Monday 25 May 2015

Last Sunday after Easter - otherwise known as Whitsunday- Br Andrew

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

  Franciscan Order Homily preached by Br. Andrew at Springwood on Sunday 24th May 2015:





Last Sunday after Easter, Pentecost otherwise known as Whitsunday, also Shavuot

Readings Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27, John15:26-27-16:1 -16,

John 16:16 ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’

Today is the last Sunday of Easter, also called Whitsunday, a feast of the universal Church dating from the first century. Whitsunday is so called from the white garments which were worn by those who were baptised during the vigil; Pentecost, ("Pfingsten" in German), is the Greek for "the fiftieth" (day after Easter).  We read in the seventh of the (interpolated) fragments attributed to St. Irenæus that Whitsunday was celebrated during apostolic times.

Pentecost is the Greek word for Shavuot and commemorates the anniversary of the day God handed the Torah to the nation of Israel assembled at Sinai.
This year Passover fell on Good Friday and the omer began to be counted on Easter Sunday, the 16th of Nissan, hence Shavuot coincides with Whitsunday/ Christian Pentecost.

Shavuot is understood to express anticipation and desire for the giving of the Torah.

So it was that the Apostles and the other 108 waited in anticipation and desire for what Jesus had promised them. Jesus was the fulfilment of the Law, and he had gone to the Father so that He, Jesus could send another Advocate to them.

Things were never ever going to be the same again as that rushing wind and tongues of fire augured. The Holy Spirit filled that house much I imagine like a moderate cyclone in my hometown might have done had we given it half a chance, the flaming tongue reversed the confusion of Babel so that everyone present in Jerusalem that day received witness by the disciples in their own languages. Look who was there! People from Northeast Iran, from the entire Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Armenia, Iraq, those from the future Byzantine Empire i.e. many of the Cities and provinces to whom Paul later wrote; Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and converts, and some from the Isle of Crete. On this very day 3000 were added to their ranks and naturally, after being strengthened in the Spirit and the Gospel, those who didn’t live in Jerusalem took the Good News back to those places I have just mentioned.

What kept the Apostles here, partly the importance of Shavuot more importantly to see the fulfilment of Jesus’ words to them to stay there in the city until they had been clothed with power from on high.’ but not until Jesus had felt that the appointed time for higher teachings had come did they begin to understand they had a higher purpose. But not the Apostles only, 108 other believers were there awaiting the Advocate.

Jesus was leaving them, the Advocate was coming, Jesus would send this One once he was with the Father, and because he was going to the Father they would see Him no longer – and yet in a little while they would see Him????

When the Spirit came they would see Jesus again!

John’s Gospel is more mysterious and enigmatic than the synoptics – the other three, in John’s Gospel it almost seems as though Jesus spoke in higher parables to his disciples and without a written explanation. Yet in the part of that Gospel we didn’t read today Jesus admits to having spoken to them in riddles with the promise to speak plainly so that they will understand. Thank heavens He did because now, so do we.

Jesus must leave before the Spirit could come into this world when there will be a unified oneness (Hebrew “hen” Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29) between these three Persons in the One God, such as if Jesus had never gone away at all. This is what Jesus prayed to his father “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21b NRSV
Again – it is the Spirit which brings every Christian into this unified oneness, in the body of Christ this “hen”.  

That same spirit, that Holy Spirit the  Ruacḥ Haqodesh comes upon believers today to fill us with all power, if we will claim this power and use whatever gifts we are given, of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Courage, Knowledge, Reverence, Fear of the Lord ( Wonder and Awe).

Our reading in Romans tells us that the non- human, even the non-sentient world is eagerly waiting for Humanity to come of age and to achieve our mission to raise the earth to its former glory as it was before the Fall. To come of age – to grasp with both hands the unified oneness that is ours for the taking and to redeem the face of this earth.

We are called to be like God and through the hen, of the Body of Christ, to be in Him as He is in us. And to draw strength from each other to carry out the great Commission.

The ruler of this world has already been judged we just need to keep on to renew the fractured church and our environment over-exposed to the excess and greed of God’s weakest creatures.

Let’s see whether each one of us can find one thing to do this week to help this process move along.

Even when we do not know how or what to pray for God invokes our prayers through Unified Oneness with the Spirit who then prays for us.( Romans 8:27 NRSV)

Br Andrew

Pentecost Sunday: Wind and Fire! Wonder and Worship!

“But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,either before or since you have spoken to your servant.”

 Ex 4:10 Pentecost Sunday: Wind and Fire! Wonder and Worship!

The first reading for the feast of Pentecost is from the Acts of The Apostles (2:1-11) The Spirit comes with 'wind and fire' ancient signs of God's powerful presence. The "devout" at the sound assembled and those from many countries were "amazed and astonished" to hear God's word spoken in their own native language by unlearned men. St Luke mentions 16 different places like “Phrygia and Pamphylia.” The Holy Spirit then and many times since has given this gift of what is called 'Apostolic Tongues' (not to be confused with 'Prayer Tongues' or 'Prophetic Tongues'). This gift of 'Apostolic Tongues' has often been given to many missionaries who have spoken in their own native language the word of God, only to be surprised to know that people they were preaching to understand them in their own. This wonderful gift enables God to overcome the universal language of bigotry and violence. In whatever way we understand the historical 'Day of Pentecost' the meaning could not be clearer. The lines of language that have divided humanity were erased as the prophet Joel predicted by the “Spirit poured out on all flesh.Of course the language that was understood on that day was discounted by some cynics as "drunkenness" but in this moment the confusion of the Tower of Babel in Genesis was reversed. The reversal was so that every tongue could know of the powerful deed of God - that is the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately it didn't take long for the universal language of love and mercy to be confused and confined and the ability to speak in tongues become more important than understanding what was said. But the Day of Pentecost was not just about speaking in tongues. It was about declaring the "powerful deeds of God" in ways that people could understand no matter where they came from or what language they spoke.

It is clear that the Spirit does not leave the fearful disciples comfortable, safe, and locked away in a sheltered world. When the Spirit comes those who were huddled together are driven out into the market place. That’s how the gospel message stared to spread and continues to be spread throughout the world, through many expressions of language and cultures. The Spirit gathered the disciples into one church - gathered weakness for Spirit formed strength. But the Spirit also pushed the believers beyond their normal, accustomed comfortable boundaries. God is making a point and fulfilling the promise that, in messianic time (time after Jesus), the Spirit would be poured out on ALL people. Luke's spectacular account might give us the impression that the Spirit comes only at certain moments and recedes to wait for another important time to come again. But, Pentecost teaches us that the Spirit does not pop in and out of our lives. If that were true then, when facing a difficult challenge we might be hesitant to step forward and do what needs to be done. In ALL situations the Spirit will not hold back but will come to enable and guide. Perhaps praying for the Spirit to “come” is more about our need. The Spirit is always present and the prayer reminds us of that. What we need to do is to pray and then step out to do what needs doing knowing that the Spirit will be there each step of the way.

Saint Paul under the influence of the Holy Spirit teaches the Galatian (5:16-25) Christians not to "... yield to self-indulgence, since self-indulgence is the opposite of the Spirit" but to be "led by the Spirit ... since the Spirit is our life." He teaches about those behaviours that are not from the Spirit. He then gives a list of sure signs of the Holy Spirit's presence in an individual; "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Jesus assures us that these Spirit formed abilities and qualities are necessary so that we can "witness" to the presence of Christ in our lives. The 12th century CE Islamic Sufi mystic wrote; "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I Am wise, so I am changing myself." The Holy Spirit who Jesus called the "Advocate" in John's gospel (15:26) comes not only to defend us but to transform us so that we can let go our ego-conditioned self-preoccupied way of life and to lives that radiate like perfume the presence of Jesus by changing ourselves. "Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave ..." The Spirit-filled Jesus shows us what can be our when we surrender ourselves to the power greater than ourselves. May this feast of the Holy Spirit's coming to birth the church, find us not only filled with joyful praise for what God is doing but also loving power to serve with true selfless joy.

