Saturday, 26 April 2014

Annual parochial church meeting eucharist 27th April 2014

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

Those words from 1 Peter capture the solidity of faith that’s built on the sure foundation of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. That new birth which is ours in baptism and confirmation leads us in the apostle’s words into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Heady words – and a good tonic for APCM Sunday when the parish priest uses his sermon as a status check. As I read them I thought both of the joy of Easter and of the joy of admitting eleven new members to Holy Communion over the last year, a major encouragement to the life of the Christian community here at St Giles and very much an answer to specific prayer.

The testimonies they give to faith have been an encouragement to one and all, not least Lesley Whiting’s on Premier Radio following her July confirmation and those offered on Easter Sunday by those confirmed last month. Their Christian formation in creed, sacraments, commandments and prayer is having a ripple effect on us all and beyond these walls in the village. The lunch James Nicholson organized for the recently confirmed on Palm Sunday was a great welcome to them. It was also typical of James’ thoughtful leadership as Churchwarden which has been a great encouragement to me and to many over the last 5 years.

Another sign of resurrection faith that’s evident me is “5 o’clock at the Martindale” that’s brought together Christians across denominations over the last seven months in more participative worship and teaching, building on last year’s achievement in renovating the Martindale. Besides “5 o’clock” we have seen the Martindale well used for days of reflection and, at a more prosaic level, bookings are well up so there’s been good return on the investment of funds we made in our Church Centre.

In this [we] rejoice, even if now for a little while [we] have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of [our ]faith - being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

When the apostle speaks of resurrection faith he does so in the context of hardship. For us that is focused on the struggle it remains to engage children and families with St Giles’s despite having 130 children at the school. We’re grateful for all the ways we engage with our School, not least the Friday assemblies led by St Giles’ lay leaders, school’s involvement in the October Prayer exploration and the two pupils confirmed recently. At the same time I continually entrust to God our difficulty in gaining commitment to Sunday worship. It’s also true of the baptism families that regularly pass through our doors, and it isn’t a problem unique to St Giles.  Nor does it reflect on all the energy Chris Wheatley and the team put into Sunday Club, First Steps and so on. People, young people especially, are missing spiritual vision capital S, by which I mean the sort of all consuming vision which has brought many of us in St Giles this morning to give our all to the service of God.

Faith – [is] more precious than gold [and will] result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Looking to that revelation, that cause which will outlast us all, is what St Giles is about if it’s about anything – not a social club or building appreciation club but part of God’s never-ending family we know as the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’.  Over the last year several individuals have had to suffer various trials some of which have taken them away from us but not from the Church overall. We sent off Stephen & Dawn Hitchen with their children to Jordan and John and Hilary Thraves to the West Country. Bob Pelling’s final illness and passing has been a great loss to the church and the village and most of all to Jean. I think of other individuals whose difficult journeys we accompany in prayer and care represented on our sick list as well as the pastoral ministry exercised towards bereaved families that is facilitated by having a resident parish priest. Another trial is financial, again one we’ve been surrounding with prayer, linked to our current incapacity to raise the share the diocese expects from a community with a full time priest.

In April’s P&P I addressed the state of St Giles in these words which seem worth repeating from the pulpit as they quickly  us where we’re at as a Church:

60 folk gather on an average Sunday, 10 at 8am and 50 at 10am including on average 8 children. These figures have been constant over my 5 years as Rector so we’re drawing in new members sufficient to balance loss through illness, death or moves away from the village. Our Mission aim is ‘to be a church growing in faith, love and numbers’.

The leadership of the parish priest is allied to that of the Churchwardens ..and another 8 members of the Parochial Church Council who coordinate the life and work of St Giles. PCC oversees four energetic groups serving Churchyard, Fabric, Finance and the Martindale and it liaises with School Governors, Five o’clock service, Friends of Horsted Keynes Church, Deanery Synod and our Parish Safeguarding Co-ordinator Kath Brooke-Webb and Webmaster David Ollington.

In recent months PCC agenda included planning and reflection afterwards on outreach services, dealing with carpet beetle in Church, sharing our faith, the new memorial path for cremated remains, renewing Prayerline, funding the work of the Church, inviting church members to write a Letter to God at Easter and working towards a church toilet – St Giles Church has an interesting and varied agenda.

We are your Church, I am your Rector and we welcome your support!

As a community-oriented Church we must beware any tendency to become a fortress over against the world around us even if some of recent changes in society push us that way.  Increasingly Christians in the UK are having to learn to speak two languages, that of their faith and that of their allegiance to the common life of Britain. Faith - being more precious than gold is tested by fire and one test is that of rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s to quote our Lord and Saviour in Mark 12.17.
As a Church we seek to give God what is due to God in the sacrificial worship of the eucharist. Part of that offering, some would say a part that is eloquent of the level of our allegiance, is the money put on the collection plate or transferred monthly by banker’s order to St Giles.  Along with the financial  gifts we make are those voluntary gifts of time and talents pledged in service we see exercised in the many and varied ministries here at St Giles. For these on everyone’s behalf, and on behalf of God, I say thank you this morning as we invite new commitments to service as in the PCC and other elections.
We are a community Church but we’re first of all the Church of Jesus Christ who rose from the dead welcoming him in word and sacrament, prayer and Christian fellowship. The last sentence of our first reading says it all in its invitation to keep that faith pure and untarnished by materialism.
Although you have not seen [Christ], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Such is the gift that best animates us here at St Giles, the gift from beyond this world that our spire invites us towards. The gift of Jesus Christ with whom we engage as we open ourselves to the meaning and power of both the scriptures and the eucharist. Here within these walls week by week is found a purpose for living and a reason for dying through an unquenchable hope stretching down from the miracle of Easter.
 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter all age eucharist 20th April 2014

The workmen in Lindfield let me take a Road closed sign that had been run over, possibly by an angry motorist, which was destined for a skip in any case!

For 13 weeks we’ve driven to Haywards Heath via Ardingly or Walstead  instead of Lindfield. Renewing the water main in Lindfield has made life that much harder in Horsted Keynes. We’ve had to take a long road, or, if by Walstead, a bumpy potholed road without edges at times, to get to the station.

Some of our commuters have lost an extra half an hour a day for 13 working weeks which I make 32.5 hours or well over a day of their life. Now the road is open alleluia! Traffic lights, yes, from Tuesday but it’s open – the way to Haywards Heath is no longer closed.

It’s Easter Day and there’s another road been opened.

We have little roads in our cemetery to carry the remains of people who’ve died to their graves. The children have just been running there.

Those paths – one more is due – lead to graves but on this day the Man who’d been carried down the path to his grave on Good Friday was there alive in the cemetery.

Remember what they said in the reading we just heard: They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

The Road death closed was now open!

It isn’t my job to explain how it happened but to point upwards, as those first witnesses did, to the One who did it, who mastered death for us, opening the then closed way to glory.

The Bible passages we read today point to an historical event, probably in April 27AD – the time keeping lost 6 years somewhere –  an event that is held by a third of the earth’s population today to reveal a love extravagant enough to make death pale away into nothingness.

When Jesus Christ suffered and died God was in him. There was a sort of divine judo at play. Death flew at God and ended up upside down and out at the count.

For, as we shall hear in a moment, when Peter came to Jesus’ grave he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

God had been at work, for Christians a God who’s big enough to work his way through death.
God is still at work, not least here in Horsted Keynes.

One of the great joys we’ve had at St Giles recently is seeing eight of the regular church attenders now receiving Holy Communion with us.

All eight were confirmed by Bishop Mark last month and on Sunday we’d a lovely lunch to welcome them organised by our outgoing Churchwarden James Nicholson with other church members. It was a great occasion.

I’ve invited one or two of them to share something of how they came to make this move and how God’s been at work in their lives.

Nick, Raychell and Karoline share about how God’s been at work in their lives of late.

God’s at work – he’s still at work opening up the dead ends we encounter in life.

Many of have taken time these last weeks of Lent to write these letters to God to be shortly consigned to him via a flame from the Easter Candle. I don’t know about yours but mine’s things for which I want resurrection in my life and that of St Giles.

You’ve still got a minute or two, maybe after communion to write a sentence or two inside the envelope to join the other letters as a sign of offering. Why not give him some of the seeming dead ends you’re facing?
Resurrection, Easter, is about breaking through dead ends, of which driving again via Lindfield to the station is a significant reminder.

It’s a parable of life, for few of us avoid times when ‘you have to drive through Ardingly to Haywards Heath’. Times when we must take a long road on account of unemployment, cancer treatment or bereavement are our making or un-making.

The Christian faith commends that long road in life as Jesus hands us suffering and death to be the way to grow into his resurrection stature. Positive resignation to the will of God redeems every circumstance because it brings with it the Holy Spirit’s anointing.

At Easter that ‘Road ahead closed’ sign left the road to Lindfield just as we begin to celebrate the rising of God’s Son who has taken the same sign away from the hour of our death.

To continue the analogy, we of faith press on in our journey to God taking courage from him to bear its twists and turns, bumps and potholes believing the pains of life will one day be lost in the praise we sing.  Alleluia!

Easter Sunday vigil and dawn eucharist sermon

Yes to celebration, yes to sorrow, yes to today, yes to tomorrow.

Easter gives us what the world would give its bottom dollar for - I mean hope.

This is the day that the Lord has made so that tomorrow also is God's.

Even if today is the day of your death there will be a tomorrow for yesterday, today, tomorrow Jesus is the same. All must change but Jesus will never change!

Talking of giving your bottom dollar last week I visited an art exhibition in St Marylebone Church on the theme of Stations of the Cross. I talked to an artist who’d made a giant cross suspended horizontally above the nave covered in one dollar bills.

Another cross he’d painted was on a large canvas surrounded by images of hypocrisy. Another life size Cross among the fourteen Stations I saw in a side Chapel was carried by a human skeleton I assumed to be plastic!

In different ways only art can accomplish creative men and women captured the weight of hopelessness in our culture.

The dollars festooning the large cross represented the uselessness of putting hope in amassing money.

The hypocrisy surrounding the cross in the large canvas represented the uselessness in putting your ultimate hope in leaders be they of state or church.

The skeleton carrying the cross alarmed me with its graphic reminder of how death mocks any hope that you put in this world only for, as far as you and I are concerned, in a matter of a few years death will carry us forward.

Forward to where? That is the million dollar question - worth your bottom dollar to have answered - and this anniversary day is about an answer!
300 years of critical biblical scholarship hasn't disproved what Jesus Christ revealed to us at Easter concerning what is forward and ahead of earthly life.

Yes to celebration, yes to sorrow, yes to today, yes to tomorrow.

Years ago Timothy Lynch was given a dishonorable discharge from the Army for an incident he would have just as soon forget forever.

He walked away from it deeply hoping that he’d never run into the men from his platoon for the rest of his life.

There was one soldier though he couldn’t run away from, his father.

His father came from a generation that held military service in the highest of esteem and had excelled as a soldier, a no nonsense man, strong on discipline but not so communicative with love. The thought of having to tell his father that he’d failed in the service filled him with dread.

After some years Timothy took the cautionary step of sending a telegram to his father explaining his dishonourable discharge, rather than tell him face to face. He got back a three line telegram. It said:

I will stand by you no matter what happens.
I will be there tomorrow.
Remember who you are.

Those three simple sentences brought reconciliation and hope to Timothy and they sum up in essence the message of Easter.

The women who met the risen Lord Jesus carried the same to his disciples.

I will stand by you no matter what happens.
I will be there tomorrow.
Remember who you are.

Despite their compromise and weakness, God promised he'd be with them and us no matter what.
Like the first disciples who denied, betrayed and forsook  Christ we can reject God but, like Timothy's good father, God won’t reject us.

Despite the very real tragedy and evil that surround us in the world, God promises the triumph of hope in the glorious resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ.

We can despair but God won’t stop infusing hope in the darkness.
Despite the fact we will die, life is to triumph over death.
God’s immortal life filling the world since Easter shines through the universe to brighten every tomorrow lifting our anxieties.

Yes to celebration, yes to sorrow, yes to today, yes to tomorrow.

On Easter Sunday a profound miracle began. Fearful, anxious men and women with low self-esteem and no hope, were made confident, empowered, courageous and daring.

God gave them the gift of the Spirit and said to them, you’ve already got everything you need, here is my blessing, now go and heal the world.

Are you with them?

Alleluia Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Palm Sunday I’ll say Yes, Lord 13th April 2014

I’ll say yes to celebration, yes to sorrow, yes to today, yes to tomorrow.

It’s the third heading – yes to today – that I want to major on as part of our preparation for Easter when I hope a good few of us will be moved to write a letter of self offering to God for consumption in the flame of the Easter Candle, symbol of our Risen Lord.

On the suggested framework we've got four headings linked to giving God things we’re grateful for, sorry for, needful of and concerned about. Today’s third theme is about identifying our exact needs for today to give to God.

Give us this day our daily bread we pray. In this last week of Lent we have an opportunity to seek just what those words might mean for you and I in this third week of April 2014.

This is the day that the Lord has made writes the Psalmist (Psalm 118.24). Today is the day of salvation writes Paul (2 Corinthians 6.2).

Just for today, what does it matter, O Lord, if the future is dark? wrote St Therese of Lisieux. To pray now for tomorrow – I am not able. Keep my heart only for today, give me your protection today, grant me your light – just for today.

