Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Trinity 3 Family Eucharist Monkey traps 28th June 2009

Native hunters in the jungles of Africa have a clever way of trapping monkeys.

They take one of these – show coconut – hollow it out and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey’s hand to pass through. Then they place one of these – show orange – in the other coconut half before fastening together the two halves of the coconut shell. Finally they secure the coconut to a tree with a rope, hide in the jungle and wait.

Sooner or later, an unsuspecting monkey swings by, smells the delicious orange, and discovers its location inside the coconut. The monkey then slips his hand through the small hole, grasps the orange, and tries to pull it through the hole. Of course, the orange won’t come out; it’s too big for the hole. To no avail the persistent monkey continues to pull and pull, never realising the danger he’s in.

While the monkey struggles with the orange, the hunters simply stroll in and capture the monkey by throwing a net over him. As long as the monkey keeps his fist wrapped around the orange, the monkey is trapped.

Isn’t that sad? The poor monkey could save its own life if it would only let go of the orange. It never occurs to a monkey that it can’t have both the orange and its freedom.

The world sets us all traps like the monkey trap. You keep hearing in the papers, on TV and through the internet that if you just have enough money, enough stuff, enough power, enough status then you’ll be happy.

What would Jesus say? Well Saint Paul told us the answer in the first reading from 2 Corinthians 8v9 in these words:You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Jesus, we read elsewhere, did not grasp at power and riches. He gave them away. God never grasps like the monkey, like us. His hands are never clenched but are open, open to give to us if we will receive.

Is this the sign Jesus would give? Show two fists.

Or this? Show two open hands.

When we come up to welcome Jesus in Holy Communion we have open hands, not clenched fists!

You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

In Jesus God has come to us, is ready to give himself to us, and is able to help us grow to rely on him more and more in all circumstances of our life. We have only to say yes to God freely and wholeheartedly, to open our hands to receive, for what he has from his riches to reach into the poverty of our lives.

This is what we mean by having faith. It’s about saying yes to God freely and wholeheartedly, trusting him with the whole self.

Faith isn’t sophisticated beliefs, strong convictions, or some sort of moral perfection.

It’s a readiness to reach out and receive from Jesus like the woman in the gospel story.

Remember - she just touched Jesus to receive the great riches of a full and effective healing.

Faith is less something we have and more something we do. People came to Jesus. That and their request revealed their faith.

They came to Jesus to receive – and so showed faith by action.

If I said to you I’d love you to have my watch I could take it off and extend it towards you but for my offer to become effective something else would have to happen. What? Rosie took my watch

God has far more riches in his treasury of grace. They’re on offer. You need faith to lay hold on God’s grace. That means a readiness to open your hands to receive.

I was in Eastbourne some time back walking on the promenade. Something landed beside me.

It came from a seagull – and, no, it wasn’t what you might expect!

It was a clam. The bird was continually dropping the shellfish until it broke.

Powerless to break into the clam by its own strength, the seagull invoked a higher power, that of gravity. By working with gravity the bird got its dinner.

This remarkable scene reminded me of how many an impenetrable problem can yield when we act in faith to call upon a higher power to assist us.

To live by faith is to live with empowerment in the praise and service of God!

Like the monkey with his coconut the seagull couldn’t get the clam open but he didn’t get trapped. The bird saw a helper in his situation, handed the problem over to a higher power and got his dinner!

We’re looking ahead as a church and as individuals. We face many situations both as a church and as individuals that we need to approach not with the clenched fists of battle but with the open hands of faith. Maybe God lays on these situations to build our faith, to teach us wisdom and make us more open to his power from on high.

You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

By faith we come to welcome the riches God has for us in Jesus. We discern God's loving wisdom and direction for our lives. By faith we are sustained through disappointments, frustrations, and failures.

Faith is possible for all. It is simply turning to God as we are. This is exactly what we do at the Eucharist. We kneel before God as we are and hold up our hands to receive the signs of love, the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Trinity 2 Commending God’s love for the world 21st June 2009

This month I’ve been preaching around the diocesan vision in the run up to our Looking forwards day on Sunday week 5th July.

In Chichester diocese our Life Together vision focus is attending to God, building Christian community and commending God’s love for the world. This morning we’ll be looking at the third, outward looking invitation: commending God’s love for the world.

As I reflected on the scriptures set for this second Sunday after Trinity the thing that struck me first was about the importance of vision itself when setting eyes upon our Job passage.

If ever there was a passage in scripture that sets forth a splendid vision of God it's this. Were you there God says to us through Job when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding…Or shut the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?

God is God and it is the role of scripture to open up a fuller vision of him through the things God has said of himself. Our passage rings true especially for us country folk who marvel day by day at the splendour of creation. When you follow through those last chapters of Job, and I do commend that as a spiritual exercise that builds on the love of nature, you see something quite awesome. The book concludes with a jolt as Job, awed by a fuller vision of the Lord, repents in dust and ashes. All his sufferings melt away as he sees the Lord in his fullness.

It’s the vision of God that’s to be our be all and end all. Without it we’re in no position to commend God’s love for the world.

Moving on to our second reading from 2 Corinthians listen again to what Paul endured: afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger. Would he, or would you and I, endure those things without a cause? The passage starts with mention of the grace of God. For Paul, as he says earlier in 2 Corinthians, it is the love of Christ that impels him. This is why the great evangelist can say at the end of today’s passage Corinthians our heart is wide open to you.

You can’t commend God’s love to the world without an open heart. I might almost add a broken heart. Some of the most powerful Christians I have encountered have been people who’s credibility in my own eyes was established by the way I saw them suffer. The best priests have a limp someone said of the priesthood. You’re more effective at commending God’s love if it has carried you through the dark places all of us have to enter at times on our life’s pilgrimage.

I’ve been picking up on some of this in getting to know you all as Anne and I have visited you. Many of you have told me how God came close to you as you put faith in him through some sort of trial, humiliation, sickness or bereavement. That would be true of Anne or I. Do read Chichester Magazine this month for Anne’s testimony.

This brings me to today’s gospel where the disciples fail to put faith in God in the storm at sea. Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing they cry. After calming the storm Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

Christian tradition has always used the image of the boat as a metaphor for the Church herself. When we are within the boat, we are safe, even though beset by waves. The sides of the boat are the disciplines of church life, the disciples represent all Christians, and the stormy sea is our life.

There is truth here still. With Jesus in the boat you can smile at the storm the children sing.

Yet there is no storm free faith! Commending God’s love comes most powerfully from those who have braved great storms through an active faith in Jesus alongside them.

My own love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist was inspired by reading this book He Leadeth Me, which tells of how Fr. Walter Ciszek survived 23 years in a Soviet labour camp. The book tells how the priest was stripped of all life and spiritual comforts to be left with Jesus alone and a sense of God’s providence. Some of the most moving passages are about the surreptitious celebration of the Eucharist using a fragment of bread and wine procured by Christian prisoners working in the camp clinic, the distribution of Holy Communion under cove of the general commotion and moving about that followed the rising signal each morning. Some of the prisoners made great sacrifices for the consolation of attending the Eucharist or receiving Communion. That priest’s heroism and his reliance on the Jesus who comes in bread and wine infected others. It infected me.

There is no storm free faith! Commending God’s love comes most powerfully from those who have braved great storms through an active faith in Jesus alongside them. It’s action that commends God’s love, action as well as words.

The pamphlet we’ve produced for our Looking forward day on Sunday week catalogues some of the things we do to commend God’s love as a church. It’s an impressive list. The lift scheme, Traidcraft, Faith in Action, Family Support Group, the CB Radio caring network, use of the Martindale Centre by young and old and the local outreach work of the fund raising working group.

We note though in the pamphlet that evangelism, giving a verbal statement of our faith would rank lower as a current priority. So would apologetics, which means giving an apologia or reasoned defence of Christianity when we’re challenged about it. We need as a church to debunk the rather weak and accommodating arguments against faith sharing and the reasoned defence of Christianity. They’re like water getting into boat of the church to try and sink us.

The church is to rise and not sink! It can’t though unless its members rise above their fears. Someone wrote perhaps unfairly that when it comes to evangelism “Anglicans are like Canadian rivers” – like what? Yes, we get frozen across the mouth when it comes to God talk! Understandable, given the crass God talk around, but we should be able as thoughtful Christians – Anglicans are prized for thoughtfulness – to talk intelligently about our faith.

This is also a matter of obedience, as the diocesan ABC vision reminds us.

Firstly Our Lord clearly commands his disciples to tell others about him. He says there other sheep not of the fold he wants brought in to his church.

Secondly if you and I don’t share appropriately with others about Jesus they’re unlikely to hear about him from anywhere else.

The Christian community in Horsted Keynes will sink if it swallows the arguments against commending God’s love when appropriate in words as well in deeds.

Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? They said. And we say, Lord, do you not care for St. Giles, after 800 years, as we weather the storms of financial astringency and the challenge of reaching the next generation for you?

Peace, be still the Lord says again to his disciples. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

Hear the word of Jesus deep down in your heart this morning. Fear, anxiety, pessimism are counter to faith. Your calling is not to look down but up, up where our spire points to him, to the risen Lord Jesus, present with us anew this morning in the boat of holy Church, in his word and in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.

Filled with great awe we should say to one another who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Trinity 1 Building Christian community 14th June 2009

How do you build Christian community?

On the first three Sundays of June we’re looking at the diocesan ABC vision which calls our churches to attend to God, build Christian community and commend God’s love for the world.

Last week we looked at attending to God through worship, personal devotion and stewardship. Today I want to look at how lay and ordained ministry and ministry with children and young people and in our school come into play.

First though let’s look at today’s scripture for what an encouragement they are for building and growth!

The parable of the scattered seed and the mustard seed in Mark Chapter 4 hardly need interpretation. They say clearly that through the ministry of Jesus Christ God’s rule has entered the world and from humble beginnings he is bringing about the magnificent divine purpose.

The seed would sprout and grow, we do not know how…first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain.

Then the mustard seed…grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

The growth of God’s kingdom prophesied by Our Lord fulfils what Ezekiel prophesied six centuries before Christ in today’s first reading. There the prophet speaks of a tender sprig planted on a high mountain to produce boughs and bear fruit…I will make high the low tree and make the dry tree flourish says the Lord.

Building Christian community is very much God’s business. It’s as much God’s business as the growth of the harvest in the farmer’s field.

For twenty centuries gospel seed has taken root first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain. Over that period the Christian community has spread across the world and a church has stood here in Horsted Keynes for almost half that period. There has been a Christian community here for over 800 years.

We should take heart from the Lord’s indication that the growth of his kingdom and his church is his business. Church growth is something he delights to demonstrate.
All we need do is faithfully prepare and water the ground.

I will make the dry tree flourish says the Lord. If, that is, my people don’t get in the way.

One way we obstruct building Christian community is by leaving it to the so-called professionals. There may be one ordained priest at St Giles but he is send here to remind every member here that they have a ministry with him to bring God to people and people to God as priests should do, as Jesus does.

One of the most encouraging signs I can discern here was set forth at our APCM. There we heard evidence of some 200 people involved in ministry of some kind or another through the way we organise St. Giles.

Mission takes time and organisation even if it is also the work of God. There are no quick fixes since it is about building communities, and relationships take time to build not least that with God himself.

The collaboration of lay and ordained ministers is crucial. I am the celebrant this morning but with a calling to generate a community of Christian celebration. I am the preacher but with a call to generate a witnessing community.

Sometimes we forget that priests are given to remind us of what we’re all about. Just as Israel was lifted up, as in Ezekiel’s prophecy for the good of all nations a priest is set apart or lifted up – Father John – for the sake of the well being and revitalisation of St Giles and Horsted Keynes.

I will make the dry tree flourish says the Lord. If, that is, his priests don’t get in the way!

In the diocesan vision a major component of building Christian community is ministry with children and young people and in our schools. I suppose we could pat ourselves on the back that such ministry is going on even as I speak. That’s a fruit of lay ministry here, the fact we have Sunday Club back up and running with some 18 volunteers.

If the dry tree is to be made to flourish at St Giles the drawing in of young families is pivotal. That will be God’s work and ours. The leadership that will have most effect in this realm though will be in households from fathers and mothers keen to build Christian homes.

How do we help build Christian homes in Horsted Keynes? What is a Christian home?

Surely it’s a home where young and old flourish together because they have honest, solid foundations in the word of God and encounter with the Lord in prayer, sacrament and Christian fellowship.

Building Christian community isn’t mainly our work. The church is ekklesia, God’s work, literally those called by God. We’re a community called by God to walk in step with Jesus, listening to his words, praying his prayers, living his life.

Though we are many we are one body because we all share in one bread.

In other words our community isn’t made from our efforts to comply with one another or even comply with the Lord so much as by our shared readiness to welcome God’s gift, the one bread.

Christian community - the Church - is about acts and words that keep us in step with Jesus, especially sacraments and scripture.

In the full diocesan Life Together vision document, abbreviated into our ABC, we read these words: We have a vision of a community that gives the worship of God the priority he deserves…and presents the gifts of Word and Sacrament in such a way that their meaning and power are evident to those who experience them.
Life Together

How well do we present those gifts here at St. Giles? How deeply do we sense the meaning and power of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Eucharist?

Building Christian community is like that growing seed in today’s Gospel, or the flourishing sapling in our Ezekiel passage. It is God’s work which we prepare the ground for and water with our prayers.

Church life isn’t so much our life, our thinking or feeling or being together but our being together in a place where we trust God to do something and to change us, however little we understand this mystery.

We take bread and wine, pray over them and share them but what matters most is being here, at the Eucharist, in a place where God has power to renew his life in us, the life of Jesus. This has meaning and power - not something we can work up but something God gives to those who will receive from him by putting faith in him.

How do you build Christian community?

By building confidence in Christ, that he’s with us in word and sacrament and that he’s calling us to walk in step with him in his day by day mission within Horsted Keynes and its surrounds.

By building confidence in Christ – along with humility before God. We need our prayers and aspirations to be more and more unselfish and attuned to the prayers and aspirations of Jesus.

A Christian community has Christ’s prayer and aspirations that God our Father has promised he will always hear and answer.

As we shall sing shortly in William Bright’s powerful words:

And now O Father, mindful of the love
That bought us, once for all, on Calvary’s tree,
And having with us him that pleads above,
We here present, we here spread forth to thee,
That only off’ring perfect in thine eyes,
The one true, pure, immortal sacrifice.

Look, Father, look on his anointed face,
And only look on us as found in him;
Look not on our misusings of thy grace,
Our prayer so languid, and our faith so dim:
For lo, between our sins and their reward
We set the Passion of thy Son our Lord.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Trinity Sunday 7th June 2009

This month I want in my preaching to look at the diocesan vision starting this morning appropriately on Trinity Sunday. In Chichester diocese our Life Together vision focus is attending to God, building Christian community and commending God’s love for the world.

So this first Sunday we’ll look at attending to God. This has components in the diocesan vision linked to worship, Christian spirituality and stewardship.

People who love one another often get to look like one another. People can get to look like their pets. Forget the pets! As I’ve been visiting and getting to know you I’ve been marrying you off wrongly at times. Other times I’ve seen it as almost obvious that two of you are an item as they say.

We are here as Christians to attend to God and to grow like him. Remember the memory verse from the Ascension? The Son of God became the Son of Man so that children of men could become children of God?

Theology – the science of God – is vital because the God you attend to will change you. Attend to a wishy washy God and you’ll go wishy washy. Attend to a moral policeman and you’ll get censorious. To an indulgent God and you’ll enjoy yourself at the expense of others. Worship God as the genie in your lamp and he’ll never change you. Worship God as a distant Father figure and you project your own bad life experience and make it ultimate.

Attend to the Trinity and you’ll become a child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

The Christian religion calls us to attend to a God who’s revealed in holy scripture and affirmed by the catholic creeds and the church’s liturgy. Today’s collect affirms that the confession of a true faith is to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity.

What does this mean? That God’s shown us through Jesus he’s Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Trinity Sunday’s slotted in at the end of a five month period when the readings in church have followed the life of Jesus up to his death and resurrection and the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost.

This Sunday we sum up all of Christianity as we affirm God to be three persons in one God. Why? Because that’s what he says he is. We’d never work this out for ourselves. It’s revealed from the action of God in history.

There are various illustrations in use by preachers. Take the water one - Ice, water and steam are one substance with three forms – or take the love one - If God is love how could he be love before the world was made other than by being love within himself?

This year a new illustration occurred to me for today’s Feast. It came the other day as I saw a vine supported on a trellis. The word trellis is like Trinity. It means ‘woven with three strands’. God who is three is like a trellis that supports a fruitful vine, the church of Jesus Christ we’re part of.

Unlike the trellis I saw, the Trinity’s a living trellis. Without his life giving support the vine that is the church would be a fruitless entreprise.

Our attending to God has two components. We worship together and we pray on our own. The branches of the vine are held by the vine which is held to the trellis in the vineyard.

To attend to God we gather with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day around the Lord’s table. We come to celebrate as our gospel reading affirms: for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Or as our second reading from Romans 8 expresses it, more in terms of the implications for us of this good news, that we are children of God, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

Attending to God at St. Giles is primarily about worshipping him. In the 2007 congregational questionnaire 80% of us said we came to church to worship God. 75% said prayer was an important part of our service. As we look forward at St Giles we will be asking how we can better enter into worship. We’re bound in some measure to address the other two components of attending to God in the diocesan vision which are Christian spirituality and stewardship. The prayer and giving of individuals are the building blocks of the worshipping body.

In that awesome first reading from Isaiah we gain insight into what it means for individuals to attend to the Trinity. Isaiah is caught up with the seraphs before the Lord, sitting on a throne, high and lofty…the hem of his robe filling the temple.

He heard a song that has been used in Christian worship for 2000 years at the Eucharist: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ In those three ‘holy’s the Old Testament text hints at the Blessed Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Incidentally the chant the priest uses at Parish Eucharist in the run up to the Holy holy, or Sanctus the so-called Preface, may go back to Isaiah. It’s an ancient Jewish chant that links what we do here on Sunday right back to the Temple.

Back to the passage. Given this vision of the true God Isaiah senses the falseness within him and says: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’

So it can be when God shows himself to us in prayer. We’re brought down to acknowledge our inadequacy before God. We make Isaiah’s Sanctus acclamation; holy, holy, holy then we kneel before the altar. Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The live coal comes to touch our lips. It is Jesus who comes to make us worthy of God, he come to us at God’s altar bringing Holy Communion in his body and blood. Then the service ends And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

Attending to God is something the Trinity calls us to individually and corporately. It’s something that puts a demand not just on our lips but our lives. The thrice holy God seeks to consecrate three aspects of our life: our time, talents and treasure. This, the mantra of stewardship, reminds us that Christian worship goes on beyond the hour given on Sunday. It is a continuous offering flowing from that hour of souls and bodies and bank balances offered day by day ass a living sacrifice to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

Attending to God is our calling from all eternity. We were each of made to see the King, the Lord of hosts, in his beauty. We begin as babies attending very much to ourselves and end, or should end, by attending to the beauty of God for all eternity. What changes isn’t self love so much as the self that we love. As our lives expand in relationships into maturity wee see that our self interest is one with that of the whole human community and of God three in one who made and makes it. This is how the Trinity saves us.

Attending to God is a work of salvation. It’s an offering that’s ongoing. Through it self-love is liberated by grace into the love of neighbour and of God who is within himself relational and holy. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the glory of the eternal Trinity and the power of the divine majesty to whom be praise now and for ever. Amen.