Sunday, 25 December 2011

All age Christmas eucharist address 2011

If there are children with a favourite present to show us could they be ushered to the front?

While they’re on the way let’s try a joke or two, like:

What did the reindeer say before launching into his comedy routine?

This will sleigh you.

What do you call the fear of getting stuck in a chimney?


What do you get when you eat the Christmas decorations?


Christmas is here and it’s time to be thankful for Jesus.

All the gifts we’ve been given this morning are given to honour the greatest Gift from the greatest Giver!

So what gifts have we been given?

Time for children to share.

I’ve brought my gift in – I got it early for Christmas and it’s the book from the David Attenborough TV series Frozen Planet.

Any other dads or mums got this too?

There’s a jingle on TV about it to the tune wonderful world that goes through some of its breath-taking images of polar animals.

Here’s one – what is it? p133

Polar bear

Here’s another – what is it? p165

Penguin chick

And these? p122

Killer whales

But this is my favourite (p75). It’s the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar.

Each year it feeds for just three weeks - as you may be able to see - on Arctic willow leaves. Then it gets frozen solid.

Fourteen times this living creature gets frozen solid and then after 14 years it becomes a moth and is able to fly.

According to my book it survives its annual freezing by producing glycerol. This prevents ice crystals forming inside it and damaging its vital functions.

Isn’t God wonderful?

The maker of the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar would have had no trouble planning his own way into human existence in the birth of Jesus.

Now a history test for the oldies in Church this morning!

If Jesus is the most famous who is the second most famous Jewish person of all time?

Albert Einstein lived between 1879 and 1955 and is the most distinguished of all scientists whose ideas on the working of the universe are still being confirmed by experiments.

Just before Christmas experiments with the Hadron Collider, the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, confirmed the likely existence of the long-sought Higgs boson or God-particle that was predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Einstein openly admitted amazement at the harmony of the laws of nature which he said reveals an intelligence of such superiority that compared with it all systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.

Be it Einstein’s thinking or David Attenborough’s observations we can’t doubt that the world around us is the product of someone very, very clever indeed.

What must he be like who made the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar, or the Higgs boson?

Christmas gives us an answer.

As the Maker of All isn’t a thing but a person he was in a position to get in touch when he saw it was the right time and to show us more of who he is. This he did by taking human form in Bethlehem around 2000 years ago.

God showed us God in Jesus born of Mary - going on to teach and heal, suffer and die, rise, ascend and give us the Holy Spirit.

The power that made the universe, baby penguins and killer whales, Arctic caterpillars and Higgs bosons, is a person.

Actually he’s three persons in one God, a Trinity, because only a being who shares love within himself can be a God of love – for how could God be love when there was nothing to love 14 billion years ago?

He had to be love within himself, love of a Father for a Son and a Son for a Father with that go-between of love we call the Holy Spirit.

That first Christmas God’s love, poured by the Spirit into Mary, came to land on the earth in baby Jesus.

This Christmas the same love is destined for earth again - only for your heart and my heart.

Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy.

In the joy of this morning you may know many limitations in your life – regrets, fears and anxieties – but perfect love has come today to cast out fear.

Today God who made each of us out of love invites us to open ourselves to him so we can know afresh the glorious liberty of the children of God!

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today!

Let’s pause for a quiet moment to reflect on all of this.

Midnight & Dawn Eucharists 2011

Fear not the coming of your God: fear not his friendship. He will not straighten you when he comes, rather he will enlarge you...You see then, if you love, how much room he gives you. Fear is a suffering that oppresses us. But look at the immensity of love.

Words on Christmas from Saint Augustine who lived at the turn of the fifth century.

I was taken by his image of Christianity as enlarging.

It’s so against people’s perception of what we’re about.

Yet the Babe of Bethlehem accepted those swaddling bands to give us the glorious liberty of the children of God.

God got straightened, bound up, so we could find new spaciousness and the power to become children of God.

Recently I had one of those awkward medical examinations and I amused my examiner by muttering courage equals fear plus the Holy Spirit.

To be a Christian is to have a capacity to rise through natural fear into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

You see then, if you love, how much room he gives you. Fear is a suffering that oppresses us. But look at the immensity of love.

To know you are loved, that God’s Spirit has been poured into your heart, is to connect with the centre of the universe and see his perfect love casting out your fear and its oppression over you.

One of the saddest caricatures of Christianity is that it’s narrow minded, a sort of strait laced morality. That Christians are holier than thou’s sent as moral policemen to keep the world in order.

I’ve been there, and maybe still am there, God knows!

A priest once had the privilege of speaking to the comedian Groucho Marx. I’d like to thank you, Mr. Marx the priest said, for all the joy you’ve brought into the world. Quick witted as ever Groucho replied And let me thank you, Father, for all the joy you’ve taken out!

God forgive us Christians for making our religion seem so constricting.

Tonight/today Jesus was bound in swaddling bands to set us free but we’ve undone his work trying to bind the world with strictures not of his making.

The Victorian priest Father Frederick Faber captured this in two verses of his hymn There’s a wideness in God’s mercy:

For the love of God is broader than the scope of human mind, and the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind. But we make his love too narrow by false limits of our own; and we magnify his strictness with a zeal he will not own.

When people look at a Church door they too often think of it as a way to narrow down your existence. Jesus did say enter by the narrow gate!

Once you come through the Church door – and I mean really come through into day by day discipleship and week by week worship - it’s more like the door of Doctor Who’s Tardis. You enter another dimension, the very dimension opened up by tonight.

I believe the new glazed doors serve this perception in the way they open up St Giles to our visitors.

God became man in Palestine and lives today in bread and wine – so he can live in you and me, opening up our horizons to his and widening our human possibilities into his.

There are people in Horsted Keynes this Christmas who’re struggling through cancer, unemployment, family breakdown or whatever who know this – I’ve seen them brave their fears and take a larger view!

When the One born to raise the sons of earth comes into our lives he enlarges us to make the most of the world around us in all its frailty.

Man is the macrocosm wrote Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. The whole created universe is the microcosm.

Human beings are pivotal to the universe because they bring the mind and thought of God into matter and there’s no thought or word of God without power.

Welcoming God’s love and his Holy Spirit gives us a life. It makes us what we’re meant to be according to God’s plan for the cosmos.

O Christian, be aware of your nobility wrote St Leo in another 5th century Christmas sermon. Be aware of your nobility. It is God’s own nature that you share: do not then, by an ignoble life, fall back into your former baseness.

Or St Augustine once again: Fear not the coming of your God: fear not his friendship. He will not straighten you when he comes, rather he will enlarge you...You see then, if you love, how much room he gives you. Fear is a suffering that oppresses us. But look at the immensity of love.

Look indeed, on this holy night/morning, and see in the Crib that immense love which makes you noble!

Pray for yourself and for all of us to live as God made us to live!

Christingle service 2011

What do we most like about Christmas?

I like the quiet. Everything stops and there’s time to wonder.

Because the nights are dark and long there’s time to wonder about the moon, the planets and the stars.

I look at them and think ‘what must he be like who made all of these?’

If I can fill my mind with the sight of the moon, Jupiter, Orion, the Pleiades and so on I can imagine the mind of God.

If my mind can take in the starry sky God’s mind can take in so much more because he sees all and loves all.

God doesn’t just see one section of the sky he sees the whole of it and all the skies above all the planets in the universe.

God sees right back through history to the when there were no stars at all!

Who’s sitting by the List of Rectors of Horsted Keynes?

Can you give me the dates of the first Rector? Richard de Berkyng became Rector in 1177.

That means Christmas has been celebrated in this Church at least 834 times.

When did people first come to this area?

500,000 years ago – the earliest human remains were found 20 years ago in Boxgrove outside Chichester.

When did life on earth begin?

5 billion years ago. That’s 5000,000,000 years.

How old is the universe?

14 billion years. That’s three times as old as life itself.

It began with what scientists call the Big Bang but Christians know that by another name.

Tonight we are celebrating the revelation of the meaning and origin of the universe.

At one point in time chosen by him as the best time, the Creator of the Universe chose to show his face in Bethlehem in Judea some 2011 years ago.

This Jesus, the anniversary of whose birth we keep tonight, is nothing less than the Big Bang!

We know this from the way he died and rose at Easter more than from the stories of his birth, as in one of the earliest Christian texts from the letter to the Hebrews Chapter 1 verse 2. There it says Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is God’s Son whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds, the one who reflects God’s glory, the exact imprint of God’s very being who sustains all things by his powerful word.

This Jesus born of Mary in a stable made the Big Bang bringing time and space into being. He sustains all things which means he holds you and I together! He is to be heir or inheritor of all things.

We come from him, belong to him and we go to him.

So Christmas to me is a time to wonder!

