The Acts of the Apostles today introduces us to a scene in which people of a variety of nations and languages are all assembled in one place. It’s not describing something like the European parliament or the Eurovision song contest. This is a multitude of people who are gathered for the purpose of worship, each with their own language and customs and nationality. Normally their languages would have been incomprehensible to one another, but on this occasion something remarkable happens. The apostles who are all gathered together in one room experience something akin to a rushing wind and to tongues of flame. It is as if they have received a gift that drives out their fear and fills them with courage, enabling them to speak of God with a new boldness and sense of purpose. In fact that is exactly what happened. Even more amazingly, they managed to communicate with and be understood by a variety of people from different nations and who spoke unfamiliar languages.
A few weeks ago it was a pleasure to worship in a church in Wales. Although the service was almost all in English, the occasional bit of Welsh was there too. I hardly understand a word of it, but being the liturgy, I was able to grasp what it meant. Our worship of God introduces us to something bigger: something greater than ourselves and much wider than the barriers of language and culture and nationality. We become part of something worldwide… the Body of Christ. Within this company of people we find all kinds of variety, but what we do not, or should not find, is division, suspicion and alienation. In Christ there are no such barriers and as members of the one Body, the Holy Spirit unites us in the one God of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Difference will always exist between people and God does not call us to be all the same. Instead of this we are led to discover what it is that draws us closer together. The powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit which is described in the Acts of the Apostles did not leave people unchanged. Their own spirit was stirred to make connections with their fellow people. The apostles had hidden away up to that point, afraid of what might happen if they emerged from the walls that surrounded them. Now they were filled with joy and confidence and a desire to communicate with others about the gift they had received. In this way the Church was born: a Spirit-filled community of people not working out of their own human limitations alone but enabled and empowered by God. We might wonder what would happen if we were empowered to leave behind the walls that hold us in and prevent us from being all that we could be. What would it be like to overcome our reluctance and self-doubt and to walk out into the light?
We are called together to worship in one place in order to be strengthened and inspired to live lives that speak to others about the presence of God among us. The Eucharist – the Mass – is for us the Sacrament of unity. Today people are receiving the sacraments of Christ’s Body and Blood in London, Glasgow, Rome, Rio de Janiero, Seoul, Harare and almost anywhere you care to mention across the world. We might not necessarily be able to understand their speech, but I hope that we would be willing and able to understand their love of the Lord who has called them together into one Body. We are members of a Church of many different peoples and languages but we all receive the same Holy Spirit of God.
So what difference does this make to our lives? The more we are tuned into the things of the Spirit, the greater our love for God and the greater our desire to walk in the ways of Jesus. As he told his disciples:
“If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we shall come to him and make our home with him.”
Jesus speaks about the gift of the Paraclete – literally the one who comes alongside us, to inspire us, to support us and to strengthen us. This is the Advocate of which Jesus speaks, the one who pleads on our behalf… the presence which reassures us that we don’t have to go it alone, but that God is with us always on our journey.
We reflect the love of God through our words and by the way we live. This doesn’t mean that we have to find clever words to persuade people or that we have to do amazing things. The most convincing thing of all is when the fruit of the Spirit is apparent in the life of Christ’s disciples: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the hallmarks of a life lived in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It follows that some of the opposites would be described by St Paul as evidence of a life which rejects that same Spirit: hatred, joylessness, dissent, impatience, unkindness, meanness, unfaithfulness, harshness and self-indulgence. These are incompatible with the new life which the gift of the Holy Spirit imparts. The gifts of the Spirit break down the walls which separate one person from another and which impede our approach to God. Then people begin to notice the change.
The Holy Spirit is a gift received in baptism and which is confirmed within us. At the same time we can pray for the renewal of that gift to us: a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We cannot always live perfect lives, but with God there is always a new beginning and a better way forward. So on this day of Pentecost, let us pray for the renewal of this gift within us:
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Amen
From 10.00am every Tuesday throughout the year.
Thur 13th June 9.30am Said Mass.
Sun 16th June 9.30am Joint Parish Mass. (for the Benefice held at St Peters at 10.30am)
Next Parochial Church Council Monday 8th July.
Summer Fayre: Saturday 27th July 2019, St Andrews Community Centre from 10.00am.
