Friday, 13 October 2017

St Bartholomew, Brighton Trinity 18 (28A) 15th October 2017

The 22nd Chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel and the second verse: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. God is the king, Jesus is the son and we and the cosmos are part of the preparing of the bride for that banquet. The whole of history is headed towards a wedding banquet where Jesus is Bridegroom and the Church is Bride.

All we’re about this morning at Mass is preparing for the end of all things when God will be everything to everyone at his wedding banquet. Blessed are those who are called to his supper!

Out of the puzzle of today’s Gospel we can distil such joy and hope!

Matthew 22 IS a puzzle. You need bible scholarship to make sense of it. Things like invited guests killing servants who bring their invitations, a man hauled unexpectedly from the streets expected to have a wedding garment! Fortunately we have four Gospels we can look at side by side, as well as knowledge of the circumstances in which St Matthew wrote his edition, especially the Jewish War with Rome that ended with Jerusalem’s destruction in 70AD. If you look at the parallel version in Luke Chapter 14 you see a more life-like parable of people making excuses after being invited to a great dinner. Matthew, writing primarily for Jews who’d rejected and put to death Christian evangelists, shades Our Lord’s original story with an allegory that presents Jerusalem’s loss as judging their rejection of Christ. That expansion explains the un-Jesus-like sound of today’s Gospel. As for the man without a wedding garment, it's a separate parable about the need to be ready for the Lord’s invitations Matthew’s  stitched onto the banquet parable. Also, whereas Luke’s banquet is given by a private person Matthew’s is given by a king for his son, the element I’m picking up on, and that’s an interpretation of Jesus’s original parable in the light of his death and resurrection.

Like St Matthew we read the teaching of Jesus Christ in the light of what followed. The Buddha gave his teaching - there are many Buddhas on sale down the Lanes - but, unlike the Buddha, Christ gave his life. When you leave the Lanes to enter St Bartholomew you see no Buddha but a great Cross above an immense altar. Here Sunday by Sunday, day by day we recall Christ’s parables whilst going on to plead the sacrificial gift revealed upon the Cross. Wagner built this Church as a great place to celebrate this greatest of gifts.

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. God is the king, Jesus is the son given on Calvary who, by the Holy Spirit, is gathering through history the scattered children of God to his banquet. History is about the purification of God’s children in anticipation of full union with the Blessed Trinity when we shall see God as he is and become like him. In the gift of the eucharist we eat and drink of Christ veiled in the sacrament to anticipate his unveiling when God will be all in all.

In his book Corpus Christi Anglican theologian Eric Mascall writes ‘there is only one Mass, offered by the great high priest, Jesus Christ, at the Last Supper, on Calvary and in heaven… ultimately we do not celebrate masses or attend mass; we celebrate mass and attend mass. For every earthly mass is simply the Church’s participation in the one heavenly Mass… the Eucharist makes accessible to us (human beings), at our different points of space and moments of time, the one extra-spatial and supra-temporal redemptive activity of Christ, ‘who ever lives to make intercession for us’.

As we sing in Bourne’s great hymn: Paschal Lamb, thine Offering finished once for all when thou wast slain, in its fullness undiminished shall for evermore remain, cleansing souls from every stain. Sacrifice is about love and not death, Christ’s once for all death is part of his perpetual love offering seen at Mass. As Thomas Aquinas says of the Mass: O sacred feast in which we partake of Christ, his sufferings are remembered, our minds are filled with his grace and we received a pledge of the glory that is to be ours.

If Brighton’s Buddha’s - though pointers to godly detachment - distract from the unique gift of God in Jesus Christ, her cinemas are more attractive - I speak as a regular customer. To make a more favourable comparison, those clips before the main film give us a preview of forthcoming attractions. What we’re about this morning like a cinema trailer, is a meal that’s a taster of the full thing, the heavenly banquet.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world happy are those who are called to his supper - in this meal we see the sacrificial gift of Jesus opening heaven to us under the veil of bread and wine. We eat and drink expressing our hope and our joy, in anticipation of heaven which scripture and sacrament depict as a banquet.

