Saturday, 25 March 2017

Mothering Sunday 26th March 2017

It’s Laetare Sunday, Rejoice Sunday.  ‘Rejoice Jerusalem’ is the opening antiphon on Mothering Sunday in the fuller rite. We’re allowed a little respite from Lent – today is also called Refreshment Sunday – with rose rather than purple vestments and we even have flowers. The daffodils will appear in the Porch at the end for you to take away.

This Lent I’m presenting a 15 min weekly series on Jerusalem on Premier Christian Radio to which you can listen again. The holy city of Jerusalem is sacred to the monotheistic triangle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Built as a city that is bound firmly together by Jewish King David (Psalm 122:3), central to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Christians re-read the Old Testament in the light of Christ’s resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit so that Jerusalem becomes a mirror of humanity in its beauty and fragility, a pointer to holiness and the need to repent. In Christian believing it is foretaste of the ultimate holiness and beauty found in the fullness of the Church named in Revelation as the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:10b). 

We rejoice today in Mother Church, our Jerusalem on the hill but also the heavenly Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation and today’s epistle. As God is our Father the Church is our Mother. The world has reduced this to our earthly mothers, which is no terribly bad thing, especially when, as for many of us, our faith is owed to good mothering as well as fathering.

There is another mother I need to speak to and her image is over the altar.  ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord’ she says in the Gospel we read on Lady Day yesterday: ‘Let what you have said be done to me’. Her ‘Yes’ to God might be the model for what we’re to be about over the last three weeks of Lent. We’re called like Our Lady to let Christ and his kingdom prevail. This means being attentive to God’s gracious demands, as Mary awaited the call of Gabriel.

We best serve God and others through discerning and then effecting best harnessing of our gifts into his praise and service, and this discernment stems from a determination to listen to God like Mary.

The more real Jesus becomes to us and in us, not least through our Lenten devotion, the more our actions will grow loving as he is loving. It’s not how much we do or say or even listen that matters so much a how much love we put into it so to speak, which is why our listening to God is so important.

How can we best give more of ourselves? Through a more profound examination of our conscience which will involve listening to God and then secondly to ourselves with Mary. Mary encourages us towards a positive self-regard. The Almighty has done great things for me she says as part of her Magnificat which is the subject of the second window in this Chapel.

These last weeks of Lent you and I have an invitation to take stock of all that Jesus is doing in our lives and rejoice! To take stock also of the ingrained selfishness, the ‘dog in the manger’ bit so we can give it to God in confession, possibly sacramental confession which is available next Sunday evening’s healing service, on Good Friday or by appointment.

Listen to God, listen to yourself, sift and purify your agenda, then listen to those God puts your way who need your ears! As we listen to others on this feast of family with our outer ears let’s keep two inner ears listening to God and to our own reaction to what we hear lest it get in the way. Like Mary let’s be there for people without getting in their way.

Let’s go more for surrendering ourselves, as at this Eucharist, to whatever God wants of us so we’re made better Christ-bearers under the watchful care of the Mother of believers.  Jesus who was first carried by Mary at Bethlehem, who is carried to us in Bread and Wine this morning, waits to be carried by you and I to a waiting world!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Lent 2 Abrahamic religions 12th March 2017

If the seven and a half billion inhabitants of the world were but 100 we’re told there’d be: 32 Christians, 23 Muslims, 15 Hindus, 7 Buddhists, 7 people who practice other religions and 16 people of no religion.

Given these statistics, we, as Christians, need discernment over how we share about Christ and engage in as positive a way as we can in a context where awareness of the variety of religions is widespread, even, and I would say especially in Horsted Keynes!

I want to get us thinking about all of this on a Sunday when the Lectionary centres helpfully on Abraham as father of faith. He is so for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the so-called Abrahamic faiths. In our first reading from Genesis God promises to Abram I will bless you and make your name great. So he has, as Paul says in the second reading Abraham is the father of us all. His faith as a Jew is in the same God we put faith in who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Our worship reminds us all the time of our Jewish roots. We chose for our entrance procession an Abraham hymn used to open Synagogue worship with last verse amended. The preface chant I sing at the Eucharistic prayer has beauty because it traces right back to Jewish worship, as does the whole idea of ‘eucharist’ or berakah, thanksgiving.

