A TALE OF TWO SISTERS

We all know the story of the two sisters, Martha and Mary. When Jesus came as a guest, Martha complained that Mary was leaving her to do all the work in the kitchen and just sitting around talking and listening to Jesus.

Surprisingly, Jesus came down on Mary’s side!

Yet we all live our lives like Martha. We shave in the shower and listen to the news on the radio at the same time to save precious minutes. At traffic lights we join the queue with fewer cars so we can be off first. And we scour the supermarket checkouts to find the least dozy-looking cashier.

We’ve become consumed with doing as much as we can as fast as we can. We’re not so much burnt out as burnt up, consumed with activity. However, we rarely stop to ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing and whether our priorities are right.

Of course, we have to work. And we have to prepare meals if we invite people round to eat. But, just for a moment, forget about the work you have to do to earn a living. How do you spend the rest of your time?

What are your priorities? Does God feature in them? Do you pray or read the bible or is watching the soap operas more important? Do you ever just try and sit back for a few moments in God’s presence? Do you have a sense of the spiritual? Of God being at your side in all that you do? Do you ever try to listen to what God might be saying to you in the events of your daily life? Do you try to process your activity?

The Greek word that describes Martha being distracted actually means “pulled here and there by one thing and the next”. Sometimes in our flurry of activity that’s exactly what happens to us. Our rushing around becomes an escape from reality. We find refuge in being busy. It seems to validate our existence but really it stops us from asking deeper questions about our life’s direction.

Jesus speaks Martha’s name twice.
“Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things…” What a lovely reassurance of how fond he is of her! And what a reminder that from time to time we have to stop hiding behind activity and challenge ourselves at a more thoughtful level.

KITCHEN SINK HEROES

Jesus rubs up everyone in today’s gospel. First he angers the Jewish establishment by telling a story about a man who was mugged, ignored by two clergymen and helped by a member of the hated ethnic minority.

Then he shuts the legal boffins up by saying that you don’t need a degree in jurisprudence to understand God’s Law. Just a bit of common sense will do. You can know the Law but still be incapable of love.

In fact, that’s what God said through Moses in today’s reading from Deuteronomy: “This Law is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach… it is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart.”

Yet we have problems thinking that God’s Law should be so easy. Coming from a superhero culture we tend to expect some great heroic sacrifice will be asked of us, some death-defying feat that will hit the front pages of the newspapers. But God simply says: look around and make sure your neighbour is OK. Christian morality is as simple as that. Love your neighbour.

Today’s Samaritans are not those who go off to save the Third World but those who keep an eye out for the elderly or sick person on their street. They’re the kitchen sink heroes whose daily acts of kindness show that everyone is their neighbour. We shouldn’t need to ask, “Who is my neighbour?” Rather, we should listen for the call within us to become close to those in need around us.

St David said, “Do the little things well”. Perhaps that’s what God is trying to tell us today. For if we want to fulfil God’s Law, then we will do so by opening our eyes and ears and responding to people of all races and creeds when they need us.

This is not something so difficult that only professionals can grasp it. It’s obvious, says God. It’s what we would want others to do for us, and we can do it for others simply by doing the little things well

THE MOTHER OF ALL GODS?

The one sure thing we can say about God is that he/she does not fit into a box. God is greater than anything we can ever imagine or understand.

In today’s liturgy Isaiah uses feminine imagery to describe how God deals with the chosen people. And so God says that “she” will be like a mother to us, consoling us when we are sad, fondling us in her lap and suckling us at her breasts when we are in need of sustenance.

Of course, God is just God. God’s not a man; not a woman; not something in between. God transcends, goes beyond, gender. But thinking of God in terms of a mother as well as a father allows us to glimpse God in an entirely new light. It means that we can suddenly appreciate the tender, life-giving, nursing side to God. These feminine attributes remind us that there is no part of our lives that God is absent from, and nothing that God is unconcerned about.

