Homily 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time Year A - Treat them as a Tax Collector

Homily (sermon)
Treat them as a Tax Collector

The Readings for the Twenty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:
Ezekiel 33:7-9, Psalm 94:1-2,6-9, Romans 13:8-10, Matthew 18:15-20

[All these readings can be found at www.universalis.com for the next few weeks. Remember to scroll down for the readings of the day.]

Our Gospel today is a dangerous reading. It’s one I think we can easily misunderstand and one we need to take in context of the whole Gospel message.

On the surface it sounds like we are being told we have four actions to take when wronged by your brother. First, try and sort it out person to person, then if that fails to bring some friends to help sort it out, next bring it to the community and finally, if that doesn’t work, shun them, as they are beyond saving. Does that sound like Christs teaching to you? Well it doesn’t sound like Christs teaching to me! And it’s in total contradiction to Paul’s teaching to the Romans from our second reading.

Let me read you that again just in case you were drifting off during the readings, don’t worry it happens to all of us:
Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.
Paul’s message is nothing new to us, we have heard Christ say the same thing in the gospels so we need to look at today gospel reading with Love.

So if we feel wronged we need to go see our friend with Love in our hearts. In modern terms I guess that mean there should be tea and cake as well as conversation and you should be doing the buying or baking.

If that doesn’t work it may be because it is difficult to hear of a wrong doing from the person who has been wronged, and that is assuming you are correct in thinking you have been wronged. Get some friends, people again who have heard Pauls message and will approach this next meeting with Love in their hearts, Love for you both. Let them lead the conversation it's not about you it’s about what happened and it’s about staying friends, staying brothers.

If that doesn’t work then the church, the Christian community must respond with Love. It must reach out to you and them and endeavour to make things right. Not with rules and regulations, not with courts and committees but again with Love, the one thing that can not hurt your friend.

Finally, if all this fails, you should treat them as a pagan or tax collector. Surely that can’t mean give up on them. Turn our backs on them. So let me ask you a few questions.
How did Jesus treat tax collectors?
Who is the patron saint of Tax collectors?
And what was the profession of Matthew our Gospel writer of today?

Jesus spent a lot of time with Tax collectors, pagans, sinners. He never turned his back on them, he came for them. In fact let’s stop using the word them. He came for us all, you and me are sinners as much as any tax collector. If we are to treat our friend as a tax collector that means inviting them into our home, sharing a meal with them, talking to them, forgiving them.

Matthew, our Gospel writer, is the patron saint of Tax collectors. Matthew was a tax collector in Capernaum when he first met Jesus. Matthew more than anyone, except maybe Zacchaeus, knew how Jesus loved him and how Jesus worked to save him.

Our Gospel message today is that everyone can be saved. Do everything with Love and never give up on someone.

Homily 19th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A - Three years on

Homily (sermon)
Three years on

The Readings for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13 - Psalm 84 - Romans 9:1-5 – Matthew 14:22-33

[All these readings can be found at www.universalis.com for the next few weeks. Remember to scroll down for the readings of the day.]

Three years ago when we last heard these readings I was preaching along with the other deacons. I looked this week at my homily from back then and it was all about listening for Gods call and acting on it, you’ll get a very similar homily today as well, but I am going to start today with where I finished back then:

“We are called to be a people of hope, a people of action, a people of God, a people who are called by God to serve. In three years’ time when you next hear these readings what will God have asked you to do and what will you being doing with God.”

Now those are good questions. Take a second now and think about the last three years. What did God ask you to do and what have you and God been doing. I have asked myself the same questions believe me I know it’s not easy to respond to or even hear the call of God. The call can get lost in all the noise and activity of our daily lives. Then if we do hear His call, will we have the courage to respond, the courage as Peter did, to step out of the boat.

While I can think of a thousand challenges for you for the next three years. You could read here at church, teach at our children’s liturgy, arrange flowers, clean, prepare for Mass, welcome, sing, lead bible study, join one of the committees and arrange social events or our liturgy, you could lobby parliament or large corporates for justice, you could invite your neighbours to church events, you could feed the homeless and support the poor, help stop slavery, you could do so many things. But it’s not about me telling you what to do, it’s about God telling you. What you should do first, is listen to God. He actually knows what he wants you to do, so my only recommendation is that you try and find out what that is and give it a go.

Elijah, spent a night alone in a cave waiting for God.  In the morning Elijah listened not to the mighty wind, not to the earthquake, not to the fire, but to the gentle breeze. If you are too hear God in our big and noisy world you need to find quiet, you need to find time alone, you need to listen to the voice no louder than the breeze. The strange thing is once you start to listen that voice, the still and quiet voice has the power to be heard above the loudest of storms.

Take for example Peter and the disciples on the boat in the storm. They were able to hear His voice in the storm, “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” Peter in response to our Lords call, stepped from the boat and walked upon the water.

Could you do that? Would you do that?

I have no idea what our Lord will ask of you, I don’t know if it will be easy or hard, I don’t know if you have the skills and abilities to do it, but I do know, I do believe, I do have absolute faith that if God asks you to do something, with his help you will be able to do it.

Peter soon got scared by the winds and started to slip below the water, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that started to happen to you when you start to do something new for the Lord. Few if any of us would feel we had the faith to step out on a lake and walk across it. And none of us could achieve even the smallest thing for God, if God wasn’t involved.

I want you to listen to God. Pray to Him and ask Him what He is asking you to do. Listen, listen and keep listening. He might not tell you immediately, you might not hear Him immediately.

Once you start to hear, don’t panic. Once you start to think I should be doing something about this or that, I should be helping here or there. That’s when you start to pray for the strength, for the faith, for the gifts to do what’s being asked. That’s when you start to talk to your friends, the people in the pews next to you, Fr Frank and Fr Jim, even me. God may be telling us the same thing or just to help you. Once you start and things start going wrong cry out for help and I promise you, Jesus will reach down and pull you up, just as he pulled Peter from the lake.

We are called to be a people of hope, a people of action, a people of God, a people who are called by God to serve. In three years’ time when you next hear these readings what will God have asked you to do and what will you being doing with God.

Link to the similar homily from three years ago:

Homily Index

Homily 15th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A - Be the seed that grows

Homily (Sermon)

Be the seed that grows.

The Readings for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:
Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 64
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

[All these readings can be found at www.universalis.com for the next few weeks. Remember to scroll down for the readings of the day.]

Let me ask you some questions. You don’t have to put your hands up or shout out answers. Just ask yourself the question and think about your answer, and if you would like the answer to be different.

Are you the seed that falls at the edge of the path and is carried away? Do you find it difficult to understand the Christian message?

Are you the seed that falls on rocky ground?
Do you love what you hear in Church but forget it during the week?

Are you the seed that falls among thorns?
Do you place the worries and desires of the world above your faith?

Are you the seed that falls on rich soil?
Do you work for the church for your faith and help those around you?

If I am honest I can answer yes to all those questions at some time in my life. And that is where this beautiful parable breaks down. Seeds don’t move themselves once they are planted, but you can.

Did you notice or think about what Christ said in between the parable and the explanation. It was an inspiring and troubling line, “Anyone who has will be given more; but from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Jesus is talking about faith, your faith! You have to work at your faith, work at being Christian, work at being a member of this family. Let me say right now how proud I am of all of you in this parish, the work you do. How privileged I feel to be able to live my ministry among you. This is a vibrant and growing parish, an active church that is an example for parishes in communion throughout our diocese and country.

But I also want to challenge you to do more, to learn more, to put yourself in a place to be given more by God.

As we grow as a community we should do more for this church and for the wider community it is part of. As we do more God will show us the needs of the community and ask us to minister to them. We need to be involved we need to be looking for things to do. We need to be willing to step outside of our comfort zones and risk disappointment, criticism, embarrassment and pain.

As you might guess I work with the leaders of many of our church groups, both here and across our communion of parishes. I have seen shy and scared people volunteer for roles they were scared to take on. I have seen them grow, like little saplings to mighty oaks.

A man who had never spoken in public volunteered to give a lecture to new Christian’s at the RCIA meeting. A lady with no leadership experience volunteered to be on the committee of the CWL. A young man terrified of reading aloud in front of other people because he couldn’t read well and wouldn’t make sense, gave in and agreed to read at Easter.

The first man now leads regularly in the RCIA and teaches with an authority and knowledge that inspires those attending the group. The lady went on to hold multiple positions and even campaigned for the roles of nation president. The young man found that with practice he could read and he is now standing here giving this homily.

I don’t know where my journey will end, God is still giving me more to do, and I am still terrified about the next thing I will be asked to do. I understand that you have many demands on your time. I understand that you may be scared about doing something you have never done before. I understand being comfortable and not wanting to change. But while I understand all those things I still believe you can do more, I still believe you should do more, and I know, I know with absolute certainty that by doing more you will be given the gifts to grow and thrive. God will support you and help you grow.

I challenge and implore you, to be the seed that moves to rich soil. Be the seed that grows, be the seed that produces a crop a hundredfold. If you do, no when you do, you will be amazed at what you can do and the joy that comes from serving God.

Homily Index

Homily 16th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C - Mary and Martha Listen to God

Homily (Sermon) – Mary and Martha

The Readings for Sunday 17th July 2016  or the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C:

[The readings can be found at www.universalis.com for the next few weeks.] 

I think one of the hardest things to do is to listen and even more difficult than listening is hearing and understanding. We spend so much of our lives being busy we don’t really know how to stop, how to be quiet, how to listen and and to hear.

Yesterday, as I started to write this homily I sat down at my keyboard and had know idea where to start. I had half an idea what I wanted to say but really couldn’t find the words I wanted to use. So what do you think I did? I first got myself a drink, then as I did that I noticed the cherries I had picked during the week still in the fridge so I stoned them and made jam. Then of course I had to tidy the kitchen, do the washing up, etc, etc, etc…

You get the idea, I managed to perfectly play the role of Martha without even thinking about it. It wasn’t until I started to run out of time and returned to my keyboard and read through the readings again that I realised how much I had missed the point.

Today’s gospel tells us to take time to stop. To take time with God. To really concentrate and to listen to what God is telling us. If we do that then maybe we have a chance of hearing what God has to say to us. Can you remember what the first reading was about today? Can you remember what the psalm was saying, can you remember the Response to the psalm you said 4 times only 5 minutes ago? There are times when I am concentrating more on what’s just happened or about to happen that I don’t really listen. I find myself thinking as I walk up to read the gospel, what was the first reading. It’s terrible of me, but it is so human.

I am not saying that the work isn’t important. I am saying that spending time with God is important. We need to do both. Maybe for every six days of work we could spend one putting God first. I am sure I read that somewhere in the Bible :-).

Today’s message is about forcing yourself to step away from life. To stop. To concentrate. And to listen to what God has to say to you.

We have that opportunity each Sunday when we come to mass, but we have to take it. As we come into church we have to remind ourselves to slow down, to stop, to be quiet, to embrace the silence, to let God fill the silence. I know it’s hard, the business of our days, our work and our play will flood into any gap we give it. So in an attempt to make things a little easier for us I would like you each to take a few minutes when I stop speaking to do the same exercise the children are doing in their liturgy class upstairs. The have eight pictures, four of things they do like Martha and four like Mary. They then have to decide which tasks God would like them to do. The picture were:
1. Making your bed
2. Cleaning up your toys
3. Sweeping the floor
4. Taking out the recycling
5. Reading the bible
6. Praying to God
7. Listening at Church
8. Going to Bible class

I think most of us are Martha, but wouldn’t it be great if we could learn to be a bit more like Mary. Have a think what tasks does God really wants us to do?

Please click here for an Index of all my homilies and notes.

Homily 11th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C - Forgiven

Homily (Sermon) – Summoned and Sent

The Readings for Sunday 12th June 2016  or the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C:
2 Samuel 12:7-10,13
Psalm 31:1-2,5,7,11
Galatians 2:16,19-21
Luke 7:36-8:3
[These readings can be found at www.universalis.com for the next few weeks.] 

We have recently started a dress down Friday at work.  Rather than the suits and ties people are wearing jeans and T-Shirts. It makes a nice change and makes Fridays feel a little different. The most fun for me is reading the T-shirts my friends are wearing. This week I had a good giggle at a T-Shirt claiming to compare world religions, then I thought a little more about what I was reading and it saddened me.

I won’t use the exact language that was printed on the T-Shirt because it’s not polite, but each faith was summarised in a single line, for example:
Taoism: Bad things happen
Hinduism Bad things happen again and again
Judaism: Why do bad things always happen to us?
Protestantism: Bad things won’t happen if you work hard
Catholicism: If bad things happen you deserve them

The parody of our faith and of many of the faiths listed on the T-Shirt corrupted the true meaning of the gospel, of Christ’s message for us, and yet that single line for most of my office was a good summary of our faith.

To see that corruption, an almost complete reversal of the real message we only need to look as far as todays reading. They are all about forgiveness. Forgiveness because of love, is the central theme of Christianity; it is the good news of the Gospels.

We find King David in our first reading being confronted by Nathan after David had secretly slept with a married women, fathered a child with her and murdered her husband to hush the whole thing up. David repents to God in front of Nathan and Nathan delivers Gods message “The Lord, for his part, forgives your sin.”

The rules David had broken were many, at least four of the Ten Commandments. The Law the Jewish people lived by was more than the just Ten Commandments, it was given to them by God after they left Egypt. But the Law is more than a set of rules, it’s a promise made between man and God, between the human and divine. It’s founded on the wish of a loving God, a loving parent to keep his Children safe and well in a dangerous world full of temptation and corruption. Keeping the Law wasn’t so much about following rules but about staying close to God.

The Law allowed us to know God, to grow up a little and take responsibility for our actions, to understand right and wrong. But the law ultimately also became a barrier to God. Human nature leads us all to walk away from God, to misbehave, to sin, to break the promise we make to live within God’s law. Paul in writing to the Galatians is pointing out that Jesus came because he loved us, saw what failing to keep the law was doing to us, He paid the price of our sins, He died for us, so that we could live eternally with Him. In our baptism we die with Christ and rise to new life with him, a life based on forgiveness and love.

As our Gospel reading shows us that a Christian life is not a life of fear and guilt, it is a life of joy, a life of happiness, a life of love. That does not mean that bad things won’t happen, but it does mean that when they do you will always have God by your side loving you, supporting you and understanding. Jesus after all was persecuted by his people, wrongly sentenced to death, beaten to within an inch of his life, humiliated in front of an entire town, stripped naked, nailed to a cross and left to die. He understands pain, rejection, loss and fear.

Our faith isn’t about guilt.
Our faith isn’t about retribution.
Our faith isn’t about perfection.
Our faith is about joy, love, happiness and forgiveness.
Our faith is about being accepted as imperfect and filling our lives with the joy of God.

So coming back to the T-Shirt, while it’s certainly not as funny, the line should really be “Catholicism: Rejoice, you are loved by God through all of the bad things that happen or that you cause to happen.” It’s a message many of us still find difficult to believe and it’s a message we should be taking out into the world.

My apologies for the language used in this image, but I though you may like to see the actual T-Shirt.

Please click here for an Index of all my homilies and notes.