“You Are Witnesses to This”

Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24,36-48

Witnesses play a critical role in every Trial before a Court of Law; but today, it’s difficult to persuade people to be witnesses.

People who have witnessed an accident or a crime often find it hard to remember all the details; moreover, giving evidence in public may be very challenging, especially if a witness is subject to cross-examination by professional lawyers – whose job is to portray the accused in the best possible light; worse still, supporters of the accused may intimidate witnesses – even before the trial starts.

The Trial of Jesus was a ‘put-up job’, from start to finish. Everyone involved in this shocking miscarriage of justice, like Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate and others, had good reason to conceal their respective wrongdoings – which meant silencing every witness to His Resurrection (whether by lies, bribes, threats; or death!).

So, however joyful His disciples were at Jesus’ Resurrection, many of them would have realized, on further thought, that our Lord’s commission to them to be His witnesses would amount to signing their own Death-Warrant – as many of them discovered over the next few years!

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance While the Apostles are at Table (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Yes, we are right to rejoice with them that “The Lord is indeed risen”; but we surely do them an injustice if we underestimate their fear of the probable consequences that publicly witnessing to it would have – both for themselves and their families.

Most of us have lived among people who believe, as we do, that the Truth must first be learnt from parents, teachers and others and then borne witness to in our daily lives. But today the whole concept of Truth is threatened – and our freedom to witness to the Truth can no longer be taken for granted.

How has this come about? Well, ‘Truth is the first casualty of war’, and God is waging an ongoing War against the powers of Evil and Darkness – as did those first Christians (and we ourselves today!). In one respect they had a simpler, but not easier task than we have. Many of them believed that the Second Coming of Christ to Earth (the Parousia) would happen very soon – probably during their own life-time. Of course you and I can’t be sure that the Parousia won’t happen in our lifetime; but predicting the future leads mankind away from the Truth, as often as towards it.

But Persecution isn’t the only, or the greatest threat to our witnessing to the Truth today: rather it’s the popular propaganda which leads people to believe in doing whatever their feelings suggest to them, regardless of whether it be true or false. Such belief makes them feel safe, important, and intellectually and morally superior to anyone who doesn’t profess to share such feelings.

As a result, human learning, reason and common-sense – which have been so carefully and painfully built-up over the past 4,000 years – are being systematically eroded by it. It’s not easy to see which way we should turn to protect the Truth; but our present semi-blindness doesn’t mean that in God’s Mind there isn’t a Plan for us to follow in the Way He wants to lead us.

Following God’s lead often involves suffering. If God Incarnate suffered His Passion to ‘reconcile the World to Himself’, why suppose that being His Witnesses will be a pain-free experience for us?

Fr. Francis Gardom

The Key is “Divine Mercy”

Divine Mercy Sunday

John 20,19-31

Preaching in England about the joy of Christ’s resurrection was never easy. It was made difficult because some in the pews really believed in reincarnation or had home spun ideas that bore resemblance to TV’s Startrek. Readers of Sunday newspapers would be aware that some bishops were saying that the resurrection was symbolism and myth.

The New Testament writers make their position perfectly plain that the triumph of Jesus after his terrible death was not a magical illusion, not an hallucination or a cobbled together myth, but a reality that had been witnessed and touched by ordinary folk. The eyewitnesses themselves had all the normal human reactions, they were surprised, frightened without knowing what to do next, but in great numbers they were prepared to stand up and be counted as true believers in these events which became the foundation of a new age of religious life. From the birth of Jesus to his resurrection, these men and women had seen the key to “Divine Mercy,” great gifts signifying the loving kindness of God. Pope St John Paul II had taken these words “Divine Mercy” from St Augustine’s Easter sermon, giving a name for this special Sunday, “think of God’s great mercy! We may give bread and charity to the hungry, but God gives us unworthy servants the gift of his salvation.” [Augustine Sermon 116]

The gift of the resurrection is the key to the culture of death, that tragic human curse, and now the tools are given to deal with it.

