Saturday, 9 April 2016

Easter 3 Finding God 10th April 2016

How do you find God?

Someone I met in the gym found God when he prayed to get free of addiction to cannabis.  He prayed. Something happened and, so the lad told me, he now sees the world in rosier colours with goodness, truth and beauty shining all over the place.  God is only a prayer away.

The scripture passage from the book of Revelation in which John the seer sees the risen Christ and gets messages. He got his vision in Patmos on the Lord’s Day. I was once on Patmos Island at an open air Greek Orthodox eucharist and it  gave me a clue to his vision. There were elders round the altar that morning, the priests. The bread and wine on it stood for the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, slain for us. The hundreds present singing beautiful chant gave a sense of surrounding angels. I think, and several Bible scholars agree, that John the seer had his vision right there at Sunday eucharist in Patmos.

How do you find God?

You can find him in prayer, through the Bible and at the eucharist. Here’s the sting, if you like. You find God through the Church. Without the Church, God, to use David Cameron’s image, is like receiving Classic FM in the Cotswolds. The Church helps you tune in to God. John the seer was Church. He said his prayers, knew his bible and came to the eucharist. I’m sure he served others and confessed his sins, two other ways God comes close to us.

How do we find God?

In the last scripture reading from John’s Gospel illustrated on the eucharist booklet cover we’re told Jesus showed himself again to his disciples after his resurrection. Not only did he show them himself as God’s Son, he showed them the best place to fish. Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some. So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

Finding God is costly – we have to turn away from self – but it’s always profitable.  I think of the lad I met in the gym who prayed when he was in a bad state and saw his prayer answered. God answers prayer, of that I’m utterly convinced, even if some of his answers perplex me.

As the American writer Tim Keller says in answer to Richard Dawkins: If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn't stopped evil and suffering in the world, … you have… a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know... you can’t have it both ways. I like Keller  we had a book club on his classic ‘The reason for God’ a couple of years back. In it he asks, incisively, whether the civil rights movement across the world could have emerged from secular belief in the goodness of human nature, rather than the Christian conviction about the sinfulness of human hearts we've already voiced at the start of the eucharist.

How do we find God?

Through the Church, for nowhere else can you engage with preaching and sacraments which bring Christ alive in our hearts. Oh yes there’s sin in the Church, in you and I – but there’s Christ as well and Jesus Christ gives us access to God as the way, the truth and the life.

Through prayer, scripture, eucharist, repentance, service and reflection God in Christ comes close. The children of our school - now regularly reflect. Christian meditation started in January. At the start of every afternoon session the children take time to be still and meditate. We will have opportunity to do the same next weekend which will have a contemplative feel to it with the Quiet Day in the Martindale and the 10am Contemplative eucharist with Dan Wolpert.

How do we find God?  
You can’t beat being still. So let’s do just that, for we read his invitation in Psalm 46v10 Be still and know that I am God.   Let’s do that.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Octave Sunday of Divine Mercy 3rd April 2016

On this Divine Mercy Sunday in the Diocesan and global Year of Mercy we’re reminded Easter’s more deeds than words.

Easter’s an event. It’s a mercy mission from God believers become part of that’s changing the world.

The mercy of God is a torrent that has burst its banks wrote St John Vianney. It carries off our hearts in its wake.

Brendan Woodhouse is a volunteer with the United Society supported Lighthouse Refugee Relief which provides care for refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesvos. He recalls how he helped to save the life of a baby after a boat carrying refugees capsized at night in freezing water about 30 metres from the shore.

He writes: ‘people were hysterical, screaming, sobbing and frightened. On sound in particular I will never forget: the screams of a mother who had lost her baby. ‘While everyone else was facing he shore shouting for help, she was facing out to sea. She shouted at me and pointed out to sea. About 15 metres away I could see a little black dot, bobbing up and down in the water.

‘I swam as fast as I could, knowing I was putting my life in danger as I’m not the greatest of swimmers. Eventually I reached it: a five-month-old baby girl, wrapped in a blanket, face down in the water, with no lifejacket. I grabbed her and look at her face. Her eyes were rolled back. She was not breathing. She was as white as can be, but I knew she stood a chance.

‘I swam backstroke, facing the stars, with the little baby on my chest. I kicked a fast as I could. With my left arm I paddled, and with my right arm I pressed up and down on her chest, ‘I swam past people screaming for help. I swam with everything I had and more. I prayed to God, begging for her life.

Eventually I reached down with my feet and touched rock. I balanced as best I could and gave her five rescue breaths. After the second breath, she sicked up water from her lungs and started to cry. It was the most beautiful sound in the world because I knew I had breathed life back into her’.

Brendan reached the shore where other volunteers took over. The baby’s condition was stabilised. Then she was reunited with her mother and rushed to hospital, where she made a full recovery. Henry Hartley, of Lighthouse Refugee Relief, said: ‘The funding we have received from United Society is directly responsible for saving lives’.

You helped save that baby and others. You did so by your gifts to United Society, formerly USPG, in our orange envelopes from January to March that the PCC doubled before sending it to this mercy mission.

That graphic human story reminds us how the resurrection of Christ is like dynamite. It has wide and enormous impact for it’s an ongoing explosion of love, joy and peace which counters all that’s wrong in the world. It’s about life, life after death of course, but life before death as well.

The year of mercy is a reminder of this. In the year’s mercy logo, which we’ve blown up this week, you see the risen Lord Jesus taking the lost on his shoulders, just as Brendan Woodhouse took and carried that baby. Jesus carries us, in our weakness, to the home of the Father. I have been very aware of this mercy ministry these last weeks as I’ve been his instrument in helping carry dying brothers and sisters.

Our Lord’s mercy mission is the conquest of death. It’s also collaborative conquest of death-dealing hunger, injustice and disease afflicting those in the prime of life. Jesus invites us to carry others in God’s mercy mission of redemption.

In the image on the eucharist booklet, the eyes of Jesus merge with the eyes of our fallen nature. Christ sees with the eyes of Adam and Adam can now see with the eyes of Christ. Easter is about the gift of those eyes in a new nature, a new capability to see possibilities beyond mortal imagination.

Moving from the troubled shores of a Greek island to a peaceful Sussex village you might wonder where God’s mercy mission is here - hope you do! I hope you give yourself each day, as I do, to be used as best you can to his praise and service.

In Lent a dozen of us met in the Martindale to look at the Acts of the Apostles with an eye to serving the needs of the community: Acts for Action. The PCC looked at some of the points raised there at its meeting on Thursday. In particular we thought about using P&P to celebrate month by month the different organisations, some 40 in number, that impact our life together as a village, and to give thanks for them also in Church on occasion.

Loneliness was something that came up, as did parenting. Engaging both these areas is a mercy mission, incredibly important, incredibly difficult. Difficult to allay and to help, save a life orientation of service that’s what we as Easter people are committed to.

The village empties of workers and their children each morning. At this holiday season it empties for a week or so. As you go round visiting homes as I do, you find in the day, away from weekends and out of holiday season, a sprinkling of home based workers, young mums, elderly and housebound. The bus stop’s a big feature, elderly folk getting out, getting away, meeting others there and beyond in Haywards Heath.

How do you help the lonely or those struggling as parents? Being there, whilst not getting in the way, is our mercy mission. Inviting folk to Thursday coffee, or the third Friday village lunch. If you can, going on the coffee or chef rota. Both ventures are a mercy mission. You might have read Faith in Sussex – do pick up a copy of this month’s Diocesan magazine. There our village lunch is styled a mercy project, providing as it does a place of belonging for all through a high quality £4 a head lunch at which all are welcome. Bishop Martin is coming to it on 16th September.

St Giles does a lot to help parents across Sussex through collections and food gifts towards Diocesan Family Support Work. My wife Anne has just retired from promoting FSW in deaneries and has exceptionally written a report in this month’s P&P. Veronica Griffiths is still the representative for St Giles, linking us with that work and has appealed repeatedly for someone to take over.

Easter’s deeds more than words. It’s an event, a mercy mission from God believers are part of that’s changing the world primarily through little acts, like that of Brendan with the baby, like what, less dramatically, you’ve got planned ahead this week, or the spaces and times you leave unplanned for surprises of the Holy Spirit.

The mercy of God is a torrent that has burst its banks. It carries off our hearts in its wake.

In our day to day, hour to hour living we are carried by Our Lord, and with him carry others, as we discern, being his instruments. There is an ocean of need around. Our prayer and merciful action looks a drop in that ocean – but it matters! It will matter more, impact more, if we see ourselves as we really are, caught into the torrent of mercy that flows from the cross, bursting banks and carrying our hearts in its wake.