence involved, as we stop the rot. But we can’t do either of those things if we have lost the distinctive thing that we are supposed to contribute to society. And without that, there is no hope. The word “You” at the start of this is emphatic. “You are the salt of the earth”, and I mean “only you”.

So we must not lose our distinctiveness. Those qualities we thought about last time, Jesus’ portrait of what makes the follower of his different from other people: They really matter.

Sadly, though, the salt often loses its saltiness. The history of the Christian church contains many episodes where Christians compromised. Where they looked little to no different to the world around them.

Instead of being a source of influence, preventing decay and working for good, the church merely adopts the world around. It takes its culture, its morals and its values from the world. Sometimes this has been so much so, that the church has actually promoted the world’s values, when in fact it should have been standing against them.

It’s not just the church, considered corporately, that can lose its saltiness. Which of us does not feel this pressure individually as well. We feel the pressure to have the same standards of living as those around us, to drink the same amount at a party, to have the same standard of truthfulness when it comes to our expenses claims or our taxes, to have the same casual attitude to the speed limit, and so on. And then we adopt the world’s standards rather than living the way Jesus set out last time: We too quickly become proud, self-satisfied, glib, brutal and self-indulgent.

The pressure is on for us to lose our saltiness, to lose it as a church, and to lose it individually. But we must not. Because we are the salt of the earth. We must not lose our distinctiveness.

Secondly, we must not hide our discipleship

 

The second thing that must happen if we are to be God’s agent to improve the world, is that we must not hide our discipleship. We must not hide our discipleship.

Verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus has changed his picture. He’s no longer comparing us to salt. Now we are light.

Light is a big Old Testament image. We remember it from those readings we get at Christmas time from Isaiah. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. In the Old Testament, darkness is frequently an expression of God’s judgment, whereas light is an expression of his favor and blessing.

Jesus came to fulfill those Old Testament promises. He came to bring the light of God’s blessing. He even said: “I am the light of the world”. And so it is that those who follow him live in the light of God’s favor. They are blessed by God. The start of this chapter, remember, told us again and again how blessed we are to follow Jesus.

What Jesus is saying in these verses is that the light that we have been given needs to shine, so that others can see that we are in Jesus’ kingdom, and that we are among those God is blessing. And the reason we are to shine in this way is so that God gets the glory.

Thirdly, we must not hide our discipleship.

One detail we must notice is that the light here is corporate. Jesus is saying “We must not hide our discipleship”, not “I must not hide my discipleship”. The “you” is plural.

Jesus develops this picture of a city on a hill. That seems like an abrupt change of subject. One minute, he’s talking about us being lights, and then he takes about a prominent city. It stands out like a sore thumb… until you see that what he’s talking about is the visibility of a city on a hill at night, in a country with no electric lighting. Here’s the point: The city is so bright, because it is a beacon made up of lots and lots of little lights.

The church is made up of many lights. We are that city. When people look at our church, they will see the brightness that is the cumulative shine of all of our lights. We must not hide our discipleship.

You may know the old chorus – I won’t sing it! The first verse goes like this: Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light, like a little candle burning in the night in this world of darkness So let us shine— You in your small corner, and I in mine.

That is not what Jesus is saying here. He’s not saying we’ll all stay in our own small corners, and shine into the dark world. He’s saying that each of us has experienced God’s blessing individually. And when we come together, we are the light of the world. We must not hide our discipleship.

You’ve doubtless heard of sea pollution, and you’re used to the idea that beaches can be polluted or clean. Well until recently, I hadn’t heard of light pollution. There’s an organization called the International Dark Sky Association that aims to reduce light pollution. And just as the EU can declare a beach to be clean, so they can designate a place a “Dark Sky Park”, meaning it’s free of artificial light – you can see the stars at night. There is currently one of these in the UK, its Galloway Forest Park in South-West Scotland. Exmoor National Park is working to get its recognition.

From what I read of studies, in the South-East they have no chance. Kemsing for example has no street lights, but they are too near to Sevenoaks and to London. Go to Galloway, and on a cloudy, moonless night, you can’t see your own hand. But all you need is one major town with electric light, and it bounces off the clouds, and for tens or hundreds of miles the night sky is no longer black.

That is what the Christian church is. It’s that city on the hill. But we must let the light shine. We must not hide our discipleship.

We must not hide it as individuals. Jesus has already said that we will fail to influence the world around us or to spread the kingdom if there is nothing distinctive about us. But we will also fail if we are distinctive, but that is so hidden that nobody would ever know!

Here are some of the questions we could ask ourselves: So when you’re at work, are you a Christian? Or is it too well hidden for anyone to know? Do you talk about your faith, or does shame or the fear of rejection mean that you stay quiet? How about at home: Are you a Christian? Do people know that the reason you are distinctive is because you are a follower of Jesus Christ, or is that detail buried?

We mustn’t hide it as individuals, but we also mustn’t hide it corporately. Remember the city on the hill. Just as our life together must be salty and distinctive, so it needs to shine out. It’s no use keeping it hidden.

It’s no use expecting people to come to us to hear the good news of the kingdom; we need to take it to them. That is one reason why I’m so keen that we have at least one, if not several, open-air services during the Festival in September. Recently, someone in the church said to me, “Where else in the village can we take the church?”

You probably know that the basket Jesus refers to in verse 15 is called a “bushel”. It was a measure, used for measuring grain. We could paraphrase Jesus: “Don’t light a lamp, and put it under a measuring jug”. Now, this building makes an excellent bushel. It’s no use reforming our worship to make it God-honoring in every way we can, it’s no use having excellent relationships with each other, being supportive, and living the life Christ called us to, if we then place this bushel of a church building over the top, and contain it and hide it away.

When we meet here, we look at the face of God in Jesus Christ. We confess our failures, and we find forgiveness. We hear God’s word, that is an active, shaping word, and we get brighter. But it’s when we go out of here that the light can shine.

So if you, like me, long to see this world a better place, a brighter place, a wiser place, a less rotten place, then we need Jesus to point us in the right direction. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. God wants us to be the means he uses to brighten this world with his kingdom. To be that, Jesus calls us to follow him. Then he tells us that as salt, we must not lose our saltiness, and, as light, we must not be hidden.

Amen.