Saturday, December 31, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 31 Dec 2017 New Year’s Eve

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. 
John 1. 14

This is the amazing truth of Christmas: God came into the world as a human being. And he did so for us, because he loved us. And all he asks is that we love him in return.

Friday, December 30, 2016

prayer diary Friday 30 Dec 2017

And there was a prophetess, Anna … (who) coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 
Luke 2. 36-39

Christ's coming into the world fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament and restored hope to the world. This is a hope that we must share with all people so that they too may know of the Redemption they have in our Saviour.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 29 Dec 2017

And Simeon said 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples.' 
Luke 2. 29 - 31

Simeon understood that once the Christ-child had come into the world so also had the hope of salvation for all people. We must also take that understanding into our hearts; and having done so, live it out what that means completely, without holding anything back.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 28 Dec 2017 The Holy Innocents

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under. 
Matthew 2. 16

There are those in the world who will stop at nothing to suppress the truth, even God's truth. Their efforts are futile, but they are willing to sacrifice anyone, even the most vulnerable, even tiny children, to achieve their evil ends.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 27 Dec 2017 St John the Evangelist

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 
John 21.24

Those in the early Church had sound reasons for believing in the truth of the Gospels. They knew the men who wrote them; and they were already well acquainted with the facts of the story they told. The people of that day themselves testified by their acceptance of the Gospels of their truth. Therefore there is nothing in them for us to doubt.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Divine providence in the timing of St Stephen's Day?

It might seem somewhat counter-intuitive to celebrate the feast of the first Martyr the day after we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord. However, the timing is neither accidental, in the sense of it being a random quirk of the liturgical calendar, nor deliberate, in the sense that it was done by human hand for the sake of making some particular theological point. That one follows one after the other is one of those happenings that seem less coincidence than the workings of Divine Providence. 

First we must remember that the dates of Christmas and St Stephen's Day are not chosen at random. We have good reason for celebrating the birth of our Lord on December 25th - the ancient belief that a great man died on the anniversary of his conception couple with widespread belief in the early Church that Christ was crucified on March 25th lead naturally to the date we have for Christmas; and details concerning dates contained with the infancy narrative of St Luke's Gospel gives credence to that being the correct day also. 

The feast days of saints are usually set as near the date of their death as is practicable. This custom is more especially observed if it is possible to do so in the case of martyrs. The tradition has always been that St Stephen died near the end of the year in which Christ was crucified. This makes December 26th a very credible date for his martyrdom and certainly an appropriate one for his feast day.

But why do I speak of Divine Providence as opposed to coincidence being behind the closeness of the dates? It is because we as Christians are given a powerful lesson from the fact that the martyrdom of St Stephen falls hard on the heels of the Birth of our Lord in our liturgical calendar. The death of the martyr reminds us that the child who was born came into the world to die. This is made particularly evident by the many echoes of our Lord's Passion and death that there are in the account of St Stephen's death. The one following so closely after the other brings back into sharp focus the reason that Christ came into the world - not to create a cute cradle scene that would sweet upon our mantelpiece, but the power of Satan to destroy, as it has it has it in the Christmas carol. And he would do that by his suffering and death. And remembering St Stephen's death so soon after the Nativity reminds us of what we, as Christians in the world, are called to do - to give faithful witness to the Gospel message, speaking the truth whatever the personal cost to us, doing so even though we know it will cause some to hate us for it, and doing all this lovingly, prayerfully, and joyfully. 

That it should be a mere coincidence that such a powerfully appropriate lesson to us should be found in the Church calendar is to stretch credulity. And yet, as I said, the dates we have for these two festivals were not chosen by some wise father of the Church for the purpose providing us with this lesson. That leaves only the hand of God. And why should we find it difficult to believe that his guiding hand is to be found in this? We believe, as St Stephen did, that he became man and died for our sins. Why should we not believe that he would not think it important to remind us of this, even at Christmas?

prayer diary Monday 26 Dec 2016 St Stephen's Day

'Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.' 
Matthew 10. 21, 22

Martyrs such as St Stephen were not afraid to die for the faith. They knew the price they paid was as nothing to what they gained. So too must we present our faith courageously to the world

Sunday, December 25, 2016

seeing Christ in Bethlehem and beyond ...

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

And so, at last, we have reached the destination we have been journeying toward; for all of Advent has been a journey to Christmas and the birth of our Lord which we celebrate this night. Indeed, we might say that all of human history before it was a journey to the night when Christ was born and the long-awaited Messiah, who would save us from our sins, would enter into our world. That night is pointed to again and again in Sacred Scripture, as God spoke to man through his prophets, promising a Saviour to his fallen children, beginning in Genesis as our first parents were cast out of the garden when he told Satan, in the form of the serpent, that he would send one born of woman who would crush his head. And the prophecies went into such specific detail so that all who had their hearts truly open to God could be in no doubt that the words of the prophets had been fulfilled in Jesus: Isaiah, for example, telling us that he would be of David's line and born of a virgin; and Micah that his birth would take place in Bethlehem.

And so, even as we gather this night to celebrate his birth, others gathered on that night to gaze in wonder at this child who had come into the world: the Blessed Virgin, his mother, of course; but also St Joseph, the righteousness man who was her espoused husband; and the shepherds who watched their flocks by night also came to wonder. And then there were the angels who burst forth out of heaven; expressing their great joy that God's plan is being fulfilled, that God has been made man, and that as a result the men and women of this earth would now have the opportunity to one day be with them in heaven for all eternity as God intended when he created them. And far away others are beginning their journey so that they may also gather worship this child that has been born, the great kings from the East, men who in their wisdom understood the prophecies and signs that God had given mankind and that an even greater king than they had been born – a king for all mankind, as the presence of these men from a faraway land showed, a king for men and women of all places and all ages.

What a wonderful gathering there was to see that Christ-child. Is it any wonder that down through the centuries people have sought to gather by his side themselves in their imaginations? That is why we create crib scenes and place them in our churches, under our Christmas trees and on our mantelpieces, and in public places such as shopping centres, hospitals, and even in the streets and squares of our towns. Those people who gathered long ago were driven by a deep-seated human desire to see the long awaited Messiah face to face; and that desire has never been erased. How could it be? The coming into our world of the Christ is the event upon which the salvation of us all depends; how could we not long to see him? 

