Sunday, 24 July 2011

Trinity 5 24th July 2011

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Matthew 13.44

One Sunday allegedly in January 1927 this passage from Matthew 13 was the subject of a sermon by my predecessor The Revd Frank Stenton-Eardley. It was an exceptionally profitable sermon. One of the congregation from Broadhurst Manor went home, dug in a field there and unearthed a hoard of sixty-four gold nobles. This gold, deposited 500 years before, is now in the British Museum.

How profitable will this sermon be? Indeed how profitable is any sermon? Did you know you can engage with the sermon not only by grabbing the preacher over coffee but also by going on his blog linked to the church website which, thanks to David Ollington, has each week’s teaching displayed for further digestion.

There is no word of God without power. The preacher’s role is to read and study it and read and study his people and their context and make connections in a 10-15 minute talk that will help such an engagement with Our Lord that it will echo on in their lives in the coming week.

The guy who found the treasure at Broadhurst remembered the Rector’s sermon when his spade clinked the treasure. What does today’s Rector suggest you might find memorable about the same Scripture?

I don’t know enough about the circumstances of the finding of the sixty-four gold nobles to say whether the finder gained, though I guess he did, or was it the then owner of Broadhurst Manor?

What I think you and I can gain 84 years on is the reminder to renew our spiritual alertness and determination. These are the clue to an ongoing welcome of treasure that’ll never be shipped off from us to the British Museum!

The two parables of the treasure and the pearl remind Christians of the need to put supreme value on building our longing for God and his kingdom.

It is not what you are or have been that God looks at with his merciful eyes but what you would be wrote the mystic author of that Medieval classic, The Cloud of Unknowing.

What would you be? Where’s your heart set?

In our first reading from the book of Kings we heard of Solomon’s being approached by God in a dream with a similar question: Ask what I should give you. He answers with a prayer for wisdom and is praised accordingly. God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.

God wants his aspirations to be of supreme value to his children and we can’t attain these without alertness and determination, two virtues that come out of the parables of the treasure and the pearl in our gospel reading from the end of Matthew Chapter 13. Like the Broadhurst Manor labourer if we proceed about our lives with wise mindfulness we don’t have to go far to find God and his riches. The purpose of scripture, of sermons and bible study, is to school us to be alert to the possibilities of God breaking into our situation, as the clink of the spade on the gold alerted the farm worker schooled by the Sunday sermon preached from this pulpit in January 1927.

Speaking personally I always find the number of God-incidences in a day linked to the fervor or length of my morning prayer. The more something of God’s eternal wisdom has touched my heart the more alert I am to the need to give ear to that villager I meet on the road or to visit, phone or e mail this person or that. Treasured encounters come to me inasmuch as my heart is set to evaluate everyone I meet as if they were Christ, to see my diary as containing what’s ultimately important as well as what’s merely pressing upon me.

The treasure parable of God’s kingdom is a reminder to recognize the treasure that’s already there in our lives and the joy its discovery brings. Over the summer vacation we’ve got great opportunities to rediscover the joy of marriage and family as the demands of work lift from many of us.

If this parable is a reminder to be alert to God’s moments the parable of the merchant is a reminder to be spiritually determined. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Jesus emphasises in this parable how being his follower takes you on a determined spiritual search. The cost of this will be eclipsed by the outcome but there is a cost.

To be better disciples of Jesus we need opportunities to discipline ourselves so our personal agendas give way more and more to his. This cannot occur, Jesus cannot reach into our lives, without prayer, scripture and the eucharist.

In the coming year we’re going to have a monthly Tuesday evening with a discipleship theme at which we’ll be sharing with one another some of the ways that help build up our spiritual determination.

It is not what you are or have been or are that God looks at with his merciful eyes but what you would be. Saint Seraphim, a great Russian spiritual teacher, was asked what was the secret that lay behind people who appear to have more of the Holy Spirit than others. Just their determination was his reply.

May the Lord build that determination for him as well as the day by day, hour by hour alertness to the treasure we don’t need to go on holiday to find since it lies buried and awaiting us in Horsted Keynes.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Baptism of Charlotte Hord 17th July 2011

The parable of the wheat and the weeds is a reminder that the world we inhabit has good and bad in it which God has allowed but that good will triumph in the end.

God like any good parent has forbearance. He’s patient with us, taking a long term view, knowing that harvest day is coming. On that day of judgement he will see a good harvest from the moral struggles of his children. The weeds, the bad they’ve live alongside, will finally be discarded.

To let us off trials and temptations in the here and now would make us lesser people in the hereafter.

At present Horsted Keynes has 16 babies under a year old. This remarkable surge in the birth rate has bred close fellowship within a large group of parents which include John and Helen. In celebrating the birth of these children there are a variety of rites being considered in the group from civil naming ceremonies to a blessing in church and last but not least, as today, infant baptism.

The difference between these rites has a story to tell. To name a baby without religious ceremony can have integrity about it. If people don’t go to Church why should they make hypocrites of themselves? To bless or dedicate a baby is a good thing. It’s asking God to be with the child whilst refraining from making a commitment to the church. This has integrity for folk who believe in some sort of God but aren’t sure about committing their child to a religion they themselves aren’t committed to. No point in buying the Brownie outfit if she’ll never be taken to Brownies.

