Saturday, 16 June 2018

St Mary, Balcombe Trinity 3 (11B) 17th June 2018

In Dostoyevsky’s classic novel The Brothers Karamazov two brothers argue about the evil in the world and whether there is ultimate justice. The debate comes to a point where one of the brothers says he is so outraged by the suffering of children that, given a place in heaven, he would refuse it in protest. The other brother replies by pointing to the suffering of Jesus. Does God expect anything of us that he has not been through himself? The judge of the world is not aloof, he has come to us, been one of us, suffered with and for us, only without sin.

In Christian faith Jesus Christ will provide the ultimate righting of wrongs for he will come to judge the living and the dead. As Paul states in our first reading from 2 Corinthians Chapter 5 and verse 10: all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

How are we to understand this teaching?

God has invested in the human race.  One day he will get a return on that investment.  To believe in the judgement of the living and the dead is to believe in the coming of God’s kingdom and the trumping of the rule of evil and injustice in this world by God at Christ’s return which is a process working out in history - the detente between the US and North Korea is part of this with our ongoing prayer that detente works! The two parables of seed sown and the mustard seed in today’s Gospel from Mark Chapter 4 illustrate that historical process from small beginning to grand ending.

Jesus Christ died for all, Paul writes in verse 15 of the epistle so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. Jesus came, died and rose but has yet to complete his great and saving purpose we’re all part of, along with everyone and everything. In a bible image from Ephesians this purpose and process is the seeking of a bride by a heavenly bridegroom. To the eye of Christian faith the whole of human and cosmic history has this purpose: to prepare a holy people for God’s possession. The church is this, a bride being prepared without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5v27) for a heavenly destiny when her Lord comes again. In this eternal perspective all the sufferings of this world endured in faith will work for good for those who love the Lord (Romans 8v28)

Christ had died!  Christ is risen! Christ will come again!  This is Christian faith and it brings an assurance that evil’s triumph in this world will end. God will turn the wrath of humanity to his praise by building up the body of Christ as a people for his own possession (1 Peter 2v9).  This is why God invested in the human race by creating us and sending Jesus to draw the destructive sting of evil from us through his cross and through the sending of the Holy Spirit

How can judgement be possible?  Can there really be a final catalogue of wrongdoing?  Surely there can, Christian faith replies. As surely as a computer memory contains a million records, the memory of God is established.  To him all hearts are open and all desires known.  

By his sharing in our nature and his boundless compassion Jesus Christ is well appointed to judge the living and the dead.  It is the love of Christ that urges us on we heard in the epistle. Did not that love put the best slant on thieves and prostitutes, a love always ready to treat people as better than they were?  A love we’re welcoming this morning in Holy Communion showing to us in Bread and Wine manifold and great mercy!

Christian tradition distinguishes an individual judgement at the moment of our death from the general judgement referred to in the epistle which will complete God’s righteous task at the Lord’s return. After death scripture speaks of two ultimate destinies, heaven and hell, although there is a qualification that no one dying with unrepented sin can face the Lord without cleansing since no unclean thing shall enter his presence (Revelation 21v27). This is the origin of the doctrine of purgatory which in its plain sense of the need for the faithful departed to be purged or cleansed of residual sin to come close to God is hard to counter. The other historical understanding of purgatory as a place where the closeness to God of the departed can be engineered or even bought by appropriate religious services or exercises was rightly opposed at the reformation.

How could God inflict pain?  

Our minds argue against judgement because they think they know best.  Actually God knows best in the end.  When we look into the eyes of Christ at his return there will be pain, but an if the cap fits wear it sort of pain.  Hell will be our choice.  Our wrong actions are an affront to God but he has given us a remedy.  

As the DVD of my life is prepared for showing on judgement day Christ has power to edit out the unacceptable points if I give them to him.   Mercy can triumph over judgement if we will allow Christ a place in our hearts!

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus Paul writes elsewhere to the Romans in Chapter 8 verse 1. God looks on those who are in Christ with the same love with which he looks upon his Son.  Judgement has in a profound sense been passed already for those who have accepted God’s judgement on their lives. To accept one’s sinfulness and inadequacy is in the Christian tradition the pathway to joyful freedom. Such acceptance springs from a vision of God given in Jesus Christ, a God more concerned to give us what we need than to give us what we deserve.

To believe all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ is to face the future with an infectious hope. If faith shows you that the whole world is in God’s hands so is its future. Christianity provides a deep sense of certainty that any perceived triumph of evil will be seen ultimately as an illusion. All will come right in the end because in the end there will be the grace and truth of Jesus Christ (John 1v14, 17). Ultimately there will be grace – mercy - for repentant sinners and truth to prevail over all who live and act deluded by falsehood.

So to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be all might, majesty, dominion and power now, henceforth and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Trinity 1 (10B) St Bartholomew, Brighton 10.6.18

It’s hard to gather up a few lines of encouragement and challenge in less than 10 minutes from scripture passages that set so many hares running.

‘We believe and therefore speak’ Paul says in the passage from 2 Corinthians but if we believe what do we speak? That ‘the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.’ Yes, may that be so in the next 10 minutes - the preacher really needs that grace - come, Holy Spirit!

We move on to the holy Gospel from Saint Mark Chapter 3 - what do we make of it?

First we have Our Lord’s family, including we presume his blessed Mother, going out ‘to lay hold on him: for they said, “He is beside himself” (v21). Yesterday I was at Mass to commemorate the Immaculate Heart of Mary - how could the sinless Mother of God be part of the opposition so to speak?

Second we have talk of division and demonic possession and how ‘if Satan rise up against himself and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end’. What are we to make of that talk on the 10th June 2018?

The third hare, so to speak, is Our Lord’s solemn utterance about the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. ‘Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. (v28-29) Can I catch and tame that hare and serve it up for you?

Here goes - come, Holy Spirit!

Evangelical commentaries on this Gospel passage somewhat delight in what they see as evidence of Mary’s sinfulness or at least her distance from her Son’s mission. The Church though has never built her doctrine - and the sinlessness of Mary is universal church doctrine - on a scripture text or two but on the whole Canon of Scripture as it interprets itself to the whole church over the Christian centuries. I commend to you my article on John Henry Newman in this month’s New Directions, an excellent Church of England publication. What matters with Mary is the consensus of Christian believing as Newman taught - and strangely he had problems with Marian doctrine that slowed his departure from the Anglican to the Roman Catholic fold. Newman of course was a major influence on our church founder Fr Wagner. Back to the Gospel. We imagine Our Lord’s engagement with those on the fringes of society, the outcasts and, yes, demon-possessed rattled a great number of cages which must have included his cousins who here set out to restrain him. Yet how could they restrain his Sacred Heart, as we heard his words in Friday’s festal reading from Luke 12:49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled’.

This verse was quoted in the hurried ending of Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding in a reference to geologist priest Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard saw the fiery interior of the earth as pointer to the fire of love God wants the earth inflamed with. That preacher packed a lot into 13 minutes - my own minutes tick down!

Back again to the Gospel and Our Lady’s role. Isn’t it answered right at the end of this passage when Our Lord summarises his outreach in these words: ‘whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother’. Can we not see Mary his Mother in this sentence - ‘the angel of the Lord brought tidings to Mary… behold the handmaid of the Lord be it unto me according to thy will … and the word was made flesh and dwelt among us’? Let scripture interpret scripture!

Second hare - all that talk of the devil and demons. Perhaps its best summarised by the etymology of diabolos which is slanderer. The goodness of God shown in Jesus Christ shines forth but it casts shadows, it speaks the truth that sets free but it draws forth lies, what we might call misinformation, disinformation or fake news even! It rattles the devil: ‘if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come’ says the Lord whose exorcisms are timely announcement of the descent of God’s love to earth. The personification of evil in the devil remains the church’s understanding yet as C.S.Lewis wisely said she steers a path between those who disbelieve in him and those obsessed with him. The devil’s only power is that of the lie, but he has that power, a spellbinding power which Jesus breaks. ‘You will know the truth’, Jesus says in John 8:32, ‘and the truth will make you free’. I remember being told of an Easter Vigil service with a drunk snoring at the back who woke up to hear the priest ask the congregation, ‘do you reject Satan, all his pomps and vanities’. ‘The bastard’ he shouted.

