Sunday, 29 September 2013

St Michael and All Angels 29th September 2013

Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14) So asks the writer to the Hebrews at the end of today’s second reading giving us as he does a biblical definition of angels.

The passage in question is about Christ’s being higher than the angels and so it started with another question: To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? (Hebrews 1:5)

I wonder what questions go through your mind though as in obedience to the Church Calendar we keep this Feast of St Michael and all Angels?

The materialist in you is bound to question theories of the invisible world, be they of God, of the realm of the resurrection or of angels.

The democrat in you will question the whole hierarchical business descending from God in Christ through angels and saints down to mortals, further down to demons and then to the devil himself.

The pacifist in you will be alarmed by that Revelation reading: War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated.(12:7)

The hard headed part of you will balk at today’s Gospel: seeing heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on Jesus. (John 1:51)

What has the preacher got to allay those questionings as the Church calls us this morning to reflect on the historic quarter day Festival of St Michael and all angels on God’s constitution of the ministries of angels and mortals in a wonderful order?

I have four thoughts for you.

First, for the materialist. Have you heard the theory of parallel universes? Or of the multiverse in which at any moment there are simultaneous happenings in St Giles Church on Sunday morning 29th September 2013 with a good, bad or indifferent sermon? Which one are you in right now?

Lay aside the multiverse! Might it not be more reasonable to put faith in One whose throne is for ever, and who in Christ is shown to have loved righteousness and hated wickedness? (Hebrews 1:9) Jesus Christ, whose resurrection lifts human nature into a world beyond this world? Christianity holds to no parallel universe save one beyond the material order, since God is Spirit. His Mind comes before all matter and he has spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.

Second thought for the democrat. It is a good principle to challenge inherited power and questionable hierarchy. That principle has limited application, even in this world, as is amply demonstrated by western attempts to export democracy to the Middle East! If this world is just one section of reality we have to humbly accept our place, rather lower down than we might like, in that full supernatural reality.

Human beings aren’t top dogs. They never have been. The angels are above us, with God, in highest heaven. In scripture we read they excel us in both knowledge and power so they remind us that, even among created things, humans aren’t top of the heap. In the Gospel Nathanael is struck by Christ’s supernatural knowledge of him. ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ In answer Our Lord speaks to him of that fuller understanding of reality, shared by angels not by mortals, which his resurrection unveils. Jesus answered,you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

Third thought for the pacifist. Watch your talk of peace doesn’t distract from building peace. ‘Jaw, jaw’ can be better than ‘war, war’ but sometime there’s need for action, however limited, to disarm an evil power. We are sensing this over Syria aren’t we? Talking at the United Nations may be insufficient in this situation.

The way things actually are, what the Bible teaches, is this. We human beings are caught in a cosmic conflict between the truth of God and those who balk at it, led by the devil as father of lies. By his Cross and resurrection Jesus has shifted things forward. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:9) To put faith in the angels is to recognise this decisive victory and God’s mopping up operation, the peace keeping work of angels and mortals in a wonderful order.

Fourth and last thought: for the hard-headed. A human mind can’t think itself into salvation. God knows this, which is why he sends spirits in (his) service, (sending them) to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation. If God is the ground of our being he is being itself so our perception of him is like an insect’s perception of us humans. We must reach up for his helping hand if we are to leave the limited dimensions of our existence and enter salvation, the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Angels are about that freedom. They possess it. They fly because they’re not hard-headed. They don’t take themselves too seriously. This brings me to a word of testimony.

On this day in 1969 I was heading on my Lambretta from Harwell up the A34 to my Oxford College when the front tyre burst and I went across the road to slide under a lorry. I was heading to keep this feast by serving the evening Mass at St Mary Magdalene, Oxford. The good news is I passed under the lorry though I missed that Mass and ended up in the Radcliffe Infirmary. I remain convinced St Michael and his angels were sent by God to protect my life for a purpose. Four years later that purpose was revealed. I left my work at Oxford University and the nuclear power station at Harwell to train as a priest.