To baptise a child is to make clear to them and to yourselves as parents that there’s a moral, spiritual and communal framework with definite boundaries that you believe to be essential to their well being.

The argument for baptising a child can run like this. British society has evolved to a point where the old Christian boundaries are no longer upheld by law so unless parents uphold these standards themselves their children will grow up confused. To baptise a child and keep the promises you make is to place that child within a safe framework for their moral and spiritual nurture.

The default for moral standards is no longer the law of the land. If parents want their children to do what’s right by any historic standard they will have to make a commitment to that standard or else their children will be deceived into wrong doing by the fashion of the day.

Let me explain. Because the Law gives people the right to do immoral things doesn’t mean it’s right to do them.

When the Law changes on anything it represents a shift in the social consensus, usually on behalf of people who feel hard done by if they can’t do what they want to do. Yet many of the things we might want to do aren’t right to do – and here is where the revealed and tested teachings of Christianity come in.

Many young people are of the mindset that if the Law gives you the right to do something it must be right to do it. Poppycock!

We have a right to have sexual intercourse from the age of sixteen but all religions affirm the value of abstaining until you find and marry a life partner. We have a right to divorce after two years but the rightness of divorce is contested especially by Christianity and all people who have experience of the damage done to children by the break up of a family. I know there are divorced people in Church this morning but most of them have a tale to tell which shows they didn’t quit their marriage as lightly as many are quitting their obligations today. Soon we will have a right to kill ourselves, especially if we think people don’t want to pay for our upkeep in our old age, but that won’t make it right that we should do so.

When you go up to the altar this morning look up when you get up and turn from the kneeler and you will see the ten commandments on the arch above your heads including Thou shalt not kill. The language and the script may be old fashioned but the words are just as true in 2011 as they were when those words were hung up four centuries ago.

Just because people have a right to kill doesn’t make it right to do so in most circumstances! We read on the wall Thou shalt not bear false witness in a month that has shown gross deceitfulness taken for granted in public life through News International.

If parents want the best for their children it’s going to cost them. Wise parents know a good bank balance, though desirable of course, is no receipe for well being. For their children to live well they need to uphold and be upheld by standards that are true even if the whole world denies them or that bank balance will be emptied in destructive living.

To baptise a child and keep the promises you make is to place the child under those standards in a safe framework for their moral and spiritual nurture.For Christians those standards are set out in a covenant relationship with God so that the Ten Commandments affirm before they condemn. Thou shalt not – you shall not – not you shall not. Why? Because as one of the baptised you’ve got the mark of God on your head. You’re precious and he loves you. He grieves when you act against the dignity he’s given you as his beloved child.

As today’s gospel of the wheat and weeds indicates God is our loving parent who’s infinitely patient with us, taking the long term view knowing that the end day is coming. On that day we’ll see that the moral struggles we have endured have been infinitely worthwhile!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Trinity 3 8am 10th July 2011

I dropped in on the Christadelphians bible study at the Village Hall on Wednesday evening. Though we differ from them in our Trinitarian faith for them as for us the scriptures are of vital significance. I read some verses as they went round the table reading through Matthew Chapter Five. I gave them a greeting from St Giles and some of them expressed interest in our planned evening on the King James Bible in September.

There is no word of God without power. Christadelphians see the words of scripture as literally words of God. We as Anglicans look rather to the interpretation of that word and to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to help our reading scripture.

In today’s first and last readings we have an underlining of the importance of scripture. Isaiah speaks prophetically for God:

My word that goes out from my mouth.. shall not return to me empty,but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55.10-13

The interpretation of the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 concludes but as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

The seed sown represents the word of God. Our Lord firstly expects us to believe when we hear the Bible read that we are in some profound sense hearing God.

Then we need to prepare the very ground of our being to welcome that word. The seed that fell on rocky ground failed to produce fruit because it lacked moisture and withered away in the heat of the sun. To hear God’s word is to receive it actively into our heart and mind. If it remains just on the surface of our minds it will not yield fruit.

Receiving it deep within us requires the discipline of studying and pondering it. It is an admirable discipline to take away the pew sheet and do just that, using whatever thinking has been kindled by the Sunday sermon. If we feel touched in our spirit at Sunday worship it is good in the days that follow to fan the flame of whatever touched us.

To return to the images used in today’s Gospel we need to break up the stony ground of our heart to be made capable of receiving what God has to say to us. There is no word of God without power but the word within us fades away and loses power unless watered by the Holy Spirit who comes to us through prayer, fellowship and Holy Communion.

The Holy Spirit – and here we rather differ from Christadelphians – the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is ready to grant inspiration to all who read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them a practical understanding.

There is no word of God without power. We should expect our engagement with scripture to be transformative. The key to that is to hold onto all God says to us in it rather than getting overwhelmed by the cares of the world and the lure of wealth that choke the word (so) it yields nothing.

The key to seeing scripture transforming us is to make it possible for the seed to fall on good soil which comes about when we keep the word alive within us by the Spirit and obey it. This produces the abundant harvest the Gospel speaks of.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts produce such a harvest this morning as we take the word of God to heart by the Holy Spirit. God make us good soil bearing an abundant harvest in his praise and service, to whom, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be all might, majesty, dominion and power now and forever. Amen.