Sunday, 27 December 2009

Feast of the Holy Family 27 December 2009

A seemingly devout couple who spent hours bowed before a statue of the Virgin Mary were actually waiting for their mobile to charge. The priests in a Milan Church found the pair had been plugging the phone into a socket used to light up the statue!

Well this morning we also bow before Jesus, Mary and Joseph but to draw a greater power into service. I mean the power of love at the centre of the Holy Family.

This morning the liturgy moves from Bethlehem via Jerusalem to Nazareth. On Friday we celebrated the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Today we celebrate his childhood in Nazareth. As we heard at the end of the holy gospel, following the incident in the Temple: Jesus went down with Mary and Joseph and came to Nazareth. Or in Matthew’s account of his infancy his home (was) in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazarene’

I once went to Nazareth. I’ll never forget seeing two young boys at a well drawing water for their families. They could have been Jesus and his cousin John. The water was probably from the same source as that drawn on 2000 years ago, for wells do not move.

This morning we are all going in heart and mind to Nazareth, to the household of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We’re going, with the scriptures and the holy liturgy to seek inspiration from the Holy Family for our own families and for the family we enjoy here at St. Giles’ as a local expression of God’s never-ending family, the holy, catholic church.

As we go to Nazareth we find welcome, challenge and empowerment.

We find firstly a welcome. The hearth of Mary and Joseph is an open hearth. How could it be otherwise? How could this couple who welcome God into their earthly home be guilty of turning any away?

In the Holy Family there is hospitality, the generous reception of friends and stranger alike. We catch something of the extended life of the Holy Family in today’s Gospel story of Jesus getting lost in the Temple when the three of them travel in a large extended family. To enter the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is to find yourself welcomed into that great hospitable procession of the people of God into the heavenly Temple. Mary and Joseph remind us that we can never have Jesus to ourselves. To be a Christian is to be one with Mary and Joseph and Paul and Augustine and Francis and Giles – and the list goes on!

In the Holy Family we find the welcome that marks the church from its beginning, God’s people belonging to God and belonging together.

You and I haven’t chosen one another but God has chosen us together to be his family here in Horsted Keynes. Welcome one another says the Apostle as God in Christ has welcomed you.

In Nazareth we see also an image of Christian family, of mutual belonging. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are present to one another in a way we can only hope to imitate by the grace of God.

Our families need to go to Nazareth, so to speak, and to learn there how to be more present to one another.

This quality of mutual presence and attention is part of the welcome families are all about, the welcome of open ears and hearts, of people putting aside their own agenda in loving service of one another. What greater gift can you give to anyone than total, undivided attention?

As we go to Nazareth we find such a welcome – and also a challenge. It is the Feast of the Holy Family today.

There’s so much sentimentality surrounding Mary and Joseph we need to get back to scripture to see them as they are – two of God’s holy ones and holiness is nothing comfortable but rather something challenging. The infancy narratives in the Gospel give evidence of St. Joseph’s capacity to hear the voice of God and guide the Holy Family.

And Mary! If she had not been what we call ‘ascetic’, a woman set apart and well disciplined in the spiritual life, she would not have become the God-Bearer by whom God came down to live in your life and mine.

As someone wrote, it was as if the human race were a little dark house, without light or air, locked and latched. The wind of the spirit had beaten on the door, rattled the windows, tapped on the dark glass, trying to get in – and yet the Spirit was outside. But one day a woman opened the door, and the little house was swept pure and clean by the wind. Seas of light swept through it, and the light remained in it; and in that little house, a Child was born and the Child was God.

As we go to the home in Nazareth we encounter the challenge of holiness, what Pascal said was the most important influence in the world. We see a Holy Child formed by a Holy Mother and her Spouse. How can we enter such a home?

There are families I know where there is such a sense of the Holy Spirit that I am made to feel deeply challenged. Some households have about them a transcendent quality, a joy that is pointer to heaven our true home. This is also true of churches. Just welcoming visitors is not enough. They need to be challenged, intrigued by what they see inside our buildings, both the worship of Jesus and the people of Jesus in their self-lessness and joy.

I wouldn’t be here this morning if I hadn’t been bowled over by the awesome rites of a church I visited in Oxford over 35 years ago, a saint of a priest and many apparently humble, holy and humorous folk who gathered day by day to go unto the altar of God, the God of their joy and gladness.

This morning we go to Nazareth to learn in the school of Jesus, Mary and Joseph of a welcoming love and a challenge to holiness. Lastly we will find at Nazareth a source of empowerment.

For 2000 years people have been empowered by the saving grace of Jesus Christ born of Mary.

What a Saviour – a practical Saviour! As practical as his foster father, Joseph, in carpentry where Our Lord picks up his capacity to mend, yes, even families.

How many of us have had to bring our marriages and our families to be mended? To the Carpenter, the One who anoints and empowers and saves – and seen the difference Christian Faith makes.

How much we need to get back to Nazareth, to Jesus, Mary and Joseph and see there a work of intense spiritual transformation open to all. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour (Luke 2:52). He did so that we too might increase in the same fashion!

Either Jesus Christ makes a difference, either he is born ‘to raise the sons of earth’ or our religion is moralistic do-gooding. If Christianity is about ‘do gooding’ it is only in the sense that Christians have access to a power beyond this world that incidentally helps you do what is right.

For that empowerment, for the challenge and welcoming love the Holy Spirit brings we go in gratitude once more this morning to Nazareth!

Through modelling Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may our families and our church be places of welcome so that people may find a home with us and with the Lord!

May our families and our church be challenging places where people get intrigued by Jesus Christ living in the midst of his people!

Father grant that our families and our churches may become places of spiritual empowerment where we share in the anointing of your anointed Son, who with you and the Holy Spirit live and reign, One God for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas all age eucharist 2009

A lady’s looking for work and sees a sign on a house: “PAINTER WANTED.” So she goes to the house and knocks on the door, telling the owner, “I’m here for the paint job.”

“OK.” The guy hands her a couple cans. “Here’s the paint. I want you to paint the porch.” She says, “No problem,” gets the paint and sets off to work.

It’s not very long until she knocks on the door again. “All finished.”

Handing over the money, the owner exclaims, “That didn’t take very long!”

“I even gave it two coats,” she says, pocketing the money. “And oh, by the way, it’s not a Porch, it’s a Ferrari.”

So what did we get for Christmas? A Porsche, a Ferrari – I need a new car. No, I got a battery charger – and…. anyone do better than that?

Come on children, cheer me up! Who got a Spiderman action toy, an electric scooter, a Twister video game, a Batmobile

Children share the presents they’ve received.

There’s a couple of young ladies who got an early Christmas present. Grace and Sadie Hitchen. Grace, what did you get for Christmas at Hooters across the road?

Baby John Barnabas Hitchen – baby Barnie.

Let’s have a look at Barnie because we’re going to bless him during the prayers today.

Applaud Barnie

Who else got a baby as Christmas present?

Mary and Joseph

At Christmas we get some great presents but we also have a reminder of the greatest present human beings have ever been given, the gift of Jesus.

Each year we remember the wonderful thing that happened in Bethlehem 2009 years ago.

God became a human being and began life in the household of Mary and Joseph as a little baby.

We welcome afresh God’s gift, the gift of Jesus.

What difference does the coming of Jesus make?

I’ll tell you but first let’s see if we remember a memory line I gave you a few months back.

The Son of God (hands up) became the son of Man (touch heart) so that children of men (touch shoulders) could become children of God (hands up).

What do I mean?

The other week I was walking under some power lines. You know, really high power cables that were carrying electricity from one place to another.

As I walked under the power lines I looked up and saw loads of birds on the lines.

I thought to myself, because I could hear the humming, how can those birds sit on the cables without getting frazzled?

Can any adult tell me why birds can sit safely on power lines whereas if the cables fell on us they’d kill us?

For electricity to flow you need to complete the circuit. If a bird could touch the cables and the earth power would flow through them.

God carries power. It’s the power that upholds the universe. Among the creatures in the universe one creature was specially designed in his image. Anyone know which creature on the earth is made specially like that?

A human being

Now God wanted to bring his power to play in the lives of human beings. Not so they’d get frazzled but so they’d be strong enough to do great things for him on earth.

What happened? He came down to earth and completed the circuit by becoming a man in Jesus. The Son of God descended from the power lines. He didn’t get frazzled but he did go through some stuff. Jesus, the Son of God became Son of Man. He died, rose and gave the Holy Spirit so all who received him could be part of God’s powerful circuit.

St John says at the start of his Gospel (1.12) to all who received Jesus and believed in his name Jesus gives power to become children of God.

Christmas is about getting God’s power into your life. We sang at the start of the Eucharist about Jesus being born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. It’s true he does raise us and empower us.

Let’s try the memory line: The Son of God (hands up) became the son of Man (touch heart) so that children of men (touch shoulders) could become children of God (hands up).

Last thought, especially for grown ups.

