Friday, 22 May 2020

St Richard, Haywards Heath Easter 5 10th May 2020

How often do you think of heaven?  ‘In my Father’s house are many dwelling-places’ Our Lord says in today’s Gospel from John 14. ‘I go and prepare a place for you’.

When I think of heaven - and I’ve been doing a bit thanks to COVID 19 - I find thinking goes some way. Our reasoning powers can trace experiences of goodness, truth, beauty, holiness and love to find in them pointers to heaven. Suffering, strangely, builds on this reasoning, as does experience of the supernatural. My reasonable thought about heaven though needs the aid of the revelation of God provided in Jesus Christ. That aid is given us this morning in the promises of scripture, the fact we’re gathered despite COVID to celebrate the resurrection, and in the eucharist itself a foretaste of heaven.

Easter season is queen of church seasons on account of its heavenward focus. Even so every Sunday the Lord’s people gather on the Lord’s day round the Lord’s table - ‘This is the day that the Lord has made’, says the Psalmist, ‘let us rejoice and be glad in it. Alleluia!’ (Psalm 118:24)!

True to this holy season, though you can’t see my hands pointing today, I want to use words to point instead in summary of my book ‘Pointers to Heaven’ launched Thursday on Amazon with Bishop Martin’s blessing. 

First of my ten pointers is goodness, and I see that in many here at St Richard’s. I think, if she or he is so good, what must perfect goodness be like for Hebrews 12:23 speaks of our being made perfect in heaven? Then as a former scientist who researched the truth of plastics I see the truth of matter’s design pointing to Mind existing before matter, the truth of God’s mind ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6) who’s placed discovery of heaven ahead of us. 

Goodness, truth, beauty, holiness, love all five point us beyond this world. I wouldn’t be preaching this morning without encountering a holy priest when I was a young man. Something otherworldly about Fr Hooper reached into my soul drawing me to ordination through a strengthening of faith in ‘the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting’ (Apostles Creed).

Suffering, strangely, builds on reasoning so far. If there were no God or heaven suffering we bear or see daily on TV would be unconscionably dreadful in its meaninglessness. Alongside suffering, occasional experience of the supernatural points seventhly beyond this world. Throughout my life I’ve been blessed to experience answers to prayer, even the prayer ‘God if you’re there show yourself’. My prayer for St Richard’s as we approach Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit may anoint each and every one of us in answer to such a prayer - Come, Holy Spirit!

My last three pointers to heaven are scripture, the resurrection of Our Lord and worship. With a science background I’m familiar with testing theories by experiment. You can test God’s promises in the Bible like those for guidance, peace of mind or answered prayer. I can’t yet test his promise of future glory but I’m happy to extrapolate the curve on the ‘graph’ of God’s loving faithfulness from all the experimental data I’ve collected in my Christian life. Similarly though Christ’s resurrection goes beyond reason I am convinced of it as a reasonably evidenced historical event. Then the last revelation is what we are about in worship this morning, with angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven. ‘The Lord’s people gather on the Lord’s day around the Lord’s table’, as preview of forthcoming attractions. Blest indeed we are called here to the supper of the Lamb anticipating heaven’s supper to be spread out for us at the fulfilment of all things!  

Alleluia, Christ is risen - he is risen indeed, alleluia!

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Holy Tuesday online 7 April 2020

Hello and greetings from Anne and I in 13 Marylands off New England Road where we’re growing in the spirituality of the housebound. I’m grateful with us all to Fr Chris for the online network his gifts have generated. Besides saying the office with a group of us on the phone I’m offering Mass here every day at 715am as a rule and friends at St Richard’s are high on my list of intentions. 

It’s Holy Week and we’re trying to get more holy. We’re doing that, most of us, without Holy Communion. How do we manage? C.S.Lewis said ‘next to the Blessed Sacrament… your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses’. I’ve always liked that saying but being shut in for weeks on end seeing our close neighbour as ‘the holiest object presented to your senses’ is another matter. I feel for Anne!

