Wednesday, 10 August 2022

St Wilfrid & St Richard, Haywards Heath Feast of St Laurence 10.8.22

Shortly after I was ordained I made a trip to Rome with two friends. We said Mass in the catacombs and visited the Basilica of today’s Saint Laurence with its grids of iron linked to the memory of his martyrdom through being roasted to death. 


Rome has seen some 3000 years of civilisation starting 753 BC allegedly with King Romulus and moving through Republic and back to Kingdom with the Emperor Augustus from 27BC. The sort of civilisation is questionable, one with a cruel imposition of power. When we visit Rome today it's the civilising force of Christianity and especially early martyrs like St Laurence that most touches the spirit.

Our Lord in the Gospel announces: ‘I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life’ (John 12:24f).

It is said that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. Laurence’s martyrdom on 10 August 258 is kept in memory up to this day on account of its fearless witness, a witness that in the end rose to the fore in the Roman Empire finally leaving the universal church as its main legacy after the Emperor Constantine became a Christian in 312.

When they arrested Laurence, knowing he was a deacon, the soldiers demanded he present them with the church treasures. Off he went and gathered the poor people Laurence cared for as a deacon. ‘Here are the church’s treasures’ he said to them, which explains the choice of first reading from 2 Corinthians 9:6f: ‘Scripture says: He was free in almsgiving, and gave to the poor: his good deeds will never be forgotten’.

Psalm 112 we just heard read takes up that generosity which is the life of Christ in Laurence and in us. I end by repeating part of it as an invitation from today’s Saint:

The good man takes pity and lends, he conducts his affairs with honour.

The just man will never waver: he will be remembered for ever.

He has no fear of evil news; with a firm heart he trusts in the Lord.

With a steadfast heart he will not fear; he will see the downfall of his foes.

Open-handed, he gives to the poor; his justice stands firm for ever.

His head will be raised in glory. Happy the one who takes pity and lends.




 

Sunday, 7 August 2022

St Bartholomew, Brighton Pride Sunday 7.8.22


Described by The Guardian as “the country’s most popular LGBT event,” the Brighton & Hove Pride Festival is a vibrant celebration of all that is wonderful about our city’s diverse community, with visitors from across the globe enjoying its spectacular celebrations. Some of you might have been in yesterday’s parade, others are wiping tired eyes this morning after a night out at Preston Park. Others in the congregation this morning will have made their way to St Bartholomew’s to keep their Sunday obligation in a church famed for the sort of colour and drama our city is all about. To one and all welcome - and I say it at a season when the Anglican Church is getting unwelcome publicity through unwelcoming actions of some of her members towards the LGBT community about which I beat my breast.

I say to them what the Gospel says to us all: ‘There is no need to be afraid’ Luke 12:32. I say to us all, especially those in the congregation who are gay, there is no need to be ashamed. The gay pride movement counters shame about the way we are made and its roots are profoundly Christian. We all need to wake up to our dignity, whatever our sexual orientation, through orienting ourselves more fully to God who made us, loves us and wants our company now and forever. 


‘There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom’. When we look through the Bible we read that phrase ‘fear not’ in one estimate no less than 365 times. It's as if God would say to us each day of the year - there is no need to be afraid. As St Paul writes: ‘nothing… can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39). And St John: ‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them… there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear… we love because God in Christ first loved us ’ (1 John 4:16, 18-19). On Pride Sunday we’re here, just as we’re here every Sunday, to take pride in the love of God and his pride in us even though all of us sin and fall short of him. At Mass we pray for deliverance from every evil and peace in our days ‘that, by the help of God’s mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress’. As human beings we get distressed so much we get chips on our shoulders. Why should I have to bear this? An astronomic rise in my fuel bill. A relative with dementia. War day by day on TV. Yes, on Pride Sunday, being in a minority with my sexuality. Or being in a Church so divided. We bear stress as human beings, but we do so as Christians looking to the love that surrounds us into which we are lifted day by day, Sunday by Sunday, at Mass.


Ronald Rolheiser in his book ‘Forgotten among the Lilies’ writes: ‘Perhaps the most useful image of how the Eucharist functions is the image of a mother holding a frightened, tired and tense child. In the eucharist God functions as a mother. God picks us up; frightened, tired, helpless, complaining, discouraged and protesting children, and holds us to her heart until the tension subsides and peace and strength flow into us’. Such is the intimacy we are privileged to share this morning and day by day in the Lord’s Presence. ‘There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom’.


Over the last year I’ve been working on a book to be launched at Bart’s in the next month or so. ‘Thirty Walks from Brighton Station - catching sights and sea air’ is partly celebration of the diversity and inclusion characteristic of this great city broadcast on Pride Sunday. My walks pay attention to sights linked to minority groups. They pass the city’s first Mosque founded in the late 1970s as well as Coptic, Anglican and Baptist Churches and a memorial in St Ann’s Garden significant to the gay community. The LGBT suicide tree there recalls the tragic consequences of homophobia. Whereas in many parts of the world minorities tolerate one another Brighton & Hove at its best aims at a respect for those who live differently going beyond tolerance. Respect, for example, given to Muslims, in the attendance here by many non-Muslims in the daily breaking of fast during Ramadan. This weekend’s Pride Festival, internationally famous celebration of respect and diversity, is led by the LGBTQ+ community but attended by people from all walks of life.


Loving your neighbour in Jesus’s book doesn’t mean loving some but not loving others. It means loving all. We are as Christians seeing the vital relevance of God’s pride in us and our pride in ourselves to the xenophobia - hatred of strangers - sweeping through the world. Can there ever be outsiders so far as God’s concerned? Can we trust a nationalism that falls short of the deep British sense of fair play and inclusion, itself built from 1500 years of Christianity?  We want a society that doesn’t just tolerate difference but which respects those who’re different. Building respect though is costly in time and trouble. It refuses to pass by on the other side especially passing by those disadvantaged to be in a minority. 


‘There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom’. 


Lord, we prepare to welcome your embrace in this most holy sacrament. We take pride in you and thank you for the pride you take in us as we approach your mercy. Make good the chips on our shoulders by your embrace. Orient us, whatever our sexual orientation, to your unfailing love so we lose ourselves in you and gain fresh energy to establish the kingdom you have given us, ‘a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace’.                                                                                    Picture: Brighton Station

Thursday, 4 August 2022

St Bartholomew, Brighton Feast of Curé d’Ars 4.8.22

‘If you are afraid of other people's opinion, you should not have become a Christian’. So warned today’s Saint. As a child John Vianney went with his family to Mass in a barn because the French Revolution had banned worship. A shepherd boy of firm faith he struggled to get ordained. Though his faith was clear and his prayer was deep he had little learning. This he acquired through saintly sponsors and became not only a priest but after his death in 1859 the patron saint of parish priests.

What I like about today’s saint is his fearlessness and humility. He lived at a time not unlike our own when Christianity was despised but made no apologies for God and would encourage us to be fearless in championing our faith in the face of opponents. ‘The sun never hides his light for fear of inconveniencing the owls’ he said. Most of his life was spent in the village of Ars in the south of France near Lyon where he raised the banner for God in the wake of the French Revolution not using arguments but by holy living. He became an attractive figure because like his patron John the Baptist he ‘constantly spoke the truth, boldly rebuked vice and patiently suffered for the truth’s sake’ (Collect for the Birth of St John the Baptist). That truth telling came from a priest who lived close to his people in humility and simplicity. ‘Remain humble, remain simple; the more you are so, the more good you will do’ he used to say.


When people came to him, and they came in tens of thousands, he exercised the Holy Spirit’s gifts of knowledge and discernment cutting to the chase. Henri Gheon writes of his encounter with an intellectual approaching him in Church and how Fr Vianney pointed him mistakenly to the confessional stool. ‘Monsieur le Curé, I have not come to make my confession but to discuss things with you’. ‘Oh, my friend, you have come to the wrong place; I have no skill at discussion. But if it is consolation that you want, kneel there and believe that many another has knelt there before you and has not regretted it’ said the Saint. ‘I have not the faith. I do not believe in confession any more than the rest of your doctrine’ complained the man. ‘Very well, kneel there. I shall hear your confession, and afterwards you will have the faith, just as I have’… the persuasiveness, the sweetness, the tone of authority tempered by grace with which these words were spoken, brought the man to his knees almost without knowing it, certainly with much reluctance…. He arose, not only comforted, but a firm believer’.


The Curé d’Ars was a powerful apologist. This unlearned priest gave forceful reason for belief by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who showed him again and again the emptiness of souls like this man awaiting the planting of faith. In Gheon’s story there is emphasis on the Curé’s humility as the clue to the atheist’s surrender. St John Vianney tried to live humbly as well as fearlessly once comparing humility to the chain that holds a rosary together: ‘Humility is to the various virtues what the chain is to the Rosary; take away the chain and the beads are scattered, remove Humility and all virtues vanish.’


John Vianney read hearts like a book and brought healing to many. He experienced visits from the Blessed Virgin as well as from the devil who did his best to annoy the Saint by waking him in the night by loud knockings on the clergy house door! Thousands flocked to him and he was made a Canon and given the Legion of Honour none of which he could make out by all accounts attributing the miracles around him to God and the prayers of the Saints. This misunderstanding of the way he got famous is the best proof of his deserving his place today in the Calendar of Saints.


St John Vianney pray for us, for priests especially, that we may be fearless yet humble instruments of God.


Intercessions


We thank you, God our Father, for those who have responded to your call to priestly ministry. Accept this prayer we offer on their behalf: Fill them with the sure knowledge of your love. Open their hearts to the power and consolation of the Holy Spirit. Lead them to greater union with your Son. Increase their faith in the Sacraments they celebrate as they nourish, strengthen and heal us. 

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.


Lord Jesus Christ, at the prayer of St. Jean Vianney, grant that your priests will be inspired to strive for holiness by the power of his example. As people of prayer, may they ponder your word, follow your will and faithfully lead the flocks you have entrusted to their care. Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.


We pray, Lord, for Martin our Bishop and for our Diocese, for vocations to the sacred priesthood. May many more faithful people hear your call, and respond with courage and generosity. Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.


Recalling the fearlessness and humility of today’s Saint we confess the fear and pride that hamper our Christian witness. Come, Holy Spirit, and work a new work in us so we may constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake. Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.


We commend to you, Lord, those in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness or any other adversity, especially those who have asked our prayers. 

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.


Joining with Our Lady, St Bartholomew, St John Vianney and all the saints we commend to you those who have died and all whose anniversaries fall at this time. Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.   


Merciful Father, hear, accept and answer these prayers we make in the glorious name of your Son, our Saviour Christ the Lord. Amen

Sunday, 31 July 2022

Wivelsfield Church Baptism of Taron Close 31.7.22

Introduction

A warm welcome to East Sussex, Wivelsfield and St Peter & St John the Baptist parish church to those online and those gathered in this time hallowed building for the eucharist and baptism of Taron Close. As our parish priest Fr Christopher is on leave it's down to me to be celebrant and that is a particular joy. When I retired from Horsted Keynes 5 years ago I covered the pastoral vacancy between priests here when I baptised Taron’s big sister Lily, so it's more of the same this morning so to speak.  A special welcome to all who’ve travelled far to join Chris, Annie and the children for this special day on which we recall another priest, Annie’s late uncle Fr Martin Onions well known to me and to you.

The service today has three parts - word, baptism and eucharist - and we hope all can join in the bold text and in the various ceremonies as fully as conscience permits. In the Gospel reading for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity we have a warning against over immersion in worldly things and the need to seek the riches of God. As we begin the service we pray for cleansing from over-worldly preoccupation, for our failure to love God, neighbour and self and for a right spirit, the Holy Spirit, to be planted in us. Let’s keep silence a moment before we make the prayers on page 2 of the booklet our own as we join in the responses.

Sermon


I want to look back to the first reading set for this Sunday from the first eleven verses of Colossians Chapter 3 going through the passage to open up its meaning. I’ll divide the passage into three sections, which I will read again, starting with verses 1-4:

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

People struggle with the meaning of life. When you study Christianity you engage with the greatest clue to life’s meaning and it's tied up with what conquers death, or more precisely who conquers death, Jesus Christ. Just as we can’t see God as the same as any other being - God is the ground of being if he is God at all - so we can’t see the event on account of which Christians gather Sunday by Sunday, the resurrection of Jesus, as in anything like the same category. History records Christ’s tomb as being empty that first Easter Sunday but that awesome event sees eternity intersecting time and can’t be ranked properly in human history.

His empty tomb - never disproved - and consequent change in his disciples from fearfulness to confidence in God and the later astonishing change in holy day from Friday to Sunday, have made this day for Christians ‘the Lord’s day when the Lord’s people gather in the Lord’s house around the Lord’s table’.  As we gather to celebrate the resurrection, what God did for his Son is done for us: If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above. To be a Christian is to be drawn mystically into Christ’s dying for sin, rising to immortal life and the expectation of his return: you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Now, moving on, listen again to verses 5-9 from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Chapter 3: 

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things - anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices.

Last Sunday I caught up with Annie, Lily and Taron. We explored our ancient font together. Lo and behold, Taron climbed into it! It’s so deep he could in principle have a bath in it this morning! Not only that, Lily climbed in with him - it is an enormous font! The idea of baptism is about plunging underwater and emerging fresh, just like bathtime! What Paul teaches in this passage, by coincidence used this morning at Taron’s christening, is this: Jesus died in our place to rise in our place. He died for our sins and rose to lift us into deathless life. When we are baptised we go under the water, so to speak, to help effect freedom from sin, and come up fresh to welcome the Holy Spirit who plants God’s immortal life in us, sealed by receiving the bread and wine which is his body and blood after confirmation. The baptism rite we follow shortly is not just for Taron. It's for us all. We are to be reminded that ‘to follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life in him’. Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language... Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices. Today’s first reading colours the promises we make with and for Taron this morning. Baptism is only done once but we need holding to its principle hour by hour, day by day. For example, if the baptised fully lived their baptism there would be no lies in society, in government, on the internet - no truth telling crisis in the world for Christ would be all and in all - Lord, hasten that day!

Moving on to he last section let’s listen again to Colossians 3 from the end of verse 9 to verse 11:

You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

The new clothes Taron wears today link to this aspect of baptism which is a clothing of ourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. What we most want for Taron is what we most want for ourselves and for the population of the world past present and to come - we want him to become more fully what he is meant to be. God who made us desires this earnestly, but on account of his gift of free will God can’t do this without our cooperation with his grace. Sunday worship, daily prayer, study of the bible and the saints, service of others, regular self examination - all of these are means of grace, ways God makes baptism real for us as we seek the best for ourselves.

Jesus died in our place to live in our place. In baptism Taron’s fleshly life dies, in a sense, so that the immortal life of a child of God can live in him as his life principle fighting valiantly against sin, the world and the devil and remaining faithful to Christ to the end of his life. 

If human beings were perfect there’d have been no need for God to send his Son to die. When we look at the Cross and think of Christ’s sufferings we see how much God wants the best for his children and provides for them a new start - day by day forgiveness, guidance and empowerment. Annie and Chris, who we know would willingly suffer hardship for Lily and Taron, share with today’s godparents a great yet joyous responsibility to help their children become what they were made to be. We at St Peter and St John the Baptist stand with you in this today. We congratulate Chris and Annie for your decision on behalf of your children to seek God with us in worship and prayer. May the Holy Spirit counter all that’s negatively at work within us through sin, all that frustrates that fantastic process already well underway in the world and in us, which is to make Christ all in all. So be it!

 

Sunday, 24 July 2022

St Bartholomew, Brighton Feast of St James 2022

 

19 years ago my then 12-year-old son James and I completed a foot pilgrimage to the Shrine of St James in Spain’s Santiago de Compostella covering the minimum distance required to attain the Compostella. This is the scallop shell pilgrim badge (show)

The 100km hike required weeks of preparation including walking with packs on the Downs.  We had no back up team so all we would need had to go on our backs as we travelled from refugio to refugio on the ancient pilgrim way.

The most important part of our preparation was deciding what not to take!  Trial walks with laden rucksacks helped sort our priorities.  When you're a beast of burden with a choice about that burden you soon thin your load!  Though I'm an avid reader I was forced to shed all books but the Bible.  James and I settled for little more than one change of clothes.  My luxury was a short-wave radio.  His was a Gameboy Advance.  Off we went to Santiago de Compostela, or rather to the 100km point from which we hiked day by day along the pilgrim route and with much lighter burdens than we’d first planned.

One of the great things about being a Christian pilgrim is you travel light!  Preparing to go on our pilgrimage gave me an enduring spiritual lesson.  We brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it.  The lighter we travel the easier and more joyous our tread on life's pilgrimage to the city of God!

The call to detachment is part of the call to poverty intrinsic to the Christian Gospel. It goes alongside the confidence we should have as children of God in Our Father to provide for us in all circumstances.

Although today’s Gospel includes a rebuke for St James and his brother we assume that he took the message: whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.

Or, as the Lord puts it elsewhere, blessed are the poor in spirit – those who have a right and humble assessment of themselves before God. Such folk see what they have – including any worldly status – as counting for nothing other than when it is used for service. They are detached from material possessions

Here at the Eucharist, the great thanksgiving sacrifice of the Church we can admit this truth – all things come of you and of your own do we give you.. through Christ and with Christ and in Christ!

We are to welcome Jesus in a moment in the Blessed Sacrament. God in the material order, hidden in bread and wine. As we welcome him here may he open our spiritual eyes to see him elsewhere in the material order – particularly in the run of our lives in the coming week that we may encounter him in the needy. The needy in body, mind and spirit – those who are enduring personal ordeals and badly in need of attention – our attention, our time, our money if needs be.

On this feast of St James God free us to travel lighter in our Christian pilgrimage with deeper detachment from material things, abandoned more and more to his purposes.

The Lord deepen our confidence in his provision and also our humility. We need both confidence in him and humility before him to serve him aright.

As we own up more and more to our own spiritual need and poverty may we see Jesus – Jesus on his throne in glory, Jesus in the sacrament of the altar and Jesus in the hearts of the poor and the hearts of all his faithful people! 

Saturday, 23 July 2022

St Peter & St John, Wivelsfield Trinity 6 (17C) on prayer 24 July 2022

 

Lord, teach us to pray they asked Jesus. I want to look this morning at four aspects of prayer, of looking to Jesus: listening, friendship, recollection, and lastly empowerment. [ask children about what’s best and worst about school eg listening - we’re all being schooled]


Prayer, looking unto Jesus, is listening.  You can’t look to Jesus unless you give ear to him, unless you attend to him.  Our whole life depends on right listening – to other people and to ourselves at times – but chiefly to Jesus.Through prayer we hear from God.  We catch his inspirations for our life and for the world.

How do we look to Jesus in listening? A discipline of time offered to attend directly to God. 

Michael Ramsey’s quote – he prayed for 2 minutes but took 30 minutes to get there.


Scripture (show) is a means of looking to Jesus through listening to his Word. There is great power in imaginative listening to scripture. One way you can do this is to make the words of scripture more personal by changing the case of the pronoun in the passage. Take that Colossians passage. You could make it into a This is the Word of the Lord about John or whoever you are. It could read: When I John was buried with Christ in baptism, I was also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when I was dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of my flesh, God made me alive together with Christ, when he forgave me all my trespasses. As I read the passage like this it reminds me how God sees me and how I should see myself, as one dead to sin and alive to him. There are times when such an observation can be very powerful. This sort of exercise is about experiencing what we already possess as Christians, seeing ourselves as God sees us in his word. You read through prayerfully until God touches your Spirit and then hold yourself at that point once such a prayerful impulse has been given to you.


Prayer, looking to Jesus is secondly about friendship.  We seek our friends’ attention and he seeks ours. [children - are you looking forward to seeing more of your friends in the holidays?]

When friends meet they light up and so it is with Jesus and ourselves as we come before him in contemplation. When did you last sit in quiet before the Lord?  What is it that keeps you from doing so? Could you imagine Jesus, your friend, doing you any harm?


Contemplative prayer has been described as ‘spiritual radiotherapy’. St Augustine once said that the whole purpose of life is the healing of the heart’s eye through which God is seen. Heart surgery of the Holy Spirit: the melting of coldness within cf heavenly microwave. A major barrier to contemplation is the way our minds get so distracted which hinders our hearts from contemplation. This is where the repeating of short words that engage and focus the mind can be helpful as in the Orthodox Jesus prayer. This involves repeating again and again the gospel prayer Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. The value of the Jesus Prayer mentioned on is commended all through the Christian tradition.  

Please don’t hesitate to talk to me afterwards if you want guidance on the Jesus Prayer as I’ve written a book about it (show). Not that I’m expert - any expertise I possess is to know that when it comes to prayer we’re all on the bottom rung of the ladder!


Looking to Jesus in prayer though, to summarise the second heading, is about building friendship, about lighting one another up so that in the words of Nehemiah (8v10) the joy of the Lord [becomes] our strength. 


Looking to Jesus is thirdly recollection, prayer that takes stock of your life and celebrates what God has done and is doing and looks forward to what God is going to do in us and through us.


The value of prayer journaling (show). Tis grace both led me safe thus far … and grace will lead me home. A good exercise is to look back over your life and recollect with Jesus the five biggest spiritual milestones along the way, your five most powerful desires, your five worst fears. Recollection is about such reminiscing or calling to mind.  It is also about ‘collecting again’ or recovering control of oneself. Through looking to God we gain self-possession. 

Attention to God, mindfulness of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian life.The recollected woman or man inhabits her or his words, is able to be present to Jesus at all times so that Jesus can be in them and show through them.


Prayer, looking to Jesus is lastly empowerment. As we heard in the Gospel: If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13).


Well we did ask for the Spirit - or others asked, at baptism and confirmation, the birth of our Christian commitment and in the receiving of Holy Communion - but we need to keep inviting him by asking regularly for the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is an empowerment especially by the gift of the Holy Spirit. As we pray we can at times feel God’s touch upon our heart, see some sort of vision or be led to some particular scripture verse as we look to Jesus. This is charismatic prayer, literally graced or given prayer in which our looking to Jesus and waiting before him is answered by a heavenly gift.


Looking to Jesus in prayer then is listening, friendship, recollection and empowerment. It's also as today’s Gospel reminds us about intercession which could provide another sermon!

For now though, may the Lord turn our eyes more and more upon himself so that our earthly pursuits may lose some of their enticement as we see more of him through seeking him in prayer. 

So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Sunday, 17 July 2022

St Edward, Burgess Hill Trinity 5 (16C) 17th July 2022

 

   

Martha and Mary – who chose the better part?


Our Lord’s commending Mary is a clear statement that contemplation beats activism. Not that practical work, of which St Martha is patron, has no place, only such work shouldn’t eclipse the priority of resting in the Lord.


The preacher’s danger - my danger especially - is Mary’s. In thinking out and handing on what should be we priests run more risk of neglecting to act out our faith in good works. As if saying what’s right is complete without doing it. So many scriptures warn how faith without works is like a flabby muscle needing strengthening by exertion.


Our Lord’s favouring Mary is less of a challenge to Christian thinkers and contemplatives than to Christian activists who forget to root their good works in prayer. It's an English heresy - Christianity is doing good, as if that were unique to Christianity. When we abide in God, God abides in us, steering our lives towards fruitful action, action that points people back to him


God desires mortals to have intimacy with himself - this is the central truth of Christianity.


I wonder if you saw on television the first pictures from the new James Webb Space Telescope? What beauty! Yet even with binoculars or naked eyes we can look up in awe at the night sky, discovering facets of the moon and planets and stars beyond these.  We look up at them and think, the God who made the immensity of the cosmos desires intimacy with mortals!


We heard in the epistle from Colossians of the majesty of Christ ‘in [whom] all things in heaven and earth were created…’ (Colossians 1v15-28)


In the Gospel His Majesty, Our Blessed Lord, addresses us through his rebuke to a dear friend: 

‘Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’ (Luke 10v42)


God desires to have union with us, intimate union, heart to heart.


Today’s scripture ponder the majesty and yet the availability of God.


How is this intimacy brought to us?


On God’s side by the gift of the Spirit - on our side, we receive his friendship by humility and expectancy.


On God’s Side - how can God be one with us? The Maker of the stars hold me close, answer my prayers, guide me, free me from fear, heal me, forgive me? God is after all different.


The answer is by the Holy Spirit who is God and who through Christ brings God in his fullness to fill my heart. 

The ocean is no less for filling a pool. So it is with God, as St Paul explains to the Corinthians: ‘the Spirit searches the depths of God… (and) we have received the Spirit… who… interprets spiritual truth’ (1 Corinthians 2:10)


On my side intimacy with God is established as a gift that is welcomed. 


How? 


By humility and by expectancy… the two balancing Christian virtues commended by St. Francis de Sales.


To be humble like its etymology ‘humous - of the earth’ is readiness to see our nothingness before God and our less than nothingness through sin.

 

Humble and, besides that, expectant on God, confident in God. 


St. Therese of Lisieux lived as a nun in the late 19th century when she pondered the invention of the electric lift. We have her Story of a Soul, a Christian classic, read with profit across Christian traditions, first commended to me by a Baptist minister. In her story Therese tells of her confidence God would make her a Saint. As surely as we enter an electric lift to be raised effortlessly to great height we can put our whole life into God’s hands seeking to be made holy. This is her so-called Little Way.


Intimacy with God is God’s gift by his Spirit. It is welcomed by humility and expectancy.


The eucharist is the great parable and seal of all of this...here God gives his Spirit, his own Life, par excellence… here we come empty-handed, in total humility before the Lord and yet with expectancy...


‘Lord I am not worthy...but only say the word


Ronald Rolheiser in his book ‘Forgotten among the Lilies’ writes: ‘Perhaps the most useful image of how the Eucharist functions is the image of a mother holding a frightened, tired and tense child. In the eucharist God functions as a mother. God picks us up; frightened, tired, helpless, complaining, discouraged and protesting children, and holds us to her heart until the tension subsides and peace and strength flow into us’


Such is the intimacy we are privileged to share this morning and day by day in the Lord’s Presence.


‘There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’ Luke 10.42


‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him’ John 6.56