Sunday, 13 August 2017

Trinity 9 The journey of faith 13th August 2017 St Peter & St John the Baptist, Wivelsfield

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

Life is an accompanied journey whether people recognise it or not.

To be a Christian is to be aware of the company of God alongside us in Jesus Christ sharing our joys and sorrows. We are never alone, contrary to outward appearance.

In our Old Testament reading from the first book of the Kings, Chapter 19 we’re told how Elijah felt very alone at mount Horeb when he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’  

I alone am left – how does that speak to us this morning? As we go against the flow, or think of those we know who’re desolate over a bereavement or relationship breakdown? Or those we see in our mind’s eye though a long way away, depicted hour by hour across our visual media in the world's agony zones.

What does God say – how does he speak to Elijah? Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out. God spoke in the silence after the storm and sent Elijah on his way.

The story is chosen to match the Gospel passage from Matthew 14:22f where once again God is revealed in the wake of a storm. The boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them… Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then we see our patron Peter taking heart exactly and walking the walk of faith. He got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’

This morning both Elijah and Peter are set before us as those consciously on the move with God. They're a wakeup call for us to challenge false securities and get on the move spiritually, just as Peter left the security of the boat to walk on water. 

One of the late Bishop of Guyana, Cornell Moss's phrases was ‘I’m not afraid to walk on thin ice as I serve a Jesus who walked on water’. It may be there’s a situation you’re in where you feel you can’t move forward. It looks like thin ice ahead – take heart. If God is with you, and calling you to work through that situation, though the ice cracks you’ll be able to walk on the water. Peter did, but he slipped under once he took his eyes off the Lord. 

Faith, the journey of faith, is belief in the divine accompaniment, of Jesus Emmanuel God with us.
Is there anything, any challenge before us that’s too great for us on a journey with God at our side?
When you retire - I've just retired - you get unsettled. You've less to direct your life and get anxious at first. I'm happy to live in today without fear of tomorrow knowing I'm on a journey with God at my side. I rest in belonging to him, in his purpose, empowerment, forgiveness and direction.
Like Elijah I have my cave of contemplation in which I await the Lord's still small voice guiding me in different ways, as with Fr Christopher's phone call inviting me to celebrate the Eucharist this morning.

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). That’s faith speaking as it looks to the facts of God’s love around, alongside and before us and ignores, as both Peter and Elijah did, those natural fears. Peter naturally feared being overwhelmed by the water and Elijah feared the isolation he was in as a believer in a hostile climate. Both men looked in faith to the fact of God’s love and away from their fears. 

This reminds me of a story Bishop Maurice Wood used to tell: ‘Faith, facts and feelings were three figures walking on a wall. Faith walked behind facts and in front of feelings. Faith kept going as long as he looked to the facts of God’s love. Whenever he looked over his shoulder to feelings behind him he wobbled and came in danger of falling off the wall’. 

So it is with the journey of faith we travel on – and we have to keep moving. We were made to move finding no ultimate security this side of the grave save in the promise of God.

As Paul spells out that saving promise to the Romans in our second reading if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. … ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’  

To have faith is to be on the move. 

I think of people I know who’ve moved forward courageously through financial insecurity putting trust in God that he wouldn’t see them put to shame, continuing to give as he would have them give but out of real poverty.  

Or of people who recognised their life’s journey had stopped as Elijah’s did but their stopping place, their cave was one of destructive anger God had to call them out of.

Or people who’d sensed a forward call out into the sacred ministry which took their gifts away from serving money into serving God and the Church.

Or people who, faced with a diagnosed terminal illness lost no forward momentum, no sinking under the waves of self-pity but pressed forward to make the passage to Jesus as though walking on water or thin ice.

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

He would be our guide and support but we have to recognise that and welcome his leading in our circumstances as surely as we welcome him right now in his word and in the bread and wine of the eucharist which is food for the journey of faith.

Blessed, praised and hallowed be our Lord Jesus Christ upon his throne in glory, in the most holy sacrament of the altar and in the hearts of all his faithful people, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sowing, reaping, keeping Presentation Church, Haywards Heath 16th July 2017

The parables of Jesus thrill with harvest imagery, sowing on the ground, reaping the fields and keeping grain in barns.

As a countryman in the days of his flesh it was natural for Jesus to use sowing, reaping and keeping to illustrate the purposes of God.

As Jesus’ disciples we serve a threefold process of sowing, reaping and keeping. The kingdom of God, Jesus says in Mark 4v26 is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground...the seed would sprout and grow...but when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.