The angels who shifted the lorry, or my scooter, helped shift my career their way. I say ‘their way’ because angels and priests have the same mission: to bring God’s love to people and people to God’s love. We are both in divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.

Both ministries are about serving God and the church so church members are made better servants of the message of salvation. We are all caught up with the angels in worship of the God we cannot see and in witnessing him to our neighbor in deed and word. The joy of the angels over sinners who turn to God is for us as well.

Michaelmas day reminds us how God delights to work indirectly through his creatures, angels or mortals. The angels who watch over us do so as an expression of the love of a God who so many times prefers to do good through his willing servants, earthly or heavenly.

In the Eucharist we are promised the support of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in lifting our selves through, with and in Jesus Christ to the Father whose face the angels see and whose sight is promised when we ourselves will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. So to God…

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Trinity 17 8am The Dishonest Manager 22nd September 2013

Today’s Gospel from Luke 16 is one of the most confusing texts in the Bible. What do you think Jesus meant in teaching it?

Here are some suggestions some of which I found on the internet:

Maybe the point of the parable is not the servant's dishonesty, but his wise decision-making in the time of crisis. His whole future depended on quick thinking and immediate actions. He’s an example of decisive thinking and action to save yourself which the coming of Jesus invites.

Or is the servant, as a man of the world, an example of diligence? What if we had the same diligence about God’s kingdom as we do towards our work or hobbies? It raises an issue of how much the church best uses business sense - can congregations learn from successful restaurants? What makes a restaurant successful? 

What wise decisions help make it succeed – and so on?

Maybe the parable is Jesus’ pure irony. The idea that the master would commend this servant for such unjust behaviour is so absurd no one would believe it. It's a story about a cheater who expects to be commended for his dishonest actions. Understood this way, perhaps Jesus is attacking the Pharisees who made a big show of giving a little money to the poor. You can't carry the name "Christian," and cheat.

Another interpretation more favourable to the steward is that he was acting within his legal rights reducing the debts as he did. Wealthy landowners would sublet their land to men like this steward. The steward would let out the work to other workers. Sometimes the steward would loan the workers money and charge an exorbitant interest. So, in the parable, the steward is cancelling his high interest on the note given to the workers. Maybe Luke 16 is a parable against excessive profits, the same kind of judgment uttered by Amos in the first Lesson (Amos 8:4-7).

Or then maybe the best interpretation of the parable is about the right and wrong use of money. The steward gains friends by sharing the profits and helping out the poor debtors. He’s an encouragement to make loving use of financial gain so as to ease the plight of the poor, even if the issue of his right to do so remains.

Commentators on this passage suggest we shouldn't get caught up in the legality or morality of the servant's actions, but see the point of the parable as tied up in the term "shrewd" which occurs twice in verse 8 of Luke 16 his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

This summer we’ve been reading through the central section of St Luke’s gospel which has a lot of Jesus’ teaching about the use of money. You may remember last month I spoke about the parable of the Rich Fool in Chapter 12 which warns that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions and challenges us to ponder our mortality. God calls the rich man a "fool," because he considered his life to be in the abundance of possessions. His thoughts are centred on getting for himself.

In today’s parable the shrewdness applauded is about thinking or planning ahead financially in a more correct manner through consideration for others which is always repaid.  What the manager did was to guarantee his own future. By reducing the creditors’ large debts he supposes he’ll gain their favour, running with the shrewd assumption that a benefit received invites the giving of a benefit in return.

All of these thoughts from the most challenging of bible passages. Let’s pause to see what the Holy Spirit is saying to us individually through the passage because, even with its apparent commending of dishonesty, it is part of Holy Scripture with something from God for us to hear this morning.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Marriage blessing Mark & Lyndsey Taggart & baptism of Niamh 15.9.13

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

Christianity’s as simple as that statement and it’s exactly what we’re affirming this morning with Mark and Lyndsey with their wedding blessing and the baptism of Neeve.

The couple have known each other since they were teenagers working in Somerfield at Rustington. Their friendship developed alongside their separate careers, Lyndsey’s in law and accountancy, Mark’s at Abbey National, Lloyds, photography and now at Abbots pharmacy and as Neeve’s carer. In my years at St Giles I’ve met Mark as a wedding photographer and, more recently, as ‘the drug man’ on Abbots deliveries. Today is the fruit of Rectory doorstep conversations.

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

It’s that sense that brought Lyndsey and Mark to a civil marriage six years ago and to the Christian blessing of that marriage and the baptism of Neeve today.

As regular worshippers Mark and Lyndsey know that last week I returned from the Holy Land with a bottle of Cana miracle wedding wine that we used last Sunday for Holy Communion. We were going to use the residue this morning but due to a mishap I’ve only got the cardboard box left show – and no I didn’t drink it. There was an accident before the 8 o’clock. Still the thought – and indeed the smell of spilled Cana wine – is still with us on the occasion of Mark and Lyndsey’s nuptial blessing.

You just heard the story - Jesus’ first miracle performed at a wedding in Cana, a village I visited two weeks ago in the Galilee region of Israel. In the story Mary intercedes with Jesus her son to win a blessing on an embarrassed bridegroom when the drink ran out, rather like my own embarrassment this morning. His marriage began with a special blessing from the Son of God as Jesus turned water into wine. This morning the Jesus of Cana will become our spiritual drink at the eucharist as we celebrate marriage and family with the Taggarts.

Being married is a bit like being changed from water into wine. We enter a richer state, one in which our life is shared, in which we lose our life to one another and so gain.

"In marriage husband and wife belong to one another" says our marriage service.

It is not always easy to recognise the claim we have on one another when we are husband and wife - and I speak as a married man.

However if we accept as Christians that our lives do not belong to us in the first place but are lent from God it is a lot easier to be married and lose control of your life.

The real destroyer of life and of marriage is the anti-Christian view that "it's my life and I can live it as I wish".

In truth all of us whether we admit it or not come from God, belong to God and go to God. He and he alone is our beginning. He and he alone is our end - and in calling us to marriage God is challenging us to live not for ourselves as selfish people but for one another and for him as godly people.

Self love is God's enemy and it is the enemy of marriage, family and society, but it is in us all!

Jesus Christ comes into our world and into our lives to root out self love and plant his generosity within us so that we live by his spirit. I have just returned from the place – Cana in Galilee – where Jesus provided his first miracle and from Jerusalem, the place of his greatest miracle.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the place of his Resurrection, an event that is held by a third of the earth’s population today to reveal love so extravagant it shrinks death to nothing.

When Jesus Christ suffered and died God was in him. There was a divine judo at play. Death flew at God and ended up upside down and out at the count.

For when they came to his tomb there was no Jesus. Just a promise, ‘Lo I am with you always even unto the end of the world’ – and so he is!

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

God does not send us alone on life’s journey but in company with his Son. He also gives us companions through friendship and through the union of life-giving love we know as marriage as Mark and Lyndsey have reminded us this morning.

The Church also provides us with companions for that journey from nd to God. We are God’s never ending family made so through Jesus Christ who died and rose and gives us his Spirit. In Horsted Keynes that family has met for worship on this hill for 1000 years. Mark, Lyndsey and Neeve are joined to the family this morning. Neeve’s name is entered as latest name into our baptism register as my name was entered 4 years ago as latest name on the century old Rector’s list at the back.

Priests and people, married and single, young and old we are all called by God to belong to him and to find fulfilment in his praise and service.  

The Lord Jesus is God’s Son sent to accompany us in joy and sorrow. It is he who represents the claim of God to us – God’s claim of love!

Mark and Lyndsey as a couple belong to one another. They recognise the claims they now have upon each other. May Jesus be truly with them as he was with that couple in Cana of Galilee so that they will lack no blessing on their pilgrimage in life with Neeve and whoever is to come.

May they live to see their children's children, strengthened by the Lord and by the fellowship of families and friends all joined together by this happy occasion.

The Lord bless you as he did that couple at Cana in Galilee with the enjoyment of him and one another, and all who come your way, so that your family be made itself a blessing to the world!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

St Giles Festival 8th September 2013


Welcome to our beautiful church this morning – beautiful on account of the 26 village organisations that have contributed to our flower festival in honour of St Giles feast and in aid of church funds.