Third hare - coming back to the Gospel - the sin against the Holy Spirit. If a drunk swearing - or a priest swearing in Church can be the work of the Holy Spirit - how can action against the Spirit takes us to hell? ‘Verily I say unto you…  he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.’ We’re almost up to time, I’m not ducking but will take a quick dive into the writings of Blessed John Paul II who taught blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is ‘refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit’. That’s a positive and inclusive definition I think. The Spirit comes to us again and again in Christ’s body and blood which we receive with our lips but we need to welcome that love in our hearts without refusal. Do I presume I have the Spirit - a charismatic sin if you like? ‘We do not presume’, but trust God for his ‘manifold and great mercy’, and that through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist far from blaspheming we indeed have the Holy Spirit. Do I despair - the opposite error - thinking the Holy Spirit is nowhere - that’s when you’re not connecting all we’re about here at St Bart’s with the reality of your life. I’ve only space to say priests are always available for counsel, prayer, healing ministry or confession after Masses.

Come, Holy Spirit, as you came upon Mary! Come to us in Jesus as he came to those bound by despair in the days of his flesh! Come, save us from presumption and warm our cold hearts in  the furnace of Christ’s love that opened to us on Calvary and remains open to us in the Mass!

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Ascension, Haywards Heath 3rd June 2018

Let’s have another look at our first reading which you can find in the second letter of St Paul to the Corinthians Chapter 4 verses 5 to 12. It starts with an awesome description in verses 5 and 6 of what it is to be Christian.

We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Paul writes out of hardship with humility coupled to abundant confidence. As the light of Christ first shone upon him on the Damascus Road it still shines only not just upon him as he seeks the Lord but through him, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. A wonderful phrase! Behind its poetry is a recognition of the miracle of our new birth in Jesus Christ. The God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ at creation, who gave us life at our conception and birth has shone in our hearts in Jesus Christ to grant us his life. It’s a light that shines forth from us and from this light house community of the Ascension.

God who brought us to life brought us into being with ability to open our hearts to him and receive his life. You and I are welcoming that life, that love afresh this morning in Holy Communion! Oh that more hearts in Haywards Heath would open to God in whom we find reason and purpose for life, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Let’s read on in v7:

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

Does this verse need commentary? To be a Christian is to have both confidence and humility. Confidence in God and humility before him. I have a little clay lamp with a light that can burn within it which reminds me of how this flesh which is clay destined as ashes to be part of the earth gets lit up, lit up by the light of Christ. It’s very often when I’m feeling most frail that God shows his extraordinary power in me and through me. My self-sufficiency all too often undermines my Christianity. I don’t want to practise God’s presence hour by hour though I try! The Jesus Prayer is a great help - do you know it - Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. It’s a prayer from the church catholic, from the faith of the church through the ages, with evangelical simplicity and it brings charismatic empowerment. It describes the treasure - Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God and how it's placed in me as the fragile clay jar that I am. Have mercy on me a sinner. I need the treasure. - or confidence in Jesus - but without humility, without knowing my need of him its brilliance won’t be shown in my life, that light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Search your soul this morning - am I confident in God? Am I humble with that confidence? Well if you’re not - and few are fully - God has a way of humbling us. Let’s read the rest of the passage, verses 8 to 12.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

These awesome words are written by Paul from the crucible of Christian work. They hand on how Christians get formed by the humiliation of suffering and the grace of resurrection always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.  As Christians we travel to God like anyone else through suffering and joy but with the difference of thankfulness for the joy and assurance of God’s love in the suffering. Our Lord who’s the Way has trodden that way before us and expects nothing of us he’s not been through himself which is one message of Holy Week.

As Christians we don’t expect to be dragged backwards to God at our death but to be more and more at ease with the forward movement of life - even if it brings increased frailty, loss of mobility and the need to depend on others. The passion of Our Lord takes the strain as we give our pain to him. As a priest I’ve been particularly privileged to come close to holy people regular at the Eucharist who’ve voiced to me the power of this service as we struggle with disability, offering it up to be part of Christ’s Sacrifice as we seek Our Lord in this Most Holy Sacrament of his suffering, death and resurrection.

For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Paul speaks of how his humiliations help bring him into spiritual resurrection.

My faith journey took a downturn some years back which was a humiliation especially being a priest. God seemed a long way off. I went to talk to a Mirfield monk. ‘Maybe God’s not gone but your vision of him’ was the advice. ‘Seek the Holy Spirit for a vision more to God’s dimensions and less to your own’. I did seek and I did experience the renewing power of the Holy Spirit which was something of a resurrection of faith. When I came back from Mirfield to the parish I was alive again with some sort of charismatic empowerment that’s never fully left me. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

You and I, each one of us are on a journey with Our Lord who is himself the way.  On that journey keeping close to him in his passion and resurrection sweetens our sorrow and deepens our joy, as does the fellowship we have with one another in God’s holy Church. It’s my privilege now to be on your journey as a community in this special time,  a time of challenge and also a time of blessing.