Let’s go back though, thinking beyond the three Abrahamic religions to list five approaches to the varieties of religion in the world today since we want to get our minds and hearts engaged with this key issue. It’s key if only because though in a sense religion is God-given it’s also heavily man-handled – even the Christian religion - and hence the source of division in the world.
This morning’s teaching is important since, as Hans Kung once said, there’ll be no peace in the world without peace between religions and no peace between religions without understanding between religions. Put this morning down to our going for deeper understanding from a Christian vantage point.

There are five possible approaches to the existence of different religions:

  • All religions are false
  • One religion only is true, the others completely false
  • One religion only is true, the others mere approximations or distortions
  • All religions are true in what they agree about; and false wherever they disagree
  • All religions are true and any contradictions are superficial.

‘All religions are false’ is the first approach and you hear it voiced from time to time especially after atrocities committed in the name of religion. Hardest hitting book is Brian Leiter’s Why Tolerate Religion

‘One religion only is true, the others completely false’ is a view we can quickly gauge from ‘door to door religion sales folk’, Rector excepted – I mean Jehovah’s Witnesses and to some extent Mormons. Roman Catholics were said to hold ‘outside the church there is no salvation’ but  now clearly deny they do so, with recent teaching accepting in some degree the baptised of any Church and looking positively, from a salvation angle, on all who follow their conscience.

As you can guess as a good Anglican I’m aiming for the middle thesis that ‘one religion only is true, the others mere approximations or distortions’. I’ll come back to this.

‘All religions are true in what they agree about; and false wherever they disagree’ may have some truth about it in identifying a hierarchy of truth but it is over optimistic about the clash of truth claims there is between religions.

Lastly ‘All religions are true and any contradictions are superficial’.

Again too optimistic – some of you may have heard this very beguiling story along those lines from Sussex priest Kevin O’Donnell’s book ‘Inside World Religions’.

‘There were five blind Hindu holy men on the banks of the Ganges. A tame elephant wandered among them one day. One reached out and touched its body; he thought it was a wall of mud. One touched its tusks and thought these were two spears. One touched its trunk and thought it was a serpent. One touched its tail and thought it was a piece of rope. The last one laughed at them and held onto its leg. He said it was a tree after all. A child walked by and asked, ‘Why are you all holding the elephant?’

The story is quite seductive, a sort of ‘plague on all your houses’ that fits those who say ‘all religions lead to God’. The parable is used by Hindus to teach each faith has the truth but not the complete picture.

So where does this lead us? As I said earlier to the third thesis that one religion only is true, the others mere approximations or distortions’ which is the consensus of most Christian churches.

In John chapter 14, verse 6 Christ said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me’ and in Chapter 18 v38; ‘Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’

If everyone believed that life would be simpler and I wouldn’t be speaking as I am this morning!   Putting it in a more challenging way to you and I, the existence of other religions is proof of our failure to meet with Jesus at a deep level and become the heart to heart draw we’re meant to be through his magnetic love.
What though of those who’re drawn elsewhere? We see distortions of Christ’s truth in faiths and also approximations.  If you read my book Meet Jesus it has a section on how I see other faiths where I write:

‘Saying yes to Jesus does not mean saying ‘no’ to everything about other faiths. It can mean saying ‘yes, but…’ or rather ‘yes, and…’ to other faiths, which is a far more engaging and reasonable attitude.

I say ‘yes’ to what Buddhists teach about detachment because Jesus teaches it and Christians often forget it. At the same time I must respectfully question Buddhists about the lack of a personal vision of God since I believe Jesus is God’s Son.  

I say ‘yes’ to what Muslims say about God’s majesty because sometimes Christians seem to domesticate God and forget his awesome nature. At the same time, I differ with Muslims about how we gain salvation, because I believe Jesus is God’s salvation gift and more than a prophet.’

Other faiths can wake us up to aspects of Christian truth that might otherwise get forgotten. What might happen, for example, if Christians were as serious in their spiritual discipline as many Buddhists are?’

In conclusion I invite you to reflect from your own experience asking yourself the question ‘What good do I see in people of other faith?’ Then, mindful of the Gospel reading this morning , that God so loved the world he gave us his only Son, I invite you to think about what’s very basic to us as Christians namely the question ‘Can religion lead you to God?’ Our faith sees religion as expressing love in return for love. In Christianity it is God who leads us to God.

So it is this morning in the eucharist – we can lift our hearts to God in the eucharist only because God so loved us as to give us Jesus whose word and body are the subject of this service.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Lent 1 5 March 2017

The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story called The Two Pilgrims.

It tells of two Russians who set out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem intent on being present at the solemn Easter festivities.

