Sermon for Sunday 21st June 2020

Sermon by Revd Iain Morrsion.

“Take up your cross and follow me!” says Jesus. Our response to these words may be, in modern parlance, “easier said than done!” Yet, should you and I expect anything less that sharing the Cross of Christ? If so, what would our reason be?

The climate of the world is changing drastically in so many ways! Sensitive public opinions and reactions allow teachers to appear free to comment positively about non-Christian religions, (comparative religion) but fear disciplinary if they say anything positive about Christianity. The media portrays not infrequently Christianity in a negative light and journalists tend to put aside the good work of the Church but revel in reporting its failings and misdeeds. Fundamentalists in Islam are quick to target Christians and others who do not share their beliefs as infidels and even in our own time we learn of Christian places of worship being targeted. So too, sadly, are synagogues, mosques and temples and many others. History does tend to repeat itself.

Let me, just for a moment, quote some words of Martin Luther King, that I think are very apt for us today:-

“Meanwhile Christians who are baptized in Christ’s Name must keep still and must put up with being trampled upon, and must still be patient. For in this life of believing, it is Christ’s will to appear small; but in the life of seeing, He will not be small but very great. Then Christ will show that He saw the suffering of His people and heard their cries and that His will was inclined towards them to help them, and that He had the power to help them. Now Christ hides His good will, power and strength; but when He appears He will reveal His will and power and strength. He could help and save now. Christ has the power to do it, nor does He lack the will, but all this is concealed in the Word so that we cannot see it, but must take hold of it by faith.”

PROPER 7 - BEAULIEU - 21ST JUNE 2020. Mt. 10: 24 – 39.

In today’s Gospel narrative by St. Matthew, in chapter 10, we hear the words of Jesus Himself Who is giving His Disciples both encouragement for their future ministry, but also some timely advice on their being aware of what dangers may lie ahead. Synagogues will not be entirely safe and those in high places may prove even dangerous. Yet, in all of this, Jesus emphasises the need to stand fearless in face of any threats and to remain firm in their new-found faith. He goes even further by adding the words ’even unto death.’ Those, surely, must have been words that would at first undermine their newly received conviction in Jesus that these twelve men held undoubtedly at that moment. Initially, they were told that there was no need to worry because God’s judgement, ultimately, would fall upon Israel. These words would not necessarily have been words to offer any encouragement. No immediate reassurance sensed by any one of them, at all, perhaps.

Our Lord then went on to urge them to become more like Him and this would to be their sole aim and purpose in life. Jesus is asking every Disciple to become more Christ-like - more like Him! The same call from Jesus with which are faced today! Yes, this is a tall order indeed so what must these men have thought, themselves, at that moment, I wonder? Jesus goes on even further to say that not even your closest and most loved one must come between you and your Lord and Master, for He must be and remain always your only focus for all things.

The most challenging and significant of Jesus’s following statement was that each one of them should take up their own cross and follow Him. If they do not, then, says Jesus, you are not worthy of Me.” How often have we heard the expression: “It’s a cross I have to bear?” These words, though, are a far cry from what crucifixion really means and in terms of personal surrender and even death as the ultimate price to pay. Our price!

In the first century it was not at all uncommon to be aware or even to be a witness to a public execution by mean of crucifixion. It was the punishment by law for specific criminal acts. Let us not bypass, however, what Jesus really means here:- He is asking for the very life-blood of every true follower if such a demanding sacrifice should ever arise. This begs the question:- How willing would we be today, if faced the same question? What happened to our Lord on Good Friday still happens to thousands of our Christin brothers and sisters world-wide. The early Christians were persecuted in that time then. They continue to be persecuted today. Why not us?

Amidst all this, there is a great Hope for if we understand that our being a Christian in these modern times in some ways removes from us from the difficulties and challenges we face now we need to think again for we would be wrong to think in this way. The ‘easy way out’ was not the purpose of our becoming Christians. Our faith does not act as a prop in our lives but as our firm and upholding buttress! In all that we face today, it is a wonderful thing to know that our Lord promises that we shall never be alone for like the small sparrow, we are not insignificant nor ever ignored by God. We are indeed valued by our Creator. We matter to Him!

Today’s Gospel concludes with the words:- “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake will find it.” In other words, live for yourself and you will never find Jesus! Live for Him only and you will become and remain His for ever! That is indeed a unique statement and a wonderful incentive and encouragement for each one of us to remain true to our calling as modern-day disciples of Christ. The first verse of the well-know hymn “Onward, Christian soldiers” well expresses our real hopes for our pilgrimage through life in the steps of Jesus.

AMEN.

Pentecost

Pentecost Sermon by Jane Barnicoat-Chongwe.

Pentecost 1

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost… the coming down of the Holy Spirit.. the breath of God, breathed upon the people of the world.

Pentecost is both an auditory and a visual experience. Both wind and fire are associated with God’s self revelation. Particularly apt for the coming of the Spirit. Wind both in Hebrew and Greek is closely associated with `spirit’ (wind often being described as the breath of God). The image of fire, links to the work of judgement….. whilst the metaphor of tongues… links with the fact that the result of this appearance of divine power is inspired speech.

In Luke’s account written in the book of Acts.. we are told ALL OF THEM WERE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.

Parthians, Medes, Jews, Asians, Egyptians, in today's world we might say, peoples of all faiths or none. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Last week Fr John reminded us of how we today are as much part of the events of Ascension and Pentecost as the Apostles and those present were, over two thousand years ago. I have been thinking about just how we see and hear the Holy Spirit working in the world today.

A quick internet search under the heading ‘in the spirit of kindness’ …. Reveals the many and varied ways in which kindness can be shared….. Kindness is simply an act of goodness. An act of Love… ….. hold that thought for now..

As we return to the events of Ascension day, we recall Jesus, ascending into heaven, returning to his Father, And if you use a little imagination here, imagine a simplified version of the events of Ascension and Pentecost, perhaps written as a story to be shared with young children. Just Imagine the setting, Jesus is back home… sitting with his Father and they are chatting about the journey that Jesus has just returned from… What stories Jesus has, first hand accounts, no fake news here, Jesus is sharing the facts with his Father, of all that’s happening down on planet earth.

I venture here to suggest that God had probably already been pondering on all that’s happening to the planet and the people of the world. God would have known that with Jesus back in heaven, it would take something pretty powerful to make sure the people on earth did not lose their way entirely…!

And so at Pentecost as people gathered in Jerusalem, suddenly for just a short while, a new togetherness prevailed… we read of tongues of fire, perhaps a great explosion of sound, a great wind, blowing through the temple and the courtyards, and then suddenly, everyone looks around and they see a likeness in each other, they understand each other, the people literally became as one, it doesn’t last very long, but it showed those present, just how very different their lives could be. How, no matter where we are from or what religion we follow, we are all the same, all one, all God’s people.

The Tongues of fire, could well be described as that (moment of judgement) that wake up call… a moment to pause and reflect on past deeds as well as words spoken…

Back to the present day, the internet is full of fake news, and yes some truths.. and that sharing of news, true or fake has recently included possible reasons for the coming of the coronavirus….

I have read….. God has had enough! God has called time on us all! some say the virus is man made, others believe it to be heaven sent?

And what about the affects on the planet? Less planes in the sky, fewer factories turning out deadly emissions, less people on the roads and on public transport and for a time fewer people visiting our beaches and green spaces.

So is it all part of God’s plan? maybe? but maybe not! Because as we know, God our Heavenly Father is a generous and kind God and he has always given mankind a pretty free hand, when it comes to managing our planet, most things that happen in the world today can after all be attributed to the activities of humankind.

But what we can be certain of is that YES God is still very present in the world and God is still sending his Holy Spirit down into the world. That Holy Wind, that Heavenly Breath… AND IT FINDS ITS HOME IN US… God’s people.

We were reminded of that in our reading from Acts… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

And if you want to for a moment think of some true news that has come out of the coronavirus pandemic…. Surely it has to be the many acts of kindness, the coming together of strangers, volunteering to help our health and care providers, those helping to pick vegetables, food banks and catering establishments providing food and free meals for the most vulnerable and the weekly clap for carers, another moment of coming together, a moment of recognition.. of giving thanks..

So yes, thank goodness, God is with us in many ways, seen and unseen. God is at work amongst us as we live through these uncertain times… and God is with us, because the Holy Spirit dwells within us….. all we need to do is to acknowledge and to recognise the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

When we speak, we should speak as Jesus speaks, with words of kindness and with love, it does not matter who our neighbour is, or where they come from , what faith they follow, because we are all the same, we are all God’s people.

In the month ahead the Winchester Diocese is leading an initiative called Generous June.. and its aims to make us think about acts of kindness and generosity, of things that we can do, perhaps supporting our Church and its mission, or it might be a charity we can be support, nationally or internationally, this was touched on in a recent edition of our Locked in Newsletter..

And yes its easy to think, OOH I already do my bit, I am on a limited budget, I can’t get out at the moment…. the excuses can be endless..

And yet the act of kindness and of generosity can be anything at all, it might be a kind word, a small donation, a conversation, a chat with with a friend or neighbour, an acknowledgement of a difficult situation.. what ever we can do.. when we do it with a good heart and a right spirit…. We do it for God and for each other….

Kind and generous spirits coming together, speaking together as one, will bring us closer to God’s heavenly kingdom.

So this Pentecost as ALL are filled with the Holy Spirit…..let us pray that together with all peoples in all places… Thy Kingdom Come. Thy Will be done.

Amen.

Easter 7, Sunday after Ascension Day

 

Last Thursday was Ascension Day. My earliest memory of that day is of setting off in crocodile from school in New Street Lymington to St Thomas' Church. I don't recall much from the school service, but I do remember Canon Bostock telling us that it was a 'Red Letter' day, so it was a very important one. Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday, and as such is easily forgotten. 40 days after Easter, it marks the ending of the physical presence of Jesus on earth. The festival owes its inspiration to St Luke, who recounts it twice - at the end of his Gospel, and at the beginning of his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles.

The apostles stare at the sky, as Jesus disappears from sight. In one of the chapels at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, there's a pair of feet disappearing through the ceiling. Pilgrims to the Holy Land will be taken to the traditional site of the Ascension, on the Mount of Olives. Now covered by a mosque, the visitor is shown a rock from which Jesus is said to have ascended; and on which he left the imprint of his right foot. 'And a cloud took him out of their sight'.

In the Bible, the cloud was the sign of divine glory. In the Old Testament when the presence of God appears on Mount Sinai, or in the Tabernacle, the portable temple of the Exodus, a cloud comes down. Clouds are, and they were particularly to ancient civilisations – mysterious, shining realities floating high in the heavens; or sometimes descending, and conceiling the peaks of the mountains. Their qualities of shining brilliantly and hiding made them a powerful image of the presence of God – the God who was the source of light, the God who dazzled and blinded, and couldn't be seen. His glory was a veiled glory. Thus the cloud expressed God's glory and presence. Out of a cloud a voice affirms Jesus as God's beloved Son at his baptism. On the mountain of Transfiguration a cloud descends and Jesus is glimpsed radiant with glory. At the Ascension he is taken up into the heart of God.

When Christians began to celebrate the great festivals of the Church's year and visit the holy places, the site of the Ascension didn't seem to be a priority. They went instead to Christ's birthplace. There, at Bethelehem, they affirmed that the Ascended Christ was the same Christ who had lived as one of us, assuming our human nature. As the Letter to the Ephesians puts it, 'Now, the word 'ascended' implies that he also descended to the lowest level, down to the very earth'. And St John in his Gospel tells us that in this coming down, in the Word become flesh, we see his glory, the heart and nature of God. And, paradoxically, that glory is seen most fully on a cross at Calvary, love and self-sacrifice unveiled.

Eric Gill AscensionThe sculptor and typeface designer Eric Gill was a complex and controversial character. He was born in 1882 and died in 1940. He was the inspiration behind London's Broadcasting House. He was also a gifted wood engraver. In 1918, he engraved his Ascension of Christ. There is the risen Christ, his arms and legs still bearing the marks of the crucifixion. Standing on tip-toe, he's looking heavenward, his left hand raised in blessing. He's in the very act of leaving the apostles. And it's interesting how Gill has chosen to portray them. Like their Master, the apostles are looking upwards; but this is the thing - their facial features, even their beards, are identical to his. The truth is - Christ's Ascension is theirs too. Life in God's nearer presence is our destiny too. In returning to the Father, Christ doesn't leave his humanity behind: no, he takes it with him; our humanity - praying for us to the Father just as he prayed for us on earth.

In the church's year, this Sunday, the last in Eastertide, is a Sunday of waiting, of expectation. The departing Lord said to his disciples, 'Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.' They see Jesus go into heaven, and on the Day of Pentecost, in a gale of wind from heaven, and in fiery tongues of flame, the Spirit comes upon them. They, the disciples, are heirs and successors; and they go out into the world to share his life, and to proclaim his good news. Without them, without their spirited mission we wouldn't be here this morning. And there's a challenge, because the ascended Christ tells the disciples to get on with being disciples, to be disciples for the rest of their lives.

This is still our mission today. Like Jesus at his baptism, like the apostles at Pentecost, we too have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. We too have been sent out to be Jesus' hands and feet and eyes in today's world. And he gives us the same blessing and reassurance, 'Know this', he says, 'that I am with you always; yes to the end of time.'

Fr John.

(Image kindly given permission to use by the Tate Gallery)

Easter 6

THE VALUE OF PRAYER – BEAULIEU 17.5.20 by Revd Iain Morrison

IonaOn a retreat that I led on Iona a few years ago we focused our time together throughout the whole week on the subject of prayer and this was inspired in part by a sermon which the late Pope John Paul II delivered to thousands of young people at Ninian Park in Cardiff during his visit to the United Kingdom in 1982. We are fortunate in the western world that we have access to so many books on the subject of prayer but I want to lead you on a journey this morning to explore what is meant by prayer and how we are best able to enter into the real meaning of this subject which is first of all the activities of our Christian discipleship.

Christ Himself taught us how to pray but His instructions to His disciples led them into a radically different kind of prayer from that in which they had been nurtured in the orthodox Jewish faith. The God to Whom Jesus prayed was not the invisible, untouchable God whose name ‘Jahweh’ could not even be uttered, for Jesus knew that a much closer relationship was possible between God and Man in a dialogue (not a monologue) that enabled this to happen and to flourish. It is in the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus, when teaching His disciples how to pray, began with the words ‘Abba bishmaya,’ – ‘Our Father.’ The word ‘Abba’ was a word that was used and used still by children who speak Aramaic to this day – the daily language of Jesus and a language that is softer and more gentle than many dialects of Arabic. You may have heard it spoken by the actors cast in the controversial and Mel Gibson’s very graphic film ‘The Passion.’ Jesus used this familiar address to His Father to illustrate that we too are able to relate to God as a young child relates to his or her father, respecting his authority yet having the knowledge that we are loved, protected and guided by Him.

Prayer, however, is not confined only to our corporate prayer in church nor to the verbal utterances we might offer. Those of the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches, especially those in the religious life, are familiar with the ‘Jesus Prayer,’ which is way to a great application and perseverance in the art of prayer. The Jesus Prayer uses the simple words “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” It begins with these words being spoken softly and gently and allowed slowly to enter into the mind and as time progresses it becomes evident, by God’s grace, that these words gradually become an interior prayer. Any verbal expression then becomes redundant and it then becomes the prayer of the heart and the mind. It is when we have achieved this status that we become aware of God’s vibrant presence and are drawn into an intimate relationship with Him. We begin to hear His words addressed to us by name and our sense of purpose and being is slowly revealed.

Pope John Paul II spoke of prayer as a multiplicity of different levels ofr applications. It is in prayer, especially silent prayer or peaceful, quiet prayer, that we begin to focus our attentions purposefully upon God. We need to know even in our ordinary daily lives the whereabouts of someone before we can begin to communicate with them! We could not hold a conversation with someone else in some sort of void if we are unsure where they are or where we are!

I am sure that all of us are lovers of the open countryside: the hills, the rivers, the forests, the Downs, the lakes, tarns and lochs and all those other things of nature that can delight the soul and in such places we can sense and even be keenly aware of the creative forces of God in His handiwork:- the silver veins of a new dawn; the shimmering cascade of a mountain steam; the swish of the rising swell on the ocean tide; the call of the new-born lamb or the skylark winging her way high above with a canopy of sapphire as her roof; of a rainbow or the setting golden sun floating on the scattered islets in a darkening sky. God’s handiwork cries out to a world which is able to see, to listen and to feel the Divine presence. Unless we are able to distance ourselves from time to time and retreat from our ordinary, daily lives we shall always find it difficult to be aware of God’s presence in our lives and certainly to communicate with Him in prayer in ways that we find rewarding.

We need always to prepare ourselves for prayer and where we can hear God speaking to us: guiding us; comforting us; listening to us, we shall be able to say ultimately ‘Yes’ to God and a great joy will be come to us in that, despite the vastness of the world in which we live and the countless millions of people who live on its surface, God speaks to each one of us - and we matter to Him! He calls us by name!

When we become conscious of our prayerful state and that we are privileged because of the freedom and God’s grace and goodness to know Him at a more intimate level, then we begin to take responsibility for ourselves and to put aside perhaps the ways which we have done little to enhance our attempts at discipleship.

Every time we pray, we acknowledge that Christ is our way, our truth and our life and our prayers become channelled through Him to the Father. God knows us for what we truly are, whatever that may be, because only through Jesus is God able to experience every condition of Man. God in Jesus, shares our human experiences with us! By coming to know Jesus we come to know the Father and to detect His presence in our lives. “To have seen Me is to have seen the Father,” said Jesus to Philip. “The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself: it is the Father, living in Me, Who is doing this work.” (John 14:10).

This is why, when we pray to the Father, we conclude with the words: “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” for only by our knowing Jesus can we come to know God. It is Jesus Who represents humanity transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the unique state into which we are all invited to share. It is the same Holy Spirit that converted the Disciples and all the Holy Saints in over two thousand years of Christianity that can change us today! But why do we expend effort and struggle to attempt what seems impossible?

As Christians we know instinctively that we cannot remain static for we are all on a pilgrimage of great significance and hope. We may doubt that we shall ever achieve Sainthood but at least we can try and God will love us for it!

AMEN.