Saturday, 26 January 2013

Candlemas 8am 27.1.13

Today we anticipate for pastoral reasons, linked to Education Sunday, what the Prayer Book calls the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. This festival which we are allowed to transfer from its set day of 2nd February, celebrates the baby Jesus being taken to the  Temple  in  Jerusalem forty days after his birth to complete Mary's ritual purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn, in obedience to the Law of Moses which indicates this should take place forty days after birth for a male child, hence the Presentation is properly celebrated forty days after Christmas.
Upon bringing Jesus into the temple, the family encounter Simeon. The Gospel records Simeon had been promised "he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (Luke 2:26). Simeon prays the prayer we now use at evensong or compline that’s known as the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon, prophesying the redemption of the world by Jesus:
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).
In addition to being known as the Purification of Mary or Presentation of Christ another traditional name for today is Candlemas referring to the practice whereby later on this morning the priest blesses candles in a  place apart from Church – the school in our case - for a re-enactment of Christ’s entry into the Temple, symbolised by our Church building.
As we bless the candles we’ll be singing the Nunc Dimittis which contains Simeon’s prophecy that Christ’s salvations is to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.
All celebrations of the events which have brought us salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Christ are given so we may apply them to our lives.  Just as each eucharist recalls Christ’s death and resurrection so we die further to sin and rise more to the life of the Spirit so the church’s calendar of feasts is given us to engage with the historical events to find truth to imitate and fresh hope.

As one ancient prayer used in contemplating today’s mystery of the Presentation puts it grant that we may imitate what it contains and obtain what it promises.

What truth is there to imitate in this morning’s celebration? We find a well expressed truth to take to heart in the Collect which prayed: as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh, so (may we) be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts. In other words help us to be presentable. Just as on Friday night I searched out a bit of tartan to make me presentable at our Burns Night so our being presentable before God requires a discipline of self-examination to make sure we come to his altar with pure and clean hearts.

What promise is there for us to obtain in this celebration? I would say that the ceremonial entry into Church we’ll enact later on anticipates our entry through the gates of heaven into paradise, into the house of the Lord. Our Anglican funeral liturgy encourages the recitation of those words of the Nunc Dimittis in today’s Gospel: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.

Like Simeon we see in Jesus one who removes the fear of death and promises perpetual light to his family as they travel forward in his light to their fulfilment in the house of the Lord together and forever.

I end with a beautiful prayer of John Donne, sixteenth century Dean of St Paul’s some of you may know: Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end. 

Opening heaven’s window 10am Sunday 20th January

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills Psalm 121:1

Well we’re here at last, before the window! May I on everyone’s behalf pay tribute to Marion Lott, David Jenkins, the Martindale Committee and all who have worked so hard, and will continue to work hard to complete the funding of this great improvement to our church hall. Very well done!

Opening windows – or in this case opening up windows - is a good image.   Less than three months after his election as Pope 51 years ago John XXIII gave notice of his intention to convene an Ecumenical Council. When asked why a Council was needed, he reportedly opened a window saying, "I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in." The Second Vatican Council brought changes that have affected all churches through the revision of the eucharist, new emphasis on the Holy Spirit, ecumenism, and a more positive approach by the church to the world .

I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in. Good Pope John’s words fit the spirit of making church accessible even if our new hall window should let no one see in – the Lord preserve us from more thieves up our walls!

If we’ve need of anything it’s of being a Christian community that attracts the attention of the next generation so they feel intrigued by what we’re about, look through the window and come through the door, maybe, initially, through the Martindale door.

As Christians we’re about Opening heaven’s window, making heaven – Jesus – visible through word, sacrament, fellowship and the way we live our lives. We need to communicate the Church as something OK, or rather more than OK. We’ll best do this as we gain cleansing and empowerment from the Holy Spirit.
Pope John also prayed for a new Pentecost and many saw the charismatic movement that got going in the late 1960s as answer to his and many prayers.

Which brings me to this morning’s second reading from 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s turn to p4 and look through this passage together.  Concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. Paul says in verse 1 and goes on to explain in verses 2 and 3 that ministry in the Church is animated by supernatural empowerment through the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus. He outlines the glorious diversity of ministry gifts there are in Corinth, reminding those who have them that what they've been given is given not for them but for the building up of the body of Christ. In this passage Paul lists supernatural gifts – wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues and the gift to interpret that. We need to read this list alongside two other lists of ministries Paul gives in Romans 12, where he adds serving, teaching, exhortation, generosity and leadership and Ephesians 4, where he adds apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors.

Let’s look at verses 4 to 7 of today’s reading: 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

In his first letter to Corinth Paul’s chapter 12 and 14 are about supernatural gifts and their use for the common good. These two chapters – 14 is mainly about speaking in tongues – have the famous one on love, Chapter 13 in the midst. Paul lists the empowering gifts and goes on to say they’re all great but will go nowhere unless you use them lovingly, submitting to the body of Christ as a whole.

Let’s read on from verse 8 to 11: 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 

The gifts we read out are called charismatic gifts and many churches are recovering them nowadays. The first two in v8, wisdom and knowledge are the capacity to receive supernatural information about situations through which God can change things. What a difference these can make to a Church? When God gives you an insight and you follow it things flow relatively easily as you persevere in pressing forward. I’ve got a feeling some may be inspired by this occasion, by our window, to words of knowledge – we shall see!

When in verse 9 we read of the gift of faith that’s not the faith by which we believe but a special gift linked to believing God for something special. Today’s rescheduling is something special that wouldn’t have come about if we were a church that lacked supernatural vision and a special gift of faith. Lead thieves and officious electricians won’t deflect us from the faith we have to see that building a hub of mission. Even if we need more money we believe God has it up his sleeve waiting to be released for God’s work brings with it God’s supernatural provision.

The next two charismatic gifts are named healing and miracles in v9 and 10. One of the encouraging signs in our life together is the evidence of healing and miracles here at St Giles, even if they are manifested at times in the midst of great suffering.

Prophecy and discernment v10 are capacities to help the church see the way ahead. I was heartened two weeks ago by the convergence of the sermon and intercessions themes on the sense of Isaiah 60.2: For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. It was as if the Lord was speaking prophetically and saying even if we as a Church are surrounded by thick darkness of unbelief the light of faith is shining and will get through for his glory will appear over us. 

Tongues and interpretation are similarly gifts of empowerment some of us have received linked to deepening prayer and praise in individuals for the common good. Speaking in tongues isn’t ecstatic or hysterical but something you can do before breakfast. It’s a gift many Christians have received through the ages which helps believers pray as the Holy Spirit leads for what the Holy Spirit wants. It is a devotional aid that helps build more praise and intercession in the life of the Church. The gift of interpretation, rarely used in Anglican circles, comes into play when tongues are rather exceptionally used aloud at services.

Today’s scripture reminds us that if St Giles is going to deepen its life and grow new members we need a new Pentecost, in Pope John’s phrase, so the Holy Spirit’s gifting more fully animates our life together.
People need a window into the Church and we are that window, we believers, regularly to be polished up and animated! That’s why when I bless the building shortly you too will be blessed with holy water to wake you up to your baptism.

Through our prayer and Holy Spirit empowerment what God has in store for the use of the Martindale will manifest. God make this place a place of engagement between Christians and not-yet Christians that will open up windows by that very engagement to those seeking purpose and belonging in Horsted Keynes.
I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.

Epiphany 6th January 2013

This morning I’m speaking to the third prong of our Mission Action Plan revised at October’s PCC after a series of meetings reflecting on the July vision day. The MAP’s on the notice board and its one line header is in the news sheet:  St Giles Church has a mission to grow in faith, love and numbers.

Our putting mission on the MAP has the three dimensions of growing in faith towards God, growing in the expression of love to the world and growing the numbers of our Christian fellowship here at St Giles.
On Christ the King at the end of November I explained action the PCC has got raised up to help us grow in faith in months ahead. I mentioned the Unbelievable? course that’s now started. I mentioned the electronic discipleship resource on the church website with Christian discipleship resources. Issue 2 is published today. Do sign up to receive it if you can. I’m grateful to Jan for what she’s written there.