In today’s Gospel we read of Our Lord’s close associates in the days of his flesh, Judas and Peter, and how they failed Jesus their close neighbour. Both had spent years with Christ but when it came to the crunch self-interest triumphed over loyalty. Both were living by their own power with its sinful devices and not by the power of the Holy Spirit. Think better of them a bit because the Holy Spirit was only released as a result of the uncomfortable events of Holy Week they were living through. 

To be made holy we need the Holy Spirit and that we have received at baptism and confirmation. Holy Week is a call to renew that anointing which doesn’t just come from above us. It comes also from around us and within us. Those difficult decisions we have to work out with one another being housebound are part of our sanctification. At our family video conferences online we’re struggling to get the quieter members to speak and shine. Not everyone is like you and me - I speak to an online congregation - not everyone is comfortable with being on TV if you like. My youngest son James, like some of you listening working from home, is expert on the protocol of such conversations with ten or more folk on screen. He’s leading our struggle to get the best listening to one another in the fun, chaos and time consumption of video linking.

Christianity is about love of God, neighbour and self. Sin is about falling short in all three dimensions. Sometimes we deceive ourselves through going to Church, praying, reading the Bible, serving others and confessing our sins that we’re getting holier. Those things are good but they can be done in our own power and not in humility with confidence in the Holy Spirit. That’s why having Holy Week on our own away from Church fastened in at home, save for an hour, maybe family members is a God-send. 
I dare to say it though I don’t fully live it - the struggle to see God in our closest relations is an opportunity for spiritual growth. 

On Friday we come to the foot of the Cross where the ground is level. Corona puts everyone on that level ground in terms of our mortality. As Christians that ground is level in a more profound sense. When you live knowing your need of the Holy Spirit you recognise the sinful shortcomings that put you at the foot of the Cross. Living housebound, alone or in company, can awaken our need for God and loosen us from judging overmuch the shortcomings of others.

On Easter Sunday we’ll renew our baptism promises. In baptism our sinful nature got drowned, in principle, and the new Holy Spirit graced nature came to life, in principle. Christian life, growing in holiness, is about putting the principle of baptism into practice. The sinful nature is still in us but so is the Holy Spirit. Holy Week gives us a chance to put the old nature down and to invite the Holy Spirit to rise in us - so be it even if the Spirit comes as grace under pressure, the pressure of these extraordinary times.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

St Bartholomew, Brighton Lent 2 Interfaith issues 8 March 2020

If the seven and a half billion inhabitants of the world were but 100 we’re told there’d be: 33 Christians, 21 Muslims, 13 Hindus, 6 Buddhists, 12 people who practice other religions and 14 people of no religion.

Given these statistics, we, as Christians, need discernment over how we share about Christ and engage in as positive a way as we can in a context where awareness of the variety of religions is widespread especially in this multicultural diverse city of Brighton & Hove.

I want to get us thinking about all of this on a Sunday when the Lectionary centres helpfully on Abraham as father of faith. He is so for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the so-called Abrahamic faiths. In our first reading from Genesis God promises to Abram I will bless you and make your name great. So he has, as Paul says in the omitted second reading Abraham is the father of us all. His faith as a Jew is in the same God we put faith in who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 

Our worship reminds us all the time of our Jewish roots. One hymn we use today ‘The God of Abraham praise’ is an adapted Synagogue hymn. The preface chant I sing at the Eucharistic prayer has beauty because it traces right back to Jewish worship, as does the whole idea of ‘eucharist’ or berakah, thanksgiving.

Let’s go back though, thinking beyond the three Abrahamic religions, to list five approaches to the varieties of religion in the world today since we want to get our minds and hearts engaged with this key issue. It’s key if only because though in a sense religion is God-given it’s also heavily man-handled – even the Christian religion - and hence a source of division in the world. 

This morning’s teaching is important since, as Hans Kung once said, there’ll be no peace in the world without peace between religions and no peace between religions without understanding between religions. Put this morning down to our going for deeper understanding from a Christian vantage point.

There are five possible approaches to the existence of different religions:

  • All religions are false
  • One religion only is true, the others completely false
  • One religion only is true, the others mere approximations or distortions
  • All religions are true in what they agree about; and false wherever they disagree
  • All religions are true and any contradictions are superficial.

‘All religions are false’ is the first approach and you hear it voiced from time to time especially after atrocities committed in the name of religion. Hardest hitting book is Brian Leiter’s Why Tolerate Religion

‘One religion only is true, the others completely false’ is a view we can quickly gauge from ‘door to door religion sales folk’, parish priests excepted – I mean Jehovah’s Witnesses and to some extent Mormons. Roman Catholics were said to hold ‘outside the church there is no salvation’ but  now clearly deny they do so, with recent teaching accepting in some degree the baptised of any Church and looking positively, from a salvation angle, on all who follow their conscience.

As you can guess as a good Anglican I’m aiming for the middle thesis that ‘one religion only is true, the others mere approximations or distortions’. I’ll come back to this.

‘All religions are true in what they agree about; and false wherever they disagree’ may have some truth about it in identifying a hierarchy of truth but it is over optimistic about the clash of truth claims there is between religions.

Lastly ‘All religions are true and any contradictions are superficial’.

Again too optimistic – some of you may have heard this very beguiling story along those lines from Sussex priest Kevin O’Donnell’s book ‘Inside World Religions’ .

‘There were five blind Hindu holy men on the banks of the Ganges. A tame elephant wandered among them one day. One reached out and touched its body; he thought it was a wall of mud. One touched its tusks and thought these were two spears. One touched its trunk and thought it was a serpent. One touched its tail and thought it was a piece of rope. The last one laughed at them and held onto its leg. He said it was a tree after all. A child walked by and asked, ‘Why are you all holding the elephant?’

The story is quite seductive, a sort of ‘plague on all your houses’ that fits those who say ‘all religions lead to God’. The parable is used by Hindus to teach each faith has the truth but not the complete picture. 

So where does this lead us? As I said earlier to the third thesis that one religion only is true, the others mere approximations or distortions’ which is the consensus of most Christian churches.

In John chapter 14, verse 6 Christ said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me’ and in Chapter 18 v38; ‘Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’ 

If everyone believed that life would be simpler and I wouldn’t be speaking as I am this morning!   Putting it in a more challenging way to you and I, the existence of other religions is proof of our failure to meet with Jesus at a deep level and become the heart to heart draw we’re meant to be through his magnetic love. 

What though of those who’re drawn elsewhere? We see distortions of Christ’s truth in faiths and also approximations.  If you read my book Meet Jesus it has a section on how I see other faiths where I write: 

‘Saying yes to Jesus does not mean saying ‘no’ to everything about other faiths. It can mean saying ‘yes, but…’ or rather ‘yes, and…’ to other faiths, which is a far more engaging and reasonable attitude.

I say ‘yes’ to what Buddhists teach about detachment because Jesus teaches it and Christians often forget it. At the same time I must respectfully question Buddhists about the lack of a personal vision of God since I believe Jesus is God’s Son.  

I say ‘yes’ to what Muslims say about God’s majesty because sometimes Christians seem to domesticate God and forget his awesome nature. At the same time, I differ with Muslims about how we gain salvation, because I believe Jesus is God’s salvation gift and more than a prophet.’

Other faiths can wake us up to aspects of Christian truth that might otherwise get forgotten. What might happen, for example, if Christians were as serious in their spiritual discipline as many Buddhists are?’

In conclusion I invite you to reflect from your own experience asking yourself the question ‘What good do I see in people of other faith?’ Then, mindful of the Gospel reading this morning , that God so loved the world he gave us his only Son, I invite you to think about what’s very basic to us as Christians namely the question ‘Can religion lead you to God?’ Our faith sees religion as expressing love in return for love. In Christianity it is God who leads us to God.

So it is this morning in the eucharist – we can lift our hearts to God in the eucharist only because God so loved us as to give us Jesus whose word and body are the subject of this service.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

St John, Burgess Hill The Bible Pre-Lent Sunday 23 Feb 2020

This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him. Matthew 17.5

There is no Word of God without power so that this place – the pulpit – and the book expounded here – this book (show) – are about energising. I want to use this sermon built from the Gospel’s invitation to listen to God to encourage us to read our Bibles in Lent.

Why is it so important we familiarise ourselves with the Bible?
Because the Bible speaks to those with open ears of God’s people, provision, promises and purpose. 

