Saturday, 22 February 2020

St John, Burgess Hill The Bible Pre-Lent Sunday 23 Feb 2020

This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him. Matthew 17.5

There is no Word of God without power so that this place – the pulpit – and the book expounded here – this book (show) – are about energising. I want to use this sermon built from the Gospel’s invitation to listen to God to encourage us to read our Bibles in Lent.

Why is it so important we familiarise ourselves with the Bible?
Because the Bible speaks to those with open ears of God’s people, provision, promises and purpose. 

In reading the Bible we find...God’s people. The Bible is the family history of the Christian church. It is our life story. We are to see it as part of our own story since Christians see themselves in the sacred history it provides. When, for example, in the story of Cain and Abel we read God’s words to Cain, ‘where is your brother?’ they are words that remind us that God’s family find God again and again through love of other people. When we read the story of the Exodus we see ourselves going through the Red Sea – the waters of baptism – fed by manna – the heavenly bread of the eucharist – destined for Canaan – a glorious homeland. 

When we read and study Matthew’s Gospel we see a Sermon on a Mount from Jesus presented as the new Moses since Matthew’s Jewish readers knew it was Moses who first brought teaching down from Mount Sinai in the Ten Commandments. When we read in the Acts about Pentecost we see a reversal of the Tower of Babel in Genesis so that people heard the same message in their different languages. The Holy Spirit who drives the Church forward from Pentecost is the same Lord working secretly throughout the biblical story of God’s people.

We read the Bible because it tells us who we are – God’s children made so by God’s provision. This provision, the gift of Jesus, is a second motivator for bible reading so that Saint Jerome could say that ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ no less.

The bible reveals how God who created the world provided his Son, Jesus C hrist to redeem it from sin through a new creation. This is the year of Saint Matthew in the three year cycle of Sunday readings. When we open a Bible Matthew is on its hinge, the hinge between the Old and New Testaments.  The word Bible comes from the Greek τὰ βιβλία ta biblia "the books" whose contents and order vary between denominations. The Old Testament has 39 books of Hebrew Scripture, though some denominations including our own give authority to a series of Jewish books called the deuterocanonical or apocryphal books. The New Testament contains 27 books the first four of which form the Canonical gospels, first Matthew’s, recounting the life of Christ and central to our faith.

There is no Word of God without power because scripture points us to Jesus. Saint Tikhon, an 18th century Russian writer, says whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking to Him. This is why we read the Bible – to seek and find God’s provision. The Bible is an instrument of divine revelation, the word of God communicated in human words. As such it has unique authority and inspiration and cannot mislead anyone as it presents the salvation truth of God in Christ.

This is what the Bible says about itself through what Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3.15-17 where he reminds his assistant bishop, and through him, all of us, how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 

In the bible we meet God’s people, see God’s provision for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Thirdly we find God’s promises. The bible contains what Saint Peter describes in 2 Peter 1.4 as God’s precious and very great promises for us to ‘read, mark and inwardly digest’. In his book on Matthew Lent for everyone (show) Tom Wright comments on the Gospel passage we shall hear read next Sunday about Our Lord’s temptations and how Jesus himself holds fast to God’s promises as he resists them. Once more, we are not simply spectators in this extraordinary drama. We too, are tempted to do the right things in the wrong way or for the wrong reason. Part of the discipline of Lent is about learning to recognize the flickering impulses, the whispering voices, for what they are, and to have the scripture fuelled courage to resist.

I like that phrase ‘scripture fuelled courage’. When I am tempted by anxiety it is the fuelling of my spiritual life by the biblical promises of God that defend me, such as those in today’s Gospel or these other texts. ‘My peace I give unto you’ (John 14.27) ‘You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you’ (Isaiah 26.3) ‘The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind’ (Philippians 4.7). The point is that unless I knew these verses, and had memorised them, the Bible would have no power to help me. I would lack what Tom Wright calls ‘scripture fuelled courage’.

There is no word of God without power! The bible itself points to the power of Holy Spirit who inspired it and will inspire its readers. In particular the discipline of bible study helps us get into ourselves some of the key promises of God by the inspiration they give to heart and mind, an inspiration that evidences itself in our lives.