The whole of history is headed towards this banquet at which Jesus is Bridegroom and the Church is Bride. And, yes, we will indeed need garments for this wedding, the garments of humility and confidence in God expressed in that beautiful and challenging prayer of the Eucharist: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Father Peter Nissen’s First Eucharist St Chad, Holt, Wrexham, Wales 1st October 2017

It’s good to be in Holt - well worth the four and a half hour journey from Sussex - to be part of a memorable week for you and Gresford on the occasion of my friend Fr Peter’s ordination. I’m grateful to him - and Fr Tudor especially - for the invitation to speak God’s Word into a robust pastoral scene that owes a lot to inspirational and hard working priests.

Which of the two did the will of his father? Jesus asks in the Gospel. They said, ‘The first.’
Matthew 21:31a

I know a priest who’s got by his desk a tablet inscribed ‘love is not about words spoken but deeds done’. He’s a Jesuit priest and the quotation is from Jesuit founder St Ignatius of Loyola who knew today’s Gospel.

Last time I was in Wales I did what they call an 8 day Ignatian retreat at St Beuno’s in which I followed under guidance the reflections of this Saint especially on creation, helped by the lovely scenery. I was led to see God’s glory shining from the Welsh fields and hedgerows and to make a fresh surrender to the one by whose loving word all that is, including you and I, has come into being.

Jesus knows love isn’t just words spoken but deeds done because he is true God as well as true Man. Our whole existence is a growth into that truth and integrity, into a state where our words are powerful and our deeds extraordinary through the gift of the Holy Spirit we invoke this morning with Father Peter, at this his first celebration of the Eucharist.

Today’s celebration opens a new phase in Peter’s life and ministry in fulfilment of the call he felt quite long ago at the age of 13 and right across the sea in Denmark. It returned to him after he responded to the call of the Holy Spirit and entered the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in Yorkshire where I first met him. Since then it has been a joy to see Peter’s vocation develop through marriage to Bodil and now through ordination to the priesthood.

Like Peter I’m something of an apologist - one who speaks and writes in defence of Christianity - as well as something of a contemplative. In the time I’ve known him both of us have been involved in challenging the contemporary reshaping of the sacraments of marriage and ordination but Peter over that time has allowed himself to be reshaped by those God-given sacraments. He’s been married and ordained!

To be married is to lose yourself in a loving union with your spouse - all that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you. To be ordained is to lose yourself in love towards God and people. Let today’s Saint, Therese of Lisieux, be heard briefly in what I share. She had a one-line summary for the purpose of Christian existence, especially that of priests, namely to love God and make him loved.

Marriage and ordination - you have certainly not just talked about these, Fr Peter, you have done the deeds! Thank God for Bodil, and thank God for this loving Christian community gathered to mark your inauguration as a priest.

As you have received not just words but deeds of love from your wife and your congregation so you are to be reminded by today’s Gospel to return to them deeds of love, to pray in a familiar Anglican prayer that as priest ministering in God’s temple…you may say and sing with your lips what you believe in your heart,  and show that faith forth in your life.

Which of the two did the will of his father? Jesus asks. They said, ‘The first.’
Loving Jesus and making him loved as priest or as a Christian is a response to what lies at the heart of the eucharist, namely the cross and resurrection of Jesus which are abiding realities that draw us all into life in its fullness here on earth and there in heaven.

We are each one of us loved by everlasting love. In the eucharist the priest is Jesus’ man setting forth in bread and wine that awesome truth. This is my body… this is my blood… I give myself in sacrifice to you and to my Father so that joining me, offering yourselves with me as a living sacrifice, we may love God and make him loved.

In the sacramental action of the eucharist Christ is present by the Holy Spirit in word and sacrament, in priest and people, to bring his cross and resurrection to bear upon us and upon the world as it in turn bears upon our hearts. As often as we celebrate this mystery - for want of a better word - the kingdom and will of God and the honouring of his name are advanced across the world as we bring its joys and sorrows to him on our hearts. To handle the bread and wine for the Lord and his people is an awesome privilege. As Peter kneels today for the first time as a consequence of words we have given him to speak for us under God may he be the more submitted to the Lord he professes before us!  May his words be inhabited by the Holy Spirit and, since there is no word of God without power, may those words flowing from truth and submission of life, overflow in extraordinary deeds of love and service through the gift of the same Spirit.

