Sunday, 19 January 2014

Epiphany 2 19th January 2014 8am

This gathering in the parish church is part of an eternal offering of worship stretching back to the foundation of the world and stretching forward to the consummation of all things.

Behold the Lamb of God we read in the Gospel. Our Lord is truly the lamb slain from the foundation of the world whose sacrifice on Calvary, as Revelation 13 verse 8 envisions, draws forth in heaven blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever.

This morning we are touching reality - we are drawn to the event represented here that reveal a love touching every human concern upon the earth. At the beginning of a challenging year for so many places the world over there is no more powerful action we can take on behalf of humankind than to plead Christ’s Sacrifice, offering God what is his own…on behalf of all.

To the outward eye we are a small gathering of religious people doing their own thing upon their weekly holy day.

To the eye of faith we are Christians, caught up once more, on behalf of the whole creation, into the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ, through whom, and with whom and in whom in the unity of the Holy Spirit, we give glory to our Father in heaven.

Here, as on Calvary, we see his body and blood separated in death and then transformed by power from heaven. In every Eucharist we witness the separate consecration of Christ’s body and blood. We pause twice in the Eucharistic prayer to recall the sacrificial sundering of the Son of God - this is my body...this is my blood...of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins

Some of us may remember the ‘Seeing Salvation’ Millennium exhibition at the National Gallery. One of the many images of Christ was this  (show) - ‘The Bound Lamb’ by Francisco de Zurbarin who lived in the 17th century.  It is an image that often appears on Nativity scenes, the Shepherds’ offering which anticipates Christ’s sacrifice. 

As Jeremy Paxman wrote then in the Church Times of this painting: ‘no image I know so perfectly captures the astonishing force of the Christian story’.

It was given greater force at the time as a symbol through the images of sheep and lambs slaughtered so uselessly in the foot and mouth epidemic. The image of the bound lamb is one of innocent suffering but, for Christians, never one of useless suffering.

There is a Church in Norway, I’m told, which has the image of a sheep sculpted half way up its tower. 

Only when people enter that Church and hear something of its history do they discover the full Christian significance of the sculpted sheep.

Years before the sculpture was erected some renovation work was occurring on the Church steeple in this rural community.  One day a workman slipped from the steeple to almost certain death.  At the same time by a remarkable twist of providence a flock of sheep was being driven past the Church. 

The steeplejack fell on a sheep and his fall was cushioned. The sheep died to save him - an awesome happening! The workers expressed their gratitude to God by adorning that Church tower with a sculpted sheep. It was welcomed as a powerful symbol of Christian Faith.

Jesus is the Lamb of God whose voluntary sacrifice takes away our sin.  Our Lord on Calvary takes the full impact of sin and death for us at the cost of his life.

Jesus died in my place so that he might live in my place.

Jesus died in my place to carry off the impact of evil upon me, particularly through the gift of the Eucharist.

Jesus lives in my place, cooperating with my will by his Spirit, as I welcome him again and again into my heart in this Sacrament!

This morning we make the memorial of the Offering of Jesus and enter into that Self-Offering!

It is through the sacrificial Lamb of God that we can make a perfect offering to the Father, our sinful bodies made clean by his body..our souls washed through his most precious blood.

How much God needs the offering of our lives for his work here in Horsted Keynes and its surrounds! 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Baptism of the Lord 12th January 2013

I’ve got my passport out - here it is - and we're getting the children to look at where I’ve been: Guyana, Lebanon, Brasil, Barbados, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and so on and what an awful picture!

Did you know the earliest reference to a passport is in the Bible? It’s in the book of Nehemiah Chapter 2 and is from around about 450 B.C. Nehemiah, an official serving King Artaxerxes of ancient Persia, asked permission to travel to Judah. The King agreed and gave Nehemiah a letter "to the governors of the province beyond the river" requesting safe passage for him as he travelled through their lands.

Today's passports still carry such a letter of request. Inside the front cover is a letter issued in the name of Her Majesty the Queen. Like Nehemiah's letter, it also asks for safe passage and protection for the holder of the passport.

In the Middle Ages passports were letters saying which cities and city gates a person might travel through, pass porte is a French term which means, pass through the gate.

So what’s all this to do with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord?

When God’s people passed from one country to another they went through the river. 

They passed through a river into the Promised Land, where they could start a new life as God s people. 

When John the Baptist came to tell people that Jesus was coming he took them to the river as well.  He baptised them because they were saying that they wanted to start again with God, and live his new life. 

Jesus came to give us new life.  If we have been baptised it is as if we have been given a passport, which allows us to pass from living for ourselves to living for God.

At his baptism Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit as Christ so that we might share in his anointing and be given a passport to abundant living!

We live as Christians with dual citizenship. We’re citizens of this world (UK passport) with all its privileges and we’re citizens of God’s kingdom through baptism with additional privileges, what I’ve just called ‘abundant living’.

I  asked folk last week to think about sharing this morning something of what they see as the privileges of living in God’s kingdom, the benefits of church membership, of being a Christian, of abundant life as I’ve called it. One of our members sent me this e mail in consequence:

I had simply never thought about it, so it’s been intriguing me! She says, then lists four items:

To receive Communion, which reminds me that I am loved by God.
To learn from other individual Christians, who give me a good example to follow.
To be part of a fellowship which has nothing necessarily to do with my social life, or my family, or my work, which connects me to the family of God and encourages me.
To know that we are stronger together than when we try to work alone.

Maybe that’s got you thinking yourself of the blessings that are yours!

A Christian is one very aware of their privileges in sharing the anointing of the Anointed One.  We can only live to the full if we welcome and own that anointing in the Holy Spirit which is our own through baptism.

Maybe the church in this land has not failed so much as shrunk back from its task and that we need to get back to basics. That is why we need what Jesus received and offered at his baptism – we need the Holy Spirit to come in power upon us.

Almost his last words to his first disciples at the hour of his ascension were a promise that takes up these first words about him at the start of his ministry: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses he said, as recorded in Acts 1.8

We hear regularly on the news of people from abroad seeking passports or the equivalent to Britain so they can live with greater abundance materially. That should make us proud to have British passports!

How proud are we of the spiritual abundance that is ours through our Christian faith and the passport of baptism?

How’s your enthusiasm for your Christianity and for sharing it? As one who shares in the Spirit’s anointing could today’s eucharist be for you a rekindling of passion through a fresh anointing in that Spirit on the Feast of Jesus’ own anointing?

So be it! God grant us a right pride in both our nationality and our Christianity!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Epiphany sermon on Hope 5th January 2014

I want to look with you this morning at hope.

Where there’s life there’s hope is a Latin proverb.

If it were not for hope the heart would break runs another proverb.

Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attaining her eternity wrote Herbert Melville.

God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ wrote St Peter (1 Peter 1:3b)

Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us wrote St Paul (Romans 5:5)

I am a man of hope, not for human reasons nor from any narrow optimism, but because I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church and the world, even where his name remains unheard wrote Joseph Suenens.

These last ten days I’ve been curled up with Robert Harris’ Pompeii which Anne and I obtained after our visit last year to the British Museum Pompeii exhibition.  In his No 1 bestseller Harris paints a brilliant word picture of ‘a luxurious world on the brink of destruction’ as days run through August 79AD in the Bay of Naples to the day Mount Vesuvius exploded. His book was excellent company through our power cuts and through my cold.

In 1938 excavations in Herculaneum, like Pompeii covered by lava, uncovered a small cross imbedded in a wall on the second floor of a tenement. This is among the earliest evidence for the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to the centre of the Roman Empire.

In this tiny room the words I read from Peter and Paul, martyred 13 years before in nearby Rome, would console an early believer facing death by suffocation. Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us…. the God who has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What is hope?

Wikipedia – the internet dictionary says it is the state which promotes the desire of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one's life or in the world at large. This state Wikipedia describes of desiring positive outcomes is less than the Christian vision about obtaining the ultimate good things of God. As Wikipedia itself narrates: Hope in the Holy Bible means a strong and confident expectation and it goes on to quote St Paul in Romans 8:24-25: For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, hope is a "trustful expectation, particularly with reference to the fulfilment of God's promises. Hope is the anticipation of a favourable outcome under God's guidance... the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future.

There are three key or theological virtues in Christianity, faith, hope and love and it’s the neglect of the centre one that’s got me to address hope this morning as a fundamental element of our Christianity.

Hope in Christianity is no shallow optimism. This Sunday marks our entry into 2014 and a year’s commemoration of the First World War which did more than anything else to shatter the Victorian optimism that stemmed from the industrial revolution and the progress it brought. The Great War was at the start of a century of wars that ended with the Cold War, a century which saw loss of Christian hope and rise of totalitarian ideologies and cynical indifference to religion.

This Epiphany Sunday is a reminder of how Christianity stands or falls on vision, and the communication of vision, vision of God allied to a hopeful vision of humanity, and how the last century in the western world has seen a failure in this communication. A century ago you would only just squeeze folk in to St Giles even with the Victorian extension. Today, need I say more? And yet there are some signs of the tide turning the way of Christian faith.

I wonder how many villagers got to thinking at Christmas about the real Christmas, due to the hardships we all shared ten days ago? When you’re cold and hungry it gets you thinking ‘what’s the point?’ and clearly a good number saw a point in climbing the hill to Church. How many I wonder put faith in God here, prayed to him with us in the harsh circumstances we all shared?

This is the day that the Lord has made says the Psalm writer. If faith says today is God’s hope says tomorrow is God’s – that is my simplest definition of hope: faith for the future that’s to be worked out in love, the greatest of the three, because faith and hope steel the nerves to forget self and deliver love today and tomorrow.

A year or two back at Epiphany some of us picked up the second verse of Isaiah Chapter 60 which you heard in our first reading this morning as having a very special resonance for St Giles: 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.
I wonder if that verse doesn’t still have enormous relevance as a word from him this 5th January 2014? The loss of hope around us is a thick spiritual darkness. We believers, lit up this morning by the Epiphany star, are called to act and speak and be one with the Lord who rises upon us and whose glory appears over this village symbolised by the nightly illumination of our spire and its daily pointing up to him.

This eucharist brings us to kneel before Jesus Christ, not veiled in flesh, as he was to wise men, but as he is to us this morning, veiled in bread and wine in the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood.

The Lord is here – his Spirit is with us - Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us…. the God who has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13