Saturday, 29 December 2012

Feast of the Holy Family 30th December 2012

This morning the liturgy moves from Bethlehem via Jerusalem to Nazareth. On Tuesday we celebrated the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Today we celebrate his childhood in Nazareth. As we heard at the end of the holy gospel, following the incident in the Temple: Jesus went down with Mary and Joseph and came to Nazareth.

I once went to Nazareth. I’ll never forget seeing two young boys at a well drawing water for their families. They could have been Jesus and his cousin John. The water was probably from the same source as that drawn on 2000 years ago, for wells do not move.

 This morning we are all going in heart and mind to Nazareth, to the household of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We’re going, with the scriptures and the holy liturgy to seek inspiration from the Holy Family for our own families and for the family we enjoy here at St. Giles’ as a local expression of God’s never-ending family, the holy, catholic church.

As we go to Nazareth we find welcome, challenge and empowerment.

We find firstly a welcome. The hearth of Mary and Joseph is an open hearth. How could it be otherwise? How could this couple who welcome God into their earthly home be guilty of turning any away?

In the Holy Family there is hospitality, the generous reception of friends and stranger alike.  We catch something of the extended life of the Holy Family in today’s Gospel story of Jesus getting lost in the Temple when the three of them travel in a large extended family. To enter the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is to find yourself welcomed into that great hospitable procession of the people of God into the heavenly Temple. Mary and Joseph remind us that we can never have Jesus to ourselves. To be a Christian is to be one with Mary and Joseph and Paul and Augustine and Francis and Giles – and the list goes on!

In the Holy Family we find the welcome that marks the church from its beginning, God’s people belonging to God and belonging together.
You and I haven’t chosen one another but God has chosen us together to be his family here in Horsted Keynes. Welcome one another says the Apostle as God in Christ has welcomed you.

In Nazareth we see also an image of Christian family, of mutual belonging. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are present to one another in a way we can only hope to imitate by the grace of God.

Our families need to go to Nazareth, so to speak, and to learn there how to be more present to one another.

As we go to Nazareth we find such a welcome – and also a challenge. It is the Feast of the Holy Family today.

There’s so much sentimentality surrounding Mary and Joseph we need to get back to scripture to see them as they are – two of God’s holy ones and holiness is nothing comfortable but rather something challenging. The infancy narratives in the Gospel give evidence of St. Joseph’s capacity to hear the voice of God and guide the Holy Family.

And Mary! If she had not been what we call ‘ascetic’, a woman set apart and well disciplined in the spiritual life, she would not have become the God-Bearer by whom God came down to live in your life and mine.

As someone wrote, it was as if the human race were a little dark house, without light or air, locked and latched. The wind of the spirit had beaten on the door, rattled the windows, tapped on the dark glass, trying to get in – and yet the Spirit was outside. But one day a woman opened the door, and the little house was swept pure and clean by the wind. Seas of light swept through it, and the light remained in it; and in that little house, a Child was born and the Child was God.

As we go to the home in Nazareth we encounter the challenge of holiness, what Pascal said was the most important influence in the world. We see a Holy Child formed by a Holy Mother and her Spouse. How can we enter such a home?

There are families I know where there is such a sense of the Holy Spirit that I am made to feel deeply challenged. Some households have about them a transcendent quality, a joy that is pointer to heaven our true home.

This is also true of churches. Just welcoming visitors is not enough. They need to be challenged, intrigued by what they see inside our buildings, both the worship of Jesus and the people of Jesus in their self-lessness and joy.

This morning we go to Nazareth to learn in the school of Jesus, Mary and Joseph of a welcoming love and a challenge to holiness. Lastly we will find at Nazareth a source of empowerment.

For 2000 years people have been empowered by the saving grace of Jesus Christ born of Mary. What a Saviour – a practical Saviour! As practical as his foster father, Joseph, in carpentry where Our Lord picks up his capacity to mend, yes, even families.

How many of us have had to bring our marriages and our families to be mended? To the Carpenter, the One who anoints and empowers and saves – and seen the difference Christian Faith makes.

How much we need to get back to Nazareth, to Jesus, Mary and Joseph and see there a work of intense spiritual transformation open to all. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour (Luke 2:52). He did so that we too might increase in the same fashion!

Either Jesus Christ makes a difference, either he is born ‘to raise the sons of earth’ or our religion is moralistic do-gooding. If Christianity is about ‘do gooding’ it is only in the sense that Christians have access to a power beyond this world that incidentally helps you do what is right.

For that empowerment, for the challenge and welcoming love the Holy Spirit brings we go in gratitude once more this morning to Nazareth!

Through modelling Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may our families and our church be places of welcome so that people may find a home with us and with the Lord!

May our families and our church be challenging places where people get intrigued by Jesus Christ living in the midst of his people!

Father grant that our families and our churches may become places of spiritual empowerment where we share in the anointing of your anointed Son, who with you and the Holy Spirit live and reign, One God for ever and ever. Amen.

All age Christmas eucharist address 2012

Please could we have the children up front to the choir stalls, especially those with a present to show.

While they’re on the way let’s try a joke or two at the expense of our trumpeter.

How do you know you’ve got a trumpet player at your door?
The doorbell shrieks!

How do you get a trumpet player to play softly? 
Take away his instrument.

Why did the chicken cross the road?
To get away from the trumpet players.

Well, we’re no chickens - we really appreciate you Lawrence!

So, welcome young people. Let’s light our Christmas candle from one of the Advent candles.
Sunday Club member to light candle.

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.

Please take your seats in the choir stalls for the rest of the talk.

Now I need a strong volunteer – Daisy!

It’s Christmas morning and your gifts have arrived.

Let’s have Santa’s elf.

I want you to have this and this and this

The server comes and loads the volunteer with presents.

So how lucky you are to have all of those presents.

Now. Here’s a present worth all of those presents put together and I want you to have it. I really want you to have it. The only thing is - you’ll only get it if you catch it because I’m going to throw it to you.

One, two, three – here you are…

Throw special present which has the Cross of Jesus in it. Daisy drops her other presents and catches it.

Would you like to open your present?
A Cross

If you want the most important thing in the world you need empty hands.

God can’t get to us unless we’re available to him.

Sometimes things happen in life that make us drop everything so we can catch one of God’s surprises.
This last year St Giles got a grant of £50,000 from the Verity Waterlow Trust. We had to drop everything and raise the extra £20,000 and lo and behold that’s almost completed. God-willing we’ll be thanking him over the 19th -20th January weekend for a hall with a new feel, a new glorious view and a new usefulness to the village. We still need to land the £5000 beyond our contingency caused by unexpectedly having to lay on 3 phase electricity to the Martindale.

The Christmas story would be no story if the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, the shepherds and wise men hadn’t dropped everything to receive the immense gift of God coming among us. Neither would the Martindale story have come about if Marion Lott and her team had been otherwise preoccupied

How many things might I have done with profit this year but didn’t do because I was wrongly preoccupied?

Here’s an image of preoccupation I’m not a million miles from.
Adrian walks round church with their blackberry and I tap him on the shoulder.

The great thing about living in a village is we’ve got people around us we know who tap us on the shoulder at times. We’re drawn out of the mini-world world of the family and the mega-world of the internet into the flesh and blood world of the 2000 folk who live here.

Horsted Keynes is a world full of God’s surprises if only we had hands to grasp them. I’m not just thinking of the beauty around us but the inner beauty we glimpse in souls.  

I was visiting a very gracious elderly couple hard pressed by health problems that were grinding them down. Meanwhile another villager phoned me with an offer to help support folk under pressure. In one of God’s surprises the couple who were stressed said they’d much welcome a visit from this man and so it came to pass bringing encouragement all round.

People ready to be of service and people needing help are all around in the village and we need to be open to God’s surprises in bringing them together. With this in mind the Church Council has some sort of street warden scheme in mind we want the village on board with. This would serve, among other things, those put on the sharp end by the recession and bring support to them.

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

In the joy of this morning you will have many preoccupations in your life – regrets, fears and anxieties – but the good news of God and his love is once again presented to you to make you a better instrument of his love in the world.

God can’t get to you, though, unless you’re available to him.

As the act of receiving Christmas Communion outwardly demonstrates, to gain the most important thing in the world you need to empty and lift your hands to receive what he has for you.

Let’s reflect now as the organ plays.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Midnight Mass & First Eucharist of the Day 2012

If I were asked to put Christianity into a Tweet I’d quote Matthew 11.28:

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ 29

It’s less than 140 characters and it gives the whole Gospel in one sentence.

Come to the Lord Jesus Christ who came tonight to be God present with us.

Offload on him, on his broad shoulders, and welcome what the world yearns for – inner peace.

