Saturday, 3 December 2016

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Confession and Bible Sunday Collect

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

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

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

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

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

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

The prophets start then and they start with Isaiah.

Let's look up Isaiah 11.1-10

James Nicholson to read it from Jerusalem Bible prefacing with comment

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

Show school version.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa to read Romans 15.4-13 from New International Version

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

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

Now Deacon David will introduce the Gospel.

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

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

Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Advent 1 The Return of the Lord 27th November 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

This fullness is the fullness of salvation.

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

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

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

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


Saturday, 12 November 2016

Remembrance Sunday 13th November 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 5 November 2016

All Souls memorial eucharist Saturday 5th November 11am

It is the day of the dead.

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

Death for Christians is a vanquished enemy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Trinity 22 (30th Week, Year C) 23rd October 2016

I stand in a family tradition of plain speaking counting among my forbears the Craven Dialect poet Tom Twisleton, my first cousin twice removed who lived from 1845 to 1917 and whose poems are still read in my native Settle. Some of the locals there are working with me on the Tom Twisleton Centenary next year when his poems will come to the fore. I thought one of them – ‘Church ‘gangin’ was a spot on commentary on today’s scripture.

Here it is – the main part of it - and though in Craven dialect I’ll read it more as a Sussex Downs man than a Yorkshire Dalesman translating the dialect to make it more intelligible in our situation.

One Sabbath day, in summer time, when leaves were green and flowers smelt prime, and lile birds raised a din. I chanced to pass a house of prayer, that reared its steeple in the air, and folks were going in.

Both young and old, and rich and poor, in making for the open door, all in a throng did mix. Some strode in pride, like king or queen, some tripped like fairies o’er the green, some tottered in on sticks.

I stood and watched ‘em walking in, to hear of future woe for sin, and bliss for t’ just and wise; and while I gazed with vacant stare, and watched ‘em enter t’ house of prayer, strange thoughts began to rise.

I asked myself, ‘what is it brings yon mingled group of human things, that from their houses come! Do they come here to sing and pray and to the priest attention pray?. Answer says, ‘nought but some’.

There’s yon smart Miss in gay attire who hopes to make them all admire, he very best she’ll don; and one sits near whose wandering eye is peeping up and down to see what such a one has on.

And one comes in with haughty stride, his heart puffed up with empty pride, he thinks none like himself; he hasn’t come in here this day to join his voice with them that pray, but just to cut a swell.

And some bent down as if in prayer, o’er top of t’ pew, with careless stare, do nowt but squint and scan; to words of truth they pay no heed, they feel as if from prison freed, when t’ clerk says t’ last Amen.

And then again there’s some who gang, with solemn looks and faces long, to sing the song of praise; who wear religion as a cloak to hide from unsuspecting folk, their cunning roguish ways.

All service through with pious looks, they hang their faces o’er their books, they act the saint right well; on holy things they seem intent, while all the time to save a cent, they’d cheat their own old man.

There’s some no doubt, but ah, a few, who come with hearts sincere and true to worship heaven’s high King; who humbly kneel before the throne, and in return for mercies shown, their heartfelt praises sing.

Tom Twisleton’s poem ‘Church going’ - which picks up on our Gospel reading where Our Lord has a story we might call ‘Temple going’.

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Where do we as this morning’s church goers see ourselves in this?

Don’t we rather like being exalted? To receive the satisfaction of a job well done or a duty fulfilled. To believe things we do, even for Church, really make us a bit better than those who fail where we succeed. No, no, no says the parable – to believe that make you prisoner of small time righteousness. I like my red buttoned Canon’s cassock, of course! Bad as the rest…

Or – how about the inward assumption that, because of our failings, we don’t measure up to the standards of the Pharisee in ourselves, so we’re secretly stained beyond redemption. I find this a quite familiar condition in our high achieving culture and wouldn’t be surprised to hear something of it next weekend during Confession-time before All Saints Feast.

Where’s the good news? It’s, as I have said before about the Jesus Prayer, that the prayer of the tax collector is available to all of us. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
For you and I are all sinners and yet sisters and brothers of the Son of God, children of a merciful Father. The parable of the Pharisee and Publican is an invitation to break away from the tyranny of self-righteousness, of judging ourselves by ourselves, and enter the glorious liberty of the children of God – which is to recognise you and I are on the bottom step of the ladder but that God loves us all the same.

A visitor to a psychiatric hospital found one of the inmates rocking back and forth in a chair cooing repeatedly in a soft contented manner, ‘Lulu, Lulu…’.

