Sunday, 30 August 2009

Trinity 12 Renewing worship 30th August 2009

I want to think with you this morning about renewing worship.

The thought is implied in the Gospel as well as being the first priority identified in our thinking day last month.

In Mark 7 Our Lord makes a stinging attack on lip service. He draws on Isaiah: This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.

Renewing worship is more about renewing hearts than about changing its outward form. Impatience with outward form can be godly, but it can also be ungodly. It’s a godly motive to make worship accessible to outsiders. It’s ungodly to make worship bespoke.

Bespoke is all the range. Some of you may be wearing bespoke clothing which has been custom made to your own specification as opposed to being a ready to wear item. Bespoke is no longer just about tailored clothing. It’s about all sorts of things.

Worship though can’t really be bespoke! It’s rather the opposite. The Anglo Saxon means to give worth to something beyond you. Worship is, to quote Evelyn Underhill, the adoring acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us – the glory that fills heaven and earth. It’s very ‘unbespoke’ and hardly consumerist

I asked someone in the congregation how they understood worship and they said ACTS – Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. That’s a good mnemonic.

Worship is about centring on God rather than self though its agenda is mixed.

Working backwards through ACTS, in supplication the focus is on our needs. In thanksgiving, God’s supply towards our needs. In confession, our inadequacy before God. In adoration the focus is the pure worship of God.

The word adoration means from the Greek submission and from the Latin ad-oratio, literally, mouth to mouth, the kiss of love.

Renewing worship is about building Godcentred-ness in the church and in individuals through personal prayer.

Our vision day revealed a determination to engage with youth and families and to enhance our buildings so as to make our worship accessible to more people in our community.

Accessibility is very important. It’s not Christian to be an √©lite community. Yet, at the heart of Christian worship there is awe before God drawing us to submission and loving devotion. We don’t want our church to be √©lite and inaccessible but we do want our church to be awesome – awesome, not awful! There’s quite a fine divide here for young people I’m afraid.

I remember preaching in a church in Lewes where there were a good number of teenagers kneeling with everyone else through the Prayer Book Holy Communion. Talking to them afterwards I learned how they found this traditional worship authentic and intriguing. It intrigued, it drew them to a God beyond this world.

Sometimes we lose confidence in the power of the age old liturgy. People see this loss of confidence in anxious attempts to provide novelty in Church.

Other times, of course, we shirk the duty to make this liturgy accessible. New comers to the prayer book get hopelessly lost without page numbers! I remember a baptism family struggling manfully with this at the 8 o’clock some weeks back. Let’s all be aware of this, even at 10am! When you see someone struggling with the bits of paper take courage, engage them with a smile, and point them to where we’ve got to!

Renewing worship is a matter of helping one another to get into it. It’s a bit like evangelism, helping people do their own business with God.

Renewing worship means working for accessibility. This has always been the case. The move from Latin at the Reformation was one attempt. Alas making worship accessible is far more than making the words intelligible. Even the truths of the faith can be made as plain as can be and worshippers, this one included, fail to act on them. This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.

The role of the sermon in worship is both to touch on what is awesome, open up some windows to the resurrection world we enter on the Lord ’s Day, and to serve access to scripture. The role of ceremonial around the proclamation of the Gospel and the consecration of the Eucharist is to herald and make accessible the Lord in our midst.

If we want to renew worship at St Giles we’re not going to find anything ready built other than what the Lord has provided in word and sacrament and his call for us to participate actively in it.

Just a suggestion. Free your eyes on occasion from your papers and hymn books. Don’t feel obliged to follow every word as if you were word checking a proof. Try closing your eyes or looking up at the east window. When the priest takes, blesses, shows and breaks the elements watch. Jesus didn’t say read this in remembrance of me – he said do this. The Eucharist isn’t something read out of a book. It’s a sacrificial action. As Christ was taken, broken and shared in his passion so is the bread – and so are you and I.

The church teaches that there is a change, a real happening, in the worship of the Eucharist. It’s a mysterious change which affects the bread and the wine and the worshipper and the world they come from.

Here is a poem that expresses what I am saying:

I lift this bread/and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.
Hast Thou not said/‘I, lifted up, will draw the universe to me?’

Attendance at this service is about lifting ourselves and the world on our hearts with Christ to God. I lift this bread and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.

As the bread is offered at the Eucharist see your life and the lives of all those on your heart as being placed on the altar. As the wine is mixed and offered see your sorrows and those of the world that are on your heart as being offered.

Why not look as you sing the offertory song – it’s not just your money that’s going to that altar but your whole life – if you want it so! There’s the rub for you and I!

When the priest says over that bread and wine on our behalf and on behalf of Christ himself This is my body…my blood see your life, your body and blood, taken up into his life and his love.

The love that descends anew upon the Altar, to draw us moth-like, into its celestial flame.

After the words of the Lord and at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer priests lift the consecrated bread and wine upwards telling all who watch that action – do watch it - that the offering of our life is made, the Offering of Christ’s life is made and that the two offerings are made one before God.

What happened 2000 years ago and what is happening in the lives of those who gather around the altar are joined together and lifted up to the Father through Christ, with Christ and in Christ.

Worship is about submission, and the adoring kiss of love. It is about our love for God and God’s for us and our love for one another in the body of Christ. Accessible worship is worship that helps a congregation see such a vibrant flow of love from their joined hearts through the externals of word and sacrament to God and back.

There should be enough organisation for people to hear the word and lift up their hearts in the Eucharist but not so much as to distract and deaden things. The priest’s role is to be there, but not to get in the way. He represents Christ, of course. He is also, so to speak, a midwife, bringing things to birth by coordinating a prayerful liturgy.

Part of that birth giving is the call to repentance we have already picked up from today’s gospel. We are also warned of ritualism in the context of the eucharist by St. Paul when he says in 1 Corinthians Chapter 11v28 examine yourselves and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Self-examination has two aspects – negative and positive. As we celebrate the Eucharist we are to do so confessing our sins. We are also to do so, more positively, through offering the Lord all our positive aspirations.

Are you there now – before the altar? Are your joys and sorrows, your family and friends, your ambitions and frustrations – have you put them there yet as a living sacrifice?

Renewing worship at St Giles is going to have many aspects. We’re on an exciting journey. I thought it right we start by considering the power of the action we participate in week by week.

I lift this bread and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.
Hast Thou not said ‘I, lifted up, will draw the universe to me?’

Coming to the Eucharist is a lot more than taking a piece of blessed bread and sipping consecrated wine. Sometimes the consumerist streak in all of us sees Holy Communion as the important thing – what we get out of the Eucharist.

No, it’s what we put in as well! Proper Sunday worship is about our whole life being taken up by Jesus Christ to be offered to the Father for transformation.

All of this is hidden in that phrase that flows all too lightly from our lips: We offer you our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice – Amen, may that be so, more and more deeply in us and among us so that those around us, part of the universe that is ours, may be intrigued, drawn to the celestial flame of love which is his, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Trinity 11 The Armour of God Ephesians 6.10-20 23rd August 2009

There’s a call to battle in today’s scripture. I don’t know how your Christianity goes but mine moves from reassurance to challenge and back again. Sometimes the Faith is like a hot bath you in which you can soak up the love of God. Other times it’s a cold shower bracing you for action – and that was my feeling when I looked through the lectionary readings for the 11th Sunday after Trinity in Year B of our three year cycle.

In the lectionary the Old Testament reading is always chosen to illuminate the Gospel. I wonder if you spot these connections week by week? Beat the preacher to his game! No rewards for seeing today’s connection – it’s pretty obvious isn’t it? Joshua’s call for the tribes to choose the Lord over against other gods is paralleled by Peter’s pledge of allegiance to Jesus in John 6.

Both passages are about the need for decidedness in the face of the revelation of God, the Old Covenant revelation through Moses and Joshua and that provided in his flesh by Jesus. In the Old Testament reading there is a decided unanimity. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord says Joshua and the people say: far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods. In the New Testament Gospel reading there isn’t unanimity but division. We read many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him so that Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Christianity is assurance and challenge. It unifies but it has always been a divisive business.

I wonder what you make of the Ephesians passage? Here the Christian is described as a soldier putting on armour to stand against the wiles of the devil. Here the division is more acute as St Paul launches into a reminder of the resources granted to believers in spiritual conflict. I want to pay particular attention to this passage because it contains some very helpful teaching for us as Christian disciples.

First though a word about the devil. Its part of orthodox Christian faith to believe in the devil but he’s never highlighted in the formal creeds. Historically the Church has been reserved about the devil and at times forgetful of him. C.S.Lewis wrote of two opposed errors, forgetting him and overplaying him. The devil if father of lies. His only power is that of denying what is true and luring us with his wiles to forget what’s true to mistakenly serve ourselves.

Perhaps the best way to see what’s at stake in Christian spiritual warfare is to go directly into our second reading and look at the armour of God.

10Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Truth and righteousness – our belt and breastplate. You could say truth and integrity, what God is and what we are becoming. If we are in a war with the devil it is a war that has past its decisive point. It is a mopping up operation. God who made us free and saw evil powers threaten our freedom came himself to break those powers by the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. Facing up the power of sickness, he provides healing. This means that the truth that is his – our belt – becomes ours – the breastplate of righteousness and integrity. As Christians we stand against anything that says ‘you’re on your own’, anything that exaggerates the powers of evil.

Twenty years ago I worked among the Amerindians of Guyana. The forest people believe in many evil spirits, above all what they call ‘kenaima’. A youth around 18 was fishing one day and felt kenaima attack him from behind. The evil spirit is said to go up the rectum. Whether it was a physical attack by the demon or psychological I do not know. What I can tell you is that when I came to his hammock the life was literally ebbing away from him and his family were planning where his grave should be. To be attacked by kenaima was a death sentence without respite in the old village religion.

We encouraged the youth to put his armour on and prepared him for the Sacrament of Anointing and Holy Communion. Adapting words from St. John’s first letter we bid him believe: ‘Jesus in me is greater than kenaima’. Most of the village gathered into Church and the Blessed Sacrament was exposed for a prayer vigil for the boy during which a priest took Holy Communion to him. A vigil of prayer and praise to God continued all night as the boy’s strength returned. The next Sunday he was with the Music group playing the guitar at the Eucharist.

Whether this was a demonic attack or entrapment in a wrong way of thinking the truth of Jesus was seen to set him free. I am convinced that his right understanding of Holy Communion as bringing the power and presence of Jesus right into him saved his life. Have you ever seen Holy Communion as a healing? Well, of course, it is - the Psalmist says that in the Lord’s Presence there is the fullness of joy, health to our bones. If you really believe Holy Communion is what it is - a meeting deep down with the Lord - you can expect the sacrament to make a difference. Isn’t that why the Church gives us those last words to say as she invites us to the Sacrament, ‘Lord I am not worthy to receive You but only say the word and I shall be healed’?

The sacraments are part of God’s armour – but back to God’s word!

15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.

Do you put your shoes on day by day with the thought that you’ve got some good news of peace to carry to someone? I don’t always, but it’s a good thought, faithful to scripture. The good news of God’s love brings peace and where people are chronically anxious and agitated they have slipped from the truth by the devil’s wiles so to speak. The scriptures today talk overall of a call to conflict but moist times the warfare of Christians is against wrong conflict isn’t it? Pouring oil on troubled waters.

16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Faith is trusting in God's word, that he will provide for our needs and protect us from the evil one. In our human frailty we often find it difficult to fully trust and believe God but, as it says in Hebrews 12:2 that God is the author, "perfecter" and finisher of our faith so we can and should ask him for the completion of our faith. Putting on the armour of God daily in our prayer time is one way of doing this. It’s like the prayer of the man in Mark 9:24: Lord I believe, banish my unbelief!

I don’t know if you’re a Star Trek fan, but think of the analogy of a starship's electromagnetic shield and our faith. When the starship's shields were at 100%, the enemy torpedoes were unable to damage the ship. If the ship lost power, the shields failed and the torpedoes were free to wreak havoc on the disabled ship. When we start believing lies, our faith shield's power source is damaged, allowing the enemy's fiery darts to hit us.

We lose this power by believing in unforgiveness or holding to lustful images we see in passing – so many of those around – or swallowing the subtle arguments for letting the needy find their own resources. The devil is a great source of convenient thinking!

17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The helmet is our assurance with the whole church that God has called us and saved us. Someone saw me the other week in the village and said ‘Oh it’s Father John – I didn’t recognise you in your cycle helmet!’. Personally I find the discipline of putting that helmet on tedious, but so also do I find my daily prayer time and the discipline of putting on the armour of God. Being a Christian is a matter of both assurance – knowing you’re on the Lord’s side and he on yours – and discipline – it doesn’t happen automatically! The military images we’re using today are unfashionable – I even had to rescue the old hymn on Ephesians 6 banned from our new hymn book – but they are a good reminder. If we follow these disciplines people may not recognise us, to come back to the helmet, but they will recognise Christ in us.

Our Sword is the word of God, as I hope I am demonstrating – we need to be nourished at two tables, that of the Sacrament and that of the Bible. The Eucharist has these two tables in effect – but one of them we can go back to day by day through bible reading.

Lastly 18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.

To recap we are called to speak out our Christian faith to ourselves day by day by putting on the armour of God. This armour is the belt of truth, the breastplate of integrity, the shoes of the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of the assurance of salvation and the sword of our equipping from the bible. All of these help us as we pray and receive the sacraments.

Let’s reflect now for a moment on how much we’re dressed for battle today and ask the Lord to further equip us for the struggles of life through the power of this Eucharistic meal of word and sacrament.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Blessed Virgin Mary 16th August 2009

Glory! This is my subject this morning and nothing less - glory!
I want to say to you in the words of St Paul in Romans 5v2: let us rejoice in hope of the glory of God!

Glory - this is our subject and the feast days of August make it so.

This month, usually so glorious weather-wise in the English climate, is set apart for two great Feasts of glory, August 6th The Transfiguration of Our Lord and August 15th the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary translated to Sunday, as is allowed for a major Feast.

Today we celebrate the passing into glory of the Mother of the Lord just as 11 days ago we recalled how the glory of God shone from Jesus her Son in the miracle of his Transfiguration.

The message of Christianity is a message of glory.

The Bible says in Romans 8v18 that we are to reckon the sufferings of this present time as nothing to be compared with the glory that is to come.

It says in Colossians 3v4 that when Jesus Christ is revealed at his second coming we too, we Christians, will appear with him in glory.

What is this glory?

Glory means honour in one sense. For example, the trouble with human beings, scripture says, is that they seek their own honour, their own glory, and not that of God.

Yet glory means far more than honour, in the sense the Bible teaches. When Paul for example saw God's glory on the Damascus road he saw a light from heaven above the brightness of the sun.

Light, glorious light, radiance, resplendent beauty - these are the sort of words, all too feeble, we can use, or rather, scripture uses, to describe this glory that is with God and which we are destined to enter with blessed Mary, first of the redeemed, and all God's faithful people.

We come to church 'to be uplifted', for Jesus to lift us up into his loving sacrifice in the Eucharist. Lift up your hearts – we lift them to the Lord.

The final destination of such uplift is beyond this world. To use a Salvation Army term the Christian hope is 'to be promoted to glory'.

Today’s first reading from Revelation 11 hints at the destiny of Mary: A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. This rather isolated text has been used much in Christian tradition and symbolism.

The image has been stripped down to the crown of stars in the emblem of the European Union for example. The stars are no longer twelve because of the expansion of the Union but there remains a Christian significance in the European Union flag linked to the glorification of the Mother of Jesus clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

Mary’s passing to glory, sometimes called the Assumption, is a matter of debate among Christian denominations. It might never gain a mention in the Salvation Army’s newspaper, War Cry! Yet the obituary column of that Salvation Army newspaper makes the same witness as today's feast when it speaks of the "promotion into glory" of the Christian departed.

If only people knew what we Christians know from one who never lies! We are made for glory!

This glorification isn’t automatic. God seeks our consent as he sought Mary’s. People call Mary Our Lady because, as we heard in the second reading when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…so that we might receive adoption as children (Galatians 4:4).

Celebrating the feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary – feasts of her Conception, Birth, Annunciation, Visitation, Sorrows and Passing into Glory - always brings to mind and heart more of the deep truths of Jesus.

Such a mother had to be very special. Mary is the culmination of God’s education of His chosen race, the Jews. We honour her today and at every Eucharist not because of her merits but because of who her Son was to be. She is Our Lady because Jesus is Our Lord. As Bishop Ken wrote in what we know as the Mother’s Union hymn shall we not love thee, Mother dear, whom Jesus loved so well?

Like Jesus Mary is marked out by God as one who would instinctively say, as she did when approached by the Angel Gabriel, Behold the servant of the Lord be it unto me according to God’s will.

Whereas you and I are more inclined to say ‘no’ to God, or ‘not just now, Lord, if you don’t mind’ Mary’s sinless tendency, like that of her Son, is to say ‘yes’ to God.

It is such heartfelt obedience that we seek from the Lord, obedience that can carry us to glory.

There’s a link between Mary’s humble obedience and the belief in the eastern and western church that she was given a path to glory that avoided the physical corruption of death like the greatest Old Testament prophet, Elijah who was assumed into heaven.

C.S.Lewis used to reflect on how day by day people are crossing our paths whose final destination will be either promotion to heavenly glory or demotion to eternal darkness in the company of the prince of darkness.

Is Jesus Christ lifting me, promoting me to his glory?

Am I on the move, on the move upwards, welcoming what Paul calls in Philippians the upward call of God in Christ Jesus 3v14?

Am I on the move, welcoming the uplift Jesus gives or am I saying 'leave me alone God!' or worse!? Remember Jesus promises such uplift only to those who will sincerely entrust their lives to him. He said very clearly though in John 17v24 that he desires people to be with him where he is and to behold his glory. We shall see him as he is, John says elsewhere, and we shall be made like him.

Those people we meet day by day. They are on the way up or they are on the way down. As C.S.Lewis said in 100 years time the people we bump into in the shops, at the leisure centre, in our office, these people will be transformed. Either they will be creatures resplendent in beauty shining with Our Lady Mary in the reflected glory of their Lord Jesus Christ - or - they will be pitiable creatures of the darkness.

After death comes judgement and the final destiny of people is determined by their acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ who is our only one given to open wide the gate of heaven to all believers.

Scripture makes clear the brilliance promised to shine from the sons and daughters of God.
As Jesus says in Matthew 13v43 then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

By his resurrection from the dead Jesus Christ has become the first fruits of a wonderful harvest. He is the first fruits, we, with Mary, are destined to be in that final harvest when death is finally destroyed and everything is put under the feet of Christ the universal king.

In her Magnificat in today's gospel from Luke chapter 1 Our Lady magnifies the Lord but goes on to predicts her own glorification and that of all who humbly trust in the Lord. He has brought own the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.

In keeping this feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Church has for 15 centuries marked this day as the fulfilment of the Magnificat. God has indeed promoted the lowly to glory, and will so do to all those who will but admit their neediness. Notice too though the prophecy concerning the lofty and self-sufficient - they are to be pulled down to the pit of darkness.

Glory is our theme this morning. Glory will, pray God, be our eternal end. As Frederick Faber wrote a century ago for this feast:

How wonderful creation is, the work which thou didst bless,
But oh, what then must thou be like, eternal loveliness!
In wonder lost the highest heavens Mary their queen may see;
If Mary is so beautiful, what must her maker be?

And what, I might add, might be your beauty and my beauty, your glory and my glory, as we experience the fulfilment of our desires, to look upon the face of God, no less!

Glory! All we, Paul says, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.

Let Jesus uplift you this morning as you come to his altar! Let him change you from one degree of glory to another until you see him face to face in heavenly glory in the company of his Mother and all the saints!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Trinity 9 Healing & Relationships Ephesians 4:25-5:2 9th August 2009

Relationships - how they make or break our lives! Our capacity to relate to others and to God means everything in the world - in this world and in the world to come.

To be a Christian is to have within you One who in his nature reaches out to others and to his Father, turning his adherent inside out in generous love. If you adhere to Jesus Christ and he adheres to you, your existence is 'relational' in the best and most wonderful sense.

I want to turn to our Scripture reading from Ephesians 4:25 to 5:2.

Here St. Paul sets out for his readers teaching about the practical Christian life. It is all about relationships. It reads rather tough and demanding, a bit like the Sermon on the Mount:

Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours… thieves must give up stealing…let no evil talk come out of your mouths…put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice…

Lying, stealing, foul talk, bitterness - all of these actions and attitudes undermine our relationships.

To live our baptism is to recognise we are above all of this because Christ is above all of this and Christ is in us. So at the conclusion of the set passage, the beginning of Chapter 5, we’re called to the imitation of Christ. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

If Christ is in our lives our imitation of him should not be an effort. We just act out what we are, as those seated secure in Christ and walking always with him, believing he is with us.

Our Lord has the capacity by his fragrant offering and sacrifice to God to help us redeem our capacity for relationship and make it an instrument for the building up of the Church.

Let's look more closely at the main body of teaching on relationships in our passage, at its start from 4:25: Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another.

To live with Christ is to live by the truth. When Jesus is in our lives we see an ongoing healing that reconciles us to the way things actually are.

How can you build relationships with others unless you are determined to be truthful?

Putting off falsehood is not just a matter of not telling lies to other people. It is an ongoing process of illumination and healing. As we more and more possess ourselves we gain integrity and the capacity to be generous towards others.

Sometimes the falsehoods we hold to are benign, like white lies - if there is such a possibility. When we have received a cruel blow our inner defence mechanism helps us deny the fact. That denial shows itself in our faint heartedness before some situations. Sometimes our relating to other people seems to be 'lifting a scab', unsettling an old wound in need of healing.

To live with Christ at the centre of our lives involves seeking healing for such inner hurts that make us live in falsehood.

Speaking truthfully to (your) neighbour does not mean telling all. It often means holding back information, out of love. Just as we cannot ourselves bear the whole truth about ourselves so with the bearing of truth to others. There is a time - but we need patience to choose such a time to speak the truth in love.

Our passage has a lot to say about one of the greatest threats to good relationships - anger: Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice …or earlier on: Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger

To live as a Christian is to live with a perspective beyond oneself. We are no longer the centre of the world but find completion outside of ourselves. So much for the principle. Let someone 'tread in our space' so to speak and we discover how much we really live out in practice that selfless principle! Healing our relationships is about facing up to and dealing with this anger as it brews up in our life from time to time, or as it gets repressed deep down inside us.

We are to 'get rid' says verse 31. The earlier verse 26 of Ephesians 4 is more merciful - it gives us 24 hours to do so. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. To protect our relationships we should always end the day as best we can in peace with our neighbours. In this way, as he goes on, we do not make room for the devil.

St. Paul indicates in v29 that when we own the Lord deep in our lives we let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up…so that your words may give grace to those who hear. The way we talk, like the expression of anger, has a profound effect upon the sort of relationships we build, even obstructing our capacity to build relationships at all.
V29 is hard teaching if it is something we have to battle to attain in our own strength - but we don't - for we are 'seated with Christ' and Christ is in our lives! With Christ as our guide there is less of a battle over evil talk. We are able to seek the release of his Spirit into our lives and into our language.

The Spirit of Jesus is a spirit who encourages. Like Jesus himself he is an 'Advocate', one who always speaks and pleads on behalf of people.

We do not see much Holy Spirit talk today in the mass media. Contemptuous talk, yes. Unwholesome talk, yes.

Jesus in us is able to show us words and actions that are useful for building up…so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Our relationship with other people grows and deepens as we open ourselves to the gifts of the Holy Spirit that give insight into human needs around us. As we are shown people's hearts by God we are enabled to bare our own hearts and to be bound together in a true and deep relationship, the needy with the needy.

Our passage also speaks of overcoming greed: 28 thieves must give up stealing How many of our relational difficulties come down to greed and acquisitiveness! At a basic level each individual has a selfish instinct for survival. When Christ comes into our life he begins to transform that instinct so that we do not live to amass and possess but to serve. As believers we see ourselves as stewards of life, not 'proprietors'.

32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, as God in Christ God forgave you. To be a Christian is to have within you One who in his nature reaches out in love and mercy to others. It is to adhere to an infinite source of generous love. Here is our deepest healing, bringing us into a wholeness of being, the fullness of human and social well being.

Jesus has the power to free us gently from the falsehoods about ourselves. He can touch with his healing the inner hurts that make us less than we are meant to be. In this way our capacity to grow in relationship with God and neighbour is enhanced.

When the patience of Jesus is recognised deep in our lives our capacity for anger is compensated. We can no longer rage, treating people as if they were objects. Instead we are those who make space for others.

The keener sense of our own sense of inadequacy and our need of grace and mercy brings with it fresh generosity towards those who in any sense 'cross our path'.

Jesus in us is able to show us words and actions that are useful for building up…so that your words may give grace to those who hear and so that our relationships grow and deepen, heart to heart.

When we know the Lord deep within us our material possessions begin to serve our relationships. Material concerns lose their power to dominate and to destroy relationships when the power of love gets to work deep down.

St. Paul implores the Ephesians in our passage do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.

As the ministry of the Word now gives way to the celebration of the sacrament we might ask the Holy Spirit in a quiet moment or two to show us any grief he has about our lives to prepare our hearts for Holy Communion.

The Holy Spirit wants to lead us into wholeness and truth - but gently, step by step!

Where is the falsehood to be offered up, the inner hurt to be touched?

Is the Holy Spirit grieving over my inner anger or acquisitiveness?

If I feel badly done to, how forgetful have I become about the benefits of Christ?

Come Holy Spirit, now, and fill the hearts of your faithful people! Show us our exact needs at this hour - and then give us courage to reach out to you, so that Christ may be better formed within us!

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us - fill us anew, fill us anew!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Salvation - Gift, Promise, Choice (John 6) Trinity 8 2nd August 2009

Has anyone ever asked you if you were saved? How would you answer?

This morning's Gospel has a lot to say about salvation and what it is to be saved. These next few weeks we’ll be reading through the 6th Chapter of St. John's Gospel, all about Jesus the Bread of Life and the wonder of the Eucharist.

The chapter ends with Peter's famous summary: Lord, to whom shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.

Salvation, eternal life, is a gift, a promise and a choice - three headings gathering up the teaching of St. John Chapter 6 - so we'll take them one by one!

1. The Gift

Looking over the whole Chapter we see a tremendous emphasis on the wonder and mystery of the gift of Jesus.

The chapter starts with a tale of miraculous feeding. Jesus takes five loaves and two fish. He takes, blesses and shares - a clear pointer towards this service, the Eucharist where we also take, bless, break and share.

Five thousand are fed - an image of overflowing, wondrous grace.

Then Jesus begins to make many points about this sign, bringing out not just the meaning of that lunch in Tiberias but the ultimate meaning of all things - and how we can enter into that.

The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world 33 he says in the section of John 6 we just heard.

The multiplication of the loaves represents the abundance of life-giving grace that has come to the earth.

Who is the bread of God? He answers I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

What a gift! Never to hunger or thirst, never to be lacking - here is the gift of full salvation.

Always we are longing, we human beings. We long for security, for love, for identity, for purpose and reason for life - and here it is, all of that for which we long, offered at last - through the great mystery of Jesus, God come to earth, lifting earthbound beings to heaven.

To be saved is to welcome the gift of Jesus, the Bread of Heaven. The passage on the Heavenly Bread interprets and brings out the full meaning of the gift we welcome in this service week by week.

Can there be a passage in the Bible which speaks more strongly about the need to participate in the Eucharist than verse 53 of St. John Chapter 6: Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

Salvation is about welcoming Jesus - and what he has done by the separating of his body and blood in sacrifice. At each Eucharist we recall the separation of Christ's body and blood in the separate consecrations. We pause after these words: This is my body given for you… We pause again after these words: This is my blood shed for you…

Salvation is a gift given for us in the coming to earth, dying and rising of Jesus. You can't be saved, says Jesus, by contemplating your navel, by the vague religiosity of crystals and New Age, or even by our efforts for justice and peace, admirable as they are - but by welcoming the gift of Christ into our souls

Salvation is presented there as a gift - and also, secondly as a promise.

2. The Promise

You have the words of eternal life says Peter at the end of the chapter. He is confirming his understanding of the earlier teaching where Jesus makes it clear that when we welcome him we also inherit a promise, the promise of eternal life: Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life

When someone asks you if you are saved they are really touching on whether you feel sure that your life will not be lost when you die.

Are you sure? Do you know that you have eternal life?

I remember someone asking Cardinal Hume whether he believed in God. There was a long pause. Finally the wise old man replied - I'm not sure, but I'm sure of this - that God believes in me. Cardinal Hume as a humble and thoughtful Christian seemed concerned not to appear arrogantly, let alone aggressively certain, in the face of what is the most important question in the world.

The question 'Do you believe in God?' is very similar to 'Do you know you are saved?' Our answer must be that from our own understanding's point of view we cannot claim certainty. That, though is not the end of it if you accept what God reveals in Jesus.

We may lack belief but that doesn't stop God believing in us. We may be unworthy of salvation - but that does not stop God promising it! If I know I am saved it is because God has promised it to believers and I believe God - I trust God to keep his word to me - the key is knowing the promise.

Evangelism is about spreading good news, which means letting people know about the gift and the promises of God so that they can choose for themselves to believe - which brings us onto the last heading.

3. The Choice

At the end of this sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel we read in v60 that many of the followers of Jesus said, "This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it? And they choose to leave Jesus. Jesus says to the Twelve later in the passage: What about you, do you want to go away too?

When we contemplate the mystery of Christ we should be profoundly moved, awed by the generosity of God in sending his Son to save us and then giving us the choice of whether we accept him or not.

This is awesome - for us to be given a choice. Awesome, but also perilous for us to be so honoured with freedom to choose in a matter affecting our eternal welfare.

There is a further mystery of how God himself seems to make a hidden choice of those who do respond positively to him, so that our choice of God is almost pre-empted by his choice of us.

Let's also be warned that though the Twelve in the Gospel stay with Jesus and the rest go away, Judas is still in the Twelve. The choice to be in the Church is no guarantee of salvation, the choice must be for Jesus and a deep, heartfelt choice and such choices may be possible even outside the Church on occasion.

What a wonder and a mystery - the choice of God and the choices of God! We are saved by choice not by chance. No one has a right to heaven. You may think you're as good as the next person - but what does that matter when we are talking about having eternal life with God? Who are we, so full of deceit and inadequacy, made of the dust of the earth, full of frailty, to be worthy of God in his holiness?

Only by God's gift and his promise - and our choice of him.

Can you say honestly and from the heart with St. Peter at the end of this great chapter - because if you can you have salvation:

Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

To whom can we go?
There is one giver of salvation who gives us today his flesh and blood as life to our spirit!

You have the words of eternal life. You, Jesus, Bread of Life, promise us through our communion with you a quality of life that is in its nature unending.

And we believe Given such a gift and such a promise the choice is ours, to live not by chance but by a definite choice, a choice for Jesus our Saviour, to whom be glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.