Living as we do in a scientific age, we tend to think that we can dissect everything and find out exactly how it works before putting it back together again. Then we can use it when we want it. This approach sometimes affects the way people think about God. The have a Jack-in-the Box God that can be kept with the lid shut and brought out by undoing the catch when we can’t solve the problem ourselves and need a bit of divine help.

However, God is much too big to fit in the box and much too clever to be tamed by our attempts to tie him/her down to neat categories. Anyone who has ever read the scriptures will know that time and time again God acts in precisely the opposite way to how we humans think he/she should. God picks the very people whom everyone else discounts on the first ballot; God grants victory to the underdog; God confounds the proud with the humility of the meek, and turns up in circumstances where we wouldn’t expect God to be.

Today Isaiah reminds us that God is bigger than us and we cannot pretend to have God taped. If we let our minds be stretched by thinking of God as both a mother and a father then we get twice as much God for our money

JUST LIKE US?

Some Churches traditionally ordain priests and deacons around “Petertide” as a reminder of the roles of leadership and preaching that were exercised by the apostles Peter and Paul. The feast reminds us that the same service of handing on the faith is entrusted to the successors of Peter and Paul. It is our task today to maintain that living tradition of Jesus by being meticulous in the way we care for each other and by being bold in the way we take Christ’s message to the world. In our worship today we thank God for
having been enriched by the Christian faith and we ask that we may experience the joy of following the Lord.

Faced with the greatness of these two saints, it’s easy to collapse in a Christian heap and think that there is no way that we, ordinary mortals, can ever live up to the high standards of Peter and Paul. But when we take a closer look at them we find that they’re not so different from us as at first we might think. Each one of them wanted to love and follow Jesus, but they had their own problems which meant that they had to keep on trying if they were to succeed in cooperating with God’s Spirit in living out their Christian calling.

It’s easier to identify with Peter more than with some of the other apostles. Not only is he trying to be a down-to-earth honest and willing person, but he’s also got all the foibles that we have. What Jesus, in effect, said to Peter he says to us: “It is not you who have chosen me, but I who have chosen you. Peter, it is not human wisdom that makes it possible for you to believe, but my Father’s revelation. I, not you, build my Church.”

Like Peter we sometimes think that it’s all down to us, to our actions and our commitment, without realising that we are only effective Christians
if we allow the Spirit to work through us.

Paul’s experience of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus was the driving force that made him one of the most zealous, dynamic and courageous ambassadors of Christ the Church has ever had. But persecution, humiliation and weakness became his day-by-day carrying of the cross, material for further transformation. The dying Christ was in him; the living Christ was his life. We too are no strangers to weakness, to lack of spiritual energy and to wondering whether it’s all worth it. Trying to be a muscular Christian is a constant temptation, especially when we lose sight of the fact that we are called to present Jesus to our world, rather than carry the world on our back to Jesus.

Peter and Paul: role models for you and me.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

Nine out of ten people who use the word “Eucharist” think of an object. They think of the Eucharist as a thing, bread or wine that is transformed into the body and blood of Christ.

But strictly speaking Eucharist is not a thing, it’s an action. It’s the action of giving thanks.  In fact, the word for “thank you” that is heard thousands of times every day in modern Greece is “evcharisto”, the same word as Eucharist.

Each time Christians celebrate Eucharist they thank God for all that God has done in the past and continues to do for us today. The Eucharistic Prayer is one long prayer of praise and thanksgiving for the fact that God made us, redeemed us through Christ and continues to support us today in the Holy Spirit until Christ comes again at the end of time. In our worship we “Eucharist” God.

The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus et Sanguis Christi) is a reminder to us that Christ has left us a memorial of his Passion and death and that by our action of Eucharist we make really present the grace and power of God on our altars.

At every Eucharist bread and wine is brought up in procession and laid on the altar. Our prayer to God is that the Holy Spirit may transform these humble elements so that they may become for us the body and blood of Christ.

If we are really celebrating Eucharist then we need to offer ourselves and our lives in sacrifice to God along with the bread and wine. We need to bring all our hopes and joys, our dreams and reservations, our plans and worries so that they too may be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Eucharist is the heart of our Christian faith. It is the central act of our community, the source of all our strength and the summit to which all our activity as Church is directed.

Corpus Christi invites us to stand before our God and celebrate Eucharist: to say thank you!

FATHOMING GOD


Dear Daughters and Sons,

I thought I’d drop you a brief line today since, after all, Trinity is my special feast. Though perhaps I should remember that your finite minds would find it easier on Trinity Sunday if I say “our” feast. The other two agree with me on this!

You know, of course, I am the only one with a total grasp on reality. That’s because I exist infinitely; I had no beginning and will have no end, unlike you who are limited to time and space. One day, of course, you will join me in this never-ending happiness. I’m really looking forward to that day. Well, actually, it’s already arrived for me but that would take too long to explain.

It pleases me that you are trying to be holy. It doesn’t matter whether you achieve it or not, because it’s the trying that’s important. What you are really doing is trying to become more like me. That’s because I possess the only real holiness: it comes naturally to me. And when you love, too, you are like a kitchen towel that blots up my love and passes it on to others.

One of the pleasures of being God is watching how much progress you are making on earth. DNA, space probes, computers, health cures: it’s all very impressive but sometimes I wonder what took you so long. And I have a good laugh when you try to take the credit for it all. It’s the same when you talk about the origins of life and of the universe. Big bangs, gases, planetary collisions. Well, yes, it’s all pretty close to the mark, but who do you think made the gases in the first place? Yes, I know it’s rude to boast.

Still, don’t think just because I am the one you’re all trying to catch up with, without really knowing it, that I am too busy or important to be bothered about your own individual cares and concerns. I have always loved you, even before you were born, and that’s why I came down to earth. And even when people talk about me as if I were a thing from the past, and behave in ways that contradict all I’ve ever said, I won’t stop loving. But that’s probably hard for you to understand, even though I’ve made you little less than gods. In the meantime I send you my blessing.

Best wishes from your loving Father.

PS The other two send their regards.

ADVOCATING CHANGE

There’s a medieval song that was sung in Latin at Pentecost while the deacon carried the gospel-book in the procession at Mass, prior to proclaiming the gospel itself. It’s called the Pentecost Sequence and it contains line after line that speaks about the gift of the Holy Spirit. It describes the Spirit as Lord of Light, Father of the Poor, Best Consoler, Sweet Comfort, Healer, Giver of Strength, Renewer, etc.

In today’s gospel Jesus says he will ask the Father
to send the “Advocate”. We tend to think of an advocate as someone who campaigns on a particular topic: an advocate for equal rights or an advocate for better housing conditions. In fact, the word advocate really means someone whom you call to stand by your side in solidarity. It’s the equivalent of the other strange-sounding word, Paraclete.

Pentecost rounds off Jesus’ saving work on earth as the Spirit completes the action of Jesus in taking on our humanity and humanising it to the point where it can glimpse the divine. What we see happening at that first Pentecost is that Jesus has not left us alone like orphans; he has sent the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to be by our side. And the effects are immediate. From being a frightened bunch of weak men, huddled for safety behind a locked door, the apostles are transformed by the Spirit’s presence, are emboldened to go out and confront their fears, proclaiming their faith in
Christ to people from every race and nation.

Someone once said that we should pray as if everything depended on God but act as if everything depended on us. Certainly this is true of the Spirit. We are only too aware of our weakness and our inability to “go it alone” when it comes to living out our faith and telling others about it. That’s why
we pray constantly for the outpouring of the Spirit in our lives, that we may be transformed, strengthened, inspired and supported in our Christian lives.

One thing that we cannot do it to restrict the Spirit. If we ask for the Advocate then we agree to an adventure in faith that has no boundaries. After all, we call on the Spirit just to make us feel good; we ask for the Spirit to come and transform creation:
Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth!