Friday, 21 April 2017

Easter Sunday evensong (Monstrance) 16th April 2017

I’m ending my ministry as parish priest in a minute or two. The last thing I’ll do is for many Anglicans rather a strange thing to do. I mean not to this core gathering of the faithful who’ve worshipped with me over 8 years – but to place the consecrated bread in a container and make the sign of the Cross over us all in silence is something different, let alone doing it in clouds of incense!

The Holy Spirit works in different ways though. A close friend, a Methodist in fact, was staying with Anne and I a week or two back. She gave me a poem for my retirement called Monstrance which I’ve decided to read to you as part of my last sermon here. 

It’s about emptying yourself so God can fill us – Gill knows how much of me still is in me and how much Christ has to work on filling my life! 

As she writes:
We cannot stand in Jesus’ place
and look our Master in the face
if by thoughtless words or deeds
      we deny each other’s needs
   acting from ego, not from grace.

We empty ourselves for God to fill -
humbling ourselves before His will.
Before the waiting world we stand;
each is a monstrance, as He planned,
 lifted by God’s almighty hand.

In the rite of Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament the consecrated Bread is taken from its place of perpetual Reservation – here the Aumbry or wall safe in the sanctuary with its perpetual light.
It’s returned to the altar where it was blessed within an instrument of showing we call the Monstrance, from the Latin monstrare.

This throne we see upon the altar tonight, a decorated throne with rays indicating Christ’s glory shining out of the material element of the bread changed into Christ’s Body at the eucharist.

Not all Anglicans own that change, but it is in harmony with the Church of England’s belief in what our church calls the Real Presence, our faith that at Communion Jesus Christ the risen Lord comes among us through the consecrated Bread and Wine.

Our Easter devotion to the risen Lord, singing evensong before the Blessed Sacrament, ends with a silent blessing as if from the Lord, or actually from the Lord for the bread is his Body he has said so.

As Queen Elizabeth I said when asked how she say the presence of Christ in the eucharist: Christ was the word that spake it. He took the bread and break it; And what his words did make it. That I believe and take it.

As earthly bread in the monstrance blesses us this evening so we as Christians contain and show forth Christ. Through Holy Communion he is in our lives. This is the thrust of Gill’s poem which I read now to you and, of course, to myself:

For John on your retirement, with love from Gill.


Christ took and blessed a loaf of bread.
‘This is my body,’ Jesus said.
He took and blessed a cup of wine
Which, held aloft, became a sign
of sacrifice – of Love divine.

Christ puts his trust in you and me.
We are the ‘Jesus’ people see –
Silently, we seek his face.
Obediently, we take our place
As icons of God’s wondrous grace.

How do we represent him, though?
Which Jesus do we really know?
He is the Lord of everything:
a loving, selfless, humble King.
Which Jesus do our actions show?

We cannot stand in Jesus’ place
and look our Master in the face
if by thoughtless words or deeds
we deny each other’s needs
acting from ego, not from grace.

We empty ourselves for God to fill -
humbling ourselves before His will.
Before the waiting world we stand;
each is a monstrance, as He planned,
 lifted by God’s almighty hand.

As we keep silence before Benediction let’s ask that the risen Lord Jesus will make us a monstrance, through deepening our humility and sense of need for his mercy, so that people will see Jesus in us through our deeds and words. Amen.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Easter Sunday - my last Sunday at St Giles 16.4.17

You can write about Experiencing Christ’s Love - the book’s on sale today (show) for a fiver - but it’s no substitute for experiencing it.

Thinking and writing about God is less important than being present to him. If you're present with a loved one you don’t have to construct thoughts about them since they’re there before you and you just enjoy them. Rather like when you’re listening to music you don’t think about the music so much as lose yourself in it.

The Lord is truly risen. Alleluia!

The last word isn’t with corruption, death and loss but with the loving presence of God. Thinking about the truth of Christ’s resurrection is natural - but it only takes you so far. We can think of the solid historical evidence of fearful disciples changed to bold witnesses and the Jewish Sabbath getting shifted to the Lord’s Day neither of which could just happen.

We can think about Jesus and how his name lives on in the consciousness of the world after 80 generations - but we can experience him.

Experiencing Christ’s love in worship, prayer, study, service and reflection got me writing my book. I did so though as both an ideas person and a people person - actually as a parson. Experts are uncertain about the exact origins of parson, although one theory says it’s a shortened form of the Latin persona ecclesiae, "person of the church."

The priest or parson gives a face to the institution and it’s been my privilege with Anne’s help to do that up to my 9th Easter here at St Giles.

Just as my personal encounters with God are more significant than my sermons and books your personal engagement with me, your encouragement and forbearance weigh more than any imaginable written evaluation.

In my book I tell how my own devotion to Christ has been rekindled through engagement with villagers.

I know there’ve been times when the ideas person has won over the people person, when I’ve been so preoccupied with my thoughts I’ve passed you by. Times when the ideas person has held forth in the Horsted Club, Men’s Lunch, or wherever there’s a good argument to be had, and maybe the parson got a bit forgotten as the Harvey’s flowed!

All is shortly to be history as another partnership of priest and people ends tonight and a new name chosen, soon we hope, to go up on the Rectors’ board.

The Christian cause will outlive me here as surely as the Risen Christ surpasses the boundaries of space and time. God who brought everything out of nothing and Jesus from a virgin womb today brought inextinguishable life from the grave. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!

In this forward movement here at St Giles I want to commend to your prayers and active help our Churchwardens David Lamb and Peter Vince, Deacon David Howland and the Parochial Church Council as they continue to serve and lead in Jesus Christ through the demands of the pastoral vacancy that starts tomorrow.

I look forwards to coming back to St Giles as is fitting, and most especially to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of my priesthood on St Thomas’s Day, Monday 3rd July 7.30pm when you'll have visitors from near and far including the Bishop of Guyana.

Thinking, thought, sermons, books aren’t the last thing rather its presence, the presence of one to another and of Christ through us all that’s ultimate .

On this hill we serve a cause that outlasts us as we engage with those precious gifts, the Bible and the Eucharist.

My last word to you is: seek those gifts, experience Christ’s love, establish a life of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection. Keep a stake in the cause that will outlast us all.

Jesus Christ will outlast the cosmos and host a reunion. Easter is the pledge of that.

His Resurrection will be ours and he will be everything to everyone!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Palm Sunday 8am 9th April 2017

This morning is something of an unforgettable experience for me.

Anne and I are sharing like Jesus a last week with everyone before death and resurrection - I speak half in jest. Haywards Heath also is no paradise compared to Horsted Keynes.

This morning's liturgy blends the triumph and sorrow associated with Experiencing Christ's Love, the title of my new book, of which I mentioned last week 8 o’clockers would get pre-launch availability. Its sub title is establishing a life of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection and it’s somewhat autobiographical

The large palm branches on its cover represent triumphant love which works out, as our reading of the Passion illustrated, through bearing sorrow.

As your parish priest bearing many of your joys and sorrows I have carried Christ from you. He has rubbed off on me as I hope he's rubbed off from Anne and I to you. Worshipping, praying, studying, serving and reflecting here for 8 years has been immensely fruitful for us.

The book is one fruit grown from the partnership between priest and people we’ve exercised together and it’s about holding yourself to a rule of life.

The clue to effective living is to find the main things and keep the main things as the main things.

For over 60 years I’ve been working with a rule of life at both finding and holding myself to those things. I still have work to do. As a priest for most of my life you’d have thought I’d have this sorted by now, but, though theological expertise helps me speak and write about experiencing Christ’s love, its outworking in real life is all the more challenging.

There are no professional Christians, though some get paid for their work. We are all amateurs, hopefully in the sense of devotees rather than incompetents!

As I prayed for God-given competence to frame my book the Lord drew me to an image of his hand reaching down to me and my own hand grasping his with its five digits expressing five loves commended in his own summary of the Law in Matthew 22:37-39: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Worship and prayer are to be seen as heart and soul of our love for God, Jesus implies, but without study, engaging the mind with divine teaching, that love will be ill formed, and without service, love of neighbour, and reflection, loving care of self, our loving God is a delusion.

Those five commitments - worship, prayer, study, service, reflection - make a hand that can grasp the hand of God reaching down to us in Jesus Christ to raise us into his praise and service with all the saints, an image of Love's endeavour for us in Holy Week. The five commitments provide the chapter headings of this short book of 90 pages commissioned and published by the Bible Reading Fellowship.

The God and Father of Jesus is a God of joyful goodness who loves us through and through and whose grace is overall and in all. That loving grace isn’t a quantity so much as a quality of helpfulness given us by God who simply desires it for us, not because we’ve done anything to earn it. This benevolence shown by God toward the human race is at the heart of the good news of Jesus we're celebrating in Holy Week.

‘God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ' Paul writes to Ephesus.

'By grace you have been saved - and [God] raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places’. (Ephesians 2:4-6)

After seeing a 1960s street advertisement Austin Farrer amusingly compared the Church of England to corsets: 'for ladies, for comfort and for general uplift'. It's a half truth- my mother tells me she's struck by the number of men at St Giles!

Christianity is indeed 'for comfort and uplift'. To be raised up we need to welcome and respond to God’s grace, putting faith in him, placing our hand in his, and that’s going out of our way. It’s a countering of self-deception as expanded in this book. 

Attending worship may be inconvenient but ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’. The discipline of prayer isn’t necessarily accompanied by feeling God’s presence. Awkward questions about the Bible matter and there are times to get your head down to address them. We’ll never be good at serving others without a readiness to shoulder life’s little humiliations that break the ego’s shackle round us. Unless we are ready to regularly examine ourselves and confess our sins to God ‘the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8).

Christians live under the favour of God which is grace with a big aim - God’s glory and the world’s salvation - and a tight focus expressed as we worship on Sunday, pray every day,  study the Bible, serve our neighbour and reflect upon our lives confessing our sins. That big aim and tight focus is taken up into the love of Christ for God, for us and for all.

‘All is grace’.

The clue to effective living is to find that main thing reaching out continually in worship, prayer, study, service and reflection to grasp ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’. 2 Corinthians 13:14

Through this book, through Holy Week or in whatever way he opens to you I repeat the bidding of the last line of my book from Ephesians 3:19 'May you know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God’.