Sunday, 29 July 2012

Trinity 8 (17th of Year B) 29th July 2012

The Olympics are here and the whole world is coming to London.

They’re coming either by plane or London’s going to them by satellite.

International travel has its moments as many of us will know.

Pity the Japanese tourist who took the train to Heathrow for a flight to Reading.  She asked in broken English for Turkey and they put her on the night train to Torquay. The police found her wandering along the sea front of Torquay in the early morning looking for the Church of Santa Sophia on the Bosphorus. She thought she’d gone through the Channel Tunnel to Turkey!

We should never minimise the implications of miscommunication. Just one mistaken word for this lady took her dramatically off course.

How about communicating what we stand for as Christians?

I think the two main things we need to get across are these: God is good and the Church is OK.

Let’s take God’s goodness first.

Deep down people want to believe there’s a good God. It’s when they encounter horrid things and horrid people that faith crumbles. To use my story as an analogy, they get misled from Christianity and head for Torquay not Turkey – apologies to the West Country!

I have regular conversations with people in the village who question God’s goodness in the face of evil. They run, say on the Oregon cinema shootings, ‘what a waste of life – how can God allow it?’

No full answer can be given but, given chance, I would say I saw God’s goodness in the young man who gave himself for his girl friend by throwing himself over her to die in a hail of bullets.

If you condemn the Creator for the wickedness in the world you’re mainly condemning him for granting human beings the freedom to make their own choices.

70% of all website ‘hits’ worldwide are to pornographic sites. Would you use that as an excuse to condemn the internet when it hosts so many valuable social networks?

When it generates so much creativity through the sharing of ideas?

You have to take the rough with the smooth and that’s a truth that goes right into the heart of God. The Cross of Jesus shows what wickedness does to God (1 Peter 2:24). Can you look at the Cross and say he doesn’t care about it? In Christian faith we have a God who suffers along with us, and comforts us in our weakness. God uses our suffering, as he did even in that Oregon cinema, to help us support one another in the face of evil.

As Christians we’ll always struggle to communicate to non-believers that God is good. We can argue as I’ve just done but our arguments are often undermined by our lifestyle. Our living a good life counts most in getting God’s goodness over to others. We need ‘to walk the talk’. For that we need God’s help, which is one reason we’re here on a Sunday.

God is good and the Church is OK. Do you believe it? Unless you do you’ll never be an evangelist.
There’s a widespread perception that Christians are hypocrites.

A hypocrite is someone who pretends. I don’t pretend Jesus has the truth or is the truth – I know it - but I try also not to pretend I fall short of him.

It’s hard!

If someone says they believe in Jesus, but his followers are hypocrites, they’re partly right. They’ll need advising that if they follow Jesus they too will get called hypocrites. It goes with the calling.
Jesus gives us a vision. We try to live up to it - and we fail.

Where would we be though without the vision Jesus gives? We’d be heading for Torquay not Turkey! We’d have a wrong aim in life.

Having his standards is like having your alarm clock set half an hour ahead to make sure you’re never late!

Jesus taught things that would keep us on our toes, pressing forwards towards his perfect standard.

Forgive your brother or sister from your heart he says (Matthew 18:35). Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew ). Do not worry about your life (Matthew ).

I regularly confess I fall short. Jesus teaches we should confess. Every church service includes confessing our failings.  Jesus never said his followers would live up to him, but he did say they should strive to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew ).

In the Bible we read how people who cheated other people came to Jesus and were forgiven - people who’d stolen - who’d sold their bodies for sex – all came to Jesus and were welcomed.

Ephesians Chapter 2 verse 4 says God is rich in mercy. If someone tells me they believe in Jesus but Christians are hypocrites I’ll tell them how the mercy of God covers my sins.

I’ll tell them of the God and Father of Jesus who loves sinners and gives them not what they most deserve but what they most need.

If the church falls short of Jesus it’s also true that Christians need the church.

When people complain about the non-Ok-ness of the Church I ask them how I can better get close to Jesus than through the church?

Where else can I hear God’s word expounded? Or encounter the Lord by praying with other believers? Or welcome the promised Holy Spirit?

Where but in the fellowship of the Christian church can I receive the spiritual food of the precious body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion?

A great evangelist had a fireside chat with a young man who insisted you could believe in Jesus without going to church.

Having reminded him that faith in Jesus grows up in a community, the evangelist reached down for the fire tongs and took hold of a brightly burning coal.
As he held it aloft the two men saw it change from red to orange to black. The young man was in church the next Sunday!

Even if there is hypocrisy in the church Jesus is there also, among his people, waiting to warm their souls.

That’s the best answer we can give. It’s Jesus’ own answer. Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Matthew )

Here we are - gathered before a good God in a church that’s being made OK by him through what he is to give us this morning in word and sacrament.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Trinity 6 Sunday 15th July 2012

It’s the preacher’s default to distil the three readings into one truth and spell that truth out to mind, heart and will.

This week for a change I’m going to resist that and take the readings one by one in their own right.

On this 15th Ordinary Sunday and sixth Sunday after Trinity we have:

Amos 7.7-15 which gives insight into the necessary tension between where a religious body is and where it should be moving to.

Ephesians 1.3-14 which is the earliest eucharistic prayer listing with thanksgiving the great blessings of Christian faith.

Mark 6.14-29 which describes how St John the Baptist lost his head.

So let’s start with Amos. Scripture calls him a prophet but he himself denies it if you look at the end of the first reading. I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

In scripture prophets and priests are linked respectively to challenging and maintaining the status quo. In our passage Amaziah, the priest of Bethel is a sort of Dean of Westminster Abbey of his day as an appointee of the King of Israel. Even the band of prophets were King’s men in those days. This is why Amos says he’s no prophet’s son. Though a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, God took him saying “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

Last Sunday our status quo as a religious community was challenged as we reflected together. Was Fr Keith an Amos like figure? Whatever – but I felt there was something of a shaking out of complacency as God, set a plumb line or marker against us.

We were reminded that we need more church members and all of us need to take more responsibility for bringing them in.

I would go further: sheep produce sheep, not shepherds. If 8th July raises more fervour for each one to reach one that will prove its worth for the inspiring half day it was.

Then we heard how we as a church are ‘fundamentally uncool’ to young people. That’s unsettling! More so our priest isn’t so cool – positively discomforting!

If the Holy Spirit is the Comforter he’s also the dis-comforter. As he used Amos, he’ll use some of the thoughts received last Sunday to get us all on our toes, priest and people. Please pray for Thursday’s PCC as we shape up our strategy from Sunday’s input.

The Ephesians passage counts God’s blessings, as we also had reason to do last Sunday. If you weren’t there - I announced a grant of £50,000 towards enlarging and upgrading the Martindale kitchen, converting the toilet by the main entrance into a disabled WC and forming a large window in the north wall of the main hall. This grant from the Verity Waterlow Trust has been augmented by a £10,000 gift from Derek Crowson leaving us £10,000 short of the £70,000 we need for the work. Last Sunday another £1,000 was pledged towards this work, set for mid-November, and further donations are welcome to bridge the funding gap of £9,000.

When people are generous with God they’re giving back in gratitude for all God gives to them. Just look through that second reading...It speaks of our adoption as God’s children, our redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, ...the obtain(ing of) an inheritance...and the seal of the... Holy Spirit.

God who’s given us his dear Son Jesus Christ has given us all things in him. The money to be invested in the Martindale furthers God’s plan in Horsted Keynes that’s part of his plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

One of the challenges set forth last Sunday was to build relationships between the church and the village, especially through the Martindale, so all that we know to be precious, the things Paul lists in the reading, may be made evident to those around us.

Through the various enterprises in the Martindale church members and non-church members engage. Through our prayers, and its refurbishment, we look to them engaging with St Giles more fruitfully for the good of young and old in Horsted Keynes.

I said earlier that Ephesians 1.3-14 is one of the earliest eucharistic prayers – eucharistic meaning thanksgiving. The passage lists God’s mighty work among us in Jesus Christ. Our facilitator spoke of critical mass and the mass as critical. Of St Giles need to build a critical mass eg of youth for outreach and also to see the mass or eucharist as critical since it has in it the wherewithal to help us do what God wants us to do.

