Sunday, 29 April 2012

Easter 4 29th April 2012

We live as ‘the connected generation’ and we live as Christians.

When we make our communion we network with all those in this Church and with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

It’s great to be just a small part of such a wonderful whole that’s going to be revealed in its fullness beyond death. It’s great to have faith in the Risen Lord who connects us with one another, with the whole church and the risen Christ’s transformation of the cosmos.

The great priest and thinker Teilhard de Chardin reflected on the passages in scripture than speak of all things being brought together in the risen Christ. He looked for signs of this happening and saw them in a pathway of creation moving from inanimate being to the animation which is life, then from life to self-consciousness as in human beings made in God’s image. He saw that the next obvious stage would be the connecting up of human consciousness globally, which we now see in the internet.

Teilhard de Chardin prophesied almost a century ago the connecting up of conscious beings into the collective consciousness we call the World Wide Web. The picture that came out of his thought and prayer is of the whole cosmos resembling a cone with the movements within it converging upon Jesus as the apex or omega point. Our individual futures, that of the universal church and the whole created order rests in Jesus and is to end in Jesus.

This is the ultimate vision of what it is to ‘be connected’ and to be Christian and it is based on the truth of Christ underlined to us year by year in the Easter season.

The internet and the growth of high speed electronic communication seems to me, to be part of a God planned connecting, but, it has a great downside which I hint at in this month’s P&P Rector’s Letter about the lack of space in lives.

Electronic communications have facilitated ever tighter personal and work schedules that seem to be squeezing out family and village engagement, though of course they can and do serve these. The great flow of e mails I’m being copied into about the Jubilee Village Day on Monday 4th June is one indicator. Hopefully we’ll all be the richer for that extraordinary flow of e mails! Nevertheless there seem to be people living in the village deprived of time to stand and stare which is harsh for them and for us. Villages lose heart when people haven't time for one another.

Connecting is different nowadays. Half of teenagers will send 30 texts today, some of them in their sleep. The internet is officially an addiction so that 73% of 13-17 year olds say they couldn’t stop going online even if they wanted to. They know ‘e-anxiety’, the feeling that comes on as soon as you’re unable to check your email or take a look on Facebook. How many of your children or grandchildren will sit with you this Sunday lunchtime with their phone on the table?

Of course they’re only doing what human beings have always done – polyphasing, keeping in with different networks, only simultaneously – simultaneously, there’s the rub. You can’t be with someone truly if you’re on the phone as well!

To bring ourselves back to the sorts of connecting that gel with the Christian vision, that rests and ends in Jesus, we need to be reminded about the nature of friendship and how it is rooted in friends being fully present to one another in space as well as time. Living in a village, worshipping at a parish Church, provides the opportunity for making lifelong friendships through being regularly present to one another.

You can have friends on Facebook – I have and I tweet them – but the friends that really matter are those you’ve lived close to over time. Through the common life of village and church we build friends who can help rub off our rough corners and make us better instruments of bringing all things together in Christ.

Friendship’s a spiritual reality. We see our inner selves, as if in a mirror, through our friends, with their honesty about us, something we can best bear from a friend.

Friendship holds us to principle. It’s also empowering to know someone who’ll be on your side through thick and thin.

I still engage in friendships made at public school fifty years ago. I was comparing notes with such a friend who’s now in city finance to whose children I’m godfather. John and I still ‘do our chair’ every night, heaping up our clothes for tomorrow in reverse order, as we did 50 years ago in our Dormitory. In this way he gets quicker to the City and I get quicker to my prayers! Typical advantage of a boarding school education! John can speak truth to me that few others are able to as the close friend he is.

The other day I bumped into a young man at the gym with an eight digit number tattoed on the inside of one arm. Curiousity got the better of me. Jokingly I asked him which jail he’d been in. ‘No jail’ he said. ‘It’s the military number of my best friend. He died in Afghanistan four years ago’.

I praised him for keeping his friend’s memory and sacrifice alive.

It got me thinking. Christianity’s a religion of friendship. God made us for friendship. Sin came in as a barrier. By his dying and rising Jesus Christ removes that barrier making us friends with God.

Just as that young man had his friend’s number tattoed on his arm so Our Lord has got your name and mine written on him. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands the Lord says in Isaiah 49 verse 16.

In this Church, through its worship and supremely through the eucharist, the memory and sacrifice of our friend Jesus are kept alive. Christianity builds beyond earthly friends and networks towards a communion with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Through friendships with Our Lord built up as we engage with scripture and sacrament it populates heaven, no less!

Gathered as we are once again, at his Table, I invite you to place your trust in the One who knows you by name and who is always present with you however distracted you are.

May our hearts burn as he speaks his word to us and may our eyes be opened as he makes himself known to us once more in the Breaking of the Bread.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Easter 3 22nd April 2012

As I looked through today’s scripture, thrilling as it does with the resurrection, I was thinking about Tuesday’s annual church meeting and our aspirations for church growth.

Don’t we need to be more of a community of the resurrection, I thought, an Easter People?

When you come as I hope you will come on Tuesday night to own your church and elect its lay officers I hope that in the reports you’ll receive you’ll catch more than a glimmer of the resurrection.

People get intrigued into church more than they get persuaded by good fellowship, intelligent preaching and sound liturgy – and there’s nothing more intriguing than what is seen to conquer death.

Let’s look back into the pew sheet and have another look at the readings. First that passage from Acts 3. It follows on from the healing of a lame man who went leaping and bounding into the Temple. How intriguing that must have been! Something worth following – someone worth following! Let’s read v16 aloud together if you can find it: To this we are faith in the name of Jesus, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

When God is at work people get drawn in! Is God at work here at St Giles? Listening to Vicky Spencer on Easter Day might have made you think so. Where people, lay people especially, speak of God at work and demonstrate it people sit up and listen. And they are sitting up and doing so– even in Horsted Keynes!

Then the second reading from 1 John 3. This celebrates what the resurrection does for us. Let’s read v2: Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 'We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.’

We don’t lose our members when they die – we’re the only body in Horsted Keynes that doesn’t! Daphne’s funeral on Friday at the eucharist and on Saturday recalled her desire for God all through her life expressed in steadfast attendance at the eucharist. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In the bread and wine of the eucharist we behold Christ veiled – we could not face him if he wasn’t – but then, on that day of universal resurrection when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

As a church we need to build more of the eager longing for the Lord 1 John 3 speaks of, a longing that is infectious and that leads beyond this world. In our monthly St Giles night we’ve been trying to infect one another with it. How blessed we are as a church to have members who long for the word and the sacrament and for Christ in one another. How much we’ve got to learn from one another spiritually! May Jesus intrigue us through one another!

Lastly the Gospel reading, exceptionally from Luke since only by supplementing from the other Gospels can St Mark’s year B make an actual year. In this passage from Chapter 24 Our Lord emphasises the physicality of the resurrection, showing his wounded yet glorified hands and feet. Those who were at the Easter Vigil will recall that when we blessed the Pascal Candle we placed five nails in its side to represent the physical crucifixion. Then to further make his point Our Lord eats a piece of fish. The point he makes is – well let’s read it together in verses 46-47. 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. The point Our Lord makes is the same point St Peter makes in the first reading: it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer.

The atheist writer Albert Camus once debated the resurrection with French Dominicans. He complained that the resurrection was an unreal and unsatisfactory happy ending. They answered by pointing to this text. God came to share our suffering which served to expiate the sin of the world. No suffering we have to endure is now strange to God.

As one of Wesley’s hymns puts it: Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears. Cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshippers. With what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars.

Is there something of this intriguing paradox around in St Giles? Ask Peggy Diss – and do pray for her as she faces cancer treatment. Ask anyone of our church members who has suffered knowing Jesus beside them. So many suffer without faith nowadays!

How intriguing it can be to them to see how resurrection faith both lightens our tread, under the heaviest of burdens, and spurs us on towards the vision of God beyond death that St John speaks of. It is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name.

This morning the risen Christ invites us once more to repent, to turn to him for forgiveness, so that his light may shine in us and through us. St Giles as a light house? Maybe, if you and I become lighthouses, little candles lit from the Easter Candle? Lit with this faith – that the only meaningful thing in life is what conquers death, and now what but who!

In Jesus Christ we gain not ideas, doctrines, rules but Life - and where that life is to be found – as I believe it is more and more at St Giles – people who’ve it will infect others who’ve yet to find it!

‘The source of false religion is the inability to rejoice, or rather, the refusal of joy, whereas joy is absolutely essential because it is without any doubt the fruit of God’s presence.’ So writes Eastern Orthodox writer, Father Alexander Schmemann. He continues: ‘One cannot know that God exists and not rejoice...the first, the main source of everything is “my soul rejoices in the Lord...”. The fear of sin does not save us from sin. Joy in the Lord saves’.

So our focus this Easter Sunday morning is on rejoicing for eucharist and Christian life itself means no less than thanks and praise. Christ is risen! ‘In his, in God’s presence is the fullness of joy and at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore’ says the Psalmist.

