Saturday, 30 May 2015

Trinity Sunday 31st May 2015

With God-talk we need less to know what we’re talking about than to know who it is we’re talking about!

I pray that in what I share I can be a window into the God I love and serve and into his words just read to us at this eucharist.

The words were about holiness and love for Isaiah said one seraph called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” and John said God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

If we believers are to be windows to God it’s through holiness and love that show we don’t just know what we’re talking about we know who we’re talking about, for when we know God personally he shows through.

One of my heroes is South American, not Guyanese though but Brazilian. He’s an icon of holiness and love called Helder Camera whose cause for canonization as a Saint has been opened this month by Pope Francis. As a bishop he spent his life in the service of the poor, abandoning his palace and giving away Church property to provide land for the homeless. When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint, he used to say. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist.

He was, as you can tell from that comment, a controversial Churchman, a pioneer of the social gospel in our day, taking the church out of its buildings and sacristies to be alongside hurt and need in the community.

Yet when Helder Camera tells the tale of his life it’s the mystical rather than the practical which takes precedence. He writes of how encounters with the Holy Spirit kept changing him and how a very big change occurred near the start of his ministry through the visit of a French friend. The two toured Rio’s shanty towns and Gerlier his friend suggested Helder’s talents would be far more use in the service of the poor than anything else.  Camera writes of that transformative conversation:  And so the grace of the Lord came to me through Gerlier’s presence.  Not just through the words he spoke: behind his words was the presence of a whole life, a whole conviction.  I was moved by the grace of the Lord… thrown to the ground like Saul on the road to Damascus.

I thought of this graphic description when I followed our first reading on how Isaiah’s encounter with holiness had practical effect. The seraph [who had cried of God’s holiness] touched my mouth with [a live coal] and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

I wonder if today you recall the impact of God’s holiness upon you in your recent life experience? Whether the Lord is inviting from you that sort of painful cleansing as his springboard into a new realm of service?

I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Once or twice in my life that’s happened to me. It happened when I was an undergraduate at Oxford studying Chemistry and stumbled across a Church with holy worship and a holy priest which so impacted my life that I accepted a call to priesthood. Or again when a letter from a priest called John Dorman came rather as a surprise of the Spirit inviting me to consider training Amerindian priests in the interior of Guyana. Or again when I encountered the spiritual force of the lady who in the end became my wife through whom once again my life moved forward in a new and more fruitful direction.

God is holy and loving. He is different to us and yet he is the same. It is his sameness we encounter in the love spoken of by St John. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.  Whilst his holy difference from us wakes us up and shakes us out of complacency his love is unconditional and affirmative.

To use a bathing  analogy,  one quality, his  love, is like a hot bath. The other, his holiness is like a cold shower bracing us for fresh action.

On this feast of the Holy Trinity we celebrate both qualities of God, holiness and love, difference and sameness, and for ourselves the call to confidence in him and humility before him.

Confidence in God, knowing God’s love, is the basic treasure, which undergirds all we are as godly folk. It’s among the most urgent needs of Church members today. Those drawn into his service are moved to do so by finding such confidence, the confidence that the following of God’s call will bring about God’s provision so you have to follow it, at whatever cost.

I wonder if you’re sensing such a call, such an invitation at this time from the Holy Spirit? Don’t neglect it! Follow it!

If confidence in God is the one pole of godliness humility before God and people is the other pole, as 2 Corinthians makes plain when it talks of believers having ‘treasure in earthen vessels’.

How can we be effective instruments of a holy God without humility, readiness to attend to God in unfashionable lower places, witnesses to the humility of Christ present hidden away especially in the hurting and needful?  This is the underpinning of all Christians are about as the servant hearted folk we are, gifted with healing ministry from the Lord earthed in that under rated most humble ministry of listening. The holy, loving triune God wants to work in us and through us. We need both humility and confidence in him to be such instruments. As Christians hoping to witness and point to a God who answers prayer we need to know what we are talking about - we need to know who we’re talking about and pointing others to. I believe it’s as we listen to God faithfully in prayer that we’re best skilled up to listen to him speaking in our needy sister or brother.

We can only point authentically to him if we ourselves are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory… coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit to come back to 2 Corinthians (3:18).  Such transformation comes from contemplation of God as the holy friend he is and there’s no ‘quick fix’ about it.

Getting more of God in our life requires dedication and determination, even if it will end up being a grace given from above. But this much is clear, our apostolate, our sense of being ‘sent’ as Christians, will be utterly ineffective unless it comes as an overflow from what is growing within us.

What are we doing, then, I ask you, to cultivate the interior life?  We welcome God Sunday by Sunday in word and sacrament.  How are we savouring that gift in prayer day by day?  In our discipline of bible reading, study, self examination and service to those in need?

Where people are meeting deep down with God in Jesus Christ and he is taking hold of them, all that they say and do will be permeated with him. Think back on people whose lives have touched your life and shaken you out of complacency and apathy, the holy people who’ve influenced you for good and for God.

Is there a greater force or influence than that of holiness?

The devil is very keen to distract those of us who work hard for God from the prior work of spiritual renewal.  There is so much to do – so much human need out there - that we want to sail out there and serve it without giving the attention we need to give to the interior life.

Let Mother Teresa have the last say. It’s not how much we do that matters but how much love we put into what we do.

Come, Holy Spirit,  through this eucharist and show us our need of the love and holiness which is yours alone so that together we transmit it to others.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Pentecost Sunday 24th May 2015

When God is personally present, a living Spirit, nothing between us and him, our faces shine with the brightness of his face, our lives gradually become brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.    2 Corinthians 3:15-18 paraphrased in The Message

As we keep the second greatest Feast of Christianity we have this morning a theme of light.

At the mid-morning eucharist the community choir will be singing This little light of mine and the Pentecost event in the epistle will be dramatised.

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them… all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Acts 2.3-4

 ‘This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine’. When the Holy Spirit came on the first believers it lit them up. Jesus himself spoke a lot about light and gave us this invitation in his Sermon on the Mount. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.   Matthew 5:14-16

I wonder what you make of that? What does it mean for you to let your light shine before others? What sort of good works?

 Today, Pentecost Sunday 2015, is such an important day I’ve got a message from all three Bishops engaging with those questions and a present from them at the end of the service.

Play 3 min video clip with Cathedral chorister, Alexander Dance, Bishop Martin, Bishop Richard, Jules Middleton of the Point Church, Bishop Mark and church member Mary Wardell

I want to invite you to think a bit more about what you just heard as I give you a brief reminder.

After the introduction from chorister Alexander Bishop Martin spoke of Pentecost as the day when the Holy Spirit empowered the church for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Richard then compared Chichester Diocese’s 20-30,000 church members to Hove Albion spectators rather than players. He suggested we pray day by day ‘Lord please use me today to share something of your love with someone who doesn’t know it’ and mentioned how vital it is we re-engage with the wonder of the Gospel story.

Jules then described her Church seeking to be a transforming presence meeting people where they’re at rather than expecting them to cross a church threshold.

Bishop Mark spoke of servant ministry commending care for the homeless and folk with debt problems.

Mary Wardell lastly picked up on the Prayer of St Richard to know, love and follow Jesus and said without the foundation of prayer anything we attempt for God as Christians is like walking up Mount Everest without the right boots.

Bishop Richard and Mary Wardell mentioned respectively how vital it is we re-engage with the wonder of the Gospel story and that we pray more.

To be woken up to the wonder of God in your life you need to pray and through prayer you also receive more of God in your life.  It’s an extraordinary circle and it’s no circle of delusion.

I remember once feeling God was a long way away and saying to him ‘God if you’re there show yourself’.
I happened to be walking in the garden and I felt a leaf on a tree speak to me: ‘I made you. I love you. I want to fill you with my Spirit’ That was when I first experienced the Holy Spirit in power and it helped me to pray more easily and love other people more.

When you’re thirsty for God and tell him so he gives you his Holy Spirit.

Before Pentecost Mary and the apostles kept a nine day prayer vigil to express their thirst for God which we’ve just imitated and then, we read, Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them… all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. 

To be filled you need to be empty.

Holy Spirit Sunday is a challenge to all of our self-sufficiency. It’s a reminder that to be filled by the Spirit we need the resolve to empty ourselves in service.

Pentecost is something very personal. It’s something that can happen in our lives if we let it.

It’s about illumination, as we heard in that paraphrase of the 2 Corinthians passage on the back of the eucharist booklet

When God is personally present, a living Spirit, nothing between us and him, our faces shine with the brightness of his face, our lives gradually become brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.    2 Corinthians 3:15-18 paraphrased in The Message

‘This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine’.

Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardour glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Rogation Sunday 8am 10th May 2015

Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Jesus says in the Rogation Sunday Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount.

He goes on to commend the contemplation of nature as reminder of God’s reality and presence. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. If God so clothes the grass of the field… will he not much more clothe you - you of little faith? 

Religion including Christianity is an awakening to the presence of God supremely manifested in the world around us, which is a sacrament, an outward sign of his invisible presence. The revelation of God in Christ enables another adjective here, we wake up as Christians to God’s invisible loving presence through knowing for sure our creator loves us and gave himself for us in Jesus Christ.

Experiencing the presence of God in nature or natural contemplation is the bottom line of faith which is conviction of things unseen. The beauty of nature at this season in the northern hemisphere helps us be more aware of this and it is possibly no coincidence that the week before Ascension in the month of May is kept as what we call Rogationtide which means ‘asking-tide’ from the Latin rogare, ‘to ask’.

We think this Christian observance of Rogation was taken over from Graeco-Roman religion, where an annual procession invoked divine favour to protect crops against mildew. The tradition grew of using processional litanies, often around the parish boundaries, for the blessing of the land. These processions concluded with the eucharist and that is what we’ll be doing later this morning, sprinkling the fields.

The priest poet George Herbert interpreted the procession as a means of asking for God’s blessing on the land, of preserving boundaries, of encouraging fellowship between neighbours with the reconciling of differences, and of charitable giving to the poor. The tradition of ‘beating the bounds’ has been preserved in some places and, as this morning, use of the Litany within worship with prayers for the countryside supplemented by those for the world of work.

In praying for the countryside we are putting faith in God’s providential care for it and for us. Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. If God so clothes the grass of the field… will he not much more clothe you - you of little faith? 

Our Lord’s teaching on how faith seeing God in creation counters the human weakness of anxiety is more fully expressed in Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:6-7: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In today’s litany we have put faith above fear as we have let our requests be made known to God entrusting all that is to his good providence. At St Giles this year we have an invitation from our PCC to continue in this mode from Thursday with Premier Christian Radio listeners and Chichester Diocese through our Prayer Novena, nine days of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost 14th to 23rd May inviting God’s Holy Spirit to renew and work among our relationships and wider community. There are day by day biddings assigned for the elderly, men, the marginalised, young people, women, those suffering from mental health issues, singles, leaders and children and there’s a Premier Radio daily bible study and guide available.

May our prayer and contemplation of the presence of God in nature build our faith and cause the Holy Spirit to awaken others to the truth and beauty of the Almighty God revealed in Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Easter 5 Election 3rd May 2015

We stand at an important junction in national life so let’s take guidance from the word of God as we prepare to play our part in the events of the coming week.

Today’s scripture was in place before they set Election Day five years ago for 7th May. What do the lectionary readings have to say to us?

The first reading from Acts has significance for a nation that’s had Christianity in its fabric as long as any other. A court official of Candace, queen of Ethiopia is on a journey that takes him onto another one at the hand of St Philip. Through the operation of the Holy Spirit he enters the journey of faith and is first to take the good news of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ to Africa where it can still be found today.

How Queen Candace’s Chancellor of the Exchequer fared on his return to Ethiopia we’re not told but he’s a timely reminder of how much the good of any nation rests on the goodness of its rulers and whether they have the Holy Spirit. In my election leader in May’s parish magazine I quote T.S. Eliot who wrote of the futility of dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good. Politics stands or falls on personnel as much as policy. I went on to salute stalwart village Councillors standing down this month, Rory Clarke after 45 years and Jim Brimfield after 25 years, whose contributions we have greatly valued. On Thursday we have opportunity to elect new councillors, some of the candidates being church members entering the fray with  determination to serve the good of our village. We want the best folk to serve, those who know the ground and, hopefully, those gifted with a strong moral compass who’ll be their own men and women.

All I can tell you to do from the pulpit is vote! How you vote is a matter of conscience, but informed conscience of course and sermons are meant to be about the education of conscience, which is why I outlined in the magazine three vital moral considerations at this time, starting with the need to counter discrimination against ‘second class citizens’ of the UK and the world especially those who live in hunger.

Our second reading touches on this with its reminder that practical action to serve our neighbour, not least the million Britons now having to queue at food banks, is proof of faith in a loving God. Please read with me the last two sentences of the second lesson this morning from the first letter of St John Chapter 4 verses 20 and 21:  Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

This morning we’ll be singing at the offertory G.K.Chesterton’s hymn O God of earth and altar, number 481 in our hymnbook with its lovely Vaughan Williams harmonisation. Gilbert Chesterton was one of the brightest Christian minds of the last century. I like this story about him. When a newspaper asked several writers to answer the question “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton answered: Dear Sirs, I am.  Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton

That underlines the point made earlier about right government coming best from right people, or people as right as they can be given the sinfulness of the human condition. The moments in the election campaign that have had most impact on me have been those rare ones where there’s been humility exhibited, something very difficult with the power and pride of 24-7 mass media.
Chesterton’s 1906 hymn starts with the sentiment of human frailty:
O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry, our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die; the walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide, take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

His reference to entombing walls of gold link to my mind with the second moral consideration I voiced in the magazine on how our national debt entombs us souring relations between generations and how it’s important to vote in a government with a sound strategy for decreasing it. Chesterton’s hymn reference to entombing walls of gold also voices the materialism of our age, much heightened I guess a century on from his, so that day by day we’re suffering a bribe campaign vis a vis where our bank balances might head after Thursday.

The major challenge in our society has been described as the transformation of consumers into citizens. People resist the call to public service through a self interest unconcerned about the common good beyond making sure they have the consumables they want and the neighbourhood watch functions in case others want to take these from them. The lack of readiness among people to take responsibility for civic life and the common good is alarming. So many of us live in the mini world of our household and the mega world of social media Facebook, Twitter etc leaving out the midi world of the local community including the parish church . We salute those prepared to be candidates for election to Horsted Keynes parish council. As retiring chairman Jim Brimfield writes in the magazine: The new council will have the difficult task of completing the Neighbourhood Plan. I wish them well. This matter can be divisive. I very much hope that any differences which arise, will be overcome by calm discussion and compromise, so that no long term ill feelings will result.

There is a lot at stake locally, nationally and internationally from our visits to the Village Hall on Thursday! Those visits and votes are our taking responsibility for our village, county and nation as the citizens we are.

Let’s move on to the last reading from the holy Gospel, St John Chapter 15. It is an agricultural image of connectedness. I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit

I can’t resist using it to illustrate my third moral consideration for you this Sunday before the election which is the Green agenda, namely looking to voting in a government with evident determination to address the crisis impacting the world through abuse of the environment.  Climate change is linked to human abuse of the environment. It’s good we have grapes now growing in our parish but further south there are deserts growing, unfriendly to human habitation, which will do nothing to arrest the northward flow of migrants. Tackling those migrants is a vast, complicated issue for any government balancing our capacity to be hospitable against the capacity of each national infrastructure.

Linking the environmental issue to Our Lord’s teaching on Christian solidarity is poetic licence though. The right explanation of the gospel is elsewhere of course in its call to intimate union with Jesus Christ.  Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.  John 15:4-5a

In this eucharist we take the fruit of the vine and the work of human hands to become our spiritual food and drink. Though many we’re made one by that Food as we abide in Christ and he in us. Together we stand like branches coming forth from Jesus Christ the true vine and our aspirations for the world at election-tide can’t be separated from that vision for unity. Our scripture readings this morning remind us of how the Holy Spirit can raise world leaders, build justice for the poor, create wealth and a better stewardship of the environment. To find the Holy Spirit, as a rule, though, we need to find Jesus, and to find Jesus and to dwell in him we need his body and blood, his word and the fellowship of his Church which is the vanguard of God’s kingdom.

May the kingdom of this world advance a little towards becoming the kingdom of God through this eucharist, through our prayer, through our voting on Thursday and through a new wave of the Holy Spirit pouring his love upon our village, county, nation and world. Amen.