Sunday, 14 August 2016

Blessed Virgin Mary 14th August 2016

There are five windows dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in St Giles that trace her involvement in the saving work of her Son.

In the Lady Chapel we have the representation of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel’s visit, and the Visitation, when Mary was praised by her cousin Elizabeth and herself praised God in her Magnificat.
In the south aisle she is there at the birth of our Saviour in the Benson Window. At the west end Mary is depicted with Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple in the beautiful Kempe window.

This evening on the Feast of the Blessed Virgin, our eyes lift to the east window which shows her at the foot of the Cross.

Then they are lowered to view the Bread on the altar which is the representation of her Son’s Body, crucified yet risen, given to us from the altar in Holy Communion, tonight enthroned for Mary’s feast.

We come this evening with Mary to the foot of the Cross.

We come, as at the eucharist, to plead with Mary her Son’s Sacrifice for a broken world.

This Church was built for that purpose, shaped initially like a Cross, so that the people of Horsted Keynes could bring their joys and sorrows to God with, through and in the offering of Christ’s body and blood.

Within these walls people gathered to celebrate Magna Carta, to mourn the Black Death, to hear the scriptures read in English for the first time, to mourn the fire of London, to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and to mourn the death of Queen Victoria.

In November 1963 Harold MacMillan suggested the Rector change the Sunday readings after President Kennedy’s assassination.

I wonder what MacMillan would have made of the times we are living through and the best Christian response? Our prayers must surely be with his successor as Prime Minister as she serves Britain’s best engagement with the world crisis of our own day.

I was at my window last month completing my tax return when I saw a car leaping across Station Road and crashing upside down. Two ladies from Thursday’s coffee group were pulled out relatively unscathed.

We gave thanks to God in St Giles the following Sunday.

Two days later the murder of a priest at the altar in Normandy shocked us all, and most especially this small group that worships with me in our own parish Church day by day.

We lamented before God in St Giles the following Sunday.

Faith’s an intuition that attempts, day by day, week by week, to make sense of events as disparate as these.

It’s the basis of hope, which is faith for the future where what happens tomorrow, good or ill, is seen to be in the hand of the God who in the words of the Psalmist turns the wrath of man to his praise. (Psalm 76v10)

We have placed the Holy Sacrament tonight beneath the most eloquent sight in Horsted Keynes: St Giles’ spire

It’s a silent witness inviting all around to gather beneath it, to give thanks and pray to God.

As we, the faithful, obey its call to Sunday worship, we don’t always see answers to life’s upsets such as the two contrasting ones I’ve just shared, but we do regain our balance to be better equipped to love and serve.

We come to church this evening with the sorrow and confusion of our Holy Mother Mary on Good Friday. Like her we’re looking at a crucifixion but ours is a crucifixion of the world  by forces of anarchy.

Like her we look up to Jesus on the east window cross and then down to the light of the risen Lord, before us in Communion, and also resident in our hearts by faith - for whenever believers look at a crucifix they see their risen Lord standing beside.

The challenge of the world’s crises puts a particular responsibility on Christian people to stand with St Mary by the Cross of her Son and pray with Jesus and Mary to the Father: Our Father - in this situation - hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done...deliver us from evil.

We Christians are salt and light because like Mary we can ask Jesus, by the sufferings he has borne uniquely, once and for all, to soak up the evil around us and turn the tables on it.

Our prayers and eucharists bring the potential of the Cross, which is like a mighty engine out of gear, into gear so the love of God floods into this aching world.

Paul says God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It was true of Mary at her Annunciation and it is equally true of us in our baptism and confirmation. That love is poured upon us so that, at our prayer, it may cascade extravagantly upon all whom we bring to the foot of the Cross.

So with Mary, before the risen Lord present in this Holy Sacrament, we keep silence before the Lord this evening, with joy at that presence and with sorrow at the troubled world that is far more on his heart than ours.

Jesus living in Mary live in us might be our prayer.

Jesus living in Mary live in them might be our prayer of intercession.

Let’s voice our prayer in silence for two minutes.


Mary at the Cross, Our Lady of Sorrows, pray with us and for us!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Trinity 11 (19th of Year) Faith 7th August 2016

I’ve had some pastoral encounters recently in which people have taken me aside to ask how they can regain the faith their parents instilled in them so they can find hope to carry them through a trial. It’s a reminder to me of how Christianity’s getting eroded all around but that there are residual embers of faith that can be fanned into flame.

