Parish Mass: Sunday 20th Feb at 9.30am
Lent Course: Thursdays after Mass (at approx 10.30am) from 10th March ubtil 7th April.
Living in Love and Faith: Every Thursday in March from 7.30pm to 10.00pm via zoom.
Lights for Christ follow up: St Peters 7.30pm Tuesday 22nd Feb with Hannah Sandoval.
Coffee mornings: every Tuesday from 10.00am, everyone welcome.
Sermon from the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
One slogan we have heard quite a lot about over the past year or two is “Levelling Up”. This two-word slogan holds a lot of promise for regions of the country that are feeling left behind. Our own region is one of them. Politicians choose slogans like this because they sound attractive and easy to remember. Of course it all depends whether “Levelling Up” delivers what it promises and I suppose it is a bit early to judge at this stage. I’m sure that “Levelling Up” was chosen to sound more attractive than “Levelling Down”: so it is not a case of everywhere else being brought down to the same level. Maybe places that have struggled will come to enjoy more of the good things that more prosperous ones have had, without those places losing their prosperity. At least that is the vision.
Whereas St Matthew’s teachings take place on a mountain, the teachings of Jesus today from St Luke’s gospel are given on a piece of level ground. Whether or not this was intentional I’m not sure. Somehow it does seem as though Jesus is sending out a message that he is among the people. He is not staying up on a moral high ground but is sharing with everyday people in their joys and sorrows, their hopes and fears, their experiences of new life and of loss. It is as if Jesus is either levelling down to be with us or levelling us up so that we can be with God.
In these teachings, which we call the Beatitudes, Jesus shows us how we can experience blessings and joy. To balance this, we also hear Jesus speak about the things that can rob us of that joy and blessing. It is not what we would expect. I doubt that anyone would hope to be poor or to go through times of sadness or loss. But Jesus tells us that we can find treasure when we have been left with very little, that through times of hunger we can find fulfilment and that through our tears we can laugh once more. It seems to turn our understanding upside down.
The pandemic has taken things away from many people and some have faced the greatest losses of all. In various ways, probably most of us have felt loss and sorrow of one kind or another. It would be wrong to tell any of these people that there is anything good in suffering, illness, loss of livelihood or bereavement. Material loss is hard, but what Jesus is showing us is that there is something that none of these losses, however grievous, can ever take away. Jesus could say this, because he didn’t just teach it: he lived it. In him the Word was made flesh. He suffered as we do, experiencing desertion, loss and betrayal. But through all these things, the love of God prevailed.
On the theme of levelling up – or down – the teachings of Jesus in Luke’s gospel seem to echo the praises of Mary when she visited her kinswoman Elizabeth. In what we call the Magnificat, earlier on in Luke’s gospel, she proclaimed that the powerful and the proud would be humbled, but that the lowly would be lifted up and the hungry fed. It is often in our losses and when we doubt our own strength and capability that we are most aware of our need for God. Then we find our consolation and strength.
The flipside of that is that when we are too proud of ourselves, when we put other people down and use our power to intimidate them, when we are too sure of our own knowledge, we then push God out and lose our consolation, peace and joy. The effects of this are all too clear. The prophet Jeremiah counsels against relying too much on material goods or human strength. There is nothing wrong with having plenty or with being beautiful, or successful or clever. But if this is all we cling to and aspire to, then this will leave us barren like dry scrub in the wasteland. When we turn to God we find that we have a constant source of nourishment that sustains us through thick and thin. In the same way, St Paul realised that nothing we can do without God can gain for us that everlasting treasure. It comes only through the death and Resurrection of Jesus.
So through our losses we can experience new life; out of sadness, lasting happiness can come. It only makes sense when we live by that understanding. If we want to know what it looks like in practice, then look no further than Jesus. How ever we come to Mass today - happy or sad - we come to that level ground where we receive not only the teachings, but also the Body of Christ. We are not levelled out into a kind of flat uniformity, but in all our differences we find common ground, where we are loved unconditionally and where lasting joy is ours.
I am a rather old Saint.