A Homily for Holy Communion on
Friday, 30th of December, 2011, 9 a.m.
for the Sisters of the Love of God
Fairacres Priory, Oxford
Readings: I John 2:12-17 & Luke 2:36-40
Loving This Passing World
+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.
To say that you have a favourite New Testament scholar is tantamount to admitting that you don’t get out much, but mine is the late Father Raymond E. Brown. Stumped by today’s readings, I turned to the little of my library that lives with me and was delighted to chance on his “Introduction to the New Testament” for some light on the epistle reading. I was not disappointed. His gift was to ask questions about the texts which seek to discern the story behind them in such a way that surely even the most bull-headed, or even bone-headed, fundamentalist could only find fascinating. We may end up feeling we can be certain of less, but wondering more, about the mystery of God revealed in Christ.
What catches my ear about today’s epistle reading is “You must not love this passing world or anything that is in the world”. Taken literally, or perhaps really I mean obviously, this is pretty stark. What, really? Nothing? Is there nothing good in creation? Why ever would God have been born incarnate and died to save a passing world? And here’s the glimmer of light to which Father Raymond directs us (I must call him that, as “Father Brown” sounds like an amateur detective) – the writer knows that we have heard the Good News. Like anyone with a short space of time for talking or writing, he must be concise, and being concise means leaving things out, letting the audience of listeners or readers fill in the gaps. We know that God loved the world enough to send his son to it; we know that we are to love one another, because God loves us just as Jesus loved his disciples; we know that God took real human form, was seen on earth and went about among us. What is meant here is the mistake of loving what is passing, rather than what is lasting – the sensual body, the lustful eye, pride in possessions – these things are passing, but the love of God shown in Christ, in creation, and in one another, is not.
Father Raymond suggests that John the epistle-writer is drawing a picture of a church in schism, and those who have left are the ones who count the material world of such little worth that, perversely, they have ended up cherishing its trinkets more than those left behind, who are seeking to do the will of God in this fallen world. After all, if things have no real value, why not have lots of them? If the body has no significance, why not help yourself to other people’s? Teachings like John’s have been part of our culture for so long that it is difficult at first to see what on earth he is on about – aren’t these things obvious? But watch the television, particularly the sensuality of the adverts, or even of the hoardings advertising the otherwise innocent South Pacific in this fair city, read the news of the money-makers in the city, and we swiftly see that these lessons have been widely discarded. “Why bother about my brother’s welfare, when he’s going to be saved anyway? And now I shall help myself to a few more million quid before going down to the gym, and dazzling everyone with my amazing fitness – as I’ve no need to be good, I might as well be looked at”.
“Fit for life” the slogan goes, but which life? The life of the world that is coming to an end? Or the life that remains for ever, even after we must exchange time for eternity? You choose, says John; choose God’s life, as he chose ours. Amen.