And so perhaps we even envy those who were blessed long ago with that particular gift from God to be present that night? But we need not, for we have our own particular blessings, sent to us by God also, that allow us to meet with Christ for ourselves.
We can him in the face of every man and woman we meet, especially those in need. 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat' he tells us in the Gospels; because what we do for the least of our brethren we do for him. We meet him when come together as the gathered community of God's faithful people, because the Church, as St Paul tells us, is the Body of Christ. And we meet with him when we partake of the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. This is my Body, this is my Blood he told the Apostles at the Last Supper. 

And these three way of meeting Christ of which I speak are not separate but intimately connected. For Christ also told his followers that if they did not eat his body and drink his blood they had no life in them, making partaking of this sacrament as essential to our life as breathing itself. And this sacrament can only be partaken of when we gather together as his Body, when we come together as his Church, most often in church. And that supernatural food acts as a channel of God's grace in us, a means of his grace entering into us, strengthening to live our lives according to his commands, including giving us the faith to see Christ in the face of all we see.

So we have the opportunity to see Christ in many ways as we gather this night, and not only in our imaginations. This night as we gather as his people and his Church to celebrate the Holy Eucharist he is really and truly among us, just as he was that first night in Bethlehem. The joy and the wonder of Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and the angels is our also this night. And I pray that it will be yours always. Amen. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

prayer diary Christmas Eve 2016

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.' 
Luke 2. 13, 14

Look around you. Does what you see in the world around you reflect the glory of what is to take place this night? Pause to let the wonder of it all to fill your being. Hush the busy world from your heart and soul and mind. Hear for yourself the message of the angels - and rejoice!

Friday, December 23, 2016

role reversal!

The parents and teachers got a surprise at the school carol service the other day. Normally it is the children who have to put tea towels on their heads and be shepherds, wear fake crowns and pretend to be wise men, etc. Not at this one! The parents did the acting while the children for once got to sit in the pews and see what was going on! And a great time was had by all - Merry Christmas!

prayer diary Friday 23 Dec 2016

Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbours and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 
Luke 1. 57, 58

It is in the natural order of things to rejoice and be glad when a new life comes into the world. And yet there are those who regard these precious gifts from the Lord as if they were something they may reject.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 22 Dec 2016

'For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.' 
Luke 48, 49

God asked much of Mary; and she yet she felt that she was blessed that he should ask so much of her. Thus we who are asked to do so very little by our Creator should not feel he demands too much of us, but rather rejoice in our tasks.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 21 Dec 2016

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” 
Luke 1. 42, 43

St Elizabeth's response shows that the Word was made flesh at the very moment of his conception. In this way he showed the sacredness of human life from the moment it begins.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 20 Dec 2016

And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. 
Luke 1. 38

Mary recognised herself to be God's humble servant and responded with obedience to what he asked of her. So too are we all his servants; and we should follow Mary's example always by being obedient to God laws.

Monday, December 19, 2016

prayer diary Monday 19 Dec 2016

Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, "Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men."
Luke 1. 24, 25

Truly children are a gift from God. How sad that so many treat the miracle of new life with disdain.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent 4: the faith of St Joseph

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent and the focus of our readings move to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hardly a surprise, given how it is all but impossible to think of Christmas and the birth of our Lord without also thinking of his Mother. The gospels give us two accounts of his miraculous conception and birth: the first, from St Luke, looks at events from the perspective of our Lady; and the other, by St Matthew, from the viewpoint of her most holy husband, St Joseph.

It is this latter account we look at today*. And in it we have what might be considered some curious words. St Matthew tells us that when St Joseph discovered that his espoused bride was found to be with child even though they were not living together as husband and wife he decided to end the marriage quietly, so as not to expose Mary to public disgrace. And he was doing so because he was a righteous man.

Now we may well ask ourselves why a righteous man would wish to protect the reputation of a woman who had betrayed her sacred vows to him and was now carrying a child who was not his, especially as to do so would be to risk his own reputation. By behaving in this way people would naturally assume the child was his; and an older man abandoning his very young bride who was with child would be seen as an odious figure indeed. The only explanation for his actions is that St Joseph believed our Lady when she told him the manner of how she had conceived, even before he was granted a divine vision concerning the matter. Which raises the question as to why he should have accepted her extraordinary story?

A clue to his actions may lie in an ancient tradition connected with Mary's own birth. The story is well known; and I imagine many of you have heard of it before. It comes from the very early, but non-Scriptural, Christian work called the Protoevangelium of James. This tells the story of how Mary's parents, Anne and Joachim, after many years of marriage, had not been blessed with children, much to their sorrow and shame. As in the Old Testament story of Samuel, Anne prays for a child, promises that if she is granted her prayer that the child will be dedicated to serve the Lord in his Temple. Her prayer is answered and Anne is faithful to her word, with Mary taking up residence to serve in the Temple from a young age as a consecrated virgin – a service to the Lord the young Mary, a child of great holiness, was only too willing to perform. And when she reaches the very young age in their society age when a girl would be expected to be betrothed, the elderly widower Joseph is asked by the temple authorities to be her guardian, and stop her being courted by the young men attracted by her beauty by becoming her betrothed himself. This gave him the legal standing to act as her protector; but his role was to be her husband in name only. Her vow of perpetual virginity was to be respected always. Naturally such a task could only be entrusted to a man who was of great and renowned holiness himself, lest he fall prey to the temptation of taking advantage of the beautiful young woman who would now be, according to the customs of his time, entirely within his power.

Now the Protoevangelium is not scriptural and no one is obliged to accept what it says; nevertheless, this particular tradition does help us to understand why St Joseph never doubted the Blessed Virgin's story. An ordinary girl might well lie as to how she became pregnant. But a young woman whose entire history was steeped in holiness, whose life story gave every indication that the Lord God had great plans for her, would far more easily be believed … especially by a man of such marvellous holiness as St Joseph.

