Posts filed under 'Homilies'

Feast of the Transfiguration Year B

Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Mark 9:2-10 

We’ve reached here the highpoint of Jesus ministry. Literally. In recent weeks he’s raised the dead, he’s made a meal for a multitude out of scraps and gleanings, he’s walked on water … and everywhere the crowds are following him in droves. These are his glory days. And here on this mountain top his glory is unwrapped for a moment in light and shadow for us to glimpse what he is and what he will become. Metamorphosis, the Greek calls it. He speaks here as equal—and more—with Moses and Elijah. And the voice that at his baptism had whispered in his ear, ‘Beloved’, now roars it out from the cloud of glory, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him’.

But this is the high point of his ministry and from here on there’s no way but down. And downhill it will go, into opposition and misunderstanding and failure and fear and pain and death. So much for glory.

But it seems God wants us to listen to what we have heard here and understand the glory we have glimpsed. Not as consolation prize but as promise. Somehow God is putting the stamp of approval on all that will unfold. God is saying, downhill isn’t the disaster it seems.

There is glory here and now with shock and awe and special effects but there will be too, all the way through, even when the light is extinguished and we can’t see it all.

We are wrong about glory. This is to teach us that glory isn’t what we thought it was.

‘Whatever happens, listen to him’. Jesus takes up the baton from Moses and Elijah and takes up with it their ministry of liberation, a ministry only ever carried out by bearing the glory of God vulnerably among the world’s violence.

We thought glory was shiny. We were wrong.

There are ironies here. The original feast of the transfiguration was a local affair in Armenia and thereabouts until it was made universal in 1456. Why? To mark a victory over Islam at the Battle of Belgrade 550 years ago today. Glory?

And you can’t remember August 6th without the scouring light and mushroom cloud of Hiroshima 61 years ago today. Glory?

And who knows what violence and victory August 6th will be remembered for this year?

But it’s also about what we remember and what we value in ourselves. About what we think is up or down, high or low, glory or shame, and about which way we will travel, and how, and with whom.

5 comments August 6th, 2006

Sunday Week 16 Year B

Retreat directors are a sneaky bunch—they often give today’s gospel to people coming on a retreat as an invitation to ‘come away to a quiet place by yourself and rest for a while’—and they completely leave out the bit about not actually getting any peace or quiet when you get there. All the clamouring crowds have worked out where you are going and they’ve got here ahead of you—asking, needing, occupying, bothering. Retreat directors don’t mention that bit. We wouldn’t want you emulating Jesus paying attention to the crowding distractions.

But Jesus does—pay attention—you get the sense almost against his better judgment. Despite his plans he is moved to pity. He can’t ignore the crowd because he sees them like sheep without a shepherd.

I don’t know much about sheep. I don’t much care to meditate on sheep after a lunch of lamb. And I’m allergic to wool. But here goes.

What does that mean—like sheep without a shepherd? Jeremiah has some hints at an answer and the psalmist helps. Sheep without a shepherd, they say, scatter, they wander. Maybe that’s how Jesus saw them all trailing after him, following anything that moves. What else? Sheep without a shepherd miss the best grazing, they fail to thrive, and the undernourished flock dwindles. Finally—and Jeremiah seems to underline this—without a shepherd the sheep are afraid, in terror. Scattered, neglected, afraid.
There’s the pastoral role in a nutshell—to gather, to care, to protect. Now, back at the shore, Jesus sees the crowd and takes pity on them because they are like sheep without a shepherd and he does what? Gather them, care, protect? No! He sets himself to teach them at some length. It’s a strange shepherd teaches sheep to be sheep?

Isn’t that a little odd?

Perhaps we are like sheep without a shepherd. But here’s the question: is Jesus offering himself to us as a shepherd; or is he teaching us that we need not be sheep?

9 comments July 23rd, 2006

Thursday Week 14 Year II

Time to come out of the closet: I’m a CSI fan. (only the original of course…) Last time a scene struck me and stuck with me. A cop was talking about his wayward daughter. He’d been watching her on a street corner, drugged up, plying her trade as a prostitute. But he said all he could really see was the five-year old, her tongue sticking from the corner of her mouth with the effort of drawing a picture, sitting there colouring, absorbed, humming a bright tuneless song.

‘Let your peace come back to you’ – I like that phrase from the gospel – ‘if the house deserves it, let your peace descend on it; if it does not, let your peace come back to you’… Let your peace come back to you.

Am I that in control of my peace? Can I call it and recall it at will? I realise that much of the time I squander my peace, make it hostage to other’s fortunes, or watch it wander aimlessly away to leave me unquiet or bored or sad.

What would it be like to husband my peace? To cultivate it? To let it come back to me? I’m not talking about selfish, lazy contentment but the honest kind of consolation God made us for in the first place. A deep peace in knowing what I am and what I am made for. The kind of peace that gives us a choice. A peace I can spend or waste.

Take Hosea. He’s given us yet another in a string of metaphors for sinfulness: today, with Israel, we are fractious toddlers or maybe stroppy teenagers—whatever. But he’s also given us yet another image of God’s steadfast love: a devoted mother, a doting new father. A God to hold us. A God to name us and call us. A God to guide our tottering first steps. A God to lift us up, just to place his cheek to ours. A God to gaze on us with love.

Where is my peace? So often that boils down to asking where my attention is going. Where am I looking? Into the centre of my own fractious, stroppy, wayward self, or into the eyes of the God who sees me so differently? Sees the five-year old at her colouring. Sees the innocence. Sees the potential and possibility for beautiful things… Even now.

3 comments July 13th, 2006

Monday Week 14 Year II

‘I will betroth you to myself for ever, betroth you with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love. I will betroth myself to you faithfully and you will come to know the Lord.’

For years now I haven’t been able to call Jesus ‘Lord’. The word worms uneasy in my mouth and in my heart I always know that when I call him Lord, our Lord, the Lord, I am evading something. Jesus is not Lord to me. Once he was. But at some point he slipped in closer, ducked under my guard, and planted himself beside me. Since then calling him Lord has felt like a diversionary tactic, a way of keeping him at arms length—not that it stops me, from time to time, from doing just that.

He hasn’t asked me to call him ‘husband’ yet, the way God, through Hosea, asks Israel but sometimes it seems it’s heading that way.

Ursula LeGuin has a utopian novel called The Dispossessed with an ideal, if not idyllic, society speaking an invented language, Pravic, a language without kinship ties or possessive pronouns but with one word I love: ammar. It means brother—or sister—not brother by biology but brother by humanity, brother among the living. For a while that’s what I called Jesus—ammar, brother of my heart. I liked it, I was moved by it, and so was he at first but I slowly woke to the sense that he was never completely content with being ammar. He still heard me keeping a distance. Ammar was too non-specific for his liking, too un-possessive, in the end too safe. So ammar has had to go. And I’ve had to learn again the language of love. What do you call the one who is closer to your heart than you thought was possible? You end up babbling. Borrowing embarrassingly from silly love songs. You end up saying, ‘Hey you!’ You end up in silence, gazing.

Well, I do. What about you?

2 comments July 10th, 2006

Sunday Week 14 Year B

‘When I am weak, I am strong’. Isn’t that a lie, a sweet lie? It sounds good, sounds holy, but it hides the fact that this world is run by the strong for the strong—and the weak, the weak have to get by with the crumbs from the strong man’s table.

Who bears the brunt of global warming but the starving poor of Africa? Who carries the cost of storm and hurricane but the weak that can’t get out of the way? Who pays the price of heat and cold but the old and neglected?

In this world to be weak is to be out of the game. In this world to be weak is to be collateral damage. In this world to be weak is to be inadvertent victim.

And in this world when God becomes human God goes all the way. If God is in this world God is where the weak are. That’s the scandal of our belief: when God comes to make terms with us God doesn’t come in strength, in show, in shock and awe, God comes in weakness. God knows no other way.

And I for one wish God would change his mind – because Paul is telling the truth after all. Whose side am I on? If I am going to be alongside God I can only be weak no matter how stupid it is, no matter how I hate it. And that’s what it means to be prophetic – content with weakness and insults and hardships and persecutions and agonies because God is too. It’s prophetic because it scares the strong to the bottom of their souls. What if our politics put the poor first not last? What if our business gave back more than it took? What if our advertising told the truth? What if our religion made the outcast at home?

What a stupid way to live! What a stupid way for God to live!

Part of me is thinking – ‘well, it’s alright for God, playing at weakness and getting away scot-free… that God doesn’t have to really feel the pain and defeat and damage of being weak.’ But that is what we celebrate here every time we eat this bread and drink this cup – that God knows the pain and the defeat and the damage from the inside, to the end, the way we do. And still God chooses it. And still God chooses us.

