Saturday, 17 March 2018

Lent 5 St Bartholomew, Brighton 18 March 2018

Some Greeks…came to Philip…and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’

That phrase, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ is written around many a pulpit. In Holy Cross Church by Kings Cross Station there is a pulpit crucifix which unlike ours, facing the people, faces the preacher.

In my old parish of St Giles, Horsted Keynes there’s a carved figure of Our Saviour on the pulpit flanked by four saints. Each figure took 90 hours to carve we read in the parish history.

Carving a figure of Jesus to present to people is the preacher’s labour of love especially in Passiontide.

It is as if the literal veiling of the Cross calls urgent attention to the central mystery of the faith.

Today’s reading from Hebrews Chapter 5 speaks of God’s choice of his Son to take high priesthood on behalf of humanity so as to be able to become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. That choice is proved, according to the author of Hebrews, by Christ’s own evident reluctance shown in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Our Lord did not want honour for himself but made submission to his Father, dedicating his whole life and humanity unreservedly to the will of God.

That renunciation of will in Gethesemane is summarised in the Gospel passage from St John Chapter 12 Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.

Self-offering that wins glory is built into the life of God himself.

The great French priest scientist Teilhard de Chardin speaks of how that principle applies to our best development as the human race: To allow God, when it so pleases him, to grow within us, and, by death, to substitute himself for us: that is now our duty; that, if one may use the word, is our opportunity; and that is the only attitude that can finally bring salvation. 

Teilhard is struck by the liturgical repetition in Passiontide of the refrain from Philippians ‘Christus factus est’ – Christ was obedient unto death.

Commenting on this refrain he writes: That is obviously the exact and profound significance of the cross: obedience, submission to the law of life – and to accept everything, in a spirit of love, including death, there you have the essence of Christianity.

Our Lord lived to die a death for the life of the world. We too are called as Christians to lose our lives, all that is governed by wrong self-interest and self-concern, so that his life may flow in us to bring glory to God.

 ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’

Our best response to that request happens many a time unwittingly as people see us being carried along by the Lord as we carry something of a cup of sufferings, cheerfully and obediently, with faith in Jesus who is become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Passiontide reminds us that no sorrow on earth needs to be wasted.

By being taken up into the mystery of Christ’s love, in his passion and in the eucharist, there is transformation. This comes as we gain grace to accept with serenity the things that can’t be changed or courage to change the things that should be changed in our lives.

‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’

I end with Teilhard’s great meditation on the hands of our Saviour that ends with an act of surrender into those same holy and venerable hands:

Into your hands I commend my spirit. To the hands that broke and gave life to the bread, that blessed and caressed, and were pierced – to the hands that are as our hands, of which we can never say what they will do with the objects they hold, whether shatter them or care for them, but whose whims, we may be sure, are full of kindness and will never do more than hold us in a jealous grasp – to the kindly and mighty hands that reach down to the very marrow of the soul – that mould and create – to the hands through which so great a love is transmitted – it is to these that it is good to surrender our soul.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Lent 3 Presentation Church, Haywards Heath 4th March 2018

Lent's a time to get the main things the main things and the scripture set for the third Sunday of Lent is a good starting point for this.

We have the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament reading from Exodus and Our Lord's cleansing of the Temple in the passage from St John's Gospel Chapter 2

Reflecting on these two passages we find a reminder that Christian faith engages both mind and heart.

To receive the word of God we need open hearts as well as open ears.

You can read the Ten Commandments or teach them, memorise what’s right and wrong but the main thing’s to live right. If we read on in the book of Exodus we see the disobedience of the Israelites so that God says in Psalm 95 'for forty years I was wearied of these people and I said 'their hearts are astray, these people do not know my ways'.

Today’s Gospel of the cleansing of the Temple is seen in the spiritual tradition as a pointer to the righting of wayward hearts as in this prayer familiar to some of you maybe as a Saturday night prayer of preparation for Holy Communion: Cleanse our consciences we beseech you, almighty God, that our Lord Jesus Christ, when he come to us in the most holy sacrament, may find in our hearts a dwelling place prepared for himself.

Our two readings, first and last this morning, can be seen as reminders that study of God’s word is a matter of applying mind and heart.

I wonder when you last read your Bible devotionally, or took away your pew sheet for further reflection?

Though we can’t be in Church day by day - some come with me and Fr David on Thursday morning - we can receive spiritual nourishment midweek from Bible reading. It’s worth praying for the Holy Spirit to give us an appetite, a hunger for God’s word to make this a more natural discipline.

At her Coronation the Queen was presented with a Bible with these words: ‘Here is the most valuable thing this world affords’. Its value isn’t in itself but in its being ‘read, marked and inwardly digested’.

Christians believe the Bible can’t be mistaken as it presents the good news of Jesus to honest seekers of the truth.  As the Bible says of itself in 1 Timothy 3:15 ‘the sacred writings are able to instruct... for salvation through Jesus Christ’. This witness to God’s salvation is the principal function of the Bible as the truth teller it is.

Reading scripture brings us one to one with God in Jesus if both heart and mind are engaged. Many people’s initial encounter with the Bible are fruitless because they’re dealing with it without repentance and as less than it is - the word of God in human words. They – we – need ongoing cleansing of the temple of our hearts. We also gain from bible reading notes available online as well as from Bible Reading Fellowship (you might not know it but I’m March’s New Daylight author with a series on Jerusalem).

Like the Ethiopian court official whom St Philip helped to understand the Bible in Acts chapter 8, people very often need a human guide to get into scripture. We can also help one another read the Bible one to one, and as a local priest I’m always delighted to help in this.

Study for Christians – of the bible and the lives of the saints - stands alongside prayer and action in forming us up to be more fully what we’re meant to be.

Former US President Theodore Roosevelt claimed that ‘a thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education’. Moving from the fourth, third and second-best courses in our lives to the best forward course links to studying not just how we see ourselves but what others including God have to say about us and taking that into our hearts.

How do you see your sins? Pale gas – pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice, sloth – weaknesses that ruin the world around you including your friendship with God and neighbour?

The sins we mourn in Lent are weaknesses indulged, but, let me put it in another more positive yet dreadful way. Sin is not just weakness but the misuse of strength. Money and power are strengths employed both to hurt and to heal. Think of the damage caused by the misuse of strength in the Middle East, money markets or the internet?

When you stand before God for judgement will the use of your strengths be weighed, as hurtful or helpful to the world? The great value of the Christian faith is its challenge to seek God’s guidance in weighing up your gifts and applying them in the best way, which is to God’s praise and the service of others.

You and I have been gifted with time and talents to build God’s future.

This is the day that the Lord has made says the Psalm writer. So is tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

May God take and use the gifts that abound in this worship gathering and employ them in a manner not fourth-best, or third-best or second-best but in the way he knows best – and may you and I find and keep on that way as we study scripture and the lives of the saints.

We’re approaching the Lord's Table and as we do so we recall that image in the Gospel of the cleansing of the temple applied to our hearts.

If the heart is a well the tongue, for example, is a bucket that draws from that well. Words of affirmation and encouragement are drawn out of a clean well. Words that are dismissive of others come out of the well of an unclean heart.

Conversely, thinking of receiving Jesus in Word and Sacrament into ourselves, that flow deep inside can only be welcomed through holy attentiveness and expectancy upon the Lord.

It is in purity of heart that we become Biblically literate. No amount of reading God’s words in the Bible of whatever translation can lead to application of those words and the transformation of our lives without inner cleansing from the Holy Spirit to dispose us rightly to Scripture.

It is the cleansing of the thoughts of our hearts by the same Spirit that leads us to the eucharist in its fullness as a sacrifice of praise, the offering of our souls and bodies in union with Jesus as a living sacrifice.

It is by the conscious putting aside of pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice and sloth that we make space for the gift of the body, soul and divinity of Jesus in the sacrament of his body and blood.
You don’t put honey into a vinegar jar.

Cleanse our consciences, therefore, almighty God, that our Lord Jesus Christ, when he come to us in the most holy sacrament, may find in our hearts a dwelling place prepared for himself.