People say they find faith hard, but it’s simply a matter of opening up to God, opening your inner eye as suggested in today’s second reading. The letter to the Hebrews famously defines faith as conviction of things not seen. That conviction is just the same as the one that clicks the kettle on to release an invisible power. Being a Christian is being like a kettle. We always need the surge of the Holy Spirit to warm us up to boiling point so that faith fizzes out into overflow. I hope our children will remember what overflow there’s been from Anne and my believing and seek the same for themselves. God has no grandchildren.

When we possess faith, that conviction is practical wisdom. Its practical in that it counters our fears, which is why Jesus says to his disciples in today’s Gospel Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Faith sets your sights on the big picture of things, as we read in the letter to the Hebrews, it is to desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. As for Abraham in the first and second readings faith is taking God at his word when he promises you something good ahead of you. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God…  because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.   

We, people of God, are the descendants of Abraham who is our father in faith!

So this morning I want to remind everyone that we have a mission action plan at St Giles Church to grow in faith as well as in love and numbers.

How can we grow in faith?

We need to commit again and again to God in Jesus Christ. God, give me a vision of yourself more to your dimensions and less to mine. Open my inner eyes! If we really prayed that prayer day by day we’d have an awareness of God in the present moment that wouldn’t just satisfy inner restlessness but make our faith grow, warm up and fizz out to bless and serve others.

To grow in faith, as our Hebrews passage said, we need the conviction of things not seen…By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

Thomas Aquinas wrote wisely that to one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. The wisdom of this saying is brought out in the story of the acrobat who wheeled his son in a wheelbarrow as part of his high wire act. When they asked his son how he felt about the exercise his only comment was I trust my dad.

Here is faith defined as the extra sense it is, quite beyond the natural senses, but nevertheless based on experience. The boy needed no explanation for the faith he had in his father though few others would rise to it. By analogy Christian faith in God is the certain conviction you will be carried forward in all the perils of life by one who loves you beyond reason. The strength of Christianity lies in this revelation of God as the Father of Jesus who acts by his Spirit to carry us forward through all the pitfalls in our life to resurrection glory.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom Jesus says.
How can we grow in faith?

Commit yourself to God – and see yourself more fully as he sees you. This means more prayer, more space to ponder God in his creation.

It also means a certain biblical literacy, that is, getting into scripture, where there are so many promises addressed to believers. Those praised in today’s purple passage from Hebrews are praised like Abraham for taking God at his word. Only when you experience a passage of scripture being underlined to you by God and the consequences of that, can you see the powerful implications of taking God at his word.

Repentance is one of the implications. The Book of Common Prayer exhortation says because it is requisite that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore if there be any of you, who by this means [of self examination and prayer] cannot quiet his own conscience, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God’s holy Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word, he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness. It’s appropriate I mention the special confession time on Saturday 6pm before the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary but in the spirit of the Prayer Book you can approach the priest at any time.

To grow in faith we need from prayer, scripture and turning to God in repentance a fuller sense of who we are as his children, filled with his Spirit, promised his provision and destined for his glory.
Seeing yourself more fully as God sees you is a real eye opener. It comes though from a readiness to allow the opening up of those inner eyes that are the Spirit’s gift to every human being, even if, mysteriously, so few seem graced to see them opened.

As something God-given, faith is inevitably mysterious. Believers hold things together in their experience that live in tension from a rational perspective. Hence faith is seen as both a virtue and a gift, a human act yet one prompted by God, a personal act yet inseparable from the corporate faith of the church. The paradox of faith is captured in the famous definition of Thomas Aquinas: Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.  

Though seen as a human virtue, faith is seen as something moved by God through grace.
So here we are this morning open to grace, seeking those inner eyes to operate more fully in an unbelieving culture. Here we are encountering God in word and sacrament, coming close to God who embraces us in the eucharist, as a mother embraces her children, to assure them they are loved.

May the love of the Lord be upon us as we put our faith in him!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Trinity 10 (18th of Year) 31st July 2016

Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you we prayed in the age old Collect for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity.

We prayed it looking back on a day by day chronicle of violent indiscriminate attacks on civilians recently claiming hundreds of innocent lives across Europe. The attack just miles away on a Christian eucharist in Normandy and the murder of a village priest is an extraordinary sacrilege which has impacted those who gather with me at this altar day by day.

Where are ‘God’s merciful ears’ when priests are being slaughtered at the altar? How can we be ‘obtaining our petitions’ in this spate of killings? How can we find and pray for what ‘pleases God’ in this extraordinary scenario?

I put these three questions linked to today’s Collect as a way into capturing afresh the way Christian faith grasps reality’s deepest significance, lighting up God’s big picture and the future he beckons us to.