In reading the Bible we find...God’s people. The Bible is the family history of the Christian church. It is our life story. We are to see it as part of our own story since Christians see themselves in the sacred history it provides. When, for example, in the story of Cain and Abel we read God’s words to Cain, ‘where is your brother?’ they are words that remind us that God’s family find God again and again through love of other people. When we read the story of the Exodus we see ourselves going through the Red Sea – the waters of baptism – fed by manna – the heavenly bread of the eucharist – destined for Canaan – a glorious homeland. 

When we read and study Matthew’s Gospel we see a Sermon on a Mount from Jesus presented as the new Moses since Matthew’s Jewish readers knew it was Moses who first brought teaching down from Mount Sinai in the Ten Commandments. When we read in the Acts about Pentecost we see a reversal of the Tower of Babel in Genesis so that people heard the same message in their different languages. The Holy Spirit who drives the Church forward from Pentecost is the same Lord working secretly throughout the biblical story of God’s people.

We read the Bible because it tells us who we are – God’s children made so by God’s provision. This provision, the gift of Jesus, is a second motivator for bible reading so that Saint Jerome could say that ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ no less.

The bible reveals how God who created the world provided his Son, Jesus C hrist to redeem it from sin through a new creation. This is the year of Saint Matthew in the three year cycle of Sunday readings. When we open a Bible Matthew is on its hinge, the hinge between the Old and New Testaments.  The word Bible comes from the Greek τὰ βιβλία ta biblia "the books" whose contents and order vary between denominations. The Old Testament has 39 books of Hebrew Scripture, though some denominations including our own give authority to a series of Jewish books called the deuterocanonical or apocryphal books. The New Testament contains 27 books the first four of which form the Canonical gospels, first Matthew’s, recounting the life of Christ and central to our faith.

There is no Word of God without power because scripture points us to Jesus. Saint Tikhon, an 18th century Russian writer, says whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking to Him. This is why we read the Bible – to seek and find God’s provision. The Bible is an instrument of divine revelation, the word of God communicated in human words. As such it has unique authority and inspiration and cannot mislead anyone as it presents the salvation truth of God in Christ.

This is what the Bible says about itself through what Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3.15-17 where he reminds his assistant bishop, and through him, all of us, how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 

In the bible we meet God’s people, see God’s provision for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Thirdly we find God’s promises. The bible contains what Saint Peter describes in 2 Peter 1.4 as God’s precious and very great promises for us to ‘read, mark and inwardly digest’. In his book on Matthew Lent for everyone (show) Tom Wright comments on the Gospel passage we shall hear read next Sunday about Our Lord’s temptations and how Jesus himself holds fast to God’s promises as he resists them. Once more, we are not simply spectators in this extraordinary drama. We too, are tempted to do the right things in the wrong way or for the wrong reason. Part of the discipline of Lent is about learning to recognize the flickering impulses, the whispering voices, for what they are, and to have the scripture fuelled courage to resist.

I like that phrase ‘scripture fuelled courage’. When I am tempted by anxiety it is the fuelling of my spiritual life by the biblical promises of God that defend me, such as those in today’s Gospel or these other texts. ‘My peace I give unto you’ (John 14.27) ‘You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you’ (Isaiah 26.3) ‘The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind’ (Philippians 4.7). The point is that unless I knew these verses, and had memorised them, the Bible would have no power to help me. I would lack what Tom Wright calls ‘scripture fuelled courage’.

There is no word of God without power! The bible itself points to the power of Holy Spirit who inspired it and will inspire its readers. In particular the discipline of bible study helps us get into ourselves some of the key promises of God by the inspiration they give to heart and mind, an inspiration that evidences itself in our lives.

Fourthly if the Bible brings us the family history of God’s people, God’s provision for us in Jesus and his promises to fuel our courage it brings us hope for the future. It outlines to us God’s purpose. The bible contains God’s plan. It sets human history in the perspective revealed by Christ’s resurrection, his gathering of God’s people, building of the kingdom and promised return. 

