Hi and welcome to The Word Down Under; I’m Brother Brenden coming to you from the Oratory of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary a ministry of the Unified Old Catholic Church in Australia.
I want to start by apologising for the lateness of this week’s message. For those of you who follow the Oratory, the Church or I on Facebook will know I’ve been unwell lately and have only just started to get back into the swing of things. I also want to send a big thank you to all of those who have been praying for my health, I’m confident that God has heard those prayers and I’m on the mend.
The reading from the Gospel for today is a short one by comparison with those we’ve seen lately but despite its length its message is a strong one. If you want to follow along the reading is found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3 beginning at verse 21:
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.
And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
As I said before we started reading, though this passage is only five verses long it has a profound message; encapsulated within it is the essence of the history of Salvation. In creation God created a perfect world and within that perfect world, Eden, he placed us, His children. Now I don’t know about you, but I love my children a whole heap and I’d give anything for them to be happy and it’s just the same with God. God is perfect in all that he does including loving his creation, so God’s love for us is so great that He would do anything for our eternal happiness. In fact it’s not that long ago that we remembered God’s great sacrifice; he sent His one and only Son to be crucified for us so that we can return to Him.
What really strikes me in today’s reading though is what Jesus is really saying about who he has come to save. We have to remember that Jesus wasn’t talking to a group of people like we might find wandering the streets of our town. Chances are that 99.9% of his audience were Jews, there may have been the odd pagan or two roaming around, but we are in Israel. To the Jews, they were God’s chosen people and the Messiah was coming for them. In these few short verses Jesus really turns this notion on its head…in fact the whole message of Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice was a real surprise for the Jews, but that’s a whole different story.
Jesus quite clearly tells those who are listening that he has not come to save the Jews alone, rather, he has come to save ALL, “God so loved the world”, not God so loved the Jews. The mission of Jesus, and His continuing mission through you and me, is to make all of the world aware of the gift of salvation through Christ that all may be saved.
Now what’s interesting is that I’ve read papers and sermons by teachers and preachers that quite clearly agree with me on this; salvation is a gift and it is intended for all. However, there seems to be a real movement amongst the mainstream Churches to leave the message here and in my mind it is only halfway done. Sure, Christ came to redeem all of us from Adam right on through to the last human born but are we all merely saved because Christ died and left us this gift or is there more to it? The words that follow make it clear that to receive the gift we have to believe, but believe what?
At the very least I would say that we have to believe that Christ has come to redeem us, we have to believe that His work on earth was ordained by God and that His words are our guiding light. In fact I’d go further and say that we have to accept who Christ is in the sense defined by the early fathers of our faith. To reject who or what the Apostles and their successors said Christ was is to reject Christ himself. Too often I have heard people say, but Jesus loves me and loves everyone, he doesn’t come to condemn but to save. While in some ways this is very true again, we are only seeing half the message.
Jesus does not condemn us; he loves us and has opened the path of salvation for us through His sacrifice, however, we have to accept that sacrifice and all that it means for our lives. If we reject Christ, His teachings and His Church then we are condemned, not by Christ, but by ourselves through the action of our own wills. So how do we stay in the light and walk the path that Christ would have us follow?
For me, that answer is simple, we need to cling to the plain word of God found in the Bible. When I say things like this I am often asked how we can know what the Bible means because it seems so confusing and it’s interpreted in so many ways…I have to say I love being asked this question because for me it is the key to why I am a Catholic Christian.
I always answer these types of questions with a question; “who made the Bible?” It’s interesting to see what people say about this; invariably you get answers like Jesus, the Apostles, God and sadly they’re all wrong.
True, the books that we find in the Bible were written by holy men, the Apostles being amongst them; however, they didn’t put together the Bible as we have it today. It comes as a bit of a surprise to many Christians that the Bible was actually compiled and decided upon by catholic Bishops and then at the earliest three to four hundred years after Christ’s death. I could go on and talk for ages about the process of how the Bible came to be, but for my purposes today we just need to know that it was the Bishops and Councils of the catholic church that brought the Bible together as we know it.
Now, if these men had enough of the Gift of the Holy Spirit to know which of the of writings purporting were of God and should be in the Bible why do we doubt the ability of these same men to tell us what the Bible means? For me, the only clear way to know what the Bible means and to know how God would have me walk the path of Christ is to follow the teachings of those set aside by God to lead his people and to be shepherds to them, especially those who knew the Apostles or were taught directly by their disciples. If you can’t read the words of the Creeds (the Apostles, the Nicaean and the Athanasian) and unreservedly, without explanation, agree to their words, then I’d say you have an issue.
We need to walk in the light and share the light that has been left for us in Scripture and in the words of the Church. If we don’t follow in the ways the Spirit has laid out for us then are we really following Christ? It’s too easy to say that Christ loves everyone so everyone will be save…that’s rejecting the Gospel and what Christ stood for…he stood for love, but he also stood for truth and justice.
I hope and pray that we can all look to God’s word and the words of His servants and find in them the path that keeps us in the light so that when we are finished in this life we can be accepted in the next as a good and faithful servant.
I hope that the coming week is one filled with joy and blessings, and with the pure light of the Gospel. I hope that you’ll join me now in prayer:
God of Light, you came to share your presence with the world and to give us the gift of salvation; through your grace may we be able to restore the dignity of our human nature and turn to the light. Guide us in paths of righteousness that we may fulfil our as your disciples and share the pure light of the Gospel through word, deed and example. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Until we meet again at The Word Down Under, may the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.