The Gospel today is for Peter but also for Bodil without whom Peter’s ministry would, in his own words, be beyond his daring. The Gospel is for each one of us who accompany this inspirational couple as we seek inspiration for ourselves to both love God and make him loved through practical obedience. God grant us ministering in God’s temple…to say and sing with our lips what we believe in our heart, and show that faith forth in our lives.

I would like to invite you to reflect with me in a brief silence upon those words before I close with the well known Prayer of St Ignatius, fitting for both today’s new celebrant and for each one of us as we offer the eucharist with him.

Take, Lord, and receive all that I am: my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire life.
Lord, take all I have and call my own. You have given these gifts to me - now I return them.
Take these gifts for all is yours. Dispose of them according to your will.
Because, Lord, all I need is your love and your grace. That is enough for me. Amen

Saturday, 23 September 2017

St Mary, Balcombe Trinity 15 24th September 2017

How do you see God?

Has the pastoral vacancy enlarged him for you? Most people pray - if only when a brick falls on their toes - Oh God! Losing Fr Desmond has meant some of you have had not exactly a brick but certainly a load of stuff to deal with. No man of God is a good chance to be more the people of God in one sense, but in another sense it's an unwelcome discontinuity in the pastoral and liturgical scene at St Mary’s. God though is God of the gaps - not philosophically in the sense of being invoked where there's no rational explanation for something - but God of your pastoral gap alias the interregnum. I’m glad to be alongside you as a godly fill in if you like.

How do you see God?

This morning's readings have a lot to say about this. I’m struck by the capacity of scripture to enlarge our vision of God. Years ago I had a faith crisis. I went back to Mirfield where I trained as a priest. I hardly felt God present in my life. I said the same to the monk who took me on as guide. I remember he said to me: ‘It's not God that’s left you, John, but your vision of him. Pray for a vision of God more to his dimensions and less to your own’. I did so, with his help and that of the Bible. Something happened, and here I am years on still working as God’s priest!

Today’s readings are particularly encouraging and challenging in terms of the vision of God they present.

Let’s turn first to our Gospel passage from Matthew Chapter 20:1-16. Look at the God Jesus speaks of and is himself to reveal by dying and rising! He is symbolised in the land owner who goes out no less than five times in a day to hire labourers for his vineyard. They are hired with a promised reward but at the end of the day all who worked, even those who signed on at 5 o’clock, receive the usual daily wage. All hell breaks out as the workers who’d done a whole day complain, ‘you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat’. These workers represent the Pharisees and others who as faithful religious adherents resented how Jesus favoured non-adhering outsiders like tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus lets the landowner speak for God: are you envious because I am generous?

How do you see God?

I see God as a smiler. He smiles on us, especially when religious people - allegedly his people - frown on the workings of grace. Church life - village life too - is often about working your way up the hierarchy so that newcomers are always suspect. In Horsted Keynes we joked about people only being accepted as villagers after quarter of a century or more, but there was unpalatable truth there to joke about. Maybe it's as true in Balcombe! In Horsted Keynes the pastoral vacancy is surprising in its engaging relatively new worshippers more in leadership within the congregation. May that be true here.

Where people see God as all embracing there are no grounds for discrimination and people very often learn to swim by being thrown in at the deep end!

As I say I see God as a smiler. I’ve just been to Lourdes with its smiling Virgin Mary who very much represents her Son’s humour in this passage! It's patient smiling, but the wounds in the risen Christ’s body born to this day in the heavenlies were made by the narrow thinking that handed over to crucifixion One who taught God as God of all and not just the godly.

Are you envious because I am generous? The Lord says to us this morning and as he says it he is asking us: how do you see me, how do you see God?

If the Gospel reading at this Sunday’s Eucharist encourages us to expand our thinking of God as a God with love for everyone and not just churchgoers the first reading opens another frontier.

Christian faith sees God’s love as all embracing, literally embracing this world and the next. This service is living memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection opening up a vision of God beyond this world, beyond our human imagining. For Saint Paul the experience of Christ’s love was such that, writing most likely from his death cell in Rome to Philippi he is able to say to me living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. For Paul and for all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour there is an assurance that God is God of the dead and the living. He is no this worldly construct but a God who reveals the resurrection so that for a thousand years in this building Sunday has been kept as marker of that event.

How do you see God?

The Lord’s people gather in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day around the Lord’s table because Jesus Christ rose breaking the chains of death and opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. To live with Christian faith is to live with death domesticated, brought down to our level or rather made able for us to handle it through knowledge of Jesus Christ who has brought death to heel. To me living is Christ and dying gain… my desire is to be with Christ, for that is far better. Only though when we have run our measured earthly course, for us as for Paul, will that thought begin to triumph as I have seen it triumph on many a devout Christian deathbed.

Are you sure in your faith? Is it in a God who’s all embracing, who’s bigger than death?

Pray for assurance, seek it in prayer this morning and this sacrament which is medicine of immortality. Talk to the priest afterwards if you’re not sure.

Meanwhile may God grant us all by his Spirit a vision of himself more and more to his dimensions and less and less to our own!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Trinity 13 (23rd of Year A) Presentation Church, Haywards Heath 10th September 2017

At my ordination as a priest 40 years ago the Bishop asked me this question in Sheffield Cathedral: Will you give your faithful diligence … to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded? I replied with the others: I will so do, by the help of the Lord.

This commitment came back to me as I looked through our readings for Trinity 13 with their focus on church discipline.  The reading from Ezekiel Chapter 33 reminds the prophet of his watchman role which connects with the gospel passage from Matthew 18 that provides instruction about correcting Church members.

The Anglican tradition emphasizes discipline alongside word and sacrament as foundational to church life. At their ordination, therefore, priests and bishops commit to teach, lead worship and pastor the flocks committed to them.

Among other words from the ordination service that stick with me – I read them every year before the renewal of priestly vows at the Chrism eucharist with the diocesan Bishop in Holy Week – are these: Have always… printed in your remembrance how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The Church and Congregation whom you must serve is his Spouse, and his Body. And if it shall happen the same Church, or any Member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue.

As we heard warning in the first reading to the sentinel priest Ezekiel, their blood I will require at your hand. Neglect of Christ’s flock purchased at the price of his own blood is as serious a thing as you can imagine.     It has made me as a priest more concerned to feed the sheep than entertain the goats! By that I mean this: we priests very easily get lost among non-churchgoers in our parishes to the exclusion of care for those who actually attend church and developing their gifts of praise and service.
It’s never been easy to live and teach Christianity, let alone to minister the discipline of Christ. I’ve done my best and continue to do so through writing and broadcasting. I was at Cuddesdon College yesterday contributing to the Oxford Diocesan Festival of Prayer sponsored by my commissioning publisher, the Bible Reading Fellowship in conjunction with two books I’ve published recently on the Jesus Prayer and on Christian Rule of Life. The last of the two I’ll drawing on now as I speak about our readings.

What is the discipline of Christ? How do I teach it?

Attend eucharist every Sunday wherever you are unless very seriously hindered. Pray every day. Read your bible. Serve the needy which includes giving your money to serve God’s work. Confess your sins.

These five Christian duties - worship, prayer, study, service and reflection - are the basic disciplines Christians are under. We need these disciplines. They’re paralleled by our Muslim sisters and brothers whose Five Pillars consist of knowing their creed,  praying five times each day, giving to the poor and needy, fasting during the month of Ramadan and making pilgrimage to Mecca.

Oh that you and I had the fervour and discipline of Islam!

Back to the scriptures! The Gospel reading makes clear that discipline in the Church isn’t just from the church pastor but fraternal, that is, carried out by church members to the benefit of each other
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. We are all involved in church discipline and not just the priest. He of course is under a special discipline himself being accountable to God through the Bishop. At the Presentation we also have a team sharing leadership and oversight of our congregation with Fr Ray and Fr David and their supporting priests.

If there are sick needing visiting, grieved needing counsel, church members who’ve fallen away or whatever we all share responsibility for them, according to the Gospel. However, according to the first reading and the ordination service, there is a special responsibility that lies with our priests and to a lesser extent lay leadership teams.

At my ordination the Bishop said these words from St John’s Gospel Chapter 20 echoed at the end of today’s Gospel from Matthew 18: Receive the holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Awesome words – what dignity, what responsibility! Also behind my preference to be called Father John, since to imagine John Twisleton could do what a priest does is fanciful and irreverent - I can change no bread and wine or penitent heart.

Please pray for us priests, for all who minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ. Pray that we may carry our office courageously, believe in our priesthood and love our people. May we truly believe Christ’s doctrine, enter more fully into the awe of the sacraments and live more fully under the discipline of Christ so we priests who minister in God’s temple…may say and sing with our lips [what] we believe in our hearts, and show [that faith] forth in our lives.

Today’s Gospel ends with a promise to all Christians which has echoes of the ordination rite. Our Lord says whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Where Christians are united, where they accept a mutual discipline of worship, prayer, study, sacrificial service and confession of sin, the Holy Spirit can come in power among them. Part of that unity is obedience to our leaders in all things lawful and honest, you to me and my fellow priests, we priests to the bishop and the bishop to God. As St Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

Indeed may peace be with us, respect for one another, priests and people, and agreement together in a common discipline so that where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, he may be among us.           We have heard his word and approach the sacrament but let’s now take a moment to think of and renew commitment to the five Christian  disciplines I mentioned:  Sunday worship, daily prayer, bible study, sacrificial service including giving our money to God’s work and reflection including confession of sin. Let’s pause for a minute and welcome any reminder the Lord has for us as individuals.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

St Bartholomew, Brighton Trinity 12 3rd September 2017 Romans 12.9-21

It is a very great privilege for me - I’m Canon John Twisleton - to be back with friends at St Bartholomew’s after my 8 years at St Giles, Horsted Keynes. Before that I served as Diocesan Mission & Renewal adviser when I had the joy of fostering the work of God in this parish.

Now I’m living in Haywards Heath I’ve got the best of both worlds. I have the great choices of going up to Brighton inland (they call it London) or travelling down to London-by the sea!

This morning I exercised another choice celebrants at Bart’s are given between having the Old Testament or New Testament reading before the Gospel. That wasn’t a hard choice since my favourite book of the Bible is the letter of St. Paul to the Romans we’ve been following as an option on Sundays for a month or two.

Why is Romans so exciting and important? I think because, unlike other apostolic letters, you find the whole gospel within it, both in principle and in application.

You start in chapters 1 to 3 with the downward spiral of the human condition and its crying out for salvation summarised by Paul later on as I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (7:19). You then move on in Chapters 5-11 from our need for help to the good news of God’s loving provision in Christ’s death and resurrection and the gift of the Spirit by which God’s love is poured into our hearts. After a little excursion in Chapters 9 to 11 on how the Christian good news is good news for the Jews as well, the letter moves to its conclusion, like any good sermon, by turning to application.

This is the background to today’s reading from Chapter 12 on how God’s love shines out in Christian life as warm-hearted, inspired, hospitable, humble, extravagant and militant.

I invite you to turn to the pew sheet and follow the passage again, starting with verses 9 and 10 of Romans 12.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour.

Let love be genuine. When I was a child I was accused of showing cupboard love, affection to my parents to get a biscuit out of the cupboard. Love that’s genuine has no such pretension. It comes from the heart. Later in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 when Paul says to give your body to be burned means nothing without love he’s saying love is warm-hearted if it's anything at all.

Christian love, like Jesus himself, is warm-hearted. Then secondly it is inspired - reading on in the passage.

Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

If Christian love is from the heart it’s also inspired from beyond our situation.

