Sunday, 26 April 2015

Easter 4 Good Shepherd Sunday John 10.16 26th April 2015

Chairman’s address at the Annual Meeting

It’s a great gift to have our annual church meeting on Good Shepherd Sunday with its great pastoral and missionary impetus.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. Jesus says in John 10.16. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

The wellspring of mission is God’s heart for the world these I must bring – and our catching that heart so we work with him so there will be one flock, one shepherd.

As your parish priest I’m Jesus’ under shepherd for us and my invitation on his behalf is to ponder the heart of Jesus and make it your own, to ponder prayerfully those in your acquaintance who are in the words of the Prayer Book ordination service Christ’s sheep dispersed abroad…his children who are in the midst of this naughty world. WE are, in the words of the Prayer Book to seek that they may be saved through Christ forever.

These I must bring… Jesus has his heart on the lost of Horsted Keynes and its surrounds and he wants that heart to be more and more in us individually and as a Christian community. The lost who’re aching from employment, health, security or relationship issues. Those lost without space to be what they’re meant to be on account of pressures upon them of work or family or disability or poverty even. We are to be Jesus for them as he is in them seeking us as in the least of his brothers and sisters.

Our mission, our vision, is God given and that’s our greatest strength and why all we do is nothing worth unless it’s undergirded by prayer.

Last year we made a special Novena or nine day prayer focus in the run up to Harvest and we’re invited by the PCC to make a similar nine day focus next month in the run up to Pentecost.

Yesterday at Diocesan Synod the Bishops set forth a Diocesan Vision for Growth which the new PCC will be helping us engage with as a congregation later in the year. Some resources will be available to help build on our existing Mission Action Plan which is for St Giles to grow in faith, love and numbers

What can be said about these three elements of growth?

As I report as APCM Chairman on our life together over the last year and help set sights on the forthcoming challenges not least in the context of the Diocesan challenge I want to look backward and forward with reference to John 10.16 These I must bring and how that ‘bringing’ to Jesus is being effected so far as faith, love and numbers go.

First the Good Shepherd calls us as a congregation to grow in faith both ourselves and through sharing the saving gift of faith among his children who are in the midst of this naughty world seeking that they may be saved through Christ forever.

With the parish priest the PCC has shaped and monitored mission action to promote the spread and deepening of faith over the last year. There’s been special teaching and engagement with priest poet George Herbert through James Nicholson, the Jesus Prayer through my book and the Advent Premier series and on Robert Leighton in Lent through my partnership with Ann Govas. In October we held a not so successful stewardship renewal. Looking ahead we seek growth of faith expressed in better ownership of proportionate giving to God's work among worshippers, one of the stated challenges on our PCC report. We are also set for the teaching and pastoral gift and training task of a parish deacon as David Howland cones among us from his ordination on 27th June. With Sarah, Oliver and Charlotte he is to be kept in our prayers.

The Good Shepherd’s call secondly to build love in Christ's flock and beyond has been mirrored in the celebration of baptisms, marriages and funerals over the last year as well as in various pastoral ventures. Our church centre the Martindale has new financial buoyancy, allied to its energetic committee, and its use in new ways, and by new groups, like the weekly singing group. The pastoral work of St Giles operates through her School where church members work with me as governors and as teachers of the faith through hosting Friday assemblies. The school were involved in Prayer Spaces and we are talking with the teaching staff about developing Christian meditation in the service of our children. Looking to pastoral challenges ahead there’s a continuous need to raise up volunteers to man things: sacristans, Churchwardens, webmasters, church secretaries and so on. We’d benefit from an improving the communication of such needs so as to engage those appropriately gifted, willing and available to serve into the most necessary realms of ministry under God at St Giles.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold, these I must bring in Jesus says. The third prong of our MAP mirrors his desire for growth in numbers at St Giles. Over the last year we held a Back to Church Sunday and broadcast well a number of special services so church has been packed on a good number of occasions. A small team has worked assiduously to host the last Sunday of the month '5 O'clock Service' drawing together committed Christians from across denominations into a word based format with, as at St Giles, occasional surprise visitors. In the summer the new PCC will be heading up plans obedient to the Diocesan Vision for Growth launched yesterday. This requests a parish audit and identification of one thing we feel right to major on in 2016 in service of our better knowing, loving and following Jesus. This one thing has to be notified to the Archdeacon by the end of this year. We anticipate a facilitated congregational meeting probably around  harvest in October. Meanwhile we’ll be keeping the Prayer Novena before Pentecost inviting God’s Holy Spirit to bless us with growth.