It may be Christmas finds you a little overwhelmed. You may even identify with the jobless lady I told you who messed up the Porch, sorry Ferrari. Maybe you’re fighting regrets about the past, anxieties about the future, whatever.

In that case you’re like a bird on a power line – you’re sitting on your answer. Complete the circuit. Let God empower you for a new flight by welcoming Jesus today. Here’s part of your answer: the truth we’re here to celebrate at Christmas. Christ’s Mass is, simply stated, the bread and wine God ordained to keep the circuit operating after Jesus came down to Bethlehem in Palestine.

God was man in Palestine and lives today in bread and wine. Here is power for living and the best present God gives at this time – Christmas Communion, here for the taking and receiving, and available not just at Christmas but all the year through.

Midnight Mass 2009

The battle to save the world is one between expanders and restrainers.

The Copenhagen climate summit set those wanting economic expansion with rising consumption against those who want to restrain growth to save the planet.

George Monbiot, an avowed restrainer, sees this conflict as a battle to redefine humanity. Some want us to become more greedy. Others want us to become more philanthropic.

The expanders want our western economies to grow much as in the past with a trickle down to the needy. The restrainers want us to change so we can live mindful of the human race as a whole.

It’s hard for a species used to ever-expanding frontiers to accept that our survival depends on our living within limits.

This is a good illustration of what Christmas is all about.

We’re finding through a rather long and painful way round what God has been trying to tell us since the coming of Jesus we celebrate tonight.

God is into restraint as the basis for right expansion.

Isn’t the coming of God to earth the biggest illustration ever upon the earth of restraint?

His coming to Bethlehem restrains him, as clearly as the child Jesus was restrained in swaddling bands.

Jesus is restrained so the world can expand into new freedom.

Just as Jesus was bound to set us free we must be bound, the human race, the world, must be bound to enter the glorious liberty of the children of God.

The clue to following up the Copenhagen summit is accommodation between restrainers and expanders. Accommodation is also what tonight is all about, what Christianity is all about.

In Christ God can accommodate to human circumstances and we can accommodate to God.

This is a wonderful night because it shows extravagant love to be at the heart of reality. Extravagant love that bears restraint, because true love does just that for the one it loves.

My love for someone, my children for example, is demonstrated more by the pain I suffer on their behalf than by the gifts I shower on them. So it is with the Lord our God.

The nations of the world will serve the human race not by expanding unbridled self interest but by adopting costly restraint. So it is with the Lord our God.

In coming to live as one of us God did not express unbridled self interest but costly restraint.

By coming to live in a stable with the poorest of the poor he says to us, ‘I’ll accommodate to you. I’ll change for you. I’ll serve you and help your life expand - though it costs me’.

Jesus came and died for us. God accommodated to our nature and brought it into his. When we ponder all the restraints Our Lord endured we know God expects nothing of us he’s not prepared to go through himself and we recognise the invitation he gives us to share his divinity.

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining; it is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

Jesus died in our place to live in our place and show us our worth.

He accepted the ultimate restraint of death so we could expand into the divine nature. That’s the Christian good news.

As we heard in the Christmas gospel from Saint John: The Word became flesh and lived among us…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God

Or as we read in St Paul’s letter to the Philippians Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.

Christmas is a grand commemoration of the love that accepts restraint and teaches us to do likewise in the service of one another.

It’s costly to adjust your life to others. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel some cost in becoming your servant and parish priest. All those endless expectations to be served, yet balanced by much loving support and appreciation, not least the many Christmas cards for which our thanks.

A last thought. Some people see Christianity as a sort of straitjacket.

They mock our commitment to forgiveness, faithful marriage, giving to God’s work and so on.

They think we’re bound and want to free us to be happy pagans!

But we have freedom. Don’t we? To know you’re loved as extravagantly as we’re loved by Jesus is something tremendously freeing. Human beings are most free and alive in loving relationships.

We become ourselves in love - but loving relationships always involve restraint and a loss of independence.

‘Is it easy to love God?’ ‘It is easy to those who do it.’ From the outside it looks like a strait jacket but from the inside it feels like heaven.

Think of a world class singer and the hours she puts in training for her performance. How she adjusts her use of time to the cause she loves! Is she in a strait jacket?

When we gain a heart for the great cause that will outlast us all – the cause of hallowing God’s name, building his kingdom and accomplishing his will - we lose lesser concerns. Christmas and New Year is a time for taking up training, like the vocalist, to improve our Christian performance.

God help us and the world to restrain ourselves and keep close to Jesus giving him our devotion, so his kingdom advances in Horsted Keynes as more of us see our lives expanding into the glorious liberty of the children of God!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christingle service 24th December 2009 4pm

You’re all going to get a Christingle now but what on earth is one of them.

Well the main things are the candle which stands for God and the orange that stands for the world.

What’s the connection between an orange and the world? Who can tell me?

It’s round

What’s the connection between a candle and God? Who can tell me?

God is light.

The best image we could ever have for God is light.

Just think of what goes missing every night. What goes missing?

The sun

We miss the sun because the world’s kept going by it day and night. We miss the sun because the world turns round every 24 hours so everyone on it gets heat and light and their crops grow.

The sun’s the most important object to the world because it brings it heat and light.

It’s a big clue to thinking about God our Maker.

But the world doesn’t just have objects like sun, earth, moon, seas, fields, and houses. It’s got persons – you and I for a start.

We’re actually the biggest clue to God in the world. The fact there are billions of thinking and loving people points to a Maker with a very big mind and a very big heart.

The Christingle orange stands for the world. The Christingle candle stands for God.

The Christingle red ribbon stands for the blood of Jesus who came to die for the world.

How do you explain that?

Hands up if you’ve got a fish tank in your home?

What happens when you go close to the tank?

The fish fly away.

I sometimes think about God as like a lover of tropical fish.

If you love tropical fish you get a big tank for them like God made for us when he made us the world.

If you love your tropical fish you take care to get the water warm for them, just like God’s made the world warm enough for human beings compared to other planets. You also feed your fish, just like God provides the crops of the field and the animals for us to eat.

But those tropical fish, they’re yours, you care for them and you feed them, but they’re scared of you! When you go up to the tank they dart away from you!

You’ve got tropical fish but they’re not keen to be friends with you.

God made us but we dart away from him. We run away from him.

So what did he do at Christmas?

He came to be one of us in baby Jesus.

The coming of Jesus to us is as if the tropical fish owner became a tropical fish. In that way he could be among his fish, get known by them and make friends with them.

It cost him. When he came into the tank to make friends the fish caused problems. They turned on him and bit him to death. That didn’t stop him doing what he came for though. When he was killed he rose and moved back to his home in heaven. In doing so he opened a way for us to be like God for ever outside the tank of this world in God’s own world we call heaven.

The Christingle red ribbon stands for the blood of Jesus who came to die for the world.

Baby Jesus is the Son of God become Son of Man – he’s the tropical fish owner become tropical fish.

As the candle is stuck in the Christingle orange the Son of God has stuck himself into our world. He did so to make a way out for us, as if the tropical fish owner changed the fish so they could live in his house and not in a fish tank.

You see this world is like a fish tank. Christmas reminds us of another world that’s deeper than the oceans and higher than the heavens God wants us to be part of.

The Son of God became the Son of Man so children of men could become children of God. Let’s say that and act it out.

The Son of God (up) became the Son of Man (heart) so children of men (shoulders) could become children of God (up).

It’s Christmas Eve and we’re looking forward to bedtime and waking up to presents. Mum and dad brought us to church tonight to remind us that the best present of Christmas is baby Jesus.

Baby Jesus, the Son of God became the Son of Man so children of men could become children of God.

Because Christians know that gift we’re glad to give to others. This service has a practical outcome. We’ve got a collection for the work with needy families of the Church of England Children’s Society.

During the collection you’ll get your Christingle.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Advent 4 The Blessed Virgin Mary 20th December 2009

Mary is there for us without getting in the way.

Do you know what I mean?

We should be there for people, especially at times of need, but without getting in the way.

This is the art of Mary – and it should be ours as well.

Sometimes people are so ready to help others that their desire to help becomes a hindrance.

I’ve mentioned C.S. Lewis’ lady before, the one who said she lived her life for others. Lewis writes how she did so, sadly, without discernment – so you could tell “the others” by their hunted look!

By contrast Our Lady discerns where she’s actually needed. She accepts God’s appointments – at the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation, Cana in Galilee, Calvary, Ascension, Pentecost – we can trace her faithful appearances right through the New Testament.

Mary is so good at being there for Jesus that for centuries Christians have entered her prayers to draw themselves to Christ by following through his life in the mysteries of the Rosary.

She is there for him. Only once does she slightly seem to get in the way. There’s a passage in the Gospel where we read of her coming with her family to pull him back from some task and being given something of a cold shoulder.

Mary’s art, however - pretty well a perfect art - is first to be there and then second to put her Son and not herself centre stage. Do whatever he tells you she says at the marriage in Cana making herself the humble instrument of solving the wine crisis by pointing to Jesus.

