Sunday, 12 May 2019

St Richard, Haywards Heath Listening to God 12.5.19

The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice. John 10:27

We hear three voices - those from God, our neighbourhood and our self. Even when we’re speaking, those voices engage with us. We have two ears - I often need reminding - and one mouth! But we also have inner ears gifted by the Holy Spirit to listen from the heart and see our hearts touched, melted and enthused towards others. Building capacity to listen is about building awareness of those three voices.
We might not have ears like rabbits but our inner ears can grow !

As I look back on my life I think it's the people who’ve listened to me who’ve changed me most. I think of my mum and dad, my friends and teachers, my wife, my children and people who’ve lent an ear to my desire to follow God in the best way. As you’re listening to me now I also spend time listening in Church where I gain inspiration. I listen to God, to his word in the Bible, to the words of the Eucharist, sermons, to people who cross my path day by day and of course to myself. By listening to others I serve them and others serve me as they listen to my aspirations.

Priests do a lot of listening and bishops more so. I remember a conversation with Archbishop Rowan Williams who’d just come back from going round classes in a school. ‘I felt great sympathy with the children in their struggle to listen’ he said as one used to listening to the woes of priests. It’s one of the big challenges we have, the shorter attention spans of our children and grandchildren, which affects the classroom and among other things impacts church attendance. Children expect excitement in church. Wise children expect to be awed and intrigued - we have to cater for both!

This reminds me - I have a butterfly mind easily distracted - of a story about paying attention. It's about a shocked visitor to Crete who tackled a farmer she saw bashing his donkey on the side of his head with some sort of mallet. ‘How can you treat your donkey like that’ shouted the lady. ‘Simple’ the peasant replied. ‘I’ve got to get his attention’.

We should have sympathy. Life can feel donkey-like at times, like being on a treadmill, somewhat thankless. It's the same with the spiritual life at times. How many memorable sermons can I recall, let alone sermons that have really changed my life! One I must mention was on Jeremiah 31:17 ‘There is hope in thine end’. It was by a holy monk called Cedma Mack in the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield where I trained as a priest. ‘There is hope in thine end’ Fr Cedma announced as his text and dropped dead! Never forget it - you couldn’t lay on something like that! They carried him out.
The Creed was said not sung that day but otherwise the Community Mass proceeded as normal! Cedma was a much loved man - I held the holy water bucket at the grave and can tell you more tears flowed than holy water at his funeral!

The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice.

I found God speaking to me as I read St Richard’s annual report last week. To read the description of the seven core areas of our life was very stimulating. More of us are leading so more is being achieved. I was pleased to do my bit in the Churchyard and through the Week of Guided Prayer. I’m aware of more God talk among us which might evidence more listening to God. It’s good we feel able to share with our peers and our priests about our journey of faith because that’s our Christian distinctive.

Listening to God and to one another is packaged with the costly virtue of self-forgetfulness. I try to remember that ultimately I will be with God and people in the communion of saints so my longing for him and for my neighbour is pivotal. My life - my eternal life - depends upon it.

A few weeks back I had a really difficult phone call from someone so full of emotional pain they were hardly able to let me get a word in to say I had a train to catch! In this experience I was trying to listen to her, to myself - an impatient inner voice saying ‘end this call asap’ - and to God saying ‘be kind’. By the grace of God I got my train! Reflecting back on the conversation I was fast to judge the poorly lady’s demanding tone as it rattled my own self-will. None of us can be in two places at once but the capacity to listen to others in or out of a crisis is a servant gift I keep seeking - and with it the gift of self-forgetfulness.

A practical suggestion. Pray for two gifts - to forget yourself and never to forget God. Ask the Lord first to steer you from self-love in every guise or disguise since that above all else blocks your capacity to listen to others. Then, secondly, offer God the aspirations of your soul and the health and ability of your body and open your heart to his love, maybe in a prayer like this.

A prayer of Eric MIlner-White: ‘Let your love, O Lord, pass into the depth of my heart, into the heart of my prayer, into the prayer of my whole being; so that I desert myself and dwell more and more in you, in peace, now and evermore’

Saturday, 4 May 2019

St Bartholomew, Brighton Easter 3 5 May 2019

‘Do you love me?’ John 20:16

Our Lord’s question to Peter extends to us all through the last chapter of the Gospel of St John read on this third Sunday of Eastertide.