‘What’s this man’s problem?’ he asked the doctor.

‘Lulu. She was the woman who jilted him,’ was the doctor’s reply.

As they proceeded on the tour, they came to a padded cell whose occupant was banging his head repeatedly against the wall and moaning, ‘Lulu, Lulu…’

‘Is Lulu this man’s problem to?’ the visitor asked.

‘Yes,’ said the doctor. ‘He’s the one Lulu finally married.’

We all have our ‘Lulus’ be they in families or in Churches – I would be more merciful than my cousin Tom to fellow church members though I’m grateful for his poem.

I guess I am most likely someone else’s ‘Lulu’!

We are all sinners – full of shortcomings – but we’re loved by almighty and unending love, and is there any better good news than that?

The tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’ 

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Harvest Festival 9th October 2016

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10.11

We’ve chosen a livestock focus for Harvest Festival because of where we are and who we know. We live in Horsted Keynes and I know Howard of Shepherd Publishing, also a farmer who’s into livestock.

That verse from John 10.1 presses different buttons. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep presses a button about God’s love for each one of if we think of ourselves as wilful lambs. It connects with the 24-7 care of the livestock industry Howard’s part of. It’s also no coincidence we’re promoting Shepherd Publishing’s role in serving that industry. Lastly there’s the sting in the lamb’s tail in saying shepherds die for their sheep since the livestock industry is about sheep dying for their shepherds and indeed for all of us!

A few more thoughts on Harvest Festival, lambs in particular.

They themselves have a season - lambing season - and we’re all aware of that in the village, particularly up at Cinder Hill. Anne and I also see lambs running joyfully in the sledging field below the Rectory.  They’re an uplifting image of freedom that touches a spring inside of me, so it’s (it’ll be) strange seeing them a bit fastened up in Church (later today).  

Their excitement at life is so evident as they go leaping and bounding around. They’re blissfully unaware they’ll so soon have to lay down their lives.  This commercial aspect isn’t evident to them as they engage in that joyful abandonment that refreshes my spirit.

Their seeming carelessness goes though as soon as their mothers lift themselves from the ground and they dart underneath them for milk.

They are driven like all animals, including myself, by the need for food. They themselves, and their parents, wouldn’t have our care without the human need for food and indeed the livestock industry.

As I watch the lambs in the field I’m uplifted and made aware of how unlike a carefree lamb my life is running. I’m regretful of past faults, mindful of a load of administration pressing on me and ongoing concerns like filling St Giles on a Sunday (yes we’ve now resorted to serving sausage sandwiches!) Unlike the lambs I’m aware of a weight of care that pulls my spirit down. For them each moment stands alone – no past regrets or future anxieties – indeed no real sense of past or future accomplishment. They prosper without repentance, following the law of nature, incapable of the disobedience that is mine.

The lambs’ capacity to skip down the field shows a mastery over gravity that, while warming my heart, challenges my sinful weight of self preoccupation. Yet, as a Christian, I know Jesus The good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. The gravitational pull of divine love draws us up through Jesus countering the gravitational field that drags us down that we call sin. The one gravitational field of the spirit draws us into God’s love and the other field drags us down.

When the astronauts trod on the moon they found themselves able to leap and jump with ease because gravity on the moon is a sixth that on earth. If they’d been able to visit Jupiter they’d have crawled on the surface so strong is the downward gravity. You and I get pulled down all the time. Our bodies, thankfully, get pulled down to stay on earth.

But our spirits – they get pulled down too and can feel very heavy.


Harvest Festival’s a reminder to be thankful for the love that over and around us lies, the love we come from, belong to and will return to. May such thanksgiving to God this morning loosen all heaviness of heart and draw us up towards him. May the thought of the lambs in the field, in joyful abandon, be our inspiration and teacher! 

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Trinity 19 (27th of Year) Keep the Faith 2nd October 2016

Keep faith and keep the Faith.

This morning’s scripture speak of faith in two aspects, the quality by which one believes in God through Jesus and that which is believed by Christians.

As believers we respond to God subjectively and in different situations but we also hold to the faith of the church through the ages expressed in the creed and church catechism.

Faith has a subjective and an objective aspect, an individual and collective side, all of which is illustrated by our readings with the Old Testament and Gospel readings going for the subjective, the epistle for the objective aspect.

