Sunday, 24 January 2016

Education Sunday – 24 January 2016 (Deacon David Howland)

 Jesus was a teacher. We have just heard in our gospel reading that Jesus taught in the synagogues and everyone praised him. In St Mark’s gospel, we read that he entered the synagogue in Capernaum and taught and they were astounded at his teaching for he taught as one having authority (Mark 1:21-22). In our first reading, St Paul writing to the church in Corinth speaks about how all our individual gifts, abilities and callings are required to form the whole body of Christ, that is the Church of which Jesus is the head. Teachers are the third of the named callings but there is no indication that the order in which they are described relates to their importance. Indeed, one is not more important than the other, for all are required to make the body function and be whole.

God was a teacher. Jesus was a teacher. The Old Testament is full of God teaching his chosen people; from the garden of Eden to the Ten Commandments and through the prophets and then in the gospels we have the stories of Jesus teaching in the synagogues. Teaching is important so it is worth us celebrating teaching and the wider context of education, acknowledging the contribution that St Giles School and all schools make in the development of young people.

Back in 1451, I am sure you remember it well! Pope Nicholas V described education as ‘the profession of hope in the service of others’. The ‘profession of hope in the service of others’. It is the means by which other people’s dreams can be stirred up. It is the means of achieving social inclusion, raising aspirations, equipping people with the skills, techniques and means of acquiring knowledge to improve their situation. Teaching gives people the opportunity to shape the future of others – some call it a threshold adventure.

Three years ago I was at our Local Authority’s conference for school business managers and we were very fortunate to have Sir John Jones talk to us. Sir John was headteacher of three secondary schools over a 17 year period and has since informed Government policy on a range of issues related to education including poverty and social inclusion. He is a straight-talking Mersey-sider with a passion not only for Everton Football club but he also has a passionate belief in improving the chances of children through great teaching. He calls great teachers ‘magic weavers’, magic weavers. They are the people who can get alongside a child, spark a flame and kindle that small flame into something larger. They are the teachers that you remember – you remember them not for what they taught you, not the facts or the learning techniques, but for how they made you feel. Great schools and great teachers build powerful lifelong memories.

Sir John talks about how creativity can tend to get stifled by the straight-jacket of a strict curriculum and over-enthusiastic testing regimes. Children are naturally creative; if you ask a class of six year olds if they can draw, they will probably all put their hands up but if you ask a similar class of 11-year olds you might be lucky to get into double figures. There is a story of how during a visit to a classroom another renowned educator (this time from Liverpool) asked a young girl what she was doing. “I’m just drawing God” came the nonchalant reply. “Wow!” said the teacher, “nobody knows what God looks like.” “Well,” the girl replied, not looking up from the page, “you will in a minute.” How exciting it would be if we could keep that sort of thinking and creativity in every child not just in childhood but into adulthood as well.

Teachers and indeed all places of learning do more than just teach or enable learning; they nurture people, they develop people, they expand horizons, they guide people, they participate in God’s on-going creation and, yes, they also admonish. Teachers are like a parent, mentor, coach, carer and lawyer rolled into one. It seems to me that they have a model in Jesus. A model in God the Father, we see what God is like by the example of Jesus, by the life he led, by the way he taught and the things he taught. Teachers and good schools are co-workers with all of us in trying to help build and establish God’s kingdom here on earth. The church has a long tradition of providing and promoting education for all. I pray that it will continue to do so in these challenging times ahead so that all God’s children, us included, can flourish and grow to be more like Him who created us.

I want to finish with one more story and a quotation from Sir John Jones that illustrates the beauty of magic weaving. When Sir Christopher Wren had been commissioned to build St Paul’s cathedral after the Great Fire of London, he visited the site in 1671 and observed three brick layers. One was crouched down, the second was half-standing, while the third was working feverishly.

“What are you doing?” Wren asked the men.

“Laying bricks,” the first replied.

“Making a living,” answered the second.

The third paused from his labour and explained that he was helping to build a cathedral and that one day people would come to pray to God in the cathedral that he had helped to build.

So, remember your magic-weavers, if you can, find them and thank them for they were not just laying bricks nor earning money, they were helping to build your cathedral.

May God help each of us to help build someone else’s cathedral. Amen.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Baptism of the Lord 10.1.16

John the Baptist said, ‘I have baptised you with water;… but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit Luke 3:16

Why do we need the Holy Spirit?

