Saturday, 24 December 2016

Midnight Mass 2016

You need to stay awake to come to Midnight Mass.

You need to stay awake to be a Christian, awake to the love that over and around us lies and its working out of justice and righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. (Isaiah 9.7)

We live in a world full of sleep walking.

Over this last year both Britain and the United States have walked into scenarios no one would have imagined a year ago. The world seems to have been in hibernation over Syria. Even in this village some would say we've sleep walked over the neighbourhood plan though many are waking up to their responsibilities.

To be a Christian is to be awake to what’s good and true and beautiful and to work with others to establish justice and righteousness - for when good folk sleep evil triumphs.

That first Christmas, angels woke the shepherds with their news of great joy. Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours. (Luke 2).

That event is less attested than the Easter angels heralding love stronger than death that woke the world and made half of it Christian today!

Our wake up call is Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to enfold the world with his love.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontus Pilate, crucified, dead and buried. On the third day he rose again.

This good news is our wake up call.

No hibernation for Christians, however much we want to in December!
No hibernation but attentiveness to the risen and ever new Lord Jesus Christ, to our need of him, to our neighbour and to a world crying out for justice. 

If there were more folk on such alert to others there'd be more courageous Jo Cox types and less self serving in our public life.

Here’s the sleep walking we need to wake people out of, to help them see how much they and all that is is loved and the consequences of that.

So many strengths in the world but so little consecration of it to advance the poorest in the world.

No wonder St Catherine of Siena said she wanted to imitate those angels and roar out the good news, to jolt awake the self preoccupied church of her day.

Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace among those he favours is our wake up call to praise and service. Where there’s no peace it’s a sign of disfavour and there’s a wake up call to put wrong right.

What does it mean to be out of favour with God? 

Scripture addresses this wherever it addresses injustice.

It also links disfavour to disbelief. In Hebrews 11 verse 6 we read without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Christmas is about waking up faith and waking believers into more active faith.

It’s about putting fresh trust in God as the God who fills heaven and earth with his glory! 

When you put faith in God you receive a gift of peace beyond human understanding.

Find that peace and many around you will find salvation.

I have seen this, even in this congregation, a rippling out of joy in the Lord.

No one could turn toward eternity if he had not seen in the eyes or in the face of one person the shining of eternal life wrote Archbishop Anthony Bloom.

Could that be seen in your eyes, your face tonight? Why not?

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Advent 4 The choices of God 18.12.16

This morning we see God’s great choice of Our Lady to be mother of Our Lord. When we look closely at Mary’s story, especially in Luke’s account, we see how she struggled before saying Yes to God’s choice of her to be the mother of his Son.

In our own lives we also struggle many a time to conform our lives to what God would have us do.
This morning in Mary the church invites us to ponder the choices of God and to think about how much our lives are faithful to God’s choice of us.

Over the years Anne and I have both made important choices one of which brought us to Horsted Keynes 8 years ago. Over that period we’ve been involved with many of you in your own decision making.

I was totting up some of the pastoral involvements from the baptism, marriage and burial registers looking back over the 39 baptisms and 40 marriages I’ve helped celebrate with double that number so far as funerals go. That doubling is significant. Birth and marriage today are seen much less in terms of faith than funerals as these reflect Christian formation three generations back.

Nowadays the choice to baptise your child is less about fitting in with the norm in a Christian country but a decided act to own the Christian church with its particular vision and values as an extension of your family.

Similarly to commit to your partner before God with the understanding of life-long heterosexual irrevocable union is counter cultural. Aspiring to a gift of self that will not be called back, mirroring God’s love given on Calvary in blood, sweat and tears, goes against the grain today.

I love you so often means I love me and want you rather than I love you and want to give to you now and for ever.

Life choices make or break us - as I was writing this sermon I broke off to pray with a divorced parent over a custody battle. So much moral decision making is about choosing the least bad option. This is where the Holy Spirit, prayer ministry and the sacrament of confession are so precious to us as church members seeking what God most wants of us in the different crises of life.

Some of us have been thinking about a change of job. Others have been making the most of a redundancy. One or two have felt they have done a task in the village or the church for long enough and have been seeking new possibilities which have connected with my own agenda as parish priest for ever seeking volunteers!

Just a few more thoughts, returning to Our Lady, on the process of guidance.  You might have spotted the connection between the Isaiah 7 passage and the Gospel from Matthew 1:18-25 with the prophecy of the virginal conception: the young woman – the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him ‘Emmanuel’, which means ‘God is with us’. For Mary and Joseph their choice of one another was set within a bigger choice of God that they deferred to facing indignity. As we shall say in a moment:  I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary

Christianity is a faith that holds disparate truths together – God is one and three, Jesus is God and man – and one of these mysteries is that God has chosen you and I and yet we have to decide how to live our lives.

It seems to me that Christians are at two ends when it comes to divine guidance. Some see God‘s choice as starting us off and then leaving us with common sense – sanctified common sense – to get going on our own.