First let’s look at mercy. The mercy logo on the front of our service booklets this year will have been displayed at Saint-Etienne du Rouvray in Rouen. It is the symbol of the Year of Mercy we’re sharing in Chichester Diocese with the Roman Catholic Church.  Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants. At Mass Fr Jacques would read as I did, for him among the last words he heard, the prophecy of Jeremiah Chapter 14 Tears flood my eyes night and day, unceasingly, since a crushing blow falls… prophets and priests…are at their wit’s end. How those words ring true today!

We have in St Giles a stained glass window of St Etienne. He is St Stephen, the first martyr, who knelt, as Jacques knelt, only to be stoned to death. One of those who stoned Stephen, Saul of Tarsus, was utterly transformed by that experience and became the arch-apostle of Christ.  May our new martyr’s blood avail to turn the wrath of humankind to God’s praise in like measure! Those who murdered Fr Jacques shouted God is great. Today’s collect, and the example of so many holy martyrs, remind us how God’s greatness is found chiefly in his mercy. When we’re made aware of that mercy in the suffering and death of Jesus, of God’s merciful ears attending to our brokenness, we lose any desire for violence. Those aware of their need of mercy have no need to lord it over others, let alone to murder them.

The events of the last two weeks – Nice, Munich, Ansbach, Tokyo and Rouen – are rooted in personal resentments and mental health issues as much as ideology let alone religion.  Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants - prayers for those who know not what they do, perpetrators who’re themselves victims of minds unhinged by the exigencies of 21st century life.

How can we be ‘obtaining our petitions’ in this spate of killings? I asked earlier. Last Sunday we gave thanks for two ladies in our coffee group whose lives were spared when Penny’s car turned over and crashed. Today we’re thinking about the murder of a priest in Church. How do these two square up?

Our Christian faith is nothing obscure and nor is it geared to outward appearance. To have faith is simply to see your life and your surrounds opening up repeatedly to God’s future, seeing the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the depth of things, bringing light to the world through both joyful and sorrowful happenings, growing hope and love. Christianity is in this sense the biggest of ‘big picture thinking’.

In a recent publication Pope Francis wrote of faith in these words. Faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths… each of us comes to the light because of love, and each of us is called to love in order to remain in the light… in this circular movement the light of faith illumines all our human relationships, which can then be lived in union with the gentle love of Christ.

To the eye of faith there’s something deep going on below all the mayhem of world events. Just as we’re gifted by faith to see Jesus behind the words of scripture and the preacher and under the form of bread and wine, the same gift of faith enables us to see beyond the 24-7 news flow something that’s heading to glory. Something moving, as Christ himself moved through suffering and death, into the glorious future of the resurrection spoken of at the end of the Bible when the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)

Back to the Collect for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday: Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you

We’ve reflected upon God’s mercy and how Christian faith sees its operation by opening us up to the depths of reality. Lastly we might ask, contemplating the unpredictable godless violence we’re living through How we can find and pray for what ‘pleases God’ in this extraordinary scenario?

In this last consideration I invite you to move from what I’ve shared about how God’s merciful love enfolds the world and beckons it forward into his possibilities on to how we best play our part in working for that best future.

Prayer, yes, is work, work that starts from the facts of life. In the current situation there are a number of indisputable facts we must lift to God:
·      The responsibility of civic and national leaders to improve the world by addressing the sources of injustice and conflict
·         The responsibility of people of faith, and especially faith leaders, to dialogue with one another and also to remind their own communities of the positive things said in their traditions about non-adherents
·         The responsibility of everyone on the earth to see the atrocities shown on our TV screens not primarily as a call to retribution let alone revenge but as a call to recover common humanity and a fresh sense of our need of mercy from God and from one another.

These are some ends that are surely pleasing to God which might inform our working out of the beautiful, thoughtful and challenging collect for today:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.                        



























Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.                         Common Worship Collect for Trinity 10




Saturday, 16 July 2016

Trinity 8 Martha and Mary 17th July 2016

Genesis 18v1-10; Ps 15; Colossians 1v15-28; Luke 10v38-42

Martha and Mary – who chose the better part?

God desires us to have intimacy with himself - this is the basic truth of Christianity.

The wonder of the stars…

The God who made all of them, who holds all of them in his hand, desires intimacy with me!

The hospitality of Abraham – icon of the hospitality of the Trinity (Genesis 18)

The majesty of Christ ‘for in him all things in heaven and earth were created…’ (Colossians 1v15-28)

‘Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’ (Luke 10v42)

God desires to have union with us, intimate union, heart to heart.