Now much is made of the 'Fiat' of our Lady, her 'let they will be done' when asked by God to be the mother of the incarnate word; and rightly so. But today let us consider also the wonderful obedience of St Joseph. He had agreed in his declining years to be the guardian of a young woman – an act of great charity to be sure, but hardly an arduous one; but that plan is greatly changed. He is instead being asked to be the protector and foster father of the long awaited Messiah. But, elderly though he is, and great though the responsibility that he is being asked to undertake is, St Joseph does not hesitate. The same faith in God which led him to take on the role of Mary's protector, the same faith which caused him to believe her, this faith caused him to accept the task God set him of being the earthly father of the Son of God. His faith and obedience is a model to us all. And I pray that it will act as an inspiration to you, this day and always. Amen.

*Matthew 1: 18-25

Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Spirit. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shall call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 17 Dec 2016

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?' 
Luke 1.41-43

The words of St Elizabeth testify that from the moment of his conception Jesus was Lord. And knowing that she was inspired by the Holy Spirit we can have no doubt as to the truth of her words. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

prayer diary Friday 16 Dec 2016 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ 
Luke 1. 38

The Blessed Virgin's obedience is a model to us all. Her 'yes' risked much out of faith in God. We who risk much less should also humbly submit to his will.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 15 Dec 2016

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? 
 Luke 1.18

Zechariah, a priest and a holy man, could stand in the presence of an angel and question what was promised. We should not be surprised then that we are also at times capable of doubt.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 14 Dec 2016

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 
Matthew 1.18

The virginal conception of Christ is a stumbling block to many. Such things can't happen, they argue; therefore this can not be true. They forget to ask themselves 'and if this is true what does this mean for me and all humanity?'

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 13 Dec 2016

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 
Matthew 1. 1

Where our translation gives 'account' the Greek reads 'biblos' or book. Matthew is telling us plainly what his purpose is: to give us a book that as a whole offers itself as witness as to who Jesus is; and that our faith is grounded on a sure foundation.

Monday, December 12, 2016

prayer diary Monday 12 Dec 2016

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ 
Matthew 21.23

There are always those who question authority of the Scripture and the Church, especially those whose comfort zones are challenged by that authority. Do not refrain from helping them through this. It is better for them that they deal with the challenge, rather than be allowed to avoid it.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 3: did St John the Baptist doubt?

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent and St John the Baptist continues to be the focus of our Gospel reading just as he was last Sunday. The importance of thinking of St John during this season of Advent should be fairly self-evident: the Baptist is the fore-runner of the Christ. And just as he led the way for the Messiah in his ministry, calling people to repent of their sins, so too did he lead the way for the Messiah in the fate he was to suffer, being arrested, imprisoned, and put to death for speaking God's truth to the world.

Today's reading has the saint, as he languishes in prison, sending some of his followers to ask Jesus if he is he was the Messiah or if they were to wait for another. A superficial reading of this might tempt us to believe that St John, locked up and alone, has doubts about Jesus and sends his disciples to him looking to be convinced that this is indeed the Christ. But that would be to ignore what St John has said of Jesus elsewhere in the Gospels. Indeed, the moment Jesus comes to him for baptism, you will recall, he declares that he is not worthy to do such a thing, but rather that it is he who should be baptised by Jesus. There was far less evidence to suggest that Jesus was the Messiah at that point then there was when he sent these men to Jesus – and yet he had no hesitation in declaring to his followers then that he was the Messiah. So why would he doubt now? And the answer is that he does not. But he does want his followers to know and believe the truth about Jesus. So he sends them to Christ so that they may learn the truth and believe and follow the one who has come into the world for the redemption of all.

And we should take careful note of the way in which Jesus replies. He tells them that the evidence of the great acts of power he has performed should tell them all they need to know. He does so by alluding to some of the Messianic prophecies from the Old Testament; in fact those references to the Messiah are drawn from the reading we have today from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah, you may note, speaks of the blind seeing and the lame walking being signs of the Messiah; but Jesus adds the lepers being cleansed and the dead being raised – which are in the Old Testament signs of the power of God himself, not the Messiah. Jesus is, in effect, telling these men who come to him that he is indeed the Messiah … but not the Messiah as they expected him to be … for the Messiah is both God and man, God incarnate.

What we have in this passage is John the Fore-runner fulfilling his mission, by pointing others to the Messiah; and we have the Messiah letting those followers know that not only has the long awaited Messiah come into the world, but also their God and Saviour.

And this, of course, is done with a purpose. And that purpose is so that these followers of St John would not only become followers of the one who is both God and man, but so that they would lead others to become followers of his also. St John wants them to know the truth so that they can share that truth with others so that all men might be saved.

There are, of course, lessons for us in this passage that are of particular relevance to us in the season of Advent. The first is that it reassures us, just as it reassured St John's followers, that the Saviour has come into the world and with it the hope of ever-lasting life. Secondly, understanding the truth of his first coming makes certain his promise that he would come again – for the promises made to us by God himself from the lips of the second person of the blessed Trinity are certain indeed. That leads us inevitably to the purpose of this Advent season – that we must prepare ourselves for the time when that promise will be fulfilled and he does indeed come again.

That is no easy task when we do not know when that time will be. We are therefore left with no alternative but to live as if he might come at any moment. And to be ready to face him we must live a life that shows we truly love him – and he told us what we must do to achieve that. Those who love him will keep his commandments. So we must strive daily to live in accordance with God's law. Difficult for a frail human being to accomplish – but with God, nothing is impossible. We have his love, his Word, and the Sacraments of his Church to help us. And when we struggle, when we are tempted to go astray, we may do well to consider the words of the Apostle St Paul when he told us that God allows no one to be tested beyond their limits; we can resist even the greatest temptation if we fight hard to do so. And when we fail – which we will, for Christ alone is the perfect man who is without sin – then we have the additional comfort of knowing that God will forgive all who truly repent, even granting the power to the ordained ministers of his Church to pronounce absolution to those who confess their sins so that they may know that God has indeed forgiven them.

And as I finish I leave you with this final thought. In this Advent season of preparation for the Second Coming of our Lord we may look with some wonder at the world around us in which many seem to have forgotten what this time is for, and instead treat it as a holiday season for shopping, parties, and other pleasures. Seemingly they have forgotten, if they ever knew, the joy that is to be found in knowing the Truth of Christ and the hope we have in him of Salvation. Should we not also think to share during this joyful season the joy we have in our Christian faith? It was a joy that St John the Baptist sought to share with those who followed him, even as he lay in his prison cell; and it was the joy that they one he sent them to came into the world to bring to us all. A joy that I pray all here will know more fully during this season; even as I ask that you pray the same for me and all others. Amen. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 10 Dec 2016

‘So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ 
Matthew 17.12

Christ knew that at his first coming he would suffer and be rejected. It will not be so when he comes again in power and great glory to judge the living and the dead. Be ready for that terrible and wonderful day.

