Sunday, 31 October 2021

St. John, Burgess Hill All Saints 31.10.21


There’s a culture clash keeping All Saints on Hallowe’en. As the world around parades spiders and witches the Church of Jesus Christ celebrates ‘the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting’. 

As that faith has waned around us pagan New Year’s Eve has revived. When Christianity came here the Celtic Festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) celebrated new year 1 November linked to the start of winter cold associated with the increase of human death. On their New Year’s Eve Celts believed the worlds of the living and dead got blurred with ghosts returning to earth. 

As we keep the Solemnity of All Saints we go beyond that blurring into the actual identification of living and dead, the ‘knitting together of God’s elect in one death-defying communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Christ’ (Collect). 

This morning we celebrate our fellowship beyond death with the saints and faithful departed blurring heaven and earth as expressed in our second reading: ‘the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his people’ (Revelation 21:3). 

Such is our faith, forward looking, death-defying and in solidarity with all those ‘upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no one can number, whose hope was in Jesus and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are for ever one’.


In the end we face one of two alternatives: to have God, and in him everything, or to have nothing but ourselves. Such is Christian faith and it has never changed. The Feast of All Saints and Tuesday’s Commemoration of All Souls are the annual reminder of the call to selflessness foundational to the universe. 

God who gave life to all things including you and I has offered us his life the humble welcoming of which is the remedy for mortality. ‘To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God… born… of God’ (John 1:12-13).

All Saints Feast is a reminder of the death defying dignity implied in today’s Gospel of the raising of Lazarus in which Our Lord, having promised to be our life and resurrection, goes on to demonstrate the same by raising his friend from death. 

Those committed to a relationship with God in Christ can never be lost. Death cannot steal them from the One whose glorious resurrection establishes him as our ‘Alpha and Omega, (our) beginning and (our) end’ (Revelation 21:6a). ‘The souls of the righteous’ - right related to God - ‘are in his hands’ we heard in our first reading from the book of Wisdom. ‘In the eyes of the foolish’ that is materialists who deny the supernatural ‘they seemed to have died… but they are at peace… their hope is full of immortality’ (Wisdom 3:1-4). Such is Christian faith, grounded in the risen Lord Jesus, who gives us a purpose for living and a reason for dying.

The Solemnity of All Saints sets our sights upon the Christian distinctive. This isn’t doing good to others - how patronising to see Christians as unique in that realm! Our Christian distinctive, stated in Ephesians 1:10, is the invitation to be part of the aspiration and accomplishment of ‘gathering up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth’. The gathering of people into the communion of saints is itself part of God’s overarching plan for a wider gathering that brings all things in the cosmos or, as we might say, multiverses, into universal love as shared by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit with all the saints.

Today’s Feast reminds us we are never ‘in it on our own’ as Christians. Just as the social engagement of St John’s is teamwork - and we always need more hands on deck for outreach - the work we do for others as individuals is part of something beyond us but absolutely beside us. That is the work alongside us of the invisible fellowship of the saints in light towards bringing the universe together in Christ. Each day I invoke the prayers of my own favourites. Our Lady for trust in God. St Francis for joy. St Vincent de Paul for love for the needy. St. John Vianney inspiring me to be  a listening priest. St Therese of Lisieux warming my heart to God. St. John Henry Newman helping me give answers to questions I get about Faith - and so on. 

Contemplating God alongside the saints is a welcome school of selflessness. Anglican teacher, Eric Mascall expresses this well in his book ‘Grace & Glory’: ‘It is by becoming progressively more self-forgetful, and not by becoming more self-analytic, that our love of God grows in strength and depth. And perhaps the most effective way of imitating the saints is the indirect way of thanking God for the fact that they have served Him so much better than we. For in the Body of Christ we are not simply concerned with achieving our individual perfection but with making our own small contribution to the perfection of the whole body. And in its organic union with the holiness of our fellow-members and, above all, with the supreme and spotless holiness of Christ who is the Body’s Head, our own feeble essays in holiness are clothed with a glory and stamped with a value of which in isolation they would be utterly incapable’. Mascall goes on to quote Thomas Merton on the challenge to self-forgetfulness behind today’s Feast, a quotation which will be followed by a short time of reflection on the word of God.The saints are glad to be saints, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else’. 

Friday, 22 October 2021

Holy Trinity, Cuckfield eucharist ‘Narrow Door’ Luke 13:24, Romans 8


We’ve got a hard saying of Jesus in today’s Gospel from St Luke Chapter 13 verse 24: ‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed’.

I find the image of Christian commitment as a narrow door challenging. It seems to go against thinking in church circles that’s generous to outsiders. Whilst God’s love is immense and reaches out to everyone our response to that love has to be focused. 

Putting God’s kingdom first means a narrowing down, or cutting away of what’s superfluous in our lives. Speaking of a rich young man who declined to follow him Jesus spoke of something even narrower: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:25).