To wonder at the stars above, the earth below, the existence of life and why human beings are here – and to see afresh in Jesus the power that brought us into being.
What sort of power?

The power of love - love wider than the ocean, immense as the earth and stars and cosmos - love that sees and enfolds all that is!

Love that came down at Christmas. The Love that set the world in motion to begin with became one of us for 33 years starting in Bethlehem.

This is nothing we could ever work out for ourselves but something God has revealed to us. Being a personal God he could do so and did do so in the birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus his Son.

Christmas is about the love that makes the world go round!

The orange, the candle and the red band tonight stand for the world, the light of the One who made it and the blood he shed for us out of love upon the Cross.

Love came down at Christmas – so let’s celebrate it with our Christingles.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Advent 4 18th December 2011

How does Jesus come into our lives?

He comes by the Holy Spirit.

He comes by the Sacraments.

He comes by the Word of God.

He comes by holy people as they rub off on us.

He comes by circumstances – which links to a second question:

Why does Jesus come into our lives?

He comes to bring us into his life, death and resurrection – and here is the rub.

Look, as the Church invites us to do so today, at his Mother.

She was first to welcome Jesus into her life – and where did it lead her?

She was led into hardship, led to a shaming pregnancy and a Cross of sorrows before taking the shine of glory.

I want Jesus in my life. I want the shine of glory – but, if I am honest, I don’t want hardships!

This is where Jesus sorts us out because it's by endurance of hardship that salvation is forged.

The great Christian writers speak of the need to gratefully accept most of what comes our way, including suffering and hardship.

Sharing life with Jesus means self-sacrifice.

Mary gives us the clue. I am the Lord's servant, she says in today’s Gospel, let it be for me according to the Lord's will and not my own.

Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, the sacraments and scripture.

He also gives us hardships but we have to decide whether to endure them or quit.

In that decision we bring Jesus closer or we push him further away.

In recent weeks a good number of us in the congregation have had to endure hardships directly or alongside a loved one. Some of us have shown remarkable fortitude.

Last Sunday’s preacher announced he’d started chemotherapy and so engaged us dramatically with the practical side of faith.

He left me feeling I was a fair weather Christian!

I was reminded that the means by which we grow in holiness aren’t necessarily sermons or books or forms of prayer, the right sort of retreat or spiritual guide.

The means of our sanctification, of our cleansing from sin, healing from hurt and so on lies in the day to day circumstances of our life as we welcome them as the Lord’s gift.

As we read in Psalm 112:6,7 the righteous will not be overthrown by evil circumstances...he does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that the Lord will take care of him.

The spiritual writer De Caussade in his book Self-abandonment to Divine Providence emphasises how our welcoming of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament Sunday by Sunday focuses the welcoming of the Lord in every circumstance that comes our way.

Jesus is as ready to meet us in the circumstances of our life as he is to meet us in the Sacrament of Bread and Wine.

To be glad deep down in your heart in every situation is a grace given by God, a grace we have to seek - just as Mary sought divine help to brave her expressed fear: How can this be?

If we aren't glad at heart it may be because we’re not fully submitted to God’s will revealed in the circumstances of our life.

Jesus comes into our lives – by the Spirit, Sacrament, Scripture or by circumstances - to bring us into his own life, death and resurrection.

He is ready to help us face discomfort so that his resurrection life may grow in us by the Spirit and our old proud and sinful nature is further humiliated and put down.

As we prepare for Christmas may we have our spiritual ears open to hear God speaking into our lives so that we might decrease in self orientation and gain within us the love of Christ that will never fail.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Advent 2 8am 4th Dec 2011

From the Old Testament passage, Isaiah 40.3 A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord’

Words fulfilled in the coming of St John the Baptist recorded in the Holy Gospel who came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

A few thoughts this morning about repentance.

The word ‘repentance’, in Greek metanoia, means turning, turning humbly to God and to my brother and sister in sorrow for sin.

Repentance is a thoroughly practical business. It means coming humbly before God and practically before my neighbour, both of whom are hurt by my sins. It is no good mouthing religious words in church to God without the practical back up of asking forgiveness from the people we have hurt when that’s obviously appropriate.

Christians change their lives by amputation not by compromise. We go places – we go to heaven – by our decisiveness under God.

If only we could see what we’re missing through holding back from a deeper repentance!

A preacher was on his way to Church but had a row with his wife. Hard words were exchanged. As he closed the garden gate the Lord said, “Go and make peace with your wife.” “But Lord,” he protested, “I’m already late!” “O.K.”, the Lord replied, you go and preach your sermon but I’ll be staying here with your wife.” Because he was a man of God he went back to the kitchen.

When he finally made it to Church he preached one of the most powerful sermons of his ministry.

Every decisive act of turning to Jesus is costly to pride - but it brings with it the gift of the Spirit and a fresh empowering for Christian life and ministry.

Advent challenges us to deeper repentance. For some of us this might get expressed in the use of the Sacrament of Confession which is always available by arrangement with the parish priest. There’s an old Church of England saying on confession which might help you. It’s all may go, none must go, some should go

It’s a subtle trick of Satan’s to make repentance look lurid and not as down to earth, boring and matter of fact as it really is for most of us. If you read the newspapers you will see terms like repentance and sin most always associated with something lewd.

By contrast the sin of unforgiveness which is probably just as destructive a sin as sexual misdemeanour can get applauded in the media.

Then what about the sin of self-sufficiency write pride? Living as a self-made man worshipping your creator! It’s quite fashionable! But where will it lead you?

In Advent season the church calls us to deepen our humility before God and our love for him and for our neighbour.

Advent might be a chance to think about why some of our prayers are not being answered. Sometimes there’s a reason and God might show us it in an attitude or a way of behaving we need to deal with. It’s said, I repeat, Christians change their lives by amputation not compromise!

Our decisive welcoming of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament in church should focus the decisive welcoming of the Lord in every circumstance that comes our way and our decisive casting aside of temptation.

Jesus is as ready to meet us in the circumstances of our life as he is to meet us in the Sacrament of Bread and Wine. We need to repent – to turn away from evil to Jesus - again and again, hour by hour. I believe we can only be glad at heart and overflowing with the life and joy of Jesus if we do so!

A person who’s not resigned in a positive way to the will of God revealed to them in the circumstances of their daily living is someone who’s being worn away and destroyed. This is why St. Paul encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thess 5v16 18).

Maybe we need to bow down to the Lord in trying circumstances, thanking Him instead of complaining to him about them, seeing them as a gift from his left hand, ending any sort of argument with him about our circumstances

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord – sometimes it seems that God gives us directions best when we admit we’re in the wilderness!

Advent is a call to decisiveness in preparing the way of the Lord deeper into our hearts.

So in the coming weeks let’s be decisive in tackling the things that should have no place in a Christ filled life.

Bluebell railway carol service 3rd December 2011

The Reverend Wilbert Awdry would be glad to hear of a clergyman selling books about Jesus on the railway.

His daughter Hilary protested that a recent television series on her father’s Thomas the Tank adventures would have dad spinning in his grave. They’d changed all references to Christmas to ‘winter holidays’.

This year is Awdry’s centenary and I’m glad Bluebell has not just one but two chaplains here tonight and 5 minutes on the programme geared to put Christ into Christmas rather than take him out!

Am I getting steamed up? I hope not – sorry – I hope so – standing where I’m standing!

The great thing about Jesus is he’s bigger than any religion even Christianity. Now he really is out for inclusivity and an inclusivity that goes beyond political correctness.

Jesus came to show God isn’t just God of the paid up followers of religion but everyone’s God. He paid a price for that in rejection, suffering and death.

When he rose from the dead – no historical event has been as closely examined than that Easter event – it was God’s way of putting this truth on the map.

God’s not the God of insiders but of outsiders. That’s why he was born outside the inn in a cave and died outside the city on a Cross.

We’ve every right to criticise his followers when they close ranks and make Jesus inaccessible to non-members.

The Reverend Awdry knew some church folk like that. Grumpy Gordon is modelled on a difficult parishioner!

How about the Fat Controller? We don’t know who’s behind the name but I’m told he’s been as much a victim of Thomas the Tank rewriters as Christmas.

Is it so amazing that the Christmas story angers some folk so much they don’t want it repeated in a public place?

The idea of God as a personal God who’s made us and come in person to show us his love and seek entry into our hearts can rattles cages! Some resent the idea of a God who sees all they do and to whom they’ll have to give account.

I beg to differ. I beg them see in Jesus one who makes God actually credible.

If God really is love that would need to have been demonstrated in history and the person of Jesus is the best witness to it we’ve ever been given – read my book!

Oh dear – forgive me! Clergy like trains can get pushy and demanding! We don’t need tons of coal like a train but we still ask too much of folk sometimes!

A priest once had the privilege of speaking to the comedian Groucho Marx. I’d like to thank you, Mr. Marx the priest said, for all the joy you’ve brought into the world. Quick witted as ever Groucho replied And let me thank you, Father, for all the joy you’ve taken out!

Well that’s not our task at the Bluebell Chaplaincy – I hope not!

A clergyman had mourners in hysterics at a Crematorium. He’d rushed into the Chapel from a distant place carrying his sat nav. As the coffin was laid on the trestles a tinny voice resounded: You have reached your final destination!

Over all the earth, down through twenty centuries the warm light of Jesus has continued to shine drawing people to a great destination.

It’s been given to lighten our minds, warm our hearts and energise our lives - if we will welcome it.

Just as the light of the coal and its heat energises the cylinders of this train the Christ Child is given to energise our living, warm up our souls and to get them moving in worship and service towards a great destination.

Over Christmas there’ll be plenty of opportunities to stoke our inner furnace as we go to Church.

What Jesus announces is this: there’s a refuelling possible in life. There’s a warming of the heart.

There’s a joy from outside of ourselves waiting to come in if we’ll but welcome its source.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let ev’ry heart prepare him room.

Let’s sing again and warm our hearts as we do so!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Advent Sunday 27th November 2011

He shall come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead that we may rise to the life immortal

What difference does this Cinderella of Christian truth make to us.

I say Cinderella because the doctrine of the Second Coming must be about the most neglected of doctrines. It gets eclipsed by Christmas, which now covers Advent and beyond, and is tinged with such sentimentality that many preachers get scared off attending to the four last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell.

The first benefit of the doctrine of the Second Coming is it puts us in our place!

What you are before God - that is what you are and no more. The doctrine that He shall come again in glorious majesty to judge us warns us to avoid the error of valuing ourselves overmuch by what others say about us.

No one can take away or enhance who we are before God.

This is a very difficult truth to take on board and get into our hearts of hearts. The blame or praise of any other human being is of no matter compared to God's praise or blame. If what we find others think of us inflates or deflates us overmuch we’re not fully centred on the Lord.

Fear God and there’ll be no one or nothing else to fear!

The second benefit of the doctrine of the Second Coming is the reminder it gives that once we accept the love of Christ there will be no need to fear his judgement. As St Paul writes to the Romans,'There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (Romans 8.1).

The universe will be ended by Jesus Christ and he is the one who first came to reveal the Love that moves the sun and the stars in Dante's immortal phrase.

If all through our Christian lives we have been looking to Jesus his appearing 'in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead' will be consummation not condemnation.

In Lent we read Bishop Tom Wright’s commentary on Matthew's Gospel. The former Bishop of Durham writes about the Second Coming in his book Simply Christian. There he encourages us to see the Lord’s return as less about our being snatched up into heaven than about the New Jerusalem coming down in which Jesus will reappear as King of Heaven.

Bishop Tom sees Jesus now as present, I quote, hidden behind that invisible veil that keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scripture and our work with the poor, where the veil seems particularly day that veil will be lifted; earth and heaven will be one; Jesus will be personally present, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God’s new world will at last be in place.

If the first benefit of the doctrine of Christ's Second Coming is to put us in our place and the second is to remind us that place is one of being loved, the third benefit is to open up a vision of the purpose of all things so as to spur us on.

This world isn't just here! It’s God's world made for God’s purpose! The kingdom of this world is to become the kingdom of our God and of Christ, his Son.

He shall come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead that we may rise to the life immortal.

God’s a personal God who’s created a world where personal beings who bear his image stand not at the centre but, in Teilhard de Chardin's phrase, as the 'structural keystone’ of the universe.

Almighty God made the universe to put in the centre of it his Son, Jesus Christ.

The first Coming of Jesus was into the womb of a holy woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, demonstrating that we human beings are no mere compartment of the animal kingdom but are capable of union with God.

His Second Coming will occur when human beings, drawn to Christ and his Church in the Spirit, have completed the divine plan 'to bring all things together in Christ'. (Ephesians 1.10)

Materialists, ecologists are inevitable pessimists when they look at how the world is going. Christians though see in world events a forward movement. As Christ waited for the holy woman to be his Mother he now awaits a holy people to be his Bride so that as heavenly Bridegroom he can one day embrace his church so that we may rise to the life immortal.

Christ awaits the purification of his church for this consummation just as he had to await a woman for his conception. The purification of the church is inseparably bound up with the evolution of the created world that moves forward in history engaging through Christian mission with the good news as it spreads from pole to pole, news of the salvation which is God's gift in his Son Jesus Christ.

I could go on - what riches there are behind the doctrine of the Second Coming - but we need to land this exalted vision here into some practicalities.

To summarise, it is a benefit and not a bane to know there is judgement. Many unbelievers may be unbelievers because they resent deep down the idea of a God who sees all they do and to whom they will one day have to give account. We should not resent it - and if we do we should repent of our pride!

In Advent season we provide a number of occasions for deepening repentance, our sense of need for God. Tonight we have a special evensong with conscience examination. The sacrament of confession is also available tonight, on Christmas Eve and by appointment.

Next Sunday after the 10am all age eucharist the ministry of prayer for healing will be available to individuals, something the PCC has agreed we provide after every all age eucharist. Such prayer for physical, emotional and spiritual needs can be very helpful. On Tuesdays in Advent we have an extra Eucharist at 10am and our Wednesday evening 630pm worship is going to include a time of silent reflection.

In these ways and in our own individual prayer and bible study we can engage with the wonder of Advent season as it speaks to us of the love and judgement of God in Christ and his purpose for the church and the world.

The Lord is concerned with our lives and with all we and his concern is one of pure love! As Christians we are in the words of St Gregory the Great one in him who is everywhere. That union in the Holy Spirit is to be manifested when the world reaches its consummation and God is all in all in perfect love with the saints.

It is a glorious truth that no one can take away or enhance who we are before God - the love he has for us is will be everlasting!

As we welcome that love in Holy Communion this morning let’s hold in our hearts those we know who know not the Lord Jesus praying they too will open their hearts to him and experience the love of the Lord!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

All Souls Day 2011

How do we see death?

The right instinct for self-preservation would see it as our enemy. Much of our physical life and energy is taken up in looking after our bodies and protecting them from harm. There is, alas, little attention given in modern medicine to facing up to death on this account, since, at a natural level, when a patient dies it is seen as a defeat.

As we mature in spirit a new perspective opens up and we ponder death as the stranger it is. In that pondering there lies a quest for meaning, not least when those we love are taken from us. There is strangeness especially in sudden death or the death of a child. Death puts a strange, uncomfortable question to every one of us so that death has become in the 21st century as unspeakable as sex was in the 19th century.

Many stay with death as enemy or stranger. Some though, and here faith comes in, some go on to see death as a friend. If faith means anything, it has to see beyond death to an unseen God who sees all, loves all and desires nothing to be lost. When faith and death meet it is death not faith that is changed. In the words of John Donne Death, thou shalt die.

A Christian is a far sighted one. Someone adventurous. One whose confidence in the victory of Jesus over death spurs them on. One who presses through the false boundaries of unbelief, sin, apathy, fear, sickness and, last of all, death, towards the gift of God in Jesus Christ.

To be a Christian is to be opposed to nostalgia in the sense of wanting to stop the flow of time and change. Christian faith is a forward journey with an eternal perspective that welcomes the challenges and surprises of life with Spirit given creativity since Jesus Christ is ever new.

If you live your life not content with a boring sameness but with what is other than, or apart from, yourself, this fascination draws you forward day by day into the possibilities of God which exceed your imagining.

If you centre in love on what is other than yourself you get prepared to face what is the ultimate strange ‘other’ – I mean death. We come to see death as nothing more than the frame of our earthly life. A frame is the picture’s friend. It shows it off. Without the defining of our life’s duration in time the span of our life would stretch into an infinite void. Without being born and dying we would be ageless beings. No one would be older or younger than anyone or anyone’s parent or child – we would be no one at all!

Who I am in my inner self is what matters ultimately. This is a product not just of heredity and environment but of my own free choices - to love or not to love. By growing love in my life I make of myself, with the Lord’s help, a being stronger than death.

This is what the scriptures are speaking of when they say love never ends. As we heard in the 23rd Psalm if I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear. You are there with your crook and your staff; with these you give me comfort. To live with love takes us out of ourselves and into the forward movement of He who is love itself.

Hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts. (Romans 5.5) Or, as we heard in today’s Gospel, it is (the) Father’s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.

To live a human life is a process of formation that reaches its end in death in a more profound sense than end-finish. All that we are is moulded in us through our life in time so that we can be taken into our end-fulfilment in eternity.

The best preparation for death is through the inner wisdom of faith that presses us forward to live in hope day by day and to give ourselves in love to God and neighbour.

