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.