Friday, January 08, 2010

Words from a poem by Carol Ann Duffy

In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.

“Some times when we cant pray, a prayer utters itself".

Words from a poem by Carol Ann Duffy.

“Sometimes when we cant pray a prayer utters itself”. Rowan Williams has written that the primary task of prayer is ‘How do we let God be God “? “How do we let God be God”? “How do we empty our heart and mind - so that the personal presence of God can come in?” He asks. Sometimes we are forced on our knees when prayer becomes suddenly urgent , the worrying news of an illness or a predicament in which we can see now way forward . Prayer becomes our last resort. And because it is so often our last resort there is always the anxiety, will it make any difference to the situation we find ourselves in? Will it work? Prayer is a journey into trust. It is allowing God to be God exactly where we find ourselves. However we do posses two fundamental promises from God. The first, very simple, is the promise that God considers every moment of our lives worth while. That wherever we find ourselves God is still committed to our human joy and fulfilment, and that he will not desert us even if we doubt him, or are not too sure if he is really there when we approach him in prayer. The second promise is that there is nothing God will not do or face to secure our joy and fulfilment and that the inexhaustibility of this promise is revealed in the death and new life of Christ. This is the Advent promise the Advent hope, that God is always utterly for us and only longs to give us exactly what we need in every situation we find ourselves in. It is with theses two promises these truths in mind that we approach prayer . If prayer is about letting God be God then it will involve listening. So often we bombard God with words, our anxious requests , there is a place for this but God is already aware of our needs before we ask them and is already responding if we could only hear. As prayer is primarily about listening we have to remember that the God we are seeking to encounter in prayer is a person , that may sound obvious , but we can often forget that when we attempt to pray we are entering into a deeply personal presence , a person with His own characteristics such as faithfulness , commitment , wonder , beauty , joy , love . In prayer God simply wants to share himself with us. He wants us to taste something of his delight in us. We are all made in his image and He longs for the Image of Himself His joy His love His life to surface in our lives. Prayer then is about change and transformation, reflecting something of who He is. When we talk about listening to God, there are, many ways through which He speaks. The personal presence of anyone, a close friend perhaps is so much more than the words they speak , we are given something just by being with them , and so it is with God . Listening to God can sometimes involve leaving words behind and just being in his company, allowing God to be God. But how do we set about this? The difficult thing of course, given that our minds are usually like cartoon characters racing round in small space at top speed, is how to slow down? How do we become to be where we are? How do we settle in our bodies, to be quiet and still enough for the life of God to rise within us like water in a pool. Because our usual ways of operating are so hectic, so chaotic we do need disciplines and that's why throughout the history of the church, as in all religions there are ways of making ourselves present, making ourselves still. In J.G. Salinger`s novel “Franny and Zooey”, we have an account of the two characters a brother and sister in a very dysfunctional family. It is a novel about prayer and how it can be so easily distorted and misunderstood. Franny in the novel has discovered The Jesus Prayer, that ancient discipline of the Orthodox Church when you simply repeat the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy upon me a sinner”. Franny discovered this prayer by reading the classic book “The Way of the Pilgrim” written by an unknown person in the mid nineteenth century. Unfortunately for Franny she has forgotten the nature of the person Jesus she is addressing in prayer and becomes rather self -righteous and judgemental. It is her amazingly good looking brother Zooey who exasperated by her attitude towards others say`s to her “I swear you are missing the whole point of the Jesus prayer . The Jesus Prayer has one aim and one aim only . To endow the person who says it with Christ -Consciousness”. The prayer is a transformative experience Zooey should be reflecting something of the characteristics of Christ, but she has forgotten who this Christ this personal presence is all about . The book is a good read about religious practice generally and what is being attempted through religious disciplines be it Buddhist Yoga or Christianity. Rowan Williams use the Jesus Prayer to anchor himself when he places himself in the presence of God. He also speaks about making sure our bodies are well rooted. Our bodies are always involved in prayer, the very posture of kneeling, standing or sitting all creates a different sense of what we are about. I would suggest sitting in a well rooted posture back straight both feet on the ground, hands gently open on your lap and taking several deep breaths to relax the body, then quietly and lovingly repeating the word or words of your choice. However in Salinger's novel Franny did glimpse something of the fruit of this prayer “Something happens after a while” she tells her brother , “I dont know what , something really tremendous ...which effects your whole outlook . I mean that the whole point of it more or less. I mean you do it to purify your whole outlook and get an absolutely new conception of what everything is about” Being with God is a purifying process , in other words all our negative material often surfaces , material that can distorts the way we see ourselves and those around us if it is allowed to be trapped within us. In the presence of God it is often this junk that surfaces first . He wants us to be free from it. This is probably why we so often give up on prayer it can be an uncomfortable experience , not that peaceful calm we so often long for , but if we keep returning to our phrase “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy” and gently persist we will discover that we are not doing alone. Prayer is never something we do on our own. Christians are always trying to pray in such a way that it is Jesus , by the power of the Spirit who is doing something in them. So in the end it is not we who is praying we are putting yourself in the stream of Christ's prayer Christ's life and letting ourselves be carried along. And we can practice this form of prayer wherever we are sitting on a bus or lying in a hospital bed simply and gently repeating our word or phrase and allow ourselves to be carried dare I say it into the joy of God . Prayer is not the last resort in emergencies it is a transformative experience which we daily open ourselves towards. So when that difficult situation does arrive in our lives we are already steadied and held by that stream of love that life which is already part of who we are and in whom we can confidently place our trust. Prayer begins with discipline but it ends with desire, we find we want to pray for we have discovered a presence that is deeply supportive and enriching . Amen

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sermon - Sacred Space

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A couple of weeks ago I found myself in the Parish church of St Ives. From the outside a rather dull building of grey stone but once over the threshold you are greeted with a spectacular vision of countless medieval angels and apostles beautifully carved and coloured greeting you from their elevated position all around the body of the church . You are immediately made aware that this is no ordinary space, it is not a museum or gallery where tourist can acquire the consolations of culture or a sense of history rather it is a sacred space where heaven and earth mingle together angels and saints are mysteriously present. As you move forward into the church you are almost tangibly touched by a profound stillness a deep ageless silence where the busy world has been hushed and left behind and you are being invited to linger and let go of your immediate cares and concerns and see yourself afresh in relation to this sense of eternity of which the building so powerfully speaks and evokes. Then you move to the Lady chapel where there is the gentle radiance of lit candles, prayers have recently been offered and you discover some words written just for you to help you through the experience of arriving in this sacred space, words from the 11th century by St Anselm, “Come now and put aside all business for a while , take refuge from your tumultuous thoughts cast off all your cares and let your burdensome distractions wait awhile . Take some leisure for God, enter into the chamber of your heart put out everything except Go , close your door and seek him alone , say now to God with all your heart “I seek your face O God your face I seek” . However distractions and tumultuous thoughts that we carry around with us of which St Anselm speaks can be overwhelming Seeking God alone in prayer isn`t always easy especially when we are in a crisis and everything is changing around us are we feel we have little control. When we are ill or feeling unwell or anxious about a hospital appointment we may not have the energy to pray we perhaps become despondent it is then we have to remind us that others are praying for us on our behalf. Those statues of angels and saints are a reminder that there are other forces always along side us uniting their prayer with ours. This is why intercessory prayer is so important. Our prayer for others is a real form of support. We carry people to God who cannot carry themselves. It is an act of love . And because prayer touches the threshold of the divine we will not know how our prayer is used or how it takes effect but it will become part of God`s providential care for the person we are praying for . Then we quietly leave the church of St Ives, and find ourselves back in the sunshine. The world now seems slightly a different place and we walk up the hill to a whitewashed house where there is an invitation to enter a garden the garden of Barbara Hepworth . A tropical garden with Australian Cabbage palm , Fuchsias , Bougainvillaea , Camellias , Japanese Quince , Narcissus and among the colourful foliage and trees are her own sculptures works which she always wanted to have with her. We have entered another space no less sacred than the space we have just visited . And again we find some words written just for us words Barbara Hepworth left for her visitors, “Wonder around the garden on your own , let them look at you and they will speak to you” . It may seem an odd notion of sculptures speaking, but there are many levels of communication , many ways of being touched and moved . In fact we are invited to touch the sculptures themselves to make a connection and to walk around and through the larger spaces. There is one piece which is particularly moving called “Prayer” it is an organic plant like form reaching up, almost pleading and seemingly at the same time drawing down energy from above. This piece was done after the sudden death of her son Paul. We can see how Barbara Hepworth turns her grief into a creative act . It is a lamentation but at the same time an expression of hope reaching outwards and upwrds from within the pain of loss.It could not have been an easy for Barbara Hepworth to create this sculpture task but the actual doing of it was her prayer her expression of where she was and now it becomes ours. We too can connect with that stretching beyond ourselves seeking to draw down the strength or the wisdom or the patience which we may need for the situation we find ourselves in . The garden had its own stillness and spoke it own language and was for me a reminder that God can touch us in so many different ways and that all creativity is an extension of God`s own creativity entering his world through the imagination of others and feelings of others . Each one of us will have our own sacred space that speaks to us it may be the space of a friendship or a love, a particular piece of music or a passage from scripture it may be a poem or a novel, it may be something about this space of St Michael's and the delicate web of friendships whatever it is let us not neglect but cherish them visit those places because they are all gifts from God , expressions of his love towards us.

Sermon - The Saints

On Saturday morning I was in attending a talk at St Margaret`s Church next to Westminster Abbey . The whole day was a reflection on the life of a 19th Century Russian Saint St Seraphim of Sarov . When we read an account of his life it seems for the most part to have been rather uneventful. He spent most of his time hidden away in the wild forests of Russia. However he was to become the most famous saint of that country. His popularity was founded on his immense warmth and infectious joy. What was most noticeable about him that in his presence he would radiate something of the light of the Resurrection. In the western church saints are often marked by the stigmata of Christ signs of his passion we have only to think of St Francis but in the Eastern church it is light that marks out a saint the resurrection light. St Seraphim had so immersed himself in the life of the Holy Spirit through prayer that be began to reflect something of its radiance. He once said “have a peaceful heart and thousands around you will be saved”. The acquisition of a peaceful heart requires a great deal of work in relation to our own inner demons that, inner peace is not won easily but clearly it was this gift of peace that drew the crowds to visit Seraphim in his cave in the Russian forest. At his canonisation in 1903 the Czar and his family were there and there is a film of the event. With the rise of communism his body was placed in a museum to celebrate the triumph of atheism , but because it drew such crowds who would come to pray to St Seraphim it was removed and hidden away only to be rediscovered a few years ago . Yesterday was the coldest day in London for 15 years Seraphim would have been quite at home. The speaker the former Bishop of Sheffield Father Jack Nichols, made the point that saints are our friends in heaven and he clearly believed that the influence of St Seraphim was alive in his own life . Seraphim was insistent that we should pray constantly for the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we can share in the transforming love of God and know within ourselves the gifts he longs to bestow upon us. There is a beautiful story of a group of passengers sharing a table on a cruise , On the final night the captain asked this table of passengers to entertain the rest of the company . As you can imagine there was a certain amount of reluctance however one of the company got up and sang a song another displayed his gifts of being able to whistle any tune that was requested , finally there were just two gentleman left , the first refused I`m a professional actor and this is my holiday I won`t perform but after some persuasion he agreed and recited the 23rd Psalm The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want , He makest me to lie down in green pastures he leadeth me besides the still waters , he restoreth my the end there was tremendous applause and appreciation for his rendering of the psalm then it came to the turn of the final guest around the table , I can`t he said I really can`t anyway the only thing I know is the 23rd psalm “well just say” it so he got up “The lord is my shepherd I shall not want, he makest me to lie down in green pastures he leadest me beside the still waters, he retoreth my soul . At the end of the psalm there was complete silence and the actor stood up and said you can hear the difference I know the psalm but he knows the shepherd . Knowing the shepherd can express itself in many ways . And as through our baptism we all share in the life of the Holy Spirit his life God`s life active within us will manifest itself in ways that are appropriate to the kind of person we are. The Holy Spirit makes us more individually ourselves. I am a great reader of the church times and on the back page there is always an interview with a christian about their faith and how they have arrived at where they are in their journey towards God. You could view them as testimonies about the Holy Spirit active within them . There story can sometimes help us to see our story with fresh eyes and give us hope and confidence. This week was an interview with a psychiatric hospital chaplain Annie who was a former Quaker but now an Anglican. Annie states the Quakers believe that there is that of God in everyone and that everybody should be accepted with respect and dignity. St Seraphim would greet everyone with the words “My Joy” He showed the same respect and something more my joy. Annie later speaks “that the most important choice I have made in my life was to give up worrying about how to look cool. I gave up my fear. I was worried about trying to conform to ideas about Christianity and worried it would`t be me. But God broke through and belief became a relationship I realised that he doesn`t want me to be anything other than what I am . There is a lot to be learned when you let go. Then finally she speaks about prayer. Prayer is the basis of everything. There is so much that I can`t do and so much that God can do. When I go to see a patient I pray to be empty open to surrender. God alone knows what that patient needs. I have a badge that was sent to me by a friend saying “Blessed are the cracked because they let in the light” . When the outer persona gets broken gets broken we let God in. We need to hear the stories about the saints because they offer a vision of what could be and we need to hear the stories of our fellow Christians because in them we hear how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of those around us and in hearing we are encouraged and perhaps enabled to expect something more of his antiquity in our own lives. As St Seraphim said “we have only to ask” . Amen

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sermon - Advent

Advent is a strangely beautiful season in the churches calendar . It is a time of longing and anticipation . And this longing and anticipation engages us on several levels at the same time . We seem to be pulled in different directions . First there is the simple longing for the return of light. Winter darkness and morning gloom marks these days and for many it can be a depressing time of the year. Yet the light we seek is more than the lengthening of days we are also anticipating that in the darkness a new light of incomparable beauty is about to enter our world through the birth of a child . However during Advent we also anticipate that final brilliance when the light of God`s own presence will flood the whole of creation and all things will be restored and made whole in him. Advent “adventus” means “the coming” “the arrival” and in this case the arrival of light . But how does this arrival take place in our world ? How does God make himself known ? In the Bird Psalm

The swallow said, he comes like me, longed for ; unexpectedly.
The superficial eye will pass him by, said the wren.
The best singer ever heard no one will take much notice, Said the Blackbird.
The owl said he is who , who is he who enters the heart as soft as my soundless wings as, me.
In this poem we see the rather paradoxical nature of God`s arrival in his world there is still a hidden aspect to his presence . The superficial eye will pass him by and not much notice is going to be taken when he does arrive . Longed for he comes unexpectedly. Because there is, this sense that God both reveals himself and yet at the same time remains strangely hidden watching and waiting lies at the heart of Advent it also lies at the heart of Christian spirituality . Be alert is the Advent summons for God`s presence his entry is as soft and soundless as an owl in flight. God does not enter our world with the sound of trumpets and fanfare there is a softness in his coming among us and this theme of God entering our world in ways we least would expect him is taken up in Rowan Williams poem .Advent Calendar , here God`s presence his arrival is to be found in the darkest moments of our experience. Moments of loss and death. All the images in Rowans poem are bleak and relentlessly black . He will come one night when the November wind has flayed the trees to bone he will come like frost one morning when the shrinking earth opens on mist he will come like dark one evening when the bursting red December sun draws up the sheet and penny masks its eye.These are all images of things coming to their end ,spent and finished. As Christians we often make the mistake of contrasting the light with the darkness as if darkness has nothing to do with God and is somehow alien to him. The Advent message is that God is to be found in those moments of our experience where there has been a total collapse of everything that gives meaning or support to our lives . The challenge is to wait and watch exactly where we are. Waiting and watching in the dark however can seem an almost impossible task . But it is only through this act of faith this act of trust of waiting that the true light the light we so desperately need can be given .

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sermon - Take care one's life does not consist in the abundance of ones possessions

“Take care one`s life does not consist in the abundance of ones possessions” In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit. There is a story of a young girl on a world cruise having dinner one evening at the captain's table . She notices that seated next to her an elderly lady had on her finger the largest diamond ring she had ever seen . “What a beautiful diamond” she exclaims “its enormous” . “Are yes” the owner replies “it is the Gootennhiemer diamond” , “but it comes with a curse” “A curse? ” “Yes Mr Gootennhiemer” Wealth is not a curse , wealth is not a vice . What we are being warned about in this morning`s gospel is greed . The greek word , Luke`s uses here is “pleonexia” an insatiable desire to always want more and more and more and more . The ancient world likened “pleonexia” to an illness called dropsy . Those with dropsy always craved for more water to drink and yet the more they drank the worst they became. Wealth in itself is not wicked , the Good Samaritan used his wealth to good effect . In Bishop Richard Harries book “Is there a gospel for the rich?” he argues the economically successful are not barred from salvation what matters about my whopping city bonus is what I do with it” . “It is those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God” that concerns Jesus . The perilous human condition is not the well healed life but the unexamined life . Where do our priorities lie ? What do we really build our lives around ? Where in the end do we place our security our sense of self ? The builder of barnes in this morning parable is about to have his life examined , is about to discover what his life really consisted in. Was he rich towards God ? In last weeks Guardian there was an article entitled “Living with less has enriched me” The writer Kar Dunlop found herself in a situation where circumstances forced her to downsize to a flat 10 times smaller than her former home . “Its transformed me from a shopaholic to a minimalist” A small place forces you to pause , ask : Do I need it ? Where am I going to put it ? She no longer has a television , “but why should you need one” she writes “when all around you events unfold before my eyes from my vantage point I can see all that is going on in my street” . She has rediscovered her neighbours . She is becoming rich in other ways . Being rich towards God is being able to enjoy the world around us without wanting to posses it . Being rich towards God is being able to take delight in the world He has made because we are no longer anxious about loosing a part of it or wanting always to acquire it . And because we are no longer anxious about wanting something or loosing something we can give them our undivided attention and simply enjoy them for what they are . And of course this includes our relationships as well . True wealth is an inner disposition of trust that what we most need will always be given to us in our moment of need and not before .This inner wealth is not a possession I can hoard or gloat over and inspect as a miser hoards and counts his money . This inner wealth becomes accessible only as the occasion demands . It lies latent within us and it is only the circumstances of our lives that call it forth . It is when we face a crisis that we discover resources within ourselves we were until then unaware . We can not store or possess these resources they only surface when we need them and for the most part we are unaware of them . This richness towards God is trusting that He will always give us the resources , the wealth we need when the moment comes and not before . So we have no need to trust in what we posses , rather we can begin to live without worry and without fretting . “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, says Jesus “tomorrow will take care of it self ” . If we can truly live from this one statement of Jesus , not to be anxious about tomorrow then we are truly rich , rich towards God . Amen.

Sermon - Be persistent in prayer

Be persistent in prayer. There was in the Independent newspaper a few years ago an article about Barbara Cartland . She was asked how she began a new story . “I always pray for a good plot” she replied.”Yes I start by praying for a good plot” . The article ended with the statement . Barbara Cartland has written over 400 plots that is over 400 hundred unanswered prayers . In Keith Wards book “Christianity” “a guide for the perplexed” he writes “Prayer is love of the good and beautiful”. For Keith Ward prayer begins by loving what is good and beautiful around us . To love something is to contemplate it , pay attention to , appreciate and enjoy it . Part of prayer is to attend to and delight in all beautiful and good things - going to a concert handing ourselves over to the music is a form of prayer . Going to an art gallery and really paying attention to the pictures around us is a form of prayer . Last week I went to Tate Britain to see the Turner water colours I left the exhibition with a renewed sense of wonder and a positive feeling about life . Reading a good novel and thereby seeing the world through the imagination and sensitivity of its author is a form of prayer . The enjoyment of friends and shared activities be it rowing on the Thames early in the morning or simply spending time pottering in the garden being close to nature or practising Ti Chi is a form of prayer . In all these activities something of God`s beauty and light is reaching out towards us . The good and the beautiful wherever we find it has the potential to lift us out of ourselves and give us a renewed sense of hope and life. While on holiday we have the time to explore these avenues of prayer . But there is also another form of prayer , the desire to put ourselves at the disposal of God`s own spirit . In other words to be open to gifts of his Spirit . The first gift we can pray for is the gift of love . A love which both delights in the joys of others and shares in their sorrows . We should pray that we find real happiness in the happiness of others that their joy is our joy. There should be no envy or resentment in the happiness of others rather a real concern that others find the happiness they long for . We should pray never to harm others even when they harm us but always be concerned for their good. To pray for this gift of love is to share in the spirit of love , God`s own spirit transforming our spirit. His light and beauty enlightening us momentarily transfiguring us. We could pray for the spirit of joy . Joy is a gift of the spirit something of God`s own joy for which we can ask to have a share in .To have a joyful mind is always to think of things that will make human lives more beautiful and to be thankful for all good things however small . We could pray for the gift of peace . To be at peace is to be calm in all things , calm in the knowledge that we are grounded in God , who cannot be injured or destroyed by anything at all . We could pray for the gift of patience . Patience is that capacity not to insist upon things happening just when and as we wish . Patience is that ability to act as well as we can in any given situation and leave the outcome to God . The list is endless : kindness , generosity , faithfulness, gentleness , self-control . These are all gifts of God`s own Spirit , his life on offer to us . His desire to share something of himself with us , his kindness his generosity his gentleness his life . So often we see prayer as asking for things , rather than sharing in a life richer and deeper than our own , the life of God`s own spirit coming alive within us . Barbara CARTLAND was nearer to the truth than her critics realised . We can all pray for a good plot , the story line of our own lives that it may reflect something of the beauty and goodness of God himself . Lord of heaven and earth , as Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer , give us patience and courage never to loose hope but always to bring our prayers before you ; through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen

Thursday, October 05, 2006

SERMON FOR HARVEST – 1st October 2006

One of the most amazing pictures ever taken, which changed our perception about ourselves, was the planet earth viewed from outer space. Those first pictures of our world hanging in space with all its beauty and fragility reshaped our understanding of the planet itself . The earth is now seen as a living organism, interdependent, self- renewing and vulnerable.

As we learn more about the story of the earth our own spiritual story changes too. We are more conscious of our own interdependency on the planet more conscious of the effects of our own life style upon the survival of the planet for future generations. Churches are now being asked to consider the possibility of putting solar panels on their roofs and soon we will be required to have a green policy.

The earth has always been viewed as God`s sacrament of love towards us. In our first reading the prophet Joel is very clear about God`s relationship with the earth.

Do not fear O soil - be glad and rejoice.
Do not fear you animals of the field - for the pastures of the wilderness are green, the trees bears its fruit.
Rejoice in the Lord your God for he has given the early rain.
The fig tree and the vine produce their full yield.

Creation was seen as the arena of God`s activity, restoring what the swarming locus had eaten. The earth was the theatre of God`s blessing and goodness and so it is. Open and green spaces, forests, oceans, mountains, meadows, rivers, deserts and the wilderness are appreciated as natural cathedrals, sacred places, and sanctuaries for us to commune with the Holy. In our urban world nature has become the place where a great many find God.
But today we are also in a different place. The earth is exploited as never before in its history . Our “ecological footprint” is immeasurably heavier than that of our ancestors.
The goodness and the promise of creation which God intended can only fulfil its potential if and only if her limits and needs are respected. We are now much more aware that creation is a living organism maintained by subtle checks and balances.

We can celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving in comfort and plenty and we must be thankful for that, but for many the harvest has failed. We have failed to respect the needs and limits of the living organism we are part of . And the healing and restoration of creation has now become our responsibility.
God always intended that we should be co-creators with Him, stewards of his creation. Therefore whenever we separate our papers, bottles and tins, whenever we think twice about taking the car or remembering to turn of lights we are not using or look at the food we buy and see how many air miles they have travelled, these are spiritual activities . Each of these acts however small are an expression of our reverence toward the world God has created.
We might like to consider how we can erase our own carbon footprint and therefore restore something of the balance. Putting back what we are taking out.

Tree Aid, a charity that plants trees in Africa, recommends for example that if you take a return flight from London to Vancouver you pay to have nine trees planted in Africa - trees that sustain life in Africa in different ways. It is in these kind of actions that we can show we are taking our responsibility of stewardship seriously . These are actions that heal and restore creation and therefore share in God`s own love and care for all that he has made.
But in the midst of all this we must remember the words of Jesus in this morning’s gospel “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow they neither toil nor spin”. In others words they already have what they need, they are not anxious like us.

Harvest thanksgiving can be a time when we remind ourselves that we have already been given what we need and the desire always for wanting more may be an indication that we have not fully appreciated what we have already been given.

