Saturday, 29 August 2015

Trinity 12 True worship 30th August 2015

I want to think with you this morning about true worship.

The thought is implied in our Gospel from Mark 7 where Our Lord makes a stinging attack on lip service.  He draws on Isaiah: This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.

We live at a time when there’s lots of talk about renewing worship – indeed our Mission Action Plan three years ago had that as a first heading. When it comes to renewing worship – moving from talk to reality – it’s surely, as Jesus says, more about renewing hearts than about changing outward forms. Impatience with outward form can be godly, but it can also be ungodly. It’s a godly motive to make worship accessible to outsiders. It’s ungodly to make worship bespoke.

Bespoke is all the range. Some of you may be wearing bespoke clothing which has been custom made to your own specification as opposed to being a ready to wear item. Bespoke is no longer just about tailored clothing. It’s about all sorts of things.

Worship though can’t really be bespoke! It’s rather the opposite. The Anglo Saxon means to give worth to something beyond you. Worship is, to quote Evelyn Underhill, the adoring acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us – the glory that fills heaven and earth. It’s very ‘unbespoke’ and hardly consumerist

Worship is about centring on God rather than self though its agenda is mixed.  The word adoration means from the Greek submission and from the Latin ad-oratio, literally, mouth to mouth, the kiss of love.

Renewing worship is about building Godcentred-ness in the church and in individuals through personal prayer. Accessibility is very important. It’s not Christian to be an √©lite community. Yet, at the heart of Christian worship there is awe before God drawing us to submission and loving devotion. We don’t want our church to be √©lite and inaccessible but we do want our church to be awesomeawesome, not awful. There’s quite a fine divide here for young people I’m afraid.
I remember preaching in a church in Lewes where there were a good number of teenagers kneeling with everyone else through the Prayer Book Holy Communion. Talking to them afterwards I learned how they found this traditional worship authentic and intriguing. It intrigued, it drew them to a God beyond this world.

Sometimes we lose confidence in the power of the age old liturgy. People see this loss of confidence in anxious attempts to provide novelty in Church.

Other times, of course, we shirk the duty to make this liturgy accessible. New comers to the prayer book get hopelessly lost without page numbers! I remember a baptism family struggling manfully with this at the 8 o’clock some time back. Let’s all be aware of this, even at 10am! When you see someone struggling with the bits of paper take courage, engage them with a smile, and point them to where we’ve got to!

Renewing worship is a matter of helping one another to get into it. It’s a bit like evangelism, helping people do their own business with God.

Renewing worship means working for accessibility. This has always been the case. The move from Latin at the Reformation was one attempt. Alas making worship accessible is far more than making the words intelligible. Even the truths of the faith can be made as plain as can be and worshippers, this one included, fail to act on them. This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.

The role of the sermon in worship is both to touch on what is awesome, open up some windows to the resurrection world we enter on the Lord ’s Day, and to serve access to scripture. The role of ceremonial around the proclamation of the Gospel and the consecration of the Eucharist is to herald and make accessible the Lord in our midst. If we want to renew worship at St Giles we’re not going to find anything ready built other than what the Lord has provided in word and sacrament and his call for us to participate actively in it.

Just a suggestion. Free your eyes on occasion from your papers and hymn books.
Don’t feel obliged to follow every word as if you were word checking a proof. Try closing your eyes or looking up at the east window. When the priest takes, blesses, shows and breaks the elements watch. Jesus didn’t say read this in remembrance of me – he said do this. The Eucharist isn’t something read out of a book. It’s a sacrificial action. As Christ was taken, broken and shared in his passion so is the bread – and so are you and I.

The church teaches that there is a change, a real happening, in the worship of the Eucharist. It’s a mysterious change which affects the bread and the wine and the worshipper and the world they come from.

Here is a poem that expresses what I am saying:

I lift this bread/and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.
Hast Thou not said/‘I, lifted up, will draw the universe to me?’(Martindale)

Attendance at this service is about lifting ourselves and the world on our hearts with Christ to God. I lift this bread and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.

As the bread is offered at the Eucharist see your life and the lives of all those on your heart as being placed on the altar. As the wine is mixed and offered see your sorrows and those of the world that are on your heart as being offered.

Why not look as you sing the offertory song – it’s not just your money that’s going to that altar but your whole life – if you want it so! There’s the rub for you and I!