Friday, December 9, 2016

prayer diary Friday 9 Dec (Day of discipline and self-denial)

'For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 
Matthew 11. 18-19

Some look upon virtue and needs must twist it and call it vice in order to justify their own actions. It is all too easy for those who do not wish to see to find reasons for their blindness.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 8 Dec 2016

'No one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is grater than he.' 
Matthew 11. 11

Christ honours the Baptist in his role as the one who prepared the way for the Saviour. Even so, that glory is as nothing compared to what awaits all who enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 7 Dec 2016

'Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.' 
Matthew 11.28

There is no greater burden in any life other than the burden of sin. And no greater rest from that burden than that offered by Christ.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 6 Dec 2016

'It is not the will of the Father that any one of these little ones should be lost.' 
Matthew 18.14

God did not create any of us for the purpose of destruction. But that does not mean that we can not freely choose to reject what he offers. Think well then that you do not value earthly things over those that are eternal.

Monday, December 5, 2016

prayer diary Monday 5 Dec 2016

They let (the paralytic) down through the tiles … in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith he said 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.' 
Luke 5. 19-20

Christ's first concern is for the spiritual welfare of the man. Something for us to consider in a world that concentrates on the body but neglects the soul.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent: the first coming prepares the way for the second

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the second Sunday of Advent and our Gospel reading shows us St John the Baptist doing his work unabashedly and unapologeticly on the banks of the Jordan, calling people to repentance and having no hesitation in pointing out the sins of those who come to them, caring not in the least if the one listening was a person of influence, power, or authority who might be more used to being talked to in a manner that was far more respectful of their position in society.

Now we can well understand, I think, why it is that we would think of John the Baptist during the season of Advent. This is the time when we think of the first coming of our Lord, when we try to enter into the spirit of that wondrous event so fully that it is almost as if we are trying to imagine that it is happening for the first time all over again and read ourselves into the story in such as way that it is almost as if we are present ourselves when the angel comes to Mary to let her know that she is to have a child even though she is a virgin, journey with her and Joseph in the cold of winter to Bethlehem; feel the pain of their rejection when they can find no room in the inn; and the wonder of the shepherds when the see the angels as they watch their flocks by night and then go to worship the child in the manger. 

And the story of John's birth is intimately tied up with that of our Lord's, making his story integral to the Christmas one. But our reading today does not deal with John's birth – it deals with his ministry, and we have his uncompromising figure standing in the wilderness, clothed in camel's hair tied up with a leather belt, telling people to repent, warning them of the wrath to come, when the one who comes after him will gather the wheat who are his faithful servants into the granary that is his eternal kingdom; but the sinful chaff will burnt in unquenchable fire. Grim stuff indeed for the lead up to Christmas!

But, of course, Advent is more than just getting ready for Christmas – it also about getting ready for the second coming of Christ. And that, as we all know – and should be reminded of if we have forgotten – is when he will come in power and majesty to judge the living and the dead. It is that fact that helps us to understand the passage that the Church has chosen for today's reading. For John the Baptist is the fore-runner of Christ; he is the one who prepares the way for the coming of the Messiah. And just as St John tells people to repent from their sins, so to will Christ call people to repentance. And the purpose of this repentance is, of course, to prepare people for when Christ will come again. 

This makes this scene we have from the ministry of St John in today's Gospel not only a very appropriate one for this season of our liturgical calendar, it makes it one that is vital for us to think deeply about. Because being ready for the time of our Lord's return is the issue upon which depends our eternal salvation – making it something of infinite importance and ultimately the only thing of this life that truly matters.

And note well the manner in which St John the Baptist goes about this work of saving souls. He bluntly tells people they are sinners in need of repentance. And he uses strong language indeed to do so – even calling the religious leaders who come to see him a brood of vipers. He is not, to use a modern term, very politically correct. Neither is he being, to use another word commonly used to day, non-judgemental. He is calling it not only as he sees it but as it is. And if that causes offence, so be it. 

But we have to ask ourselves what kind of behaviour is in the end better, in the end more loving: to say nothing, or to use only soothing, encouraging words, telling people that it really is their choice how they behave, and there is no eternal consequences for their actions; or telling them the truth, even if it does upset them to hear it, even if they do get angry, and take offence, and even shout and call you all the names the Politically Correct brigade reserve for those who speak the unvarnished truth these days? It can only be the latter – because it is the latter way of speaking that will help those who hear enter into the granary of Christ; while the former risks condemning them to the place of unquenchable fire. And just as John the fore-runner spoke and acted when it came to the salvation of souls, so also did the one who he came to prepare the way for.

And this, I think, must bring to our minds the joyful aspect of this season. For the one he came to prepare the way for came to open the way to heaven for us … and also to show us the way. He came to offer us the hope of a glorious and eternal future and to mark out clearly for us the path to that wonderful hope. The light of the world is coming into the world to light the way that leads to the everlasting light that exists in heaven, where we will need neither the sun nor moon nor lamps to give us light, for Christ himself will be our light. No wonder the angels in heaven, and all the human souls that have entered there, joyfully and always sing songs of praise to his glory. A glory that I pray all here will one day see; even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 3 Dec 2016

'Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.' 
Matthew 10.38

It was the prayer of Christ himself that his followers should work for the salvation of souls. Many in the world have yet to either hear God's word or come to believe in it. What labour have you done to correct this?

Friday, December 2, 2016

prayer diary Friday 2 Dec 2016 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

Two blind men followed him, crying loudly: 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!' 
Matthew 9.27

We will all face trials and troubles in this life. If we face them with trust in God's ultimate mercy, we can endure them, however painful they may be.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 1 Dec 2016

'Everyone who hears these words of mine will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.' 
Matthew 7.24

True wisdom lies in hearing and obeying the word of God. Sometimes this will seem as foolishness in the eyes of the world. But which is more foolish: to listen to the world and risk your soul; or to listen to God and gain salvation?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 30 Nov (St Andrew)

Andrew first found his brother Simon and said to him: 'We have found the Messiah.'John 1.41

The natural reaction of those who truly believe in the truth that Christ teaches is a desire to share that truth with others. We are all called to be evangelists; and we all have a part to play in the mission to bring Christ to all people.

Monday, November 28, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 28 Nov 2016

'For I tell you many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, but did not see it; and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.' 
Luke 10.24

God grants great gifts to his faithful people. Not least among them is to see and hear things with the eyes and ears of faith that are denied to many in their pride and arrogance. Stay strong in your humility that you may not lose these wondrous gifts.

prayer diary Monday 28 Nov 2016

'Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word and my servant will be healed.' 
Matthew 8.7

This demonstration of faith earned great praise from Jesus himself. Humility lies at the heart of faith; an understanding that we have no entitlement to all that God gives us or anything we seek from him. Like the Centurion we are not worthy. But if we humbly ask in faith, we shall indeed receive.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent: Joy and Fear

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today, as I have already mentioned is the first Sunday of Advent. That means it is also the first day of the New Year for our Liturgical Calendar – and so, as I always like to say at this time of year: Happy New Year! It helps serves as a good reminder that the Church does not always make its way through time according to the dictates of the Calendar of the World. The secular world is essentially entering into the season of partying and shopping and other consumer excesses that mark the lead up to Christmas – or the holiday season as many prefer to call it these days; while we in the Church have entered into the season of Advent, a season that has a penitential aspect to it, though perhaps not as strong a one as during Lent. It is a time when we hold two things in tension, both associated with the name of the season – Advent – which means coming. And the person coming on the both the occasions referred to is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The first 'coming' which this season marks is the coming of Christ as a tiny baby in the stable in Bethlehem. It is, quite naturally, a joyful thing to mark and remember. God himself is coming into the world to save us from our sins and open for us the door that had been closed for us by the sin of our first parents, the door to heaven. And so we can not help by smile and be happy … with that happiness made all the greater at the thought of a child being born, a new life coming into the world, the quite natural feeling of joy and wonder that comes from such an event. A baby is such a precious thing – and, wonder of wonders, this baby is the king of the universe!

But that joy is held in tension with a certain trepidation, the feeling of dread that comes with the other coming to which this season of Advent is intended to remind us. And that is the second coming of our Lord Jesus. For that tiny baby grew up, preached the good news of the Gospel, giving witness to the truth of his word by the working of great signs and wonders, died upon the cross for the remission of our sins, rose from the dead, and then Ascended back to heaven, having promised that he would come again at the end of the ages to judge the living and the dead. 

And that, I think, is something that would give anyone but a saint a certain twinge of worry. For which of us is confident that we are ready to meet our maker? And without warning –for as we read in our Gospel Christ himself has told us that he will come at an unexpected hour. At that hour, all time for amendment of life will be gone – all our sins in thought, word, and deed, things that we have done and things we have failed to do will be called to account. And we may well tremble at the thought there will be those that we have not truly repented of and asked God's pardon for and been forgiven.

But – and there is a but – we must never allow the trepidation to outweigh the joy or cause us to forget it altogether. Because I said we hold these two in tension – and that means we keep them both in mind, not remember one to the exclusion of the other. Yes, Christ will one day come to judge the living and the dead. But that not something to consider in isolation. Because something else has already taken place – God became man to save us from our sins and has died for them. 

And during his time on earth he gave us so much to help us on our way to heaven: among them his living Word, which we hear now in Sacred Scriptures; his Church which he founded; and the sacraments of his Church, which are channels of God's grace and strengthen and help us on our pilgrim journey through this life. Concerning the sacraments, we may think of baptism and the way in which it changes us at the most profound level of our being, making us brothers and sisters of Christ and members of his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church; we may think of Confession and Absolution, of which our Bishop spoke so eloquently and passionately when he visited us some weeks ago, and the way in which it cleanses us of our sins when we truly repent; and we may think of the Holy Eucharist, where we are given the Body and Blood of our Saviour to eat and drink – for as he told us my flesh is true food, and my blood true drink – to feed our souls and give them the kind of life for which they were intended – Christ himself having told us that we must partake of this sacrament if we are to have life in us.

So yes, we may well tremble at the thought of standing before the judgement throne at any moment – whether because our life on this earth has ended, or because the Son of Man has come on clouds and in great glory, marking the end of the ages. But we face the reality that that time will one day come strengthened by the thought of another reality – that Christ has already come – and he came to prepare us for the day when he comes again – he came so that his faithful followers need have nothing to fear on the day when he comes again. For just as his first coming was a day of great joy for all those of good will, so his second coming is a day of joy for all those who love God.

And as I finish, I leave you with this thought. The second coming of Christ is not what brought death and judgement into the world – that was as a result of our first parents' disobedience. But because of his first coming his second is an an event we may also face with hope as well as trepidation – the hope that this life will end in the place we were made for – in heaven with our creator. Which means that even though we must always keep the joy and the trepidation of which this season is intended to remind us in tension with one another, ultimately it is joy that must win out, for it is that joy that serves to remind us that those who love Christ have nothing to fear. Amen.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 26 Nov 2016

Andrew first found his brother Simon and said to him: 'We have found the Messiah.'John 1.41

The natural reaction of those who truly believe in the truth that Christ teaches is a desire to share that truth with others. We are all called to be evangelists; and we all have a part to play in the mission to bring Christ to all people.

Friday, November 25, 2016

prayer diary Friday 25 Nov 2016 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

'Heaven and earth will pass away; but my words will not pass away.' 
Luke 21.33

The teaching of Christ, which we receive through the Church he founded for our salvation, is unchanging and eternal. Resist those who try to tempt you into turning from what he gave us by saying that this teaching or that no longer matters.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 24 Nov 2016

'When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its destruction has come near.' 
Luke 21.20

Christ holds the fall of Jerusalem up to us as a model or type: it rejected him and his teaching and so brought about its end. So too do we, if we refuse Christ, also reject the salvation that he offers and destine ourselves for destruction.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 23 Nov 2016

'They will arrest you and persecute you … you will be hated by all because of my name … by your endurance you will gain your souls.' 
Luke 21.12-19

Christ gives his followers a choice: comfort in this life; or eternal life in the next. Choose wisely. The salvation of your souls depends upon it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 22 Nov 2016

'When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow at once.' 
Luke 21. 9

The troubles of this world cause us anguish and grief and indeed confusion. Why must such terrible things happen? But we must not let them trouble us unduly, for they they are part of this life, even if we cannot understand why they should be.

