Sunday, 27 September 2009

Trinity 16 Empowerment Sunday 27th September 2009

Numbers 11.16,24-29, Mark 9.38-41

Contrary to popular understanding Christianity is about empowerment and not encumbrance.

To live with Jesus is to live free from burdens in the power of the Spirit. That’s what catches people!

It’s a baptismal Eucharist and we celebrate with Sean, Kathryn and Antonia the gift of Rupert empowering him for life in the Spirit.

Today’s scriptures are all about the release of the Holy Spirit.

In the passage from Numbers we have the greatest Old Testament passage on Holy Spirit empowerment. Moses appoints seventy elders and God gives them also his Spirit. Up to this point in the Bible the Holy Spirit has only been given to selected individuals and not to groups of people.

This anointing showed itself as a real empowerment so that when the spirit rested on them, they prophesied. God spoke words of wisdom through them. The point of the exercise was to empower more leaders for the Israelites. Moses was finding the going hard and needed help.

After this charismatic manifestation ceased we read. Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. Somehow they were seen as outsiders and that they seemed to have got the Spirit was too much for Joshua. ‘My lord, Moses, stop them!’ He wouldn’t though. This was his response: Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them’.

I think we’ve all met Joshua’s. Over careful folk on the eye out for untidiness! I’ve got a bit of the Joshua in me! Moses’ response was to say the Spirit can’t be confined to the regularly appointed in the church. He’s free to blow where he wills.

Move on 1300 years from this incident to today’s Gospel incident that’s got the same chemistry about it. Now God has come on earth in Jesus to bring a greater deliverance than he brought his people through Moses. People were finding, not just his immediate followers, that those bound by all sorts of conditions could be freed by invoking the name of Jesus. John, his beloved disciple, like Joshua checks his boss. Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us. Jesus answers just like Moses. Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.

3,300 years on what are we to make of God’s word in our situation?

When God comes to earth and into lives there are no holds barred! Yes, he uses his prophets and his priests, but his aim is the empowerment of all his people and that empowerment even spills outside the church. Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets! …Do not stop them…Whoever is not against us is for us.

My goodness there’s wisdom for us here this morning whether we’re regular church goers or not! Whether we’re priest or lay member!

Contrary to popular opinion, the God of Judaeo-Christian tradition isn’t a heavy handed restrictive encumbering God but a light handed, permission giving, empowering God.

Contrary to popular opinion, to be baptised isn’t to take second place in a hierarchy under priests but to take first place in a ministry that priests serve.

To be baptised is to be empowered by the Spirit to be a priestly people.

Break off your fetters, people of God – recognise your dignity and your empowerment!

A King of France said he thought more of his baptism than his coronation because it gave him the greater dignity. All the baptised are anointed princes and princesses in their Lord’s family.

Today is in a sense Rupert’s naming. Jesus was also named at his baptism. He received the name ‘Christ’ meaning Jesus the anointed One. Why? Because at his baptism the Holy Spirit was seen to come upon him with a voice and a dove from heaven making him Jesus the Anointed, Jesus Christ.

We probably won’t see a dove or hear a heavenly voice at the font this morning but we should believe this. Jesus who passed from sight after his death and rising has by his Spirit passed into the sacraments.

This morning through the outward and visible signs of water and bread and wine an inward and spiritual grace will be given by the invisible Christ through his Spirit.

As Jesus was anointed Christ at his baptism Christians come at their baptism to be empowered by the same Spirit through sharing their Lord’s anointing.

How can a sprinkling of water be so important? Of course its importance links to faith. So many people are baptised and forget it. It’s as if the present they’ve received from God stays wrapped up.

By contrast Christians like Martin Luther saw baptism as the be-all and end-all. When tempted or depressed Luther would mutter Baptisatus sum: I am baptised. I belong to God – God has claimed me as his own.

At times when Christians feel down the remembrance of baptism can rekindle their faith in the empowerment that’s in their life from God.

St Paul once reminded his associate Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God he had been given (2 Timothy 1:6a). Let Rupert’s baptism be a reminder to all of us who are baptised of the gift of empowerment that we need to be fired up with if we’re going to be believers who set the world on fire.

This will come back to mind at the end of the service this morning when Sean, Kathryn and Rupert will be given a lighted candle to carry out in the procession.

Empowered, fired up by the Spirit they will be made a reminder to us all that we Christians are called not to encumbrance but to empowerment.

A last point. The scriptures today warn us to be on the look out for the work of the Spirit outside church walls. Remember Eldad and Medad! Keep humble as God’s people knowing that even if God is in our lives we can’t tie him down to our own world or the world of the church. As it says in the book of Wisdom The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world. It holds all things together and knows every word spoken by man.

Life in the Spirit is a life that’s together. It’s an empowered life of freedom and it’s full of surprises because our God is a God of surprises! Let’s take a moment of quiet to open ourselves to that God.

Trinity 16 8am May Christ dwell in our hearts Sunday 27th September 2009

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

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

This thinking is evident in this morning’s epistle from Ephesians Chapter 3. For this cause I bow my knees before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.

In Christian prayer repetition of the name of Jesus as part of seeking his indwelling has had very special significance and power all through the ages. Writing in the 4th century St. John Chrysostom had this advice about the indwelling of Christ in the hearts of Christians: Abide constantly with the name of our Lord Jesus, so that the heart swallows the Lord and the Lord the heart and the two become one the saint advises but he also warns that this work is not done in one or two days; it needs long effort and a long time. For much labour and time are needed before the enemy is cast out and Christ comes to dwell is us.

A quotation from another early Christian writer, Hesychius of Jerusalem captures something of the positive, joyful goodness that seems to flow from the repetition of the name of Jesus in prayer. The sun, passing over the earth, produces daylight; the holy and worshipful Name of the Lord Jesus, constantly shining in the mind, produces a measureless number of sun-like thoughts.

For this cause I bow my knees before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.

Seeking that Christ may dwell in our hearts is warfare against the fear that counters love, against the deadening spiritual impact of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Prayer is warfare because Jesus calls us to a fullness of humanity that involves our shedding constraints, shaking off what Hebrews calls the weight and the sin that clings so closely (12v1b).

In prayer we see ourselves in a true light and take action against the dark forces that impel us. Hesychius of Jerusalem writes: As it is impossible for the sun to shine without light, so it is impossible for the heart to be cleansed of the filth of wicked thoughts without prayer in the Name of Jesus…let us utter this Name as often as we breathe. For it is light, and those others (wicked thoughts) are darkness. And He (the Jesus we invoke) is God and Almighty Lord, whereas the others are servants of the demons.

As today’s epistle implies the indwelling of Christ through prayers counters malevolence with benevolence, the capacity to enter the good will of God for all people, especially in intercessory prayer.

Christianity is not merely a doctrine or a system of beliefs Thomas Merton wrote, it is Christ living in us and uniting people to one another in His own life and unity. For Merton a hermit monk there is only one true flight from the world; it is not an escape from conflict, anguish and suffering, but … flight from disunity and separation to unity and peace in the love of other [people].

We look to Christ to be with us now and with all those for whom we pray in the Holy Communion Service. He lifts us up into His Perfect Offering and as we come before the Lord with people and needs on our hearts they are entrusted to him with confidence.

In this service we also receive in Holy Communion itself empowerment as an inner gift from Jesus in these holy mysteries…the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of…our Saviour Jesus Christ.

For this cause I bow my knees before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Trinity 15 Engaging with youth and families 20th September 2009

I want to think with you this morning about engaging with youth and families.

This was promised as part of a three part series on the priorities we identified in July at our thinking day at which four groups of the 35 or so who were present identified independently – as if from the Lord - the same three priorities:
Renewing our worship
Engaging with youth and families
Enhancing our buildings.

Two weeks ago we looked at renewing our worship. I want to look today at the second priority and what we’re doing and might do to accomplish it. In two weeks time we will look at the third priority of enhancing our buildings

Engaging with youth and families then. Have another look at our Gospel reading. Which verses leap out at you as we reflect upon this priority which was affirmed again at Monday’s PCC?

Which verses? Mark Chapter 9v36-7 surely!

Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Jesus did this to stop an argument. He knew his followers had been arguing who was best so he gave them a wake up call by pointing to a child.

It’s my task with the PCC to give us all a wake up call this morning by pointing to our need to engage with youth and families.

It’s harder to point to them here in St Giles Sunday by Sunday though we are breaking more ground. At this very moment, of course, by design, they can’t be pointed to, though they were last week in Church on our Patronal festival.

You could have pointed to 120 of them on Friday though. Every Friday St Giles School gathers in Church and seven of our church members take it in turn to lead a Christian assembly.

What a privilege in this day and age to have a school coming into your church week by week! Not on a Sunday, sadly, but at least on a Friday.

It’s a chance to salute the church members who work as governors and in other capacities with our head teacher Mrs Francis to equip each of our pupils, to the best of our ability, with knowledge, skills and understanding, so that they may develop fully as individuals with Christian values and contribute to, participate in and enjoy the world in which they live.

I’ve just read out what’s called ‘the broad purpose of education at St Giles Church of England Primary School’. It’s something we should own and the PCC are very keen that we do so more effectively as we engage with youth and families. If the Lord is leading you to serve this purpose alongside our School in any capacity you should talk to me or our Chair of Governors, Marion Lott. The School needs Christians on board if its Christian purpose is to be accomplished more fully.

Just looking at our purpose statement, it seems to define Christianity as nothing less than humanity in its right mind. That’s exactly about developing fully as individuals and contributing to, participating in and enjoying the world in which we live.

If few people contribute to society in this way it’s their loss and the world’s – and it’s a loss of the enjoyment many of us in Church this morning know comes from humble service.

Our Lord took that child in his arms to put his proud followers in their place.

Children can, of course, be outrageously proud and that’s one of the struggles we have as parents, teachers or youth workers!

We’re born self-centred but destined to lose that self-centredness. Christianity is about knowing ourselves to get to loving ourselves to get to losing ourselves. This is how human beings get themselves to what they’re meant to be. We had some advice about that in the second reading didn’t we? Do not be boastful and false to the truth James wrote. Where there is selfish ambition, there will also be disorder…submit yourselves therefore to God…Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

It’s really a choice between two religions in the end – that of the Child in the Manger or that of the Dog in the manger!
The Dog in the Manger is a fable attributed to Aesop, concerning a dog who one afternoon lay down to sleep in the manger. On being awoken, he ferociously kept the cattle in the farm from eating the hay on which he chose to sleep, even though he was unable to eat it himself, leading an ox to mutter the moral of the fable: People often begrudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves.

Think of the child who discards a toy - until his brother or sister tries to play with it! The child suddenly becomes possessive about something it hadn’t wanted up to that point.
Jesus commended the humble dependence of children. His word also calls us to ‘put away childish things’ (1 Corinthians 13.11) which includes the self interest that sees others as a threat to our domain.

At the Eucharist our prayer climaxes in the prayer Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. Take me into your purposes, Lord, we are praying. Let me be part of the kingdom of this world becoming the kingdom of our God and of his Christ (Revelation 11.15).

The Christian values we seek for our children come from this ultimate vision. It’s my belief that when a young person sees this he or she will go for it. They just need to hear the good news and see it lived in an intriguing Christian community. Intriguing, yes, boring no! How dare we make Christianity dull – but we do, preachers often most of all!

I would ask you, and I would ask myself: how intrigued are you with Jesus? Have you lost your first love somewhat? Jesus is ever new and his power to make you and I new will never fail because he’s the same joyful, holy, good, inspiring Jesus yesterday, today and tomorrow! Gathering for this hour with him, with his word and with the sacrament of his love, every Lord’s Day should be transformativeis transformative. It is Jesus hour we’re in – an awesome hour, an hour that should be accessible to young and old.

We’ll best engage with youth and families if we can speak of Jesus and show we’re here because of the out of this world dimension of Christianity. God make us more Christlike and less likeminded because in an older church likemindedness can exclude youth and families, let’s beware! Beware especially in your conversations before and after the Eucharist.

Besides deepening our own integrity and depth as believers the best we can do to serve this identified priority is to be there for youth and families in our acquaintance and in the life of St Giles - and by not getting in the way of their most helpful engagement with the Lord.

Yes this means being accommodating, for example in our musical preferences. Yes it means coping with extraneous noise as best you can, welcoming noise as a problem of life. Churches needs ushers and not hushers! Microphones and loop systems are given to reinforce those who speak in church. They also help him or her rise above the noise of children in unfamiliar and sometimes to them alien surroundings.

However good the words are in church unless priest and people walk the talk they’re on a hiding to nothing.

Last Sunday we had half a dozen choristers. The junior choir serve us well. They do sing. How much we miss Rachel Rawdon-Mogg though! The choir are sheep without a shepherd especially with Lucy going to College. Here’s a vital realm for service if anyone could rise to it. The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few when it comes to musicians. Chris Wheatley and I are holding the fort as best we can, with the support of Martin and Jamie.

I wrote these prophetic words in this month’s P&P – at least I hope they are prophetic: We are working to build up the choir and form a music group employing the abundance of musical talent in the village. This sermon is part of the working!

I added – and this is actually happening even as I speak: More teaching is being provided for children and young people during the 10am Eucharist. This is a signal achievement for a church with our membership - a six week rota for Sunday Club - but we do need more hands on deck.

Is it possible for one or two people here this morning to offer one Sunday every couple of months to be part of the Sunday Club team? This won’t exclude you from the Eucharist, just mean you miss the sermon once in a while!

Our young people aren’t just the church of the future. They’re the church of today!

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me the Lord says.

Saint Giles is welcoming children and youth but there are questions. How can we give them more of a voice and make space for them to lead?

Our other two priorities of renewing our worship and enhancing our buildings connect with this of course. No stated priorities will get anywhere though without ownership, which is why I am seeking to promote what the Spirit seems to be saying to us in this important part of our Sunday worship.

We want our church to be God’s church in the sense of being a place where youth and families are engaging with him and not just entertained, loved practically and not just admired, a place where young people can learn both to give and receive and to develop fully as individuals… contributing to, participating in and enjoying the world in which we live.

So be it – and let’s walk the talk on this as best we can. The PCC needs everyone on board!