Saturday, 15 February 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believing in God is a practical matter beyond human analysis.

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

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

Thursday, 6 February 2020

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 February 2020

St Richard, Haywards Heath Candlemas 2020

We come to Church to worship and to be enlightened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 25 January 2020

St John, Burgess Hill 26th January 2020

Do you want a faith that stands on the authority of scripture and yet remains thoughtful?

Teaching that rings true to the faith of the Church through the ages?

Would you value worship that is awesome yet accessible?

A  Christian community with loose boundaries and a vision for caring within the community?

Here we are - the Church of England!

We do not look down on Catholic or Free Churches but hold hands out to both as 'the ancient church of this land, catholic and reformed' (Catechism definition).

Our worshippers are evangelical, catholic, charismatic and radical because the Church has to be all these things.

Yes, we have our problems, some of our own making, but many on account of the honesty with which we are facing up to a fast changing world.

The Church of England is part of the Church in England and has respect for those of other Faiths or no faith at all.

We welcome all who wish to engage with Jesus Christ through the Bible and the Sacraments and through Christian fellowship and service.

As they first said of Jesus, 'Come and see!'   

An advertisement I put in Horsted Keynes parish magazine some time back written out of concern about the bad press the Church of England was getting at the time.

It came to mind preparing this sermon based on part of the second lesson set for today from 1 Corinthians 1.10-12. Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided?

This call to unity coincides with the end of the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity held every year from 18-25th January. It seems to me that St Paul’s warning reaches us as a church at three levels, local, national and universal, so here’s a minute or two on each level.

First local. I see it as a privilege to be alongside St John’s for a few months. Obviously as a locum priest I barely have my feet under the table let alone the PCC table. Some churches without a parish priest can be headless-chicken-ish and that’s not my impression here. There is leadership - good interim oversight from the Churchwardens - which I call upon us all to respect. May the pastoral vacancy, with all its demands on them and us, serve for good as we work for our good and that of Burgess Hill. May we hand to the one to be appointed parish priest a high degree of unity and a sense of collaboration as we seek to promote Christianity and develop the life of St John’s with an eye to growth in faith, love and numbers. We should not be complacent but pray to God St John’s will continue as the coalition it is of catholic, evangelical, charismatic and liberal Christians that is outwardly focussed. The valuing of Christian unity here is evidenced by how long people stay on after the eucharist to talk with and encourage one another. 

Second, nationally the Church of England has reached under her Archbishops and the General Synod agreement to hold together despite divisions over the remarriage of divorcees, equal ordination and pressure for equal marriage. The latter is the major current threat to unity after truces on remarriage of the divorced, now left for parish priests to operate, and the ordination of women which has occurred respecting those who go with the wider Church’s opposition to this. In the English Reformation marriage and ordination were affirmed as sacraments – that is God-given -  but lesser sacraments and in that perspective groups that want the sacraments to better fit our western culture have taken the lead. Those who see the sacraments as being unchangeable without the agreement of the universal church are now in a minority. Changing sacraments is like changing the heating system in a church. There's upheaval and a chilling effect. The national church is still in the middle of this and our membership is in decline though that decline isn’t just related to our perceived inconsistencies given the UK’s increasingly militant secular culture. No easy answers on the issues of course, just patience. The Holy Spirit is saying one thing to part of the church and another thing to the rest. We must wait and see respecting our different views so as to maximise unity as a national church which believes its part of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’.

Thirdly let’s look at that international level of the universal church. About this Christians should really be getting impatient. In first century Corinth there were Chloe’s and Apollos’ and Cephas’ groups. In the world of the 21st century there are not three but over 40,000 Christian denominations! Each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? He has. His purpose to bring all things together is being much frustrated. There’s a need for each Christian church to recognise afresh that they exist by God’s grace - and so do the other denominations! Only as the different churches come together to the foot of Christ’s Cross and admit our need of his forgiveness are we ever going to be made one, as Christ certainly desires. This is happening worldwide whenever Christians opt to maximise cooperation with their sister churches. I am not so familiar with Churches Together in Burgess Hill but sense as in Haywards Heath a tension between mainline Anglican and Roman Catholic cooperation and that between charismatic networks. It's a task in hand - even intra-Anglican collaboration - but surrounded by spiritual apathy and unbelief our local churches need one another probably more than they realise to help one another bear the torch for Christ in our town and its surrounds.

The last Papal visitor to England, Pope Benedict, was welcomed to Lambeth Palace by theologian Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams with these soul provoking words:  In 1845, when John Henry Newman finally decided that he must follow his conscience and seek his future in serving God in communion with the See of Rome, one of his most intimate Anglican friends and allies, the priest Edward Bouverie Pusey.. wrote a moving meditation on this "parting of friends" in which he said of the separation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics quote: "it is what is unholy on both sides that keeps us apart". Unquote. That should not surprise us continued Rowan Williams: holiness is at its simplest fellowship with Christ; and when that fellowship with Christ is brought to maturity, so is our fellowship with one another. As bishops, we are servants of the unity of Christ's people, Christ's one Body. And, meeting as we do as bishops of separated church communities, we must all feel that each of our own ministries is made less by the fact of our dividedness, a very real but imperfect communion. Perhaps we shall not quickly overcome the remaining obstacles to full, restored communion; but no obstacles stand in the way of our seeking, as a matter of joyful obedience to the Lord, more ways in which to build up one another in holiness by prayer and public celebration together, by closer friendship, and by growing together both in the challenging work of service for all whom Christ loves, and mission to all God has made.
Wise words. "it is what is unholy on both sides that keeps us apart".
Christian unity grows – locally, nationally or internationally as Christians grow together in both holiness and mission. Let’s make that our priority as much as we can in the coming year. 

To come back to that Horsted Keynes magazine advertisement: 
The Church of England is part of the Church in England and has respect for those of other Faiths or no faith at all. We welcome all who wish to engage with Jesus Christ through the Bible and the Sacraments and through Christian fellowship and service. As they first said of Jesus, 'Come and see!'   

As they come, especially to St John’s, may they find less low church, middle church or high church but deep church.  Come Holy Spirit!

Sunday, 19 January 2020

St Mary, Balcombe Epiphany 2 Lamb of God 19th January 2020

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1.29

Our scripture this morning follows on from last Sunday’s continuing to centre on the mission of Jesus. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah 49 prophesies that the mission of God’s servant will extend beyond Israel to all the nations: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’ 

This passage was chosen to illuminate the holy gospel which is from John, exceptionally in this year of Matthew. This passage draws out how this mission is a sacrificial mission, that of the Lamb of God.

I’d like to dwell a little on this sacrificial image which appears week by week and day by day in the sacrificial text of the eucharist which recalls the Old Testament Passover Lamb. When we say Lamb of God, or the priest says ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ we go on ‘who takes away the sins of the world’. These words accompany the breaking of the Eucharistic bread which recalls in turn the breaking of Christ’s body on the Cross

This gathering in the parish church is part of an eternal offering of worship stretching back to the foundation of the world and stretching forward to the consummation of all things.

Our Lord is truly the lamb slain from the foundation of the world whose sacrifice on Calvary, as Revelation 13 verse 8 envisions, draws forth in heaven blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever. 

This morning we are touching reality - we are drawn to the event represented here that reveals a love touching every human concern upon the earth
At the beginning of a challenging year for our nation and for many peoples the world over there is no more powerful action we can take on behalf of humankind than to plead Christ’s Sacrifice, offering God what is his own…on behalf of all.

To the outward eye we are a small gathering of religious people doing their own thing upon their weekly holy day.

To the eye of faith we are Christians, caught up once more, on behalf of the whole creation, into the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ, through whom, and with whom and in whom in the unity of the Holy Spirit, we give glory to our Father in heaven.

Here, as on Calvary, we see his body and blood separated in death and then transformed by power from heaven. In every Eucharist we witness the separate consecration of Christ’s body and blood. We pause twice in the Eucharistic prayer and the bells ring to recall the sacrificial sundering of the Son of God - this is my body...this is my blood...of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins

Some of us may remember the ‘Seeing Salvation’ exhibition twenty years ago at the National Gallery. One of the many images of Christ was this  (above) - ‘The Bound Lamb’ by Francisco de Zurbarin who lived in the 17th century.  It is an image that often appears on Nativity scenes, the Shepherds’ offering which anticipates Christ’s sacrifice.  

As Jeremy Paxman wrote in the Church Times then of this painting: ‘no image I know so perfectly captures the astonishing force of the Christian story’.

