Saturday, 21 May 2016

Trinity Sunday 22 May 2016

Anne and I were on a train to Darlington last week. I looked up to see these words above me. Hello, my name is carriage number 55789. How am I looking today? Let us know if there are any areas needing some tlC. Tweet us @northernrailorg#55789

I didn't tweet but it got me thinking about the Trinity. If a train that's carrying me to Darlington can invite me to speak to it, how much more the One in whom I live and move and who accompanies me to glory.

He has spoken - God - in deeds more than words. The Spirit of truth... will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. John 16:13 We know about the Trinity because God in Trinity has spoken through his deeds of creation, resurrection and Pentecost to show us himself. You couldn't make Christianity up, it’s a revealed faith no more no less and it’s the function of the Spirit to wake us up to it. Not to convey anything new but to give us a constant update of what’s been revealed once for all in Jesus Christ. 

The first reading from Proverbs catches this, as the reading on the Darlington train caught me last week. Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?... The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. Proverbs 8:1, 22-23 Wisdom is God’s coming forth to us, his speaking out from the depth of his being as ultimately Christ and the Spirit have spoken in history.

And what is God saying from his depths? Our second reading tells us from the receiving end as it speaks of experiencing God in three aspects. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1,5) God who speaks and acts to reveal himself comes real to us in Jesus so that for over 20 centuries believers have spoken of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.(2 Corinthians 13:14 )

Today's Feast of the Blessed Trinity summarises what the church has set before us about Jesus in the Christmas and Easter cycles ending with last Sunday's celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Paschal Candle is back at the font but the warm light of the risen Lord burns on in our hearts by the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. This is the grand reminder of Trinity Sunday.

We were up near Darlington to enter the worlds of 2 year old Olivia and Toby who've both doubled in size and age since we last saw them. Lovely to enter the joyous world of children whose fascination with life is such a great teacher.  Oh to see the world through 2 year old eyes! Such simplicity and trust are in the gift of faith, along with fascination concerning the word of God and the paradox of his three in oneness. Just as children take things on trust from their parents, we children of God trust God as he acts in love towards us and speaks of himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

God is love. As we dwell in God he dwells in us and we in him. In the coming of Our Blessed Lord we see how much God loves us. In the pouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts we receive God’s love so we can overcome all that comes against us, putting love where there is no love and seeing love grow around us. This is what St Paul is speaking about in that second reading from Romans 5 when he says: suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts (Romans 5:3-5)

The Feast of the Blessed Trinity is about God being love in himself and the revelation of that loving wisdom on earth inseparable from suffering. You can’t love in abstraction, you have to give it, give yourself to others which means no escape from suffering. The sign of the Trinity is the sign of the Cross, I crossed out, since Jesus came down from heaven to earth to suffer on the cross for us.

Just before I travelled up through Darlington I gave the last rites to James Nicholson’s brother Peter in a tearful ceremony with his niece Elizabeth. Few have suffered as much hospitalisation as Peter whose funeral is to be here on Tuesday week. Few families have given as much loving attention over so long a period, year by year, week by week, day by day as the Nicholson’s. Suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts That love remains with Peter and the family as they gather the fruits of perseverance, the character building that fits us by grace, through suffering, for glory.

We started with a talking train and thought of the One who also speaks to us as he carries his faithful to glory.

I end with a voice speaking this morning as if from that glory. Here is a 2 min clip Peter recorded for Premier Christian Radio. It speaks of the day of death now arrived for him when grace blossoms into glory, into the vision of the triune God face to face, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

May the Blessed Trinity be Peter's healing and ours, to whom, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion and power henceforth and evermore. Amen.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Easter 6 The Jesus Prayer 8th May 2016

The days between Ascension and Pentecost are always privileged days. We think back to the first disciples gathered with Our Lady in the Upper Room constantly devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). This year this liturgical reminder about prayer is reinforced by our Archbishops’ Call to Prayer. In consequence there are extra services next week so that each day St Giles folk will be gathering in prayer and we have the Premier Radio resources at hand for daily use.