I am the handmaid of the Lord she says the first time we meet her in scripture, when the Angel came to announce her divine motherhood: Let what you have said be done to me.

Shall we not love thee, Mother dear, whom Jesus loves so well

To love Jesus is to love his mother – and to take a leaf out of her book.

Trust, obedience, humility, expectancy, persistence, faithful love – all of these we see in you, Mary, Mother of the Lord and our Mother, Mother of the church. Our Lord Jesus gave you to us as he gave you to St John on Calvary: Woman behold your Son, Son behold your Mother!

The church invites us to look this morning towards the mother of Christians, Mary most holy.

Behold the one who brings Christ forth so that you and I in turn can be Christ- bearers!

We’ll do nothing to bring Christ into the world unless we’re there for God and for people.

We’ll do nothing, either, to bring Christ into the world if we serve God and other people dutifully whilst deep down serving them on our terms rather than theirs.

That’s not the religion of the child in a manger but the religion of the dog in a manger!

We Christians are called to let Christ and his kingdom prevail. This means being like midwives who come sympathetically alongside people and situations that cry out for attention and help what God wants to come to pass. We stand by, we facilitate, we pray, knowing our place as unprofitable servants – and, praise God, we see Jesus build his kingdom.

When someone we know loses someone they love we go to them to be with them. No sermons on life everlasting, thank you, just being there and making them the centre of attention and through that helping them see the source of our attention for them as if in God.

We get in the way very often when we speak spiritual truths to comfort – I’m speaking as a preacher and one who’s still learning this one. In everyday life people want love and the promise of prayer before they want theological explanations let alone encouragements to come to church.

When Mary went to Elizabeth in today’s Gospel she listened to her cousin first and praised God second. The evening prayer of the church would be all the poorer if Mary hadn’t praised – we love her Magnificat. Its context though is telling. Mary’s Magnificat came out of a time of listening. Our Lady came from listening to God in her Annunciation to the hill country where she first listened to Elizabeth and to her story of her child leaping in the womb. Mary listened and affirmed Elizabeth, bringing the two of them to God in prayer.

Mary is there for people without getting in the way. To learn from Mary is to be a pupil in a school of listening because listening brings us close to people and to God.

The world cries out for people ready to listen! There’s so much around us telling us what to buy, who to trust or not trust, where to go on holiday, how to spend our time, improve our health, invest our money – there’s so much information coming at us day in and day out, so much that tells us, so little that will listen to us.

Who will make us their agenda so to speak?

They say that the rising demand for alternative medicine is less about confidence in aromatherapy or whatever as about buying someone else’s time for an hour’s attention.

At the heart of the renewal of the church’s healing ministry is the truth that being a good Christian is being a good listener to God and neighbour and, yes, self.

You can’t actually be a good listener to other people unless you get discernment from listening to God as to the people who need your ears and the self-awareness that stops you putting your foot in it when you listen and attend to others.

Mary could forget herself and be there for God because she knew herself as loved by God. Because she had an ear to God and to her own dignity she had an ear to the needy – to this day!

Holy Mary attends to your needs and mine right now interceding for us before the Lord!

We’re entering a celebration which will bring many of us close to relatives for longer times than we often spend with them. Can we see a missionary opportunity?

We’re soon to be in a position where we can give something more of ourselves to our friends and family. How can we best do this?

By listening to God with Mary. Mary treasured the things of Jesus we’re told and pondered them in her heart.

The more real Jesus becomes to us and in us, not least through Christmas Holy Communion, the more our actions over Christmas will be 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? By listening to God and then secondly to ourselves with Mary. Mary encourages us to a positive self-regard. The Almighty has done great things for me. Take stock of all that Jesus is doing in your life and rejoice! Take stock also of the ingrained selfishness, the ‘dog in the manger’ bit so you can give it to God in confession. Take stock of how you and I at times put the work of the Lord before the Lord of the work. It’s when we get too busy in the Lord’s work that our own selfishness can become sadly all the more evident.

Why must we be so busy? What’s the agenda? My kingdom or God’s? The quiet voice of the Child in the manger or the bark of the dog in the manger?

If I have plans to serve the Lord through my family or neighbour or church beware! Listen to yourself as Mary did and distrust yourself if necessary.

Maybe Jesus is more interested in making you a waiter who waits for orders than a workman who plans to work for his master as he or she sees fit and messes up. We mess up in life very often as a result of not checking up with God on the best forward course of action.

With Mary let us see what God wants be done in and through us and in and through our church.

Let plans to serve give way to waiting for orders!

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 in these coming days with our outer ears let’s keep two inner ears listening to God and to our own reaction to what you hear lest it get in the way.

Like Mary let’s be there for people without getting in their way. Being surrendered ourselves, as at this Eucharist, to whatever God wants of us, to be made a Christ-bearer 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 me to a waiting world!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Advent 3 Faith & Reason 13th December 2009

You can’t see God but there are pointers and John the Baptist is one of them.

God’s unseen-ness is a major stumbling block to Christian belief in a materialistic world. People too often believe in, or rather value, only what they can see.

Ask a married blind person though if they believe in the love their spouse has for them. Not only can they not see their wife but they doubly can’t see intangible love. All the same in my experience of blind people they know the love their spouse has for them.

Similarly it’s possible to experience God’s presence and love without seeing him with our eyes. That’s what we’re about in Church this morning in fact. God making himself real to us through the words of a book, through bread and wine and human touch.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Jesus once said.

There are many unseen things in life that are really important. People who complain at God’s invisibility don’t complain they can’t see electricity or the air around them.

We see the effect of the wind even if we can’t see it directly. Similarly though God is unseen he can be experienced by faith.

I’ve strayed a little from John the Baptist. He is a historical pointer to God.

He pointed to Jesus. As one in the great succession of prophets he also pointed to injustice. Like Zephaniah in our first reading he shared God’s heart to save the lame and gather the outcast.

John pointed to human wrongs but first he pointed to divine goodness.

Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world he said, pointing to his cousin.

When God landed on the earth he came into a specific place and time and culture for which St John the Baptist was herald. He didn’t land out of the blue.

Christianity is well thought out. It’s well thought out because it’s from the mind of God no less! You can’t rubbish Christianity as a blind faith because it’s a faith that’s rooted in history. There are few faith traditions so rooted in unambiguous historical events.

Listen again to that very specific account that introduces the third chapter of St Luke’s gospel which is today’s gospel reading: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip, ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

No wonder historians of all ages have applauded St Luke, whose gospel we’re reading in Year C of the Sunday Lectionary, as being one of them. You can check his historical facts. We can consequently be 95% certain John the Baptist and Jesus Christ met in the River Jordan where the first baptised the second. Because the ancient dating schemes slipped forward about 6 years we’re pretty certain that the baptism of Jesus in his 30th year by St John occurred in 24AD just as the first Christmas was probably 6BC.

When John baptised Jesus we read in several New Testament accounts that the Holy Spirit was seen to come down on him. There was also a voice from above, said to be from God the Father, saying You are my Son.

Jesus came into his own as Son of God at his baptism. He was conceived of the Spirit from Our Lady but the Spirit came upon him in power in a second anointing that occurred in the River Jordan at the hand of St John the Baptist. In today’s Gospel we read: As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. St John in a parallel to this passage in Luke Chapter 3 writes: He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God (1.33b-34).

You can’t see God but at one point in history you could because God became one of us. John the Baptist was sent as the pointer to this. More than that, a pointer to the one who’d help everyone who wanted to know God to know God and share God’s life for ever.

To be a Christian is to share the baptism or anointing of the Holy Spirit who makes the invisible God known as surely as the wind makes the air known.

It’s implied in the Bible that God is invisible to protect us from his glory. This invisibility serves our freedom to love without being manipulated. If he were visible that would dramatically affect our freedom to grow in pure love. By being invisible God can be with us without overwhelming us. He can stand at a distance to grant us freedom to make our own decisions including the decision to love him and our neighbour and ourselves.

A God we could see would actually be less wonderful than the God Christians believe in. We’d be able to contain him in our minds! Instead the Christian vision of God is one that expands continually from our limited dimensions to his unlimited ones. If you want a magnificent God the price you pay seems to be that of worshipping a God that’s invisible to mortal eyes.

The magnificence of God is shown to us by St John when he points to Jesus. The Jesus he points to goes on to demonstrate God’s magnificence by 3 years of teaching, a voluntary death, a glorious resurrection and Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit upon believers which is the way the Church finds God made real to her.

How can I believe in a God I can't see? I’m tempted to answer ‘you wouldn’t need to believe in someone if you could actually see them!’ Faith, as the letter to the Hebrews puts it, is conviction of things unseen (11:1).

The question ‘How can I believe in a God I can't see?’ is really the question ‘how can I find faith?’

A quick answer is ‘you should ask God for it, ask him to open your inner eyes to his all powerful yet invisible presence’.

I remember once my faith going right into the doldrums. It really burned low, so low I went back to the monastery at Mirfield where I trained as a priest and asked for help.

Maybe it’s not God who’s gone but your vision of him, the monks said. Pray for a vision of God more to his dimensions and less to your own they said. For three days I prayed a prayer rather like God, if you’re there, show yourself! He did – I survive to tell the tale – he spoke to me through a leaf on a tree.

I made you. He said. I love you. I want to fill you with my Spirit. That he did, though I’ve leaked since.

Asking God for a vision of himself more to his dimensions and less to your own seems always to bear fruit. Faith grows – it enlarges, especially if it is enriched by prayerful reading of the Bible and celebration of the sacraments.

You can’t expect great things of God if you don’t believe he’s capable of them. The wonder of Christmas is its magnification of the Lord. The very thought that he who contains all that is could come to Mary’s womb, could come to this altar in bread and wine – could come into this heart and that heart and that heart! It’s an astounding thought really.

It’s faith that opens up such a vision. Now let’s be clear, faith isn’t a feeling you can work up or enlarge. It’s our capacity to compass God through an ongoing decision to reach towards him and be energised by him.

Christian mystics write of faith as a practical commitment. In the medieval Cloud of Unknowing the anonymous medieval author describes faith as an ‘eager dart of longing love’ that reaches out to touch God and release his possibilities into our situation.

John the Baptist pointed to God so that we too could be drawn to reach out to God ourselves.

Faith always takes us out of ourselves towards God and neighbour.

When C.S.Lewis asked himself ‘Do I believe?’ he said his belief seemed to go - just like when he asked himself in the midst of pleasure, ‘am I enjoying myself’ his enjoyment seemed to go. Both actions, he said, are like taking one’s eyes out instead of keeping them in the right place and seeing with them. Faith like enjoyment has its focus outside of self.

How can I believe in a God I can't see? You need to make a decision. That’s what faith is – a decision to act as if God were there and to be energised by a power quite outside and beyond oneself.

To have faith is to go beyond and not against reason. As John Donne wrote Reason is our soul’s left hand, faith his right, by these we reach divinity.

Both faith and reason lift us to God and in Jesus God himself reaches down to us revealing himself to both our reason and our faith. In St Luke’s record of history of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ we should see a reasonable case for the Incarnation, the coming of God upon the earth.

Here, in the coming of Jesus that Advent centres upon, what we believe and what we see come together.

As St John writes No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (John 1:18)

You can see him now with your mind and heart’s eye - in his word, in the breaking of bread, in our Christian fellowship.

St John the Baptist invites you again, for his words are true today as they were yesterday and will be tomorrow: Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

Look at Jesus with both your faith and your reason. Look at him! Look at him and welcome him this morning in word and sacrament!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Advent evensong with conscience examination 6th December 2009

Isaiah 40.3 A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord’

I want this evening to say a few words about repentance building on teaching I gave last Sunday.

Repentance means turning, turning humbly to God and to my brother and sister in sorrow for sin.

Repentance is also a thoroughly practical business. It means coming humbly before God and then practically before my neighbour, both of whom are hurt by my sins. It is no good mouthing religious words in church to God without the practical back up of asking forgiveness from the people we have hurt.

Christians change their lives by amputation not by compromise. We go places – we go to heaven – by our decisiveness under God.

If only we could see what we’re missing through holding back from a deeper repentance!

A preacher was on his way to Church but had a row with his wife. Hard words were exchanged. As he closed the garden gate the Lord said, “Go and make peace with your wife.” “But Lord,” he protested, “I’m already late!” “O.K.”, the Lord replied, you go and preach your sermon but I’ll be staying here with your wife.” Because he was a man of God he went back to the kitchen. When he finally made it to Church he preached one of the most powerful sermons of his ministry.

Every decisive act of turning to Jesus is costly to pride - but it brings with it the gift of the Spirit and a fresh empowering for Christian life and ministry.

Advent challenges us to deeper repentance, for some of us through the use of the Sacrament of Confession. You may have notices there are set times in the news sheet and one of them is after this service.

It’s a subtle trick of Satan’s to make repentance look lurid and not as down to earth, boring and matter of fact as it really is for most Christians. If you read the newspapers you will see terms like repentance and sin most always associated with a lewd life-style. In a similar way we see the word love devalued by being equated with physical sex.

Anyone who thinks sin is just sexual sin has been brainwashed by the devil!

Take unforgiveness for example. Unforgiveness is probably just as destructive a sin as sexual misdemeanour though the red letter press tell us a lot about unforgiveness, don’t they?

Or self-sufficiency. Living as a self-made man worshipping your creator! Where will that lead you?

In Advent season the church calls us to deepen our own obedience and generosity towards God and neighbour.

A boy stole one of his father’s cigars. Hurrying off to a secluded place he carried his prized possession. Cautiously the lad lit the cigar. It didn’t make him feel too good but at least it made him feel grown up. That is, until he saw his father coming. Quickly hiding the cigar behind his back, the lad tried desperately to look casual. Hoping to divert his father’s attention the lad spotted a poster advertising a band coming to play in town. “Can I go, Dad? Can I go to hear that band when it comes to town? Please, Dad?”

The father’s quiet reply contains a vital lesson for all who want to have their prayers answered.

“Son,” the father replied, “one of the first lessons you need to learn about life is this: never make a petition while at the same time trying to hide a smouldering disobedience behind your back.”

How many of us are hiding a “smouldering disobedience” even as we beg the Lord to answer our prayers? Indeed, Advent could be a chance to evaluate just why some of our prayers are not being answered and to maybe trace back the cause to areas we are shown of unrecognised disobedience. This will deepen the repentance we are called to. Christians change their lives by amputation not by compromise.

Our decisive welcoming of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament in church should focus the decisive welcoming of the Lord in every circumstance that comes our way – and our decisive casting aside of temptation to evil.

Jesus is as ready to meet us in the circumstances of our life as He is to meet us in the Sacrament of Bread and Wine. We need to repent – to turn away from evil to Jesus - again and again, hour by hour.

I believe we can only be glad at heart and overflowing with the life and joy of Jesus if we do so!

A person who is not resigned in a positive way to the will of God revealed to them in the circumstances of their daily living is someone who’s being worn away and destroyed. This is exactly why St. Paul encourages us to "give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" 1 Thess 5v16 18.

Advent is a call to decisiveness in preparing the way of the Lord deeper into our hearts. We need to be decisive with weeding out the things that have no place in a Christ filled life.

Let us keep silence for a moment.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Bluebell railway carol service short thought 5th December 2009

I’ll tell you what I like about steam trains. They’ve got soul.

Do you know what I mean?

They don’t run with diesel. They run from a burning furnace!

That’s a soul.

There’s soul in all we represent here at Bluebell railway. We even name our engines and talk about their personality.

Human beings have souls. It’s the bit inside of you that makes you you.

Some people have colder souls than others. Oh yes, you may be feeling the cold tonight in your body, but many of us feel warm in spirit. Cold hands, warm heart – you’ve heard the saying!

If human beings have souls it’s because we’re more than an assembly of molecules.

In some ways humans have become like giants.

Through jet engines we can fly faster than sound.

With radar and sat nav we’ve got giant eyes powerful enough to see through fog and darkness.

Electronics has given us giant ears to amplify the slightest whisper, turn it into a shout and hurl it round the world.

Our harnessing of nuclear energy has given us giant fists with which we can wipe out whole cities with a single blow.

God sees all of this.

He’s given us Christmas because he knows human beings with giant eyes, ears and fists won’t remain giants for long without giant souls.

God gave us life so we could have his life and have it in our souls.

A steam engine slows when the furnace burns low. Though God made us we soon run down. We all too easily grow cold and dark inside.

To use another image, human beings are like computers with infected hard drives. We’re the victims of forces that depress us and make us do damage to others.

The forces of sin work inside of us like a virulent computer bug, slowly and methodically reducing the order within us until, sometimes, all that’s left is a dark screen.

The Christmas gift of Jesus is given to light up our lives, just like a computer buff sees to lighting up a closed down computer.

That’s why we’ve come tonight to carol with Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds and kings!

Because God who gave us life gave it so we could have his life - and have it in our souls by the gift of his Son.

In a Channel 4 documentary last April there was a fascinating presentation of everything consumed, produced and to some extent experienced by the average British person in a lifetime.

We walk 15,464 miles. We speak 123,205,740 words. We earn £1,537,380. We drink 15,951 pints of milk. We dream 104,390 dreams. We’re drunk 0.7% of the time. We smoke 77,000 cigarettes. We make love 4,229 times. We eat 4 cows, 21 sheep, 15 pigs and 1,200 chickens in our life time.

Makes you think! Christmas is a time for reflection - hence this short thought, which has almost run its course.

As we reflect in a Christian country the figure of Jesus is rightly set before us at this season.

Tonight we read again of his birth and its foretelling by Isaiah who said this: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.

