Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Midnight Mass and 8am 25th December 2013

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5

They say religion is a leap in the dark. I was on the train a week or two back and was disconcerted to hear two business men discussing family members who’d turned religious, lamenting it as something obscure and undesirable. Their whole attitude summarised that of the false enlightenment that surrounds us which sees religion as a leap into the dark.

In recent months the ‘enlightened’ attitudes of British secularism have obscured the age old institution of marriage, eroded the prohibition of suicide and opened the way towards three parent children.  The obscuring of our Christian moral foundation as a society is a direct consequence of pushing faith to the margins of public life.

Over the same period many of us have been digesting a new icon of faith within the world community in Pope Francis.  This man’s welcome engagement with the poorest people in the world and marginalised people in western society, such as refugees and gay people, has led many people not of his communion, including myself, to read his words.

Francis’ first encyclical was published in June and I recently reviewed it for Chichester Magazine and the Church of England magazine New Directions. What brilliance, I thought, as I read it, to counter perceptions of faith as a leap in the dark or obscurantism with a papal encyclical that shines with the light of faith!  
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

What is faith? Francis paints his picture in bright colours and I now quote his words. In the great cathedrals light comes down from heaven by passing through windows depicting the history of salvation. God’s light comes to us through the account of his self-revelation... In the love of God revealed in Jesus, faith perceives the foundation on which all reality and its final destiny lies… Faith knows that God has drawn close to us, that Christ has been given to us as a great gift which inwardly transforms us, dwells within us and thus bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and the end of life. 

I was struck by Francis’ image of faith as a realising of God’s self disclosure being like the way daylight lights up our stained glass representation of tonight’s story. If it were day you’d see the nativity scene here because light will have come from beyond this building.

At Midnight Mass we ask the light of the Holy Spirit to shine in our hearts to warm them to that manger scene, and what St Paul describes as the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6b)

To have faith is nothing obscure. It’s to hear God’s call, to see your life as part of his awesome reality and to touch the Lord in the sacraments. It is ‘to grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself.’

Far from going into some obscure realm Christian faith’s about living our lives in this world with ever greater commitment and intensity. That commitment to the good of the world is a commitment to partnership with people of good will wherever they are, as the Christmas angel song reminds us – Glory to in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.

God’s self disclosure – he is love, love of a Father for his Son in the Spirit – God’s self-disclosure given in Bethlehem by the Son taking flesh, announces love as the be all and end all of the universe.
God, who made all that is, loves all that is, just because it is – including you and me! This is heartening good news. It puts heart into those working in the name of that Love, alongside all of good will on this planet, to create wealth and distribute it justly, to feed the hungry, bring peace with justice to the troubled nations and hope for the future.

The light of faith born at Christmas isn’t so much about brightening church interiors like tonight (this morning) as about building hope for the future. Tonight’s feast marks God’s investment in humanity. The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Far from a leap in the dark the Christian religion is about coming into the light of Jesus Christ and bringing the world into it. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. For twenty centuries the light of Jesus Christ has warmed and defrosted frozen hearts into extraordinary service. Ann Govas’ splendid book on our church windows recalls such service kindled within these very walls. Take that warm light which shone through St Giles school teacher Sidney Peek who gave his life as a missionary in what is now Malawi, dying at 21 of black water fever and recalled in St Stephen’s window. Or how the same light shone through Katherine Marshall and Lucy Foster who founded a home for sick and incurable children in Kilburn, recalled in the window of St Monica.

(This morning) Tomorrow at dawn God’s natural light (shone) will shine again through these windows - the nativity window and those of Sidney, Katherine and Lucy - to make the images come alive. (Does) Will his supernatural light find a welcome in this congregation here assembled, so we too can be caught up into building God’s future for the world? 

We don’t need to be lifted from obscurity into being the subject of a church window, but if we too are to lighten the world’s obscure darkness we do need knowledge of the Love that first dawned on Christmas day.

God bless you this night, and raise you out of darkness into the light of his self-disclosure which is Love, into the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Advent 4 The Lord is Near – Receiving 22nd December 2013

We’re using the last programme of our Advent series ‘The Lord is near’ that’s been following the journey to Christmas in Horsted Keynes with the hundreds of thousands of listeners to Premier Christian Radio.

If Christmas is about welcoming Christ, Advent shows us the way. Four ways – it’s a call to repent, believe, ask, receive - and in our last programme we’re looking at receiving.

Christmas means Christ’s Mass so receiving Communion in bread and wine is at the heart of what’s otherwise become a commercial feast. Whereas 50 people make their Communion every week in St Giles there’ll be 150 on Christmas day and an overall attendance of 500 at services, a quarter of the population of the village. Hinting at what receiving Communion entails these words from John’s Gospel will be read at Midnight Mass: ‘to all who received Christ, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God’.

On the last Sunday before Christmas the Lady Chapel of St Giles is the focus. It’s got a window showing the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary which made her the first mortal to receive Christ.

Let’s hear part of a beautiful Advent carol telling the story of that visit.

Hymn: The Angel Gabriel from heaven came (Annunciation Carol)
Fr John:  In the last week of Advent the Virgin Mary’s placed centre stage as reminder of the Christian call to receive from God. How could Mary be God-bearer without receiving from God – and how can we carry out what God wants of us without our receiving from him?
There are various ways of receiving from God - Scripture, Holy Communion, Christian fellowship – of which, day by day, prayer is fundamental. The Bible tells us Mary ‘treasured God’s words and pondered them in her heart’ and that’s a lovely definition of contemplation.  Each day, either at home or in St Giles, I spend an hour of prayer which includes contemplation. One of the encouragements within my ministry of late has been to connect with people rediscovering the ancient wisdom of contemplation, to balance the activism around in the world and in the church.
‘What is this life, if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’
Jamie Large speaks about how he has found value in the discipline of contemplative stillness as an aid to centring and energising his life and how such contemplation can enrich our approach to the Christmas feast.
Fr John: Let’s listen now to St Paul’s heartfelt call for us to receive the indwelling of Christ:
Female voice from Premier staff.
A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians, Chapter 3  
I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Here end the reading.
Fr John: The last days of Advent are busy days for clergy as, besides planning Christmas services and the decorating of church they make themselves available to individuals seeking to make their Confession before the Christmas feast.
Mary Mitchell-Gogay describes what is involved in making a sacramental confession and how her own receiving of Christmas Communion is enriched by it year by year.
Fr John: The words of our last hymn are taken from the age old refrains used at evensong in the last week of Advent: O come, O come, Emmanuel
Song: O come, O come, Emmanuel

‘Rejoice in the Lord always;’ Paul says to the Philippians, ‘again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.’ As Christmas approaches it brings joy to believers for ‘the Lord is near’ and ‘in his presence is the fullness of joy’. (Psalm 16:11)

That joy is built on repentance and faith. It comes as we turn from our woeful shortcomings to welcome afresh the embrace of Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It comes from asking him to come near to us and from receiving all he’s got to give us, not least in the Sacrament of his body and blood.

In this last week of Advent I’m asking God to give me a bigger vision of himself, more to his dimensions and less to mine. With Mary I want to magnify the Lord so he increases in my reckoning, and I decrease in that same reckoning! How else can I prepare to be a channel of his love towards all who’ll seek him in the worship I’ll lead in the next few days.

Repent, believe, ask, receive – this is the invitation of Jesus coming Saviour and Judge – cast out your sin, that I may enter in to be born in you afresh, so you may know my love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God

Let’s end with the Advent prayer to the One who comes near to us as Lord and Saviour:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ  came to us in great humility; that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.                      

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Advent 3 The Lord is Near – Asking 15th December 2013

Advent 3   The Lord is Near – Asking                    15th December 2013
This morning St Giles is being made much of through two broadcasts on London-based Premier Christian Radio internet apart receivable by 11 million people in the UK of whom an estimated 143,000 listen daily for 12 hours or more. Today’s the third of a four part Advent series I produced which we’re drawing into both eucharists today.

‘The Lord is near’ series engages through scripture, song and story in the wonder of Advent season. It’s about the journey to Christmas in Horsted Keynes as we go through Advent this year seeking to come close to the Lord.

We chose four headings suited to Advent - repent, believe, ask, receive - and in the third programme we are looking at asking. Advent means coming. We ask the Lord Jesus who came at Bethlehem to come again as Lord of the earth and as we do so the prayer he gave us has special force. ‘Thy Kingdom come’, we ask, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. As we ask we commit ourselves to action.

As parish church of Horsted Keynes we’re working with others to speed the coming of God and his Kingdom and realise the vision at the end of the Bible where St John speaks in Revelation Chapter 11, verse 15 of ‘the kingdom of this world becoming the kingdom of our God and of his Christ’.

How are we working for that to happen in Horsted Keynes? For a village population 2000 we’ve got a remarkable total of 40 organisations many involving church members – Brownies, Friends of Chernobyl’s Children, Lift scheme, Royal British Legion, Toddler Group are just five of them that make a difference to lives. I think of one example of how this autumn, through the church led lift scheme, Beryl Webb was taken daily to hospital in Brighton for radiotherapy through a dozen or so volunteer drivers. Beryl phoned me this week to thank those of us who’ve been praying for her as she’s found her tumour has indeed shrunk which facilitates the next stage of her treatment.

