Saturday, 7 December 2019

St Bartholomew, Brighton Advent 2 Election 8 Dec 2019

We stand at an important junction in national life so let’s take guidance from the word of God as we prepare to play our part in the events of the coming week.

So far as Thursday goes all I can tell you to do from the pulpit is vote! How you vote is a matter of conscience, but informed conscience of course and sermons are meant to be about the education of conscience. 

With that in mind, let's look again at the lectionary readings, set in place long before the choice of Election Day, starting with the Romans passage. ‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’. That text touches on the sort of inclusion Christians hold to which for centuries has been the moral basis of countering discrimination against ‘second class citizens’ of any kind in the UK and across the world especially those who live in hunger. 

It’s a reminder to further policies that work with the voluntary sector including churches for practical action to serve our neighbour, not least the million Britons now having to queue at food banks, that reflect the love of God in Christ. Where do we find policies that will help bring hope to the dispirited true to ‘the God of hope [who fills us] with all joy and peace in believing’ to quote the first reading?

Then that uncomfortable Gospel - John the Baptist’s no punches pulled manifesto for preparing the way for God’s kingdom! It’s not a good example of the toned down rhetoric rightly called for concerning Brexit. We can take from it nevertheless, with its direct attack on the religious and civic leaders of John’s day, the need in voting to consider beyond the policies to vote on the virtues of the local candidates asking for our votes. 

T.S. Eliot wrote of the futility of dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good. Politics stands or falls on personnel as much as policy. Our prayers for the election process, for respect going beyond mere tolerance of those we disagree with, are an important contribution, not least for people we know prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and serve in public life. They suffer ‘slings and arrows’ indeed, not least from social media. I have been distressed to see candidates holding to Christian ethics on abortion and marriage deselected - its rough territory, not least for those belonging to UK faith communities.

On Thursday we have opportunity to elect MPs and we should have particular sympathy for candidates who are church members taking courage to enter the fray with determination to serve the common good of Brighton and its surrounds. We want the best folk to serve, those who know the city, gifted with a strong moral compass who’ll be their own men and women.

This morning we’re singing G.K.Chesterton’s hymn O God of earth and altar, with its lovely Vaughan Williams harmonisation. Gilbert Chesterton was one of the brightest Christian minds of the last century. I like this story about him. When a newspaper asked several writers to answer the question “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton answered: Dear Sirs, I am.  Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton.

That underlines the point made earlier about right government coming best from right people, or people as right as they can be given the sinfulness of the human condition. The moments in any election campaign that make most impact on me are those rare ones where there’s been humility exhibited, something very difficult with the power and pride of 24-7 mass media. 

Chesterton’s 1906 hymn starts with the sentiment of human frailty:  O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry, our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die; the walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide, take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.
His reference to entombing walls of gold link to my mind with the issue of debt. Debt, individual and national, entombs us, the latter souring relations between generations. It’s important to vote in a government that’s not profligate, that has some sort of eye towards decreasing it. Chesterton’s hymn reference to entombing walls of gold also voices the materialism of our age, much heightened I guess a century on from his, so that day by day we’re suffering something of a bribe campaign vis a vis where our bank balances might head after Thursday.
The major challenge in our society has been described as the transformation of consumers into citizens. People resist the call to public service through a self interest unconcerned about the common good beyond making sure they have the consumables they want and the neighbourhood watch functions in case others want to take these from them. The lack of readiness among people to take responsibility for civic life and the common good is alarming. So many of us live in the mini world of our household and the mega world of social media Facebook, Twitter etc leaving out the midi world of the local community including the parish church.
We salute those prepared to be candidates for election. There is a lot at stake nationally and internationally from our visits to the polling booths on Thursday! Those visits and votes are our taking responsibility for our nation as the citizens we are. Further than that our voting takes responsibility for a world in crisis through abuse of the environment.  
Climate change is linked to human abuse of the environment. It’s good we have grapes now growing in Sussex but further south there are deserts growing, unfriendly to human habitation, which will do nothing to arrest the northward flow of migrants. Tackling those migrants is a vast, complicated issue for any government balancing our capacity to be hospitable against the capacity of each national infrastructure. 
‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’. Linking migration and the associated environmental challenge to this teaching on inclusion is poetic licence to a degree. The right interpretation of the text is in its call to intimate union with Jesus Christ.  In this eucharist, though many we’re welcomed together by participating in one holy Bread as we abide in Christ and he in us. Together we stand like branches coming forth from Jesus Christ the true vine and our aspirations for the world at election-tide can’t be separated from that vision for unity. 
Our scripture readings this morning remind us of how the Holy Spirit can raise world leaders, build justice for the poor, create wealth and a better stewardship of the environment. To find the Holy Spirit, as a rule, though, we need to find Jesus, and to find Jesus and to dwell in him we need his body and blood, his word and the fellowship of his Church which is the vanguard of God’s kingdom.
May the kingdom of this world advance a little towards becoming the kingdom of God through this eucharist, through our prayer, through our voting on Thursday and through a new wave of the Holy Spirit pouring his love upon our town, nation and world. Amen.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

St David, Barbados Christ the King 24 November 2019

It’s good to be back in the Caribbean from the UK once again. 30 years ago I helped train the second batch of Amerindian priests in Guyana at the former Alan Knight Training Centre on a three year USPG secondment. That was when I first met Fr Noel. Our friendship built up, along with Hazel and the girls, around the time of the 1998 Lambeth Conference when we exchanged Vicarages, St Patrick, Barbados for St Saviour, Alexandra Palace in London. That’s when our family discovered Miami Beach where we’re currently staying with our other Bajan friends, Bishop Wilfred and Ina Wood.

Over the years I’ve returned to visit Codrington College and Guyana on Sabbatical. I live now in Haywards Heath, halfway between London and Brighton, surrounded by Sussex countryside. That’s not been my experience most of my time with parishes or diocesan work based in Doncaster, Coventry and London. To visit Barbados has always been a privilege, besides the warmth of environment - and people - to take time away from air polluted Britain. Living on an island like this, so close to paradise, isn’t without its ecological challenges, but it seems a long way from the environmentally challenged world I live in most of the time.

I visit London often, just a 45 minute train ride away. In recent months traffic there’s been halted by hundreds of young people under the banner ‘Extinction Rebellion’ making a strong point about the need for action on climate change. In consequence the current UK election campaign has strong focus on better care for the environment. It’s also got another key element, Brexit - a move, which if successful - I’m a cynic - will at least lead the UK more into engagement with the Caribbean - if you want us, of course! Anyway it's the environment I want to speak to this morning from a Christian perspective.

My doctorate was on the forces between the chains in polythene and Teflon. I wrote it years ago when I was involved in Chemical research. It’s won me the nickname ‘non-stick-vicar’. I wish that were true!  From that scientific work on what holds polymers together I’ve now moved forward to another concern - what holds the universe together, what’s at the heart of our environment as mortal beings. We’re here this morning to celebrate the One who does just that – Jesus Christ. He holds all things in being we heard in the reading from Colossians and he’s bringing all things together in himself. 

My mission as a priest is to help people know Jesus and the truth that’s in Him, truth that’s married to the wider body of human truth that’s emerging day by day as the world evolves.

The gentle reign of Christ the King is over hearts and minds. In my life time no one has been a better teacher on ecology than the French priest scientist and mystic Teilhard de Chardin.   

For Teilhard the Jesus whose reign today’s second reading announces is the one who holds all things together and who leads us forward to a fulfilment that will coincide with his majestic return.

The whole cosmos is like an inverted cone with the movements within it converging upon Jesus as the apex or omega point. Our individual futures, the future development of St. David’s and of the whole church and the future of Barbados and the whole created order rests in Jesus and is to end in Jesus.

‘You have so filled the universe in every direction, Jesus’ wrote Fr. Teilhard, ‘that from now on it is blessedly impossible for us to escape you…Neither life, whose progress reinforces the hold you have on me; nor death which throws me into your hands, nor the good or bad spiritual powers which are your living instruments; nor the energies of matter, into which you are plunged;…nor the unfathomable abysses of space, which are the measure of your greatness;…none of these things will be able to separate me from your substantial love, because they are only the veil, the “species”, under which you hold me so that I can hold you’ (Le Milieu Divin 1957).

His last reference draws an analogy that as Jesus is hidden under the species of bread in the Holy Eucharist so that he can come to us and change us into himself, so Jesus is hid in the creation itself as the binding force, as joy and sorrow visible to the eye of faith.

Teilhard teaches me that when I as a priest in his name - and your name - say ‘This is my body…’ over bread and ‘This is my blood’ over wine, something spills out from the altar mystically across the church and its surrounds. ‘This priestly act extends even beyond the transubstantiated host to the cosmos itself’ Teilhard writes.

