Saturday, 25 August 2018

St Richard, Haywards Heath Trinity 13 (21B) 26.8.18

Now I’ve more leisure I’ve more time for conversation around the place. Some time back I had one about spirituality with a businessman in the relaxation area at the Dolphin gym. His firm gave him a wellbeing allowance he used to go on a Buddhist meditation course. He was surprised to hear we did contemplation in the Church of England! Somehow he’d not come to see the Church as a spiritual body. I was thinking of him as I read today’s Gospel.

It is the spirit that gives life Our Lord says in the Gospel, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. All we’re about at St Richard’s - the door left open day by day, the many services we hold, the friendships built within these walls - all this is barren without the Holy Spirit’s touch upon our membership!

Reading up to this last section of St John Chapter 6 in recent weeks we’ve heard again and again from Our Lord how we must eat his flesh to have eternal life. Now we’re told at the end of the passage that flesh is of no avail, not the Flesh of the Son of God clothed this morning in the form of bread, but our flesh. When they speak of Our Lord’s intolerable language its a reference both to welcoming this Eucharistic change - bread into flesh - and to welcoming the life-giving Spirit, the living presence of God in Jesus Christ. Echoing Joshua’s words we too will serve the Lord, for he is our God in the Old Testament reading Simon Peter shows the same decisiveness: Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.

How can our spirits welcome more of the Holy Spirit? This is the question for us this morning as we take on the decisiveness invited by today’s scripture.

As I hold my hand up to God as a prayer for the Spirit it's five digits remind me of a rule of life involving worship, prayer, study, service and reflection. Sunday Mass, daily prayer, regular bible study, service to others and confessing my sins are the means by which my spirit can welcome more of the Holy Spirit.

A quick thought on each heading.

First Sunday worship. One of the things Anne and I miss leaving Horsted Keynes for Haywards Heath is sitting by the fire. The way fires burn has something about it which challenges a major spiritual deception which is that we can live a healthy Christian life as long as we go to Church on occasion. Just as coals cool when separated from one another so Christians need one another and worship especially to keep being fired by the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s people gather on the Lord’s day in the Lord's house around the Lord's table. Each Sunday is a new Easter - and it can be a new Pentecost!

Second we welcome the Spirit of God in prayer. In prayer we affirm moment by moment what’s real. My life and my thinking is influenced all the time by material concerns which are natural to living with a body but in prayer I open myself to the primacy of the spiritual: It is the spirit that gives life.  Like God’s presence prayer is invisible, an activity of the soul, though as with God it can find a voice. Without that activity life turns soul-less in the sense it loses its place within the overarching compassion, truth and empowerment of the God who is ground of our being. This is why I’m excited about the Year of Prayer and our forthcoming Week of Guided Prayer.

I remember once in Horsted Keynes attending a Council meeting which many feared could turn ugly. The police had been called. After a few affirmative words to those attending I said I agreed we were in something of a hard place and in need of a miracle. I believed good would come out of our meeting if we listened to one another and assumed the best of one another. I announced I’d spend the meeting quietly praying through the Psalms with their different moods of joy and sorrow which I did for almost three hours. One of the leaders said afterwards he believed this action had turned the mood of things. For myself I felt my heart, carrying the people around me, caught up into and carried by the prayers God himself provides for us in Scripture through the Book of Psalms.

When I pray for specific things I am more surprised when nothing happens to change things than when there’s an obvious outcome as at the village meeting.  

Thirdly bible study. Prayerful reading of scripture is an indisputably powerful means of welcoming the Holy Spirit into our lives and through intercession into the lives of those in our circle. This is why the church provides us with a cycle of praying through the Psalms hour by hour and day by day. We’ll have a chance in the forthcoming Week of Guided Prayer to look at ways you can pray from scripture but I’ll rest content to give one example from my own experience when parish priest in Coventry. My mother was staying with us but I’d been rather busy and hadn’t found time to really be with her. One morning during a time of what’s called Ignatian prayer I was reading Luke 7 about the raising of the widow of Nain’s son.

As I came to the words he gave him to his mother I felt convicted of neglecting my widowed mother and came back from Church to spend time with her I’d otherwise not thought to have done. My spirit had welcomed the Holy Spirit as it leapt at me out of my Bible!