Fourthly if the Bible brings us the family history of God’s people, God’s provision for us in Jesus and his promises to fuel our courage it brings us hope for the future. It outlines to us God’s purpose. The bible contains God’s plan. It sets human history in the perspective revealed by Christ’s resurrection, his gathering of God’s people, building of the kingdom and promised return. 

In his commentary on Matthew Chapter 13 Bishop Tom speaks on the importance of the bible in opening up God’s future to us and of the kingdom of God in Matthew’s Gospel:
Jesus is looking for people to sign on, people who are prepared to take his kingdom-movement forward in their own day. In telling us the old, old story the Bible invites us to sign up to having faith for the future. As its last book affirms the kingdom of the world (is to become) the kingdom of our God and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15) 

This is what we sign up to at every eucharist since this sacred meal anticipates the heavenly banquet. So too our pondering of the Word of God energises our thinking and acting. It builds our conviction that if this is the day the Lord has made so is tomorrow.

The Bible – a way into being God’s people, knowing his provision, his promises and his purpose for our lives and that of the cosmos. The Lord deepen our hunger for God’s Word as he makes us hungry now for the table of the eucharist.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

St Peter & St John Wivelsfield 2nd before Lent 16th Feb 2020

All we’re about as Christians harnesses energy. It harnesses the energy that presses creation forward. Let no one be deceived into thinking Christianity is a loss of energy, even if tasks in the life of the Church fall heavily on your shoulders!

As we heard in our readings from Genesis and Romans God who brought all that is out of nothing has the creation waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. 

He brings us moment by moment in Christ the irrepressible power of the Holy Spirit. It is the same energy at work in the Eucharist that is at work bringing sun, rain and storm and pushing the grass and trees upward.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin Our Lord reflects in the Gospel I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 

The same Lord Jesus Christ is our clue to understanding that energy that has brought not just the lilies but each of us here into being and would carry us forward from this day into a joyful eternity. He whose power rolled out creation acted powerfully upon the Cross to reconcile sinful humanity and is powerfully present with us this morning.  He is both the power that bought all things into being and the one who gives power to all who believe in his name.

To know God in Jesus Christ is not something esoteric but something that touches the wellsprings of human life. You and I are here in this Church this morning, held together in our physical being by God.

God who brought all that is out of nothing brings us moment by moment, in Christ, the power of life. More than that he fills hearts open to him with his own life, the life and power of the Holy Spirit, through word and sacrament.

Our Church tower is fashioned as pointer to this truth: all of life comes from God, is sustained by God and would be directed by God to his praise and service.

I say ‘would be’ because the creation of a world apart from God has led to the necessity of faith for mortal beings to be one with him, to choose intimacy with him, and to overcome the consequences of that apartness from God in the evil consequences of human wrongdoing, made possible by that apartness of the creation from God. 

We name the second person in the Godhead Jesus Christ because the world apart from God began to fall apart through human sin and only through the gift of his Son, revealed in taking nature of a Virgin in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection could it be brought together again.

The great Anglican theologian Austin Farrer has this summary of how creation links to redemption and the making holy of our lives: We believe in One God, One not only in the unity of his substance but in the unbroken wholeness of his action. All the work of God is one mighty doing from the beginning to the end, and can only be seen in its mind-convincing force when it is so taken. It is One God who calls being out of nothing, and Jesus from a virgin womb, and life from the dead; who revives our languid souls by penitence, and promises to sinful men redeemed by the vision of his face, in Jesus Christ our Lord. 
A Celebration of Faith p62

I am hopeful for the Church because I know there’s a link between the supernaturally revealed truth of Jesus Christ and the truths of the world’s evolution established by science. Not just a link but a dynamic!

Just to illustrate, it is the Lord’s Day. Every Sunday we celebrate three dynamics. The first day of the week is a reminder of God’s creation on the primeval day. It is also the memorial of the new creation given on Easter Sunday. It is thirdly the memorial of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit empowered the Church. This dynamic is encaptured in Victorian Bishop William Walsham How’s hymn for Sunday:

This day, at thy creating Word first o’er the earth the light was poured; 
O Lord, this day upon us shine, and fill our hearts with light divine.

This day the Lord for sinners slain, in might victorious rose again:
O Jesu, may we raisèd be from death of sin to life in thee.