The vision for building God’s kingdom is kindled when we pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ at the eucharist, ‘eating the bread and drinking the cup, proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:26). Let’s listen to the end of Noel Richards and Gerald Coates song which expresses the church’s prayer for the coming of Jesus in Advent season:

Hymn: Great is the darkness (Come, Lord Jesus)
Fr John:  Advent’s a call to ask for the Lord’s return and for ‘the kingdom of this world to become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ’.
As I kneel in St Giles I think of those who’ve knelt here before me with a passion for that kingdom. Archbishop Robert Leighton who ended his days here after his struggle to pour oil on the troubled waters of 17th century church disputes. School teacher Sidney Peek who died in 1910 of black water fever in Africa on missionary service aged just 21. Former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who, by contrast, lived to 92. All of these, and many others, sought wisdom here from God to build his kingdom and not their own.
Today’s disciples are about the same work of seeking the kingdom of God.
James Nicholson churchwarden speaks about how we have special pray weekly for the work of St Giles and how we’ve acted in recent years to build God’s kingdom locally through upkeep of our church building and churchyard, pastoral care of villagers and initiatives like the village lunch, as well as overseas through Faith in Action, Liuli and Guyana Diocesan Association.
Fr John: Let’s listen now to Our Lord’s description of how God’s kingdom grows in the world
Female voice from Premier staff.
A reading from Saint Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 4  
Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ Here ends the reading.
Fr John: In Advent season we think of the coming King and his kingdom and of how that kingdom is already growing around us first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. This mysterious growth is all around us, watered by the prayer and work of believers.
Veronica Griffiths describes how Family Support Work has grown up as a work that advances God’s kingdom through service of the needy across Sussex and how St Giles and villagers contribute to that work through prayer, financial giving and through food, clothes, toys etc.
Fr John: ‘Thy kingdom come’ is the Advent prayer and the subject of Lewis Hensley’s great hymn:
Song: Thy kingdom come, O God

St Giles was once the focus of the nation’s attention when back in 1986 we hosted the funeral of Harold Macmillan. People remember how Mrs Thatcher led world leaders here and how the cottages along Church Lane had security personnel guarding the scene from upstairs windows.

This last week of celebrations centring on Nelson Mandela makes me wonder whether he visited here for Macmillan’s grave in our churchyard became for a time a shrine for African nationalists. It was Macmillan who oversaw the dismantling of Britain’s colonial legacy starting with his 1960 ‘winds of change’ speech in the South African Parliament. People remember President Kennedy’s visit here to Macmillan just before his assassination in 1963 which has also been a recent news focus 50 years on. We treasure the legacy of Harold Macmillan, his faith and his work for God’s kingdom enthused by his Christian vision expressed in regular church attendance at St Giles.

Repent, believe, ask, receive – Macmillan like the rest of us asked for wisdom and no doubt he also failed to ask at times so that his decision making fell short. Advent reminds us of God’s coming kingdom and our need to seek it so the world is put right.

Let’s end with a moment of reflection actually asking God in our hearts to make us better instruments of building his kingdom of justice, love and peace as we approach the Christmas feast together.

Advent 2 The Lord is Near – Believing

Once again I want to invite you to join the journey to Christmas we’re travelling this year at St Giles in company with London-based Premier Christian Radio.

‘The Lord is near’ Paul says in Philippians 4 verse 5. Experiencing that nearness is what Advent’s all about with it’s a challenge to repent, believe, ask and receive. I’m weaving our thoughts round those headings, and this week’s focus is on believing.

This week’s focus builds from our beautiful stained glass windows. The Victorian artist Charles Kempe who created them lived down the road. He wanted to be a priest but had a dreadful stammer, so he said ‘if I’m not permitted to minister in the Sanctuary I will use my talents to adorn it’. As the morning light streams through Kempe’s exquisite nativity and crucifixion windows our Church thrills with the image of Jesus Christ as God’s self-revelation that kindles the light of faith.

Let’s listen now to a clip from the programme, broadcast earlier this morning and to be broadcast again this afternoon on Premier, catching the end of the Advent hymn we just sang which speaks of Christ as the light waiting to shine in our hearts.

Hymn: Longing for light (Christ, be our light)
Fr John:  Advent’s a call to believing, to seeing the light of the Lord.
‘Look to the Lord and be radiant’ we read in Psalm 34 verse 5. Believing means choosing to look to the Lord and it links to repentance.
On the porch notice board it says ‘St Giles Church aims to grow in faith, love and numbers’.
We’re not a big Church but we’re an energetic church, with a keen group of leaders, working with the priest to promote Christian faith in our village.
Chris Wheatley children’s work coordinator speaks about how we work as a church to engage children and families with the light of Christ through First Steps, Sunday Club, School assemblies, the Five o’clock service and how Advent has a number of faith building events climaxing in the Christmas Eve Christingle Service of light.
Fr John: Let’s listen now to what St Paul has to say about the light of faith and how it spreads
Female voice from Premier staff.
A reading from the second letter of St Paul to the Corinthians   
All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. Yet, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Here ends the reading. 2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6
Fr John: As I look at the light streaming through the pictures of Jesus in St Giles I’m reminded of those words of Paul. They say religion’s a leap in the dark and call believers ‘unenlightened’! The shoe should go on the other foot! For a thousand years people in Horsted Keynes have seen their lives enlightened here in St Giles.
Lesley Whiting describes something of how God enlightened her in St Giles, how the light of faith has grown in her so she got baptised and confirmed, how Jesus helps her in the Sacrament and through Christian fellowship to live with cancer and see the Lord as her guiding light.
Fr John: It’s time for another Advent hymn, this one written by Charles Wesley. It speaks of Jesus coming to set us free from sin and fear and bring us into his light.
Song: Come, thou long expected Jesus

Repent, believe, ask, receive – this is how we dispose ourselves to meet the Lord.

In my own life it’s an ongoing process. I turn to Jesus, put faith in him, ask for and receive the Spirit. Then the Spirit shows me my need once again to turn to Jesus, believe in him, ask and receive from him – this is the day by day reality of my life!

Last year we raised funds to renew our church centre. It’s now got a glorious scenic window that looks across to Ashdown Forest and it’s made the hall much more attractive and fit for God’s work. All that new light streaming in makes it harder for the cleaner! Light shows dirt, and it’s the same with the light of Christ. As we expose ourselves to his Light we see areas of our life we need to clean up.

Repent, believe, ask, receive – it’s a process that will run to our dying day but it’s one that takes us day by day closer to Jesus.

Far from faith being a leap in the dark it’s about coming into the Light of Christ and bringing the world into it. I see his light as invisible radiance working like a heavenly microwave to defrost the frozen bits of my heart and warm me up to serve and bring warmth to others.

Let me close now with the daily Advent prayer for that light:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ  came to us in great humility; that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Advent 1 The Lord is Near – Repentance 8am

We’re starting Advent on a day St Giles is being made much of internationally through two broadcasts on London-based Premier Christian Radio. Today’s the start of a four part Advent series I produced which we will draw into both eucharists today.

‘The Lord is near’ is a four part series engaging through scripture, song and story in the wonder of Advent season. It’s about the journey to Christmas in Horsted Keynes as we go through Advent this year seeking to come close to the Lord.

Advent is about the coming of the Lord, first to Bethlehem at Christmas and second on the last day as Judge of the world. It’s about his coming near to us and our coming near to him.

‘The Lord is near’ the apostle Paul says to the Philippians. If we want to experience that nearness the Bible makes plain four things we need to do – repent, believe, ask, receive.

As we have a look with Premier Radio at what Advent represents we’ll be weaving our thoughts round those four headings using the four programmes, starting today with the call to repent.

Let’s listen now to a clip from the programme that catches the end of an Advent hymn that centres on St John the Baptist and his message to make way for Christ through repentance:

Hymn: On Jordan’s bank
Fr John:  Advent’s a call to repentance.
This is expressed by the look of church interiors.
I want to take you with me in mind and spirit to the beautiful village of Horsted Keynes where I’m parish priest. There from the village green I want you to walk down Church Lane and then up towards tour Norman Church with its noble spire. Come with me through the ancient porch to pass with me, in your mind, through the glazed doors to a further ascent in mind and heart through sight of its high Norman arches that lift your eyes to the altar.St Giles is no ordinary village church for its proportions are lavish. As William the Conqueror's retinue swept up from Hastings they made a mark on Sussex visible a thousand years on. The Church in Horsted Keynes has kept the Advent season for half the Christian era.  
This doesn’t just happen. It’s the achievement of the sacristans who prepare our beautiful church for worship day by day.
Peter Vince speaks about the penitential season of Advent, about repentance, preparing the crib from around 2min 44sec to 5min 268 on Recorder
Fr John: Let’s listen now to a bible passage we read in Advent that speaks of what it means to repent.
Female voice from Premier staff.
A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Romans, Chapter 13
Brothers and sisters, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Here ends the reading.
Fr John: If you’ve ever heard of Horsted Keynes before it’s probably for one of three reasons – it’s Grade 1 Norman Church, it’s being where former prime minister Harold MacMillan’s buried or lastly because it’s there you find the Bluebell Railway.
Sound of steam engine.  
Fr John: Every year in Advent I preach, or as Bluebell Railway Chaplain depute a visiting preacher to speak, standing on the front of a steam engine on Horsted Keynes station.
It’s a great evening and the biggest evangelistic service in Advent attended by over 500 people who cram the three platforms to hear the good news of Jesus.
Caroline Collins describes something of the Bluebell railway, what a great year it’s been for us, and describes the atmosphere of the Bluebell carol service with the steel band playing on the platform . 270 on recorder or iPhone Cc Bluebell file
Fr John: It’s time for another Advent song, one that speaks of the joy of the Lord’s coming:
Song: Joy to the world

Do you know why Advent’s my favourite church season? It’s because of the JOY it invites.

And where does that joy come from, save repentance?

Repent, believe, ask, receive – and the Lord comes to be with you and, as the Psalmist writes, ‘in his presence is the fullness of joy’ (Psalm 16:11).

‘The Lord is near’ is true for all of us since he made us and upholds us. He’s the very source of life, yours and mine, but he wants to be more than that! He wants to come and dwell within us to give us a share in his life. That’s why Jesus came – the Son of God became Son of man so we children of men could become children of God.

