Saturday, 30 May 2009

Easter 7 24th May 2009

As a traditionalist I am enjoying being your Rector.

Blessing a steam train, speaking at the Mayfayre, making the Angling awards – the list grows of things I’m getting involved in that are vibrant traditions in Horsted Keynes.

It jars with the traditionalist in me that on this Sunday before Pentecost we’re preparing for a feast that is increasingly in-house and unknown outside church doors in our land.

The second feast of Christianity, Pentecost or Whitsun, is no longer marked nationally. I lament tomorrow. Spring Bank Holiday is a poor substitute, though be certain I’ll take a break in any case!

In the 2001 census 70% of people said they were Christian. Today one in seven say they go to church, far more than in France. Yet our friends in Cahagnes will have a holiday with their holy day and enjoy next weekend as truly Whit weekend – for that’s what it’ll be - in a less evidently Christian country than our own.

In former days the ladies of Horsted Keynes went to church in new white dresses on Pentecost, hence White Sunday, to mark the Feast.

What a Feast we’re approaching! Without Pentecost we would not know about Easter. The Holy Spirit who came upon the apostles (Acts 2) made and makes Christ real to all who open their hearts to him.

I said I was a traditionalist. There is a right, Spirit-led traditionalism and the people who know best about it are those who seek the Holy Spirit’s leading and judgement.

We should yearn to have that sense of what’s most important in our lives, in the life of the church and in the life of the world and the cosmos, a sense that only the Holy Spirit can give us.

Human traditions come and go but the great tradition, the great ‘hander on’ of vitality is God the Holy Spirit whose feast we approach with penitence and faith next weekend. In Eastern orthodoxy the Holy Spirit is actually called Tradition. He is seen to hand Jesus on (Latin: traditio) to generation upon generation through ‘the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (Acts 2:42).

As a traditionalist I love and fear the Holy Spirit. He is true Tradition, guardian of the church’s faith, but also the great challenger of the empty traditions we get ensnared with as God’s church.

Look at that first reading which showed us how the first apostles chose Bishop Matthias by throwing dice or casting lots. Compare it with the process that’s been in flow for six months to choose the next Bishop of Horsham. I’m not comparing Bishop Lindsay with Bishop Judas Iscariot – don’t get me wrong!!

Choosing bishops by casting lots is a lesser tradition that can be used by the source of true Christian Tradition, the Holy Spirit. Something like it is still used to choose Popes.

The next Bishop of Horsham will emerge from committee recommendations refined by the judgement of the Bishop of Chichester.

We Anglicans are episcopally led but synodically governed by committees – we get through, just about!

How much, though, do we need the Holy Spirit to give life to the church! Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love!

Some years back a Syrian Bishop, addressing a convention of the World Council of Churches, made this remarkable assessment which we might apply to our life together at St Giles:

Without the Holy Spirit God is far away.
Christ stays in the past,
The Church is simply an organisation,
Authority is a matter of propaganda,
The Liturgy is no more than an evolution,
Christian loving a slave mentality.

But in the Holy Spirit
The cosmos is resurrected and grows with the
birth pangs of the kingdom.
The Risen Christ is there,
The Gospel is the power of life,
The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
Authority is a liberating science,
Mission is a Pentecost,
The Liturgy is both renewal and anticipation,
Human action is deified.

As Saint Giles looks forward we need courage to ask the Holy Spirit to bring more life into all we do and to help us sift what’s important to God from all the pressing concerns we have as a church.

We want our traditions to be more His and less our own for the good of Horsted Keynes.

It’s a case of traditions being checked against the mainstream Tradition. I quoted the passage from Acts 2 which summarised the life of the early church which held to these core traditions: ‘the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (v42).

You don’t need a 1000 year old church and a beautiful spire pointing heavenwards to be traditionalists of the right kind, though I believe our church building largely helps us.

Ascension Day Eucharist 21st May 2009

This morning I drew out of the children that Ascension means: SAMTSIRHC

Show them this written large on a big piece of card.

It’s ‘Christmas backwards’ day. That explains everything we just heard about in the Gospel!

At Christmas God sent Jesus to earth as a child. On ‘Christmas backwards’ day, God takes Jesus back to heaven from earth as the first resurrected man.

He takes us up with him. Jesus shows us today that he came to bring us to God and God’s heaven

The Son of God/ became the Son of Man/ so that children of men /could become children of God.

To believe in the ascension is to recognise that in Jesus a human being lives over all things in God. Nothing gives us more hope for the human race than the ascension of Jesus. The angels tremble before the glorified humanity of Jesus Christ truly God and truly human.

What’s all this though about heaven above and seating on the clouds?

There’s a joyful great and ultimate achievement feel about the ascension but it’s clothed in an ancient symbolism that needs unpacking. In the scriptural account Jesus is taken beyond sight into a cloud for God is beyond sight. When the Creed speaks of Jesus taking his seat at God’s right hand it speaks of mission accomplished by the Son of God but with a picture in words of a reality beyond human imagining.

Why the ascension and seating with God?

How else, God replies through Scripture, could I be with everyone in every age to bring them my comfort and challenge? Before he ascended Christ the Lord promised that the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name … will teach you all things (John 14:25-26a).

God brings his love to one point and time in Jesus so that he can reach out to every point and time, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:11).

