Saturday, 9 September 2017

Trinity 13 (23rd of Year A) Presentation Church, Haywards Heath 10th September 2017

At my ordination as a priest 40 years ago the Bishop asked me this question in Sheffield Cathedral: Will you give your faithful diligence … to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded? I replied with the others: I will so do, by the help of the Lord.

This commitment came back to me as I looked through our readings for Trinity 13 with their focus on church discipline.  The reading from Ezekiel Chapter 33 reminds the prophet of his watchman role which connects with the gospel passage from Matthew 18 that provides instruction about correcting Church members.

The Anglican tradition emphasizes discipline alongside word and sacrament as foundational to church life. At their ordination, therefore, priests and bishops commit to teach, lead worship and pastor the flocks committed to them.

Among other words from the ordination service that stick with me – I read them every year before the renewal of priestly vows at the Chrism eucharist with the diocesan Bishop in Holy Week – are these: Have always… printed in your remembrance how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The Church and Congregation whom you must serve is his Spouse, and his Body. And if it shall happen the same Church, or any Member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue.

As we heard warning in the first reading to the sentinel priest Ezekiel, their blood I will require at your hand. Neglect of Christ’s flock purchased at the price of his own blood is as serious a thing as you can imagine.     It has made me as a priest more concerned to feed the sheep than entertain the goats! By that I mean this: we priests very easily get lost among non-churchgoers in our parishes to the exclusion of care for those who actually attend church and developing their gifts of praise and service.
It’s never been easy to live and teach Christianity, let alone to minister the discipline of Christ. I’ve done my best and continue to do so through writing and broadcasting. I was at Cuddesdon College yesterday contributing to the Oxford Diocesan Festival of Prayer sponsored by my commissioning publisher, the Bible Reading Fellowship in conjunction with two books I’ve published recently on the Jesus Prayer and on Christian Rule of Life. The last of the two I’ll drawing on now as I speak about our readings.

What is the discipline of Christ? How do I teach it?

Attend eucharist every Sunday wherever you are unless very seriously hindered. Pray every day. Read your bible. Serve the needy which includes giving your money to serve God’s work. Confess your sins.

These five Christian duties - worship, prayer, study, service and reflection - are the basic disciplines Christians are under. We need these disciplines. They’re paralleled by our Muslim sisters and brothers whose Five Pillars consist of knowing their creed,  praying five times each day, giving to the poor and needy, fasting during the month of Ramadan and making pilgrimage to Mecca.

Oh that you and I had the fervour and discipline of Islam!

Back to the scriptures! The Gospel reading makes clear that discipline in the Church isn’t just from the church pastor but fraternal, that is, carried out by church members to the benefit of each other
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. We are all involved in church discipline and not just the priest. He of course is under a special discipline himself being accountable to God through the Bishop. At the Presentation we also have a team sharing leadership and oversight of our congregation with Fr Ray and Fr David and their supporting priests.

If there are sick needing visiting, grieved needing counsel, church members who’ve fallen away or whatever we all share responsibility for them, according to the Gospel. However, according to the first reading and the ordination service, there is a special responsibility that lies with our priests and to a lesser extent lay leadership teams.

At my ordination the Bishop said these words from St John’s Gospel Chapter 20 echoed at the end of today’s Gospel from Matthew 18: Receive the holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Awesome words – what dignity, what responsibility! Also behind my preference to be called Father John, since to imagine John Twisleton could do what a priest does is fanciful and irreverent - I can change no bread and wine or penitent heart.

Please pray for us priests, for all who minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ. Pray that we may carry our office courageously, believe in our priesthood and love our people. May we truly believe Christ’s doctrine, enter more fully into the awe of the sacraments and live more fully under the discipline of Christ so we priests who minister in God’s temple…may say and sing with our lips [what] we believe in our hearts, and show [that faith] forth in our lives.

Today’s Gospel ends with a promise to all Christians which has echoes of the ordination rite. Our Lord says whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Where Christians are united, where they accept a mutual discipline of worship, prayer, study, sacrificial service and confession of sin, the Holy Spirit can come in power among them. Part of that unity is obedience to our leaders in all things lawful and honest, you to me and my fellow priests, we priests to the bishop and the bishop to God. As St Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

Indeed may peace be with us, respect for one another, priests and people, and agreement together in a common discipline so that where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, he may be among us.           We have heard his word and approach the sacrament but let’s now take a moment to think of and renew commitment to the five Christian  disciplines I mentioned:  Sunday worship, daily prayer, bible study, sacrificial service including giving our money to God’s work and reflection including confession of sin. Let’s pause for a minute and welcome any reminder the Lord has for us as individuals.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

St Bartholomew, Brighton Trinity 12 3rd September 2017 Romans 12.9-21

It is a very great privilege for me - I’m Canon John Twisleton - to be back with friends at St Bartholomew’s after my 8 years at St Giles, Horsted Keynes. Before that I served as Diocesan Mission & Renewal adviser when I had the joy of fostering the work of God in this parish.

Now I’m living in Haywards Heath I’ve got the best of both worlds. I have the great choices of going up to Brighton inland (they call it London) or travelling down to London-by the sea!

This morning I exercised another choice celebrants at Bart’s are given between having the Old Testament or New Testament reading before the Gospel. That wasn’t a hard choice since my favourite book of the Bible is the letter of St. Paul to the Romans we’ve been following as an option on Sundays for a month or two.

Why is Romans so exciting and important? I think because, unlike other apostolic letters, you find the whole gospel within it, both in principle and in application.

You start in chapters 1 to 3 with the downward spiral of the human condition and its crying out for salvation summarised by Paul later on as I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (7:19). You then move on in Chapters 5-11 from our need for help to the good news of God’s loving provision in Christ’s death and resurrection and the gift of the Spirit by which God’s love is poured into our hearts. After a little excursion in Chapters 9 to 11 on how the Christian good news is good news for the Jews as well, the letter moves to its conclusion, like any good sermon, by turning to application.

This is the background to today’s reading from Chapter 12 on how God’s love shines out in Christian life as warm-hearted, inspired, hospitable, humble, extravagant and militant.

I invite you to turn to the pew sheet and follow the passage again, starting with verses 9 and 10 of Romans 12.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour.

Let love be genuine. When I was a child I was accused of showing cupboard love, affection to my parents to get a biscuit out of the cupboard. Love that’s genuine has no such pretension. It comes from the heart. Later in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 when Paul says to give your body to be burned means nothing without love he’s saying love is warm-hearted if it's anything at all.

Christian love, like Jesus himself, is warm-hearted. Then secondly it is inspired - reading on in the passage.

Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

If Christian love is from the heart it’s also inspired from beyond our situation.

When I was an undergraduate at Oxford I stumbled into St Mary Magdalene’s which unknown to me had an ardent priest called Fr. Hooper. I went to tea with him one Sunday. At length he asked me if I’d ever considered going to Confession. I had no good answer! Somehow the spiritual force of the man hit me – I had to go to Confession, the fervour, the warmth of the Spirit of Jesus Christ was in him and inspired me. I never looked back from then, although Confession has not always been so easy for me. By the way, if you ever want to make your Confession don’t be shy of approaching any of our priests here at St Barts after services. The Anglican saying on confession is all may, none must, some should.

Let’s read on, verses 13 and 14 of Romans Chapter 12

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Christian love is hospitable - which might mean not talking about God too much with not yet believers. More can be achieved to spread the faith by patient, hospitable friendship, coupled to intercessory prayer, than we sometimes imagine. Let’s read on:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

If love is warm-hearted, inspired and hospitable it’s also humble.

Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Henri Nouwen is one of my favourite writers. He wrote books about the spiritual power that abounds among the intellectually disabled. He speaks of the struggle to make himself present and vulnerable to other people in the L’Arche handicapped community. His preference was again and again to go hide away at his computer and write books!  I know that feeling - I’m a writer too! So often, though, the world of computers subtracts from our loving by taking us away from people! Let’s continue:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord’. No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads’.

How should the good news of the gift of God’s love see application in a Christian life?
With a love that’s warm-hearted, inspiring, hospitable, humble and, fifthly, extravagant.
At the heart of Christianity is a God with no favourites, not even his friends, who calls us to be similarly extravagant in love. The extravagance to an enemy that’s described as being like heaping burning coals on his head!

Reflecting on God’s extravagance St Teresa of Avila wrote after years of Christian service: We should forget the number of years we have served him. The more we serve him, the more deeply we fall into his debt.
How many years have you served Christ? Are you more deeply in his debt? Does anything you’ve achieved do more than reflect back on God who gave you life and health and strength to do it – as well as the heart to do it with love?

He wants more extravagant service from you and I, believe me!  So to the last verse.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Our love is to be warm-hearted, inspiring, hospitable, humble, extravagant and lastly militant.

Love is in conflict for the soul of the world. The war has been won by the decisive battle on Calvary and our Sunday worship is a living memorial of this but the mopping up operation continues.

All our Christian loving is meant to be militant overcoming evil with good. It raids the kingdom of fear, not least the fearfulness of those who oppose the church. We counter fear and apathy by good humour, warm-heartedness, God’s inspiration, hospitality, humility, extravagance and militancy.

Soldiers of Christ arise therefore and put your armour on this day! Armed with God’s word, united as a living sacrifice to Christ and fed by his living Bread go forth into battle knowing in the great words of the letter to the Romans Chapter 8 that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us and nothing in heaven or earth can separate us from the love of God.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

St Richard, Haywards Heath 27th August 2017

How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord… All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen 

Though Scripture makes God known it occasionally puts him at a distance.

The passage we heard from Romans reminds us God is God. It comes as St Paul completes teaching we heard in last week’s portion about how the Jews remain dear to God, and will be included in his final scheme, despite their rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah. The summary line on Israel’s disobedience is the verse before this passage, verse 32 of Romans Chapter 11: For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. In other words God has sin in hand, even if we need to fly from it ourselves.  He allows disobedience and over rules it. The same thought is presented at the Easter Vigil when, at the blessing of the new Fire, the deacon sings: O happy fault, that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

In Christianity God has both a sameness to us, and a difference from us.

God is same and different.

God has a sameness to us through the incarnation. He is one with us in Jesus, one with us in our joys and sorrows.

We have sameness to him bearing his image, endowed with intelligence, capable of joyful goodness, appreciative of truth and beauty so that Christianity is humanity in its right mind. In Jesus Christ we see and grow into what we are meant to be, such is God’s affinity with us.

God though, as this scripture reminds us, is also very very different from us.

How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord… All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. 

We are different from Him as we live in one time and place compared to his eternal omnipresence. Our knowledge is limited compared to his omniscience. We are feeble, looking again and again to his omnipotence. Then, as the Romans passage implies, morally we pale into insignificance before his holiness. We are nothing before him, and less than nothing through sin.

How can we as creatures compare to our Creator? How can a song understand its singer?

All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him.
In the Mass we have 5 sections called the Ordinary that we recite Sunday by Sunday.

The Kyrie Eleison and Agnus Dei speak of God’s sameness, his sympathy with us and mercy towards us. Lord, have mercy… O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us… grant us thy peace.

The Gloria in Excelsis and Sanctus speak of God’s difference from us in joyous yet awesome terms. For Thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord…. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory.

The difference and sameness of God from and to us are both fully expressed in the Credo or Creed we shall recite shortly:

God is professed as God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible who could not be more different to us as his dependent creatures. God whose Son is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God demonstrates his sameness, his loving affinity for each and all of us humans when for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified for us.

In bowing at these words we salute the wonder of the God and Father of Jesus, so different from us, yet making himself one with us in such great humility and love.

If God weren’t both same and different to us there’d be no hope for us. As it is, we, who are made in his image, are destined to share a property distinct from our condition - I mean the glory of God.

By the gift of the Son of God made Son of Man, by the Spirit of Christ, we, in Paul’s words elsewhere to Corinth, are being fitted for glory. All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

In the Eucharist we see and consume God in bread and wine, God in his sameness with the  promise of something utterly different which is in his gift for the grace of Communion is a foretaste of glory.

O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see, may what we thirst for soon our portion be, to gaze on thee unveiled and see thy face, the vision of thy glory and thy grace.

How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord… All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen 

Saturday, 19 August 2017

St Bartholomew, Brighton. Family Mass. 20th August 2017

Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” Matthew 15v28

How do we get thinking people to believe and believing people to think?

Our Lord praised the Canaanite woman for her thoughtful faith.

She got a hard run for her money. Few people in the Gospel get as hard a time as this lady. Think about the passage - at first Jesus doesn’t answer her request for her daughter at all. Then his disciples want him to send her away. Jesus goes so far as to tease her for being a Canaanite, thinking probably about his Jewish audience who in those days would have indeed wanted her sent away. They’d forgotten God’s promise we heard in that reading from Isaiah about his love for foreigners.

The woman argues on for attention for her daughter with a word play on the term ‘dog’ which was and is an abusive term for outsiders. ‘Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table’ she says, imploring Jesus.

The Lord gives in and heals her daughter, exceptionally giving the reason for answering this woman’s request: it was on account of her great faith; her great confidence that Jesus would grant her request.

There are a lot of questions you could raise about this Gospel passage but I want to look at the one I raised at the beginning which is really important in this day and age.

How do we get thinking people to believe and believing people to think?

The woman was both educated and a believer.  Often we don’t see the two together. A lot of education in our society seems to lack a spiritual component and a lot of religious people can have closed minds.

When Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion it divided Christians in my acquaintance. Some read it to engage with his criticism of religion. Others wrote it off without engagement. Most derided his arrogant tone forgetful that Christianity can come across as arrogant.

That goes against advice in the New Testament in 1 Peter 3v16 to give clear answer for our faith to anyone who asks us about it ‘with gentleness and reverence’.

Reason and faith are two wings of the Holy Spirit lifting us up to God for God gave us a mind and a heart.

This morning let’s seek for ourselves the great faith of the Canaanite woman, an educated faith, one that holds to the reasoned faith of the church through the ages. This is expressed in the words of the Creed, the worship of the Sacraments, behaviour trained by the Commandments and prayer modelled on the Lord's Prayer.

As priest, writer and broadcaster I’ve been engaged over the years in promoting thoughtful mainstream Christian belief. I want to leave you with the challenge to do something, read something, join a study group, talk to a priest, so as to help build a great faith true to a great God whose readiness to answer prayer exceeds our imagining.

How do we get thinking people to believe and believing people to think - we start with ourselves!

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Trinity 9 The journey of faith 13th August 2017 St Peter & St John the Baptist, Wivelsfield

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

Life is an accompanied journey whether people recognise it or not.

To be a Christian is to be aware of the company of God alongside us in Jesus Christ sharing our joys and sorrows. We are never alone, contrary to outward appearance.

In our Old Testament reading from the first book of the Kings, Chapter 19 we’re told how Elijah felt very alone at mount Horeb when he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’  

I alone am left – how does that speak to us this morning? As we go against the flow, or think of those we know who’re desolate over a bereavement or relationship breakdown? Or those we see in our mind’s eye though a long way away, depicted hour by hour across our visual media in the world's agony zones.

What does God say – how does he speak to Elijah? Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out. God spoke in the silence after the storm and sent Elijah on his way.

The story is chosen to match the Gospel passage from Matthew 14:22f where once again God is revealed in the wake of a storm. The boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them… Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then we see our patron Peter taking heart exactly and walking the walk of faith. He got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’

This morning both Elijah and Peter are set before us as those consciously on the move with God. They're a wakeup call for us to challenge false securities and get on the move spiritually, just as Peter left the security of the boat to walk on water. 

One of the late Bishop of Guyana, Cornell Moss's phrases was ‘I’m not afraid to walk on thin ice as I serve a Jesus who walked on water’. It may be there’s a situation you’re in where you feel you can’t move forward. It looks like thin ice ahead – take heart. If God is with you, and calling you to work through that situation, though the ice cracks you’ll be able to walk on the water. Peter did, but he slipped under once he took his eyes off the Lord. 

Faith, the journey of faith, is belief in the divine accompaniment, of Jesus Emmanuel God with us.
Is there anything, any challenge before us that’s too great for us on a journey with God at our side?
When you retire - I've just retired - you get unsettled. You've less to direct your life and get anxious at first. I'm happy to live in today without fear of tomorrow knowing I'm on a journey with God at my side. I rest in belonging to him, in his purpose, empowerment, forgiveness and direction.
Like Elijah I have my cave of contemplation in which I await the Lord's still small voice guiding me in different ways, as with Fr Christopher's phone call inviting me to celebrate the Eucharist this morning.

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). That’s faith speaking as it looks to the facts of God’s love around, alongside and before us and ignores, as both Peter and Elijah did, those natural fears. Peter naturally feared being overwhelmed by the water and Elijah feared the isolation he was in as a believer in a hostile climate. Both men looked in faith to the fact of God’s love and away from their fears. 

This reminds me of a story Bishop Maurice Wood used to tell: ‘Faith, facts and feelings were three figures walking on a wall. Faith walked behind facts and in front of feelings. Faith kept going as long as he looked to the facts of God’s love. Whenever he looked over his shoulder to feelings behind him he wobbled and came in danger of falling off the wall’. 

So it is with the journey of faith we travel on – and we have to keep moving. We were made to move finding no ultimate security this side of the grave save in the promise of God.

As Paul spells out that saving promise to the Romans in our second reading if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. … ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’  

To have faith is to be on the move. 

I think of people I know who’ve moved forward courageously through financial insecurity putting trust in God that he wouldn’t see them put to shame, continuing to give as he would have them give but out of real poverty.  

Or of people who recognised their life’s journey had stopped as Elijah’s did but their stopping place, their cave was one of destructive anger God had to call them out of.

Or people who’d sensed a forward call out into the sacred ministry which took their gifts away from serving money into serving God and the Church.

Or people who, faced with a diagnosed terminal illness lost no forward momentum, no sinking under the waves of self-pity but pressed forward to make the passage to Jesus as though walking on water or thin ice.

We come from God, we belong to God, we go to God.

He would be our guide and support but we have to recognise that and welcome his leading in our circumstances as surely as we welcome him right now in his word and in the bread and wine of the eucharist which is food for the journey of faith.

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.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sowing, reaping, keeping Presentation Church, Haywards Heath 16th July 2017

The parables of Jesus thrill with harvest imagery, sowing on the ground, reaping the fields and keeping grain in barns.

As a countryman in the days of his flesh it was natural for Jesus to use sowing, reaping and keeping to illustrate the purposes of God.

As Jesus’ disciples we serve a threefold process of sowing, reaping and keeping. The kingdom of God, Jesus says in Mark 4v26 is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground...the seed would sprout and grow...but when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.

We interpret such parables, like today's Gospel of the Sower, as encouragements to sow God's love and harvest a response in God's good time which bears fruit in a body kept faithful in God's praise and service. 

We can use Jesus's parables of sowing, reaping and keeping as a form of self examination for ourselves and our Christian community.

How much of our energies are put into serving others for their own sake - which is sowing?

When we find people ready to commit themselves in love to God, have we the courage and means to reap for him by inviting and sealing that commitment?

Are the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection so active in me and my church that newcomers naturally come close to God with and through us?

These soul searching questions trace back to the words and deeds of Jesus who sowed himself upon the Cross like a grain of wheat to reap and keep a harvest of love for God through the Church's praise and service.

Let's follow then such soul searching as we look for a few minutes at sowing, reaping and keeping using three pictures that address these headings.

SOWING - How much of our energies are put into serving others for their own sake?

I'm asking you to answer for yourself or for the Presentation to which I'm a new comer.

Helping people into Christian Faith requires countering a lot of misinformation, notably affirming 'God is good' and 'the Church is OK' (ecumenical brief)

REAPING - When we find people ready to commit themselves in love to God, have we the courage and means to reap for him by inviting and sealing that commitment?

Missed opportunities - value of Alpha Course etc in providing a pathway into commitment and empowerment by the Spirit.

KEEPING - Are the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection so active in me and my church that newcomers naturally come close to God with and through us?

The church's mission is weak because its prayer is weak.

I want to end by reading a passage from a book I wrote just published by Bible Reading Fellowship entitled Experiencing Christ’s Love which a fivefold template for a Christian rule of life:

·        Sunday church attendance

·        day by day formal and free prayer times

·        ongoing study of the bible and the church’s faith

·        occasions spending time serving others

·        regular self-examination and occasions for confession/guidance

The Christian discipline of reflection is a reminder of love, being loved and loving, and of our failure to love in which attitudes are key. This book has at its heart a reminder to stick at loving God through five attitudes commended by Jesus Christ knowing ‘we love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). The Lord Jesus gives us this overarching rule: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.. and your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37, 39b). 

Loving God with your heart and soul can be seen as what worship and prayer are primarily about, linked to loving him with your mind in study, your neighbour in service and yourself through reflection. 

To experience Christ’s love we’re therefore invited to follow five disciplines interrelated, like the thumb and fingers of the human hand, set to grasp the hand of God that reaches down to us in Jesus Christ.  Worship and prayer are heart and soul of our love for God but without engaging our minds with his teaching our love will be ill formed, Jesus implies, and without service, love of neighbour, and reflection, loving care of self, our loving God will be a delusion.

Like the Hamsa hand symbol of hope and peace the five loves invited by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-39 are a call to and a reminder of balanced and effective discipleship.  What’s distinctive about Christian as opposed to other spiritual disciplines is the ‘hand up’ of grace they engage with. If Christian disciplines attain salvation they do so by grasping the hand of the Saviour. Experiencing Christ’s love in the five disciplines of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection is a taking of God’s hand in ours, the welcoming of his loving provision of forgiveness and healing that’s a hand up into his possibilities.
Experiencing Christ's Love book p83-84

Friday, 21 April 2017

Easter Sunday evensong (Monstrance) 16th April 2017

I’m ending my ministry as parish priest in a minute or two. The last thing I’ll do is for many Anglicans rather a strange thing to do. I mean not to this core gathering of the faithful who’ve worshipped with me over 8 years – but to place the consecrated bread in a container and make the sign of the Cross over us all in silence is something different, let alone doing it in clouds of incense!

The Holy Spirit works in different ways though. A close friend, a Methodist in fact, was staying with Anne and I a week or two back. She gave me a poem for my retirement called Monstrance which I’ve decided to read to you as part of my last sermon here. 

It’s about emptying yourself so God can fill us – Gill knows how much of me still is in me and how much Christ has to work on filling my life! 

As she writes:
We cannot stand in Jesus’ place
and look our Master in the face
if by thoughtless words or deeds
      we deny each other’s needs
   acting from ego, not from grace.

We empty ourselves for God to fill -
humbling ourselves before His will.
Before the waiting world we stand;
each is a monstrance, as He planned,
 lifted by God’s almighty hand.

In the rite of Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament the consecrated Bread is taken from its place of perpetual Reservation – here the Aumbry or wall safe in the sanctuary with its perpetual light.
It’s returned to the altar where it was blessed within an instrument of showing we call the Monstrance, from the Latin monstrare.

This throne we see upon the altar tonight, a decorated throne with rays indicating Christ’s glory shining out of the material element of the bread changed into Christ’s Body at the eucharist.

Not all Anglicans own that change, but it is in harmony with the Church of England’s belief in what our church calls the Real Presence, our faith that at Communion Jesus Christ the risen Lord comes among us through the consecrated Bread and Wine.

Our Easter devotion to the risen Lord, singing evensong before the Blessed Sacrament, ends with a silent blessing as if from the Lord, or actually from the Lord for the bread is his Body he has said so.

As Queen Elizabeth I said when asked how she say the presence of Christ in the eucharist: Christ was the word that spake it. He took the bread and break it; And what his words did make it. That I believe and take it.

As earthly bread in the monstrance blesses us this evening so we as Christians contain and show forth Christ. Through Holy Communion he is in our lives. This is the thrust of Gill’s poem which I read now to you and, of course, to myself:

For John on your retirement, with love from Gill.


Christ took and blessed a loaf of bread.
‘This is my body,’ Jesus said.
He took and blessed a cup of wine
Which, held aloft, became a sign
of sacrifice – of Love divine.

Christ puts his trust in you and me.
We are the ‘Jesus’ people see –
Silently, we seek his face.
Obediently, we take our place
As icons of God’s wondrous grace.

How do we represent him, though?
Which Jesus do we really know?
He is the Lord of everything:
a loving, selfless, humble King.
Which Jesus do our actions show?

We cannot stand in Jesus’ place
and look our Master in the face
if by thoughtless words or deeds
we deny each other’s needs
acting from ego, not from grace.

We empty ourselves for God to fill -
humbling ourselves before His will.
Before the waiting world we stand;
each is a monstrance, as He planned,
 lifted by God’s almighty hand.

As we keep silence before Benediction let’s ask that the risen Lord Jesus will make us a monstrance, through deepening our humility and sense of need for his mercy, so that people will see Jesus in us through our deeds and words. Amen.