Saturday, 26 December 2015

Holy Family 27th December 2015

Imagine a land of pure delight.

Imagine a kingdom shining through and through with glory.

Imagine a place abounding in joy and laughter where each cared for all and all for each.

Imagine a country with no fear and the only tears those of joy unbounded and gladness unalloyed.

Imagine joy and glory and love in that country flowing between its citizens and their Ruler who is source of beauty and joy and love and glory and so gives to whom he wills.

Imagine the enthusiasm of that Ruler of the glorious Kingdom to welcome other beings into the sharing of endless laughter and mutual encouragement, into glorious light and peace beyond understanding.

Then imagine this ruler becoming mindful of planet earth of the solar system and of beings there capable of becoming citizens of the glorious kingdom.

Imagine that he came to us. He came from the glory. He came from the glorious kingdom.

I can imagine such a kingdom and such a King. I see hints of glory in the sky at dusk and dawn. I see bold red colouration reflected in the clouds and at times, as the setting sun hides them, an incredible brightness, an incredible shining and I see this sight as a glimpse of something far more glorious, a reflection of Someone far more wonderful.

I can sense in the smile of a believer something that transcends, I mean something that goes right beyond this world.

In particular as I visit people in enormous pain and yet with shining faces I look beyond them and see the glorious kingdom in my mind’s eye. I imagine that land of pure delight I’ve been speaking of and its Ruler.

I imagine – but, then, suppose my very imagination were the inspiration of that distant Ruler?
Suppose more than that.

Suppose the Ruler of the glorious Kingdom, so mindful of the earth and billions of souls eligible for his fullest blessing, had come in Person to open up a way from this world into that glorious Kingdom?

Suppose, because his nature were love, there was no question of forcing people into his Land but He were to set before us a choice.

Suppose the only way He could make human beings capable of glory was to win and enter their hearts so his indestructible life could be in them for ever? And that whether his life entered a soul was for that person to choose?

Suppose that were true – that the King of the heavenly country had come, had chosen to bring his own glorious life and join it to ours? Or join it to those who would receive him?

Suppose He came! Suppose He came from the glorious Kingdom. Oh yes, believer, He came from the glory.

Suppose He came - that the Word became flesh. God became man.

The Virgin Mary had a baby boy, the glorious King pitched his tent on earth in a human family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family?

Suppose the Prince of the heavenly Kingdom has come and his invitation is before me. Suppose I have chosen to invite him into my life?

Then I am not imagining that country of pure delight. I am destined for it. I have my citizenship.
Suppose the King of Heaven has come and opened his kingdom to mere mortals?

Then I have everything in the world to look forwards to, everything in this world and in the world to come!

Why? Because if He is indeed the King of glory, his possibilities go beyond my imagining.

In my imagination I can’t see a future for this mortal body beyond an earthly grave.

But if the Son of God brings his reality, his life, his power, his joy, his possibilities into the world and into my life I’m drawn by a love quite beyond what I can imagine.

Then, if He should choose to renew his life in me through the Bread which is his body – Christ Mass – So be it. I will not argue any more.

He came from the glory. He came from the glorious Kingdom.

The King who came to Palestine is coming now in Bread and Wine – that you and I may be raised beyond our fondest imaginings to his glorious Kingdom. So be it. Amen.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Midnight Mass & 8am 2015

Any preacher at Midnight Mass/Christmas speaks into a maelstrom of emotion.

Christmas is a milestone in lives and families bringing back memories of of past joys and not least those we love but see no longer who’ve passed beyond this world.

It’s a feast of family. Even now I look back at the excitement of finding my Christmas stocking to be emptied before Church, the pillow case of presents before lunch and listening to the Queen at 3pm all my life.

To enter the spiritual joy of Christmas though we have to go behind and beyond such experience however hard that can be.

To gain the forward looking newness of Jesus which is the spiritual force of tonight/today, our looking back needs to go further. Instead of looking back at our experience of the Feast, we’ve got to look back a lot further, beyond our lifespan and even the lifespan of Christianity to the Old Testament and make its eager longing for the Lord our own. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Those words of Isaiah are fulfilled by God’s speaking to not just in words but personally through the arrival of his Son onto the earth. Isaiah’s brother prophet Micah, also writing 800 years before Christ, predicts the geography of tonight when he writes in Chapter 5 verse 2: You, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.

Micah, Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, Zechariah, David and the Psalm writers, all witness to those summary words of expectation in Isaiah Chapter 9 that the day will come when they’ll say The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined. Israelites held – and Jews still hold by rejecting Jesus - that God will act in the future to redress the darkness in the world by bringing something new – Someone new.

