Saturday, 31 March 2012

Palm Sunday 1st April 2012

Why did Jesus die?

The Creed answers he was crucified for us.

It does so after it names Jesus God from God, light from light, true God from true God.

The link between Jesus in April 33AD and us in April 2012AD is in the AD – anno Domino.

Because of who Jesus is as Lord what he suffered on Good Friday carries forward to all times in a way only God can achieve.

When these lowly hands take bread and wine in a moment what Jesus did then will become a living reality for us now.

This is the Church’s faith, that the death of Jesus impacts us today, but where is this impact on my life?

How you see Jesus is inseparable from how you see his death and what difference it makes for you.

There’s a plaque in Aldersgate near the Museum of London commemorating an event in the life of Methodist pioneer John Wesley. Wesley, an Anglican priest, had always said the Creed we say. To him though Jesus as God from God, light from light, true God from true God was more head than heart knowledge.

That evening of 24 May 1738 he reluctantly attended a Christian meeting at Aldersgate. There he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’ and received an assurance that the death of Jesus all those years ago was a gift of forgiveness and assurance for him personally. From that day he set off on an itinerant preaching ministry covering 20,000 miles a year which touched thousands of lives with the reality of Jesus Christ now alive in him.

'Faith is the amen of the intelligence and the will to divine revelation.'

When we say the Creed or hear the annual account of Christ’s passion our ‘Amen’ is often more notional than passionate.

As educationalists say in their motto: We hear and forget, we see and remember, we do and we understand.

Hearing about the Cross, seeing the Cross is nothing compared to acting upon it and the love that lies behind it.

For what Jesus has done for us in Holy Week to come real to us we need to put our lives on the line, to act as if he were alongside us still – then we understand.

You see we can hear about Jesus, we can even believe notionally - in our heads - that he is God incarnate - but it may make no difference to our lives.

I believe Mongolia is in-between Russian and China but that belief makes very little difference to my life. I have prayed once or twice for Mongolia but I have never been there and have no friends from there.

Yet I believe also in the resurrection of the dead. I have not experienced that either, but it has come real to me through One whom I trust, who has himself experienced resurrection and who has promised me a share as well when I die!

It is the Jesus we are talking of who has promised me this!

'Christ is as great as your faith makes him' said the evangelist D.L.Moody.

Why did Jesus die?

He died for us, say the Bible and the Creed.

When you approach the crucifixion with faith in Christ’s divinity you see it as an action demonstrating this truth, that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3.16

It is an awesome act of substitution in which Jesus dies in our place so as to live in our place. All that suffering just recounted in the passion account was borne by Jesus on your account and mine.

The holiness of God, affronted by sin, demands a penalty which he himself provided.

It is like the pauper woman in court charged with theft faced with a judge who sentences her to fine or imprisonment. She has no money for the fine so the judge sentences her to imprisonment. When the court finished the judge goes and gives her the fine she can’t afford satisfying both mercy and justice.

To believe in the crucifixion of Jesus is to commit to a God who loves us and who is holy, who reaches out to us in love even though we are sinners.

In his holiness he cannot be reconciled to sin, but through the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross the horror of sin is overcome and we are credited with God’s own love and holiness.

The power of evil over humankind is overcome by the Cross. Only when we see that power being overcome in our own lives through it does the Cross make sense. When we find ourselves living more by faith in God than self-sufficiency, living more by submission to God than by self-will.

Through coming to the Cross we see benevolence flowing where there was self-seeking before and humility where there was cold self-righteousness.

Only when we see those sinful tendencies and find the merciful therapy of God in Jesus Christ can we know how wonderful a thing the Cross is, what awesome yet living and practical truth it contains.

We know deep down how flawed our lives are but we hide that truth from others and even from ourselves.

Just like when you’re preparing a meal like scrambled eggs, and a bad egg slips in to make the meal unacceptable for human consumption, the sin in our lives makes us unacceptable to a God who, in the words of the prophet Habakkuk, is too holy to behold evil.

Yet Jesus died. By God’s Son going to his death and through death to resurrection we can call upon him in April 2012 to make our 'stinking' lives fragrant and acceptable to God.