In the glorious ascension of Jesus Christ human nature is changed and raised up to God so that angels tremble before it.

As the English Hymnal Office Hymn for Evening Prayer today expressed it:

Yea angels tremble when they see how changed is our humanity;
That flesh hath purged what flesh had stained, and God, the Flesh of God, hath reigned.

In the glorious ascension of Jesus Christ human nature is changed and raised up to God so that angels tremble before it. We humans are raised above all things. Children of men raised to be children of God!

The towering greatness of the universe is shrunk before our greatness! Angels tremble before the awesome dignity of a human being who is the first fruits of a renewed humanity.

What a truth! What a motivator for seeking justice upon the earth - that this due dignity be rendered to every human being!

If the ascension is truth, it’s truth to set people alight if ever there were truth at all!

We live at a time when so many of the worlds problems are perceived a due to a lack of investment linked to a lack of trust.

Today’s feast reminds us by its consequences of the great hope we have to share with the world.

God has invested in our condition – that’s the truth above all truths about human beings.

We’re made in God’s image to be like God, sharing the divine nature.

So we lift up our hearts – this service is a day by day invitation to such uplift, an uplift that traces back to Ascension Day.

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens, so we in heart and mind may also ascend – and with him continually dwell.

By lifting our hearts this evening in the Holy Eucharist we make an act of obedience which is a submission to God’s truth, the truth of Christ. This act of self-commitment has power to give us life beyond this world. It’s a birth into a higher life.

As Thomas Merton wrote: To believe is to consent to a creative command that raises us from the dead.

Our Lord ascended and as we grasp him, and all that he is to us and has done to us, taking him at his word, he gives life to our mortal bodies.

The Son of God became the Son of Man so that children of men could become children of God.


Easter 6 17th May 2009 Love one another

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all have our “Lulus” be they in families or in Churches. And we too may be someone else’s “Lulu”.

You may be an aid to the uprooting of self love in your husband or wife or Rector or parishioner!

Churches are voluntary associations. The quality and strength of our association depends on how much of the pure love of God is among us.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

Our Lord defines love in today’s Gospel from John chapter 15 not as an emotion but as a costly commitment, the costliest of commitments in fact.

Pure love is centred on the one that is loved. It’s found only in God who loves everything that is, just because it is, including you and me with all our inadequacies.

God loves each one of us as if we were the only ones to be loved.

Each one of us has a unique fingerprint (show finger) to show we are made and loved with a Maker’s special love!

You did not choose me but I chose you Jesus says to us today. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love.

Our gratitude for God’s love is demonstrated in our readiness to love him back and to love our neighbour. The surer we are of his love the easier we can brave the “Lulus” in our world.

Pure love is detached and unselfish. It expects very little back and can deal, as Jesus deals, with those hard to please who give you no thanks for trying.

When I am preparing couples for marriage I always suggest that the popular understanding of the phrase ‘I love you’ is close to ‘I love me and want you’.
Love has an erotic element, a platonic friendship element, but above all it has a commitment element as Jesus sees it and lives it.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus did so – with blood, sweat and tears. Married couples do so for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health ‘til death do them part. This is the ideal – the Christian ideal – a love that can’t be called back again, mirroring the love of God shown to us in Jesus Christ upon the Cross.

Pure love wants the best for the other and has no agenda of its own apart from that.
Such love helps keep marriages together – and churches.

Pure love – the unselfish love of Jesus – makes a church, giving it cohesion rather than cosiness. As our members gain such cohesion we become more effective and collaborative as a body that sees love covering a multitude of sins in its midst, overflowing generously outwards in mission.

Loving brothers and sisters in Christ can be hard because we haven’t chosen them – God has chosen us together. This is why Our Lord promises us the Holy Spirit to help bind us together.

You did not choose me but I chose you the Lord says. Together we are chosen, priest and people, each equally precious to God, chosen to build love in our community so that others may come to God its source.

We all have our own thoughts about what it is to belong to Saint Giles. The great thing is how people in the congregation can live with other people’s sometimes rather different views. Unless our own thoughts are complemented by such understanding and tolerance of how others see things our enthusiasm can get misplaced.

In particular the big difference I would suggest over belonging to St Giles is between those who see it as their church that they go to and those who see it as their church they don’t go to except on rare occasions linked to birth, marriage and death. For the sake of the second group of parishioners, we the first group of parishioners need to build an attractive unity of purpose that’s true to why St Giles was built in the first place. That’s what we’ll be about on 5th July if you can come.

Loving one another means tempering enthusiasms so they flow together. I can’t name any obvious examples but can give you an amusing illustration of misplaced enthusiasm in the life of the church

According to the newspapers, a heat wave was causing fainting spells so a young lady wasn’t surprised to see the middle-aged man next to her in church slump down towards the floor. Quickly she knelt down beside him, placed a firm hand on his head, and pushed it between his knees.

“Keep your head down,” she whispered urgently. “You’ll feel better if you get blood into your head”.

The man’s wife looked on convulsed with laughter and did nothing to help her husband or the young lady. She must be quite heartless the young lady decided.
Then, to her dismay, the man managed to break loose from her muscular hold and hissed, “What are you up to you meddling fool? I’m trying to retrieve my hat from under the bench!”.

We’ve all – if we’re honest – been “meddling fools” on occasions or we wouldn’t be human.

Humour is a good antidote. It’s OK to meddle with and mess up other people with misplaced enthusiasm provided we can say sorry and then laugh at ourselves for the mess we’ve made.

Oh, it’s a hard lesson, but it seems in my own experience to get easier with the advancement of years.

There are definitely two key truths in the Christian religion.

My fingerprint (show) reminds me of the first. I’m special, there’s no one like me. God loves me with a special love unique to me.

The other truth the Christian religion shows us is that, special as we are, we‘re all asses. I’m an ass and you’re all asses – since, to quote scripture, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We start every service by owning up to this in public.

We’re all precious to God but we’re all asses – this priest especially. To hold on to both truths seems to me to be the receipe for a healthy, humorous, cohesive and outward looking church.

This week has shown us our MPs are a load of asses. I don’t want to play down the disappointment we all feel over the expenses saga – it needs sorting - but we aren’t helped by the self righteousness of the media. Let’s admit it, we all have the self interest to make fools of ourselves and to do wrong when it comes to form filling!

Our Lord wants you to know two things – you’re an ass - but he really loves you. Pause.

Our spire invites people to gaze upwards to God because God gazes upon us, sees all and loves all.

How do you see the Lord’s gaze upon you this morning? So much of our imaging of God comes through our faltering images of authority figures, notably our parents. These images need purifying by a seeking of what God says of himself in scripture and of what God reveals of himself in the Blessed Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends as Jesus did

How do you see yourself this morning? As better than an MP? Beware!

The Lord bless you, help you with your ‘Lulus’ and grant you a deeper sense of his love through this Eucharist.

Then we shall better love one another as the body of Christ in Horsted Keynes.

Easter 5 10th May 2009

In the Holy Eucharist we offer ourselves as Christ offers himself.

We consecrate ourselves for whatever God wants in the coming week and the rest of our lives.

We also seek his guidance so that we’ll not only be there for God but not get in the way of what God’s doing.

Just look back at that first reading from Acts Chapter 8. It’s the story of how one man, Philip, having offered himself to God, finds himself in just the right place at the right time. The conversion of Ethiopia to Christ traces back to a court official reading the bible who needed an interpreter and the fact deacon Philip was there to help him.

Who knows how many of your friends and mine are awaiting an interpreter of Christian faith? What are you and I doing to get skilled in this?

Philip was led by an angel to encounter the Ethiopian eunuch. He did his bit and passed on, ‘the Spirit of the Lord snatched him’ away we’re told intriguingly.

A stitch in time saves nine. A word in time saves nine.

Sometimes people are stuck in their lives like a beached boat. They’re surrounded by just enough tide to be released to sail ahead – but they need a word of advice or encouragement to be launched off the beach.

By saying our prayers, reading and digesting the bible and offering our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice in the Eucharist we make ourselves available for God’s possibilities to be realised not only in our lives but in the lives of those around us.

As I’ve been trying to get around visiting you all and prayed at times with you, I’ve a sense of being used in that way – to be there you and God trying my best not to get in his way.

C.S.Lewis wrote of a lady who devoted her life to other people and you could tell who the other people were by their hunted look! God spare me from hunting parishioners like that.

That’s a few thoughts on the first reading. The Psalm, sung so beautifully for us, picks up the missionary outcome of the Acts reading: all those who seek the Lord shall praise him.

The second reading builds to my thinking on the first because it reminds us that Christianity spreads through loving communities. We have an individual role, like Philip, to engage with people and be there for them and for God but ultimately the best witness for Christ is a loving, intriguing community. People are brought to the Lord by a team in effect.

No one has ever seen God but if we love one another God lives in us. People see God in communities of the self forgetful. Actually the Blessed Trinity is himself a community of the self forgetful: the Father forgets himself for the Son, the Son for the Father and the Spirit is their self forgetful go between.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.
Perhaps God made the world to make himself a halo. You know that sort of crowning halo which can surround the moon at night. Could we see the love of the saints as like such a halo reflecting the giving and receiving of love from Jesus by his holy ones?

When churches on earth get that sort of intriguing, holy love they can draw people.

I was talking to a neighbouring priest last week. He was convinced that the occasional kindnesses of church members are the best draw for non members towards Christianity. Just as Philip responded to a request in the first reading from Acts, the second reading from the first letter of Saint John is a call to more active loving kindness in which we don’t just respond to requests but actively seek to give people what they need.

Those who say ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers and sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

If you’ve got a heart for other people you’ll recognise their needs. With occasional God given imagination you’ll be able to show them acts of kindness that touch them deeply as if from God. My family have felt some of this in the 10 weeks we’ve been living here.

The first reading calls us to be interpreters of Christian faith. We need better skills here, in so called Christian apologetics. This means offering an ‘apologia’ or reasoned defence of our faith. I’m looking for ways we can build such skills. The evening on The Shack is a starter – The Shack, I remind you, is a Christian book among international best sellers which looks at betrayal and trust from a spiritual angle. We want to use it as a way of helping people discuss deep things in our community, so we’ve booked the British Legion Club for 4th June.

The first reading calls us to be interpreters of Christian faith. The second reading calls us to loving kindness. The gospel tells us how we get motivated to do both of these – to share best words and deeds.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.

