Sunday, 25 September 2011

Trinity 14 Repentance 25th September 2011

Repentance is at the heart of our religion and it’s at the heart of today’s scripture.

The parable of the two sons in Matthew 21 picks up on the Ezekiel passage in its highlighting of human responsibility. We are free at any time to turn from wrong to right dealing, the scripture says, and we will be judged according to the evident determination we show towards right. The wrong we have done will not be held against us if we repent or turn from it.

This doctrine of repentance is written through the Scriptures. In the New Testament it first appears on the lips of Saint John the Baptist. Then, when Our Lord begins his public ministry it is with the call to repentance (Matthew 3:1–2; Matthew 4:17). When he sends forth messengers to proclaim his gospel, he commands them to preach repentance (Luke 24:47; Mark 6:12).

After his death and resurrection we see, in the book of Acts how his apostles, led by Peter command repentance. In Acts 2.28 Peter says to the crowd who witnessed Pentecost: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Saint Isaac of Syria says, "This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits."

So what does it mean to repent or to live in repentance?

The meaning of the word is to turn. To turn to God. To turn away from ‘vain pursuits’.

The meaning of repentance is filled out by the form of baptismal vows we use in St Giles: I turn to Christ. I repent of my sins. I renounce evil.

Repentance is more than lip service.

A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ (Matthew 21.28-31)

To repent is to act so as to move your life forwards into the will of God.

Through our conscience and our awareness of the love of God in Jesus Christ we have an awareness of what’s required of us. More than that we mouth those requirements as we did earlier in the eucharist by making an outward confession of our sins.

Repentance though is more than thinking or saying what you need to do – it is doing it!

One great mystery of our existence is the freedom we have to know what’s right and aspire to it but to be given space to delay and delay and delay.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine of Hippo who lived in the fourth century are still in print as the first great autobiography. Augustine connected with the Church and gradually came to recognise he was living in a wrong relationship. Later he admits his prayer was ‘Lord, make me chaste – but not yet’. Isn’t that a prayer we’ve all prayed about something or other be it diet, gossip or judgmental attitude – ‘not yet, Lord’!

To repent is to submit. As human beings we aren’t puppets on strings, no. Neither though is our relationship with the Lord the give and take of pure unfettered cooperation. With your Maker you more than cooperate, such is his claim upon you, such is his aspiration for you to really make you the holy one he has in his mind’s eye when he thinks of you!

As Augustine found repentance is submission, the end of all argument with God. It is the realisation there and then of God and his gracious demand, in Paul’s words to Corinth, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6.2).

When we’re driving a car our turning of the wheel is a parable of the repentance, the turning, which heads our life to its proper destination. How often do we drivers end up having to turn back on our tracks? Or fall prey to deceitful information? I listen to my Sat Nav, most kind gift of a parishioner. It works nine times out of ten but there’ve been times when in my heart of heart I know I am going wrong. I have been forced to turn its advice to one side!

Back to St Isaac: "This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits."

This morning’s scripture is a wake up call to check where we’re heading in life. If we’re lacking a sense of the Holy Spirit’s working that may be because we’re heading wrong somehow. The remedy is plain – I have already given the three stages from Acts 2.28: Repent, so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Repent – decide you’ll turn from whatever it is. Secondly ask God that your sins may be forgiven. Thirdly welcome the Holy Spirit.

I turn to Christ. I repent of my sins. I renounce evil. The life of the baptised is a life lived in that ongoing principle so that if our spiritual life is in the doldrums it may be, in that becalming, there is message from God, as expressed in the first reading: Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! (Ezekiel 18)

There’s a lot at stake for us in today’s scripture. "This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits."

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Baptism of Zachary Francis & Alice Langman 18th September 2011

Self-sacrifice is what we’re all meant to be about.

We were made to lose ourselves.

This is why in the traditional baptism rites candidates were, and sometimes still are, immersed in a symbolic drowning.

We are so grateful for the lives of Zachary and Alice - their drowning would be a million miles from our thoughts this morning! Nevertheless all we are about this morning announces the desire they have their sinful human nature drowned to death. That they come to live lives not full of themselves but full of the unselfish Spirit of God.

We can trace our existence this morning in five stages: the creation of inert matter, the formation of the earth, the emergence of life, of consciousness and then, in human beings, self-consciousness.

Only self-conscious beings are capable of fulfilling what the universe is all about, the sixth moral and spiritual stage, which is self-sacrifice.

This action came to perfection, and so perfected the universe, on an April day around 30AD when God who had taken human form gave himself up to death for us and for our salvation.

Self-sacrifice, losing your life to universal gain, is not applauded uniquely in Christianity of course.

In the book Born in Tibet Chogyam Trungpa tells of a saintly man in north-east Tibet whose compassion was so great he opened his house at all times to the poor. When, as an old man, he knew he was about to die he gave this instruction: ‘When I die you must not move my body for a week; that is all I desire’.

Soon he did die; and his body, wrapped in old clothes, was carried into a small room. The bearers noted that although the old man had been tall his body had already appeared to have grown smaller. On the sixth day when the family peeped into the room they saw it had grown still smaller. On the eighth day when men came to bear the body to the cemetery they undid the coverings they found nothing inside save nails and hair.

When the family reported the event to the local lama he said that this had happened in the past and was a matter of saintly people ending up being absorbed into the Light.

There is a lot of wisdom in the east which can work to remind us of Christian basics. We were made not to be full of ourselves but to lose ourselves to God and other people.

Buddhist teachers of Western pupils complain ‘They are so full of opinions on everything; and so they can never know anything’. This is quite a judgement on the spiritual immaturity of a postmodern, post Christian society.

We reach for our newspapers every morning to fill ourselves with opinions in a society where we once reached out to God every morning. We have plenty of knowledge but so little wisdom we have to turn east to cultures relatively unaffected by the 24-7 information flow.

Our greatest prayer for Zachary and Alice this morning, and for us in their service, is for the capacity to know what’s important – God – and to be made holy as we grow into the divine nature - to live not full of ourselves but of Christ.

As we heard from St Paul in the first reading, a man in prison mind you, to me living is Christ, dying is gain.

We allow ourselves to be saddened over much by our worldly failings. How much sleep we lose over useless things – that promotion we missed, that deal we messed up, the ageing of our bodies, the growing infirmity of our minds.

None of these things are cause for ultimate sadness so much as our failure to live selfless lives.

As Léon Bloy wrote: there is only one sadness, the sadness of not being a saint.

For 30 million years God has prepared us with Alice and Zachary for this day since he made the earth, brought about living beings, conscious and then self-conscious beings.

What we are doing at these baptisms is to announce the final stage of life – to be able to give it away in thoughtful compassion and kindness.

In baptism we announce the principle of drowning to self. In the sacrament we also give and gain the way to accomplish it.

One only has been able to give of himself totally for others in the history of the world. He died in our place to live in our place.

Self-sacrifice is what we’re meant to be about. We were made to lose ourselves in love to Jesus so Jesus could live within us and make us ever more capable of this, and of holiness.

To me living is Christ, dying is gain