Others, if you ask them to do something, will say they need to pray about it, and they talk of God’s guidance as very immediate and direct.

I am not coming down on one side or the other. What matters is to recognise the hand of God in our lives, as Mary and Joseph did, and to cast aside the things that draw us away from his leadings.

The sanctified common sense sort of guidance needs supplementing by openness to God’s surprises in the form of obvious divine intervention. Those who sense something of a hotline to God need to work harder to check their leadings by arguing the case at times with other experienced believers. Both reason and faith are God’s gift and they shouldn’t contradict each other.

If we want our lives, including our decision making, to go where they’re meant to go, it means developing what Paul in our second reading from the opening verses of the letter to the Romans calls the obedience of faith. 

This obedience is more than avoiding deadly sins. It is the best directing of our energies. It’s about knowing we’re in the right employment or state of life, be that married or single. It’s readiness to ask ourselves whether where we’re at is truly in God’s will or whether it’s actually at variance with it, if only we’d take courage to open our ears to him.

If you are on the rails God gives us, living close to Jesus, you move more peaceably than if your life is off the rails. A lack of inner peace can be a helpful warning from God to take stock of your life.
Christmas and New Year bring us such an opportunity to reflect. Some of us will use the sacrament of reconciliation or take opportunity to talk to the priest or another experienced Christian. Others may appreciate being put in touch with a spiritual director. All of us can ask God directly:
‘Show me the needs that are deeper than my wants. Place my energies more and more to your service and less and less to aimless self interest’.

God’s hand on our lives, God’s choice of us, is a wonderful and a costly thing. We have a lifespan to exercise our faith in that choice. The penitent thief who turned to Jesus as he died shows us it’s never too late to seek God’s leading.

God has chosen you and I and yet we have to decide how to live our lives.

In making this decision the clue is WWJW – maybe you have seen the Christian bracelet – WWJW – What would Jesus want?

The eucharist is all about WWJW. We offer our souls and bodies with Christ to the Father so that our lives are put back on the rails Sunday by Sunday.

With Mary we say: I am God’s servant. Let it be to me as God wills!

Take my energies and use them for good since there is work for those God has chosen.

There is a harvest to gather and labourers are few.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Advent 2 Launch of Diocesan Year of the Bible 4th December 2016


Today we begin the Diocesan Year of the Bible and the Bishop has asked us all to bring our Bibles to Church. If you haven’t – and that’s quite understandable – might I ask you to pick up one of the pew bibles so we can join together later on in a little study and a corporate act of dedication. 

This morning we have a reminder that there are really two tables at which we feast on Christ: the table of the Word of God and the table of the Blessed Sacrament.

Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God our Saviour said, as he was strengthened by the memory of his Father’s word in the desert. All scripture is breathed out by God, Paul says to Timothy, scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 

More and more of us are in fact ill-equipped so far as reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting the word of God. This morning as we call to mind and confess our failure to live in God’s presence let’s remember especially our failure to read his Word and put it into practice.

Confession and Bible Sunday Collect

LAUNCH OF THE YEAR OF THE BIBLE - Bishop of Chichester youtube

If you could turn with me to your Bible’s content pages right at the start after the title page, preface, acknowledgments, foreword and so on.

Another name for this list of books is the canon of scripture with that word "canon" coming from the Greek κανών, meaning"rule" or "measuring stick".

Christian Bibles have canons or contents ranging from the 66 books of the Protestant canon to the 81 books of the Ethiopian Orthodox canon. Anglicans go with something in between these two which will be demonstrated by your contents list.

Our Scriptures include sixty-six canonical books (the thirty nine books of the Hebrew Old Testament and the twenty seven books of the Greek New Testament, which had become generally accepted by the Church during the early centuries, with the books of the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books being read by the Church ‘for example of life and instruction of manners’ but not being looked to ‘to establish any doctrine’. 

We’re going to look up today’s first reading on the second Sunday in Advent from Isaiah which is in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. To find Isaiah in your OT contents list you have to look down the first five books Genesis – Deuteronomy known to Jews as the Law or Torah and beyond those five down through a list of historical writings that flow the story of Israel from Moses up to Christ. These end with Esther. Then we have what we call the writings, that is timeless wisdom writings such as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.

The prophets start then and they start with Isaiah.

Let's look up Isaiah 11.1-10

James Nicholson to read it from Jerusalem Bible prefacing with comment

The OT text as we know it came together 3 centuries before Christ in a Greek translation of the original Hebrew books by some 70 Jewish scholars hence being called the Septuagint.  This Greek translation, along with the New Testament, that was originally written in Greek, was retranslated into Latin and then later on into various languages. After the Reformation King James 1st commissioned scholars to translate the Hebrew Bible into English which is the origin of our King James Version. 

Show school version.

Let's look up today’s Psalm which is Psalm 72v1-7.

Kay Macnaughton to read from King James Version prefacing with comment.

