Saturday, 25 May 2013

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity 26th May 2013

Today we celebrate the revelation of God as an eternal fellowship of love, three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour, yet one God.

The doctrine of the most holy and undivided Trinity is challenging, relevant, intriguing and essential – four headings to steer our delving this morning into foundational truth and life.

Firstly it’s a challenge. Reason takes you so far in Christianity. We could never have invented God in three persons, it’s revealed truth. Then you have the question of weighing other revelations – Islam and Hinduism besides the Judaism from which the Trinitarian revelation came.

Preachers go on leave this Sunday for fear of a seemingly cold, calculated, mathematical doctrine. Three in one and one in three. Why three? Why not one, says Islam, why not more says Hinduism, why not none says the atheist mocking our feeble attempts to get our mind round God three in one.

There’s the challenge set before us in Trinitarian faith but that challenge comes from historical events. These clearly reveal the nature of God in the coming of Jesus, whose death and resurrection we've been following up to Ascension Day, and the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost day. It’s a challenge that might lead you to the church library so you can better answer for your faith to those who believe in one God, no God or many gods as opposed to one God in three persons.

Secondly the doctrine of the Trinity is utterly relevant. I was thinking this week as Parliament moved us towards same-sex marriage that marriage is a union of life-giving love because human beings are in the image of God who is himself a union of life-giving love. Keeping true to ourselves as human beings, and true to the life-giving nature of marriage is keeping true to God no less, God as he has revealed himself to us.

The world, all of life sprang from him – notice we talk of God with a single pronoun despite his three persons, also with a male pronoun on account of Jesus. The feminist rewriting of God as the Mother, the Daughter and the Holy Spirit may be attractive to some but is actually an irreverent rewriting of how God speaks of himself in revelation. Rewriting the Trinity as creator, saviour and sanctifier achieves inclusive speech but at the cost of depersonalising God.

God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is supremely personal. At our beginning and at our end there is God and there is love because God is love within himself. How could God be so without the distinction of persons within him? How do we know all of this – we do so from Christian experience as our second reading reminded us. St Paul writes we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith…God…who has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5) The doctrine of the Trinity is true and relevant to our experience by which the coming of Jesus and the Spirit help us know God as loving Father.

Challenging, relevant – thirdly the doctrine of God should be intriguing. The eternal fellowship of love that is God draws us in to himself. What after all is the Church for other than to serve God’s purpose to bring as many souls on earth as possible into fellowship with him?

The doctrine of the Trinity is revealed first of all in Our Lord’s coming into a human family with Mary and Joseph, into village life in Nazareth, then into the missionary partnership of the disciples. That divine society continues after his resurrection and the gift of the Spirit as one, holy catholic and apostolic church which is God’s never-ending family! Joy is its characteristic, out-of-this-world joy, that’s the most intriguing of all qualities. In the presence of the Lord there is joy for evermore writes the Psalmist.

How intriguing God is, and we are. If you want evidence for God look in the mirror and read Psalm 8 what are mortals that you should be mindful of them, mere human beings, that you should seek them out?

St Nicodemus writes of each human as being the macrocosm compared to the microcosm of the cosmos. In mind and spirit like God we can contain the universe. Being in God’s image we too are intriguing – we point beyond ourselves. O Lord our governor, how glorious is your name in all the world. You have made (us) little lower than the angels and crown (us) with glory and honour. (Psalm 8)

A human being in isolation isn't a true human for, in John Donne’s words, no man is an island. What’s intriguing about God as divine society mirrors what we find intriguing about ourselves, namely our desire for society and friendship. This desire will be fully satisfied only in the communion of saints who can be thought of as standing near God as a corona or crown around the sun.

Challenging, relevant, intriguing – lastly the Trinitarian doctrine of God is essential.

It is essential because Christianity is a religion of salvation and that salvation stands or falls on the divinity of Jesus Christ. We read Jesus words in the Gospel all that belongs to the Father is mine…the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you (John 16:15) Does my eternal destiny depend on my own good works, lacking as they are, or on a relationship freely offered me by God in his Son? In Jesus do we really meet with God himself? That, as they say, is the twenty four thousand dollar question hidden behind keeping a feast day for the Blessed Trinity.

This doctrine might sound cold and mathematical but it follows a logic of love, love beyond all measure, extravagant, unconditional love for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son Jesus Christ so that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) To believe this is to believe God isn’t One but One God in three persons.

The essential truth behind today’s Feast has been told from Advent to Pentecost to reach its summary on Trinity Sunday.

It’s challenging, of course – God is God and has revealed himself this way and not another way.

It’s relevant - the way we see God affects the way we see ourselves and steers us from unworthy pursuits.

It’s intriguing because the loving fellowship of God in three persons chimes in with our sociable nature and would draw it to joyful completion in the communion of saints

It’s an essential doctrine because without it the divinity of Christ falls, the word of God is emptied of power and the sacraments become empty ritual for God’s coming to us in Jesus and the Spirit is denied.

Truth and life and worship are all thrown together in Christian religion so if we would live our lives best we should always take heed of revealed truth, however hard to grasp, and to worship which is our real grasp of it.

As Michael Ramsey wrote The Church’s perilous office of teaching is inseparable from the Church’s worship of the mystery whereby it exists.

May all I have shared serve that worship of God we now enter at the eucharist through Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all might, majesty, dominion and power now and for evermore. Amen.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Pentecost Sunday  8am                                19th May 2013

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Now this he said about the Spirit.

Thirst for God is a gift of God.

It’s the one who is thirsty who comes to drink of him and that thirst, the exercise of our faith, is his gift even if it’s something we have to exercise or act upon.

The writer of Psalm 42 says As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God Psalm 42v1

At Pentecost we are led to think from that sort of physical thirst towards deepening the spiritual thirst which will keep God and all he has done for us in Jesus Christ central to our life.

St Bernadette was a shepherdess who lived in the Pyrenee mountains in the south of France over 150 years ago. She had something of a thirst for God.

One day she had a vision of Jesus’ Mother who told her to lift some stones in the ground and a stream of water slowly emerged.

That stream is well known today. It is in Lourdes where many people who’re thirsty for God go and find healing and refreshment. I’ve been there, drunk the water and bathed in it for healing.

Here’s some of the water (Lourdes water). I’ve put some in the porch holy water this morning so you could take some on the way out.

I said people who’re thirsty for God go to Lourdes and find healing and refreshment but you don’t need to go to Lourdes.

The stone you need to lift is here. By that I mean the things that weight upon your heart and quench the flow of the Holy Spirit in your life.

 What does it mean to be thirsty for God?

It means to know your need of him and to be actively addressing that need through prayer, reading scripture, and receiving the sacraments.

Our Lord taught in Matthew 5: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake for they shall be satisfied. If you’re not actually hungering this morning are you at least hungering to hunger, or hungering to hunger to hunger?

To want more of God in your life we need to pray and through prayer you also receive more of God in your life.  It’s an extraordinary circle and it’s no circle of delusion.

I remember once feeling God was a long way away and saying to him ‘God if you’re there show yourself’. I happened to be walking in the garden and I felt a leaf on a tree speak to me: ‘I made you. I love you. I want to fill you with my Spirit’ That was when I first experienced the Holy Spirit in power and it helped me to pray more easily and love other people more.

When you’re thirsty for God and tell him so he gives you his Holy Spirit.

Before Pentecost Mary and the apostles kept a nine day prayer vigil to express their thirst for God and then we read how At Pentecost as we just heard they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind…and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

To be filled you need to be empty.

Holy Spirit Sunday is a challenge to all of our self-sufficiency. It’s a reminder that to be filled by the Spirit we need the resolve to empty ourselves in service.

Christians, to continue the water image of today’s Gospel, are made like fresh water pools. These need both an inlet and an outlet.

Water goes stagnant when it lacks either an inlet or an outlet. So it is with our souls. They go stagnant unless they both receive from God and give to God.

Pentecost is something very personal. It’s something that can happen in our lives today as either we lift the stones that block the inlet or increase our outgoings in venturesome love and service.

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Now this he said about the Spirit.

Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardour glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Rogation eucharist 5th May 2013

What we do in Church on a Sunday isn't just for us it's for everyone and everything.

I mean our reaching up to God in prayer with his church has an impact on us, on the church and on the whole world.

This morning we’re reinstating Rogation Sunday, at the request of the liturgy and worship advisory group, so we’ll be going across the churchyard saying prayers for the earth and blessing a field.

Rogation Sunday means asking Sunday. In past centuries asking God's protection over the crops in May was seen as an urgent need in an agricultural community. In restoring that tradition we’re extending it into prayer for the world of work and good stewardship of the world's resources including human labour whether in office, factory or field.

'Whatsoever you shall ask for in my name, that will I do' Jesus said in John 14 verse 13.

This Sunday is a challenge to our self sufficiency, a reminder of a hurting world needing care and prayer and an eye opener into how every eucharist lifts the world to God.

A little thought on each.

First that to ask God challenges self-sufficiency. To believe in God does that in any case and prayer is just an affirmation of that faith. I mean faith that our life and everyone's life and everything in creation exists through him and for him.

In our daily prayers don't we say 'Lord bless everyone in the world and, as you have occasion, bless me and mine that our lives may be better directed to your praise and service'?
Asking God makes him real in our thoughts, purifies those thoughts and through the gift of his loving presence fills our hearts with love for all around us. We become part of the answer to our prayers.

How many times have you prayed to God for someone and been left with a practical action to accomplish. I was praying for my oldest son and his family on Tuesday and afterwards felt I needed to go on Facebook and invite them down from London for the day - and this fitted their thoughts. God knew, but he needed my active love.

Doing what we shall do this morning is writing prayer large as the challenge it is to our self sufficiency. It is secondly a reminder of a hurting world in need of prayer and care. Saying those litanies may sound like reading God a shopping list but it’s more our taking responsibility with him for the way the world is.

Prayer, asking God for things, changes things. It does so through expressing and rekindling our love for the world and its sorrows and joys. It does so also by the direct intervention of God.

'Whatsoever you shall ask for in my name, that will I do'. Note that Jesus says 'in my name' so asking to win the lottery may have a qualification!  To win it so church can have an amenities annex with toilets may be more in his name than to win it so we can have a helicopter to hop to France.

To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray for what he would want in any situation and the prayers we offer on Rogation Sunday cover a tremendous range on that account. And no, they don't include a church loo but it's pretty obvious we'd get more people praying here and praying here longer if we had one.

Today's Rogation procession takes us out of our own concerns and challenges our self sufficiency as it gives us a reminder of the needs of the hurting world around us.

Thirdly and lastly it’s an eye opener into how every eucharist lifts the world to God. 

It does so through Our Lord's choice of bread and wine to be instruments of his love since each material incorporates the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands.

The collection we make at Sunday eucharist allied to our standing orders to St Giles  is presented alongside the bread and wine. It actually pays for the elements. Bread, wine, money are symbols of our life, of everyone's life as well as that of the whole creation. Life that comes from God to be taken, blessed, broken and shared by God who not only gives us life but gives us his life on the Cross and in the elements that are to us his body and blood.

There's something pretty awesome about Rogation Sunday. We pray for the fields and this makes a difference to them and to us. We’re reminded that the fields and the church go together for, as John Wesley taught, ‘God does nothing save in answer to prayer’. Without prayer God's hands are bound - so a prosperous community must also be in some sense a prayerful community.

The action at this altar on any Sunday is Rogation, is ‘an asking’. It's an asking for the Holy Spirit to bless the fruit of the earth and the labour of human hands, through their offering in the sacrifice of the eucharist and through our Communion with them when blessed that gives us new vision and fresh love to serve the world we’re both in and of.

'Whatsoever you shall ask for in my name, that will I do'.

So be it!