Sunday, 27 January 2019

St Mary, Balcombe Epiphany 3 27th January 2019

Last time I was with you, two weeks ago, we were keeping the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, the One on whom the Spirit rests – that is the meaning of ‘Christ’.

Jesus was born to live in obscurity for 30 years.  Then in his 30th year he goes for baptism. The heavens open, the Spirit descends. Jesus, conceived and born of the Spirit is filled with the Spirit. Then, as we read in the opening of today’s Gospel from Luke Chapter 4 verse 14 to 21 filled with the power of the Spirit Jesus returned to Galilee, and a report of him spread through all the surrounding country.

Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One.  He says this of himself later in our Gospel passage as he stands up in the Synagogue at Capernaum, reads Isaiah 61v1-2, the great Old Testament proclamation of the coming Messiah, and adds: Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. 4:21

Our Lord applies Isaiah’s prophecy to himself.  Yet his anointing as Christ and Messiah is not just for him - it is to be shared with us.  

Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit as Christ so that we might share in his anointing!

A Christian is one who shares in the anointing of the Anointed One.  Indeed we can only do what Christians do if we welcome and own that anointing in the Holy Spirit which is ours through baptism and here’s what we’re called to do: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.(4:18-19)

In the Greek there’s no definite article before the word ptochos - poor, which means it refers to a quality of life rather than particular poor persons.  Jesus will be good news to those who’re otherwise powerless to enrich themselves.

If we ask the question who are the poor, the powerless in mid-Sussex today we should find part of the answer at least within ourselves. What, for example, is it that stops us saying ‘sorry’ to people when we need to? Isn’t there something of self-importance within? Too important to say sorry? There’s no good news of grace on offer for those who are rich to self. Eugene Peterson translates blessed are the poor in Matthew 5 as You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

As you come before the Lord this morning might it be that any pain you’re feeling inside is the pain of wounded pride and challenged self-sufficiency? Rejoice! With less of you there could be more of God in your life!

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners ...Our Lord continues to release the oppressed.
Some years back when we were living in Wood Green our drains began to overflow.  We had to send for Dyno-Rod who sent a camera on a tube down the sewer. They gave us a 20 minute DVD of our drains. It was a fascinating 20 minutes, especially the rat that appeared half way through!

The cameras showed what human eyes couldn’t see, that the neighbour’s tree roots had blocked our drains.  They needed cutting out and the drain needed a resin soaked felt lining.

Inside each one of us there are bonds that oppress us and restrict our health and life and God sees these far more surely than a Dyno-Rod camera.  He’s able to show us just where we’re held captive and then help us enter new freedom.

He has sent me to proclaim... recovery of sight for the blind Our Lord continues.

When it comes to applying this to ourselves maybe it’s the opening of ‘inner eyes’ that has the Lord’s invitation. If you don’t know where you’re bound up spiritually you can always ask to see.

How’s your enthusiasm for the work of mission? Do you truly see yourself as one sharing the anointing of the Anointed One? Or would you admit your deficit and seek a rekindling of passion, a fresh anointing in the Holy Spirit as you approach the Communion rail this morning?

Sometimes we receive an anointing from above or beyond ourselves.  Other times – and I think this is very important – it is a matter of experiencing unblocking of the streams within. In the story of Lourdes key figure is the peasant girl, Bernadette, a shepherdess who in 1854 received a number of visions, allegedly of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In one of these visions the Lady asked her to dig up some earth so a spring could be uncovered, a spring that flows to this day, a healing stream visited by millions every year.

How important discernment is! What healing streams can flow from one little insight!

We have a partnership in mission here at Balcombe, an enthusiastic partnership of priest and people to be with Fr Keith’s arrival next month. The word ‘enthusiasm’ means literally ‘in God’. It comes from an ever-fresh welcoming of the anointing of the Anointed One, a readiness to be shown where the flow of his grace is getting blocked within us.

As Our Lord says in John’s Gospel:  Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’  Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive  John 7:37-9.

How the church needs to take that invitation to heart! How better can we generate new enthusiasm for God’s work than heart-searching in the days approaching the licensing for things that weigh down and block the Spirit in our lives and in our Christian community?
As we do so – and let Jesus lift the sludge over us – we’ll recover a sense of God’s goodness and become more effectively his instruments, Gospel people – good news people!.

He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed

This is our task – our task together, priests and people. Is there any organisation with unemployment like the church? How do we get our many unemployed gifts released?  We need fresh ‘anointing from the Anointed One’ to effect a new spirit of collaboration. As church growth expert Eddie Gibbs writes: The task of the ordained ministry is not simply to minister to the congregation but to create and direct a ministering congregation through the detection, development and deployment of God-given resources. With Fr Keith’s arrival may spiritual unemployment take a dive in the parish! Through collaborative ministry!