The Majesty and yet the availability....How is this intimacy brought to us?

On God’s side by the gift of the Spirit - on our side, we receive our friendship by humility and expectancy...

On God’s Side...how can God be one with us? The Maker of the stars hold me close, answer my prayers, guide me, free me from fear, heal me, forgive me?

God is after all different...

The answer is by the Holy Spirit who is God and who brings God in all His Fullness to fill my heart eg. The ocean which is no less for filling a pool... eg. 1 Cor 2v10 ‘the Spirit searches the depths of God...we have received the Spirit...who...interprets spiritual truth (intimacy)’

On my side the intimacy is established as a gift welcomed. How?
By humility and by expectancy...cf. St. Francis de Sales twin virtues.

Humble cf. Humous - of the earth, a readiness to see our nothingness before God and our less than nothingness through sin...

Then Expectant on God, Confident in God... St. Therese ...& the Sacred Heart, her faith that God could make her a Saint - the Lift...

Intimacy with God is God’s gift by his Spirit It is welcomed by humility and expectancy.

The eucharist is the great parable and seal of all of this...here God gives his Spirit, his own Life, par excellence...here we come empty-handed, in total humility before the Lord and yet with expectancy...

‘Lord I am not worthy...but only say the word’

Ronald Rolheiser in his book ‘Forgotten among the Lilies’ writes: ‘Perhaps the most useful image of how the Eucharist functions is the image of a mother holding a frightened, tired and tense child. In the eucharist God functions as a mother. God picks us up; frightened, tired, helpless, complaining, discouraged and protesting children, & holds us to her heart until the tension subsides and peace and strength flow into us’

Such is the intimacy we are privileged to share this morning and day by day in the Lord’s Presence.

‘There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’ Luke 10.42

‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him’ John 6.56

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Trinity 7 (15th of Year) Luke 10.25-37 1st July 2016

It’s hard to love.

This morning’s readings set out the vision, task and equipment for love found in Jesus Christ.

The first reading sets out something of the vision, the Good Samaritan reading the task and the second reading how you get equipped for the task of love.

As I share from Scripture I want also to touch on an important anniversary tomorrow that’s explained in July’s P&P. There you can read how this bible was brought back from the Somme battlefield by Jack Knight who lived in Timbers, Church Lane. Jack who lost his leg in the conflict picked it up from the body of a dead soldier and later on gave it to Nick Turner who’s sent it to St Giles archive. It’s inscribed: Bombadier J Knight (455), RGA 69th Siege Battery, Found on the battlefield of the Somme Nr Contalmaison July 11th 1916. Tomorrow is the Centenary of that discovery so I want to weave thoughts about this Bible with those I have described about the vision, task and equipment of love.

Let’s start then with the vision of love in Moses’s farewell discourse in Deuteronomy 30:9-14 set for our first reading. It refers to obeying the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in [the] book of the law but goes on to announce a new facet of such visionary obedience. Like Jeremiah, who prophesied near the time of the writer up of Moses’s discourse, we’re told of law being beyond what’s written on stone, in our context over the chancel arch. The vision of what it is to love isn’t just the Ten Commandments over the chancel arch you look up to when you return from Communion. The law of love is something that seeks to be written on the heart. The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. This thought or vision of love, last line of today’s Old Testament reading, is pointer to the enactment of love set forth in today’s Gospel.

In the P&P article there’s speculation on what the slain soldier was doing holding his bible. Could it be that knowing he was mortally wounded he was using it for comfort as his life ebbed away?

The words and commandments of the Bible are a reminder of God’s objective presence we need to sustain us subjectively. We pray that soldier already had God’s Word in his soul, that it was in [his] heart for [him] to observe, so that he died with a vision of a God over all with love for all whose grace lit up the carnage around him so he fell own and yet up into the everlasting arms. As those words later on in Moses’s discourse express it in one translation: the eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

The vision of love is given to rest in the heart though it rests ultimately in the certainty of God’s overarching love. We must bear heartfelt changes and chances, and what heartfelt terror surrounded this bible a century ago on the Somme. We Christians like the next man bear uncertainty and hardship in love, but we do so sustained by worship, word and sacrament en route to certainty: the certain, all embracing love of God we’ve seen in Jesus Christ.

In him we find the vision, task and equipment for love. 

There are few bible passages as familiar as Luke 10:25-37. In the story of the Good Samaritan we need to know that touching a corpse led to ritual defilement so that the priest and Levite were doing right by the ritual law. The Samaritan who wasn’t a Jew followed a higher law, that of love. His action illustrates love as a task. It’s not just benevolence let alone tolerance but doing concrete acts for people in concrete need. Our Lord turns the lawyer’s question who is my neighbour? back on him by the question which of these three was a neighbour, or in another translation, proved neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?