To pray, to love, to serve, to evangelise, to be obedient, to forgive, to heal…
Without the Holy Spirit:
God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a dead letter,
the Church is simply an organisation,
authority is a matter of domination,
mission is a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy no more than an evocation,
Christian living a slave morality.

But in the Holy Spirit:
the risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating service,
mission is a Pentecost,
the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,
human action is deified.
(Words for Pentecost Sunday from the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras)

As baptised, confirmed - and some of us - ordained Christians we possess the Holy Spirit!

We possess the Spirit - but does he possess us? That is the key to a spiritual vitality!
As Our Lord says in St John Chapter 7:37-39 If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.
Our renewal in the Holy Spirit is about the releasing of the life of the Spirit within us.

The late Dom Ian Petit of Ampleforth wrote these words in his book You Will Receive Power: Baptism and Confirmation confer a supernatural gift, but ignorance or lack of understanding of the gift, can block its full effect. In other words, while the sacrament is valid and has been given, the effect has been blocked. When the block is removed then the full effect floods in... baptism in the Holy Spirit… an opportunity for awakening in (people) their sacraments of initiation..

The New Year begins with a liturgical reminder about our ongoing need for this unblocking and awakening to the power of the Holy Spirit who visits us in every Eucharist. We have the possibility after the sermon of receiving anointing on our foreheads with the oil blessed by the Bishop for use at baptism, confirmation and ordination. We call it chrism oil and it represents the anointing in the Holy Spirit given in baptism, confirmation and ordination. We are allowed to use it occasionally to express and effect the renewal of faith and baptism as this morning.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the grand reminder that Christians are people who have woken up to Jesus and to the Gift of the Holy Spirit, to the living God - nothing less.

An awakening to the Spirit, a releasing of the Spirit, an unblocking of his flow – this is the invitation and challenge of today’s Feast! 

There is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and it confers the Holy Spirit. A gift though is given that needs to be received. For Christians to seek the renewing power of the Spirit – as we do as we receive Holy Communion every Sunday - is a matter of seeking to be more fully what we are in Christ and nothing more or less than that!

We want to be a people that live knowing their need of grace!

The Spirit is waiting to confirm to us the same words that were spoken to Our Lord at his baptism: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Christians share in the anointing of the Anointed One – Jesus is the Christ or Anointed One so he can share his anointing with us and speak into our hearts those words of adoption: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.

There’s a great tale from C.S. Lewis' about a doubting Bishop. Lewis once imagined an additional scene at the Marriage at Cana - a sceptical bishop sitting further down the table from Our Lord and Our Lady. There are the guests with the water turned into wine. As everyone enjoys the new wine of the Kingdom Feast the doubting bishop is holding up his glass and scrutinising, "How can this be? How can water become wine? How can the philosophical difficulties about an interventionist God be overcome? Is this some sort of conjuring trick?" All the while the rest of them at table are drinking up the Spirit in whatever sense you like!

There are many who make an 11th Commandment Thou shalt not commit thyself!  Such folk – and they are around in the Church today – miss out on Christian basics, on the empowering promised in today’s feast.

If you hesitate about coming forward this morning shelve your doubts!

Be open to the touch of the Lord through his Church.

I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. This baptism or gift of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing reality for those who will commit themselves. The Gift is not so much a once for all thing or commodity but rather something dynamic and ongoing.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a process in which the relationship that opens up at Baptism involves an ongoing flow of love, praise and power leading into ongoing consecration in the Truth.

It is worth recalling that though Our Lord himself was conceived by the Holy Spirit he waited 30 years for his Baptism in Jordan. So it can be – as it was for me and can be for you- that though I had received the Spirit through Infant Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination the first deep experience came many years later – and through, of all things, a crisis of faith – and a recommitment!

I have mentioned my faith crisis before and how I went on a retreat years back and prayed God if you’re there show yourself, give me a vision of yourself more to your dimensions and less to mine – and he did – but it needs refreshing!

Another way to look at it is like this: if the Christian life is like a rose bush there are great spurts of growth from time to time that push out new branches with new flowers. One such branch ‑ and its some branch in its fruitfulness – is, if you like, a new opening up to the Spirit. Yet the life of the rose bush before and after such a new spurt of growth is the same life.

We possess the Spirit - but does he possess us? That is the question we are being asked on this feast of the Lord’s Baptism.  There is a commitment issue here we need to address.

As we come to receive Jesus in Holy Communion are we really committed and open to his empowering?  Are we ready to hear and to believe those wonderful words: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.  

After the silence you have a chance to act in faith upon those wonderful words and come forward for the Father’s touch and anointing expressed sacramentally through his minister’s anointing touch upon your forehead.

As this happens we will continue in prayer (and sing hymns to the Spirit).

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Epiphany 3rd January 2016

As I reflected on today’s celebration of the Epiphany two words came to my mind – spiritual journey.

Firstly the spiritual journey of humankind as we enter a new year.

Secondly, there’s the spiritual journey of the wise men to Our Lord and their offering at journey’s end.

Thirdly linked to this the Church’s spiritual journey through her Seasons. Today we enter the third season since we began the church’s year - Advent purple turned to Christmas white, a colour that continues into Epiphany season.

At St Giles we keep the shorter option which sees the ordinary green season return Monday week after the Advent-Christmas cycle climaxes with the descent of the Spirit on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, next Sunday, in parallel with how the Lent and Easter seasons climax with the Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost

The spiritual journey of humankind as we enter a new year. The spiritual journey of the wise men to Our Lord and the Church’s spiritual journey through her Seasons.

These three bring me to the final thought of another much simpler spiritual journey.

It is of but a few inches - fifteen inches…

The story goes there was once a rabbi in Cracow, Isaac son of Yekel, who dreamed one night that there was a great treasure under the bridge at Prague.
He set off at once for Prague, but when he got there found that there was a heavy guard on the bridge. The rabbi had no choice but to explain his dream to one of the guards.

When the guard heard the story he burst into laughter. ‘How crazy can you get? Suppose everyone went off after their dreams? Why I once dreamed that there was a treasure hidden in a house in Cracow. It was in the house of a man called Isaac, son of Yekel, but do you think I was going off to Cracow because of that dream?

The Rabbi Isaac returned to Cracow.  He had treasure at home. He did not need to go to Prague.

So it is with the spiritual journey. If we want spiritual riches we’re more likely to find them by opening our eyes to what we have already than by journeying the world over.

The truth of Epiphany is about God come down to our level to dwell in human hearts.

If people want to journey to God today they need move inches and not miles.

Fifteen inches, to be precise, down from the head to the heart. That is where we find God.

Too often our capacity for doing things and going places works against what’s most important – the short journey, always possible, to rest in God, to contemplate the one who made us and offers himself to us continually.

Our restless minds distract us. They move us away from the treasure to be found in the stillness of the heart. When the mind can be stilled, and lowered, into the heart - there is salvation.

The Kingdom of Christ is within us.

Accomplishing this short journey within means taking time day by day to reflect, to sit or kneel in God’s presence and indeed our own presence.

There we find hunger and longing, hurt and inadequacy, pride and fearfulness.

None of these melt away on the spiritual journey but they can be owned and offered to the Lord who meets us just as we are.

Fear not to enter his courts in the slenderness of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine.

The journey within takes courage. There’s so much that would keep us on the surface, even the so-called mission task of the Church, not to mention the multitude of recreational options available to us, the manifold activities we can choose to fill up our lives!

The inner journey takes courage and it takes time, time to be.

The famous writer Pascal said most of mankind’s problems derive from our inability to sit still in a room.

To do just that, to sit still Just maybe 15 minutes a day - 5 minutes with the Scriptures, 5 minutes in quiet worship and 5 minutes in intercession, prayer for others, including our parish - what a difference if we made that the flavour of our spiritual journey in the coming year!

‘Jesus loves us as we are’ it’s said.  

As we own that love day by day we own ourselves, our souls and bodies and make them more and more fully a living sacrifice to be united with his perfect Offering in the eucharist.

Speaking of this sort of spiritual journey T.S.Eliot wrote these great lines: And the end of all our exploring – will be to arrive where we started – and to know the place for the first time.

The Kingdom of Christ is within us.

Wise men still journey to Jesus but they don’t move anywhere.

Whatever we do in 2016 as individuals or as a Church may we be the Church better by being Christians better so that the depths of Christ may resonate from our prayers and our eucharist’s and our lives here in Horsted Keynes!  

Be still and know that I am God!