Wondrous stuff – but Christianity is exactly such! Jesus holds you together. He holds Barbados together – or he would hold Barbados together, not overriding free will but by compelling love. All we need is to see Jesus mystically in the sacrament and in all the people and things in our lives as one who beckons us forward into ever greater audacity for him. The audacity of young people in the Extinction Rebellion and counter climate change movement across the world calling for action is inextricably linked to what we are about here in St David’s every Sunday, and day by day beyond that, in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Blessed art thou, Lord God of all creation…this is your body…this is your blood…this bread and wine, our lives and potentially the lives of all those linked to ours in the marvel of the created order. 

Jesus whose reign today’s Feast announces is the one who holds all things together and who leads us forward to a fulfilment that will coincide with his majestic return. 

Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom! the penitent thief cried. It was a last minute cry but it was effective. What many are about at this time is a similar last minute cry but, inasmuch as it is linked to the bringing of all things together in Christ, it will be an effective cry.

God loves all that is just because it is - his love for you and I who bear his image is no less than his love for this troubled earth we stand on, where, in him, ‘we live and move and have our being’.

Above the altar in London’s Westminster Abbey where we crown Kings and Queens there’s this text from Revelation: ‘the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ’. It’s a text reminding those preparing to lead of the greater leadership we celebrate today. 

At every Eucharist we plead his Sacrifice with an anticipation of the renewal of all things by the Spirit of Christ, whose work at this altar both mirrors and effects the healing of the universe. As we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice this morning, we do so in union with Christ our King and his aspiration to change us, to change Barbados, to change the environment as God desires, to whom, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might majesty dominion and power henceforth and for evermore. Amen.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

All Saints Festival at St Bartholomew, Brighton 3.11.19

Christianity is about contemplation, communion and change.

As a cyclist I give energy to my bike hub which is transferred through a set of spokes to get the wheels moving.

Today’s Festival of All Saints is a challenge to get more on the move for God through deeper recognition of the hub of prayer and spokes of fellowship in moving us forward on the road to glory.

A few thoughts under these three headings: contemplation, communion and change.

First, contemplation which is as much at the heart of reality and Christianity as it is at the heart of All Saints Feast. St John describes the ultimate purpose of our lives as purification so as to be capable of seeing God in the population of heaven. ‘Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.’ (1 John 3:2-3)

At the hub of reality is God whose Son, as God and man, draws human beings into God’s own self-contemplation, the Father of the Son in the Holy Spirit, catching us into God’s own life so as to be energised. On earth contemplation of God is sporadic, by you and me, people of faith, in the midst of the uncoordinated chaos of life. In heaven saints purified from self-regard gaze in coordination upon the perfect goodness, truth and beauty of God. Through them, through the hub of their contemplation and intercession, God’s power flows into the world. 

Words crack in talking of such things. Because of the incarnation the heavenly hub of contemplation draws mortals into God’s praise and service through, with and in Jesus Christ. Heaven is the depth of earth seen by faith so that our prayer is always  allied to the powerful hub of contemplation we celebrate on All Saints Feast. It’s power is captured by Paul in his second letter to Corinth: ‘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)

Contemplation leads to change, to transformation, from the image into the likeness of God, ‘from one degree of glory to another’. Today we are reminded of the thousands beyond this world who possess such likeness and glory and the unclouded vision of God.

They are, to enter our second consideration, in communion with us, spokes carrying an overflow of energy from that hub of the contemplation of God to get the world moving heavenwards. ‘You have knit together your elect’ All Saints Collect says, ‘in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord’.

Just as the power and direction of a bicycle flows to the wheels through spokes so the power and direction of the Holy Spirit energises the world through the communion of saints in heaven and on earth. ‘Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we proclaim God’s great and glorious name’. Our contemplation, like that of the saints above, is never on our own. Paul asks in Ephesians that we may ‘have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth… of … the fullness of God’ (Ephesians 3:18-19). In other words we only see God fully together with others. 

‘A heaven of souls without Christ would not be heaven’ Austin Farrer writes. ‘Could we not say the same about a heaven of Christ without souls? Christ is not only God in man, he is God in mankind; God in one man isolated from all others would not even be God in man, for a man in isolation is not a human possibility’. 

All Saints Festival is a feast of humanity put into its right mind. Against the individualism of the age the Church presents this unvarying challenge: in the last resort there are but two options, to have God in communion with the saints or to have nothing but yourself. 

It’s a troubling thought, isn’t it, that we will need to shelve judgmental thinking to take our place with the Saints. That great Christian thinker Thomas Merton puts this reality of heavenly communion in a hopeful way writing: ‘The saints are glad to be saints, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else’.

Contemplation, communion then thirdly change. If the hub of Christianity is contemplation, its spokes are the communion of saints. Through the corporate prayer of saints in heaven and on earth the power and direction of Christ’s Spirit moves wheels - in us, around us, energising, changing the cosmos. 

All Saints Feast is a day of obligation for attendance at the Eucharist because it is in worship we best learn from and find transformation from engaging with the adoration of heaven. As we look to the Lord in this action of taking, blessing, breaking and sharing our lives are taken, blessed and transformed. 

The eucharist like a bicycle draws power and direction from the hub of Christ’s contemplation of the Father. This energy of adoration is conveyed by the spokes of a fellowship meal. It’s consequence is the transformation not just of worshippers offering ‘ourselves, our souls and bodies’. What we are about at All Saints Mass, or at any Mass, is changing the world, looking as written in Revelation 11:15b for ‘the kingdom of the world [to] become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ’.

This morning as we contemplate God in communion with the saints we are changed - and so is the world weighing on each of our hearts. In pleading  this memorial sacrifice of Christ’s death and resurrection we are lifted into the heavenly hub of adoration, in communion with the Church in paradise and on earth, to effect the consecration of all that is to God’s praise and service.

I end with the last paragraph of a sermon on heaven by Austin Farrer: ‘There light spills evermore from the fountain of light; it fills the creatures of God with God as much as they will contain, and yet enlarges their heart and vision to contain the more. There it is all one to serve and to pray, for God invisible is visibly portrayed in the action he inspires. There the flame of deity burns in the candle of mankind, Jesus Christ; and all the saints, united with him, extend his person, diversify his operation, and catch the running fire. That is the Church, the Israel of God, of which we only exist by being the colonies and outposts, far removed and fitfully aware; yet able by faith to annihilate both time and distance, and offer with them the only pleasing sacrifice to God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; to him ascribing, as is most justly due, all might, dominion, majesty and power, henceforth and for ever. Amen.’

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Trinity 19 (30C) St Bartholomew, Brighton Jesus Prayer 27.10.19

How can I live a simpler Christian life? 

Is there a summary of faith that’s clear, memorable and portable?  A biblical aid to praying at all times? A means of Holy Spirit empowerment which can bypass a distracted mind? Is there an instrument of Jesus Christ useful to carrying his worship into life and vice versa?

The Jesus Prayer of Eastern Orthodoxy, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’ is such an instrument. Thoroughly biblical, carried forward by the faith of the church through the centuries, it stands as a unique gift and task.

It’s based on the prayer of the tax-collector in today’s Gospel from Luke 18 verses 9 to 14. This so-called Publican’s prayer is there contrasted by Our Lord with the ostentatious prayer of the Pharisee. The man would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast saying ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’. From this prayer the Jesus Prayer is built, a simple repeated prayer for quiet individual use with capacity to empower and lead into simplicity of life.

I have come to believe there’s nothing new in Christianity, just the need to enter the day by day newness of Jesus. That newness refreshes me day by day through attending Mass and through reciting ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’ in an aspiration to carry my Communion forward obedient to the biblical injunction to pray at all times. The Jesus Prayer is inhabited by Jesus who is an effective reminder that God is love and has mercy on us frail mortals.  

It’s a prayer discipline in use across the Christian world since the 5th century and preserved to this day across Eastern Orthodoxy from where it is spreading as a blessing to us in the western Church. 

The Jesus Prayer states the simple good news of Christianity, provides Holy Spirit empowerment to bypass distracted minds, links worship and life and resonates with the faith and prayer of the church through the ages. 

We live in times when many find themselves burdened by anxiety or mental distraction and are seeking help from Buddhist type mindfulness exercises. If only they could enter the spiritual discipline Christians have built from today’s Gospel!  The Jesus Prayer is a ‘God-given mantra’.‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’. Repeating that sentence brings power to bear upon the soul besides helping us as Christians in relating worship to life.

I knew of the Jesus Prayer for thirty years before I welcomed it as the gift and task it is to help us ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  As a priest leading worship, attending to people’s joys and sorrows and the stresses and strains of church administration I have found the Jesus Prayer an invaluable aid and this is because of the simple message it holds before me - that God loves me and all that is, minute by minute, day by day and for all eternity.  

In the early years of the Church, when there was heavy persecution, if a Christian met a stranger in the road, he sometimes drew one arc of a simple fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, both believers knew they were in safe company. The early Christians used the secret sign of the fish because the Greek word for fish ‘icthus’ was an acronym for ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour’, the earliest creed and the shortest statement of Christian faith. The Jesus Prayer is a short expansion of that personal creed. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God’ implies the historical figure of Jesus is universal Lord and Son of God. Behind the statement is a conviction that the invisible God has in one human life at one time and place made himself visible, supremely upon the Cross, showing us his love to be witnessed to every generation. 

God who made all and loves all desires to claim all - starting with the human race made in his image.  The first clause of the Jesus Prayer affirms the good news Jesus brings to our lives, news that we come from God, we belong to God and we go to God. ‘The eternal God is our refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33:27 NIV)

It’s that faith I express when, for example, in the gym.  ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’ I repeat on the machine. Time in the gym helps get me out of my mind into my body and that’s especially welcome when been sitting around at home with the family or on the computer. Gym time helps our bodily well being. It can also be deep thinking time, though this can turn into anxious mental preoccupation, which is why I think many people wear headphones to engage their minds as they exercise their bodies. No headphones on occasion for me in the gym, but rather a conscious coming back into the Lord’s presence.  As I recover repeating the Jesus Prayer it flows with the movement of the gym machines just as its pace fits the natural rhythm of breathing in and out. 

‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’ 

As the prayer centres me I become aware again of God’s love present alongside me in Jesus, of a dispelling of negative preoccupation and an outward focussing upon those around me wherever I am.  The Lord uses the discipline of continuous recitation to turn me out of myself in loving intercession towards my neighbours. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God’ I repeat the Jesus Prayer under my breath, and find myself emphasising the second phrase ‘have mercy on me a sinner’.  The phrase ‘have mercy on me a sinner’ in the Jesus Prayer echoes both today’s Gospel and a phrase that recurs in Christian worship: kyrie eleison, literally ‘O Lord take pity on me’:

To show mercy is to treat others as better than they are. In the Jesus Prayer we are not so much asking the Lord repeatedly to demonstrate mercy to us but affirming and celebrating that quality and allowing it to brush off on us and make us more fully his instruments of forbearance. 

The great thinker Simone Weil writes ‘that two great forces rule the universe: gravity and grace. Gravity causes one body to attract other bodies so that it continually enlarges by absorbing more and more of the universe into itself. Something like this same force operates in human beings. We too want to expand, to acquire, to swell in significance. …Emotionally, Weil concluded, we humans operate by laws as fixed as Newton’s. “All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception.” Most of us remain trapped in the gravitational field of self-love, and thus we “fill up the fissures through which grace might pass.”’ 

The choice to live for God is a choice to live under grace and mercy and not under compulsion. It is an ongoing choice which the Jesus Prayer can facilitate. The beauty of the Prayer is its being a continual reminder both of God’s mercy towards us and of our call to imitate it in our dealings towards others and towards ourselves. It is a reminder true to the action we’re part of this morning in the eucharist as we see that mercy before us in Christ’s body broken and his blood poured forth, mercy we all the better carry out with us after Mass through the quiet discipline of reciting the Jesus Prayer.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!

We do not presume to come to this your table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Friday, 18 October 2019

Sermon at Vespers in St Paul, Haywards Heath on the day of St John Henry Newman’s canonisation 13th October 2019

Love and truth walk in the presence of God, writes the Psalmist (89:14) and so do his saints. Saint John Henry Newman’s walk with God appeals to both heart and mind as expressed in his motto and grave inscription. Cor ad cor loquitur - let heart speak to heart. Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem - from shadows and images into the truth. 

Today the Christian world gives glory to God for raising up an exceptional servant who has moulded Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions up to this day through his teaching and holiness. Both traditions helped form our Saint and both are built up in love and truth through his patronage. I stand here this evening grateful to Newman with millions of fellow Anglicans. Through his influence and that of the Oxford Movement the 1662 Prayer Book Catechism was revised 300 years later in1962 to include this definition. ‘The Church of England is the ancient church of this land, catholic and reformed. It proclaims and holds fast the doctrine and ministry of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church’.

Our Saint contributed to a recovery of Anglicanism as being in continuity with the early and medieval Church though that perception was so unwelcome in his day as to trigger Newman’s transition to Roman Catholic obedience. I dare to say such a perception is more accepted nowadays even if recent discontinuities in Anglican ministry await the verdict of history.

As a scientist by training, I have always been attracted to Newman whose writings counter what would put a brake on the best forward thinking. His great Apologia affirming both Anglican and Catholic heritage was published 5 years after Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), a story of spiritual evolution complementing Darwin’s thesis on biological evolution. To live is to change Newman wrote and to be perfect is to have changed often. Life is a forward movement we can choose - he chose it - from what Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4 as from such shadows and images into the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 

Our Saint, though aware through his sufferings of life’s sad limitations, is a teacher affirmative of life’s value and dynamic, an ecumenical, forward looking saint whose teaching, love and prayers are with both Churches he belonged to over his long life.   Saint John’s work on church development and how we protect the church from godless innovation to secure godly reform came into its own at the time of the Second Vatican Council of which he’s been called patron This through his stress on the centrality of Christ and the dignity of the laity and their role in keeping the Church faithful to God’s truth. What Catholics, what Church doctors, as well as Apostles, have ever lived on, he wrote, is not any number of theological canons or decrees, but ... Christ Himself, as He is represented in concrete existence in the Gospels.      In those words Newman speaks true to his Evangelical Anglican upbringing about the centrality of Christ to Christian experience which is at the heart of the reshaping in emphasis within Roman Catholic teaching expressed in the decrees of Vatican II.

Our Saint was always ready to defend dogma, the fence alongside the well trodden path of Christian believing, but intellectual formulation of Christianity was second to his warm hearted approach to God. His motto Cor ad cor loquitur expresses this, let heart speak to heart. Newman teaches us holiness is the best guide to the science of God, not argument, as in his hymn Lead, kindly light. There he speaks of surrendering rational choice, fears, and pride to be opened up to a fuller vision by the light of the Holy Spirit. This poem written during a health crisis admits the importance of the trials of life in leading us into more certain faith. Whereas scientific research reaches conclusions by appeal to the necessary and unchanging, human action by contrast works beyond logic. Certitude is moral not intellectual and its shown in humble determination to head from shadows and images into the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 

To Newman church development and reform is rooted in such individual transformation, under the authority of both the faith of the church through the ages and the golden thread of spiritual direction reaching down the Christian centuries. Faith is nurtured from discipleship, from upholding in our lives worship, prayer, study, service and reflection. Such disciplines express our choice to be nurtured in holiness by and with those who have sought and today seek the Holy Spirit within the Christian Church. Newman found such a community at Littlemore and later on in the Oratory of St Philip Neri he founded in Birmingham and London. 

When our Saint decided to make his transition into communion with the See of Rome, his Anglican friend, Edward Pusey observed wisely of the separation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics: ‘it is what is unholy on both sides that keeps us apart’.
 Today’s Canonisation is both a celebration and a challenge. The Church’s mission to the world is damaged by its spiritual immaturity expressed in its divisions even if there are friendships across denominational divides. 

It is appropriate to recall Anne and my friendships with many here at St Paul’s through our 18 years in Haywards Heath or nearby Horsted Keynes. The recent loss to Christine and all of you of Deacon Gerard Irwin was our loss as well. Over recent years I recall heart-warming occasions like the 24-7 prayer in St Paul’s Hall in 2004, Churches Together events in the Dolphin Leisure Centre and bridge building occasions fostered by charismatic renewal and the True Life in God apostolic network. I’m delighted to hear of a new venture of ecumenical prayer starting at St Paul’s and we hope to be part of it.

As someone who attends Mass at St Richard’s and here on occasion Saint John is my patron. I yearn for the visible unity of the Church to complement the spiritual unity expressed tonight. ‘We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord’ - but let’s not stay there, as the song continues, ‘and we pray that all unity may one day be restored’. Why? So that Our Lord’s prayer for us in John 17:21 can be answered: ‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’.

That prayer and task is ours for the good of Haywards Heath and the world. In such an aspiration, heart will speak to heart as we invoke our new Saint trusting God for many among us to be drawn from shadows and images into the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 

Friday, 11 October 2019

Trinity 17 (28C) St Richard, Haywards Heath 

I live by God and my phone. One of those who never uses cash, flicks their phone over the till and goes off paperless. Anne and I were driven mad by chasing till receipts and comparing them with bank statements at three monthly intervals. Now it's a monthly perusal of a rather longer bank statement in which we recall our till transactions with five A4 sheets rather than 200 unreadable till receipts.

All very good, but what do you do faced with a street person seeking assistance if you don’t carry cash? At least talk to them, listen to them, affirm them, rather than passing by on the other side. Homelessness is a growing scourge. In Bentswood some of my neighbours recently found a man camping in the woods, took him in and fed him. That’s why I’m pleased St Richard’s is taking note of World Homeless Week with harvest collections and goods today being given to a local homeless charity.

I’m pleased to ‘speak into’ a eucharist geared to advancing God’s kingdom in this realm having two years ago left a village divided over building more homes. Horsted Keynes has yet to finalise it’s village plan over where houses should go as quite a few don’t want them in their backyard. A very human response, but Sussex has a housing crisis on that account.