5 comments July 9th, 2006

Sunday Week 12 Year B

The storms we experience in the readings today are as ambiguous as any we face in our living. Are they destroying hurricanes or are they occasions when the veil is blown away to give a glimpse of God?
We have two storms, today. We hear God finally answering Job from the heart of the whirlwind—all noise and thunder and know-it-all. And we have the terrified disciples caught at sea by a squall while Jesus sleeps quietly on a cushion.

We have two awkward questions, too. We have Job the proverbial good man to whom bad things happen. Why? And we have the disciples making their heartfelt plea—‘Master, we are going under! Don’t you care?’

And isn’t that a damn good question? Don’t we want to scream it out ourselves sometimes? When we read the paper. When tragedy blows us flat. When the slow accumulation of misfortune seems set to swamp us. Don’t we want to know why? Don’t we want to know if God cares?

But we don’t get answers. We get silenced. Twice. God answers Job by overwhelming him, blustering him into silence. And Jesus silences the storm and the waves—and has a go at the disciples for getting upset.
Don’t those both feel like a raw deal? We don’t get the kind of answer we want. We want a real response but instead we find ourselves silenced by questions we can’t answer.

Yet the silence isn’t the end but the beginning. Silence holds a promise. Job rides out the storm of God’s bluster and finds a silence he fills with faith. And when the winds are silenced and the sea calmed, the disciples find their own fear falling away into a new insight.

Silence is a beginning. Silence holds a promise. I don’t know which is worse—God being the storm or God sleeping through it—but when the silence falls there can be a beginning, a beginning for each of us.

1 comment June 25th, 2006

Sunday Week 11 Year B

Pauline—one of the Loyola Hall team—Pauline spends most of late winter trying to convince the rest of us, at every meal, that the beech trees are about to get their leaves. The rest of us peer at the barren branches and enjoy ourselves pouring scorn on Pauline. This goes on regularly for weeks until she loses heart. Then one day you look out the window yourself and there they are—somehow the trees have crept up on you and covered themselves with green fuzz. And before you know it everywhere is bright with that fresh tender salad-y green.

Living in a garden like this one, that kind of thing happens all year round. There’s a particular dark-red rhododendron that pokes me in the eye once a year when one morning in early summer I pull back my curtains and somehow it has crept into full and blousy bloom when I’d swear it wasn’t even budding the night before.

And come the autumn there’s another morning shocker for me when I open my other curtain and the copper beech outside is on fire. It always catches me unawares and startles me with its sudden molten brilliance.

If I listened with my eyes to the parables the garden preaches I’d be a wiser man and a happier and holier one. I’d sit more comfortably in my own sluggish skin. I’d despair a lot less at my fruitless prayers. And I’d find more than my share of joy when God’s disproportionate grace sticks it tongue out, right in my face, and says ‘told you so!’

1 comment June 18th, 2006

Corpus Christi Year B

We all make promises … and we all break them. Yes, we say, we will do X or Y or Z … but find A and B come to hand instead. Some promises we make lightly and in haste and renege on them with hardly a qualm. Other promises gather a life’s hope and commitment to a honed edge so sharp it draws blood when once again we cannot be who we thought we could.

Blood and promises. The ancient habit of blood sacrifice seems a strange way to seal a promise but even so many centuries later we can feel the weight and thrill and solemnity of sloshing around all that blood. The studiers of symbols say blood stands for life but you and I know blood means death and it is death that seals promises. We know it in the schoolyard: cross my heart and hope to die. We know it at the altar: till death us do part.

For a promise to hold there has to be some dying, even if it is just possibilities that have to bite the dust, unborn might-have-beens that never see the light of day. And when a promise doesn’t hold, never could have held, someone, we are sure, will have to pay the price for our pretence.

This is Corpus Christi and it’s all about blood and promises. The blood part stands out—we hear about body and blood all the time—but we have to wonder at the promises being made.

The old covenant promise seems easy: the people make the deal with God—we will do X and Y and Z (though, of course, A and B will come to hand) and seal the promise with gallons of blood—animal blood, thank God. And in the gospel the surface pattern is all the same. On the surface there’s the familiar blood of the Passover lamb spilled to mark the promise of deliverance. And down a level there’s the other lamb, the human lamb, sacrificed to seal the unholy promise that it is better that one man should die for the sake of many people.