Monday 18 May 2015

SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER (Sunday after Ascension)B-Br. Simeon

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached by Br. Simeon at Maroubra:Sunday 17th May 2015: 

SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER (Sunday after Ascension)  B.

Gospel:  John 17: 6-19

"Sanctified and consecrated in God's truth"

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.

Do you know why God created you - what purpose and mission he has entrusted to you?

You may not have sensed God leading you to become a missionary or a preacher, or whatever it might be, but you still have a calling! No other person than your Creator can tell you why He created you. You were brought here by God and for a purpose!

Jesus' aim and mission was to glorify his heavenly Father. All he said and did gave glory to his Father. On the eve of his sacrifice on the cross and in the presence of his disciples, Jesus made his high priestly prayer: "Holy Father, keep them in your name that they may be one as we are one". Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples and for all who would believe in him. Jesus' prayer for his people is that we be united with God the Father in his Son and through his Holy Spirit and be joined together, in unity with all who are members of Christ’s body.

What motivated Jesus to lay down his life on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world? It was love - love for his Father in heaven and love for each and every one of us who are made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus was sent into the world by his Father for a purpose and that purpose was a mission of love to free us from slavery to sin, Satan, fear, death, and hopelessness.

Jesus saw glory in the cross rather than shame. Obedience to his Father's will was his glory. Jesus kept his Father's word even when tempted to forgo the cross. Jesus did not rely on his own human resources and strength to accomplish his Father's will. He trusted in his Father to give him strength, courage, and perseverance in the face of opposition, trials, and temptation. We also must take up our cross and follow the Lord Jesus wherever he may call us.

He will give us the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to live as his disciples. John Henry Newman wrote: "God has created me, to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another.”

I have my mission, called to His service as a priest, and you have yours to do as well. Each of us has been called by God, whether you know it or not in this life, you shall be told it in the next. You and I are a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created you and me for nothing. Therefore, we have to trust him. Whatever, wherever we are. You and I cannot be thrown away.

Jesus prayed that his disciples would be sanctified and consecrated in God's truth and holiness. The scriptural word for consecration comes from the same Hebrew word which means holy or set apart for God. This word also means to be equipped with the qualities of mind and heart and character for such a task or service.

Just as Jesus was called by the Father to serve in holiness and truth, so we, too, are called and equipped for the task of serving God in the world as his ambassadors. God's truth frees us from ignorance and the deception of sin. It reveals to us God's goodness, love, and wisdom. And it gives us a thirst for God's holiness. The Holy Spirit is the source and giver of all holiness. As we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, he transforms us by his purifying fire and changes us into the likeness of Christ.

I'm not always one for leaving challenges after my sermon has been preached, but today as we leave this place of worship, I leave this for you to ponder in this coming week: Is your life consecrated to God?


Wednesday 13 May 2015

Ascension of 'The Lord' Year B: Following the Footsteps of the Spirit.

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Ascension of 'The Lord' Year B: 
Following the Footsteps of the Spirit.