Today’s Gospel from Luke 17:11-19 fits our harvest theme of thankfulness which might prompt us to be more grateful for a roof over our heads. As I engage with people living on the streets, my first thought is, what it must be like to live outside through a blustery night let alone the deep chill of winter that’s approaching? My hedge is covered with berries, said to be a pointer to a hard winter ahead.

To the Gospel! It’s linked to the Old Testament story of Syrian army commander Naaman healed by bathing in the Jordan which is parallel to the story of the ten lepers healed more simply just by meeting Jesus. In the second part of the Gospel one leper is praised for showing gratitude. ‘We’e not all ten made clean?’ Our Lord asks. ‘The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’ 

Notice the nine were spoken of by Our Lord as being ‘made clean’ but the thankful leper was said by Jesus to be saved. In other words thankfulness is a quality that demonstrates the fullness of life we Christians call salvation. It’s a sign we’re living life to the full, life as God wills it. Archbishop Michael Ramsey described thankfulness as ‘a soil in which pride finds it hard to take root’. If we see our whole life as given by God that recognition protects us from obsessive self interest. 

To walk through life in God’s company makes us less out for ourselves and more out for those on the heart of God - and can we imagine Our Lord’s heart other than warmly extended to those living on the coldness of the streets? 

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ he says in Matthew 11:28. As Christians we are bearers of that invitation through practical action, such as we’re about at harvest festival, but also by our presence alongside the homeless. Of course there’s politics here, issues of lifestyle, family breakdown and the like. The beauty of thankful living is that you go blind to all of that and, seeing all you have as a gift, those you meet, even on the streets, can be welcomed as part of that gift.

On a recent visit to Crawley Down Monastery being a Feast Day there was a talking meal. I sat beside a man who explained to me how the monks took him in regularly as he had no home. I learned quite a bit about what it was like to live on the street, the way drunken youths harass street people, and so on. I asked him what was most important to him about the way people react to the homeless. ‘Speak to us’ he said, ‘recognise our humanity. That’s much more important than any coin you can give us’. 

It’s easier said than done. I’m more on the case than I’ve been in the past, fuelled by a lack of 50p pieces, determined though to provide something as from the Lord.

This morning in Rome Pope Francis is canonising former Anglican priest John Henry Newman. Some of you know I’ve been invited by Fr Trevor to preach at 6.15pm Vespers up the road at St Paul’s. Newman’s motto ‘Cor ad cor loquitur’, let heart speak to heart, captures what it is to live thankfully with compassion towards others. I want to end with his famous fragrance prayer, his prayer for grace to radiate Christ to a needy world.

Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.
 Flood my soul with your spirit and life.
 Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, 
that my life may only be a radiance of yours.

 Shine through me, and be so in me 
that every soul I come in contact with
 may feel your presence in my soul.
 Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!

 Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine,
 so to shine as to be a light to others; 
the light, O Jesus, will be all from you; none of it will be mine;
 it will be you, shining on others through me.

 Let me thus praise you the way you love best, by shining on those around me.
 Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by my example,
 by the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do, 
the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to you. Amen.  

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Trinity 15 (26C) St Bartholomew, Brighton 29.9.19

In paradisum deducant te angeli. ‘May the angels lead you into paradise; may they receive you and with Lazarus, once poor, may you have eternal rest’.

Those beautiful words from our funeral liturgy capture movement of the soul from earth to heaven parallel to the carriage of the body to earth. They are built from today’s Gospel of Dives and Lazarus and they provide opportunity for reflection on our ultimate destiny as believers. 

In the Gregorian chant for this closing rite of Requiem Mass the melodic highpoint comes on the name of Lazarus, the poor beggar in Our Lord’s parable. The musical lifting is pointer to the poor man’s lifting, Lazarus ‘was carried by the angels to be with Abraham’.

In today’s parable Our Lord takes an age old story of the reversal of riches and poverty in the afterlife to challenge ‘those among the Pharisees who loved money’ reminding us how those who care nothing for those less fortunate than themselves will receive harsh judgement from God in the life to come.

It’s an uncomfortable piece of scripture underlined by today’s first reading from Amos challenging those who lounge in luxury. I remember Cardinal Hume saying after visiting famine victims in Ethiopia how today’s Gospel haunted him more than any other passage in the Bible. It’s hard to shake off its force. Given our knowledge through the media of needs in Yemen and elsewhere are we not like Dives - Latin for the money-loving man in the story - unless we give at times to help famine relief?