Christianity shows itself in all who’ve got that peace - for there’s nothing more infectious!

As we come to the crib tonight/this morning Jesus wants no less for us than to lay down our burdens and come to him for rest so we can infect the world around us with his peace.

He’s here – Jesus is always here in St Giles in this Sacrament – he’s here and he’s waiting!

‘Two African women boarded a train. Each one carried an enormous basket of goods on her head. On being seated one woman laid her basket on the floor. The other woman continued to carry it on her head for the entire journey. The train journey ended. One woman, refreshed and rested, gladly lifted her burden and peacefully resumed her journey. The other woman, tired and disgruntled, wearily plodded along’  (Bible Alive notes 2 Dec 2012).

I wonder as you sit in your pew which woman you are tonight/this morning?

Are you sitting with the world on your head?

Put it down in Church! Lay it before the altar! Take it to the Crib!

This isn’t magic. Trusting Jesus is a practicality we have to work at hour by hour.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens’

The endless whirring of your mind can be stilled as you see his mind thinking beside you.

The physical aches and pains of life will feel different when you admit him to tend for them.

Friendship with him makes it easier to befriend those who’ve unfriended you, and I’m not just talking Facebook unfriending.

Coming to Jesus refreshes our hearts and makes them like his.

One lady on the train kept the burden on her head. We resolve to do the same when we trap ourselves in fear, resentment, anger or anxiety.

We’re living in what’s been called a ‘culture of contempt’ in which contempt and unforgiveness are at a premium. The Church isn’t immune as the women bishops and same sex blessing divides show.

A parish magazine had this amusing advertisement: “Churchyard maintenance is becoming increasingly difficult and it will be appreciated if parishioners will cut the grass around their own graves”.

There’s a laugh but one illustrating a very serious point. We all need a fair sized cemetery to bury the faults of our friends.

We need to bring our faults and theirs to Jesus because if we fail to forgive our neighbour we end up locking ourselves in the prison of our own unforgiveness.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ 29

Is there a heavy burden of unforgiveness pressing you down tonight/this morning. As you kneel at the altar for Christmas Communion lay it down.

‘I will give you rest’ the Lord promises.

‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth’.

Christianity is no one line tweet or sound bite but a peaceful disposition.

'Acquire that spirit of peace’ wrote St Seraphim ‘and a thousand souls around you shall be saved'.
We acquire it by coming to Jesus, trusting he’s here, and opening our hearts to him day by day, hour by hour.

That pain in your heart – he knows all about it! That useless anxiety – he laments! That whirring mind that won’t settle into commitment – he sees, sympathises with and regrets!

Seek his healing presence tonight/this morning in the eucharist and he will satisfy the deepest hunger of your heart.

‘Come to me’, he says, ‘all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ 29

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Advent 4 23rd December 2012

Mary is there for us without getting in the way.

Do you know what I mean?

We should be there for people, especially at times of need, but without getting in the way.

This is the art of Mary – and it should be ours as well.

Sometimes people are so ready to help others that their desire to help becomes a hindrance.

By contrast Our Lady discerns where she’s actually needed. She accepts God’s appointments – at the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation, Cana in Galilee, Calvary, Ascension, Pentecost – we can trace her faithful appearances right through the New Testament.

Mary’s art - pretty well a perfect art - is first to be there and then second to put her Son and not herself centre stage. Do whatever he tells you she says at the marriage in Cana making herself the humble instrument of solving the wine crisis by pointing to Jesus.

I am the handmaid of the Lord she says the first time we meet her in scripture, when the Angel came to announce her divine motherhood: Let what you have said be done to me.

To love Jesus is to love his mother – and to take a leaf out of her book.
It’s the book of trust, obedience, humility, expectancy, persistence, and faithful love.

When Mary went to Elizabeth in today’s Gospel she listened to her cousin first and praised God second. The evening prayer of the church would be all the poorer if Mary hadn’t praised – we love her Magnificat. Its context though is telling. Mary’s Magnificat came out of a time of listening. Our Lady came from listening to God in her Annunciation to the hill country where she first listened to Elizabeth and to her story of her child leaping in the womb. Mary listened and affirmed Elizabeth, bringing the two of them to God in prayer.

Mary is there for people without getting in the way. To learn from Mary is to be a pupil in a school of listening because listening brings us close to people and to God.