The more thankful we are, the more we live Ephesians 1 and the eucharist, the less inhibited we’ll be by pride and foolish self reliance as a Christian community. Self reliance is the major obstacle to hearts opening and being enthused by Jesus Christ who calls us as a church into greater dependence upon him.

In the Gospel account from Mark 6 of John’s beheading I was tempted to see my own fate as uncool leader of an uncool church! When the Bishop of Guyana was with us last week he’d wisdom about engaging youth. Yes John the Baptist got beheaded for his forthrightness but he also won respect from his hearers for it, and a place in the church calendar. People, young people especially, as Bishop Moss reminded us, feel they can engage with folk who’ve a definite and not a shifting world view. It’s the people prepared at times to tell us it as it is that are end up being most formative in our lives.

I visited an atheist recently who dragged me over the coals for an hour but for all of that I sensed he was in serious pursuit of the truth that I am about, despite the time he gave me. So with King Herod and St John the Baptist. When Herod heard John, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.

Truth speaks to power. Christianity is true. There is a God who both made us and loves us. As we witness to that, something inside of people is stirred, even if, as Fr Keith reminded us last Sunday, surveys show that it takes seven such stirrings before folk start coming to church.

For 1000 years the Christian community here at St Giles has been a generation away from extinction. The truth of what we stand for is a counter to the powerful apathy and unbelief around us. We shouldn’t lose heart but take courage to be forthright at time about the truth we share - even if it costs. You won’t lose your head in Horsted Keynes!

If there is a theme through today it is prophetic in that way. Amos and John the Baptist encourage us to speak the truth God lays on our hearts with courage and prudence. Paul in our second reading calls us to fresh awareness of all God has given us in Christ which will energise our faith.

In seeking a critical Mass for growth here we shall indeed do well to see the Mass as critical. Let’s then be open now in a quiet moment to what God is giving us this morning in the table of the word and the altar of communion so we can gratefully seize upon his leading.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Vision day sermon by the Rector Sunday 8th July 2012

This morning’s eucharist extends to include our vision day and so this sermon will have a ‘state of the church’ feel.

In today’s Old Testament reading we heard how Israel united around David as King. This contrasts with St Mark’s account of the controversy that surrounded and still surrounds the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

Where did this man get all this? They say. Is not this the carpenter?

Who is this Jesus? remains the question central to the church’s vision and mission. Is this person what the creed says he is - God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God - or is he not?

Belief in the divinity of Christ is as heavily eroded in Horsted Keynes as in any part of our post-Christian society. I say this on the basis of a good number of conversations with locals. The historic divisions of Christianity between Catholic, Evangelical and Liberal shrink before this greater division.

Is Jesus the Son of God or is he not? We believe he is. How do we best live and act to as to intrigue people about Jesus so they see in him the God who made them and loves them? How can St Giles Church better help our village believe in God Father, Son and Holy Spirit? That’s going to be the biggest question for St Giles Church in any generation - being true to what and who we’re founded for.

As a small community within a small community we feel the rub of the words said about Jesus in today’s Gospel: ‘prophets are not without honour, except in their home town’. Villagers see us and they also see through us. It’s hard to do evangelism in a ‘knocking on doors’ form in a village. We ‘just’ need to get ourselves to be more intriguing Christians. I say ‘just’ – in Guyana we have a frustrating phrase people use when asked to do something which is ‘just now’. It can mean anything from a minute to a month! Becoming an intriguing Christian community is a Guyanese ‘just now’ business. It’s not a ‘fast food’ process but ‘slow cooking’ as we open ourselves to scripture, sacrament and the disciplines of prayer and spiritual direction.

I’ve got great expectations of today in that God is with us and we must expect great things of him - but I can’t see any short cut to the call we each of us have to immerse ourselves more fully in the Holy Spirit through renewed discipleship. We can’t be disciples without discipline.

The three headings of our current Mission Action Plan appeal to such wholeheartedness.  Our MAP is about perceived needs and serving them in an ongoing way.

Within the big vision we share as a church – God’s glory and the salvation of the world – we have a focus: renewing our worship, engaging with youth and families and enhancing our buildings.

Three years on how are we delivering on these and what are the areas of need some of us might supply as the Lord leads them?