When that newness broke into the world that first Christmas, Easter and Whitsun the writer of our second reading expresses the truth of it in an awesome sentence, Hebrews 1 verse 1: Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 

Later on in that epistle the writer speaks of God’s appointment of Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday and today and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8). Something new, Someone new who can never grow old, in whom we too find newness tonight.

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. Those words from tonight’s/today’s Gospel put the Christmas message in a sentence repeated in another way by Saint John two chapters later: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Tonight/this morning we stand with the eager longing of Isaiah, Micah and the prophets before a revelation of God of immense spiritual force and possessing the capacity to turn our lives around tonight.

The one true and loving God planned and made human beings for eternal life with him.
Knowing that once made we’d need renewing again and again on account of the errors we’d make that dull our spirits God came to embrace us face to face. Love needs a body to express itself and in that way to bring renewal to the one who is loved. As God in the child of Bethlehem first embraced his mother he embraces us tonight/today through the physical elements of bread and wine we call Christmass.

The prophets cried out to God for 1000 years about the errors of the people but into their cries God spoke a promise that would be fulfilled on a time scheme of his own so that as St Matthew says, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King. (Matthew 2:1)
God who is love spoke through the prophets and then as the second reading says in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 

I can point you tonight/this morning to the Bible and its witness to God’s speaking to us over 3000 years. I can point you to the Christian revelation of God in Jesus Christ 2000 years back and the building of St Giles to homage that truth 1000 years ago.

More powerfully and immediately though, my task as preacher is to point you to someone outside the pages of history who is here for us right now. Someone new who is waiting to bring something of his unending newness right into your soul tonight in the Blessed Sacrament of his body and blood.
To be a Christian is to be made new, day by day and hour by hour, by welcoming the perpetual newness of God’s love shown to us in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6b)

Christmas isn’t ultimately about nostalgia but about newness gained through the unique reaching out of God to humanity in Jesus Christ.

May we sense with the prophets that gift of renewal which is ours day by day as we engage with the stupendous fact of God made flesh, made flesh to live in our flesh, Jesus, who came and died and rose, whose Spirit is knocking on the door of our heart tonight/today.

Jesus who came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. (John 1:11-12)

Lord Jesus, the same, yesterday, today and for ever, bring your newness to our souls tonight/today in this sacrament of your body and blood.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for you!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Advent 4 Year of mercy launch 20th December 2015

If angels can fly because they don’t take themselves too seriously how much more that’s true of Mary, Mother of the Lord?

The tradition of her Assumption fits that thought.

The church’s greatest resource are people who know their need of mercy because those who know their need of God draw others to him through them.

We've begun a diocesan year of mercy that puts Chichester Diocese in a special way alongside the universal church. Over the last two weeks in Cathedrals  across the world special doors have been opened.

In Rome Pope Francis opened a door. In Arundel Bishop Richard Moth opened a door – with our Bishop Martin Warner. In Chichester Bishop Martin opened a door with Bishop Richard Moth, his Roman Catholic colleague. You can see that door on the porch notice board along with prayers for the year of mercy.

Bishops are opening doors across the world so that faithful Christians will themselves open more widely the doors of their hearts to God’s mercy.

Our sense of need for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is pivotal to our mission.

I’d like us to make a pilgrimage to the Cathedral in the coming year and go through that special door as part of our welcoming church project.

The more the welcoming love of God gets into our hearts and our congregation the more people around us will hear and see the Lord’s invitation expressed on the Year of Mercy cards, ‘Come to me’.

Notice on the card that the Lord’s invitation is Trinitarian – you have an image of Father, Son and Holy Spirit saying ‘Come to me’ Year of mercy 2015-16.

On the back you have prayers that recall God’s mercy as – paragraph one – the Father ‘slow to anger, abounding in mercy (who as in the parable of the Prodigal Son) sees us and runs to us when we are far away’.

I love that image. Many are seeking truth but truth is seeking them! That’s the gospel, the best news of Christianity!

The second paragraph prays ‘Jesus Christ, you entered the house of sinners, you sat at the table of the poor, you mounted the Cross, your throne of mercy’.

In the coming days we as a church will welcome into this building people bearing gifts for refugees and such mercy is that of Jesus working through us and them, Jesus who ‘sits at the table of the poor’.
The third paragraph invokes the Holy Spirit who ‘pours healing gifts over our wounds, who anoints us to bring good news to the poor’.

Mary’s self-forgetfulness, her reliance on divine mercy, is the gift of the Spirit who is her partner in the incarnation. Without Mary, Mother of mercy, there would be no Jesus, no mercy. Without you and I though – this is the welcoming church and mercy year challenge – without you and I many will lack the hope Christianity has for them.

Your sense of your need of God and his mercy, my sense of my need of God and his mercy, play as important a role in Horsted Keynes and its surrounds as Mary’s did for all of us in Nazareth. For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden. Mary sang. For behold, from henceforth: all generations  shall call me blessed. Or in today’s Gospel Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb… blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

The Angel Gabriel knocked on the door of her heart and she opened it – opened it fully so that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

For us the opening of our heart to God seems more prosaic but in the sight of God it is no less significant - otherwise it would be pointless having a welcoming church project or a year of mercy.
When I read that last prayer on the card I am discomforted:

God of mercies, have mercy on us, so that where sin abounds your grace may abound all the more, and we shall become like you, Merciful. Amen.

I am discomforted because when I say the wrong thing my focus is too brief upon the person I’ve hurt, too long on my wounded pride and too little on the grace that can abound and overflow to the one I’ve hurt, to me and through us to those who look on at us, or look to us.

I am discomforted as I see people achieving so much, working so hard for those they say they love, whose relationships are crumbling because they take themselves too seriously and forget their need of mercy and of their family and fellows.

I am discomforted because I see people with failings whose self importance blinds them to their failings and prevents God’s grace abounding to bring them forgiveness deep down in their lives and more joy in their lives.

Angels can fly because they don’t take themselves too seriously! They live by God’s mercy - as we should!

God of mercies, have mercy on us, so that where sin abounds your grace may abound all the more, and we shall become like you, Merciful.

Remind yourself of the aching needs of the world we live in: global warming, war in the Middle East and elsewhere, family breakdown almost next door – what can we best do to make a difference?
The world is crying out for mercy and you and I to be its instruments!

Mercy has come – this is what we are about to celebrate – peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.

Our welcoming church project is about that reconciliation more than it is about funding and building the north annex, important as that is.

For St Giles to grow in faith, love and numbers we have to start with faith and love. The numbers will follow, and the funding and building!

The church’s greatest resource is people who know their need of mercy because those who know their need of God draw others to him through them.

That story of the man watching another being taken to the scaffold and saying  ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ needs to be ours, needs to be mine. More honesty about my own failings and need of mercy. Less concern with the failings of my neighbour. Fresh vision of God in his meekness, majesty and mercy.

God of mercies, have mercy on us, so that where sin abounds your grace may abound all the more, and we shall become like you, Merciful. Amen.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Advent 3 Finding joy 13th December 2015

How do we best find joy?

That seems a topical question linking the scripture of mid-Advent Gaudete Sunday, the Premier Radio series from the village and some of our experience in Horsted Keynes over the last week.

The Tree Festival pulled people into St Giles and in so doing pulled the village together though its 29 contributors. Last weekend was for many of us a series of joyous encounters picking up with people some of whom we’d not seen in Church before.

The Parish Council meeting we so dreaded, which was for me a time of prayer, ended up being a time of relief for many, touching on joy, with a sense that some of the suffering we’re going through as a village over the plan has meaning and purpose after all.

The Premier Christian Radio series for Advent from the village is about how people are finding joy in Jesus Christ through the church’s ministry. Advent’s about the Lord’s coming near to us and us to him and the Bible says ‘in God’s presence is the fullness of joy’ (Psalm 16:11)

‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice…. The Lord is near’ (Philippians 4:5, 4) writes Paul to the Philippians in a passage we read this morning. Helping people find joy in God is what the Church is about in its several ministries and the programmes build from stories of transformation linked to social action, spiritual direction, confession, evangelism and healing ministry.

You can hear some of these stories by going online to the listen again site noted in the eucharist booklet, but here’s a clip from one of the programmes on how we can get joy from physical healing.