Loving your neighbour in Jesus’s book doesn’t mean loving some but not loving others. It means loving all, good and bad. This teaching was acted out when Jesus died outside the walls of Jerusalem.

The Christian vision of love links to a God of love who acts concretely to serve and save outsiders so that Jesus Christ’s last conversation was with the thieves crucified with him outside Jerusalem. To the generous one he said words we all hope to hear on our death bed. Today you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43

I must leave you to work out for yourself the relevance of today’s scripture to the xenophobia sweeping Britain in the wake of the referendum. Can there ever be outsiders so far as God’s concerned? Can we trust a nationalism that falls short of the deep British sense of fair play and inclusion, itself built from 1500 years of Christianity?

We want a society that doesn’t just tolerate difference but which respects those who’re different. Building respect is costly in time and trouble. It refuses to pass by on the other side especially when it comes to the disadvantaged. The Samaritan exemplifies this in the concrete tasks he took on. When he saw him, he was moved with pity. Then, from the heart’s motivation, followed these concrete tasks. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 

The vision, the task, and thirdly the equipment for love. The first reading set out the vision, the Good Samaritan Gospel reading shows us the task now we look at the second reading which touches on how we get equipped for the task of love.

Paul writes to the Christians in Colossae of his prayer that they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding   to lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as they bear fruit in every good work and… grow in the knowledge of God. He adds May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and… be prepared to endure everything with patience. (Colossians 1:9-11). The vision of love leads us into the task of love, that is, good works, that require the strength that comes from God’s glorious power that serve endurance.  

We come to Church to join the angels, as the Glory to God and Holy, holy, holy chants affirm, in looking forward to the certainty of heaven. Our Sunday celebrations lift us up beyond the changes and chances of life, the hardships we bear in love, to the certain, all embracing love of God that will be ours in heaven with the angels and saints. In so doing the Eucharists we celebrate bathe us in heavenly love.

We come to Church primarily to worship God but through word and sacrament, prayer and fellowship we are also edified, built up, equipped. Church is a temple more than a place of edification but it is both. When we hear the word, offer ourselves in Christ’s Sacrifice and receive his body and blood we are the better equipped to love. The Holy Spirit comes again and again in prayer and worship. Through reading the Bible we’re further strengthened because there’s no word of God without power. Coming back to the Somme Bible our P&P writer Nick Turner speculates on what the slain soldier was doing holding his bible in his last hour. Could it be that he was clutching it to give him courage to press on in that bloody fray which took 420,000 British, 200,000 French and 500,000 German casualties.

There’s no word of God without power. The Bible the soldier held precious might link to having God’s Word in his soul, in [his] heart for [him] to observe. A century ago people knew the Bible, they knew the promises of God, they held as I hope we hold to one or two choice texts. That last sentence of our second reading is awesome if you can see it as addressed to you personally and put it in the singular. He has rescued me from the power of darkness and transferred me into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom I have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The terrible darkness of the Somme loses its power for one marching forward confident he can never be taken out of Christ’s kingdom and love. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

It’s hard to love – in our own strength. It’s hard to persevere through tribulations small or great. The readings today set out the vision, task and equipment for love found in Jesus Christ. They awaken us to God’s vision of what it is to love, far more than the Commandments over the chancel arch, a vision to be written on our hearts. The Gospel reminds us of the task of love and how respect triumphs over tolerance in Christianity. Lastly we’re reminded how the commandment to love brings with it love’s supply in abundance through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Trinity 7 (15th of Year) Luke 10.25-37 1st July 2016

It’s hard to love.

This morning’s readings set out the vision, task and equipment for love found in Jesus Christ.

The first reading sets out something of the vision, the Good Samaritan reading the task and the second reading how you get equipped for the task of love.

As I share from Scripture I want also to touch on an important anniversary tomorrow that’s explained in July’s P&P. There you can read how this bible was brought back from the Somme battlefield by Jack Knight who lived in Timbers, Church Lane. Jack who lost his leg in the conflict picked it up from the body of a dead soldier and later on gave it to Nick Turner who’s sent it to St Giles archive. It’s inscribed: Bombadier J Knight (455), RGA 69th Siege Battery, Found on the battlefield of the Somme Nr Contalmaison July 11th 1916. Tomorrow is the Centenary of that discovery so I want to weave thoughts about this Bible with those I have described about the vision, task and equipment of love.

Let’s start then with the vision of love in Moses’s farewell discourse in Deuteronomy 30:9-14 set for our first reading. It refers to obeying the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in [the] book of the law but goes on to announce a new facet of such visionary obedience. Like Jeremiah, who prophesied near the time of the writer up of Moses’s discourse, we’re told of law being beyond what’s written on stone, in our context over the chancel arch. The vision of what it is to love isn’t just the Ten Commandments over the chancel arch you look up to when you return from Communion. The law of love is something that seeks to be written on the heart. The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. This thought or vision of love, last line of today’s Old Testament reading, is pointer to the enactment of love set forth in today’s Gospel.

In the P&P article there’s speculation on what the slain soldier was doing holding his bible. Could it be that knowing he was mortally wounded he was using it for comfort as his life ebbed away?

The words and commandments of the Bible are a reminder of God’s objective presence we need to sustain us subjectively. We pray that soldier already had God’s Word in his soul, that it was in [his] heart for [him] to observe, so that he died with a vision of a God over all with love for all whose grace lit up the carnage around him so he fell own and yet up into the everlasting arms. As those words later on in Moses’s discourse express it in one translation: the eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

The vision of love is given to rest in the heart though it rests ultimately in the certainty of God’s overarching love. We must bear heartfelt changes and chances, and what heartfelt terror surrounded this bible a century ago on the Somme. We Christians like the next man bear uncertainty and hardship in love, but we do so sustained by worship, word and sacrament en route to certainty: the certain, all embracing love of God we’ve seen in Jesus Christ.

In him we find the vision, task and equipment for love. 

There are few bible passages as familiar as Luke 10:25-37. In the story of the Good Samaritan we need to know that touching a corpse led to ritual defilement so that the priest and Levite were doing right by the ritual law. The Samaritan who wasn’t a Jew followed a higher law, that of love. His action illustrates love as a task. It’s not just benevolence let alone tolerance but doing concrete acts for people in concrete need. Our Lord turns the lawyer’s question who is my neighbour? back on him by the question which of these three was a neighbour, or in another translation, proved neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?

Loving your neighbour in Jesus’s book doesn’t mean loving some but not loving others. It means loving all, good and bad. This teaching was acted out when Jesus died outside the walls of Jerusalem.

The Christian vision of love links to a God of love who acts concretely to serve and save outsiders so that Jesus Christ’s last conversation was with the thieves crucified with him outside Jerusalem. To the generous one he said words we all hope to hear on our death bed. Today you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43

I must leave you to work out for yourself the relevance of today’s scripture to the xenophobia sweeping Britain in the wake of the referendum. Can there ever be outsiders so far as God’s concerned? Can we trust a nationalism that falls short of the deep British sense of fair play and inclusion, itself built from 1500 years of Christianity?

We want a society that doesn’t just tolerate difference but which respects those who’re different. Building respect is costly in time and trouble. It refuses to pass by on the other side especially when it comes to the disadvantaged. The Samaritan exemplifies this in the concrete tasks he took on. When he saw him, he was moved with pity. Then, from the heart’s motivation, followed these concrete tasks. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 

The vision, the task, and thirdly the equipment for love. The first reading set out the vision, the Good Samaritan Gospel reading shows us the task now we look at the second reading which touches on how we get equipped for the task of love.

Paul writes to the Christians in Colossae of his prayer that they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding   to lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as they bear fruit in every good work and… grow in the knowledge of God. He adds May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and… be prepared to endure everything with patience. (Colossians 1:9-11). The vision of love leads us into the task of love, that is, good works, that require the strength that comes from God’s glorious power that serve endurance.  
We come to Church to join the angels, as the Glory to God and Holy, holy, holy chants affirm, in looking forward to the certainty of heaven. Our Sunday celebrations lift us up beyond the changes and chances of life, the hardships we bear in love, to the certain, all embracing love of God that will be ours in heaven with the angels and saints. In so doing the Eucharists we celebrate bathe us in heavenly love.

We come to Church primarily to worship God but through word and sacrament, prayer and fellowship we are also edified, built up, equipped. Church is a temple more than a place of edification but it is both. When we hear the word, offer ourselves in Christ’s Sacrifice and receive his body and blood we are the better equipped to love. The Holy Spirit comes again and again in prayer and worship. Through reading the Bible we’re further strengthened because there’s no word of God without power. Coming back to the Somme Bible our P&P writer Nick Turner speculates on what the slain soldier was doing holding his bible in his last hour. Could it be that he was clutching it to give him courage to press on in that bloody fray which took 420,000 British, 200,000 French and 500,000 German casualties.

