Sunday, 25 September 2022

Trinity 15 (26C) Dives & Lazarus St Richard, Haywards Heath 25.9.22

‘May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’ was King Charles’s last word and prayer for his mother our late Queen Elizabeth. The phrase from Hamlet is borrowed by Shakespeare from the age old Christian funeral liturgy

‘May holy angels lead you into paradise; may they receive you and with Lazarus, once poor, may you have eternal rest’.

Those beautiful words, used at the procession of a coffin out of Church, capture movement of the soul from earth to heaven parallel to the carriage of the body to earth. They are built from today’s Gospel of Dives and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31 and they provide opportunity for reflection on our ultimate destiny as believers. 

In the Gregorian chant for this closing rite of Requiem Mass the melodic highpoint comes on the name of Lazarus, the poor beggar in Our Lord’s parable. The musical lifting is a pointer to the poor man’s lifting, Lazarus ‘was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham’.

In today’s parable Our Lord takes an age old story of the reversal of riches and poverty in the afterlife to challenge ‘those among the Pharisees who loved money’ reminding us how those who care nothing for those less fortunate than themselves will receive harsh judgement from God in the life to come.

It’s an uncomfortable piece of scripture underlined by today’s first reading from Amos challenging those who lounge in luxury. I remember Cardinal Hume saying after visiting famine victims in Ethiopia how today’s Gospel haunted him more than any other passage in the Bible. It’s hard to shake off its force. Given our knowledge through the media of needs in Pakistan and elsewhere are we not like Dives - Latin for the money-loving man in the story - unless we give at times to help relief of the destitute?

With that thought let’s change gear to look at the Church’s teaching on the afterlife, something I’ve been treating in my Premier Christian Radio series build from my book ‘Pointers to Heaven’ (show). A passage like today’s Gospel has a prime place in funeral liturgy but its imagery needs unpacking to unveil ‘the life of the world to come’. 

Such an unveiling happened to me personally fifty two years ago on Michaelmas Day 29th September 1970.  I was just 21 then and was travelling on my Lambretta from Harwell, where I’d completed some neutron scattering on a polymer specimen, to Oxford. 

As I drove along the front tyre blew and despite repeated application of front and rear brakes the vehicle veered across the road into the path of a lorry. I said what I thought were my last prayers. Amazingly I passed just in front of the lorry landing on the kerb with a sprain to my thumb and shoulder and lived to tell the tale. Coming so close to death made for a fuller evaluation of the significance of my life. It contributed no doubt to a radical career switch a few years later from polymer scientist to parish priest.

My interrupted journey - it entailed a brief visit to hospital - pointed me beyond my own pursuit of truth as a scientist to Truth’s pursuit of me. Heaven came close. It  became more real to me, especially as the accident occurred on 29th September, Feast of St Michael and All Angels. As for many, God became real to me not through thinking or feeling but through circumstances that stopped me literally in my tracks. It was natural to interpret my survival to divine intervention through an angel steering my scooter a shade. I lived on, and continue to live on, aware of an unseen realm, how it pierces through on occasion into our life experience, especially at Holy Mass, and will accompany us as we look to the Lord on the day of our death.

‘May the angels lead you into paradise; may they… receive you and with Lazarus, once poor, may you have eternal rest’.

A few thoughts to conclude on the Christian doctrine of judgement.

Christian tradition distinguishes an individual judgement at the moment of death and a general judgement which completes God’s righteous task at the Lord’s return when the dead are raised in body as well as soul. After death scripture speaks of two ultimate destinies, heaven and hell, although there is a qualification that no one dying with unrepented sin can face the Lord without cleansing, since no unclean thing shall enter his presence as stated in Revelation 21v27. This is the origin of the doctrine of purgatory which speaks of the need for the faithful departed to be purged or cleansed of residual sin to come close to God. 

Our minds argue against judgement because they think they know best.  Actually God knows best in the end.  When we look into the eyes of Christ at his return there will be pain, but an ‘if the cap fits, wear it’ sort of pain. Purgatorial pain may be as short as that. Our wrong actions affront God in his holiness but he has given us a remedy in repentance. Hell, refusal to face God, will be our choice. As the video of my life is prepared for showing on judgement day Christ has power to edit out the unacceptable points if I give them to him. Mercy triumphs over judgement when we repent and allow Christ a place in our hearts! 

‘There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ we read in Romans 8v1. God looks on those who are in Christ with the same love with which he looks upon his Son. Judgement has in a profound sense been passed already for those who have accepted God’s judgement on their lives. To accept one’s sinfulness and inadequacy is in the Christian tradition the pathway to joyful freedom. Such acceptance springs from the vision of God given in Jesus Christ we celebrate at every Mass, vision of a God of majesty, yes, but also a God more concerned to give us what we need than to give us what we deserve.

To believe in Jesus Christ who ‘will come to judge the living and the dead’ is therefore to face the future with an infectious hope. If faith shows you that the whole world is in God’s hands so is its future. 

Christianity provides a deep sense of certainty that any perceived triumph of evil will be seen ultimately as an illusion. All will come right in the end because in the end there will be the grace and truth of Jesus Christ (John 1v14, 17). 

Ultimately there will be grace – mercy - for repentant sinners and truth to prevail over all who live and act deluded by falsehood.

‘May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’ is an aspiration drawn from today’s Gospel suited to Lazarus and to our late Queen Elizabeth whose Christian faith coloured the superb Anglican liturgy the nation shared on Monday. Like her, may we live watchful of our thoughts, words and deeds, accountable to God day by day until the hour our guardian angels come to carry us home.

I conclude with John Donne’s prayer used at the Queen’s funeral which implies the angels’ help bringing us to God after death: ‘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 majesty and glory, world without end. Amen.’

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

St Richard, Haywards Heath Feast of St Matthew 21 September 2022

Our calling as Christians links to recognising our need of grace, and this reality is well served by reflecting upon today’s Saint. 

Like us Matthew had a calling. Like us, or maybe more than us, he knew his need of mercy. They complained when Our Lord, having called him, went to his home.

The Lord’s reaction was very direct: What I want is mercy… I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners.

The Feast of St Matthew reminds us how in his mercy Our Lord assumes and brings out the best in people including ourselves, miserable sinners that we are. 

As we look up to him we are uplifted ourselves, especially at the Eucharist, as we see his loving gaze down on us extending beyond the walls of the Church towards those in our town, in our circle and on our hearts.

As we receive Holy Communion it is as if Our Lord takes us and draws us out with himself to best serve others. 

What better service could we give them than to share how he has enriched us by enfolding us in his mercy so we don’t stand worthy as Christians but as women and men who have found the forgiveness which makes us acceptable to God.

In contemplative prayer especially we recognise the look of love God bestows upon us. In Matthew’s case that recognition came with Our Lord’s word of invitation ‘Follow me’. There is no word of God without power.

I read how Pope Francis first felt God’s call to become a priest and a religious confessing his sins at 17 after hearing today’s Gospel. I’ll leave you with a thought from him for us to savour for a minute or two before the prayers:

Jesus’ gaze always lifts us up. It is a look that always lifts us up...never lets us down… It invites us to get up… to move forward. To gaze makes you feel that he loves you. This gives the courage to follow him.


Lord you looked upon and called Matthew to be your apostle and evangelist. Look upon us all as with deep thanksgiving we contemplate you and your call to serve others. 

Bless all who serve as prayer guides and spiritual directors, especially the priests of this parish and Fr David as he prepares to come among us. May we know the day by day anointing of your Spirit.

You called Matthew to serve your good news at the cost of his life. Raise up evangelists in this our generation. May we ourselves find fresh courage to witness to your love for all.

May your Sacrifice, O Christ, pleaded at the eucharist, making our peace with you advance the peace and salvation of all the world. We pray for the needs of this and every nation.

We lift to you those on the sick list of this parish and all whose needs we carry on our own hearts… In union with Our Lady, St Matthew and St Richard we lift to you those on our parish list of departed.

Lord Jesus Christ, you changed Matthew’s life by the Good News you entrusted to him. May we also welcome the Gospel into the depth of our hearts, live it in faith and hand it on in love through the same Christ our Lord.


Monday, 19 September 2022

St Richard, Haywards Heath Requiem for Queen Elizabeth II on the day of her funeral 19 Sept 2022


With our town and nation and the worldwide Christian community we offer Mass for our beloved Queen, complementing the service for her in Westminster Abbey this morning and her burial rite at Windsor Castle this evening. Our prayers extend to her, the Royal Family and all bereaved at her passing. The Queen’s life framed our years. In her passing we sense as believers the intersection of time with eternity for at death Christian ‘life is changed, not taken away; and when our mortal flesh is laid aside an everlasting dwelling place is made ready for us in heaven’. We begin Mass, grateful for the Queen’s own witness, by calling to mind our failure to witness ourselves to the risen Lord Jesus who is our hope of rest and resurrection.


Today we bury the Queen. We do so at the end of ten tumultuous days of mourning and accession which Anne and I have been privileged to be part of through attending her lying in state on Thursday and through standing beside the Mayor at the acclamation of her son as King days before.

In the first reading from 1 Corinthians Paul outlines Christ’s own burial as a key component of the good news of Christianity. Christ died, he was buried, he was raised, he will return. 

That firstly he died for our sins is opened up by the prophet Isaiah and stated in the Nicene Creed where we say ‘he was crucified for us under Pontus Pilate, suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day’. 

That Christ was secondly buried makes an emphasis upon his death. This is the final stage of death as will be illustrated this evening as media shift focus to the crypt of St George’s Chapel and the Queen’s body being buried alongside that of Prince Philip. They will lie, as the dead lie, awaiting Christ’s return and judgement, fourth component of our good news, but as Christians, knowing the key third component resurrection appearances of Our Lord which anticipate that day and that ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1)

On Thursday Anne and I were fortunate through her disability to have a short wait of a few hours away from Westminster before attending the Queen’s lying in state. We went to Buckingham Palace to view the floral tributes. As we walked over the bridge in St James’ Park we were struck by a bright ray of sunshine bursting through dark clouds onto Buckingham Palace with its flag at half mast in mourning. That glorious sight anticipated the sight later on in Westminster Hall of the Queen’s coffin radiant with crown, orb and sceptre on the bright standard alongside the gleaming cross. 

Today we bury the Queen. We do so sharing her faith in Christ who died, was buried, gloriously raised and will return to gather the living and the dead into his kingdom. That kingdom she served we continue to build on earth, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. This morning her coffin will lie before the altar where she was crowned in Westminster Abbey. Over that altar there is this scripture written: ‘The kingdom of this world is to become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ’ (Revelation 11:15b)

So be it - Amen, Amen!


Eternal God, our heavenly Father, we bless your holy name for all that you have given us in and through the life of your servant Queen Elizabeth.

We give you thanks: for her love of family and her gift of friendship; for her devotion to this nation and the nations of the Commonwealth; for her grace, dignity and courtesy; and for her generosity and love of life.

We praise you for: the courage that she showed in testing times; the depth and of her Christian faith; and the witness she bore to it in word and deed.

We pray for our Sovereign Lord the King and all the Royal Family, that you might reassure them of your continuing love and lift them from the depths of grief into the peace and light of your presence.

Other prayers may be added.

Priest: Eternal rest grant unto Queen Elizabeth, O Lord

All:  and let light perpetual shine upon her

All: ​God of mercy, entrusting into your hands all that you have made and rejoicing in our communion with all your faithful people, we make our prayers through Christ our Saviour. Amen 

Sunday, 18 September 2022

St Bartholomew, Brighton Trinity 14 (25th of Year) 18th September 2022

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone [especially] for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 

What an appropriately royalist text for a weekend such as this with the acclamation of King Charles III, begging our prayers for the established order as if those in authority were God's appointees and beyond challenge! It may be - and our Republican friends remind us - it may be that the Holy Spirit is also at work challenging the powers that be and how they are organised, which is why scripture contains elsewhere prophecy speaking truth to power. Ironically King Charles is I believe likely to speak truth to the less ceremonial powers in a constitutional monarchy namely the prime minister and her government. We shall see - but our second reading addresses the transition we are about as a nation and the need for our prayers to be redoubled. God save the King!