As a vine branch gets life from the sap of the vine so Christians gain life from Christ.
It’s not a matter of working up our faith but of resting in what Jesus has done for us.

In the Eucharist Christ takes wine and makes it his life blood and ours. This passage from John 15 echoes the earlier passage on the Bread of life in John Chapter 6. When we receive Holy Communion it’s a renewal of our grafting into Christ, of our covenant relationship. To believe in Christ is to draw life from him rather than from worldly ambitions.

In the Holy Eucharist we receive a revitalisation, just as we consecrate ourselves for whatever God wants in the rest of our lives.

Security in this world isn’t difficult. It’s as difficult as sunbathing. To abide in Christ is to rest on the rock of Christ in the sunlight of the Father and the energising of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer may be like sunbathing, a matter of receiving, but to pray, to abide in Christ is practically a disciplined struggle.

Take mental distractions! One great aid to overcoming such distractions in minds that get overheated at times is the Jesus Prayer. Its aim is precisely that expressed in today’s gospel, to serve abiding in Christ and gaining energy to speak of him and love for him. The Jesus Prayers is an Eastern Orthodox devotion in which you repeat continually some variant of Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. It’s said formally at set prayer times and also freely as part of the unceasing prayer invited by scripture

This gospel prayer expresses the good news of Christianity. It affirms both the coming of the Saviour and our need for his salvation. Based on incidents in the life of Our Lord it combines Peter’s act of faith in Jesus – You are the Son of God (cf Matthew 16v16) – with the cry of the Publican – have mercy upon me a sinner (Luke 18v13b).

The Jesus Prayer is a wonderful servant of the aspiration of today’s gospel: abide in me and I in you. It exalts the name which is above every name (Philippians 2v10b). You can’t repeat that name, the name of Jesus with a good intention without touching his person, God’s person. It’s really a form of Holy Communion without bread and wine and it effects an extension of our sacramental communion week by week. The Name of Jesus, present in the human heart, communicates to it the power of deification…Shining through the heart, the light of the Name of Jesus illuminates all the universe. Bulgakov

To pray the Jesus Prayer is to centre your life upon the good news of Jesus with the faith and prayer of the church through the ages. It’s a way of settling your life repeatedly back on the rock of Christ since the recollected repetition of the holy name of Jesus is found eventually to convey his close presence.

In the Eucharist we offer ourselves as Christ offers himself and we receive Christ afresh to carry him out to share him in word and deed.

We consecrate ourselves for whatever God wants of us in the future. This consecration continues inasmuch as we continually abide in Christ by saying our prayers, maybe using the Jesus Prayer, reading and digesting the bible, confessing our shortcomings and preparing the regular offering of our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice in the Eucharist.

God’s possibilities are waiting to be realised in our lives, just as they were waiting in the Ethiopian court official. God’s love is waiting to be poured out from us, through us as we read today in John’s first letter.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.

May the Lord settle us into a fresh, deeper abiding as we celebrate this Holy Eucharist.

Easter 4 3rd May 2009 John 10:11-18

What makes churches grow?

God, surely, but we can give a hand.

This is something of a summary of today’s scripture, notably the gospel reading from Saint John Chapter 10.

We’re reading Saint John’s Gospel today partly because there’s not enough of Saint Mark to stretch through the 52 Sundays of Year B in the 3 year Sunday lectionary cycle. John’s Gospel has a very different ethos to the other three synoptic gospels, literally side-by-side gospels, named so because you can put whole stretches of Matthew, Mark and Luke side by side and see the similarity. You can’t do the same with Saint John because this Gospel seems to have the historical Jesus and the risen Lord Jesus merged together.

For example in Matthew, Mark and Luke there’s a brief story Jesus told about the shepherd who had a hundred sheep and losing one left the 99 and went for the lost sheep. In Saint John chapter 10 we have an explanation from the lips of Jesus that he is that shepherd, the one who lays down his life for the sheep. St John has access to the heart of Jesus really, just as the beloved disciple rested on that breast or heart at the Last Supper.

The heart of the risen Lord comes leaping out of the gospel this morning – the heart he has for mission: I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also or these I must bring.

Churches grow because the Lord who died and rose and is with us wants that. He wants the human race to be brought together so that there is one flock, one shepherd.

It’s the Lord’s will that his church grows. We read in a parallel scripture from Saint Paul in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The foundational ‘why’ and wellspring of mission is God’s heart for the world. As we catch more and more of that heart from the scriptures and from the Eucharist we want to be missionaries who sow the love of God in the world.

As God’s people we need to be reminded of this and to seek more of God’s heart.

That’s one way we can give a hand, to get more enthusiasm and expectation for growth. The start of a new ministry at the Rectory is a privileged time for us all, to help build such faith for a new era in the life of Saint Giles.

If God desires his church to grow how can we help achieve this end?

We need to watch out for wolves, which means false teachers, and we need to better hear the Lord’s voice.

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

I wrote P&P this month how Bishop John Hind’s words at my launch still echo in my mind. They were based on 2 Timothy 1v14: “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us”.

This ‘good treasure’, Bishop John explained, is ‘the revealed faith of the church through the ages to be made public and open to all’ as opposed to ‘a set of religious opinions or arbitrary moral teachings’. John Hind’s wolves!