This day the Holy Spirit came with fiery tongues of cloven flame:
O Spirit, fill our hearts this day with grace to hear and grace to pray.

The truth behind Sunday is the same truth behind creation – the truth of a God who, in Farrer’s words calls being out of nothing...Jesus from a virgin womb, and life from the dead; who revives our languid souls.

A last thought on how we better lay hold on this truth.

Imagine yourself up a ladder replacing a light bulb. You are concentrating your attention on loosening the bulb and suddenly your mind switches to ponder how securely you’re placed on the ladder (no doubt if in Church your two named ladder holders will be down below you).

Your inner questioning ‘how securely am I placed’ undermines the operation until you pull yourself together and get on with the job.

Do you get the analogy? When we try to analyse our faith it feels shaky. When we attend to God it is convinced. 

Believing in God is a practical matter beyond human analysis.

As Austin Farrer says elsewhere: God can convince us of God, nothing else and no one else can: attend the eucharist well, make a good communion, pray for the grace you need, and you will know that you are not dealing with empty air.

Let’s do just that - attend the eucharist well and make a good communion!

Thursday, 6 February 2020

St Bartholomew, Brighton Epiphany 5 Seasoning the world 9th February 2020

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? Matthew 5:13a
As on many occasions we wrestle with Our Lord's imagery in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Trained as a physical chemist I find it hard to imagine that most stable of compounds, sodium chloride, losing its taste other than when removed from solution by a high energy desalination plant! However I do see how Christians can lose their flavour and I know that happens in my life many a time.

In today’s first reading we’ve got additional wisdom on how Christians are called to season the world.  The passage from Isaiah, often used in Lent to highlight the value of fasting, thrills with a passion for justice that’s been inspiration to many. Share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house… then…your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. (Isaiah 58:7-8).  Many Christians are joining with other folk of good will to make a practical response to the world’s unprecedented refugee crisis. As we respond to the needy, again and again we sense God going with us, not just in the feel good factor but in the ripple effect of any unselfish act of service. God… our vindicator goes before us, the glory of the Lord is our rearguard.
The mystery of why so few citizens of Brighton & Hove worship on Sundays is tied in with the mystery of the choices of God. We are no better than those who aren’t called, those some of us have left at home this morning, but in the loving providence of God we are being put to a special use in his praise and service. I do not know why God called me as a Christian and as a priest – I am no better than others - but God has called me and what an awesome privilege that is, to be called into situations where God takes me, uses me and is my rearguard, covering my inadequacies and provoking thought of him in what comes to pass in such engagements.
As believers and disciples of Christ we many times find ourselves in situations not of our choosing that have the hand of God upon them. If we are praying, worshipping and studying God’s word we should expect to impact the world in such a way as to get people pondering. Like our immense building we point above and beyond ourselves, inasmuch as God has chosen us to be his pointers.  As we do so Paul’s words are very apposite, where he speaks of weakness… fear and… trembling and yet being given words that are powerful instruments of God. You know those occasions, when you’re given words that unblock things for others, including opening their eyes to the reality of the living God.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?
Being salt is about instrumentality, about giving up our own ambitions, the desire to make our mark on others, in the name of collaborating with God and others to season the quality of the common life of the world. Day by day a selfless team of volunteers makes St Bartholomew’s accessible to thousands a month. Another much smaller team led by Fr Martin Morgan seasons the life of our Primary School. Through that partnership of teaching staff and volunteers a real difference is made to the life of the children of our locality.
What might God be saying to you this morning as you hear Jesus say 'be salt'? 
How is he speaking to where your life is currently bound up in marriage, family and workplace and how in those several engagements you can season things? Or how you might be salt through the organisations within the orbit of St Bartholomew’s? 
The ministries of the Church – welcoming, catering, serving, church cleaning, flower arranging, choir, music, PCC, deanery synod, service booklet production and so on – serve and savour the life of the Christian community as it overflows in service to others. One of these ministries might contain the Lord’s invitation to you at this time, as the pastoral vacancy continues. Losing a chief pastor has strained us but it's never meant loss of the pastoral care gifts within this worshipping community called to season the life of our church and our city. As the enormous Midnight Mass congregation demonstrated we are Brighton’s Church in the sense at least of being the Church they don’t go to Sunday by Sunday. They know we’re here, though, and here for them!
God has called you, and if he has called you, he will not fail you! God’s work always brings with it God’s provision.
In the passage from 1 Corinthians set for today but omitted to shorten High Mass Paul enthuses: What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,   nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ - these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.  In other words, to be a Christian is to have insight into the depths of things - just as our spirit senses our depths the Holy Spirit searches… the depths of God who is God of our life and that of all that is, capable of linking our passion for him to his passion for all. 
We only have one life but as folk called by God our limited being finds repeated applications that help change the world. We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 
The so-called spirit of the world is exemplified in a degree of pessimism and fruitless pondering over the state of the world. When we see the world apart from God we see a great deal of self-interest and blindness towards what Isaiah calls the homeless poor. The Spirit of God in contrast cares for all that is just because it is, and more especially those in God’s image who are cast to the margins. Through spiritual discernment, what Paul calls understanding the gifts bestowed on us by God we’re empowered to invest our time, talents and money in making a difference where we are. I believe time spent in intercession for world leaders at this junction is one gift God is calling many into. 
God who has called us is God of the world. He is preparing a bride for his Son, the company of the faithful we call the Church, by purifying Christians to be part of that Bride destined to be enthroned at the marriage supper of Christ who is the Church’s husband to be. One part of our purification is a loss of anxiety about the future and laxity in prayer for the kingdom to come. Earthly rulers and kingdoms fail – but what we’re about as Christians seasoning the world can never fail, as expressed in the great hymn of The Revd Sabine Baring Gould: Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail; we have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail. 
We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God. That spirit cannot fail. It is salt that savours the cosmos. 
The church’s humanity fails, yes, but its divinity will prevail as sure as the Spirit of God prevails. In our Christian calling within that of the Church, Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail; we have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail. 
God has called you, he will not fail you! God’s work as you discern it will always brings with it God’s provision to season the life of this ambiguous world.
Seek what the Lord requires of you and cheerfully accept that requirement, Give and it will be given to you - for God is no one's debtor!