When we repent, when we turn to the Lord, he anoints us with his Spirit and we receive infectious joy. It’s the best receipe for a joyous Advent - to turn afresh in the coming month towards our Saviour  the Lord Jesus Christ ‘in whose presence is the fullness of joy’.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Christ the King 24th November 2013

If Christ is King how can he more fully be my king?

A good question as the church year ends and we go into purple next week for a new start in Advent season.

How many more church years will I follow as I prepare for eternity, you could ask, how much time is there left me here on earth to prepare for the dominion of love in heaven?

I don't know about you, but I find it far easier to sing to Christ as King in church on Sunday than to submit to him in my circumstances on Monday - or Tuesday even, Monday being my day off!

I want Christ not just to be one sphere of my life, but the ruler of my whole life, which means my every circumstance.

If I am living close to Christ the difficult conundrum is well solved, the challenging relationship has the love it needs invested in it, there is patience to live with unresolved situations and cheerfulness to overcome contingencies.

How do you keep close to Christ, since without it life gets flat or pear shaped!

Four things to consider as our service books turn back once more to Advent - prayer, bible reading, eucharist and Christian fellowship.

PRAYER  'Seven days without prayer makes one week'. 
How's your personal prayer? We did some training last month that a lot couldn't come to. During the prayer fortnight I talked one Sunday about how the Jesus Prayer helps me - 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner'. At the start of the church's year, before Christmas crowds my diary, could I refresh the resolve to spend 5 min in prayer with Jesus every day? Just look at him, and let him look at me? Maybe a walk up to Church, always open daytime, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, so we're reminded always of the intimacy of Holy Communion by the Reservation light? Or thinking corporate prayer, why not join occasionally in Saturday's 8am prayer for St Giles which lasts half an hour

BIBLE READING 'Without God's Word as a lens, the world warps' 
If you want to come close to Jesus, for him to be Lord of your life, you can hardly do so without attending to his words. 'Lord to whom shall we go’ Peter said to Jesus, ‘you have the words of eternal life'.Yes, you will need a guide, for those words aren't always so clear. This is why to mark the new church year I've got everyone one of these: 'A gift for you'. Show It’s an Advent freeby, four weeks bible reading notes, a week each of Day by Day with God, Guidelines, New Daylight and The Upper Room, all four varieties produced by Bible Reading Fellowship. You could see which you prefer and order a full set in January. Incidentally I've started as a BRF writer from 2014 for their New Daylight notes. You may lack a bible in accessible language. That can easily be remedied if you so decide - we use the NRSV, New Revised Standard Version, in services here.

EUCHARIST  If Christ is King how can he be more fully king of my life? 
Through more frequent Holy Communion. When the Holy Spirit came on John Wesley he started attending the Eucharist every day and they drove him out of the Church of England! We wouldn't today! Maybe Jesus is wanting you to meet him in his Sacrament on a Tuesday or Friday as well as on a Sunday, especially in Advent. There are few things Jesus gives us as powerful as his body and blood in bread and wine. Do I hunger for that gift? Does it empower me? Does the sacrificial demand of it, offering my soul and body in union with Christ, excite me or disturb me? Seek him more at the altar and you will certainly find him. There is no place you can be more certain of coming close to him, and bringing those on your heart close to him.

CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP From time to time St Giles organises fellowship meetings around a speaker or bible study or healing ministry.  Thursdays in term time we have Life and Faith from about quarter to 2 til 3pm and it’s generally bible based. There's tonight's informal Five o''clock service which has more interaction with one another at and before and after worship than in Church. 
There's next Sunday's 4pm healing service here in St Giles. Do you hunger for God? Or hunger to hunger for God? Come and receive prayer then to do so! Lack of hunger for God’s a spiritual sickness many of us suffer from. Then your priest's always available for fellowship if you want to book to meet with him and there are also special confession times before Christmas.

PRAYER, BIBLE READING, EUCHARIST, CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP - these are four ways of building love and loyalty to Christ our King worthy of consideration as we enter a new church year. I would add the church library. Reading a book about the faith, or a faith story, can be a very great help, and in another medium there’s the electronic discipleship page of the church website. It’s just been refreshed and there are links there to useful resources, as well as the Rector's page with the Firmly I Believe listen again audio. From next week there’ll be the Premier Radio Advent series based in Horsted Keynes which some of you are contributing to.

Come close to God and God will come close - give and it will be given to you.

See yourself this next month as a fresh water pool both receiving and giving out with and from Jesus our King, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Ardingly College St Edmund the Martyr 20th November 2013

According to legend when they beheaded St Edmund for not renouncing Christ they threw his head into the forest. It was found later on by friends who followed the cries of a wolf calling, 'Hic, hic, hic' which Latinists here will know says 'Here, here, here'.

It's a good story, and a parable as well, for there are many issues around I'd like supernatural help to address and hear a 'eureka' - to switch my Classical languages - let alone a 'Hic, hic, hic'.

Take the dreadful Typhoon which afflicted 13 million people in the Philippines. I know quite a few Philipinos around Haywards Heath, indeed without them our residential homes would be much the poorer. Last week I had issues with God when I thought of the extraordinary damage done to their homeland.

Earlier in the week the preacher on Remembrance Sunday had mentioned a friend's father who served in the First World War and never went to church again afterwards being convinced any loving God wouldn't allow the carnage he had seen firsthand.

Or, to make a threesome, what about the people I come across all too regularly who's minds are decaying so they no longer know who they are, where they belong or any purpose they have in life.

Where's my hic, hic, hic - here, here, here's the answer?

Issues of natural catastrophe, human cruelty and mind decay are no mere hiccups - excuse the pun! They're seriously real, don't go away and make an invisible loving God look metaphysical in a bad sense.
You know, like the way the former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell dismissed duff ideas as 'so much theology'.

Now as a priest I'm much engaged with people on the sharp end including victims of accident, abuse of their fellows or Alzheimer’s. I engage but I don't often give theology. There's nothing more insulting that to explain someone's hardship to them without lifting a finger to alleviate it. My main task is to anoint, bring Holy Communion or say a prayer. People don't like to be preached at but, on the whole, they rather like being prayed for.

I remember visiting a brilliant novelist with a brain tumour in Princess Royal. As we got talking he said early on I should watch my step as he wasn't a believer. It happened I'd just read Mother Teresa's Autobiography which gave extensive cover to her doubts. (Yes - you can be a great believer and still have doubts). Anyway I mentioned he wasn't alone - even the holy nun had doubts - and as we talked a doctor walking by and stopped in his tracks. 'Mother Teresa', he said. 'I knew her personally. I trained with her medical team in Calcutta'. Then, to our amazement he unbuttoned his shirt and showed us a holy medal she'd given him. We both touched it.

As the doctor passed on I asked my friend if he wanted me to say a prayer for him and, atheist that he was, he readily agreed!

It was a 'Hic, hic, hic' moment. Pure serendipity, the mention of Mother Teresa bringing us a doctor's advice that led us to pray together! I never met him again but sense that three way meeting of the doctor, he and I went to four just as the three men in the fiery furnace were seen to be four outside because Christ came by them.

Why does a good God allow devastating typhoons, trench warfare or the decay of people's minds?

In his book 'The Reason for God' the American Christian writer Timothy Keller has these wise words: 'If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn't stopped evil and suffering in the world... you have... a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can't know... you can't have it both ways'.

I like it. A God you set up in your mind and then shoot down because he falls short in terms of what can be measured, mapped or scientifically explained. How literally small-minded! Greater the mind with the humility to know its place, that’s got a sense of the intersection of time with eternity so bad things that happen are seen in a larger context.

The trouble with the materialism of our age is it denies that larger context. The confidence it's given us in terms control of the material world makes us think we can control the metaphysical realm as well and put God in his place.

Whatever dark truth lurks round the typhoon the lightest shade is something along the lines 'God is God and he always will be God'.

Being the Philippines they're putting Crosses up besides their fallen churches to do what we're doing this evening. That’s saying in a way that our God expects nothing of us he hasn't been through himself in a particularly cruel death.

In tragic circumstances, be they natural or manmade, God's worthiness for worship is inevitably questioned but the questions seem louder to me when I see the blind submission required by Islam, or the smiling detachment of the Buddha, than when I behold God in the broken body and shed blood of Christ.

Hic, hic, hic - Edmund's head was found!

Hic, hic, hic - here, here, here in the Cross is my answer!

Or rather, not the answer, but the Answerer.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

All Saints Feast 3rd November 2013 8am

At a time of economic hardship unprecedented in recent years or decades even it is inevitable that we find something of almost an over concern with material things from energy costs upward or rather downward if you live at the Rectory!

Many of us are feeling the pinch and we’ve a duty to be alongside the most vulnerable.

Sometimes though, I get troubled as a priest by what I call the over concern for this world’s goods and their security.

Why? Because of the truth enshrined in this weekend’s liturgy of All Saints, namely this:

The most meaningful thing in life is what conquers death.

Earthly life is a prologue. The book of life proper starts beyond the grave with Christianity’s Founder who is the life, the truth and the way.

Christians live knowing their homeland is in heaven. We come to church to develop a taste for that homeland through bread and wine that anticipates the heavenly banquet and through the word of God which promises the same.

If people around could really see this they’d fight to get a place at this celebration! It’s our failure, my and my predecessors, your and your predecessors as worshippers failure, to believe and to communicate this that is robbing them of this privilege.

The most meaningful thing in life is what conquers death.

I go to the Chemists and see a rack of booklets on how to overcome various conditions - arthritis, indigestion, osteoporosis, stress, varicose veins and so on.

One question not addressed is how you deal with dying.

Perhaps you wouldn’t expect doctors to have much to say about how we deal with death.  Maybe they see death as the ultimate defeat for health professionals.