First renewing worship.  Later on we want more of your wisdom. On the Looking Forward programme card we listed some achievements like the lay involvement in prayer ministry for individuals now offered after the monthly all age eucharist. This involved 10 people in training with Acorn Christian foundation. Then our monthly St Giles night has been largely concerned to provide a spiritual focus. You can be sure of that on Tuesday when we go Caribbean at the Rectory with the Bishop of Guyana!  The card mentions the extra midweek eucharists. Quite often we get into double figures now.

Where are there openings to serve? We need another Sacristan to work with Colin and Lisa. Are there musicians keen to form an occasional band? Are there singers keen to join an occasional adult choir? Are there church members ready to share about how their faith relates to their life and work? A number of our members missing on Sunday due to work and family pressures gain spiritual nourishment in London Churches or elsewhere. Renewing worship is about refreshing our spiritual lives and we all gain from those ready to share how they do it, as Simon Witheridge shared earlier in the year. Renewing the prayerfulness of those who worship comes before changing service formats important as they are.

Our second mission action priority has been to engage with youth and families. Later on we want your wisdom on more helpful action. On the card we mention how Sunday Club continues apace thanks to Anne, Chris, Helen, Val and helpers. The monthly Junior Choir is at a turning point now Laura has stepped down.  Liaison with the school is close thanks to Marion and both the governors and school assembly teams. I’m sure there is potential for mission unrealised in our Church School and some of you will have ideas on this. First Steps builds links with young families thanks to the team led by Chris who’s also involved in recovering the village youth club provision.

How can we better engage with youth and families? I suggest we all pray harder about this as so many pressures are against us. There’s talk of a family friendly happening after the monthly all age eucharist. Filling in for Laura may be as simple as this. Katie, Chris and parents could lead if someone volunteered to accompany choir on the piano for half an hour on Monday’s at 6pm. There must be a good few who play the piano in Church this morning. The next Choir is on St Giles Festival on 9th September.

Our third mission action priority has been to enhance buildings for better witness.

Over the last three years we’ve seen a lot of work on church primarily the refurbishment of the sacristy and vestry areas, the stabilising of the spire and introduction of glazed doors as well as the new high altar kneeler. The porch is now more of a welcoming statement. Friends of Horsted Keynes Church have formed up, a great lift to us all at St Giles. A lot of work has gone into agreeing the best site for a church toilet and we are in conversation with individuals whose generosity may help to move paper plans into a process of consultation and delivery but we’re talking hundreds of thousands. Such building plans put a sharp perspective on our finances and the failure to pay our parish share in full. The answer to this lies in church growth -  getting more folk coming to Church - for which this day might be an inspiration. Meanwhile David and the finance team are working on a five year finance plan that will be affected by next month’s five yearly inspection of Church.

The second prong of the enhancing of buildings for better use concerning the Martindale has no such red or amber light but a green one. I can announce exceedingly good news - a grant of £50,000 towards enlarging and upgrading the kitchen, converting the toilet by the main entrance into a disabled WC and forming a large window in the north wall of the main hall.  This comes from the Verity Waterlow Trust set up from the endowment of a lady at Westall House who left her estate to benefit the elderly in Horsted Keynes and Forest Row.  The grant comes conditional on our funding the additional cost of the works. David Jenkins has drawn up plans and obtained five quotations, the lowest of which is approx £70,000 including a contingency sum.  Mr Crowson has put his name down for £10,000 of the outstanding sum of £20,000 required.  The PCC has acted in faith to underwrite the remaining £10,000 towards the refurbishment so that the work can proceed in the autumn. We are seeking funding from villagers as well as applying to trusts outside the parish sympathetic to the Martindale’s service of the community. You can see the plans today and we would welcome donations to bridge the funding gap of £10,000.

I hope what I’ve shared is both encouraging and challenging. God in Christ is at work among us answering our prayers and challenging us to deeper discipleship. In some ways St Giles stands distinctive, over against the community, in proclaiming Jesus Christ as Unique Son of God and Saviour. In other ways we stand alongside the village favoured by much good will, as in the Martindale refurbishment.  There is work to do, nevertheless, and we want all aboard on this progressing work.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Trinity 4 1st July 2012

I want us to get into the gospel reading this morning. We stood with attention to hear it read because the church bids us hear the words and acts of Jesus as if he were present to speak and act today. It’s that sort of understanding I want to hold you to as we sit and read it again together in four sections.

Verses 21-24 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

Some background information. By Mark Chapter 5 we see Jesus  getting well into his public ministry which is continually opposed by the Jewish leaders. Jairus was a Jewish leader and came from a group in Capernaum opposed to what Jesus was teaching about God being God of all and not just God of the Jews.

Why did Jairus approach Jesus? He was in deep trouble and must have sensed behind the arguments people had with Jesus something about this man that could help. Very often I find people who don’t want the church’s preaching are more than happy to receive the church’s prayer. Jairus came also out of love for his daughter. People want the best for their children.

How did Jesus respond? He made himself immediately available. I was at a priests’ meeting two weeks ago when we were reminded that availability is part of sacrifice and at the heart of the ministerial priesthood. Jesus didn’t put Jairus on his to do list he went with him right away.

Let’s read on v35-37. As we do so I should note the Gosepl passage selected skips over v25-34, the account of the healing of the woman with an issue of blood who touches his cloak on the way to Jairus’ house which explains the first phrase While he was still speaking:

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

His friends came to break the sad news to Jairus. ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ It was only natural to stop Jesus coming. All was over. But was it? In dealing with Jesus we’re dealing with God in human form and the possibilities of God exceed human imagination. As we heard in the first reading God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living (rather he) created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity. Christ’s resurrection revealed his divinity. It helps us look death in the face. Here in the raising of Jairus’ daughter we see the trailer if you like to the great drama to come.

Do not fear, only believe. Put faith in the One who is stronger than the evil you fear. To put faith in God – in Jesus – is to recognise your humble place and to invite the greatness of God to touch our situation. Two men looked through prison bars. One saw mud and one saw stars. The woman or man of faith has an eye trained above and not too down to earth. These words of Jesus are an encouragement as we approach our vision day next Sunday knowing something of our needs as a Church – a new choir leader is needed for example. Where will they come from? Do not fear, only believe.

37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. Perhaps these three were privileged because their faith in Jesus was that bit firmer than the rest.

Let’s read v38-40 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.

Mark’s Gospel is the earliest and simplest of the four. Sometimes you can see the raw account he gives tidied up in Matthew and Luke who largely copy Mark. What an emotional roller coaster you see in these verses as the people turn from weeping and wailing loudly so that they laughed at Jesus. When we lose someone we love it can feel as if our whole being is torn apart emotions and all. Jesus himself knew this. We know he wept once at the death of (his) a friend (Lazarus).

(Any one know who Jesus once wept for? The shortest verse in the Bible - John 11v35 - Lazarus.)
The child is not dead but sleeping. In those words Jesus tells us the full picture of death. Death is a sleep from which there will be an awakening for judgement. This is why we have St Giles cemetery which means, from the Greek, St Giles ‘sleeping place’. It is this understanding that lies behind church and school rules that honour and preserve the peace of the cemetery.

Let’s read the last section verses 41-43 41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

In v40 we read how Jesus put them all outside before he worked his miracle. Those who making so much noise and who lacked faith were a hindrance to what he was about.

Notice the determination of Jesus. When we bring God into a situation he helps settle and determine things.

‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ Here rarely, because the Gospels were written in Greek, we’re given the actual words spoken by Jesus in Aramaic. In those days little girls weren’t thought of as highly as they are today. It was an extraordinary thing for Jesus to leave the crowd to visit a young girl and speak in love to her as he did. Jesus Christ, though for his own reasons he excluded women from his apostles, did more to raise the profile and dignity of women than any other major religious leader in history.

So we have the miracle, a great wonder as Jairus’ daughter is resuscitated. And a lovely last touch, reminding us that God is never unconcerned about our lesser matters, he told them to give her something to eat.

So we meet with Jesus this morning knowing not only will he give us himself as food in the eucharist but that he is concerned to give us this day our daily bread.

We meet with Jesus who would make himself as available to you and I by his Spirit as he made himself available to Jairus in the days of his flesh.

We come to Jesus without fear but with belief, to put faith in One who is stronger than all the evils we fear. We come to Church this morning to put faith in God and to invite his love and his greatness to touch our situation and to lift us as he lifted Jairus’ daughter.