If you’ve not had time or occasion to contribute to the flowers you’re welcome to make a financial contribution – we want the weekend to make a difference to things here - and especially to the shortfall in paying our parish share which cries out for attention.

St Giles got lamed by a hunter’s arrow as he protected a deer. In the same way Jesus took the wounding of our sins on the Cross – this is our faith – but we have to let Our Lord take those sins from us. Let us therefore begin this holy eucharist by calling to mind and confessing our sins in the silence of our hearts.


Last week I was in Israel. It was a bit scary because it’s next door to Syria and they were distributing gas masks last weekend, but it was also exciting for me because it’s where Jesus lived.

At Cana I brought St Giles a special present for St Giles Day: The First Miracle Cana Wedding Wine. We’ll be using this Israeli wine for today’s eucharist.

It was Cana where Jesus worked his first miracle when wine ran out at a wedding he attended with Mary his Mother. Mary asked Jesus to help and he changed water into wine, his first miracle.

Jesus can change things – if we let him!

At Cana I prayed for a couple on the pilgrimage, Jason and Debbie Jones from Los Angeles. They’ve been married 11 years and have no children so they asked me to ask a special blessing from Jesus at Cana.
On my trip I joined around 750 people from 60 countries and 20 Christian denominations including 120 clergy, part of the True Life in God inter faith movement.

We prayed together day by day in places linked to Jesus starting here. Show Bethlehem star.
The ornate star has these words on it in Latin – here Jesus Christ was born. Last week I knelt and kissed the ground here – in Bethlehem (turn) where Jesus was born in a place just south of Jerusalem. It’s the site of a cave that’s covered by the oldest church in the world, the fourth century Basilica of the Nativity or birth of Christ. To pray in Bethlehem we had to pass through an immense security wall from Israel into the Palestinian territories.

I bought some souvenir holding crosses made smooth by the Palestinian Christian carpenters that I’ll pass round church. Show and pass round crosses

As you hold them think and pray about Christians in the Holy Land. In 1948 Christians made up 43% of the population. Today they make up but 1.3% of the population since many have fled the conflict between Jew and Arab that makes Israel a sad place today. We must have faith: Jesus can change things – if we let him!

One of my most powerful memories was of the 750 of us praying in the church but 40 miles away from Israel’s neighbour, Syria, and for the British Parliament vote the next day. I saw Parliament’s refusal to join the bombing of Syria as an answer to our prayer. Show ‘Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem’

We went back from Bethlehem to Jerusalem so important for Christians since Jesus died and rose there.
Today it’s a town divided between Christians, Muslims and Jews. On the map you can see the bright Dome of the Rock over Mount Moriah, the place Abraham sacrificed Isaac and considered by Muslims as their second holy place after the Kaaba in Mecca. Just to the left in the foreground is the so-called Western or Wailing Wall of the ruined Jerusalem Temple visited day by day by Jews and the most holy place of their religion. Behind it is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most holy place of Christianity where last week I visited the site of Jesus’ death and his empty tomb. We had to queue for two and a half hours! How moving it was to be where Jesus died and rose – it really touched my heart! But then my heart gets changed whenever I come close to Jesus in the Bible or here in the Eucharist or in prayer.

Jesus can change things – if we let him!

My last picture is of Mount Tabor. It’s where he took Peter, James and John and was transfigured – his whole being lit up with sun-like brightness as a sign of the resurrection to come. On my holiday I did think of everyone here. Whilst Fr John was celebrating the eucharist for you last Sunday I spent an hour climbing this mountain praying for you as I walked up reading your names out to God from my phone. My prayer was change them by your Spirit from your image into your glory. As Jesus was transfigured I prayed that we might be even more lit up spiritually!

Everyone is made in God’s image but not everyone gets filled by God’s Spirit so that God who made them gives them his life right inside of them. This is my prayer for us today on St Giles Feast – we prayed it already in that passage from the first letter of John: that we purify ourselves, just as Jesus is pure. 

Jesus can change things – if we let him!

Let’s let him!