Saturday, 20 September 2014

Baptism of Jasmine Pike 21st September 2014

To live is Christ – or living is Christ in today’s translation of Philippians 1:21 – what does that mean?

What does it mean to 1st century Paul and 21st century you and I?

To Jasmine whose happy day of Christian initiation this is?

To live is Christ. It’s a mystical saying, four words that sum up the life philosophy of Christianity’s greatest teacher. After a blinding light of revelation on the road to Damascus Paul had carried resurrection news of Jesus to the four corners of his world and now he is in prison. The words we read today are a letter from one under sentence of death who writes to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

What assurance! Assurance linked to personal knowledge of our risen Saviour Jesus Christ. The Lord who had said to him what he would say to us this morning:  Your way leads to a hopeless end. My way leads to an endless hope!

To live without Christ is to live towards a hopeless end. To live with Christ is to live towards an endless hope, for dying Jesus broke the power of death and rising opened joyous eternity to all who’ll live in him.

To live is Christ. What does that mean? It means to live your life with the gift of faith, rooted and grounded in the Christian community, walking with them in the way of Christ and the worship of his Church. So says the baptism service!

This is the way Harry, Milly, Anthia, Anicia and Jasmine want to follow and its lovely for Anthia and Anicia, baptised and confirmed last year, to be standing by their little sister this morning as the family commit her to God’s family of which they’ve made themselves part.

To live is Christ. Making an analogy with classic figures from ancient history St Alphonsus Liguori who lived in the 18th century wrote: Diogenes went about seeking a man upon earth: hominem quaero; but God seems to be seeking a Christian among the many faithful: Christianum quaero. For very few are they who have the works, the greater part have only the name; but to these should be said what Alexander said to that cowardly soldier who was also named Alexander: change either your name or your conduct: Aut nomen, aut mores muta. But as written elsewhere it would be better if these miserable creatures were put in confinement as madmen, believing as they do, that a happy eternity is prepared for him who lives well, and unhappy eternity for him who lives ill, and yet living as if they do not believe this.

We cannot say with Paul to live is Christ unless we not only believe in and pray in Christ’s name but also act in Christ’s name, act as if we believe.

Ten days ago I attended the Chichester diocesan clergy conference at the University of Kent. 300 priests and deacons worshipped, prayed and learned together gaining a new sense of purpose and collaboration under the leadership of our diocesan Bishop Martin Warner and his assistant Bishops Mark Sowerby of Horsham and Richard Jackson of Lewes. We were privileged to stay in freshly restored rooms at the University, to be fed like kings and to worship with Archbishops, so to speak, down the road in Canterbury Cathedral.

In his closing address Bishop Martin, who is like me a Latinist, took an ancient motto lex orandi lex credendi which means ‘the law of praying is the law of believing’ and added lex agendi, the law of action. The bishop wants seamless connection between Christian worship, the Christian creed and Christian action. What we pray is to be more fully linked to both what we believe and what we do with our lives and in our churches.

To live is Christ and to be rooted in Christian prayer, teaching and action.  Bishop Martin extended this challenge to us as fellow priests and diocesan leaders to form up a diocese that’s younger, financially solvent and better at risk-taking.  He wants tighter and more immediate communication across the church in Sussex and many more gifted laity operating in the counsels of the diocese, especially in finance, property and liaison with the political world.

Above all he applauded the virtue of kindness as a key quality of life in Christ. If to live is Christ that is to live kindly, literally in kindred, related to one another, to those whose nature, whose humanity we share. All of which is counter to the depersonalising commodification of the person that afflicts our culture.

The German philosopher Nietzche was no friend of Christianity and famously said: Show me that you are redeemed and then I will believe in your redeemer. He had a point. St Augustine was fully aware of that point 1500 years before him when he said No fragrance can be more pleasing to God than that of his own Son. May all the faithful breathe out the same perfume. If to live is Christ it is to be Christ to others through kindness.

To live is Christ which means not as mean-spirited, narrow-mind sour pusses lacking in mercy but as those who know forgiveness from God and who show it to others.

I know that my redeemer lives said Job in words prophesying Christ’s resurrection. To know that redeemer and his redemption from the tendency within to harm others is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is also the basis of hope in the face of death, as Paul adds, after saying to live is Christ, to die is gain. We are in life if we’re in Christ, life that can never die, eternal life.

Your way leads to a hopeless end. My way leads to an endless hope!