The Russian Classic Way of a Pilgrim is a book people have been picking up for a century or so, as for example J.D.Salinger in his 1961 book Franny and Zooey in which one of the heroines Franny is caught reading it and explains it as, I quote, ‘the story of how a Russian wanderer learns the power of "praying without ceasing’.

Here it is, relevant to our call to prayer at this season, and here’s a key scene where the wanderer engages his spiritual guide: ‘Be so kind, Reverend Father, as to show me what prayer without ceasing means and how it is learnt?’ ‘The continuous interior Prayer of Jesus is a constant uninterrupted calling upon the divine Name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart; while forming a mental picture of his constant presence, and imploring his grace, during every occupation, at all places, even during sleep. The appeal is couched in these terms, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, [Son of God] have mercy on me [a sinner]’. One who accustoms himself to this appeal experiences as a result so deep a consolation and so great a need to offer the prayer always, that he can no longer live without it, and it will continue to voice itself within him of its own accord. Now do you understand what prayer without ceasing is?’ ‘Yes, indeed, Father, and in God’s name teach me how to gain the habit of it, I cried filled with joy’. ‘Read this book’, he said.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

This is the so-called Jesus Prayer and it’s changed my life over the last 9 years helping free me from anxiety, planting peace of mind, deepening devotion to God and even helping me sleep at night – so it’s worth an occasional sermon! Better than that it’s been worth hours of trouble writing this book Using the Jesus Prayer commissioned by the Bible Reading Fellowship that’s sold so far well over a 1000 copies and which builds from the Russian classic I quoted from.

Repetition of the ancient prayer Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner fulfils Paul’s invitation to pray without ceasing and can serve entry into a simpler and more spacious approach to living, including freedom from anxiety.

The Prayer expresses the good news of Christianity. It affirms both the coming of the Saviour and our need for his salvation. Based on incidents in the life of Our Lord it combines Peter’s act of faith in Jesus – You are the Son of God (cf Matthew 16v16) – with the cry of the Publican – have mercy upon me a sinner (Luke 18v13b).

It exalts the name which is above every name (Philippians 2v10b). You can’t repeat the name of Jesus with a good intention without touching his person, God’s person. It’s a form of Holy Communion without bread and wine though it comes into its own in my experience as an extension of sacramental communion. The Name of Jesus, present in the human heart, communicates to it the power of deification…Shining through the heart, the light of the Name of Jesus illuminates all the universe writes Fr Sergei Bulgakov

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

The Jesus Prayer is thoroughly evangelical and uncompromisingly catholic. To pray it continually is to centre upon the good news of Jesus with the faith and prayer of the church through the ages.
This gospel encounter is in recollected repetition of the holy name of Jesus which is found eventually to convey his close presence.  I say eventually. Long labour in prayer and considerable time are needed for a man with a mind which never cools to acquire a new heaven of the heart where Christ dwells wrote Orthodox Saint John Karpathus.

The Jesus Prayer of Eastern Orthodoxy is said to help those with over active minds because it fills the mind with the thought of Jesus. That is certainly my experience. It could be yours if you try it and persevere. Call to our Lord Jesus, often and patiently, and thoughts will retreat, for they cannot bear the warmth of the heart produced by prayer, and flee as if scorched by fire wrote St Gregory of Sinai. Powerful words, true in my experience. It’s ironic that stillness in the centre of our being is helped by constant voicing Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner - but its true!

What about all that repetition – how purposeful is it?

One of the main obstacles to my taking up this form of prayer in the past was fear of consigning my life to rote repetition. I have come though now to discover that the reverent repetition of the phrase, though it needs repeated acts of the will, actually brings with it the momentum of the Holy Spirit.  This is brought out in The Way of a Pilgrim where the pilgrim travels across Russia seeking spiritual counsel. He finds that, as we heard earlier, after learning from a guide to repeat the Jesus Prayer thousands of times a day. This form of prayer eventually catches on – it has for me - and it prays itself involuntarily deep within you.

You can pray the Jesus Prayer in both formal and free ways. The traditional advice for set formal prayer is close your eyes, focus upon the Lord and, after invoking the Holy Spirit, repeat the phrase Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner pausing briefly between each prayer. Guides recommend that prayer be neither gabbled nor offered in too intense a manner.

To help focus the body’s engagement in the exercise prayer ropes of 25, 50 or 100 woollen beads are available. I use such a Jesus Rope for half an hour in my Oratory at the start of my morning prayer time before saying Church of England Morning Prayer and praying for the people of Horsted Keynes.
Usually I follow this pattern which I commend to each one of you. Read a short biblical or spiritual reading, then sitting on an upright chair keep still, close your eyes and repeat for as long as you can at this sort of pace Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. Aside from this daily set prayer time it’s a matter of gently repeating the prayer as you go about your life which is the free form of the prayer.

You must be very busy people say to me as a priest! God forbid we put busy-ness before holiness, what we do before what we are as daughters and sons of God. The Lord of the work should come before the work of the Lord.  I believe the greatest resource any such worker or priest can have is that of their sense of need of divine mercy which is voiced in the Jesus Prayer which is why I’m delighted our Bishop has made 2016 a year dedicated to seeking the divine mercy.

I applaud that sentiment and it’s applauded in me each time I say the Jesus Prayer with its reminder to live reliant on God’s loving mercy.

I want to end by leading 5 Jesus Prayers for us, not for you to voice with me, but to listen to, and to allow the prayer to permeate you before we engage with our ongoing prayerful reflection.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Ascension Day 5th May 2016

God goes up with shouts of joy, the Lord goes up with trumpet blast. 
Sing praise for God, sing praise, sing praise to our king, sing praise. 

These verses from the 47th Psalm are set for today’s major Christian festival of the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Festal singing, shouting, clapping and trumpeting and incense no doubt were associated with the enthronement of the kings of Israel which was pretext for affirming God's own kingship over all. As the kings took their seats the people led by the choir gave praise to God as supreme ruler. 

Christian worship builds from the Old Testament so Psalm 47 is used to mark and engage with Christ's ascension and enthronement as universal King. God's sovereignty is now exercised through his Son 'who ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead' (Apostles' Creed) 
Jesus is Lord! God goes up with shouts of joy or in Tudor English, has 'gone up with a merry noise'. The carpenter born in Nazareth who shows the world the love, truth and power of God – he is Lord!  A life of 33 years lived at the start of our era continues the same yesterday, today and for ever through the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7:16b).  

Jesus is Lord, right above all that is or has been or will be. He's God’s final word to humankind. Jesus is to be the merciful last word over us all.   

God goes up with shouts of joy, the Lord goes up with trumpet blast. Sing praise for God, sing praise, sing praise to our king, sing praise. 

As we move now well into the Diocesan and Universal Year of Mercy we are consoled by the thought that God’s last word on us will be from the One who today ‘ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead'.

He is One who shares our suffering, who knows our every weakness, living like us for 33 years yet without consent to sin. His sinlessness isn’t a setting apart from us. It’s the means by which he is able both to sympathise with us and to stand above and beyond us in our sinful frailty so as to welcome us heavenwards.

In the Feasts of Christ we read, mark and inwardly digest truths that are ‘once for all’ and yet evermore inspire and cleanse our souls. Christ is risen, ascended, glorified so that we can be raised from the works of the flesh, ascend in prayer and anticipate the favourable judgement and glory that’s for all who live in Christ.

The Chinese writer Watchman Nee wrote a short commentary on the letter to the Ephesians entitled Sit, Walk, Stand to remind Christians that as Christ is ascended and seated at God’s right hand, so are we. We are to keep seated with Christ above sin, to keep walking in the Spirit and keep standing fast against the devil.

God goes up with shouts of joy, the Lord goes up with trumpet blast. Sing praise for God, sing praise, sing praise to our king, sing praise. 

The incense today is symbol of rising prayer, of costly sacrifice, and lastly of our life to come in the court of heaven seated with its Monarch. God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, Paul writes to the Ephesians. This is so, he continues, that we can be raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.               

So be it!