Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Homily at Parish Mass Lent 4 2015

Numbers 21.4-9
Ephesians 2.1-10
John 3.14-21

We’ve heard what is perhaps the best-known verse in the Bible: John 3.16. This is part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, who is struggling to understand and believe what Jesus is about.
John’s Gospel has already established that Jesus is the revelation of God, the Word, God’s expression of himself, made flesh and dwelling among us. With Nicodemus Jesus has spoken of the need to be “born again” or “born from above”, into the new life of the Spirit. But Nicodemus cannot understand this.
So Jesus takes him further. Jesus is the revelation of God, and this will be made known by his being “lifted up”, a phrase which refers both to his crucifixion and to his exaltation, his being raised to the glory of the Father. Then, all who look to him will be saved and have eternal life, the life of the Spirit, the life that God lives without limit.
Jesus’ being lifted up is the supreme revelation of God, because it is the supreme revelation of love. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. This is what Jesus has come to make known, and all who believe this will enter the Kingdom of God.
For John, to believe in Jesus is to accept to the revelation of God. It is to accept the invitation, indeed the summons, to enter God’s kingdom, the realm of the Spirit in which we are born from above. Those who believe in Jesus receive the Divine and imperishable life that makes us children of God.
To be born from above is to begin a new life, the life of the Spirit, a life born of God’s love. And those have received this life reflect it in their deeds. As Jesus says today, “those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God”.
For John, it is clear, believing in Jesus and doing good deeds go together. They are two sides of the same coin. Those who are born into the new life of the Spirit will live differently. Their deeds will reflect the love of God, made known in Jesus, in whom they have come to believe.
St Paul makes the same point in the extract from Ephesians we heard this morning. We are saved by God’s grace, that is, by God’s free gift. It is God who reveals himself to us in Jesus, God who summons us into his kingdom, God who gives us new birth as his children. But the fruit of this is good works, lives that express the love that has found us and saved us.
For John and for Paul the message is the same. Christians are not to be good because we are trying to buy God’s favour or earn salvation. Christians are to be good because this is part of the way God’s grace works in our lives.
This Lent we are looking at how we can be ambassadors for Jesus Christ, how we can make known the good news of God’s love. As a church we already reach out to our local community in various ways, and we also help those further afield. But today’s gospel challenges us to look at the connection between what we do and what we believe.
St Francis is supposed to have advised his followers, “preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words”. There is some truth in that. Our actions should speak to others of God’s love. But St Francis was speaking in a very different society from our own. Everyone around him knew the Gospel, and it was taken as read that the poor friars seeking to help the poor were living out their beliefs. They enacted the Gospel that everyone already knew.
We can hardly say that in our own society. There is widespread ignorance of the most basic Christian beliefs. People may notice the work churches do for the poor and marginalised. But they may just assume that Christians are nice or kind by temperament, rather than sinners like everyone else living transformed lives by the grace of God.
It has to be said too that many people’s experience of faith has been negative and damaging. People have been hurt and lives stunted by forms of religion that seem to have little to do with love. For some people talk of God only reinforces rejection and disapproval.
To preach the gospel today we do need words as well as actions. But we need to find the right words, ways of talking about our faith that will connect with people where they actually are.
So today in groups of two or three, could you discuss the points on the news sheet:
How is what we believe connected to the practical ways in which we seek to reach out to the world with God’s love? And where there are gaps (rather than if there are), can we think of ways of overcoming them? 

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