In his commentary on Matthew Chapter 13 Bishop Tom speaks on the importance of the bible in opening up God’s future to us and of the kingdom of God in Matthew’s Gospel:
Jesus is looking for people to sign on, people who are prepared to take his kingdom-movement forward in their own day. In telling us the old, old story the Bible invites us to sign up to having faith for the future. As its last book affirms the kingdom of the world (is to become) the kingdom of our God and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15) 

This is what we sign up to at every eucharist since this sacred meal anticipates the heavenly banquet. So too our pondering of the Word of God energises our thinking and acting. It builds our conviction that if this is the day the Lord has made so is tomorrow.

The Bible – a way into being God’s people, knowing his provision, his promises and his purpose for our lives and that of the cosmos. The Lord deepen our hunger for God’s Word as he makes us hungry now for the table of the eucharist.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

St Peter & St John Wivelsfield 2nd before Lent 16th Feb 2020

All we’re about as Christians harnesses energy. It harnesses the energy that presses creation forward. Let no one be deceived into thinking Christianity is a loss of energy, even if tasks in the life of the Church fall heavily on your shoulders!

As we heard in our readings from Genesis and Romans God who brought all that is out of nothing has the creation waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. 

He brings us moment by moment in Christ the irrepressible power of the Holy Spirit. It is the same energy at work in the Eucharist that is at work bringing sun, rain and storm and pushing the grass and trees upward.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin Our Lord reflects in the Gospel I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 

The same Lord Jesus Christ is our clue to understanding that energy that has brought not just the lilies but each of us here into being and would carry us forward from this day into a joyful eternity. He whose power rolled out creation acted powerfully upon the Cross to reconcile sinful humanity and is powerfully present with us this morning.  He is both the power that bought all things into being and the one who gives power to all who believe in his name.

To know God in Jesus Christ is not something esoteric but something that touches the wellsprings of human life. You and I are here in this Church this morning, held together in our physical being by God.

God who brought all that is out of nothing brings us moment by moment, in Christ, the power of life. More than that he fills hearts open to him with his own life, the life and power of the Holy Spirit, through word and sacrament.

Our Church tower is fashioned as pointer to this truth: all of life comes from God, is sustained by God and would be directed by God to his praise and service.

I say ‘would be’ because the creation of a world apart from God has led to the necessity of faith for mortal beings to be one with him, to choose intimacy with him, and to overcome the consequences of that apartness from God in the evil consequences of human wrongdoing, made possible by that apartness of the creation from God. 

We name the second person in the Godhead Jesus Christ because the world apart from God began to fall apart through human sin and only through the gift of his Son, revealed in taking nature of a Virgin in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection could it be brought together again.

The great Anglican theologian Austin Farrer has this summary of how creation links to redemption and the making holy of our lives: We believe in One God, One not only in the unity of his substance but in the unbroken wholeness of his action. All the work of God is one mighty doing from the beginning to the end, and can only be seen in its mind-convincing force when it is so taken. It is One God who calls being out of nothing, and Jesus from a virgin womb, and life from the dead; who revives our languid souls by penitence, and promises to sinful men redeemed by the vision of his face, in Jesus Christ our Lord. 
A Celebration of Faith p62

I am hopeful for the Church because I know there’s a link between the supernaturally revealed truth of Jesus Christ and the truths of the world’s evolution established by science. Not just a link but a dynamic!

Just to illustrate, it is the Lord’s Day. Every Sunday we celebrate three dynamics. The first day of the week is a reminder of God’s creation on the primeval day. It is also the memorial of the new creation given on Easter Sunday. It is thirdly the memorial of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit empowered the Church. This dynamic is encaptured in Victorian Bishop William Walsham How’s hymn for Sunday:

This day, at thy creating Word first o’er the earth the light was poured; 
O Lord, this day upon us shine, and fill our hearts with light divine.

This day the Lord for sinners slain, in might victorious rose again:
O Jesu, may we raisèd be from death of sin to life in thee.

This day the Holy Spirit came with fiery tongues of cloven flame:
O Spirit, fill our hearts this day with grace to hear and grace to pray.

The truth behind Sunday is the same truth behind creation – the truth of a God who, in Farrer’s words calls being out of nothing...Jesus from a virgin womb, and life from the dead; who revives our languid souls.