When Saint John wrote his gospel he was concerned to warn the Christian community about false teachers who denied the uniqueness of Jesus. They had opinions at logger heads with this.

Perhaps today’s wolves are the rather attractively broadminded Christians who hold that salvation is through any religion and not through Christ alone. Unless we avoid such thinking we won’t be well equipped to see the flock of Christ grow as he wants: these I must bring.

The uniqueness of Jesus is strongly affirmed in our first reading from the Acts Chapter 4 where in v12 we read there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we may be saved.

I believe that the questioning of Christ’s uniqueness in the internet age - which sets his claims against so many others - is a major undermining of Christian enthusiasm which we need to work through in our own thinking.
In the 2001 World Christian Encyclopedia 10,000 distinct religions are identified, 150 of which have a million or more followers. Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus is the only way and that the other 9,999 religions are false?
Everything hinges on the resurrection as our gospel indicates. There Jesus says I have power to lay my life down and I have power to take it up again. No other person who has ever lived has made this claim. The Good Shepherd theme is traditionally linked to Eastertide. Jesus is the fulfilment of Psalm 23, the Lord who is shepherd leading us through the valley of the shadow of death to his Father’s house. Only Jesus can do this because he’s passed through death to the final destiny of humankind. We can attain that destiny only through him.
Jesus died from what is ours wrote Saint Augustine. We will live from what is his.
Since death is something universal the claim that one man transcends it should make people sit up and listen to! Look at the leaders of the other religions, see their graves! Where’s Jesus’ grave stone – you won’t find it!

If one religion is true it seems bound to be at the expense of all the others. Is it totally a black and white matter though? Is Christianity right and every other religion wrong?

Saying yes to Jesus doesn’t mean saying no to everything about other religions. Quite the opposite – it can mean saying ‘yes, but…’ to other religions, which is a far more engaging attitude.

I say ‘yes’ to what Buddhists teach about detachment because Jesus teaches it and Christians often forget it. I must challenge Buddhists about the lack of a personal vision of God since I know Jesus as God’s Son.

I say ‘yes’ to what Muslims say about God’s majesty because sometimes Christians seem to domesticate God and forget his awesome nature. I have a real issue with Muslims about how you gain salvation because I know Jesus is God’s salvation gift and more than a prophet.

What makes churches grow?

God, surely, but we can give a hand by helping communicate the good news of Jesus as Son of God and risen Saviour.

We need to watch out for wolves, that is deceptive teaching, and we need to better hear the Lord’s voice.

These I must bring and they will listen to my voice says the Lord. We know that sheep can get used to their shepherd’s voice. If we are Christ’s sheep how can we get better attuned to what our shepherd says?

By confessing our sins, which unblocks our ears. By spending time in prayer. We can’t expect to hear God’s voice unless we show our desire for it by attending silently to him. Filling our thinking more with what the bible says helps. Sometimes the Lord’s voice comes in the underlining to us of a bible verse or bible teaching as in a sermon. We hear his voice also in the profound encounter of sacramental worship where the silent act of Holy Communion can thrill with his inspiration.

Mission, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, is finding out what God is doing and joining in. We can’t expect to join in effective mission unless we find out what God’s doing and we can’t expect to find this out unless our inner ears are attuned to Our Lord. These I must bring and they will listen to my voice he says.

What makes churches grow?

God, surely, but we can give a hand by building our confidence in what Christ alone has achieved for the world and attuning our spiritual ears to him in Word and Sacrament. As a church we need more of his heart for mission, more confidence in him and more discipline to attend to him in prayer.

Good Shepherd, Jesus risen from the dead, open up your possibilities to us, for they exceed all we can ask or imagine! Show us what you’re doing Mid-Sussex so we can be part of it and see the fruit of lives transformed by the good news of Jesus!

Easter 3 26th April 2009

I was taken for a suicide on my day off.

I went on the train to Eastbourne and walked the Seven Sisters to Seaford crossing the Cuckmere at low tide. Great day.

Interesting day. I was catching my breath here (show book) at Beachy Head, lying on the grass checking my iPhone. Two chaplains came up to check on me. Was I sending a farewell e mail they wondered? I’ve been your Rector for less than a month so suicide watch was a little premature!

Anyway another Rector came into conversation with the chaplains. Parson Darby was Rector of Beachy Head in the early 18th century and led the campaign for the first light house. He was so distressed at the people dying through shipwreck on the rocks he hollowed out a cave, Darby’s Hole, and lit his own little light in it. The Rector spent many a stormy night in it. He saved 300 sailors altogether and died of pneumonia in the end.

The Rector lit his little light to prepare the way for the big light’s coming as it did from 1828.

This morning we’re baptising Archie and Olivia (infants). We’re lighting a little light until the big light comes, what Paul calls the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light, like a little candle, burning in the night. In this world is darkness, so we must shine, you in your small corner and I in mine.

Baptising an infant is saying to God. God we love you and want our child to grow into that love. That’s why the parents and godparents will be telling God they want to turn to him, repent of their sins and renounce evil this morning.

From our side baptism is a commitment to God and God’s people. From God’s side it’s the lighting up of a life.

God has not only given us life. He’s given us his life in Jesus if we’ll but take it and that light is the light of our lives as Christians.

In the first reading Peter reminds the people that the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus …the Author of life…killed by them but raised from the dead by God. In the second Gospel reading we heard from the Lord Jesus himself how it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.

We can have the light and joy and peace of God in our lives and families today because yesterday, so to speak, Jesus died and rose.

More than that God sent his Son. People said No to him and crucified him. God said yes to him and raised him again at Easter.

This is why in baptism we say yes to Jesus and no to the world, the flesh and the devil.

What on earth am I talking about?
Jesus bids us shine with his light. To set us alight he needs our permission.

You and I are made by God. We are also made for God.

We’re made to belong with God for ever in his never-ending family, the holy, catholic church.

We’re made to have a purpose for living and a reason for dying.

We’re made to be part of a universal movement of the Holy Spirit that’s helping this world become God’s world again.

If God has given us life he’s offering us also his own life.
This can be lived within us but we need to make space for it.

Actually it’s more severe – we need to die to our old lives so that the new life of Christ can live in us and light us up!

A Brazilian pastor has a good line in adult baptisms. If he has three baptisms he gets the local undertaker to lend him three coffins. At the start of the baptism service he gets the three candidates to lie in their coffins and puts the lids on without screwing them down.

Shortly afterwards he knocks on the lids and they all jump out to go with him to be buried in the waters of baptism. Just like we read in Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 6 in baptism we were buried with Christ.

Don’t worry we won’t be using coffins in future baptisms – it might put some people off. Horsted Keynes isn’t Rio!

Nevertheless the point stands – Jesus died in our place to live in our place and if we want him to live in us we have to die to self and rise to the life of the Holy Spirit.

Parents and godparents you’ve chosen the very best path for your children but like the best paths it’s a costly path.

Just as Rector Darby kept that light burning to rescue shipwrecked sailors you will need to keep the light of Christian faith burning in your household.

At the end of this service you’ll be given a candle to remind you of this an the whole congregation will say to you shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.

Your own unselfishness will help that. So will your readiness to admit your need of mercy for your shortcomings or sins.

Yes, that word sin? You’re going to say you repent of it in a moment. What do we make of that?
Did you know the word sin comes from archery? The arrow that drops short of its target sins.
It’s hard to show your children what sin is unless you admit you have it yourself!

Wrong thoughts, words and deeds can be obvious. The things we don’t do but could do – or should do. That’s another story. Much of my own sin is what I don’t do, those lost opportunities.

Working in Sussex the last 8 years I’ve picked up a bit on people who’ve hit the target from a Christian point of view. Rector Darby was one – he worked for the coming of that lighthouse.

Another man knelt on Brighton Beach in 1852 to give his strengths to God for carrying the good news of Jesus to China. Today the Chinese Church is thriving because a man like Hudson Taylor gave his all to God 150 years ago.

God lit him up! And lit up others! Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light…you in your small corner and I in mine!

What corner does God want you to shine in, or your children? Horsted Keynes or China? Waking the world up to the environmental crisis? Transforming British politics with gospel light? Bringing new movements of compassion and the service of the elderly? Freeing young people from the bondage of drug addiction into transformative purpose for life? Or helping build the church here, by doing s stint as one of our Sunday Club leaders!

This morning infant baptism lights a little light in Archie and Olivia but that light has enormous power! No one can predict where the Spirit will lead these young people but if they’re kept close to Jesus who died and rose for them the world will be changed.

As we leave church this morning we re-enter our forward journeys through life. There are best and second best and third best and far from best forward courses in life.
If you want to get nearer to the best remember your baptism, remember the hand of God upon your life. Seek his will. Take your options to him so he can sift what’s actually most important from what looks good or lucrative from a worldly aspect.

Turn to Christ. Repent of your sins. Renounce evil – day by day, hour by hour.
That’s the worthwhile way

Easter 2 Doubt 19th April 2009

Jesus said to Thomas: Do not doubt but believe John 20

There’s a lot of doubt around – and not just in Horsted Keynes!

Has there been a time in the history of the human race when so much information has been accessible? This means we can quickly fuel our doubts about anything.

Has there been a time likewise when so much fearfulness and superstitious ignorance has been demonstrated by religious bodies faced with challenges to our cherished beliefs?

Low Sunday traditionally takes us to Thomas – doubting Thomas, but Thomas who also finally makes the pure act of faith in Christ ‘My Lord and my God!’ – Saint Thomas!

How do Christians view doubt? How can we avoid both the broadmindedness that sits lightly to truth and the narrow-mindedness that so easily becomes a hostage to intolerance?

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; wrote G.K.Chesterton but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong. Any conviction worth its salt needs the self-awareness doubt exhibits to save it from narrow-mindedness.

I want to look at doubt this morning. To start with let’s be clear that intellectual questionings have their place. As the medieval author of The Cloud of Unknowing insists of God by love he is holden not by thought. Thinking has its place, even doubting.

Just as scientists have discovered that electronic particles are hard to define so thinkers through the ages have found that rational thought can’t hold God. He is held by loving contemplation through determined devotion, held by the will which the intellect serves.

True – but that doesn’t stop us looking at what Christ means when he says to us through Thomas today Do not doubt but believe.

We live in a doubting age. How do we deal with it? How do we understand doubt as a concept? How can we draw the sting of the word as people of faith living under so much fire in a culture skeptical of any claim to objective truth?

The dictionary defines doubt in three senses: the questioning of received wisdom, the withdrawal of trust in someone and a fearful self-questioning.

From the Christian viewpoint the questioning of most presuppositions is a healthy use of God-given reason. The whole of science is built on systematically doubting existing theories and testing them by experimentation so as to gain a more truthful picture of reality.

Years ago I used systematic doubt to test theories about the forces between the molecular chains in polythene and Teflon when I was a research scientist.

You have a Teflon expert before you – a non-stick Rector!

Would that were true? I will eat my words in time.

Science works through doubting received wisdom. So do the law courts. Politics and art – they both aspire to question the status quo and rightly because that is very often – but not always - the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the life of the church prophets and teachers are raised up again and again to question the status quo in church discipline or in the formulation of doctrine. The Holy Spirit uses such people, sometimes against themselves though!

The ecumenical dialogues of our day are examples of the use of systematic doubt to get beyond the denominational understandings of Christianity towards an ecumenical consensus. As a result Christians are far more agreed about Baptism, the Eucharist and the sacred Ministry and are moving rather painfully towards an agreement on authority in the church. Surely this is the work of the Spirit and it is evidenced by the growing ownership of documents like the Lima agreement.

Doubt as a questioning of received wisdom is a healthy thing.

It’s the second sense of doubt as the withdrawal of trust in God that’s more problematic for us as it was for Thomas.

A good analogy lies in marriage. Lack of trust destroys marriages however well it can be defended. Lack of trust in God destroys Christian believing however good the rational arguments.

Whilst doubt as questioning can lead people from false presuppositions towards God, doubting God himself and the revealed faith of the church through the ages puts your doubt in another league.

Why is this? Because you are up against truth which is not of the take it or leave it variety. Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true resounds the scripture. I know whom I have believed (Romans 3v4b, 2 Timothy 1v12).

This knowledge is something held by the will and not the intellect, or rather that holds the will - by love he is holden not by thought. Radical doubt is a breaking of loyalty with the Saviour which is why Christians insist a thousand difficulties in their faith do not make a doubt in this sense.

In a third sense doubt is a psychological tendency. The disease of doubt is an obsessive questioning of one’s abilities. This sickness can often be traced back to harmful influences in childhood which result in a poor self-image. The projection of inner doubt into day to day living is seen in a fearfulness which is harmful to the individual and their close associates.

From the Christian perspective this condition is a challenge in that harsh forms of evangelisation are associated with reinforcing such self-doubt. Most Christians believe in a Saviour who is more concerned to give people what they need than what they deserve. Gentle evangelisation faithful to this vision can build inner healing, dispelling self-doubt and bringing people to believe in their potential as children of God accepted by God with all their failings.

We’re all on something of a journey here. Only in so far as we lose self-doubt and both know and value ourselves will we be best able to respond to Christ’s invitation to give ourselves to God and neighbour. You can’t give what you don’t possess.

In these three understandings of doubt there are both creative and destructive strands.

Systematic doubt is a tool for discovering new ways of thinking that illuminate and change the world and have potential to renew the church.

Psychological doubt, which constrains an outgoing life, invites inner healing of which the good news of Christ is servant.

Radical doubt breaks trust and destroys relationships. In the case of one’s relationship with God it goes against the single mindedness that is invited among believers. This surely is the butt of Christ’s rebuke to Thomas Do not doubt but believe. His rebuke is amplified in the first chapter of the letter of James where we’re warned that the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1v7).

There is decidedness about Christian faith that goes against the grain of a culture that is so undecided and suspicious of alleged certainty.

Doubting God always takes people away from him. Doubting received wisdom of some kinds can bring people closer to God.

Our personal faith comes as it did to Thomas through a disclosure of God’s reality in Jesus. This revelation, like the sun, can only be seen in its own light and no one else’s.

That being said what God discloses needs working out intellectually.

Eastern Orthodox writer Anthony Bloom has helpful wisdom here. A former scientist he saw the value of scientific doubting of models of reality and how such doubting presses knowledge forwards. Unless you are prepared to see reality and your own thoughts and the thoughts of others with keen interest, with courage, but with the certainty that the last word is not doubt, not perplexity and not bewilderment, but that it is discovery then you will be wasting your time he writes.

Do not doubt but believe the Lord says in today’s gospel. Our Lord doesn’t want us to waste time and energy through double-mindedness in our loyalty towards God. He surely does want us to be on an adventure, eager to look at every side of our human experience so that more of the Lord will be made plain to us.

Around the time this church was built Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury wrote that it was belief that leads to understanding and not vice versa. If we keep trusting God we gain understanding. By love he is holden not by thought .

A thousand difficulties shouldn’t make a doubt in distrustful sense. Rather our difficulties are among God’s challenging and deepening gifts. If we take them carefully they can become pathways to discovering a fuller vision of the wonder of God and his creation.

Easter Sunday 10am

When you walk on stilts you can see more, your horizons get opened up.

When you walk with the Risen Lord Jesus you get shown an eternal horizon. Your life gets opened up to a vision quite out of this world!

Jesus rose from the dead and he went ahead of his disciples to Galilee. He lifts us up and leads us forward - indeed to be his follower is to be part of the most uplifted, forward looking, happiest people on earth.

We live with Jesus now knowing that the future’s his, and if it’s his it’s ours as well.

The Resurrection is the pledge of a world where one day God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28b). It binds us also to those we love but see no longer whose hope was in Jesus.

Above all places this Eucharist brings us together with Christians of all ages as we are made one with the church in her fullness and immensity with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven /

With such fellowship we press forward uplifted by the risen Christ, working and praying for the kingdom of this world to become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15).

With death now conquered we live in joyful hope knowing there’s nothing left in all creation that can separate us from God’s love.

One way of looking at the resurrection of Jesus is to think of a volcano.

What does a volcano show you?

It shows you fire burning in the depths of the earth.

The resurrection of Jesus lets us see God’s fire waiting to erupt so that everything in this world and the next is irradiated with the warmth of his love.

This morning should set us alight with the fire of the Spirit to move into God’s future with our risen Lord.

We’ve been thinking about witnessing to the resurrection this morning. Peter in the first reading, then Jamie Parsons.

Abdullah, a Muslim from South East Asia recently became a Christian through the witness of his friend Yusuf who’d come out of prison a changed man.

Abdullah asked Yusuf what had changed him. He replied by asking him Where is Isa at present? This is the Muslim title for Jesus. Muslims believe that Isa – Jesus – was a prophet of God and that he presently lives with God in heaven, having been rescued from earth before crucifixion. Abdullah answered him: Isa is in heaven with God.

Yusuf asked him a second question… and where is Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, at present?

The prophet lies dead in his grave Abdullah replied.

Yusuf smiled: so, Abdullah! Who do you want to follow? A dead prophet or a living one?

Abdullah was speechless; he’d never thought abut that before. Yusuf's words wouldn’t leave him alone. Muhammad is dead, Jesus Christ is alive.

If Jesus lives and is coming back again, then he must be almighty. If he is really alive, then he should put his faith in him – and he did so!

Hands up if you’ve had the experience of being locked out of your house or your car or wherever?

You know that feeling then when at length a key arrives and you are in!

Welcoming the truth of Easter is like that. It’s knowing the "truth that sets free" as St. John puts it. Knowing that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in the Risen Christ as St. Paul puts it. "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

Well of course things can and do go against us, often mightily. Yet a Christian is freed in his or her spirit by the knowledge that Christ is risen, freed to be a hopeful person. There is no circumstance that should outweigh that foundational truth of our Christianity.

Christians live in the world with an other worldly vision that is opened up by Christ’s resurrection. This is God’s signature on the history of Jesus, his birth, life, suffering and death. It signifies that God has taken our nature in Jesus and taken it to himself.

Why do you look for the living among the dead? The angels said to the women. He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you…that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.

When I read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or Richard Dawkins The God Delusion I am struck by assaults upon Christianity that are so far from tackling the real issue of truth that’s at stake.

Are you and I destined for eternal splendour or not? Is the evidence for Christ’s resurrection trustworthy or is it not? Is Jesus the Son of God or is he not?

Roughly a third of the population of the earth bows to the uniqueness of Christ. They do so in heart and mind and sometimes more heart than mind. They trust their Church to be a good steward of the gospel as much as people like Dan Brown and Richard Dawkins distrust her stewardship. There’s an urgent need for more thoughtful Christianity and a fresh awareness of the evidence for the Christian good news and the awesome historical events that make Christianity Christianity. In this context I would like to commend the diocesan face2faith website which has a lot of relevant material. Do pick up a post card from the back of Church.

It’s the historical evidence which secure the trustworthiness of the teaching of the Christian Church.

Look at the evidence. The accounts of the resurrection in the New Testament are strangely matter of fact, even reserved. Like Mary Magdalene in the Gospel the disciples fail again and again to recognise Jesus. This failure would hardly have been relayed to us if, as some critics of Christianity make out, the disciples made up the stories.
Would the different geographical focuses – Matthew in Galilee, Luke in Jerusalem – have survived in a made up version? Would the role of women as witnesses, very controversial in those days, have been included in a constructed tale?

Harvard Law Professor Simon Greenleaf has this to say about the varying testimonies to the resurrection of Jesus: There is enough of a discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction.

This transaction, as he calls it, is further evidenced in history by a really significant development.

When do Jews go to synagogue?

When do Christians go to church?

What happened to change this?

What was it that made the Christian church change its weekly holy day from the Jewish Sabbath to Sunday but the overwhelming truth of Christ’s rising which has made Sunday Sunday, sweeping away the old tradition of Friday Sabbath. What a change that would have been for pious Jews!

There is something unique about the Founder of Christianity as Abdullah found out.

Mohammed has a grave in Medina. The Buddha’s tooth can be visited in Sri Lanka.

But Jesus – where is his grave? Only the Empty Tomb within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem!

Christianity is the only religion that refuses to talk of its Founder as a past figure.

This is why being a Christian is such an uplifting thing – to come back to the stilts!

Jesus can lift us because he’s alive. He’s alive and will lift us – if we entrust our lives to him.

Our young people were courageous to go on the stilts. It takes courage to be a Christian.

This morning throughout the world Christians take the courage of their convictions and renew their baptismal vows. We’re going to do the same in a moment, here at Saint. Giles – to renew our Christian commitment.
I invite you to take a moment now in silence to look through the promises on p4 before you make them with me and commit yourselves once more to the cause of Christ and seek with me the uplift offered in this Easter Eucharist.