Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Ash Wednesday 17th February 2010

What do I want to happen in Lent or through the keeping of Lent here at St. Giles in 2010?

More of God's wonderful possibilities to be seen in our lives and the life of the Church in Horsted Keynes!

Put it another way.

Lent is the annual renewal of our relationship with God made possible through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ we commemorate in 40 days time.

Each baptised person is in a relationship with God. For many that relationship is distant, as distant as that of two people standing together in a queue for the bus.

God desires a greater intimacy than that. He desires to make himself known, to come right into our lives in fact. The receiving of Holy Communion by a baptised person is no less than a sharing in God’s personal and abundant life. We touch the life that is life indeed. He touches us – one to one - and as he touches us he releases his wonderful possibilities into our lives.

Lent’s a call to a deeper friendship with God, a deeper life of prayer, a greater release of his possibilities in our lives.

I want to ask you at the beginning of Lent a very intimate question:

Are there areas in your life, in your relationships, in your work, in your church allegiance, in your marriage...are there, or is there an area where you are stuck?

It may be a partner who has no spiritual vision. It may be a deep seated pessimism, "nothing can get me out of this situation". It may be a yearning to blossom spiritually that seems thwarted by all the pressures upon you.

As Lent begins maybe the Lord wants you to hear this from him: Yes, by your reckoning there’s no way forward. You’re in a fix. Now’s the time to forget your own reckoning and allow me to reckon for you. I want you to see a way forward as you pray to me and see as a result my limitless possibilities released. Be expectant upon me.

Lent starts with the word of St. Paul: this is the day of salvation.
A message of expectancy, of looking by faith beyond what seems naturally possible to the supernatural possibilities of Our Lord.

When did you last have an answer to prayer? When did you last see something provided in your life or in your family that had no natural explanation but linked to a heartfelt plea to God?

God is almighty God, as Lent reminds us in its daily collect. There’s no limitation on him or on the powers released through believers when they pray. Is anything too hard for the Lord? was the promise to Abraham in Genesis 18v14. It was repeated to Our Lady at the Annunciation: with God nothing will be impossible. Luke 1v37. Then Our Lord made a special point in Luke 18v27, what is impossible with men is possible with God.

And my God it is! A religion founded upon the resurrection of the dead is a religion that has no closed doors, no "impossibles". A God who can bring all of creation out of nothing and the living Christ from the tomb is in the business of the impossible!

I shall never forget the Zambian priest I once knew at college. His simple, expectant faith was such that he described to me how he had prayed for a man in his church who’d died and the man was raised up from his death bed. No boundaries for Fr. Manuel on the possibilities of God - and he was an Anglican!
Dare to believe! Be sold on being bold in faith! Expect great things from God! Attempt great things for God!

In a moment I shall invite you to come and receive the ashes of penitence upon your forehead. "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel" are the words we’ll be using.

Let the ashes mark death to the sinful nature with its low expectations of life. Death to the dead ends, the sticking points in your life or in your relationships with God or neighbour. Speaking to us all as a Church, let the ashes speak death to a natural pessimism about our growing younger as a church.

Turn away from sin - and be faithful to the gospel.

Let the ashes speak death to the negatives in our sinful human reasoning and turn us to the great positive of the gospel. Let gospel thinking, gospel reasoning, gospel expectations flood us.

What is impossible to human thinking is possible with God.Is anything too hard for the Lord?

If we not only believe that but go on to pray persistently in that spirit we shall see mountains moved - in our lives and in our Church as God couples the powers of heaven to our helpless ness making the impossible things possible through our turning afresh to Him in these great 40 days of Lent.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Sunday next before Lent 14th February 2010

It’s three days before the Lent challenge and it seems appropriate for the preacher to help inform any decisions we might be poised to make about our individual response to the forthcoming sacred season.

Each year Lent’s given us to remind us, as the Bible says to run with perseverance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12.2).

We’re given the Lent challenge, forty days of training, to help us make a difference to the world, the church and to our spiritual lives. I put it that way round to keep our sights on the big picture. The training we accomplish will bring the power and direction of God more to bear upon the world through you and me.

Just as a bicycle get its power and direction from the cyclist through its spokes to its wheels Christian believers travel empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit through the disciplines or spokes of the Christian life.

Lent is an opportunity to refresh our discipleship by fresh attention to our spiritual discipline. You don't get disciples without discipline.

Our sisters and brothers of the Muslim faith have provided us in their keeping of Ramadan with an example of discipleship we should ponder. If only a handful of Christians took Lent as seriously as they take Ramadan there would be a spiritual revival in our land!

The Lent challenge is there from Wednesday. Forty days to get into training.

Coming back to those spokes that bring power and direction to the wheels of a bike what are the spiritual spokes or disciplines you and I can attend to?

I'll give you three. Three spokes would be enough if they were broad spokes and I'm talking broad headings at this stage - prayer, study and action.

Spoke 1 - Prayer. I've just come back from Lanzarote where I was reminded that prayer is like sunbathing. You need to book your lounger, strip off and lounge.

Several people have told me how much they appreciate the silences in the Eucharist. Try a silence at home. You looking at God and God looking at you. Try stopping everything for 5 or 10 or 15 minutes a day from Wednesday. Book your space, strip off your preoccupations and lounge in God's presence.
I can't promise you it'll be like Lanzarote but it will make a difference to you and through you to the world.

Sunbathing can be a corporate activity. In Lent there's a 25 min extra Eucharist on Tuesday morning at 8am and Stations of the Cross on Saturdays at 6pm.

Spoke 2 - Study. One of the things that is really getting to many of us as Christians is the way Christian faith gets ridiculed and sidelined in the United Kingdom. We lose our confidence. Lent is an opportunity to build up that confidence by refreshing our engagement with the Bible and the faith of the Church: the creed, sacraments and commandments.

Every Tuesday at 8pm we'll be studying together through Lent using the Square Mile DVD course and you're welcome to come along.

Maybe a weekly study course on a Tuesday night is difficult for you. Pick up your Bible. Read a Gospel - Mark only takes 90 minutes for an average reader. Pick up a paper back copy of Mark from the back of Church for £1 to me.

Study the Catechism. There’s a 100 minute catechism on two CDs also on sale at the back. The Firmly I Believe CD set – 40 3min talks on the creed, sacraments, commandments and prayer with mood music backing. Can be played at home or in the car or put on your Ipod. That is my last but one series on London’s Premier Christian Radio. The CD sets at the back of Church have a special discount for St Giles - only £5 – again to me.

The last spoke - Action. We need to pray and to study but most of the difference we make to the world comes through unselfish Christian action. I hesitate to illustrate this but charity begins at home. Lent is a time to identify and address what and whom we're neglecting.

Lent 2010 brings with it a special challenge to corporate action here at St Giles through the stewardship renewal. Most of you have packs (show) with details of Christian action at St Giles which ranges from reading in Church to giving people lifts to Sainsbury's. Part of your Lenten rule could be preparing the best response you can to the stewardship challenge and the invitations provided there to join existing ministries at St Giles.

Prayer, study, action - alone or with the Church - these are disciplines we should ponder and refresh this Lent. These are spokes given to help God's power and direction flow more through us into a needy world.

God grant us all a happy and holy Lent! Jesus grant that fruits of his passion may grow in us! Come, Holy Spirit, and give us all fresh power and direction so the kingdom of this world may become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ!