Sunday, 23 October 2011

Baptism of Rhys Johnson & Christophe Matthews 23rd October 2011

I looked up on Wikipedia the Christian names we’re giving our two baptism candidates this morning.

Rhys, a Welsh name, means "fervour" or "passion".

Christophe, French version of Christopher, means “the one who bears Christ in his soul".

Hopeful names – may these boys grow indeed with spiritual fervour! May Our Lord be with them and in them through the rites we celebrate over them this morning.

This is certainly the desire of their parents Chris and Katie, Francis and Patricia. They want the best for their children and they know the best will take effort.

Just as these children visit their uncles, aunts and grandparents so they visit us here in St Giles. We’re like an extension of their extended family.

Christophe’s dad, Francis was confirmed last year. It’s one of my greatest encouragements to see people made Christians as babies own up to it their later years – and I’m praying for a good few in that category among us to take courage and become full church members.

The horse on the front of the service booklet is a reminder of Francis’ trade as a provider for Polo, the Sport of Kings. His vision is to make this most ancient of all games accessible, as it was in the beginning, to anyone who can ride a pony, so you won’t need to be royal, titled or a millionaire to play.

In Polo each player needs access to more than one pony, so tired mounts can be exchanged for fresh mounts between or even during chukkas. A player's "string" of polo ponies may number 2 or 3 in Low Goal matches (with ponies being rested for at least a chukka before reuse), 4 or more for Medium Goal matches (at least one per chukka), and even more for the highest levels of competition.

It’s a game where everyone plays their part and so, in turn, do the horses.

This is a lovely image of collaboration, a relay race of horses, that can illustrate the heart of Christianity.

We as Christ’s body are a team – a winning team, contrary to what you might hear!

We’re engaged in a battle to establish the love of God and neighbour on the earth, as Jesus explains in today’s Gospel reading - and we need one another.

You can’t be a Christian on your own, you need to be part of the team, and in that team we give way to one another on occasion for tasks that we’re not suited to.

In my forthcoming book, Meet Jesus one of the stories I tell on this theme comes from the time we were very isolated by the extreme cold weather early in 2010. Caroline Rich served as she does now with her husband, John, in the village ‘dial a lift’ scheme. Since they had a four-wheel drive vehicle they were able to help Lesley, who had cancer, obtain vital treatment at the local hospital.

Caroline told me about Lesley’s situation and I visited to offer her prayer which was gratefully received. We celebrated the sacrament of anointing for her in church and I became aware of how Lesley’s faith grew over the months. The acts of service of both Caroline and I were in partnership with Jesus but in different ways. Her service was being helpful. Mine was healing prayer. Both of us became channels for Jesus. Lesley’s faith, incidentally, has become an instrument of care for cancer sufferers internationally through her championing of the cyber knife treatment she received.

At their baptism Rhys and Christophe are entering the winning team of the Christian Church – but they need to be taught to play the game and be God’s instruments!

Here is a great responsibility for their parents, teaching their children to love God and neighbour- and they can only do their best. God requires nothing more than that. For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business as T.S.Eliot wrote.

St Giles, particularly our Sunday Club leaders, will be with you in this endeavour, as, surely, will the children’s godparents and grandparents.

So will the Holy Spirit!

This morning we light a pilot light, so to speak – and we trust God to turn the gas on in due course.

The Holy Spirit who makes water and oil, bread and wine his instruments this morning wants to make us all, led by Chris and Katie, Francis and Patricia, his instruments of spiritual care for Rhys and Christophe.

Then, in turn, he wants these boys to grow up so aflame with the love of God and neighbour that they’re evident instruments of blessing to the world they are to inhabit over the coming century.

It’s team work, but we’ll all be playing in the best game in the world.

Christian life, with all its ups and downs, makes for a contest that’s even more challenging fun than you find on a Polo field!

Trinity 18 23rd October 2011 8am

Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets " Matthew 22:37-40

The world is moving towards one point. The financial troubles that are bringing the world towards more of an economic union are connecting up the world. They are, strangely, ironically, part of a greater movement into unity. This movement is a gathering up of all things in Christ so that the love of God and neighbour flow perfectly together in the communion of saints made perfect.

This Holy Eucharist is an anticipation of that union – more than that, it is an instrument of advancing the love of God and neighbour within the cosmos. As often as we celebrate this sacred mystery we show the Lord’s death and the work of salvation is advanced towards the point where Jesus will be supreme and God will be everything to everyone.

