Sunday, 25 July 2010

Peter Vince on St James. 25th July 2010

“The pilgrim of the middle ages shared with the modern tourist the conviction that certain places and certain things possessed spiritual power and that one was a better person for visiting them.”

The opening sentence of the highly regarded modern book on The Pilgrimage to Santiago.

I would much prefer not to be here today and after I have spoken to you for a few minutes the feeling may be mutual.

Today is the feast day of St James the Apostle known also as St James the Greater.

He is the Patron Saint of Spain where he is called Santiago.

What do we know of him?

He was the brother of John and they were fishermen and partners with Simon Peter. His father was Zebedee his mother Salome and she was reputed to be the sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary so he was by my reckoning a cousin of our Lord.

He was one of the first to be chosen. He was present we know:-

At the healing of Peter’s mother in Law
At the raising of the daughter of Jairus
At the Transfiguration
With John and Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane
At one of the Post Resurrection appearances
And in the upper room after the Ascension

He was almost certainly present during much of Jesus ministry including key events such as the Last Supper

He was not present at the Crucifixion.

Jesus called him and his brother John “Sons of Thunder” maybe because they showed characteristics which fitted with such a description or maybe because they suggested that Our Lord called down fire from heaven to punish a village who had not taken them in.

That really is all we know with any degree of certainty.

In the Middle Ages much faith was placed in relics maybe because folk lacked confidence in the present so people obtained comfort from things which represented what they saw as the perfection of the past. Never slow to pass up an opportunity for betterment the church embraced the culture of relics with abandon. A “good” relic would bring pilgrims and prosperity. Quite an industry evolved with raiding parties from one church or cathedral nicking the relics from others.

There are three churches who to this day claim to have a relic of the arm of St Ann. There were enough fragments of the “True Cross” to build a bridge over the River Styx let alone a boat.

It was all the better to travel out of duty and faith and love to these relics especially as the church still preached on the dreadful Day of Judgement and the risk of eternal damnation. The only sure antidote was contact with the Saints who would intercede for them. There were plenty of Saints to choose from but if the Saint was a martyr so much the better and if that Martyr was one of the 12 disciples salvation was assured. So we know why the relics of Saints were important but where did James fit in with all this?

James was the first Christian Martyr after Stephen and the first of the apostles to be martyred.

After they were exhorted by Jesus to preach the Gospel James is supposed to have travelled to Iberia where he remained for two years. He returned to Jerusalem and during the persecution of Christians under Herod Agrippa I he was executed. His remains were taken by two of his disciples to Spain and buried and eventually they were buried with him and the tomb became lost for some 800 years by which time Spain had been conquered by the Moors from North Africa. The remnants of the Christians seized on the discovery of the Tomb and the cult of Santiago was born.

Bit by bit the story grew. St James appeared miraculously at various battles to help drive out the occupying Arabs. So his reputation as saviour of Christian Spain grew and the tiny shrine built over his tomb grew with it until the great flamboyant cathedral and the town which surrounded it came about which we see today.

The evidence for all this is flimsy. There is no proof that he went to Spain in the first place. Some of the legends are clearly nonsense but the Spanish people now rid of the invaders were easy to persuade and the church did little to contradict the belief that James preached and was buried there.

James was the only Saint with such credentials to be linked with any country in western Europe and it was only to be expected that pilgrims flocked to him from all over Northern and western Europe. At the height of the pilgrimage half a million people a year walked or rode to Santiago. In around 1990 I went there for the first time. In those days and for many hundreds of years (after an interview with a priest) the successful pilgrim was given a certificate called a Compostela. In 1990 2500 were issued. This year is a Holy Year, when St James day falls on a Sunday and 250,000 pilgrims are expected.

Edwin Mullins describes the road to Santiago as a monument to the creative strength of Blind Faith. Maybe his is right – the standard of forensic proof is low but then there is nothing more easy than for a sceptic to raise doubts over things that cannot be proven.

For me I can only say that having travelled 1000 miles under my own steam to kneel in a tiny cell with the casket containing the bones of St James the Greater I had no doubts whatever.

If I and thousands of others are wrong and the sceptics are right nobody can argue that James the Apostle has not inspired, motivated and nurtured countless Christian souls for centuries and for that we should give thanks. There can also be no doubt whatever that James had qualities of obedience , loyalty and love which all of us would do well to emulate.

Going back to the start the reason I would prefer not to here is that, as I speak thousands of Pilgrims will be celebrating in the Cathedral at Santiago the joyful feast day of their special saint and I wish I were there with them.

So we pray,

Lord God,
You accepted the Sacrifice of St James, the first of your Apostles to give his life for your sake,
My we and your Church find strength in his Martyrdom and Inspiration in his service and Love to our Lord.
Help us to serve you in the same Spirit of Love and Sacrifice,

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

St James' Feast 25 July 2010

When the Feast of St James falls as it does this year on a Sunday it’s a very big day in Spain. Indeed its part of what they call a Holy Year, defined as the years their Patron Saint’s feast falls on Sunday. The King and Queen go to the Shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostella for High Mass during which the famous Botafumeiro, the giant Thurible is allowed to swing up and down the Cathedral nave.

The origin of the Thurible or incense burner is in thousands of sweaty feet. Santiago de Compostella is at the end of the world’s most famous Christian pilgrim route.

Seven years ago there were two extra pairs of sweaty feet in the Cathedral – those of my then12-year-old son James and I. We had completed a foot pilgrimage to the Shrine of St James covering the minimum distance required to attain the Compostella. Here it is – the Latin certificate you receive from the Cathedral Office at the end of your journey. (Show) This is the pilgrim badge (show)

The 100km hike required weeks of preparation including walking with packs on the Downs. We had no back up team so all we would need had to go on our backs as we travelled from refugio to refugio on the ancient pilgrim way.

The most important part of our preparation was deciding what not to take! Trial walks with laden rucksacks helped sort our priorities. When you're a beast of burden with a choice about that burden you soon thin your load! Though I'm an avid reader I was forced to shed all books but the Bible. James and I settled for little more than one change of clothes. My luxury was a short-wave radio. His was a Gameboy Advance. Off we went to Santiago de Compostela, or rather to the 100km point from which we hiked day by day along the pilgrim route and with much lighter burdens than we’d first planned.

One of the great things about being a Christian pilgrim is you travel light! Preparing to go on our pilgrimage gave me an enduring spiritual lesson. We brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it. The lighter we travel the easier and more joyous our tread on life's pilgrimage to the city of God!

The call to detachment is part of the call to poverty intrinsic to the Christian Gospel. It goes alongside the confidence we should have as children of God in Our Father to provide for us in all circumstances.

Although today’s Gospel includes a rebuke for St James and his brother we assume that he took the message: whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.

Or, as the Lord puts it elsewhere, blessed are the poor in spirit – those who have a right and humble assessment of themselves before God. Such folk see what they have – including any worldly status – as counting for nothing other than when it is used for service. They are detached from material possessions

The wealth of the rich is their strong city we read in Proverbs 18:11-12, in their imagination it is like a high wall…but humility goes before honour.

The ‘high wall’ riches can literally raise up – and you see them literally not a million miles from here – can all too easily put worldly honour before humility.

This ‘honour’ is the ultimate evil of materialism which we are brain washed into day by day – the valuing of people by what they possess rather than for who they are as those loved by God and bearing his image!

What does it mean to be ‘poor in Spirit’? It means to have a true knowledge of God for who he is and of ourselves as who we are. To know God in his infinite grandeur is to know oneself as a nothing and a less than nothing through sin.

When Our Lord spoke in the Gospel to James and John he was asking for poverty of spirit.

When attained this would be the sign of discipleship since a true knowledge of God in his infinite grandeur brings with it a recognition of one’s self as an utter nothing!

If we were but ‘nothings’! Our capacity to do harm brings us down one peg further, even if it is balanced by the capacity to do beautiful things as well.

As someone put it, our poverty is like that of a song compared to the singer. We are like a song of the Lord – he is the singer, we are the song. How can the ‘song’ compare itself to the singer?

Yet it is our privilege to be able to live in the praise of God! Here at the Eucharist, the great thanksgiving sacrifice of the Church we can admit this truth – all things come of you and of your own do we give you..through Christ and with Christ and in Christ!

We are to welcome Jesus in a moment in the Blessed Sacrament. God in the material order, hidden in bread and wine. As we welcome him here may he open our spiritual eyes to see him elsewhere in the material order – particularly in the run of our lives in the coming week that we may encounter him in the needy. The needy in body, mind and spirit – those who are enduring personal ordeals and badly in need of attention – our attention, our time, our money if needs be.

God free us to travel lighter in our Christian pilgrimage with deeper detachment from material things, abandoned more and more to his purposes.

The Lord deepen our confidence in his provision and also our humility. We need both confidence in him and humility before him to serve him aright.

As we own up more and more to our own spiritual need and poverty may we see Jesus – Jesus on his throne in glory, Jesus in the sacrament of the altar and Jesus in the hearts of the poor and the hearts of all his faithful people!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Trinity 7 18th July 2010

Genesis 18v1-10; Ps 15; Colossians 1v15-28; Luke 10v38-42

Martha and Mary – who chose the better part?

God desires us to have intimacy with himself - this is the basic truth of Christianity.

The wonder of the stars…

The God who made all of them, who holds all of them in his hand, desires intimacy with me!

The hospitality of Abraham – icon of the hospitality of the Trinity (Genesis 18)

The majesty of Christ ‘for in him all things in heaven and earth were created…’ (Colossians 1v15-28)

‘Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’ (Luke 10v42)

God desires to have union with us, intimate union, heart to heart.

The Majesty and yet the availability....How is this intimacy brought to us?

On God’s side by the gift of the Spirit - on our side, we receive our friendship by humility and expectancy...

On God’s can God be one with us? The Maker of the stars hold me close, answer my prayers, guide me, free me from fear, heal me, forgive me?

God is after all different...

The answer is by the Holy Spirit who is God and who brings God in all His Fullness to fill my heart eg. The ocean which is no less for filling a pool... eg. 1 Cor 2v10 ‘the Spirit searches the depths of God...we have received the Spirit...who...interprets spiritual truth (intimacy)’

On my side the intimacy is established as a gift welcomed. How? By humility and by St. Francis de Sales twin virtues.

Humble cf. Humous - of the earth, a readiness to see our nothingness before God and our less than nothingness through sin...

Then Expectant on God, Confident in God... St. Therese ...& the Sacred Heart, her faith that God could make her a Saint - the Lift...

Intimacy with God is God’s gift by his Spirit It is welcomed by humility and expectancy.

The eucharist is the great parable and seal of all of God gives his Spirit, his own Life, par we come empty-handed, in total humility before the Lord and yet with expectancy...

‘Lord I am not worthy...but only say the word’

Ronald Rolheiser in his book ‘Forgotten among the Lilies’ writes: ‘Perhaps the most useful image of how the Eucharist functions is the image of a mother holding a frightened, tired and tense child. In the eucharist God functions as a mother. God picks us up; frightened, tired, helpless, complaining, discouraged and protesting children, & holds us to her heart until the tension subsides and peace and strength flow into us’

Such is the intimacy we are privileged to share this morning and day by day in the Lord’s Presence.

‘There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’ Luke 10.42
‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him’ John 6.56

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Trinity 6 MAP launch Luke 10.25-37 11th July 2010

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus teaches us to identify and serve people’s needs where they are, to make a difference to them and to keep on the case.

The Samaritan, unlike the priest and Levite, had his eyes on the world around him and the call of that beaten up man. The priest and Levite were strict legalists. Like the community police man who let a boy drown because he had not done health and safety training they went by their ritual law book which said you’d be made unclean if you touched a corpse. They left the man for dead.

The Samaritan, a religious outsider, obeyed a higher law than religion, the law of God and of common humanity. He met the man’s needs. He made a difference, He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

Furthermore the hero of the tale kept on his case. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”

The parable speaks about our mission calling as followers of Jesus.

We are called to identify people’s needs and go serve them. Serve them not on our terms but theirs. Serve them without getting in the way of what’s best for them. Serve them also with a view to their ongoing welfare.

A year ago forty of us met one Sunday after service in the Martindale to seek vision for the future and to begin to set priorities for St Giles for 2010 to 2015.
Four groups of us identified independently the same three priorities: renewing our worship, engaging with youth and families and enhancing our buildings.

Over the last year the PCC has been overseeing progress on this vision. Last month we submitted an updated parish MAP to the bishop and this is copied for you in this week’s news sheet.

How are things going a year on? What have we done to accomplish these priorities? What needs to be done? How can we as church members better serve this planned action?

Our MAP is about perceived needs and serving them in an ongoing way.

We have a big vision as a church – God’s glory and the salvation of the world – but we have a tight focus: renewing our worship, engaging with youth and families and enhancing our buildings.

What must I do to inherit eternal life? …You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us the big vision and illustrates it in a focussed example.

This morning we are reminded of St Giles’ aspiration to serve that same vision with its own particular focus. Like the Good Samaritan we are keeping on the case.

A year on how are we delivering on our three priorities?

First renewing worship. Over the last year we have offered the Holy Eucharist Sunday by Sunday with a monthly variant of all age eucharist at 10am and Book of Common Prayer at 8am. The meaning and significance of word and sacrament has been unpacked for us by a good variety of preachers including some church members.

Outside of Sunday eucharist our worship has included services of reconciliation, healing ministry, Taize, hours of contemplation, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, lay led evening prayer and the Saturday prayer group. Individuals have been discovering the sacraments of confession and anointing.

A major thrust in preaching has been the call to adopt a rule of daily prayer and bible reading and better preparation for the self offering called for by participation in the eucharist.

This autumn we will be running a prayer exploration fortnight on three Thursday evenings starting 21st October. These will involve receiving 20 minutes teaching on an aspect of prayer, 20 minutes praying together and 20 minutes reflecting in threes on the prayer experience.

Brother Roger of TaizĂ© once said ‘when the church becomes a house of prayer the people will come running’. Renewing worship is about renewing the prayerfulness of its participants more than it is about changing service formats important as they are.

Our second mission action priority has been to engage with youth and families.

Over the last year Sunday Club has had something of a revival thanks to an increase in volunteer leaders and excellent connection with Wednesday’s First Steps in the Martindale. At the same time we have seen the hopefully temporary suspension of the Junior Choir though I am aware of musically gifted children who would like to join up and of some individuals who might offer their services to get things going again. On other fronts I have been getting alongside village youth activities alongside my regular commitment to visit the elderly and housebound. The MAP mentions an aspiration to run a parenting course which we would like church members to help lead.

Our third mission action priority has been to enhance buildings for better witness. Over the last year we have seen quite a lot of work on church culminating in the south transept renewal which is accomplishing at this time the long overdue refurbishment of the sacristy and vestry areas. The completion of the repairs recommended at the last five yearly inspection is also in hand, primarily the painting of our porch and sections of the Lady Chapel and sanctuary walling now dried out after water penetration.

On the MAP you will see that we are working towards better Christian witness through the Martindale Centre and towards creating amenities including toilets at St Giles.

At the vision day last year we recognized that any church to grow requires, beyond awesome yet accessible worship, parking, heating and toilets. The PCC is working through its fabric committee to engage with our architect on the best plan for amenities. These are the lowest, longest term priority. Above them stands the Martindale.

Last year at the vision day people felt that St Giles needs the Martindale to engage with Hosted Keynes and go half-way from the church site to where most people live. Over the year we have held special worship and social events there. Church members are involved in the Wednesday First Steps and Thursday coffee morning as well as, less up front, in the youth club, gym and scouting activities. Over the last year work has gone into clearing out the basement rooms and spaces in the Martindale. Numerous possibilities exist for developing Christian work there but their development and the improvement of what goes on there from the point of view of connecting with St Giles is up to church members.

This is the main challenge for us as we plan our mission action. Are there church members who could work with the Martindale Committee to be link people for the activities listed in the news sheet? Or members who would like to run their own evangelistic or other events that would help people in Horsted Keynes to meet up for a good cause or for Christian formation?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus taught us to identify and serve people’s needs where they are, to make a difference to them and to keep on the case. When it comes to the action we’re planning in the coming year for prayer, youth or buildings we need like the Good Samaritan to see from God what’s needed and be generous in providing for it with an ongoing commitment.

The Lord bless us through this eucharist as we express our love for him!

The Lord guide us, individually in the coming week and corporately in the coming year, as we seek better expression of the love for our neighbours that he is calling us to.

In particular may he bring such life to the Martindale Centre that it earns a coat of paint!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Trinity 5 4th July 2010 8am

As you know I spent some time as a priest working in the interior of Guyana, South America and we have the Bishop here with us later on this morning.

There was actually a place called ‘El Dorado’ in my parish, that of the Rupununi.

Goldminers regularly passed through the village from the ‘Gold Shouts’.

My wedding ring has Guyana gold in it from a ‘Gold Shout’.

A ‘Gold Shout’ happens when a miner finds some gold worth shouting about. The only thing is, he doesn’t actually shout. He hides the information about a seam of gold as long as he can.

‘Jesus Christ’ writes the apostle Paul, ‘is the key that opens all the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge’

To discover Christ is like a ‘Gold Shout’. It can be a first discovery – what we call evangelism – in which folk speak dramatically of being found after being lost.

It can also be an ongoing discovery as more of Christ’s riches dawn upon us. Either way there’s something about Jesus worth making a noise about.

In a Guyanese ‘Gold Shout’ there is a loss to the discoverer if he shouts too soon.

When we spread our news about Jesus it causes us further gain and not loss.

Love is something that if you give it away, you end up having more…just like a Magic Penny runs the children’s song.

As the seventy appointed in the Gospel went out for Jesus they returned shouting for joy at the blessings that accompanied there evangelistic outing. As we in turn take courage to give out in deed and word for Jesus’ sake we get richer in spirit.

Gold is magic but it can’t rival the magic of Jesus.

A ‘Gold Shout’ is actually quite a dangerous place where the miners readily fight for their coveted discovery.

When we find Jesus we have found something, or rather, someone, we fight not to keep but to give away, to draw people’s attention to, to share or even shout about.

In this Holy Eucharist we welcome afresh the treasure which is Jesus.

With all our heart we should affirm in a moment our Christian faith.

Lord, you are more precious than silver. Lord you are more costly than gold – and nothing I desire compares with you