When the priest says over that bread and wine on our behalf and on behalf of Christ himself This is my body…my blood see your life, your body and blood, taken up into his life and his love.

The love that descends anew upon the Altar, to draw us moth-like, into its celestial flame.

After the words of the Lord and at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer priests lift the consecrated bread and wine upwards as a sign of hat drawing up of that love towards God through with and in Jesus Christ

True worship is about submission, and the adoring kiss of love. It is about our love for God and God’s for us and our love for one another in the body of Christ.  Accessible worship is worship that helps a congregation see such a vibrant flow of love from their joined hearts through the externals of word and sacrament to God and back.

There should be enough organisation for people to hear the word and lift up their hearts in the Eucharist but not so much as to distract and deaden things. The priest’s role is to be there, but not to get in the way. He represents Christ, of course. He is also, so to speak, a midwife, bringing things to birth by coordinating a prayerful liturgy.

Part of that birth giving is the call to repentance we have already picked up from today’s gospel. We are also warned of ritualism in the context of the eucharist by St. Paul when he says in 1 Corinthians Chapter 11v28 examine yourselves and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Self-examination has two aspects – negative and positive. As we celebrate the Eucharist we are to do so confessing our sins. We are also to do so, more positively, through offering the Lord all our positive aspirations. Are you there now – before the altar? Are your joys and sorrows, your family and friends, your ambitions and frustrations – have you put them there yet as a living sacrifice?

I lift this bread and lift therewith the world, myself and Thee.
Hast Thou not said ‘I, lifted up, will draw the universe to me?’

Coming to the Eucharist is a lot more than taking a piece of blessed bread and sipping consecrated wine. Sometimes the consumerist streak in all of us sees Holy Communion as the important thing – what we get out of the Eucharist. No, it’s what we put in as well!

True worship is about our souls and bodies being made a living sacrifice with those on our hearts, part of the universe that is ours, being drawn through our devout prayer into true worship of God, into the celestial flame of love which is his, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Blessed Virgin Mary: God’s Yes 16th August 2015

Words from the second letter of St Paul to Corinth, Chapter 1v19-20
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not "Yes and No"; but in him it is always "Yes." For in him every one of God's promises is a "Yes." For this reason it is through him that we say the "Amen," to the glory of God.

Christianity – for Paul or for us – rests not on a truth we build but on a God who is truth, who speaks truth, who acts out truth in sending his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem us and who promises to lead those who trust him into all truth. God’s Yes has no ambiguity about it, unlike our own affirmations.  No "Yes and No"; but in him it is always "Yes."  

That cry years back of Barack Obama yes, we can fulfilled now but in part catches us especially as Christians because our religion is a real ‘yes, we can’ religion and our bishops and priests and people are ideally ‘yes, we can’ guys mirroring their ‘yes, we can’ Lord and his ‘yes, we can’ Mother.

Today’s eucharist booklet for the Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary has a Yes theme at top and bottom because she above all Christians embodies what it is to say ‘yes, I can’. [As we just sang] [As that beautiful hymn expresses it:] Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head. ‘To me be as it pleaseth God.’ She said.’

This morning God wants your Yes – a sung Yes in a moment – a Yes said at the altar rail – Amen to the Body of Christ - and a Yes from the depth of your heart, a yes of allegiance to Christ on his Mother’s Feast Day.

We say Yes as Mary did because God has said Yes to us through his stated plan to establish and gather together all things in Christ.
He needs our Yes for that to be accomplished. Yes to the unification of the cosmos.

To say No is hell – the Trinity or hell, there is no middle way - that’s Christian Faith.
Let’s look at how your Yes or my Yes might be voiced this morning.

It may be that there’s a scheme ahead, possibly financial, that’s very right for you and yours but requires something of a calculated risk, a leap of faith, a costly Yes. Say it this morning at the altar.

Or there might be an inner restlessness or loneliness that begs from you a more profound surrender to your state of life. So often the answer to our problems lies in changing the way we look at our life and especially in positive resignation to the will of God in our circumstances.

Sometimes we lack joy and gladness and that deficit traces to a fighting of harsh circumstances that need acceptance, as in job loss, marital breakdown or bereavement, so we pray with Mary, Yes, Lord, be it unto me according to your will.

Perhaps there’s a parenting challenge, a health challenge or the demands of caring for a sick relative that are wearing you down and has bred an anxiety not of God that you need to surrender him. I’ll say Yes, Lord! Yes today!

Dare I say, is it Mary you need to say yes to? She is Jesus’s Mother and Mother of believers. Welcome her, say Yes Jesus, with you I love the One you love above all. Shall we not love thee Mother dear whom Jesus loves so well?

We live in a rich place with richly gifted people. How do we get more of these riches consecrated to God’s praise and service?

Does the size of my standing order to St Giles or what I place in my envelope evidence a serious commitment to God’s work in this place? How does it compare with what I spend on recreation to please myself rather than God?

God seeks the Yes of someone prepared to serve with David as Churchwarden and that is a costly gift of service most necessary for the building up of Christ’s body.  God wants the Yes of that person from this village as much as he wanted Mary’s from Nazareth!

Peter Vince is having so much pain he needs an operation for a new knee. Our lead Sacristan will be off for a month from next weekend and we need someone to help prepare the altar. There’s need for someone to go under Marion’s wing and help with copying service booklets. Or to help Chris, Rhoda, Marion and the team build bridges between church and young families and our school. Or to work with deacon David to build up the team, young and old, that serves on the altar.

Imagine if Mary had missed God’s affirming invitation or said No to God? What would have become of our salvation?

Imagine looking back on your life in 10 years time and see in your mind’s eye the difference you’ll have made as a result of your wholehearted surrender to God?

Imagine how bare your life history would look if you continue to do it your way and not his?

How do we get more of our gifts consecrated to God’s praise and service? It’s a key question the addressing of which affects the future of St Giles because it affects another key question, namely, how do we get more people to embrace the love, truth and empowerment that is in Jesus?

Christianity isn’t just a crutch for the weak – it’s that OK I well know it – it’s a direction of strength to good. So many strengths are put to destructive use, yes, even in this village! Nimby-ism is one facet. We’re in God’s backyard actually, look at the fields!

To accept and say Yes to Jesus is to lose ourselves to gain ourselves and contribute to the gaining of God’s universal plan to bring all things to himself.  In the process we gain confidence, not self confidence, but the certainty that rests on the certainty of God we’ve given way to.

With this comes the Spirit’s anointing. It came with that first great Yes from Mary in NazarethBehold the servant of the Lord be it unto me according to your will she said and the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. She received the seal upon her and the gift of his Spirit in her heart as a first instalment.  There was a second instalment for her at Pentecost and now she is surely at the centre of that establishing and gathering up of all things in her Blessed Son Jesus Christ.

God sought Mary’s Yes and he seeks ours so he can anoint us as he anointed her. He seeks our gifts to be employed for his praise and service.  He seeks our devotion. With devotion comes anointing in the Spirit, you rarely see one without the other. 

With devotion comes anticipation on earth of the joyful goodness of saints made perfect in heaven as a first instalment.

God seeks our Yes before he seeks our success both as individuals and as a church. He seeks our devotion more than our mission strategy, important as this is.

As with the Corinthians and Paul his faithfulness, his great ‘Yes’ will carry us forward into the spiritual battle that is ours and the consummation of it in the unification of the cosmos.

So to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, from the heart of blessed Mary and all the faithful be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, dominion and power henceforth and for evermore. Amen.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Salvation - Gift, Promise, Choice John 6 Trinity10 (19B) Salvation 9th Aug 15

Has anyone ever asked you if you were saved? How would you answer?

I was visiting the other day. Someone was sharing problems but he set them against what he called ‘the happy go lucky attitude’ he had because he knew, in the end, everything would work out. He knew he was saved.

This came back to me as I looked at this morning's Gospel which has a lot to say about salvation and what it is to be saved. These last few weeks we've been reading through the sixth Chapter of St. John's Gospel, a chapter that ends with Peter's famous summary: Lord, to whom shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.

Salvation, eternal life, is a gift, a promise and a choice - three headings gathering up the teaching of St John Chapter 6 - so we'll take them one by one!

1.                  The Gift

Looking over the whole Chapter we see a tremendous emphasis on the wonder and mystery of the gift of Jesus.

The chapter starts with a tale of miraculous feeding. Five thousand are fed - an image of overflowing, wondrous grace.

Then Jesus begins to make many points about this sign, bringing out not just the meaning of that lunch in Tiberias but the ultimate meaning of all things - and how we can enter into that.