On Advent Sunday I detailed action PCC has planned for us to grow in love encouraging ownership of the outreach we do as a church. In doing so I gave recognition to how individual exercise of loving service at home and in the workplace has priority and needs to be balanced with our involvement in church activities like running the website, choir, toddler group or village lunch. I reiterated the challenge Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, has issued to his growing diocese: are you consumers or citizens? Are you here to build God’s kingdom, to work for world transformation through the spread of faith beyond these walls, or are you settled in something of a consumerist mentality whereby going to St Giles fits alongside going to Sainsbury’s or to the Theatre?

I’d re-iterate that challenge on this Feast of the Epiphany. Only by getting more members active in mission can we hope to grow in numbers.

Deacon Gerard Irvin made a similar challenge to his folk at their St Stephen’s Day Mass last week. He asked all present to take some responsibility for church growth by identifying someone half their age and praying for them every day for a year.

This suggestion is like the first sentence on our MAP which lists these actions already attained over the last year: Prayer for numerical growth especially on Saturdays, door-to-door visiting by priest  to connect with lapsed worshippers, “Back to Church” Sunday 2011, re-light the candle baptism Eucharist 2011, putting up posters around village for All-Age Eucharist Sunday, Harvest, Holy Week, etc.

A more recent action listed on the MAP schedule took up a suggestion at the July vision day: Move Friday Eucharist to 10.30am to generate new church-community interface/socialising in post-assembly coffee putting church more on people’s map. I have to say we haven’t seen too many church members at that coffee session to meet parents.

The last achieved action under growing in numbers is Taking Advent day by day out to the parish for evangelistic benefit which was Chris Wheatley’s idea and again we might have seen more support for these events we credit Chris for putting so much energy into organising.

The purpose of this sermon is to encourage us to allow Epiphany to come alive in our hearts and in the hearts of those around us.

Epiphany – manifesting God - isn’t Fr John or Chris’s work but God’s work and ours – ours i.e. all of us. For St Giles to grow in numbers that include 12 to 50 year olds committing their lives to Our Lord, the Pied Pipers to lead them in isn’t me or Chris but all of us.

Each one reach one may be a good motto for 2013. Reaching out, cutting into spiritual apathy with the two scissor blades of prayer and invitation. I know there are a good number of folk who’d come to Church if someone would ask them. From March Birch Grove church members are kindly organising Sunday lifts to Westall residents and others may want to take a leaf out of their book. Who in your acquaintance, or down your street, may be open to an invitation to attend St Giles? Like next Sunday’s 50 min all age eucharist?

The MAP mentions under ‘growth in numbers’ the evangelism focus at Wednesday week’s 16th January St Giles night with Simon Allaby brainstorming on less scary evangelism.  You might like to attend this first ever training session on evangelism in my time as parish priest. On the MAP there’s also Developing evangelistic (alongside community/youth) use of Martindale from 19th January opening.
St Giles Church has a mission to grow in faith, love and numbers.

My two New Year wishes are for the Martindale to become an effective mission focus serving to bring new folk into the orbit of God’s love and for 2013 to see Christian leadership emerging from the 12 to 50 year age range. This would serve connecting across all age groups by St Giles core leadership which currently includes some remarkable seniors – like me!

In my July 2012 Rector’s Letter I paid tribute to Peggy Diss quoting Walter Wink: 'The future of the world lies with the intercessors and connectors.' In my years as Rector I’ve met few as loving and prayerful as Peggy. Her prayers – and Ursilla’s – are with us as we plan action to grow in numbers. Very many of us have got that gift of connecting – building friendships. We’ve also got potential to seek God and, from prayer, the best directing of our energies and those in our orbit. ‘More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.’ (Lord Tennyson). Our spire points up to a God whose possibilities, exceeding our imagining, are released on earth through prayer.

'The future of the world lies with the intercessors and connectors.' Will you help change the future of the world through St Giles by being the intercessors and connectors we so badly need to see the body of Christ built up in this place?

Each one reach one – by scissor blades of prayer and invitation – so Isaiah’s prophecy of light coming into spiritual darkness may be realised among us in Horsted Keynes: Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. (Isaiah 60:2) So be it!