If the trajectory of cosmic history looks like a cone with space and time spinning out from the Big Bang the trajectory of salvation history is an inverted cone bringing all things together in Christ. To the outer eye of science there is divergence as things move apart. To the inner and deeper eye of the Spirit there is convergence towards what someone called the Omega Point where Christ is the be all and end all.

There our gospel reading will be fulfilled by perfect love for God and neighbour within the community of saints. Self-love will have vanished – what a thought – we shall lose self-preoccupation and be caught up in the vision of God and the shared joy of the redeemed!

Meanwhile we have to take the Gospel reading to heart so that we lose something more of self-love and gain something more of the love of God and of our neighbour for that is God’s will for us, each one of us here in church on this 18th Sunday after Trinity 2011!

Each one of us I guess struggles with self-preoccupation. We can hardly avoid it as individuals who have the duty of looking after ourselves, feeding, clothing ourselves, entertaining ourselves and putting ourselves to work in different ways.

Our Lord Jesus came upon the earth to challenge this self-preoccupation. He says to us, each one of us in church this morning "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and … your neighbour as yourself".

Jesus commands this love of us and his is a gracious command – he gives us the grace to obey it – he gives us the Holy Spirit, not least as we receive his body and blood in this most holy sacrament.

To love God and neighbour energises us. The love of self drains us of energy.

How easily do you and I voice the sacrificial talk of the eucharist with but little deliberation. Every Eucharist calls forth not just our bread and wine and money but our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice in union with Jesus who is uniting all things with himself. Jesus desires the offering of love for God and neighbour from his people. He desires to unite that love with his own love that is drawing the whole universe to himself.

Sometimes the Eucharist is cheap grace. We grow blind to the sacrificial aspect of Christian worship in our over eagerness to grab easy grace when it’s convenient.

Jesus wants to take us out of ourselves and direct our concerns to God and neighbour which is why he has given us sacrificial worship.

We don’t come to church to be entertained but to be drawn into Christ’s Sacrifice which is drawing all things to the Father.

As the host and chalice are lifted up at the altar we look towards that final exaltation of Jesus over all the powers of sin, sickness, death, doubt and the devil, the Omega Point where God will be all in all. I when I am lifted up he says will draw all people to myself.

The natural concerns we share about low interest rates, the cost of living, our mortgage repayments and so on are to be elevated to a supernatural level by the Eucharist we share which builds our faith.

It is love for God who has given this ungrateful world so much and for our neighbours, who are as hard if not more hard hit by the economic crisis, that is to overcome selfish preoccupation let alone self pity at the way the world is dealing with us.

Lift up your hearts invites the priest. We lift them to the Lord.

Through the familiar action of taking, blessing, breaking and sharing an outward rite is accomplished which takes us right up into the heavenlies to be joined with the perfect love of God and humankind to be found for all eternity in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, present as eternal priest and saving victim at this altar under the sign of bread and wine.

Take your place with him now as we prepare to offer through him, with him and in him this most holy Eucharist for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his church. Amen.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Trinity 17 16 October 2011

What’s good about being a Christian?

Share things that are valuable including significant answers to prayer in recent weeks

Christianity is good for the soul! The Gospel is good! This Church is a place of purpose in a confused world, a place of belonging in a lonely world.

If this good news is going to get around some more the church has got to grow and draw in the next generation.

Do you think we at St. Giles have something that the friends we care for are missing out on?

We need to believe this if our prayer and our invitations for them to join us are to be wholehearted.

How can we help the church grow?


A question we do well to ask ourselves is how we would feel if our best friend came with us to Church? Would we feel embarrassed about what and who they encountered? If so, why should we feel so?

What wisdom is there so far as the revitalisation of faith and our need to work for church growth in today’s Gospel?

Behind the questions and answers lies a trap set for Our Lord which touches on the relation of the believing community to its surrounds.

In the story we see the Pharisees making common cause with the Herodians who supported paying tribute to Rome against the Zealots who didn’t, hoping to put Jesus in the wrong with one side or the other. They ask ‘Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’

Our Lord’s reply does not actually make a choice between the two parties. It accepts the reality of Caesar’s rule, without touching on the question of its validity. Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.

Keep responding to God’s claim, Jesus says, whilst never forgetting the claim of the world around you.

To be effective in our mission as his Church we need an ever-deepening confidence in God allied to an ever-deepening humility before both God and neighbour.