The question comes three times: ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’. Three times to counter Peter’s three denials before Easter. The exchange ends with an affirmation we’re invited to make our own: ‘Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you’.

Our love for the Lord represents our capacity for the infinite. It’s the most important thing in our lives.

Saint Catherine of Siena wrote as if from the Lord: ‘I who am infinite God want you to serve me with what is infinite, and you have nothing infinite except your soul’s and love’s desire’. The author of The Cloud of Unknowing puts it similarly. ‘It's not what you are or have been that God looks at with his merciful eyes but what you would be’.

Our love for God is our infinite tendency so it’s cultivation is pivotal. We all bear God’s image but an image isn’t reality. The reality of God’s life builds in us as our longing for him reaches out towards him, often like Peter in deep penitence for our practical atheism. We recall how Peter says three times of Our Lord I do not know him. How many times do we act in denial of the presence of God?

We profess our belief Sunday by Sunday in ‘the maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible’ but day by day, hour by hour we act in denial. We do not practice the presence of God to the best of our ability. We affirm our belief in a God who loves us, all people and all things through and through but lack transparency to that love which we profess reaches down to us from this altar.

In awesome reflections on the Eucharist Aloysius Roche writes these words of prayer to Our Lord: ‘Would that all earth-bound minds and hearts might know the truth, and break their bonds and fly to him through thee!  Would that all whose souls are cold and dead might draw near thy fires and warm them back to life, that so the divine Love which stretched out its arms to all on Calvary and holds them open hourly in the Mass may at last be satisfied’.

‘Do you love me?’ Our Lord asks us this morning. How deep and strong is your longing for me? How earth-bound are you?

From his sick bed the Abbe de Tourville wrote this guidance to an earth-bound soul: ‘Say to yourself very often about everything that happens, ‘God loves me! What joy!’ And reply boldly, ‘And I love him too!’ Then go quite simply about all you have to do and do not philosophize any more. For these two phrases are beyond all thought and do more for us than any thought could do; they are all sufficing’.

One of the blessings of sickness is space granted to reflect on life and see more fully the things that matter which will be ours in that place where ‘mourning and crying and pain will be no more’ (Revelation 21:4). What matters is the infinite God of infinite love who calls all in his image into the reality of holiness with all the saints.

God and people - they alone last forever - with our longing love for them in the communion of saints!

It's all invitation! No one’s compelled to love God or neighbour but all are invited. ‘I who am infinite God want you to serve me with what is infinite, and you have nothing infinite except your soul’s and love’s desire’.

When the tide of death sweeps over us it will remove useless self regard and leave us with the thing that lasts – love for God and people. That can’t be swept aside. It stands for ever as a component of the communion of saints. When death’s tide sweeps over the sandcastle of our lives it will reveal how much substance there is within us, sorting that from what is sandy and ephemeral. That solid residue will be the outgoing concern that draws us out of ourselves into generous communion with others. Our Christian belief and longing is for that communion, that one thing stronger than death central to this eucharist which is the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

How then can we love God more?

We build that love as we reflect on his love whose ‘fires warm us back to life… the divine Love which stretched out its arms to all on Calvary and holds them open hourly in the Mass’. As we reflect on scripture which also warms our hearts, seek spiritual guidance from our peers and priests, confess our sins, pray, worship and serve the needy. Above all our love for God grows from determination. St Seraphim asked why certain people who strive for holiness really get transformed while others hardly make progress answered why this is in two words: ‘Just determination’.

‘Do you love me?’ Our Lord asks Peter at the end of the Gospel of St John.

At the end of our lives the only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy will be not to become a saint. In other words not to have fuelled the infinite longing within us represented in our love for God. To be anything less than holy is to remain unactualized in the spiritual world like the millions of seeds unactualized in the natural world.

We are being actualised - we are reaching our potential - as we build love for Our Lord who at this season opens up to us an infinite horizon through his resurrection. As we commit afresh to him this morning we stand determined, seeking love for him, aspiring to holiness suited for a happy eternity.