Monday, November 21, 2016

prayer diary Monday 21 Nov 2016

''Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.' 
Luke 21.3

True generosity does not lie in sharing what you can easily spare, but what you can ill afford to do without. Real poverty of spirit is to be found in those who will place the needs of others over their own.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

long live Christ the King!

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

This Sunday, as I mentioned already, is the Feast of Christ the King. It is a recent addition to the Church calendar, having been added by Pope Pius XI in 1925. The pope did so to remind the world, in the face of growing secularism, who its true king was – Christ. It seems like such an obvious thing to do; after all, Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord of Lords, the eternal Word through all things were made, the King of Kings before who every knee must bend and every tongue confess that he is indeed Lord of all. The wonder is not that the Church should instigate a day in honour of his kingship, but rather that the Church waited so long. Perhaps this is why it wasn't long before other Christian denominations, such as Anglicans and Lutherans, also began marking the day.

As I said, Pope Pius did so as a way of fighting the dangers that secularism posed for the world – because the world needs the Church and secularism tries at the very least to silence it and drive it out if it can. Sadly, the dangers posed by the forces of secularism were even greater than Pius had feared. The very next year a rebellion began in Mexico, where the people rose up against the men leading their country who had a vision of a world without God. It was soon after followed by the Spanish Civil War, a war where one side wished to see all religion trodden underfoot. The secularist 'visionaries' in both countries rounded up many of those who were faithful to Christ. And they gave them a choice: renounce Christ or die. And many – men, woman, and children – refused to deny their faith. They died with these words on their lips: Viva Cristo Rey – long live Christ the King.

One such martyr during the Spanish Civil War was 25 year old Fr. Martin Martinez Pascual. When the persecutions began in his home district he went into hiding. But when the government forces arrested his father, questioning him about the priest's whereabouts, he turned himself in, hoping they would release his father. Not long after he was taken with a group of other priests to the local graveyard where they were all shot. Moments before his death they had him pose for a photograph with one of his executioners. In it, Fr Pascual was smiling. And his last words were 'Viva Cristo Rey – long live Christ the King.'

Another martyr, this time in Mexico was José Luis Sánchez del Río. He was just 14 when he joined the anti-secularist forces. Because of his youth they made him the flag-bearer for his troop. During a battle his general's horse was shot from under him. José gave him his own horse instead. On foot, he was easily captured by the enemy and imprisoned in the sacristy of the local church. In an attempt to get him to deny Christ, first they hung another prisoner in front of him, but José stood fast. Then they tortured him. What he suffered was so gruesome that I will not write it here. But one can only wonder at the mentality of the men who would inflict such torments on a boy. Just before they executed him, they told him that if he said 'death to Christ the King' they would spare his life. Instead he cried out 'Viva Cristo Rey – long live Christ the King'; and so they killed him.

Christ was the king of José, Fr Pascual, and martyrs like them. And what loyal subjects of their king they were. Christ is also our king. But I think those martyrs would be shocked and shamed by the way some of us use his name. To them it was sacred; many of us act as if it were some kind of four-letter word. We may contrast that with the way Muslims treat the name of Muhammad. They regard him as a prophet, not God; yet to treat his name or his image with disrespect is looked upon with horror by his followers. In a Muslim country such behaviours would be punishable by law; and even elsewhere a follower of Islam would regard it as a grave insult to both them and their faith if anyone were to dishonour the name of their prophet in their presence. But when the name of the one we know to be God himself is treated irreverently most of us hardly seem to notice; often, I suspect, because many of us treat it no better ourselves.

Such behaviour should sadden and worry us. Sadden us because we should be dismayed if we treat our King no better than that – the one, whom our Gospel this morning reminds us, who died on the Cross to save us from our sins. And it should worry us because such behaviour not only shows us to be not very loyal subjects of our King, it is also a serious sin – you all remember, I hope, the words of the Commandment, where we are told 'thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.' And Christ is our God. God literally commands us in the most fundamental laws that he has given us that treat his name as holy – yet we do not always do so.

But as we draw to a close, we might also wish to remind ourselves of what joy awaits those who are loyal subjects, subjects who use the name of their king reverently, and live their lives as his faithful followers. They are like the good thief who hung on the cross near him. He, you will remember, rebuked the other thief for the way he spoke to the Messiah; and then he humbly turned to our Saviour and said to him: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And the one who was a king even though he hung on the cross said to him: ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ Words that we surely all long to hear; and words that all will hear whose every breath and action proclaim these words: long live Christ the King. Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 19 Nov 2016

'Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.' 
Luke 20. 38

Christ would brook no contradiction from anyone, no matter how powerful, as to the reality of life after death, and that the resurrection from the dead awaits us all. He proved his words by his own rising from the dead. Therefore we have nothing to fear – except the consequences of our own actions.

Friday, November 18, 2016

prayer diary Friday 18 Nov 2016 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

'My house shall be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.' 
Luke 19.46

One of the few times we see Christ angry, and the only time we see him moved to violent action, is in the presence of those who disrespect the house of God. Consider well, then, your own behaviour, when you stand in the sacred places of our faith.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 17 Nov 2016

As he came near and saw the city (of Jerusalem) he wept over it. 
Luke 19.41
The Holy City rejected the Son of God and destined itself for destruction. So too do we seal our own fate on the basis of accepting or rejecting Christ.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 16 Nov 2016

'I tell you, to all who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even more will be taken away.' 
Luke 19.26

God gives his gifts to all. Those who make the best of them to his greater glory in the world will be rewarded at the end of days; and those who refuse to make use of them, or use them vainly, will be left with nothing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 15 Nov 2016

Then Jesus said to (Zacchaeus): Today salvation has come to this house 
Luke 19. 9

Zacchaeus did more than merely acknowledge Jesus with his lips; he repented of the sins he had committed and took action to make reparations for them. We must also remember that if we hope for salvation in the next life we must turn totally and completely from our sins in this one.

Monday, November 14, 2016

prayer diary Monday 14 Nov 2016

'Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.' 
Luke 18. 42

Consider carefully Christ's words. First he heals; then he says that the man's faith has saved him. Blind though the man was, he saw more clearly than most around him who Jesus was. And that spiritual clarity of vision was what saved him, not from the griefs of this world, but from the perils of the next.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

they will lay their hands on you and persecute you

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Remembrance Sunday, when we think of those who have given their lives in war in the service of their countries. Our Gospel reading this morning* speaks of another kind of sacrifice – the persecutions that Christians may face, even to the point of losing their lives. Sadly, such persecution is not something that belongs to the bad old days of the Roman Empire before the Emperor Constantine effectively made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. It continues today – and perhaps on a scale undreamed of in the time when Christians were being thrown to the lions in the Colosseum. Red martyrdom, the kind where those who believe in Christ bear witness to him by the shedding of their blood and the giving of their lives, is rampant. We may not hear much about it in the media, because it suits its agenda more to portray Christians as persecutors than victims, but thousands die every year in places like the middle-east, Korea, and Africa – and tens of thousands more face torture, imprisonment, legalised discrimination, and all kinds of violence and other forms of persecution. And while we may not face such vile physical mistreatment in the West, it is becoming ever more difficult to express orthodox Christian points of view publicly without being facing scorn or attack in the media … and particularly on social media. Those who have traditional views on morality are judgmental or bigots; to defend life at its earliest or end stages is to be a misogynist or lacking in compassion; and to believe that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life is to be either simple minded or in some way prejudiced against those who believe otherwise ...

So persecution is a reality. But is it something we should fear? I think not. First of all, it is something that Christ warned us that we would face. Sadly, there will always be those who react to the truth of the Christian message with hatred and evil. And I say sadly not because of the suffering that this brings upon good people – although of course this is something to be deplored – but because it ought to make us fearful for the eternal destiny of those who wreak such evil upon God's faithful children. To behave with such hatred against Christ's Word, Christ's Church, and Christ's disciples is to surrender oneself to the power of the evil one and to become his tools – a terrible fate for anyone created by God to be with him forever in heaven. However, the fact that the Church faces such persecution in this world ought on another level to make us glad – it shows God's faithful are doing something right, for the powers of darkness would not pursue an enemy that they did not consider to be a threat.

There is also another positive to the suffering that some face in the world today. Even as the evil they face saddens us, it also ought to strengthen us. Faced with the threat of death – a threat that they know to be real and one that their persecutors will not hesitate to carry out – they refuse to renounce their faith. They will not deny Christ – and they will die rather than do so. Their courage should stiffen the backbones of those in more privileged parts of the world. They can die for the faith; therefore we can face the little inconveniences that may come by being true to Christ without fear.

Their faith unto death may also have a positive effect in that it may serve to bring many who are lost in the darkness of the world into the light of Christ's Church. It was in the third century that Tertullian said that 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.' His words were based on the evidence of his own eyes – Christians dying for Christ convinced many of the truth of the Gospel in a way that was uniquely persuasive. Their sacrifice saved many souls – sometimes even those of the ones who had taken their lives. Such faithful witness helps strengthen and renew the Church. And even as we weep for the suffering of the martyrs, we may take comfort from the knowledge that by it, by enduring to the end, they have won life for themselves, the only life that ultimately matters, eternal life in heaven.

There is one final reason why we might look on persecutions as having something positive about them. Our Lord, both in today's Gospel elsewhere in Sacred Scriptures, intimates that a time of intense tribulation will occur before he comes again. I am not suggesting that we are entering into the end times: it would be a little vain to presume that the suffering of this age are greater than that of the ages before ours; and our Lord told us specifically that the day and the hour of that time could not be known to us and therefore it is not something for us to speculate upon. But such persecutions may serve to remind us of the fact that we indeed do not know the day or the hour of when he will return or when our own time on this earth may end. In that way these persecutions may serve to remind us to live our lives with the thought ever in our minds that at any moment our time in the life may end and we will suddenly find ourselves standing before the judgement throne. This is something that is important for all Christians to remember – especially those who are unlikely to have the opportunity to attain their place in heaven by enduring a martyr's death. Instead their martyrdom, their witness, is to be the way in which they die daily to self, denying themselves, and taking up their cross to follow Christ faithfully in the Gospel way. And it is indeed something to rejoice in, because by it do we lovingly give our lives in service of God; and by it we have the hope of one day entering into his presence in heaven. Amen. 

*Luke 21: 5-195 And as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 "As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." 7 And they asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?" 8 And he said, "Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!' Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once." 10 Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. 13 This will be a time for you to bear testimony. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; 17 you will be hated by all for my name's sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 12 Nov 2016

'And will God not grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?' 
Luke 18.7

Christ taught his disciples to pray by word and deed, not just occasionally, but always. To be a Christian is to be a person of prayer. Pray constantly, therefore, by at your first waking moment asking God to make your every thought, word, and deed as a prayer to him.

Friday, November 11, 2016

prayer diary Friday 11 Nov 2016 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

'Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too will it be in the days of the Son of man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all.'
Luke 17. 26-27

No one knows the day not the hour of the Lord's return. But we must be ready and live as if it were to happen within the moment. Otherwise for the sake of what matters not at all we will have given up the one thing that does matter – eternity.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 10 Nov 2016

'For in fact the kingdom of God is among you.' 
Luke 17. 21

The kingdom is present where those faithful to Christ and his teaching are. It is with us in the worship of his Church, the prayers of his faithful, and the daily living of all Christians. How can it not be? For Christ is with us always.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 9 Nov 2016

'Get up; go on your way; your faith has made you well.' 
Luke 17. 19

True health, true well-being lies beyond the physical in the realm of the spiritual. What does it matter if the body is healthy if the soul is crippled with sin? Therefore, look to your faith; being right with God is above all else in this life.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 8 Nov 2016

'So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say 'we are worthless slaves; we have only done what we ought to have done.' 
Luke 17. 10

Do not feel proud of yourself for obeying God's law; for by that pride you fail to show the the humility he wills for all his children; worse, this pride may lead you into thinking yourself better than others and judging them. Pride over your obedience in one aspect of Christian living runs the risk of falling into sin in another.

Monday, November 7, 2016

prayer diary Monday 7 Nov 2016

'It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.' 
Luke 17.2

Christ has harsh words indeed for those who lead others into sin. Consider how it is that you might cause others to stumble: the example of your life; tempting others to engage in sinful practices with you; or simply keeping silent when faced with the wrongdoing of others, thereby giving the impression it has your approval.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

the God of the living not the dead

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading this morning* details a debate which took place between our Lord and some Sadducees. Sadducees were religious leaders who were very powerful in Jewish society; one of their main roles was the maintainable of the Temple in Jerusalem … which of course would explain why the group essentially died out after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in the year of our Lord 70. They had a different theological perspective on a number of religious issues to other groups with Jewish society such as the Pharisees. One of these was that they only held a very small number of books of Sacred Scripture to be authoritative – the first five books of the Old Testament, in fact, what is also called the Pentateuch, to whom Tradition ascribes authorship to Moses. They also did not believe in the Resurrection of the dead, as our reading mentions,

It is this latter belief, in fact, that they wish to debate with Jesus. And they decide to do so by employing the rhetorical technique of reductio ad absurdum – which is taking an idea and arguing it to its logical extreme and exposing by doing so the flaws that lie at the heart of the idea against which one is attempting to refute. It is a perfectly good way of winning an argument. A good example of it would be someone playing cards saying that their lucky rabbit's foot is going to help them win the next hand; to which an on-looker might respond that it hadn't done the rabbit much good – and if it really works, why waste it on a hand of cards – why not use it to buy a lottery ticket, cure all they dying down at the local hospital, and bring about world peace? The Sadducees are essentially trying to make Jesus' promises concerning the Resurrection of the dead and eternal life in heaven look foolish.

So they use the idea of a woman who has had seven husbands. They could have simply left it at that; but given that they found the five books of Scripture I already mentioned authoritative, perhaps this is why they drew from the law of Moses also concerning the practice of Levirate marriage. This was where when a man died before any children were born to the marriage it was the duty of his brother, or nearest male relative, to marry the widow and beget an heir for the dead man in his place. Presumably for the Sadducees the idea of seven brothers having to take turns being the husband of the same woman only added to the humorous effect they were trying to achieve.

Jesus refutes their attempt in two ways. First he explains to them that their argument is based on a false premise, the idea that at the Resurrection something like marriage will matter. But it will not, for marriage is something for this age, but not the age to come. And this makes perfect sense for, as the example the Sadducees themselves chose about Levirate marriage shows, marriage has as a very important part of it the procreation of children. At the end of time God's plan will have been fulfilled, there will be no necessity for the begetting of new life, and therefore their will be no need for marriage. Whatever the relationship between the woman and the seven brothers will be in that age, it will not be that of husband and wife.

And then, to completely undermine their position, Jesus decides to prove to them from Scripture the truth of his claims concerning the Resurrection. And because they only take seriously the five books of the Pentateuch he draws his proof from there, the words spoken to Moses himself by God out of the burning bush. There God identified himself as being the God of Abraham, the God of Jacob, and the God of Isaac. And he spoke of being their God in present tense, not the past. He said 'I am' the God of these men, not 'I was.' He is still their God, even though they have perished from this life; and therefore their lives must have continued beyond the earthly one.

Jesus has turned the tables on them; and the ones who were trying to make him look foolish now look foolish instead. The scribes who were present were impressed with the manner in which Jesus did so; the Sadducees, as we may well imagine, were not. However, Jesus has done more here than merely win an argument. He has once again assumed the role of being the supreme arbitrator of what it is that Scripture truly means. This is, of course, to speak with divine authority. And he has also made some very specific promises about what life after death entails. The Resurrection of the dead is sure; after it we are immortal, as the angels are, and are children of God. (It is important to note here that we will not, as people lately have a tendancy to think, be angels – for angels are pure spirit and at the Resurrection we will be united with our bodies and therefore not be pure spirit.) Earthly concerns are left behind; and they are replaced with life in heaven. And he has affirmed that right belief is important; something for us to consider when the heretical notion of indifferentism is so prevalent, the notion that all religions are pretty much the same and it doesn't really matter what any one believes. This can not be true – otherwise why would Christ have taken such trouble to correct the Sadducees on this point – and run such risks to do so also? For it was incidents like this that caused them to hate him and conspire against him to take his life.

But our Lord thought right belief – orthodoxy – was more than just important, it was essential … for he did not come to win arguments with sects that have long since died out but to save souls so that they might be with him in heaven for all eternity. And knowing and believing the truth that he taught was needed so that on the day of the Resurrection all people – including you and me and all those we love – will be immortal like the angels and never die and be forever children of God. A joyful thought, for which we, along with the angels and saints in heaven, ought always give thanks and praise to the one God who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen. 

*Luke 20: 27-3927 There came to Jesus some Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the wife and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and died without children; 30 and the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife." 34 And Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him." 39 And some of the scribes answered, "Teacher, you have spoken well."

Saturday, November 5, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 5 Nov 2016

'Whoever is faithful in in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in little is also dishonest in much.' 
Luke 16.10

Do not tolerate any level of sin in your life. Do not say to yourself 'I am good enough.' Rather ask 'How can I be holier in all that I think, do, and say?'

Friday, November 4, 2016

prayer diary Friday 4 2016 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

'The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation that are the children of light.' 
Luke 16. 8

The love you show to those in need by helping them materially is a way of winning souls for heaven. Always remember that your generous giving is both ministry and mission.

prayer diary Friday 4 2016 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

'The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation that are the children of light.' 
Luke 16. 8

The love you show to those in need by helping them materially is a way of winning souls for heaven. Always remember that your generous giving is both ministry and mission.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 3 Nov 2016

'Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep that was lost.' 
Luke 15. 6

Great is the joy in heaven over a single repentant sinner. But do you accept that you are lost, that you are a sinner, and that you need to repent and be saved? Or are you stubborn in your heart and think that sin is something other people do?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 2 Nov 2016

'Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.' 
Luke 14. 27

We should not be afraid to take up our cross; it was through Christ's cross that our salvation was made possible. Unless we take up our own, by a denial of self and a commitment to the Gospel life whatever the cost in this world, then we reject the salvation he offers.