Sunday, 30 September 2012

Trinity 17 26th of Year Child abuse 30th September 2012

When I was preparing my sermon I was struck by the words in the Gospel about child abuse which made me feel it right to address the sense of hurt many of us have about the failings of the Diocese.

If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. Mark 9.42

We cannot hear these words of Our Lord this morning without sorrow.

We belong to a great Diocese that’s been let down.

Since Saint Wilfrid came to Sussex in the 7th century the Christian faith has been taught here. The body of Jesus Christ has been built up. The sacraments have been celebrated.

Some 35,000 Anglicans are with us this morning at worship, many of them children, in some 500 churches from Rye across to Chichester and Brighton up to Crawley.

Tomorrow morning some 37,000 children will be attending 159 church schools across the Diocese.

Each week St Giles Church engages with up to 140 children through our school, Toddler Plus, Sunday Club, servers, choristers, Brownies and intermittent contact with village youth.

We’re part of a great Diocese, in size at least, but also - I speak as a former diocesan adviser – in apostolic vitality, engagement with young people, and in the quality of our leaders from Saint Richard through to Bishop Bell.

A great diocese let down to the chagrin of priests and people.

There are diocesan priests both charged and in jail for child abuse.

In recent weeks we’ve been made aware of the grave failings of a number of clergy and church workers in Chichester Diocese, some committing the unspeakable crime of paedophilia.

In last week’s diocesan bulletin our area Bishop Mark Sowerby writes:

I realise many people want to know how the diocese is responding to the Interim Report of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visiting Commissaries report and its recommendations. We have been responding to... the recommendations... A full action plan is almost complete and will be presented to diocesan synod on 10th November.

Our new bishop believes considerable progress has been made since the Commissaries began to compile their report. We are shaping a programme for the diocesan response to the recommendations... addressing concerns at the November Diocesan Synod.

I would add that the PCC has the updating of child protection policy on its agenda as we await the new Diocesan guidelines. You can read our policy statement reaffirmed in February of this year up in the porch. We are grateful as ever to our child protection coordinator, Linda Allan, who coordinates Criminal Record Bureau checks of our volunteers. Linda, Chris Wheatley and I have attended the diocesan child safeguarding foundation module.

If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. Mark 9.42

In today’s Gospel Our Lord has a strong word for us as Christians about the betrayal of trust. So much is at stake in the work of spreading the good news. Priests particularly have responsibility for clearing away obstacles to faith in themselves and in their people. Yet there are times when we do the very opposite.

The sins of priests in Polegate and Burgess Hill like any sins affect the whole world but they have a particular impact on God’s work in Horsted Keynes. That’s why I felt it right to address the evil this morning, and our hurt concerning it, and to lead us in offering solemn prayer in a moment for the victims of abuse.

This focus apart we are reminded of the two Puritans watching the man ascend the scaffold, one saying to the other ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. My sins, your sins, my and your failure to love as widely as God loves, contribute to the evil of the world. I was put in the world to be a channel bringing love and not a drain sucking it away into myself – so I need his mercy to become what I was meant to be.

How great is the Lord’s forbearance and mercy! He is always ready to forgive and to help us grow out of our selfish attention seeking to engage with the plans he has to purify and change the world we live in.

If we set Our Lord’s saying in its widest context his reference to little ones doesn’t just refer to children but to those little in faith. Can we honestly say that our own life has never put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in Jesus? Are we not guilty at times of careless words, conniving in destructive talk, viewing indecent materials, being inattentive to young people and holding a certain exasperation and even hardness of heart towards those far from Christian values.

In these and many other ways we put stumbling blocks before people who want to travel the Christian way. As Father Keith McRae reminded us people nowadays need half a dozen positive experiences of the Church before they take Christianity seriously. Not-yet Christians are ‘spiritual little ones’ to be cultivated and not impeded by the sins of church members.  

In focussing on this topic I do so aware that Bishop Martin Warner is already taking up responsibility for us as diocesan Bishop. He has already impressed those of us who’ve heard and met him. Our prayers this morning will naturally include him alongside the victims of abuse and the forward mission of the 35,000 folk in our 500 churches and the spiritual well being of the 37,000 children in our 160 church schools.