What is the meaning of ascension for twenty-first-century friends of Jesus? We do not have monarchs; our cosmology doesn't allow us to believe in a three tiered universe with God and Jesus at the top; our understanding of God and nations is more inclusive than the writers of the psalms would allow. The 'Ascended' Jesus calls us to go beyond the boundaries of the temple and Jews, to ALL peoples and nations, beyond geography and physics. Ascension draws us to practice walking with mystery, without understanding; it focus us on the physically absent Jesus and the invisible present Spirit. Ascension encourage us to let go of what preceded our story and look forward to the next one. The story of Jesus' life on earth is concluded but his influence continues in us and through us. And there is that statement that Jesus will return in a similar way. How does Jesus come to us? Does Jesus "come again" NOW? People have become impatient and many even left the church because of sermons on ‘heaven up there’ –but scripture does in fact call us to see the world differently where love of neighbour and God’s compassionate love come together.
Today’s feast tells how the early church understood the resurrection and coped with the now apparent absence of Jesus who showed himself sporadically. One theme in the Acts of the Apostles (1:1-11) reading is the promise to the disciples, ‘You will receive power’. Jesus’ absence led to questions as to where he went. Who will guide them now? What do they do next? But when Jesus says that they will 'receive power' he saying that they will love as he loved; that they would have the power to make the Kingdom of God present in the world by their love for the hungry, the naked, the powerless and homeless; in resisting those who dominate, exploit, and treat others unjustly; by giving their lives for others; by persevering in the face of difficulty and opposition; by doing things they never thought possible.
We find the Spirit's Power at work in a Jesus disciple like - Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen (December 28), when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even...When a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel... The good King asks his page where the poor person lives so they can take meat and wine for him and his family to eat. Page and monarch forth they went. Forth they went together. Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather. As the king and page go through the snow storm the page becomes frightened by the strength of the storm. Sire, the night is darker now and the wind blows stronger. Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer. During the past six weeks of the "Easter Season' we have seen how the 'Footsteps of the Spirit' have been seen in the lives of the first apostles and can be seen in us as we exercise the power to love given us by Christ. The power of the Spirit helps us carry on the mission of Jesus like the 10th century King Wenceslas – a way that involves compassion, respect, sensitivity to peoples needs. These footprints bring the presence of the Kingdom of God (Mark 16:15-20), seen when our relationships are based on 'the signs' of equality, compassion, respect and freedom (better than picking up snakes). These footprints become flesh when we work at overcoming inequities. These footprints are seen as we try to embody what is at the heart of God: an option for the poor. What must be the anguish in God’s heart who longs for Afghanistan, Pakistan Libya, Syria, Iraq and other places of suffering – to walk the footsteps of peace? The witness of any disciple of Jesus is to use the 'Spirit's Power' to love, by working for justice so that peace can be a reality.
Despite difficulties of the weather, the good King Wenceslas with deep faith and fearless in the face of the snow storm invites the faith-faltering page to walk in his footsteps. Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly. Thou shalt find the winter's rage, freeze thy blood less coldly. As we all journey as disciples we find that we need others to remind us that as individuals we don't have it all but together we can have it all. So, In his mater's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted. Heat was in the very sod, which the saint had printed. Therefore, Christians all, be sure, wealth and rank possessing. You who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing. Jesus is among us and working in a creative, liberating, and supporting partnership with us. If we want to find God we have to look in the places where the Spirit works in people creating, liberating, and helping. We cannot look to Jesus to do, what is now our responsibility. Jesus has left his footprints like good King Wenceslas for us to follow in. Let us walk the talk.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

6th Sunday of Easter year B - Br Luke

Andre-Rublev's Saviour
I know ! – Br Andrew will be happy with me - I've written this homily down. Smiley

Homily preached by Br Luke at Blaxland 10th May 2015

6th Sunday of Easter year B

Gospel John 15:9-17

Well I have a slight dilemma, which of John’s passages do I choose?

Both speak of love and of salvation.  In the second reading John links Jesus’s death, baptism and the Holy Spirit as a threefold witness for divine actions.  He goes further and says that God’s testimony regarding Jesus is this:  “Whoever has the Son has life, whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life”.  He can’t make it any clearer than that!  But what does this mean to us?  Do we have the Son of God? Indeed is this a question we have ever asked ourselves? Or do we think that because we call ourselves Christian this is enough. We assume that we have life? It really looks like a black and white question doesn't it.

In the Gospel, John records Jesus as saying: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love”.  And then Jesus says “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you”.  Oh dear, - I suspect there are some in this world who would like to ask Jesus to rephrase that commandment.  Something along the lines of: um can we have a discussion about this Jesus? Do we really have to love one another?  I suspect he’d just silently look at us and then give us a ‘think about what you just said’ smile.

But we humans are an inventive lot, perhaps if we look hard enough, or explore the words in more detail, or interpret them differently we could find some little gap to squirm out of? Some nice loophole so that we can wander through and not concern ourselves with this instruction?  Yes, strike a chord with anyone?  After all loving one another is hard work.  Especially if the other person is - well you know - ‘not like us’.

