Saturday, 7 January 2017

Baptism of the Lord Diocesan Year of the Bible 8th January 2017

As we move forward with the Diocesan Year of the Bible it’s with the reminder of how God’s word has the power to transform our lives, communities and nation. Unless we’re being strengthened, challenged and encouraged by scripture we can’t be salt and light in our culture. When we fail to let the bible speak into our everyday life we miss out on tremendous blessings.

Christian faith is personal knowledge of God gained directly by revelation and mediated by the community of faith which is the Church. Theology is the interpreting of faith one to another in the church as in this activity of preaching and listening. Belief is an expression of faith and a work of theology and the Bible is the most authoritative expression of faith because it is directly inspired by God.  What the Church teaches, her dogmas and creeds and the writings of the Church’s Fathers and Mothers has authority second to Scripture.

Yes we need guidance in reading the Bible. Yes there are passages that are obscure and unpleasant. Yes reading the Bible requires discipline. But – well I hope what I share from my own take on today’s readings makes it that bit more clear - failing to let the Bible speak into your life is failing to fuel your faith and a very great missing out.

We find in the Bible good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, a portrait to live up to and guidance on how we do that.

There are a few pew Bibles out if you want to put today’s readings in context. Or you may have Scripture on your phone. Let’s start in the middle with that second reading from the Acts of the Apostles which you can find as the fifth book of the New Testament straight after the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

If you find your way to Acts 10:36-41 we can follow through one of the earliest proclamations of Christian faith from the lips of St Peter, also, of course in the eucharist booklet on p2. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:  how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.

In the New Testament we read repeatedly of the impact of Jesus, God’s Child sent to make us God’s children. How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good. He had to do this because, and it’s true to this day, so many are oppressed. God saw that oppression and came to lift it. How did he do it?  We read on in v39 They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Here in a sentence of the Bible we have the whole of Christianity, the kindling of faith. When Jesus Christ suffered and died God was in him. There was divine judo at play. Death flew at God and ended up upside down and out at the count.

Today’s second reading concludes in v43 with the consequent good news. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. When we read the Bible we’re reminded of its good news that all can start again through God’s loving forgiveness. There’s a new start available to all without any partiality, whoever they are and whatever they’ve done, if they will but repent, that is turn from self-interest and bow down before the living and true God manifest in Jesus Christ.
This good news is dynamite, blowing out any exclusivity or pride in religion, affirming God as God of everyone who’ll admit their need of him.

I take out of this second bible passage today what I take out of so many bible passages the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ I need reminding of day by day so my faith gets the regular tonic it needs in the counter-faith and post-truth world I live in.

We find then, in the Bible, good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and, secondly, a portrait to live up to and guidance on how to do that.

Let’s look at today’s other two readings for that portrait. The readings are linked to today’s feast of the Lord’s Baptism at the end of Christmastide and refer to the historical base of Christian faith. The Gospel from Matthew 3 – look it up right at the start of the New Testament in your Bible - tells of the event of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and how the Spirit came upon him. This was in fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah Chapter 42, our first reading, situated well into the Old Testament among the prophetic writings, that starts with a sentence that illuminates the event of Christ’s baptism. Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

In the Matthew passage we read how Christ was baptised reluctantly from his own point of view – he had the Spirit from his conception in the womb of Our Lady - but readily as an example to all he calls to put personal faith in him within the community of faith. The portrait in Matthew 3v17 is of you and I as much as of Jesus. This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
When we read the Bible with faith, that is, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that goes beyond reason, we see how God sees us and we gain grace or help to accommodate our lives to him.
To faith those words of the Bible prophesied in Isaiah 42 and spoken of Jesus in Matthew 3 are liberating truth about ourselves. You may feel done down by life, overcome by temptation, weakness and inadequacy but God loves you nevertheless.

Pick up your bible and read all over it words like these that are for youThis is my Son, my Daughter, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. The Spirit is waiting to confirm to us the same words that were spoken to Our Lord at his baptism: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. That’s one way the Bible can work – as a love letter from God! There is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and it confers the Holy Spirit. God’s Child Jesus was given to anoint us with his Spirit and make us God’s children. A gift though is given that needs to be received. For Christians to seek the renewing power of the Spirit – as we do receiving Holy Communion every Sunday - is a matter of seeking to be more fully what we are in Christ and nothing more or less than that!

We want to be a people that live knowing their need of grace! Christians share in the anointing of the Anointed One – Jesus is the Christ or Anointed One so he can share his anointing with us and speak into our hearts those words of adoption: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.

The good news of Christmas and Christianity is the Son of God became the Son of Man so children of men could become children of God. This Diocesan Year of the Bible is a fresh invitation to ponder that good news, what it means for God to give us his Son and what it means for us to enter more fully what we’re meant to be as God’s beloved daughters and sons. I wish you every blessing as you discover afresh your heritage and enter into it afresh through Scripture and the Eucharist.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Midnight Mass 2016

You need to stay awake to come to Midnight Mass.

You need to stay awake to be a Christian, awake to the love that over and around us lies and its working out of justice and righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. (Isaiah 9.7)

We live in a world full of sleep walking.

Over this last year both Britain and the United States have walked into scenarios no one would have imagined a year ago. The world seems to have been in hibernation over Syria. Even in this village some would say we've sleep walked over the neighbourhood plan though many are waking up to their responsibilities.

To be a Christian is to be awake to what’s good and true and beautiful and to work with others to establish justice and righteousness - for when good folk sleep evil triumphs.

That first Christmas, angels woke the shepherds with their news of great joy. Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours. (Luke 2).

That event is less attested than the Easter angels heralding love stronger than death that woke the world and made half of it Christian today!

Our wake up call is Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to enfold the world with his love.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontus Pilate, crucified, dead and buried. On the third day he rose again.

This good news is our wake up call.

No hibernation for Christians, however much we want to in December!
No hibernation but attentiveness to the risen and ever new Lord Jesus Christ, to our need of him, to our neighbour and to a world crying out for justice. 

If there were more folk on such alert to others there'd be more courageous Jo Cox types and less self serving in our public life.

Here’s the sleep walking we need to wake people out of, to help them see how much they and all that is is loved and the consequences of that.

So many strengths in the world but so little consecration of it to advance the poorest in the world.

No wonder St Catherine of Siena said she wanted to imitate those angels and roar out the good news, to jolt awake the self preoccupied church of her day.

Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace among those he favours is our wake up call to praise and service. Where there’s no peace it’s a sign of disfavour and there’s a wake up call to put wrong right.

What does it mean to be out of favour with God? 

Scripture addresses this wherever it addresses injustice.

It also links disfavour to disbelief. In Hebrews 11 verse 6 we read without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Christmas is about waking up faith and waking believers into more active faith.

It’s about putting fresh trust in God as the God who fills heaven and earth with his glory! 

When you put faith in God you receive a gift of peace beyond human understanding.

Find that peace and many around you will find salvation.

I have seen this, even in this congregation, a rippling out of joy in the Lord.

No one could turn toward eternity if he had not seen in the eyes or in the face of one person the shining of eternal life wrote Archbishop Anthony Bloom.

Could that be seen in your eyes, your face tonight? Why not?


O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Advent 4 The choices of God 18.12.16

This morning we see God’s great choice of Our Lady to be mother of Our Lord. When we look closely at Mary’s story, especially in Luke’s account, we see how she struggled before saying Yes to God’s choice of her to be the mother of his Son.

In our own lives we also struggle many a time to conform our lives to what God would have us do.
This morning in Mary the church invites us to ponder the choices of God and to think about how much our lives are faithful to God’s choice of us.

Over the years Anne and I have both made important choices one of which brought us to Horsted Keynes 8 years ago. Over that period we’ve been involved with many of you in your own decision making.

I was totting up some of the pastoral involvements from the baptism, marriage and burial registers looking back over the 39 baptisms and 40 marriages I’ve helped celebrate with double that number so far as funerals go. That doubling is significant. Birth and marriage today are seen much less in terms of faith than funerals as these reflect Christian formation three generations back.

Nowadays the choice to baptise your child is less about fitting in with the norm in a Christian country but a decided act to own the Christian church with its particular vision and values as an extension of your family.

Similarly to commit to your partner before God with the understanding of life-long heterosexual irrevocable union is counter cultural. Aspiring to a gift of self that will not be called back, mirroring God’s love given on Calvary in blood, sweat and tears, goes against the grain today.

I love you so often means I love me and want you rather than I love you and want to give to you now and for ever.

Life choices make or break us - as I was writing this sermon I broke off to pray with a divorced parent over a custody battle. So much moral decision making is about choosing the least bad option. This is where the Holy Spirit, prayer ministry and the sacrament of confession are so precious to us as church members seeking what God most wants of us in the different crises of life.

Some of us have been thinking about a change of job. Others have been making the most of a redundancy. One or two have felt they have done a task in the village or the church for long enough and have been seeking new possibilities which have connected with my own agenda as parish priest for ever seeking volunteers!

Just a few more thoughts, returning to Our Lady, on the process of guidance.  You might have spotted the connection between the Isaiah 7 passage and the Gospel from Matthew 1:18-25 with the prophecy of the virginal conception: the young woman – the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him ‘Emmanuel’, which means ‘God is with us’. For Mary and Joseph their choice of one another was set within a bigger choice of God that they deferred to facing indignity. As we shall say in a moment:  I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary

Christianity is a faith that holds disparate truths together – God is one and three, Jesus is God and man – and one of these mysteries is that God has chosen you and I and yet we have to decide how to live our lives.

It seems to me that Christians are at two ends when it comes to divine guidance. Some see God‘s choice as starting us off and then leaving us with common sense – sanctified common sense – to get going on our own.

Others, if you ask them to do something, will say they need to pray about it, and they talk of God’s guidance as very immediate and direct.

I am not coming down on one side or the other. What matters is to recognise the hand of God in our lives, as Mary and Joseph did, and to cast aside the things that draw us away from his leadings.

The sanctified common sense sort of guidance needs supplementing by openness to God’s surprises in the form of obvious divine intervention. Those who sense something of a hotline to God need to work harder to check their leadings by arguing the case at times with other experienced believers. Both reason and faith are God’s gift and they shouldn’t contradict each other.

If we want our lives, including our decision making, to go where they’re meant to go, it means developing what Paul in our second reading from the opening verses of the letter to the Romans calls the obedience of faith. 

This obedience is more than avoiding deadly sins. It is the best directing of our energies. It’s about knowing we’re in the right employment or state of life, be that married or single. It’s readiness to ask ourselves whether where we’re at is truly in God’s will or whether it’s actually at variance with it, if only we’d take courage to open our ears to him.

If you are on the rails God gives us, living close to Jesus, you move more peaceably than if your life is off the rails. A lack of inner peace can be a helpful warning from God to take stock of your life.
Christmas and New Year bring us such an opportunity to reflect. Some of us will use the sacrament of reconciliation or take opportunity to talk to the priest or another experienced Christian. Others may appreciate being put in touch with a spiritual director. All of us can ask God directly:
‘Show me the needs that are deeper than my wants. Place my energies more and more to your service and less and less to aimless self interest’.

God’s hand on our lives, God’s choice of us, is a wonderful and a costly thing. We have a lifespan to exercise our faith in that choice. The penitent thief who turned to Jesus as he died shows us it’s never too late to seek God’s leading.

God has chosen you and I and yet we have to decide how to live our lives.

In making this decision the clue is WWJW – maybe you have seen the Christian bracelet – WWJW – What would Jesus want?

The eucharist is all about WWJW. We offer our souls and bodies with Christ to the Father so that our lives are put back on the rails Sunday by Sunday.

With Mary we say: I am God’s servant. Let it be to me as God wills!

Take my energies and use them for good since there is work for those God has chosen.

There is a harvest to gather and labourers are few.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Advent 2 Launch of Diocesan Year of the Bible 4th December 2016

Introduction

Today we begin the Diocesan Year of the Bible and the Bishop has asked us all to bring our Bibles to Church. If you haven’t – and that’s quite understandable – might I ask you to pick up one of the pew bibles so we can join together later on in a little study and a corporate act of dedication. 

This morning we have a reminder that there are really two tables at which we feast on Christ: the table of the Word of God and the table of the Blessed Sacrament.

Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God our Saviour said, as he was strengthened by the memory of his Father’s word in the desert. All scripture is breathed out by God, Paul says to Timothy, scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 

More and more of us are in fact ill-equipped so far as reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting the word of God. This morning as we call to mind and confess our failure to live in God’s presence let’s remember especially our failure to read his Word and put it into practice.

Confession and Bible Sunday Collect

LAUNCH OF THE YEAR OF THE BIBLE - Bishop of Chichester youtube

If you could turn with me to your Bible’s content pages right at the start after the title page, preface, acknowledgments, foreword and so on.

Another name for this list of books is the canon of scripture with that word "canon" coming from the Greek κανών, meaning"rule" or "measuring stick".

Christian Bibles have canons or contents ranging from the 66 books of the Protestant canon to the 81 books of the Ethiopian Orthodox canon. Anglicans go with something in between these two which will be demonstrated by your contents list.

Our Scriptures include sixty-six canonical books (the thirty nine books of the Hebrew Old Testament and the twenty seven books of the Greek New Testament, which had become generally accepted by the Church during the early centuries, with the books of the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books being read by the Church ‘for example of life and instruction of manners’ but not being looked to ‘to establish any doctrine’. 

We’re going to look up today’s first reading on the second Sunday in Advent from Isaiah which is in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. To find Isaiah in your OT contents list you have to look down the first five books Genesis – Deuteronomy known to Jews as the Law or Torah and beyond those five down through a list of historical writings that flow the story of Israel from Moses up to Christ. These end with Esther. Then we have what we call the writings, that is timeless wisdom writings such as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.

The prophets start then and they start with Isaiah.

Let's look up Isaiah 11.1-10

James Nicholson to read it from Jerusalem Bible prefacing with comment

The OT text as we know it came together 3 centuries before Christ in a Greek translation of the original Hebrew books by some 70 Jewish scholars hence being called the Septuagint.  This Greek translation, along with the New Testament, that was originally written in Greek, was retranslated into Latin and then later on into various languages. After the Reformation King James 1st commissioned scholars to translate the Hebrew Bible into English which is the origin of our King James Version. 

Show school version.

Let's look up today’s Psalm which is Psalm 72v1-7.

Kay Macnaughton to read from King James Version prefacing with comment.

Now we move from the Old Testament to read from one of the 27 books in the Greek New Testament, the letter of St Paul to the Romans Chapter 15 verses 4 to 13.

Here is a New Testament in the original Greek which I’m going to pass around.

The New Testament starts with 5 historical books, the 4 Gospels and St Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles. The rest are letters of the apostles save the final book of Revelation which stands apart and contains words and visions from the risen Christ to St John the seer.

Let's look up our second reading, Romans 15.4-13 

Lisa to read Romans 15.4-13 from New International Version

Let's go round church reading the first verse 15:4 in different translations as this is scripture telling us about scripture.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

Now Deacon David will introduce the Gospel.

Picks up on how the King James Bible had its followers the late 19th century Revised Version, mid 20th century Revised Standard Version and late 20th century New Revised Standard Version used in our Anglican Lectionary. Mentioning standing for the Gospel which is a reminder of how so when we hear scripture in the Christian assembly we hear the risen Lord speaking in our midst.

Yea, amen,...   Gospel acclamation and reading Matthew 3.1-12

Sermon

Christians believe in the Bible, because we believe in its ultimate authorship.  It contains the promises of God which cannot fail. We believe in the Bible out of love for its ultimate author.  The words of scripture are there because Jesus is the Word of God through whom all things were made.  The scriptures bless us. The Holy Spirit who inspired their writing can inspire us as we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them. 

Yet, sad to say, without the Holy Spirit who leads the church forward into all truth (John 16:13) the scriptures fall on deaf ears. 

The Bible is God’s Word in our words.  It’s also the family album of the church tracing God’s action back to our first days. Christians believe in the Bible but look to the church to guide them to its truth.            

What about the factual errors and inconsistencies people say they find in the Bible? 

We don’t need to defend the Bible here because we have God’s promise that it contains the truth necessary for our salvation.  This doesn’t make the Bible, for example, a science text book because it addresses the why questions more than the how questions in life. 

Approached with humility the Bible brings spiritual encouragement.  Approached with argumentative pride it presents a different picture.  Christians believe the Bible can’t be mistaken as it presents the good news of Jesus to honest seekers.    
 
It’s true there are difficult passages. Mark Twain said pointedly it wasn’t the passages of the bible he didn’t understand that troubled him so much as the passages he did understand! At the start of the Diocesan Year of the Bible we salute God’s word and pledge to heed it more profoundly with our lives.

People mention sometimes the violence in the Bible especially parts of the Old Testament.  The church uses these passages carefully and only in the light of Christ who fulfils the Old Testament.  The sacrifices offered in the Old Testament point towards the meaning of the Cross as the fulfilment of the scriptures. 

When we say as we shall say in a moment ‘on the third day he rose again’ we add in the Nicene Creed ‘in accordance with the scriptures’. Without the framework of God’s dealings with Israel in the Bible the Christ of the Gospels would be a beautiful picture but one without a frame.  His entry into history would be one unprepared and unexpected.

Through the Bible God’s people welcome this frame for all that Jesus stands for as well as the word and promises of God that bring power and direction into the life of the church.

If the Bible is to do its work in us, then the starting point is to somehow get the words of the Bible into us. Once God’s word is in our lives it can start to challenge our values and opinions, to set off the process Paul calls ‘the renewing of your mind’ so that we will not ‘conform’ ourselves to this world, but let God 'transform' us (Romans 12.2).

So what can we do to get more into the Bible and more of the Bible into us?

You could make it the basis for a daily or maybe occasional special prayer time. Dedicate a time. It needn’t be first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It could be part of your lunchtime routine, a way of getting away from the desk. Choose a portion for study, maybe Mark’s Gospel which takes an hour and a half in total to read for an average reader. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you miss a few days. If reading the Bible is difficult, why not buy one of the readily available CD or MP3 recording and listen to that?

You have the texts of the Sunday readings to take away each week with the thoughts on them given by the preacher. If you miss Church on a Sunday you can check the church website for the readings and sermon. This is an opportunity to thank our web editor Judith Bowron for her work on updating the site.

There are some bibles in the lectern if people want to use them when they come to pray in Church. Each of us, or each family, should ideally have a bible in modern translation. The New Revised Standard or New International Version are in wide use. There is also a popular American paraphrase called The Message that folk are finding helpful. Buying a new modern translation can be a helpful tool to awaken us to the meaning of the original text. You could subscribe to Bible study notes like New Daylight, Bible Alive, Closer to God and Every Day with Jesus. You could join St Giles weekly life and faith group  and we have more group Bible study planned during the coming year especially in Lent. There’s more ideas in the Bishop’s message and Diocesan Year of the Bible handouts at the back of Church.

This coming year’s a chance to develop our understanding of and application of the teaching of God and his church in today’s world through reflecting on what the Bible says and how best to respond to this in our own situation.


In conclusion may I invite you to reflect for a couple of minutes reading through today’s collect before joining me in repeating the Prayer Book Collect for today which is on p2. 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Advent 1 The Return of the Lord 27th November 2016

Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Matthew 24:44

We're about ends and beginnings this morning, the end of one church year dedicated to mercy and the beginning of another dedicated to the Bible, the end of the ordinary green season and the beginning of the solemnity of Advent season when the Church dresses in purple to contemplate death, judgement, heaven and hell

We dress in solemn purple for the end of man as we always do to face death at funeral liturgies

Death is our enemy, there’s no getting round it, even though Christian faith addresses it directly through faith in Jesus Christ who died, is raised and will come again. I gave a clear statement of Christian faith in regards the last things to our 50 or so visitors on All Souls Day earlier this month which I felt led to repeat to the congregation this morning, so I apologise to a handful of you if you'll be hearing this bit of the sermon for the second time.

It is Christian faith that at the moment of death the soul is judged by God to pass toward one of two ultimate destinations, bliss or loss, heaven or hell. In that passage the prayer of the Church surrounds and helps all those souls the Christian community commends to God who will welcome help, the origin of the maligned term purgatory. 

God wishes nothing or no one to be lost from the sight of his holiness. We imagine the moment of death, however merciful physically through palliative care, will be for most of painful as we come to see God, turning our eyes away at his loving, holy glance. 

His invitation to look him in the eyes, like that of any good parent chastising his child, will be painful on account of our sins. Purgatory can be thought of, some theologians hold, as just momentary. A moment of pain as holiness meets the unrepentant sin within us, then the soul passing on to await the next stage of cosmic history.

Those who die without sin face God, as if in heaven, and begin to see him face to face, but heaven is not yet heaven until that vision is shared in the company of all the saints. Those without love continue their self-chosen loneliness into hell, which God permits as he permits free will, but doesn’t will for them such choices.

The Christian hope is consummated by the return of Jesus Christ. As we shall shortly affirm in the words of the Nicene Creed will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. That final judgement will complete our individual judgement at the moment of death. Scripture indicates the general judgement as bringing humanity of past ages to bodily resurrection to greet Christ’s return and be clothed afresh with the body, to make their heaven fully heaven, or their hell fully hell, in the life of the world to come. In that world the faithful departed will continue in a salvation that is personal, practical, purposeful and permanent. 

We will continue to know personally, only unveiled, the one who so knows and loves us. We will experience the practical benefit of our sins being cast away from us. We will be fully taken into the purpose of God and with permanence. The pains we've suffered will be lost in celestial praise which can only be made perfect once God's purpose for the world is made complete at the return of his Son. 

This teaching has also been the subject of our Premier Christian Radio series from Horsted Keynes which concluded earlier this morning with this clip from Alison Bellack (play programme 4))


I wonder how you see heaven? How often you think of it? When you’re saved it’s natural to look forward to this, the fulfilment of God’s call upon your life.
The great poet Saint Augustine of Hippo described heaven as the time when we shall rest and we shall see, we shall see and we shall love, we shall love and we shall praise. 

He speaks in the plural for salvation’s a shared gift of God in Christ, as Paul indicates when speaking in Ephesians 3v19 of having the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, (to) be filled with all the fullness of God.

This fullness is the fullness of salvation.

What I have shared is an outline of Christian salvation projected from the promises of God in scripture which open the eyes of faith to see death as a vanquished enemy for those who hold to the Saviour. 

Christian faith is built on the risen Christ. We do not, as believers, know fully what’s there so much as who’s there after death. Our Lord Jesus Christ - he is there! He is there as sure as he’s the same yesterday, today and forever!

Just as we see the risen Lord behind every crucifix so we see those we love alive with Him beyond the dust.

It is Advent Sunday but it is also the Lord's Day! The same Jesus who came, died, rose and says to us this morning it is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.... Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.  (John 6:38, 54)


Saturday, 12 November 2016

Remembrance Sunday 13th November 2016

Might the fact a supposedly Christian Europe devoted four years to self-destruction be our greatest sadness as we gather on the Centennial Anniversary of the Somme?

The sadness that flows down the last century from that conflict lies of course in the families and descendants of the 72,200 whose names are recorded at Thiepval some of whose names are replicated on our own memorial.
The Somme commemoration began on 1st July this year which was the day of the first offensive by our troops. Fighting was focussed in the area close to the village of Thiepval and the valley of the River Ancre. Thiepval was captured in late September 1916 although it fell back briefly into German hands during the spring offensive of 1918 just before the final end of the Great War.

Thiepval today is famous for its Lutyens memorial to the missing, an enormous brick arch that stands on a ridge, a canopy over Lutyens classic stone of remembrance which is a common feature of larger war cemeteries. The stone and arch recall the traditional altar and covering ascended by many steps as to be found in Westminster Cathedral which has a feature on Thiepval in its November Magazine.

On Remembrance Sunday we ascend the altar of God in heart and mind through such images for, in words uttered at this altar earlier this morning, although death comes to us all, yet we rejoice in the promise of eternal life; for to your faithful people life is changed, not taken away; and when our mortal flesh is laid aside an everlasting dwelling place is made ready for us in heaven.

It is Christian faith that the sadness of death gives way to the bright glory of immortality as expressed on that Somme memorial stone Their name liveth for evermore. There is reverent ambiguity about whether that evermore is on earth or in heaven. This leads me to an aside, if we are talking about the earthly memorial side, to salute those who work with the Royal British Legion and Commonwealth War Graves Commission in this village to maintain our war memorial, the Knapp grave and ensure the peaceable beauty and good ordering of our Churchyard. It is a considerable burden to our hardy group of volunteers led by Hilary Nicholson and is worthy of not just the voluntary but the civic support it receives and sorely needs.

Back to the ambiguity about how we see those words on the Somme memorial their name liveth for evermore. Our scripture readings give insight and indeed challenge concerning the otherworldly sense of that statement about the honourable dead. The reading from Ecclesiasticus is a prayer of entreaty which could well be imagined as from a battle field: My soul drew near to death, and my life was on the brink of Hades below. They surrounded me on every side, and there was no one to help me; I looked for human assistance, and there was none. Then I remembered your mercy, O Lord, and your kindness from of old, for you rescue those who wait for you and save them from the hand of their enemies. (Ecclesiasticus 51:6-8)

How could such a prayer be unanswered by a merciful God? Even through death, being taken to God, since the ultimate victory is beyond armed conflict but the one over death itself. This is the frame for our Royal British Legion service hosted on the Lord’s day, the day of resurrection. As our second reading expresses this: Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed… For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality…. thanks be to God, who gives us [the] victory [over death] through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51, 53, 57)

Here is the full sense of Lutyens’ altar stone inscription. It’s not evident to the intellect unaided by the gift of faith to listen as Paul invites to Jesus Christ and take him at his word as the death defying Lord he is to us, through whom, indeed, our name liveth for evermore.

To know you have eternal life through openness to Christ’s gift is wisdom, for the greatest knowledge you can ever find must be about what defies death, since all of us live in its shadow.

Such knowledge doesn’t exclude sadness. Christians, someone said, are sad people saved from despair by the Cross of Christ. Looking at the world this Somme Centennial weekend there’s so much you might despair about a century on, not least at the scenarios our armed forces are engaging with in the Middle East, God bless them. Yet to know a love that’s overall and in all the hearts who’ll welcome its embrace is to draw the sting of despair reducing it to residual sadness at man’s inhumanity to man.

Today we have such sadness but it’s something we need to search deeper into inasmuch as we’re able. Premature death in war, or even the self-pitying thought of our own death is saddening but we’re called to search deeper into sadness. As a country priest I’ve been drawn to the French writer George Bernanos Diary of a Country Priest which covers the bearing of sadness in the priesthood. You could summarise his book as a statement that the only sadness worth having is sadness about not wanting to be a saint. To want to be anything less than holy and see the full flowering of all that you are into what God intended is very sad indeed. Many people believe wrongly that to be holy is to be stifled, less free, less themselves and how sadly wrong they are!

Lack of holiness, lack of self-possession, humility and love is at the root of the self-destruction of warfare, which is why we have it in ourselves to act counter to this vanity, which is why the Royal British Legion Service invites us to make a commitment to responsible living and faithful service part of this morning’s commemoration.

God desires to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). His call for us to be holy is for us to come close to him in regular worship and prayer and be fulfilled, which is not to repress but rather to expand our deepest desires.

You can become a saint. No one and nothing can stop you - and your choice, besides reducing your sadness, will impact the peace of the world over the next century and beyond.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

All Souls memorial eucharist Saturday 5th November 11am

It is the day of the dead.

Our vestments are black as we contemplate the loss of life and proximity of those we love but see no longer.

Death for Christians is a vanquished enemy.

That he has power is evidenced especially within the gathering of the recently bereaved at the Church’s annual commemoration of the departed. The death of a loved one is a life changer, a loss of life, literally and psychologically.

How we miss those who lit up our lives for a season now veiled from our sight even if we believe today’s scripture as it proclaims God will destroy... the shroud cast over all peoples and... will swallow up death forever (Isaiah 25:7-8)

Death is our enemy, there’s no getting round it, even though Christian faith sees through it. Just as we see the risen Lord behind every crucifix so we see those we love alive with Him beyond the dust.

On All Souls Day the Easter Candle stands in the sanctuary to help us see through death to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

It is Christian faith that at the moment of death the soul is judged by God to pass toward one of two ultimate destinations, bliss or loss, heaven or hell. In that passage the prayer of the Church surrounds and helps all those souls the Christian community commends to God who will welcome help, the origin of the maligned term purgatory.

God wishes nothing or no one to be lost from the sight of his holiness.

We imagine the moment of death, however merciful physically through palliative care, will be for most of painful as we come to see God, turning our eyes away at his loving, holy glance. 
His invitation to look him in the eyes, like that of any good parent chastising his child, will be painful on account of our sins. Purgatory can be thought of, some theologians hold, as just momentary. A moment of pain as holiness meets the unrepentant sin within us, then the soul passing on to await the next stage of cosmic history.

Those who die without sin face God, as if in heaven, and begin to see him face to face, but heaven is not yet heaven until that vision is shared in the company of all the saints.

Those without love continue their self-chosen loneliness into hell, which God permits as he permits free will, but doesn’t will for them such choices.

The Christian hope is consummated by the return of Jesus Christ who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. That final judgement will complete our individual judgement at the moment of death. Scripture indicates the general judgement as bringing humanity of past ages to bodily resurrection to greet Christ’s return and be clothed afresh with the body, to make their heaven fully heaven, or their hell fully hell, in the life of the world to come.
In that world the faithful departed will continue in a salvation that is personal, practical, purposeful and permanent.


We will continue to know personally, only unveiled, the one who so knows and loves us. We will experience the practical benefit of our sins being cast away from us. We will be fully taken into the purpose of God and with permanence. The pains we've suffered will be lost in celestial praise. Such is salvation.

What I have shared is an outline of Christian salvation projected from the promises of God in scripture which open the eyes of faith to see death as a vanquished enemy for those who hold to the Saviour.

As today’s Collect and Gospel affirm, Christian faith is built on the risen Christ. We do not, as believers, know fully what’s there so much as who’s there after death.

Our Lord Jesus Christ - he is there! He is there as sure as he’s the same yesterday, today and forever!

It is the day of the dead, but it is also Jesus' day!

The same Jesus who came, died, rose and says to us this morning it is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.... Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.  (John 6:38, 54)

Amen - come Lord Jesus, in the eucharist, and on the last day, when you are sole hope and consolation for us and those we love but see no longer!