The world cries out for people ready to listen! There’s so much around us telling us what to buy, who to trust or not trust, where to go on holiday, how to spend our time, improve our health, invest our money – there’s so much information coming at us day in and day out, so much that tells us, so little that will listen to us.

Who will make us their agenda so to speak?

Mary could forget herself and be there for people and for God because she knew herself as loved by God. Because she had an ear to God and to her own dignity she had an ear to the needy – to this day!

Holy Mary attends to your needs and mine right now interceding for us before the Lord!

We’re entering a celebration which will bring many of us close to relatives for longer times than we often spend with them. Can we see a missionary opportunity? We’re soon to be in a position where we can give something more of ourselves to our friends and family. How can we best do this?

How can we best give more of ourselves?

By listening to God and then secondly to ourselves with Mary. Mary encourages us to a positive self-regard. The Almighty has done great things for me. Take stock of all that Jesus is doing in your life and rejoice! Take stock also of the ingrained selfishness, the ‘dog in the manger’ bit so you can give it to God in confession.

With Mary let us see what God wants be done in and through us and in and through our church.

Listen to God, listen to yourself, sift and purify your agenda, then listen to those God puts your way who need your ears!

As we listen to others in these coming days with our outer ears let’s keep two inner ears listening to God and to our own reaction to what you hear lest it get in the way.

Like Mary let’s be there for people without getting in their way. Being surrendered ourselves, as at this Eucharist, to whatever God wants of us, to be made a Christ-bearer under the watchful care of the Mother of believers.

Jesus who was first carried by Mary at Bethlehem, who is carried to us in Bread and Wine this morning, waits to be carried by you and me to a waiting world!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Baptism of Phoebe Betts Gaudete (Joy) Sunday 16th December 2012

Words Ed read from Philippians 4 verse 4: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Where do people find joy?

We seek happiness and it often eludes us - but joy, joy is something quite apart from, above and beyond happiness.  

As a child I remember the great joy of watching the Coronation with the whole street on my father's new TV.  Today we flip restlessly through the TV channels with a dulled sensation.

The options for pleasure are multiplied but they often fail to give joy.

We may live comfortably at a material level yet boredom and depression remain the lot of many. 

Even the multitude of choices we have before us steal away our happiness at having a choice.  We feel bereaved of the other 99 options when we choose the one! There’s only joy if you keep your mind on what you’ve decided and forget the 99 you’ve forsaken.

Perhaps those who prefer a ‘keeping your options open’ cohabitation to marriage are in risk of losing the joy that lies in permanent commitment to one path and one person?

This morning it’s a great pleasure to have Ed and Charlotte back in front of the altar where we celebrated their marriage three years ago. On that occasion I voiced how they see themselves as a team and how teamwork requires trust and clarity of purpose. Such agreed clarity of purpose has brought them once again to the Christian Church with their families and friends for they’ve been team building! We rejoice with you both on the birth last year of Phoebe Isla Betts and her baptism this morning.

She is, like any infant, a joy- giver.

How is it that children give us such joy?

They are humble, simple and trustful.

I was reflecting on this during the week and went back to the journal of one of my favourite Christian writers, Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox priest who lived and taught in New York in the late 20th century. Something he wrote about the ‘I’ passion of pride rang a bell. It’s reproduced on the back of the service booklet:

‘Anything, one way or the other, even in microscopic dose, connected with pride, is connected with the devil and with the diabolical. Religion also is a ready-made field of action for the devil’s forces. Everything, absolutely everything in religion is ambiguous, and this ambiguity can be cleared only by humility, so that the whole spiritual life is or must be directed to seeking humility.

‘The signs of humility: joy! Pride excludes joy. Then: simplicity, i.e., the absence of any turn into one’s self. Finally, trust, as the main directive in life, applied to everything (purity of heart, when man can see God). The signs of pride are: the absence of joy; complexity and fear. All this can be verified every day, every hour, by watching one’s self and contemplating life around.

‘It is frightening to think that in some sense, the Church also lives with pride – ‘the rights of the churches’…and a flood of joyless complicated and fearful spirituality’. It is a continuous self-destruction. We try to protect the “Truth”, we fight with something and for something without understanding that Truth appears and conquers only when it is alive: “humble yourself, be like a slave”, and you will have a liberating joy and simplicity, where humility is radiant in its divine beauty; where God is revealed in creation and salvation. How can I live by this? How can I convince others?’