So far so good on the readings. The untroubling second reading from Paul’s letter to Timothy contrasts with the other two readings that are very much sent to trouble us. We all need shock treatment from time to time. It's a way of getting our attention when we're deluded or distracted. Our Lord has a gift of shocking our complacency that the scriptures hand straight on to us without spin. Take that shocking Gospel reading. Did we hear the Son of God who is truth commend dishonesty? Or that sock-it-to-them passage from Amos hitting hard at injustice?

Sometimes we're made to wake up, sit up and listen. Today's readings are shock treatment. You could argue they don't need a sermon - save in the case of the last reading, an explanation - so that my task this morning is to give some forward lines once we get our breath back from the hefty challenges they give without mincing words.

Before I go further, then, some explanation of the Gospel: The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness. For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light. And so I tell you this: use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity. 

What did Jesus mean? Some suggestions from scholars, and I warn you, I’m going with the most shocking!

Theory 1: the point of the parable is not the steward's dishonesty, but his wise decision-making in the time of crisis. He’s an example of decisive thinking and action to save yourself which the coming of Jesus invites.

Theory 2: the steward, as a man of the world, is an example of diligence? What if we had the same diligence about God’s kingdom as we do towards our work or hobbies? 

Theory 3: the steward was acting within his legal rights reducing the debts as he did. Maybe Luke 16 is a parable against excessive profits, the same kind of judgment uttered by Amos in the first Lesson (Amos 8:4-7).  That’s also one of the most shocking passage in the Bible Listen to this, you who trample on the needy and try to suppress the poor people of the country… by swindling and tampering with the scales… buying up the poor for money, and the needy for a pair of sandals… The Lord swears… Never will I forget a single thing you have done. 

Shocking stuff, which is why Christians have always been concerned about public finances having a bias, as God does, to the poor. There’s as much about wrong use of money as wrong use of sex in the Bible and the Church forgets that at her peril.

Theory 4 is my favourite though. It runs like this. Our Lord knew his commending of this servant for such unjust behaviour is so absurd no one would believe it. How ridiculous to commend a cheater who expects to be commended for his dishonest actions. Understood this way, Jesus is here attacking the Pharisees who made a big show of giving a little money to the poor. 

I can’t imagine Jesus teaching without humour. His gift or mocking irony is so pointed it would always bring people up short, touch their hearts and loosen emotion into laughter. In this case laughter directed against those claiming to be religious who are in fact self-serving cheats.

Enough on the first and last reading – make of them what  you will, however the Holy Spirit impacts you – now back again to the second half of that second reading. It shocks in a more subtle way. Today’s scripture might shock and trouble us if we’re guilty of injustice, financial dishonesty, hypocrisy, giving little to the needy or cynical rather than prayerful about the arrival of King Charles. Most shocking for me in today’s scripture are these verses reminding us of what is actually the most important thing in the world though as believers we let it slip from being most important. God our Saviour… wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and humankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all. 

It is profoundly shocking that God loves us all – that God loves you and me through and through – and that knowing our need he should come among us to demonstrate it for all time in the sacrificial gift of Jesus. 

God loves us all and desires all to be saved, but he knows we’re guilty of injustice, cheating, hypocrisy and narrow attitudes about the way things are. He knows our sins make us incapable of union with himself - for a holy God can have no fellowship with evil. God therefore has provided the loving remedy, giving his Son as a ransom for all.

We all need shock treatment from time to time. We need shocking out of selfish concerns and many delusions and distractions into seeing afresh the profound truth of Christianity.

The body of Christ. Amen.  The blood of Christ. Amen

This morning’s scripture awakens us to human failing but it does so with a reminder of how awesome this service is. We have sin in our lives but we also have Christ in our lives, mediator between God and humankind.. himself human, who sacrificed himself a ransom for all.

There is nothing we can do – however base or despicable – that can make him love us less. There is nothing we can do – however noble or selfless – that can make him love us more. 