God’s nothing to do with death he’s our life and hope for ever!

To live is Christ is to know that life, to know that your redeemer lives, that he is your redeemer and that he lives in you by the grace and the fruit of baptism.

It’s to be the fragrance of Christ, giving people opportunity to breath in the perfume of his Spirit’s work in our lives.

To the joyless we bring joy, to the loveless we bring love to the unforgiving we bring forgiveness.

May such grace be ours through the eucharist we celebrate this morning.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

St Giles Festival Finding Sanctuary 8am 14th September 2014

For a thousand years from the reign of King Ethelbert in 600 to that of King James 1 those fleeing persecution could make for the nearest assigned church and sit down on the sanctuary stool to be home and dry.  St Giles was one of twenty churches in the diocese of Chichester designated a sanctuary for fugitives. This meant individuals being pursued by lynch mobs could enter church and once there, made subject to royal adjudication, be spared rough justice whilst tempers cooled. The idea of sanctuary links to the holiness people associate with church buildings so any violence within them is seen as sacrilege, an affront to God the source of holiness punishable by excommunication from his church.

Today we keep the festival of St Giles who’s a saint linked to giving sanctuary to beggars and cripples. Our statue - and our wooden medallion of St Giles besides the organ - shows him stuck with an arrow in the company of a deer. The story runs that Giles (c650-c710) lived for a time in southern France as a hermit in the forest near Nîmes with the sole company of a deer who sustained him on her milk. His retreat is rudely broken by royal hunters bent on pursuing the deer back to the King. They shoot an arrow that wounds the saint instead of the deer so, paradoxically Giles became patron of both cripples and hunters.

The medallion shows the saint protecting the deer whilst impaled by the arrow, so Giles is made a symbol of Christ whose sufferings are borne on our behalf.  According to the legend, Giles’s Christ-like humility so impressed the king he built him the monastery at Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, where his community lived under the rule of St Benedict. The saint died there around 710 with a reputation for holiness and miracles.

In the Middle Ages people saved their lives by running into St Giles to find sanctuary. As St Giles rescued the deer his Church in Horsted Keynes has been a safe place for thousands over as many years.

I want to think for a bit about what it is to find sanctuary.

The Oxford dictionary has these four definitions: Refuge or safety from pursuit, persecution, or other danger: A place where injured or unwanted animals of a specified kind are cared for: A holy place; a temple: The inmost recess or holiest part of a temple: The part of the chancel of a church containing the high altar.

Elsewhere I found these synonyms: refugehavenharbour, port in a storm, oasisshelterretreat, bolt hole, foxholehideouthiding placehideawaydenasylumsafe housefastness.

Today people find sanctuary in St Giles Church as they flee not from lynch mobs but from the pressures of 21st century living.

We have evidence for this at the back of Church in the visitors book.

Here are some comments. Read comments from visitors’ book.

I have here a book by a monk from Worth Abbey, Fr Christopher Jamison, itself entitled Finding Sanctuary. Show Finding Sanctuary and read inside flap

I lend this book to spiritual seekers looking for ways ‘to find spiritual space and peace in the busy, and often confusing modern world’. It speaks of the value of finding sanctuary both in silent contemplative prayer and in the warmth of a Christian community.

The book’s first chapter is entitled ‘How did I get this busy. Reading p13-14 of Finding Sanctuary

The book goes on to commend the pursuit of holiness rather than busyness and it proved an inspiration to me when I read it 8 years ago. It was the basis of the TV series called the Monastery and has a sequel called Finding Happiness.

 As a new term starts in many senses, not just next door, we have opportunity to start as we mean to go on finding sanctuary in the basic spiritual disciplines of our Christian faith.

Last week I was sharing about these disciplines and I’ll list them again in a moment before we have a time of quiet reflection.

They’re paralleled by our Muslim sisters and brothers whose Five Pillars consist of knowing their creed,  praying five times each day, giving to the poor and needy, fasting during the month of Ramadan and making pilgrimage to Mecca.

Here are five pillars for Christians that are listed on the news sheet:

Pray every day. Read your bible. Attend eucharist every Sunday wherever you are unless very seriously hindered. Confess your sins. Give your money to serve God’s work.

Just as people have found sanctuary for centuries in St Giles we can find sanctuary in God at all times and in all places.

