Saturday, 26 August 2017

St Richard, Haywards Heath 27th August 2017

How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord… All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen 

Though Scripture makes God known it occasionally puts him at a distance.

The passage we heard from Romans reminds us God is God. It comes as St Paul completes teaching we heard in last week’s portion about how the Jews remain dear to God, and will be included in his final scheme, despite their rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah. The summary line on Israel’s disobedience is the verse before this passage, verse 32 of Romans Chapter 11: For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. In other words God has sin in hand, even if we need to fly from it ourselves.  He allows disobedience and over rules it. The same thought is presented at the Easter Vigil when, at the blessing of the new Fire, the deacon sings: O happy fault, that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

In Christianity God has both a sameness to us, and a difference from us.

God is same and different.

God has a sameness to us through the incarnation. He is one with us in Jesus, one with us in our joys and sorrows.

We have sameness to him bearing his image, endowed with intelligence, capable of joyful goodness, appreciative of truth and beauty so that Christianity is humanity in its right mind. In Jesus Christ we see and grow into what we are meant to be, such is God’s affinity with us.

God though, as this scripture reminds us, is also very very different from us.

How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord… All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. 

We are different from Him as we live in one time and place compared to his eternal omnipresence. Our knowledge is limited compared to his omniscience. We are feeble, looking again and again to his omnipotence. Then, as the Romans passage implies, morally we pale into insignificance before his holiness. We are nothing before him, and less than nothing through sin.

How can we as creatures compare to our Creator? How can a song understand its singer?

All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him.
In the Mass we have 5 sections called the Ordinary that we recite Sunday by Sunday.

The Kyrie Eleison and Agnus Dei speak of God’s sameness, his sympathy with us and mercy towards us. Lord, have mercy… O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us… grant us thy peace.

The Gloria in Excelsis and Sanctus speak of God’s difference from us in joyous yet awesome terms. For Thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord…. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory.

The difference and sameness of God from and to us are both fully expressed in the Credo or Creed we shall recite shortly:

God is professed as God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible who could not be more different to us as his dependent creatures. God whose Son is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God demonstrates his sameness, his loving affinity for each and all of us humans when for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified for us.

In bowing at these words we salute the wonder of the God and Father of Jesus, so different from us, yet making himself one with us in such great humility and love.

If God weren’t both same and different to us there’d be no hope for us. As it is, we, who are made in his image, are destined to share a property distinct from our condition - I mean the glory of God.

By the gift of the Son of God made Son of Man, by the Spirit of Christ, we, in Paul’s words elsewhere to Corinth, are being fitted for glory. All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

In the Eucharist we see and consume God in bread and wine, God in his sameness with the  promise of something utterly different which is in his gift for the grace of Communion is a foretaste of glory.

O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see, may what we thirst for soon our portion be, to gaze on thee unveiled and see thy face, the vision of thy glory and thy grace.

How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord… All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen 

Saturday, 19 August 2017

St Bartholomew, Brighton. Family Mass. 20th August 2017

Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” Matthew 15v28

How do we get thinking people to believe and believing people to think?

Our Lord praised the Canaanite woman for her thoughtful faith.

She got a hard run for her money. Few people in the Gospel get as hard a time as this lady. Think about the passage - at first Jesus doesn’t answer her request for her daughter at all. Then his disciples want him to send her away. Jesus goes so far as to tease her for being a Canaanite, thinking probably about his Jewish audience who in those days would have indeed wanted her sent away. They’d forgotten God’s promise we heard in that reading from Isaiah about his love for foreigners.

The woman argues on for attention for her daughter with a word play on the term ‘dog’ which was and is an abusive term for outsiders. ‘Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table’ she says, imploring Jesus.

The Lord gives in and heals her daughter, exceptionally giving the reason for answering this woman’s request: it was on account of her great faith; her great confidence that Jesus would grant her request.

There are a lot of questions you could raise about this Gospel passage but I want to look at the one I raised at the beginning which is really important in this day and age.

How do we get thinking people to believe and believing people to think?

The woman was both educated and a believer.  Often we don’t see the two together. A lot of education in our society seems to lack a spiritual component and a lot of religious people can have closed minds.

When Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion it divided Christians in my acquaintance. Some read it to engage with his criticism of religion. Others wrote it off without engagement. Most derided his arrogant tone forgetful that Christianity can come across as arrogant.

That goes against advice in the New Testament in 1 Peter 3v16 to give clear answer for our faith to anyone who asks us about it ‘with gentleness and reverence’.

Reason and faith are two wings of the Holy Spirit lifting us up to God for God gave us a mind and a heart.

This morning let’s seek for ourselves the great faith of the Canaanite woman, an educated faith, one that holds to the reasoned faith of the church through the ages. This is expressed in the words of the Creed, the worship of the Sacraments, behaviour trained by the Commandments and prayer modelled on the Lord's Prayer.

As priest, writer and broadcaster I’ve been engaged over the years in promoting thoughtful mainstream Christian belief. I want to leave you with the challenge to do something, read something, join a study group, talk to a priest, so as to help build a great faith true to a great God whose readiness to answer prayer exceeds our imagining.

How do we get thinking people to believe and believing people to think - we start with ourselves!

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Trinity 9 The journey of faith 13th August 2017 St Peter & St John the Baptist, Wivelsfield

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

Life is an accompanied journey whether people recognise it or not.

To be a Christian is to be aware of the company of God alongside us in Jesus Christ sharing our joys and sorrows. We are never alone, contrary to outward appearance.

In our Old Testament reading from the first book of the Kings, Chapter 19 we’re told how Elijah felt very alone at mount Horeb when he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’  

I alone am left – how does that speak to us this morning? As we go against the flow, or think of those we know who’re desolate over a bereavement or relationship breakdown? Or those we see in our mind’s eye though a long way away, depicted hour by hour across our visual media in the world's agony zones.

What does God say – how does he speak to Elijah? Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out. God spoke in the silence after the storm and sent Elijah on his way.

The story is chosen to match the Gospel passage from Matthew 14:22f where once again God is revealed in the wake of a storm. The boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them… Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then we see our patron Peter taking heart exactly and walking the walk of faith. He got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’

This morning both Elijah and Peter are set before us as those consciously on the move with God. They're a wakeup call for us to challenge false securities and get on the move spiritually, just as Peter left the security of the boat to walk on water. 

One of the late Bishop of Guyana, Cornell Moss's phrases was ‘I’m not afraid to walk on thin ice as I serve a Jesus who walked on water’. It may be there’s a situation you’re in where you feel you can’t move forward. It looks like thin ice ahead – take heart. If God is with you, and calling you to work through that situation, though the ice cracks you’ll be able to walk on the water. Peter did, but he slipped under once he took his eyes off the Lord. 

Faith, the journey of faith, is belief in the divine accompaniment, of Jesus Emmanuel God with us.
Is there anything, any challenge before us that’s too great for us on a journey with God at our side?
When you retire - I've just retired - you get unsettled. You've less to direct your life and get anxious at first. I'm happy to live in today without fear of tomorrow knowing I'm on a journey with God at my side. I rest in belonging to him, in his purpose, empowerment, forgiveness and direction.
Like Elijah I have my cave of contemplation in which I await the Lord's still small voice guiding me in different ways, as with Fr Christopher's phone call inviting me to celebrate the Eucharist this morning.

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). That’s faith speaking as it looks to the facts of God’s love around, alongside and before us and ignores, as both Peter and Elijah did, those natural fears. Peter naturally feared being overwhelmed by the water and Elijah feared the isolation he was in as a believer in a hostile climate. Both men looked in faith to the fact of God’s love and away from their fears. 

This reminds me of a story Bishop Maurice Wood used to tell: ‘Faith, facts and feelings were three figures walking on a wall. Faith walked behind facts and in front of feelings. Faith kept going as long as he looked to the facts of God’s love. Whenever he looked over his shoulder to feelings behind him he wobbled and came in danger of falling off the wall’. 

So it is with the journey of faith we travel on – and we have to keep moving. We were made to move finding no ultimate security this side of the grave save in the promise of God.

As Paul spells out that saving promise to the Romans in our second reading if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. … ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’  

To have faith is to be on the move. 

I think of people I know who’ve moved forward courageously through financial insecurity putting trust in God that he wouldn’t see them put to shame, continuing to give as he would have them give but out of real poverty.  

Or of people who recognised their life’s journey had stopped as Elijah’s did but their stopping place, their cave was one of destructive anger God had to call them out of.

Or people who’d sensed a forward call out into the sacred ministry which took their gifts away from serving money into serving God and the Church.

Or people who, faced with a diagnosed terminal illness lost no forward momentum, no sinking under the waves of self-pity but pressed forward to make the passage to Jesus as though walking on water or thin ice.

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

He would be our guide and support but we have to recognise that and welcome his leading in our circumstances as surely as we welcome him right now in his word and in the bread and wine of the eucharist which is food for the journey of faith.

Blessed, praised and hallowed be our Lord Jesus Christ upon his throne in glory, in the most holy sacrament of the altar and in the hearts of all his faithful people, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.