Let us kneel, if we possibly can kneel, this morning for the prayers.
Loving and holy God we come before you in sorrow and penitence for the sins of priests and people as we lift to you in a minute of silence the victims of abuse in our Diocese.

O Lord look upon the thoughts of our hearts as we agonise over the harm done to our brothers and sisters. Breathe wisdom into our prayers, soothe restless hearts with hope, steady shaken spirits, especially those of our priests, with faith.

Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts, heal your people's wounds and transform our brokenness. Grant to our leaders, especially Bishop Martin, courage and wisdom, humility and grace, so that they may act with justice and be instruments of your healing. 

Purify your Church, Lord, and start with me! Remove all stumbling-blocks before the little ones who believe in Jesus, so that their faith in you may grow strong.  Bless Chichester Diocese in its mission and all who teach in our church and in our school, that the children in our care ‘may develop fully as individuals with Christian values and contribute to, participate in and enjoy the world in which they live’.

Almighty and everlasting God, the comfort of the sad, the strength of those who suffer: hear the prayers of your children who cry out of any trouble, and to every distressed soul grant mercy, relief and refreshment, especially those commended to our prayers......
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Trinity 16 Mark 9.30-37 26th September 2012

·         Approach Scripture with prayer and penitence. St Athanasius ‘Whoever wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse and purify himself by holiness of life'. Heart seeing is vital, eg seeing the most important thing in life: what conquers death over against the pinch of financial constraints and job insecurity
After leaving the mountain 30Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;
·         Move forwards with Jesus from the Transfiguration to Calvary: Jesus the great trail blazer making human beings a joyful path to God.
·         Crowd falls back to leave Jesus with disciples: ’true discipleship’
·         Marcan secrecy: humility to not wish a great fanfare about his obviously successful ministry. His directives to silence about his great accomplishments may be no more than an example to the faithful not to blow their own horns. It proves the reliability of the Gospel as it’s hard to imagine a made up story of Jesus with such emphasis.
31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
·         First  chapters show us who Jesus is. Now, moving into why God sent him and what it means to us as disciples we have a second prediction of the passion following last Sunday’s in Chapter 8
·         Paradoxes – things that contradict in logic to be held together in experience. Creation (out of nothing ), Trinity (Unity) founded on life (through death) = Son of Man (Son of God).
·         Jesus not a physically compelling Messiah but a suffering servant morally compelling Saviour. A sign of contradiction – Olympians in wheelchairs on London Olympic triumph lorries; Downton Abbey plot
·         'Without God's Word as a lens, the world warps’ Ann Voskamp ‘I wear the lens of the Word and all the world transfigures into the beauty of Christ ‘
33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’
·         Counter ‘big is beautiful’ – cf Horsted Keynes
·         Post-Transfiguration jealousies set disciples against one another
·         Jesus sees into their and our hearts- can show up what’s needful
·         Alexander Schmemann - the signs of pride are: the absence of joy, complexity and fear. Signs of humility: joy, simplicity, trust
·         Those who serve others have a joy about them, they are the greatest
·         How do we get there? ‘Know yourself, love yourself, forget yourself’ (the discipline of Christian meditation which takes us out of ourselves in contemplation – drop by Church and use new prayer sheet )
36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
·         Paradox of child centred society cf ancient culture and many other cultures which gave or give children no legal rights. Christian legacy.
·         Striking act of Jesus to take the most powerless and exalt him/her
·         Who are the powerless around us? Who are those most in need of our help? Those without money – no holidays (£500 raised by Anne for FSW’s Give a Child a Holiday). Those who can’t leave room or home through age or disability. The young struggling for a job.
·         Last verse shows Jesus before us in the powerless: Whoever welcomes one such ....in my name welcomes me.   Cf Matthew 25 Jesus ‘in the least ’
·         To see this we need the insight, or spectacles of holy scripture: 'Without God's Word as a lens, the world warps’
·         We need the sense of Jesus before us that the eucharist schools us in.
·         Blessed and praised be Jesus Christ upon his throne of glory, in the holy scriptures, in the most holy sacrament of the altar, in the hearts of the needy and in the hearts of all his faithful people.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Trinity 15 Mark’s Gospel 16th September 2012

Today we return to Mark, Year B’s Gospel source back from a few weeks of John and today’s Gospel from 8.27-38 is the hinge of Mark.

