Saturday, 22 October 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Harvest Festival 9th October 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 October 2016

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

Keep faith and keep the Faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep faith and keep the Faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!