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’.