The last phrase Our Lord uses in his address at Nazareth refers to ‘the Lord’s favour’. He has sent me to proclaim ... the year of the Lord's favour

The growth of the church is growth in faith, love and numbers.  It’s growth in ‘the Lord’s favour’.

How can we find favour with God as Jesus did?   In such favour lies our lasting peace and wholeness - how do we find it?

The letter to the Hebrews gives this answer: Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6

To find favour, to please God, we need faith, we need to believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Our mission should advance not in a forced or artificial way but in a trusting and natural way, a way that trusts in the Lord’s favour and empowering.

As we approach Our Lord at this eucharist let us put trust in him and take him at his word.

He gives us no task without the grace to accomplish it. Listen once again to what Jesus is saying to each one of us individually this morning

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me - let me share my anointing with you!
He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor - empty yourself so I can fill you!
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners… to release the oppressed - show me the bonds that bind you and let me loosen them.   
He has sent me to proclaim ... recovery of sight for the blind - see and welcome my possibilities which exceed your imagining - and you will find my favour!

Saturday, 12 January 2019

St Mary, Balcombe  Baptism of the Lord  13.1.19

John the Baptist said, ‘I have baptised you with water;… but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit Luke 3:16

Why do we need the Holy Spirit?

To pray, to love, to serve, to evangelise, to be obedient, to forgive, to heal…

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.
(Words for Pentecost Sunday from the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras)

As baptised, confirmed - and some of us - ordained Christians we possess the Holy Spirit!

We possess the Spirit - but does he possess us? That is the key to a spiritual vitality!
As Our Lord says in St John Chapter 7:37-39 If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.
Our renewal in the Holy Spirit is about the releasing of the life of the Spirit within us.

The late Dom Ian Petit of Ampleforth wrote these words in his book You Will Receive Power: Baptism and Confirmation confer a supernatural gift, but ignorance or lack of understanding of the gift, can block its full effect. In other words, while the sacrament is valid and has been given, the effect has been blocked. When the block is removed then the full effect floods in...(a) baptism in the Holy Spirit… an opportunity for awakening in (people) their sacraments of initiation..

The New Year begins with a liturgical reminder about our ongoing need for this unblocking and awakening to the power of the Holy Spirit who visits us at every Eucharist.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the grand reminder that Christians are people who have woken up to Jesus and to the Gift of the Holy Spirit, to the living God - nothing less. An awakening to the Spirit, a releasing of the Spirit, an unblocking of his flow – this is the invitation and challenge of today’s Feast!  

There is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and it confers the Holy Spirit. A gift though is given that needs to be received. For Christians to seek the renewing power of the Spirit – as we do as we receive Holy Communion every Sunday - is a matter of seeking to be more fully what we are in Christ and nothing more or less than that! We want to be a people that live knowing their need of grace!

The Spirit is waiting to confirm to us the same words that were spoken to Our Lord at his baptism: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Christians share in the anointing of the Anointed One – Jesus is the Christ or Anointed One so he can share his anointing with us and speak into our hearts those words of adoption: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.

There’s a great tale from C.S. Lewis' about a doubting Bishop. Lewis once imagined an additional scene at the Marriage at Cana - a sceptical bishop sitting further down the table from Our Lord and Our Lady. There are the guests with the water turned into wine. As everyone enjoys the new wine of the Kingdom Feast the doubting bishop is holding up his glass and scrutinising, "How can this be? How can water become wine? How can the philosophical difficulties about an interventionist God be overcome? Is this some sort of conjuring trick?" All the while the rest of them at table are drinking up the Spirit in whatever sense you like!

There are many who make an 11th Commandment Thou shalt not commit thyself!  Such folk – and they are around in the Church today – miss out on Christian basics, on the empowering promised in today’s feast.

I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. This baptism or gift of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing reality for those who will commit themselves. The Gift is not so much a once for all thing or commodity but rather something dynamic and ongoing.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a process in which the relationship that opens up at Baptism involves an ongoing flow of love, praise and power leading into ongoing consecration in the Truth.

It is worth recalling that though Our Lord himself was conceived by the Holy Spirit he waited 30 years for his Baptism in Jordan. So it can be – as it was for me and can be for you- that though I had received the Spirit through Infant Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination the first deep experience came many years later – and through, of all things, a crisis of faith – and a recommitment!

In a faith crisis years back I went on a retreat and prayed God if you’re there show yourself, give me a vision of yourself more to your dimensions and less to mine – and he did – but it needs refreshing!

Another way to look at it is like this: if the Christian life is like a rose bush there are great spurts of growth from time to time that push out new branches with new flowers. One such branch  and its some branch in its fruitfulness – is, if you like, a new opening up to the Spirit. Yet just like the life of the rose bush before and after such a new spurt of growth we have the same inner life.

We possess the Spirit - but does he possess us? That is the question we are being asked on this feast of the Lord’s Baptism. There is a commitment issue here we need to address.  As we come to receive Jesus in Holy Communion are we really committed and open to his empowering? Are we ready to hear and to believe those wonderful words: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.

In the silence that follows you have a chance to act in faith upon those wonderful words and place fresh trust in our heavenly Father preparing for an especially solemn and transformative Act of Communion this morning.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people as they look to you with expectation on this day of anointing with power!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

St Bartholomew, Brighton Epiphany Family Mass 6.1.18

As I reflected on today’s Feast two words came to my mind – spiritual journey.

Firstly the spiritual journey of humankind as we enter together a perilous New Year with all the tumult of Brexit. As I drove down this morning from Haywards Heath I thought of the spiritual journeys of Sussex folk. How blest we are that our life’s journey has brought us to such a beautiful county and city!

Then, secondly, there is the spiritual journey of the wise men to Our Lord and their offering at journey’s end. Linked to this is the Church’s spiritual journey through her Seasons. We travel through Advent and Christmas into Epiphany and the green of ordinary time. Our journey continues with the purple of Lent and Holy Week, the white of Easter and Ascension, the red frontals of Pentecost and then back to green. We do well to familiarise ourselves with the liturgical seasons which are given to serve life’s spiritual journey.

This brought me to the final thought of another much simpler spiritual journey.

It is of but a few inches - fifteen inches…

The story goes that there was once a rabbi in Cracow, Isaac son of Yekel, who dreamed one night that there was a great treasure under the bridge at Prague.

He set off at once for Prague, but when he got there found that there was a heavy guard on the bridge. The rabbi had no choice but to explain his dream to one of the guards.

When the guard heard the story he burst into uncontrollable laughter. ‘How crazy can you get? Suppose everyone went off after their dreams? Why I once dreamed that there was a treasure hidden in a house in Cracow. It was in the house of a man called Isaac, son of Yekel but do you think I was going off to Cracow because of that dream? In any case, half of Cracow is called Isaac, son of Yekel.’

So the Rabbi Isaac returned to Cracow.

The rabbi had treasure at home. He did not need to go to Prague.

So it is with the spiritual journey. If we want spiritual riches we are more likely to find them by opening our eyes to what we have already than by journeying the world over.

The truth of Christmas is about God coming down to our level to dwell in human hearts.

If people want to journey to God today they need move inches and not miles.

Fifteen inches, to be precise, down from the head to the heart. That is where we find God.

Our restless minds distract us, move us away from the treasure to be found in the stillness of the heart.

When the mind can be stilled, and lowered, into the heart - there is salvation.

The Kingdom of Christ is within us.

Sometimes this discovery is made through pain.

I remember once hearing a Theology lecturer, Tom Smail, speak about the way his relationship with Our Lord had most deepened through what he described as God’s shock treatment.

Tom was almost bald.  I remember the joke he told at his own expense. I’m bald he said because the Lord keeps bashing me on the head to lower my religion from my head down into my heart!

It could be you feel the Lord is having a go at you this morning. If you are in pain where is that silver lining? Don’t waste your sorrow - God is surely there somewhere in it if you will but listen for him!

Sometimes painful experience helps make us more fully what we’re meant to be.

This is the essence of the spiritual journey, a journey with Jesus and to Jesus but also by its nature a journey into greater self-possession.

As New Year begins how do we at St. Bartholomew’s move forwards effectively in our spiritual journey?

We have every reason to do so – we want our new priest when he is appointed to be caught up into a dynamic, forward moving parish and not faced with an uphill struggle!

I suppose I have answered my question with the story of Rabbi Isaac.
The spiritual journey we’re called to is primarily the 15 inches one down from head to heart.

Accomplishing that journey within means taking time day by day to reflect, to sit or kneel in God’s presence and indeed our own presence. There we find hunger and longing, hurt and inadequacy, pride and fearfulness. None of these melt away on the spiritual journey but they can be owned and offered to the Lord who meets us just as we are.

The journey within takes courage. There is so much that would keep us on the surface, not least the multitude of recreational options available to us, the manifold activities we can choose to fill up our lives!

The inner journey takes courage and it takes time, time to be.

Was it Pascal who said that most of mankind’s problems derive from our inability to sit still in a room?

Just maybe 15 minutes a day - 5 minutes with the Scriptures, 5 minutes in quiet worship and 5 minutes in intercession, prayer for others, including our parish - what a difference if we made that the flavour of our spiritual journey in the coming year!

‘Jesus loves us as we are’ it is said. As we own that love day by day we own ourselves, our souls and bodies and make them more and more fully a living sacrifice to be united with his perfect Offering in the Mass.

Speaking of this sort of spiritual journey T.S.Eliot wrote these great lines: And the end of all our exploring – will be to arrive where we started – and to know the place for the first time.

Wise men still journey to Jesus but they do not move anywhere.

Whatever we do in 2019 as individuals or as a Church may we be the Church better by being Christians better so that the depths of Christ may resonate from our prayers and our worship and our lives here at St Bartholomew’s!  

Be still and know that I am God!