Sunday, 14 August 2016

Blessed Virgin Mary 14th August 2016

There are five windows dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in St Giles that trace her involvement in the saving work of her Son.

In the Lady Chapel we have the representation of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel’s visit, and the Visitation, when Mary was praised by her cousin Elizabeth and herself praised God in her Magnificat.
In the south aisle she is there at the birth of our Saviour in the Benson Window. At the west end Mary is depicted with Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple in the beautiful Kempe window.

This evening on the Feast of the Blessed Virgin, our eyes lift to the east window which shows her at the foot of the Cross.

Then they are lowered to view the Bread on the altar which is the representation of her Son’s Body, crucified yet risen, given to us from the altar in Holy Communion, tonight enthroned for Mary’s feast.

We come this evening with Mary to the foot of the Cross.

We come, as at the eucharist, to plead with Mary her Son’s Sacrifice for a broken world.

This Church was built for that purpose, shaped initially like a Cross, so that the people of Horsted Keynes could bring their joys and sorrows to God with, through and in the offering of Christ’s body and blood.

Within these walls people gathered to celebrate Magna Carta, to mourn the Black Death, to hear the scriptures read in English for the first time, to mourn the fire of London, to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and to mourn the death of Queen Victoria.

In November 1963 Harold MacMillan suggested the Rector change the Sunday readings after President Kennedy’s assassination.

I wonder what MacMillan would have made of the times we are living through and the best Christian response? Our prayers must surely be with his successor as Prime Minister as she serves Britain’s best engagement with the world crisis of our own day.

I was at my window last month completing my tax return when I saw a car leaping across Station Road and crashing upside down. Two ladies from Thursday’s coffee group were pulled out relatively unscathed.

We gave thanks to God in St Giles the following Sunday.

Two days later the murder of a priest at the altar in Normandy shocked us all, and most especially this small group that worships with me in our own parish Church day by day.

We lamented before God in St Giles the following Sunday.

Faith’s an intuition that attempts, day by day, week by week, to make sense of events as disparate as these.

It’s the basis of hope, which is faith for the future where what happens tomorrow, good or ill, is seen to be in the hand of the God who in the words of the Psalmist turns the wrath of man to his praise. (Psalm 76v10)

We have placed the Holy Sacrament tonight beneath the most eloquent sight in Horsted Keynes: St Giles’ spire

It’s a silent witness inviting all around to gather beneath it, to give thanks and pray to God.

As we, the faithful, obey its call to Sunday worship, we don’t always see answers to life’s upsets such as the two contrasting ones I’ve just shared, but we do regain our balance to be better equipped to love and serve.

We come to church this evening with the sorrow and confusion of our Holy Mother Mary on Good Friday. Like her we’re looking at a crucifixion but ours is a crucifixion of the world  by forces of anarchy.

Like her we look up to Jesus on the east window cross and then down to the light of the risen Lord, before us in Communion, and also resident in our hearts by faith - for whenever believers look at a crucifix they see their risen Lord standing beside.

The challenge of the world’s crises puts a particular responsibility on Christian people to stand with St Mary by the Cross of her Son and pray with Jesus and Mary to the Father: Our Father - in this situation - hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done...deliver us from evil.

We Christians are salt and light because like Mary we can ask Jesus, by the sufferings he has borne uniquely, once and for all, to soak up the evil around us and turn the tables on it.

Our prayers and eucharists bring the potential of the Cross, which is like a mighty engine out of gear, into gear so the love of God floods into this aching world.

Paul says God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It was true of Mary at her Annunciation and it is equally true of us in our baptism and confirmation. That love is poured upon us so that, at our prayer, it may cascade extravagantly upon all whom we bring to the foot of the Cross.

So with Mary, before the risen Lord present in this Holy Sacrament, we keep silence before the Lord this evening, with joy at that presence and with sorrow at the troubled world that is far more on his heart than ours.

Jesus living in Mary live in us might be our prayer.

Jesus living in Mary live in them might be our prayer of intercession.

Let’s voice our prayer in silence for two minutes.

Mary at the Cross, Our Lady of Sorrows, pray with us and for us!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Trinity 11 (19th of Year) Faith 7th August 2016

I’ve had some pastoral encounters recently in which people have taken me aside to ask how they can regain the faith their parents instilled in them so they can find hope to carry them through a trial. It’s a reminder to me of how Christianity’s getting eroded all around but that there are residual embers of faith that can be fanned into flame.

People say they find faith hard, but it’s simply a matter of opening up to God, opening your inner eye as suggested in today’s second reading. The letter to the Hebrews famously defines faith as conviction of things not seen. That conviction is just the same as the one that clicks the kettle on to release an invisible power. Being a Christian is being like a kettle. We always need the surge of the Holy Spirit to warm us up to boiling point so that faith fizzes out into overflow. I hope our children will remember what overflow there’s been from Anne and my believing and seek the same for themselves. God has no grandchildren.

When we possess faith, that conviction is practical wisdom. Its practical in that it counters our fears, which is why Jesus says to his disciples in today’s Gospel Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Faith sets your sights on the big picture of things, as we read in the letter to the Hebrews, it is to desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. As for Abraham in the first and second readings faith is taking God at his word when he promises you something good ahead of you. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God…  because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.   

We, people of God, are the descendants of Abraham who is our father in faith!

So this morning I want to remind everyone that we have a mission action plan at St Giles Church to grow in faith as well as in love and numbers.

How can we grow in faith?

We need to commit again and again to God in Jesus Christ. God, give me a vision of yourself more to your dimensions and less to mine. Open my inner eyes! If we really prayed that prayer day by day we’d have an awareness of God in the present moment that wouldn’t just satisfy inner restlessness but make our faith grow, warm up and fizz out to bless and serve others.

To grow in faith, as our Hebrews passage said, we need the conviction of things not seen…By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

Thomas Aquinas wrote wisely that to one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. The wisdom of this saying is brought out in the story of the acrobat who wheeled his son in a wheelbarrow as part of his high wire act. When they asked his son how he felt about the exercise his only comment was I trust my dad.

Here is faith defined as the extra sense it is, quite beyond the natural senses, but nevertheless based on experience. The boy needed no explanation for the faith he had in his father though few others would rise to it. By analogy Christian faith in God is the certain conviction you will be carried forward in all the perils of life by one who loves you beyond reason. The strength of Christianity lies in this revelation of God as the Father of Jesus who acts by his Spirit to carry us forward through all the pitfalls in our life to resurrection glory.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom Jesus says.
How can we grow in faith?

Commit yourself to God – and see yourself more fully as he sees you. This means more prayer, more space to ponder God in his creation.

It also means a certain biblical literacy, that is, getting into scripture, where there are so many promises addressed to believers. Those praised in today’s purple passage from Hebrews are praised like Abraham for taking God at his word. Only when you experience a passage of scripture being underlined to you by God and the consequences of that, can you see the powerful implications of taking God at his word.

Repentance is one of the implications. The Book of Common Prayer exhortation says because it is requisite that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore if there be any of you, who by this means [of self examination and prayer] cannot quiet his own conscience, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God’s holy Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word, he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness. It’s appropriate I mention the special confession time on Saturday 6pm before the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary but in the spirit of the Prayer Book you can approach the priest at any time.

To grow in faith we need from prayer, scripture and turning to God in repentance a fuller sense of who we are as his children, filled with his Spirit, promised his provision and destined for his glory.
Seeing yourself more fully as God sees you is a real eye opener. It comes though from a readiness to allow the opening up of those inner eyes that are the Spirit’s gift to every human being, even if, mysteriously, so few seem graced to see them opened.

As something God-given, faith is inevitably mysterious. Believers hold things together in their experience that live in tension from a rational perspective. Hence faith is seen as both a virtue and a gift, a human act yet one prompted by God, a personal act yet inseparable from the corporate faith of the church. The paradox of faith is captured in the famous definition of Thomas Aquinas: Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.  

Though seen as a human virtue, faith is seen as something moved by God through grace.
So here we are this morning open to grace, seeking those inner eyes to operate more fully in an unbelieving culture. Here we are encountering God in word and sacrament, coming close to God who embraces us in the eucharist, as a mother embraces her children, to assure them they are loved.

May the love of the Lord be upon us as we put our faith in him!