It was given greater force at the time as a symbol through the images of sheep and lambs slaughtered so uselessly in the foot and mouth epidemic. The image of the bound lamb is one of innocent suffering but, for Christians, never one of useless suffering.

There is a Church in Norway, I’m told, which has the image of a sheep sculpted half way up its tower.  

Only when people enter that Church and hear something of its history do they discover the full Christian significance of the sculpted sheep.
Years before the sculpture was erected some renovation work was occurring on the Church steeple in this rural community.  One day a workman slipped from the steeple to almost certain death. At the same time by a remarkable twist of providence a flock of sheep was being driven past the Church.  

The steeplejack fell on a sheep and his fall was cushioned. The sheep died to save him - an awesome happening! The workers expressed their gratitude to God by adorning that Church tower with a sculpted sheep. It was welcomed as a powerful symbol of Christian Faith.

Jesus is the Lamb of God whose voluntary sacrifice takes away our sin.  Our Lord on Calvary takes the full impact of sin and death for us at the cost of his life.

I do not understand why God sent his Son to do just that for me. It is love beyond logic.

I cannot though deny the evil in the world and in my own heart. 

I will not deny that it threatens my fulfilment - not just my sin, but my fear and doubt and sickness as well as the self-serving use of my gifts. 

Neither will I as a Christian deny, though it goes quite beyond my reasoning powers, that Jesus, Christ the Son of God has taken the full impact of those evil powers for me. Our Lord has soaked up all the evil that would defeat me and offered me life to the full - life that cancels sin with forgiveness, sickness with healing, bondage with deliverance and even doubt with the gift of faith through the mighty Redemption he has won.  

All of this is powerfully present to me in every celebration of the Eucharist.

I cannot understand it but I will accept it. I cannot understand the way electricity works but that does not stop me switching on the lights. I take both on authority and it works to do so.

Jesus died in my place so that he might live in my place. 

Jesus died in my place to carry off the impact of evil upon me, particularly through the gift of the Eucharist. 

Jesus lives in my place, cooperating with my will by his Spirit, as I welcome him again and again into my heart in this Sacrament!

This morning we make the memorial of the Offering of Jesus and enter into that Self-Offering!

It is through the sacrificial Lamb of God that we can make a perfect offering to the Father, our sinful bodies made clean by his body..our souls washed through his most precious blood.

How much God needs the offering of our lives for his work here in Balcombe and its surrounds! 

Let’s pause for a minute or two to reflect on God’s word this morning as we prepare to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

St Bartholomew, Brighton Baptism of the Lord 12.1.20

You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Matthew 3.17

Today the church throughout the world keeps the feast that completes the naming of Our Lord. Christmastide started with the birth of Jesus but it moves to a close with today’s Feast of his Baptism as the Christ, we heard about in the Gospel:

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. Matthew 3.16

Who is Jesus Christ?  He is Jesus, the Anointed One, the One on whom the Spirit rests – that is the meaning of ‘Christ’.

Our Lord was born to live in obscurity for 30 years. Then in his 30th year he comes for baptism.  The heavens open, the Spirit descends. Jesus, conceived and born of the Spirit is filled with the Spirit. The Scriptures tell us he then returns to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spreads through the whole countryside

Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One.  He says this of himself – and of us!

His anointing as Christ and Messiah is not just for him - it is to be shared with us.  

Our Lord is anointed by the Holy Spirit as Christ so that we might share in his anointing!

A Christian is one who shares in the anointing of the Anointed One.  We can only do what the Church must do if we welcome and own that anointing in the Holy Spirit which is our own through baptism.

I believe that the church in this land has not failed so much as shrunk back from its task and that we need to get back to basics. That is why we need what Our Lord received and offered at his baptism – we need the Holy Spirit to come in power upon us. 

Almost his last words to his first disciples at the hour of his ascension were a promise that takes up these first words about him at the start of his ministry: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses he said, as recorded in Acts 1.8

How’s your enthusiasm for sharing your faith? As one who shares in the Spirit’s anointing could today’s Holy Communion be for you a rekindling of passion through a fresh anointing in that Spirit on the Feast of Our Lord’s own anointing?

Sometimes we have an anointing from above or beyond ourselves.  Other times – and I think this is very important – it is more a matter of experiencing an unblocking of the streams within.