Keep your confidence in God coupled to humility. Seek the Holy Spirit for a vision of God more to his dimensions and less to your own current vision. Be heartened for the ongoing journey of faith which will one day, as it has for many we love but see no longer, vanish into sight. Then, when every tear is wiped away we shall see God as he is. We shall become like him and praise him for all eternity.

O Christ whom now beneath the veil - of bread and wine - we see, may what we thirst for soon our portion be, to gaze on thee unveiled and see thy face, the vision of thy glory and thy grace.

Grant us, Lord, a share in the passion and resurrection of your Only Begotten Son so that we may merit to behold you for all eternity.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Trinity Sunday at Ascension, Haywards Heath 27th May 2018

Today we celebrate the revelation of God as an eternal fellowship of love, three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour, yet one God.
The doctrine of the most holy and undivided Trinity is challenging, relevant, intriguing and essential – four headings to steer our delving this morning into foundational truth and life.
Firstly it’s a challenge. Reason takes you so far in Christianity. We could never have invented God in three persons, it’s revealed truth. Then you have the question of weighing other revelations – Islam and Hinduism besides the Judaism from which the Trinitarian revelation came.
Preachers go on leave this Sunday for fear of a seemingly cold, calculated, mathematical doctrine. Three in one and one in three. Why three? Why not one, says Islam, why not more says Hinduism, why not none says the atheist mocking our feeble attempts to get our mind round God three in one.
There’s the challenge set before us in Trinitarian faith but that challenge is based upon historical events. These clearly reveal the nature of God in the coming of Jesus, whose death and resurrection we’ve been following up to Ascension Day, and the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost day. It’s a challenge that might lead you to the church library or the internet so you can better answer for your faith to those who believe in one God, no God or many gods as opposed to one God in three persons.
Secondly the doctrine of the Trinity is utterly relevant. How good it was to see the countercultural coverage on marriage last weekend since marriage as a union of life-giving love points us, because human beings are in the image of God, to God who is himself a union of life-giving love. Keeping true to ourselves as human beings, and true to the life-giving nature of marriage is keeping true to God no less, God as he has revealed himself to us.  God as love within himself. How could God be so without the distinction of persons within him?
Challenging, relevant – thirdly the doctrine of God should be intriguing. The eternal fellowship of love that is God draws us in to himself. What after all is the Church for other than to serve God’s purpose to bring as many souls on earth as possible into fellowship with him?
The doctrine of the Trinity is revealed first of all in Our Lord’s coming into a human family with Mary and Joseph, into village life in Nazareth, then into the missionary partnership of the disciples. That divine society continues after his resurrection and the gift of the Spirit as one, holy catholic and apostolic church which is God’s never-ending family!
How intriguing God is, and we are. If you want evidence for God look in the mirror and read Psalm 8 You have made (us) little lower than the angels and crown (us) with glory and honour. More than that, a human being in isolation isn’t a true human for, in John Donne’s words, no man is an island. What’s intriguing about God as divine society mirrors what we find intriguing about ourselves, namely our desire for society and friendship. This desire will be fully satisfied only in the communion of saints who can be thought of as standing near God as a corona or crown around the sun.
Challenging, relevant, intriguing – lastly the Trinitarian doctrine of God is essential.
It is essential because Christianity is a religion of salvation and that salvation stands or falls on the divinity of Jesus Christ. We read Jesus words in the Gospel all that belongs to the Father is mine…the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you (John 16:15) Does my eternal destiny depend on my own good works, lacking as they are, or on a relationship freely offered me by God in his Son?
In Jesus do we really meet with God himself? That, as they say, is the twenty four thousand dollar question hidden behind keeping a feast day for the Blessed Trinity.This doctrine might sound cold and mathematical but it follows a logic of love, love beyond all measure, extravagant, unconditional love for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son Jesus Christ so that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
To believe this is to believe God isn’t One but One God in three persons.
It’s challenging to so believe – God is God and has revealed himself this way and not another way.
It’s relevant - the way we see God affects the way we see ourselves and steers us from unworthy pursuits.
It’s intriguing because the loving fellowship of God in three persons chimes in with our sociable nature and draws it to joyful completion in the communion of saints
It’s essential doctrine because without it the divinity of Christ falls, the word of God is emptied of power and the sacraments become empty ritual as God’s coming to us in Jesus and the Spirit is denied.
May all I have shared enrich the eucharist we now offer through, with and in Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all might, majesty, dominion and power now and for evermore. Amen.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Pentecost at St Bartholomew, Brighton 20 May 2018