Now we move from the Old Testament to read from one of the 27 books in the Greek New Testament, the letter of St Paul to the Romans Chapter 15 verses 4 to 13.

Here is a New Testament in the original Greek which I’m going to pass around.

The New Testament starts with 5 historical books, the 4 Gospels and St Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles. The rest are letters of the apostles save the final book of Revelation which stands apart and contains words and visions from the risen Christ to St John the seer.

Let's look up our second reading, Romans 15.4-13 

Lisa to read Romans 15.4-13 from New International Version

Let's go round church reading the first verse 15:4 in different translations as this is scripture telling us about scripture.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

Now Deacon David will introduce the Gospel.

Picks up on how the King James Bible had its followers the late 19th century Revised Version, mid 20th century Revised Standard Version and late 20th century New Revised Standard Version used in our Anglican Lectionary. Mentioning standing for the Gospel which is a reminder of how so when we hear scripture in the Christian assembly we hear the risen Lord speaking in our midst.

Yea, amen,...   Gospel acclamation and reading Matthew 3.1-12


Christians believe in the Bible, because we believe in its ultimate authorship.  It contains the promises of God which cannot fail. We believe in the Bible out of love for its ultimate author.  The words of scripture are there because Jesus is the Word of God through whom all things were made.  The scriptures bless us. The Holy Spirit who inspired their writing can inspire us as we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them. 

Yet, sad to say, without the Holy Spirit who leads the church forward into all truth (John 16:13) the scriptures fall on deaf ears. 

The Bible is God’s Word in our words.  It’s also the family album of the church tracing God’s action back to our first days. Christians believe in the Bible but look to the church to guide them to its truth.            

What about the factual errors and inconsistencies people say they find in the Bible? 

We don’t need to defend the Bible here because we have God’s promise that it contains the truth necessary for our salvation.  This doesn’t make the Bible, for example, a science text book because it addresses the why questions more than the how questions in life. 

Approached with humility the Bible brings spiritual encouragement.  Approached with argumentative pride it presents a different picture.  Christians believe the Bible can’t be mistaken as it presents the good news of Jesus to honest seekers.    
It’s true there are difficult passages. Mark Twain said pointedly it wasn’t the passages of the bible he didn’t understand that troubled him so much as the passages he did understand! At the start of the Diocesan Year of the Bible we salute God’s word and pledge to heed it more profoundly with our lives.

People mention sometimes the violence in the Bible especially parts of the Old Testament.  The church uses these passages carefully and only in the light of Christ who fulfils the Old Testament.  The sacrifices offered in the Old Testament point towards the meaning of the Cross as the fulfilment of the scriptures. 

When we say as we shall say in a moment ‘on the third day he rose again’ we add in the Nicene Creed ‘in accordance with the scriptures’. Without the framework of God’s dealings with Israel in the Bible the Christ of the Gospels would be a beautiful picture but one without a frame.  His entry into history would be one unprepared and unexpected.

Through the Bible God’s people welcome this frame for all that Jesus stands for as well as the word and promises of God that bring power and direction into the life of the church.

If the Bible is to do its work in us, then the starting point is to somehow get the words of the Bible into us. Once God’s word is in our lives it can start to challenge our values and opinions, to set off the process Paul calls ‘the renewing of your mind’ so that we will not ‘conform’ ourselves to this world, but let God 'transform' us (Romans 12.2).

So what can we do to get more into the Bible and more of the Bible into us?

You could make it the basis for a daily or maybe occasional special prayer time. Dedicate a time. It needn’t be first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It could be part of your lunchtime routine, a way of getting away from the desk. Choose a portion for study, maybe Mark’s Gospel which takes an hour and a half in total to read for an average reader. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you miss a few days. If reading the Bible is difficult, why not buy one of the readily available CD or MP3 recording and listen to that?

You have the texts of the Sunday readings to take away each week with the thoughts on them given by the preacher. If you miss Church on a Sunday you can check the church website for the readings and sermon. This is an opportunity to thank our web editor Judith Bowron for her work on updating the site.

There are some bibles in the lectern if people want to use them when they come to pray in Church. Each of us, or each family, should ideally have a bible in modern translation. The New Revised Standard or New International Version are in wide use. There is also a popular American paraphrase called The Message that folk are finding helpful. Buying a new modern translation can be a helpful tool to awaken us to the meaning of the original text. You could subscribe to Bible study notes like New Daylight, Bible Alive, Closer to God and Every Day with Jesus. You could join St Giles weekly life and faith group  and we have more group Bible study planned during the coming year especially in Lent. There’s more ideas in the Bishop’s message and Diocesan Year of the Bible handouts at the back of Church.

This coming year’s a chance to develop our understanding of and application of the teaching of God and his church in today’s world through reflecting on what the Bible says and how best to respond to this in our own situation.

In conclusion may I invite you to reflect for a couple of minutes reading through today’s collect before joining me in repeating the Prayer Book Collect for today which is on p2.