Saturday, 22 January 2011

A Time to Heal Sunday 23rd January 2011

I was listening on the radio to the book programme last week.

Now so many books are online it has been possible to survey the use of words and phrases over a couple of hundred years.

Inevitably the word internet appears only in the last twenty years. The words ‘I must’ occur an awful lot until the 1960s. The word ‘I want’ rarely occurs before the 1950s.

Do you see where I am leading?

Where there is .... selfish ambition, writes James in our reading from Chapter 3 of his epistle – where ‘I want’ reigns - there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Healing and wholeness link to inner peace and inner peace is very often countered by our selfish craving.

I want it, and I want it now is more of a destructive impulse than we dare to own, so much are we carried along by the flow of electronic media, including advertising, that indulges our selfishness.

Christian healing has been defined as meeting Jesus Christ at your point of need - and restlessness of spirit is a very common need.

Those who take themselves to shopping malls for retail therapy get less return than we will gain tonight through the church’s ministry of healing.

He will quiet you by his love we read in Zephaniah Chapter 3 verse 17.

We cannot escape our desires, and not all our wants are selfish. Yet the quietening of useless desires can be, if we allow it, the gift of the Lord whose love covers the multitude of our sins, negligences and offences against him, against our neighbour and against ourselves.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov lived in Russia from 1759 to his death in 1833. He’s one of the most renowned Russian monks and mystics in the Orthodox Church and is remembered for extending the monastic teachings of contemplation, self-denial and the acquiring of the Holy Spirit to the layperson.

Perhaps Seraphim's most popular quotation amongst Orthodox believers is: Acquire inner peace, and thousands around you will find salvation.

How closely this advice echoes that of Saint James in tonight’s reading: The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

If we want wholeness we need the peace of Spirit that comes with the wisdom from above.

God loves us and wants us to experience peace and life-abundant and eternal.

As we read in the Magnificat refrain from Isaiah 26.3-4:You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

Saint Paul says we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

This peace is given as we ask the Lord to come alongside us.

This action means an act of faith in him preceded by an act of repentance.

Repentance means turning, in this case turning from all that distracts and consumes our inner energies.

As was found written in the Breviary of 16th century Spanish mystic Saint Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Patient endurance
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth.

This evening is A Time to Heal. As we seek the Lord we have an opportunity to bring to him our needs of body and mind, soul and spirit and our relational needs. The ministry of healing is automatically holistic.

If your body is hurting it affects your mind and spirit. If your spirit is disturbed it has physical implications. If you are living with unforgiveness in your relationships you will pay a price for that all over. If your sense of what you must do is eclipsed by what you merely want to do, again you will lack wholeness and peace.

At this point it is my privilege to introduce Leslie who received the sacrament of anointing some months back for a serious physical condition and has a message for us about how God can come aside us in our needs bringing peace and healing.

Epiphany 3 23rd January 2011

Let me start by reading an advertisement.

Do you want a faith that stands on the authority of scripture and yet remains thoughtful?

Teaching that rings true to the faith of the Church through the ages?

Would you value worship that is awesome yet accessible?

A Christian community with loose boundaries and a vision for caring within the community?

Here we are - the Church of England!

We do not look down on Roman Catholic or Free Churches but hold hands out to both as 'the ancient church of this land, catholic and reformed' (Catechism definition).

Our worshippers are evangelical, catholic, charismatic and radical because the Church has to be all these things.

Yes, we have our problems, some of our own making, but many on account of the honesty with which we are facing up to a fast changing world.

The Church of England is part of the Church in England and has respect for those of other Faiths or no faith at all.

We welcome all who wish to engage with Jesus Christ through the Bible and the Sacraments and through Christian fellowship and service.

As they first said of Jesus, 'Come and see!'

Horsted Keynes will be reading this advertisement in P&P next week. I wrote it out of concern about the bad press the Church of England seems to be getting at the moment.

It was also prompted by preparing this sermon based on part of the second lesson set for today from 1 Corinthians 1.10-12. Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided?

This call to unity coincides with the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity held every year from 18-25th January.

It seems to me that St Paul’s warning reaches us as a church at three levels, local, national and universal, so here’s a minute or two on each level.

First local. I have to say, I sense I inherited from Father Timothy, a high degree of unity and a great sense of collaboration as we seek to promote Christianity and develop the life of St Giles with an eye to renewing worship, engaging youth and families and enhancing buildings for better Christian use. We should not be complacent, but St Giles is a coalition of catholic, evangelical, charismatic and liberal Christians that is outwardly focussed, praise God.

Second, nationally the Church of England is suffering bad press. Why? Because the majority decision to ordain women has failed to take the minority along with it. There’s a high majority but no consensus. Those of us who cherish the Church of England’s catholic inheritance can’t see a clear way ahead, with some taking up the Pope’s offer of the Anglican Ordinariate. Those impatient for a church with no prejudice against women are getting very impatient with Anglocatholics. There seems no easy way forward in terms of structures since women bishops seem inevitable. This will be a slow burner and we need even more patience to bear with one another’s views of the ordained ministry.

It isn’t sexist to hold to the Bible and the practice of the worldwide church, Catholic and Orthodox over 20 centuries. Neither is it a betrayal of Christian principle to seek the ordination of women.

It’s just that changing holy orders, one of the seven sacraments, is like changing the heating system in a church. There’s an upheaval and a chilling effect – and the national church is in the middle of it! No easy answers here, just patience. The Holy Spirit is saying one thing to part of the church and another thing to the rest. We must wait and see and avoid knee jerk reactions, seeking to maximise unity as a national church which believes its part of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’.

Thirdly let’s look at that international level of the universal church. About this Christians should really be getting impatient. In first century Corinth there were Chloe’s and Apollos’ and Cephas’ groups. In the world of the 21st century there are not three but 39,000 Christian denominations!

Each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided?

He has. His purpose to bring all things together is being much frustrated. There’s a need for each Christian church to recognise afresh that they exist by God’s grace - and so do the other denominations! Only as the different churches come together to the foot of Christ’s Cross and admit our need of his forgiveness are we ever going to be made one, as Christ certainly desires. This is happening worldwide whenever Christians opt to maximise cooperation with their sister churches. We should congratulate ourselves, for example, that the Martindale tonight will be a place of healing prayer uniting Catholic, Reformed and Anglican churches.

I was at Westminster Abbey for evensong last Sunday. There I was reminded of the shared evensong of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope in September that was preceded by Pope Benedict’s visit to the Archbishop at Lambeth Palace. There Rowan Williams said these wise words: In 1845, when John Henry Newman finally decided that he must follow his conscience and seek his future in serving God in communion with the See of Rome, one of his most intimate Anglican friends and allies, the priest Edward Bouverie Pusey.. wrote a moving meditation on this "parting of friends" in which he said of the separation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics: "it is what is unholy on both sides that keeps us apart".
That should not surprise us: holiness is at its simplest fellowship with Christ; and when that fellowship with Christ is brought to maturity, so is our fellowship with one another. As bishops, we are servants of the unity of Christ's people, Christ's one Body. And, meeting as we do as bishops of separated church communities, we must all feel that each of our own ministries is made less by the fact of our dividedness, a very real but imperfect communion. Perhaps we shall not quickly overcome the remaining obstacles to full, restored communion; but no obstacles stand in the way of our seeking, as a matter of joyful obedience to the Lord, more ways in which to build up one another in holiness by prayer and public celebration together, by closer friendship, and by growing together both in the challenging work of service for all whom Christ loves, and mission to all God has made.

Wise words. "it is what is unholy on both sides that keeps us apart". Christian unity grows – locally, nationally or internationally as Christians grow together in both holiness and mission. Let’s make that our priority as much as we can in the coming years.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Epiphany 2nd January 2011

Today the church enters a glory-filled season, that of Epiphany. The coming of the wise men to Jesus brings the first showing of God’s glory to the nations in the face of Jesus Christ.

Epiphany means the revealing of glory.

This morning is an occasion for celebrating with you some occasions in my ministry I have been on the scene when the glory of Jesus illuminated someone.

Starting with myself!

Jesus first deeply impacted me in Oxford around 1970 through an extraordinary priest and an extraordinary Church.

I say extraordinary because the whole show was unconcerned about something our age is obsessed with and even the Church at times – I mean image.

