Sunday, 25 December 2011

All age Christmas eucharist address 2011

If there are children with a favourite present to show us could they be ushered to the front?

While they’re on the way let’s try a joke or two, like:

What did the reindeer say before launching into his comedy routine?

This will sleigh you.

What do you call the fear of getting stuck in a chimney?


What do you get when you eat the Christmas decorations?


Christmas is here and it’s time to be thankful for Jesus.

All the gifts we’ve been given this morning are given to honour the greatest Gift from the greatest Giver!

So what gifts have we been given?

Time for children to share.

I’ve brought my gift in – I got it early for Christmas and it’s the book from the David Attenborough TV series Frozen Planet.

Any other dads or mums got this too?

There’s a jingle on TV about it to the tune wonderful world that goes through some of its breath-taking images of polar animals.

Here’s one – what is it? p133

Polar bear

Here’s another – what is it? p165

Penguin chick

And these? p122

Killer whales

But this is my favourite (p75). It’s the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar.

Each year it feeds for just three weeks - as you may be able to see - on Arctic willow leaves. Then it gets frozen solid.

Fourteen times this living creature gets frozen solid and then after 14 years it becomes a moth and is able to fly.

According to my book it survives its annual freezing by producing glycerol. This prevents ice crystals forming inside it and damaging its vital functions.

Isn’t God wonderful?

The maker of the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar would have had no trouble planning his own way into human existence in the birth of Jesus.

Now a history test for the oldies in Church this morning!

If Jesus is the most famous who is the second most famous Jewish person of all time?

Albert Einstein lived between 1879 and 1955 and is the most distinguished of all scientists whose ideas on the working of the universe are still being confirmed by experiments.

Just before Christmas experiments with the Hadron Collider, the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, confirmed the likely existence of the long-sought Higgs boson or God-particle that was predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Einstein openly admitted amazement at the harmony of the laws of nature which he said reveals an intelligence of such superiority that compared with it all systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.

Be it Einstein’s thinking or David Attenborough’s observations we can’t doubt that the world around us is the product of someone very, very clever indeed.

What must he be like who made the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar, or the Higgs boson?

Christmas gives us an answer.

As the Maker of All isn’t a thing but a person he was in a position to get in touch when he saw it was the right time and to show us more of who he is. This he did by taking human form in Bethlehem around 2000 years ago.

God showed us God in Jesus born of Mary - going on to teach and heal, suffer and die, rise, ascend and give us the Holy Spirit.

The power that made the universe, baby penguins and killer whales, Arctic caterpillars and Higgs bosons, is a person.

Actually he’s three persons in one God, a Trinity, because only a being who shares love within himself can be a God of love – for how could God be love when there was nothing to love 14 billion years ago?

He had to be love within himself, love of a Father for a Son and a Son for a Father with that go-between of love we call the Holy Spirit.

That first Christmas God’s love, poured by the Spirit into Mary, came to land on the earth in baby Jesus.

This Christmas the same love is destined for earth again - only for your heart and my heart.

Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy.

In the joy of this morning you may know many limitations in your life – regrets, fears and anxieties – but perfect love has come today to cast out fear.

Today God who made each of us out of love invites us to open ourselves to him so we can know afresh the glorious liberty of the children of God!

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today!

Let’s pause for a quiet moment to reflect on all of this.

Midnight & Dawn Eucharists 2011

Fear not the coming of your God: fear not his friendship. He will not straighten you when he comes, rather he will enlarge you...You see then, if you love, how much room he gives you. Fear is a suffering that oppresses us. But look at the immensity of love.

Words on Christmas from Saint Augustine who lived at the turn of the fifth century.

I was taken by his image of Christianity as enlarging.

It’s so against people’s perception of what we’re about.

Yet the Babe of Bethlehem accepted those swaddling bands to give us the glorious liberty of the children of God.

God got straightened, bound up, so we could find new spaciousness and the power to become children of God.

Recently I had one of those awkward medical examinations and I amused my examiner by muttering courage equals fear plus the Holy Spirit.

To be a Christian is to have a capacity to rise through natural fear into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

You see then, if you love, how much room he gives you. Fear is a suffering that oppresses us. But look at the immensity of love.

To know you are loved, that God’s Spirit has been poured into your heart, is to connect with the centre of the universe and see his perfect love casting out your fear and its oppression over you.

One of the saddest caricatures of Christianity is that it’s narrow minded, a sort of strait laced morality. That Christians are holier than thou’s sent as moral policemen to keep the world in order.

I’ve been there, and maybe still am there, God knows!

A priest once had the privilege of speaking to the comedian Groucho Marx. I’d like to thank you, Mr. Marx the priest said, for all the joy you’ve brought into the world. Quick witted as ever Groucho replied And let me thank you, Father, for all the joy you’ve taken out!

God forgive us Christians for making our religion seem so constricting.

Tonight/today Jesus was bound in swaddling bands to set us free but we’ve undone his work trying to bind the world with strictures not of his making.

The Victorian priest Father Frederick Faber captured this in two verses of his hymn There’s a wideness in God’s mercy:

For the love of God is broader than the scope of human mind, and the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind. But we make his love too narrow by false limits of our own; and we magnify his strictness with a zeal he will not own.

When people look at a Church door they too often think of it as a way to narrow down your existence. Jesus did say enter by the narrow gate!

Once you come through the Church door – and I mean really come through into day by day discipleship and week by week worship - it’s more like the door of Doctor Who’s Tardis. You enter another dimension, the very dimension opened up by tonight.

I believe the new glazed doors serve this perception in the way they open up St Giles to our visitors.

God became man in Palestine and lives today in bread and wine – so he can live in you and me, opening up our horizons to his and widening our human possibilities into his.

There are people in Horsted Keynes this Christmas who’re struggling through cancer, unemployment, family breakdown or whatever who know this – I’ve seen them brave their fears and take a larger view!

When the One born to raise the sons of earth comes into our lives he enlarges us to make the most of the world around us in all its frailty.

Man is the macrocosm wrote Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. The whole created universe is the microcosm.

Human beings are pivotal to the universe because they bring the mind and thought of God into matter and there’s no thought or word of God without power.

Welcoming God’s love and his Holy Spirit gives us a life. It makes us what we’re meant to be according to God’s plan for the cosmos.

O Christian, be aware of your nobility wrote St Leo in another 5th century Christmas sermon. Be aware of your nobility. It is God’s own nature that you share: do not then, by an ignoble life, fall back into your former baseness.

Or St Augustine once again: Fear not the coming of your God: fear not his friendship. He will not straighten you when he comes, rather he will enlarge you...You see then, if you love, how much room he gives you. Fear is a suffering that oppresses us. But look at the immensity of love.

Look indeed, on this holy night/morning, and see in the Crib that immense love which makes you noble!

Pray for yourself and for all of us to live as God made us to live!

Christingle service 2011

What do we most like about Christmas?

I like the quiet. Everything stops and there’s time to wonder.

Because the nights are dark and long there’s time to wonder about the moon, the planets and the stars.

I look at them and think ‘what must he be like who made all of these?’

If I can fill my mind with the sight of the moon, Jupiter, Orion, the Pleiades and so on I can imagine the mind of God.

If my mind can take in the starry sky God’s mind can take in so much more because he sees all and loves all.

God doesn’t just see one section of the sky he sees the whole of it and all the skies above all the planets in the universe.

God sees right back through history to the when there were no stars at all!

Who’s sitting by the List of Rectors of Horsted Keynes?

Can you give me the dates of the first Rector? Richard de Berkyng became Rector in 1177.

That means Christmas has been celebrated in this Church at least 834 times.

When did people first come to this area?

500,000 years ago – the earliest human remains were found 20 years ago in Boxgrove outside Chichester.

When did life on earth begin?

5 billion years ago. That’s 5000,000,000 years.

How old is the universe?

14 billion years. That’s three times as old as life itself.

It began with what scientists call the Big Bang but Christians know that by another name.

Tonight we are celebrating the revelation of the meaning and origin of the universe.

At one point in time chosen by him as the best time, the Creator of the Universe chose to show his face in Bethlehem in Judea some 2011 years ago.

This Jesus, the anniversary of whose birth we keep tonight, is nothing less than the Big Bang!

We know this from the way he died and rose at Easter more than from the stories of his birth, as in one of the earliest Christian texts from the letter to the Hebrews Chapter 1 verse 2. There it says Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is God’s Son whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds, the one who reflects God’s glory, the exact imprint of God’s very being who sustains all things by his powerful word.

This Jesus born of Mary in a stable made the Big Bang bringing time and space into being. He sustains all things which means he holds you and I together! He is to be heir or inheritor of all things.

We come from him, belong to him and we go to him.

So Christmas to me is a time to wonder!

To wonder at the stars above, the earth below, the existence of life and why human beings are here – and to see afresh in Jesus the power that brought us into being.
What sort of power?

The power of love - love wider than the ocean, immense as the earth and stars and cosmos - love that sees and enfolds all that is!

Love that came down at Christmas. The Love that set the world in motion to begin with became one of us for 33 years starting in Bethlehem.

This is nothing we could ever work out for ourselves but something God has revealed to us. Being a personal God he could do so and did do so in the birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus his Son.

Christmas is about the love that makes the world go round!

The orange, the candle and the red band tonight stand for the world, the light of the One who made it and the blood he shed for us out of love upon the Cross.

Love came down at Christmas – so let’s celebrate it with our Christingles.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Advent 4 18th December 2011

How does Jesus come into our lives?

He comes by the Holy Spirit.

He comes by the Sacraments.

He comes by the Word of God.

He comes by holy people as they rub off on us.

He comes by circumstances – which links to a second question:

Why does Jesus come into our lives?

He comes to bring us into his life, death and resurrection – and here is the rub.

Look, as the Church invites us to do so today, at his Mother.

She was first to welcome Jesus into her life – and where did it lead her?

She was led into hardship, led to a shaming pregnancy and a Cross of sorrows before taking the shine of glory.

I want Jesus in my life. I want the shine of glory – but, if I am honest, I don’t want hardships!

This is where Jesus sorts us out because it's by endurance of hardship that salvation is forged.

The great Christian writers speak of the need to gratefully accept most of what comes our way, including suffering and hardship.

Sharing life with Jesus means self-sacrifice.

Mary gives us the clue. I am the Lord's servant, she says in today’s Gospel, let it be for me according to the Lord's will and not my own.

Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, the sacraments and scripture.

He also gives us hardships but we have to decide whether to endure them or quit.

In that decision we bring Jesus closer or we push him further away.

In recent weeks a good number of us in the congregation have had to endure hardships directly or alongside a loved one. Some of us have shown remarkable fortitude.

Last Sunday’s preacher announced he’d started chemotherapy and so engaged us dramatically with the practical side of faith.

He left me feeling I was a fair weather Christian!

I was reminded that the means by which we grow in holiness aren’t necessarily sermons or books or forms of prayer, the right sort of retreat or spiritual guide.

The means of our sanctification, of our cleansing from sin, healing from hurt and so on lies in the day to day circumstances of our life as we welcome them as the Lord’s gift.

As we read in Psalm 112:6,7 the righteous will not be overthrown by evil circumstances...he does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that the Lord will take care of him.

The spiritual writer De Caussade in his book Self-abandonment to Divine Providence emphasises how our welcoming of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament Sunday by Sunday focuses the welcoming of the Lord in every circumstance that comes our way.

Jesus is as ready to meet us in the circumstances of our life as he is to meet us in the Sacrament of Bread and Wine.

To be glad deep down in your heart in every situation is a grace given by God, a grace we have to seek - just as Mary sought divine help to brave her expressed fear: How can this be?

If we aren't glad at heart it may be because we’re not fully submitted to God’s will revealed in the circumstances of our life.

Jesus comes into our lives – by the Spirit, Sacrament, Scripture or by circumstances - to bring us into his own life, death and resurrection.

He is ready to help us face discomfort so that his resurrection life may grow in us by the Spirit and our old proud and sinful nature is further humiliated and put down.

As we prepare for Christmas may we have our spiritual ears open to hear God speaking into our lives so that we might decrease in self orientation and gain within us the love of Christ that will never fail.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Advent 2 8am 4th Dec 2011

From the Old Testament passage, Isaiah 40.3 A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord’

Words fulfilled in the coming of St John the Baptist recorded in the Holy Gospel who came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

A few thoughts this morning about repentance.

The word ‘repentance’, in Greek metanoia, means turning, turning humbly to God and to my brother and sister in sorrow for sin.

Repentance is a thoroughly practical business. It means coming humbly before God and practically before my neighbour, both of whom are hurt by my sins. It is no good mouthing religious words in church to God without the practical back up of asking forgiveness from the people we have hurt when that’s obviously appropriate.

Christians change their lives by amputation not by compromise. We go places – we go to heaven – by our decisiveness under God.

If only we could see what we’re missing through holding back from a deeper repentance!

A preacher was on his way to Church but had a row with his wife. Hard words were exchanged. As he closed the garden gate the Lord said, “Go and make peace with your wife.” “But Lord,” he protested, “I’m already late!” “O.K.”, the Lord replied, you go and preach your sermon but I’ll be staying here with your wife.” Because he was a man of God he went back to the kitchen.

When he finally made it to Church he preached one of the most powerful sermons of his ministry.

Every decisive act of turning to Jesus is costly to pride - but it brings with it the gift of the Spirit and a fresh empowering for Christian life and ministry.

Advent challenges us to deeper repentance. For some of us this might get expressed in the use of the Sacrament of Confession which is always available by arrangement with the parish priest. There’s an old Church of England saying on confession which might help you. It’s all may go, none must go, some should go

It’s a subtle trick of Satan’s to make repentance look lurid and not as down to earth, boring and matter of fact as it really is for most of us. If you read the newspapers you will see terms like repentance and sin most always associated with something lewd.

By contrast the sin of unforgiveness which is probably just as destructive a sin as sexual misdemeanour can get applauded in the media.

Then what about the sin of self-sufficiency write pride? Living as a self-made man worshipping your creator! It’s quite fashionable! But where will it lead you?

In Advent season the church calls us to deepen our humility before God and our love for him and for our neighbour.

Advent might be a chance to think about why some of our prayers are not being answered. Sometimes there’s a reason and God might show us it in an attitude or a way of behaving we need to deal with. It’s said, I repeat, Christians change their lives by amputation not compromise!

Our decisive welcoming of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament in church should focus the decisive welcoming of the Lord in every circumstance that comes our way and our decisive casting aside of temptation.

Jesus is as ready to meet us in the circumstances of our life as he is to meet us in the Sacrament of Bread and Wine. We need to repent – to turn away from evil to Jesus - again and again, hour by hour. I believe we can only be glad at heart and overflowing with the life and joy of Jesus if we do so!

A person who’s not resigned in a positive way to the will of God revealed to them in the circumstances of their daily living is someone who’s being worn away and destroyed. This is why St. Paul encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thess 5v16 18).

Maybe we need to bow down to the Lord in trying circumstances, thanking Him instead of complaining to him about them, seeing them as a gift from his left hand, ending any sort of argument with him about our circumstances

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord – sometimes it seems that God gives us directions best when we admit we’re in the wilderness!

Advent is a call to decisiveness in preparing the way of the Lord deeper into our hearts.

So in the coming weeks let’s be decisive in tackling the things that should have no place in a Christ filled life.

Bluebell railway carol service 3rd December 2011

The Reverend Wilbert Awdry would be glad to hear of a clergyman selling books about Jesus on the railway.

His daughter Hilary protested that a recent television series on her father’s Thomas the Tank adventures would have dad spinning in his grave. They’d changed all references to Christmas to ‘winter holidays’.

This year is Awdry’s centenary and I’m glad Bluebell has not just one but two chaplains here tonight and 5 minutes on the programme geared to put Christ into Christmas rather than take him out!

Am I getting steamed up? I hope not – sorry – I hope so – standing where I’m standing!

The great thing about Jesus is he’s bigger than any religion even Christianity. Now he really is out for inclusivity and an inclusivity that goes beyond political correctness.

Jesus came to show God isn’t just God of the paid up followers of religion but everyone’s God. He paid a price for that in rejection, suffering and death.

When he rose from the dead – no historical event has been as closely examined than that Easter event – it was God’s way of putting this truth on the map.

God’s not the God of insiders but of outsiders. That’s why he was born outside the inn in a cave and died outside the city on a Cross.

We’ve every right to criticise his followers when they close ranks and make Jesus inaccessible to non-members.

The Reverend Awdry knew some church folk like that. Grumpy Gordon is modelled on a difficult parishioner!

How about the Fat Controller? We don’t know who’s behind the name but I’m told he’s been as much a victim of Thomas the Tank rewriters as Christmas.

Is it so amazing that the Christmas story angers some folk so much they don’t want it repeated in a public place?

The idea of God as a personal God who’s made us and come in person to show us his love and seek entry into our hearts can rattles cages! Some resent the idea of a God who sees all they do and to whom they’ll have to give account.

I beg to differ. I beg them see in Jesus one who makes God actually credible.

If God really is love that would need to have been demonstrated in history and the person of Jesus is the best witness to it we’ve ever been given – read my book!

Oh dear – forgive me! Clergy like trains can get pushy and demanding! We don’t need tons of coal like a train but we still ask too much of folk sometimes!

A priest once had the privilege of speaking to the comedian Groucho Marx. I’d like to thank you, Mr. Marx the priest said, for all the joy you’ve brought into the world. Quick witted as ever Groucho replied And let me thank you, Father, for all the joy you’ve taken out!

Well that’s not our task at the Bluebell Chaplaincy – I hope not!

A clergyman had mourners in hysterics at a Crematorium. He’d rushed into the Chapel from a distant place carrying his sat nav. As the coffin was laid on the trestles a tinny voice resounded: You have reached your final destination!

Over all the earth, down through twenty centuries the warm light of Jesus has continued to shine drawing people to a great destination.

It’s been given to lighten our minds, warm our hearts and energise our lives - if we will welcome it.

Just as the light of the coal and its heat energises the cylinders of this train the Christ Child is given to energise our living, warm up our souls and to get them moving in worship and service towards a great destination.

Over Christmas there’ll be plenty of opportunities to stoke our inner furnace as we go to Church.

What Jesus announces is this: there’s a refuelling possible in life. There’s a warming of the heart.

There’s a joy from outside of ourselves waiting to come in if we’ll but welcome its source.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let ev’ry heart prepare him room.

Let’s sing again and warm our hearts as we do so!