The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world he says in the passage we read last week, v33.

The multiplication of the loaves represents the abundance of life-giving grace that has come to the earth.

Who is the bread of God? He answers at the start and end of today’s gospel v35: I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty and the end sentence v51: Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. .

What a gift! To live for ever! Always we are longing, we human beings. We long for security, for love, for identity, for purpose and reason for life - and here it is, all of that for which we long, offered at last - through the great mystery of Jesus, God come to earth, lifting earthbound beings to live with him for ever!

To be saved is to welcome the gift of Jesus, the Bread of Heaven. The passage on the Heavenly Bread interprets and brings out the full meaning of the gift we welcome in this service week by week.

Can there be a passage in the Bible which speaks more strongly about the need to participate in the Eucharist than verse 53 of St. John Chapter 6 just after today’s section: Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

Salvation is about welcoming Jesus - and what he has done by the separating of his body and blood in sacrifice. It is a gift given for us in the coming to earth, dying and rising of Jesus. You can't be saved, says Jesus, by contemplating your navel, by the vague religiosity of crystals and New Age, or even by our efforts for justice and peace, admirable as they are - but by welcoming the gift of Christ into our souls

Salvation is presented here as a gift - and also, secondly as a promise.

2.                  The Promise

You have the words of eternal life says Peter at the end of the chapter. He is confirming his understanding of the earlier teaching where Jesus makes it clear that when we welcome him we also inherit a promise, the promise of eternal life: Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my
blood has eternal life

When someone asks you if you are saved they are really touching on whether you feel sure that your life will not be lost when you die.

Are you sure?  Do you know that you have eternal life?

St Cyril of Jerusalem speaking to those preparing for Christian initiation in the 4th century said we have no modest aim, but the gaining of eternal life… we endure everything that we may gain that life from the Lord… the Father is life really and truly. Through the Son he pours forth upon all in the Holy Spirit the gifts of heaven as from a fountain. The experience of salvation is to be playfully ‘happy go lucky’ under that fountain. It’s taking God at his word when he promises you something.

I remember someone rather surprisingly asking a holy and thoughtful priest whether he believed in God.  There was a long pause.  Finally the wise old man replied - I'm not sure, but I'm sure of this - that God believes in me. Those humble, thoughtful words back away from arrogant certainty and they reach powerfully into our spirits.

We may lack belief but that doesn't stop God believing in us. We may be unworthy of salvation - but that does not stop God promising it! If I know I am saved it is because God has promised it to believers and I believe God - I trust God to keep his word to me - the key is knowing the promise.

Evangelism is about spreading good news, which means letting people know about the gift and the promises of God so that they can choose for themselves to believe - which brings us onto the last heading.

3.                  The Choice

At the end of this sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel we read in v60 that many of the followers of Jesus said, "This is intolerable language.  How could anyone accept it? And they choose to leave Jesus. He then says to the Twelve later in the passage: What about you, do you want to go away too?

When we contemplate the mystery of Christ we should be profoundly moved, awed by the generosity of God in sending his Son to save us and then giving us the choice of whether we accept him or not.

This is awesome - for us to be given a choice.  Awesome, but also perilous for us to be so honoured with freedom to choose in a matter affecting our eternal welfare.

There is a further mystery of how God himself seems to make a hidden choice of those who do respond positively to him, so that our choice of God is almost pre-empted by his choice of us.

What a wonder and a mystery - the choices of God! We are saved by choice not by chance. No one has a right to heaven.  You may think you're as good as the next person - but what does that matter when we are talking about having eternal life with God? Who are we, so full of deceit and inadequacy, made of the dust of the earth, full of frailty, to be worthy of God in his holiness?

Only by God's gift and his promise - and our choice of him.

Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

To whom can we go?  There is one giver of salvation who gives us today his flesh and blood as life to our spirit!

You have the words of eternal life. You, Jesus, Bread of Life, promise us through our communion with you a quality of life that is in its nature unending. 

And we believe Given such a gift and such a promise the choice is ours, to live not by chance but by a definite choice, a choice for Jesus our Saviour, to whom be glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Transfiguration thought from Anastasius of Sinai

What greater happiness or higher honour could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?

Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. 

For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: 'Today salvation has come to this house'. With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come.   

Anastasius of Sinai on the Transfiguration