Sunday, 30 May 2021

St John, Burgess Hill Trinity Sunday 30.5.21


Shortly after I was ordained priest I had a crisis of faith. I went back to where I had trained. It was a chance to work out what should happen next since I hardly believed in the reality of God anymore. While there I was taken under the wing of Fr. Daniel, one of the Mirfield monks. He gave me this advice: ‘Maybe, John, it is not God who's gone but your vision of him. Why not pray an honest prayer, like, ‘God, if you're there, show yourself. Give me a vision of yourself that's to your dimensions and not mine’. With nothing to lose I prayed Fr. Daniel’s prayer over two cliff-hanging days. Then God answered. He chose a leaf on a tree in the monastery garden. I was walking along with no particular thought in my head when my eyes fell on the leaf and it was as if it spoke to me. ‘He made you’, the leaf seemed to say. I was bowled over. As I moved forward I saw the great Crucifix that stands in the garden. ‘I made you. I love you’, the figure of Jesus seemed to say. ‘Father, Son...what about the Holy Spirit?’, my mind was spinning. The Father was saying ‘I made you’, the Son ‘I love you’. Could it be that the Spirit was saying ‘I want to fill you’? A group of monks prayed for me to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit and from that day forward God has seemed closer to me in people and nature as well as in church. 


This experience has helped me understand what it means to pray ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen’. It was as if my vision of God had grown too ‘samey’ and needed to get ‘different’ and only God could do that, the living God who speaks to anyone prepared to lend an ear to him. In reminding me ‘I made you’ God used a leaf to speak to me – a leaf out of his book of nature!


God is different from us and yet the same as us. We humans are individual persons but God is three persons in one God which goes beyond reason. That is the great thing about God - his frontiers are beyond ours so he can invite us into new territories by what he chooses to reveal to us. The supreme territory is the life of the resurrection. Because of its core historical events, in Christianity talk of God is inseparable from a vision of him beyond this world. Austin Farrer makes this plain in one of his sermons: ‘You can equivocate for ever on God's very existence... but a God who reverses nature, a God who undoes death, that those in whom the likeness of his glory has faintly and fitfully shone may be drawn everlastingly into the heart of light, and know him as he is: this is a God indeed, a God almighty, a God to be trusted, loved and adored’. The Bible says ‘God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’ and the gift of reason is seen as the mark of that image within us. By reason we can evaluate the goodness, truth and beauty around us as pointing to God as being more of the same. Yet there are things our minds cannot grasp like suffering and death, people who forgive one another and the immensity of space. Such realities reveal themselves to us as being bigger than our minds or beyond reason.


God has sameness to us and difference from us. Since God is one in himself and one with us in Jesus Christ we can experience his sameness. He is our loving source and ending, our Father. We are the children he loves and wants to be with him for ever. God’s sameness appeals to us as reasonable beings. Since God is revealed in history as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, he is gloriously different from us, with space and power to bring all other persons into communion with himself. This space and power was revealed upon earth in a human life of 33 years. God’s space, power and holiness is so different from ours it needed bringing to focus, so we could see it, through God becoming a human being in the person of Jesus. ‘As a magnifying glass concentrates the rays of the sun into a little burning knot of heat that can set fire to a dry leaf or a piece of paper, so the mystery of Christ in the Gospel concentrates the rays of God’s light and fire to a point that sets fire to the spirit of man’. So wrote the great Christian mystic and writer Thomas Merton.


I got into a conversation at Sainsbury’s. The young man at the till didn’t go to Church but I’ll not forget what he said: ‘God’s all powerful but they make him to be a wimping wimp!’ This observation brought back to me a frequent complaint made by the great explorer Laurens Van der Post about the Church’s domestication of God which might be behind non-attendance of folk like my friend at the till. The explorer wrote: ‘One of the strangest ideas ever conceived is the idea that religion is the opium of the people, because religion is a call to battle.. human beings in their rational selves.. shy like frightened horses away from a God who is not the source of opium for people but a reawakening of creation and a transcending of the forces and nuclear energies in the human soul’.


