Saturday, 26 May 2018

Trinity Sunday at Ascension, Haywards Heath 27th May 2018

Today we celebrate the revelation of God as an eternal fellowship of love, three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour, yet one God.
The doctrine of the most holy and undivided Trinity is challenging, relevant, intriguing and essential – four headings to steer our delving this morning into foundational truth and life.
Firstly it’s a challenge. Reason takes you so far in Christianity. We could never have invented God in three persons, it’s revealed truth. Then you have the question of weighing other revelations – Islam and Hinduism besides the Judaism from which the Trinitarian revelation came.
Preachers go on leave this Sunday for fear of a seemingly cold, calculated, mathematical doctrine. Three in one and one in three. Why three? Why not one, says Islam, why not more says Hinduism, why not none says the atheist mocking our feeble attempts to get our mind round God three in one.
There’s the challenge set before us in Trinitarian faith but that challenge is based upon historical events. These clearly reveal the nature of God in the coming of Jesus, whose death and resurrection we’ve been following up to Ascension Day, and the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost day. It’s a challenge that might lead you to the church library or the internet so you can better answer for your faith to those who believe in one God, no God or many gods as opposed to one God in three persons.
Secondly the doctrine of the Trinity is utterly relevant. How good it was to see the countercultural coverage on marriage last weekend since marriage as a union of life-giving love points us, because human beings are in the image of God, to God who is himself a union of life-giving love. Keeping true to ourselves as human beings, and true to the life-giving nature of marriage is keeping true to God no less, God as he has revealed himself to us.  God as love within himself. How could God be so without the distinction of persons within him?
Challenging, relevant – thirdly the doctrine of God should be intriguing. The eternal fellowship of love that is God draws us in to himself. What after all is the Church for other than to serve God’s purpose to bring as many souls on earth as possible into fellowship with him?
The doctrine of the Trinity is revealed first of all in Our Lord’s coming into a human family with Mary and Joseph, into village life in Nazareth, then into the missionary partnership of the disciples. That divine society continues after his resurrection and the gift of the Spirit as one, holy catholic and apostolic church which is God’s never-ending family!
How intriguing God is, and we are. If you want evidence for God look in the mirror and read Psalm 8 You have made (us) little lower than the angels and crown (us) with glory and honour. More than that, a human being in isolation isn’t a true human for, in John Donne’s words, no man is an island. What’s intriguing about God as divine society mirrors what we find intriguing about ourselves, namely our desire for society and friendship. This desire will be fully satisfied only in the communion of saints who can be thought of as standing near God as a corona or crown around the sun.
Challenging, relevant, intriguing – lastly the Trinitarian doctrine of God is essential.
It is essential because Christianity is a religion of salvation and that salvation stands or falls on the divinity of Jesus Christ. We read Jesus words in the Gospel all that belongs to the Father is mine…the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you (John 16:15) Does my eternal destiny depend on my own good works, lacking as they are, or on a relationship freely offered me by God in his Son?
In Jesus do we really meet with God himself? That, as they say, is the twenty four thousand dollar question hidden behind keeping a feast day for the Blessed Trinity.This doctrine might sound cold and mathematical but it follows a logic of love, love beyond all measure, extravagant, unconditional love for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son Jesus Christ so that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
To believe this is to believe God isn’t One but One God in three persons.
It’s challenging to so believe – God is God and has revealed himself this way and not another way.
It’s relevant - the way we see God affects the way we see ourselves and steers us from unworthy pursuits.
It’s intriguing because the loving fellowship of God in three persons chimes in with our sociable nature and draws it to joyful completion in the communion of saints
It’s essential doctrine because without it the divinity of Christ falls, the word of God is emptied of power and the sacraments become empty ritual as God’s coming to us in Jesus and the Spirit is denied.
May all I have shared enrich the eucharist we now offer through, with and in Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all might, majesty, dominion and power now and for evermore. Amen.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Pentecost at St Bartholomew, Brighton 20 May 2018

The Church of England - is there a Church like it?
The English love it and imagine they made it!
It's Archbishop ranks with Pope and Patriarchs.
Puritans and gay activists find cover under its wings.
Feminists and Romanists contend within it.
Christian atheists love its liturgy.
Evangelicals use it to fish for souls.
Charismatics dance down its aisles.
Few churches worldwide get the headlines the Church of England gets - even if they embarrass and shame us!
It calls itself 'the ancient church of this land, catholic and reformed', not Roman Catholic or Protestant but a middle way true to the faith of the church through the ages.
Is there a church like it, welcoming honest seekers after truth and the Truth that seeks us in Jesus? Liturgical beauty, community care and  thoughtful engagement with a fast changing world?
Long live the Church of England!