But Jesus doesn’t let us off lightly, he tells us we are his friends if we do this.  Not his servants, not his slaves, his friends.  He tells us this because he loves us and not because he orders us to do it. We will voluntarily follow the commandment because of his love for us and our love for him.  After all, we are his friends – right? Sounds like an “O bugger” moment doesn’t it.  You know that point when you suddenly realise with absolute clarity that you’ve got no excuses, no wriggle room, you’re committed to a course of action.

You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go bear fruit, fruit that will last”.  Hmm remember last week’s gospel? It was about the vine.  We are the ‘grafted in’ branches and we bear fruit.  If we do not produce fruit then we get pruned out?  And here Jesus tells us, we are picked by him.  He calls us to go and work in the vineyard.  He is telling us so that we can “love one another”.  Sorry people there is no wriggle room here.  This is a divinely authored action.  Now of course the reality in our lives is that we do not follow this commandment.  Sadly we do not love one another.  If we did there would be violence, there’d be no war or conflicts, and we’d have universal peace and goodwill among the peoples of the world.

So do we just throw our hands up and say ‘it’s all too hard’.  Well no, that’s not what we do, because of we did, then as John told us earlier; “Whoever has the Son has life, whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life”.  So our job, is to call out to the world, that love of neighbour, is not an illusion or a fanciful theory, but a real possibility.  One that we can achieve, if we stop and think. If we pause and realise that the other person is really no different from us.  Sure they may look different, they may speak a different language, they may have a different gender, or a different sexual orientation to us, but they are just like us.  They bleed if they are cut, they cry if they are sad or distressed and they laugh if they are happy – and perhaps more importantly they love, just as we do.

So my challenge for you this week, is to look for someone who is different from you and ask yourself – not them – yourself, can you see yourself in them. Can you envisage a time, when you could talk to them and perhaps even regard them as a friend, not someone to be shunned and marginalised, even harmed?  I caution you, it won’t be easy, but try anyway and then tell us about it at our Bible study on Friday.

Remember, Jesus loves us, he command us to love each other and when we do that, then we have life eternal.  Amen.

Easter 6B: Not A Suggestion but A Loving Command.

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Not A Suggestion but A Loving Command.

We are getting close to the end of the Easter season. Soon we will celebrate the disciples receiving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and their being sent out to preach what they experienced and learned from the Risen Lord. If they were asked to sum up what their experience with Jesus was, what would they say? I am sure they would respond by saying: 'in the end, HIS LOVE triumphed'. Sin and death and brutal powers did their best to Jesus, but his love both human and divine was the winner. That realization would enable the disciples to say that even though death and sin seem to have the last word in our world, but because of Jesus' victory, love will triumph. It feels at times that good and evil are battling it out. How can the forces of love win out over so many destructive brutal displays of sin in the world? Still, God's love for us, shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, has won the victory over sin and death.

In the gospel reading of John (15:9-17) we find a summary of what has been given to us as disciples of Christ. It also holds a promise we can trust while we wait love's final victory. The love Jesus had for those he calls "friends," moved him to lay "down his life" for us. He remind us that; "You did not choose me, no, I chose you." He freely "chose" us, and gave us concrete signs of his love. That love has the power to transform our lives and then, through us, the life of the world. Robin Maas in her book Crucified Love, offers a wonderful insight: “Few, if any of us, will be called to martyrdom; but all of us are called to a series of little deaths in the form of invitations to restrain or deny self….The sending of God by God was the sending of Love – a crucified Love willing to lay down its life for friends and enemies alike. Your mission and mine – which we can only perform insofar as we are in communion with God and with one another – is to submit, out of love for one another, to countless, daily ‘little deaths’ until we have yielded every least and last remnant of self to the purpose of Christ.” (pages 98, 121)
Jesus is saying, 'I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another' (15:17). The Beatles sing the song, "All You Need Is Love" and many who hear it will hear different messages. It is true that all we need is love - but who's love? and what love? When we get past all the sentimental feeling and greeting card sweetness we have the teaching of Jesus. All you need is love is true - his type of love. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (15:12) As I have loved you??? No one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (15:13). Oh! Yes!!! That type of love. John reminds us that the kind of love Christians are called to embody takes a particular, cruciform shape. We hear this truth in Jesus' words, "As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love."(15:9) The experience of Christ's love for us makes it possible for us to love others, even our enemies. The phrase "... as I have loved you ..." refers not only to his gentle generous giving but also to his willingness to bravely lay down his life by suffering for others. The first letter from John (4:7-10), our second reading, announces a similar truth. "Let us love one another, since love comes from God." We can love one another because God's love is at work in us transforming our lives, and moving us from being self-centred to being other-centred.

