Saturday, 18 February 2017

Epiphany 7 19th February 2017

Getting to Church on a Sunday morning is always an achievement!

There are only so many hours in the day and days in the week and here we are to give an hour of high quality weekend time to the Lord Jesus.

As if gathering at such an hour wasn’t enough of a challenge you’ve just heard the most challenging passage in the Bible that’s set for today!

We’ve all been invited to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love our enemies and – wait for it – be perfect!

You might say – I even might say – give us a break, Lord!

This address isn’t geared to let you and I off the hook when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount. Many through history have taken its teaching literally.

Many others though have misread Christ’s teaching as a rule book full of impossible rules! As scholar Bishop Tom Wright puts it the worst mistake we can make about this famous and stunning passage is to see it as a list of rules (you’ve got to try hard to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love your enemies and be perfect). It isn’t.  It’s a royal announcement that God is turning the world upside down – or, rather, the right way up.

I liked that when I read it.

What we’re about especially later on in the baptism eucharist is radical in the truest sense. The Eucharist is a meeting of rebels in something of an unforgiving society that’s somewhat indifferent to goodness, truth and beauty.

God came among us in Jesus because he knew his world had gone astray. In saying I turn to Christ at baptism we commit to a revolution and to being Christian soldiers helping turn the world the right way up. I repent of my sins… I renounce evil… I will fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil.  

Forgiveness - turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, loving your enemies - is countercultural but it lays an eternal foundation in your souls and in the world you inhabit. Living in a culture full of contempt for those who fall short we’re aware how far that culture has shifted from being Christian. Courtesy is lacking, as is giving the benefit of the doubt. What’s urgent - what comes at the speed of Facebook - prevails over what’s important, like giving time to the elderly.  

I was told me the story of a man walking along looking at his phone who was indignant at someone he bumped into saying ‘Couldn’t you see I was busy?’ Even as a priest I get folk saying to me ‘you must be busy’ – people expect priests to be busy more than they expect us to be holy.  Our quest to get holiness before busy-ness is part of the revolution we’re talking about here. Putting God first and seeing less important things get sorted.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Striving for perfection is something we’re all to be about as Christians but it’s not striving so much as collaborating. As parents and godparents say in answer to the priest’s questions about commitment: with the help of God, we will.

That Gospel reading from Matthew 5 keeps us on our toes, yes.

As I said last week the Sermon on the Mount’s teaching is like setting your alarm clock an hour early to catch the plane for fear of over sleeping! It’s a wakeup call from the One sent not just to waken the world but to turn it upside down and it necessarily comes hard at us!

Christ’s teaching, people have observed, is very like that of the Buddha. But – and it’s a big but – the Buddha gave his teaching. Christ gave his life. God sent his Son, God came himself into the world to waken it.

That awakening is primarily to the transcendent power of the resurrection. This could only manifest when after he had taught the powers of sin, death and the devil brought Christ to death. In divine judo evil powers flew against Jesus and his death and resurrection turned them upside down and out at the count.

This is Christianity – death defying power – and it’s for us. Its power to turn the world not so much upside down but the right way up.

We all have times when our world, our recreational commitments, get turned upside down through trials. In going with the flow of these difficulties, seeing them as God’s invitation to bring love to bear we go with the flow of the Holy Spirit and are anointed.

That phrase we’re to use in a moment with the help of God, we will has very powerful resonance in Christian life. Even the pain of leaving a parish community that’s being felt by Anne and I - with the help of God, we will.

God’s loving commitment to help us is the bottom line of Christianity.   This means our major spiritual challenge is tackling unrealistic self-sufficiency.

As Jesus died and rose to show God’s love for a world gone wrong our drowning of our sins, symbolised in the pouring of water at baptism, makes us his collaborators.

Yes as people and even as Christians we must strive – strive to say our prayers and get to Church on Sunday - but it’s not striving so much as collaborating that’s the key to perfection.

Whenever I come in or go out of Church I take holy water in the porch and make the sign of the Cross over myself. I commend this practice as a reminder of what it is to be Christian.

