Sunday, 27 May 2012

Pentecost 27th May 2012

On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the Holy Spirit’s vital and vitalising role.

He is God in the present moment bringing all that Jesus has done for us into play here and now. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability This was so that right there in Jerusalem and right now in Horsted Keynes the love of God might be communicated mind to mind and heart to heart.

Christianity is a seizing with exhilaration upon the wonder of God seen as never seen before in the coming, dying and rising of Jesus Christ.

It means if God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If God had a wallet, your photo would be in it.

God loves us so much that though he can live anywhere in the universe he seeks to live in a place only you can allow him to live – in your open heart.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth Saint John writes. That truth is of our making by God, our redeeming by the Son of God and our being made holy by the Spirit of God.

As Pascal said, holiness is the church’s greatest influence. When God gets into people’s lives it makes them holy enlarging their hearts and it shows. It brings our humanity into its right mind as the Holy Spirit rights what’s wrong in us.

God, who gave us life, loves us so much, with all our shortcomings, he wants to give us his life, to dwell deep within us, for that is why we were made.

The truth of God and of ourselves is this – God loves us and loves us just as we are – but he loves us too much to leave us that way and so he offers us the Holy Spirit to dwell with us and in us.

Pentecost as Feast of the Spirit is a Feast of truth-telling as we heard in the reading from the Acts. The Holy Spirit brought the truth of God’s love into all those national groups, Parthians, Medes, Elamites and so on by his miraculous translation through the gift of tongues.

Holiness and truth communicated with love and power.

This truth of God’s desire to fill every human heart with holy love, according to St Paul, already infects the universe, as he writes in Romans 8 verse 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

I have seen and met on occasion people whose godliness contained a force it was hard to resist. There’s something of this around in St Giles – would there were more - since holiness is indeed the church’s greatest influence.

So today, and always, our prayer should be Come Holy Spirit and kindle in us the fire of your love! Or, as in the Psalm set for today, Psalm 104: Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and holiness. He’s also the power of God. At the eucharist we speak in the Creed of Christ’s incarnation being accomplished from the Holy Spirit. We pray that by the power of your Holy Spirit the gifts of bread and wine may be changed. Send the Holy Spirit on your people we pray. And lastly send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory.

The Holy Spirit is into application – making God take flesh, making bread and wine God’s vehicles, taking us out into the world as those first disciples went so that in [their] own languages [they] hear [us] speaking about God’s deeds of power.

So how can we make Pentecost more applicable in our own lives this morning?

Each eucharist is meant to be a mini-Pentecost, each Holy Communion an individual Pentecost, set within the Spirit sealed communion of the Church whose birthday we mark today.

I end with a vivid illustration of the application of the Holy Spirit to life from a book entitled ‘Triumphs of the Spirit in Russia’ by Donald Nicholl. The tale, from the Second World War, is of how the Holy Spirit moved a group of women to show compassion towards German war prisoners. Here it is.

‘In ‘41 Mama took me back to Moscow. There I saw our enemies for the first time...nearly 20,000 German war prisoners were to be marched in a single column through the streets...The pavements swarmed with onlookers, cordoned off by soldiers and police. The crowd was mostly women - Russian women with hands roughened by hard work, lips untouched by lipstick, and thin hunched shoulders which had borne half the burden of the war. Every one of them must have a father or a husband, a brother or a son killed by the Germans. They gazed with hatred in the direction which the column was to appear. At last we saw it. The general marched at the head, massive chins stuck out, lips folded disdainfully, their whole demeanour meant to show superiority over their plebian victors.

‘They smell of eau de Cologne, the bastards’, someone in the crowd said with hatred. The women were clenching their fists. The soldiers and policemen had all they could do to hold them back. All at once something happened to them. They saw German soldiers, thin, unshaven, wearing dirty blood-stained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulder of their comrades: the soldiers walked with their heads down. The street became dead silent - the only sound was the shuffling of boots and the thumping of crutches.

‘Then I saw an elderly woman in broken-down boots push herself forward and touch a policeman’s shoulder, saying, “Let me through”. There must have been something about her that made him step aside. She went up to the column, took from inside her coat something wrapped in a coloured handkerchief and unfolded it. It was a crust of black bread. She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of the soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. And then suddenly from every side women were running towards the soldiers, pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had. The soldiers were no longer enemies. They were people’.

‘Triumphs of the Spirit in Russia’ - that was the title of the book containing this impressive tale.

‘Triumphs of the Spirit in Horsted Keynes - this is what this Sermon is angling for as God’s People at St. Giles take Pentecost literally to heart.

The moral of the story we heard is, whatever grand spiritual aspirations we make the Holy Spirit is closest to us when we are about our neighbours, sorting out our destructive attitudes, putting love in where there is none, recognising the humanity of those who are somewhat blind to ours.

This is the humble work of Jesus’ redemption being applied to our lives and through our lives to others. It starts in us here as by the power of the Holy Spirit the gifts of bread and wine are taken and given so that sent out in the power of the Spirit we might live and work to God’s praise and glory.

Living in his holiness and truth communicating his love through his empowerment!

Come Holy Spirit and kindle in us the fire of your love! Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth – starting with me!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Easter 7 eucharist with marriage blessing and baptism 20 May 2012

Our congratulations to Stephen and Victoria on their marriage.

With Michael and Annabelle they are forming a building block of the Church - a Christian family.

They've known each other 13 years. Victoria's roots are in the village and Stephen's in Burgess Hill. Victoria's a beauty therapist and Stephen an electrician.

Today they pledge to inner beauty and connect to a power beyond this world.

Stephen has had an adrenalin rush or two caused when someone says a wire's dead and it isn't!

Today through their marriage blessing and their daughter's baptism they're connecting with a live line.

This morning they with Annabelle connect to Holy Spirit power as they receive a special anointing from God.

It's the week before Pentecost so we're all due a reminder of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many think Christmas is the greatest Christian feast but it's not. Easter is. Christmas isn't even in second place. Pentecost - alias Whitsun - is, so Christmas comes third.

The birth of Jesus is famous because he died and rose at Easter.  He's also the one who sent the Holy Spirit on the Church at Pentecost so his resurrection power could be with her to the end of time.

Christianity is the full revelation of God. You can find traces of that revelation in other religions but the full picture is the Trinity. We bless Stephen, Victoria and Annabelle today in the name of the Father who made the world, of the Son who was send to overcome our sins and of the Holy Spirit who brings the whole of God into each moment.

The Holy Spirit is the God in the present moment bringing God’s love, power and joyful goodness to play in our lives.

Of course when one person of the Trinity acts all act. We can’t say the Son and the Spirit were absent at the creation, or that the Father and the Spirit were absent when the Son came on the earth or that when we experience the Holy Spirit this morning the Father and the Son are not in tow.

When God acts, the whole of God acts. Bear this in mind as I continue.

Our first reading tells how the Holy Spirit led the apostles at the beginning in the choice of St Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve. The same Spirit will guide Stephen and Victoria in the important decisions of their life.

Jesus says to his Father in today's Gospel reading 'the words you gave to me I have given to them'. The Christian good news is given to be handed on and the Holy Spirit is our God sent motivator. Stephen, Victoria and all of us know good news of a God who loves us and that's the most precious thing we could share with anyone.

Of course God can't be seen. Like the air around us he's invisible until the wind blows. Breathe on me breath of God we just sang. Breathe on Stephen, Victoria, Michael, Annabelle and all of us.

No one has ever seen God the Bible says but Jesus Christ made him known by a 33 year life, a cruel death, a glorious resurrection and by plugging us into the power of this at Pentecost.

Marriage and baptism, like the other five sacraments, are personal Pentecost’s. They plug us in to Holy Spirit living full of the surprises of God.

Last Sunday one of the cancer patients we prayed for in Church texted us catching the notices slot to tell us God saved his life through prayer. We were all reminded that God is God of the present moment ready to speak into it where there’s faith to welcome his gifts.

May Stephen, Victoria and all of us have eyes to see and engage in joy with the surprises of God.

Today is a new beginning for the Frettens but every day is a new beginning for all of us. It’s the first day of the rest of our lives.

May the Holy Spirit come upon us this day to make it his own so we live to see his possibilities opening up in our lives, possibilities that are richer than our widest imagining.

This Church building is made up of hundreds of stones quarried 900 years ago in West Hoathly. Here's a slab from that quarry.

The Frettens are themselves today made a building block in our Church since the real building blocks of the Church are families called into Christian fellowship.

May God pave the way for this in making St Giles attractive to all four of them, and may he make them a blessing to him, to St Giles and to all who share their lives in years to come.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Easter 6 13th May 2012

Of those to whom much is given much is required.

Because we’re people who see God we’ve got responsibility to seek him more and to see him more fully as he is and not in the image we make of him.

I find a root sin of mine is sloth in that sense. I neglect to ponder the picture that scripture and Christian tradition give of God and to make that more my own.

I am called, we are called, to think of God ever more magnificently.

The scripture set for the sixth Sunday of Easter opens up something of God’s magnificent power and love.

In the first reading Peter’s Jewish friends were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.

Two astounding things. Speaking in tongues, a supernatural prayer language of love, sign of the difference the Holy Spirit can make to folk. Then God, God of the Jewish Covenant, giving evidence of his acceptance of non-Jews.

Miracles, miraculous talk, shake the control we think we’ve got over life. From time to time God shakes our comfort and complacency and does His own thing. If we were really in love with God we’d welcome such surprises of the Spirit and not dismiss them as religious hysteria. St Francis, the CurĂ© D’Ars, Pope John 23rd all spoke in tongues and many do so today.

Then secondly in that reading we’re awoken to God proving himself a God to whom no one, Gentile or Jew, is an outsider. Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?

How many times do we get humbled by the generosity and spiritual wisdom of our non-Church friends? God can speak to us in The Crown, The Horsted, The Green Man as powerfully as in St Giles. There are people in his image there and people in God’s image can speak God’s word even if they don’t know who God is and that he’s made them godlike.

Sometimes the Church gets woken up to God’s truth by outsiders, as, sad to say, is happening over child protection. This morning we come before God with sorrow that yet another priest, one who ministered as near as Burgess Hill, has been accused of an unthinkable, unspeakable crime.

The Holy Spirit has been powerfully at work outside the community of the Church from the beginning, speaking truth and holiness into her, keeping her humble and on her toes. This is because God is God not just of the Church but God of the whole world.

Then, as our second reading from 1 John 5 and Gospel from John 15 remind us God is love. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. The Holy Spirit, Saint Paul says, is God’s love outpoured into our hearts.

By his dying and rising Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has overcome all that separates us from God to make us his friends. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

Because of this friendship we Christians live in friendship with one another: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

The second reading speaks similarly of how our awakening to the love of God awakens us to the love of God’s children: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.

The writer’s logic in the First Letter of St John is sometimes confusing. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.

I would suggest, coming back to my sloth sin, that failure to seek after and recognise the love of God shown in Jesus bears fruit in failure to obtain the love that covers a multitude of sins so far as our neighbour goes. Failure also to attain to the promise of Jesus at the end of today’s Gospel where he says I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

The clue is to think of God ever more magnificently. When God shrinks in our thinking and praying you can be sure, I can be sure, that other people’s faults will loom higher and a critical spirit emerges that’s counter to love of my neighbour.

Victory over that critical spirit might be what St John is touching on when he speaks of a spiritual battle in the second reading. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

To have faith in a God who’s magnificently a God of love and forgiveness helps us conquer the tendency to do down our neighbour. To know how God treats us is the best tonic towards treating others well, in other words, as better than they are. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

So, brothers and sisters, may the eucharist be a tonic to you this morning, a fresh immersion in the love that come to you through scripture and fellowship, through celebration and the offering and receiving of bread and wine.

No one has greater love than this, Jesus says, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

So be it! May we wake out of our spiritual sloth and seek a vision of God that’s ever more magnificent, built more and more to his dimensions and less to ours!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Easter 5 8am 6th May 2012

A vine in the broader sense refers to any climbing or trailing plant though the narrower and original meaning is the grapevine.

When Jesus is said by St John to describe himself as the true vine the evangelist provides a dynamic vision, one of climbing, spreading and fruiting. It is one of scripture’s great images of revitalisation that touches on a receipe for our fruitfulness as a church and as individual Christians that is from the Lord himself.

Alone of the four Gospels St John omits the account of the institution of the eucharist. He more than compensates by this passage and the earlier passage on the Bread of Life. If we could think that participation in the eucharist was secondary to St John we would be brought up short by Chapter 6 verse 53: Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

John 15 in many interpretations was originally the follow on from the account of the Last Supper and foot washing in John 13, an alternative last discourse chapter 14. Such a connection would explain the Eucharistic symbolism of union with Christ to death. The fruit of the vine is the means by which believers right up to this hour are made sharers in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ in anticipation of the life of the world to come.

I am the vine, you are the branches.

Our participation in the holy eucharist is captured here as surely as in the words of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 10.17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. To be Christian is to attend to God in union with Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit. The eucharistic bread makes us one with Christ through the Spirit and through the unbroken apostolic succession of bishops and priests. We are branches grafted onto the true vine which is Christ inseparable from his church.

The eucharist is the great source of the church’s revitalisation. The church makes the eucharist and the eucharist makes the church. I am the vine, you are the branches. As often as we attend to God with wine and bread the work of redemption that centres on Calvary is set forth and the fruitfulness of the church, Christ our Vine, is increased.

Our dwelling together in the church as branches of Christ the Vine is most perfectly expressed in Sunday obligation to the eucharist. ‘The Lord’s people gather on the Lord’s Day the Lord’s House around the Lord’s table’. In this ordered gathering is both the image and the reality of Christ‘s body, head and limbs as Paul puts it or vine and branches a in St John. From the bread and wine offered and consecrated the Lord’s people draw revitalisation from the Lord week by week.

If only we believed it! The secret of church revitalisation is to see ourselves and believe ourselves to be what God is nurturing us to be.

If John 15 is indirectly a reminder of corporate worship it is directly a call to the prayerful discipleship of individuals. We attend to God in worship but also in personal prayer and the conscious stewardship of our lives. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

Just as a natural branch carries the life giving sap through itself to serve the fruit so by divine power and consent of our wills we see God providing in us and through us to give life to the world around us.

John 15 has impact because it is full of commands. Abide in me what a wake up call! There are enormous implications. If our Christianity is self serving, if it focuses our selfish spiritual preoccupations, there will be little fruitfulness because we won’t be conduit branches but parasitical branches sucking in the experience of the Holy Spirit or Holy Communion or whatever grace comes our way. Abiding in the vine, in Christ, is a wake up call. It’s saying self reliance is out, or rather self reliance will get you so far, but not as far as the things that really impact this world and have significance in the next. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

A little branch of the vine can bear an enormous cluster of grapes because it is a conduit of life giving sap. A little faithfulness to Christ in scripture and eucharist and prayer can be enormously vitalising if it expresses a desire to be rooted in absolute dependence upon Our Lord and undoubting confidence in him. Part of the fruit this passage speaks of is prayer that cannot be misdirected because it is prayer that comes from obedient union with Jesus.  7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

The church’s mission is weak because her prayer is weak – which is my prayer and your prayer.

Church revitalisation isn’t about finding new techniques but investing the disciplines of worship and prayer with renewed expectancy of faith.

If your prayer is rooted in the Vine that is Jesus you know that you can ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

So be it – as we reflect for a moment and anticipate sharing once more in the offering of and communion imparted by the fruit of the Vine which will become our spiritual drink.