Alleluia Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Easter vigil & day 8th April 2012

The Gospel accounts detail the cruel death Jesus Christ suffered, how his tomb was found empty and how he appeared after his death and burial to hundreds of people.

You can’t prove the resurrection. You can’t prove God. Neither, for that matter, can you prove any historical event actually happened.

Christianity is founded on the acceptance of credible evidence. This is found in well tested historical writings and in the ongoing impact of the risen Jesus upon lives right up to today.

If I could prove God he’d be less than me, and the same’s true of the resurrection.

I believe in God and I believe in the resurrection. Both beliefs are reasonable whilst going wonderfully beyond reason.

How wonderfully beyond reason is the love that saw you and I as precious enough to merit the gift of Himself!

This love counters hopelessness, guilt, fear and apathy.

First hopelessness. The Easter victory of Jesus engages with that most demoralising state of the human mind - the belief that life is lived for nothing.

The novelist Thornton Wilder paints the dilemma of two vantage points, one without and one with the perspective of the resurrection: Some say that…to the gods we are like the flies that boys kill on a summer day. And some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.

Could it be that much of the workaholism around in a materialistic society is a running away from standing still and thinking that hideous thought ‘life is all for nothing’?

Either this life is the prologue of eternal life or it’s no more meaningful than that of the flies that boys kill on a summer day.

The raising up of Jesus at Easter irradiates this dark hopelessness.

God, who made us, so sympathises with our weaknesses and insecurities he’s come among us and walked the valley of the shadow of death himself.

Easter speaks of a Love expecting nothing of us it’s not prepared to go through itself.

That Love, stronger than death, turned the tables on death so it can no longer demoralise those who know the risen Lord Jesus beside them.

If Christ’s victory counters hopelessness it secondly provides a remedy for guilt.

St John Chapter 20 recounts how the risen Lord Jesus told his disciples If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.

The truth of Easter brings forgiveness to counter guilt as surely as it brings life to the dead.

Guilt is the deep down feeling that you’ve done wrong. This is natural for human beings who’re both made in God’s image, with a sense of right and wrong, and yet so often fail to do right and fall short of God.

Jesus Christ comes into lives precisely because there’s sin there that needs dealing with! He died and rose to bring us the forgiveness that’s the very antidote to guilt.

Christianity is guilt-ridding not guilt-ridden.

Easter shows us Jesus came to save the world and not to judge it, but people have to let him free them from guilt by opening up their hearts for his cleansing.

Hope for the hopeless, forgiveness for the guilty. Thirdly the perfect love revealed on Easter Day casts out fear.

Do not be afraid the angel said to the women at Christ’s tomb, you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised (Matthew 28.5-6).

Sometimes we get deceived into thinking of Christianity as a place to gain moral improvement. It’s far more than that. Living as Christians is primarily about losing our enslavements, especially the fears that stop us living to full potential.

Nelson Mandela once said our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God...We are all meant to shine as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us’.

Easter’s about Christ’s raising and our own raising to become more fully and fearlessly what we’re meant to be.

If Easter addresses hopelessness, guilt and fear lastly it addresses apathy about the state of the world.

It teaches us that, though the world is far from what it should be, God is truly ‘on the case’. The raising of Jesus from the dead speaks of this world being taken up by God into his new creation and how we can work with God for that new world where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3.13).

Christ’s resurrection speaks with relevance to a world where a billion people live on less than a dollar a day, where nations live in perpetual conflict and where human consumption punishes the environment.

Why sacrifice for the needs of others if in the end nothing we do will make any difference? Asks Bishop Tom Wright, who goes on to affirm: If the resurrection of Jesus happened, however, that means there’s infinite hope and reason to pour ourselves out for the needs of the world.

Apathy means lack of passion and it names a real spiritual problem in our society. Why bother? Once you catch on that the Maker of all bothers you gain heart, and not just for yourself but for the world around you.

The Martin Luther King’s of the world gain passion from the resurrection because they catch on that God’s God of the future coming into being. In King’s case his active faith brought a future to be that radically improved civil rights in the United States.

Christ is risen – he’s changing the world – and he wants us in his team!

He wants Nelson Mandela’s and Martin Luther King’s to rise up in Horsted Keynes with resurrection faith in the God of the future!

Tomorrow also is God’s – this is our faith! With the risen Christ at our side we’ll be seeing the kingdom of this world becoming the kingdom of our God and we’ll be part of the heavenly celebration of this the eucharist anticipates.

As often as we celebrate this sacrifice we further the Easter work of redemption not least by throwing ourselves into the fray of the working team that’s holy Church.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, O Lord, on earth as in heaven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.