As St Paul writes in the first chapter of Ephesians God has made us acceptable in the beloved. By the death of his beloved Son God has made all who abide in Christ acceptable to himself.

May that joy of seeing the barriers set up between ourselves and God lowered be ours this Holy Week.

God seeks intimacy with us. To achieve this, in an awesome mechanism far beyond human understanding, Jesus was crucified for us.

This is good news to all who will face both the truth of it and the truth about themselves as sinners in need of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Lent 5 25 March 2012

Some Greeks…came to Philip…and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’

That phrase, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ is written around many a pulpit.

In Holy Cross Church by Kings Cross Station there is a pulpit crucifix which unlike ours, facing the people, faces the preacher.

Here in St Giles Captain Louis Wyatt’s carvings on the front of this pulpit centre on the figure of Our Saviour flanked by St Augustine, St Francis, St Joseph and St Peter. Each figure took 90 hours to carve we read in Stenton Eardley’s history.

Carving a figure of Jesus to present to people – and what a lovely figure Wyatt made, do look at it afresh – carving a figure of Jesus to present is the preacher’s labour of love and not least in Passiontide.

It is as if the literal veiling of the Cross calls urgent attention to the central mystery of the faith.

Today’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah Chapter 31 speaks of a promised new covenant when instead of commandments written on stone God will write his law on human hearts by the gift of the Spirit. This covenant is founded on the blood of Christ, This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins we hear daily at this altar.

The second reading from Hebrews Chapter 5 speaks of God’s choice of his Son to take high priesthood on behalf of humanity so as to be able to become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. That choice is proved, according to the author of Hebrews, by Christ’s own evident reluctance shown in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Our Lord did not want honour for himself but made submission to his Father, dedicating his whole life and humanity unreservedly to the will of God.

That renunciation of will in Gethesemane is summarised in the Gospel passage from St John Chapter 12 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’

Self-offering that wins glory is built into the life of God himself.

The great French priest scientist Teilhard de Chardin speaks of how that principle applies to our best development as the human race: To allow God, when it so pleases him, to grow within us, and, by death, to substitute himself for us: that is now our duty; that, if one may use the word, is our opportunity; and that is the only attitude that can finally bring salvation.

Teilhard is struck by the liturgical repetition in Passiontide of the refrain from Philippians ‘Christus factus est’ – Christ was obedient unto death. Commenting on this refrain he writes: That is obviously the exact and profound significance of the cross: obedience, submission to the law of life – and to accept everything, in a spirit of love, including death, there you have the essence of Christianity.

Our Lord lived to die a death for the life of the world. We too are called as Christians to lose our lives, all that is governed by wrong self-interest and self-concern, so that his life may flow in us to bring glory to God.

‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’

Our best response to that request happens many a time unwittingly as people see us being carried along by the Lord as we carry something of a cup of sufferings, cheerfully and obediently, with faith in Jesus who is become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Passiontide reminds us that no sorrow on earth needs to be wasted.

By being taken up into the mystery of Christ’s love, in his passion and in the eucharist, there is transformation. This comes as we gain grace to accept with serenity the things that can’t be changed or courage to change the things that should be changed in our lives.

‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’

I end with Teilhard’s great meditation on the hands of our Saviour:

Into your hands I commend my spirit. To the hands that broke and gave life to the bread, that blessed and caressed, and were pierced – to the hands that are as our hands, of which we can never say what they will do with the objects they hold, whether shatter them or care for them, but whose whims, we may be sure, are full of kindness and will never do more than hold us in a jealous grasp – to the kindly and mighty hands that reach down to the very marrow of the soul – that mould and create – to the hands through which so great a love is transmitted – it is to these that it is good to surrender our soul.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Uniqueness of Christ Newman Forum, Uckfield 7th March 2012

What I have to say the Uniqueness of Christ has the inevitable three parts.

These will be thesis, counter thesis and synthesis. When we get to synthesis we end with discussion - OK?

Nevertheless I would value interruptions for clarification as I know what it's like to follow a meeting where gobbledegook is spoken, terms floated not in popular parlance. I am a school governor.

So let's get on with the thesis!

"He was born in an obscure village, the son of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter's shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he became a wandering preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of those things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but himself. He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through a mockery of a trial. He was executed by the state. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind's progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that One Solitary Life."

This anonymous poem captures the unique force of Jesus.

"The name of Jesus) is not so much written as ploughed into the history of the world" wrote Emerson.

Lecky the historian of rationalism wrote: "Christ has exerted so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists"

To get a perspective on the universality of Jesus we can follow endless tributes from people as far from the Christian fold as Lecky who cannot begrudge the universal significance of Jesus Christ.

Napoleon Bonaparte in Elba after much study of the life and character of Jesus wrote "From first to last, Jesus is the same; always the same- majestic and simple, infinitely severe and infinitely gentle..... I know men; and I tell you that Jesus is not a man. Everything in Him amazes me...He is truly a being by Himself...great with a greatness that crushes me. I defy you to cite another life like that of Christ"

In the words of Victor Hugo "Pythagoras, Epicurus, Socrates, Plato, these are the torches of the world; Christ is the light of day."

With the coming of Jesus the world has experienced something unique that twenty centuries have yet to plumb the depths of.

"It would take a Jesus to forge a Jesus" as someone put it, reflecting that in measuring the make of this Man we find ourselves lost for a standard in human terms.

The atheist Rousseau admitted that "It would have been a greater miracle to invent such a life as Christ's than to be it".

"Christ is not valued at all unless he is valued above all" wrote St. Augustine, one of the greatest minds to serve the cause of Christ.

What is the basis of this widespread perception of Christ's uniqueness?

It comes down to the widespread belief that in Jesus the Maker of the universe was made flesh.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." John 3.16

This truth is historically grounded as surely as the history of Jesus. This history is mainly found in the New Testament documents which thrill with the truth of God's love shown in his resurrection that announces a love over us all that's stronger than death.

"Nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8.39

In my book Meet Jesus I set out how the world of scholarship weights favourably the evidence for the existence of Jesus and takes extremely seriously the historical basis for his resurrection.

In Jesus we find the perfect balance of love and truth and power. His loving acceptance of sinners is coupled to a burning conviction of truth and holiness and a readiness to empower people with the Holy Spirit given after his resurrection.

So it is true to say in the words of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa that: "Jesus came to put fear into those who don't have it and to take it away from those who do."

Christianity is established on the conviction that, in Jesus Christ, God, who is utterly different to us and beyond our imagining - has come to be one with us with enormous implications for human nature as we are invited, in the words of 2 Peter 1.4to "become participants of the divine nature."

One could go on but undoubtedly the uniqueness of Christ is his claim to divinity so that the Anglican priest John Stott writes; "Christianity is not primarily a theological system, an ethical system, a ritual system, a social system or an ecclesiastical system - it is a person: it's Jesus Christ, and to be a Christian is to know Him and to follow him and believe in Him".

Thesis - now counter thesis!

Whereas most Christians believe that Jesus is the unique Son of God made flesh there are many who would dispute this claim.

In his essay “Why I Am Not a Christian,” the agnostic Bertrand Russell wrote, “Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if he did we know nothing about him.” Russell does not speak well even of Christ’s character, “I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above him in those respects".

Muslims respect Jesus as one of their prophets but the rejection of his uniqueness in revealing God on earth was and is a defining issue for them as a religion that historically cut across Christianity.

Hinduism depicts Christ as one among many great gurus and that's the position of many in our society sympathetic to Jesus Christ as a great moral example.

The uniqueness of Christ has been challenged for centuries by other religions but the rise of so-called postmodernism provides the main challenge to contemporary Western thinking about Jesus.

Where did the term “Postmodern” come from?

A helpful paper at a 2004 Conference sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization has this to say.

"In 1979, the French philosopher Jean Francois Lyotard published a landmark article entitled, “The Post-Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.” In the article, he coined the word ‘Post-Modern’ and stated what has come to represent the growing crisis of trust in Western civilization and, coupled with globalization, this crisis is quickly influencing many parts of the world. In the Modern world there was a belief in an overarching truth – whether informed by a Christian world-view or even a secular belief in progress and in the perfectability of humanity. Lyotard argued that Modern societies maintained (or even produced) order and stability by generating what he called “grand narratives” or “master narratives.” These ‘meta-narratives’ provided a clear sense of destiny. All intellectual reflection was understood to be a journey with a clear destination – the pursuit of truth. In the emerging Postmodern context, it is thought that we are only on a virtual voyage where we explore self-created worlds. In short, the very nature of truth has begun to collapse. There is no longer a cohesive ‘canopy of truth’ or meta- narrative which gives meaning and purpose to civilization. Thus, Postmodernism is defined by four features: the loss of meta-narratives, the collapse of absolute truth (or scepticism about absolute truth claims), scepticism about history and the general loss of meaning.

To speak of Jesus as unique is counter to the whole tenor of this post-modern context we live in which warmly endorses Ghandi's haunting statement that it's hard to be fraternal is you hold to absolute truth.

Those who challenge the uniqueness of Christ claim to have history on their side as they point to the Christian crusades against Islam and extreme Muslims such as those responsible for the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Centre. Such ventures, it is claimed, derive from belief in an absolute truth so compelling that it is dismissive of humanity.

Even the universe isn't unique, runs the dismissive thesis, which points to belief in multiple universes or the multiverse.

The very term 'unique' grates in a post modern society which can Google its way into reasons for disbelieving anything!

Dick Keyes Director of L’Abri Fellowship has some insight in a paper he wrote entitled The Uniqueness of Christ in an Age of Relativism.

"Pluralism is not new, we need to see that our society has developed a way for viewing pluralism that is widely accepted. That way of viewing is a philosophical system called relativism. Relativism is one possible paradigm for understanding pluralism. It is a system that denies that anyone can know absolute truth about God or about ultimate things and asserts that it is naïve for a person to think he or she has knowledge about such truth. Relativism declares that we are finite; we have no standard or criterion to judge competing truth claims, no scale with which to measure or examine differing beliefs."

He goes on with an interesting analogy: "When considering relativism, I often think of the example of a lifeguard on a beach who has an elevated chair so he can look down over everybody and see what is going on. He has a perspective that nobody else on the beach has. Everybody else has his or her feet in the sand, cannot see beyond immediate neighbors. But the lifeguard has an elevated chair from which to see the whole beach. Relativism tells us that nobody has that elevated view when it comes to religion. Everybody is at ground level, with only his or her local perspective. Relativism claims that we have a lot of people from different perspectives saying what they think ultimate truth is, but that these people are simply expressing their own beliefs. They are attempting to name what is not namable. Relativism claims that it does not make sense to talk about some religions being true and other religions being false; doing so brings the wrong categories to the discussion."

I picked up these paragraphs from the net. They touch on how one particular phenomenon or viewpoint can be granted universal significance. Beyond the postmodern problem lies a whole philosophical objection called 'the scandal of the particular'. This objection is touched on by Paul who talked to the Corinthians of the gospel being a stumbling block or 'scandalon' because of its focus on a particular person in a particular age. "We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles". (1 Corinthians 1.24)

On the Internet the major challenge to Christ's uniqueness is the dismissal of his resurrection as a merely spiritual and subjective event that somehow got fixed in the minds of his followers but is without historical basis.

In 2008 I spent Eastertide engaging with atheist Steven Carr on a blog about the truth of the resurrection. His main thesis was to challenge the historicity of the New Testament documents through underlining the lack of first hand eye witness evidence. The earliest written accounts of the resurrection of Jesus in St Paul don't mention the empty tomb, he alleged, and to a degree he is right, even if Paul's mention of his death mentions burial then resurrection implying a rising from the grave. Then the Gospel accounts are little later than Paul and are very clear on the empty tomb.

Thesis - counterthesis - synthesis!

Picking up on the historical examination of the uniqueness of Christ I think the perceived consensus of scholars on the historical Jesus is very important.

New Testament scholarship is a broad church but there's growing consensus that John's Gospel, though containing much accurate history, stands apart from the other Synoptic Gospels in its triumphant portrait of Christ as in the 'I am' sayings.