Van der Post was imprisoned by the Japanese during World War Two and lived under the threat of execution. A date was set. The night before he records experiencing a tremendous thunderstorm outside his prison. He saw in this storm a strengthening as if from the awesome truth of a God so different he can raise the dead. The Japanese were not ultimately in control. The storm witnessed a greater than human power which in the end would decide all. He was spared execution. God’s all powerful - may he forgive us for making him ‘a wimping wimp’! 


May God also forgive those of us who put him into words and make him seem neat and tidy. Theology is putting together human words about a reality beyond words. It is necessary because God in Christ, so different from us, has made himself the same as us by taking flesh and bidding us write words about him. Scripture takes precedence over all such words, a library of inspired documents, presenting God as awesome yet accessible in Christ. 


All religions claim some sort of revelation of God. Hindus see many gods expressing affinity or sameness with ordinary life. Muslims see one God above and beyond us whose utter difference from us seems to exclude any sameness. Christians are in the middle with three persons in one God, a God who is personal like ourselves but also beyond us as the ground of our being. 


God for Christians is different from us not just because of what he says about himself through scripture - or to put it inclusively what God says about Godself - but on account of our experience of that difference as believers as I found in the monastery garden and the supermarket and Van der Post discovered in prison.


Engagement with God is a calling forth both of the light of reason and the light of faith which together lift us beyond ourselves into his praise. As the word of God written in the prophet Isaiah states: ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).


Wednesday, 26 May 2021

St Philip Neri 26.5.21

 

‘We were meant to live in joy. This does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through. We cannot succeed by denying what exists. The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin.’ Words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his bestselling ‘Book of Joy’ co-authored by the Dalai Lama.

In every age God raises up saints in stormy times with a special gift of joy and today’s Saint is such a man. Philip Neri was a priest in the 16th century known for his humour, compassion and joy. Hoping to go to India, Philip was guided instead to re-evangelize a corrupt and decadent Rome. He is remembered as the "Apostle of Rome" and for his teaching that ‘a joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one’. Philip Neri was born in Florence in 1515. At the age of eighteen he went to Rome, and earned his living as a tutor. He undertook much-needed charitable work among the young men of the city, and started a brotherhood to help the sick poor and pilgrims out of which came the Oratorian foundations spread across the world up to this day.

People flocked to Philip Neri for advice. Fearing hero worship, he went out of his way to do ridiculous things as a reminder that any help he could give came from beyond him. On occasion, when he was a speaker somewhere, he shaved half his beard off to look a fool and remind his hearers not to respect someone who was no wiser – and no less sinful – than they were. The point of his many pranks was to combat pride, or melancholy, as well as that hero-worship which he never fully overcame as we keep his feast today! Very many of the saints, not just St Philip, have a terror of being looked up to. They know their imperfections better than anyone else, and being revered by other people is doubly bad. It is bad for the others, who should be revering God instead, and for themselves, because they might be tempted to believe their own image and believe themselves to be worthy. 

Philip gave this advice: ‘First let a little love find entrance into their hearts, and the rest will follow. To preserve our cheerfulness amid sicknesses and troubles, is a sign of a right and good spirit’. He lived in joy and is known as the Saint of joy in the spirit of Psalm 16 verse 11: ‘in God’s presence there is joy for evermore’. Living in joy is a sign of living close to God. It is said that when some of his more pompous penitents made their confession to him Philip imposed deflating penances on them, such as walking through the streets of Rome carrying his cat. When a novice showed signs of excessive seriousness, Philip stood on his head in front of him, to make him laugh. 

How do we emulate St Philip? We should not be afraid to make fools of ourselves so as to make plain we live as much in need of mercy as the next man or woman. 

We can’t all stand on our heads or carry cats but we can experience the love of God through prayer, scripture and sacrament. 

In that way we can live with an outward, joyous focus turned away from inner melancholy.

‘Two men looked through prison bars. One saw mud and one saw stars’. 

At the prayer of St Philip may we look more to the Lord, welcome his radiance, love and joy and become more and help cheer up the world.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Churchill Gardens Estate, Pimlico Pentecost 23rd May 2021

 

On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the Holy Spirit’s vital and vitalising role.

He is God in the present moment bringing all that Jesus has done for us into play here and now. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. This was so that right there in Jerusalem and right now in Pimlico the love of God might be communicated mind to mind and heart to heart.

Christianity is a seizing with exhilaration upon the wonder of God seen as never seen before in the coming, dying and rising of Jesus Christ.

It means if God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If God had a wallet, your photo would be in it.

God loves us so much that though he can live anywhere in the universe he seeks to live in a place only you can allow him to live – in your open heart.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into the complete truth Saint John writes. That truth is of our making by God, our redeeming by the Son of God and our being made holy by the Spirit of God.

As Pascal said, holiness is the church’s greatest influence. When God gets into people’s lives it makes them holy enlarging their hearts and it shows. It brings our humanity into its right mind as the Holy Spirit rights what’s wrong in us.

God, who gave us life, loves us so much, with all our shortcomings, he wants to give us his life, to dwell deep within us, for that is why we were made. 

The truth of God and of ourselves is this – God loves us and loves us just as we are – but he loves us too much to leave us that way and so he offers us the Holy Spirit to dwell with us and in us.

Pentecost as Feast of the Spirit is a Feast of truth-telling as we heard in the reading from the Acts. The Holy Spirit brought the truth of God’s love into all those national groups, Parthians, Medes, Elamites and so on by his miraculous translation through the gift of tongues.

Holiness and truth communicated with love and power.

This truth of God’s desire to fill every human heart with holy love, according to St Paul, already infects the universe, as he writes in Romans 8 verse 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

I have seen and met on occasion people whose godliness contained a force it was hard to resist. There’s something of this around in Churchill Gardens – would there were more - since holiness is indeed the church’s greatest influence. 

So today, and always, our prayer should be Come Holy Spirit and kindle in us the fire of your love! Or, as in the Psalm set for today, Psalm 104: Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and holiness. He’s also the power of God. At the eucharist we speak in the Creed of Christ’s incarnation being accomplished from the Holy Spirit. We pray that by the power of your Holy Spirit the gifts of bread and wine may be changed. Send the Holy Spirit on your people we pray. 

And sometimes send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory. The Holy Spirit is into applicationmaking God take flesh, making bread and wine God’s vehicles, taking us out into the world as those first disciples went so that in [their] own languages [they] hear [us] speaking about God’s deeds of power.

So how can we make Pentecost more applicable in our own lives and in our community this morning? 

Each eucharist is meant to be a mini-Pentecost, each Holy Communion an individual Pentecost, set within the Spirit sealed communion of the Church whose birthday we mark today. 

Whatever grand spiritual aspirations we make, the Holy Spirit is closest to us when we are about our neighbours, sorting out our destructive attitudes, putting love in where there is none, recognising the humanity of those who are somewhat blind to ours.

This is the humble work of Jesus’ redemption being applied to our lives and through our lives to others. It starts in us here as by the power of the Holy Spirit the gifts of bread and wine are taken and given so that sent out in the power of the Spirit we might live and work to God’s praise and glory.

Living in his holiness and truth communicating his love through his empowerment!

Come Holy Spirit and kindle in us the fire of your love! Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth – starting with me!

Picture: Ardingly College Crypt Chapel


Sunday, 16 May 2021

St Wilfrid & Presentation Ascension 16.5.21

 

We’re in transition. From tomorrow pubs and restaurants open inside as do museums and galleries and international travel is allowed. Many of us will be thinking further ahead than tomorrow. The simple routines we have followed for over a year are unravelling as a wider world invites us. Those weekly zoom calls to family and friends are to be transformed into physical encounters all of which is exciting and unsettling. When I went to see my son recently he shocked me by hugging me having taken a COVID test that morning and knowing I’d had my jabs and three weeks after them.


We’re in transition. At the Bentswood Community Partnership zoom meeting two weeks ago a major topic among participating residents and professionals was anxiety in families and how we counter it. There’s a system of Digital Champions I’m part of starting tomorrow morning at the hub in America Lane to counter digital exclusion. St Wilfrid’s has done well making services available online but we can all do more to help engage older people getting left out. I commend here the quiet ministry of Melvyn Walmsley who will read this sermon over the telephone to many church members this morning.

To live is to grow and to change. All of us have lived through a year of traumatic change. I lost two people to COVID I helped over the years through confession and spiritual direction. Many are on antidepressants. Loneliness has been accentuated by compulsory isolation. Pictures on the TV are sometimes unbearable. Teachers in India dying after being forced to supervise un socially distanced election polls remind me of anxious people I know working at Princess Royal hospital. We rightly salute those on the frontline of the National Health Service, cleaners as much as doctors and nurses.

The Feast of the Glorious Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ sets our transition from lockdown in a wider transitional context. God does not change but on account of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Our Lord we know he is not unaffected by human transition and trauma. As the letter to the Hebrews says ‘we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:15-16). 

The Jesus raised at Easter is the same Jesus killed through awful suffering upon the Cross. That’s why the Church adorns its Easter candle with nails. As the priest said on Easter Sunday touching the candle’s five studs: ‘By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ our Lord guard and keep us’. The Easter Candle is a triumphant witness, standing tall, that says God is above death. It is also a reminder that God is not above suffering. The God and Father of Jesus, expects nothing of us he’s not prepared to go through himself. This is the ground of hope we cling to as Christians.

On Ascension Feast we contemplate transition in its ‘out of this world’ Godward aspect. The liturgical year is one of our greatest teachers. We believe as Christians God made and loves all that is including each and everyone of us sitting in Church this morning:

God loves us so much he sent his Son down to be born as one of us – which is Christmas.

God loves us so much he allowed Jesus to suffer what human beings suffer, to live and die as one of us yet without sin – which is Lent

God loves us so much he wants us to know death isn’t the end of us in his sight – which is Easter

God loves us so much he brought Jesus up to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit down into any heart that will welcome him – which is Pentecost.

That’s Christianity in four lines – Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost.

On Ascension Feast at the close of Eastertide we recall how God loves  each and everyone of us and those gone before us on earth no less than ourselves. He loves each and everyone whose bones lie in the Churchyard. They were buried close to the Church because they believed when you live close to Jesus Christ and his followers your death brings you closer to him and his followers past into the glory above and beyond this world.

In this service we take, we bless, we break, we share bread to show forth God’s love for us and for all that is – especially recalling how Jesus was taken by God the Father on Good Friday and his body was broken on the Cross to show God’s love for us, love shared with the whole world ever since by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

At the eucharist we also see our lives taken by God. When we put the bread on the plate and the wine in the cup we think of ourselves placed there before God, our congregation, our town, our county, our nation, our world, its joys and sorrows, its strengths and all being placed on the altar of God which is the eucharist table to ascend to him.

In the eucharist we take, bless, break and share bread and wine.

In the eucharist we see Jesus taken, blessed, broken and shared.

In the eucharist our lives also ascend to God and are made a blessing to others. We offer ourselves in union with the ascended Christ so all that we are about, including transition out of lockdown, might be consecrated to God’s praise and service. 

Blessed, praised and hallowed be our Lord Jesus Christ upon his throne in glory, in the most holy sacrament of the altar and in the hearts of all his faithful people now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.


Sunday, 9 May 2021

St Mary, Balcombe Easter 6 9th May 2021

Of those to whom much is given much is required. Because we’re people who see God we’ve got responsibility to seek him more and to see him more fully as he is and not in the image we make of him.

I find a root sin of mine is negligence in that sense. I neglect to ponder the picture that scripture and Christian tradition give of God and to make that more my own.

I am called, we are called, to think of God ever more magnificently. The scripture set for the sixth Sunday of Easter opens up something of God’s magnificent power and love.



In the first reading Peter’s Jewish friends
were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. 

Two astounding things. Speaking in tongues, a supernatural prayer language of love, sign of the difference the Holy Spirit can make to folk. Then God, God of the Jewish Covenant, giving evidence of his acceptance of non-Jews.

Miracles, miraculous talk, shake the control we think we’ve got over life. From time to time God shakes our comfort and complacency and does His own thing. If we were really in love with God we’d welcome such surprises of the Spirit and not dismiss them as religious hysteria. St Francis, the CurĂ© D’Ars, Pope John 23rd all spoke in tongues and many do so today.

Then secondly in that reading we’re awoken to God proving himself a God to whom no one, Gentile or Jew, is an outsider. Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? 

How many times do we get humbled by the generosity and spiritual wisdom of our non-Church friends? God can and does speak to us through them since he is not just God of our lives but God of the whole of life. People in God’s image can speak God’s word even if they don’t know who God is and that he’s made them godlike.

Sometimes the Church gets woken up to God’s truth by outsiders, as, sad to say, is happening over child protection. The Holy Spirit has been powerfully at work outside the community of the Church from the beginning, speaking truth and holiness into her, keeping her humble and on her toes. This is because God is God not just of the Church but God of the whole world. 

Then, as our second reading from 1 John 5 and Gospel from John 15 remind us God is love. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. The Holy Spirit, Saint Paul says, is God’s love outpoured into our hearts.

By his dying and rising Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has overcome all that separates us from God to make us his friends. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. Because of this friendship we Christians live in friendship with one another: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

The second reading speaks similarly of how our awakening to the love of God awakens us to the love of God’s children: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. The writer’s logic in the First Letter of St John is sometimes confusing. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. I would suggest, coming back to my sin of negligence, that failure to seek after and recognise the love of God shown in Jesus bears fruit in failure to obtain the love that covers a multitude of sins so far as our neighbour goes. Failure also to attain to the promise of Jesus at the end of today’s Gospel where he says I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

The clue is to think of God ever more magnificently. When God shrinks in our thinking and praying you can be sure, I can be sure, that other people’s faults will loom higher and a critical spirit emerges that’s counter to love of my neighbour.

Victory over that critical spirit might be what St John is touching on when he speaks of a spiritual battle in the second reading. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

To have faith in a God who’s magnificently a God of love and forgiveness helps us conquer the tendency to do down our neighbour. To know how God treats us is the best tonic towards treating others well, in other words, as better than they are. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith (1 John 5:4).

So, brothers and sisters, may the eucharist be a tonic to you this morning, a fresh immersion in the love that comes to you through scripture and fellowship, through celebration and the offering and receiving of bread and wine. No one has greater love than this, Jesus says, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 

So be it! May we wake out of our negligence and seek a vision of God that’s ever more magnificent, built more and more to his dimensions and less to ours!

Sunday, 2 May 2021

St Wilfrid & Presentation, Haywards Heath Easter 5 2nd May 2021


In the Holy Eucharist we offer ourselves as Christ offers himself.

We consecrate ourselves for whatever God wants in the coming week and the rest of our lives.

We also seek his guidance so that we’ll not only be there for God but not get in the way of what God’s doing.

Just look back at that first reading from Acts Chapter 8. It’s the story of how one man, Philip, having offered himself to God, finds himself in just the right place at the right time. The conversion of Ethiopia to Christ traces back to a court official reading the bible who needed an interpreter and the fact deacon Philip was there to help him.

Who knows how many of your friends and mine are awaiting an interpreter of Christian faith? What are you and I doing to get skilled in this?

Philip was led by an angel to encounter the Ethiopian eunuch. He did his bit and passed on, ‘the Spirit of the Lord snatched him’ away we’re told intriguingly.

A stitch in time saves nine. A word in time saves nine.

 Sometimes people are stuck in their lives like a beached boat. They’re surrounded by just enough tide to be released to sail ahead – but they need a word of advice or encouragement to be launched off the beach.

By saying our prayers, reading and digesting the bible and offering our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice in the Eucharist we make ourselves available for God’s possibilities to be realised not only in our lives but in the lives of those around us.

As I’ve been helping out in the parish I’ve a sense of being used in that way – to be there for you and God trying my best not to get in his way.

The second reading builds to my thinking on the first because it reminds us that Christianity spreads through loving communities. We have an individual role, like Philip, to engage with people and be there for them and for God but ultimately the best witness for Christ is a loving, intriguing community. People are brought to the Lord by a team in effect.

No one has ever seen God but if we love one another God lives in us. People see God in communities of the self forgetful. Actually the Blessed Trinity is himself a community of the self forgetful: the Father forgets himself for the Son, the Son for the Father and the Spirit is their self forgetful go between.

Capturing this thought 14th century Catherine of Siena, whose feast we kept on Thursday, prayed ‘Eternal Trinity… mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being’.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.