With that thought let’s change gear to look at the Church’s teaching on the afterlife, something last year’s Unbelievable? group considered as we went through the last paragraph of the Creed. A passage like today’s Gospel has prime place in funeral liturgy but its imagery needs unpacking to unveil ‘the life of the world to come’. 

Such an unveiling happened to me personally forty nine years ago on this day, Michaelmas Day 29th September 1970.  I was just 21 then and was travelling on my Lambretta from Harwell, where I’d completed some neutron scattering on a polymer specimen, to Oxford. As I drove along the front tyre blew and despite repeated application of front and rear brakes the vehicle veered across the road into the path of a lorry. I said what I thought were my last prayers. Amazingly I passed just in front of the lorry landing on the kerb with a sprain to my thumb and shoulder and lived to tell the tale. Coming so close to death made for a fuller evaluation of the significance of my life. It contributed no doubt to a radical career switch a few years later from polymer scientist to parish priest.

My interrupted journey - it entailed a brief visit to hospital - pointed me beyond my own pursuit of truth as a scientist to Truth’s pursuit of me. Heaven came close. It  became more real to me, especially as the accident occurred on 29th September, Feast of St Michael and All Angels. As for many, God became real to me not through thinking or feeling but through circumstances that stopped me literally in my tracks. It was natural to interpret my survival to divine intervention through an angel steering my scooter a shade. I lived on, and continue to live on, aware of an unseen realm, how it pierces through on occasion into our life experience, especially at Holy Mass, and will accompany us as we look to the Lord on the day of our death.

‘May the angels lead you into paradise; may they… receive you and with Lazarus, once poor, may you have eternal rest’.

A few thoughts to conclude on the Christian doctrine of judgement, some of which we shared during November’s Creed group.

Can there really be a final catalogue of wrongdoing?  Surely there can! As surely as a computer memory contains a million records, the memory of God is established.  To him all hearts are open and all desires known. Furthermore, and this is the good news Christians know, by his sharing in our nature and his boundless compassion Jesus Christ is well appointed to judge the living and the dead.  Did he not welcome and put the best slant on thieves and prostitutes, always ready to treat people as better than they were? As believers in such love can we fear meeting Our Lord face to face?

Christian tradition distinguishes an individual judgement at the moment of death and a general judgement which completes God’s righteous task at the Lord’s return when the dead are raised in body as well as soul. After death scripture speaks of two ultimate destinies, heaven and hell, although there is a qualification that no one dying with unrepented sin can face the Lord without cleansing, since no unclean thing shall enter his presence as stated in Revelation 21v27. This is the origin of the doctrine of purgatory which speaks of the need for the faithful departed to be purged or cleansed of residual sin to come close to God. 

Our minds argue against judgement because they think they know best.  Actually God knows best in the end. When we look into the eyes of Christ at his return there will be pain, but an ‘if the cap fits wear it’ sort of pain. Purgatorial pain may be as short as that. Our wrong actions affront God in his holiness but he has given us a remedy in repentance. Hell, refusal to face God, will be our choice. As the video of my life is prepared for showing on judgement day Christ has power to edit out the unacceptable points if I give them to him.   Mercy triumphs over judgement when we allow Christ a place in our hearts! 

‘There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ we read in Romans 8v1. God looks on those who are in Christ with the same love with which he looks upon his Son. Judgement has in a profound sense been passed already for those who have accepted God’s judgement on their lives. To accept one’s sinfulness and inadequacy is in the Christian tradition the pathway to joyful freedom. Such acceptance springs from the vision of God given in Jesus Christ we celebrate at every Mass, vision of a God of majesty, yes, but also a God more concerned to give us what we need than to give us what we deserve.

To believe in Jesus Christ who ‘will come to judge the living and the dead’ is therefore to face the future with an infectious hope. If faith shows you that the whole world is in God’s hands so is its future. 

Christianity provides a deep sense of certainty that any perceived triumph of evil will be seen ultimately as an illusion. All will come right in the end because in the end there will be the grace and truth of Jesus Christ (John 1v14, 17). 

Ultimately there will be grace – mercy - for repentant sinners and truth to prevail over all who live and act deluded by falsehood.

On this his Feast we end by invoking St Michael to protect us from any such delusion, especially the neglect of the poor, conscious or unconscious, using a prayer that used to be said to the Archangel after every Mass. My prayer ends with a threefold plea to the heart of Jesus which I invite you to repeat with me.

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust down to hell, Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

Most sacred heart of Jesus have mercy on us! Most sacred heart of Jesus have mercy on us! Most sacred heart of Jesus have mercy on us