Summer Outing: Mon 19th August 2019. Dinner at the Rockingham Arms Wentworth.
WW2 Brass: Thur 5th September. Themed Concert to coincide with the start of the Second World War. Will also include a pictorial presentation. More details to follow.
Xmas Brass: Thur 12th December. Usual mix of seasonal and contemporary music.
Both concerts will feature Worsbrough Brass.
From 10.00am every Tuesday throughout April.
Sun 14th April PALM SUNDAY Joint Benefice Mass held at St Peter's at 10.30am..
Mon 15th April Mass - St Andrew's at 12 noon.
Tues 16th April Mass - St Peter's at 7.30pm.
Wed 17th April Chrism Mass - St Catherine's at 12 noon.
Maundy Thursday Mass of the Lords Supper and Watch - St Peter's at 8.00pm.
Good Friday Liturgy of the Lords Passion and Death - St Andrew's at 3.00pm
Sat 20th April Vigil and First Mass of Easter - St Peters at 8.00pm
Easter Sunday Masses at the usual times in both churches.
Advance Notice - Annual General Parochial Church Council Wednesday 24th April.
aWW2 Brass: Thur 5th September. Themed Concert to coincide with the start of the Second World War. Will also include a pictorial presentation. More details to follow.
Xmas Brass: Thur 12th December. Usual mix of seasonal and contemporary music.
Both concerts will feature Worsbrough Brass.
From Father Richard...
Is it possible to do a good thing for the wrong reason? The Spirit leads Jesus into the desert following his baptism at the Jordan. There we are told that for forty days and nights he fasted and prayed. We are told also that he was tempted – or “tested” as the original version of St Luke’s gospel puts it. Although Jesus might have wanted to go there for some quiet time and to concentrate on what lay ahead, it wasn’t going to be that simple. We are told that the devil presented him with a variety of alternative options. On the surface all of these seemed harmless enough. The problem was that none of those choices was consistent with Jesus’s true vocation.
There are all kinds of choices we can make that are inoffensive on their own terms. There’s the parent who gives his or her children treats in order to keep them quiet instead of as a reward for good behaviour. Or the person who does someone a good turn in order to procure a bigger favour in return. The politician who promises something that needed to be done anyway, but only because there is an electoral payback. All of these things are short-term, expedient courses of action. In the right context all of them would be fine, but the motives are the wrong ones and the integrity is lacking.
There were three ways in which Jesus was put to the test. The first was by the devil telling him to show that he was the Son of God by turning a stone into a loaf. For a hungry person who was missing the kind of meals that Jesus must have enjoyed in his home country, this must have been a very enticing proposition. He could have satisfied his own bodily hunger. Also, if the power of God working in him could have resulted in the poor being fed, then how could this be bad? But Jesus had not been sent to be a benefactor or a charity worker. He had not come to feed people for a time. The bread that he would give was to become spiritual food for the journey into eternal life. So Jesus, the true bread which had come down from heaven, refuses to follow the alternative plan that the devil puts before him. He was to follow God’s way. Instead of opening himself to further temptation by arguing about it, Jesus gives a very simple answer by quoting the words of Scripture: “Man does not live on bread alone.” The devil has no answer to this.
His second temptation came when he was standing on the heights. This was the lure of power and earthly glory. Jesus could have used his considerable talents to become a worldly leader. We are told numerous times during the accounts of his ministry that this was the role that people wanted to give him. But Jesus saw the corruption that so often accompanies earthly power: the desire to have power for its own sake, to seek personal glory and to want popularity rather than to make the right decisions. He was going to have nothing to do with these things. Again he quotes from Scripture: “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.” This is all that Jesus wanted to do: to put the will of God into action by loving and serving others. He was to pour himself out in service of others instead of serving himself.
The devil has a go for the third time. Now in Jerusalem, Jesus is led to stand on the parapet of the Temple and to be goaded into throwing himself off, knowing that God would keep him safe from harm. But Jesus had not been sent by God to perform cheap stunts in order to impress. His was the way of faith, trusting in God through all the hardships the world would throw at him. This was because he was living a fully human life rather than mocked-up version. In order to identify with each one of us, Jesus had to face struggles, mockery, the cruelty and indifference of other people, knowing that God overcomes all these things. There were to be no short cuts, no easy escape routes. This time the devil himself quotes scripture, but Jesus answers him immediately with a quotation of his own that challenges the misuse of those words: “You must not put the Lord your God to the test.” For the time being, Jesus had come through the test and we are told that the Tempter left him alone.
We are also told that he returned at the appointed time. We see tests throughout the ministry of Jesus: people wanting to make him king, for instance, and Simon Peter trying to talk him out of his journey to Calvary. Above all we see his final temptation on the Cross: to come down from the Cross and to save himself. He would refuse, just as he did in the desert, even though it would cost him his life. He put the love of God at the centre of his life and obeyed the will of God in all things.
What about us? In so many ways we can be tested. The more we try to remain true to our calling in life and the more, as Christians, we try to fashion our lives on the discipleship of Jesus, the more we can feel the pull to choose an easier and superficially more appealing way. But there is no substitute to finding our true calling in life and to remaining true to it. When faced with other choices, Jesus prayed to know his Father’s will more clearly. He returned to the words of Scripture to remind himself of what really matters in life. In the end “The World is not Enough”, to quote the title of a James Bond film. Only God can satisfy our hunger and our thirst. Only God can give us life, not only now, but for eternity. We may have struggles in this world, but like Jesus, when we make the right choices we find consolation and peace. As we prepare to receive the Bread of Life, let us listen to his voice and follow in his ways.
The musings of Robert & Richard
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us.”
(Robert Burns: “To a Louse on Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet in Church”).
Burns recognised that if we could see ourselves through the eyes of others, then we should be relieved of many a conceit. It would be far less likely that we would be inclined to judge other people or to have an overblown idea of ourselves. But what a painful thing it is to see ourselves not as we would wish to imagine ourselves but through the reality that other people encounter in us!
As a seminarian at theological college in Mirfield, one of the most excruciating things we had to do was to preach to our fellow students and then be given feedback by them. A humbling experience indeed! You would know how to get your own back though. At least we didn’t have to be recorded and then watch the playback, as some unfortunate souls had to do. You would be faced with all your mannerisms in glorious technicolour and there would be no point in denying any of it. Even so, if we can bear the pain, a bit more self- knowledge can never be a bad thing.
None of us likes criticism which is why Jesus’s comments about splinters and planks resonate so clearly with us. Who hasn’t been lectured by someone who thinks they know better? And who hasn’t been hurt by hypocritical speech and behaviour?
Although Jesus’s words remind us of the danger of hypocrisy and of being harshly critical of others, they are actually more about self-criticism. If we look at today’s passage as a whole, then we can see that Jesus is grouping together several different images that say more or less the same kind of thing. As well as warning us of the plank in our own eye, Jesus tells us of the danger of leading other people if we are not properly equipped. He reminds us also that a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
All of these sayings point us to the theme of self-awareness. We need time effort to get to know ourselves properly – our thoughts, our motives, our intentions; our gifts and our failings; our actual knowledge as opposed to our imagined expertise. Only when we have self-awareness can we offer advice and lead other people. Otherwise it is like the image Jesus provides us with: the blind leading the blind and falling into a pit.
All this seems very obvious when we think about it, but there is not always much evidence of self-awareness in public life. This seems especially true at the moment. Those in public life rarely apologise for the ways in which their conceit leads to poor decisions and a trail of damage. We can see examples of it also in the life of the Church. Admitting that we have got things wrong implies vulnerability and the need of other people. We are not always the experts we might imagine ourselves to be. True wisdom in fact makes us aware of the limits of our knowledge and expertise.
Jesus calls us to a place of self-reflection. After all, he himself went through that process as we are reminded at the beginning of Lent. In order to lead other people, Jesus had to know himself first. He had to see himself as he really was in relation to his heavenly Father. His ministry was not a time of seeking admiration from others, but it was a journey to the Cross; a journey of humility and the pouring out of his own self.
This is a way that seems at odds with present-day culture. Everything today shouts at us to turn up the volume on our own personalities; to lay claim to knowledge we don’t really have; to boast of our achievements. The journey to the Cross demands the opposite: as it has been said, in the Christianity, the “I” is crossed out. It is important that we know not only our strengths but also our weaknesses. In the monastic movement the three pillars are: poverty, chastity and obedience. It might seem that the last one would be the easiest, but in fact obedience means being attentive not only to other people but also to our true selves. We might not have taken such vows, but in some ways these are part of an authentic Christian life.