We need our desire for God enhanced and purified by the Holy Spirit so we can ‘enter by the narrow door’. Being a Christian is a discipline. Like a concert pianist devoted to improving her playing, believers are called to narrow down superfluous activities to prioritise worship, prayer, bible study, service and reflection.

G.K.Chesterton used Christ’s narrow door to explain to a non-Churchgoer how from outside the Church looks like an imposition that narrows our lives. 

Only when you pluck up faith to go through that narrow door do you find how spacious Christianity as you find ‘the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ spoken of in the eighth chapter of the letter to the Romans from where our first reading was taken.

If we are feeling something of a constraint in our lives that may be a sign of a God-given imposition we need to squeeze ourselves through for which he needs us to leave some unnecessary luggage behind.

Picture of Brydges Place off St Martin’s Lane, London’s narrowest alley coming down to 15 inches

Saturday, 9 October 2021

St Mary, Balcombe Trinity 19(28B) 10.10.21


‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him’ Mark 10:21

We are God's sons and daughters and we're going to God's glory. That's the wonderful truth of our faith. 

We come from him, we belong to him, we go to him. We are going forwards and we should ‘hold fast’ to our faith as today’s epistle from Hebrews warns, pressing forwards and not being dragged forwards.

The main incentive to this ‘pressing forward’ as Christians is surely the love and mercy of the Lord.

We need to keep before us his all seeing eye. He sees what we are and he sees what we will be. Yes, as Amos warns, the eye of God sees our shortcomings, but these are no obstacle to his desire for us to cooperate in growing into his design, which is ‘the measure of the fullness of the stature of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:13). We want more of God's vision of how things should be in our lives to dawn afresh upon us and this means searching the Scriptures which can ‘judge the thoughts and  intentions of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12). There is real power in this searching, power to shake off habitual sins and pessimism and see fresh dawning of God’s vision of how he wants us and how he wants the world.

Yet beyond the truth about us that he’s ready to reveal lies, as I say, his love and mercy towards us which, please God, we are called to capture in a more positive and relaxed attitude towards ourselves.

Someone once said "God picks his friends but he does not pick them to pieces". 

It balances that saying of St. Teresa of Avila, whose feast is on Friday, when her horse threw her in the mud, ‘God, if that's how you treat your friends, it's not surprising you have so few’.

If you feel God is picking at you at this time it will be for a purpose and never destructive of your soul. Let the Lord speak as you examine yourself in his light, always remembering that you are already 100% his child and He is 100% your Father waiting to draw you into what is to be yours as his beloved daughter or son.

The same Teresa of Avila taught people to pray in this way. ‘Imagine’, she said, ‘that you see Jesus standing before you. He is looking at you lovingly and humbly. Prayer comes as you notice he is looking at you lovingly and humbly’. This insight comes from today’s Gospel which shows Our Lord’s look of love towards the rich young man.

Not only, says Teresa, does God look upon us with love, he looks upon us humbly. That means he thinks of himself as less than us

Jesus our Lord and God bows down before us as he bowed before his first disciples to wash their feet.

Can there be any more wonderful or encouraging thing in the world than knowing Jesus loves me?

The miracle is this - God loves me even before I do what pleases him. I may love for what I can get out of people but he loves for what he can put in - pure, gracious, generous love!

Love that deals with me according to my needs and not according to my deserts!

Isn’t that true of the way we relate to our own children? I love my sons even when what they do isn’t pleasing to me. Why should that be less true of God my Father’s love for me? Rather it is a million times more true of him!

Now there are times when our children try to teach us something in the way children do. St. Peter was like that with Our Lord when he insisted on washing the Lord’s feet, refusing to allow Jesus to wash his own. ‘Peter!’ The Lord said, ‘If I do not do this, and if you will not let me do it, you have no part in me!’. 

Could it be that Our Lord is challenging you and I this morning as a good parent challenges an overconfident child and says, ‘No - let me go first’? In other words recognise my love for you comes first in all you do. Nothing you do can earn that love. Nothing can remove it either - but things you do can hide it from your perception.

God wants us put in our place. He wants that so he can love and serve us effectively. This is so because only as the truth ‘God loves me’ enters deep into my being can I have the sort of security that removes the burdens and pressures of earthly life.

I end with a famous quotation from the great 18th Century Anglican Teacher, William Law. In his book ‘A Serious Call to the Devout Life’ he writes: ‘Would you know the blessing of all blessings? It is this God of Love dwelling in your soul, and killing every root of bitterness, which is the pain and torment of every earthly, selfish love. For all wants are satisfied, all disorders of nature are removed, no life is any longer a burden, every day is a day of peace, everything you meet becomes a help to you, because everything you see or do is all done in the sweet, gentle element of love.’ 

‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him.’ Mark 10:21  ‘Let us therefore approach (him) with boldness (to) receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ Hebrews 4:1