Choosing for God

Homily at St Philip Evans on the First Sunday of Advent, Year B.four stylized heads with book, cross, praying hands and bread

The Seven Word Sermon: Make godly choices. The alternative is sin!

Today, we begin a new cycle of the Church’s year, a new beginning, a good time to get back to basics. I’d like to invite the children who will prepare to make their First Holy Communion next summer to come forward and help me with this sermon…

Children, today I would like to start at the very beginning, and that means starting with God. God is the name we give the three persons who run the universe. They were there before time and space began, they called the universe into being, and they gave us life.

The strange thing about God is that although God is three persons – we call them Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – they never disagree with each other about anything. They share one will, one set of beliefs and hopes about us. And why do they never disagree? They are wise and kind, and they always choose the very best thing they could do; they always get it right – so they always agree. They share one will.

Now the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in charge of the whole universe, but the way they run it is a bit “hands-off”. When they made us human beings, they left space for us to make choices of our own. We can choose to do the very best thing, the thing that is most helpful to other people – or we can be a bit selfish. God won’t stop us from doing that. But God does ask us to think carefully about what we do. God whispered to lots of prophets in the Old Testament; and then one of the three persons in God, the one we call the Son, became a human being, baby Jesus, born of Mary. When he grew up, he was able to speak God’s words to us. One of the things he said – we heard in today’s reading – was this. “Each one of you has a job to do. One day, God is going to check up on you to make sure you are doing it!”

But what does God want us to do? This is the hard part. Our church hasn’t done a very good job of helping us “get it”.

When your great-grandparents were small, we told them that God expected them to be “good people”. And what is a good person like? A good person never has bad thoughts! A good person always goes to Mass on Sunday. They thought that if they didn’t do all the things a good person was supposed to do, God would be angry. So if they were stuck in bed with ‘flu on Sunday, God would be angry, right? No, that would be silly! And if a naughty thought popped into their heads, even if they said straight away, “That’s a bad thought and I don’t want it.” God would be angry, right? No, that would be silly too!

By the time your parents were born, our church had a different focus. We kept telling people how loving and kind God is, that whatever we do, God will always love us and forgive us and give us another chance. I’m sure you’ve read stories from the Bible in school, like the Prodigal Son or Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, where Jesus gives people another chance. It’s all true! Sometimes we feel bad inside because we know we have done something wrong. Those are times we can turn to Jesus – he can always hear what we are thinking – and say “sorry”. But there was still a problem – our church was so busy telling us God wanted to forgive us when we got it wrong, that it didn’t give much time to teaching us how to get it right.

So now I am going to have a go. What does God want? God wants us to make good choices. God wants us to choose things the way Jesus showed us. We’ve got a special name for people who choose to do things Jesus’s way – “Disciples”! God is inviting all of you to become disciples, just like St Andrew, St Peter, St Mary Magdalen and the other friends of Jesus. To be a disciple we have to do two things. First, we have to learn what Jesus asked us to do. Second, whenever we need to make choices, we must ask, “What would Jesus want us to do?” That’s why, after Christmas, you will have a special course. We will think a bit more about what Jesus has asked us to do. Then we will help you make your first confession – so if you have made bad choices, you can say sorry to Jesus and promise to make better choices in future. And all of this is leading up to one very special thing Jesus asked us to do. He blessed bread and wine, said “this is my body, this is my blood” and asked us to eat and drink. This is why we take Holy Communion. It’s what Jesus wants us to do!

In the Second Reading we heard today, St Paul is happy because the church in Corinth had been blessed with lots of people willing to do God’s work. We have been blessed here in St Philip Evans Parish with lots of people who help to do God’s work too. And because we are beginning a new church year, I would like to bless and re-commission our parish ministers. Children, since they will be helping you to take the next step in belonging to our church community, I’d like your help doing this.

First of all, we have ministers who help us know what Jesus wants us to do because they read from God’s word, the Bible. Could I ask all our parish readers present today, to stand?

Child 1: Will you proclaim God’s word clearly, faithfully and prayerfully?

Readers: I will.

Priest: Everlasting God,

when he read in the synagogue at Nazareth,
your Son proclaimed
the good news of salvation
for which he would give up his life.
Bless these readers.
As they proclaim your words of life,
strengthen their faith
that they may read with conviction
and boldness,
and put into practice what they read.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Thank you, readers for your faithful service. Please be seated. Next, we have those who prepare our building and our worship for our weekend Mass. Please stand if you are in the Singing Group – among the church cleaners or flower arrangers – if you collect or count the weekly offering – if you work on the newsletter or handouts, in the sacristy or in the narthex – together with those who help maintain our buildings or do work of administration.

Child 2: Will you continue your work to make our gatherings for the Lord’s day the best that they can be?

Ministers: I will.

Priest: God of Glory,

your beloved Son has shown us
that true worship comes from
humble and contrite hearts.
Bless our brothers and sisters,
who have responded to the needs of our parish
and wish to commit themselves to your service.
Grant that their ministry may be fruitful
and our worship pleasing in your sight.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Thank you, each of you, for your faithful service. Please be seated. Now we have our catechists, who prepare children and adults to be baptised, confirmed and receive holy communion – please stand – together with our parish bereavement support group and our deaf pastoral group.

Child 3: Will you continue to work with those who need your assistance?

Ministers: I will.

Priest: 

Lord God, in your loving kindness
you sent your Son to be our shepherd and guide.
Continue to send workers into your vineyard
to sustain and direct your people.
Bless these ministers.
Let your Spirit uphold them always
as they take up their new responsibility
among the people of this parish.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Thank you, each of you, for your faithful service. Please be seated. Finally, I turn to our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, who are entrusted with carrying the Body and Blood of Jesus within and beyond our church services.

Priest: Are you resolved to undertake the office of giving the body and blood of the Lord to your brothers and sisters, and so to serve to build up the Church?

Ministers: I am.

Priest: Are you resolved to administer the holy eucharist with utmost care and reverence?

Ministers: I am.

Priest: 

Dear friends in Christ,
let us pray with confidence to the Father;
let us ask him to bestow his blessings
on our brothers and sisters,
chosen to be ministers of the eucharist.

(Pause)

Merciful Father, creator and guide of your family,
bless + our brothers and sisters.
May they faithfully give the bread of life to your people.
Strengthened by this sacrament,
may they come at last to the banquet of heaven.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

In this parish, for a number of years, we have had a custom that the ministers of Holy Communion say the name of the person receiving Holy Communion when they distribute the Body or Blood of Christ. This is a beautiful custom, because it reminds us that the Lord calls each of his beloved sheep by name – but it has one major drawback. It is not possible for every minister to know every communicant by name. This creates a distinction between “known” and “unknown” parishioners which is unfortunate, because one of our strong Christian values is the way we welcome the stranger. So today, while I thank our Extraordinary Ministers for the way they have served until now, I ask that from now on, we revert to the usual practice of the Church of simply saying “The Body of Christ – the Blood of Christ”. Communion is a personal encounter between the soul, and Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament; the minster simply offers Christ and takes a step back.

But it would be a shame if we were no longer greeted by name in church. I would therefore like to commission every parishioner as a minister of welcome. From this day onwards, when we offer the Peace to one another at Mass, I would like us to do so by name – and unlike communion time, at that point in the Mass it is possible to ask the name of the other person if you do not already know it. Therefore, let us practice right now! Please ask the name of the people sitting closest to you, and then, by name, let us offer one another a sign of peace.