One had his mind so set on the journey’s end and object that he would stop for nothing and take thought for nothing but the journey.

The other, passing through, found people to be helped at every turn and actually spent so much time and money along the way that he never reached the Holy City.

Yet in the story he received a blessing from God the other failed to find in the great Easter celebration.

As we start Lent Tolstoy’s story reminds us true religion is more about generosity than proper ritual observance. Keeping short accounts with our neighbour is more important to our sanctification than freeing ourselves of all distractions.

What distracts is very often flesh and blood - which we sweep away at our spiritual peril!

It comes down to choices, as our first reading reminded us. The story of Adam and Eve warns against choosing things that conflict with the destiny we have under God. Its a poem full of truth about the human condition that’s picked up by St Paul who describes how Our Lord’s obedience counters human disobedience. That obedience is represented in our Gospel reading from Matthew Chapter 4.

Bishop Tom Wright’s commentary on this passage in his Lent for Everyone commentary on Matthew’s gospel explains temptation as being about good things getting distorted. He writes: Bread is good. Jesus will later create a huge amount of it from a few loaves, to feed hungry people.

But should he do that just for himself?

Coming back to Tolstoy’s Lenten pilgrims it is good to be single-minded but it is also good to be sympathetic.

In the story the sympathetic guy is the hero.

Better slower together than faster alone.

In his book Future Minds Richard Watson prophesies the internet will one day rank with the alphabet and numbers as a mind-altering technology of universal significance. His book e goes on to expose and warn against the associated cult of the immediate and contemporary with all the unsympathetic impatience it carries with it.

Whilst it’s wonderful to see electronic networking bringing the world together our best future is challenged by the erosion of conversation and reflective thinking that it brings.

There is a need for some users at least to find space and time for these lest electronic technology saps their patience and, most significantly, the resilience essential to creativity.

Internet usage illustrates the creative tension there is in many an area of life between single-minded pursuits and relational obligations.

Both are encouraged in Christianity.

The seeking first of God’s kingdom is there in one text alongside a warning in another text that to do so, to go for loving God ignoring your brother or sister in need is serious sin.

If Lent is a call to single-mindedness it is so with the spiritual health warning that comes out of Tolstoy’s story.

The single-minded pilgrim so set on his object that he stopped for nothing was not commended as he lacked discernment and sympathy for his fellows. 

The second pilgrim who was so occupied helping people he got spent up and never reached Jerusalem was commended.

As part of the stocktaking of Lent we might examine where we are on the big life journey and how much our own preoccupations, even spiritual ones, help build authentic humanity in us and around us.

In a village like our own we’ve less excuse for not wasting time with people as the Spirit leads us. Love is in some respects wasting time. When I hear people say ‘time is money’ I feel slightly uncomfortable. There should be sufficient time for us to be ourselves and be ourselves with others, not least those nearest and dearest. The demands of the workplace are incessant upon many of us – I was struck by the TV interview with the burnt out Devon police officer this week. There are no easy fixes here, but government should help us work for a balance because stressed out mums and dads do no good to their families.

Lent’s the annual reminder to look to the main things in life and better keeping of them as the main things.

For Christians the main things are attention to God and neighbour but you’ve got to give attention to yourself to succeed in these.
Examining our stewardship of time, talents and money is part of this, as well as refocusing on the Lord, giving him the things that agitate. There’s the opportunity for prayer for individuals after the eucharist today

To quote another Russian writer, St Seraphim: Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will find salvation. In Tolstoy’s story the blest pilgrim was the one who let his peaceable heart be emptied on the journey in service of the human needs that presented themselves.

The other pilgrim achieved his personal target but was judged to have missed the mark through seeing the people on the journey as potential distractions.

How often do we get put into that position, treating people as less than they are because we’ve got ourselves set upon the next thing or the next person?

This gives me opportunity to warn us as a community to be always alert for Our Lord’s presence with us in the person of the occasional newcomer or visitor after service. St Giles is a place to catch up with our friends on a Sunday, but let’s make sure everyone in church is treated as a friend!

The moral is, whatever grand spiritual aspirations we make, the Holy Spirit is closest to us when we are about our neighbours, sorting out our destructive attitudes, putting love in where there is none, recognising the humanity of those who can seem to be somewhat blind to our own.

May Our Lord deepen such sympathy in us and among us as we prepare in this holy season for the Easter Feast.

May we see triumphs of his Spirit as we correct the balance of our lives in obedience to his call upon our lives to seek a richer humanity that is more in his likeness.

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!