Isaiah receiving the burning coals

Fr Neil’s homily for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity, 11 July 2021

…He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Let that statement from Paul sink in. Everything that we are, our place in the universe, utterly miniscule as it is, was and is known by God before the beginning of creation. God has called us into existence, and calls us into his redemptive work of salvation through Christ, his Son our Lord.

Before our minds begin to get entangled with the issues of predestination, it is important to note that God knows that we will exist, who we are, and what we will be. Yet still from all eternity has called us into life in Christ. Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and holds the past, present and future in an ever-present moment. The fact that God has called us from all eternity and knows all that is, has been and will be doesn’t impinge on our expression of self-will. God will never stop calling even if we decide to continually reject the invitation.

In the quiet life of being a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees, the call of God breaks through, as our first reading describes¹. Amos is not trained in oratory nor has he graduated from a school of prophets. He is no professional who earns his keep from uttering the oracles of God. Yet he is invited by God to speak his message in the sanctuary of Bethel. He does so not for honour, riches or out of his own pride; but simply and humbly because God has called him to do it. Amos’ rewards are certainly not earthly as he is rejected and treated with contempt by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel.

The role of the messenger of God is often, in worldly terms, a call to failure. True — some do hear and receive the word of God — but many reject it, despise it and persecute those who utter God’s word. Most of the Old Testament prophets were rejected, persecuted and martyred. John the Baptist was beheaded, our Lord was crucified and all but one of the apostles were martyred — and even John was exiled at the end of his life to the island of Patmos.

Things haven’t changed in the present modern life of the Church in the world. Aid to the Church in Need, which seeks to help persecuted Christians around the world, is busier now than it has ever been. Christians in The Middle East, in Africa, in Asia and the Far East, in South America, are under attack and many are imprisoned. Even in our Western democracies, underpinned by Christian values as they are, the voice of the Church is slowly being silenced.

Most of us are not great in the eyes of the world, yet God has called us in Christ into the world to bear witness to his voice. How can we respond to that call when faced with the certainty that much of what we say, and the values we live by, will be rejected if not ridiculed? How tempting it is to not tell people of our faith, and to view it as purely a private matter! Are we silent on issues that impinge upon our faith? We know that holding to the teachings of the Church will almost certainly mean opposition from friends, family members and colleagues. There is even pressure within the Church for priests and deacons to be silent on “difficult moral issues”.

What is it that will enable us like the prophets, saints and martyrs to continue to proclaim and to live the life of faith despite the difficulties, trials and persecutions we might face?

Firstly: even though we are deemed as nothing extraordinary, we are yet chosen by God and are held for all eternity in the heart of his love. He has chosen us to be those through whom the wonder of his love in word and deed might be revealed to the world. This calling is not something we do in our own power, but is the work of God in us and through us.

Second is the bigger picture of God’s heavenly glory and the salvation won for us in Christ. St Paul speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit being a seal and guarantee of our inheritance², which is the receiving in Christ of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. How easy it is when we are facing difficulties and trials to fail to see beyond them! Unless we are able to cast the present on to the canvas of the eternal will of God and his triumph over sin and death, then we will become prisoners of the present and remain victims alone. Our mode of operation will be despair and grumbling and groaning alone about our life, not seeing anything beyond. How often do we find ourselves moaning about issues in the Church, in the world, at work, within our families and generally with our lot in life without any recourse to the joy and hope of our faith in Christ?

The extraordinary witness of so many of the saints and martyrs is that they were able joyfully to sing the praises of God in Christ and ask forgiveness for their persecutors as they went to their deaths. They could only give this miraculous response if they had truly understood their final destiny in Christ and treasured it in their hearts beyond all other cares, joys and hopes this world could afford.

Let us encourage one another to hold Christ before us and the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight, revealing the mystery of his will to unite all things in him: things in heaven and things on Earth.³

¹ Amos 7:12–15
² cf Ephesians 1:13–14
³ cf Ephesians 1:9–10