The Myrrh Bearers (Unanimous, Public Domain)

This is theme spelled out by St John in this gospel written after years of reflection. Christ’s victory was like the Jewish Passover, a turning point that gave birth to the Apostolic Church. St John tells us about the first meeting on a Sunday between the Risen Lord and the frightened Apostles in a room behind doors. It was a crucial meeting for the Church that St Paul also knew and passed on to the Corinthians. “Jesus rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once.” [1 Corinthians 15,5]. The meeting had key elements that were similar to other appearances such as the Emmaus group for it all took place on the first day of the week, at a meal; Jesus gave the group his peace, showed them his wounds and gave them his authority. St Matthew had noted that many were doubters, but St John adds to the narrative the response of St Thomas who was not so much a cynical doubter (perhaps like those today who doubt the covid vaccines) but one who was still open to belief and wanted that physical contact with the wounded body of his Lord by which he would go on throughout his life to affirm Christ’s divinity. Without the cross there could be no resurrection. Meaning there some doubts that are a good prelude to deep faith. The whole episode underpins apostolic witness to the real death and the real wounds that precede the peace that overcomes fear and doubt. Finally the apostles are given divine authority to develop the gifts of sacramental communion and reconciliation to nourish their converts, even those like St Thomas.

The meeting between Jesus and his followers is in a sense a commentary and key to the remarkable claim made in the first letter of John the Elder. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life, the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us…..that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”. [1 John 1-3]

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Christ is Risen!

Surgun100, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Psalmist in his prophecy about Easter Day (Ps 118:24) says: «This is the day the Lord has made.» Even if every day «is made to rejoice in» (Ps 90:14), the day of the resurrection is all the more so. It is the «Lord’s day», as St. John the Evangelist tells us, opening up a new future for mankind (Apoc 1:10).

St. Ignatius, the Church Father, develops the same theme of the centrality of Easter Day in his letter to the Magnesians, stating that «on the Lord’s day our life sprang up through Christ and we received faith and hope» (IX:1). Paradoxically, time itself is redeemed by an event in history giving life a new foundation.

So that, within the framework of the Genesis account of creation, the resurrection now takes the place of the Hebrew Sabbath. The Lord’s day is at the same time the first day and the eight day. God gave rest to all things and made the beginning of another world. St. Barnabas, another Church Father, assents and concludes: «Therefore we celebrate with gladness the eight day in which Jesus rose from the dead» (XV: 8f). From the earliest times the Christian Church has on the first day of the week celebrated the Eucharist as a life giving sign of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 20:7).

Thus Easter Sunday is still set aside as the Sunday of all Sundays. It is the most celebratory day of the year for on that day God fulfilled his promises through his Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

Happy Easter – in spite of the pandemic!

+Roald Nikolai

Betrayal

Palm Sunday

John 12,12-16

Former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson famously remarked, “A week is a long time in politics”. You could certainly apply that saying to the events of the first Holy Week. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday, with the crowds wild with excitement and waving palm branches, would in just a few short days turn to cries of hatred – “Crucify him”.

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The crowds who had greeted Jesus with their loud hosannas on the Sunday had gone over to the enemy. Even the disciples abandoned him. And that is the question for all of us this week. Will we too abandon him? Before you start thinking “I would never do a thing like that,” remember that that is precisely what Peter said to Jesus. When doubters deny the authenticity of the Gospel narratives, it is worth remembering that a compelling argument for their veracity is precisely that they are not sanitised, that the early Church was so confident in the story it had to tell, that it did not have to massage the truth and suppress uncomfortable facts.

But what about us? We are fortunate indeed if, like Peter, our denials of Jesus Christ are only threefold. Denial of Jesus comes under many guises. There is of course the most obvious – you have nothing to do with the church, and your life openly mocks the teaching of Jesus (and that, of course, is the default position in the western world today). Presumably we are all innocent of that.

But there are other betrayals as well; there is the betrayal that says, “Yes, I’ll come to church (perhaps only at Christmas!), yes I’ll stick to Christian values.” In past times I was a governor of a Church School, and I found it so frustrating, when conducting job interviews, to be told “I support Christian values”. It sounds good, but it is meaningless. Does it mean being nice to people (you will look in vain for the word “nice” in the New Testament), or perhaps helping old folk across the road? Authentic Christian values begin and end at the Cross. Again, you may plead “not guilty” to this charge, but does your way of life tell another tale? Does your life show that you only do things in Jesus’ way when it doesn’t inconvenience you? Do you pick those parts of the Gospel message which fit in with your life style, rather than the other way round, of fitting your life style to the Gospel? Are you assiduous in the externals of the faith – regular attendance at church and church activities, but the heart has gone, so that your faith is just an empty shell?

