Sunday, 29 January 2012

Candlemas kept as Education Sunday 29th January 2012

Today we combine the Feast of the Presention with Education Sunday.

As Mary and Joseph presented their Child to God so we present the 120 children of our School to him and seek a blessing on our stewardship.

It is occasion to reflect upon the work of education.

The Gospel of the Presentation ends with the statement in Luke 2.40 that the child Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

Education is linked to growth in mind, body and spirit.

Our children probably get less of a balance here than they did in past generations. Time given for physical exercise and Christian formation is lost to mental training and with some good effect. We have reason to be proud of our school with its record for academic excellence.

Today's full liturgy involves the procession of candles during the singing of the canticle Nunc Dimittis in today's Gospel which speaks of the Light to lighten the Gentiles.

Education is similarly about illumination. My alma mater, Oxford University, has as its motto Dominus illuminatio mea. Words from the 27th Psalm The Lord is my light.

In Christianity the pursuit of truth is seen as inseparable from Truth's quest of us so that as we seek truth the pathway finds illumination.

Our own growth with Our Lord in wisdom is a lifelong process that will end with the Beatific Vision the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians).

The children in our school have unprecedented access to human knowledge through the great library of the Internet. One of our current projects as a school is to invest in the IT department with this in mind.

We seek increased wisdom for our children and increased knowledge can be of service. Indeed education requires a solid acquirement of knowledge. The wise prioritising of such knowledge is at the heart of a good education. Some say the Internet is causing a loss of basic wisdom and that is probably true of some users even if for others it provides access to education unknown in past ages.

As we present the work of our school to the Lord at this morning's eucharist we might for discernment that builds wisdom out of knowledge. Recognising that education is of mind, body and spirit we would seek for our children the best challenges to stretch them in all three areas - mental, physical and spiritual.

For ourselves too this morning we could reflect on our own ongoing formation and the things we allow to influence our thinking and to serve our physical and spiritual well being.

What use is a daily paper or news feed? What use do I put it to? How often do I reflect upon it or pray about it?

What books, radio series, TV programmes or web resources might build wisdom?

For us, unlike children in school, there is choice, but to be educated we need to be decided about the issues we pursue that will touch body, mind and spirit for good. Unlike children we have no class to interact with educationally unless again we choose to interact with others.

This morning we celebrate the Lord's Presentation in the Temple. The liturgy of the day encourages us to present our whole life - body, mind and spirit - in union with him seeking in exchange divine illumination.

The holy eucharist is such an offering. In it Jesus continues to be offered in the Temple of his Church and we, our needs and those of our School, with Him.

In it this morning may we find something of Simeon's light to lighten the Gentiles, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians).

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Epiphany 2 15th January 2012 8am

Last week we kept the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord with anointing in the oil of chrism representing the touch of the Holy Spirit.

I am pleased to report that one or two individuals experienced something afterwards that reminded them God was alongside them.

We are God’s Church and must be open to his surprises.

In today’s readings we have evidence of how God is in the business of surprising his devotees.

The call of Samuel was a great surprise to him. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. We are told. Yet At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’

After two rebuttals we heard how Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.

Samuel – and Eli – have a surprise of the Spirit which they need to come to terms with. In consequence of Samuel’s recognition of God’s call Israel receives a new start that leads through Samuel to Saul, David and the Kings.

For our second reading we had a passage from the Revelation of Saint John the Divine. I have actually been to Patmos, the Island where we’re told John’s vision came to him when he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. I attended the Orthodox Liturgy on the Island and when you read the passage of the priestly elders falling down before the sacrificial Lamb you could imagine John dreaming at the eucharist which is so structured – led by elders we gather round the altar as Christ’s sacrifice is represented and we behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The book of Revelation is a mighty surprise of the Spirit to any who read it with devotion. We had a particularly upbeat section of it read for us today.

Then the Gospel reading has Philip found by Jesus. What a surprise! So much taken up was Philip, we read, that he went and got Nathanael, Saint Bartholomew, who, initially sceptical of Jesus was won over by the surprising knowledge Jesus had of his being under the fig tree.

Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel! He says in homage to Jesus who presents him with this astounding promise that extends to all believers:

I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

Now that will be a surprise for us on the last day or on the day of our death as it was for those first disciples when they saw their friend and Lord ascending into heaven at the end of his earthly ministry.

So what can we draw for ourselves from today’s readings?

That God is a living and therefore surprising God.

We can’t tie him down in human categories since we are to him as dust to the heavens above. Indeed in God’s house whether you’re the greatest saint or worst sinner puts you either top or bottom of the carpet so to speak.

In that respect what’s most surprising is God’s actual interest in us humans in the first place. How he takes trouble to call Samuel, John, Philip, Nathanael – and, yes, you and I - for we too are called and to be equipped for his purposes?

C.S.Lewis wrote a book ‘Surprised by Joy’ to describe the confounding of his dismal atheism by a surprising encounter with the living God.