That’s a shocking yet affirming thought and it’s the main thing of Christianity we’ve got to keep the main thing, though it means fighting off oh-so- plausible distractions!  Let’s pause to see what the Holy Spirit is saying to us individually through the scripture passages and what has been said about them.

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

St Richard, Haywards Heath Feast of the Holy Cross 14th September 2022

Today is kept as the Patronal Feast of the Society of the Holy Cross to which Fr Chris, and Fr David and Fr Ian before him belong as do Fr Gordon and Fr Clay as well as Fr David King our parish priest designate.  

In a profound sense though all Christians are part of such a Society. We come together this evening as a community defined as a society of the holy cross.

In words from a passiontide hymn: The Cross! It takes our guilt away; it holds the fainting spirit up; it cheers with hope the gloomy day, and sweetens every bitter cup.

Jesus crucified is in our midst – the source of forgiveness, upholding, good cheer and transformation that the hymn speaks of. We are the dying and rising people of a dying and rising Lord.

“J shaped people” as someone put it – and if you see a J as an “I” pushed down ready to spring up you’ll get the idea of that. To live as a Christian is to live with the sanctification of passion, of pain and suffering. You can’t put a Christian down because the things that bring people down are endured with Jesus who cheers with hope the gloomy day, and sweetens every bitter cup.

The making of a woman or man is suffering and how we bear it. Is it taken fearfully or as part of sanctification? The Cross makes the coward spirit brave, and nerves the feeble arm for fight; It takes its terror from the grave, and gilds the bed of death with light.

What a fruitful thing it is to be one with Jesus crucified who promises Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). It’s a countercultural thing to be one with Jesus who is one with suffering humanity but it is also something freeing since by his cross he lifts our burdens day by day!

Holy Cross Day celebrates the symbol of our faith. It is a reminder to honour that symbol by living it as a society that’s one with the holy cross. One with Jesus crucified and risen. The history of this Feast is associated with the establishment of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine. It was his mother, Helena that uncovered the True Cross and lifted it up for the veneration of the faithful.

So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life we heard in the gospel (John 3v14-15). 

To live as the church is to live as the society that lifts up Jesus: in his word, in the Blessed Sacrament and in the hearts of all his faithful people. In the eucharist we lift up the consecrated Bread and Wine and we lift up the Gospel book. Such liftings place us with Mary and John looking up from the foot of the Cross to the breadth and length and height and depth and … the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3v18b).

The church as the society of the holy cross is also the society of the resurrection for the two cannot be separated. “J shaped people” with the “I” pushed down ready to spring up as surely as Christ is risen! For if we have been united with Jesus in a death like his Paul writes to the Romans (6v5, 8) we will certainly be united in a resurrection like his…if we have died with Christ we believe we will also live with him. 

My friends, sisters - and brothers - of the society of the holy cross Jesus does not ask us more than to come close to him in his passion so that our service of and our dependence on others becomes invested with his presence, the presence that draws the whole world. 

Into that presence we now enter in this Holy Mass.

Sunday, 11 September 2022

St Mary, Balcombe Queen’s Requiem 11.9.22


We come to Church this morning in sorrow at the passing of Queen Elizabeth. 

We come thankful to God for a lifetime of service and a reign that framed our lives. 

We bow our heads at her memory and lift them to pray ‘God save the King!’

As we follow the Requiem Eucharist, authorised by the Archbishops, for our late Queen, we begin by calling to mind our failings in thought, word, deed and omission seeking forgiveness from the Lord who is Elizabeth’s and ours.


The choice of Lamentations Chapter 3 and John Chapter 6 for this unique Eucharist expresses grief alongside the consolation of faith we are granted as Christians who share this morning the holy bread of eternal life. 

‘Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love’ we heard from the book of Lamentations. ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry’ we heard from St John’s Gospel. 

We feel grief akin to losing a mother - Elizabeth was the nation’s mother for 70 years - and we bow our heads before God. The same lady, supreme governor of the Church of England, lived, as many of us live, hungry for God with hunger satisfied weekly by the bread of life. We bow our heads in grief but lift them to the Lord this morning as we receive Holy Communion or a blessing. 

Today all are welcome at the altar as we seek consolation from God who took Elizabeth, graciously and gently in her 96th year, to himself and to union in Christ with her beloved Philip. May they rest in peace and rise in glory!

Today we give thanks for Queen Elizabeth, mindful of both her example of service and her strong Christian faith. Well aware of the fame she had throughout her life she made this observation: ‘Jesus Christ lived obscurely for most of his life. . . He was maligned and rejected by many, though he had done no wrong. And yet, billions of people now follow his teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them’.

Responding to the news of the Queen’s death at Balmoral on Thursday the Archbishop of Canterbury said these words: ‘As a faithful Christian disciple, and also Supreme Governor of the Church of England, she lived out her faith every day of her life. Her trust in God and profound love for God was foundational in how she led her life – hour by hour, day by day’.

Our Bishop, Fr Martin Warner, wrote this: ‘Thanks be to God for the life of his servant, Queen Elizabeth II. Her death is a moment of bereavement for the whole nation, and for the Commonwealth.  She will remain in our hearts and minds as an exceptional example of public duty and commitment to her high calling, carried out with unswerving faith in God. Let us come together as a nation to mark her death with dignity and pride. Our prayers are with those who have been close to her in the service of the crown over many years, together with all the members of the Royal Family as we pray for the new Sovereign, King Charles III’.

So indeed we come together as a nation and gather here from this village, ‘to mark her death with dignity and pride’. I wish to thank on our behalf those at St Mary’s who dropped everything these last three days to prepare this service so we can gather with solemnity to pray rest for the Queen’s soul, express thanksgiving for her life of service and salute our Sovereign Lord, King Charles as he begins his reign.

As I reflected further on today’s set readings and the character of the Queen, the verses that leapt out at me were Lamentations 3:25-6 ‘The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord’. There’s been an enigmatic silence about Queen Elizabeth. This has been prudent, yes, because some of the things about her - all the privilege - and that have occurred around her - Margaret, Diana, Andrew, Harry, Meghan and so on - have been hard for her to address. A prudent silence, undoubtedly,  but also a courageous silence, holding back from putting the record straight. Waiting, silence, looking to God to be your ultimate champion, knowing when to speak and when not to speak are virtues we should covet in a world so ready to speak and speak and speak - given the extraordinary expansion of the media over her lifetime. Such humble silences have been at the heart of our late Queen’s character, a capacity to submit the pains and humiliations of life to God without complaint. As a prayer of Eric Milner-White expresses it to God: ‘Pains... become pure grace of thy giving if offered up in prayer and shouldered to thy praise’. We deceive ourselves if we think we can serve without the self denial represented by eating our words many a time. Taking up the Cross is a shouldering of little humiliations given us by life so they break the ego’s shackle around us and help incorporate us into God’s own mercifulness as we pray for the people linked to our hour by hour frustrations. 

This now is our prayer, as, with sorrow and thanksgiving, we come to God in this historic Requiem for Queen Elizabeth.  ‘Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love… I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry’. As we reflect upon this scripture we bring Mozart to our aid as we pray for Elizabeth the Ave Verum: ‘Hail, true body, born of the Virgin Mary, who truly suffered, sacrificed on the Cross for us, whose pierced side overflowed with water and blood, be for us [and for her] a foretaste in the test of death’.

Sunday, 4 September 2022

St Bartholomew, Brighton Trinity 12 (23rd of Year) 4th September 2022

Who’d be a preacher?

We have to set forth God’s truth without making it an obstacle to good living and call for love of the truth that’s wholly practical.

Christianity’s a matter of principle – we need these principles stating and restating - but it’s tailored to people, and people fall short in their allegiance to principle.

Those verses in the Gospel shook me up. 

If anyone comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. 

Following God means surrendering your whole life to him.

We’re here this morning to give an hour of our life, Jesus’ hour, for him to impact and take hold of us afresh in word and sacrament and Christian fellowship. We can’t underestimate the value of Sunday obligation. For many of you, all of you hopefully, this morning’s attendance has been a victory, a going out of your way to synchronise a variety of commitments to honour God as the Lord of your life by coming to Church this morning.

You’re here to be one with the Lord’s people, on the Lord’s day, in the Lord’s house and round the Lord’s table. Alleluia!

You’ll leave hopefully with more of a taste for Jesus Christ, more set to face the cost of being his disciple and more attentive to what he has for you in the coming week. 

Following God means surrendering your whole life to him.

Saying our prayers, coming to Church, reading our Bibles, serving our neighbour and reflecting upon our need for God are expressions of that commitment. Our stewardship campaign is a reminder of the financial contribution we make to pay for our priests.

Melvyn Bragg once asked Rowan Williams what God meant to him. Here’s the answer he gave: God is first and foremost that depth around all things and beyond all things into which, when I pray, I try to sink. But God is also the activity that comes to me out of that depth, tells me I’m loved, that opens up a future for me, that offers transformation I can’t imagine. Very much a mystery but also very much a presence. Very much a person.

To commit to God as a Christian is to commit trustfully to the eternal God as the depth beyond all things, to see the world as no longer a flat surface but to descend to the heart of things and be impacted. To be caught up into something utterly mysterious and countercultural. 

The second reading touches on this, where Paul commends the runaway slave Onesimus he’d helped to faith back to his master Philemon. Onesimus had found these depths, that transcend the way the world is, in the person of Jesus. Now, as Paul insists, his being a slave or a slave owner is a lesser point, but not so much less that Onesimus shouldn’t return to Philemon, the master he ran away from. Paul’s letter survives, shortest in the Bible, to affirm among other things how in the depth of things there’s no hierarchy of power. 

Following God means surrendering your whole life to him.

Once we’re surrendered we are, in baptism, made equal to one another in a new way of living that’s no longer two dimensional and superficial but one that’s surrendered to God as ground of our being. The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms we read in Deuteronomy 33:27.

Christian belief isn’t something cerebral, contrary to those thinking you build belief or disbelief by argument. It’s whole life surrender. It’s not a matter of thinking your way into a new way of living but living your way into a new way of thinking. 

Faith’s the act of the whole of our being. Doubt by contrast is a partial business employing that part of the mind that questions what we’re about and what it's right to think. This questioning is set for Christians within the wholehearted surrender of faith. We believe in the resurrection not with our minds but as we live out the death of the old self so the Holy Spirit can bring us new life through the agency of faith. We believe in the Cross as we make sense of suffering with the assurance that not all that happens is determined by God's plan but that all that happens is encompassed by his love. 

We are loved by almighty love and we are loved for ever, that is the reality Christian faith sees for sure. Paul knew Philemon knew this when he wrote in the verse before today’s passage I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. 

Could that be said of me, of you? Would it were so!

In his book God is no thing Rupert Short, religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement, reflects upon how many believing artists and writers in the UK are advised to conceal their faith if they want a following. Such is our local scenario in which secular humanism predominates the world of ideas with pretended neutrality. Meanwhile secularism is losing ground worldwide with three quarters of humanity professing a religious faith, said to be heading for 80% by 2050. The world over people evidently see in Christianity a vitality and coherence that is being lost or obscured in our own culture. Reading Shortt was a real tonic. Here is his summary of how he sees what we’re about: Christianity - at its centre, the story of love’s mending of wounded hearts - forms a potent resource for making sense of our existence. It provides the strongest available underpinning for values including the sanctity of life, the dignity of the individual, and human responsibility for the environment.

I like that phrase love’s mending of wounded hearts as a description of the dynamic of faith. It’s a long way from that over hasty perception of religion as a bully. Shortt sees the problem for religion and secularism as the tendency to bully rather than reason with one another. 

Following God means surrendering your whole life to him.

I can’t escape as preacher underlining that Christian basic this morning, praying it will touch our hearts and enlist them in mending the wounded hearts in our own circle. The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms…. God is also the activity that comes to me out of [the] depth, tells me I’m loved, that opens up a future for me, that offers transformation I can’t imagine. 

That transformation isn’t just for you but, like Philemon, for all in your orbit. May this Mass fill you with the joy and encouragement that filled him to overflow, so that you can more fully love God and make him loved in the networks you’re part of!