Sunday, 29 August 2010

West Hoathly evensong Trinity 13 29th August 2010

I was in Eastbourne some time back walking on the promenade. Something landed beside me.

It came from a seagull – and, no, it wasn’t what you might expect!

It was a clam. The bird was continually dropping the shellfish until it broke.

Powerless to break into the clam by its own strength, the seagull invoked a higher power, that of gravity. By working with gravity the bird got its dinner.

This remarkable scene reminded me of how many an impenetrable problem – even a pastoral vacancy - can yield when we have the humility of faith to call upon a higher power to assist us.

In Jesus God has come to us, is ready to give himself to us, and is able to help us grow to rely on him more and more in all circumstances of our life.

We only need to take on board the invitation of Jesus to humble ourselves with confidence in his provision.

He must increase, but I must decrease we heard in the second reading from St John’s Gospel chapter 3v30. This is a call to humility.

He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure, verse 34.

What a wonderful promise! There’s nothing in short supply for those who take God at his word. As Isaiah promised in chapter 33 verse17 Your eyes will see the king in his beauty.

How could that vision of God be possible for us in our own strength?

Yet God, who loves us through and through, has promised it.

The same promise of the beatific vision is found amplified in the
first letter of St John chapter 3: See what love the Father has
given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is
what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did
not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will
be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

We will see him as he is...Your eyes will see the king in his beauty. What promises!

Though God calls us to decrease in ourselves he sets before us the heavenly promises referred to in today’s collect.

To be a Christian we need twin virtues – confidence in God and humility before him.

To have Christian faith is to say yes to God’s promises freely and wholeheartedly, to open our hands to welcome his mighty provision to reach into the waywardness and poverty of our lives.

This is what we mean by having faith - saying yes to what God promises, freely and wholeheartedly, trusting him with the whole self. Saying yes with humility, knowing we’re not actually the centre of things however much our senses delude us into thinking so.

Faith isn’t sophisticated beliefs, strong convictions, or some sort of moral perfection.

It’s a readiness to reach out and receive from Jesus.

Faith is less something we have and more something we do.

God has far more riches in his treasury of grace. They’re on offer. You need faith to lay hold on God’s grace. That means a readiness to open your hands to receive.

To live by faith is to live humbly with confidence in God’s empowerment!

The seagull couldn’t get the clam open but saw a helper in his situation so he could get his dinner.

We’re looking ahead as a church and as individuals.

We face many situations both as a church and as individuals that we need to approach not with the clenched fists of battle but with the open hands of faith.

Maybe God is laying on these situations to build our faith, to teach us wisdom and make us more open to his power from on high.

By faith we come to welcome the riches God has for us in Jesus. We discern God's loving wisdom and direction for our lives.

By faith we are sustained through disappointments, frustrations, and failures.

Faith is possible for all. It is a simple turning to God as we are.

This is what St Margaret’s is all about – and St Giles – our prayers are very much with you at this time.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, writes St Peter (1 Peter 5) that he may exalt you in due time.

With two wings, humility and confidence in God’s word we lift ourselves heavenwards like the seagull and see the impossible made possible.

Trinity 13 Sunday 29th August 2010

How do you make the best of who you are and the gifts you’ve been given?

We do so day by day not so much by choosing between black and white but through choosing the lesser shade of grey. We do so as Christians also with an eye to more than self advancement.

The Gospel and its matching first reading hardly need a commentary. Pride was not created for human beings, we heard from Ecclesiasticus. Later on we heard from Luke Chapter 14: Go and sit down at the lowest place…for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

The Gospel is no hand book on dining etiquette. It’s a parable, Jesus says, a story with a moral. The moral is aimed at those who saw their obedience to God earning them a place at God’s side. Jesus announces in both his words and his deeds a revolution in religious thinking. To be at God’s side you need to renounce any worthiness you think you’ve got to be placed there.

This quality of humility isn’t passive however, or a matter of speaking hollow words like the ritual ‘yes man’ Uriah Heep. Its an active quality. Humility is a call to downward mobility with Jesus. This is the thrust at the end of the Gospel. When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed. (Luke 14v12-14)

When we look at how Jesus managed power he seems to have made a point of giving it up wherever he could, passing praise for his healings on to his Father, emptying himself for others to suffer and die. He is supremely the humble one who has been exalted by his glorious resurrection.

Christianity isn’t a straight forward sort of religion. It’s full of paradoxes, things that contradict in logic but that God shows us we have to hold together in the practice of faith and life.

God is the be all and end all - yet human beings can live without him. Jesus isn’t God and he isn’t man - he’s God and man. Ultimate reality has three persons - but they are also one God. Believers live by God’s providence - but they live their own lives. The bread and wine we share taste like bread and wine - but they are the body and blood of Christ.

I could go on. The paradox of today’s scripture is that God is the same as us and yet he’s different from us. He’s a personal being who made us like himself. He’s also out of this world and can’t be fitted into worldly standards.

Here’s a parable that tries to explain the paradox in today’s Gospel.

Each year the President of the nation had a banquet in the palace for all his employers at which ministers and the accredited diplomats sat side by side with civil servants, cleaners and gardeners. As the meal got under way one of the gardeners, overwhelmed by the occasion and a bit thirsty, picked up his water filled fingerbowl and drank from it. People laughed. Quick as a flash the President realized both the error of his gardener and the cruelty of the mocking laughter. The President took hold of his own fingerbowl, though put there to clean diners’ fingers and not for drinking, and drank from it himself. This wiped the smiles off the faces of those who had mocked the poor gardener. Some of them felt so awkward they followed the President and drank themselves from their finger bowls.

How slow we can be as Christians to see the central paradox of our faith - the way to God is through seeking humility. The Pecking Order isn’t at all like the pecking order most people identify.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Philippians Chapter Two (v5-8).

In making the best of who we are and the gifts we’ve been given, through all the choice of shades of grey we choose between, unless we have that over arching desire to be with Jesus who descends to greatness all we do is nothing worth.

What are you doing with your life that will last forever? That’s the question we need to be asking ourselves – and Jesus asks it in the Gospel when he challenges those who seek upward mobility.

Christ’s humility was rewarded, as that passage from Philippians confirms, by his being highly exalted… and given the name that is above every name. So it is for us as we choose from time to time a lower pathway in worldly terms.

In the course of my ministry I have met people who have chased a dream of success and power over relentlessly. Their neglected families had paid the price for this so that the people they thought they were working for in the end got literally divorced from them. They were left emotionally and physically broken. Their worldly achievements actually mocked them rather than rewarded them.

As Christians we worship a God who is far from this sort of dis-connectedness. The God shown us in Jesus has no ‘better faster alone than slower together’ upward mobility about him at all.

'The Word became flesh and dwelt among us'. He came, and in coming announced his 'downwardly mobility'. Eternal Truth came to be fleshed out in a stable so we could know him and flourish as people loved by him. He comes to us to this day in the humble obscurity of bread and wine

As Christians we have truth, words to share but they are most effective when fleshed out in a loving and authentic way. People today, especially young people, need witnesses before they need teachers in the strict sense. They look for integrity. When they see humility in action it can be intriguing to them, even if they can also exploit it. As people exploited Jesus they will go for us to!

I want to end with a quote from Henri Nouwen that rejoices in the God who is 'downwardly mobile' and can be encountered in the service of the needy. Nouwen was an academic priest who chose in his last years to work among the mentally handicapped. This is the quote from his memorial volume, 'The Road to Daybreak':

People seek glory by moving upward. God reveals his glory by moving downward. If we truly want to see the glory of God, we must move downward with Jesus. This is the deepest reason for living in solidarity with poor, oppressed and handicapped people. They are the ones through whom God's glory can manifest itself to us. They show us the way to God, the way to salvation.

As Jesus says to us this morning When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed… Go and sit down at the lowest place…for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Trinity 13 29th August Luke 10v23-37 BCP 8am

The Parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that looking to the needs of others as true neighbours brings joy both to them and to us.

A teacher found that most of her class got through their reading work very quickly. This made it hard for the slow readers and hard to keep discipline.

She found an answer to the problem that made everyone happy. When the fast readers finished they were set the task of helping the slow readers. In this way the class stayed very happy whenever it came to reading time.

The children were given a task of service and in fulfilling that task they rose above their inadequacies into joy.

So it is, to come back to you and I, that Jesus doesn’t promise us joy other than in facing our limitations and then reaching out beyond them into his service and the building up of his kingdom.

We’re not encouraged to delight or find happiness in ourselves, much as he loves us, but in putting ourselves to his work.

I looked for my soul, but my soul I could not see.
I looked for my God, but my God eluded me.
I looked for my brother and I found all three.

Joy comes as we repent, or turn away from our own selfish desires towards God and neighbour.

Happiness is self-forgetfulness. It can’t be worked up. It’s worked out.

How is it worked out?

Firstly by working out our sin and short-comings and confessing them. This is a vital discipline we do on our own but there is a sacrament available. As we could have read to us later in this service from the Book of Common Prayer, it might be that some of you requireth further comfort or counsel; let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness. Priests are ordained to provide absolution. Appointments are possible at St Giles even!

Joy comes firstly as we repent, or turn away from our own selfish desires towards God and secondly as we set ourselves to the service of our neighbour, directing our energies outside of ourselves.

In doing all of this – facing inadequacy, rising above it, pushing ourselves outwards in service - we receive a ‘buzz’ and that ‘buzz’ is as near to happiness as we ever get on this earth.

We find the deepest joy through letting Jesus show us more of our inadequacy and our need for him - for only by depending upon him can we reach full potential.

What a strange process it is, this growing to full potential within the Communion of Saints.

We start life dependent upon our parents.

We struggle towards independence.

Our fulfilment though lies in achieving interdependence with others.

God grants us our independence not that we may go our own way but that we may choose to depend upon him as we turn our lives to the common good.

To live as Jesus Christ promised – as the children of God – is a calling to interdependence. This is a state of joy, one that openly proclaims our individual inadequacy and our reconciliation to God and neighbour.

For there is no joy for those without a sense of inadequacy in the ultimate picture of things!

So we come to the Lord through the confession of sin, not trusting in our own righteousness but in his manifold and great mercies.

We come seeking afresh the joy of the Lord who can bind up the wounds within us, pour in his healing balm and set us afresh on the path of service.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Trinity 12 Sunday 22nd August

I want to look this morning at the second reading from the fourth chapter of the letter to the Colossians. In this passage St. Paul invites his readers to: devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

What does it mean to reach someone for Christ?

Only the Holy Spirit can reach people for Christ. Our task is to be there for people as we invoke the Spirit on them – and not to get in God’s way. Know what I mean? To really care for folk, to be alongside them, but only pushy in our prayer!

Our day by day ministry as Christians is as verse 4 expresses it to proclaim the message clearly, as I should. Part of this clear proclamation is our engagement with questions people have about Christian faith, something I have myself been very active in resourcing with Premier Christian Radio and as Diocesan apologetics consultant.

In this month’s Chichester Magazine I have commended a book which we’re holding a discussion on in November. Here it is, Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God. We’re getting copies for people (they cost £5) hoping a good number of us will use it to dust the cobwebs off their past Christian formation, confirmation classes or whatever. I am also commending my own Firmly I Believe which answers questions about forty areas of believing concerning the creed, sacraments, commandments and prayer.

Commercials over – back to our scripture!

Proclaim the message clearly…know how to answer everyone This advice in verses 4 and 6 of Colossians 3 parallels that of St. Peter in his first letter chapter 3v15 where he says Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect Peter says.

Talking of ‘respect’ Narnia author C.S.Lewis wrote about a lady he knew who spent her life on other people. He said you could tell the people by their hunted look!

5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; Paul continues in verses 5 and 6 of Colossians Chapter 4, make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace,

What does it mean to reach someone for Christ? Mission is about getting attuned to people and to God so they may both connect, which makes us bridge-builders. Jesus though is the real bridge, the bridge over troubled waters.

Pray… that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

We can’t open the doors of people’s hearts but Jesus can. Is anything too hard for the Lord?

There’s a team poised this morning to get us working towards Back to Church Sunday on 26th September. My job this morning is to present the basic scissor strategy of church growth.

Show scissors Very obvious – two blades – prayer and invitation. The church grows as her members pray for people to experience God and invite them on occasion to join with God’s people. Back to Church Sunday is such an occasion and you’ll be hearing more on this at the end of the eucharist.

First prayer. Pray… that God may open a door

The Norwegian writer on prayer, Professor Hallesby writes these inspiring and helpful words: The work of prayer is prerequisite to all other work in the kingdom of God, for the simple reason that it is by prayer that we couple the powers of heaven to our helplessness, the powers which can turn water into wine and remove mountains in our own lives and the lives of others, the powers which can awaken those who sleep in sin and raise the dead, the power which can capture strongholds and make the impossible possible.

To be missionary isn’t about knocking on doors so much as inviting God to do so – to knock on heart doors. Mission Horsted Keynes and surrounds is calling you! The Rector is pleading with you to serve in an executive capacity. You don’t however necessarily need to meet with him or the Back to Church Sunday organisers of to be in that ‘executive’ capacity. You need rather to promise to meet daily with Jesus Christ on behalf of Horsted Keynes and its surrounds, including your own friends and families who live without the blessings of faith and this will indeed make you mission ‘executives’. It is by prayer that we couple the powers of heaven to our helplessness ...the powers which can awaken those who sleep in sin and raise the dead, the power which can capture strongholds and make the impossible possible.

So many are losing out on the blessings of faith! We want some from among our acquaintance, as the Lord leads, to open their hearts and discover the possibilities of God - the very possibilities that operate among us here as members of St. Giles Church.

So in the coming month I’m inviting action – we’re going to act. I’m asking you each day to pray for the growth of the church mentioning particular individuals known to you upon whom you desire God’s richest blessing.

It may be a matter of praying the Our Father slowly, ‘Thy Kingdom come’ in Horsted Keynes, in Mid-Sussex, in the life of my friends.

It may be a matter of fasting a little for the special Sunday maybe on Fridays the day Jesus died, or of coming to an extra service, of saying a prayer of our own like, ‘Lord Jesus draw her to yourself’ with a special intention for each of those on your prayer list.

We have, as the news sheet indicates, a visit on Saturday week at 8am from the Mid-Sussex prayer walk sponsored by The Point Anglican network Church in Burgess Hill. Every Saturday though at 8am we have Prayer for St Giles – just half an hour –open to all!

Intercession has been described as ‘love on its knees’. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale writes: Personally I believe that prayer is a sending out of vibrations from one person to another and to God. All the universe is in vibration. There are vibrations in the molecules of a table. The air is filled with vibrations. The reaction between human beings is also vibrations. When you send out a prayer for another person, you employ the force inherent in a spiritual universe. You transport from yourself to the other person a sense of love, helpfulness, support - a sympathetic, powerful understanding - and in this process you awaken vibrations in the universe through which God brings to pass the good objectives prayed for.

We have a mini mission coming up at St Giles in a month’s time - and you’ve got a place on the executive committee - you are to act - by the prayer you offer over the next month and by the invitations you will give out to your friends and acquaintances.

Someone once said ‘prayer is doing business with God and is every bit as practical as any earthly transaction’.

Prayer is very practical. It also requires a right attitude, one of wholeheartedness. So I ask you this morning:

Do you think it is the will of Our Lord for the Christian faith to spread in this land and his church to grow? Scripture says yes!

Take John 10:16: I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice.

Or 1 Timothy 2:3: This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

Prayer is the first blade of the church growth scissor strategy cutting a way forward for God. Then, the second blade – invitation.

I want to ask you, do you think we at St. Giles have something that the friends we are called to pray for are missing out on? In our worship here, and in the several strands of our outreach?

We need to believe this if our prayer is to be wholehearted.

Let me put it the other way around. How will you feel when the friend or neighbour you’re going to pray for comes with you to church? Will you feel embarrassed? If so, why should you feel so? Is the celebration of your own faith helpful to your human and social flourishing? How good is the gospel to you - good enough to be worth sharing?

Or is your faith something private, something weird and wonderful, special for Sundays but nothing you would dare to trouble your friends and neighbours with?

Are you more a consumer than a citizen when it comes to church? Are you ready to take more responsibility for building up the body of Christ, or are you content to leave it to the priest, churchwarden and PCC?

If you’re going to be an effective member of the Mission Executive you’ll need to deal with such an attitude. You won’t be praying very well for people to come to Christ and his church if you doubt deep down in your heart that it will be a blessing for them to do so.

May the Lord touch us this morning as we welcome him in his word - touch us to touch others.

May we be refreshed in the purpose for life granted to us by our Risen Lord. As God is so near to us may he make himself near to all whom we entrust to him in the coming weeks.

The Gospel is good! This church is a place of purpose in a confused world, a place of belonging in a lonely world.

May that belonging extend to more and more here at St. Giles - through prayer and invitation and the grace of God!

Devote yourselves to prayer... that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory now and forever and the ages of ages. Amen.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Blessed Virgin Mary 15th August 2010

Last year was the double centenary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the sesquicentenary of his book The Origin of Species published in 1859.

Many see the wane of Christian allegiance in Britain as stemming from the creation-evolution debate that began in those days and which continues to reveal a lack of intellectual rigour in Christian circles.

When we look at human origins we enter troubled waters for those who stick to biblical literalism. I was reminded of this when David Lamb gave me a copy hot from Mitchell Beazley publishers of this book Origins – human evolution revealed by Douglas Palmer. It’s a fascinating summary of the 20 million year evolution of the human family involving 20 separate species and illustrated.

Thomas Huxley’s famous skeleton illustration of 1863 showed the evolution of humans from apes. Helped by a so-called paleo-artist, John Gurche, this new book gives us life like reconstructions from fossils of the faces of 12 iconic members of the extended human family who lived and died out over the last 20 million years. They range over three pages entitled ‘Meet the Family’ and going from the Proconsul plant-eating monkey to chimpanzee-like descendants up to 2 million years back. Then homo habilis, erectus, neanderthalensis and sapiens.

The issue of creation versus evolution is a consuming issue among some Evangelicals struggling with a self-contained Christian authority. If you take the Bible literally you run the risk of defending it against other interpretations of human origins and you narrow down Christianity. If you go with the main flow of Christianity biblical interpretation you go hand in hand with God’s other reference book, the book of nature. We expect truth from both sources, God’s written word and the study of the creation we call science. The truth about salvation is, of course, only in one of those books.

Christians believe the Bible can’t be mistaken as it presents the good news of Jesus to honest seekers but we don’t claim its infallibility as a science text book.

When we look back at human origins we’re bound to the biblical doctrine of our being created in the image of God and human beings’ fall expressed in the poem of Adam and Eve and in the doctrine of original sin. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God we read in the letter to the Romans 3v23.

How we see the emergence of consciousness, the soul and its capacity to be both one with God and to sin is an important question that’s worthwhile wrestling with but one that needs setting in perspective.

Whether the world came into existence over 4.6 billion years or 4004 as Archbishop Usher taught fades into a little less significance when you turn your mind towards the world’s destiny.

Being given a book on human origins last week connected, in my mind, with preaching this Sunday on the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the great reminder of human destiny as the first of the redeemed.

God gave us life through the great chain of being described both by science and by Genesis. This chain started with one cell organisms and moved through multicellular organisms to plants, reptiles then mammals climaxing in the human family.

God gave us life so he could give us his life. It is a difficult question to answer, exactly when the human soul first emerged, exactly when a human being first welcomed, worshipped and sinned against God.

If the supposed 4.6 billion year history of the earth is crammed into a single day, the whole of recorded history is compressed into one fifth of the second before midnight, a blink of an eyelid.

In that blink we have the emergence of the soul and human sin.

In the same blink we have the emergence of a soul perfectly open to God.

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. (Galatians 4v4)

The process of creation, the evolution of the human race, led to the woman ‘fairest of that race’ whose soul opened to welcome the life of God and its consequences so that we might receive adoption as children of God.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God...(who) for us and for salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man. (Nicene Creed)

Through Mary the Son of God became the Son of Man so that children of men could become children of God.

God came into the soul and body of the Blessed Virgin forever. It was a new creation as important as the first. God, who made all out of nothing, who set up and steers the chain of evolution, went deeper with the world.

Having established by his grace perfect obedience in a human heart he entered the depths of that heart and opened up a new chain of being that we’re part of, the communion of saints.

In Christian tradition we look backwards to Eve. We look forwards to Mary. The greeting of Gabriel, Hail, in Latin Ave can be written backwards, Eva, Eve. Mary is the new Eve as Christ is the new Adam.

The great Anglican hymn writer Bishop Ken’s hymn speaks of this:

As Eve, when she her fontal sin reviewed,
wept for herself and all she should include,
Blest Mary, with man’s Saviour in embrace,
Joyed for herself and for all human race.

Then speaking of today of Mary’s heavenly birthday the hymn goes on:

Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,
Near to his throne her Son his Mother placed;
And here below, now she’s of heaven possest,
All generations are to call her blest.

We see the exaltation of Mary in all our scripture readings today. It’s an exaltation to be the lot of all who welcome Our Lord as she did. Mary is first redeemed and first fruits of the harvest of souls God planned when he made the world and re-made it through her.

This feast of Mary, Mother of the Lord, centres on human destiny.

We came to this day through the animation of the material world, the evolutionary process from cells to plants and animals to monkeys to homo sapiens.

We can head from this day towards the fulfilment of the new creation beyond this world in heaven for God who gave us life has given us his life which is immortal.

That life first planted in Mary is open to all who’ll direct their attention away from self-indulgence and self-centredness to let Jesus make them members of his family of redeemed humans we call the church.

We were made, however that may be, in God’s image.

We are destined, however that might be, for God’s glory.

The ‘how’ of our creation is beyond us. Not so the ‘how’ of our redemption.

Just as Mary cooperated with God so must we. This is the only way for human nature to flourish as it’s meant to.

Salvation is human flourishing in this world and the next. It’s communal, being one with the church in this world and the next.

God gave us Jesus through Mary and with Mary he gave us a new destiny that we need to choose and own.

It’s not what you have been or what you are that God looks at with his merciful love but what you would be. So wrote the author of the medieval book, The Cloud of Unknowing.

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly says Mary in today’s Gospel.

God lifts those who’ll let him lift them - like Mary herself, those with a heart for God’s future.

Mary stands close to us and to the whole church as an example and as one who prays with the company of the saints that surrounds us for all of us to reach the destiny God has for those who’ll be uplifted.

We can’t save ourselves. God can but without us he cannot. Without our permission God can’t get his life into ours nor join us to the company of the redeemed.

Getting that Christ-life into our hearts is what Christianity is all about, what the bible’s all about, what the eucharist’s all about, what Mary’s all about and what the church is all about.

That all comes down to obedience and discipline, as it did for Our Lady, Blessed Mary. She was supremely anointed by the Spirit and she was supremely obedient. There’s no anointing, no heavenly joy without earthly devotion.

God grant us such devotion, with and to the Blessed Virgin, and grant, as we have already prayed, that we who are redeemed by his blood may share with her in the glory of his eternal kingdom. Amen.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Trinity 10 Faith 8 August 2010

What does it mean to have faith?

Faith is trust in a person or thing. Christian faith is wisdom to trust God.

We all have faith in things - like our car getting us to the station or that our wages will go into the bank. Often that faith disappoints Sometimes we put too much confidence in a person or in things which prove to be unfaithful like the stock exchange, housing market, job opportunities, marriages and other "things". You could ask whether there is anything truly worthy of our faith.

Jesus, we might answer. The one who’s been through it for us, who expects nothing of us that he’s not been through himself and who brings his possibilities into our empty situations.

I was with a lady who has stage 4 cancer this week. She brought alive to me the definition of faith we had in this morning’s first reading: faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11v1). For this lady and her husband faith is not just a reaching out to something in the future that’s absent. It’s the experience of future blessings spilling into present day life. All the time the cancer has been spreading faith has been growing and bringing a solid future reality into their lives. Remarkable opportunities for special forms of radiotherapy have opened up. There is a peace and joy in their household that demonstrates the reality of God alongside them. It has been a privilege to visit and share and pray with people whose trust in God for the future is solid – even in the face of cancer.

When we put faith in God this affects our future because God is Lord of the future. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. If this is the day that the Lord has made so is tomorrow.

Tomorrow also is God’s.

When you get thinking about the flow of time a materialistic view of life crumbles to pieces. What a deceit we live with! Just because we have lots of control nowadays over our physical environment we close our minds to what we have no control at all over - the flow of time and the eternity that lies beyond it!

Belief that there’s nothing after death is the main demoralisation of humanity in our age. This materialistic view of human beings misses the point. It misses out on the glorious future there is for us in God. It demoralises - for why should you sacrifice yourself or your possessions for others if you believe deep down that in the end nothing you do ultimately makes any difference?

But what if Christ is raised? What if the purpose that brings people to church on Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, be true?

What if we admit material things fail to satisfy and reach out to the life Christ has opened up beyond this life, a life we know intuitively, are driven towards and yet cannot describe?

That would be faith. To be one with those who in the words of our reading desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Faith is accepting truth for things you may not fully comprehend, believing and expecting things you cannot see. By faith that goes beyond but not against reason we accept Jesus as the Son of God, the redeemer, forgiver of our sins, giver of the Holy Spirit and promiser of eternal life. This is why we say in our baptism service, faith is the gift of God to his people.

When we accept Christ we show our faith by acting to lay our sinful nature aside, asking for forgiveness and seeking God’s direction for all that we do day by day.

When we turn to Christ, repenting of our sins, renouncing evil he shines the light of our glorious future into our lives right now. His Spirit within us, ‘this little light of mine’, acts as a moral compass for us and an inspiration to those around us.

Jesus. Here lies the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. (Hebrews 1v1).

In Christian belief God’s revealed himself and given us right now the substance of things hoped for. We look forwards alongside Jesus who’s conquered sin, death and the devil.

Today Sunday 8th August has within it unspeakable joy from the eternal Sundays of the resurrection ahead of us. Like the cinema trailer this Sunday is preview of forthcoming attractions in the country of resurrection where God is all in all.

The Christian church is the most forward looking body on the earth. God has invested in her and you can’t have God with you in Jesus without the knowledge that the future’s worth waiting for and working for.

Tomorrow also will be good - as good as God is good.

This is the Christian faith.