Sometimes it can be the same for us. We go through phases of practical atheism when God doesn’t seem to count much in our lives only to be woken up like Samuel by a voice from above spoken through our circumstances as were the people touched in last week’s anointing.

Here I am, for you called me, we find ourselves saying in obedience to God’s surprising intervention.

If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans. The point is we need an openness to his possibilities that’s bred in humility.

At the end of the day we’re not ultimately in control of our lives - God is.

God must many a time be amused at the presumption of humanity in the plans we make since we can’t possibly comprehend the variables as we look forward in life as he does.

Plan we must, as this New Year gets underway, but let our plans leave us open to welcoming the surprises of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Baptism of the Lord 8.1.12

John the Baptist said: I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit Mark 1:8

Why do we need the Holy Spirit?

To pray, to love, to serve, to evangelise, to be obedient, to forgive, to heal…

Without the Holy Spirit:
God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a dead letter,
the Church is simply an organisation,
authority is a matter of domination,
mission is a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy no more than an evocation,
Christian living a slave morality.

But in the Holy Spirit:
the risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating service,
mission is a Pentecost,
the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,
human action is deified.

(Words for Pentecost Sunday from the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras)

As baptised, confirmed - and some of us - ordained Christians we possess the Holy Spirit!

We possess the Spirit - but does he possess us? That is the key to a spiritual vitality!

As Our Lord says in St John Chapter 7:37-39 If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.

Our renewal in the Holy Spirit is about the releasing of the life of the Spirit within us.

The late Dom Ian Petit of Ampleforth wrote these words in his book 'You Will Receive Power': Baptism and Confirmation confer a supernatural gift, but ignorance or lack of understanding of the gift, can block its full effect. In other words, while the sacrament is valid and has been given, the effect has been blocked. When the block is removed then the full effect floods in...(a) baptism in the Holy Spirit… an opportunity for awakening in (people) their sacraments of initiation..

The New Year begins with a liturgical reminder about our ongoing need for this unblocking and awakening to the power of the Holy Spirit who visits us in every Eucharist. We have the possibility after the sermon of receiving anointing on our foreheads with the oil blessed by the Bishop for use at baptism, confirmation and ordination. We call it chrism oil and it represents the anointing in the Holy Spirit given in baptism, confirmation and ordination. We are allowed to use it occasionally to express and effect the renewal of faith and baptism as this morning.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the grand reminder that Christians are people who have woken up to Jesus and to the Gift of the Holy Spirit, to the living God - nothing less.

An awakening to the Spirit, a releasing of the Spirit, an unblocking of his flow – this is the invitation and challenge of today’s Feast!

There is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and it confers the Holy Spirit. A gift though is given that needs to be received. For Christians to seek the renewing power of the Spirit – as we do as we receive Holy Communion every Sunday - is a matter of seeking to be more fully what we are in Christ and nothing more or less than that!

We want to be a people that live knowing their need of grace!

The Spirit is waiting to confirm to us the same words that were spoken to Our Lord at his baptism: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Christians share in the anointing of the Anointed One – Jesus is the Christ or Anointed One so he can share his anointing with us and speak into our hearts those words of adoption: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.

There’s a great tale from C.S. Lewis' about a doubting Bishop. Lewis once imagined an additional scene at the Marriage at Cana - a sceptical bishop sitting further down the table from Our Lord and Our Lady. There are the guests with the water turned into wine. As everyone enjoys the new wine of the Kingdom Feast the doubting bishop is holding up his glass and scrutinising, "How can this be? How can water become wine? How can the philosophical difficulties about an interventionist God be overcome? Is this some sort of conjuring trick?" All the while the rest of them at table are drinking up the Spirit in whatever sense you like!

There are many who make an 11th Commandment Thou shalt not commit thyself! Such folk – and they are around in the Church today – miss out on Christian basics, on the empowering promised in today’s feast.

If you hesitate about coming forward this morning shelve your doubts! Be open to the touch of the Lord through his Church.

I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. This baptism or gift of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing reality for those who will commit themselves. The Gift is not so much a once for all thing or commodity but rather something dynamic and ongoing.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a process in which the relationship that opens up at baptism involves an ongoing flow of love, praise and power leading into ongoing consecration in the Truth.

It is worth recalling that though Our Lord himself was conceived by the Holy Spirit he waited 30 years for his Baptism in Jordan. So it can be – as it was for me and can be for you- that though I had received the Spirit through Infant Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination the first deep experience came many years later – and through, of all things, a crisis of faith – and a recommitment!

I have mentioned my faith crisis before and how I went on a retreat years back and prayed God if you’re there show yourself, give me a vision of yourself more to your dimensions and less to mine – and he did – but it needs refreshing!

Another way to look at it is like this: if the Christian life is like a rose bush there are great spurts of growth from time to time that push out new branches with new flowers. One such branch and its some branch in its fruitfulness – is, if you like, a new opening up to the Spirit. Yet the life of the rose bush before and after such a new spurt of growth is the same life.

We possess the Spirit - but does he possess us? That is the question we are being asked on this feast of the Lord’s Baptism. There is a commitment issue here we need to address.