We all have motivations in our hearts that can produce bad fruit if they are not recognised and brought out into the light. God’s love can transform all these things so that instead of doing harm through our words and attitudes we can become a source of life for other people. When this happens, then in the spirit of those words of St Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15, we find that: “our perishable nature has put on imperishability.”
The upgrade to our lighting has now been completed. The effects are quite dramatic,please see the slideshow. .
On Thursday I visited Specsavers. As I expected, my eyesight is just a little bit worse than last time. At the same time I was offered a free hearing test and this at least was good news: nothing wrong with my hearing. My wife Susan’s theory was proved right: that I have selective hearing, or at least I only hear properly if I am not focusing my attention elsewhere. I think it may be an inherited tendency. My Dad and my uncle sometimes used to have parallel conversations with each other about quite different subjects without either of them seeming to notice. Yes, sometimes the problem can be that we hear what we choose to hear. Perhaps that selective hearing applies also to the way in which we approach the message of the Gospel. I’m not talking about physical hearing now, but the internal, spiritual kind. Even when we are reading rather than listening, do we perhaps linger on those messages that seem easy and comforting and skip over the ones that we find hard and challenging? I would guess that I am not alone in finding something hard and challenging about today’s gospel passage from St Luke. I quote:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.”
So it continues. It seems to go against the received wisdom that tells us to avoid people we don’t like and to retaliate against those who do us harm, either physically or emotionally. We get much more satisfaction surely from a well-aimed barb than we do from turning the other cheek. Or do we? The problem with resentment, hatred and violence is that it is never really satisfied. It just sets up a cycle of actions and reactions. When we nurse feelings of resentment and the desire for revenge, it may or may not hurt the target of our feelings, but one thing is sure: it hurts us, and it goes on hurting us. Hatred and violence can never be cured by more hatred and violence. We only have to look at the Middle East and its many long-running conflicts to see how that works out.
Jesus often spoke about the kingdom of God through parables. These were stories that had a sort of slow-release effect. If he had not done this then he probably wouldn’t have had even three years of ministry. But to his disciples he often spelt his message out plainly. So that they could continue his ministry they needed to understand. Last week we heard Jesus speaking about the Beatitudes as he taught about the nature of the kingdom of God. Now he seems to cut right to the chase, telling us things that we might not want to hear. This is very radical teaching. Is Jesus advising us to be doormats? Is he wanting us to allow those who abuse us to get away with it?
Surely not. But what he does do is show us another way of resolving conflict and breaking open a cycle of hatred. It is a very risky way, because it is one which led to Jesus losing his life. When he spoke of being struck on the cheek and turning the other, he did not just talk the talk. He was struck, he was stripped of his garments, he was insulted. In return he chose not to retaliate. He prayed that those who wronged him might be forgiven. In all of this, Jesus is praying for a new and better state of affairs; he is praying for the coming of the kingdom.
In the end retribution does not bring conflicts to an end, but peace-making does. The discrimination and hatred that was seen in South Africa under apartheid came to an end not because one group crushed another. It was through the invitation to share experiences and to listen to those experiences; to identify with people who had been seen as the enemy and to find a common humanity and a desire for a better future. I’m sure that at the heart of this was the prayers of those who had glimpsed that better future. The same was true of the situation in Northern Ireland; somewhere along the line the desire for peace and cooperation overcame the desire for revenge. If those lessons are forgotten the old ways can return. So can our old ways too. The gospel invites us to consider how God has been generous, compassionate and merciful towards us, even when we have not been generous, compassionate and merciful ourselves. It invites us in return to find ways of showing that generous love through our own lives.
Our world, our country, our community are in great need of that generous and reconciling love. If we wait until other people deserve it before making a move, then we shall be waiting a very long time. God has not waited until we deserve it before showing his mercy and unconditional love. If we find it hard to forgive and hard to move on, then the place to begin is with prayer, because prayer changes things and first of all it changes our heart. God wants us to work with him for the coming of the kingdom. Let’s not allow our selective hearing to put limits on that calling. We can’t do it alone, but we can do it together. What really makes the difference is that we do it together in the power of God’s love.
I am a rather old Saint.