How indeed! These are rich, dense words but in them I saw an underlining of three qualities in Phoebe and all children that are the cause of their and our joy – humility, simplicity and trust.

Where do people find joy?

Through deepening those childlike qualities of humility, simplicity and trust. We don’t want to stay childish but we do need to stay child-like if the Christian thing is to mean anything at all. Indeed, As Schmemann says many of the Church’s troubles are in a loss of joy through making things over complicated – and God forgive me if bringing this passage to you has had that effect! It’s not simple, but I love the challenge of it:

‘“Humble yourself, be like a slave”, and you will have a liberating joy and simplicity, where humility is radiant in its divine beauty.’

Joy is something beyond us.  It’s the radiant, beautiful infectious presence of God alongside us and within us.

To live a life close to God is what baptism is all about.  As we come close to God he comes close to us and in his presence is the fullness of joy.  This is our prayer for Phoebe and her family this mid-Advent Gaudete (Joy) Sunday – that they live continually in joy, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit obtained by coming to God in repentance and faith.

Phoebe’s parents and godparents will shortly express this coming to God by saying I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, I renounce evil.

To remain joyful they will have to hold themselves close to God by continual repentance. 

 God may hold our lives but we also have to hold ourselves close to Him.  The will is all-important here.

When we come to Church week by week we show a determination towards God. We affirm to ourselves that it is the invisible and inner realities of life that transcend our outer and peripheral concerns.

Joy is the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon those who seek God with their whole heart.

May this holy season of Advent renew our spiritual determination so that St. Giles can be made a beacon of joy, its building and its people, overflowing with the Spirit of God!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Advent 2 8am 9th December 2012

Christianity is well thought out. It’s well thought out because it’s from the mind of God no less! You can’t rubbish Christianity as a blind faith because it’s a reasonable faith. There are few faith traditions so rooted in unambiguous historical events.

Listen again to that very specific account that introduces the third chapter of St Luke’s gospel which is today’s gospel reading: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip, ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

No wonder historians of all ages have applauded St Luke, whose gospel we’re now reading in Year C of the Sunday Lectionary, as being one of them. You can check his historical facts. We can consequently be 95% certain John the Baptist and Jesus Christ met in the River Jordan where the first baptised the second.

You can’t see God but at one point in history you could because God became one of us. John the Baptist was sent as the pointer to this. More than that, a pointer to the one who’d help everyone who wanted to know God to know God and share God’s life for ever.

To be a Christian is to share the baptism St John the Baptist came to speak of, the anointing in the Holy Spirit that makes the invisible God known as surely as the wind makes the air known.

A God we could see would actually be less wonderful than the God Christians believe in. We’d be able to contain him in our minds! Instead the Christian vision of God is one that expands continually from our limited dimensions to his unlimited ones. If you want a magnificent God the price you pay seems to be that of worshipping a God that’s invisible to mortal eyes.

How can I believe in a God I can't see? People ask us. I’m tempted to answer ‘you wouldn’t need to believe in someone if you could actually see them!’ Faith, as the letter to the Hebrews puts it, is conviction of things unseen (11:1).

The question ‘How can I believe in a God I can't see?’ is really the question ‘how can I find faith?’

A quick answer is ‘you should ask God for it, ask him to open your inner eyes to his all powerful yet invisible presence’.

I remember once my faith going right into the doldrums. It really burned low, so low I went back to the monastery at Mirfield where I trained as a priest and asked for help.

Maybe it’s not God who’s gone but your vision of him, the monks said. Pray for a vision of God more to his dimensions and less to your own they said. For three days I prayed a prayer rather like God, if you’re there, show yourself! He did – I survive to tell the tale – he spoke to me through a leaf on a tree.

I made you. He said. I love you. I want to fill you with my Spirit. That he did, though I’ve leaked since.

Asking God for a vision of himself more to his dimensions and less to your own seems always to bear fruit. Faith grows – it enlarges, especially if it is enriched by prayerful reading of the Bible and celebration of the sacraments. 

Christian mystics write of faith as a practical commitment.

In the medieval Cloud of Unknowing the anonymous mystical author describes faith as an ‘eager dart of longing love’ that reaches out to touch God and release his possibilities into our situation.

John the Baptist pointed to God so that we too could be drawn to reach out to God ourselves.

How can I believe in a God I can't see? You need to make a decision. That’s what faith is – an ongoing decision to go beyond and not against reason. As John Donne wrote Reason is our soul’s left hand, faith his right, by these we reach divinity.

Both faith and reason lift us to God and in Jesus God himself reaches down to us revealing himself to both our reason and our faith. In St Luke’s record of history of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ we should see a reasonable case for the Incarnation, the coming of God upon the earth.

Here, in the coming of Jesus that Advent centres upon, what we believe and what we see come together.

As St John the Evangelist writes No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (John 1:18)

You can see him now with your mind and heart’s eye - in his word, in the breaking of bread, in our Christian fellowship.

St John the Baptist tells us so for his words echo on through history in our liturgy of the eucharist. John gives us the very words that speak of Christ’s presence:

Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.



Sunday, 2 December 2012

Advent 1 Growing in love 2nd December 2012

1 Thessalonians 3.12 May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

That’s Paul’s prayer reaching down through the ages and it would be mine and the PCC’s for St Giles.
As you can read in the Mission Action Plan head statement in the news sheet: St Giles Church has a mission to grow in faith, love and numbers.

We want to grow in faith towards God, in the expression of love to the world and to grow the numbers in Christian fellowship here at St Giles.

Last week we looked at action planned to build faith such as tonight’s healing service and the meditation session later on.

What action has the PCC got planned, or raised up, to help us grow in love in the months ahead?

If you look on the porch flow chart the PCC has identified various opportunities for action. These include the social aspect of the Martindale refurbishment in its involving people and groups that use it, embryonic plans for action that comes alongside the youth and better outreach towards the housebound and elderly.

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.

Those fifteen of us who walked to the coast, or almost to the coast, for the Martindale refurbishment raised almost £2,500 with gift aid. We  raised something equally significant in the day we spent with one another. This for me meant discovery of a parishioner, or near parishioner, who knew the interior of Guyana as well as I. We’ve met since to have a drink which linked in with a dining commitment with discussion of ways the church and others can help build village life.

If I’m typical the things we’re doing because of the Martindale refurbishment are taking us out of the box, out of our individual boxes, into new involvements and sharing as a community.

The 6th November youth meeting mentioned on the MAP was attended by St Giles members with a dozen young people and supporting adults. It looked at future provision for youth. By putting this involvement under love and not numbers the PCC are saying let’s serve our young people before we evangelise them though the two are inseparable.

This brings us to broader thinking.

A church fellowship does community ministry through the individuals in it, as well as through what the church organises. A lot of us in Church aren’t involved in the listed activities on the PCC plan to grow love: Priest and lay pastoral visiting, First Steps, Thursday coffee, Westall House visiting, monthly village lunch, FOHKC events, Serendipity concerts, churchyard working parties, Harvest lunch/supper, FSW

Of course we want more of us involved in our mission through such things, more citizens and less consumers so to speak. Receiving the sermon and the sacraments is central to our Christianity but only when the body turns food into action do we see God’s kingdom built up.

Our individual growth and exercise of love has far wider remit than involvement in church activities. Charity begins at home. It’s also the case that people in our congregation are making a difference in the world  hardly comparable to the difference St Giles members make through running the weekly toddler group or monthly village lunch.

It’s not either/or but both/and. The Christian good news is given to permeate homes, villages and work places as well as education, healthcare, politics, environmental thinking and so on.  No one in Church this morning should feel guilty they’re not involved, save for prayer back up, in St Giles projects, unless the Spirit prompts them so.

What matters is each of us doing our best to bring love into realms of individual obligation such as our marriage and parenting, family and work commitments with an eye to the church community’s plans, hence today’s reminder. The PCC are doing their job in gently setting our priorities as a Church and helping more people to own them. We hope that as we share, like today, there’ll be people here realising that they too could join what is a rotating body and be a church leader such as James and Jan, David or Rhoda, Chris and so on. We’ve a pressing need to form younger Christians to lead the transformational ministries we have here.

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

Growth in love may impact homes and communities but it starts in the heart as my concluding story illustrates.  A young man walked to church for years through a group of homeless people in a London churchyard. He was given a gift of love, a sort of ‘prayer burden’ for them and started to pray for them in church. He put it eventually to his church that they might run an occasional lunch and there was consensus to do so. Later on the church advertised for helpers in the local paper and had 300 phone calls offering help. This refreshed the mission partnership between the church and the community engaging with the needs of street people. It also helped church growth.

Your kingdom come, your will be done is the aspiration at the heart of Advent and of our Mission Action Plan for St Giles to grow in faith, love and numbers. It needs to be an aspiration that wells from deep in our hearts, as we live more and more aware of the love that surrounds us and cares for all that is, simply because it is!

May God enfold us in that love through this eucharist making us increase and abound in love for one another and for all through the almighty power that reaches into our hearts in this sacrament. Amen.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Christ the King 25th November 2012

The purpose of the Church is not to accommodate the demands of secular society; its duty is to a higher power. Nor were those who opposed the measure the zealots or dinosaurs of caricature. The debate was anguished, compassionate and reasoned. Those who voted no knew that they were going against the grain of modernity, and the exhortation of their leaders. But they had scrutinised conscience and Scripture, and could not bring themselves to vote otherwise.

I’m not speaking for myself but reading you the leader many of you’ll have read in Thursday’s Daily Telegraph on General Synod’s rejection of the women bishops’ legislation.

The sentiment fits this feast of Christ the King. I repeat: The purpose of the Church is not to accommodate the demands of secular society; its duty is to a higher power.

The debate on women bishops came right down to our Parochial Church Council. All three views – for, against and undecided – are represented there. As one against relief the measure fell on Tuesday is tempered by sympathy for those I now know will be hurt by that, and regard for those who lament synod’s failure to protect deeply held beliefs, such as my own, through a rather ill thought out and mean-spirited provision.

Over the last year the Parochial Church Council has had a very full agenda. Our wardens James and Jan, secretary Rhoda, treasurer David Colville, Mark Berryman, Marion, Chris, David Lamb, Heidi and Lisa have worked hard with me month by month for us all. Without the PCC there’d have been no prayer ministry training, July vision day, Martindale refurbishment, electrical inspection, stewardship renewal or addressing of our budget deficit let alone the consideration of issues like women bishops required of us by the diocese.

The PCC works hard for us – and they might earn a round of applause!

Since July the PCC’s been looking at our thinking on the vision day and we’ve produced a new mission action plan. You can read it on the notice board and its one line header in the news sheet:  St Giles Church has a mission to grow in faith, love and numbers.

As the old church year ends today with a flourish to Christ our King we’re asking him to stir up grace for a coming year of growth which is why I’ll be speaking on the three aspects of the MAP over the next month, starting today with action to grow in faith.

Our putting mission on the MAP has the same three dimensions we rehearsed two years back – the ABC of attending to God, building Christian community and commending God’s love for the world.

Now the order is different. Before it was looking to God, the church, the world. Now it’s growing in faith towards God, growing in the expression of love to the world and growing the numbers of our Christian fellowship here at St Giles.

So! What action has the PCC got planned, or raised up, to help us grow in faith over the next church year that starts on Advent Sunday?

If you look on the porch flow chart we’ve got various opportunities for you to act. These include
Signing up, as a dozen folk so far have signed up to, the electronic discipleship resource on the church website to obtain bible study, meditation, self-examination and Christian literature resources. These you can follow on the hoof on your iPhone or Blackberry or whatever. We’d like you to sign up and receive a two monthly e news letter from St Giles which has electronic resources useful to the building of faith among church members. I have some parents working with me to identify and commend websites useful to building faith in our children. Do give that site a click, if that’s your gift, and tell me sites you’d like commending in the January edition of electronic discipleship.

Action listed on the MAP that help build our faith at St Giles include: Sunday and weekday Eucharists, Sunday Club and All-Age Eucharist with prayer listening ministry, Westall monthly Eucharists and evening prayer twice monthly, monthly Sunday evening services, Wednesday evening prayer, Thursday life and faith group, Friday School assembly, Saturday prayer group, ministry of healing first Wednesday of each month and confessions before great feasts

Near at hand is next Sunday afternoon’s healing service with Fr Keith McRae. Why not begin the new church year on Advent Sunday by asking for a new beginning spiritually? If your faith feels sickly, let alone your body or your mind, come and welcome prayer for wholeness of body, mind and spirit. This service of evening prayer, sermon and laying on of hands by priests and lay prayer ministers is action to serve  spiritual and other needs. There’ll also be a number of events that will serve to build faith as we take Advent out into 24 venues in the parish this year and I’d like to underline the three meditation sessions at Jamie Large’s, the Rectory and the Miles’ when people of any faith or none will be able to share a 25 minute meditation on one of three themes: breath, light and word.

On the growing faith MAP for January there’s Unbelievable? As you’ve seen in P&P with flying pigs, this is a module on the Apostles’ Creed running the first four Thursday evenings in January. It’ll also serve as first part of confirmation training, as well as being part of the Bishop’s Certificate course that’ll draw a few from outside the village. The PCC is commending this action geared to help people build Christian faith more as the Creed expresses it.

In all of these ways we can take action to grow in our faith which is a key part of our purpose here at St Giles.

My former bishop Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, once issued a clarion call to his growing diocese: are you consumers or citizens?

Are you in church to consume word and sacrament for spiritual solace or are you here to grow as responsible citizens of Christ’s kingdom?

I’d re-iterate that challenge on the Feast of Christ the King. I realise it’s both/and not either/or but preaching uses phrases to waken us up by their directness.

Are you here to build God’s kingdom, to work for world transformation through the spread of faith beyond these walls, or are you settled in something of a consumerist mentality whereby going to St Giles fits alongside going to Sainsbury’s or to the Theatre?

The PCC of St Giles are lead citizens working for the kingdom here. They head up and bless others in work for the school, the hall renovation, the churchyard, the Sunday Club and Toddler Plus, the optimising of our finances, fabric and churchyard with the Friends, the music, the welcoming ministry, the serving and so on. They’re lead citizens and there are people here we need to take a place on this continually refreshed body when PCC elections occur in April.

Your kingdom come, your will be done is the motto for Christ the King, and for St Giles, as we seek to grow in faith, love and numbers in service of the kingdom without walls not accommodated to the demands of secular society but with duty towards a higher power.

May that power, the power of Christ the King, with the Father and the  Spirit be made present among us at this eucharist. Amen

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Remembrance Sunday 8am

It’s the intention that really matters.

Oh, yes, the road to hell is often paved with them, but the combination of good actions with good intentions is what the worship of God and the building of His Kingdom is all about.

This morning later on we will be standing before our Cenotaph with thousands of other congregations led by Her Majesty the Queen at Whitehall as we pay tribute to the war dead of this and every nation.

On Remembrance Sunday we recall the sacrifice of the few for the good of all.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. It is a good and sweet thing to die for one’s country.

But is it? Reading the poetry of Wilfrid Owen might lead us to question such a sentiment.

Once again it is the intention that really matters, the heart’s intent.

 When we look at the names on a Cenotaph, under such an epitaph as I quoted, there are awkward considerations to be made. Many of those men and women, considerations of self-preservation apart, had no intention of laying down their lives for the cause of their country at all

At the same time, if we are talking about those who sacrifice in war time, there will be many whose names are not among the dead who had an intention to offer themselves for their country but whose sacrifice was incomplete.

But was it incomplete and non-sacrificial because they lived on?

In Balcombe their cenotaph recognizing what I’m saying lists all who served placing a cross besides those who died.

Sacrifice is about love before it is about death.

It is the intention that counts.

Here at the Holy Eucharist we commemorate a sacrifice which is a death and very much more. Here day by day we recall the intention, the willing obedience of Our Blessed Lord offered in the garden secretly and on the Cross on high.

Our Lord gave Himself by intention at the Last Supper Table and in Gethsemane to interpret and fill with the richest meaning His agony the next day upon the Cross.

For us who celebrate the Eucharist Sunday by Sunday it is also our intention that matters. It is not the whole of the matter, of course, for we also receive grace, but what we put into this worship, not least our desire to offer ourselves, our time, talents and treasure to the praise and service of God, is pivotal.

Among Mother Teresa’s most powerful sayings is one that surely gets to the heart of her many good works: it is not how much you do that matters but how much love you put into the action.

 For us the challenge of Remembrance Sunday is one of the purification of our intentions, the cleansing of the thoughts of our hearts.

As we offer this Eucharist of Requiem for the war dead is there a desire to consecrate your energies to God’s praise and service or are their  realms within you that lie unconsecrated, broken off from the wholeness of your discipleship, to be handed over to God?

Our prayer today is one of dedication. Here am I, Lord we are saying, with all my mixed motives.

Here am I with my energies and with so many possibilities before me for good or ill.

Here am I, Lord ready to do your will, ready to be generous with you in this Eucharist and with those you lead me to serve in the week ahead.

It is the intention that really matters – at the Eucharist, in War, in Life…

So pray my brothers and sisters brethren that this my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father. Amen.