Saturday, 27 June 2015

SS Peter & Paul 28 June 2015

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.   
2 Timothy 4:7-8

In these words of Paul handed down by his followers - the style of the letters to Timothy differs from his early letters - we have the last thoughts of a Christian.

How can they speak to our thoughts and deeds today?

I was present last week in St George's Cathedral with 1400 people including 10 bishops, 85 priests and 23 servers for the Solemn Eucharist of the Resurrection for Cornell Jerome Moss, Bishop of Guyana. One of the themes picked up was another phrase from Paul of Cornell's labour not being in vain with much evidence of achievement. 

His work is done, they said. Paul's work is done. One day my work will be done and so will yours. This morning with gratitude and sorrow we recall how Fr Michael’s work is done, rest his soul.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith would to God that may be true of us as we approach our death.  From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day and all who have longed for his appearing.

That eager longing for the Lord in Paul challenges us this morning as a searching question from God.

How can such words from God speak to our situation today?
When the tide of death washes over the sandcastle of our life all that will remain will be such eager longing love. A solid crown will be placed on that solid longing of love for God and neighbour, so how can we build such longing?

Spending ten days in a so-called underdeveloped nation has made me see development in a new light. We in England have our tight efficient schedules but they in Guyana still have time and they still have God. I have only ever met one Guyanese atheist.

I was reminded of some words of the Jewish martyr Anne Frank on how natural beauty which is so immediate in both Guyana and Horsted Keynes can build faith and longing for God. She writes: The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.

Taking time outside, walking the dog and so on, can help build sense of God's presence and longing for him and his appearing to us at Christ's return or at our death. Living among beautiful surroundings is such a privilege, and in the tropics beautiful warm surroundings where people meet all the more. 

St Paul's longing for the Lord was nourished by a personal encounter with Jesus that continued through scripture and sacrament. He is the apostle who hands on so clearly the Eucharist, calling us to faith in Christ's presence there announced so powerfully in the apostolic writings of St John.

That longing we have for Jesus, expressed in a moment as we ascend to the altar for Holy Communion, is fostered at St Giles by the perpetual reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.
Since the sacred elements persist all times at the altar whenever we're in church we can sit and kneel as if at that moment of receiving Communion. When I come into Church I genuflect both to express my faith in that presence and my longing for that to be my be all and end all. We kneel or bow down in Church because we believe and so that we believe.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Faith is a subjective intuition making sense of things but like the Blessed Sacrament it’s not just subjective but objective. The Christian faith is expressed as our confirmation candidates well know in the creed, the seven sacraments, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. It is a holding to and a grateful longing for Jesus Christ as divine Son of God and Saviour. On account of that longing Christians are being put to death across the world this very day.

Would that God’s love so permeated us that it would be unthinkable to deny that there is nothing in creation that can separate us from Jesus Christ, even death, even a martyr's death?

Bishop Cornell served but 5 years in Guyana. He died at 55. Over his short ministry his warmth and compassion greatly uplifted the Diocese showing how one man can make a very great difference in a demanding situation through his keeping close to God. Everyone told me he'd left the Diocese a happier place than it had been when he'd arrived.

Ministering in Horsted Keynes has its real demands and difficulties especially the task of drawing the next generation into this congregation and you and I and Deacon David now have a mighty challenge. What we do with our limited energies is important but our inner joy and longing for the Lord matters more than anything we do. Having something of a break this last two weeks has shown me this personally. Something inside of me has been able to expand, even if I've been following parish admin at a distance through e mail. 

To build longing for the Lord and his appearing we need to build and then protect space for prayer and reading the Bible, for attendance at weekday worship, for service to others and for times of reflection to keep all of this in order. I don't need to list the mighty distractions to building hunger for God in the form of the ‘junk’ food life throws at us. 

Fighting off such spiritual distractions is what’s behind our reading’s call to fight 'the good fight' of the faith. It's about resolving under God that your energies won't be dissipated in lesser things and your strengths will be taken up in what God has for you day by day.

It’s the Lord's Day. New every morning his love rises upon us, but particularly on the day of Resurrection. This morning in company with Peter and Paul we arise afresh in Christ whose light would scatter our inner darkness, the demons that trouble us, our worries and grievances. 

This is the day that the Lord has made says the Psalmist. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Glad with eager longing for the Lord who gives us this new day and week and ministry in our new Deacon.