A last thought on how we better lay hold on this truth.

Imagine yourself up a ladder replacing a light bulb. You are concentrating your attention on loosening the bulb and suddenly your mind switches to ponder how securely you’re placed on the ladder (no doubt if in Church your two named ladder holders will be down below you).

Your inner questioning ‘how securely am I placed’ undermines the operation until you pull yourself together and get on with the job.

Do you get the analogy? When we try to analyse our faith it feels shaky. When we attend to God it is convinced. 

Believing in God is a practical matter beyond human analysis.

As Austin Farrer says elsewhere: God can convince us of God, nothing else and no one else can: attend the eucharist well, make a good communion, pray for the grace you need, and you will know that you are not dealing with empty air.

Let’s do just that - attend the eucharist well and make a good communion!

Thursday, 6 February 2020

St Bartholomew, Brighton Epiphany 5 Seasoning the world 9th February 2020

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? Matthew 5:13a
As on many occasions we wrestle with Our Lord's imagery in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Trained as a physical chemist I find it hard to imagine that most stable of compounds, sodium chloride, losing its taste other than when removed from solution by a high energy desalination plant! However I do see how Christians can lose their flavour and I know that happens in my life many a time.

In today’s first reading we’ve got additional wisdom on how Christians are called to season the world.  The passage from Isaiah, often used in Lent to highlight the value of fasting, thrills with a passion for justice that’s been inspiration to many. Share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house… then…your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. (Isaiah 58:7-8).  Many Christians are joining with other folk of good will to make a practical response to the world’s unprecedented refugee crisis. As we respond to the needy, again and again we sense God going with us, not just in the feel good factor but in the ripple effect of any unselfish act of service. God… our vindicator goes before us, the glory of the Lord is our rearguard.
The mystery of why so few citizens of Brighton & Hove worship on Sundays is tied in with the mystery of the choices of God. We are no better than those who aren’t called, those some of us have left at home this morning, but in the loving providence of God we are being put to a special use in his praise and service. I do not know why God called me as a Christian and as a priest – I am no better than others - but God has called me and what an awesome privilege that is, to be called into situations where God takes me, uses me and is my rearguard, covering my inadequacies and provoking thought of him in what comes to pass in such engagements.
As believers and disciples of Christ we many times find ourselves in situations not of our choosing that have the hand of God upon them. If we are praying, worshipping and studying God’s word we should expect to impact the world in such a way as to get people pondering. Like our immense building we point above and beyond ourselves, inasmuch as God has chosen us to be his pointers.  As we do so Paul’s words are very apposite, where he speaks of weakness… fear and… trembling and yet being given words that are powerful instruments of God. You know those occasions, when you’re given words that unblock things for others, including opening their eyes to the reality of the living God.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?
Being salt is about instrumentality, about giving up our own ambitions, the desire to make our mark on others, in the name of collaborating with God and others to season the quality of the common life of the world. Day by day a selfless team of volunteers makes St Bartholomew’s accessible to thousands a month. Another much smaller team led by Fr Martin Morgan seasons the life of our Primary School. Through that partnership of teaching staff and volunteers a real difference is made to the life of the children of our locality.
What might God be saying to you this morning as you hear Jesus say 'be salt'? 
How is he speaking to where your life is currently bound up in marriage, family and workplace and how in those several engagements you can season things? Or how you might be salt through the organisations within the orbit of St Bartholomew’s? 
The ministries of the Church – welcoming, catering, serving, church cleaning, flower arranging, choir, music, PCC, deanery synod, service booklet production and so on – serve and savour the life of the Christian community as it overflows in service to others. One of these ministries might contain the Lord’s invitation to you at this time, as the pastoral vacancy continues. Losing a chief pastor has strained us but it's never meant loss of the pastoral care gifts within this worshipping community called to season the life of our church and our city. As the enormous Midnight Mass congregation demonstrated we are Brighton’s Church in the sense at least of being the Church they don’t go to Sunday by Sunday. They know we’re here, though, and here for them!
God has called you, and if he has called you, he will not fail you! God’s work always brings with it God’s provision.
In the passage from 1 Corinthians set for today but omitted to shorten High Mass Paul enthuses: What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,   nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ - these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.  In other words, to be a Christian is to have insight into the depths of things - just as our spirit senses our depths the Holy Spirit searches… the depths of God who is God of our life and that of all that is, capable of linking our passion for him to his passion for all. 
We only have one life but as folk called by God our limited being finds repeated applications that help change the world. We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 
The so-called spirit of the world is exemplified in a degree of pessimism and fruitless pondering over the state of the world. When we see the world apart from God we see a great deal of self-interest and blindness towards what Isaiah calls the homeless poor. The Spirit of God in contrast cares for all that is just because it is, and more especially those in God’s image who are cast to the margins. Through spiritual discernment, what Paul calls understanding the gifts bestowed on us by God we’re empowered to invest our time, talents and money in making a difference where we are. I believe time spent in intercession for world leaders at this junction is one gift God is calling many into. 
God who has called us is God of the world. He is preparing a bride for his Son, the company of the faithful we call the Church, by purifying Christians to be part of that Bride destined to be enthroned at the marriage supper of Christ who is the Church’s husband to be. One part of our purification is a loss of anxiety about the future and laxity in prayer for the kingdom to come. Earthly rulers and kingdoms fail – but what we’re about as Christians seasoning the world can never fail, as expressed in the great hymn of The Revd Sabine Baring Gould: Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail; we have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail. 
We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God. That spirit cannot fail. It is salt that savours the cosmos. 
The church’s humanity fails, yes, but its divinity will prevail as sure as the Spirit of God prevails. In our Christian calling within that of the Church, Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail; we have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail. 
God has called you, he will not fail you! God’s work as you discern it will always brings with it God’s provision to season the life of this ambiguous world.
Seek what the Lord requires of you and cheerfully accept that requirement, Give and it will be given to you - for God is no one's debtor!

Saturday, 1 February 2020

St Richard, Haywards Heath Candlemas 2020

We come to Church to worship and to be enlightened.

Jesus came first to the Temple on this day with those two ends of self offering and edification.

His parents made an offering on his behalf and they heard Simeon's prophecy of their Son becoming 'a light to lighten the nations'.

Candlemas gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect about what we do when we come to this Temple Sunday by Sunday.

It is a Temple before it is a preaching house, a place of teaching, yes, but primarily not a place of edification but a place of worship.

In this Chapel the worship of the eucharist has been offered day by day for over 80 years. People in their thousands have joined here to offer the unbloody sacrifice initiated by Jesus Christ we call the eucharist.

They've come 'to offer themselves, their souls and bodies as a living sacrifice' with, in and through Jesus Christ.

Today, his first visit to the one earthly Temple of his day, we recall that event as a prefiguring of Christ's eternal sacrifice. The turtle doves sacrificed on his behalf in that Temple gave way, with all animal sacrifices, to his once for all offering made on a repeat visit to Jerusalem in his 33rd year.

The priests and people then took no doves but an innocent Lamb, and as they did so the prophecy about his mother Mary in today's Gospel was fulfilled. 'A  sword will pierce your heart'. In St Martin’s Brighton, a Church I know well, that very image of Our Lady is provided at the foot of the Cross, graphically in black and with a sword stuck into her heart.
We come to Church to worship and to be enlightened.

Part of that enlightenment, as Mary and Joseph found, is the bringing of understanding and hence more creative involvement with the dark times of our life.

We all live with these - bereavement, chronic illness or the necessity to live with unresolved situations where there may be conflict. With Mary and Joseph this morning we welcome holy Simeon's words with gratitude since they speak of peace coming, as it does again and again, through heavenly illumination.

Jesus Christ is the light who lightens all nations and all ages.

May his light shine on us and into our various life situations this morning as we come to worship 'offering ourselves, our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice' with in and through Jesus Christ.
Like Simeon we see in Jesus one who removes the fear of death and promises perpetual light to his family as they travel forward in his light to their fulfilment in the house of the Lord together and forever.
I end with a beautiful prayer of John Donne, sixteenth century Dean of St Paul’s which captures that aspiration: 
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen