Wednesday, 27 April 2022

St Wilfrid, Haywards Heath & St Bartholomew, Brighton Wed 27 April 2022

‘Look to the Lord and be radiant’ our Psalm invites (Psalm 34:5). For ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life’ (John 3:16) The Gospel passage from John 3:16 explains the origin of Christian radiance. 

To believe is to look to the Lord and welcome the radiance Paul calls ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6)

‘The light has come into the world’ we read in today’s Gospel. Not a blinding light but one we can be bathed in through belief in Christ - or lose through turning ourselves away from the revelation of God in Jesus. It's a choice - once you see it - like the famous choice of prisoners: ‘Two men looked through prison bars, one saw mud and one saw stars’. Our choice, that of Christian faith, is to look up to the risen Lord and welcome his radiance! (Visual by Coaching 4 Life Ltd)

Easter season is a time for refreshing our gaze upon the Lord who lovingly shines upon us in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. His gaze towards us, with which we can engage day by day in prayer and sacrament, is a healing ray. It reaches into our cold heartedness as microwaves reach into frozen food. We need not avert his gaze, but confessing our unworthiness, hold ourselves to God with humility and determination.

God’s love spoken of in today’s Gospel is to be welcomed by each and every one of us. It is more than benevolence or good will but a reality linked to our coming into existence which would lay hold of us to bring us to our destiny with all the saints.  

I come from God. I belong to God. I go to God. The Lord is my first beginning and my final end. This is the Christian revelation shown to us in the dying and rising of Jesus through which his Spirit is poured into hearts that welcome his love and leading.

How much we need that love! CS Lewis writes: ‘Our whole being… is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out to him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose’.

‘By love God is caught and held, by thinking never’ we read in the 14th century mystical book Cloud of Unknowing. When you pray, wrote 16th century Saint Teresa of Avila, be still and let God love you. See his smile and it will generate your own smile. God loves you with an enormous love and wants to look upon you with that same, generous love whilst awaiting your engagement.

‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life’. At the eucharist we repeatedly make a choice, an act of faith in our prayer, to take him at his word, look to him and welcome the radiance of Jesus in word and sacrament. So be it!


Sunday, 24 April 2022

St John, Burgess Hill Easter 2 Hope 24th April 2022

There’s a lot around to trouble us. Warfare in Europe we never imagined would return to our continent. COVID hitting more widely now though mercifully in a less deadly fashion. The rise in energy costs and the associated fall in living standards linked to it. These are three things that trouble almost everyone and they provoke a variety of responses including more talk about the essential meaning of life.

In the midst of widespread pessimism our religion shapes and gives meaning to our lives but some of our peers are saying ‘no wonder people turn to religion to escape this awful scenario’. The assumption widely held is that religious belief provides an escape from reality – and yet the realities we live through seem to demand such an escape, however irrational. Without faith people are entering deep pessimism as they face the troubles we all share at this season.  

What does Easter have to say to such pessimism? Is what I’m about as a Christian just otherworldly escapism? How does the Easter good news engage with the reality of human suffering and how can it best impact the loss of hope around us?

As I reflect with you on this Octave Day of the Easter Feast I look back eight days to our blessing of the Paschal Candle when five pins were stuck in it to represent the wounds of Christ, commemorating today’s Gospel reading. Jesus said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.' Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!'

How did Our Lord deal with Thomas’ pessimism? He pointed him to those very same wounds the Risen Christ carried from his crucifixion. In other words ‘you can be sure it is I, Thomas, and you can lay hold of sure and certain hope in the face of all in your world that would confound you’.

As Peter and the apostles answered the high priest in our first reading from Acts Chapter 5: The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. The Jesus raised up at Easter is the same Jesus killed by hanging … on a tree in other words the Cross. That’s why the Church decorates, if that is the right word, its Easter candle symbol with the wounds. As the priest says piercing the candle with the five studs at the Easter Vigil: By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ our Lord guard and keep us. 

The Paschal Candle is a triumphant witness, standing tall, that says God is above death. It also reminds us he’s not above suffering. That is so very, very important to us as witnesses to Christ in a world that’s losing hope. God, the God and Father of Jesus, expects nothing of us he’s not prepared to go through himself. This is the main ground of hope we cling to as Christians, a hope that isn’t just out of this world - though the resurrection is all of that - but a hope rooted in human reality. What I am about as a Christian IS an engagement with otherworldly consolation, it’s absolutely true. Christianity is a metaphysical religion, it’s beyond (meta) the physical because of Christ’s resurrection. Yet it’s rooted in the most basic and painful human reality.

God revealed the resurrection by sending his Son to die for us. The five wounds of Christ on his arms, legs and side are the great symbol of this and as such they engage with our sorrows for he is and he remains for us as Isaiah prophesied a man of sorrows acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53v3). 

If I am talking about Christian hope this morning I am talking not about a shallow optimism but resurrection faith firmly rooted in Christ as the suffering Saviour from all eternity. Second century Bishop Melito of Sardis in an Easter sermon wrote of how Christ’s sufferings should be seen in the suffering of holy people right back through the Old Testament: He is the Passover of our salvation. He was present in many so as to endure many things. In Abel he was slain; in Isaac bound; in Jacob a stranger; in Joseph sold; in Moses exposed; in David persecuted; in the prophets dishonoured. He became incarnate of the Virgin…buried in the earth, but he rose from the dead, and was lifted up to the height of heaven. He is the silent lamb, the slain lamb, who was born of Mary the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock and dragged away to slaughter.  

In Christ’s sufferings we see human suffering in a new light. I can’t speak too well myself, my sufferings have been slight, but I’ve been close to women and men of God who say so, who say God in Christ comes close in suffering. I think of people I’ve visited in great pain telling me of the grace they’d experienced grasping a holding cross. I think of instances where my marking the cross in holy oil on the foreheads and palms of the sick, commemorating Christ’s wounds, lifts their spirits. PĆ©guy said a Christian is a sad man saved from despair by the Cross of Christ. 

In the book of Revelation we read of how grace… and peace come from Jesus Christ… the firstborn of the dead, who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood. St John goes on to predict the risen Christ’s return Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. The wounds of Christ are source of hope to believers, though they will be troublesome to those who pierced him and that includes you and I through unrepented sins

Easter is incomplete until the Lord’s Return. Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn Lo he comes enters imaginatively into the sight of the risen Christ coming to be judge of the world:

Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears; 
cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshipers; 
with what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars!

Indeed it will be, and that is our sure and certain hope, which should help us bring all pessimists to Christ’s Cross. 

We Christians are saddened by suffering but our sadness is saved from despair by that very Cross and by the out of this world resurrection truth we’re celebrating in these great days of Eastertide which will be fully revealed at the Lord’s return! 

Alleluia Christ is risen - he is risen indeed, alleluia!

Sunday, 10 April 2022

St Mary, Balcombe Palm Sunday 10 April 2022


Why did Jesus die?

The Creed answers he was crucified for us.

It does so after it names Jesus God from God, light from light, true God from true God.

The link between Jesus in April 33AD and us in April 2022AD is in the AD – anno Domino.

Because of who Jesus is as Lord what he suffered on Good Friday carries forward to all times in a way only God can achieve.

When these lowly hands take bread and wine in a moment, what Jesus did then will become a living reality for us now. 

This is the Church’s faith, that the death of Jesus impacts us today, but where is this impact on my life?

How you see Jesus is inseparable from how you see his death and what difference it makes for you.

There’s a plaque in Aldersgate near the Museum of London commemorating an event in the life of Methodist pioneer John Wesley. Wesley, an Anglican priest, had always said the Creed we say. To him though, Jesus as God from God, light from light, true God from true God was more known by his head than his heart

That evening of 24 May 1738 he reluctantly attended a Christian meeting at Aldersgate. There he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’ and received an assurance that the death of Jesus all those years ago was a gift of forgiveness and assurance for him personally. From that day he set off on an itinerant preaching ministry covering 20,000 miles a year which touched thousands of lives with the reality of Jesus Christ now alive in him. 

'Faith is the amen of the intelligence and the will to divine revelation.'

When we say the Creed or hear the annual account of Christ’s passion our ‘Amen’ is often more notional than passionate.

As educationalists say in their motto: We hear and forget, we see and remember, we do and we understand.

Hearing about the Cross, seeing the Cross, is nothing compared to acting upon it and the love that lies behind it.

For what Jesus has done for us in Holy Week to come real to us we need to put our lives on the line, to act as if he were alongside us still – then we understand. 

You see, we can hear about Jesus, we can even believe notionally - in our heads - that he is God incarnate - but it may make no difference to our lives.

I believe Mongolia is north of China but that belief makes very little difference to my life. I have prayed once or twice for Mongolia but I have never been there and have no friends from there.

Yet I believe also in the resurrection of the dead. I have not experienced that either, but it has come real to me through One whom I trust, who has himself experienced resurrection and who has promised me a share as well when I die!

It is the Jesus we are talking of who has promised me this!

'Christ is as great as your faith makes him' said the evangelist D.L.Moody.

Why did Jesus die?

He died for us, say the Bible and the Creed. When you approach the crucifixion with faith in Christ’s divinity you see it as an action demonstrating this truth, that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3.16

It is an awesome act of substitution in which Jesus dies in our place so as to live in our place. All that suffering just recounted in the passion account was borne by Jesus on your account and mine

The holiness of God, affronted by sin, demands a penalty which he himself provided. 

It is like the pauper woman in court charged with theft faced with a judge who sentences her to fine or imprisonment. She has no money for the fine so the judge sentences her to imprisonment. When the court finishes the judge goes and gives her the fine she can’t afford, satisfying both mercy and justice.

To believe in the crucifixion of Jesus is to commit to a God who loves us and who is holy, who reaches out to us in love even though we are sinners.  

In his holiness he cannot be reconciled to sin, but through the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross the horror of sin is overcome and we are credited with God’s own love and holiness.  

The power of evil over humankind is overcome by the Cross.  Only when we see that power being overcome in our own lives through it does the Cross make sense. When we find ourselves living more by faith in God than self-sufficiency, living more by submission to God than by self-will.

Through coming to the Cross we see benevolence flowing where there was self-seeking before and humility where there was cold self-righteousness.

Only when we see those sinful tendencies and find the merciful therapy of God in Jesus Christ can we know how wonderful a thing the Cross is, what awesome yet living and practical truth it contains. 

We know deep down how flawed our lives are but we hide that truth from others and even from ourselves. Just like when you’re preparing a meal like scrambled eggs, and a bad egg slips in to make the meal unacceptable for human consumption, the sin in our lives makes us unacceptable to a God who, in the words of the prophet Habakkuk, is too holy to behold evil. Yet Jesus died. By God’s Son going to his death and through death to resurrection we can call upon him in April 2022 to make our stinking lives fragrant and acceptable to God.

As St Paul writes in the first chapter of Ephesians God has made us acceptable in the beloved. By the death of his beloved Son God has made all who abide in Christ acceptable to himself. May that joy of seeing the barriers set up between ourselves and God lowered be ours this Holy Week. 

God seeks intimacy with us. To achieve this, in an awesome mechanism far beyond human understanding, Jesus was crucified for us. This is good news to all who will face both the truth of it and the truth about themselves as sinners in need of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.