Perhaps God made the world to make himself a halo. You know that sort of crowning halo which can surround the moon at night caused by the dispersion of moon light through ice particles in earth’s atmosphere. Could we see the love of the saints as like such a halo reflecting the giving and receiving of love from Jesus by his holy ones?

When churches on earth get that sort of intriguing, holy love they can draw people.

The occasional kindnesses of church members are the best draw for non members towards Christianity. Just as Philip responded to a request in the first reading from Acts, the second reading from the first letter of Saint John is a call to more active loving kindness in which we don’t just respond to requests but actively seek to give people what they need.

Those who say ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers and sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

If you’ve got a heart for other people you’ll recognise their needs. With occasional God given imagination you’ll be able to show them acts of kindness that touch them deeply as if from God. 

The first reading calls us to be interpreters of Christian faith. We need better skills here, in so called Christian apologetics. This means offering an ‘apologia’ or reasoned defence of our faith. We might well look for ways we can build such skills, not least by reading a book. In the wake of the success of my walk book - I have copies this morning - I am shortly publishing a book called ‘Elucidations - light on Christian controversies’ with a Foreword by the Bishop of Lewes. I hope it will draw some of those who have bought Fifty Walks’. This second book attempts to clear misconceptions of the truth that is in Jesus, the authority of the Bible and the trustworthiness of the Church in a society with increased religious illiteracy. In it I attempt to condense down thinking on controversial topics ranging from self-love to unanswered prayer, Mary to antisemitism, suffering to same sex unions, charismatic experience to the ordination of women, hell to ecology and trusting the Church, a total of twenty five essays. End of advert - forgive me - but giving answers or at least clarifications on issues such as these is an urgent necessity. You and I are on the front line as interpreters of Christian faith. Finding words, as Philip did when asked in the first reading, is helped by intellectual formation in the faith. Such words may not go very far without the loving kindness recommended in the second reading.

The gospel tells us how we get motivated to do both of these – to share best words and best deeds.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.

As a vine branch gets life from the sap of the vine so Christians gain life from Christ. 

It’s not a matter of working up our faith but of resting in what Jesus has done for us.

‘Abide in me, as I abide in you’ (John 15:4). To abide in Christ is to rest on the rock of Christ in the sunlight of the Father and the energising of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer has been compared by Bishop Rowan Williams to such sunbathing, a matter of receiving from above - but getting there to pray, to abide in Christ, is in practice a disciplined struggle. Take mental distractions! 

One great aid to overcoming such distractions in minds that get overheated at times is the inward repetition of the Jesus Prayer. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. This prayer expresses the good news of Christianity. It affirms both the coming of the Saviour and our need for his salvation. Based on incidents in the life of Our Lord the Jesus Prayer combines Peter’s act of faith in Jesus – You are the Son of God (cf Matthew 16v16) – with the cry of the Publican – have mercy upon me a sinner (Luke 18v13b). The Jesus Prayer is a wonderful servant of the aspiration of today’s gospel: abide in me and I in you. It exalts the name which is above every name (Philippians 2v10b). You can’t repeat that name, the name of Jesus with a good intention without touching his person, God’s person. It’s really a form of Holy Communion without bread and wine and it effects an extension of our sacramental communion week by week. 

To pray the Jesus Prayer is to centre your life upon the good news of Jesus with the faith and prayer of the church through the ages. It’s a way of settling your life repeatedly back on the rock of Christ since the recollected repetition of the holy name of Jesus is found eventually to convey his close presence.

In the Eucharist we offer ourselves as Christ offers himself and we receive Christ afresh to carry him out to share him in word and deed.

We consecrate ourselves for whatever God wants of us in the future, including elucidating our faith to others. This consecration continues inasmuch as we continually abide in Christ by saying our prayers, maybe using the Jesus Prayer, reading and digesting the bible, confessing our shortcomings and preparing the regular offering of our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice in the Eucharist.

God’s possibilities are waiting to be realised in our lives, just as they were waiting in the Ethiopian court official. God’s love is waiting to be poured out from us, through us as we read today in John’s first letter.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.

May the Lord settle us into a fresh, deeper abiding as we celebrate this Holy Eucharist.