In that first Holy Week, Jesus’ closest friends (“I no longer call you servants, but friends”, John 15.15) abandon him. To our shame, time after time we have acted like the disciples; to our shame, time after time we have said to Our Lord, with Peter, “I will never disown you” when in truth our faith has faded, to become mere routine, just one more activity in a crowded life, instead of the very source of our life and all that we do, for, make no mistake, bolt-on, optional pick and mix Christianity is betrayal also. Fortunately, the Cross tells us that we can always come back, we will always find plenteous redemption in the blood that has been shed, as the old hymn puts it, but none of that takes away our responsibility to amend our lives, to discover again, maybe for the first time even, what it means to be faithful, to be obedient, often at great personal cost. That way, and only that way, can we pray, “forbid it Lord that this should happen to us”.

Fr. Edward Bryant

Admirers or Followers

Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 12,20-33

We have reached the days before Easter with its serious concern for the great challenge to faith. The whole purpose of God’s Son becoming man, was to open a new life that would be capable of liberating the human soul. Jesus was Saviour, because he offered a solution to escape the self which becomes overly attached to this world at any expense with all the corruption that frequently ensues. But, this only comes at a price! Every soul must be willing to be re-made in the image and likeness of Christ. This is the lesson Jesus must show his disciples as they all prepare for the climax of his time with them, and so he says, ”He who loves his life must lose it, but he who turns his back on the ways of this world, will keep it for eternity.”

Christ Pantocrator, Hagia Sofia (Dianelos Georgoudis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

This is the setting for our lesson from St John’s gospel. The opportunity arises with a brief encounter with some Greeks who were great “admirers” of the Abrahamic religion and had come to Jerusalem to observe the Jewish Passover. No doubt they had seen the crowds carrying palms and singing hosannas, or had heard about the raising of Lazarus and were fascinated to meet the Rabbi from Galilee for some enlightenment. These men however will never do anything more than hold discussions and have pious ideas. They are reminiscent of the Greek Stoic philosophers who mockingly debated with Saint Paul in Athens [Acts 17], but finally departed saying, “we will talk with you about all this another time” [verse 32]. These are the intellectuals and admirers who always manage to keep their distance from any real involvement that might rock their security. Saint Paul like Our Lord had many debates and constant dealings with these people but they never get anywhere because the message of Christ requires change, renewal and sacrifice that open a door to another way. Many of the Pauline letters come back to this lesson. In the short letter to Colossians the central point concerns these early Gnostics who “cheat with empty deceit using the traditions of men and not Christ” [Col 2,8].

It is surely not a coincidence that the fourth Gospel recalls, the Greek gentiles at the time Jesus begins his final time of trial. This meeting foreshadows the climax of his Passion and Death but also it reveals that basic flaw in humanity. Those crowds of admirers who flock to him chatting about his wise words and impressive deeds, who hope he will bring about political change to their world until things start to get difficult. Then those admirers will keep their distance until the situation becomes clearer or they will just fade away. Jesus must prepare his disciples to see through this and become his “followers” for He is the Way. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies there will be no harvest”[John 12,24].

The lesson we all must learn is that discipleship goes beyond admiration, loyalty, emotion and enthusiasm to become a follower. “Take up your cross and follow” says Jesus bluntly pointing to the agony of renunciation that takes the soul to another level which Saint Cyril of Alexandria called, “the first fruit of a new humanity overcoming the forces of corruption”[Commentary against Gnostics].

Soren Kirkegaard ponders this more deeply in his Spiritual writings seeing the great distinction between admirers who are like most of us, keeping a distance, avoiding danger and playing safe, and followers who are ready to turn themselves around accepting the discipline of Christ. Judas may have been an admirer and possibly the well meaning Nicodemus too, who came to Jesus at night, and there is nothing wrong in that, but if it goes no further it soon meets other loyalties and conflicts as Judas discovered. The other disciples will soon go deeper with heart and soul that will die to self esteem and the world. The choice comes to us all, more now because our world has banished religion to the fringes of life. Our world governments have given themselves divine correctness increasing the battle between right and wrong, good and evil and because the flames are in the open, it will be increasingly difficult to hide our style of discipleship.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

St John’s Treasure-Store

Fourth Sunday in Lent

John 3,14-21

People, myself included, have wondered how St John, writing about 30 years after the other Gospels, managed to remember verbatim the various ‘Discourses’ which Jesus had with individuals – like Nicodemus; with the Samaritan woman; Pontius Pilate; as well as three whole chapters 15-17 on Maundy Thursday with His Disciples at, and after, the Last Supper) – of which no record appears in Matthew, Mark or Luke.

It looks as though John had a “Treasure-Store” of information, which the other Evangelists did not possess – or if they did, chose not to use, no doubt for sound reasons.

Here is a possible explanation. It’s not the only one, and may well be faulty; but for me it carries with it the “Ring-of-Truth“.

We know from John himself that on Good Friday at Calvary, Jesus commissioned both John, and His own Mother Mary each to be responsible for the other’s wellbeing, and as a result John “made a place for her into his own home” [19:27], in Jerusalem and, after John’s release from Patmos, in Ephesus. They would, no doubt, have shared their knowledge of Jesus, and His teachings, from childhood to His Ascension, and refreshed each other’s memory, becoming jointly that self-same Treasure-store. If so, we have the testimony of the same two people who were closest to Jesus during His Incarnation.

With that in mind, let’s look at four ‘gems’ from His teaching:

Nectarius Kulyuksin, Public domain

  1. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him [John 3,17]. We are living at a time when Blame is what many people attribute to others. How very different from God – who will go to any lengths, even by dying for us in order that we may be freed from the weight of blame which we carry on our shoulders.
  2. People [love] ‘darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil’ [John 3,19]. Habitual blamers prefer the dark because it enables them to maintain a comfortable sense of their own righteousness. Reality comes when light begins to shine and reveals their true motive – which is to obscure their own blameworthiness.
  3. Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. Christ is ‘The Light of the World’: which alone can bring Mankind to the Truth: namely that those whose deeds have been ‘done in God’ need have no fear of being condemned by Him’. We ‘should show forth the praises of Him Who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvellous light’– as St Peter wrote [1 Peter 2,9].
  4. Why should we do this? Because ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’, as St John said in today’s reading. That is the sum-total of God’s Plan for dealing with the Problem of Evil!

Fr. Francis Gardom

Sometimes words are not enough

Third Sunday in Lent

John 2,13-25

“We don’t do things like that round here. You’ve only been here five minutes, and you’re trying to turn everything upside down. Who do you think you are?”

That, seems a fair summary of the way the Jews in the Gospel responded to Jesus. We may kid ourselves that He is gentle Jesus meek and mild, but that’s not the way his contemporaries saw Him. Otherwise He wouldn’t have finished up on a cross on Good Friday, would He? As one commentator put it, killed by organised religion, and that’s a serious point for us all: does our organised religion crucify Jesus all over again?

Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus the outsider certainly challenged all the accepted religious conventions of his own day. The Gospel shows Jesus, the revolutionary young teacher up from the country coming to the Temple, the holiest place in the world for Jews, and throwing down the boldest challenge to what we would call the official religious establishment. In the Temple, daily sacrifices of animals were made to appease and please God. Though it may seem bizarre and in some ways repellent to us, for the Jews, this was the way to placate God. The problem was that certain people had turned the whole thing into a circus, the holy Temple of God had become just like a market place, with all sorts of wheeling and dealing going on – stalls set up selling the creatures needed for the sacrifices, and money changers, because only special Temple money could be used within the Temple’s precincts. It had become a racket, a money-making operation for the priests and their hangers on, and a barrier between poor folk and their God. No wonder Jesus was angry – some hesitate to use that word because for them anger is a sin – well, in some circumstances we have every right to be angry, and Jesus certainly had every right to be angry with the Temple traders – after all, if He’d gone up to them and said “do you think it might be a good idea if you took your beastly trade elsewhere?” do you think they would have taken any notice? Of course not. 

Jesus the outsider, Jesus the upstart, Jesus the newcomer, presents a blatant challenge, and it is scarcely surprising that the Jews are affronted. Jesus the outsider sees all too clearly what is wrong in what other people now take for granted. All human beings have a wonderful capacity for only seeing what they want to see, so it is scarcely surprising that the Jews are affronted by Jesus’ actions. He is committing the unforgivable sin of rocking the boat. Or to put it in liberal Christian terms, he is committing the worst sin of all, he is not being nice.

The question

What has Jesus, the living Temple, coming to the Temple in Jerusalem to say to us? He came to people who were secure in their beliefs, who’d got a good system going for their own benefit, and they didn’t want to know. Jesus comes to every generation of Christians, to challenge us whether we really are being faithful to Him who is the way, the truth and the life. not a way among many, a truth to take or leave, a life like any other.

What challenges is Jesus issuing today? The answer is in St John’s Gospel 21, where the risen Lord appears to His friends at the lakeside. He asks Peter who had already denied him, three times: do you love me, do you love me, do you really love me? He is saying that to us now. Peter was hurt and stung to reply “Of course I love you.” That is Peter, but what about us? When was the last time we denied Our Lord? Was it, as with Peter, days ago? You’re lucky if that’s the case, because the little betrayals are there all the time: the spiteful acts, the unloving look, the waspish tongue. Everything we do that denies our calling to be people of love betrays Our Lord again, and sends Him back to his Cross. The trouble is, we get so hardened to sin, the little sins of everyday life, as well as the big ones that we almost cease to notice what we are doing. Do you love me, do you really love me? You will also remember how Our Lord followed up his challenge to Peter, and Peter’s protestations: follow me, the same challenge He issues to us all: in other words, now, not tomorrow, next week, next year, is the time to start putting into practice what we profess. Sometimes, words are not enough.

Fr. Edward Bryant

The Repair Shop

Second Sunday in Lent

Mark 1,14-15

To the surprise of the BBC managers, a popular TV programme this winter in the UK has been “The Repair Shop”. The skills of the restorers and pleasure of the customers who bring in their precious items for restoration have set me thinking as Lent approaches.

The TV programme consists of a group of exceptionally skilled craftsmen and women who receive broken down but much loved heirlooms brought in by families. Each item has an important story behind it. The skills of the repair shop team are used to strip down, clean and replace broken parts, returning these items to their original working state and bringing overwhelming joy to everyone involved. For example, one family of several generations, came with a totally curled up and worn out leather wallet. This had belonged to a grandfather who as a pilot, in World War II had been shot down over the Baltic. Clinging on to some debris, the pilot had used his wallet as a paddle and was finally rescued by Russians and returned finally to his family. Now it was his grandchildren who were returning to the Repair Shop to receive back the precious wallet beautifully restored and brought back to life and which had not only saved their grandfather but also spoke to them of their own unique existence. They all expressed the hope that this would continue to be an inspiration for another seventy years.

Repair or restore have much in common with the word repent

According to St. Mark, Jesus began his work coming to the river Jordan, the scene of John the Baptist calling the crowds to repent and prepare for the “Christos” who would be the great “hope and restorer” of the people.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Later it was Nicodemus who would come as if to Jesus’ repair shop asking what was needed to become a member of God’s kingdom. He was told by Jesus, “you must be born again by water and spirit”. This did not mean returning to the womb but rather to be cleaned up, to be made whole, restored, and put back in working order based on the original design the creator had intended. Very much like the preaching of John the Baptist and Christian Baptism.

Restoring objects is one thing but people today do not want to be told they are in any kind of need for restoration of their own condition. Christians, as we have often said, can too easily become a “Comfortable Club” enjoying meeting together, but without too many consequences and with little concern for the decline in faith that exists in our society. Nor for the reasons behind the great deal of complaining, social breakdown, instability and dissatisfaction with life as it is. Time and time again we are told that our religion is meant to be reassuring and comforting and this does not mean willingness to have our lives turned upside down. “It is far easier to be an admirer of Christ rather than a follower”.

In Lent the question we should ask of ourselves:

Is not Christianity about the struggle to be cleaned up, repaired by repentance and born again by making a decisive break with the rust and corrosion that has set in? The real Christian sees that there is need for regular restoration. To leave behind the familiar bleak landscape of the ordinary world with all its delusions and turn to the radically restored world Jesus called “the kingdom” and to which all are committed by their baptism.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Extra-Ordinary Struggle

First Sunday of Lent

Mark 1,12-13

St. Mark tells us that immediately following his baptism, Jesus was “driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days tempted by Satan”. [Mark 1,12-13] This most important event receives only a brief mention, possibly because the first hearers were well aware of the struggle for they too were involved in the evil of persecution surrounding them. Later when Luke and Matthew report at greater length the forty days it becomes clear that the battle for the human soul is at the heart of Christian life, and requires a full frontal acknowledgement that the soul is the battleground in which the enemy is raw evil. We are warned that this is happening when we experience “temptation”. No surprise then that the Lord’s Prayer, is a daily focus on this battle, “Lead us not into temptation – deliver us from evil”. To grasp this we need to put behind us the trivialising by our culture regarding temptation as “sugar and spice and all things nice”, sex, drinking smoking and obesity, all bodily excesses.

Christ’s Temptation, Monreale – Sibeaster [Public Domain]

The forty days in the wilderness was no health farm! Our Lord was preparing to trample down the enemy who must never be underestimated, who had power to seduce, distort, delude and destroy. This is an awesome power that we should fear. In his early life, Joseph Ratzinger, called this “the dissolving of the soul” and that is what Jesus confronted and we also prepare to face each Lent.

