Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Day for Life - a sermon

Trinity 8 (B)        Day for Life

The beginning of John 6, which we heard today, has the crowds wanting to make Jesus King; the end of the chapter (we shall hear in a month's time) ends with many followers falling away.

So it is really important for us to get to grips with the things that our Lord is revealing and teaching in the gospel over this next month or so – we do not want to misunderstand Him. Our Lord was not willing to compromise His message in order to keep followers – so we must be clear about the truth that He teaches and adhere to it no matter how unpopular it might make us, even amongst other disciples of Christ.

I want to focus on the word that seems to me at the heart of what our Lord is teaching us. That word is “Life”. Jesus sums it up in this way, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). You might also remember the beginning of John's gospel, when John says:

He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The word “Life” in Jesus' teaching is rich with meaning. It is Life that is most abundant and the Life that kindles all life in the universe, all life that we can see and wonder at, and even life that we cannot see and that is beyond all science. It is life that is not limited but reaches on and on into eternity; it is what Jesus calls eternal life. It is what our instincts perceive when we face death, and something deep in us says, “it is not meant to be this way, this life does not just end.” This life that dazzles us and causes us to wonder, and that seems to say to us that it is meant to reach beyond all that we can know now, points to the life that Jesus reveals to be the divine life.

Human beings live a fallen life and therefore there is death. But almost all human beings that have ever existed knew deep down that death was just not right – we know that through all the mythical stories and religions that try to deal with this human instinct that things are just not quite right. We call it paradise lost or the Fall.

As human beings we know the preciousness of life. I know its preciousness most acutely - I have held in my arms nine newborn babies in whose creation by God's grace I have cooperated. And we must wonder at all the life that sings around us – not least in this beautiful part of the world: wondrous plants and trees, wondrous insects and critters of every kind, wondrous birds and mammals, and most wondrous of all, human beings. And to this Abbey church that provides such warm hospitality come so much human life, pouring in through the gates – in part seeking and searching for answers: what is this life about?

And Jesus says to us all: I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly. God has become a human being in Christ, not just to tell us something, to give us a message, but to unite in Himself human life and divine life: to re-connect what was dis-connected, at the Fall when paradise was lost. It is in Christ's very own being, that this re-connection occurs, at the very moment Mary says to the Angel, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” When God became Man in her womb, so Human Life was re-connected to Divine Life. Mary's “Yes” to God, overturned, the “No” that humankind had said to God back in its primitive past, those whom we call Adam and Eve – our ancient ancestors who had disobeyed God and lost paradise.

The consequence of rejecting God (which is sin) was and is death (the opposite of life). And whenever and wherever God's ways are rejected so what arises is more death. And the twentieth century perhaps more than any other has been a century of death, of an inhuman amount of the destruction of life. The two world wars have scourged our planet of human life. At the heart of the second world war a godless Nazi vision of creating a master race at the expense of countless human beings in death camps extinguishing the life of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and the disabled, and destroying any other race or people who dared to challenge them. But no sooner did mankind recover from the second world war but in another godless optimism, of sexual liberation and hedonism in the 1960s, the Western world began to kill unborn babies on an unprecedented scale. This precious life is just snuffed out because it is unwanted. Sex has become a god now, and this god requires abortion as a backup contraceptive, in order that people can live a promiscuous lifestyle, in order that people can have as much sex as they want. And as well as that, the termination of those who have come near to the end of their lives – withdrawing life as if it is ours to take! And consequently devaluing the life of the frail and elderly who are made to think they are a burden! They are not a burden, they are life to be treasured! We are meant to boast about those whom we have enabled to live for such a long time as the pinnacle of our civilisation – yet our society increasingly provides ways in which the dying can be pushed into a quiet corner and be given death.

All this is what Blessed Pope John Paul II called the “Culture of Death”. What are we to do in the face of such death? If we are not careful, of course, we can fall into a dark hole of depression, and think there is no way out, and we might as well just try to get the best out of it that we can. Of course that is where many people are in our culture. But Christ comes to us and says to us that He has come that we might have Life; Life in abundance. Not a life that is based on snuffing out other life in order that we might have enjoyment – that is not life, that is barely a life, and it is a life that is careering towards an inexorable death!
Christ comes to give us life, life that is abundant. We are called to build a culture of life with confidence that the divine life is Light, Light that cannot be overcome by the darkness.

And the culture of Life begins here.

The culture of life begins with the Mass, with Christ who is the Bread of Life, and gives Himself, who is eternal life. When Christ says through the priest, “This is my body”, and “This is my blood”, and when the priest offers you “The Body of Christ”, so Christ is coming to each and every one of us that we might have life, eternal life. Christ comes to us as the Bread of Life. He feeds us with what we need for eternal life. He reveals the truth to us, comes to us in beauty, and He inspires us to goodness. But it begins with the Mass. And we receive Him who is that abundant Life, and we offer ourselves to be part of that building up of a culture of life that opposes death.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)