Sunday, 28 August 2011

Trinity 10 28th August 2011

This morning’s Gospel from Matthew 16 has the challenge for us to deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow Jesus. It is illuminated by the Old Testament passage from Jeremiah on the cost of discipleship – the Old Testament passages on Sundays are always chosen with the Gospel in mind. The New Testament reading has wisdom which speaks for itself.

Sometimes it is appropriate for the preacher to let the day’s scripture speak for itself and to touch on a wider theme. Today I believe it will be useful to stand back from the Sunday readings, beyond what I have said, and to give an over view of the liturgical calendar.

The Church of England is, as the Catechism defines her, ‘the ancient church of this land, catholic and reformed’.

As such we are a liturgical church holding to the seasons and feasts kept by the catholic or universal church.

That word ‘liturgy’ is a very important one. It means at one level holding to a standardized order of proceedings. In the case of the Church of England the standard is the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the Common Worship provision of 2000. This standard allows supplementary resourcing such as the prayer over the gifts, postcommunion prayers and antiphons from Roman Catholic use. The liturgical use in this village church has about it a character that would be recognised in Cahagnes, Brazil, India, Australia and the majority of Christian churches gathered for the eucharist this morning.

Liturgy though, means more than holding to a standard. More profoundly, liturgy, from the Greek, means ‘the people’s work’. In Christianity this work of participation by the people in worship is also seen as the work of God. When we follow day by day the ordered celebration of morning prayer, eucharist and evening prayer – liturgy isn’t just for Sunday - we follow an ordered lectionary with set vestment colours. Because that ordering is obedience to the Lord’s command through his church it is said that liturgy is God’s work as well as our own. Through the liturgy Jesus Christ is considered to continue the work of redemption in union with his Church.

The liturgical calendar divides the year into a number of seasons, each with their own emphasis, colour and scripture passages specified by a list we call the lectionary. Here is the lectionary that aids our sacristy team. Incidentally we’re currently one short in that team if anyone wants to join.

The liturgical year begins a month before Christmas with Advent when church is vested in solemn purple, flowers are banned and the Gloria is removed from Sunday eucharist. This is the time of preparation for both the celebration of Jesus' birth, and his expected second coming at the end of time. This season lasts until Christmas Eve when church is vested in white and the flowers return. Christmastide follows, beginning at evening prayer on Christmas Day and ending around three weeks later with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. After this church vests in green for a stretch of what is called ordinary time until Ash Wednesday when the flowers and Gloria go again and green gives way to the purple of penitence.

Lent is the period of purification and penance which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at the Easter Vigil eucharist. It is also as you know associated with fasting. The last two weeks of Lent are called Passiontide when crosses and statues have mourning veils. The last week is called Holy Week. The last three days are called the Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The seven-week liturgical season of Easter, where all stops are pulled out to decorate Church and the Paschal Candle stands proud in the sanctuary, immediately follows the Triduum, climaxing at Pentecost. This last feast recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' disciples after the Ascension of Jesus. Pentecost Sunday is the second feast Christianity ranking above Christmas but below Easter. The red vestments on that day give way to green the Monday after as the church enters the longest stretch of the ordinary time also known as the Trinity season.

In Christian liturgy there are two main cycles around the great feasts of Christmas and Easter each having a preparation in Advent and Lent. There is though a third and lesser cycle of Saints days which can literally colour a particular Sunday. Two Sundays ago we were in best white because it was the main Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary and next Sunday we’ll be in best white again for our patronal feast of St Giles.

Most days of the year are associated with a saint and these days are ranked into three categories of lesser commemorations called memorials, feasts, and greater feasts or solemnities and it is only solemnities that can trump a Sunday. Here at St Giles only three saints days are ever kept on a Sunday – the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary in August, Saint Giles Day in September and All Saints Day in November. Every major feast day, or ‘Red Letter Day’ to use the old Prayer Book terminology, is kept through an additional weekday 10am celebration of the eucharist advertised in P&P. Next month, for example, besides St Giles we keep the feast of Saint Matthew and St Michael and All Angels.

So what difference can all of this make to us?

If you’re a new worshipper or one with a Free Church background and haven’t had the liturgical calendar explained you’ll hopefully be wiser!

If you’re a well schooled Anglican you’ve had a reminder- and don’t forget nine tenths of preaching is reminding.

I suggest that the main reminder for us all is the point made earlier to have expectancy about participating in the liturgy because it is God’s work as well as our own. Through the liturgy we touch on all aspects of Jesus Christ, his coming, his suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and the gift of his Spirit. It’s worth getting excited about and interested in. All the riches behind the liturgical calendar are given for the good of your soul and mine. Hopefully this teaching sermon will fill what might be seen as empty ritual with the fullness of Christ by making sense of the seasons and colours that come and go in St Giles and have done so for 1000 years on this hill.

Through the action of his Church Our Lord continues his work of redemption, which means we are drawn in to all that Jesus has done for us once and for all by both the action of the Sunday eucharist and the underlining of the liturgical year.

In Advent we are reminded that Jesus comes and has come into our lives so we search our souls. At Christmas we welcome afresh Emmanuel, God with us. In Lent we aim to nail the sinful self to his Cross. At Eastertide we have our vision lifted to the destiny Jesus opens up for us beyond this world. Then Pentecost reminds us that we have his Spirit.

Today’s liturgy is set within the green or ordinary season. It is the 10th Sunday after Trinity or 22nd ordinary Sunday, these Sundays being the total of the green Sundays between Christmastide and Lent and those after Pentecost.

The scripture for Trinity 10 from Matthew 16 and Jeremiah 15 has a challenge intrinsic to the whole liturgical cycle, namely to deny ourselves and make more space for Jesus in our lives.

As we participate together in that cycle we call the church’s year may Jesus renew expectation of our being drawn more fully into what he has done for us by his coming, death and resurrection, to whom be glory, with the Father and the Spirit, now and to the end of the ages. Amen.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Baptism of Kyle, Liam & Joshua Jones 21st August 2011

There’s a scheme running with mystery worshippers.

They go from church to church and report their findings on the Ship of Fools website.

They can find the service a little dead, the sermon a bit boring and the fellowship rather lifeless with no one speaking to them!

How would St Giles rate? Is there conviction, life and love? I hope so - especially as we want our visitors to be impressed!

Kyle, Liam and Joshua are more familiar with another building across the road, The Horsted Club - which their granddad manages. If that Club’s their second home, St Giles is made the same today by what we’ll be doing in a minute or two.

The Church is a sort of second home. It’s extended family, God’s never ending family, built on the belief expressed in today’s Gospel that Jesus is the Son of the living God.

Because Jesus is God’s Son who loves us we can become his brothers and sisters in baptism which makes us God’s children and part of God’s family.

It’s a family with conviction, life and love that helps build up our human families.

Just like The Horsted, St Giles is in the business of building community as it brings together individuals and families in Horsted Keynes and its surrounds to be refreshed.

The refreshment Andy offers isn’t so different to that offered by the Maker’s rep here in God’s house. There’s alcohol, laughter, life and there’s caring.

Imagine Jesus a mystery visitor to Horsted Keynes. As Son of God he’d be up at Church. As Son of Man he’d be around the drinking places.

He actually is the mystery visitor here this morning. He’s going to be mysteriously present in water and word, bread, wine and fellowship because he said where two or three are gathered in my name I will be there in the midst of them.

One of the attractive things about the followers of Jesus is this. They have a right minded humanity – for the most part they do! Some let us down, of course. Yet if you took away the Christians many of the village institutions that help our health and well being would flop!

Christianity is convivial is it’s anything at all. Look at Jesus. They called him a drunkard and a friend of sinners! He went out of his way to be with those who felt there no one cared about them.

The crisis in our cities has been linked to a lack of compassion there in families and communities. Where people feel they don’t matter, that there’s no one on their side, they can be easily misled. Hence the sort of degrading incidents we’ve been shocked to see on our televisions.

Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world to bring us the conviction, life and love that has the potential to make everyone stand tall.

Even little Kyle, littler Liam and littlest Joshua! One day these boys will stand physically tall. Today Jesus is giving them the means to walking tall morally and spiritually as they’re washed from worldliness and marked with God’s love.

As their dad, Kevin, read in the first reading, they, like us, are not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, so that they may discern what is the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This comes to all who seek Jesus, God’s unique Son, whose inspiring portrait lies in the Bible – the boys baptism gift from St Giles is a collections of the stories of Jesus to read.

The Russian Novelist Dostoevsky once wrote: There has never been anyone lovelier, deeper or more sympathetic than Jesus.

That loveliness, depth and sympathy revealed to us in Jesus is at the heart of reality. It’s the face of God, no less.

Mother Julian of Norwich speaking of Jesus captures his loveliness in these words: Completely relaxed and courteous, he himself was the happiness and peace of his dear friends, his beautiful face radiating measureless love like a marvellous symphony.

When we read the portraits of Jesus in the Gospels they breathe out such warmth and humane compassion.

Are there any depths of human misery deeper than those Jesus has endured for us? Despised, rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief ... Who can say God in Jesus expects anything of them that he has not been prepared to go through himself in his suffering and death?

I believe Jesus, as mysterious visitor, finds a home in St Giles and would find a welcome at the Horsted. There is space for him in both places, different as they are. The space he seeks, though, above all spaces, is here in our hearts. It’s as we open our lives that he can really make a difference to us as his warmth and compassion take more hold of us.

Come to him this morning admitting that deep down need! Come with the expectation that he’ll touch you - and you won’t be disappointed.

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me. All his wondrous compassion and purity. 0 Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine and let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Blessed Virgin Mary 14th August 2011

There are five windows dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in St Giles that trace her involvement in the saving work of her Son.

In the Lady Chapel we have the representation of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel’s visit, and the Visitation, when Mary was praised by her cousin Elizabeth and herself praised God in her Magnificat.

In the south aisle she is there at the birth of our Saviour in the Benson Window. At the west end Mary is depicted with Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple in the beautiful Kempe window.

All four scenes are joyful. The last is sorrowful and it captures our mood as we come before the Lord at a time of national and international crisis.

This morning on the Feast of the Blessed Virgin, our eyes lift to the east window which shows her at the foot of the Cross.

We are to associate that image with ourselves as the spectators day by day of a nation dissolving into anarchy.

We come this morning with Mary to the foot of the Cross. We come, at this eucharist, to plead with Mary her Son’s Sacrifice for a broken world.

This Church was built for that purpose, shaped initially like a Cross, so that the people of Horsted Keynes could bring their joys and sorrows to God with, through and in the offering of Christ’s body and blood.

Within these walls people gathered to celebrate Magna Carta, to mourn the Black Death, to hear the scriptures read in English for the first time, to mourn the fire of London, to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and to mourn the death of Queen Victoria.

In November 1963 Harold MacMillan suggested the Rector change the Sunday readings after President Kennedy’s assassination.

This morning is also historic for this village and church. Once again a Rector has changed the readings – from Mary of joy in St Luke to Mary at the foot of the Cross in St John.

We come to church this morning with all the sorrow and confusion of our Holy Mother Mary on Good Friday. Like her we’re looking at a crucifixion but ours is a crucifixion of London by forces of anarchy.

Like her we look beyond the east window to the light of the resurrection for whenever you look at a crucifix believers must see their risen Lord standing behind.

This morning church isn’t a soothing business but a call to battle.

The battle of prayer!

At the height of Monday’s conflagration the most popular post on Twitter was ‘pray for London’. Through my involvement in Premier Christian Radio I’m aware of the network of churches in London committed to pray for our capital. The inability of people to meet in London this week spurred me to invite us to meet here in St Giles which some of us have since Monday to say the litany as we just did.

The challenge of our national and international crises puts a particular responsibility on Christian people to stand with St Mary by the Cross of her Son and pray with Jesus and Mary to the Father: Our Father - in this situation - hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done...deliver us from evil.

By his cross and resurrection action Jesus has, in Paul’s words, disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in what he has done.

We Christians are salt and light because like Mary we can ask Jesus, by the sufferings he has borne uniquely, once and for all, to soak up the evil around us and turn the tables on it.

Our prayers, litanies and eucharists bring the potential of the Cross, which is like a mighty engine out of gear, into gear so the love of God floods into Tottenham and Croydon, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool as well as the workings of international finance.

Paul says God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It was true of Mary at her Annunciation and it is equally true of us in our baptism and confirmation. That love is poured upon us so that, at our prayer, it may cascade extravagantly upon all whom we bring to the foot of the Cross.

With Mary we stand at the Cross on behalf of a troubled, hurting, godless nation and a troubled world this morning - but if we leave church fired up to pray all the more for our nation he who is in us will show himself more powerful than those troubles.

Jesus living in Mary live in us is our prayer in church at every eucharist. Jesus living in Mary live in them is to be our prayer of intercession as we leave church and encounter the needy both in the media images and closer to home.

In a profound sense the key moment of the eucharist isn’t the sermon, or the consecration - but the moment we go out the church door.

You have come with London and our nation and the world’s financial crises upon your heart this morning.

Go forth refreshed by this knowledge: God sees what is in your heart.

Keep lifting the pain you see on the TV to him. Stand with Mary by Jesus crucified. Treat those you see suffering on the media as if they were Christ upon the Cross. Ask the Father to send them healing love and resurrection!

As you do so, pray in your own words. Use the slow recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Use the Jesus Prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Use the Hail Mary if you know it. Use the Litany or prayer sheet you’ve been given this morning.

Take time for a quiet 5 minute of prayer after switching off the TV news you’ve watched. In that way hat you’ve watched will be turned to good and to God.
Come before him knowing that, through the Cross, there’s no human sorrow God’s aloof from.

Your prayer will make God less aloof from those you pray for. It will also help this Christian community to be better evidence to all around that, though cities burst into flame and the innocent suffer violence, there is a God who answers prayer.

Look at the Cross in our east window and the city depicted behind it. You be Mary this week standing by Jesus and make Jerusalem London.

Today the Church issues you a call to arms, my brothers and sisters.

The battle is the Lord’s and it is a battle.

Take up the weapon of prayer to come before the Lord with this aching nation upon your heart day by day, hour by hour in the coming week.

Mary at the Cross, Our Lady of Sorrows, pray with us and for us!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Trinity 7 7th August 2011

I want to say something about the value of contemplation this morning.

This is provoked by the 1 Kings reading set to illustrate the Gospel passage from Matthew 14. In both passages those open to God engage with him in contemplation after storms. Elijah finds God in ‘the sound of sheer silence’ and the disciples see Jesus mysteriously on the lake.

Our relationship with the Lord has the ingredients of penitence, thankfulness and the requesting of our needs but it is in its root a call to intimacy. It is a call to just be with him and listen to what he has to say to us. Just as at this moment we are opening our ears in church to the preacher expounding God’s word we are invited to grow more skilled in opening our ears to listen to what the Lord has to say to us day by day and hour by hour.

Contemplation in its call to intimacy is no call to cosiness but a call to being totally available to God.

To grow closer to Jesus we need to identify any resistance within us to the word of God. We need to be checking out daily if there is any difference between what we want and what God wants.

The school of holiness is in the circumstances of our life interpreted to us by the word of God.

In the first reading from the first book of the Kings Chapter 19 we pick up on the story of Elijah after his battle with the prophets of Baal. Threatened by Queen Jezebel Elijah retreats to Mount Horeb to seek God. In the account you can follow again in the news sheet we read of a storm which prepared the way for him to hear God. Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

This passage has been much interpreted by writers in the contemplative Christian tradition which built up on Mount Carmel. To this day the Carmelites keep the Feast of Elijah as one who heard and handed on the word of God.

In the Gospel reading from Matthew 14 we see a similar dynamic: Jesus went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

God speaks again to awed, frightened disciples in the wake of a storm to give them courage.

In both passages storms are the immediate preparation, the herald for God to speak. For Elijah it is in the sound of sheer silence that he hears God questioning him. For the disciples the sight of Jesus and his word of encouragement follows a battering by the waves on Lake Galilee. In both passages disciples of God hear God speak - but only after being shaken around a little!

Isn’t this true of our own discipleship? Very often our attention to God and what he has to say to us is captured when life shakes us up through an unsettling of our circumstances. Of course God speaks to us in our settled routines, such as Sunday obligation to church, regular commitment to prayer, personal study of scripture, devotional reading and so on. But intimacy often grows when we are forced to contemplate and face up to him through a change of circumstances.

In the last week I have been privileged to enter some of your personal circumstances linked to the loss of a loved one, an unsettling of employment prospects and the coming to terms with a sudden loss of mobility through injury. In all of these tumultuous events we have been seeking to contemplate and attend to what God is saying. I become, in a famous phrase used last week to welcome me in The Green Man, the Maker’s rep. As Maker’s rep my task is to help people as best I can see the Maker’s instructions. I need them myself and will be seeking them from another priest as I confess my sins before next Sunday’s feast.

Sin is basically a refusal to listen to God who says to us again and again in his word, written and spoken, that we are loved. All the time we are busy developing strategies to help us think we are in control of our lives but the God of power and might is expert in gaining our attention to him – and to his repeated assurance, ‘I love you’. ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Contemplation is the heart of prayer - being still and knowing God is God. It’s no selfish navel gazing but the shaking up and out of self regard to see with excitement and awe how and who God is. Through such prayerful attention we come to see and love as he sees and loves.

As for Elijah this means letting go of lesser gods so we can welcome the God who is Love more profoundly. This letting go involves what has been called ‘the dark night of the soul’ since intimacy with the Lord demands withdrawal from unhelpful things and this brings pain. The heart is so complex and in need of purification.

The contemplative way is a way opened up by Our Lord Jesus, a way of death and resurrection into being a better human being so that the best contemplatives are shown up by their attitude to their neighbour.

May the eucharist we celebrate build a spirit of contemplation within us and a readiness to hear God’s word not just peaceably on a Sunday at 10 o’clock but in every turn, up or down of the roller coaster of our lives.