The Church of England - is there a Church like it?
The English love it and imagine they made it!
It's Archbishop ranks with Pope and Patriarchs.
Puritans and gay activists find cover under its wings.
Feminists and Romanists contend within it.
Christian atheists love its liturgy.
Evangelicals use it to fish for souls.
Charismatics dance down its aisles.
Few churches worldwide get the headlines the Church of England gets - even if they embarrass and shame us!
It calls itself 'the ancient church of this land, catholic and reformed', not Roman Catholic or Protestant but a middle way true to the faith of the church through the ages.
Is there a church like it, welcoming honest seekers after truth and the Truth that seeks us in Jesus? Liturgical beauty, community care and  thoughtful engagement with a fast changing world?
Long live the Church of England!

I wrote this ode for Horsted Keynes parish magazine years back and it's a good opener for today’s celebration of the church’s birthday.

Yes, the Church of England’s birthday is Pentecost and not 1534 when King Henry VIII declared himself its Supreme Governor. As ‘the ancient church of this land’ we trace back to Whit Sunday. We’re part of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’ even if some things you read in the Church Times might lead you to believe otherwise - that the C of E starts and ends in England! Most of my ministry I’ve contended with those who make our Church less than she is as part of the Church of God in England. On many issues I’ve found myself fighting against what I call ‘the conservative tendency in Anglicanism’ - the tendency to conserve our position in society which has led us more and more distant from our major partners worldwide, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The good news of Jesus Christ wasn’t started here - it came to Britain from overseas so that Augustine’s arrival from Rome in 597 and not 1534 is the biggest date for us after the bigger event recorded in today’s first reading which dates from 33 years after the birth of Christ. 

The dynamic of the love, truth and power of God’s Spirit flows down to us through 20 centuries bearing fruit in individuals, communities and nations more ready to conform themselves to Christ than conform Christ and his church’s teachings to themselves!
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth Our Lord promises in the Gospel. We heard in the Acts reading how that promise was fulfilled. Later on the priest will lead our exultation on this great feast that according to God’s most true promise the Holy Spirit came down as at this time from heaven with a sudden great sound, as it had been a mighty wind, in the likeness of fiery tongues, lighting upon the Apostles, to teach them and to lead them to all truth; giving them both the gift of divers languages, and also boldness with fervent zeal, constantly to preach the Gospel unto all nations: whereby we have been brought out of darkness and error into the clear light and true knowledge of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ.

Some years back a great preacher captured the essence of the work of the Holy Spirit in two paragraphs. Here are words from Greek Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras.

Without the Holy Spirit:
God is far away,

Christ stays in the past,

the Gospel is a dead letter,

the Church is simply an organisation,                                                                                         authority is a matter of domination,                                                                                    mission is a matter of propaganda,                                                                                                    the liturgy no more than an evocation,                                                                                       Christian living a slave morality.

But in the Holy Spirit:

the risen Christ is there,

the Gospel is the power of life,

the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,                                                                          authority is a liberating service,

mission is a Pentecost,

the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,                                                                                 human action is deified.

‘Without the Holy Spirit the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is simply an organisation,
But in the Holy Spirit the risen Christ is there, the Gospel is the power of life..’ Patriarch Athenagoras’ comment warns how the Gospel and the Church reduce to words, images and structures without the breath of the Lord and Lifegiver.

So it is in our lives as Christians unless we beware. I know a priest who has over his desk, ‘I am a human being, not a human ‘doing". All we do as Christians flows from what we are - this is the powerful reminder of the Feast of Pentecost. For God has made us what we are in Baptism and Confirmation by the Gift of his Spirit. He renews that Gift of his own Life week by week in the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. This is the great Mystery of our Faith, that God is real and personal and present, so real and personal and present to us and in us that Scripture says that as human beings we ‘live and move and have our being’ in him. 

But do we? Do we really recognise in this coming Holy Communion the claim of Christ upon us that should make him central to our life? Open your hearts to the Spirit of God who this day first came upon the Church. 

I close with the Pentecost prayer of another Patriarch, this time of the Western rather than the Eastern Church, Pope John XXIII: ‘Holy Spirit renew your wonders in this our day. Give us a new Pentecost!’ 