Our Lord promised us daily bread, bread for today. When God gave bread from heaven to the Israelites in the desert it went off at the end of each day as he was intent his people should seek him day by day. O that today you would listen to his voice: harden not your hearts wrote the Psalmist picking up on this Exodus story (Psalm 95.7-8a)

That reading of the Passion is for today. It’s set annually for Palm Sunday, the only Sunday in the year the Passion of Christ is read, designed to catch those who can’t make Good Friday, but it’s a word from God for this hour, this day.

The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me, as Paul puts it to the Galatians in Chapter 2.20b
God’s love is here for me today, at this mid morning hour on the 13th April 2014 and I am called to welcome the good news of it.

If we endeavour to live with that love in the present moment we see a number of things getting sorted out in our lives.

What’s important gets underlined from among all that’s pressing upon us. Our wants are sifted through so that we establish our needs.

Under the heading Yes to celebration we thought how we live  as eucharistic people giving God thanks for all he’s given us.  Last week as Passiontide began we considered our need to say Yes to sorrow in the sense of owning up to our sin and seeking the remedy Christ provides for all upon the Cross.

Lord I thank you, Lord I’m sorry – and now our third prayer: Lord I am needful.

In these days of Holy Week we have a privileged time to look at our lives in the light of that Love, which over and around us lies, that finds its focus in the story we just heard from St Matthew’s Gospel.

Thomas Merton described this focussing as like that of the sun shining through a magnifying glass. Just as a magnifying glass concentrates the rays of the sun into a little burning knot of heat that can set things on fire, so the passion of Christ concentrates the ray of God's light and fire to such a point that it sets fire to the human spirit .

The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.

In the light of his love we see ourselves most clearly - our wants are purified so what we need is made most clear to us - and among our greatest needs is to enter the vulnerability of God in the passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

I end with a story about finding that, and in it, finding our needs, from a passage called Wounded Healers in Elizabeth Basset’s Anthology Beyond the Blue Mountain.

I met him on the train, and before long, I felt I knew him. I felt I could trust him. He was in education: ‘Learning for Life’, he called it.

I said I was interested in education too, so he invited me to come with him to where he taught and learned. It was off the main road, near the fire station.  It didn’t look like a school. You walked in the door of a second-hand shop, and going through the back, you came into a big room, with a lot of people in it.

We stood and looked around.

In the corner was an old man with a white stick. Beside him sat a girl reading him a newspaper. ‘Nice to see young folk helping the blind’, I said. ‘Oh’, he replied, ‘he’s actually teaching her how to see.’

Across the floor in the direction of the toilets came a wheelchair. A palsied boy of eighteen sat in it and a boy of the same age pushed it. ‘It’s great when friends help each other’, I said. ‘Yes, it is…’ he replied. ‘The boy in the chair is teaching the other how to walk.’

An old woman lay in a bed at the bottom of the room. She was covered with open sores. A woman much her junior was bathing her and dressing her wounds. ‘Is she a nurse?’ I asked. ‘Yes’, he replied. ‘The older woman is a nurse. She’s teaching the other how to care.’

Seated round a table were a group of young couples. A doctor in a white coat was talking to them about childbirth. He spoke slowly and used sign language with his hands. ‘I think it is only fair that deaf people should know about these things’, I said. ‘But they do know about these things’, my friend replied. ‘They are teaching the doctor how to listen.’

And then I saw a woman on a respirator breathing slowly. These were her last breaths. And around her were her friends soothing her brow, holding her hands. ‘It’s not good to die alone’, I said. ‘That’s right’, he replied. ‘But she is not dying alone. She is teaching the others how to live.’

Confused and not knowing what to say I suggested we sat down.

After a while, I felt I could speak. ‘Seeing all this’, I said, ‘I want to pray. I want to thank God that I have all my faculties. I now realise how much I can do to help.’

Before I could say more, he looked me straight in the face and said: ‘I don’t want to upset your devotional life – but I hope you will also pray to know your own need, and not to be afraid to be touched by the needy’.                                  

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Lent 5 - I'll say Yes, Lord - Baptism of Dexter Elwell 6th April 2014

It is a special joy to welcome Dexter with his mum and dad this morning.

Craig and Samantha were married in 2004, divorced and then remarried two years ago. In their own words they’ve gone back to the truth.

Their choice of Amazing Grace for this service captures their being lost and found as will the baptism promises they make for Dexter this morning.

Today though we’re all invited by our Lent challenge to come back to the truth by writing a Letter to God and returning it in a sealed envelope via the collection plate, to be burned on Easter Day as a sign of offering.

‘I’ll say Yes, Lord’ is the theme of these last two weeks of Lent – yes to celebration, yes to sorrow, yes to today, yes to tomorrow – and the yes artwork includes a Cross.

The sign of the Cross is ‘I’ crossed out – in one interpretation. In another it says ‘Jesus came down from heaven to earth and died upon the cross for me’.  This is the truth we all come back to at Easter.

Incidentally you don’t have to be Roman Catholic or Orthodox to make the sign of the Cross. Our service booklet has the invitation to do so and a pointer to where we might do so together. Anglicans have always included the sign of the cross in their worship and especially in baptism.

Saying Yes to God in the baptism service is about Craig and Sam with Dexter committing to regular worship with God’s family, as the promise puts it ‘with the help of God’.  It’s saying God I turn to you, I repent of my sins, I renounce evil.

In a similar way we as a congregation are being invited to voice a Yes to God in a confidential letter, giving him our strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, as concrete expression of our love for him and commitment with him to love and serve a hurting and needy world.

Just as St Giles is getting a spring clean this week, so her members are being invited to make Lent the springtide of the soul it should always be by coming back from all our delusions and pretensions to the truth. That truth we call Christianity, which is relationship with God and one another. Its truth that energises us, as faith comes again and again to life, through God’s amazing grace.

What’s suggested won’t involve going to extra services so much as examining your life and saying Yes to celebration, sorrow, today and tomorrow. Those four headings touch on gratitude, penitence and seeking God’s provision for today and tomorrow. Sometimes it takes putting pen to paper, or keyboard to screen, to present our thanksgivings and needs to ourselves and to God. Talking to him in this way can take us deeper into his love and open up more of what he’s got in store for us.

Doing this together, symbolised by placing our letters in the Easter fire, will I believe have enormous repercussions for St Giles, especially as we look from next week at the annual reports and ready ourselves  for the Annual Meeting in three weeks time with the opportunities there for commitment to service.

How might my letter look, as your parish priest?

Yes to celebration – I would tell God I’m so grateful St Giles is the high achieving church it is in terms of community service.

Yes to sorrow – I would say sorry our ownership of proportionate giving to his work is so weak, reflecting not just suspicion about where the money goes but lack of faith in the future he has for us.

Yes to today – I would tell God in my letter that we need today Elishas to follow Elijah’s like James Nicholson, new leaders to be elected as church officers at the APCM, and leaders in prayer to back them up – today!

Yes to tomorrow – I would tell God of our concern to be a church that grows in faith, love and numbers and of our need for toilet facilities so as to make for that better tomorrow in terms of access to Christian community.

Those are just some of my ideas I’ll give God in my Easter letter, alongside personal thanksgiving for lives I’ve helped touch for him, regrets over my shortcomings, prayer for his Spirit to empower me today and discernment about best future employment of my gifts.

Yes to celebration, yes to sorrow, yes to today, yes to tomorrow is our prayer. It is also that of Craig and Samantha with Dexter. Craig is au fait with the sort of strategic thinking I’ve presented through the large team he runs at EDF Energy. He knows any organisation must struggle to keep the important things the important things. Sam is a good foil to him in her child care work which is less strategic and more of a going with the day by day hour by hour flow of things.

I’ve talked to them and at least two other young families recently about the struggle to get to Church on a Sunday. It seems the answer is a matter of discipline and nothing less. If, as the promises of baptism indicate, church is be all and end all, how can we fail to keep Sunday, the Lords’ day, but with the Lord’s family around the Lord’s table?

Children need a path to follow, they need both to know and to honour the most important things in life. Daily prayer, Sunday eucharist, bible reading, knowing the creed, welcoming the sacraments, confessing your sins, placing your time, talents and money into God’s service are part of serving the great cause that will outlast us all - that of the Love which moves the sun and the stars.

Today’s gospel reading showed us this love as Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus and then showed his power raising him from the dead. I believe Jesus weeps over me and over you and what is deadly within us through sin. Then, again and again, he says ‘come out!’ drawing forth from us the immortal life of his Spirit.

My letter to God will have words like the first sentence of the gospel, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill’.  Sickness of spirit is our condition but it’s a condition with a remedy. God who made us anticipated this sickness, caused by misuse of our freedom, and provides in Jesus Christ the remedy for sin, sickness, fear, doubt, death and the devil! When we call on God he counters these evil powers with forgiveness, healing and deliverance - but we need to call on him!

This morning we join Samantha and Craig in calling on God for Dexter and his future.  We join them in saying ‘Yes to God’ who offers spiritual regeneration to all who believe and are baptised. Just as this couple strayed from one another and yet came back, so we all stray from God day by day and still find our way back, drawn by his magnetic love. The Letter to God exercise is his call to come back to the truth and love that is in Jesus. 

God wants our yes and our success but he wants our yes more than our success – a costly yes signed, as Dexter will be, with the cross.