Sunday, 26 November 2017

Christ the King Holy Ascension, Settle 26.11.17

The 22nd verse of the first chapter of the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians: God has put all things under Christ’s feet.

Page 84 of Tom Twisleton’s poems (read from Tom’s poem book) in the Craven dialect:

Come unto Jesus, all ye who are weary,
Heavily laden, down-hearted, distress’d,
If the journey be rough, and the pilgrimage dreary,
Then come unto Jesus - He promises rest.

On Life’s rugged path, toil unaided no longer,
With your sorrows untold, and your sins unconfess’d;
Cast the weight of your burden on One who is stronger,
And come unto Jesus - He promises rest.

He debars not the poor, He excludes not the lowly,
All who earnestly seek, He will gladly receive;
He is loving and merciful, truthful and holy;
And His rest is for all who repent and believe.

Amen - I could sit down!  My first cousin twice removed has preached in rhyme as good a sermon as you could preach on the Feast of Christ the King.

I won’t sit down just yet - but the rest of what I say won’t add anything to those deeply Christian sentiments of local bard Tom Twisleton. The sentiments have stayed somewhat hidden so far over this weekend celebration of his Centenary so it's good to quote them in Settle’s pulpit. They were written for a local pulpit, Zion’s most likely, though Tom was friendly with a Vicar of Giggleswick in his day.


He’d been baptised in Giggleswick Church shortly after his birth in 1845 but his funeral in 1917 was conducted by a Free Church minister from his last home in Burley where he’s buried in God’s Acre cemetery. His life story is a reminder of Christian diversity and spur towards repairing fractures within the body of Christ that hinder our mission.

Tom Twisleton’s poems have been at the centre of this weekend in which the parish Church has partnered Settle Stories, the Museum of North Craven at the Folly, Craven District Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund in a celebration of dialect and poetry at the end of a year in which young people have given the lead. We obtained funding through Settle Stories for a heritage project officer in the person of Hazel Richardson. There’s a Centenary book for Tom about to be published which I commend to you, in which I provide the Foreword and, alongside the young people’s poems my own Ode to Tom which centres on the topical subject of Truth-telling. I read it in Church yesterday at Tom’s Memorial Service and there are take away sheets with it on at the back of Church.

I wouldn’t be in this pulpit speaking on Christ the King, not to mention cousin Tom, without the example and prayers of my father, Greg Twisleton, buried in the Churchyard and my mother, Elsie. Greg was born in 1900 above his parents shop near Car and Kitchen in the marketplace and knew Tom when he was a lad. Elsie was born in Hellifield, influenced by the parish priest Christian scholar Ernest Evans, who baptised me, and dedicated his book A Reason for the Faith to Elsie’s family. Later on both Elsie and I were impacted by Ernest’s friend, Hilary’s predecessor as Vicar, Fr Eric Ashby of blessed memory. Formerly a pillar of this Church Elsie, now 95, moved to Sussex in 2010. She lived first with Anne and I at Horsted Keynes and then, since 2013, at St Anne’s Convent home in Burgess Hill near our own retirement home in Haywards Heath. I have a short greeting from her to play for you recorded two weeks ago for the Twisleton family reunion yesterday at the Royal Oak, and for her friends here at Holy Ascension. It will be uploaded later to the Back in Settle Facebook group which now has 2400 members, almost as big as the population! Here she is to speak to you: (Play clip on iPad Pro)

As the oldest of the local Twisleton clan so to speak it is a great pleasure to be able to speak to you all on this Tom Twisleton Centenary weekend with the aid of modern technology. Being part of this community of Settle and Giggleswick was a very good time in my life. Happily married to Greg for nearly 30 years I know the importance of family celebrations and I’ve always valued Tom Twisleton’s poems. I regret not being with you in person but look forward to keeping in touch. May you all have a safe trip home and share future blessings. Elsie Twisleton.

Now back to St Paul and Christ the King. God has put all things under Christ’s feet.

Jesus is Lord – three words sum up the Christian faith.

Jesus is Lord.  The carpenter born in Nazareth who shows the world the love, truth and power of God – he is Lord. It is his name that brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

Secondly Jesus is Lord.  A human life of 33 years lived at the start of our era continues the same yesterday, today and for ever through the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7v16b).

Thirdly Jesus is Lord which means he is right above all that is or has been or will be.  Jesus is God’s final word to humankind. He is also to be the very last word over all each one of us.
                                                                                                               
This is what it means to believe in Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father who has put all things under the feet of Christ his Son. In Jesus a human being lives over all things in God.  Nothing gives more hope for the human race this. Here is the place heaven and earth come together.
As Pascal said Jesus Christ is the centre of all, and the goal to which all tends.

Or, moving the challenge of Jesus closer to the soul, Thomas Merton writes: As a magnifying glass concentrates the rays of the sun into a little burning knot of heat that can set fire to a dry leaf or a piece of paper, so the mystery of Christ in the Gospel concentrates the ray of God's light and fire to a point that sets fire to the spirit of man.

Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1v17-19 is mine and yours on this morning’s Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Universal King: I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

Tom Twisleton again - his ‘Poetical Finish to a Sermon’, verses written at the request of the Preacher based on Matthew 11:28 ‘Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest’:

Come unto Jesus, all ye who are weary,
Heavily laden, down-hearted, distress’d,
If the journey be rough, and the pilgrimage dreary,
Then come unto Jesus - He promises rest.

On Life’s rugged path, toil unaided no longer,
With your sorrows untold, and your sins unconfess’d;
Cast the weight of your burden on One who is stronger,
And come unto Jesus - He promises rest.

He debars not the poor, He excludes not the lowly,
All who earnestly seek, He will gladly receive;
He is loving and merciful, truthful and holy;
And His rest is for all who repent and believe.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

All Souls Day at St Bartholomew's Brighton 2017

The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:25)

Our Lord is speaking here and now to us and all disciples. As disciples we open our hearts to his presence in word and sacrament and gain life, life in its fullness. That life comes to us here and now, as his free gift, and it sustains a spiritual resurrection only mortal sin can quench.

Moving on in today’s Gospel from the first to the last verses, from John Chapter 5 verse 25 on to verses 28 and 29:  The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice: and shall come forth, they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life: and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

Our Lord is speaking now of what is to come, of the physical resurrection, where his work as Saviour will be completed by his work as Judge.

Human beings will experience two judgements, first an individual judgement at the moment of death and second the general judgement which completes the first. At this Last Judgement on the day of Christ’s Return our individual destinies will be woven into those of all people and of the cosmos itself.

Hope in the face of that judgement is built on both the first and middle verses of today’s Gospel.

If, in the deadness of your soul, you’ve heard the voice of the Son of God you’ve experienced a coming to life in your soul and you don’t need to fear death and judgement. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Then, reading the middle two verses of the Gospel, as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself: and hath given him authority to execute judgement also, because he is the Son of Man. You might think God would see his Son’s suitability to judge the world in his being his Son, the Son of God but, no, in a phrase quite astonishing we’re told it’s his being Son of Man that fits him for that task. The Son is equipped to preside at the Last Judgement not because of his divinity but on account of his humanity.

You and I won’t be judged by the unthinkable standard of God but by the standard of humanity seen in Jesus Christ. Hence two beautiful verses that leap out from the awesome text of the Dies Irae of Requiem Mass:

Think, kind Jesus, my salvation caused thy wondrous incarnation:
leave me not to reprobation.

Faint and weary thou hast sought me: on the Cross of suffering bought me:
shall such grace be vainly brought me?

On All Souls Day the Dies Irae together with our black vestments sober us to face up to the enormity of death and judgement. The Epistle and Gospel remind us of grace, that death and favourable judgement for Christians have passed already which is the greatest good news. What could be better news than that we celebrate this evening? The only meaningful thing in life is what conquers death, and not what but Who!

Let the saintly Bishop John Austin Baker have the last word: I rest on God, who will assuredly not allow me to find the meaning of life in his love and forgiveness, to be wholly dependent on him for the gift of myself, and then destroy that meaning, revoke that gift. He who holds me in existence now can and will hold me in it still, through and beyond the dissolution of my mortal frame. For this is the essence of love, to affirm the right of the beloved to exist. And what God affirms, nothing and no-one can contradict.

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.