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of Your Love. May Your Life overflow here at St Bartholomew’s so that people will be intrigued, drawn to you by our worship, our words about you, our deeds of service and our love for one another and for Brighton!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Ascension Sunday at St Richard Haywards Heath 13 May 2018

The liturgical year is one of our greatest teachers.
We believe as Christians that God made and loves all that is including each and everyone of us sitting in Church this morning.
God loves us so much he sent his Son down to be born as one of us – which is Christmas.
God loves us so much he allowed Jesus to suffer what human beings suffer, to live and die as one of us yet without sin – which is Lent
God loves us so much he wants us to know death isn’t the end of us in his sight – which is Easter
God loves us so much he brought Jesus up to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit down into any heart that will welcome him – which is Pentecost.
That’s Christianity in four lines – Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost.
On Ascension Feast in Eastertide we recall how God loves  each and everyone of us and those gone before us on earth no less than ourselves.

The great Easter Candle stands before us today as a sign to each and everyone of the truth that Jesus and Jesus alone towers over death.
The incense burned before God rising upwards today is also a liturgical teacher suited to this week of prayer before Pentecost for which we’ll be joined on Tuesday by Bishop Richard.
The age old symbolism of incense is that of rising prayer.
The incense grains are an expensive source of fragrance.
On Ascension Feast we celebrate how the fragrance of Jesus spreads through space and time only through his passion, death and resurrection. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
The costly incense grains, formed over centuries in the extraordinary sap of Arabian trees, die on the charcoal to rise yielding pleasant fragrance which scripture associates with the world beyond this world. In the vision of St John the Divine, Revelation 8 verse 4 he tells us the smoke of [the] incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of an [the] angel.
On Ascension Feast we celebrate the completion of Christ’s earthly work and its being taken up to heaven. This is well expressed in the fourth verse of George Bourne’s ascension hymn, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour where we read these rich words:
Paschal Lamb, thine off’ring finished
once for all when thou wast slain,
in its fullness undiminished
shall for evermore remain.
Alleluia, alleluia,
Cleansing souls from ev’ry stain

In the Feasts of Christ spread across the liturgical year we read, mark and inwardly digest truths that are ‘once for all’ and yet evermore inspire and cleanse our souls. Christ, as Bourne’s hymn concludes, is risen, ascended, glorified so that we can be raised from the works of the flesh, ascend in prayer and anticipate the glory that is to be ours.

The Chinese writer Watchman Nee wrote a short commentary on the letter to the Ephesians entitled Sit, Walk, Stand to remind Christians that as Christ is ascended and seated at God’s right hand, so are we. We are to keep seated with Christ above sin, to keep walking in the Spirit and keep standing fast against the devil.

The incense we use at worship is symbol of rising prayer, of costly sacrifice, and lastly of our living in the court of heaven seated with its Monarch. God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, we read in Ephesians and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

As Christ is risen, ascended, glorified so are we, which is why St Nicodemus could write man is the macrocosm and the whole universe is the microcosm. Because we bear God’s image we stand over and above the universe, a truth confirmed by the ascension of Christ which raises and sets humanity in the highest place of all.

For, as Paul says to the Corinthians we are the incense of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 2:15). Our prayer is to be one with the ascended Christ, our lives united with his sacrifice in the eucharist and the fragrance in our worship is to be mirrored in the fragrance of lives lived to the praise and service of God!

In this service we take, we bless, we break, we share bread and wine and show forth God’s very great love for us and for all that is – especially recalling how Jesus was taken by God the Father on Good Friday and his body was broken on the Cross to show God’s love for us, love shared with the whole world ever since by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
At the eucharist we also see our lives taken by God. When we put the bread on the plate and the wine in the cup we think of ourselves placed there before God, our congregation, our town, our county, our nation, our world, its joys and sorrows, its strengths and all being placed on the altar of God which is the eucharist table to ascend to him.
In the eucharist we take, bless, break and share bread and wine
In the eucharist we see Jesus taken, blessed, broken and shared.
In the eucharist our lives also ascend to God and are made a blessing to others.  
So let’s offer ourselves in union with the ascended Christ this morning so that all that we are may be consecrated afresh to God’s praise and service with, in and through Jesus our high priest!
Blessed, praised and hallowed be our Lord Jesus Christ upon his throne in glory, in the most holy sacrament of the altar and in the hearts of all his faithful people now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.