Saturday, 26 March 2016

Easter vigil and 8am eucharist 27th March 2016

Joy isn’t just a component of Christianity it’s the key.

How can you believe in God without sensing joy?

Today/tonight we see God writ large, God to the dimensions of God and not to ours, showing his grandeur as taking human form he breaks through death and reveals eternal life to us and for us.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures.

We gain joy as we gain God and that’s in the present moment. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalm 118:24

What the resurrection effects is twofold. It delivers us from the prison of our mental constructs of past and future.

To know Christ is risen is to know God’s unalterable newness, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow – to know it and live in it is joy.

This is eternal life, to know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. John 17:3

In that knowledge of what God in Christ has done for us we gain two benefits.

First we’re freed by forgiving both wrongs we've suffered from others and by welcoming forgiveness for the wrongs we ourselves have done.

Second we’re relieved of fear for the future. Tomorrow also is God’s and his love is stronger than the worst power we’ll ever encounter – and that includes death.

You will be with me always, he says, nothing can separate us, enter my joy, as the Psalmist writes: You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Absence of joy links to self-sufficiency and pride, imprisonment in past regrets, future anxiety all of which cut us off from the living God.

Today/tonight we affirm God for who he is, and his opening to our intuition of death’s diminishment.

The only meaningful thing in life is what conquers death, not what but who, Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.

Since April 33AD, or maybe 27AD with a six year slippage, humanity has the full picture of God in his grandeur and humans in their immense potential as those in his image destined for the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21).

The hope of this glory is cause of our joy.

Our intellects balk at death and wrestle with its reality 20 centuries on from Easter. How has the world changed, we ask, with the reality of evil this week in Brussels and the genocide committed by Radovan Karadzic?

There are no rational knockdown arguments here but when your heart is touched by the risen Christ its enough.

We are joyful in spirit today/tonight and always as Christians for we know deep down God is God and he always will be God and we have fellowship with him that’ll never end.

Joy isn’t just a component of Christianity it’s the key.

We can’t believe in God as he truly is without sensing joy and today/tonight we see him as he really is, God writ large, God to the dimensions of God, showing his grandeur, taking human form, breaking through death and revealing eternal life to us and for us.

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  

May the unalterable newness of Jesus be our joy today, tomorrow, to the last syllable of recorded time, and beyond that to eternal ages! Alleluia!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Palm Sunday 2016 20th March 2016

3 readings in Church linked to God's promise, gift and task.

Isaiah promises the gift, Luke tells of it and Philippians speaks of its implications.

Time frame 800BC, 30-50AD so back 2800 years to...

1 THE PROMISE. Isaiah 50:6  'I gave my back to those who struck me,  and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me;  therefore I have not been disgraced'.

For 800 years the identity of this speaker, the mysterious so-called servant of God, who 'listens to God as those who are taught' and promises to bear suffering for all, was hidden. It's a real one-off Old Testament passage looking to a Saviour figure that still puzzles the Jews.

I've just seen in a new Bishop of Guyana. Last Sunday I was in our Cathedral, the largest wooden building in the world, twice. At 630am to offer the Cathedral Mass and 4pm for Evensong which saw Bishop Charles Davidson enthroned as 8th Bishop of Guyana. He gave a sermon based on another Old Testament passage from Exodus 18:17 in which Jethro advises Moses he'll work himself to death unless he appoints collaborators to serve God's people. In doing so he paid tribute to our late friend Bishop Cornell Moss.

The bit of his sermon that struck and challenged me wasn't scriptural but this quote 'blessed are the flexible because they're not bent out of shape easily' (repeat). Message for the Diocese, I thought, for me, for St Giles I thought. In this passage from Isaiah we see a prophecy of one to be pulled from pillar to post whilst going with the flow, bent but not out of shape. We Christians are J shaped for a J can be seen as an I pressed down to spring up again.

What's pressing on you this morning? You'd hardly be human or self-aware without a sense of bearing pressure! Are you like Isaiah's mystery sufferer listening to God in this? Is your ear attuned? Your spirit teachable so what you're going through will work out well?
Let's move on 800 years from the promise to the gift.

2 THE GIFT Luke 23:1-49. 'The chief priest and scribes stood by,   vehemently accusing Jesus. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him, and sent him back to Pilate... Then Jesus, crying in a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’. Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had  taken place he praised God.

Luke speaks of the arrival of the promise - the gift of the promised Saviour awaited 800 years and from the foundation of the earth.

Human history follows the course of creation then fall then redemption then glorification.

God made us for friendship (demonstration) - sin came in as a barrier - by his dying and rising Jesus broke the barrier - making us friends of God. 

In the Cathedral last Sunday Bishop Charles invited us to dedicate ourselves not to him but to Jesus who died for our sins, rose from the dead and gives us the Holy Spirit to help us become the best we can be. 

Pointing to Jesus, whose forgiveness for his torturers is stated in verse 34 of today's Gospel, he engaged with the temptation to criticise. There's a no such thing as constructive criticism he warned. What, not even Donald Trump I thought? No, the question he put was when someone says or does something wrong do you first want to voice it, or do you first want to pray for them? 'Bless her, Jesus!' 'Save him, Jesus!' I know I'm on a learning curve here - how about you? The church brings us liturgically, through the lectionary, to the foot of the Cross today and Friday. It's very level ground.

 Remember the story of two men watching someone go to the scaffold. One says to the other 'There but for the grace of God go I'. We're on level ground today faced within the awesome gift of Jesus. My self righteousness or lack of it compared to yours puts me on the top of bottom of the carpet, no higher or lower.

The promise from Isaiah, the gift from Luke and now let's move 30 years or so from the Gospel account to Paul's letter from prison, Philippians 2:5

3 THE TASK  'Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself'

We are J shaped people seeking to be capable of his humility, something we prayed for in the Holy Week Collect where we asked God 'in your tender love towards the human race you sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross: grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility, and also be made partakers of his resurrection'

Paul in Philippians, and all through his writings, speaks of Jesus' death and resurrection as the source of spiritual renewal. We heard these words from Philippians 3:10-11 last week in Church: 'I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead'. That's our aspiration as we follow this week, the seven days that changed the world. Dying to selfish ambition, rising to enter the possibilities of the Holy Spirit.

When I sat down with Bishop Charles and fixed up his UK visit in July I said if just 10% of what he'd set before us in his enthronement address came true it would be fantastic. He reminded me of the core challenge he stands under, and would have us all stand under, namely 'Jesus expects us to do our best and better'. This agreement to do our best for the Lord is here this morning. It's much before us as we contemplate his death for us. Because of that death and its sequel we are becoming Christians by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we experience Christ's love in worship, prayer, study, service and reflection we come to know him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly day by day.

Worship - extra opportunities this week when we've effectively got 3 extra Sunday's with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Prayer - which we can be much more flexible about, popping into church alone if we've time, looking round the Stations of the Cross which will be removed as the altars are stripped on Thursday night.

Study - 'read your bible, pray every day' was a chorus I sang in Guyana. Read the end of a Gospel, take away your service booklet and use it day by day to think of the promise, gift and task of Jesus in Isaiah 50, Luke 23 and Philippians 2

Service - in Holy Week we recognise especially our individual need of mercy. This sensitises us to others in their need and to engaging with our neighbour, not forgetting the best gift they could ever find, which we have in Jesus Christ, nor possibilities to invite friends to the powerful services next weekend.

Reflection - we love God with our heart in worship, soul in prayer, mind in study, our neighbour in service and last but not least ourselves in reflection which is a theme of this afternoon's healing service. Holy Week's a time to examine ourselves. There are confession times this afternoon at 4pm and Good Friday 3pmand you're welcome to arrange times for counsel or confession with the clergy convenient to yourself. 

We've heard the promise of Jesus in Isaiah. We've welcome the gift of Jesus in the Gospel to be sealed in Holy Communion. We're now primed afresh for the task of loving God and making him loved.

'Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself'

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Mothering Sunday 8am 6th March 2016

It is a strange paradox that this year’s Gospel for Mothering Sunday is that of the Father’s love.

It’s not deliberate, just that we’re in the year of Luke and no Lucan passage is more Lent suited than that of the Prodigal Son! The fact Lent 4 is Mothering Sunday is secondary so far as the Lectionary goes. It’s a universal Lectionary and many countries don’t keep Mother’s Day today.

In the story of the Prodigal Son we have a beautiful demonstration of what Lent is all about – the healing joy of repentance.

At its centre is the welcome home of the prodigal. I love the King James Bible version of this story with its rich cadences:
But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Luke 15.23-27
What wonderful words! They serve as no other words to give us invitation to seek God as our Father.
That paragraph provides the heart of the story involving three characters each of which we may find ourselves identifying with.
First the openness of the prodigal - how ready am I to admit my mistakes? As Christians we believe we are sinners in need of grace. What is so surprising about a sinner sinning? 

Yet many of us are slow to seek forgiveness from God or neighbour.
Our slowness links to the judgmentalism around typified by the elder brother in the parable whose attitude is far from forgiving!

Lent is a time to challenge that judgmental ‘elder brother’ within each one of us. It’s a time to challenge the habitual sins that get on top of us. C.S.Lewis once wrote a caution about despairing over our habitual sins:

I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptation.  It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience, etc. don't get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time.  We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home.  But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard.  The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give it up.  It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of His presence.  Daily Readings p122-3

The main figure in the Parable is the loving Father who represents God. Jesus teaches God is always helpfully present to us in his holiness and ready to show us the dirt and dysfunction in our lives.  He makes himself present in practical love to remedy our situation - the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard.

Our Lord cleanses us of sin and guilt by practical demonstrations geared to our humanity. That’s particularly true of the sacrament of reconciliation also known as sacramental confession in which we play the part of the prodigal in a re-enactment of Luke 15. There is great freedom to be attained through celebrating this sacrament so misunderstood in Anglican circles. We have set times for this sacrament in St Giles nearer Easter or you can make an appointment.

The father may represent God but he is also an example of the love a parent, father or mother, is called to show his or her children. Lack of affirmation by parents, lack of generous reconciliation in family life, is the root of much domestic misery.

In Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son the author speaks of his being inspired by Rembrandt’s famous painting of that title. The gnarled yet welcoming hands of the Father in Rembrandt’s picture symbolise God’s hands stretched out for us upon the Cross.  They challenge us to pay the price ourselves for a more affirming attitude to those falling short around us.

The great inspiration of this book is the Christian call to a ministry of affirmation.

Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate as Jesus said elsewhere.

As we come to the altar this morning on behalf of ourselves or those on our hearts we come as the prodigal son knowing our need of forgiveness. We come repenting of the ‘elder brother’ in us and all that critical spirit that subtracts from the joy God wants in our hearts. We come finally for grace to be like our Father, capable of love for sinners.

The readiness to treat others as better than they are is simple imitation of God’s readiness to treat us as far better than we are. We can ask the Holy Spirit to build that affirming capacity within us so that having received laying on of hands this afternoon we may be better equipped to embrace others as instruments of the divine mercy.

The bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard.

Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.