My name’s Jan Goodenough and I want to share about the joy of physical healing received through Christian ministry. My first thought is that the real joy is not so much in the physical healing, although that is amazing and life changing, but the joy that Jesus, by his spirit, is blessing me, yes me, that for some mysterious reason he has decided to manifest himself to me in this way.  We all know he makes himself known in myriad ways, and I, like all those that love Jesus experience this but the joy of healing , well that was special. I was suffering from a very painful back condition which restricted me in lots of ways. I worked for an Orthapaedic Surgeon at the time and he and a colleague who was a neurosurgeon, decided, after I  consulted them professionally, that a spinal fusion was the best way forward.  I trusted them, and was inclined to go for the operation.  In the 80’s this meant a very long operation and very long recovery time laying on your back.  I was 40 and had a husband and three boys, so the prospect was daunting, but so was the thought of carrying on with the pain and restrictions this condition caused me. 
But first, before agreeing to the operation, I decided to seek out the vicar and the elders of my local Anglican church and ask for laying on of hands for healing. They came round with oil as well, anointed me and  prayed. I felt a tremendous sense of peace and they left.  That was Thursday, on Sunday morning I awoke and new immediately I was healed. I jumped out of bed, literally, did a somersault to the astonishment of my husband and went to church full of joy and rejoicing. I am now 73 and am still rejoicing, if not somersaulting.

Listening again to Jan – and I recently played her clip with profit to someone in our congregation with a painful back condition – I am connected afresh with the first reading this morning. Zephaniah prophesied in the reign of King Josiah which dates to 640 to 630 BC. Overall Zephaniah has a message like that of Amos of God bringing darkness on his people on account of their sins. In Chapter 3 however there’s a remarkable picture which the Hebrew text indicates as a somersaulting for joy like Jan’s – only it’s God jumping for joy over his repentant people. Here it is half way through the passage from Zephaniah 3v17 on p2:  The Lord, your God, is in your midst, … he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.

How do we best find joy?

By looking to God ‘in whose presence is the fullness of joy’ (Ps 16:11) Joy, to use three s’s, is supernatural and social and often linked to suffering. It’s not an emotion like happiness, though it’s linked to happiness, it’s something from beyond our emotions that’s given from above. It can be kept to ourselves as little as we can keep God’s presence to ourselves!

We find God’s joy through repentance and faith, as John the Baptist reminds us in the Gospel reading from Luke Chapter 3.

One of the most joyful places I find myself put in as a priest is that of hearing confessions. You can’t lose out when you’re witness to people blaming themselves before God with the simple task of providing assurance of God’s forgiveness.  There is indeed joy from heaven! The discipline of self examination and meeting up with a prayer partner or spiritual director challenges our core selfishness. Loss of joy is a classic indicator that in the core of our being we’re travelling alone, the joy of the Lord is distant from us, and our attention has switched to be more on the problems than on his provision to sort them.

Here’s a final clip from the Premier series to be broadcast this afternoon. After I’ve played it we’ll have some time to reflect:

Hello, my name is David Harper. Religion is a central part of my life - I regularly attend church, I pray for help, give thanks and feel a connection to God. I drifted from regular confession without realising, presumably as someone didn't tap me on the shoulder remind me to do it.  Following the birth of my first child I went through preparation for his baptism, and acknowledged the guilt I felt, with this lapse. My priest took me through some steps to returning to confession helping bust some myths, breaking down the key barrier of how I could go back after so long. The joy was instant, it was so cathartic and healing.  It was special too - the feeling was more real than I recall as a youth.  On reflection, I was flooded with relief of facing the areas in life as an individual, a husband, a parent, a colleague, a friend - where I fall short. Confession was a part of my life I had neglected but started putting right. Sensing complete forgiveness has spurred me on. In my life I've sensed a closeness, kindness and presence of God. What I hadn't expected but did receive through confession was a very REAL feeling beyond the thoughtful and other worldly, when you can sometimes feel distance from our Lord. Sharing the experience with my wife had such richness in our early parenthood but also in our married and Christian lives.  When I look back at my path, I recall people who are present or appear/pop up in my life - like super heroes- to help at moments in time.   I am grateful.  The greater gift, however, is the permanence of His capacity to forgive and, no matter how many times I go back, He is always there, we only have to ask for forgiveness. There are so many offers in life that are quick fixes - but this is longer lasting and somewhat more fulfilling.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Advent 2 8am 6th December 2015

Christianity is well thought out. It’s well thought out because it’s from the mind of God no less! You can’t rubbish Christianity as a blind faith because it’s a reasonable faith. There are few faith traditions so rooted in unambiguous historical events.

Listen again to that very specific account that introduces the third chapter of St Luke’s gospel which is today’s gospel reading: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip, ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

No wonder historians of all ages have applauded St Luke, whose gospel we’re now reading in Year C of the Sunday Lectionary, as being one of them. You can check his historical facts. We can consequently be 95% certain John the Baptist and Jesus Christ met in the River Jordan where the first baptised the second.

You can’t see God but at one point in history you could because God became one of us. John the Baptist was sent as the pointer to this. More than that, a pointer to the one who’d help everyone who wanted to know God to know God and share God’s life for ever.