Our Lord asks us this morning, ‘Do you love me?’ With Peter in the Gospel we affirm:  ‘Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you’.

Picture - re-enactment of Christ’s crucifixion in Trafalgar Square on Good Friday 2019

Saturday, 27 April 2019

St Bartholomew, Brighton Easter 2 Hope 28th April 2019

There’s a lot around to remind us how reversible human progress is. False optimism protects us from voicing overmuch falling living standards, the poor unemployment prospects of our children, empty pension pots let alone our approaching death, harsh reality that it is.

Though it’s widely admitted people need religion to shape and give meaning to their lives this often comes down to a sort of ‘no wonder people turn to religion to escape this awful scenario’. The assumption widely held is that religious belief provides an escape from reality – and the realities we live through seem to demand such an escape, however irrational. Another coping mechanism we might identify is denial so that when you ask people how they’re getting on they come up with more and more bullish American style answers than the historic English pessimism that’s worked to date for the weather upwards.

What does Easter have to say to such pessimism? Is what I’m about as a Christian just otherworldly escapism? How does the Easter good news engage with the reality of human suffering and how can it best impact the loss of hope around us?

As I reflect with you on this Octave Day of the Easter Feast I look back eight days to our blessing of the Paschal Candle on Holy Saturday Night when five pins were stuck in it to represent the wounds of Christ, commemorating today’s Gospel reading. Jesus said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.' Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!'

How did Our Lord deal with Thomas’ pessimism? He pointed him to those very same wounds the Risen Christ carried from his crucifixion. In other words ‘you can be sure it is I, Thomas, and you can lay hold of sure and certain hope in the face of all in your world that would confound you’.

As Peter and the apostles answered the high priest in our first reading from Acts Chapter 5: The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. The Jesus raised up at Easter is the same Jesus killed by hanging … on a tree in other words the Cross. That’s why the Church decorates, if that is the right word, its Easter candle symbol with the wounds. As the priest says piercing the candle with the five studs at the Easter Vigil: By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ our Lord guard and keep us.

The Paschal Candle is a triumphant witness, standing tall that says God is above death. It also reminds us he’s not above suffering. That is so very, very important to us as witnesses to Christ in a world that’s losing hope. God, the God and Father of Jesus, expects nothing of us he’s not prepared to go through himself. This is the main ground of hope we cling to as Christians, a hope that isn’t just out of this world – though the resurrection is all of that - but a hope rooted in human reality.

What I am about as a Christian IS an engagement with otherworldly consolation, it’s absolutely true. Christianity is a metaphysical religion, it’s beyond (meta) the physical because of Christ’s resurrection. Yet it’s rooted in human reality for God revealed the resurrection by sending his Son to die for us. The five wounds of Christ on his arms, legs and side are the great symbol of this and as such they engage with our sorrows for he is and he remains for us as Isaiah prophesied a man of sorrows acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53v3).

If I am talking about Christian hope this morning I am talking not about a shallow optimism but the resurrection faith firmly rooted in Christ as the suffering Saviour from all eternity. Second century Bishop Melito of Sardis in an Easter sermon wrote of how Christ’s sufferings should be seen in the suffering of holy people right back through the Old Testament: He is the Passover of our salvation. He was present in many so as to endure many things. In Abel he was slain; in Isaac bound; in Jacob a stranger; in Joseph sold; in Moses exposed; in David persecuted; in the prophets dishonoured. He became incarnate of the Virgin…buried in the earth, but he rose from the dead, and was lifted up to the height of heaven. He is the silent lamb, the slain lamb, who was born of Mary the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock and dragged away to slaughter.  

In Christ’s sufferings we see human suffering in a new light. I can’t speak too well myself, my sufferings have been slight in life so far, but I’ve been close to women and men of God who say so, who say God in Christ comes close in suffering. I think of a dying priest I’m visiting telling me how important and helpful the holding cross was that he’d been given. I think of many such instances where marking the cross in holy oil on the foreheads and palms of the sick, an action in itself a memorial of Christ’s wounds, lifts their spirits. PĆ©guy said a Christian is a sad man saved from despair by the Cross of Christ.

In the book of Revelation we read of how grace… and peace come from Jesus Christ… the firstborn of the dead, who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood. St John goes on to predict the risen Christ’s return Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. The wounds of Christ are source of hope to believers, though they will be troublesome to those who pierced him and that includes you and I through unrepented sins.

Easter is incomplete until the Lord’s Return. Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn Lo he comes enters imaginatively into the sight of the risen Christ coming to be judge of the world:
Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears; 
cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshipers; 
with what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars!

Indeed it will be, and that is our sure and certain hope, which should help us bring all pessimists to Christ’s Cross.

We Christians are saddened by suffering but our sadness is saved from despair by that very Cross and by the out of this world resurrection truth we’re celebrating in these great days of Eastertide!

Alleluia Christ is risen - he is risen indeed, alleluia.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

St Bartholomew, Brighton Easter Vigil Mass 20 April 2019

Tonight the full visual stops of the Liturgy are pulled out. Light and darkness, candles, the sprinkling of water – all go beyond words.

Christ is Risen - and as no tomb could contain him, no words can fathom the wonder of  the Resurrection - we rely on symbols. This annual reminder of the foundation of our Faith gives exuberance to our spirits. O truly blessed night, worthy alone to know Christ’s rising…let Mother Church rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of his glory, let this holy building shake with joy… let the trumpet of salvation sound our mighty King’s triumph!

Archbishop Anthony Bloom preached once on the story in the Acts where the miracles of the Apostles led them to be mistaken as living gods. ‘Look statues have become living men’ they said of them. We are all in a sense like statues, said the Archbishop, but as an Easter People we have become in a profound sense a living people. He went on: ‘Meeting us – me and you – can people say, ‘Yes, it is true. Christ is risen, because this woman, this child, this man is alive with a life of which I had no suspicion, a life I couldn’t even imagine’.

All of this is coming about in our lives because of the historical event we commemorate this evening. In four slightly different accounts we have the record of how, when the disciples went to the tomb of Christ, they found his grave clothes folded and no sign of the dead. In the next six weeks the Resurrected Christ was seen, according to Paul, by over 550 people on 11 different occasions. The disciples’ lives were transformed and the Church grew at an astonishing rate surviving 20 centuries to this day. Over these centuries, particularly the last two highly sceptical centuries, critical investigation has failed to overturn the historical base of the resurrection.

To capture the exuberance of Easter we have to let the historical facts and their implications take full hold of us by open-ness to the Holy Spirit. Over the centuries Spirit-given exuberance has led missionaries to the four corners of the earth. Thousands of martyrs have cheerfully faced death in the hope of the eternal kingdom opened up to the eye of faith this Easter Night!

Christ is raised – and look – so are the people here in St Bartholomew’s – they too are raised. ‘Statues have become living men’.

Those of you who follow social media may have seen an inconclusive  discussion about the timing of this service in St Bartholomew’s. When I was at Theological College this Vigil was kept at dawn at the end of an arduous week of prayer, study, fasting and community work. As the sun broke through the East window of the Community Church at Mirfield the Gloria was intoned. Grown men broke down into tears through the emotion of that moment.

Our exuberance continued throughout this Great Easter Day as gin bottles opened after 40 days! I have a good supply for later today!

Drink is good to ‘cheer the heart of man’ as Scripture says. It can also make statues of living men, as my encounter with a paralytically drunk Irish Man on St. Patrick’s Day once showed me. Years back I found a man lying as if dead on the street and got a friend to help me carry him to the nearby hospital where he was diagnosed merely paralytic!

If drink can make us as if we were dead, the Risen Christ is in the opposite business. In Anthony Bloom’s words, he’s in the business of making living men out of statues.

His joy and delight is to see people brought fully alive as the One who came to bring ‘life to the full’, the indestructible life of the resurrection gifted to us  this most holy night.

‘Meeting us – me and you –  may people say, ‘Yes, it is true. Christ is risen, because this woman, this child, this man is alive with a life of which I had no suspicion, a life I couldn’t even imagine’.

Alleluia, Christ is risen - he is risen indeed, alleluia!

Thursday, 18 April 2019

St Bartholomew, Brighton Maundy Thursday 18 April 2019

Do this in remembrance of me!
"Was ever command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth".
"Men have found no better thing to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover;
“Week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the holy common people of God".
Do this in remembrance of me! Was ever a command so obeyed?
In these striking words Anglican monk, Gregory Dix celebrates the awe and wonder of the Holy Eucharist instituted on this most sacred night. In his book The Shape of the Liturgy still used in Anglican Theological Colleges Fr Dix writes "the eucharistic action (is) inextricably woven into the public history of the Western world...the eucharist (has the) power of laying hold of human life, of grasping the particular concrete realities of it..laying hold of them and translating them into something beyond time".
Our Lord Jesus ordained the sacrament of the Eucharist in order that we might be able to join on earth in the pleading of His eternal sacrifice sealed in his blood before the face of God the Father. Then, secondly, that he might feed our souls with his sacred Body and Blood and unite us into One Body, the Church, the Body of Christ.
I wonder how many of us would remember or believe or continue to hold fresh in our memories from Confirmation training those facts
- I mean: Our Lord giving us the eucharist first to allow us to plead his memorial Sacrifice and offer our lives with him to be consecrated lives and then second, second, note, to give us heavenly Food and make us one Bread, one Body? Or do we tend to make our default the second purpose of the Eucharist? Do we come to Church like we go to Sainsbury’s to get supplied for ourselves and to meet our friends?
That should come second. We come first to offer the eucharist - to plead Christ's Sacrifice for the needs of the living and the dead, for others as well as for ourselves. That long list from Gregory Dix reminds me how all through my life the Eucharist has been means of sanctifying the lives I minister to, of taking, blessing, breaking sometimes a situation brought on my heart to the Altar for Christ to carry in Sacrifice to his Father.
Each Eucharist, majestic or simple, pleads Calvary.  Pleads, note, not repeats. Christ died once for all. His death can’t be repeated but his Sacrifice abides for ever. It is that sacrifice being solemnly renewed before us this evening as he blesses bread and wine through his priest."This is my Body...this is my Blood" offered for you to the Father, given to you in Communion. It's a good Anglican practice to bow or bend the knee as we come into Church or leave Church, or as we approach or leave the Altar, a practice saluting the Real Presence of Christ. Outside the eucharist, Christ is present, truly present, under the veil of the Tabernacle. To honour that perpetual presence by bowing or bending the knee does not deny that presence elsewhere through the reading of Scripture, in Christian Fellowship, in nature, in holy people and so on.
Yet mindful of Christ's Presence let us never forget its vital link to the first purpose of every Eucharist, announced by Our Lord on this Eve of his passion, which is action, sacrificial action. We are to give our lives, our souls and bodies, our needs, our joys, our sorrows, our hopes, our fears, in union with his perfect Offering.  Lives so given are lives consecrated, lives transformed by the Gift of the consecrated elements, "The Body of Christ", "Amen","The Blood of Christ", "Amen".
Through Him, with Him and in Him, then, let us give glory to God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit this most holy night, confident that God will accept our self offering and as ever give us more than we can ask or imagine in this most Holy Sacrament.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

St Bartholomew, Brighton Palm Sunday 14th April 2019

Why did Jesus die?

The Creed answers he was crucified for us. It does so after it names him God from God, light from light, true God from true God.

Because of who Jesus is what he suffered in Holy Week carries forward to all times in a way only God can accomplish.

When the celebrant takes bread and wine in a moment what Jesus did then will become a living reality for us now.

This is the Church’s faith, that the death of Jesus impacts us today, but where is this impact on my life?

How you see Jesus is inseparable from how you see his death and what difference it makes for you.

For what Jesus has done for us in Holy Week to come real to us we need to put our lives on the line, to act as if he were alongside us still – then we understand.

Why did Jesus die?

He died for us, say the Bible and the Creed. When you approach the crucifixion with faith in Christ’s divinity you see it as an action demonstrating the truth that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3.16

It is an awesome act of substitution in which Jesus dies in our place so as to live in our place bringing us his own immortal life.

To believe in the crucifixion of Jesus is to commit to a holy God who loves us and reaches out to us in love though we’re sinners most especially in Holy Communion.

In his holiness God cannot be reconciled to sin, but through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross the horror of sin is overcome and we’re credited with God’s own love and holiness.  

The power of evil over humankind is overcome by the Cross.   When we see that power being overcome in our own lives the Cross makes sense. We see benevolence flowing where there was self-seeking and humility where there was self-sufficiency.

In recognising those sinful tendencies and finding the merciful therapy of God in Jesus Christ we discover how wonderful the Cross is, what awesome yet living and practical truth it contains. This Week priests are available on request to help us go to the Cross and receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness individually in the sacrament of confession.

The letter to the Ephesians affirms God has made us acceptable in the beloved. By the death of his beloved Son God has made all who abide in Christ acceptable to himself.

God seeks intimacy with us. To achieve this, in an awesome mechanism beyond human understanding, Jesus Christ was crucified for us.  

This is good news to all who will face both the truth of it and the truth about themselves as sinners in need of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

St Bartholomew, Brighton Mothering Sunday 31st March 2019

It is a strange paradox that this year’s Gospel for Mothering Sunday is that of the Father’s love. It’s not deliberate, just that we’re in the year of Luke and no Lucan passage is more Lent suited than that of the Prodigal Son! The fact Lent 4 is Mothering Sunday is secondary as far as the Lectionary goes. It’s a universal Lectionary and many countries don’t keep Mother’s Day today.

In the story of the Prodigal Son we have a beautiful demonstration of what Lent’s all about – the healing joy of repentance. At its centre is the welcome home of the prodigal. I love the King James Bible version of this story with its rich cadences: But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. Luke 15.20-24
     What wonderful words! They serve as few other words have ever done to provide a vivid invitation to seek God as our Father. That paragraph provides the heart of the story involving three characters each of whom we may find ourselves identifying with.
    First the openness of the prodigal - how ready am I to admit my mistakes? As Christians we believe we’re sinners in need of grace. What is so surprising about a sinner sinning? Yet many of us are slow to seek forgiveness from God or neighbour.
Our slowness sometimes links to the judgmentalism around typified by the elder brother in the parable whose attitude is far from forgiving! Lent is a time to challenge the judgmental ‘elder brother’ within us. It’s a time to challenge the sins that get on top of us. C.S.Lewis once wrote a caution about despairing over our habitual sins: I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptation.  It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience, etc. don't get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time.  We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home.  But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard.  The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of His presence.  Daily Readings p122-3

The main figure in the Parable is the loving Father who represents God. Jesus teaches God is always helpfully present to us in his holiness and ready to show us the dirt and dysfunction in our lives.  He makes himself present in practical love to remedy our situation - the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard.

Our Lord cleanses us of sin and guilt by practical demonstrations geared to our humanity. That’s particularly true of the sacrament of reconciliation also known as sacramental confession in which we play the part of the prodigal in a re-enactment of Luke 15. There is great freedom to be attained through celebrating this sacrament so misunderstood in Anglican circles. We have set times for this sacrament in St Bartholomew’s nearer Easter but you can make an appointment with one of our priests today to give your status anxiety and greed a knock with that envy linked to competitiveness!

The father in Our Lord’s parable may represent God but he is also an example of the love a parent, father or mother, is called to show his or her children. Lack of affirmation by parents, lack of generous reconciliation in family life, is the root of so much domestic misery.

In Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son the author speaks of his being inspired by Rembrandt’s famous painting of that title. The gnarled yet welcoming hands of the Father in Rembrandt’s picture symbolise God’s hands stretched out for us upon the Cross.  They challenge us to pay the price ourselves for a more affirming attitude to those falling short around us. The great inspiration of this book is the Christian call to a ministry of affirmation.

Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate Our Lord says earlier in Luke’s Gospel.

As we come to the altar this morning on behalf of ourselves or those on our hearts we come as the prodigal son knowing our need of forgiveness. We come repenting of the ‘elder brother’ in us, that critical spirit which subtracts from the joy God wants in our hearts. We come finally for grace to be like our Father, capable of love for other sinners.

The readiness to treat others as better than they are is simple imitation of God’s readiness to treat us as far better than we are. We can ask the Holy Spirit to build that affirming capacity within us so that having received the Blessed Sacrament we may be better equipped to embrace others as instruments of the divine mercy granted us by the body, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ who embraces us now in Holy Communion.

The bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard.

Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.