In the story of Lourdes the key figure is the peasant girl, Bernadette, the shepherdess who in 1854 received a number of visions, allegedly of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In one of these visions Our Lady asked her to lift up some stones so that a spring was uncovered, a spring that flows to this day, a healing stream visited by millions every year.

How important discernment is! What healing streams can flow from one little insight!

We have a mission at St Bartholomew’s. Our Lord needs more enthusiasm in his people but where shall we get it from?  
The word ‘enthusiasm’ means literally ‘in God’. It comes from an ever-fresh welcoming of the anointing of the Anointed One, a readiness to be shown where the flow of the Holy Spirit is getting blocked within us. It might be unforgiveness or unbelief, a quiet cynicism or readiness to speak ill of others, seek where it is, lift the stone and you will see how the Spirit flows again in your life, through you and around you, into your circle, into St Bartholomew’s!

Our Lord says:  Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’  Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive John 7:37-9

How the Church needs to take this invitation to heart! How else can we hope to generate new enthusiasm about Christian Faith other than through some heart-searching for the things that weigh down and block the Spirit in our lives and in our Christian community? 

As we do so – and let Our Blessed Lord lift those stones, the weight of sin – we will recover a sense of God’s goodness and become his effective instruments – real good news people!.

As baptised, confirmed - and some of us - ordained Christians we possess the Holy Spirit! We possess the Spirit - but does he possess us? That is the key to a spiritual vitality! The late Dom Ian Petit of Ampleforth wrote these words in his book You Will Receive Power: Baptism and Confirmation confer a supernatural gift, but ignorance or lack of understanding of the gift, can block its full effect. In other words, while the sacrament is valid and has been given, the effect has been blocked. When the block is removed then the full effect floods in...(a) baptism in the Holy Spirit… an opportunity for awakening in (people) their sacraments of initiation..

The New Year and Decade begin with a liturgical reminder about our ongoing need for this unblocking and awakening to the power of the Holy Spirit who visits us at every Eucharist. An awakening to the Spirit, a releasing of the Spirit, an unblocking of his flow – this is the invitation and challenge of today’s Feast!  

There is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and it confers the Holy Spirit. A gift though is given that needs to be received. For Christians to seek the renewing power of the Spirit – as we do as we receive Holy Communion every Sunday - is a matter of seeking to be more fully what we are in Christ and nothing more or less than that! 

We want to be a people that live knowing their need of grace!

The Spirit is waiting to confirm to us the same words that were spoken to Our Lord at his baptism: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. 

Christians share in the anointing of the Anointed One – Jesus is the Christ or Anointed One so he can share his anointing with us and speak into our hearts those words of adoption: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.

I have baptised you with water; John the Baptist said but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. This baptism or gift of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing reality for those who will commit themselves. The Gift is not so much a once for all thing or commodity but rather something dynamic and ongoing. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a process in which the relationship that opens up at Baptism becomes an ongoing flow of love, praise and power leading into ongoing consecration in the Truth.

It is worth recalling that though Our Lord himself was conceived by the Holy Spirit he waited 30 years for his Baptism in Jordan. So it can be – as it was for me and can be for you - that though I had received the Spirit through Infant Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination the first deep experience came many years later.
For me this came through, of all things, a crisis of faith – and a recommitment! Shortly after my ordination and First Mass I began to have serious questioning in my journey of faith. I went on a retreat and prayed ‘God if you’re there show yourself, give me a vision of yourself more to your dimensions and less to mine’ – and he did – and keeps on doing - and what he does for me he can do for you - believe me!

Another way to look at it is like this: if the Christian life is like a rose bush there are great spurts of growth from time to time that push out new branches with new flowers. One such branch  and its some branch in its fruitfulness – is, if you like, a new opening up to God’s Spirit. Yet, like the life of the rose bush, its the same Christian life before and after such a new spurt of growth.

We possess the Spirit - but does he possess us? That is the question we are being asked on this feast of Our Lord’s Baptism.  There is a commitment issue here we need to address. As we come to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion are we really committed and open to his empowering?  Are we ready to hear and to believe those wonderful words: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.  

After the sermon we sing the Creed together. May the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life strengthen us in both the practice of our Faith and in enthusiasm to share it with others in the coming Decade!