Saturday, 31 July 2021

Ascension & St Richard, Haywards Heath Salvation - Gift, Promise, Choice John 6 1.8.21


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. This month on Sundays we’re reading through the 6th Chapter of St. John's Gospel, a chapter that ends with Peter's famous summary: Lord, to whom 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!

  1. 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 this morning, 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 in the passage we will hear next week, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of 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: Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no 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.

  1. The Promise

You have the words 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.

  1. 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, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

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

You have the words 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.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

St Wilfrid & Presentation, Haywards Heath Treasure 28.7.21

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Matthew 13.44

One Sunday in January 1927 this passage from Matthew 13 was the subject of a sermon by my predecessor as Rector of Horsted Keynes Frank Stenton-Eardley. It was an exceptionally profitable sermon. One of the congregation from nearby Broadhurst Manor went home, dug in a field there and unearthed a hoard of sixty-four gold nobles. This gold, deposited 500 years before, is now in the British Museum. [Picture of gold nobles by Paul Hudson]

The guy who found the treasure remembered the Rector’s sermon when his spade clinked the treasure. What does today’s former Rector suggest you might find memorable about the same Scripture?

The two parables of the treasure and the pearl remind Christians of the need to put supreme value on building our longing for God and his kingdom.

It is not what you are or have been that God looks at with his merciful eyes but what you would be wrote the mystic author of that Medieval classic, The Cloud of Unknowing.

What would you be? Where’s your heart set? 

God wants his aspirations to be of supreme value to his children and we can’t attain these without alertness and determination, two virtues that come out of the parables of the treasure and the pearl in our gospel reading from the end of Matthew Chapter 13. 

Like the Horsted Keynes labourer, if we proceed about our lives with wise mindfulness we don’t have to go far to find God and his riches. The purpose of scripture, of sermons and bible study, is to school us to be alert to the possibilities of God breaking into our situation, as the clink of the spade on the gold alerted the farm worker schooled by the Sunday sermon in January 1927. 

The treasure parable of God’s kingdom is a reminder to recognize the treasure that’s already there in our lives and the joy it's discovery brings. Over the summer we’ve got great opportunities to rediscover the joy of family as the demands of work and lockdown lift from us. 

If this parable is a reminder to be alert to God’s moments the parable of the merchant is a reminder to be spiritually determined. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.  Jesus emphasises in this parable how being his follower takes you on a determined spiritual search. The cost of this will be eclipsed by the outcome but there is a cost.

To be better disciples of Jesus we need opportunities to discipline ourselves so our personal agendas give way more and more to his. This cannot occur, Jesus cannot reach into our lives, without prayer, scripture and the eucharist. 

May the Lord build that determination for him as well as the day by day, hour by hour alertness to the treasure we don’t need to go on holiday to find since it lies buried and awaiting us where we live.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

St James Feast at St John, Burgess Hill 25 July 2021

When the Feast of St James falls as it does this year on a Sunday it’s a very big day in Spain. Indeed its part of what they call a Holy Year, defined as the years their Patron Saint’s feast falls on Sunday. The King and Queen go to the Shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela for High Mass during which the famous Botafumeiro, the giant Thurible is allowed to swing up and down the Cathedral nave.

The origin of the Thurible or incense burner is in thousands of sweaty feet. Santiago de Compostella is at the end of the world’s most famous Christian pilgrim route.

Eighteen years ago there were two extra pairs of sweaty feet in the Cathedral – those of my then 12-year-old son James and I. We had completed a foot pilgrimage to the Shrine of St James covering the minimum distance required to attain the Compostella, the Latin certificate you receive from the Cathedral Office at the end of your journey, wearing our pilgrim badges (show) - scallop shells - linked to the legend of St James’ relics being washed up on the sea shore at Santiago.

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! It served us well when we had to move 4 years ago from Horsted Keynes Rectory to our little house in Haywards Heath and let go of an enormous amount of stuff!

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 achievement or status – as counting for nothing other than when it's use for the praise and service of God. They are detached from material possessions

The wealth of the rich is their strong city we read in Proverbs 18:11-12, in their imagination it is like a high wall…but humility goes before honour. The ‘high walls’ riches can literally raise up – you see them scattered around Mid Sussex – can all too easily put worldly honour before humility.

This ‘honour’ is the ultimate evil of materialism into which we are brainwashed day by day – the valuing of people by what they possess rather than for who they are as those loved by God and bearing his image!

What does it mean to be ‘poor in Spirit’? It means to have such a godly value system, to know God for who he is and ourselves for who we are. To know God in his infinite grandeur is to know oneself as loved deeply despite being a relative nothing and a less than nothing through sin. 

When Our Lord spoke in the Gospel to James and John he was asking for poverty of spirit.  

When attained this would be the sign of discipleship since a true knowledge of God in his infinite grandeur brings with it a recognition of one’s nothingness!

If we were but ‘nothings’! Our capacity to do harm brings us down one peg further, even if it is balanced by the capacity to do beautiful things as well.

Our poverty is like that of a song compared to the singer. We are like a song of the Lord – he is the singer, we are the song. How can the ‘song’ compare itself to the singer?

Yet it is our privilege to be able to live singing God’s praise - very much this morning as singing returns to St John’s! Here at the Eucharist, the great thanksgiving sacrifice of the Church we can admit this truth to God our Father: 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 and in the forthcoming run of our lives this week, that we may encounter him especially in the needy, those enduring personal ordeals and seriously in need of attention – our attention, our time, our money if needs be.

God free us to travel lighter in our Christian pilgrimage with deeper detachment from material things, abandoned more and more to his purposes. May Our Blessed Lord deepen our confidence in his provision and our humility before that grace. We need both confidence in him and humility before him to serve him right. Not just confidence in self - that is good of course - but it comes and goes, as the widespread reality of depression shows us. Deepening humility goes hand in hand with building confidence in God as author and completer of our lives 

As we own up more and more to our own spiritual poverty we see Jesus more and more working around us, within us and through us. May the prayer of St James and St John our patron be with us so that like them we see Jesus so at work. Blessed, praised and hallowed be Our Lord Jesus Christ, upon his throne in glory, in his holy word, in the most holy sacrament of the altar, in the hearts of the poor and of all his faithful people now and for ever and to the ages of ages. Amen! 

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

St Wilfrid, Haywards Heath & Holy Trinity, Cuckfield Distraction 21.7.21

 As he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up (Matthew 13:19)

Distraction - this is what came to me from today’s Gospel - and guilt about it. Our Lord’s interpretation of this passage given later on in Matthew 13 names spiritual distraction as the theft of fruitful living symbolised by the birds eating the heaven sent seeds. Besides being a phenomenon of lockdown, distraction in its spiritual sense is, as Simone Weil describes it, ‘the root of sin’. Taking attention away from love of God and neighbour is to lack understanding and let ‘the evil one come and carry off what was sown in your heart like the one who received the seed on the edge of the path’. 

Because we’ve had so much time to ourselves distraction from such an aim and focus has been inevitable. One of the penalties for many of internet engagement is the continual flow of tempting options to view or engage with that can distract us from attending to God and other people, even if the internet, as at this moment, can bring us close to both.

The spiritual writer Simone Weil wrote: Concentration is the essence of prayer… distraction is the root of sin. This saying came back to me after reading the Gospel image of the seed falling on the field edge inspiring me to write a poem entitled ‘Distraction’ which I will now read. It has four verses:

In a moment of distraction I read

‘Distraction is the root of sin’.

It is certainly a short fall.

Losing sight of the ball

can lose you the game.

A poem though is a distraction

from the prose flow of life,

affirming a higher level,

reminding me I can stand

in mind above that flow.

Other thinking and acting

takes me lower.

Knowing what I ought to do

I am taken from that

by sinful distraction.

To live in the present moment 

serving obligations

yet attending to the high call 

of God and neighbour

will keep me on course.

My poem takes up how distractions can be both welcome and unwelcome. I’d never have written this homily unless I’d been distracted into a poem from the focus required in writing. 

One church member unknowingly helped me prepare this sermon telling me of his own struggle with distraction, working from home with a young child, knowing what he ought to do whilst lacking focus and enthusiasm to get on with it. We talked about the wonder of living in the presence of God and the importance of devices that help keep us in God’s presence at all times not just at worship and in prayer. 

My device to counter spiritual distraction is repeating the Jesus Prayer at all times, unless I get distracted! I want to invite you to join me in repeating it three times and then, it's easy to memorise, do continue on your own into the silence after the homily:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

St Wilfrid & Presentation, Haywards Heath Trinity 7 (16B) 18.7.21


‘We will heal together’ said Gareth Southgate on Monday morning following Sunday’s defeat of England’s men’s football team by Italy. The same day saw graphic illustration in the Telegraph of Southgate’s capacity as a healer with two pictures side by side. One showed England’s manager being comforted 25 years ago by Terry Venables at Euro96 after he himself missed at a penalty shoot out for England. The other came from Sunday with Gareth Southgate embracing the distressed player, Bukayo Saka, who had the same fate. Southgate seemed well equipped to comfort Saka as a wounded healer, someone who had been in the same pain a quarter of a century ago.

Those pictures are a window into this Sunday’s scripture linked to healing. We read in the Gospel from Mark 6 of Jesus showing compassion for the crowd around him, seeing them as ‘sheep without a shepherd’. That phrase echoes the first reading from Jeremiah 23 prophesying a future shepherding and healing for God’s people. With the coming of Christ that healing begins, as we read at the end of today’s Gospel: ‘Wherever Jesus went…they laid the sick in the market places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed’ Mark 6:56.

We take the counsel of people who have suffered more into our hearts. The remarkable scene just described surrounds one who was approaching his passion, already bearing rejection with nowhere to lay his head, yet releasing power to heal even through his clothes. The second reading from Ephesians lays out the basis of divine healing in the extraordinary consequences of the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. God is no longer to be seen as God who embraces just the Jews but as God who embraces all, Gentiles - that is non-Jews - and Jews. I quote again this extraordinary passage: ‘In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us… reconcil(ing) both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility (between Jews and Gentiles) through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father’. (Ephesians 2:13-18)

The main issue for the church today is – how much of a vision of God do we have? Do we believe in the power of the Cross conveyed to us this morning in the eucharist? Do we see and take heart from passages like Ephesians 2 in the face of the dividing walls in the world today? These are made more evident through social media as last weekend proved. Social media brough 32 million of us to Sunday’s game but the consequence of that was in part to reveal a sorry amount of racial prejudice flowing through the same media. When Gareth Southgate said ‘we will heal together’ he spoke for us all since facing up to the truth together is the bottom line for healing under God. The England team are giving a powerful lead on inclusion and collaborative working. As Christians we can’t but see the invitation to repent of racial prejudice as a laying hold of the divine initiative that has impacted, that potentially breaks all walls between us, through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. As we read in St John’s Gospel Chapter 11 verse 52, ‘Jesus died not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God’. 

How big is your God? How real? As real as to engineer through history such a gathering of his dispersed children? Real enough to take your life and mine and lives like Gareth Southgate to be witnesses and instruments of divine healing 

You can be sure of this – however magnificent and real God is to you today there’ll be a greater magnificence and reality in store for you!

On a few occasions in my ministry I have been on the scene when the glory of Jesus evidently illuminated and healed someone.

I think of Bernard who came stumbling around to the Clergy House of my Curacy beaming all over his face.  Was he drunk? I thought. No. Jesus had come real to him. The Holy Spirit had opened his inner eyes.  

I think of an older man to whose troubled deathbed I’d been summoned. As I read the 23rd Psalm deep peace descended upon him.  It was as if Jesus appeared and just took him away. He died joyfully as I prayed.

Or some time back when a young man described to me how for several months he had helped his wife cope with a spiritual problem, Jesus made himself known. James started a confirmation course. A short meeting opened my eyes with his to God’s wonder and magnificence.

Over my time at St Giles, Horsted Keynes I saw eyes opening to the heart and mind expanding vision of God that’s at the heart of this eucharist, people testifying to transformation of their lives in some degree or other.

What a difference it makes to someone when they see Jesus!  They see glory – glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

To see Jesus is to catch hold of a radiant beauty quite out of this world, a beauty that is compelling and extraordinary in its attractiveness, that makes human divisions pale into insignificance.

Could we wish anything more wonderful for anyone than a personal revelation of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?

It can be ours this morning at the Eucharist. With St John we are to call out: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty; he was, he is and he is to come.

In this celebration earth is joined to heaven. There steals on the ear the distant triumph song as our words of praise find echo and amplification from angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven.

God grant us a vision of himself more to his dimension and less to ours as we come before him this morning to thank him for his goodness and healing!

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

St Wilfrid & Presentation, Haywards Heath 14 July 2021


Moses looked; there was the bush blazing, but it was not being burnt up…and God called to him..”Here I am” he answered. Exodus 3:1-8

Though formerly diocesan mission officer I struggle daily with the idea of mission. If ever there was an area in the life of the Church full of variety, confusion and oversimplification it is this area.

‘The Church exists by mission as fire by burning’ they say. 

Yet is ‘mission’ really the fire that keeps the Church burning with zeal?

‘Mission’ - or ‘Mystery’?

I would say that the Church exists for ‘Mystery’, the worship of Almighty God before it exists for ‘Mission’.

Look at Moses in our first reading this morning. We see his vocation to mission born as he encounters the mystery of God in the burning bush. Awestruck he could not refuse the Lord’s invitation to carry out the greatest mission in the Old Testament – the Exodus.

Look at Isaiah whose vision of God’s holiness is enshrined forever in our Eucharistic prayers. He first heard the angelic hymn we repeat again and again: Holy, holy, holy… the mystery brought him like Moses to ‘take off his shoes’ and fall down before the divine majesty.

Again and again in scripture we see the calling to mission flowing from an encounter with God cloaked in awe and mystery.

Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samson, Gideon, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Our Lady, SS. Peter & Paul...all find their vocation in encounters with God that are both personal and mysterious, moving the recipients to worship.

This morning in this eucharistic gathering the Lord Jesus is wonderfully in our midst, the Holy One. How much do we sense that holiness? How much do we sense our own unworthiness to attend this altar?

The fellowship, mission, and service of Christians flows from their encounter with mystery, their sharing, as we are now sharing, in the worship of the Trinity. 

In my own humbler faith pilgrimage I can trace the missionary zeal that flows in me to a mysterious challenge at a particular stage in my life.

It was the ‘something about’ a priest that made all the difference. As an Oxford undergraduate I fell under the influence of a man who was charismatic in the old sense. The sense of presence and conviction about Fr. John Hooper so intrigued me it won me to his Oxford tea table and then to his Confessional, bowled over by a sense of the immediacy of God about the man. His was a Church where sermons were long but full of the glorification of God. Little logic in those sermons, looking back, but plenty of presence and conviction in the preacher. 

His services were also long. High Mass with ceremonial imbued with a spirit of adoration.

Looking back, ‘evangelisation’ at St. Mary Magdalene’s was one depth sounding across to another, deep chords rung in the heart. There was no newsletter, no home groups, no mission action plan but godliness, awe and wonder. 

The burning bush that kindled my vocation was the sure, unselfconscious majesty of Sunday worship in the great tradition of the church, evoking awe before the mystery of God in a way that no self-conscious construct can achieve.

There was force of conviction about the mystery of the Faith and this bowled me over.

‘Mission’ in my case is about ‘Mystery’. I yearn to see the church rid of so much anaemic, diluted Christianity.

It was the mystery of divine revelation that kindled the missionary call of Moses and God has not changed.

Encountering the mystery of Christ is at the heart of what the church is all about or it is about nothing at all!

Whether we are ‘high church’ or ‘low church’ or ‘broad church’ we need to be deep church if people are to be reached by the Lord through us. 

Saturday, 10 July 2021

St Mary, Balcombe Trinity 6 (15B) Amos 7:12-15, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29 11.7.21


The preacher’s role is to expound the scripture readings for the day and help us engage with the word of God through them. Sometimes that involves developing what is called a sermon proposition or summary challenge. Other times the preacher does more of an explanation of the passages chosen where their meaning isn’t self-evident. As I reflected upon today’s readings for the sixth Sunday after Trinity Sunday in Year B of the 3 year cycle I failed to find an obvious summary. Instead it seemed right to give an explanation shaped like an exposition for each of the three passages leaving it to the Holy Spirit to harmonise as he speaks to each one of us. With that in mind I would invite you to join me in invoking the Holy Spirit before I start:

Lord we thank you for the gift of your holy word which is a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths and a strength to our lives. As we contemplate today’s scripture gifts send your Holy Spirit to guide the preacher’s words and inspire all who listen to them so that our hearts, minds and wills may be impacted and your reign advance in us and through us. Come, Holy Spirit!

Let’s start with Amos. Scripture calls him a prophet but he himself denies it if you look at the end of the first reading. I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” 

In scripture prophets and priests are linked respectively to challenging and maintaining the status quo. In our passage Amaziah, the priest of Bethel is a sort of Dean of Westminster Abbey of his day as an appointee of the King of Israel. Even the band of prophets were King’s men in those days. This is why Amos says he’s no prophet’s son.  Though a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, God took him saying “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” 

In my former role as Diocesan mission and renewal advisor my task was linked to a diocesan vision that challenged our status quo as a religious community. To this day God sets a plumb line or marker against us, a measure linked to church attendance and financial giving. The Mission Action Plan or MAP we have at St Mary’s is a reminder to work for numerical growth here and get all church members to take responsibility for this. To follow the picture Amos provides mindful of the pastoral vacancy sheep (church members) produce sheep, not shepherds. Hence a past diocesan challenge we called each one reach one!

Then our second reading from Ephesians. It counts God’s blessings, speaking of our adoption as God’s children, our redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, ...the obtain(ing of) an inheritance...and the seal of the... Holy Spirit.

God who’s given us his dear Son Jesus Christ has given us all things in him. Our endeavours to grow in faith, love and numbers as a congregation are set within God’s plan for Balcombe that’s part of his plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

One of the challenges we have is to build relationships between the church and the village, so all that we know to be precious, the things Paul lists in the reading, may be made evident to those around us. 

Through the various enterprises in which church members and non-church members engage. Through our prayers, and the good stewardship of our buildings we look to engaging St Mary’s more fruitfully with young and old in Balcombe for their good.

Ephesians 1.3-14 is one of the earliest eucharistic prayers – eucharistic meaning thanksgiving. The passage lists God’s mighty work among us in Jesus Christ. 

When I was Rector of Horsted Keynes we held a vision day with the late Fr Keith McRae who spoke of critical mass and the mass as critical. Of our need to build a critical mass eg of youth and families for outreach and also to see the mass or eucharist as critical since it has in it the wherewithal to help us do what God wants us to do.

The more thankful we are, the more we live Ephesians 1 and the eucharist, the less inhibited we’ll be by pride and foolish self reliance as a Christian community. Self reliance is the major obstacle to hearts opening and being enthused by Jesus Christ who calls us as a church into greater dependence upon him.

Scripture, because it has a particular authority as 'the Word of God' is a particularly 'graced' servant of prayer.  The very existence of Scripture is evidence of dialogue between human beings and God.  To pray with Scripture can be, quite simply, an entering into that conversation as in the Psalms. To read slowly and prayerfully through Ephesians 1:3-14 later in the week putting your first name into the text might serve to enhance your prayer: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed John in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose John in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined John for adoption as his child through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on John in the Beloved. In him John has redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of John’s trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on John’. Try that - it’s can be very powerful as a prayer, a bible-based prayer reading back to God his own promises to you as an individual he loves.

Let’s move on thirdly to the Gospel account from Mark 6 of John’s beheading we might observe how the Baptist got beheaded for his forthrightness. He also won respect from his hearers for it, and a place in the church calendar. People, young people especially, feel they can engage with folk who’ve a definite and not a shifting world view. It’s the people prepared at times to tell us it as it is that are end up being most formative in our lives.

I have conversations with many an atheist nowadays who drag me over the coals about faith in God’s goodness given the dreadful evils in the world. I’m glad to so engage, seeing their engagement with me evidencing serious pursuit of the truth I am about. So with King Herod and St John the Baptist. When Herod heard John, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. Truth speaks to power. Christianity is true. There is a God who both made us and loves us. As we witness to that, something inside of people is stirred.

For 1000 years the Christian community here at St Mary’s has been a generation away from extinction. The truth of what we stand for is a counter to the powerful apathy and unbelief around us. We shouldn’t lose heart but take courage to be forthright at time about the truth we share - even if it costs. You won’t lose your head in Balcombe!

If there is a theme through today it is prophetic in that way. Amos and John the Baptist encourage us to speak the truth God lays on our hearts with courage and prudence. Paul in our second reading calls us to fresh awareness of all God has given us in Christ which will energise our faith.

In seeking a critical Mass for growth here we shall indeed do well to see the Mass as critical. Let’s then be open now in a quiet moment to what God is giving us this morning in the table of the word and the altar of communion so we can gratefully seize upon his leading.