Unfortunately ultra-conservative Christian apologetic, in making reasonable defence of Church teaching, relies over much on Christ's uniqueness as self-proclaimed in John's Gospel. The Christ of St John is presented in the light of his resurrection, says scholarship, so that the story of his life is overlaid by the writers' awareness of his risen presence. Even C S Lewis, writing on Christ's uniqueness, expresses the view that a man who said what Christ said had to be mad, bad or the Son of God but his memorable challenge is built overmuch on the less-historical Johannine Christ.

The historical Jesus that emerges from scholarship has a more nuanced self-understanding which fits better with human psychology. Matthew, Mark and Luke nonetheless evidence his remarkable capacity to pronounce God's forgiveness, heal, deliver and teach with an authority that his contemporaries saw as a pointer to his divine origin.

I believe the divinity of Christ is evident in the earliest Gospel accounts, though it shines most brilliantly through the rest of the New Testament, which would never have been written unless something had happened to put Jesus on the world's map for ever, that 'something' being his resurrection.

Though Jesus preached the kingdom of God his followers preach his unique person and it's hard to explain that shift without the historical event we know as the resurrection, let alone the change in the disciples and the shift of the Jewish Holy Day to the first day or the week.

The uniqueness of Jesus is in his revelation both of who God is, as a Trinity of love, and of who we are, as fallen creatures. It is the genius of Jesus to open up both a vision of God and one of humanity so that the good news he brings is transformative for both individuals and communities. The forgiveness he won for us and brings to bear on Christian life and the intimacy with God that flows from this is something that those who experience it are forced to label 'unique'.

In an address exploring the finality of Christ in a pluralist world Archbishop Rowan Williams admitted “Belief in the uniqueness or finality of Christ is something that sits very badly indeed, not just with a plural society but with a society that regards itself as liberal or democratic,” but he goes on “Christians have claimed and will still claim that when you realise God calls you simply as a human being into that relationship of intimacy with Jesus, then you understand something about God which cannot be replaced or supplemented. The finality lies in the recognition that now there is something you cannot forget about God and humanity and which you cannot correct as if it were simply an interesting theory about God and humanity.”

At the heart of the uniqueness of Jesus is this revelation of what I would call the supremacy of the personal. Ultimate reality has a human face, not one we've put on it but one God himself has put into it by the incarnation.

As we move to synthesis from thesis and counter thesis we have to admit that the bad things done in the name of Christ are injurious by their disloyalty to the love he came to reveal. If Jesus is unique in his person, revealing the love of God, Father, Son and Spirit, violence that depersonalises in his name is the ultimate contradiction.

As we reflect back on the counter thesis which touched on Postmodernism I have another quote again from that 2004 Lausanne sponsored evangelisation conference. "Postmodernism", I quote, "presents possibilities which may benefit or assist Christian communication. Postmodernity has challenged the foundations of the Modernist project with its smug confidence in the perfectability of people, the certainty of never-ending progress and the unassailable reliance on human reason. The collapse of the false meta-narratives of Modernity (reason, perfectability, progress) provides an opportunity to communicate the true meta-narrative that is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Thus, Postmodernism represents new challenges as well as new opportunities for Christian reflection and action."

As the Lausanne network recognises, the Church as an institution is necessary to bring Jesus close to people in every age through preaching, the eucharist, Christian fellowship and holding them to a spiritual discipline. Yet part of the unique appeal of Jesus Christ is his transcendence of Christianity through both his supernatural nature and superlative character.

That is recognised in the 1965 Second Vatican Council declaration on non-Christian religions where we read "The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself."

This historic statement has a remarkable inclusivity about it that's built upon the uniqueness of Christ through whom all things were made and in whom all things will come together.

From Evangelicals and Roman Catholics back to Anglicans. In his 2010 paper Rowan Williams teaches that the uniqueness and finality of Christ, rather than being unfair to those who haven't heard of him, makes possible the universal reconcilability and fellowship of human beings.

Hence, the Archbishop continued, it's a serious failure when Christians “treat others as if they know nothing, and we have nothing to learn” as if there were no hope for people outside of the Christian faith.

A belief in the uniqueness and finality of Christ, he said, gives Christians both a “generous desire to share” and a “humble desire to learn”.

“In dialogue between people of different faith we expect to learn something, we expect to be different as a result of the encounter. We don’t as a rule expect to change our minds,” he said.

