26 February 2012

Wilderness and floods

As we journey through lent each year, the Church provides us with similar foundations. Each year, on the first Sunday in Lent, we journey with Jesus out into the wilderness as he is tempted; on the second Sunday, we travel with Peter, James and John up a high mountain where Jesus is transfigured. These two elements can help to orient us through the season of Lent and prepare us for Easter.

In this year, the church pairs the temptation in the wilderness in the Gospel of Mark with the end of the story of the great flood from the book of Genesis. The connection between the two stories is even clearer when we remember that just before today's Gospel, Jesus has journeyed out to the Jordan valley, to be baptised by John in the Jordan River - when the heavens are thrown open, the Spirit descends upon him and the voice of the Father is heard - 'this is my beloved Son.'

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Recorded at St Paul's, 10am (11'40")

22 February 2012

Strange ashes

A lot of the things that we do as a Christian church are kind of strange. If you had never been into a Christian church before, and you happened to wander into this church today - particularly at the end of Mass - and saw several hundred, otherwise ordinary people, who have freely submitted themselves to have their otherwise beautiful and clean faces marked by a mixture of muddy ash. Odd, hey what?

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Recorded at St Paul's with St Paul's Primary children (8'05")
Ash Wednesday.

12 February 2012

Levitical cleaning

Reading the bible is a wonderful gift. But for many people, who with great zeal and commitment begin to read the bible in the book of Genesis, everything goes well for a while. The book of Genesis is interesting, and it is full of familiar stories beginning with creation and then the 'myths' of pre-history, followed by the wonderful narratives of the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons, and then especially the story of Joseph and his exploits in Egypt. Things continue well in the book of Exodus with the story of Moses and then all of the plagues and the great events of the exodus itself, into the wilderness and the events around Mount Sinai. The story begins to slow down with the ritual descriptions and laws concerning the temple. But if the committed reader has made it this far, the next book in the bible is often the killer - the book of Leviticus.

I am pretty sure that no other book of scripture would single-handedly be responsible for so many people dropping off in their commitment to read the Bible. Although there are only 27 chapters (the first 16 dealing with feasts and festivals and ritual requirements; the final 11 dealing with moral and ethical behaviour), once we lose the sense of narrative and get swamped by the minute detail of these holiness codes and the concern to place all of life into one of three categories - unclean, clean and holy - it can all seem just too much to deal with. The question quickly emerges - "why am I bothering with this again"?

One of the problems in reading this book is that the context seems so-far-removed from our own experience, and it can be too easy to dismiss it as irrelevant - especially for Christians who can think that the sacrifice of Christ has removed almost all of these commandments and prescriptions - or the ones in Lev 1 - 16 anyway. But that can miss the richness of the Jewish worldview and the power of the story that lies beneath these laws which remain just as relevant for us today.

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Sunday 06B. Recorded at St Paul's Camden (12'57")

06 February 2012

fecit mihi magna

Many years ago, I read the biography of the then holy father, Pope John Paul II - 'Witness of Hope' by George Weigel (1999). One of the things that really struck me as I read his story, was the detail about his ordination as a deacon. It was essentially a private event, taking place during the darkest days of World War II, in the private chapel of his archbishop. Prevented from celebrating this occasion in the life of the future leader of the church in grander style, the young Karol Wojtyla made do with a hand-written prayer card to mark the occasion. He chose to quote from the Magnificat to express the wonder of what Mary experienced when the angel called her and announced to her that she would be the mother of the Lord. Like Mary, Blessed John Paul knew that anything that was good in his life was the gift of the Lord Jesus. So he was able to declare this truth in three words from the Latin Vulgate translation of the scriptures, quoting from the gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verse 49: 'fecit mihi magna' - fecit [he has done] mihi [to me] magna [great things].

When I was in turn ordained a deacon (3 Dec 2005), I chose to use this powerful quotation from scripture to express my gratitude to the Lord for all the wonderful and beautiful things that he has done in my life. So this website is a small way of helping to declare 'fecit mihi magna' - '[the mighty One] has done great things to me... and Holy is his name!'

  • I have now transferred all of my homilies across to the new website, and updated all the links on this blog to point to the new locations.
  • In addition to homilies from the past 4 years, the new website will also include talks, videos, and ebooks.

05 February 2012

Immediately driven

Every book in the biblical library has unique characteristics that set it apart from all other books in the bible. The passage that is our first reading today from the book of Job - dealing with suffering and pain - is fairly typical of this book. So also each of the gospels have particular ways of telling the story of Jesus that are unique. John features long and exalted speeches of Jesus; Matthew is marked by 5 large blocks of teaching that begins with the famous sermon on the mount, identifying Jesus as the new Moses; in the prayerful gospel of Luke, the most characteristic feature are the parables that are unique to him.

The gospel of Mark, that we are reading from this liturgical year, uses particular language. For example, the word euthus appears 72 times in the Greek New Testament - but 42 of those times are in the relatively short gospel of Mark. The word is usually translated into English as 'immediately' or 'straight away'. The use of the word helps to convey the breathless quality of this action-packed story of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus is on the move, bringing in the kingdom of God - through his teaching authority, but especially through the mighty works of God that Jesus does - to heal the sick, to forgive sins and to cast out devils. There is almost a child-like quality in the telling of the story: Jesus did this, and then he did this, and then he did this...

The gospel today also contains an insight into the reasons for the healing ministry of Jesus. When he goes euthus from the synagogue (last Sunday's gospel) to the house of his friend Simon-Peter, he is told euthus that his mother-in-law is sick with a fever - not a 'man-flu' either, but a serious illness that was potentially life-threatening. So Jesus goes to her bed, takes her by the hand and raises her to new life. Her response is key. She begins to serve them. This is the point of healing - it enables us to resume our rightful activity in the world in sharing in the love of God with those around us.

Then as evening falls (and the Sabbath ends) the crowds of people descend on the house to share in the mighty works of Jesus. This is what God does. This is what the kingdom looks like.

Even after an exhausting day of pastoral ministry, Jesus is up early in the new day - long before dawn - to spend time with the Father in prayer. Later, Simon and the other disciples will come to him, reminding him of the crowds that continue to press around their house, looking for him, wanting more of the action and the show.

The response of Jesus is amazing. He doesn't return to the crowd. He doesn't continue to heal. He declares that his place is somewhere else. His place is at another village, among other people who need to know the reality of the kingdom as it breaks into life on earth.

When we become so caught up in the activities of our jam-packed lives - full of so many good things - maybe we should take the time to do what Jesus does. Maybe we also need to go away to a lonely place and pray - to see if the Lord actually wants us to leave aside some of these good things - so that we can concentrate on the one necessary thing that the spirit will drive us to do?

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 - note all my homilies and other resources can now be found on my new website: http://www.fecitmihimagna.com/

Recorded at St Paul's, 6pm (11'22")
Sunday 05B