From the moment we are created, God constantly offers himself to be with us. In the mythological accounts of the Book of Genesis God dwells with humans in the garden of Paradise, wanting to be close. But they/we try to hide from God, not responding when God calls. It is only when Jesus came that we realised that it was not God who forbade our access to the tree of life, but our own stubbornness and disobedience. It was necessary for us that Jesus the Word of God should start anew a conversation with us, to breach the distance, to restore God’s presence to us. The desire of God to share divine life and love with us is expressed by Christ who says: ‘I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’. In Christ, God gives us a sign of true love and friendship. There is no end to this great love even if we are faithless, ‘He remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.’(2 Tim 2:13) Doesn't friendship require giving not just receiving? Yes, it does require mutuality and sharing, so God gives us the Holy Spirit; the Gift from above of love's power, so we can return love for love. And we are made heirs of the Kingdom by being made one with Christ, who emptied himself to become one of us, to become our equal - to be our friend. Now he prays that our joy may be full; that is, as love-driven-disciples we may achieve loves fulfilment of the vision of God, by DOING day-by-day through our 'little deaths' loves work of selfless service. (See: Matthew 25)

Sunday 3 May 2015

Easter 5B: Our Sense of Divine Desertion.

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Easter 5B: Our Sense of Divine Desertion.

In the light of this week's news or tragedy and grief, I want to do something different and reflect on the psalm set for reflection in the lectionary (Psalm 22). The lectionary only gives us the last verses (26-28, 30-32). However, before we get to the positive ending we have to deal with the psalmists sense of being 'abandoned by God'. In 2007 Mother Teresa of Calcutta's private correspondence was published to coincide with the tenth anniversary of her death (1910–1997). Some people were shocked how letter after letter described in detail the deep darkness that plagued her for fifty years. Detractors accused her of hypocrisy; devotees couldn't believe it was true. But it was. Mother Teresa describes her darkness in many ways, but most of all as an absence of God's presence or as an emptiness, loneliness, pain, spiritual dryness, or lack of consolation. She repeatedly admitted to her confessors that she felt like a "shameless hypocrite abandoned by God" for teaching one thing but experiencing something far different.

Being 'abandoned by God' does not sound very pious, but it's a common experience. When Kathryn Greene-McCreight was doing her post graduate degree, she experienced a major episode of clinical depression. Five years later doctors diagnosed her as bipolar. After five hospitalizations, two courses of electroconvulsive therapy, and constant changing drug regimens, she finally experienced genuine improvement and stabilization. In her book Darkness is My Only Companion (2006), she grapples with the "apparent incongruity of that agony with the Christian life." The title of her book comes from Psalm 88:18 (KJV), "My friend and my neighbour you have put away from me, and darkness is my only companion." Greene-McCreight wonders why God allows such suffering. Why does God seem to abandon someone who is in such pain, and not answer prayer? Is there a connection between sin and suffering, the physical and the spiritual, the medical and the religious? Similarly, Mother Teresa's letters explored possible explanations for her interior turmoil: maybe it was punishment for sin, a trial to purify her faith, a temptation of satan, or a consequence of her hasty personality or physical fatigue. Sometimes there aren't any answers.

Psalm 22 is the classic text on the absence of God's presence, and it makes for painful reading. The poet praises God, and pours out his heart to him, but also argues with God. His candour is so much more authentic than the pious clichés that we use to mask our pain. He complains that God is not only remote but silent. His prayers go unanswered. "Trouble is near" and "there is no one to help." (22:11). Friends ridicule his faith, leading to social isolation: "He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him!" They wrongly regarded his misfortunes as proof of divine displeasure. As if recounting a bizarre nightmare, he imagines raging bulls, roaring lions, and wild oxen attacking him. Threatened by "the power of the dogs" (22:20), he loses his composure: "My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me." He can no longer control his destiny, and compares himself to "those who cannot keep themselves alive."

The Psalmist reminds us how much God prefers heartfelt authenticity to superficial religiosity. The psalms of despair encourage us not to suppress or coat with piety our feelings of abandonment. They don't discourage our deep cries of disappointment, and sense of 'divine desertion', but in fact give them voice. Jesus himself cried out the prayer of Psalm 22 when he hung from the cross. (see: image 2 below) The Psalmist believed that ultimately "God has not despised or disdained the sufferings of those in pain; or hidden his face, but has listened to the cry for help." (22:14) With the help of her confessors, Mother Teresa concluded that her darkness was not an obstacle to God's call to serve the poorest of the poor, but instead part and parcel of her call. In her own deep darkness she identified with the pain of the poor and shared in the sufferings of Christ himself through them. So she translated her personal experience into human empathy and compassion. When believers are at their best, the absence of God's presence is met with the presence of God's people. "No person has ever seen God", writes Saint John in his first letter, and as Mother Teresa, Greene-McCreight, the Psalmist, and many other saints have testified, we often don't feel or sense God's presence. "But if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us" (1 John 4:12). With God's grace we should be able to say; God might feel remote, but his people are near. So despite our feelings we pray, "I will give you praise in the great assembly. I will fulfill my vows in the presence of those who worship you." (22:25)


Andre-Rublev's Saviour
  Homily preached by Br. Simeon     Sunday 3rd May 2015:  


Gospel:  John 15: 1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower . . . I am the vine, you are the branches.”
“Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

In the Name of the one God, +Father, +Son and +Holy Spirit. Amen.

From the music of the psalms to the engravings on the temple pediments, vines were a symbol of Yahweh’s many blessings to Israel.  In his Last Supper discourse (from which today’s Gospel is taken), Jesus appropriates the image of the vine to explain his eternal connectedness to his disciples, their connectedness through him to God, and their connectedness to one another.

In this today being the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we have today's Gospel reading of the vine and the branches. The gospel reading for this weekend records for us, perhaps, one of the best known and best loved sections in all of scripture. Jesus calls Himself the “vine” and us His “branches.” “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15: 5-6)

Jesus, the vine, rooted and grounded in His relationship with God the Father, supports and gives life to us, His branches. Without being connected to Jesus by faith, we would perish eternally, just like a branch cut off from its vine, plant or tree eventually dies!

Jesus tells us that the “Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15: 1-2) Out of His love for us and His desire that we be “fruitful,” the Father occasionally “prunes” us by disciplining us or by allowing distress and difficulty to come into our lives. God is not an angry, vindictive tyrant when such things happen to us; rather, “He trims [us] clean so that [we] will be even more fruitful.” (John 15: 2)

In Christ, we are “grafted” to God and to one another. The Risen One calls us to community, to be branches on the same vine, to realise our life in Christ is also life in one another.

We cannot live our faith in a vacuum: Unless Jesus becomes the centre of our lives, the faith we profess is doomed to wither and die in emptiness.
Our power, strength and life come from Jesus. He promises, “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.” Through our worship together, Bible study, scripture reading, private devotions, reception of the sacraments and our service to those around us, we remain in Jesus and He remains in us. We bear fruit and grow strong and healthy in the whole life of Christian discipleship

The Easter season speaks to us of the eternal presence of Christ in our midst, present to us in the Word we have heard and has taken root in our hearts.  Our faithfulness to the call to discipleship demands that we work to enable that Word within us to produce a “yield” of compassion, forgiveness, justice and reconciliation.  In the “fruit” we bear as "branches" of Christ do we glorify God the “vine grower.”