Acknowledgement: The ew SCM dictionary of Christian Spirituality edited by Philip Sheldrake

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sermon (14 May)

Abide in me and I in you .
In the name of the Father , Son and Holy Spirit .
The sun news paper last week suddenly took on a spiritual dimension in asking its readers to pray .
Wayne Rooney the England football striker known as Roo whose broken foot was plunging England into despair was to be the focus of their readers prayer . The sun provided its own suggestion how to set about this act of prayer for Roo “The moment you wake up , before you put on your make up , say a little prayer for Roo .
While combing your hair now and wondering what clothes to wear now , say a little prayer for Roo .”
The next day the paper printed a pullout poster for readers to put in their window with the words “I`m praying for Wayne” A clever pun for a country suffering from a drought .
Even Sven-Goran Erikson , talked of needing a miracle if Rooney was to play in the world cup .
Now what is this saying about prayer ? Do we believe in a God who at our requests reorders events to fit in with our desires ? Or do our prayers contribute another dimension to the concerns we place before God .
By this I mean that when we pray for someone we love who may be ill in hospital we are opening up a depth of meaning to the event . What on the surface may appear to be a tragedy and meaningless can be changed into something life giving . Our prayer sustains them and perhaps opens up for them a new way of seeing their situation.
There have been countless people who have borne witness to the sense that have been supported by the prayers of others . Their situation may not have changed , but their response to it has.
However if what we pray for happens to come to pass then our prayer also has contributed towards it . It might not have made it happen but it played a part in it happening .
Praying for others is central to the Christian tradition . Jesus himself said “ Which of you , if his son asks for bread will give him a stone” God does want to give what is best for us , bread rather than a stone .
But prayer is more than asking .
“Abide in me” says Jesus. Through prayer we are called to develop a closeness with God .Abiding , abode being at home with .But this closeness abiding will slowly change us. Prayer is about transformation, being remoulded , remade.
In this closeness with God our desires our wants and needs are reordered . A reordering of our priorities takes place through prayer. What might have seemed so important to us , our self image perhaps doesn`t seem so important after all .
We begin to let go of lesser goals . We begin to long for things in our lives that really matter and we start to pursue them . We are slowly being changed .
This is no easy task , we all find the road to prayer difficult . We use the lack of time as an excuse but in fact we are just avoiding meeting this transforming God we forget that he is pure love , that we are held constantly in His loving gaze .
What difference would it make to our lives if we really began to believe that despite all our anxieties our sin and failure - we are still subject to this loving gaze a love which cares for the whole tangled bundle that makes us who we are?
And what difference would it make if we began to see that everyone around us , waitresses , tourists , cleaners , immigrants asylum seekers businessmen the people next door were also held in the same overwhelming loving gaze ?
And what difference would it make if we believed that this love made no distinction between people more worthy or less worthy , no distinction of race , religion , age , innocence strength or beauty rather it was a lavish and indiscriminate love , like the sun sharing its warmth's with all creation .
It is easy to say these things but to believe them to let this truth percolate down through all our layers of resistance is what prayer is about .
In prayer , by just being still , not doing anything in particular just gently putting aside all our immediate pressing concerns and sharing in the company of God for his sake alone and not what we can get out of him we are opening ourselves to His loving gaze .
And the fruits of this prayer is that we will begin to see the world through God`s eyes . We begin to see ourselves through his eyes . Our vision is changed .
We begin to have a sense that we are called to gaze out into our world with the same disposition that God gazes out towards us . And this is not our activity or our work it is God`s activity his work in us .
In prayer we allow God to work on us we give him space to slowly chip away everything that prevents us from reflecting his love .
So time in prayer is not an option , it is life giving . It changes us and the world around us .
Well what about the Sun`s newspaper request for prayer .
Of course God loves Wayne Rooney but maybe the miracle God has in store is that England may still win without him .

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sermon (29/01/06) - The Rev'd Paul Holland

And he fell to the earth. In the name of the father son
I love being on the water, and last Friday morning at eleven o`clock I took the boat from Westminster bridge to Greenwich .I missed seeing the whale that had suddenly made an appearance. I was making a journey by boat to see the picture of St. Paul found above the altar, in the chapel of the old royal naval college, in Greenwich. The artist Richard Lawrence was paid 50 shillings per foot for it. The picture measures 25 ft by 14 ft. please do not spend the rest of the sermon working out how much he was paid.
The artist depicts St Paul immediately after being shipwrecked in Malta, holding a snake that had just bitten him and to the amazement of those around him surviving.This picture combines the themes of water, and healing appropriate to a naval college and the hospital for sailors which the chapel served.
Today we celebrate the conversion of St Paul, and I have always regarded this moment in his life falling of his horse as a kind of mid -life crises. Suddenly on the Damascus road Paul`s life falls apart. Everything he believed in, hoped for, aspired towards, was thrown into question .To his horror he has discovered he was persecuting the truth rather than propagating it. There had to be a change of direction. The future, his future which he was so sure of has suddenly become shrouded in darkness he can no longer see the way ahead. Paul has to rethink his entire understanding about god.
He had now a choice , of either deepening his faith in a new direction or loose it altogether. All of us like Paul, will have moments in our lives, when, due to some kind of crises , we have to deepen our faith, take it more seriously, engage with it in new and imaginative ways or loose it.
Our relationship with god like all relationships is one of change and growth. We may have first attended church for the sake of our children in the desire that they hear and absorb the Christian stories. As that need changes the habit of attending is slowly broken.

To keep that journey alive our journey we have to ask ourselves afresh what is in it for me what are my needs that worship and prayer can now inform and enliven my life.In middle age we sometimes go through the toughest experiences that throw our faith into question. We may have become divorced, or have to face a serious illness or our parents die. The shock of these losses can be so overwhelming that we find the faith we have had does not seem to bear or contain them in a creative and life giving way.It may be the love and care of the congregation at this time, the sense of belonging, that holds us in place.

And that is wonderful but it can only take us so far. At such times we may be looking for a god who will take away our pain and sense of loss. We may be looking for that vicar who will explain the problem of evil and pain but he is not there and we feel abounded. So often the spirituality of the church is one of abundance and celebration celebration of the opportunities in life.

The focus can be on building relationships, the birth of children, the strengthening of family life, that thankfulness that we have achieved career goals. Life can seem to be one long, logical progression towards some restful and peaceful state of plenty. Ten like St Paul we fall off the horse.
Some shattering experience throws everything into question and we wonder if we ever had a faith in the first place. The issue here for me is that so often what is missing in people`s lives is that due to all the other pressures around them they have not accessed their inner world, the life of the spirit. They have not paid attention to themselves and their deepest needs for it is in this area that we can discover resources and strengths that will see us through. A time of crisis is an invitation, to pause, step back and listen, listen to one`s own inner voice. And we can do this in countless ways.
I love being on the water for it is always a reminder that for all our sense of certainty and security we are always vulnerable to change, change we cannot control. But last Friday being on the water I made time to travel in a particular direction to satisfy a need in me. I wanted to see this chapel and this picture. And in so doing I was strengthening, nourishing my inner world. I returned to Westminster Bridge a different person, refreshed by my experience. This is what the life of the spirit is about.
Now each of us will nourish our inner world in different ways. We may want to take up tia che or a yoga class. We may want to join the rugby club, write a short story or take up singing. We may want to deepen our understanding of scripture and find a course to help us explore that need.
Some will choose to deepen their understanding of Christianity with its reliance on traditional language , liturgy and familiar images of god while others will want to let go of it all and start again simply with the teachings of Jesus and try to apply them to their lives without all the para-finalia of doctrine and belief. In all these ways we are strengthening our inner world.
We are being true to our deepest selves. And it is here that we are also nourishing our inner world the life of the spirit god’s life within us. Our inner world is his world a world that will hold us and enable us to move forward in creative and life giving ways. But we have to listen and give that world time to breathe, surface and live within us.
Conversion is a constant turning, a journey, a pilgrimage, it is not won in a day it is a life time exploration. We are all called to embark on that journey and keep moving, changing and rediscovering our faith in new and surprising ways.
In the end we are called not to be religious but human, human with a humanity that is deeply self accepting and embracing of others.

This journey begins by listening to the voice within, the most human voice of all who calls us each by name and simply longs for us to discover who we are and draw us confidently into communion with him and others. It is also a voice we can learn to trust in whenever we may fall of our horse. Amen.