We look together to the righteous judge, (who) will give (his crown) to us and.... all who have longed for his appearing. 

Peter and Paul pray for us and for all in whom that longing falters, especially our sisters and brothers under persecution for the name of Our Lord and Saviour, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be ascribed might majesty dominion and power henceforth and for ever more. Amen.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Trinity 1 (10th of Year) 8am 7th June 2015

We’re thinking later on this morning with our Deacon designate about his ministry to come and how it links to ours and doing so in connection with the scripture for Trinity 1 that is from Genesis, 2 Corinthians and Mark.

We’ll start this conversation with the first reading, a few words of exposition and then some thoughts about the teaching ministry.

We have the story from Genesis Chapter 3 of the garden of Eden - where we see Adam and Eve trying to hide from God - trying to hide their sin and shame behind the trees and bushes - hoping God won’t notice them. A lot of people do not believe in this story, either because they think it’s meant to be seen as history, or because they don’t believe what it teaches about the power of evil, nor what it has to say about pain and suffering being the result of sin.

As one to be ordained David is coming among us to teach the faith. He will carry the Gospel Book down Church, proclaim the words of Jesus and with me explain the scriptures through his preaching. This passage reminds us at different levels of the challenge we have in teaching Christianity today. As Bishop John said when he started me off here as parish priest my calling and that of any priest or deacon is to hand on the Catholic Faith, that is the Christian faith in its fullness and not just run a debate on what may or may not be true.

We’ll move our conversation on to our second reading from 2 Corinthians 4. In it we have a strong affirmation of things which are unseen - the things that are eternal. Paul writes of how when we come to believe in Jesus Christ and in his message an awesome thing happens - we are remade as new creatures - day by day, bit by bit, so that we share more and more in the victory of Christ over sin, death and the devil inheriting an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. Look not simply at the things that are seen, he says, but look at the things which are unseen - the things that are eternal and give your heart to the Lord of both realms.

As one ordained David comes to lead us in worship. He will prepare the altar of God, help God’s people prepare their hearts to offer themselves more fully in union with Jesus Christ to God the Father and as a deacon he will distribute the Blessed Sacrament. This passage reminds us in one aspect of the awesome yet accessible business of the eucharist in which the Lord’s people gather on the Lord’s day in the Lord’s house around the Lord’s table. This has been at the centre of his Christian life up to now and now he himself is to lead worship with me, in Paul’s words, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  
It will be for him to answer later on how he sees his forthcoming role among us in worship. For me it is the greatest, most awesome privilege to be the hands of Jesus taking, blessing, breaking and sharing as we do day by day at the eucharist he commanded. We are to be conformed to Jesus not just in the action of the eucharist but in who we are, just as every believer is called to be what they are in Jesus Christ.

Now the third reading and our conversation will move on. Today's Gospel reading from Mark Chapter 3 touches to a degree on the pastoral ministry of Jesus. It’s something rather different from how we often do things pastorally. Far too much so called pastoral ministry is affirmative of folk where they are without the invitation to move towards where God wants them to be. The beauty of the church's ministry of healing is the way it leads to change in individuals and through them whole communities. It's part of what Paul describes in Romans 1v16 as 'the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith'. When Jesus talks about ‘tying up the strong man’ he’s speaking about salvation as something transformative. As someone said God loves us where we are but loves us too much to want us to stay there!

David will come among us as pastor so it’s natural to ask him how he sees that ministry which is of transformation as well as affirmation. We are mindful this morning of the Diocesan Director of Ordinands Lu Gales’s words written up by my wife Anne in this month’s P&P. She talked of how our deacon to be will be coming ready to minister to us, with service, prayer, and with his own calling, and how she encouraged us to expect that he will enhance our faith and give us a great deal.  But, she said, we as a congregation are not to be passive receivers only, we have a part in enabling him in his diaconal role, with our gifts, ministry and experience – which might entail smiles when things are hard, encouragement and thanks. 

We are to see our deacon’s arrival, she wrote, as an invitation to get more involved in what God is waiting to create here in this place. 

Like a piece of fruit, we must be broken and what is inside us shared, not least the seed, to produce a harvest.  God will allow us to flourish and see much fruit if we break and share what is inside us with others.

In teaching, worship and pastoral ministries may he bless David and through David each of us and through us all many in this community.