As we come to receive Jesus in Holy Communion are we really committed and open to his empowering? Are we ready to hear and to believe those wonderful words: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.

After the silence you have a chance to act in faith upon those wonderful words and come forward for the Father’s touch and anointing expressed sacramentally through his minister’s anointing touch upon your forehead.

As this happens we will continue in prayer and sing hymns to the Spirit.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Christmas 1 1st January 2012

Is there anything new in Christianity?

Surely it’s the same old truths that we need to be continually apprehending!

As G.K. Chesterton wrote Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.

In today’s gospel we have Mary’s example of dwelling on Christian truth with an eye to implementing it. When the shepherds saw the circumstances of the nativity, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

How do we recover this capacity to treasure the mysteries of Christ and ponder them in our heart so we can better put our faith into practice?

We need, some of us, to get recollected in heart - but this may need the reframing of our mental processing as well.

Last year my IT literate son bought me a book called Future Minds by Richard Watson that considers how the digital age is changing our minds, why this matters and what we can do about it. He admitted he needed to read it more than I!

Watson picks up on how the sheer volume of information brought our way by computers and the internet is drowning out learning and wisdom.

I picked up from this book Einstein’s distinction between what he called the intuitive and rational minds. ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant’ Einstein wrote. ‘We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift’.

Our minds are given us to reflect deeply on the world around us and help us make a difference. This intuitive sense is far above the so-called rational mind which, computer-like, serves processing information.

Part of healthy living is giving our minds space day by day for reflection upon our life situation and engagement with creative study. The technology that serves to gather knowledge and spread information at high speed can distract us from this vital activity of what we call cogitation, chewing things over in our mind.

As cows eating grass must chew the cud for it to create milk so our take up of information needs pauses for reflection by the intuitive mind if we are to be creative.

Through the discipline of mental reflection we mirror our creator in his over sight of the world and enter more into his creativity.

New Year’s Day is the first day of the rest of our lives as well as 2012.

Will it be a holiday, a holy day, doubled as it is with tomorrow, in which I can take time to assess what’s really important in my life, what are the main things, and how I can keep the main things the main things?

Indeed this may be a good Sunday to remind everyone of the fourth commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

As Christian believers in a 24-7 culture we need to attend to the truth of the Sabbath which is a call to turn attention once a week from the work of the Lord to the Lord of the work and what he’s got to say to us about the main things in life!

We’ve got his warning about good time management, the 4th Commandment, on the wall for us to see everytime we leave the altar after Holy Communion.

Good time management isn’t the be all and end all but it’s a vital component of living a peacable life.

For myself I take the most part of a day a month to reflect on my work as a priest, the liturgical, teaching, administration and pastoral demands and how best to prioritise. I would recommend to anyone this discipline of sitting down for a time with nothing much in front of you and just thinking. I spent a day in the British Library doing this last week.

It’s the release of the mind’s intuitional gifting made possible by getting off the rational treadmill which serves our getting on with the next thing or inventing an excuse for not doing so! The mind can’t take us where the heart refuses to go.
So let’s go on from mind to heart since our text is Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

Just as a discipline of mental reflection serves the good organisation of our life so a discipline of daily prayer aids our Christianity.

Prayer in one definition is the lifting of heart and mind to God. For example if I decided to take the news sheet away and use it for prayer supplemented by browsing the church website to read this sermon again that would be a mental decision.

Then I could read the scripture, and the events and sick list, until something tugged my heart.

When I did this I was struck both by the invitation to ponder in Luke 2 and by the last phrase of the Isaiah 61 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

When I put thought together for this sermon I picked up a heart tug from that verse and used it at my daily prayer time.

In that time I spent 20 minutes settling my mind by slowly repeating the Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

In this way I managed to empty my mind of thoughts about what to have for breakfast or what task to do first thing and to centre my being on God. Then I read, as if from God, the beautiful affirmation from today’s first lesson: You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Lastly I dwelt in silence upon the Lord attending to this scripture verse.

Just an example, from my own recent practice, to encourage you to make prayer a treasuring of God’s words, a pondering of them in your heart.

If we find prayer difficult – who doesn’t? – it may well be because we need to settle our mind from being a tree full of monkeys so we can attend unimpeded from our heart to God. The main discipline of prayer is making that 14” or so journey from the brain to the heart so we can centre our being on God heart to heart.

As you know I commend the Jesus Prayer as a means to attaining this settling and am ready to explain it in more detail to any interested. I will be leading a quiet day on it for the Bible Reading Fellowship at St Cuthman’s Coolham on Thursday 15th March if any are interested.

There is nothing new in Christianity, only the age old truths we need to get refreshed and applied to our lives. Another more accessible aid might be committing this year to our monthly St Giles night with a spiritual focus. On Tuesday week 10th January we’ll have investment manager Simon Witheridge leading on how faith links to life and work.

Let’s make 2012 a time to take a leaf out of Mary’s book, setting apart time to treasure the main things in life, Sabbath time, and to pray, so our outward actions may ring more true to the faith we profess!