We interpret such parables, like today's Gospel of the Sower, as encouragements to sow God's love and harvest a response in God's good time which bears fruit in a body kept faithful in God's praise and service. 

We can use Jesus's parables of sowing, reaping and keeping as a form of self examination for ourselves and our Christian community.

How much of our energies are put into serving others for their own sake - which is sowing?

When we find people ready to commit themselves in love to God, have we the courage and means to reap for him by inviting and sealing that commitment?

Are the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection so active in me and my church that newcomers naturally come close to God with and through us?

These soul searching questions trace back to the words and deeds of Jesus who sowed himself upon the Cross like a grain of wheat to reap and keep a harvest of love for God through the Church's praise and service.

Let's follow then such soul searching as we look for a few minutes at sowing, reaping and keeping using three pictures that address these headings.

SOWING - How much of our energies are put into serving others for their own sake?

I'm asking you to answer for yourself or for the Presentation to which I'm a new comer.

Helping people into Christian Faith requires countering a lot of misinformation, notably affirming 'God is good' and 'the Church is OK' (ecumenical brief)

REAPING - When we find people ready to commit themselves in love to God, have we the courage and means to reap for him by inviting and sealing that commitment?

Missed opportunities - value of Alpha Course etc in providing a pathway into commitment and empowerment by the Spirit.

KEEPING - Are the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection so active in me and my church that newcomers naturally come close to God with and through us?

The church's mission is weak because its prayer is weak.

I want to end by reading a passage from a book I wrote just published by Bible Reading Fellowship entitled Experiencing Christ’s Love which a fivefold template for a Christian rule of life:

·        Sunday church attendance

·        day by day formal and free prayer times

·        ongoing study of the bible and the church’s faith

·        occasions spending time serving others

·        regular self-examination and occasions for confession/guidance

The Christian discipline of reflection is a reminder of love, being loved and loving, and of our failure to love in which attitudes are key. This book has at its heart a reminder to stick at loving God through five attitudes commended by Jesus Christ knowing ‘we love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). The Lord Jesus gives us this overarching rule: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.. and your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37, 39b). 

Loving God with your heart and soul can be seen as what worship and prayer are primarily about, linked to loving him with your mind in study, your neighbour in service and yourself through reflection. 

To experience Christ’s love we’re therefore invited to follow five disciplines interrelated, like the thumb and fingers of the human hand, set to grasp the hand of God that reaches down to us in Jesus Christ.  Worship and prayer are heart and soul of our love for God but without engaging our minds with his teaching our love will be ill formed, Jesus implies, and without service, love of neighbour, and reflection, loving care of self, our loving God will be a delusion.

Like the Hamsa hand symbol of hope and peace the five loves invited by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-39 are a call to and a reminder of balanced and effective discipleship.  What’s distinctive about Christian as opposed to other spiritual disciplines is the ‘hand up’ of grace they engage with. If Christian disciplines attain salvation they do so by grasping the hand of the Saviour. Experiencing Christ’s love in the five disciplines of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection is a taking of God’s hand in ours, the welcoming of his loving provision of forgiveness and healing that’s a hand up into his possibilities.
Experiencing Christ's Love book p83-84

Friday, 21 April 2017

Easter Sunday evensong (Monstrance) 16th April 2017

I’m ending my ministry as parish priest in a minute or two. The last thing I’ll do is for many Anglicans rather a strange thing to do. I mean not to this core gathering of the faithful who’ve worshipped with me over 8 years – but to place the consecrated bread in a container and make the sign of the Cross over us all in silence is something different, let alone doing it in clouds of incense!

The Holy Spirit works in different ways though. A close friend, a Methodist in fact, was staying with Anne and I a week or two back. She gave me a poem for my retirement called Monstrance which I’ve decided to read to you as part of my last sermon here. 

It’s about emptying yourself so God can fill us – Gill knows how much of me still is in me and how much Christ has to work on filling my life! 

As she writes:
We cannot stand in Jesus’ place
and look our Master in the face
if by thoughtless words or deeds
      we deny each other’s needs
   acting from ego, not from grace.

We empty ourselves for God to fill -
humbling ourselves before His will.
Before the waiting world we stand;
each is a monstrance, as He planned,
 lifted by God’s almighty hand.

In the rite of Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament the consecrated Bread is taken from its place of perpetual Reservation – here the Aumbry or wall safe in the sanctuary with its perpetual light.
It’s returned to the altar where it was blessed within an instrument of showing we call the Monstrance, from the Latin monstrare.