There was no magazine or newsletter, hardly a noticeboard let alone an Internet Homepage or Church Logo. But there was presence!

There was something very deep and awesome about the worship at Mary Mags, the sure, unselfconscious majesty of the Sung Eucharist, of Sunday worship in the great tradition of the Church, evoked for me an awe before the mystery of God - something that many of our modern services, constructed out of ten minute sound-bites rarely attain!

Then there was charismatic presence in the old, richer sense of that word.

I recall being invited to tea by the Vicar and being strangely moved in my spirit at the encounter. Within weeks I had made a deeper surrender to Christ through making my First Confession.

I remember Epiphany in those days because it was at that time that the practice of genuflecting to the Blessed Sacrament became my own.

In Mary Mags there was a safe on the altar, like our Aumbry in the wall on the right of the old high altar containing bread consecrated bread kept over from the eucharist with a perpetual light burning alongside it. I noticed that when people came into or left church they went down on one knee or did a low bow towards it.

I had been brought up to believe scraping your knees before things was Roman Catholic. Mary Mags challenged my thinking so that one day kneeling at the Christmas Crib I realised that as the Kings fell down before the glory of Jesus there was nothing wrong with my doing so.

It was an Epiphany moment, a manifestation of Christ to me, seeing the glory of Jesus hidden behind the Aumbry veil as he lay hidden in the stable. 40 years on I still genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament. Indeed I would not have come here as parish priest had the sacrament not been reserved here because Jesus showed me that time that the bread is his glorious body and I should treat it as such. He has taught me since that he’s in people as well as in that bread, and in the bible and creation and everywhere – but I remain eternally grateful for that Epiphany experience in Oxford long ago.

The Christian faith spreads by Epiphany, by the manifestation of the glory of Jesus in word and sacrament to and through people. Evangelism has always been rooted in being more than doing. It is a process of spiritual awakening to the Real Presence of God alongside us and within us, inviting us forward on our spiritual journey.

For the faith to spread and the church to grow we need priests and people whose baptism is fully owned, who have presence, presence and conviction to challenge others to become more irradiated, more luminous with Christ’s glory. This Jesus, who walks besides us, would display himself, his Real Presence, in sacrament and word and, most tellingly, in lives lived surrendered to him.

I said I would share occasions in my ministry when I have been on the scene when the glory of Jesus illuminated someone. I’ve time for two more examples

I think of Bernard, a young man in my first mining parish who had been on our life in the Spirit course, a precursor of the Alpha Course. Bernard and Anne were stalwarts of SS Philip & James where I was Curate. Bernard had prayed for the Holy Spirit to come upon him as we encouraged people to pray. One morning he stumbled round to the Clergy House beaming all over his face. Was he drunk? I thought. No. Jesus had come real to him. The Holy Spirit had opened his inner eyes. He never looked back and possessed a great gift of joy and encouragement to us all.

Then I think of an older man to whose troubled deathbed I’d been summoned. The relatives were very concerned at his fearfulness and agitation as he moved towards his death. I came to his hospital bed myself with apprehension. Who was I to help a man faced with death? What on earth could I do to help? Shortly after I arrived I read the 23rd Psalm and as I read a deep peace descended upon him. It was as if Jesus manifested himself, appeared and just took him away. This man died joyfully as I read the words of assurance from Deuteronomy 33.27 The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.

What a difference it makes to someone when they see Jesus! They see glory – glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

To see Jesus is to catch hold of a radiant beauty quite out of this world, a beauty that is compelling and extraordinary in its attractiveness.

Could we wish anything more wonderful for anyone than a personal epiphany, a personal revelation of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?

I believe the Lord seeks always to manifest himself, chiefly through the bible and the eucharist, and that we need to make space for that to happen.

This season of the Epiphany is a season for looking to Jesus and his manifestation to us and through us to our village. Since it coincides with New Year it’s a time to refresh our daily discipline or prayer, to open our bibles, to seek Jesus in his Sweet Sacrament divine, especially at the quiet midweek celebrations.

In our eucharist we make space for such Epiphany in the silences of the word and sacrament. God bless us now as we ponder the gift of Jesus and help us mark and inwardly digest the divine words we need to hear deep into our hearts from the human speech I have been uttering.