Sunday, 31 October 2010

All Saints Feast 31st October 2010

Sometimes I get exasperated in my pastoral encounters, especially when people seem over concerned with material things.

Don’t get me wrong, with the government squeeze many of us are feeling the pinch and we’ve a duty to be alongside the most vulnerable.

Sometimes though, I find among us an over concern for this world’s goods and their security.

I want to dare to say in those pastoral encounters what I can say quite fearlessly in the pulpit on All Saints’ Day.

Remember – the most meaningful thing in life is what conquers death.

Earthly life is a prologue. The book of life proper starts beyond the grave with Christianity’s Founder who is the life, the truth and the way.

Christians live knowing their homeland is in heaven. We come to church to develop a taste for that homeland through bread and wine that anticipates the heavenly banquet and through the word of God which promises the same.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.

In the eucharist we come before Jesus. We’re happy to eat and drink of him now knowing we’ll be the happier to eat and drink with him in his kingdom.

Happy are those who are called to his supper. That phrase in the liturgy has a double meaning referring to both the eucharist and the celestial banquet. This Holy Communion service is, like the cinema trailer, the preview of a forthcoming attraction in the joy of all the saints.

If people in our village could see the way things really are they’d fight to get a place at this celebration! It’s our failure, my and my predecessors, your and your predecessors as worshippers failure, to believe and to communicate this that is robbing them of this privilege.

The most meaningful thing in life is what conquers death.

I go to the Chemists and see a rack of booklets on how to overcome various conditions - arthritis, indigestion, osteoporosis, stress, varicose veins and so on.

One question not addressed is how you deal with dying.

Perhaps you wouldn’t expect doctors to have much to say about how we deal with death. Maybe they see death as the ultimate defeat for health professionals.

Yet the whole of life leads up to death. It's something quite natural, in a sense. The end of man - but in which sense - 'end' as 'finish' or 'end' as 'fulfillment'?

Dying is just as much a daily medical condition as arthritis or indigestion. Yet how do people find a consultant who can advise them on how to die?

Where do people facing eternity go to for help?

Our Christian Faith is built upon the risen Christ. He is our Consultant.

Who else can advise and prepare, console and strengthen in the face of death than Jesus?

Jesus, who in dying bore the agony of death for us.

Jesus, who in rising burst open the gates of paradise!

Our Consultant writes these words for us in his manual - though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil. I am with you.

This church points up to a world beyond this world because it is the church of Jesus Christ

That community is one mystical Body of Christ where there is no division between the living and the dead but all are one in the death defying love of God.

Dead or alive we belong to the same family - so we pray for each other. On All Saints feast we recall our solidarity with the Christians who’ve gone before us especially those who’ve worshipped in this church over 40 generations.

These stones that have echoed their praises are holy, and dear is the ground where their feet have once trod. Yet here they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims, and still they were seeking the city of God.

We are one today also with our beloved dead - our families, friends, benefactors - those who have inspired us or enriched our lives, who now pray for us wrapped in the mantle of God’s love for all eternity.

We are one in worship with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

This worship no better described than by a person who attended the Divine Liturgy in the icon filled Cathedral of Kiev in the Ukraine:

‘There is always a crowd’, he said, ‘ a promiscuity of rich and poor, of well dressed and tattered, a kaleidoscope mingling of people and colours - people standing and praying, people kneeling, people prostrated... There is no organ music, but an unearthly and spontaneous outburst of praise from the choir and the clergy and the people worshipping together...
‘And from the back and from the sides - and from the pillars and from the columns, look the pale faces of antiquity, the faces of the dead who are alive looking over the shoulders of the alive who have not yet died...All praising God, enfolding in a vast choric communion the few who in the Church have met on the common impulse to acknowledge the wonder and the splendour of the mystery of God.

‘You lose the sense of Ego, the separated individual, you are aware only of being part of a great unity praising God. You cease to be man and woman and become THE CHURCH (the Bride of Christ)’

And that is what we are this morning – the church, the community of Jesus - stretching beyond these four walls into eternity - living with lives that gain meaning from the conquest of death which brings and should bring our humanity into its right mind.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

May Christ dwell in our hearts prayer exploration 24th October 2010

I want to share a few hints about private prayer expanding to start with on p2-4 of the May Christ Dwell booklet and using part of an interview I did some time back with the Archbishop of Canterbury for Premier Christian Radio.

One of the most important things about our daily prayer is in fact the time we give. Whatever we feel or don't feel at prayer it is the offering of 5, 10, 15 minutes daily that is pivotal.

Archbishop Ramsey's quote – when asked how long he prayed for each day he said about two min but it sometimes took him half an hour to get there.

Time matters. It is also important to offer Our Lord what we might call ‘prime time’.

We will make way for him better when we are most fully ourselves.

Some say the morning is the best, avoiding that burned out feeling at night, and I am one of those who prays in the morning, with more of a nod to God at night.

Time, and then secondly, place. At St Giles we are all privileged to have a church that is open all day and each of us could make more use of this fact. Or we could decide afresh at this time on a prayer space at home.

We need then to be quiet, but perhaps not too quiet so we keep our feet on the ground. In a household there needs to be agreement.

We need perhaps to be comfortable, not so much that we fall asleep.

Prayer invites attentiveness. Some people say a hard backed chair gives you that business like feeling. Myself I use a comfy chair, but try to stand or kneel as well for some of the time.

Then what - now we move onto the real business of prayer and for that we enter on a number of options as starting points. Prayer is a lifting of heart and mind to God and there are many different ‘airports’ for lift off.

Speaking for myself day by day I look to a variety of airports.

Shall I choose a bible passage? Am I so tired it would be better to sit looking at the Cross? Is there a piece of paper with some prayer biddings that I could start from? Or something that struck me in that sermon I heard the other Sunday? Or that spiritual book I’m reading? Shall I get my rosary out? Or say the Jesus Prayer from today’s Gospel – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner - to empty my mind of distraction? Today I will say Morning Prayer and stop to contemplate wherever the Spirit underlines something. Or - it’s about time I did a thorough self-examination so I’ll get out a sin list or read the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians and see where love, joy, peace and all the rest are growing in my life. There was something terrible on the news this morning so I’ll look up Job 38-40 and think how God is so wonderful and beyond us. I was asked to pray for that lady whose son’s on drugs so I’ll start with them before I forget and see where my intercession leads. Or – what a lovely view through the window this morning – the sun on the leaves. Let’s start there.

I say Let’s – prayer is something we do with God. It’s also a human discipline. This is why it helps to have a decided base for prayer, the airport I’ve called it, as you start your prayer and hope for take off!

It matters to hold yourself to it eg. if you are praying from a bible passage hold the bible for all 20 minutes to keep the focus.

Confession of sin before you pray is also important since the bottom line for prayer is honesty.

That’s enough on how I pray! Now let’s hear how Archbishop Rowan prays! This is part of an interview he gave me in 2004 at Lambeth Palace.

To welcome more of the radiance of Jesus into our hearts involves us in a life-long struggle because of our fallen nature.

Christianity is the gift of Jesus but it involves us in the task of prayerful devotion. Through that devotion, renewed among us this month, may others catch on to what Jesus is doing and be drawn to him through us.

When the church becomes a house of prayer it’s said the whole world will come running!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Harvest Festival 10.10.10

I remember on my holidays attending a weekday eucharist in a parish church up in North Yorkshire.

The old priest was struggling to celebrate.

The twenty five minutes of the celebration were full of devotion.

They were also a battle against infirmity as Fr Tony fought his infirmity to take, bless, break and share with the dozen of us gathered in church for the daily offering.

I had a cup of coffee with him after and he gave me this poem that challenges people who whine about life that I have always valued:

Today upon a bus I saw a lovely girl with golden hair.
When suddenly she rose to leave I saw her hobble down the aisle.
She had one foot and wore a crutch but as she passed she smiled.
O God forgive me when I whine, I have two feet … the world is mine.

It meant a lot to me, and it will mean even more as physical infirmities grow with old age.

There will come a day when the gestures of the eucharist will be painful to my own body as it grows feeble.

The elderly priest and his poem reminded me once more of all I take for granted especially health and strength.

I recalled the very name of the service: Eucharist which means thanksgiving.

When Jesus took bread and wine he gave God thanks and so should we.

Thank you Fr Tony for reminding me of this.

Today our thanksgiving is writ large on harvest festival.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said that thanksgiving is a soil in which the weed of pride will not easily grow.

‘All things come of you’ we pray ‘and of your own do we give you’

For the beauty of the earth, for the joy of human love, for health and strength and for grace to overcome our infirmities we thank you, Lord!

We join our thanksgivings to those offered today on a million altars across the world in this great sacrifice of thanks and praise, the holy eucharist. Amen.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Dedication Festival 3rd October 2010

As parish priest I carry a lot of keys.

The Church keys are big – they make holes in my pocket!

I’ve got other keys for my house and my car and the smallest is this - my key fob to London’s Boris bikes.

Yes, Tuesday, my day off, saw me taking a series of 30 minute cycle rides across London thanks to my new membership of Barclays Cycle Hire.

Put this key into the docking station and it releases you a bike near Victoria station so you can cycle, as I did on Tuesday, to the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth.

I docked and then, after my visit, like changing horses in the middle ages, I used my key to release for me another bike that took me to my next port of call in Bloomsbury.

With Boris bikes you can ride all day for £1 if you make multiple journeys of under 30 minutes each.

This is a precious key, opening up London to me.

This is a no less precious key, opening up Church.

It is our Feast of Dedication. We recall the day this building was set apart, after its construction, for the worship of God.

Church keys take us into church buildings but what you do there is the real thing.
We worship. We lift heart and mind to God standing on the shoulders of thousands who’ve been here before us in this holy place seeking God’s face.

There was worship in heaven before Saint Giles was built and there will be worship in heaven after this building lies in the dust.

The question is will you and I in a century’s time be part of that worship?
We will need a key to do so.

That will be our faith in Jesus who opens wide the gate of heaven to those below.
By faith, the conviction of things unseen, we unlock possibilities for this world and the next.

Just as this key fob gives you access to free journeying in London so the gift of faith gives you access to a sense of belonging, purpose and empowerment that makes life really worth living.

On this Feast of Dedication we have a challenge to deepen our spiritual life.
In ten days time St. Giles is launching a prayer exploration fortnight. Next Sunday at Harvest Festival every church attender will be offered a free resource booklet to aid their personal prayer.

The booklet will provide exercises linked to the three interactive teaching sessions on Thursday evenings spaced a week apart starting on October 14th. These prayer exercises will be commended and talked through during the sermon on Sunday 17th and 24th October.

The three Thursday evening sessions will centre on praying from scripture, silent contemplation and charismatic prayer. There will be reference to Ignatian meditation, use of the Jesus Prayer and experience of the Holy Spirit among other aspects of prayer. The overall theme will touch on inviting the indwelling of Christ and building the desire to be his instrument in the work of spreading the good news Jesus brings to us.

When the church becomes a house of prayer the people will come running. wrote Brother Roger of Taizé

The church’s mission is weak because her prayer is weak. This month could be the key to a new work of the Holy Spirit here at St Giles. Last Sunday we had the excitement of several new faces on Back to Church Sunday a well as a gift of £5,000 to bring the welcoming doors project back to life.

Refreshing our prayer has enormous implications if we really set our hearts to it – and this month is a privileged place if you will make it so.

Prayer is the key of faith. By it we unlock the eternity we were made for and the eternal love that welcomes open hearts to make them one with the just made perfect .

Prayer is the key that unlocks the way into what God has in store for each one of us.

Through the prayer of faith we are able to make better life choices from the countless possibilities that lie before us all.

When I was 21 I remember getting cards with keys upon them. ‘Key of the door – 21’.

Life has moved on so that the things I gained access to at 21, to vote, to open a bank account and so on, come earlier than they did years ago.

My key fob works through an electronic internet new to the world this century. Through it there can be an oversight of 6,000 cycles at 400 docking stations across London.

My church key opens up access to a building where through preaching and sacrament we encounter one whose oversight extends across this world and the next.

Your faith and mine, the Christian faith, owns that oversight and welcomes through it a purpose for living and a reason for dying.

This is what lies behind what we are about this morning on our Feast of Dedication which is today a call to the prayer of faith which is the key to life.

I close with some words addressed to Our Lord in a hymn of Charles Wesley:
Visit then this soul of mine, pierce the gloom of sin and grief, fill me radiancy divine, scatter all my unbelief. More and more thyself display. Shining to the perfect day!