“We come with conviction, with gratitude and with confidence, but it is the confidence which I believe allows us to embark on these encounters, hoping that we may learn - not change our conviction - but learn.

“When we sit alongside the Jew, the Buddhist, the Muslim, the Hindu, we expect to see in their humanity something that challenges and enlarges ours. We expect to receive something in their humanity as a gift to ours.”

I will let those synthetic words be our invitation to do likewise by sharing our constructive thoughts as we examine among ourselves the unique claims of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Lent 1 Stewardship Sunday 4 March 2012

There’s a battle going on for our Church – would you believe it?

It’s an ownership battle that’s part of the battle for our souls and its part of what Lent’s all about.

In Lent we remember we’re lent.

Is my life mine or is it lent to me? Is St Giles ours or is it lent to us?

There’s a proprietorial spirit that afflicts us all – it’s my life. I do it or did it my way.

Over against it there’s the spirit of stewardship by which we see our whole life as it really is - as lent us by God - so that we are his and St Giles is God’s Church.

Today is stewardship Sunday. For the last two years Lent has brought with it the opportunity to review the gifts we employ in God’s service, time, talents and treasure.

It’s also an opportunity to see how much more our Church is becoming God’s Church and not just a fellowship that enjoys meeting on Sunday in a Grade I listed building of outstanding beauty.

Let me touch on the second area first.

It was evident at last Sunday evening’s healing service that we’re a Church that recognises God at work in lives. What Peter Vince and James Nicholson shared about that was so powerful and made all the more powerful in my mind by their day by day commitment to the fabric and worship of St Giles.

St Giles, unlike New Labour, does God. You may laugh but some churches are guilty of what Paul describes in 2 Timothy 3.5 of holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Members are so concerned to keep their social club comfortable they’re wary of God talk and keep up the outward ritual of Church whilst barely acknowledging their stewardship of God’s mission. One Church over Chichester way fought having a sign to them from the main road in case outsiders came to disturb them!

I prefer to be called Father John, whilst respecting folk who find it too distant. This is because I aim to be everyone’s friend but am primarily here to be God’s priest for us. Do pray for me in that perilous role, as Maker’s rep, called to make our fellowship at St Giles more godly and less proprietorial.

The best people to teach us about where we stand on this are our visitors. If you see a strange face in Church is it your instinct to make time to welcome them after the service or does that concern get lost in your business after service keeping up with your mates at St Giles?

Archbishop William Temple said the Christian church is the only organisation on earth that exists for the sake of non-members. Do we?

I’m only asking because it’s Stewardship Sunday!

There are good signs of our getting there as a Church. Over the last year we’ve started: St Giles Night, a monthly evening with a spiritual focus, to help deepen discipleship, monthly healing ministry on Wednesday evenings and monthly prayer ministry after the all age eucharist. All of these ventures have seen lay members receiving as well as sharing spiritual capital. It’s also been good to see increased attendance at our occasional and regular midweek eucharists.

In terms of stewardship of buildings the glazed inner porch doors installed last May open up St Giles making the building seem more accessible. We’re still working at and praying for the right development of toilet facilities that are so necessary in terms of comfortable access. The thinking behind these changes, and significant changes in the Martindale, isn’t or shouldn’t be proprietorial. We’re not doing these things out of pride in appearances but as stewards wanting to be more effective as a missionary Church. We seek to make the worship of God accessible by better engagement with the local community.

This is what Christian stewardship is about – but it begins like Lent with you and I recognising we’re lent and not our own.

In this holy eucharist, Sunday by Sunday, day by day, we profess this truth of stewardship which sees life as it really is, as lent us by God.

Our Lord Jesus gave himself for the Church to make it his own. He came in fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham that he’d build a fruitful people. In today’s Gospel Our Saviour warns that as he would suffer on the Cross so we will suffer to lose our lives for his sake.

In the eucharist we gratefully recall Christ’s self gift, pledging our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice alongside his self-offering. As we reflect in Lent on the engagement of our time, talents and treasure with God’s Church, may what we say we offer be reflected more in our lives. The test of any act of love is that it hurts self interest.