Saturday, 1 February 2020

St Richard, Haywards Heath Candlemas 2020

We come to Church to worship and to be enlightened.

Jesus came first to the Temple on this day with those two ends of self offering and edification.

His parents made an offering on his behalf and they heard Simeon's prophecy of their Son becoming 'a light to lighten the nations'.

Candlemas gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect about what we do when we come to this Temple Sunday by Sunday.

It is a Temple before it is a preaching house, a place of teaching, yes, but primarily not a place of edification but a place of worship.

In this Chapel the worship of the eucharist has been offered day by day for over 80 years. People in their thousands have joined here to offer the unbloody sacrifice initiated by Jesus Christ we call the eucharist.

They've come 'to offer themselves, their souls and bodies as a living sacrifice' with, in and through Jesus Christ.

Today, his first visit to the one earthly Temple of his day, we recall that event as a prefiguring of Christ's eternal sacrifice. The turtle doves sacrificed on his behalf in that Temple gave way, with all animal sacrifices, to his once for all offering made on a repeat visit to Jerusalem in his 33rd year.

The priests and people then took no doves but an innocent Lamb, and as they did so the prophecy about his mother Mary in today's Gospel was fulfilled. 'A  sword will pierce your heart'. In St Martin’s Brighton, a Church I know well, that very image of Our Lady is provided at the foot of the Cross, graphically in black and with a sword stuck into her heart.
We come to Church to worship and to be enlightened.

Part of that enlightenment, as Mary and Joseph found, is the bringing of understanding and hence more creative involvement with the dark times of our life.

We all live with these - bereavement, chronic illness or the necessity to live with unresolved situations where there may be conflict. With Mary and Joseph this morning we welcome holy Simeon's words with gratitude since they speak of peace coming, as it does again and again, through heavenly illumination.

Jesus Christ is the light who lightens all nations and all ages.

May his light shine on us and into our various life situations this morning as we come to worship 'offering ourselves, our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice' with in and through Jesus Christ.
Like Simeon we see in Jesus one who removes the fear of death and promises perpetual light to his family as they travel forward in his light to their fulfilment in the house of the Lord together and forever.
I end with a beautiful prayer of John Donne, sixteenth century Dean of St Paul’s which captures that aspiration: 
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen