Saturday, 17 September 2016

Trinity 17 Shock treatment 18th September 2016

We all need shock treatment from time to time.

It's a way of getting our attention when we're deluded or distracted.

Our Lord has a gift of shocking our complacency that the scriptures hand straight on to us without spin.

Take that shocking Gospel reading. Did we hear the Son of God, who is truth, commend dishonesty?

Or that sock-it-to-them passage from Amos striking at injustice?

And, shocking in another way, that lesson from 1 Timothy 2 begging prayer for the established order as if those in authority were God's appointees beyond challenge?

The one most evidently bearing the Queen's authority shocked me last week. I was shocked by her speech on education, but it got me thinking. 

Grammar schools were one of her four prongs to expedite getting more good schools. I was impressed by her concern for those consigned to poorer schools by their post code and began to wonder if  even in Horsted Keynes we can do as she says and get Cumnor, Walstead and Ardingly to share their gifts with St Giles School.

Sometimes we're made to wake up, sit up and listen. Today's readings are shock treatment. You could argue they don't need a sermon - save in the case of the last reading, an explanation - so that my task this morning is to give some forward  lines once we get our breath back from the hefty challenges they have given without mincing words. 

Before I go further, then, some explanation of the Gospel:
[The] master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

What did Jesus mean?

Some suggestions from scholars, and I warn you, I’m going with the most shocking!

Theory 1: the point of the parable is not the servant's dishonesty, but his wise decision-making in the time of crisis. He’s an example of decisive thinking and action to save yourself which the coming of Jesus invites.

Theory 2: the servant, as a man of the world, is an example of diligence. What if we had the same diligence about God’s kingdom as we do towards our work or hobbies?

Theory 3: the steward was acting within his legal rights reducing the debts as he did. Luke 16 is a parable against excessive profits, the same kind of judgment uttered by Amos in the first Lesson (Amos 8:4-7).  That’s also one of the most shocking passage in the Bible Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, [who] practise deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals… The Lord has sworn… I will never forget any of their deeds. Shocking stuff, which is why Christians have always been concerned about good finance in the public domain. There’s as much about wrong use of money as wrong use of sex in the Bible and the Church forgets that at her peril. So much for interpretation 3.

Theory 4 on Luke 16 is my favourite though. It runs like this. Our Lord knew his commending of this servant for such unjust behaviour is so absurd no one would believe it. How ridiculous to commend a cheater who expects to be commended for his dishonest actions! Understood this way, Jesus is here attacking the Pharisees who made a very big show of giving very little money to the poor.

I can’t imagine Jesus teaching without humour. His gift or mocking irony is so pointed it would bring people up short, touch their hearts and loosen emotion into laughter. In this case laughter directed against those claiming to be religious who are in fact self-serving cheats.

Enough on the first and last reading – make of them what you will, however the Holy Spirit impacts you – now for that second reading. It is shocking in a more subtle way. I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. It begs our prayers for the established order as if those in authority were God's appointees and beyond challenge! Isn’t the Holy Spirit who gives at times a quiet and peaceable life also at times working to challenge the powers that be?

The Holy Spirit like today’s scripture is given to both comfort and challenge us!

Today’s scripture might shock and trouble us if we’re guilty of injustice, financial dishonesty, hypocrisy, giving little to the needy or holding to an uncritical support of the established order of society, as in the predictable backlash against the idea of selection I mentioned.

Let me tell you, though, what I found most shocking in today’s scripture because it is a statement of the most important thing in the world that we let slip from being most important.

It comes half way down that second reading from 1 Timothy Chapter 2 in verses 3 to 6: God our Saviour… desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.

It is profoundly shocking that God loves us all – that God loves you and me through and through – and that knowing our need he should come among us to demonstrate it for all time in the sacrificial gift of Jesus.

God loves us all and desires all to be saved, but he knows we’re guilty of injustice, cheating, hypocrisy and narrow attitudes about the way things are. He knows our sins make us incapable of union with himself - for a holy God can have no fellowship with evil. God therefore has provided the loving remedy, giving his Son as a ransom for all.

We all need shock treatment from time to time. We need shocking out of selfish concerns and many delusions and distractions into seeing afresh the profound truth of Christianity.

The body of Christ. Amen.  The blood of Christ. Amen

This morning’s scripture wakens us to human failing but it does so with a reminder of how awesome this service is. We have sin in our lives but we also have Christ in our lives, mediator between God and humankind.. himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.

There is nothing we can do – however base or despicable – that can make him love us less. There is nothing we can do – however noble or selfless – that can make him love us less.

That’s a shocking yet affirming thought and it’s the main thing of Christianity we’ve got to keep the main thing, though it means fighting off oh-so- plausible distractions!  Let’s pause to see what the Holy Spirit is saying to us individually through the scripture passages and what has been said about them.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

St Giles Festival 8am 11th September 2016

The scripture readings on this our Patronal Festival of St Giles give us a window into heaven and advice on how we get there.

The visionary John exiled on the island of Patmos is given consolation from God to share with his persecuted fellow believers. They are to fix their gaze on the consequences of keeping faith which will appear soon, the consequences for faithful believers of the death and resurrection of the Lord:
They are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Immensely powerful poetry – and only God inspired poetry can speak of what’s of course beyond time. This window into heaven was followed today by the passage from Luke Chapter 6 (p1041 Lectionary) which speaks again of the reward for bearing hardship: Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you…   rejoice in that day and leap for joy your reward is great in heaven Luke 6:22-23

A window into heaven from Revelation, and advice on how we get there by bearing hardships as Christians in the second reading.

Then our Saint, what does blessed Giles add to the mix? And lastly what are we to take away for practical application on this Festival Sunday?

We know little about Giles save his being a French Saint whose cult was brought by the Normans and that he is paradoxically the Saint of cripples and hunters.

The word bridge comes to mind. The dedication of St Giles Church is a reminder of how the population of this village and its surrounds has seen immigration – a Frexit if you like, the French leaving their continent in the 11th century. The very architecture of St Giles bridges Saxon and Norman, as you can see above me with the Saxon bits left in, or the North door which is Saxon even if it’s been moved by both Normans and Victorians.

The bridging of St Giles is more graphically illustrated in our wooden medallion besides the organ – there he is stuck with the arrow protecting the deer.  The story runs that 7th century Giles lived in southern France as a hermit in the forest and there was a deer who sustained him on her milk. Hunters one day tried to kill the deer and shot an arrow at her but Giles jumped over the deer and took the arrow. This is why he’s patron Saint of both cripples and hunters. I think the story makes him a bit more biased to the first than the second – but that’s a distraction to my main thought that Giles, as a bridge Saint, reached out to the deer at a cost to himself.

Christians reach out to the vulnerable and get wounded. We are active symbols of Christ who reaches out to sinners and suffers on their behalf.

To live like a bridge is to get walked over.

So to practical application.

I can’t risk showing my political colours with a desire to bridge the French-English divide, and some of you may walk over me on that!

I must say, staying with friends in France last month I detected little sadness over Brexit, but my own conviction is its better to bring nations together than pull them apart. I’m not going to defend the Norman invasion however.

If St Giles and the history and architecture of this Church are a bridging tale relevant to the potential bridge breaking of June 2016, what do we make for ourselves of the second element of St Giles as bridge icon.

It’s a reminder of the Lord Giles encourages us to serve, the Lord who died in our place to live in our place, who died for our sins so we can live with new life by his Spirit.

The readiness of Giles to bear hurt in reaching across the deer is a reminder of the need to be ready to build bridges. As Pope Francis said recently ‘Those who build walls and break down bridges can hardly be called Christians’. We’re getting a bit of politics this morning aren’t we!

The pains you’re bearing in your soul are most likely linked to bridge building. It’s hard to live with divided loyalties, with unresolved agendas, but you’d be less than you are if you closed your heart and pulled up the drawbridge in those situations.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you…   rejoice in that day and leap for joy your reward is great in heaven.

Come Holy Spirit and make us bridges, your bridges so we may put love where there’s no love and see love grow!

St Giles our Patron, pray that we, like you, may be generous towards the needy, animals especially. That we may face those who hunt and seek the downfall of others, that their eyes be opened to the work of mercy.

Lord Jesus be their shepherd, and guide us all to springs of the water of life, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Trinity 15 (23rd of Year) 4th September 2016

Who’d be a preacher?

We have to set forth God’s truth without making it an obstacle to good living and call for love of the truth that’s wholly practical.

Christianity’s a matter of principle – we need these principles stating and re-stating - but it’s tailored to people, and people fall short in their allegiance to principle.

Those verses in Deuteronomy 30 and Luke 14 shook me up.

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him….. Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 

Following God means surrendering your whole life to him.

We’re here this morning to give an hour of our life, Jesus’ hour, for him to impact and take hold of us afresh in word and sacrament and Christian fellowship. We can’t underestimate the value of Sunday obligation. For many of you, all of you hopefully, this morning’s attendance has been a victory, a going out of your way to synchronise a variety of commitments to honour God as the Lord of your life by coming to Church this morning.

You’re here to be one with the Lord’s people, on the Lord’s day, in the Lord’s house and round the Lord’s table. Alleluia!

You’ll leave hopefully with more of a taste for Jesus Christ, more set to face the cost of being his disciple and more attentive to what he has for you in the coming week.

Following God means surrendering your whole life to him.

Saying our prayers, coming to Church, reading our Bibles, serving our neighbour and reflecting upon our need for God are expressions of that commitment.

Melvyn Bragg once asked Rowan Williams what God meant to him. Here’s the answer he gave: God is first and foremost that depth around all things and beyond all things into which, when I pray, I try to sink. But God is also the activity that comes to me out of that depth, tells me I’m loved, that opens up a future for me, that offers transformation I can’t imagine. Very much a mystery but also very much a presence. Very much a person.

To commit to God as a Christian is to commit trustfully to the eternal God as the depth beyond all things, to see the world as no longer a flat surface but to descend to the heart of things and be impacted. To be caught up into something utterly mysterious and countercultural.

The second reading touches on this, where Paul commends the runaway slave Onesimus he’d helped to faith to his master Philemon. Onesimus had found these depths, that transcend the way the world is, in the person of Jesus. Now, as Paul insists, his being a slave or a slave owner is a lesser point, but not so much less that Onesimus shouldn’t return to Philemon, the master he ran away from. Paul’s letter survives, shortest in the Bible, to affirm among other things how in the depth of things there’s no hierarchy of power.

Following God means surrendering your whole life to him.

Once we’re surrendered we are, in baptism, made equal to one another in a new way of living that’s no longer two dimensional and superficial but one that’s surrendered to God as ground of our being. The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms we read in Deuteronomy 33:27.

Christian belief isn’t something cerebral, contrary to those thinking you build belief or disbelief by argument. It’s whole life surrender. It’s not a matter of thinking your way into a new way of living but living your way into a new way of thinking.

Faith’s the act of the whole of our being. Doubt by contrast is a partial business employing that part of the mind that questions what we’re about and what its right to think. This questioning is set for Christians within the wholehearted surrender of faith. We believe in the resurrection not with our minds but as we live out the death of the old self so the Holy Spirit can bring us new life through the agency of faith. We believe in the Cross as we make sense of suffering with the assurance that not all that happens is determined by God's plan but that all that happens is encompassed by his love. 

We are loved by almighty love and we are loved for ever, that is the reality Christian faith sees for sure. Paul knew Philemon knew this when he wrote I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. 

Could that be said of me, of you? Would it were so!

Over my vacation I read Rupert Shortt’s God is no thing. It’s by the editor of the Times Literary Supplement who’s well familiar with how religion’s seen in Britain today. Many believing artists and writers in the UK are advised to conceal their faith if they want a following. Such is our local scenario in which secular humanism predominates the world of ideas with pretended neutrality. Meanwhile secularism is losing ground worldwide with three quarters of humanity professing a religious faith, said to be heading for 80% by 2050. The world over people evidently see in Christianity a vitality and coherence that is being lost or obscured in our own culture. Reading Shortt was a real tonic. Here is his summary of what we’re about: Christianity - at its centre, the story of love’s mending of wounded hearts - forms a potent resource for making sense of our existence. It provides the strongest available underpinning for values including the sanctity of life, the dignity of the individual, and human responsibility for the environment.

I like that phrase love’s mending of wounded hearts as a description of the dynamic of faith. It’s a long way from that over hasty perception of religion as a bully. Shortt sees the problem for religion and secularism as the tendency to bully rather than reason with one another.

Following God means surrendering your whole life to him.

I can’t escape as preacher underlining that Christian basic this morning, praying it will touch more hearts here at St Giles into whole hearted service, lay or ordained - and, yes, the church won’t survive without clergy so many here should remain open to being called into that overarching ministry of Christian service.  The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms…. God is also the activity that comes to me out of [the] depth, tells me I’m loved, that opens up a future for me, that offers transformation I can’t imagine.

That transformation isn’t just for you but, like Philemon, for all in your orbit. May this Eucharist fill you with the joy and encouragement that filled him to overflow, so that you can more fully love God and make him loved in the networks you’re part of!

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 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 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 God gives his Spirit, his own Life, par 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