There’s no word of God without power. The Bible the soldier held precious might link to having God’s Word in his soul, in [his] heart for [him] to observe. A century ago people knew the Bible, they knew the promises of God, they held as I hope we hold to one or two choice texts. That last sentence of our second reading is awesome if you can see it as addressed to you personally and put it in the singular. He has rescued me from the power of darkness and transferred me into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom I have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The terrible darkness of the Somme loses its power for one marching forward confident he can never be taken out of Christ’s kingdom and love. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

It’s hard to love – in our own strength. It’s hard to persevere through tribulations small or great. The readings today set out the vision, task and equipment for love found in Jesus Christ. They awaken us to God’s vision of what it is to love, far more than the Commandments over the chancel arch, a vision to be written on our hearts. The Gospel reminds us of the task of love and how respect triumphs over tolerance in Christianity. Lastly we’re reminded how the commandment to love brings with it love’s supply in abundance through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Commemoration of Archbishop Robert Leighton 26th June 2016

Special parish eucharist with input from the Rector of St Giles, Canon John Twisleton, and historian Ann Govas.

Introduction to the eucharist – Fr John

Some people make their mark on history. St Giles keeps the memory of William de Cahaignes who renamed Horsted when he arrived with the Conqueror. Of his crusader descendant whose image lies in the sanctuary. Of Giles Moore whose day book records 17th Sussex village life. Of teacher Sidney Peek who died a century ago on missionary service in Africa. Of Arthur Benson who wrote Land of Hope and Glory. Of Ronald and Winifred Knapp run over by a train on their wedding day. Of Harold Macmillan who served as prime minister. All of these we keep the memory of and many of them left the world better at their passing. One though made his mark beyond all the others. When his grave fell into disrepair a national subscription occurred to restore it. Though in life he failed to reconcile Catholic and Protestant in Scotland his writings are still read, his holiness is celebrated and his legacy to Christian education continues. If you could choose to exchange one day with any of the dear dead whose memory we keep at St Giles would it not be Robert Leighton? Who wouldn’t prefer to lie as Leighton lies, awaiting judgement over the service of God and neighbour? Robert Leighton’s death 300 years back is marked across the Christian world today because the mark he made wasn’t just on history. This holy man is our holy man today. 12 generations on we gather at his tomb. His life, writings, example and prayers are here and now, as here and now as the communion of saints. Many have said so over three centuries. We at St Giles have good reason to agree with them as once again we mark his passing, praying God who worked holy wonders in him to work the same wonders in us so that ‘we, like him, believing in the promise of God’s word, like our bishop in good living him, praise and magnify the Lord’. Let us keep silence and then call on the mercy of God for our failings.

Scripture readings: Deuteronomy 32:1-9, Psalm 100, 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2, Matthew 5:13-16

Sermon part 1 – Fr John
Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he. Those words from our first reading, Deuteronomy 32 verses 3 and 4 might summarise Robert Leighton’s invitation to us. Seek to stand on solid ground, on the word of God, and inherit his integrity. Man is a mutable changing essence both in body and mind, and frequently is misinformed Leighton wrote, yet… experience and enquiry give further light… as God, his word, and his confidence direct.

Leighton’s commentary on the first letter of Peter – here it is from the safe – adds: The word of God in itself cannot be abolished, but surpasses the permanence of heaven and earth, as our Saviour teaches; and all the attempts of men against the Divine truth of that word to undo it are as vain as if they should consult to pluck the sun out of the firmament; so likewise, in the heart of a Christian, it is immortal and incorruptible. Where it is once received by faith, it cannot be obliterated again: all the powers of darkness cannot destroy it, although they be never so diligent in their attempts that way. And this is the comfort of the Saints, that though the life, which God by his word hath breathed into the soul, have many and strong enemies, such as they could never hold out against, yet for his own glory, and his promise sake, he will maintain that life, and bring it to its perfection.

Saints have a heroic capacity – Leighton had that – as well as a capacity to point us to God as our Rock and source of integrity and to how laying hold on God’s word gives a purpose for living and a reason for dying. If Robert Leighton is turning in that ornate grave (we are to visit today) it will be over biblical illiteracy. How can we find our lives on a sure foundation without knowledge of God’s promises? The word of God in itself cannot be abolished…where it is once received by faith, it cannot be obliterated again: all the powers of darkness cannot destroy it. The school Leighton’s family founded in 1708 sought above all education in God’s written Word, the Bible, and that work continues not least through initiatives we’re following like Bible Society’s Open the Book themed and dramatised Bible stories.