When I was an undergraduate at Oxford I stumbled into St Mary Magdalene’s which unknown to me had an ardent priest called Fr. Hooper. I went to tea with him one Sunday. At length he asked me if I’d ever considered going to Confession. I had no good answer! Somehow the spiritual force of the man hit me – I had to go to Confession, the fervour, the warmth of the Spirit of Jesus Christ was in him and inspired me. I never looked back from then, although Confession has not always been so easy for me. By the way, if you ever want to make your Confession don’t be shy of approaching any of our priests here at St Barts after services. The Anglican saying on confession is all may, none must, some should.

Let’s read on, verses 13 and 14 of Romans Chapter 12

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Christian love is hospitable - which might mean not talking about God too much with not yet believers. More can be achieved to spread the faith by patient, hospitable friendship, coupled to intercessory prayer, than we sometimes imagine. Let’s read on:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

If love is warm-hearted, inspired and hospitable it’s also humble.

Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Henri Nouwen is one of my favourite writers. He wrote books about the spiritual power that abounds among the intellectually disabled. He speaks of the struggle to make himself present and vulnerable to other people in the L’Arche handicapped community. His preference was again and again to go hide away at his computer and write books!  I know that feeling - I’m a writer too! So often, though, the world of computers subtracts from our loving by taking us away from people! Let’s continue:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord’. No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads’.

How should the good news of the gift of God’s love see application in a Christian life?
With a love that’s warm-hearted, inspiring, hospitable, humble and, fifthly, extravagant.
At the heart of Christianity is a God with no favourites, not even his friends, who calls us to be similarly extravagant in love. The extravagance to an enemy that’s described as being like heaping burning coals on his head!

Reflecting on God’s extravagance St Teresa of Avila wrote after years of Christian service: We should forget the number of years we have served him. The more we serve him, the more deeply we fall into his debt.
How many years have you served Christ? Are you more deeply in his debt? Does anything you’ve achieved do more than reflect back on God who gave you life and health and strength to do it – as well as the heart to do it with love?

He wants more extravagant service from you and I, believe me!  So to the last verse.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Our love is to be warm-hearted, inspiring, hospitable, humble, extravagant and lastly militant.

Love is in conflict for the soul of the world. The war has been won by the decisive battle on Calvary and our Sunday worship is a living memorial of this but the mopping up operation continues.

All our Christian loving is meant to be militant overcoming evil with good. It raids the kingdom of fear, not least the fearfulness of those who oppose the church. We counter fear and apathy by good humour, warm-heartedness, God’s inspiration, hospitality, humility, extravagance and militancy.

Soldiers of Christ arise therefore and put your armour on this day! Armed with God’s word, united as a living sacrifice to Christ and fed by his living Bread go forth into battle knowing in the great words of the letter to the Romans Chapter 8 that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us and nothing in heaven or earth can separate us from the love of God.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

St Richard, Haywards Heath 27th August 2017

How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord… All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen 

Though Scripture makes God known it occasionally puts him at a distance.

The passage we heard from Romans reminds us God is God. It comes as St Paul completes teaching we heard in last week’s portion about how the Jews remain dear to God, and will be included in his final scheme, despite their rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah. The summary line on Israel’s disobedience is the verse before this passage, verse 32 of Romans Chapter 11: For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. In other words God has sin in hand, even if we need to fly from it ourselves.  He allows disobedience and over rules it. The same thought is presented at the Easter Vigil when, at the blessing of the new Fire, the deacon sings: O happy fault, that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

In Christianity God has both a sameness to us, and a difference from us.

God is same and different.

God has a sameness to us through the incarnation. He is one with us in Jesus, one with us in our joys and sorrows.

We have sameness to him bearing his image, endowed with intelligence, capable of joyful goodness, appreciative of truth and beauty so that Christianity is humanity in its right mind. In Jesus Christ we see and grow into what we are meant to be, such is God’s affinity with us.

God though, as this scripture reminds us, is also very very different from us.

How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord… All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. 

We are different from Him as we live in one time and place compared to his eternal omnipresence. Our knowledge is limited compared to his omniscience. We are feeble, looking again and again to his omnipotence. Then, as the Romans passage implies, morally we pale into insignificance before his holiness. We are nothing before him, and less than nothing through sin.

How can we as creatures compare to our Creator? How can a song understand its singer?

All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him.
In the Mass we have 5 sections called the Ordinary that we recite Sunday by Sunday.

The Kyrie Eleison and Agnus Dei speak of God’s sameness, his sympathy with us and mercy towards us. Lord, have mercy… O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us… grant us thy peace.

The Gloria in Excelsis and Sanctus speak of God’s difference from us in joyous yet awesome terms. For Thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord…. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory.

The difference and sameness of God from and to us are both fully expressed in the Credo or Creed we shall recite shortly:

God is professed as God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible who could not be more different to us as his dependent creatures. God whose Son is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God demonstrates his sameness, his loving affinity for each and all of us humans when for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified for us.

In bowing at these words we salute the wonder of the God and Father of Jesus, so different from us, yet making himself one with us in such great humility and love.

If God weren’t both same and different to us there’d be no hope for us. As it is, we, who are made in his image, are destined to share a property distinct from our condition - I mean the glory of God.

By the gift of the Son of God made Son of Man, by the Spirit of Christ, we, in Paul’s words elsewhere to Corinth, are being fitted for glory. All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

In the Eucharist we see and consume God in bread and wine, God in his sameness with the  promise of something utterly different which is in his gift for the grace of Communion is a foretaste of glory.

O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see, may what we thirst for soon our portion be, to gaze on thee unveiled and see thy face, the vision of thy glory and thy grace.

How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord… All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen 

Saturday, 19 August 2017

St Bartholomew, Brighton. Family Mass. 20th August 2017

Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” Matthew 15v28

How do we get thinking people to believe and believing people to think?

Our Lord praised the Canaanite woman for her thoughtful faith.

She got a hard run for her money. Few people in the Gospel get as hard a time as this lady. Think about the passage - at first Jesus doesn’t answer her request for her daughter at all. Then his disciples want him to send her away. Jesus goes so far as to tease her for being a Canaanite, thinking probably about his Jewish audience who in those days would have indeed wanted her sent away. They’d forgotten God’s promise we heard in that reading from Isaiah about his love for foreigners.

The woman argues on for attention for her daughter with a word play on the term ‘dog’ which was and is an abusive term for outsiders. ‘Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table’ she says, imploring Jesus.

The Lord gives in and heals her daughter, exceptionally giving the reason for answering this woman’s request: it was on account of her great faith; her great confidence that Jesus would grant her request.

There are a lot of questions you could raise about this Gospel passage but I want to look at the one I raised at the beginning which is really important in this day and age.

How do we get thinking people to believe and believing people to think?

The woman was both educated and a believer.  Often we don’t see the two together. A lot of education in our society seems to lack a spiritual component and a lot of religious people can have closed minds.

When Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion it divided Christians in my acquaintance. Some read it to engage with his criticism of religion. Others wrote it off without engagement. Most derided his arrogant tone forgetful that Christianity can come across as arrogant.

That goes against advice in the New Testament in 1 Peter 3v16 to give clear answer for our faith to anyone who asks us about it ‘with gentleness and reverence’.

Reason and faith are two wings of the Holy Spirit lifting us up to God for God gave us a mind and a heart.

This morning let’s seek for ourselves the great faith of the Canaanite woman, an educated faith, one that holds to the reasoned faith of the church through the ages. This is expressed in the words of the Creed, the worship of the Sacraments, behaviour trained by the Commandments and prayer modelled on the Lord's Prayer.

As priest, writer and broadcaster I’ve been engaged over the years in promoting thoughtful mainstream Christian belief. I want to leave you with the challenge to do something, read something, join a study group, talk to a priest, so as to help build a great faith true to a great God whose readiness to answer prayer exceeds our imagining.

How do we get thinking people to believe and believing people to think - we start with ourselves!