To be a Christian is to share the baptism St John the Baptist came to speak of, the anointing in the Holy Spirit that makes the invisible God known as surely as the wind makes the air known.

A God we could see would actually be less wonderful than the God Christians believe in. We’d be able to contain him in our minds! Instead the Christian vision of God is one that expands continually from our limited dimensions to his unlimited ones. If you want a magnificent God the price you pay seems to be that of worshipping a God that’s invisible to mortal eyes.

How can I believe in a God I can't see? People ask us. I’m tempted to answer ‘you wouldn’t need to believe in someone if you could actually see them!’ Faith, as the letter to the Hebrews puts it, is conviction of things unseen (11:1).

The question ‘How can I believe in a God I can't see?’ is really the question ‘how can I find faith?’

A quick answer is ‘you should ask God for it, ask him to open your inner eyes to his all powerful yet invisible presence’.

I remember once my faith going right into the doldrums. It really burned low, so low I went back to the monastery at Mirfield where I trained as a priest and asked for help.

Maybe it’s not God who’s gone but your vision of him, the monks said. Pray for a vision of God more to his dimensions and less to your own they said. For three days I prayed a prayer rather like God, if you’re there, show yourself! He did – I survive to tell the tale – he spoke to me through a leaf on a tree.

I made you. He said. I love you. I want to fill you with my Spirit. That he did, though I’ve leaked since.

Asking God for a vision of himself more to his dimensions and less to your own seems always to bear fruit. Faith grows – it enlarges, especially if it is enriched by prayerful reading of the Bible and celebration of the sacraments. 

Christian mystics write of faith as a practical commitment.
In the medieval Cloud of Unknowing the anonymous mystical author describes faith as an ‘eager dart of longing love’ that reaches out to touch God and release his possibilities into our situation.

John the Baptist pointed to God so that we too could be drawn to reach out to God ourselves.

How can I believe in a God I can't see? You need to make a decision. That’s what faith is – an ongoing decision to go beyond and not against reason. As John Donne wrote Reason is our soul’s left hand, faith his right, by these we reach divinity.

Both faith and reason lift us to God and in Jesus God himself reaches down to us revealing himself to both our reason and our faith. In St Luke’s record of history of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ we should see a reasonable case for the Incarnation, the coming of God upon the earth.

Here, in the coming of Jesus that Advent centres upon, what we believe and what we see come together.

As St John the Evangelist writes No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (John 1:18)

You can see him now with your mind and heart’s eye - in his word, in the breaking of bread, in our Christian fellowship.

St John the Baptist tells us so for his words echo on through history in our liturgy of the eucharist. John gives us the very words that speak of Christ’s presence:

Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Welcoming church project launch Christ the King 22nd Nov 2015

Jesus Christ loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father. Revelation 1:5b

A welcoming Lord – a welcoming people – a welcoming church

God loves and welcomes us sinners at great cost to himself.  That welcome is good news we can’t keep to ourselves. It shapes our lives, our fellowship and our building.

The Feast of Christ the King 2015 is an end and a beginning. It ends the Church’s year with a flourish and points to a new phase in the life of St Giles.

In response to the diocesan invitation for parishes to seek a mission focus for 2016 St Giles PCC has decided to revisit building an annex on Church with lavatories to improve access to our worshipping community. This follows consultation with villagers, including Friends of Horsted Keynes Church. The annex project will be promoted as part of a welcoming church focus from Advent 2015 allied to the Bishop of Chichester’s Year of Mercy.

I’ve just read out what we sent to the Archdeacon and this morning’s about getting us on board with the PCC plan that I’m addressing under three headings: A welcoming Lord – a welcoming people – a welcoming church

Thoughts on each heading starting with A welcoming Lord

Jesus Christ loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood we heard. Bishop Martin in announcing the Diocese joining with the Roman Catholic Diocese in keeping the Year of Mercy invited by Pope Francis quotes Church Father Ignatius of Antioch saying ‘Jesus is the door to the Father’s mercy’. The coming church year has an invitation for us to catch fresh glimpses of Jesus who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood. Jesus who is ‘door to the Father’s mercy’

A welcoming Lord – a welcoming people – a welcoming church

Secondly this coming year we’ll be looking at how we as a congregation can reimagine our ministry and make more contribution to the common good. Once again Bishop Martin: Fundamental to re-imagining ministry is the recognition that all Christians by virtue of our baptism have a share in the ministry of Christ as we are called into the life in Christ and empowered with gifts by the Holy Spirit.  The question for us is how can we bring God’s compassion and mercy to bear upon the different contexts and situations that we find ourselves?  Whether in the supermarket or on the railway station, at work or walking the dog, in all the different places we find ourselves over the course of the week there are abundant opportunities if we are alive to them to be conduits for God’s grace and mercy.

The sense of being used by God is at the heart of what the Year of Mercy might be about, especially when we consider prayer, action and fund raising towards the migrant crisis, also addressed by Bishop Martin in conjunction with building understanding in the world: Being compassionate and merciful is about breaking down the barriers of mistrust and suspicion that can exist between us.  It is about emerging from our well defended opinion and views and engaging with generosity with the view- points and perspectives of others. Paris cries out for that more surely than it does for military action even if we can’t fully discount the latter.

A welcoming Lord – a welcoming people – a welcoming church

Thinking about the third heading now, what we glimpse of the Lord Jesus, and how we as his people get energised in ministry, has implications for our use and development of our church building.
The PCC’s decision to revisit building an annex on Church with lavatories to improve access to our worshipping community was made days before I attended the clergy meeting at which the Bishop announced the Year of Mercy. As I left I told him we’d have to rebrand the annex as building the throne of mercy!

Over the last 7 years as parish priest I’ve dealt with many seeking such mercy on this hill with the help of the School Head or the Rector’s tree! Last Sunday was an instance. Someone who’d driven a long way to the baptism arrived desperate and we had to find the school key as quick as we could for her. Over my 7 years we've held two congregational vision days both of which placed the provision of toilets at St Giles high on our wish list. Along with parking and heating these are seen as basic to being a welcoming church for however welcoming people see the Lord and however friendly they see his people a church without a toilet is profoundly unwelcoming in the 21st century. The coming year will see progress towards shaping up and financing the north annex project through a steering group led by Martin Govas.

A welcoming Lord – a welcoming people – a welcoming church

That’s what we’re looking for at St Giles especially in the coming year.We want the welcoming church project to open doors for people into this congregation and into the church across Sussex. The Bishop writes: This opening of the doors of our hearts and minds is key for our growth in recognising the mercy and compassion of God.  This will be celebrated in a practical way.  The start of the Year of Mercy will be marked by the opening of a door, which is not usually used, in Chichester Cathedral.  This will happen on 6 December at 3.30pm in the context of Cathedral Evensong. 

There will be opportunity to link what’s launched today to the Cathedral through a visit there during the coming year with entry through then mercy door.

Today we look to that mercy from Jesus Christ who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father. To him be glory and eternal dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Trinity 24 15th November 2015

What does it take to reduce someone to tears?

On Friday in Bristol Judge James Dingemans broke into tears after sentencing the couple who killed schoolgirl Becky Watts to a combined total of 50 years in jail. Father of three James paid public tribute to the family of Becky for the dignified way in which they conducted themselves throughout proceedings. "Hearing the evidence during the trial has been difficult for anyone, but it is plain that it has been an immense burden for the family." It was for him as well in a merciful humanity allied to leading judicial process.

What does it take to reduce someone to tears?

Thousands of relatives of the 120 killed, together with those maimed or traumatised in Paris by terrorists, lead weeping across the world today, tears of mourning and desolation.

Jesus wept is the shortest sentence in the Bible. Would that those who afflicted Parisians in the name of God could see how the living and true God sees their actions! Their God is no God but a demon of compulsion. They dishonour , grieve and, I dare to add, bring tears to the God and Father of Jesus whom we worship this morning.

What does it take to reduce someone to tears?

In the last week ministering closely to people in great pain has brought me into tears as I’ve seen husband and wife dealing with a relentless trial.

Sometimes of late I've been brought to tears with parents struggling with the drug scene snaring their children, or the relentless work load of parents that’s damaging  a family.

I see God as the ultimate parent and no way as the absent Father many might think he is in the light of, say, yesterday’s carnage done in the name of religion.

Yes, physics accepts in a way it never did so clearly that the universe had a beginning 14 thousand million years ago in the Big Bang so God is a possibility. As Einstein said, ‘The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.’ Does matter really come before mind or is it in fact the other way round so we’re given minds not only to explore the world but to understand the Mind that put us here?

Yes, if we think about it, you and I are evidence for God. There’s something about us and our ability to shelve our own interests for others as many are doing through the French tragedy  that points beyond the animal kingdom. When we show love we’re showing something beyond this world, what has been called the image of God in us.

