Sunday, 23 May 2010

Pentecost Sunday 23rd May 2010


Welcome to the triumphant end of Easter season when we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost also called Whitsunday.

We’ve just sung about becoming the place wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.

How can we understand this?

I’ve got an illustration.

Each one of us human beings is like a coffee pot.

We’re filled with so much goodness, love and patience to give out to others.
We give out and out and out - until we get empty. Then we find the difference between Christians and others.

What do you think that difference is?

Believers have found there's a lid on our coffee pot and a God willing to refill us, through it, with love, power and praise exactly when we’re empty and needy.
The 'lid' is faith and what gets poured in by the Spirit's power is 'grace'.
Our sin is linked to our self sufficiency, to our attempts to live in our own strength without the help of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s read through the confession before we say it together and ask God’s forgiveness.


So what were the signs when the Holy Spirit first came down?

Rush of wind, tongues of fire, sense of filling, speaking in other languages.

Remember the coffee pot getting filled, opening up for a refill of love and empowerment when the going gets tough in life? It had been tough for the first disciples, but they prayed for the Spirit and the Spirit came.

We believe he comes in every act of Christian prayer but especially at the eucharist where he speaks through the bible and makes bread and wine our heavenly food.

The first Pentecost must have been quite a wild occasion, all that wind and fire and speaking in tongues. Elsewhere in the bible the Holy Spirit speaks more quietly. He is also a still, small voice.

In 1985 a Canon John Dorman I hardly knew wrote to me with to share how the Holy Spirit had laid on him to write from Guyana to ask me to consider running a theological college for Amerindian priests. It was a job for two single priests and married priests were not under consideration.

The problem was that though I was then in the Company of Mission Priests who take annual promises to stay single I had been praying about marriage! So it was with some reluctance that I came to see John Dorman’s letter as the voice of the Holy Spirit.

How could you see the hinterland of Guyana deprived of the sacraments because I wouldn’t leave my comfort zone! I needed to go. I went and as I went, in God’s loving kindness, I met Anne. She was at the USPG College of Ascension where Fr Allan Buik and I went to train before going to Guyana.

Though Anne was going to Argentina to serve in the diocesan office both the Bishop of Argentina and the then Bishop of Guyana agreed to our marriage which was celebrated on Pentecost Sunday 1988.

It was a great Pentecost Day. The whole village came to the celebration which began with the slaughter of a cow at dawn and cost me a bag of rice, sugar and flour! A Hindu business man I played squash with provided a plane to fly in our parents. The Holy Spirit was there working to smooth the logistics of marriage in the jungle!

I’m telling you all this because I know the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. He is all powerful. He also writes straight through crooked lines as Anne and I have discovered.

You know that our charitable giving is for our new Guyana link this Sunday and next – we use the orange envelopes for this. This is why I want to underline Pentecost as a Sunday which sets our eyes on the mission field. The fact that the Bishop of Guyana is visiting us in six weeks time is also relevant. We want to give him our collection personally. You can read about the new bishop and the mission of the church in Guyana by taking away a free copy of El Dorado from the back of church

Meanwhile the Holy Spirit is also filling lives around us here in Horsted Keynes. I wish more of us could have been here last Sunday night with Fr Martin when two teams ministered prayer and anointing to a group of folk who seemed to gain a real lift!

God is at work here – here and now. Let’s stand to acclaim him as we welcome the holy gospel.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Easter 7 The road to salvation Sunday 16 May 2010

It’s been a momentous week in British politics.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg deserve our prayers as they lead a new coalition in the national interest.

They are building a way out of the deficit and we will all pay the price. Last week I was privileged to travel to Bavaria on behalf of the Diocese and gather with 40 participants from 16 nations across Europe to study Biblical ethics. As I learned we had a new government during the week my new Romanian friend Peter learned his wages had been cut by 25% and his mother’s pension by 15% by government order in Romania. I was impressed by his humility in the face of such a financial blow.

From David and Nick to Paul and Luke in our first reading. You may remember that St Luke is author of the Acts and he travelled with St Paul. Hence today’s passage begins One day, as we were going to the place of prayer. It goes on say we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.' She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.‘ And it came out that very hour.

‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.'
That’s the phrase from that leapt out at me as I was reflecting on the scripture fresh from my Bavarian study leave with the new coalition in mind.

In Acts 16:17 we read how the psychic slave girl embarrasses Paul and Luke by shouting out: ‘These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you.’

What a great image! - ‘laying out the road of salvation’. It sounds like laying out the red carpet!

Just as in the days of his flesh it was the evil spirits who seemed to know the truth of Jesus more than his human hearers so with the first believers. The devil knows a trick or two they rightly say.

As the days of Eastertide move to a close, we’re reminded today of the ongoing consequences of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the world. Jesus has opened up, laid out a road of salvation.

It’s the road that leads up to St Giles or to all we stand for, a road that goes up and down to a place of joyful freedom. I noticed that in my absence Church Road, though still up and down, has been smoothed out at the top. No holes left to trip our members!

Anyway we stand on a road to salvation, Church Road! Ups and downs, holes, yet a place for people going somewhere. St Giles isn’t really a cul de sac, did you know?

So what does it mean to be saved?

Last week I was sharing with men and women from all over Europe one in their admission of the truth of scripture and the Christian creeds. With me they were engaged in paving the road to salvation for people living in places as far apart as Iceland and Ukraine, England and Finland. To be saved, I think we all agreed, is to be drawn to God through Jesus and come onto the road of salvation destined for the Trinity.

As Paul writes to another of his companions, Timothy This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2.3-6)

If God desires salvation for all he still requires our consent if we’re to move forward onto that road.

What is that road? Five thoughts.

It is a road into belonging. Our Lord prays his Father in today’s Gospel I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Salvation is a pathway into belonging to Jesus and his Father through their go-between, the Holy Spirit who seals our union in baptism, confirmation and eucharist. The road of salvation is a path through which isolated people can find belonging with us in the holy, catholic Church that can be renamed God’s never-ending family.

It is secondly a road into truth. To be saved is nothing less than to come to the knowledge of the truth. The wonderful, inclusive truth that is ours in Jesus our Saviour! At our conference in Josefstal, Bavaria we looked at the truth of scripture. A Lutheran professor, Karl Foitzik, gave us a helpful analogy. Biblical truth is communicated more in analogue than digital form. You know how precisely digital radios operate compared to the fuzziness of analogue sets. Expecting the bible to provide precise, literal truth, he said, was problematic. In our discussions we recognized the church as interpreter of scripture and our need to set issues such as homosexuality in a fuller context than literal prohibitions. The truth at stake in sexual ethics links to an age old understanding of the truth of marriage and sexual intercourse as the union of life-giving love by male and female. If the road to salvation is open to both homosexual and heterosexual it is arguable whether there can be a third state of life besides marriage and celibacy.

Back to the road. Salvation’s a road to belonging, truth and thirdly a way of compassion. Christianity got famous over love. ‘See how these Christians love one another’ they said at first. May people say it of us today!

Humanity and compassion are strongly linked and most often seen hand in hand where there is suffering. I find Buddhist teaching on spiritual detachment helpful. I do not find the image of the Buddha helpful. There is something that doesn’t resonate in a religious symbol of smiling contentment. For us this is the symbol – point to the Crucifix – and it is one with suffering humanity in every age. The salvation Christ offers is one that’s lit up the bed of suffering, the inner turmoil and psychological anguish of billions through the ages. The God shown us in Christ’s a God of compassion, which means literally one who suffers with you. Who indeed expects nothing of us that he’s not prepared to go through himself as he did on Calvary. Our altar stands by Calvary, our worship is Eucharistic, giving thanks for the Cross and determined to stay on the royal road of the Cross, the red carpet of salvation, til resurrection day of which every Sunday is anticipation.

What’s distinctive about Christian salvation is its capacity to go not against but beyond the grain of human nature into what seem to be impossible realms through empowerment by the grace of the Spirit.

So salvation is fourthly a road to empowerment. When the heart of God touches our heart it lifts the stones that lie over the springs of renewing grace. As we heard in today’s second reading from the book of Revelation chapter 22 verse 17: The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.The Spirit of God refreshes and empowers those on the Christian road. He can also break up the stoniness in our hearts like a heavenly microwave. The work of salvation takes us on a road the world so needs today, a road that builds mercy in the soul! The heart of God makes what is impossible for us possible through the possibilities of God – which makes it, lastly, is a road to holiness.

As we studied the bible for 8 days in Germany we recognized how its interpretation is not just about rational understanding. The best interpreters are the saints, the holy men and women who speak to us still from the faith of the church through the ages.

When we read the bible it’s got authority over us. If we’re submitted to the bible as God’s Word it will be his instrument. This doesn’t necessarily mean a literal understanding but a critical loyalty served by knowledge of the creed, engagement in Christian worship and obedience to God’s commandments.

Holiness is a quality of life that lights up the road of salvation to all who stand around enticing them to step on to it. Such holiness derives from trust in God’s promises in the bible as well as in God’s Spirit who comes upon us in prayer and worship.

We started with David and Nick laying out a road for economic recovery and moved to Paul and Luke.

Their road, our road is also a road for Britain today but it is more than that. It is the way we are charged with commending as Christians, a way into the heart of God no less and everlasting salvation.

It’s a laying out the red carpet towards belonging and truth, compassion, empowerment and holiness.

Thousands are living and dying without Christ and we want them to discover a purpose for living and a reason for dying - the very purpose and reason we have as Christians.

May the eucharist we celebrate make us better servants of sisters and brothers lost in life! May this morning’s worship hour lend us courage to lay out the red carpet for them by our words and deeds and by what God is making us in Christ. Amen.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Easter 5 Election 2nd May 2010

We stand at an important junction in national life so let’s take guidance from the word of God as we prepare to play our part in the events of the coming week.

Today’s scripture was in place before Gordon Brown set 6th May. What do the lectionary readings for the fifth Sunday of Easter have to say to us?

The first reading from Acts has a hidden warning against putting our historic party allegiances too high on our agenda as we prepare to vote. Peter, a devout Jew, is taken to task in Acts 11 for associating with another party, the ‘uncircumcised’. The Jewish believers had picked up on how the Holy Spirit had fallen on Cornelius’ household as described in the previous chapter of Acts. Peter defends himself by describing a wondrous vision in which three times he’s pressed by God to eat what he saw as unclean food. The vision connected with a word from God that came to the centurion Cornelius. It seems Cornelius’ household was simultaneously prepared by God to welcome Peter’s visit and with it the good news of Jesus and empowerment in the Holy Spirit.

This passage shows God as utterly non-tribal. The God and Father of Jesus isn’t God of the Jews alone but God of the whole world. He’s God of St Giles and The Green Man to put it Horsted Keynes terms. The Holy Spirit is in principle just as available in the village as in church. Sometimes, as in the blessing of The Crown, there’s been opportunity to demonstrate that.

The Christian vision of God’s inclusivity is a challenge to the politics that defends an elite. It is refreshing to have our main political parties speaking so inclusively today. On paper none support second class citizenship in terms of race, sex, or sexual orientation. Nor an economic underclass – in principle! All main parties have strategies to foster both the creation and just distribution of wealth. All would subscribe to Britain’s global role in redressing past colonial exploitation but with different emphases. Policies on immigration make interesting reading! Some political groups are fuelling a base sort of nationalism hiding racist agendas under the national flag. The election campaign has a lot to teach us about a degree of demoralisation through pockets of poverty in our nation. When people are demoralised they’ll very readily turn to false saviours. This is what happened in Germany between the World Wars.

30 years ago I was priest in a mining village in Doncaster. It disturbs me to see the neglect of the former coal fields and how it has bred civic unrest there. Social ills have now led to an investigation of the Mayor and Council in Doncaster. Civic life depends on good citizenship. We get the leaders we deserve. It’s also true we can never dream up a political system that escapes the flaw of having to be delivered by sinful human beings. As T.S.Eliot wrote we dream of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good. Eliot may have been referring to Stalinist Russia but we might apply it to the demise of the western economy – Goldman Sachs – allied to naive, foolhardy or maybe wicked politics.

What’s the root of such political corruption? The real challenge in our society has been described as the transformation of consumers into citizens. People resist the call to public service through a self interest unconcerned about the common good beyond making sure they have the consumables they want and the neighbourhood watch functions in case others want to take these from them. The lack of readiness among people to take responsibility for civic life and the common good is quite alarming. Many of us live in the mini world of our household and the mega world of Facebook, Twitter and MSN leaving out the midi world of the local community.

Thursday’s election is a call for us to take responsibility afresh for our village, county and nation as the citizens we are.

Let’s move on to the second reading from the book of Revelation chapter 21. John the visionary speaks there of a new earth and heaven and a new Jerusalem. These new things are to be found already in the church on earth inasmuch as the resurrection of Jesus thrills through her life. That’s why we read Revelation in Eastertide. God does indeed dwell with men and women through Jesus veiled in word and sacrament. We’ve got his life in the Christian community. This life is a foretaste, a preview of forthcoming attractions, where mourning and crying and pain will be no more. Oh yes there’s mourning and crying and pain in the life of the Christian church as much as outside it - but it’s mourning, crying and pain sweetened by the Lord we know who’s with us. Jesus has drawn the sting of death and suffering for all who turn to him.

The vision of St John, the vision of the Christian scripture, is a now and then vision. What is then to be in a transformed universe is now present – this is the gospel.

I always take heart when I receive Holy Communion at the coronation altar in Westminster Abbey. Above it there’s a quotation from Revelation Chapter 11 verse 15: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.

When we think about who should serve us in Westminster or in the local council the vision thing’s as important as their personal integrity. One of the frequently heard complaints about this election campaign is the lack of vision for the transformation of society. And yet the electorate has been made suspicious of visionaries after the failure of both state socialism and laissez faire capitalism evidenced in their foul consequences.

What does it mean to seek that the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ?

Certainly the Christian vision is a robust vision of inclusion. As I have written in the P&P and this week’s news sheet, as we vote we have a responsibility to think about the common good in our community, nation and world. We have a duty to ensure the each and every person has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. If society is to change should it not benefit those who are hardest pressed?

The kingdom of God is nothing less than his reign. That’s not just for the new heaven and earth but for now. God reigns now where folk will let him in. I am praying that among our new MPs we might have a Wilberforce or two or three! It says in Proverbs 29 verse 18 that where there’s no vision the people perish. Away from God’s reign there’s mourning and crying and pain without consolation. Those who promote a vision of God help keep us faithful to enduring values that pave the way to a heavenly Jerusalem.

Lastly let’s see what we can glean from today’s Gospel from St John chapter 13.
A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you. John 13.34

Love makes the world and the church go round. Last week we heard the diocesan missioner say to us that he thought the best sort of evangelism was a community that intrigued people with the love of Jesus.The vision thing centres in Christianity on loving God and your neighbour as yourself. It’s resourced by God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit as St Paul writes in Romans 5 verse 5.

As I have loved you – as God loves us – we’re to love one another. This is the Christian call and when it’s applied it brings transformation.

Wise politicians know their need of the voluntary sector. Communities can’t be built and neither can citizens be formed without people who’re prepared to put themselves out for others.

What’s the answer to the abortion rate? To family breakdown? To care for the elderly? To those who wish to legalise mercy killing?

The answer doesn’t lie so much in policies as in a spiritual revival bringing a fresh outpouring of love. A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you.

Just to take one of my list, isn’t the problem of people wishing they were dead and not suffering linked not just to low pain tolerances but also to the lack of compassion around in our families? If people know they’re loved they can brave pain. You can cope with no end of hardship if you know you are loved.

Values come from vision and we need vision in our society. May Thursday bring some visionaries into public office, some of Christian conviction with a yearning for the new heaven and the new earth where righteousness dwells.

May the kingdom of this world advance a little towards becoming the kingdom of our God and of his Christ through this eucharist, through our prayer, through our voting on Thursday and through a new wave of the Holy Spirit pouring his love upon our village, county, nation and world. Amen.