We can’t escape those dual obligations – to God and to Caesar. It’s up to each individual and each religious community to balance these obligations. To ignore God denies us our distinctive of godliness. To ignore Caesar – read the human community to put it into today’s language – is to make our religion sectarian and destructive.

We live as Jesus did in a culturally diverse society. As such we can’t avoid speaking two languages. Our Christian Faith is the language of ‘identity’ – it makes us what we are as God’s people seeking godliness through word, sacrament and fellowship. Our shared citizenship demands we speak the language of our community.

If religious communities don’t engage with their wider communities and seek to speak their language they become sectarian.

To paraphrase Our Lord with a slant to St. Giles, we need to give society its just service, throwing ourselves as a Christian community into the fray of Horsted Keynes and its surrounds, whilst giving God his due by building up our confidence as a distinctively Christian community.

As your parish priest I need to encourage you to work on both aspects.

For St Giles to grow we need an eye to both God and the community. We need to firm up our confidence in God by getting ourselves deeper into our worship and schooled more in the Scriptures. However bad a name religion has got we cannot escape the call we have to be better and firmer Christians.

To be a Christian is to have confidence in God – and humility before him and before people.

A Christian who’s humble without confidence in God has no missionary potential.

A Christian who’s every confidence in God yet lacks humility before other people and their view of things is a danger to our cause!

In particular failure to be sensitive to the needs of our community and speak its language will show us up to be less than Christian in the sense of working for human and social flourishing.

Today’s Gospel makes clear the separate demands of God and man upon us as Christians but those demands flow together. Our Lord brought these conflicting demands together in his own body in his sacrificial death for us upon the Cross.

Through what he has done for us, which we recall at every eucharist, he builds our confidence in God and lends us his own humble love for people

In this Eucharist he is waiting to touch us in our heart of hearts, so we can touch others for him!

May the Sacrament we share refresh in us the purpose for living and the reason for dying given to us in our risen Lord. As God makes himself so near to us may he make himself near to the people of this community.

The Gospel is good! This Church is a place of purpose in a confused world, a place of belonging in a lonely world. May more belong here with us to Jesus so that God’s world may be enriched by the growth of his Church!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Harvest Festival 9th October 2011 8am

Harvest Festival is an annual reminder as the eucharist is a weekly reminder of the profound truth of thanksgiving.

Our lives are not our own – and that’s an unfashionable truth in a self reliant age.

The Christian faith calls for inner eyes to be opened up to gratitude.

We come from God. We belong to God. We go to God.

This means, as creatures made and loved by God, that we believe in thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a key mark of the Christian church which has as its first service the Eucharist or great thanksgiving over bread and wine for Jesus sake.

Christians have every reason to live with thanksgiving. In Jesus Christ they find belonging, purpose for life, empowerment, forgiveness, spiritual direction and so many blessings.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey made many a profound remark and one was that ‘thanksgiving is a soil in which pride doesn’t easily grow’.

Thanksgiving is a soil in which pride doesn’t easily grow – now there’s a deep thought!

To believe in thanksgiving is to believe that the centre of your life is outside of yourself.

This truth lies behind those words on divine providence that we just heard from Our Lord in the Gospel from St Luke Chapter 12: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?

St. Paul expresses this truth of our belonging at the deepest level within the providence of God when he writes to the Colossians our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3v3b).

To live thankful for such a grace is to live in infectious joy so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God quoting the apostle Paul again only from 2 Corinthians 4v15b.

Doesn’t thanksgiving undermine a right self-reliance? Surely God helps those who help themselves?

Yes and no. Yes we are subjects not puppets. God never undermines our free will. No because the whole wonder of Christian life is God’s readiness to be helper of the helpless. He’s eager to release his possibilities into so many of our situations. If you rely on self alone you’ll always be disappointed. Depression is self-reliance that has failed. Death is the utter loss of self life.

Christian faith, thankful living, reverses both of these scenarios.

It is a matter of immersing ourselves in the self-offering of Christ as we do week by week in the holy eucharist.

Blessed art Thou, Lord God of all creation, through thy goodness we have this bread and wine to offer...

These gifts are offered as an expression of gratitude, the sign of our lives being given up to God. The bread and wine’s transformation to Christ’s body and blood and our receiving of these is the instrument of our own ongoing transformation into thankful living.

We come from God. We belong to God. We go to God.

All things come of thee O Lord and of thine own do we give thee!