First 7 chapters show us who Jesus is. Now we move into why God sent him and what it means to us. Time on all three headings.

Why I like Mark:

• Short to read
• Action packed
• Earliest Gospel 40 years after resurrection copied by Matthew and Luke. Only Paul’s letters are earlier. Papias 130 AD: Mark being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy
• Mystery of uneven ending - the original may have got lost from the end of the scroll to be replaced by other texts in Chapter 16
• Clear purpose set forth in Chapter 8 to show us who Jesus is, why God sent him and what it means to us.

Who Jesus is

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ 28 And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29 He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
• A crucial paragraph. In Mark 1-7 we’ve followed how Jesus’ identity emerges through miracles, healings and teachings. In February I preached on the miracles of Ch 2, and two weeks ago on his attack on lip service in Ch 7. Today’s the hinge: ‘Who do people say that I am?’
• Variations in how people see Jesus – then and now
• ‘You are the Messiah (Saviour).’ Peter’s role (Papias) of voicing what was the truly the case. Wisdom given Peter by God (Cf Matthew 16)

Why God sent him

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
• As Messiah Jesus didn’t and still doesn’t fulfil Jewish expectations
• A suffering Saviour sent to rescue us from sin.
• The world isn’t as it should be because we’re not as we should be. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.
• God’s Son was sent to earth to show us our sin and to show us his own heart and bring us, in Victor Hugo’s phrase, to ‘life’s greatest happiness’ which is ‘to be convinced we are loved’
• God made us for friendship. Sin made a barrier to this. Jesus died to destroy the barrier so restoring friendship with God.

What it means to us

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
• A church member in hospital offering their pain for all who’re there is focussed outside of themselves with Jesus for all
• Faith is ongoing choice for God and his provision in Jesus
• In baptism Jesus’ principle of losing life to gain it is impressed on us
• v38 Jesus is alpha and omega

Saturday, 8 September 2012

St Giles Festival 8am 9th September 2012 Revelation 21.1-7

On this our Patronal Festival of St Giles the Church sets before us a glance through the window of heaven in our second reading from the beginning of Revelation Chapter 21.

The book of Revelation is a difficult and much misused book. It was written by the visionary John exiled on the island of Patmos most likely during the persecution of Emperor Domitian in 93AD. At that time Christians like all Roman citizens were being forced to call a man God. Their refusal led to their widespread martyrdom. From his exile Saint John handed on a vision rich in symbolism sent to help Christians in that and all ages to make good of their troubles by fixing their gaze on the consequences of the incarnation.

It is Christian faith that God took flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. By taking our nature he has lifted it up into his divinity. This man is truly man and God and so worthy of our worship.

The book of Revelation takes what has been revealed to his first worshippers through the unique life, death and resurrection of Jesus and applies it to the community of the Church. More than that - it sets forth a vision of cosmic transformation.

The love of God in Jesus is known to us as it was known to Saint Giles, in word and sacrament and fellowship. This knowledge we have is by anticipation. It’s a preview of what’s to come from the love of Jesus for, as someone said across the pond, ‘we ain’t seen nothing yet’!

The nearest we get as Christians to what the future will be is here in the book of Revelation. Here we read of the Church in a way that’s truly awesome. There is a wedding ahead. Jesus is the bridegroom. The Church is the bride to be, once she is perfected. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

These are almost the last words in the Christian holy book and they’re set for us on our Saint’s Day. When they speak as they do of a marriage they express in poetry the consummation of Christian faith. See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.

To believe God has made his home with mortals is at the heart of Christianity. It is affirmed at the start of the Gospel of Saint John for Jesus and here at the end of the Revelation to Saint John it is affirmed for all believers.

If Jesus is uniquely the Son of God made a mortal we who, with St Giles, trust the same Lord Jesus are destined to be carried through this vale of tears into a place of resurrection where Jesus waits for us. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

These last words of the Bible are an encouragement to all of us as press on with faith towards the world to come.

Jesus loves me this I know, because the Bible tells me so.

Of all the places I can think of where texts from the Book of Revelation are to be seen none is more striking than the display of Chapter 11 verse 15 above the coronation altar in Westminster Abbey where you read these words: the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ and he shall reign for ever.

St Giles worked for that kingdom of love and peace to come in his generation. With Christian vision and motivation he helped build up his community in France. In doing so he had his sights on the life of that community he is now for ever part of, the home of God where death will be no more; nor mourning and crying and pain. May what he thirsted for be ours! May the communions we make at this altar be fulfilled as we join Giles one day at the marriage feast of Jesus our heavenly Bridegroom.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Trinity 13 2nd September 2012 8am

In Mark 7 Our Lord makes a stinging attack on lip service. He draws on Isaiah: This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.

True worship is from the heart through the outward form. Impatience with outward form can be godly, but it can also be ungodly. It’s a godly motive to make worship accessible to outsiders. It’s ungodly to make worship bespoke.

Bespoke is all the range. Some of you may be wearing bespoke clothing which has been custom made to your own specification as opposed to being a ready to wear item. Bespoke is no longer just about tailored clothing. It’s about all sorts of things.

Worship though can’t really be bespoke! It’s rather the opposite. The Anglo Saxon means to give worth to something beyond you. Worship is, to quote Evelyn Underhill, the adoring acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us – the glory that fills heaven and earth. It’s very ‘unbespoke’ and hardly consumerist

The word adoration means from the Greek submission and from the Latin ad-oratio, literally, mouth to mouth, the kiss of love.

True worship is God-oriented and linked to the gathering together of prayerful hearts.

Accessibility is very important in worship of course. It’s not Christian to be an √©lite community. Yet, at the heart of Christian worship there is awe before God drawing us to submission and loving devotion. We don’t want our church to be √©lite and inaccessible but we do want our church to be awesome – awesome, not awful. There’s quite a fine divide here for young people I’m afraid.

Renewing worship means working for accessibility. This has always been the case. The move from Latin at the Reformation was one attempt. Alas making worship accessible is far more than making the words intelligible. Even the truths of the faith can be made as plain as can be and worshippers, this one included, fail to act on them. This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.

The role of the sermon in worship is both to touch on what is awesome, open up some windows to the resurrection world we enter on the Lord ’s Day, and to serve access to scripture. The role of ceremonial around the altar at the consecration of the Eucharist is to herald and make accessible the Lord in our midst.

As we work to renew worship at St Giles we’re not going to find anything ready built other than what the Lord has provided in word and sacrament and his call for us to participate actively in it.

Just a suggestion. Free your eyes on occasion from your service booklet and news sheet. Don’t feel obliged to follow every word as if you were word checking a proof. Try closing your eyes or looking up at the east window. When the priest takes, blesses, shows and breaks the elements watch. Jesus didn’t say read this in remembrance of me – he said do this. The Eucharist isn’t something read out of a book. It’s a sacrificial action. As Christ was taken, broken and shared in his passion so is the bread – and so are you and I.

Here is part of a poem that expresses what I am saying:

I lift this bread and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.
Hast Thou not said ‘I, lifted up, will draw the universe to me?’(
Martindale)

Attendance at this service is about lifting ourselves and the world on our hearts with Christ to God. I lift this bread and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.

As the bread is offered at the Eucharist see your life and the lives of all those on your heart as being placed on the altar. As the wine is mixed and offered see your sorrows and those of the world that are on your heart as being offered.

What happened 2000 years ago and what is happening in the lives of those who gather around the altar are joined together and lifted up to the Father through Christ, with Christ and in Christ.

Worship is about submission, and the adoring kiss of love. It is about our love for God and God’s for us and our love for one another in the body of Christ. Accessible worship is worship that helps a congregation see such a vibrant flow of love from their joined hearts through the externals of word and sacrament to God and back.

I lift this bread and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.
Hast Thou not said ‘I, lifted up, will draw the universe to me?’

Coming to the Eucharist is a lot more than taking a piece of blessed bread and sipping consecrated wine. Sometimes the consumerist streak in all of us sees Holy Communion as the important thing – what we get out of the Eucharist.

No, it’s what we put in as well! Proper Sunday worship is about our whole life being taken up by Jesus Christ to be offered to the Father for transformation.

All of this is hidden in that phrase that flows all too lightly from our lips: We offer thee our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice – Amen, may that be so, more and more deeply in us and among us so that those around us, part of the universe that is ours, may be intrigued, drawn to the celestial flame of love which is his, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.