Three things abide – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of them is love.

Love is the best preparation for death because it takes us out of ourselves and shapes our inner self so we see our physical death as no enemy or stranger but the last friend we encounter on earth.

Saint Francis expressed this neatly when he gave death honoured place in his great hymn of creation: And thou, most kind and gentle death, waiting to hush our latest breath! Thou leadest home the child of God, and Christ our Lord the way hath trod.

On All Souls Day the Church invites us to ponder death not as enemy or stranger but as our friend because of this future orientation we hold.

It reminds us that love is the key to facing death.

Beyond contemplating our own mortality and need of God today we are showing love for our own dear dead. To pray for departed loved ones is to enfold them in our love, as we did in their life time, knowing, through the risen Christ, that the love which animates our prayer is stronger than death.

The faithful departed have passed beyond the frame of death into eternal love. The destruction of death destroys everything about us that is destructible but it cannot destroy loving commitment to God and neighbour.

Death, thou shalt die. As we offer prayer for our loved ones at the eucharist on All Souls Day we do so confident, in the love of God, that purifies them and us, building our lives on the unshakeable foundation that is Jesus Christ.

All Saints’ Festal evensong 30th October 2011

We will see him as he is, and all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3.2-3

We shall see him says St John. The Christian hope set forth on the Feast of All Saints is no less than this.

In placing the Blessed Sacrament before us at evensong the Church gives us a focus and a reminder of the vision of God.

As one of our Eucharistic hymns says; O Christ whom now beneath a veil we see. May what we thirst for soon our portion be. To gaze on thee unveiled and see thy face. The vision of thy glory and thy grace.

Tonight at Benediction we gaze on Jesus enthroned but under the veil of bread. One day we shall see him unveiled in heaven with all the saints.

We shall see him and this is a call to purify ourselves, just as he is pure.

Two thoughts.

We shall see him

The vision of God is too wonderful for me alone. This is the understanding we receive from the second reading which speaks of a great cloud of witnesses.

There’s a movement called inclusive church working for women and gays. I would not dare to criticise it, of course, but inclusion in Christianity is something much more profound and far reaching than liberal Anglicanism.

True inclusivity is this – the democracy of the dead! It’s the inclusion through the Risen Christ of witnesses from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages before the throne of God.

Some forms of Christianity are good at throwing a line to unbelievers and drawing them in. They go on to promote their spiritual development as a one to one hotline to Jesus. Today’s Feast presents the drawing power of Jesus not as a line but as a net. The communion of saints is a net that by example and prayer draws us together around the throne of God to worship him day and night within his temple.

We shall see him

My text from St John’s First Letter complements the Hebrews passage which reminded us heaven is something corporate. It reminds us that to be a Christian is to live for the vision of God centred in hope of the heavenly vision of God.

I remember vividly a scene in the play A Man for All Seasons in which Thomas More stands before his accusers. He swears to be truthful saying he believes any untruthfulness will lose him the beatific vision. It is the thought of seeing God face to face that sustains him, and indeed sustains many of us in our tribulations.

This is the one true and only blessed life Saint Augustine writes to Proba that we should contemplate the delightfulness of the Lord for ever, immortal and incorruptible in body and spirit…Whoever has this will have all that he wishes…There indeed is the spring of life, which we must now thirst for in prayer, so long as we live.

To believe in heaven is to yearn in that way for the delightfulness of the vision of God. Now, in the silence, as we gaze upon Jesus veiled in the Blessed Sacrament, we have a chance to anticipate this joy which we will one day see face to face with all the saints.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Baptism of Rhys Johnson & Christophe Matthews 23rd October 2011

I looked up on Wikipedia the Christian names we’re giving our two baptism candidates this morning.

Rhys, a Welsh name, means "fervour" or "passion".

Christophe, French version of Christopher, means “the one who bears Christ in his soul".

Hopeful names – may these boys grow indeed with spiritual fervour! May Our Lord be with them and in them through the rites we celebrate over them this morning.

This is certainly the desire of their parents Chris and Katie, Francis and Patricia. They want the best for their children and they know the best will take effort.

Just as these children visit their uncles, aunts and grandparents so they visit us here in St Giles. We’re like an extension of their extended family.

Christophe’s dad, Francis was confirmed last year. It’s one of my greatest encouragements to see people made Christians as babies own up to it their later years – and I’m praying for a good few in that category among us to take courage and become full church members.

The horse on the front of the service booklet is a reminder of Francis’ trade as a provider for Polo, the Sport of Kings. His vision is to make this most ancient of all games accessible, as it was in the beginning, to anyone who can ride a pony, so you won’t need to be royal, titled or a millionaire to play.

In Polo each player needs access to more than one pony, so tired mounts can be exchanged for fresh mounts between or even during chukkas. A player's "string" of polo ponies may number 2 or 3 in Low Goal matches (with ponies being rested for at least a chukka before reuse), 4 or more for Medium Goal matches (at least one per chukka), and even more for the highest levels of competition.

It’s a game where everyone plays their part and so, in turn, do the horses.

This is a lovely image of collaboration, a relay race of horses, that can illustrate the heart of Christianity.

We as Christ’s body are a team – a winning team, contrary to what you might hear!

We’re engaged in a battle to establish the love of God and neighbour on the earth, as Jesus explains in today’s Gospel reading - and we need one another.

You can’t be a Christian on your own, you need to be part of the team, and in that team we give way to one another on occasion for tasks that we’re not suited to.

In my forthcoming book, Meet Jesus one of the stories I tell on this theme comes from the time we were very isolated by the extreme cold weather early in 2010. Caroline Rich served as she does now with her husband, John, in the village ‘dial a lift’ scheme. Since they had a four-wheel drive vehicle they were able to help Lesley, who had cancer, obtain vital treatment at the local hospital.

Caroline told me about Lesley’s situation and I visited to offer her prayer which was gratefully received. We celebrated the sacrament of anointing for her in church and I became aware of how Lesley’s faith grew over the months. The acts of service of both Caroline and I were in partnership with Jesus but in different ways. Her service was being helpful. Mine was healing prayer. Both of us became channels for Jesus. Lesley’s faith, incidentally, has become an instrument of care for cancer sufferers internationally through her championing of the cyber knife treatment she received.

At their baptism Rhys and Christophe are entering the winning team of the Christian Church – but they need to be taught to play the game and be God’s instruments!

Here is a great responsibility for their parents, teaching their children to love God and neighbour- and they can only do their best. God requires nothing more than that. For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business as T.S.Eliot wrote.

St Giles, particularly our Sunday Club leaders, will be with you in this endeavour, as, surely, will the children’s godparents and grandparents.

So will the Holy Spirit!

This morning we light a pilot light, so to speak – and we trust God to turn the gas on in due course.

The Holy Spirit who makes water and oil, bread and wine his instruments this morning wants to make us all, led by Chris and Katie, Francis and Patricia, his instruments of spiritual care for Rhys and Christophe.

Then, in turn, he wants these boys to grow up so aflame with the love of God and neighbour that they’re evident instruments of blessing to the world they are to inhabit over the coming century.

It’s team work, but we’ll all be playing in the best game in the world.

Christian life, with all its ups and downs, makes for a contest that’s even more challenging fun than you find on a Polo field!

Trinity 18 23rd October 2011 8am

Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets " Matthew 22:37-40

The world is moving towards one point. The financial troubles that are bringing the world towards more of an economic union are connecting up the world. They are, strangely, ironically, part of a greater movement into unity. This movement is a gathering up of all things in Christ so that the love of God and neighbour flow perfectly together in the communion of saints made perfect.

This Holy Eucharist is an anticipation of that union – more than that, it is an instrument of advancing the love of God and neighbour within the cosmos. As often as we celebrate this sacred mystery we show the Lord’s death and the work of salvation is advanced towards the point where Jesus will be supreme and God will be everything to everyone.

If the trajectory of cosmic history looks like a cone with space and time spinning out from the Big Bang the trajectory of salvation history is an inverted cone bringing all things together in Christ. To the outer eye of science there is divergence as things move apart. To the inner and deeper eye of the Spirit there is convergence towards what someone called the Omega Point where Christ is the be all and end all.

There our gospel reading will be fulfilled by perfect love for God and neighbour within the community of saints. Self-love will have vanished – what a thought – we shall lose self-preoccupation and be caught up in the vision of God and the shared joy of the redeemed!

Meanwhile we have to take the Gospel reading to heart so that we lose something more of self-love and gain something more of the love of God and of our neighbour for that is God’s will for us, each one of us here in church on this 18th Sunday after Trinity 2011!

Each one of us I guess struggles with self-preoccupation. We can hardly avoid it as individuals who have the duty of looking after ourselves, feeding, clothing ourselves, entertaining ourselves and putting ourselves to work in different ways.