The second reading on reconciliation set for today’s commemoration of our holy man from 2 Corinthians 5 might have been set in any case for post-referendum Sunday. In the Collect for Robert Leighton we just prayed: Eternal God you raised up Robert Leighton in a time of tumult to settle your people in the peaceable way of truth and holiness. If Archbishop Leighton were in his pulpit rather than his grave this tumultuous morning he would unpack for us as he did for both sides of the Scottish church divide the power of God’s word there: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)

Leighton wrote: Let the love of your brethren be as a fire within you, consuming that selfishness which is so contrary to it, and is so natural to men; let it set your thoughts on work to study how to do others good; let your love be an active love, intense within you, and extending itself in doing good to the souls and bodies of your brethren as they need, and you are able.

Sermon part 2 – Ann Govas

When I was in my twenties I worked at Birmingham Crown Court and one of my tasks was to prepare files for the trial judges. While doing this I became aware that new files held a fascination for some folk in the office. They were always keen to read the gory details. This made me wonder whether too much time spent reading about real life sleaze and violence might be bad for the mind.
Robert Leighton was interested in the far more difficult question of what is good for the mind and his writings on this subject are inspirational. He believed that all good and wholesome things in life sprang from the quality of our relationship with God and that the chief study of a Christian and indeed the very thing that makes a person a Christian, is that they want to be more like Christ. Those who strive to become like Christ (Robert maintained) find that the more they learn to truly love Him, the less self centred they become, because self love is the opposite to the love of God. When the love of God truly enters our hearts it destroys and burns up self love.

Our love then ascends upward to God himself and then radiates outwards to our brothers and sisters. It causes us to reflect the spirit of Christ which Robert said is all sweetness and love filling the soul with loving kindness so that being so filled it can show forth nothing else but loving kindness.  We will be drawn to live what he called “an angelical life” partly spent in prayer and worship and partly spent helping our brothers and sisters in practical and spiritual ways.

This belief inspired Robert Leighton to involve himself in the provision of education, firstly for the children in his parish at Newbattle and then for the students of Edinburgh College and Glasgow University. Finally his influence on his nephew Edward Lightmaker helped to bring education to Horsted Keynes.

Robert’s example inspired his nephew Edward to build a school to provide free education for twenty poor children, plus twenty-one further children whose parents were to pay for their schooling. He also left money to pay for the upkeep of the school and to pay the salary of the schoolmaster. The Lightmaker School has experienced difficult times during its long history but nevertheless it survived and it is now incorporated into St Giles School. This school with its caring ethos, dedicated teachers and lively, stimulating curriculum underpinned by Christian teaching is an embodiment of the kind of educational establishment that Robert Leighton would have wished to see in the village where he lived and unofficially ministered to the poor and needy for the last ten years of his life.

Sermon part 3 – Fr John

Our Gospel reading captures the essence of sanctity, presenting Christian discipleship as impacting the world as salt and light. Imagine food without seasoning, Christ is saying, or a room without light?
So would the world be without you and I. It is that partnership Bishop Robert knew first hand – Christ as his light, he as a light to others lit up by Christ. The light of love – for when the love of God enters our hearts it destroys and burns up self love and then radiates outwards to our brothers and sisters.

In this morning’s Prayer Book celebration the last line of today’s Gospel, Matthew 5:16 has honoured place at the start of the offertory: let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. This morning as I say these words I’m mindful I stand where Leighton stood to preach and near where he stood to celebrate the holy mysteries. After saying that sentence in our rite of 1662 he would as priest take up the paten. This morning in extraordinary fashion, having heard that verse in the Gospel, I am to take up almost certainly the paten with which he celebrated the eucharist. Here it is again from the safe, a relic of Leighton which is part of the ongoing life of the church he loved and served from 1674 until his death in 1684. It has also been used for 300 years at weddings to hold the rings. At the eucharist this paten or holy plate symbolises the offering of life. The bread placed on it represents our life awaiting transformation by the Holy Spirit into Jesus Christ.


Robert Leighton’s invitation this morning is twofold – to trust God’s word afresh (show commentary) and to enter afresh the mystery of Christ’s love (show paten). We have heard God’s word. We are now to lay hold of his love in Christ’s dying and rising placing on this plate our hopes and aspirations and the joys and sorrows of the whole world. We include in this the ongoing work of Christian education Leighton entrusts us with under God. I end with his words about the eucharist: Let his death, which we commemorate by this mystery, extinguish in us all worldly affections: may we feel his divine power working us into a conformity to his sacred image. So be it.