Sunday, 21 February 2010

Lent I

Both Masses were well attended today. For the Sung Mass our preacher was Michael Payne. Here is his homily:

May I speak in the name of the living God who is + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
One of my students at school is currently writing up a project based on research into specific use of the English language. He has chosen as his topic the language of football reportage concerned with the relegation of Newcastle United Football Club from England’s top league. He has researched the ways in which reporters have used certain phrases and imagery to portray a once mighty club now fallen on dismal times. Part of his research involved him interviewing another teacher at school, who is a fanatical Newcastle United supporter. What came out of that interview, and from reading fans’ websites and blogs on the internet was that despite the evil swamp of failure the club had found themselves in, the city was united behind their club. There was a positive energy and belief that the club would return eventually, if you will allow me to, to the promised land of the premier league. The name of the club, Newcastle United, seemed to sum up very well the feelings of the city. One gets the sense that when they do return to the top league, there will be a carnival atmosphere of celebration and relief on Tyneside. These celebrations echo the Old Testament reading we have just heard.
Our first reading  encourages us to be reminded of the agreement made between God and his people, in which the people are told quite clearly what they must do in order to acknowledge how God has delivered them from the darkness of ancestral slavery into the light of their own land.
The reading contains a definite sense of personal dialogue with God, expressed in the context of a community united in obedience and love of God. We can see this in the way the writer uses the words I, me, our and us in the phrase “I now acknowledge to the Lord my God that I have entered the land that he promised our ancestors to give us”. It is a definite, prescriptive incantation, but it has an intimate, deeply-felt power to it, suggesting as it does that each one of us must make this acknowledgement personally , and as a community.
The reading goes on to insist that each must give the first crop from the harvest to God; this means that the first fruits that God has given us should be given to God in celebration and thanks, just like those football fans in Newcastle who will doubtless roll out the barrel when the day of glory comes.
What does this mean for us today?
In a tumultuous society within a broken world, we should reserve the best of ourselves for God, for it is from God that our best attributes come: our stillness, our capacity for love, our quiet strength. These are the first fruits of the divine harvest we each of us reap, thanks to God. It is only right that we offer these back to God in prayer and thanksgiving.
It is important that the Old Testament reading and the New Testament reading both end with a call to include everyone. In the Old Testament reading, foreigners are to be included in the celebrations. In the reading from the letter to the Romans, gentiles are equally blessed by God. This inclusiveness is refreshing and exciting in a world ruined by disunity and difference. The extract from Romans which we heard this morning carries a simple, but astonishingly powerful message; if we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and has been raised from death by God, then we too will be saved. It doesn’t matter who, or what we are.
However, this new covenant also carries personal responsibility. We are to love one another in fellowship and neighbourliness, and when things are going well, we can feel empowered to do this. The problem arises when we are surrounded by discord and finding a way forward becomes very difficult.
The Church of England is in such a situation at the moment. I used to live in Leeds, which, like Newcastle, is another city with one football club, Leeds United. Unlike Newcastle, though, Leeds seemed a disunited city. There would be just as many people wearing Liverpool or Arsenal scarves as there were people wearing Leeds United ones. The Church of England is like this at the moment. We are meant to be united, but we are not. There is division instead of fellowship. It is hard to give the best of ourselves to God when we feel anger, disappointment and bitterness towards others.
Tomorrow, Anglo Catholics are invited to make time to pray for unity in the Church of England, and for unity throughout those churches in the world which believe in a holy, catholic and apostolic church. As part of this, let’s pray for those who are trying to make sense of the Pope’s offer of groups of Anglicans entering into communion with Roman Catholics, and thus communion with the See of Peter, the catholic church instituted by Jesus and entrusted to the apostles.
This is a difficult time for Catholic Anglicans; many of whom feel ostracised by the Church of England. There are others who are excited and inspired by the Pope’s offer. However, as we pray for unity, let’s make sure we pray for those Anglo Catholics who feel  both unwanted by the Church of England, and unsure about communion with Roman Catholics.
This is a time for reflection, consideration and prayer, during which time today’s Gospel reading can offer some hope and encouragement. In it, Jesus shows us how to remain faithful in extremely challenging circumstances.
When the Devil draws attention to Jesus’ hunger, Jesus reminds him that bread, that is worldly things, do not truly satisfy us: we must instead listen for the voice of God. Let’s all make sure we are ready to hear what God has to tell us, as individuals and as a faithful community.
When the devil offers Jesus kingdoms, power and status, Jesus shows us that we must worship only God, that instead of serving our wants and our dreams, we should serve God. As we pray for a united church, let us keep our gaze fixed on God.
Finally, the Devil goes for the big one; he quotes scripture to try and prove a point. How does Jesus respond to this? He tells us that we should not test God. As in the reading from Romans, we are all blessed, and will be saved if we acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord.
This Gospel reading is about trusting God. See how the Devil gives up and goes away when faced with the level of Jesus’ trust. So, as we pray for unity, let us do so through an unshakable trust in God, and may we be always ready to give the best of ourselves to God in thanksgiving, during the  good times and the bad.
 +In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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