The sign of the Cross is a secret sign for Christians, the sign that Jesus came down from heaven to earth and died upon the Cross for me. The sign of I crossed out.

Using holy water in the porch says with the help of God, I will worship, or, having worshipped with the help of God, I will get on with my life and with turning the world upside down for him.

May all of us find the help of God to offer true worship at the altar this morning and to live our lives this week in the praise and service of God.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Epiphany 6 Sermon on the Mount antitheses 12.2.17

I was speaking on the train the other day to someone in corporate finance, thinking through its ethical implications and how ethical values deriving from a Christian vision might steer engagement. As a result I’ve been roped into a vision day for his firm to provide a warning about the love of money.

Reading through the Sermon on the Mount, preparing this sermon, reminded me how hard it is to engage the absolute demands of Jesus with the detail of many parishioner’s lives and by contrast how far from being overall prescriptive our Christian faith is. Jesus indeed was prescriptive but left us very flexible on how we best respond to his teaching in daily life, though he instituted his Church to be our guide. That reading from the Sermon on the Mount is actually pretty demoralising: if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement… everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out… Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Thinking of my friends in corporate finance - how will they keep their ‘Yes’ to mean ‘Yes’? Those Classic FM ad disclaimers that go so fast as they make a Yes mean No. The fine print, through which many of us are made the poorer, and which damages commercial life by its undermining of trust.

Thinking of those in charge of UK foreign policy deciding on the best response to international crises – how can military action square up with the intrinsic pacifism of Jesus? How can his teaching on turning the other cheek later on in the Sermon on the Mount be brought into the international sphere.

Thinking of the medium of advertising, built on catching the eye – how can it be right to put sexuality so much to the fore in the process of wealth creation? For consumers, how do we keep faithful to Jesus deluged as we are hour by hour by ads that use sexual attraction to sell us things?

I bring you some thoughts on today’s Gospel of the so-called antitheses, in which Our Lord gives a new interpretation of Old Testament law – an ‘anti’ thesis. Jesus gets us to look at the old thesis ‘you have heard that it was said…’ and goes on ‘hear now what I say unto you’. The prohibition of murder should be enlarged to embrace anger. The prohibition of adultery should be enlarged to cover lustful thoughts and the prohibition of false oaths enlarged to avoiding oaths altogether and making your ‘yes’ always to mean ‘yes’.

We should note in passing what an extraordinary thing it must have been to the Jewish population gathered on that Mount by Lake Galilee to hear a teacher quoting words from God from their Bible and then going on to say but I say unto you. What an authority! They didn’t balk at it, strangely, seeing before them a quite extraordinary and compelling figure. Yet A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. C.S.Lewis wrote. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. Lewis outlines the so-called trilemma Jesus presents to everyone who engages with him.

We are here this morning to stand, as we just did, and give reverence to the words of Jesus as the words of God.  The Church bids us sit for the Old Testament and the writings of the Apostles but to stand for the words of Jesus. As Lewis continued You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

It is this reduced understanding of Our Lord as a human teacher that we have to challenge in our day. The insight Jesus gives penetrates right down to the heart, for he knew, and we as Christians have come to know, that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.

This means he knew and we know our first reading from Ecclesiasticus gets it wrong. It’s far too optimistic about human beings’ freedom to choose what’s right without the help of grace. The author’s main thrust is to exonerate God for evil since he has not given anyone permission to sin. Is that so?  How does that compare with St Paul, not in the second reading but in Romans 7.19-20  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

We have this morning the unfounded optimism of Ecclesiasticus and the defeating counsel of the Son of God in his Sermon on the Mount!

Where does it leave us? The parishioner in corporate finance concerned for honesty? The politician acting for us to challenge tyranny with the use of force and our support or challenge of them? Decision making about commercial transactions that promotes advertisement failing to tell the truth and exploiting our lower nature?

A few observations. The ‘better righteousness’ called for earlier in the Sermon on the Mount is beyond our unaided powers and points clearly to the need for grace. I remember being troubled in my teenage years by a lapsing Roman Catholic friend who, taught that to look with lust was as bad as acting on it started to sleep with a number of his girl friends. No one had taught him about Pentecost, about how Christ who taught us the right way died and rose and gave us his Spirit to keep us in that way.

Could we see today’s teaching as like setting your alarm clock an hour early to catch the plane for fear of over sleeping? The Sermon on the Mount keeps you alert, on your toes ethically, by coming so hard at us! Reading one commentary on today’s Gospel I picked up this advice. ‘The relation of the absolute demands of God to the relativities of human life is a tricky business. The preacher will need some sort of ethical methodology like that of the “middle axioms” – just as the voltage of a high power line has to be transformed downwards for ordinary consumption’.

Impressed by that advice I googled  ‘middle axioms’, which are a mid 20th century attempt to transform today’s Gospel from high voltage down to ordinary consumption. I quote John Bennett:  ‘Middle axioms’ are an attempt to define the directions in which, in a particular state of society, Christian faith must express itself. They are not binding for all time, but are provisional definitions of the type of behaviour required of Christians at a given period and in given circumstances.  Bennett gives as examples of middle axioms for his time as the need of international collaboration in the United Nations and the maintenance of balance between free enterprise and government control of economic power.

Like this sermon a ‘middle axiom’ sets forth suggested Christian "next steps" and, hopefully, without watering-down the full implications of the Sermon on the Mount.
We move to a close with a quote from 4th century Augustine, one of the greatest Christian minds. Give me the grace to do what you command and command what you will.

Here at Eucharist is grace. You have heard the commands – they’re tough this morning – now let’s together look for the grace to be supplied. At this altar the Son of God, Jesus Christ is to embrace us and makes of himself our Food and Drink. In this way his high voltage teaching can inspire and energise us in the right way and not defeat us.

Jesus knows and tells what’s best for us. In his compassion he’s expert in not making what’s best for us the enemy of what’s good for us here and now.

Let us reflect for a moment on our ‘next steps’, on how his word to us this morning from the Sermon on the Mount can effect our life today and tomorrow.

There is no Word of God without power.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Epiphany 5 Seasoning the world 5th February 2017

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 other readings 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 a hundred of our fifteen hundred villagers 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 the church spire we point above and beyond ourselves, inasmuch as God has chosen us to be his pointers.  As we do so Paul’s words in the second reading 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. Last week we celebrated our school and its right to praise the school governors, not least those from St Giles, for their voluntary input week by week, month by month, which 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 this village and its surrounds.

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 Giles?

The ministries of the Church – First Steps, School, Sunday Club, serving, church cleaning, flower arranging, village lunch, 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, especially as the pastoral vacancy approaches. Losing a chief pastor for a time doesn’t mean we lose the pastoral care gifts of our hundred strong worshipping community called to season the life of Horsted Keynes and its surrounds.

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.

As the second reading puts it: 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 the current pessimism and fruitless pondering over international politics. 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 our 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!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Conversion of St Paul Ardingly College 25 January 2017

How do you get to know God?

Some get to know him in a blinding flash, others find gradual illumination and many stay in the dark.

My own illumination has been through gradual flashes. Ardinian, or rather Giggleswickian, served by confirmation classes at my old school. The Chaplain counted a lot as Fr David counts for many of you.

It came also through a doctorate in Chemistry researching carbon polymers. As I opened up new realms of knowledge through neutron scattering, I had a sense Someone had seen these things before. 

Science works through humility so that hypotheses that get disproved are good news bringing advance. My old research field is a bit strange to me nowadays. I was fascinated though to read in last month's Scientific American of carbon-breathing batteries that use Aluminium to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere whilst making electricity. 

How do you get to know God?

We scientists pursue truth but many of us have a sense truth is with us and awaiting us. Reason and faith both lift us to God. Saul of Tarsus whose Conversion we’re celebrating today, originally followed a reasoned religion lacking faith. He lacked openness to the transcendent. God was in his religious books and laws so he was rattled to encounter the first Christians. They spoke of laws and indeed life itself transcended through the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

It was too much. He raged against it. But Saul was to become Paul, the reasoned man became the man of faith as heavenly light came over him on the Damascus Road. His eyes were opened to a God built less to his dimensions and more to those of God who is God!

How do you get to know God?
As God is truth you need to seek truth, but that's not enough. You need to be open to truth as something or Someone seeking you! 
The best of scientists like old Archimedes get eureka moments - I see it! These moments are, like Paul’s today, a lesson in humility, that is, in disbelieving yourself so as to see something more wonderful. To get to know God – and what an awesome, joy-giving and life-enhancing business that is - you need a readiness to loosen from self pre-occupation, see the big picture of reality and be put in your place!

That happened to Saul of Tarsus in a flash which really put him in his place. He was temporarily blinded, and had to be led by the hand into Damascus where he joined the very body he was persecuting.  Later on Paul wrote of this in 1 Timothy 1:16 I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.  Paul saw himself as the foremost of sinners since he had persecuted the very body he came to join and lead. If God can use me, he says, he can use anyone.

How do you get to know God?

Former Ardinian, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop writes of his formative days here and how each day he walked out on to the terrace to look at the view with friends as they shared aspirations for the future. God is before you in that inspiring view as much as he’s before you in Chapel. It’s a bit of a leap from Ian Hislop to St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain but here goes. St Nicodemus who lived on Mount Athos in the 18th Century also admired the grand views there. He pondered and came up with an astonishing two liner that captures what it is to be in the image of God. Human beings are the macrocosm. The whole universe is the microcosm. I repeat: Human beings are the macrocosm. The whole universe is the microcosm.

You can find God by pondering yourself, or, one step back, reflecting on what it is to reflect.  As your mind and heart contain the view from the terrace, and indeed, in a thought, the whole universe, you become in a sense greater than all that is as you contain it. Human beings are the macrocosm. The whole universe is the microcosm.

God is God and always will be God. We’re made in God's image capable of his glory but that capacity isn't automatic. People miss God through two deceptions. They reason to the exclusion of faith or they believe to the exclusion of reason.

The greatest threats to peace on earth are folk who deny the transcendent and folk in possession of mindless religion. God is love and love transcends reason – it goes beyond but not against reason.
To know God who is truth you need to be drawn beyond any mental construct. You might also need freeing, as Paul was, from false and compulsive images of God.

A few ideas this evening on how you get to know God. 

I want to encourage you to pray sometime, in quiet, on your own – maybe on the terrace as you admire the view, maybe in the Chapel Crypt before the Blessed Sacrament, to pray this honest and risky prayer:  God if you're there and you love me show yourself to me. Give me a vision of yourself more to your dimensions and less to my own.

It's an honest prayer - saying 'if you're there' tames reason as it admits we can't prove God is there however strong the evidence. It's a risky prayer because you're expressing a readiness to be put right on God by God – but… God is love! It’s an ongoing prayer - you need to wait for an answer. God if you're there and you love me show yourself to me. Give me a vision of yourself more to your dimensions and less to my own.

If you already know God you’re asking for a fuller vision of him, something I find myself doing often, but not as often as I should so I’m preaching this evening at myself too.

Have a go - you won't regret it!

In Paul’s own words to Corinth, God give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4v6)

God who shone on Paul shine on us all!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Epiphany 3 Christian Unity 22nd January 2017

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 the parish magazine some time ago 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 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 inherited and hope I will hand on at Easter a high degree of unity and a great sense of collaboration as we seek to promote Christianity and develop the life of St Giles with an eye to growth in faith, love and numbers. We should not be complacent, but St Giles is a coalition of catholic, evangelical, charismatic and liberal Christians that is outwardly focussed. We have a mission ‘to grow in faith, love and numbers’ and that outward focus has borne fruit over the last year where the parish returns just completed show the worshipping community rose from 98 in 2015 to 107 in 2016. Since most people worship every other week our Sunday attendances from both services run at half that figure. The valuing of Christian unity at St Giles is evidenced by how long people stay on after the eucharist and by people who say they miss out when they miss worship here on a Sunday. The sense of unity is a draw, which I know the confirmation candidates have been touched by.

Some thoughts about Christian unity as locally expressed.

Second, nationally the Church of England has reached under Archbishops Justin and John and the General Synod agreement to hold together despite deep divisions over the permanence of marriage, the ordination of women and homosexuality. The latter is said to be the major current threat to us after the truces on remarriage of the divorced, now left for parish priests to operate, and an approval of the ordination of women which has also affirmed those who go with the wider Church’s opposition to this. Anglican traditionalists are finding fresh invigoration.

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 an upheaval and a chilling effect. The national church is still in the middle of this and our membership is in decline. No easy answers here, 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 and avoid knee jerk reactions, seeking 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 39,000 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. It was very good to see a good group of us down with the Roman Catholics on St Stephen’s Day where we were warmly welcomed by Fr Martin, Fr Vlad and Deacon Gerard. Alas this year we have no local celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

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. Come Holy Spirit!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Baptism of the Lord Diocesan Year of the Bible 8th January 2017

As we move forward with the Diocesan Year of the Bible it’s with the reminder of how God’s word has the power to transform our lives, communities and nation. Unless we’re being strengthened, challenged and encouraged by scripture we can’t be salt and light in our culture. When we fail to let the bible speak into our everyday life we miss out on tremendous blessings.

Christian faith is personal knowledge of God gained directly by revelation and mediated by the community of faith which is the Church. Theology is the interpreting of faith one to another in the church as in this activity of preaching and listening. Belief is an expression of faith and a work of theology and the Bible is the most authoritative expression of faith because it is directly inspired by God.  What the Church teaches, her dogmas and creeds and the writings of the Church’s Fathers and Mothers has authority second to Scripture.

Yes we need guidance in reading the Bible. Yes there are passages that are obscure and unpleasant. Yes reading the Bible requires discipline. But – well I hope what I share from my own take on today’s readings makes it that bit more clear - failing to let the Bible speak into your life is failing to fuel your faith and a very great missing out.

We find in the Bible good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, a portrait to live up to and guidance on how we do that.

There are a few pew Bibles out if you want to put today’s readings in context. Or you may have Scripture on your phone. Let’s start in the middle with that second reading from the Acts of the Apostles which you can find as the fifth book of the New Testament straight after the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

If you find your way to Acts 10:36-41 we can follow through one of the earliest proclamations of Christian faith from the lips of St Peter, also, of course in the eucharist booklet on p2. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:  how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.

In the New Testament we read repeatedly of the impact of Jesus, God’s Child sent to make us God’s children. How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good. He had to do this because, and it’s true to this day, so many are oppressed. God saw that oppression and came to lift it. How did he do it?  We read on in v39 They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Here in a sentence of the Bible we have the whole of Christianity, the kindling of faith. When Jesus Christ suffered and died God was in him. There was divine judo at play. Death flew at God and ended up upside down and out at the count.

Today’s second reading concludes in v43 with the consequent good news. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. When we read the Bible we’re reminded of its good news that all can start again through God’s loving forgiveness. There’s a new start available to all without any partiality, whoever they are and whatever they’ve done, if they will but repent, that is turn from self-interest and bow down before the living and true God manifest in Jesus Christ.
This good news is dynamite, blowing out any exclusivity or pride in religion, affirming God as God of everyone who’ll admit their need of him.

I take out of this second bible passage today what I take out of so many bible passages the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ I need reminding of day by day so my faith gets the regular tonic it needs in the counter-faith and post-truth world I live in.

We find then, in the Bible, good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and, secondly, a portrait to live up to and guidance on how to do that.

Let’s look at today’s other two readings for that portrait. The readings are linked to today’s feast of the Lord’s Baptism at the end of Christmastide and refer to the historical base of Christian faith. The Gospel from Matthew 3 – look it up right at the start of the New Testament in your Bible - tells of the event of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and how the Spirit came upon him. This was in fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah Chapter 42, our first reading, situated well into the Old Testament among the prophetic writings, that starts with a sentence that illuminates the event of Christ’s baptism. Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

In the Matthew passage we read how Christ was baptised reluctantly from his own point of view – he had the Spirit from his conception in the womb of Our Lady - but readily as an example to all he calls to put personal faith in him within the community of faith. The portrait in Matthew 3v17 is of you and I as much as of Jesus. This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
When we read the Bible with faith, that is, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that goes beyond reason, we see how God sees us and we gain grace or help to accommodate our lives to him.
To faith those words of the Bible prophesied in Isaiah 42 and spoken of Jesus in Matthew 3 are liberating truth about ourselves. You may feel done down by life, overcome by temptation, weakness and inadequacy but God loves you nevertheless.

Pick up your bible and read all over it words like these that are for youThis is my Son, my Daughter, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. 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. That’s one way the Bible can work – as a love letter from God! There is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and it confers the Holy Spirit. God’s Child Jesus was given to anoint us with his Spirit and make us God’s children. A gift though is given that needs to be received. For Christians to seek the renewing power of the Spirit – as we do receiving 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! 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.

The good news of Christmas and Christianity is the Son of God became the Son of Man so children of men could become children of God. This Diocesan Year of the Bible is a fresh invitation to ponder that good news, what it means for God to give us his Son and what it means for us to enter more fully what we’re meant to be as God’s beloved daughters and sons. I wish you every blessing as you discover afresh your heritage and enter into it afresh through Scripture and the Eucharist.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Midnight Mass 2016

You need to stay awake to come to Midnight Mass.

You need to stay awake to be a Christian, awake to the love that over and around us lies and its working out of justice and righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. (Isaiah 9.7)

We live in a world full of sleep walking.

Over this last year both Britain and the United States have walked into scenarios no one would have imagined a year ago. The world seems to have been in hibernation over Syria. Even in this village some would say we've sleep walked over the neighbourhood plan though many are waking up to their responsibilities.

To be a Christian is to be awake to what’s good and true and beautiful and to work with others to establish justice and righteousness - for when good folk sleep evil triumphs.

That first Christmas, angels woke the shepherds with their news of great joy. Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours. (Luke 2).

That event is less attested than the Easter angels heralding love stronger than death that woke the world and made half of it Christian today!

Our wake up call is Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to enfold the world with his love.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontus Pilate, crucified, dead and buried. On the third day he rose again.

This good news is our wake up call.

No hibernation for Christians, however much we want to in December!
No hibernation but attentiveness to the risen and ever new Lord Jesus Christ, to our need of him, to our neighbour and to a world crying out for justice. 

If there were more folk on such alert to others there'd be more courageous Jo Cox types and less self serving in our public life.

Here’s the sleep walking we need to wake people out of, to help them see how much they and all that is is loved and the consequences of that.

So many strengths in the world but so little consecration of it to advance the poorest in the world.

No wonder St Catherine of Siena said she wanted to imitate those angels and roar out the good news, to jolt awake the self preoccupied church of her day.

Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace among those he favours is our wake up call to praise and service. Where there’s no peace it’s a sign of disfavour and there’s a wake up call to put wrong right.

What does it mean to be out of favour with God? 

Scripture addresses this wherever it addresses injustice.

It also links disfavour to disbelief. In Hebrews 11 verse 6 we read without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Christmas is about waking up faith and waking believers into more active faith.

It’s about putting fresh trust in God as the God who fills heaven and earth with his glory! 

When you put faith in God you receive a gift of peace beyond human understanding.

Find that peace and many around you will find salvation.

I have seen this, even in this congregation, a rippling out of joy in the Lord.

No one could turn toward eternity if he had not seen in the eyes or in the face of one person the shining of eternal life wrote Archbishop Anthony Bloom.

Could that be seen in your eyes, your face tonight? Why not?

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today!