Fourthly to welcome the Holy Spirit we need to give to others of our own spirit in service. Whereas rules of worship, prayer, study and reflection are relatively simply organised a rule of service is more complicated. I can make time to attend Church on Sunday, pray daily, study and regularly examine myself but making time to serve my neighbour is so open ended as to be scary. One overarching rule is to see everyone you meet as God’s gift to you. That meeting, fleeting or ongoing, is given so we see Christ before us. Here’s one of the most exciting and challenging ways of welcoming the Holy Spirit, engaging in conversations such as the one I described as having earlier at the gym which impacted me as much as my business friend.

How can our spirits welcome more of the Holy Spirit? Lastly by reflection including self examination and confession. Thinking of the power of reflection, Albert Einstein was told off as a young man for wasting time though overall he made wondrous application of his life to science.

Why do people keep so busy they have no time to reflect?

Sometimes, I’m sure, because they can’t bear the pain of facing the truth about themselves, their situation or God. Yet - if only they knew - if only we sometimes knew - with all our failings God loves us through and through. If we follow Jesus our love for the God who so loves us finds expression in a rule of life in the power of the Holy Spirit so we worship on Sunday, pray every day,  study the Bible, serve our neighbour and reflect upon our lives confessing our sins.

Such is decided Christianity, the counter to superficial living, an opening up to the God of life who wants to anoint us with his Spirit. It is the spirit that gives life… The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Salvation - Gift, Promise, Choice St Mary, Buxted John 6 19th Aug 2018

Has anyone ever asked you if you were saved? How would you answer?

This morning's Gospel has a lot to say about salvation and what it is to be saved. These last few weeks we’ve been reading through the 6th Chapter of St. John's Gospel, a chapter that ends with Peter's famous summary: Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.

Salvation, eternal life, is a gift, a promise and a choice - three headings gathering up the teaching of St. John Chapter 6 - so we'll take them one by one!

The Gift

Looking over the whole Chapter we see a tremendous emphasis on the wonder and mystery of the gift of Jesus.

The chapter starts with a tale of miraculous feeding. Five thousand are fed - an image of overflowing, wondrous grace.

Then Jesus begins to make many points about this sign, bringing out not just the meaning of that lunch in Tiberias but the ultimate meaning of all things - and how we can enter into that.

The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world he says in the passage we read two weeks ago, v33.

The multiplication of the loaves represents the abundance of life-giving grace that has come to the earth.

Who is the bread of God? He answers, I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever. v51.

What a gift! To live for ever! Always we are longing, we human beings. We long for security, for love, for identity, for purpose and reason for life - and here it is, all of that for which we long, offered at last - through the great mystery of Jesus, God come to earth, lifting earthbound beings to live with him for ever!

To be saved is to welcome the gift of Jesus, the Bread of Heaven. The passage on the Heavenly Bread interprets and brings out the full meaning of the gift we welcome in this service week by week.

Can there be a passage in the Bible which speaks more strongly about the need to participate in the Eucharist than verse 53 of St. John Chapter 6 just read to us: I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.

Salvation is about welcoming Jesus - and what he has done by the separating of his body and blood in sacrifice. It is a gift given for us in the coming to earth, dying and rising of Jesus. You can't be saved, says Jesus, by contemplating your navel, by the vague religiosity of crystals and New Age, or even by our efforts for justice and peace, admirable as they are - but by welcoming the gift of Christ into our souls

Salvation is presented there as a gift - and also, secondly as a promise.

The Promise

You have the message of eternal life says Peter at the end of the chapter.

He is confirming his understanding of the earlier teaching where Jesus makes it clear that when we welcome him we also inherit a promise,

the promise of eternal life: Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my
blood has eternal life

When someone asks you if you are saved they are really touching on whether you feel sure that your life will not be lost when you die.

Are you sure?  Do you know that you have eternal life?

I remember someone rather surprisingly asking a holy and thoughtful priest whether he believed in God.  There was a long pause. Finally the wise old man replied - I'm not sure, but I'm sure of this - that God believes in me. Those humble, thoughtful words back away from arrogant certainty and they reach powerfully into our spirits.

We may lack belief but that doesn't stop God believing in us. We may be unworthy of salvation - but that does not stop God promising it! If I know I am saved it is because God has promised it to believers and I believe God - I trust God to keep his word to me - the key is knowing the promise.

Evangelism is about spreading good news, which means letting people know about the gift and the promises of God so that they can choose for themselves to believe - which brings us onto the last heading.

The Choice

At the end of this sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel we read in v60 that many of the followers of Jesus said, "This is intolerable language.  How could anyone accept it? And they choose to leave Jesus. He then says to the Twelve later in the passage: What about you, do you want to go away too?

When we contemplate the mystery of Christ we should be profoundly moved, awed by the generosity of God in sending his Son to save us and then giving us the choice of whether we accept him or not.
This is awesome - for us to be given a choice.  Awesome, but also perilous for us to be so honoured with freedom to choose in a matter affecting our eternal welfare.

There is a further mystery of how God himself seems to make a hidden choice of those who do respond positively to him, so that our choice of God is almost pre-empted by his choice of us.

What a wonder and a mystery - the choices of God! We are saved by choice not by chance. No one has a right to heaven.  You may think you're as good as the next person - but what does that matter when we are talking about having eternal life with God? Who are we, so full of deceit and inadequacy, made of the dust of the earth, full of frailty, to be worthy of God in his holiness?

Only by God's gift and his promise - and our choice of him.

Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.

Who shall we go to?  There is one giver of salvation who gives us today his flesh and blood as life to our spirit!

You have the message of eternal life  You, Jesus, Bread of Life, promise us through our communion with you a quality of life that is in its nature unending.

And we believe Given such a gift and such a promise the choice is ours, to live not by chance but by a definite choice, a choice for Jesus our Saviour, to whom be glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

St Mary the Virgin, Buxted Patronal 12.8.18 Why magnify Mary?

Having time for conversation in a queue can be rewarding. As Fr John and I were talking in a queue at the Cathedral for the Holy Oils before Easter we saw we’d a connection with my helping out at Father Wagner’s Church of St Bartholomew, Brighton and his manning Wagner’s former Retreat here at Buxted. I live in retirement nearby in Haywards Heath, former diocesan Mission & Renewal adviser, and, until last year, Rector of Horsted Keynes. Being Priest Associate of England’s Nazareth, the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham restored by our former Curate, Fr Hope Patten gives me another link.

So here I am, then, thanks to Fr John’s opportunism, privileged to speak almost a century on from Hope Patten’s Curacy at this ‘Nazareth of the South’. My subject on our Patronal Festival will be ‘Why magnify Mary?’ and what I share is built from an eight post blog I’m launching on Wednesday, the Festival of the Assumption. This is my salute for Our Lady’s Feast on social media, a daily posting of Marian images and commentary over the Octave on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Why magnify Mary?

We do so firstly because God honours her. How sad to see Christian disagreement about Mary! That despite today’s Gospel saying ‘all generations will call [Mary] blessed’ Luke 1:48. Its biblical to magnify Mary because God himself honoured her in making her Mother of his only Son Jesus Christ, God with us. Honour though is less than worship.

Secondly we magnify Mary because Jesus loves her. You can’t love Jesus without loving his Mother. The idea that magnifying Mary diminishes Jesus misses the point. Jesus and Mary aren’t in competition. Jesus is our Saviour. Mary’s love and prayer draws attention to our Saviour as it did especially on Good Friday when Jesus said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27.  She can be our Mother too! ‘Shall we not love thee, Mother dear, whom Jesus loved so well?’

Thirdly The Spirit fills her Art over centuries attempts to capture the radiance of God-bearer Mary. As the Archangel promised; ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’ Luke 1:35. It is a widely held view, expressed in the Church of England Prayer Book, that the Holy Spirit kept Mary ‘a pure Virgin’ freeing her from sin to be fitting instrument of bringing our Saviour to birth. There’s no better reason for magnifying Mary!

Fourthly we magnify Mary because The Creed acclaims her. Week by week we honour Mary as we profess ‘the only Son of God… for us and for our salvation… came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man’. Salvation came into the world through the unique partnership of God and Mary. Though the choice of Mary is God’s and her cooperation is inspired by God it remains an astonishing truth that without that cooperation the cosmos would not be redeemed! ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women!’.

I was singing those words last Sunday in the Angelus after High Mass at St Bartholomew's before which I mentioned my visit to Buxted and that I’d bring good wishes from everyone there, which I do now - and hope I can reciprocate. Like you they go on pilgrimage to Walsingham, share a link with the Shrine restorer, Brighton bred Alfred Hope Patten and have pride in the Church of England’s catholic heritage.

We forget sometimes that the Catechism defines the Church of England as ‘the ancient church of this land, catholic and reformed’. When new priests are installed they swear to uphold the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.

In sharing about the dignity of Mary I’m building on the work of recovery and renewal in full Christian faith Frs Wagner, Roe and Hope Patten were about, as well as Fr Lewis Hollowood whose funeral I conducted 11 years ago at St Richard, Haywards Heath where I still attend daily Eucharist.

I think of Fr Lewis, very brave in suffering a lot of isolation in his last years, as, I recall a fifth quality of Mary: Her perfect obedience In her ‘Yes’ to God given to Gabriel and confirmed in the hardships she bore Mary models to us an unselfish obedience. Simeon prophesied her heart would be ‘pierced with a sword’ in Luke 2:35 and we see this fulfilled in Mary’s presence at the foot of the Cross, obediently following her Son in his sufferings. She is model Christian, one with us, exemplifying obedience to God in sorrow and in joy. At Cana she gives advice to the servants we take for ourselves: ‘Do whatever [Jesus] tells you!’ John 2:5. Fr John was telling me about how St Mary’s is caught up into that obedience, into doing what Jesus tells you to do, through the funding that’s come from Tesco’s for the community garden helping us open the church every more to the community. May God who gave us that leading give us grace to complete it!

Why magnify Mary? Sixthly, in my scheme, for Her perfect prayer. Who on earth or in heaven pleads for us as effectively as the Mother of Jesus? She above all knows what Jesus wants. ‘There is one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus’ we read in 1 Timothy 2:5. Jesus made clear Christians gain a share in that unique mediation so that ‘anything we ask in his name he will give to us’ John 14:13. The only qualification we have as his intercessors is close abiding in him, a quality few would question of Mary. Invoking her prayer undoubtedly furthers God’s will. Our association with that prayer at Buxted and Hadlow Down over the last century has brought blessings to many. The power of prayer is a great resource for us - what better means to shake our community from indifference to God and awaken folk from spiritual apathy?

We magnify Mary in Buxted seventhly on account of Her prophetic role.  Over the Christian centuries apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been welcomed including the one at Walsingham to Richeldis in 1061. These apparitions have come with prophetic messages calling for repentance and deeper trust in God in the face of hardship and persecution as well as indifference towards him. Miracles associated with these apparitions amplify Mary’s thanksgiving to God recorded in our Gospel: ‘the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.’ Luke 1:49 On this Patronal Feast Mary is our prophet inviting the Lord to do such great things among us in the coming year as we recommit to sacrificial prayer and seek his possibilities for our villages.

My last reason for magnifying Mary is She’s normal.  It’s you and I who’re not as we’re meant to be, not Mary! If trust, obedience and Holy Spirit empowerment flow from Mary’s purity our own distrust, disobedience and spiritual apathy flow from our impurity. Visions of the Virgin Mary show her normality in an infectious display of warmth, joy and radiance. Such displays as at Walsingham draw pilgrims in their thousands to humble themselves before God whose norm is humility, as stated by Mary in today’s Gospel: ‘He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly’. Luke 1:52

May such God-given humility, warmth, joy and radiance be ours on this feast of Mary, Mother of the Lord, and flow out from this Church to the community we serve!

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Trinity 10 (18B) St Bartholomew, Brighton Pride Sunday 5.8.18

It’s Pride Sunday and St Bartholomew’s rejoices with those who rejoice in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender community.

Brighton & Hove Pride Festival promotes itself as ‘a dazzling display of inclusivity’. I feel Pride-d out with family members attending the Pride in London Parade a month back, another platform, I quote ‘to raise awareness of issues and campaign for the freedoms that will allow the LGBT+ community to live their lives on a genuinely equal footing’.

We provide our own ‘dazzling display of inclusivity’ at St Bartholomew’s which makes space for friendships to grow between heterosexual and homosexual, married and celibate young and old, rich and poor, employed, retired, unemployed - where do you end?

St Bartholomew’s rejoices with its gay members this weekend standing by them and the wider gay community as they seek to become more fully what God has made us to be. As today’s section from the letter of Ephesians expresses it we are being equipped for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ… speaking the truth in love we must grow up in every way into him. (Ephesians 4:12-13,15)

That sort of growth - towards citizenship of heaven - comes as we grow more rooted in apostolic faith, in the soil of holy church, so we blossom not just in our humanity but in divinity, in holiness. Our sexual orientation is second to living lives oriented to Jesus Christ, loving him and aspiring to make him loved. The friendship and understanding we build among our congregation at St Bartholomew’s are vital to our mission in the secular culture of Brighton. Here is true inclusion, true life, as the Gospel affirms. The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (John 6:33)

To help strengthen our mission we need to build understanding across the diverse group we are so as to be ever more attractive to the people of Brighton who pass in and out of our doors.

The epistle mentions speaking the truth in love. Here are some truths of apostolic faith we might ponder in the complicated and sensitive realm opened up to us by Pride Sunday.

First all love is of God, love between friends, husbands and wives, parents and children and we all need more love in our lives so we can come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Second Scripture applauds same-sex friendship as for David and Jonathan in the Old Testament and those between Our Lord and his apostles, especially Saint John.

Third the Christian tradition opposes the sexualising of friendship, in particular physical sexual activity outside of marriage.

Fourth the Sacrament of Marriage is recognised as a divine ordinance in which the delight and tenderness of sexual union between husband and wife mirrors Christ’s love for the Church and the love of the Father for the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Fifth same-sex marriage has no basis in scripture or Christian tradition which affirms marriage as the foundation of family life in which children are born and nurtured. Sexual intercourse effects life-giving love with inseparable unitive and procreative aspects.

Sixth Our Lord starts his Sermon on the Mount by warning against lust. I say to you that everyone who looks at someone with lust has already committed adultery with them in their heart. (Matthew 5:28) Our sexual preferences are incidental to the great failing of treating anyone as an object even in our hearts.

It’s those principles of apostolic faith that inform the church’s pastoral ministry. That ministry of care is shared by all Christians not just the clergy. On that account I’ll earth what I’ve said in a few pastoral examples with names changed.

I think of Steve, a young man who holds to these principles who’s been an active member of a political party. The other day he told me he was thinking of a career change because his Christian views were increasingly alien to his Party making him unselectable. He needed my care.

Then Miriam in a same sex relation with twins who in talking to me informally about their baptisms, asked me whether the church could approve their parents union. In that conversation I left the door open for the delightful infants whilst affirming marriage by nature as a physical union of man and woman. I thanked God I wasn’t her parish priest!

Joe who’s gay talked to me about his possible call to the priesthood. I advised him to be honest about his state of life in the discernment process and courageously face up to the House of Bishops guidance that, I quote, on account of ‘the distinctive nature of their calling, status and consecration’ the clergy ‘cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships’.

Sally’s a Lesbian active in her Church who has to deal with a lot of hassle from friends in the LGBT community because of her faith. A new report by gay rights charity Stonewall has underlined the bullying LGBT people face from those within and outside of their community. It’s estimated one in ten gay Christians face Sally’s trauma.

On Pride Sunday we think of such folk and the Christian principles that guide them and us. I hope my examples illuminate struggles we should be sympathetic to. Many of us may be in a different place but we’ve all got a duty of care especially to those who belong with us here at St Bartholomew’s.

I can’t resist a poke at Pride as a title which we know as the chief sin. Pride’s the sin that cuts you off from God on account of determined and aloof self sufficiency. LGBT pride’s opposite though isn’t humility but shame. It’s good there’s a movement of inclusion to counter such shame about the way you are which is why we rejoice with those who rejoice this Pride Weekend. Losing shame about how you are doesn’t absolve Pride’s followers from accountability for the way they live their lives, especially  for Christians, commitment to apostolic faith.

We all live in need of mercy. Our sense of our need of mercy is our strongest witness to those in our circle living without belonging, purpose, empowerment, forgiveness or direction to list qualities implied by the Lord’s prayer I mentioned two weeks ago.

As we welcome the bread of God… which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world we seek, each one of us before God’s altar this morning, a deeper sense of his mercy to serve our contribution to the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ… speaking the truth in love we must grow up in every way into him.