Yet the whole of life leads up to death.  It's something quite natural, in a sense.  The end of man - but in which sense - 'end' as 'finish' or 'end' as 'fulfillment'?

Dying is just as much a daily medical condition as arthritis or indigestion.  Yet how do people find a consultant who can advise them on how to die?

Where do people facing eternity go to for help?

Our Christian Faith is built upon the risen Christ. He is our Consultant.

Who else can advise and prepare, console and strengthen in the face of death than Jesus?

Jesus, who in dying bore the agony of death for us.

Jesus, who in rising burst open the gates of paradise!

Our Consultant writes these words for us in his manual - though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil. I am with you.

This church points up to a world beyond this world because it is the church of Jesus Christ

We are one today also with our beloved dead - our families, friends, benefactors - those who have inspired us or enriched our lives, who now pray for us wrapped in the mantle of God’s love for all eternity.

That oneness with them at the eucharist is no better described than by a person who attended the Divine Liturgy in the icon filled Cathedral of Kiev in the Ukraine:

‘There is always a crowd’, he said, ‘ a promiscuity of rich and poor, of well dressed and tattered, a kaleidoscope mingling of people and colours - people standing and praying, people kneeling, people prostrated... There is no organ music, but an unearthly and spontaneous outburst of praise from the choir and the clergy and the people worshipping together...
‘And from the back and from the sides - and from the pillars and from the columns, look the pale faces of antiquity, the faces of the dead who are alive looking over the shoulders of the alive who have not yet died...All praising God, enfolding in a vast choric communion the few who in the Church have met on the common impulse to acknowledge the wonder and the splendour of the mystery of God.

‘You lose the sense of Ego, the separated individual, you are aware only of being part of a great unity praising God. You cease to be man and woman and become THE CHURCH (the Bride of Christ)’

And that is what we are this morning – the church, the community of Jesus - stretching beyond these four walls into eternity - living with lives that gain meaning from the conquest of death which brings and should bring our humanity into its right mind.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

All Souls Day Saturday 2nd November 2013

God’s not god of the dead but of the living; to him all are alive. Luke 20:38

On All Souls day we seek God, to whom all people living or dead are alive, on behalf of those we love but see no longer.

Christianity’s a faith built on resurrection. Always, to the eye of faith, the sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality brought by Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

God’s our contemporary – he’s always beside us. There’s no place we could ever go and lose him, unless our hearts are set on a trajectory away from him, like that Voyager space ship set to move relentlessly away from earth until it burns out.

We shouldn’t see death as such a journey away from us. Death isn’t a place of diminishment, like the image of that receding space ship, but a passing into a realm of enhancement that’s near to us. The dead live more fully because ‘to God all are alive’ and as Paul says if ‘living is Christ, dying is gain’ (Philippians 1:21).

There’s huge irony in the hallowe’en cult of shadowy ghosts and ghouls. It is the residue in our culture of the Christian celebration of the full, solid, glorious realm of resurrection on All Saints and All Souls day.

Many of us in accompanying the last passage of our loved ones felt we touched that realm! Many deaths I’ve been privileged  to attend as a priest have had about them that sense of passing to solid joy and lasting treasure, to journey’s end, with end not ‘finish’ but fulfilment!

Our departed loved ones have passed beyond our sight but not beyond our love, indeed our love for them is being expressed through  attendance at All Souls day eucharist. If those we love but see no longer are kept in our imperfect love, how much the more will they be kept in the unselfish love of God?

He sees all, he sees we mortals on earth, our loved ones departed beyond this world and those freed from sin who stand beside him awaiting the completion of God’s purpose in creating us. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says this of that vigil of the elect for their betterment God has provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect. Hebrews 11:40

On All Souls Day the vestments are the black of mourning decorated with the silver of resurrection glory. The black represents our sorrow and that of our dear departed at the separation of death. The silver represents resurrection faith that nothing’s lost at death and that all things are working together towards God’s grand outcome to be unveiled at the completion of God’s bettering of his creation.

God’s not god of the dead but of the living; to him all are alive.

God is the eternal ground of being itself. The coming of God’s Son to be one with us has made him our contemporary.

This afternoon we recall tearful moments of parting from our loved ones. As we do so the Church assures us by pointing to Jesus who wept over Lazarus before raising him from the dead.

Life and love are one in God. We mortals suffer the end of life and very often the end of love. In Jesus Christ there is no end to either life or love! In him humanity is remade so that, as we rest upon the Lord, we live and love in a greater fullness.

I cannot tell you exactly what happens after death but I can affirm with full confidence there will be that love stronger than death which is ours in Jesus. His resurrection is the pinnacle of history and no one has found serious grounds for disputing it.

As Christ is raised he is our contemporary. ‘Remember’ he says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20b)

This is surely why we’re here at the eucharist, because Jesus is the living word, who speaks still through the Bible, and the living Bread who feeds us with himself through sacred elements.

We’re here – and Jesus is here – and as we read the list of our dear departed he is as close to them as we’re close to one another in St Giles this afternoon, but closer, for in him we live and move and have our being.  Acts 17:28

God’s not dead, he’s alive! Neither our loved ones who live in his orbit!

God’s not god of the dead but of the living; to him all are alive.

Our prayers this afternoon enfold and advance the living and the dead because that is the very purpose of the living God who is awaiting with great compassion our heartfelt prayers this afternoon.

Let’s pause for a moment and rest in his eternal love.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Trinity 22 (30th Week, Year C)           27th October 2013

I stand in a family tradition of plain speaking counting among my forbears the Craven Dialect poet Tom Twisleton, my first cousin twice removed who lived from 1845 to 1917 and whose poems are still read in my native Settle. Some of the locals there are working with me on publishing a comprehensive edition of Tom’s poems so they’re rather fresh in my mind. I thought one of them – ‘Church ‘gangin’ was a spot on commentary on today’s scripture.

Here it is – the main part of it - and though in Craven dialect I’ll read it more as a Sussex Downs man than a Yorkshire Dalesman translating the dialect to make it more intelligible in our situation.

One Sabbath day, in summer time, when leaves were green and flowers smelt prime, and lile birds raised a din. I chanced to pass a house of prayer, that reared its steeple in the air, and folks were going in.

Both young and old, and rich and poor, in making for the open door, all in a throng did mix. Some strode in pride, like king or queen, some tripped like fairies o’er the green, some tottered in on sticks.

I stood and watched ‘em walking in, to hear of future woe for sin, and bliss for t’ just and wise; and while I gazed with vacant stare, and watched ‘em enter t’ house of prayer, strange thoughts began to rise.

I asked myself, ‘what is it brings yon mingled group of human things, that from their houses come! Do they come here to sing and pray and to the priest attention pray?. Answer says, ‘nought but some’.

There’s yon smart Miss in gay attire who hopes to make them all admire, he very best she’ll don; and one sits near whose wandering eye is peeping up and down to see what such a one has on.

And one comes in with haughty stride, his heart puffed up with empty pride, he thinks none like himself; he hasn’t come in here this day to join his voice with them that pray, but just to cut a swell.

And some bent down as if in prayer, o’er top of t’ pew, with careless stare, do nowt but squint and scan; to words of truth they pay no heed, they feel as if from prison freed, when t’ clerk says t’ last Amen.

And then again there’s some who gang, with solemn looks and faces long, to sing the song of praise; who wear religion as a cloak to hide from unsuspecting folk, their cunning roguish ways.

All service through with pious looks, they hang their faces o’er their books, they act the saint right well; on holy things they seem intent, while all the time to save a cent, they’d cheat their own old man.

There’s some no doubt, but ah, a few, who come with hearts sincere and true to worship heaven’s high King; who humbly kneel before the throne, and in return for mercies shown, their heartfelt praises sing.

Tom Twisleton’s poem ‘Church going’ - which picks up on our Gospel reading where Our Lord has a story we might call ‘Temple going’.

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Where do we as this morning’s church goers see ourselves in this?

Don’t we rather like being exalted? To receive the satisfaction of a job well done or a duty fulfilled. To believe things we do, even for Church, really make us a bit better than those who fail where we succeed. No, no, no says the parable – to believe that make you prisoner of small time righteousness. I am looking forward to my red buttoned Canon’s cassock, of course! Bad as the rest…

Or – how about the inward assumption that, because of our failings, we don’t measure up to the standards of the Pharisee in ourselves, so we’re secretly stained beyond redemption. I find this a quite familiar condition in our high achieving culture and wouldn’t be surprised to hear something of it next weekend during Confession-time before All Saints Feast.

Where’s the good news? It’s, as I said last week about the Jesus Prayer, that the prayer of the tax collector is available to all of us. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

For you and I are all sinners and yet sisters and brothers of the Son of God, children of a merciful Father. The parable of the Pharisee and Publican is an invitation to break away from the tyranny of self-righteousness, of judging ourselves by ourselves, and enter the glorious liberty of the children of God – which is to recognise you and I are on the bottom step of the ladder but that God loves us all the same.

A visitor to a psychiatric hospital found one of the inmates rocking back and forth in a chair cooing repeatedly in a soft contented manner, ‘Lulu, Lulu…’.

‘What’s this man’s problem?’ he asked the doctor.

‘Lulu. She was the woman who jilted him,’ was the doctor’s reply.

As they proceeded on the tour, they came to a padded cell whose occupant was banging his head repeatedly against the wall and moaning, ‘Lulu, Lulu…’

‘Is Lulu this man’s problem to?’ the visitor asked.

‘Yes,’ said the doctor. ‘He’s the one Lulu finally married.’

We all have our ‘Lulus’ be they in families or in Churches – I would be more merciful than my cousin Tom to fellow church members though I’m grateful for his poem.

I guess I am most likely someone else’s ‘Lulu’!

We are all sinners – full of shortcomings – but we’re loved by almighty and unending love, and is there any better good news than that?

The tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’