St John starts his story of Jesus with similar words: the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it.

When this station was built Sussex churches were packed compared to today. Yet in Africa, China and South America nowadays you’ve got to almost fight your way into many churches.

Over all the earth, down through twenty centuries the warm light of Jesus has continued to shine.

It’s given to lighten our minds, warm our hearts and energise our lives - if we will welcome it.

Just as the light of the coal and its heat energises the cylinders of our trains the Christ Child is given to energise our living, warm up our souls and to get them moving in worship and service.

Bluebell is a voluntary association with a corporate vision.

So’s the Church of England, so’s Christianity – and both visions link to a burning furnace!

Over Christmas there’ll be opportunities for many of us to stoke our inner furnace.

God has given us life – that’s a statement you can argue about, but, either way, you can’t alter the claim.

He wants to give us his life – here’s where Christianity helps break new ground in human living.

There’s a refuelling possible in life. There’s a warming of the heart. There’s a joy from outside of ourselves waiting to come in if we’ll but welcome its source.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let ev’ry heart prepare him room.

Let’s sing again and warm our hearts as we do so!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Advent Sunday Repentance 29th November 2009

I want to say something this morning about repentance.

To repent of something is to resolve to discontinue some sort of wrong doing so as to get even more upon the right track.

Our whole calling is one of repentance and twice a year the church dresses in purple, drops flowers and Gloria’s to give us a grand reminder of this.

The scripture readings chosen for Advent Sunday touch on our need for fulfilment at the Lord’s return. They are a reminder of our need to get more on the track that heads towards God.

Jeremiah’s warning from chapter 33 of his prophecy that days of fulfilment are coming relates to God’s promise to restore the house of David and called the Israelites who first heard it to a new expectancy. God’s restoration was nigh, that of ‘The Lord our righteousness’. The coming of Jesus is seen as the first stage of fulfilling this promise. The establishment of righteousness upon the earth and his second coming Christians believe to be the final stage that Advent season particularly underlines.

In today’s second reading from his first letter to Thessalonika Paul’s emphasis is on seeking the holiness without which we won’t be able to see God. May he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Advent season is a quest for holiness. We even have a Holy Hour on Wednesday evenings with this in mind. An hour of quiet in Church before the Lord, a simple introduction, some scriptures for people to read in the silence if they want and the invitation to strengthen hearts in holiness mindful of the Holy Communion we share week by week but often in a manner that is hurriedly prepared.

Christmas means Christ’s Mass and there is an Anglican tradition of careful preparation for Christmas Communion. The bible is very clear on the need for careful devotional preparation before receiving Communion – or, more bluntly, the need for true penitence. This is why St Paul writes to Corinth examine yourselves and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

One wonderful expression of repentance and aid to this struggle against sin is to celebrate with a priest the sacrament of reconciliation. People get confused about the Anglican use of confession. It isn’t mandatory as in the Roman Catholic Church but it’s on offer as a sacrament or means of God’s grace. It’s particularly recommended for use before the sacraments of healing, confirmation, marriage or ordination as well as a means of deepening the significance and holiness of the sacrament of the eucharist we receive week by week.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them Jesus said to the apostles. For twenty centuries this ministry of freeing from sin has continued in his church particularly through the ordained ministry. It’s a bible-based sign in which individuals are given a welcome home to God and his church through the minister.

This ministry complements the assurance of forgiveness given to all Christians through prayer and the promises of scripture. It is commended in the Prayer Book so I intend advertising the sacrament of reconciliation before great feasts.

A lot of us, preacher included, agree with repentance but need to know what specific sins we need to repent of. Only the Holy Spirit can tell you! It helps to regularly examine your conscience with an eye to the commandments and beatitudes of God. The blood of Jesus is like detergent but it needs access to our spiritual dirty clothing. We need to spot the dirt by coming into the light of the Holy Spirit in whose light we see light to quote the Psalmist.

Another advertisement: we have a special Evensong and Advent conscience examination next Sunday to build up the spirit of repentance at St Giles.

Yet another advertisement on sin is the mnemonic for the seven deadly sins: PALE GAS Pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice and sloth. I’ll repeat so you get the hang of them! Here are seven things to hate! Pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice and sloth They start with pride the sin of youth and end with sloth the sin of old age. Yes we can laugh but if sin, as it does in Greek, means falling short like an archer’s arrow, it is our negligences that are often most damning, along with our failure to live instrumentally.

Today’s gospel from St Luke ends with a call that I’ll make my parting shot. It comes a bit rich from a priest who blessed a pub this week – The Crown at its opening: Be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life…be alert at all times praying that you may have the strength…to stand before the Son of Man.

Have a blessed and holy and joyful Advent. Repent and believe in the Gospel!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

May Christ dwell in our hearts St. Swithun, East Grinstead Sunday 15th November 2009

Let us let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer of our faith. Hebrews 12:1

Our whole life as Christians is a looking to Jesus. Our life is this prayer and this prayer, this looking to Jesus is our life.

The Lord wants a deeper place in our life and that of our church because Christianity is always about getting more of Jesus Christ into our lives and shedding self-interest.

Our individual prayer time is foundational to this along with our gathering Sunday by Sunday on the Lord's Day, in the Lord's House, with the Lord's People. This is why we’ve all got an invitation to join our School of Prayer this week at St Swithun’s.

One of the most important things about our daily prayer is the time we give. Whatever we feel or don't feel at prayer it is the offering of 5, 10, 15 minutes daily that is pivotal. Time matters. It is also important to offer Our Lord what we might call ‘prime time’.

Time, and then secondly, place. There’s church of course, suitable for some of us. Most of us though have to find a prayer space at home. We need then to be quiet, but perhaps not too quiet so we keep our feet on the ground. We need perhaps to be comfortable, not so much that we fall asleep. Prayer invites attentiveness. Some people say a hard backed chair gives you that business like feeling. Myself I use a comfy chair, but try to kneel as well for some of the time.

Then what – as one definition puts it ‘prayer is a lifting of heart and mind to God’ and there are many different ‘airports’ for lift off. The aim of our course is to open some of these airports or ways of prayer up to you.

Wherever you lift off from you have to be ‘there’ to get a lift. Confession of sin before you pray is important – you want God to see the real you and nothing pretentious! The bottom line for prayer, for getting to a place of lift off, is honesty. To be there is also about getting down from your mind into your heart as well.

Tom Smail's baldness 'caused by the Lord banging on his head to get his religion from head to heart'- a vital 14".

I want this morning to address briefly six aspects of prayer, of looking to Jesus: listening, friendship, warfare, benevolence, recollection, and lastly empowerment.

1. Listening
Prayer, looking unto Jesus, is listening. You can’t look to Jesus unless you give ear to him, unless you attend to him.

Our whole life depends on right listening – to other people and to ourselves at times – but chiefly to Jesus. Through prayer we hear from God. We catch his inspirations for our life and for the world.

How do we look to Jesus in listening? A discipline of time offered to attend directly to God.

Michael Ramsey’s quote – he jokingly said he prayed only for 2 minutes but went on to admit it took him 30 minutes to get there.

Scripture is a means of looking to Jesus through listening to his Word. We read in Hebrews 4:12 that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

We’ll be looking during the week at the power of imaginative listening to scripture. A basic piece of advice on praying from scripture is to read through prayerfully until God touches your Spirit and then hold yourself at that point once such a prayerful impulse has been given to you.

2. Friendship
Looking to Jesus is about friendship. We seek our friends’ attention and he seeks ours. When friends meet they light up and so it is with Jesus and ourselves as we come before him in contemplation.

When did you last sit in quiet before the Lord? What is it that keeps you from doing so? Could you imagine Jesus your friend doing you any harm?

Contemplative prayer has been described as ‘spiritual radiotherapy’. St Augustine once said that the whole purpose of life is the healing of the heart’s eye through which God is seen.

Heart surgery of the Holy Spirit: the melting of coldness within is like a defrosting by the heavenly microwave!

One aid to contemplation is to read a set prayer slowly, open for God to speak to you as your friend.

A major barrier to contemplation is the way our minds get so distracted which hinders our hearts from contemplation. This is where the repeating of short phrases that engage and focus the mind can be helpful as in the Orthodox Jesus prayer. This involves repeating again and again the gospel prayer Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. The value of the Jesus Prayer is commended all through the Christian tradition as in the writings of St. John Chrysostom: Abide constantly with the name of our Lord Jesus, so that the heart swallows the Lord and the Lord the heart and the two become one. Please don’t hesitate to talk to the prayer guides, to myself or your clergy if you want guidance on the Jesus Prayer or any other of the forms of prayer suggested in this booklet.

Looking to Jesus in prayer is about listening and building friendship, about lighting one another up so that in the words of Nehemiah (8v10) the joy of the Lord [becomes] our strength.

3. Warfare
Prayer, looking to Jesus, is thirdly warfare against the deadening spiritual impact of the world, the flesh and the devil. Prayer is warfare because Jesus calls us to a fullness of humanity that involves our shedding constraints, shaking off what Hebrews calls the weight and the sin that clings so closely (12:1b). He who is in you, St John says, is greater than he that is in the world. 1 John 5:4

In prayer we see ourselves in a true light and take action in the name of Jesus against the dark forces that impel us. Hesychius of Jerusalem writes: As it is impossible for the sun to shine without light, so it is impossible for the heart to be cleansed of the filth of wicked thoughts without prayer in the Name of Jesus…let us utter this Name as often as we breathe.

The battle that is prayer comes much into its own when we attempt self-examination. This has been described as like going under water. You experience an up thrust, an opposition. There is a power at work totally opposed to self-knowledge. Satan is fearful of both our knowing God and our knowing ourselves. He wants us to live in ignorance so that we can comply with his schemes! So we battle on – in the spiritual warfare that is prayer!

4. Benevolence
Looking to Jesus fourthly is benevolence, the capacity to enter the good will of God for all people, especially in intercessory prayer. This is a feature of prayer that the St Swithun’s exploration will major on in the coming week.

Christianity is not merely a doctrine or a system of beliefs Thomas Merton wrote, it is Christ living in us and uniting people to one another in His own life and unity. For Merton a hermit monk there is only one true flight from the world; it is not an escape from conflict, anguish and suffering, but … flight from disunity and separation to unity and peace in the love of other [people]. This benevolent spirit of intercession is captured in St. Paul’s invitation in Galatians 6:2 to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.

We look to Jesus to be with us as we intercede. He lifts us up into his perfect Offering, most especially in the Holy Eucharist. In intercession we come before the Lord with people and needs on our heart to entrust them to him with confidence.

My wife Anne’s prayer for Catherine that bore fruit after 11 years

Through intercessory prayer, in the words of Professor Hallesly we couple the powers of heaven to our helplessness…the powers which can awaken those who sleep in sin and raise up the dead … that can capture strongholds and make the impossible possible.

5. Recollection
Looking to Jesus is prayer of recollection, prayer that takes stock of your life and celebrates what God has done and is doing and, looks forwards to what God is going to do in us and through us.

Another feature we will be majoring on in the fortnight ahead is the value of prayer journaling. This is the discipline of keeping a sort of written conversation with the Lord so that we can trace his working in our lives. 'Tis grace both led me safe thus far … and grace will lead me home.

Just an idea, even if you can’t make the sessions. Why not in the coming week attempt a review of your life? Look back over your years and recollect with Jesus the five biggest spiritual milestones along the way, your five most powerful desires, your five worst fears. Recollection is about such reminiscing or calling to mind. It is also about ‘collecting again’ or recovering control of oneself. Through looking to God we gain self-possession.

Attention to God, mindfulness of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian life. The recollected woman or man inhabits her or his words, is able to be present to Jesus at all times so that Jesus can be in them and show through them. As the orthodox spiritual writer Fr. Bulgakov puts it The Name of Jesus present in human heart, communicates to it the power of deification … shining through the heart, the light of the Name of Jesus illuminates all the universe.

6. Empowerment
Looking to Jesus lastly is empowerment. You will receive power he said, when the Holy Spirit comes Acts 1v8. Well he has come, at baptism and confirmation, the birth of our Christian commitment - and in the receiving of Holy Communion - but we need to invite him deeper into our lives by praying regularly for the Holy Spirit. Earlier in Luke 11 Jesus says with a great emphasis ask, and it will be given to you. If you being evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Looking to Jesus is an empowerment especially by the word of God and the gifting of the Holy Spirit. You do not have James warns in his letter (4:2) because you do not ask.

When we persist in asking we can from time to time feel God’s touch upon our heart, see some sort of vision or be led to some particular scripture verse as we look to Jesus. This is charismatic prayer, literally graced or given prayer in which our looking to Jesus and waiting before him is answered by a heavenly gift.

To summarise, prayer, looking to Jesus, brings some wonderful experiences. It’s also a matter of perseverance, as Michael Ramsey reminds us with his 2 minutes prayer within half an hour’s devotional time. We need spiritual determination if we’re going to get anywhere in prayer though prayer itself kindles such enthusiasm and determination. Let us run with perseverance then the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus through listening, friendship, warfare, benevolence, recollection and empowerment. May the Lord turn our eyes more and more upon himself in the coming week!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

British Legion Remembrance Service 8th November 2009

A few words to help the scripture readings inspire our act of penitence.

We heard from Saint John the text for Remembrance Sunday: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

All who die in war give for their country. They have given for us, as if we were their friends. For your tomorrow we gave our today.

Whether readily or unreadily our dear dead gave themselves. We have benefited from their offering. It is an offering that points us to the heart of Christianity in all that Jesus has given to us.

A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire the great works of art.

When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.

About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands.

He said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly. He often talked about you, and your love for art.”

The young man held out the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture. “Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It’s a gift.”

The father hung the portrait over his mantelpiece. Every time visitors came to his home he showed them this portrait before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected.

The man died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection.

On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?”

There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.”

But the auctioneer persisted. “Will someone bid for this painting. Who will start the bidding? £100, £200?”

Another voice shouted angrily. “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Gogh’s and the Rembrandts, Get on with the real bids!”

But still the auctioneer continued. “The son! The son! Who’ll take the son?”

Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the long-time gardener of the man and his son. “I’ll give £10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford.

“We have £10, who will bid £20?”

“Give it to him for £10. Let’s see the great masters.”

“£10 is the bid, won’t someone bid £20?”

The crowd was becoming angry. They didn’t want the picture of the son. They wanted to buy the more famous pictures for their collections.

The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, sold for £10!”

A man sitting on the second row shouted, “Now let’s get on with the collection!”

The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry the auction is over.”

“What about the paintings?”

“I am sorry. When I was called to conduct the auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought this painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets everything!”

It’s true – as the Bible says – whosoever takes the Son gets everything.

God gave his son for us as the father in the story saw his son given in combat for others.

Much like the auctioneer God’s message today is: “The son, the son, who’ll take the son?” And whoever takes the Son gets everything.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son so who ever believeth shall have eternal life.

Remembrance Sunday 8am

It’s the intention that really matters.

Oh, yes, the road to hell is often paved with them, but the combination of good actions with good intentions is what the worship of God and the building of His Kingdom is all about.

This morning later on we will be standing before our Cenotaph with thousands of other congregations led by Her Majesty the Queen at Whitehall as we pay tribute to the war dead of this and every nation.

On Remembrance Sunday we recall the sacrifice of the few for the good of all.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. It is a good and sweet thing to die for one’s country.

But is it? Reading the poetry of Wilfrid Owen might lead us to question such a sentiment.

Once again it is the intention that really matters, the heart’s intent.

When we look at the names on a Cenotaph, under such an epitaph as I quoted, there are awkward considerations to be made.

Many of those men and women had no intention of laying down their lives at all.

At the same time, if we are talking about those who sacrifice in war time, there will be many whose names are not among the dead who had an intention to offer themselves for their country but whose sacrifice was incomplete.

But was it incomplete and non-sacrificial because they lived on?

Sacrifice is about love before it is about death.

It is the intention that counts.

Here at the Holy Eucharist we commemorate a sacrifice which is a death and very much more. Here day by day we recall the intention, the willing obedience of Our Blessed Lord offered in the garden secretly and on the Cross on high.

Our Lord gave Himself by intention at the Last Supper Table and in Gethsemane to interpret and fill with the richest meaning His agony the next day upon the Cross.

For us who celebrate the Eucharist Sunday by Sunday it is also our intention that matters. It is not the whole of the matter, of course, for we also receive grace, but what we put into this worship, not least our desire to offer ourselves, our time, talents and treasure to the praise and service of God, is pivotal.

The secret of renewal and mission in a parish is to be found at the altar in the sense both of what Jesus gives to us but also in the sense of what we have to offer from the heart with Jesus to the glory of God in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.

It is the intention that counts.

Among Mother Teresa’s most powerful sayings is one that surely gets to the heart of her many good works: it is not how much you do that matters but how much love you put into the action.

Sacrifice is about love and not about death. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:3

For us the challenge of Remembrance Sunday is one of the purification of our intentions, the cleansing of the thoughts of our hearts.

As we offer this Eucharist of Requiem for the war dead is there a desire to consecrate your energies to God’s praise and service or are their whole realms within you that lie unconsecrated, broken off from the wholeness of your discipleship?

Our prayer today is one of dedication. Here am I, Lord we are saying, with all my mixed motives.

Here am I with my energies and with so many possibilities before me for good or ill.

Here am I, Lord ready to do your will, ready to be generous with you in this Eucharist and with those you lead me to serve in the week ahead.

It is the intention that really matters – at the Eucharist, in War, in Mission, in Life…

So pray my brothers and sisters brethren that this my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father. Amen.

Monday, 2 November 2009

All Souls' Day 2 November 2009

The Bible begins and ends in a garden, the garden of paradise. We read in the opening pages of Scripture that "God planted a garden eastward in Eden". In that garden "the Lord God walked" and He walked in close friendship with man.

The refusal by man of friendship with God led him into exile from that garden. No longer in peace with God and nature, man saw his garden overgrown and his destiny to labour by the sweat of his hands. Again and again God offered his friendship. Speaking of his people Israel, God said through Isaiah in Chapters 51 & 58: Her desert shall be like the garden of the Lord…you shall be like a watered garden.

Finally God came himself in the flesh, taking our human nature, to walk in a garden. St. John says in Chapter 18 that over the brook Kedron in Jerusalem there was a garden, and into that garden the Son of God came to sweat blood and tears for our redemption. Man created to walk with God in a garden is redeemed by perfect obedience offered by perfect humanity in a garden, the garden of Gethsemane.

That redemption is finally revealed to believers in a garden. Now in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. They laid Jesus there.

Then on the third day the Risen Lord Jesus stands in that garden and addresses the weeping Magdalen: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away". Jesus said to her, "Mary." she turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (Which means teacher).

The gate of heaven is opened to all believers in a garden, the Easter Garden! She supposing him to be the gardener. St. John recognises the significance of that empty garden tomb and the hailing of Christ as "Gardener".

Was it not fitting that He who had acted in creation to form man in a garden should also recreate man in the flesh of his own glorious humanity once again in a garden? And walk once again in a garden, side by side with women and men restored by the resurrection to new friendship with him, through the will offered in Gethsemane and the blood on Calvary?

Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, walking with our Redeemer in the resurrection garden is a pledge of the eternal destiny of all who welcome what Jesus did for them in the garden secretly, and on the cross on high. We too will walk one day with our redeemer in a garden!

For the Bible ends as it begins with a garden. St. John the Divine writes in chapters 2 & 22 to him who conquers, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God...then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb.

Man created in a garden had his eternal destiny opened up in Gethsemane and the Easter Garden and he will enjoy that eternal destiny in another garden, the garden of paradise. Of this garden scripture uses few words save an affirmation that no unclean thing shall enter there and that those who enter must be washed in the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. No good works, however good, lived by the holiest of men will provide robes suitable for the garden of paradise where man is to walk as first intended, in step with God.

It is All Souls' Day and our thoughts and prayers focus on those we love in Christ but see no longer. Inasmuch as they are washed in His Blood, inasmuch as they plead Jesus' perfect offering and not their own righteousness, Scripture says they will have a place in the garden of paradise.

Yet no unclean thing may enter there. Unrepented sin in the heart - this has no place in a Saint destined to walk eternally at the side of a holy God. So our thoughts turn into prayer today as we pray for those we love but see no longer. We pray a washing and cleansing of hearts set on Christ at the hour of their death, so that their uncleanness may disappear and their entry into paradise be gained.

As we pray we recognise that we cannot change the basic orientation of departed souls, only beg the Lord to speed the cleansing and entry into eternal joy of those He is drawing already to himself.

The cleansing of souls I speak of reminds me of my own cleansing of an old Vicarage garden in North London. Where the potential is there the Lord allows it to blossom by removing all constraints, just as I removed the briars and ivy to see that garden flourish on the slopes of Alexandra Palace. Our prayer for the Holy Souls today and always is like my efforts in the garden - in both cases we help God to have His Way.

All Souls' Day reminds every mortal man and woman of their approaching death and the offer of an eternal destiny. That destiny is not automatic. It needs to be sought from the One who planned it in that first garden of Eden, won it in another garden of Gethsemane and now welcomes Holy Souls washed by his spirit in his blood into the garden of rest eternal and light perpetual, of gladness unalloyed and perfect bliss.

God make the picture words falteringly make of such a garden, a word picture supplied by the word of God no less, into a reality for us and all those we love in Christ but see no longer.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord - and let light perpetual shine upon them! May the garden of paradise be their eternal recreation!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

All Saints’ Day 1st November 2009

We will see him as he is, and all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3.2-3

We shall see him says St John. The Christian hope set forth on the Feast of All Saints is no less than this.

We shall see him and this is a call to purify ourselves, just as he is pure.

Three thoughts spring out of the scriptures set for this morning. In the first reading we are reminded that heaven is something corporate, something we shall see. In the second reading we are reminded that heaven is the vision of God no less and that is exciting. The third Gospel reading is a call to purify ourselves, just as he is pure for the Saints are those who have been poor in spirit, pure in heart and so on.

We shall see him

I don’t know how you see heaven but my wanderings round the National Gallery inform what imagery I have. That together with a natural longing to be for ever with those I have loved on earth. My favourite image in art is from Fra Angelica’s Last Judgement in San Marco, Florence. There you have a ring of saints dancing for joy on Christ’s right contrasting with a confused, disordered, anxious crowd on his left.

Heaven is for many people centred on the departed more than God but it is both that feature. You can’t have one without the other in the Christian vision. We shall see him and yet it is a vision that will be seen corporately.

The vision of God is too wonderful for me alone. As the letter to the Ephesians puts it we need power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. The vision of God can only be comprehended with all the saints. It can’t be privatised!

This is the understanding we receive from the first reading from Revelation chapter 7 which speaks of a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Yes it’s not an image for the claustrophobic! There won’t be claustrophobia in heaven thank God! The nearest I can think of coming to this image on earth was an occasion I attended in Lourdes, the afternoon Procession of the Blessed Sacrament attended by several thousand pilgrims holding national placards – China, Australia, Romania, Canada and so on – but led by people in wheelchairs! What a powerful Christian, inclusive image.

There’s a movement called inclusive church working for women and gays. I would not dare to criticise it, of course, but inclusion in Christianity is something much more profound and far reaching than liberal Anglicanism.

True inclusivity is this – the democracy of the dead! It’s the inclusion through the Risen Christ of people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages before the throne of God.

We shall see him. And as at Lourdes the last of us will be first. Those who’ve been bottom of the earthly heap and borne it patiently will lead us. Those from far off lands, and those missionaries who have laboured to reach them, will be up front. Those of us who’ve been complacent about the lost will lose places up front to them.

There must be some hierarchy in heaven, of that I’m sure.

Like many I visited the relics of Saint Therese of Lisieux in Westminster Cathedral last month. She likened heaven to a garden with big flowers and little flowers. She was content to be a little flower in that garden. I’d rather think of her as a heavenly rhododendron bush and myself as a dandelion or a blade of grass – anyway the Saints will be Saints together. To use Therese’s image, together they make up a garden, for which you need both grass, flowers, bushes and trees.

Some forms of Christianity are good at throwing a line to unbelievers and drawing them in. They go on to promote their spiritual development as a one to one hotline to Jesus. Today’s Feast presents the drawing power of Jesus not as a line but as a net. The communion of saints is a net that by example and prayer draws us together around the throne of God to worship him day and night within his temple.

We shall see him

Our second reading from St John’s First Letter complements the first that reminded us heaven is something corporate. It reminds us that to be a Christian is to live God centred in hope of the heavenly vision of God. Let it speak for itself: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this; when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

I remember vividly a scene in the play A Man for All Seasons in which Thomas More stands before his accusers. He swears to be truthful saying he believes any untruthfulness will lose him the beatific vision. It is the thought of seeing God face to face that sustains him, and indeed sustains many of us in our tribulations.

This is the one true and only blessed life Saint Augustine writes to Proba that we should contemplate the delightfulness of the Lord for ever, immortal and incorruptible in body and spirit…Whoever has this will have all that he wishes…There indeed is the spring of life, which we must now thirst for in prayer, so long as we live.

To believe in heaven is to yearn for reunion with those we love but see no longer. It is a reunion of mortals after death with all the saints. Yet it is only so because God who made all and sees all for the sake of the sins of us all sent his Son to live and die and open up the kingdom of heaven to all believers. It is Christ’s resurrection that holds mortals beyond death. What other hope is there?

It is significant that in the 20th century liturgical reform no feast days are allowed to eclipse Sunday because it has been strongly redefined as the Day of Resurrection. Today is the Lord’s Day on which the Lord’s People gather around the Lord’s Table. Only two Feasts can strictly eclipse Sunday – All Saints Day and the Feast of the Virgin Mary. All Saints Feast is itself a Feast of resurrection!

We shall see him because Christ is raised to welcome his faithful who have left this world in his friendship. In the words of the liturgy There we hope to share in your glory when every tear will be wiped away. On that day we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you for ever through Christ our Lord, from whom all good things come.

We will see him as he is, and all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

The last scripture we heard this morning was the Beatitudes reading from the Sermon on the Mount. The beatific vision comes to those who live the beatitudes – those words beatific and beatitudes link to the Latin root beatus which means blessed or holy one.

The holy ones, saints, blessed ones are those who are poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers who mourn for the lost and bear persecution for righteousness sake. All of the qualities Our Lord lists are in his own person, so to be a beatus, a saint, is to be Christ-like.

In Christ there is no sin. In us there is sin and the need to be purified throughout our lives. This is why we offered the ministry of reconciliation, confession, before today’s feast, not that purification from sin occurs only in that way, but as a means of grace some find helpful to overcome the lower nature.

Today is All Saints Day and the focus is on heaven. Tomorrow is All Souls Day and the focus there will be on the purification from sin we need to get to heaven in this world and the next. It says of heaven in the second to last chapter of the Bible that no unclean thing will enter there (Revelation 21.27). That is why we pray for those who have died with unrepented sin that they will be cleansed and fitted for the vision of God.

All Saints Feast is a call to purify ourselves, just as he is pure. We won’t have eyes to see God without purification. This is a painful truth. Heaven isn’t automatic. It is the fulfilment of your desire for God. The whole of our earthly life is not the book of our life but its preface in which we learn an eager longing for God so that it can be satisfied in his praise and service in the real life to come.

To live in such a comfortable society is no blessing when it comes to getting to heaven for being comfortable flannels self love and heaven is for selfless love. Being comfortable panders to my needs whereas the ultimate Christian vision is corporate, one in which the least brother or sister is to be seen as the most important.

May this Feast of All Saints bring us comfort and discomfort.

We shall see him as he is – what a comforting thought!

And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. How discomforting!

There is work ahead for us all!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Bible Sunday Mark 10.46-end 25th October 2009

It’s Bible Sunday. This morning we have a reminder that there are really two tables at which we feast on Christ: the table of the Word of God and the table of the Blessed Sacrament.

Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God our Saviour said as he was strengthened by the memory of his Father’s word in the desert. All scripture is breathed out by God, Paul says to Timothy, scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Christians believe in the Bible, because we believe in its ultimate authorship. It contains the promises of God which cannot fail. We believe in the Bible out of love for its ultimate author. The words of scripture are there because Jesus is the Word of God through whom all things were made. The scriptures bless us. The Holy Spirit who inspired their writing can inspire us as we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.

Yet, sad to say, without the Holy Spirit who leads the church forward into all truth (John 16:13) the scriptures fall on deaf ears.

The Bible is God’s Word in our words. It’s also the family album of the church tracing God’s action back to our first days. Christians believe in the Bible but look to the church to guide them to its truth.

What about the factual errors and inconsistencies people say they find in the Bible? We don’t need to defend the Bible here because we have God’s promise that it contains the truth necessary for our salvation. This doesn’t make the Bible, for example, a science text book because it addresses the why questions more than the how questions in life.

Approached with humility the Bible brings spiritual encouragement. Approached with argumentative pride it presents a different picture. Christians believe the Bible can’t be mistaken as it presents the good news of Jesus to honest seekers.

It’s true there are difficult passages. Mark Twain said pointedly it wasn’t the passages of the bible he didn’t understand that troubled him so much as the passages he did understand! On Bible Sunday we salute God’s word and pledge to heed it more profoundly with our lives.

People mention sometimes the violence in the Bible especially parts of the Old Testament. The church uses these passages carefully and only in the light of Christ who fulfils the Old Testament. The sacrifices offered in the Old Testament point towards the meaning of the Cross as the fulfilment of the scriptures.

When we say as we shall say in a moment ‘on the third day he rose again’ we add ‘in accordance with the scriptures’. Without the framework of God’s dealings with Israel in the Bible the Christ of the Gospels would be a beautiful picture but one without a frame. His entry into history would be one unprepared and unexpected.

Through the Bible God’s people welcome this frame for all that Jesus stands for as well as the word and promises of God that bring power and direction into the life of the church.

If the Bible to do its work in us, then the starting point is to somehow get the words of the Bible into us. Once God’s word is in our lives it can start to challenge our values and opinions, to set off the process Paul calls ‘the renewing of your mind’ so that we will not ‘conform’ ourselves to this world, but let God 'transform' us (Romans 12.2).

So what can we do to get more into the Bible and more of the Bible into us?

You could make it the basis for a daily or maybe occasional special prayer time. Dedicate a time. It needn’t be first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It could be part of your lunchtime routine, a way of getting away from the desk. Choose a portion for study, maybe Mark’s Gospel which takes an hour and a half in total to read for an average reader. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you miss a few days. If reading the Bible is difficult, why not buy one of the readily available CD or MP3 recording and listen to that?

You have the texts of the Sunday readings to take away each week with the thoughts on them given by the preacher. If you miss Church on a Sunday you can check the church website for the readings and sermon. This is an opportunity to thank our web master David Ollington for his work on keeping the site updated week by week.

There are some bibles at the back of Church if people want to use them when they come to pray in Church. Each of us, or each family, should ideally have a bible in modern translation. The New Revised Standard or New International Version are in wide use. There is also a very popular American paraphrase called The Message that folk are finding helpful. Buying a new modern translation can be a helpful tool to awaken us to the meaning of the original text, the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament.

You could subscribe to Bible study notes. I have listed some resources in the news sheet. There are a few taster copies at the back of church today of Bible Alive, Closer to God and Every Day with Jesus

You could join St Giles weekly bible study, the Tuesday 1.30pm Life and Faith discussion group which is currently looking through the Acts of the Apostles. We have more group Bible study planned during the coming year especially in Lent.

In all of these ways we can develop our understanding of how to apply the teaching of God and his church in today’s world through reflecting on what the Bible says and how best to respond in our situation.

I want to use my remaining time to demonstrate how one might look prayerfully through a scripture passage using today’s Gospel from Mark Chapter 10 verses 46-52. Let’s have another look at this passage.

Look at v46: As Jesus left Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road.

1) Holy Land Geography meant Galileans coming to Jerusalem Feasts came through Jericho to avoid Samaria

2) Jesus approaches his Passion of 20 pages of Mark's Gospel 10 are about Holy Week & Jesus' suffering, death & resurrection. Chapters 1 10 set the scene for Chs. 11 16 and our passage is the last word before Palm Sunday

3) The large crowd were no doubt drawn not just to Jerusalem for Passover Feast but drawn to travel with Jesus to Jerusalem.

4) The preoccupation of Jesus with his coming Passion...the last few days of teaching before His saving action...the pressing in of the all of this Jesus is open to the Spirit drawing him to stop and give his all to one needy person...Bartimaeus son of Timaeus.

Wonder at the availability of the God Jesus shows us...

v47 8 second paragraph: When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, 'Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.' And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, 'Son of David, have pity on me.

1) Join with Bartimaeus with his special gift of faith in hailing Jesus as who He is, the 'Son of David', the Messiah, the One promised in the Old Testament who would bring in God's rule over all evil. The One Isaiah said would 'open the eyes of the blind'.

2) 'Have pity on me'. Can I join with Bartimaeus in that cry to Jesus? The prayer of the lips has to become the prayer of the heart. Only when I admit my need for God deep down can He fill me deep down - however many times I pray with my lips...

3) Note the determination and persistence shown by Bartimaeus. He wasn’t messing around with the Lord He meant business. Have you got business with God this morning? Facing Jesus means facing yourself and all that falls short in your life, your relationships, your sin.... Yet the Lord has deep compassion. Our sins are but dust before Him.

Read v49 52 last paragraph: Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him here'. So they called the blind man, 'Courage’, they said, ‘get up; he is calling you'. So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus. Then Jesus spoke, 'What do you want me to do for you?' 'Rabbuni', the blind man said to him, 'Master, let me see again'. Jesus said to him, 'Go; your faith has saved you.' And immediately his sight returned and he followed him along the road.

1) Notice the eagerness and openness in that action of throwing off the cloak. Much of Christian discipleship is a matter of 'throwing off the cloak'. Facing God, letting God into areas of our life He knows full well about but needs our permission. It's up to us not Him to reveal ourselves, to cast off our cloak bit by bit for the healing work of the divine mercy.

2) Jesus said to him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' What a blind beggar in front of him and Jesus asks 'What do you want me to do for you?'? Jesus in this testing question might have been making a final check on whether Bartimaeus really wanted to lose his blindness it was after all a source of income. If we want to be healed we must be prepared to face the consequences – for Bartimaeus it would mean earning his own keep rather than begging...

Bartimaeus gained access to a greater beauty than physical sight can show us, the beauty of Jesus in his fullness as Lord and Saviour.

This Bible passage was written nearly 2000 years ago about Bartimaeus and Jesus. If we have welcomed the Holy Spirit this passage is seen to be really about God and I.

I am Bartimaeus in need of sight and light on my life's journey.

I am Bartimaeus persistent in prayer, determined to get what God wants for me.

I am Bartimaeus ready to throw off the cloak of pretentiousness and open my life to the Lord.

And if I am Bartimaeus Jesus is the Son of God, the same yesterday, today and always.

He is present right now as he was in Jericho and is willing and capable of flooding my soul with Light, Glorious Light.

Let us turn our thoughts into quiet prayer as we digest the word of God this morning