But, how can a loving God exist who allows carnage such as we saw on Friday night. I can’t answer. I can quote theologian Tim Keller ‘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’. That’s an intellectual approach suited to one of the writers best at putting Richard Dawkins in his place, but it’s no answer to those seeing loved ones enjoying a concert shredded to death.

I see God like Judge Dingemans as just and merciful. He is the ultimate parent keeping boundaries,  grieving transgressions, treating us far better than we are, at the cost of tears, and holding our long term benefit always before him. He’s no absent Father but came to us in the person of his Son to suffer and die for us. As the writer of Hebrews expresses it in our first reading Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.

God knows first-hand what human life’s like. There’s nothing we have to suffer he hasn’t entered through Jesus.

I can’t answer the problem of human suffering but I can point to the Answerer who expects no agony of us he’s not prepared to go through himself and make it a way to glory. In C.S.Lewis’s words, ‘Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn…agony into a glory’.

The first reading spoke of Christ’s love offering on the Cross and went on to invite us ‘to provoke one another to love and good deeds’.

The greatest distortion of Christianity in our age is that it’s a scolding, harassing creed that targets those who fall short. It’s actually the very opposite of that false perception. We hold to a Saviour who wants the best for us and gives us that best by loving it into us and not forcing it in. ‘Love is patient;’ says St Paul. ‘Love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way’.‘God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. God does not insist on his own way’.

Our love for God expressed in the commitments implied in baptism comes out of his love for us, his readiness to treat us not as the sinners we are but as the beloved daughters and sons of God we are called to be.

May God’s love be poured afresh into our hearts through this eucharist  for a world that is needy as ever for love that will cover its sins.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday 8am 8th November 2015

Today is Remembrance Sunday when we remember all those people who died in the World Wars for which the poppy is our visual reminder.

In the early part of the 20th century, the fields of France and Belgium were filled with red poppies. The flowers grew in the same fields where many soldiers lost their lives fighting in World War I.
John McCrae was a Canadian surgeon in the First World War. He wrote poetry and produced a famous poem called "In Flanders Fields". The day before he wrote this one of John's closest friends was killed and buried in a grave decorated with only a simple wooden cross. Wild poppies were already blooming between the crosses that marked the graves of those who were killed in battle.

"In Flanders Fields" was first published in December, 1915 in England's "Punch" magazine. Within months it became the most popular poem about the First World War. Many people felt the poem symbolised the sacrifices made by all those who participated in World War I. Here it is

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Today we remember that out of that sadness and terrible events there must be a longing for peace and that we should all work to make everyone's lives peaceful.

There is another sign mentioned in the poem besides that of the poppy. It’s that of the cross which is placed over graves to remind people of the sacrifice of Jesus and his victory over death.

During the First World War a British Soldier fought in one of the trenches in the Somme surviving 4 years of World War between 1914 and 1918 to return to his native Yorkshire.

He took with him a spent brass shell case from the trench of the Somme. In his spare time he took that case and moulded it into a crucifix, an image of the Cross of Jesus.
Years later I was to meet his daughter who gave me the same crucifix when I visited her in her old age in Doncaster.

Here it is - a very special cross given me thirty years ago by a miner's widow.

A cross made from a shell to show God's love.

A cross made from a weapon of destruction to hold Jesus our crucified Saviour.

I keep it on my desk to remind me of Jesus as the One who can turn the raw material of our lives, with all its pain and sorrow, into a thing of beauty, just as the brass shell became this crucifix.

Through the cross of Jesus we know God has overcome the worst things in the world that can ever come against us – sin, fear, doubt, disease, even death – all these powers are overcome.

Jesus, the Son of God, has been through the darkest valley so I know that there is nothing God and I together cannot overcome in this world or the next.

So on Remembrance Sunday we’re asking God to give help to the living and rest to the departed, peace to the earth and heavenly life to men and women.

There are few more concise and beautiful prayers than the one carved on the outside wall of Westminster Abbey which is particularly appropriate on Remembrance Sunday.

I end by reading this prayer:

May God grant to the living grace, to the departed rest, to the church and the world peace and concord and to us sinners eternal life.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

All Saints Day Sunday 1st November 2015

If Christianity is vitalising that’s not why we’re in it. We’re in it for the praise and service of God. Vitalisation comes with the territory.

You’re vitalised by the friends you keep and being friends with Jesus fills your spirit with unalterable youth.

Our first two readings for All Saints Day speak of heaven using the symbol of Mount Zion the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem innumerable angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-23 with this from 2 Esdras 2:43), In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they.  

In such words centring on their risen Lord Jesus early Christians spoke of communion and fellowship in the mystical body of … Christ … and the inexpressible joys … prepared for those who truly love God.

We’re a society passionate for inclusion but the inclusion we’re talking about today comes from the unalterable newness of Jesus that reaches beyond death to knit together a mystical body ignorant of mortality.

Christians don’t age or die in spirit. They’re kept young, in the prime of joy, by the most precious and meaningful and awesome reality – I mean the age and death defying Lord Jesus.

The church bell rang 33 times this morning as it does before every service because at that age death encountered the Lord Jesus. ‘Who is that young man who is placing crowns on them and putting palms in their hands?’ He answered and said to me, ‘He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.’ So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord. (2 Esdras 2:46-47)

I don’t see God as an old man white a white beard sitting on a cloud – do you? I see him in the 33 year old youth and power of Jesus and in the saints. If I see God in the weak Babe of Bethlehem and the powerless figure on the Cross, in solidarity with the weak and powerless, I see him ultimately in the ring a ring of roses youthful dance of heaven where God’s joy is written large in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn.

It’s the first day of November, month of holy souls, when in the northern hemisphere falling leaves are reminders of mortality. In the southern hemisphere trees are blossoming. Life on earth has such cycles and they’re pointers to a higher realm, revealed to us by Jesus Christ, recorded in Bible and creed and celebrated at the eucharist, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. That realm runs above and counter to the joylessness of materialism, false religion and scepticism none of which come near God.

You can’t know God exists without joy and joy’s the sign you’ve come near to him. You can’t imagine heaven without joy - that is our destiny, to enjoy God forever with all the saints.

If you think about why you’re in Church this morning you won’t have to think long before identifying holy souls who’ve helped shape your active faith. They’re in our past and they’re among us now, in very surprising places. In recent weeks I’ve found quiet joy visiting church members in the harshest of circumstances. It was to people in such circumstances, theirs linked to persecution,  that the 1st century authors of Hebrews and 2 Esdras were inspired by God to write with reassurance about the world to come. Today’s liturgical celebration is given to write that reassurance large.

In the Gospel reading from Matthew Chapter 5 we have the secret of eternal youth from the lips of the Son of God. Jesus announces attitudes that pave the way to possessing unalterable joy with all the saints saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness... the merciful…  pure in heart…  peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10)

These qualities aren’t so much rules or doctrines to grasp but a line by line description of how you live real. To live real you need undeceiving by the world, the flesh and the devil, by a media which at times says the very opposite to what Christ says of the triumph of humility, meekness, purity and enduring humiliation for the truth’s sake. People with these qualities are our best teachers on the route to holiness. They reveal the Lord’s reality and all we are considering today about heaven is based on that and nothing less.

Christianity’s a revelation more than it’s an explanation of what’s real. Like our spire it points beyond the pursuits of this world to what’s real, to the inexpressible joys … prepared for those who truly love God.

Do you truly love God? That’s the challenge in today’s gospel. Without setting your heart as Jesus says, with his help and for his glory, that love isn’t true. You know, it’s the sort of ‘I love me and want you God’ sort of love not found among the meek, merciful or poor in spirit.

Archbishop Robert Leighton, a pastor of great unselfishness, who in 1684 was buried here wrote If you ask, ‘how shall I do to love?’ I answer, ‘believe.’ If you ask, ‘how shall I believe?’ I answer, ‘love.’ ‘Believe, and you shall love; believe much, and you shall love much. Leighton preached in this very spot and wrote on the subject of sanctity we address on All Saints day: The journey we are engaged in is indeed great and the way uphill; but the glorious prize which is set before us, is also great, and our great and valiant Captain who has long ago ascended up on high, supplies us with strength.

Robert Leighton sensed as many Christian teachers sense today that the issue for humanity is nothing more or less than the supernatural and that the denial of the supernatural is ultimately dehumanising. In other words human beings can’t go it alone and never were meant to go it alone. We have within us our own unmaking and ageing to death in our pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice and sloth. We can have though, also within us, if we invite him, the supernatural power of our re-making and revitalising  through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

God who is in us is greater than the evil inside of us writes St John (1 John 4:4b). Believe it! Be loosened from sin’s shackles! Let the youthful exuberance of Jesus shine forth within you to counter inner tiredness for as Isaiah prophesies those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.(Isaiah 40:31)

Saints of God, come to our aid, lend us your prayers, that we may truly love God and make God loved in this place!

At your prayers and ours may St Giles grow in faith, love and numbers into the unalterable youthfulness of Jesus, to whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and for ever. Amen.