Our Lord Jesus came upon the earth to challenge this self-preoccupation. He says to us, each one of us in church this morning "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and … your neighbour as yourself".

Jesus commands this love of us and his is a gracious command – he gives us the grace to obey it – he gives us the Holy Spirit, not least as we receive his body and blood in this most holy sacrament.

To love God and neighbour energises us. The love of self drains us of energy.

How easily do you and I voice the sacrificial talk of the eucharist with but little deliberation. Every Eucharist calls forth not just our bread and wine and money but our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice in union with Jesus who is uniting all things with himself. Jesus desires the offering of love for God and neighbour from his people. He desires to unite that love with his own love that is drawing the whole universe to himself.

Sometimes the Eucharist is cheap grace. We grow blind to the sacrificial aspect of Christian worship in our over eagerness to grab easy grace when it’s convenient.

Jesus wants to take us out of ourselves and direct our concerns to God and neighbour which is why he has given us sacrificial worship.

We don’t come to church to be entertained but to be drawn into Christ’s Sacrifice which is drawing all things to the Father.

As the host and chalice are lifted up at the altar we look towards that final exaltation of Jesus over all the powers of sin, sickness, death, doubt and the devil, the Omega Point where God will be all in all. I when I am lifted up he says will draw all people to myself.

The natural concerns we share about low interest rates, the cost of living, our mortgage repayments and so on are to be elevated to a supernatural level by the Eucharist we share which builds our faith.

It is love for God who has given this ungrateful world so much and for our neighbours, who are as hard if not more hard hit by the economic crisis, that is to overcome selfish preoccupation let alone self pity at the way the world is dealing with us.

Lift up your hearts invites the priest. We lift them to the Lord.

Through the familiar action of taking, blessing, breaking and sharing an outward rite is accomplished which takes us right up into the heavenlies to be joined with the perfect love of God and humankind to be found for all eternity in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, present as eternal priest and saving victim at this altar under the sign of bread and wine.

Take your place with him now as we prepare to offer through him, with him and in him this most holy Eucharist for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his church. Amen.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Trinity 17 16 October 2011

What’s good about being a Christian?

Share things that are valuable including significant answers to prayer in recent weeks

Christianity is good for the soul! The Gospel is good! This Church is a place of purpose in a confused world, a place of belonging in a lonely world.

If this good news is going to get around some more the church has got to grow and draw in the next generation.

Do you think we at St. Giles have something that the friends we care for are missing out on?

We need to believe this if our prayer and our invitations for them to join us are to be wholehearted.

How can we help the church grow?


A question we do well to ask ourselves is how we would feel if our best friend came with us to Church? Would we feel embarrassed about what and who they encountered? If so, why should we feel so?

What wisdom is there so far as the revitalisation of faith and our need to work for church growth in today’s Gospel?

Behind the questions and answers lies a trap set for Our Lord which touches on the relation of the believing community to its surrounds.

In the story we see the Pharisees making common cause with the Herodians who supported paying tribute to Rome against the Zealots who didn’t, hoping to put Jesus in the wrong with one side or the other. They ask ‘Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’

Our Lord’s reply does not actually make a choice between the two parties. It accepts the reality of Caesar’s rule, without touching on the question of its validity. Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.

Keep responding to God’s claim, Jesus says, whilst never forgetting the claim of the world around you.

To be effective in our mission as his Church we need an ever-deepening confidence in God allied to an ever-deepening humility before both God and neighbour.

We can’t escape those dual obligations – to God and to Caesar. It’s up to each individual and each religious community to balance these obligations. To ignore God denies us our distinctive of godliness. To ignore Caesar – read the human community to put it into today’s language – is to make our religion sectarian and destructive.

We live as Jesus did in a culturally diverse society. As such we can’t avoid speaking two languages. Our Christian Faith is the language of ‘identity’ – it makes us what we are as God’s people seeking godliness through word, sacrament and fellowship. Our shared citizenship demands we speak the language of our community.

If religious communities don’t engage with their wider communities and seek to speak their language they become sectarian.

To paraphrase Our Lord with a slant to St. Giles, we need to give society its just service, throwing ourselves as a Christian community into the fray of Horsted Keynes and its surrounds, whilst giving God his due by building up our confidence as a distinctively Christian community.

As your parish priest I need to encourage you to work on both aspects.

For St Giles to grow we need an eye to both God and the community. We need to firm up our confidence in God by getting ourselves deeper into our worship and schooled more in the Scriptures. However bad a name religion has got we cannot escape the call we have to be better and firmer Christians.

To be a Christian is to have confidence in God – and humility before him and before people.

A Christian who’s humble without confidence in God has no missionary potential.

A Christian who’s every confidence in God yet lacks humility before other people and their view of things is a danger to our cause!

In particular failure to be sensitive to the needs of our community and speak its language will show us up to be less than Christian in the sense of working for human and social flourishing.

Today’s Gospel makes clear the separate demands of God and man upon us as Christians but those demands flow together. Our Lord brought these conflicting demands together in his own body in his sacrificial death for us upon the Cross.

Through what he has done for us, which we recall at every eucharist, he builds our confidence in God and lends us his own humble love for people

In this Eucharist he is waiting to touch us in our heart of hearts, so we can touch others for him!

May the Sacrament we share refresh in us the purpose for living and the reason for dying given to us in our risen Lord. As God makes himself so near to us may he make himself near to the people of this community.

The Gospel is good! This Church is a place of purpose in a confused world, a place of belonging in a lonely world. May more belong here with us to Jesus so that God’s world may be enriched by the growth of his Church!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Harvest Festival 9th October 2011 8am

Harvest Festival is an annual reminder as the eucharist is a weekly reminder of the profound truth of thanksgiving.

Our lives are not our own – and that’s an unfashionable truth in a self reliant age.

The Christian faith calls for inner eyes to be opened up to gratitude.

We come from God. We belong to God. We go to God.

This means, as creatures made and loved by God, that we believe in thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a key mark of the Christian church which has as its first service the Eucharist or great thanksgiving over bread and wine for Jesus sake.

Christians have every reason to live with thanksgiving. In Jesus Christ they find belonging, purpose for life, empowerment, forgiveness, spiritual direction and so many blessings.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey made many a profound remark and one was that ‘thanksgiving is a soil in which pride doesn’t easily grow’.

Thanksgiving is a soil in which pride doesn’t easily grow – now there’s a deep thought!

To believe in thanksgiving is to believe that the centre of your life is outside of yourself.

This truth lies behind those words on divine providence that we just heard from Our Lord in the Gospel from St Luke Chapter 12: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?

St. Paul expresses this truth of our belonging at the deepest level within the providence of God when he writes to the Colossians our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3v3b).

To live thankful for such a grace is to live in infectious joy so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God quoting the apostle Paul again only from 2 Corinthians 4v15b.

Doesn’t thanksgiving undermine a right self-reliance? Surely God helps those who help themselves?

Yes and no. Yes we are subjects not puppets. God never undermines our free will. No because the whole wonder of Christian life is God’s readiness to be helper of the helpless. He’s eager to release his possibilities into so many of our situations. If you rely on self alone you’ll always be disappointed. Depression is self-reliance that has failed. Death is the utter loss of self life.

Christian faith, thankful living, reverses both of these scenarios.

It is a matter of immersing ourselves in the self-offering of Christ as we do week by week in the holy eucharist.

Blessed art Thou, Lord God of all creation, through thy goodness we have this bread and wine to offer...

These gifts are offered as an expression of gratitude, the sign of our lives being given up to God. The bread and wine’s transformation to Christ’s body and blood and our receiving of these is the instrument of our own ongoing transformation into thankful living.

We come from God. We belong to God. We go to God.

All things come of thee O Lord and of thine own do we give thee!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Trinity 14 Repentance 25th September 2011

Repentance is at the heart of our religion and it’s at the heart of today’s scripture.

The parable of the two sons in Matthew 21 picks up on the Ezekiel passage in its highlighting of human responsibility. We are free at any time to turn from wrong to right dealing, the scripture says, and we will be judged according to the evident determination we show towards right. The wrong we have done will not be held against us if we repent or turn from it.

This doctrine of repentance is written through the Scriptures. In the New Testament it first appears on the lips of Saint John the Baptist. Then, when Our Lord begins his public ministry it is with the call to repentance (Matthew 3:1–2; Matthew 4:17). When he sends forth messengers to proclaim his gospel, he commands them to preach repentance (Luke 24:47; Mark 6:12).

After his death and resurrection we see, in the book of Acts how his apostles, led by Peter command repentance. In Acts 2.28 Peter says to the crowd who witnessed Pentecost: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Saint Isaac of Syria says, "This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits."

So what does it mean to repent or to live in repentance?

The meaning of the word is to turn. To turn to God. To turn away from ‘vain pursuits’.

The meaning of repentance is filled out by the form of baptismal vows we use in St Giles: I turn to Christ. I repent of my sins. I renounce evil.

Repentance is more than lip service.

A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ (Matthew 21.28-31)

To repent is to act so as to move your life forwards into the will of God.

Through our conscience and our awareness of the love of God in Jesus Christ we have an awareness of what’s required of us. More than that we mouth those requirements as we did earlier in the eucharist by making an outward confession of our sins.

Repentance though is more than thinking or saying what you need to do – it is doing it!

One great mystery of our existence is the freedom we have to know what’s right and aspire to it but to be given space to delay and delay and delay.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine of Hippo who lived in the fourth century are still in print as the first great autobiography. Augustine connected with the Church and gradually came to recognise he was living in a wrong relationship. Later he admits his prayer was ‘Lord, make me chaste – but not yet’. Isn’t that a prayer we’ve all prayed about something or other be it diet, gossip or judgmental attitude – ‘not yet, Lord’!

To repent is to submit. As human beings we aren’t puppets on strings, no. Neither though is our relationship with the Lord the give and take of pure unfettered cooperation. With your Maker you more than cooperate, such is his claim upon you, such is his aspiration for you to really make you the holy one he has in his mind’s eye when he thinks of you!

As Augustine found repentance is submission, the end of all argument with God. It is the realisation there and then of God and his gracious demand, in Paul’s words to Corinth, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6.2).

When we’re driving a car our turning of the wheel is a parable of the repentance, the turning, which heads our life to its proper destination. How often do we drivers end up having to turn back on our tracks? Or fall prey to deceitful information? I listen to my Sat Nav, most kind gift of a parishioner. It works nine times out of ten but there’ve been times when in my heart of heart I know I am going wrong. I have been forced to turn its advice to one side!

Back to St Isaac: "This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits."

This morning’s scripture is a wake up call to check where we’re heading in life. If we’re lacking a sense of the Holy Spirit’s working that may be because we’re heading wrong somehow. The remedy is plain – I have already given the three stages from Acts 2.28: Repent, so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Repent – decide you’ll turn from whatever it is. Secondly ask God that your sins may be forgiven. Thirdly welcome the Holy Spirit.

I turn to Christ. I repent of my sins. I renounce evil. The life of the baptised is a life lived in that ongoing principle so that if our spiritual life is in the doldrums it may be, in that becalming, there is message from God, as expressed in the first reading: Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! (Ezekiel 18)

There’s a lot at stake for us in today’s scripture. "This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits."

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Baptism of Zachary Francis & Alice Langman 18th September 2011

Self-sacrifice is what we’re all meant to be about.

We were made to lose ourselves.

This is why in the traditional baptism rites candidates were, and sometimes still are, immersed in a symbolic drowning.

We are so grateful for the lives of Zachary and Alice - their drowning would be a million miles from our thoughts this morning! Nevertheless all we are about this morning announces the desire they have their sinful human nature drowned to death. That they come to live lives not full of themselves but full of the unselfish Spirit of God.

We can trace our existence this morning in five stages: the creation of inert matter, the formation of the earth, the emergence of life, of consciousness and then, in human beings, self-consciousness.

Only self-conscious beings are capable of fulfilling what the universe is all about, the sixth moral and spiritual stage, which is self-sacrifice.

This action came to perfection, and so perfected the universe, on an April day around 30AD when God who had taken human form gave himself up to death for us and for our salvation.

Self-sacrifice, losing your life to universal gain, is not applauded uniquely in Christianity of course.

In the book Born in Tibet Chogyam Trungpa tells of a saintly man in north-east Tibet whose compassion was so great he opened his house at all times to the poor. When, as an old man, he knew he was about to die he gave this instruction: ‘When I die you must not move my body for a week; that is all I desire’.

Soon he did die; and his body, wrapped in old clothes, was carried into a small room. The bearers noted that although the old man had been tall his body had already appeared to have grown smaller. On the sixth day when the family peeped into the room they saw it had grown still smaller. On the eighth day when men came to bear the body to the cemetery they undid the coverings they found nothing inside save nails and hair.

When the family reported the event to the local lama he said that this had happened in the past and was a matter of saintly people ending up being absorbed into the Light.

There is a lot of wisdom in the east which can work to remind us of Christian basics. We were made not to be full of ourselves but to lose ourselves to God and other people.

Buddhist teachers of Western pupils complain ‘They are so full of opinions on everything; and so they can never know anything’. This is quite a judgement on the spiritual immaturity of a postmodern, post Christian society.

We reach for our newspapers every morning to fill ourselves with opinions in a society where we once reached out to God every morning. We have plenty of knowledge but so little wisdom we have to turn east to cultures relatively unaffected by the 24-7 information flow.

Our greatest prayer for Zachary and Alice this morning, and for us in their service, is for the capacity to know what’s important – God – and to be made holy as we grow into the divine nature - to live not full of ourselves but of Christ.

As we heard from St Paul in the first reading, a man in prison mind you, to me living is Christ, dying is gain.

We allow ourselves to be saddened over much by our worldly failings. How much sleep we lose over useless things – that promotion we missed, that deal we messed up, the ageing of our bodies, the growing infirmity of our minds.

None of these things are cause for ultimate sadness so much as our failure to live selfless lives.

As Léon Bloy wrote: there is only one sadness, the sadness of not being a saint.

For 30 million years God has prepared us with Alice and Zachary for this day since he made the earth, brought about living beings, conscious and then self-conscious beings.

What we are doing at these baptisms is to announce the final stage of life – to be able to give it away in thoughtful compassion and kindness.

In baptism we announce the principle of drowning to self. In the sacrament we also give and gain the way to accomplish it.

One only has been able to give of himself totally for others in the history of the world. He died in our place to live in our place.

Self-sacrifice is what we’re meant to be about. We were made to lose ourselves in love to Jesus so Jesus could live within us and make us ever more capable of this, and of holiness.

To me living is Christ, dying is gain

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Trinity 10 28th August 2011

This morning’s Gospel from Matthew 16 has the challenge for us to deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow Jesus. It is illuminated by the Old Testament passage from Jeremiah on the cost of discipleship – the Old Testament passages on Sundays are always chosen with the Gospel in mind. The New Testament reading has wisdom which speaks for itself.

Sometimes it is appropriate for the preacher to let the day’s scripture speak for itself and to touch on a wider theme. Today I believe it will be useful to stand back from the Sunday readings, beyond what I have said, and to give an over view of the liturgical calendar.

The Church of England is, as the Catechism defines her, ‘the ancient church of this land, catholic and reformed’.

As such we are a liturgical church holding to the seasons and feasts kept by the catholic or universal church.

That word ‘liturgy’ is a very important one. It means at one level holding to a standardized order of proceedings. In the case of the Church of England the standard is the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the Common Worship provision of 2000. This standard allows supplementary resourcing such as the prayer over the gifts, postcommunion prayers and antiphons from Roman Catholic use. The liturgical use in this village church has about it a character that would be recognised in Cahagnes, Brazil, India, Australia and the majority of Christian churches gathered for the eucharist this morning.

Liturgy though, means more than holding to a standard. More profoundly, liturgy, from the Greek, means ‘the people’s work’. In Christianity this work of participation by the people in worship is also seen as the work of God. When we follow day by day the ordered celebration of morning prayer, eucharist and evening prayer – liturgy isn’t just for Sunday - we follow an ordered lectionary with set vestment colours. Because that ordering is obedience to the Lord’s command through his church it is said that liturgy is God’s work as well as our own. Through the liturgy Jesus Christ is considered to continue the work of redemption in union with his Church.

The liturgical calendar divides the year into a number of seasons, each with their own emphasis, colour and scripture passages specified by a list we call the lectionary. Here is the lectionary that aids our sacristy team. Incidentally we’re currently one short in that team if anyone wants to join.

The liturgical year begins a month before Christmas with Advent when church is vested in solemn purple, flowers are banned and the Gloria is removed from Sunday eucharist. This is the time of preparation for both the celebration of Jesus' birth, and his expected second coming at the end of time. This season lasts until Christmas Eve when church is vested in white and the flowers return. Christmastide follows, beginning at evening prayer on Christmas Day and ending around three weeks later with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. After this church vests in green for a stretch of what is called ordinary time until Ash Wednesday when the flowers and Gloria go again and green gives way to the purple of penitence.

Lent is the period of purification and penance which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at the Easter Vigil eucharist. It is also as you know associated with fasting. The last two weeks of Lent are called Passiontide when crosses and statues have mourning veils. The last week is called Holy Week. The last three days are called the Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The seven-week liturgical season of Easter, where all stops are pulled out to decorate Church and the Paschal Candle stands proud in the sanctuary, immediately follows the Triduum, climaxing at Pentecost. This last feast recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' disciples after the Ascension of Jesus. Pentecost Sunday is the second feast Christianity ranking above Christmas but below Easter. The red vestments on that day give way to green the Monday after as the church enters the longest stretch of the ordinary time also known as the Trinity season.

In Christian liturgy there are two main cycles around the great feasts of Christmas and Easter each having a preparation in Advent and Lent. There is though a third and lesser cycle of Saints days which can literally colour a particular Sunday. Two Sundays ago we were in best white because it was the main Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary and next Sunday we’ll be in best white again for our patronal feast of St Giles.

Most days of the year are associated with a saint and these days are ranked into three categories of lesser commemorations called memorials, feasts, and greater feasts or solemnities and it is only solemnities that can trump a Sunday. Here at St Giles only three saints days are ever kept on a Sunday – the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary in August, Saint Giles Day in September and All Saints Day in November. Every major feast day, or ‘Red Letter Day’ to use the old Prayer Book terminology, is kept through an additional weekday 10am celebration of the eucharist advertised in P&P. Next month, for example, besides St Giles we keep the feast of Saint Matthew and St Michael and All Angels.

So what difference can all of this make to us?

If you’re a new worshipper or one with a Free Church background and haven’t had the liturgical calendar explained you’ll hopefully be wiser!

If you’re a well schooled Anglican you’ve had a reminder- and don’t forget nine tenths of preaching is reminding.

I suggest that the main reminder for us all is the point made earlier to have expectancy about participating in the liturgy because it is God’s work as well as our own. Through the liturgy we touch on all aspects of Jesus Christ, his coming, his suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and the gift of his Spirit. It’s worth getting excited about and interested in. All the riches behind the liturgical calendar are given for the good of your soul and mine. Hopefully this teaching sermon will fill what might be seen as empty ritual with the fullness of Christ by making sense of the seasons and colours that come and go in St Giles and have done so for 1000 years on this hill.

Through the action of his Church Our Lord continues his work of redemption, which means we are drawn in to all that Jesus has done for us once and for all by both the action of the Sunday eucharist and the underlining of the liturgical year.

In Advent we are reminded that Jesus comes and has come into our lives so we search our souls. At Christmas we welcome afresh Emmanuel, God with us. In Lent we aim to nail the sinful self to his Cross. At Eastertide we have our vision lifted to the destiny Jesus opens up for us beyond this world. Then Pentecost reminds us that we have his Spirit.

Today’s liturgy is set within the green or ordinary season. It is the 10th Sunday after Trinity or 22nd ordinary Sunday, these Sundays being the total of the green Sundays between Christmastide and Lent and those after Pentecost.

The scripture for Trinity 10 from Matthew 16 and Jeremiah 15 has a challenge intrinsic to the whole liturgical cycle, namely to deny ourselves and make more space for Jesus in our lives.

As we participate together in that cycle we call the church’s year may Jesus renew expectation of our being drawn more fully into what he has done for us by his coming, death and resurrection, to whom be glory, with the Father and the Spirit, now and to the end of the ages. Amen.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Baptism of Kyle, Liam & Joshua Jones 21st August 2011

There’s a scheme running with mystery worshippers.

They go from church to church and report their findings on the Ship of Fools website.

They can find the service a little dead, the sermon a bit boring and the fellowship rather lifeless with no one speaking to them!

How would St Giles rate? Is there conviction, life and love? I hope so - especially as we want our visitors to be impressed!

Kyle, Liam and Joshua are more familiar with another building across the road, The Horsted Club - which their granddad manages. If that Club’s their second home, St Giles is made the same today by what we’ll be doing in a minute or two.

The Church is a sort of second home. It’s extended family, God’s never ending family, built on the belief expressed in today’s Gospel that Jesus is the Son of the living God.

Because Jesus is God’s Son who loves us we can become his brothers and sisters in baptism which makes us God’s children and part of God’s family.

It’s a family with conviction, life and love that helps build up our human families.

Just like The Horsted, St Giles is in the business of building community as it brings together individuals and families in Horsted Keynes and its surrounds to be refreshed.

The refreshment Andy offers isn’t so different to that offered by the Maker’s rep here in God’s house. There’s alcohol, laughter, life and there’s caring.

Imagine Jesus a mystery visitor to Horsted Keynes. As Son of God he’d be up at Church. As Son of Man he’d be around the drinking places.

He actually is the mystery visitor here this morning. He’s going to be mysteriously present in water and word, bread, wine and fellowship because he said where two or three are gathered in my name I will be there in the midst of them.

One of the attractive things about the followers of Jesus is this. They have a right minded humanity – for the most part they do! Some let us down, of course. Yet if you took away the Christians many of the village institutions that help our health and well being would flop!

Christianity is convivial is it’s anything at all. Look at Jesus. They called him a drunkard and a friend of sinners! He went out of his way to be with those who felt there no one cared about them.

The crisis in our cities has been linked to a lack of compassion there in families and communities. Where people feel they don’t matter, that there’s no one on their side, they can be easily misled. Hence the sort of degrading incidents we’ve been shocked to see on our televisions.

Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world to bring us the conviction, life and love that has the potential to make everyone stand tall.

Even little Kyle, littler Liam and littlest Joshua! One day these boys will stand physically tall. Today Jesus is giving them the means to walking tall morally and spiritually as they’re washed from worldliness and marked with God’s love.

As their dad, Kevin, read in the first reading, they, like us, are not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, so that they may discern what is the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This comes to all who seek Jesus, God’s unique Son, whose inspiring portrait lies in the Bible – the boys baptism gift from St Giles is a collections of the stories of Jesus to read.

The Russian Novelist Dostoevsky once wrote: There has never been anyone lovelier, deeper or more sympathetic than Jesus.

That loveliness, depth and sympathy revealed to us in Jesus is at the heart of reality. It’s the face of God, no less.

Mother Julian of Norwich speaking of Jesus captures his loveliness in these words: Completely relaxed and courteous, he himself was the happiness and peace of his dear friends, his beautiful face radiating measureless love like a marvellous symphony.

When we read the portraits of Jesus in the Gospels they breathe out such warmth and humane compassion.

Are there any depths of human misery deeper than those Jesus has endured for us? Despised, rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief ... Who can say God in Jesus expects anything of them that he has not been prepared to go through himself in his suffering and death?

I believe Jesus, as mysterious visitor, finds a home in St Giles and would find a welcome at the Horsted. There is space for him in both places, different as they are. The space he seeks, though, above all spaces, is here in our hearts. It’s as we open our lives that he can really make a difference to us as his warmth and compassion take more hold of us.

Come to him this morning admitting that deep down need! Come with the expectation that he’ll touch you - and you won’t be disappointed.

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me. All his wondrous compassion and purity. 0 Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine and let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Blessed Virgin Mary 14th August 2011

There are five windows dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in St Giles that trace her involvement in the saving work of her Son.

In the Lady Chapel we have the representation of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel’s visit, and the Visitation, when Mary was praised by her cousin Elizabeth and herself praised God in her Magnificat.

In the south aisle she is there at the birth of our Saviour in the Benson Window. At the west end Mary is depicted with Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple in the beautiful Kempe window.

All four scenes are joyful. The last is sorrowful and it captures our mood as we come before the Lord at a time of national and international crisis.

This morning on the Feast of the Blessed Virgin, our eyes lift to the east window which shows her at the foot of the Cross.

We are to associate that image with ourselves as the spectators day by day of a nation dissolving into anarchy.

We come this morning with Mary to the foot of the Cross. We come, at this eucharist, to plead with Mary her Son’s Sacrifice for a broken world.

This Church was built for that purpose, shaped initially like a Cross, so that the people of Horsted Keynes could bring their joys and sorrows to God with, through and in the offering of Christ’s body and blood.

Within these walls people gathered to celebrate Magna Carta, to mourn the Black Death, to hear the scriptures read in English for the first time, to mourn the fire of London, to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and to mourn the death of Queen Victoria.

In November 1963 Harold MacMillan suggested the Rector change the Sunday readings after President Kennedy’s assassination.

This morning is also historic for this village and church. Once again a Rector has changed the readings – from Mary of joy in St Luke to Mary at the foot of the Cross in St John.

We come to church this morning with all the sorrow and confusion of our Holy Mother Mary on Good Friday. Like her we’re looking at a crucifixion but ours is a crucifixion of London by forces of anarchy.

Like her we look beyond the east window to the light of the resurrection for whenever you look at a crucifix believers must see their risen Lord standing behind.

This morning church isn’t a soothing business but a call to battle.

The battle of prayer!

At the height of Monday’s conflagration the most popular post on Twitter was ‘pray for London’. Through my involvement in Premier Christian Radio I’m aware of the network of churches in London committed to pray for our capital. The inability of people to meet in London this week spurred me to invite us to meet here in St Giles which some of us have since Monday to say the litany as we just did.

The challenge of our national and international crises puts a particular responsibility on Christian people to stand with St Mary by the Cross of her Son and pray with Jesus and Mary to the Father: Our Father - in this situation - hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done...deliver us from evil.

By his cross and resurrection action Jesus has, in Paul’s words, disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in what he has done.

We Christians are salt and light because like Mary we can ask Jesus, by the sufferings he has borne uniquely, once and for all, to soak up the evil around us and turn the tables on it.

Our prayers, litanies and eucharists bring the potential of the Cross, which is like a mighty engine out of gear, into gear so the love of God floods into Tottenham and Croydon, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool as well as the workings of international finance.

Paul says God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It was true of Mary at her Annunciation and it is equally true of us in our baptism and confirmation. That love is poured upon us so that, at our prayer, it may cascade extravagantly upon all whom we bring to the foot of the Cross.

With Mary we stand at the Cross on behalf of a troubled, hurting, godless nation and a troubled world this morning - but if we leave church fired up to pray all the more for our nation he who is in us will show himself more powerful than those troubles.

Jesus living in Mary live in us is our prayer in church at every eucharist. Jesus living in Mary live in them is to be our prayer of intercession as we leave church and encounter the needy both in the media images and closer to home.

In a profound sense the key moment of the eucharist isn’t the sermon, or the consecration - but the moment we go out the church door.

You have come with London and our nation and the world’s financial crises upon your heart this morning.

Go forth refreshed by this knowledge: God sees what is in your heart.

Keep lifting the pain you see on the TV to him. Stand with Mary by Jesus crucified. Treat those you see suffering on the media as if they were Christ upon the Cross. Ask the Father to send them healing love and resurrection!

As you do so, pray in your own words. Use the slow recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Use the Jesus Prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Use the Hail Mary if you know it. Use the Litany or prayer sheet you’ve been given this morning.

Take time for a quiet 5 minute of prayer after switching off the TV news you’ve watched. In that way hat you’ve watched will be turned to good and to God.
Come before him knowing that, through the Cross, there’s no human sorrow God’s aloof from.

Your prayer will make God less aloof from those you pray for. It will also help this Christian community to be better evidence to all around that, though cities burst into flame and the innocent suffer violence, there is a God who answers prayer.

Look at the Cross in our east window and the city depicted behind it. You be Mary this week standing by Jesus and make Jerusalem London.

Today the Church issues you a call to arms, my brothers and sisters.

The battle is the Lord’s and it is a battle.

Take up the weapon of prayer to come before the Lord with this aching nation upon your heart day by day, hour by hour in the coming week.

Mary at the Cross, Our Lady of Sorrows, pray with us and for us!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Trinity 7 7th August 2011

I want to say something about the value of contemplation this morning.

This is provoked by the 1 Kings reading set to illustrate the Gospel passage from Matthew 14. In both passages those open to God engage with him in contemplation after storms. Elijah finds God in ‘the sound of sheer silence’ and the disciples see Jesus mysteriously on the lake.

Our relationship with the Lord has the ingredients of penitence, thankfulness and the requesting of our needs but it is in its root a call to intimacy. It is a call to just be with him and listen to what he has to say to us. Just as at this moment we are opening our ears in church to the preacher expounding God’s word we are invited to grow more skilled in opening our ears to listen to what the Lord has to say to us day by day and hour by hour.

Contemplation in its call to intimacy is no call to cosiness but a call to being totally available to God.

To grow closer to Jesus we need to identify any resistance within us to the word of God. We need to be checking out daily if there is any difference between what we want and what God wants.

The school of holiness is in the circumstances of our life interpreted to us by the word of God.

In the first reading from the first book of the Kings Chapter 19 we pick up on the story of Elijah after his battle with the prophets of Baal. Threatened by Queen Jezebel Elijah retreats to Mount Horeb to seek God. In the account you can follow again in the news sheet we read of a storm which prepared the way for him to hear God. Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

This passage has been much interpreted by writers in the contemplative Christian tradition which built up on Mount Carmel. To this day the Carmelites keep the Feast of Elijah as one who heard and handed on the word of God.

In the Gospel reading from Matthew 14 we see a similar dynamic: Jesus went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

God speaks again to awed, frightened disciples in the wake of a storm to give them courage.

In both passages storms are the immediate preparation, the herald for God to speak. For Elijah it is in the sound of sheer silence that he hears God questioning him. For the disciples the sight of Jesus and his word of encouragement follows a battering by the waves on Lake Galilee. In both passages disciples of God hear God speak - but only after being shaken around a little!

Isn’t this true of our own discipleship? Very often our attention to God and what he has to say to us is captured when life shakes us up through an unsettling of our circumstances. Of course God speaks to us in our settled routines, such as Sunday obligation to church, regular commitment to prayer, personal study of scripture, devotional reading and so on. But intimacy often grows when we are forced to contemplate and face up to him through a change of circumstances.

In the last week I have been privileged to enter some of your personal circumstances linked to the loss of a loved one, an unsettling of employment prospects and the coming to terms with a sudden loss of mobility through injury. In all of these tumultuous events we have been seeking to contemplate and attend to what God is saying. I become, in a famous phrase used last week to welcome me in The Green Man, the Maker’s rep. As Maker’s rep my task is to help people as best I can see the Maker’s instructions. I need them myself and will be seeking them from another priest as I confess my sins before next Sunday’s feast.

Sin is basically a refusal to listen to God who says to us again and again in his word, written and spoken, that we are loved. All the time we are busy developing strategies to help us think we are in control of our lives but the God of power and might is expert in gaining our attention to him – and to his repeated assurance, ‘I love you’. ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Contemplation is the heart of prayer - being still and knowing God is God. It’s no selfish navel gazing but the shaking up and out of self regard to see with excitement and awe how and who God is. Through such prayerful attention we come to see and love as he sees and loves.

As for Elijah this means letting go of lesser gods so we can welcome the God who is Love more profoundly. This letting go involves what has been called ‘the dark night of the soul’ since intimacy with the Lord demands withdrawal from unhelpful things and this brings pain. The heart is so complex and in need of purification.

The contemplative way is a way opened up by Our Lord Jesus, a way of death and resurrection into being a better human being so that the best contemplatives are shown up by their attitude to their neighbour.

May the eucharist we celebrate build a spirit of contemplation within us and a readiness to hear God’s word not just peaceably on a Sunday at 10 o’clock but in every turn, up or down of the roller coaster of our lives.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Trinity 5 24th July 2011

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 allegedly in January 1927 this passage from Matthew 13 was the subject of a sermon by my predecessor The Revd Frank Stenton-Eardley. It was an exceptionally profitable sermon. One of the congregation from 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.

How profitable will this sermon be? Indeed how profitable is any sermon? Did you know you can engage with the sermon not only by grabbing the preacher over coffee but also by going on his blog linked to the church website which, thanks to David Ollington, has each week’s teaching displayed for further digestion.

There is no word of God without power. The preacher’s role is to read and study it and read and study his people and their context and make connections in a 10-15 minute talk that will help such an engagement with Our Lord that it will echo on in their lives in the coming week.

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

I don’t know enough about the circumstances of the finding of the sixty-four gold nobles to say whether the finder gained, though I guess he did, or was it the then owner of Broadhurst Manor?

What I think you and I can gain 84 years on is the reminder to renew our spiritual alertness and determination. These are the clue to an ongoing welcome of treasure that’ll never be shipped off from us to the British Museum!

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?

In our first reading from the book of Kings we heard of Solomon’s being approached by God in a dream with a similar question: Ask what I should give you. He answers with a prayer for wisdom and is praised accordingly. God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.

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 Broadhurst Manor 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 preached from this pulpit in January 1927.

Speaking personally I always find the number of God-incidences in a day linked to the fervor or length of my morning prayer. The more something of God’s eternal wisdom has touched my heart the more alert I am to the need to give ear to that villager I meet on the road or to visit, phone or e mail this person or that. Treasured encounters come to me inasmuch as my heart is set to evaluate everyone I meet as if they were Christ, to see my diary as containing what’s ultimately important as well as what’s merely pressing upon me.

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

In the coming year we’re going to have a monthly Tuesday evening with a discipleship theme at which we’ll be sharing with one another some of the ways that help build up our spiritual determination.

It is not what you are or have been or are that God looks at with his merciful eyes but what you would be. Saint Seraphim, a great Russian spiritual teacher, was asked what was the secret that lay behind people who appear to have more of the Holy Spirit than others. Just their determination was his reply.

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 in Horsted Keynes.