Let’s pray now, mindful of the challenge of our patronal feast to fresh spiritual discipline, as we find sanctuary once more in the silence of this building that’s given sanctuary to so many over its thousand year existence.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Trinity 12 (23rd of Year A) Discipline 7th September 2014

At my ordination as a priest 37 years ago the Bishop asked me this question in Sheffield Cathedral: Will you give your faithful diligence … to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded?

I replied with the others: I will so do, by the help of the Lord.

This commitment came back to me as I looked through the readings for Trinity 12 that focus on church discipline.  The reading from Ezekiel Chapter 33 reminds the prophet of his watchman role which connects with the gospel passage from Matthew 18 with its instruction about fraternal correction in the Church.

The reformed Christian tradition of which the Church of England is part emphasizes discipline alongside word and sacrament as foundational to church life. At their ordination therefore priests and bishops commit themselves to teach, lead worship and pastor the flocks committed to them.

Among other words from the ordination service that stick with me – I read them every year before the renewal of priestly vows at the Chrism eucharist with the diocesan Bishop in Holy Week – are these: Have always… printed in your remembrance how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The Church and Congregation whom you must serve is his Spouse, and his Body. And if it shall happen the same Church, or any Member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue.

As we heard warning in the first reading to the sentinel priest Ezekiel their blood I will require at your hand. Neglect of Christ’s flock purchased at the price of his own blood is as serious a thing as you can imagine. It has made me a priest more concerned to feed the sheep than entertain the goats. Not that it’s easy to do so, to teach Christianity, let alone to minister the discipline of Christ. It would be more attractive to prop up the bar at the Green Man, not that goats are only found in pubs! And, if I’m honest, the Green Man has no Harvey’s!

What is the discipline of Christ? How do I teach it?

Pray every day. Read your bible. Attend eucharist every Sunday wherever you are unless very seriously hindered. Confess your sins. Give your money to serve God’s work.

These five Christian duties are the basic disciplines Christians are under which I announce to you irregularly. I also announce Feast Days but rarely do I encourage you to fast on Fridays though I do so now. As Sunday’s meal is resurrection festive Friday’s  simple fare honours Jesus who died for us.

We need these disciplines. They’re paralleled by our Muslim sisters and brothers whose Five Pillars consist of knowing their creed,  praying five times each day, giving to the poor and needy, fasting during the month of Ramadan and making pilgrimage to Mecca.

Oh that you and I had the fervour and discipline of Islam!

Back to the scriptures! The Gospel reading makes clear that discipline in the Church isn’t just from the church pastor but fraternal, that is carried and promoted by all church members. If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. We are all involved in church discipline and not just the priest. He of course is under a special discipline himself being accountable to God through the Bishop. At St Giles we have a Churchwarden, David Lamb, a lay officer of the Bishop, with me, sharing leadership and oversight of our congregation.

If there are sick needing visiting, grieved needing counsel, church members who’ve fallen away or whatever we all share responsibility for them, according to the Gospel. However, according to the first reading and the ordination service, there is a special responsibility that lies with the priest and to a lesser extent the Churchwarden.

At my ordination the Bishop said these words from St John’s Gospel Chapter 20 echoed at the end of today’s Gospel from Matthew 18: Receive the holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Awesome words – what dignity, what responsibility! Also behind my preference to be called Father John since to imagine John Twisleton could do what a priest does is fanciful and irreverent for I can change no bread and wine or penitent heart.

Tomorrow I go to the University of Kent with the 300 licensed priests of our diocese for our clergy conference. Please pray for us, for me and for all who minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ. Pray that we may believe in our priesthood and love our people.

May we truly believe Christ’s doctrine, enter more fully into the awe of the sacraments and live more fully under the discipline of Christ so we priests who minister in God’s temple…may say and sing with our lips [what] we believe in our hearts, and show [that faith] forth in our lives.

Today’s  Gospel ends with a promise to all Christians which has echoes of the ordination rite. Our Lord says whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Where Christians are united, where they accept a mutual discipline of prayer, devotion to God’s word, attendance at the eucharist, mutual forgiveness and sacrificial giving the Holy Spirit can come in power among them. Part of that unity is obedience to our leaders in all things lawful and honest, you to me and me to the bishop. As St Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 

Indeed may peace be with us, respect for one another, priest and people, and agreement together in a common discipline so that where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, he may be among us. We have heard his word and approach the sacrament but let’s now take a moment to think of and renew commitment to the five Christian  disciplines I mentioned:  daily prayer, reading our bible, Sunday eucharist, confession of our sins and giving money to serve God’s work.