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.