Maybe the greatest temptation for us today is to close our eyes to the consequences of the struggle against raw evil. Our western world already displays symptoms of cynicism, depression, that certainly could result from the illness of the soul. This has been described by writers like Oliver Bullough who tells of the effects of atheistic totalitarianism crushing the souls of Russians where suicide and alcohol, broken families and fear were destroying a whole nation. [His book called: The Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation, 2013]

Jesus nowhere teaches us that we shall find God in success or silk clothing but through the cross and that is a difficult way to contemplate. The Old Testament record of the Prophets and the New Testament examples of the Apostles or even the history of the saints all bear witness to the “struggle” to overcome evil. Our Christian forefathers were used to this way of contemplating Christian life calling it “ascesis” and they were familiar with ascetical training, a word that has gone out of fashion but needs to make a comeback. The French lay theologian Olivier Clement said that ascesis was “to awake from sleepwalking through daily life” and this is a good thought approaching Lent.

Mental health is refreshed by sleep when the brain is pruned from non- essentials and the body too may rest and fast from needless nourishment. But the soul also needs pruning Jesus says, to bear fruit. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [John 15,1–2]

In the heat of the Corona pandemic of 2020–2021 we must remember that health of body and health of mind however important they are not the full story! More destructive than Covid 19 is the virus that can destroy the soul. As St Paul teaches, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,… Therefore take up the whole armour of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day… [Ephesians 6,12–13]

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Extra-Ordinary People

Sunday Before Lent

Mark 1,40-45

In January, our reflections examined God’s ‘Warfare Strategy’ against the Dark Powers of Evil, and we found the Epiphany was like ‘unwrapping’ God’s Christmas Gift of His Incarnate Son to the world. That Strategy needed at first to be kept Secret–to be revealed only bit-by-bit, and only to those who, like Mary had first willingly given their personal answer, Amen-Yes, to God’s invitation to become His fellow-worker in putting His Plan into practice. Next we see the wide range of God’s choice of other fellow-workers: men and women; a carpenter; some fishermen; a tax collector; young and elderly; locals, and others from far away.

Then, compare their Amen-Yes of the first disciples with that of people today, when told that God not only created them, but has also created a unique and critical part for them to learn and take part in His Redemption Drama.

People today often say, “I’m sure God would never choose me to do His work – I’m not skilled, or learned, or clever, or holy enough” or worse still, by playing what they mistakenly imagine is their ’Trump Card’: “I’m just too ordinary for that.” In God’s sight there are no ‘ordinary’ people. We are all uniquely designed by God, and of inestimable value to Him in “working his purpose out”. Anyway, God isn’t looking for ordinary people, but extra-ordinary ones, who will say their Amen-Yes to His call, just as Mary and her colleagues did. Any idea that we are ‘just ordinary’ is a big fat self-deception; it’s also an insult to our Creator! If God took all that trouble to form us in our mother’s womb, and even more trouble to ‘manifest’ Himself to us, through His Son, our Saviour and Redeemer, who are we to think ourselves as ‘ordinary’? Our everyday speech and attitudes prove we don’t think anything of the sort; and worse still, we imagine God approves of such false-humility!

Florian Prischl, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Let us remember that God seldom expects us to work single-handed for Him. Once we say Amen to His Call, we soon discover that He has called others to work alongside us on His Strategy. That is the biggest problem many followers of Christ have always faced. Finding that God expects us to work alongside others, some of whom we’d never have chosen ourselves, given half the chance!

Lent is a good time to overcome our preference for worshipping and working only with people we know and like, and thereby ceasing to be ‘Soldiers of Christ’ fighting a common enemy. Christians can too easily become, without realising it, a “Comfortable Club” for those who enjoy meeting together on Sunday mornings. As soldiers of Christ battles are never won that way! The Church of Christ isn’t ‘ours’ anyway – it belongs to, and was created by, God, not with the intention of becoming a comfortable club.

God needs his Church-on-Earth to be like a mixture between a Hospital, a School, and a Regiment, where we meet Him, together with other ‘Amen-Persons’, of His choice not ours, and to be made whole or ‘Holy’ and in which to learn, with God’s help, how to un-wrap His Hidden-but-Open Gift-Secrets and make them our own. But most importantly to learn how to re-wrap these God given gifts in a way that will make those we share them with, and go on to want to un-wrap their own gifts for themselves and to discover what really is inside all that wrapping!

Fr. Francis Gardom

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