But Jesus messes all that up. He refuses to be a lamb led to the slaughter: he takes what someone would do to him—an act of violence—and he turns it round. The meat does something unimaginable: it says yes there will be dying; not on your terms but to seal my promise.

And the promise? God has no desire for sacrifice. God is the one sacrificed. Sacrifice itself is sacrificed, put to death, and drained dry.
We all make promises and we all break them. But we no longer need to pretend we won’t. That’s the promise. And, though it is marked by blood, it’s marked not by death, but life.

June 15th, 2006

Sunday Week 4 of Easter Year B

This is the one day of the year I wish I was a vegetarian. It’s a problem for me sitting at Sunday lunch eating my roast meat because it puts me in mind of just what it is to be a sheep. Being a sheep is all about the slaughter. I don’t like to think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd because, of course, then I’m a sheep and however well shepherded I might be I know it’s all to keep me fit and fat for the table. In the paintings the Good Shepherd is always carrying the lamb tenderly close to his heart but Sunday lunch reminds me that all the same it is a lamb led to the slaughter.

The symbol of the Passover lamb only makes it worse. The slaughter becomes sacrifice. Give the sheep a brain for a moment and wonder whether it would come quietly, whether it would be a willing sacrifice, and what it would think of the butcher who cuts its throat in worship.

There’s something deeply disturbing about Jesus the Good Shepherd. I can only hear him speak of himself that way with a deep irony. But Jesus claims the title of Good Shepherd because he lays down his life for his sheep. It is by putting himself in the sheep’s stead that he shepherds them. The only Good Shepherd is the one who becomes a sheep, the lamb of God.
Which gives the Passover lamb a strange new sense. Instead of a sheep going unknowingly to its sacrificial death we have the shepherd laying down his life freely. No one takes it from him!

And instead of the cruel allegation that killing sheep keeps God happy – we have God, in person, dismantling the sacrificial system from inside by entering it, not as one who demands sacrifice, but as one who would rather be sacrificed than collude with it. If there is going to be sacrifice – even religious sacrifice – Jesus shows us God has no taste for it and in the Resurrection God rejects it.

Whenever we do violence in God’s name, however well-intentioned, however hidden or holy, we give God a voice Jesus would never recognise. No wonder the world complains God is silent or violent or bad.

Jesus goes to his death so we might recognise God, know God’s true voice, and in the process find our own.

4 comments May 7th, 2006

Friday Week 3 of Easter

There are two things going on here – the promise of life and the shock of its asking price.

A promise of life – but it’s more than about just being alive – it’s about having life in you. Do you ever feel that, inside? That you are alive, against the odds, breathing, beating, fragile, amazing. ‘Eternal life’ never captures that for me, it suggests life after death, suggests something preserved, suggests living on in some way forever, non-stop, endlessly. It makes me hope it’s not eternally a wet Bank Holiday weekend in Morecambe.

But it’s on offer, eternal life, and the offer makes me question what there is about my life I’d want to see extended and lived out for eternity. It begins to make me wonder about the quality of my life, about what in my life is worth the living, worth the loving.
And that’s what the phrase is really all about – eternal life is translator’s shorthand for the life of the age to come: the life of the age to come, the life of the kingdom, the life of the age of the messiah, the time when all those prophecies we hear in advent are at last here and in place – when justice and mercy met, when the banquet of fine wines is laid, when the lion lies down with the lamb, when there’s no more dying and no more crying. That’s what’s on offer here – not some endless, everlasting life we can have if we are very good and wait patiently – but the life of the kingdom now, here, today. A quality of life. A glorious life to have within you. Now. Alive.

Fancy that? Want it? Where do I sign? Show me the dotted line! Jesus answer is distressingly direct: ‘gnaw on my flesh, chew it, munch it. Here drink my blood, thick, warm, metallic! Draw life from me. Live in me. Let me live in you.’

Yuck! It’s no wonder they all sidle off in disgust. It’s a great offer but the price is altogether too … weird. I’d prefer something harder – give me rules, give me tasks, give me secrets – make me work. Eating you is too easy. And too hard. Creepy, disgusting, sick.

How about this, Jesus, let’s pretend your flesh—your meat—is just bread, just a wafer. Maybe that way we can stomach it. Will that do? What if we closed our eyes to your blood and imagined wine instead, something sweet? Could we get away with it? Would we still have life within us? That real life, throbbing, fizzing, joyful, budding, blooming life. How’s that for a bargain?

2 comments May 5th, 2006

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