I wrote this ode for Horsted Keynes parish magazine years back and it's a good opener for today’s celebration of the church’s birthday.

Yes, the Church of England’s birthday is Pentecost and not 1534 when King Henry VIII declared himself its Supreme Governor. As ‘the ancient church of this land’ we trace back to Whit Sunday. We’re part of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’ even if some things you read in the Church Times might lead you to believe otherwise - that the C of E starts and ends in England! Most of my ministry I’ve contended with those who make our Church less than she is as part of the Church of God in England. On many issues I’ve found myself fighting against what I call ‘the conservative tendency in Anglicanism’ - the tendency to conserve our position in society which has led us more and more distant from our major partners worldwide, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The good news of Jesus Christ wasn’t started here - it came to Britain from overseas so that Augustine’s arrival from Rome in 597 and not 1534 is the biggest date for us after the bigger event recorded in today’s first reading which dates from 33 years after the birth of Christ. 

The dynamic of the love, truth and power of God’s Spirit flows down to us through 20 centuries bearing fruit in individuals, communities and nations more ready to conform themselves to Christ than conform Christ and his church’s teachings to themselves!
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth Our Lord promises in the Gospel. We heard in the Acts reading how that promise was fulfilled. Later on the priest will lead our exultation on this great feast that according to God’s most true promise the Holy Spirit came down as at this time from heaven with a sudden great sound, as it had been a mighty wind, in the likeness of fiery tongues, lighting upon the Apostles, to teach them and to lead them to all truth; giving them both the gift of divers languages, and also boldness with fervent zeal, constantly to preach the Gospel unto all nations: whereby we have been brought out of darkness and error into the clear light and true knowledge of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ.

Some years back a great preacher captured the essence of the work of the Holy Spirit in two paragraphs. Here are words from Greek Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras.

Without the Holy Spirit:
God is far away,

Christ stays in the past,

the Gospel is a dead letter,

the Church is simply an organisation,                                                                                         authority is a matter of domination,                                                                                    mission is a matter of propaganda,                                                                                                    the liturgy no more than an evocation,                                                                                       Christian living a slave morality.

But in the Holy Spirit:

the risen Christ is there,

the Gospel is the power of life,

the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,                                                                          authority is a liberating service,

mission is a Pentecost,

the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,                                                                                 human action is deified.

‘Without the Holy Spirit the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is simply an organisation,
But in the Holy Spirit the risen Christ is there, the Gospel is the power of life..’ Patriarch Athenagoras’ comment warns how the Gospel and the Church reduce to words, images and structures without the breath of the Lord and Lifegiver.

So it is in our lives as Christians unless we beware. I know a priest who has over his desk, ‘I am a human being, not a human ‘doing". All we do as Christians flows from what we are - this is the powerful reminder of the Feast of Pentecost. For God has made us what we are in Baptism and Confirmation by the Gift of his Spirit. He renews that Gift of his own Life week by week in the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. This is the great Mystery of our Faith, that God is real and personal and present, so real and personal and present to us and in us that Scripture says that as human beings we ‘live and move and have our being’ in him. 

But do we? Do we really recognise in this coming Holy Communion the claim of Christ upon us that should make him central to our life? Open your hearts to the Spirit of God who this day first came upon the Church. 

I close with the Pentecost prayer of another Patriarch, this time of the Western rather than the Eastern Church, Pope John XXIII: ‘Holy Spirit renew your wonders in this our day. Give us a new Pentecost!’ 

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of Your Love. May Your Life overflow here at St Bartholomew’s so that people will be intrigued, drawn to you by our worship, our words about you, our deeds of service and our love for one another and for Brighton!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Ascension Sunday at St Richard Haywards Heath 13 May 2018

The liturgical year is one of our greatest teachers.
We believe as Christians that God made and loves all that is including each and everyone of us sitting in Church this morning.
God loves us so much he sent his Son down to be born as one of us – which is Christmas.
God loves us so much he allowed Jesus to suffer what human beings suffer, to live and die as one of us yet without sin – which is Lent
God loves us so much he wants us to know death isn’t the end of us in his sight – which is Easter
God loves us so much he brought Jesus up to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit down into any heart that will welcome him – which is Pentecost.
That’s Christianity in four lines – Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost.
On Ascension Feast in Eastertide we recall how God loves  each and everyone of us and those gone before us on earth no less than ourselves.

The great Easter Candle stands before us today as a sign to each and everyone of the truth that Jesus and Jesus alone towers over death.
The incense burned before God rising upwards today is also a liturgical teacher suited to this week of prayer before Pentecost for which we’ll be joined on Tuesday by Bishop Richard.
The age old symbolism of incense is that of rising prayer.
The incense grains are an expensive source of fragrance.
On Ascension Feast we celebrate how the fragrance of Jesus spreads through space and time only through his passion, death and resurrection. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
The costly incense grains, formed over centuries in the extraordinary sap of Arabian trees, die on the charcoal to rise yielding pleasant fragrance which scripture associates with the world beyond this world. In the vision of St John the Divine, Revelation 8 verse 4 he tells us the smoke of [the] incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of an [the] angel.
On Ascension Feast we celebrate the completion of Christ’s earthly work and its being taken up to heaven. This is well expressed in the fourth verse of George Bourne’s ascension hymn, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour where we read these rich words:
Paschal Lamb, thine off’ring finished
once for all when thou wast slain,
in its fullness undiminished
shall for evermore remain.
Alleluia, alleluia,
Cleansing souls from ev’ry stain

In the Feasts of Christ spread across the liturgical year we read, mark and inwardly digest truths that are ‘once for all’ and yet evermore inspire and cleanse our souls. Christ, as Bourne’s hymn concludes, is risen, ascended, glorified so that we can be raised from the works of the flesh, ascend in prayer and anticipate the glory that is to be ours.

The Chinese writer Watchman Nee wrote a short commentary on the letter to the Ephesians entitled Sit, Walk, Stand to remind Christians that as Christ is ascended and seated at God’s right hand, so are we. We are to keep seated with Christ above sin, to keep walking in the Spirit and keep standing fast against the devil.

The incense we use at worship is symbol of rising prayer, of costly sacrifice, and lastly of our living in the court of heaven seated with its Monarch. God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, we read in Ephesians and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

As Christ is risen, ascended, glorified so are we, which is why St Nicodemus could write man is the macrocosm and the whole universe is the microcosm. Because we bear God’s image we stand over and above the universe, a truth confirmed by the ascension of Christ which raises and sets humanity in the highest place of all.

For, as Paul says to the Corinthians we are the incense of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 2:15). Our prayer is to be one with the ascended Christ, our lives united with his sacrifice in the eucharist and the fragrance in our worship is to be mirrored in the fragrance of lives lived to the praise and service of God!

In this service we take, we bless, we break, we share bread and wine and show forth God’s very great love for us and for all that is – especially recalling how Jesus was taken by God the Father on Good Friday and his body was broken on the Cross to show God’s love for us, love shared with the whole world ever since by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
At the eucharist we also see our lives taken by God. When we put the bread on the plate and the wine in the cup we think of ourselves placed there before God, our congregation, our town, our county, our nation, our world, its joys and sorrows, its strengths and all being placed on the altar of God which is the eucharist table to ascend to him.
In the eucharist we take, bless, break and share bread and wine
In the eucharist we see Jesus taken, blessed, broken and shared.
In the eucharist our lives also ascend to God and are made a blessing to others.  
So let’s offer ourselves in union with the ascended Christ this morning so that all that we are may be consecrated afresh to God’s praise and service with, in and through Jesus our high priest!
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.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

SS Philip & James, New Bentley, Doncaster Patronal Festival 3 May 2018

It’s good to be home - I was born in Doncaster - and I’m grateful to be back in the place and at the altar where my priestly ministry took birth 40 years ago. As a Society priest its a privilege to concelebrate with Bishop Glyn in Sheffield Diocese, alongside my friend Fr Dickinson who’s given 10 times more love and care to you than I did over two and a half years - congratulations, Father, on your 25th here! 10 times more work and its been twice the work with Arksey as well. You and I are Facebook friends but there’s nothing to beat a real time and place meet up - what better time or place than the Festival of St Philip & St James in New Bentley!

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

We just asked the prayers of SS Philip & James for our faith journey, that we be given a share in the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ so we can go to God and behold him for ever. In the second reading we heard how James saw Jesus risen from the dead and our Gospel included Philip’s stated desire to see God. By describing himself as ‘The Way’ Our Lord reminds us of the direction we can find in life that leads to the vision of God.

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

As Christians we don’t expect to be dragged backwards to God at our death but to be more and more at ease with the forward movement of life - even if it brings increased frailty, loss of mobility and the need to depend on others. The passion of Our Lord takes the strain as we give our pain to him. I keep Gladys Protheroe in my prayers, regular at daily Mass in my day. How much I learned from her, from her patient struggle with disability, offering it up as she sought Our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament. 

Fr Pannell and I - he sends his blessing - we live very much apart nowadays with me near his native Brighton and he much more a northerner than I. When I served here with Father within the Company of Mission Priests the most awesome event was that day in November 1978 when our housekeeper Eunice Mitchell came to the door at 7 o’clock to tell me there’d been an accident at the pit and Jim hadn’t come home. I can’t forget her walking that next Sunday in the Blessed Sacrament procession for Christ the King, a widow, Jim killed in the paddy train crash, singing angels saints and nations sing praise be Jesus Christ our King. Or their little Stewart to whom Arthur Scargill sent a miner’s lamp as reminder of his dad’s death, part of the price of coal. On our way to God pains are sweetened as we keep close to Christ in his passion and resurrection. Grant us … a share in the passion and resurrection of your Only Begotten Son that we may merit to behold you for eternity.

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

As Christians we travel to God like anyone else through suffering and joy but with the difference of thankfulness for the joy and assurance of God’s love in the suffering. Our Lord who’s the Way has trodden that way before us and expects nothing of us he’s not been through himself which is the message of Holy Week.

Looking back Fr Pannell was more the humorist than I - we’d some good times at the Clergy House then in Daw Wood - and each of us needed cheering up at times. I remember the night I got chased after youth club by wild teenage girls who sprayed me with hairspray! Then in winter when we walked in our cloaks to Church Father got cross when they shouted Robin at him. Being the taller I was always bat man! 

When we look back on our faith journey we see suffering and resurrection. Keeping a good sense of humour’s one secret of spiritual resurrection. Two weeks ago I took the funeral in Brighton of Margaret Blewitt, mother of my best friend at Giggleswick School, who was a dentist in Rotherham. One of our confirmation candidates at SS Philip & James was a lovely girl with her pathological fear of dentists clear from the look of her. Fr Pannell and I persuaded Audrey Cull to come with us to visit Margaret. Margaret with her kindness and forcefulness saw to her there and then. Audrey’s faith took a real upturn with her new teeth - she was a new lady - its hard to believe in God unless you believe in yourself.

My faith journey took a downturn my second year at New Bentley. God seemed a long way off. I went to talk to a Mirfield monk. ‘Maybe God’s not gone but your vision of him’ was the advice. ‘Seek the Holy Spirit for a vision more to God’s dimensions and less to your own’. I did seek and I did experience the renewing power of the Holy Spirit which was something of a resurrection of faith. When I came back from Mirfield to the parish I remember Bernard Shaw was touched in the same way - how sorry I am to learn of Anne’s passing - and I remember how it concerned and confused then Churchwarden Doug Clark. 

Doug and Peggy, rest their souls, were kindness itself to Fr Pannell and I, just as their daughter Ann and husband John are being to me tonight, taking me in for Bed & Breakfast! Ann’s dad always said those not attending Mass would do so readily if only they realised what they were missing - I know Ann’s taken a leaf out of dad and mum’s books and is like me a daily Mass goer. 

SS Philip & James were very tolerant of my fancy vocabulary after 10 years of Chemistry and Theology at University and brought me gently down to earth!  

Doug would forgive me telling this story against him. Doug helped me move to Moorends where my new found zeal made me an evangelist for the Catholic Faith. He helped me carpet a Vicarage bedroom to be an Oratory - fancy word for a little chapel. He was heard saying to someone: ‘you should have seen the devil of a job we had getting that carpet into Father’s orifice’!! I still have an Oratory in our little house in Haywards Heath and precious memories of Doug who first set me up with one.

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

You and I, each one of us are on that journey with Our Lord who is himself the way.    On that journey keeping close to him in his passion and resurrection sweetens our sorrow and deepens our joy, as does the fellowship we have with one another in God’s holy Church. I’ve been blessed over the last 40 years to keep up with and receive such encouragement from Brian and Sue Dutton, who again have always been kindness itself to me, Charlie Brough, rest his soul, his daughters and others from here.

You too have been blessed in the faithful care of your priests and, in the difficulties we all share in the Church of England’s ongoing crisis, of Bishops like Bishop Glyn. I’m so grateful to Fr Dickinson for ongoing news of church members - he has a real heart for you - and once again thank and blame him for letting me loose tonight in my old haunt!  

May what I’ve shared hearten us for the ongoing journey of faith which will one day, as it has for many we love but see no longer, vanish into sight. Then, in a prayer I’ve said so many times at the altar in the old translation: when every tear is wiped away we shall see God as he is. We shall become like him and praise him for all eternity. Grant us, Lord, a share in the passion and resurrection of your Only Begotten Son so that we may indeed merit to behold you for all eternity.