Habakkuk affirms that the righteous live by their faith (2.4) and Our Lord in Luke 17, following a 
warning to beware of stumbling blocks to faith, gives a shocking response to the apostles’ demand: 
Increase our faith! saying if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry 
tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you. A little faith in a great God goes a
 long way. Jesus goes straight on, though, to warn against overconfident believing paralleling the 
obedience of faith. We believers are worthless slaves… doing only what we ought to have done (Luke 17.10).

Keep faith – he’s saying – but keep it humbly.

Keep the faith – is the invitation of the second reading which again has a latent warning against individuals setting themselves above themselves as believers.  The passage has a strong affirmation from Paul of personal faith I know the one in whom I have put my trust but it goes on to affirm the vitality of holding to the consensus of Christian believing handed down from the apostles. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. 2 Timothy 1.14

At the end of 2 Timothy Paul summarises this as Keeping the Faith. These later New Testament writings s call the Pastoral Epistles show the Church adapting after the death of the apostles to a succession of faith guardians from which our bishops descend. When I became your parish priest I became so before you and the Bishop with a declaration of assent to apostolic faith in these words professing the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.

Over my 39 years as a priest I have faithfully endeavoured to hand on the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds over almost two generations and at considerable cost. It’s meant challenging thinking: that Sunday obligation’s unbiblical, baptism’s a form of baby blessing, hell’s questionable, marriage’s renegotiable, ordination’s leadership, male and female are interchangeable, the devil’s a myth - and I’ll stop there!

Keep the Faith I say to myself and to others. If you don’t keep to it, Christian faith in its fullness, the whole counsel of God as Paul puts it elsewhere, the catholic or whole faith, if you don’t keep to it, you’ll end up not keeping faith. The Jesus you see will diminish from the contours or dimensions of apostolic faith.  The way you see God will be the way you see him, not as he has actually revealed himself and handed down through the apostles and their successors, witnessed by the creed, the sacraments, the commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Keep faith and keep the Faith.

I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands. Paul writes to Timothy in today’s lesson; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Without God’s grace, without the Holy Spirit’s anointing, without knowing our Bibles, welcoming Holy Communion, praying, confessing our sins, we will be unable to live in that obedience which Christian faith is.

To live forgiving all who hurt us and thinking of others more than ourselves, to live with both enthusiasm for the Gospel and sympathy for the many in our acquaintance who’re far from Christ – all of this we flag at without the Holy Spirit whose life within us, given at baptism, needs rekindling again and again!

We need the Holy Spirit to keep faith, and we need him to keep us abreast of the Faith, to grasp again and again the rich wonder and cohesion of Christian faith and draw us back from settling for Christianity-Lite!  Of course we can’t make the best the enemy of the good, and the Lord gives us the most brilliant example here, affirming marriage as unbreakable and yet protecting an adulterous woman, applauding utter integrity and yet absolving a thief.

Keeping the faith is something for you and I. Judging unbelief is a matter for God. As Chesterton said, looking through history, with various upsets and persecutions, Christianity has appeared to be going to the dogs seven times over its history - each time the dog has died! Currently our heels are being snapped at by arrogant secularism, behaving as if all the immense knowledge we now have coexists with any more wisdom than past generations. Then there is resurgent Islam at our heels with its naïve and wrathful simplification of Christianity.

The lectionary today recalls faith in two aspects, the quality by which one believes in God through Jesus and that which is believed by Christians.

How well do you know your faith?  Confirmation classes might be a long time back, the world has moved on from there, even if Christianity remains with the unalterable newness of Jesus! Might it help you to pursue a fuller grasp of Faith than a sermon can give, attend the midweek Life and Faith group, or find a good book on Christian basics to help you field the questions people put to you rather than keeping your head down when religion’s an issue. The Church library may help, or having a talk with one of the clergy.

Religion will always be an issue, God-given yet man-handled! 20 centuries of Christianity carry wisdom but that wisdom is ours to seek and you don’t get it any more here in Britain by osmosis. Indeed without actively seeking to increase your apprehension of Christian Faith there’s so much that’s counter it around that the default is more and more renegotiation if not surrender to its plausible yet deceptive alternatives.

Faith in the Christian perspective is as Paul defines it in Romans 5:11 is exultant trust in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord, who in the words of the second reading has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Keep faith – keep the Faith – and may the Holy Spirit anoint you this
morning through the eucharist so that you gain fresh resolve to seek
the Lord and get yourself more abreast of the faith of the Church which

is the good treasure entrusted to you..(by) the Holy Spirit living in us.