Over the last year numbers of folk have come in, on to our Roll or as new communicants - one confirmed and three or four in training. Numbers have also moved heavenwards or to Ardingly, Cheshire, Haywards Heath or wherever. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:21

Blessed indeed be Jesus our Good Shepherd whose heart beats in our midst in the Blessed Sacrament of his body and blood, the wellspring of our mission, the Jesus who is forming up a Eucharistic people in Horsted Keynes, a people thankful to God, an Easter people whose song is 'Alleluia'.

Blessed praised and hallowed be Our Lord Jesus Christ upon his throne in glory, in the most holy sacrament of the altar and in the hearts of all his faithful people now and for ever and to the age of ages. Amen.

Canon John Twisleton          Rector of St Giles, Horsted Keynes

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Easter 3 19th April 2015

As I looked through today’s scripture, thrilling as it does with the resurrection, I was thinking about next Sunday’s annual church meeting and our aspirations for church growth.

Don’t we need to be more of a community of the resurrection, I thought, an Easter People?

When you come as I hope you will come next Sunday to own your church and elect its lay officers I hope that in the reports you’ll receive you’ll catch more than a glimmer of the resurrection.

People get intrigued into church more than they get persuaded by good fellowship, intelligent preaching and sound liturgy – and there’s nothing more intriguing than what is seen to conquer death.

Let’s look back into the eucharist booklet and have another look at the readings. First that passage from Acts 3. It follows on from the healing of a lame man who went leaping and bounding into the Temple. How intriguing that must have been! Something worth following – someone worth following!  Let’s read v16 together when you find it: To this we are faith in the name of Jesus, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

When God is at work people get drawn in and God is at work here at St Giles! People are talking of him being with them, not least through their trials, as they live with health or relationship or employment challenges. It’s always heartening to me as parish priest to hear of resurrection occurring, of the risen Christ coming to bear on the lives of parishioners very often through the bearing of suffering or humiliation.

Then the second reading from 1 John 3. I always find the first letter of John a real tonic and often pick it up and read it when my faith flags. Nothing to beat God’s word for promise and encouragement – would that we were all more immersed in it! Let’s read v2: Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

What a promise! Our longing for the Lord is pivotal in attaining what’s promised. Beryl’s memorial eucharist yesterday recalled her desire for God all through her life expressed in steadfast attendance at the eucharist. In the word and bread and wine of the eucharist we behold Christ veiled – we could not face him if he wasn’t – but then, on that day of universal resurrection when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

As a church we need to build more of the eager longing for the Lord 1 John 3 speaks of, a longing that is infectious and that leads beyond this world. How blessed we are as a church to have members who long for the word and the sacrament and for Christ in one another. How much we’ve got to learn from one another spiritually! May Jesus intrigue us through one another!

Let’s end by looking at today’s third reading from St Luke’s Gospel Chapter 24 in which Our Lord emphasises the physicality of the resurrection, showing his wounded yet glorified hands and feet and eating a piece of broiled fish. On the first those who were at the Easter Vigil will recall that when we blessed the Pascal Candle we placed four nails in its side to represent the physical crucifixion.  

Why is this? Well let’s read together verses 46-47. 46 and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

The point Our Lord makes is the same point St Peter makes in the first reading: it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer.

The atheist writer Albert Camus once debated the resurrection with French Dominicans. He complained that the resurrection was an unreal and unsatisfactory happy ending. They answered by pointing to this text. God came to share our suffering which served to expiate the sin of the world. No suffering we have to endure is now strange to God. As one of Wesley’s hymns puts it: Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears. Cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshippers. With what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars.

It is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name.

This morning the risen Christ invites us once more to repent, to turn to him for forgiveness, so that his light may shine in us and through us.

St Giles as a light house? Maybe, if you and I become lighthouses, little candles lit from the Easter Candle? Lit with this faith – that the only meaningful thing in life is what conquers death, and not what but who!

In Jesus Christ we gain not ideas, doctrines, rules but Life - and where that life is to be found – as I believe it is more and more at St Giles – people who’ve it will infect others who’ve yet to find it!

‘The source of false religion is the inability to rejoice, or rather, the refusal of joy, whereas joy is absolutely essential because it is without any doubt the fruit of God’s presence.’ So writes Alexander Schmemann.  So then - our focus this Sunday in Easter season is on rejoicing for eucharist and Christian life itself means no less than thanks and praise. Christ is risen! ‘In his, in God’s presence is the fullness of joy and at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore’ says the Psalmist. Alleluia 

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Easter 2 (B) 12 April 2015

Last week I attended Easter Mass in a suburb of Dieppe, a joyous occasion with drinks after showing Easter week retains its religious significance among the French.

Highlight was a conversation with Martin a young man just setting out on a three month walk to Santiago de Compostela. Having given up his job in IT he is set for the priesthood. His joy was part of the joy that overflowed from the Mass led by his mentor Père Geoffroy, the Curé of Dieppe, a remarkable priest I also met and to whom I suggested a visit to Saint Giles.

What impacted me in that brief encounter with the French Church was - I ticked this box myself - a priest enjoying Christianity pointing people at Mass to the joy of faith, and, secondly seeds of faith sprouting into vocation and counter-cultural self-sacrifice.

Martin the mid 20s computer guy shared how the last two years have meant his turning tables on how the world sees poverty, celibacy and obedience. What he shared built on impressions I gained in conversation from 15 young people we hosted here in Holy Week and with my own sons that I want to build from this morning.

I tend to see the young as nothing like poor, chaste and obedient but they - some of them - are rejecting the counsel that money, sex and power are all it’s about and, unless you get loads you'll be a loser.

These conversations came back to me as I read that first lesson from Acts which I'd like us to read again as a mighty reminder of the counter-cultural consequences of the resurrection of Jesus: 

The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

What a counter to worldly ways of thinking be they 1st or 21st century! 

I think of how first of all the passage counters the fashion of individualism by which each of us does our own thing as something of a default, often with the ready permission of family members - like my trip across the ocean to France which Anne blessed. 

To think of individuals and families so impacted by the truth this world is to be lived in the light of future resurrection they became of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions! Young Martin is losing all to have the church for his family. I of course do live in a church house - but I have my own down the road for later. 

Just landing the thought of sharing life as Christians one lovely feature of St Giles like Sacré Couer is the capacity to share our life together after l'heure de Jesu. As in Dieppe the priest here says a one hour Mass but stays for two hours. 

Back to that passage. It has countercultural obedience as well as poverty. As many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to each as any had need. 

Martin has wrestled with what it means to surrender your life to those over you in the Lord. He is part of an authoritative local church, under a charismatic pastor but he himself is under no illusions. Christianity is ideally authoritative but practically it's a matter of putting yourself under authority. He won't always have a charismatic over him but he is set to obey whoever will be over him for the next 40 years.

It made me think of 14 Bishops of different hues I've had over my years, three of Bradford, one of Oxford who selected me for training, two of Sheffield, two of Guyana, one of Coventry, two of London and three of Chichester including Bishop Eric who appointed me to the diocese. 

To live as a Christian, let alone as a priest, is to live submissive to the risen Christ and, in bible based ecclesiology, obedient to those over you in the Lord so that, though at times I balk at it, I, we, remain happy to lay our tithe at the apostles’ feet i.e. that of the Bishop and Diocese of Chichester who have oversight of Saint Gilles. 

When I ask you to accept my authority it's that the Bishop shares with me and it's in the context both of Christian obedience and of my own and indeed the Bishop's fallibility. The apostolic office calls forth obedience but, as I was sharing the other week, the office bearing person is as much in need of mercy as the next Christian.

These sorts of question were probably little in the minds of the believers described in Acts 4 whose whole lives had been turned upside down by what God did to death through Jesus as we read in the passage. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
The Easter season is an opportunity to refresh ourselves as Easter Christians. As such we are or we should be determined to face up to death and other inescapable things in life with an ongoing challenge of the things that deceive us both internal and external. As I listened to Martin I recalled recent conversations with my sons about mortality following their grandmother's death which illustrate one such deceit, namely the one that we'll never die, or that our life in this world should be our only concern.

We have many world views in play and it is the loud voice of so-called relativism that we can believe what we choose. We must answer though for what we choose to believe and a materialistic world view has no answer to a holy God. 

John Henry Newman who's now made Saint in France and England said To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. He also said  Fear not your life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning. Meeting, sharing with young people recently who have seen that spiritual beginning. I have been heartened by openness to the only creed which both addresses mortality directly and puts humanity right. As Newman again said - I read him on my break - The name of Jesus can raise the dead and transfigure and beautify the living. 

So may this Easter Octave Day eucharist be imbued with great power, grace and freedom as we exalt in the resurrection of Our Lord who transfigures and beautifies us as part of his counter cultural joyous purpose for the world, for France, for the United Kingdom, mid Sussex and Horsted Keynes Saint Giles!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter Day 2015

The Pope has declared next year a Jubilee year with the theme of mercy.

It got me thinking of how mercy is God’s great quality beyond reason that is revealed in the resurrection.

Its unreasonable human beings live beyond a reasonable lifespan.

Its unreasonable what exists should come out of what doesn’t exist.

Its unreasonable wrong doings held against us be lifted when we’re sorry for them.

Or that the power of sickness be broken by healing, the thrall of evil powers be lifted by deliverance.

Yet… I believe it is so!

I believe in Jesus Christ who on the third day rose again… in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

In short I believe in mercy.

This morning Jesus Christ shows the triumph of mercy over judgement.

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord Romans 6:23

Death and punishment for wrong follow reason but God’s mercy goes beyond reason!
In the letter of James Chapter 2 verse 13 it says Mercy triumphs over judgement and this is shown to us supremely this morning.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else. That lovely quote from C.S. Lewis is on his memorial stone in Westminster Abbey.

The Sun has risen this morning but this dawn is a dawning not just of light for 5th April but of light from the Spirit that opens inner eyes of faith so we see the Lord and, as Lewis says, once you’re Christian you see all things in the light of the Lord.

The light of mercy!

The mercy of Easter Sunday overcomes sin with unconditional joful acceptance. It does so as surely as Jesus forgave his first broken disciples their denial and betrayal of him.

The forgiveness of sins is inseparable from the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. The risen Christ announces the same on Easter night. Peace be with you he says to his broken, guilty followers. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. John 20:21-23

I believe in the resurrection! I believe in mercy!

God’s mercy triumphing over my judgment of myself.

The lie that I’m worthless, good for nothing and unworthy of being God’s child is countered by the blood Jesus shed for me. Shame has no hold on me once I give the risen Lord my sins.

God’s mercy triumphing over the judgment of others we’re so prey to. As resurrection children we’re not to be controlled or held captive to the judging of others. Jesus is going ever before us countering ‘tit for tat’, breaking the judgemental chains that snare us.

The community of the Resurrection, which is the Church, welcomes every outsider and especially those bound by the chains of judgment and pain.

For freedom Christ has set us free.

God’s Son came to love and free everyone on earth who’ll humble their pride, turn and follow him. So it is that we, as Jesus followers, come to be known by compassion for everyone no matter how rich, poor, sick or healthy they are.

To believe in Jesus risen is to believe in mercy.

God’s mercy triumphing over judgment.

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Peace be with you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday 3rd April 2015

Justine Sacco was communications director of a New York-based internet firm. She was off on a family holiday in South Africa. Shortly before she boarded her 11-hour flight from London to Cape Town she sent this short message to friends on Twitter: 'Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!'

This puerile comment linking AIDS with race had enormous consequences. During the 11-hour flight to South Africa, unbeknown to her, she became an internet phenomenon with her offending remark retweeted over 2,000 times. 

Sacco became notorious in just hours for her ignorant comment on AIDS. Although she deleted the offending message it was too late. She had become a hate figure on account of this comment in bad taste about both AIDS and Africa and was dismissed fro her job in Public Relations.

Sacco's story is picked up and featured in Jon Ronson's story of the disproportionate weight of such online humiliations in his recently published book 'So you've been publicly shamed' which received cover in the BBC Start the Week programme three weeks ago.

Shame is the social aspect of guilt. We are in a quite new scenario with online shaming as it's absolutely free and at no moral cost to those who effect it hidden away behind a million screens. 

The consequences for guilty parties such as Justine Sacco are, needless to say, immensely harsh and disproportionate. Ironically when it comes to sexual immorality in the West people are said to have lost shame. The treatment of individuals such as Justine Sacco by social media frenzy shows us shaming is alive and well and on the internet. So much so that someone said 'Twitter is no place for a human being'. Certainly no place for someone who tries a racist joke.

Whereas the physiological response to shame is to hide your head when you transgress on the internet with a joke that lands badly, it's said to be at least a year and a half before you can come back online.

This image of the disproportionate weight of shame and the implacable contempt behind it might help us see the awesome wonder of the Good Friday sin bearing of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.

Christ committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. Saint Peter says in his first epistle, Chapter 2. When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.  1 Peter 2:22-24

Taking a contemporary incident reflecting our so-called culture of contempt gives insight into the soul of Good Friday which is the soul of our Saviour. The choice of second reading from Hebrews Chapter4 for this solemn Liturgy reveals that soul as it retells Gethsemane in these verses. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Justine Sacco bore immense opprobrium from all over the world through Twitter for her one sin. Jesus bore opprobrium not on account of anything sinful in him but on account of your sins and my sins and those of every age and place stretching back beyond recorded time.

Before the days of mass media Jesus in his divinity engaged not just the sinful space of the world his flesh inhabited, the taunts and desolation chronicled of Good Friday, but being the same yesterday, today and for ever Jesus engaged with the iniquity, guilt and shame of all ages right up to the 3rd April 2015.

And all of this he engaged once and for all in his humanity, in his soul, with loud cries and tears…[and in] … reverent submission. Words crack in expanding upon the cosmic and human significance of the bearing of our sins on Good Friday. Jesus, as Scripture makes plain, bore things in the depth of his human soul that, through his divinity apply to souls in every generation.

John Henry Newman in Dream of Gerontius composed this verse for the hymn ‘Praise to the holiest’: O generous love that he who smote in man for man the foe, the double agony in man for man should undergo. On Calvary Christ bears a double agony of body and soul with cosmic significance.

Two weeks ago the birds fell into confusion and began to roost in the Churchyard at nine in the morning with the darkening from the solar eclipse. Darkness over the earth and an earthquake gain mention in Matthew’s account of today which brought the eclipse by death in sin bearing of the Son of God.

In the medieval Dream of the Rood we find a poem that depicts the darkness of this afternoon and searches as far as words can search into the sin bearing of Good Friday:

The Hero young – He was Almighty God – did off his raiment, steadfast, stout of heart with valour, in the sight of many men, he mounted up upon the lofty gallows, when he would fain redeem mankind. I trembled – the Cross speaks in this poem - I trembled when the Hero clasped me. Yet dared I not incline unto the ground, nor fall upon the face of the earth, but I must needs stand firm. As a cross was I lifted up; I bore aloft the righteous King, the Lord of heaven; I dared not bow me down. They pierced me through with darksome nails; on me the scars are manifest, the open woeful wounds. I… beheld the Lord of hosts stretched out grievously. Darkness had compassed about with clouds the body of the wielding God, that lustrous radiance. Wan under heaven shadows went forth. And all creation wept, wailing the slaughter of its King. Christ was on the cross.

This afternoon Christ is on the Cross since, in Pascal’s words, Jesus is in agony until the end of time.

What was given once for all today is presented forever in its goodness to God and the world.

We are come to say thank you for God’s bearing human agony in body and soul, his saving accompaniment that reaches down the ages and right into our hearts this afternoon to free us from the oppressing weight of sin and fear and sickness and death and the devil.

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

The power of sin, fear, sickness, death and the devil is overcome in all those who welcome Jesus our Redeemer, who bore the weight of shame, suffering, dying and rising for our rescue.

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