This throne we see upon the altar tonight, a decorated throne with rays indicating Christ’s glory shining out of the material element of the bread changed into Christ’s Body at the eucharist.

Not all Anglicans own that change, but it is in harmony with the Church of England’s belief in what our church calls the Real Presence, our faith that at Communion Jesus Christ the risen Lord comes among us through the consecrated Bread and Wine.

Our Easter devotion to the risen Lord, singing evensong before the Blessed Sacrament, ends with a silent blessing as if from the Lord, or actually from the Lord for the bread is his Body he has said so.

As Queen Elizabeth I said when asked how she say the presence of Christ in the eucharist: Christ was the word that spake it. He took the bread and break it; And what his words did make it. That I believe and take it.

As earthly bread in the monstrance blesses us this evening so we as Christians contain and show forth Christ. Through Holy Communion he is in our lives. This is the thrust of Gill’s poem which I read now to you and, of course, to myself:

For John on your retirement, with love from Gill.


Christ took and blessed a loaf of bread.
‘This is my body,’ Jesus said.
He took and blessed a cup of wine
Which, held aloft, became a sign
of sacrifice – of Love divine.

Christ puts his trust in you and me.
We are the ‘Jesus’ people see –
Silently, we seek his face.
Obediently, we take our place
As icons of God’s wondrous grace.

How do we represent him, though?
Which Jesus do we really know?
He is the Lord of everything:
a loving, selfless, humble King.
Which Jesus do our actions show?

We cannot stand in Jesus’ place
and look our Master in the face
if by thoughtless words or deeds
we deny each other’s needs
acting from ego, not from grace.

We empty ourselves for God to fill -
humbling ourselves before His will.
Before the waiting world we stand;
each is a monstrance, as He planned,
 lifted by God’s almighty hand.

As we keep silence before Benediction let’s ask that the risen Lord Jesus will make us a monstrance, through deepening our humility and sense of need for his mercy, so that people will see Jesus in us through our deeds and words. Amen.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Easter Sunday - my last Sunday at St Giles 16.4.17

You can write about Experiencing Christ’s Love - the book’s on sale today (show) for a fiver - but it’s no substitute for experiencing it.

Thinking and writing about God is less important than being present to him. If you're present with a loved one you don’t have to construct thoughts about them since they’re there before you and you just enjoy them. Rather like when you’re listening to music you don’t think about the music so much as lose yourself in it.

The Lord is truly risen. Alleluia!

The last word isn’t with corruption, death and loss but with the loving presence of God. Thinking about the truth of Christ’s resurrection is natural - but it only takes you so far. We can think of the solid historical evidence of fearful disciples changed to bold witnesses and the Jewish Sabbath getting shifted to the Lord’s Day neither of which could just happen.

We can think about Jesus and how his name lives on in the consciousness of the world after 80 generations - but we can experience him.

Experiencing Christ’s love in worship, prayer, study, service and reflection got me writing my book. I did so though as both an ideas person and a people person - actually as a parson. Experts are uncertain about the exact origins of parson, although one theory says it’s a shortened form of the Latin persona ecclesiae, "person of the church."

The priest or parson gives a face to the institution and it’s been my privilege with Anne’s help to do that up to my 9th Easter here at St Giles.

Just as my personal encounters with God are more significant than my sermons and books your personal engagement with me, your encouragement and forbearance weigh more than any imaginable written evaluation.

In my book I tell how my own devotion to Christ has been rekindled through engagement with villagers.

I know there’ve been times when the ideas person has won over the people person, when I’ve been so preoccupied with my thoughts I’ve passed you by. Times when the ideas person has held forth in the Horsted Club, Men’s Lunch, or wherever there’s a good argument to be had, and maybe the parson got a bit forgotten as the Harvey’s flowed!

All is shortly to be history as another partnership of priest and people ends tonight and a new name chosen, soon we hope, to go up on the Rectors’ board.

The Christian cause will outlive me here as surely as the Risen Christ surpasses the boundaries of space and time. God who brought everything out of nothing and Jesus from a virgin womb today brought inextinguishable life from the grave. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!

In this forward movement here at St Giles I want to commend to your prayers and active help our Churchwardens David Lamb and Peter Vince, Deacon David Howland and the Parochial Church Council as they continue to serve and lead in Jesus Christ through the demands of the pastoral vacancy that starts tomorrow.

I look forwards to coming back to St Giles as is fitting, and most especially to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of my priesthood on St Thomas’s Day, Monday 3rd July 7.30pm when you'll have visitors from near and far including the Bishop of Guyana.

Thinking, thought, sermons, books aren’t the last thing rather its presence, the presence of one to another and of Christ through us all that’s ultimate .

On this hill we serve a cause that outlasts us as we engage with those precious gifts, the Bible and the Eucharist.

My last word to you is: seek those gifts, experience Christ’s love, establish a life of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection. Keep a stake in the cause that will outlast us all.

Jesus Christ will outlast the cosmos and host a reunion. Easter is the pledge of that.

His Resurrection will be ours and he will be everything to everyone!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Palm Sunday 8am 9th April 2017

This morning is something of an unforgettable experience for me.

Anne and I are sharing like Jesus a last week with everyone before death and resurrection - I speak half in jest. Haywards Heath also is no paradise compared to Horsted Keynes.

This morning's liturgy blends the triumph and sorrow associated with Experiencing Christ's Love, the title of my new book, of which I mentioned last week 8 o’clockers would get pre-launch availability. Its sub title is establishing a life of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection and it’s somewhat autobiographical

The large palm branches on its cover represent triumphant love which works out, as our reading of the Passion illustrated, through bearing sorrow.

As your parish priest bearing many of your joys and sorrows I have carried Christ from you. He has rubbed off on me as I hope he's rubbed off from Anne and I to you. Worshipping, praying, studying, serving and reflecting here for 8 years has been immensely fruitful for us.

The book is one fruit grown from the partnership between priest and people we’ve exercised together and it’s about holding yourself to a rule of life.

The clue to effective living is to find the main things and keep the main things as the main things.

For over 60 years I’ve been working with a rule of life at both finding and holding myself to those things. I still have work to do. As a priest for most of my life you’d have thought I’d have this sorted by now, but, though theological expertise helps me speak and write about experiencing Christ’s love, its outworking in real life is all the more challenging.

There are no professional Christians, though some get paid for their work. We are all amateurs, hopefully in the sense of devotees rather than incompetents!

As I prayed for God-given competence to frame my book the Lord drew me to an image of his hand reaching down to me and my own hand grasping his with its five digits expressing five loves commended in his own summary of the Law in Matthew 22:37-39: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Worship and prayer are to be seen as heart and soul of our love for God, Jesus implies, but without study, engaging the mind with divine teaching, that love will be ill formed, and without service, love of neighbour, and reflection, loving care of self, our loving God is a delusion.

Those five commitments - worship, prayer, study, service, reflection - make a hand that can grasp the hand of God reaching down to us in Jesus Christ to raise us into his praise and service with all the saints, an image of Love's endeavour for us in Holy Week. The five commitments provide the chapter headings of this short book of 90 pages commissioned and published by the Bible Reading Fellowship.

The God and Father of Jesus is a God of joyful goodness who loves us through and through and whose grace is overall and in all. That loving grace isn’t a quantity so much as a quality of helpfulness given us by God who simply desires it for us, not because we’ve done anything to earn it. This benevolence shown by God toward the human race is at the heart of the good news of Jesus we're celebrating in Holy Week.

‘God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ' Paul writes to Ephesus.

'By grace you have been saved - and [God] raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places’. (Ephesians 2:4-6)

After seeing a 1960s street advertisement Austin Farrer amusingly compared the Church of England to corsets: 'for ladies, for comfort and for general uplift'. It's a half truth- my mother tells me she's struck by the number of men at St Giles!

Christianity is indeed 'for comfort and uplift'. To be raised up we need to welcome and respond to God’s grace, putting faith in him, placing our hand in his, and that’s going out of our way. It’s a countering of self-deception as expanded in this book. 

Attending worship may be inconvenient but ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’. The discipline of prayer isn’t necessarily accompanied by feeling God’s presence. Awkward questions about the Bible matter and there are times to get your head down to address them. We’ll never be good at serving others without a readiness to shoulder life’s little humiliations that break the ego’s shackle round us. Unless we are ready to regularly examine ourselves and confess our sins to God ‘the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8).

Christians live under the favour of God which is grace with a big aim - God’s glory and the world’s salvation - and a tight focus expressed as we worship on Sunday, pray every day,  study the Bible, serve our neighbour and reflect upon our lives confessing our sins. That big aim and tight focus is taken up into the love of Christ for God, for us and for all.

‘All is grace’.

The clue to effective living is to find that main thing reaching out continually in worship, prayer, study, service and reflection to grasp ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’. 2 Corinthians 13:14

Through this book, through Holy Week or in whatever way he opens to you I repeat the bidding of the last line of my book from Ephesians 3:19 'May you know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God’.  

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.