Saturday, April 27, 2013

Amazing love...Homily for 8.00 Easter 5

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another

Jesus seems very intent on getting his message across...a message summed up in a single word
That's the beginning and the end of the Christian life...LOVE
All you really need to know about the Christian life – and the God who calls us.

But I'm rather afraid that if you stood by the Co-op check-out and asked everyone who came through the first word that sprang to mind when you said “Christian” love might not be the answer.

A straw poll conducted yesterday came up with “Boring” “Science” “JBigotry” “Dior” “Fundamentalist” “Perfection” and “soldier” before finally someone suggested “love”....
and if I'm honest I wasn't very surprised.

You see, though we are a people shaped by God's love, called to live each moment responding to it – we are actually really bad at showing it.
God pours out his love and invites us to share it with others– but we struggle to believe that there's enough to go we hoard it.
Though love and fear should be mutually exclusive, we are anxious. We close our fists to hold God's gifts tightly instead of playing pass the parcel so that everyone can be included.
Indeed, it can seem as if our faith is more of an insurance policy against a miserable eternity than a life-enhancing source of overflowing joy....

But take comfort...If we're anxious that there's not enough to go round, we're not alone.
The reading from Acts presents Peter learning a very important lesson.
Throughout history til this point, the Jewish people had rejoiced in their special relationship with God. They WERE God's chosen...defined by the Torah and the Covenant...
And within the Torah, the dietary laws draw a clear line between those who follow them – who are the insiders, God's people – and those who don't.
So what you eat defines who you are unmistakeably...and Peter was confident that those who followed the purity code were God's favourites.

But that day in Joppa God turned the Jewish world upside down...removing the barriers of history and showing Peter that there were to be no limits on God's grace from now on
“What God has made clean you must not call profane...”
Against his upbringing, against his life-long experience, Peter found himself awake to a new reality, invited to see the whole world in a different way.
If God then gave them the same gift that he gave to us...who was I that I could hinder God. ...God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life”
In other words he'd learned, as we must learn, that God's love is always broader, deeper, stronger......and completely inclusive.
Nothing and nobody is beyond its scope – and there will always, ALWAYS be enough to go round.

So – spend a minute thinking about the people you struggle with.
Those whose behaviour alarms you...Those whose outlook is radically different from your own...Those whose messy lives make you think “For goodness sake......”
Those who seem to have no time for you, and make you feel small and unimportant.
Think about them.
Then...remind yourself that God loves each of them so much that he chose to DIE to prove it.
Remind yourself that God loves each of them just as much as he loves you.......and that God loves you just as much as he loves them.

Finally listen to the words of Jesus once again
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another

Ask for God's help in learning and living his lesson of love – a love that includes everyone, regardless of race, creed, gender.....or anything else you can think of....a love that never gives up, regardless of our response...a love that lasts forever.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A view from some distance up the candle

Once upon a time, in my first years out of university, I was part of the choir of St John the Divine Kennington - and it was here that I first encountered Benediction...and was completely overwhelmed.
Though I'd grown up amid the rarefied Anglo-Catholic air of Chichester diocese my family were firmly morning-only worshippers (the restful silence of 8.00 for preference) so I had never even dreamed that such exotic delights existed!
That first time, in the chapel at St Gabriel's college, I had no IDEA what was going on - simply that I seemed to be in a place where prayer was easier, more valid, than anywhere ever before.
I loved the externals - the altar crowded with lights, the clouds of Rosa mystica incense - and I loved too the way we could somehow slip into the ongoing tide of prayer that stretched through the centuries as we sang the plainsong hymns "O Salutaris hostia" "Tantum ergo sacramentum"
All my senses rejoiced in something that was so very very beautiful...and I found the theology behind it  beautiful too.

I have never doubted for a second that Christ is fully present in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist. My own experiences of meeting Him there time after time are proof enough for me.
I always find it easiest to pray in churches where the Sacrament is reserved - indeed, it was almost a "deal breaker" for me in considering possible jobs.
I don't understand the how and whys...and I don't think that I need to.
I just know that, for me, this is a solid reality - and a place where heaven and earth touch.'s really not surprising that in Exposition and Benediction I feel very close to God...for it's a time of quiet reflection kneeling before Christ, present in the consecrated Host upon the altar...and then a moment when we receive a blessing that strengthens and inspires us.

It's a moment when words are unimportant and when even my ceaseless background chatter of ideas is stilled.
A moment out of time - when we are swept up into the unbounded present that is eternity.

It's something I long to experience more often...
I find it so hard to shut up and just BE before God but here it is both easy and blessed.

As to what actually happens in practical terms - the best summary I've come across is here  (scroll down to find it)...or, better still, there's a brilliant children's resource also offered by Little St Mary's - where they probably do this better than most places!

And if, for you, this reads like complete nonsense - confirmation that I'm dottier than a dalmatian with measles - then think of this. You can sing the Tantum Ergo most beautifully to the tune of "I'm forever blowing bubbles"! Try it and see - and I bet Jesus enjoys it hugely!

You don't always get what you want...

Home from On Fire, the AngloCatholic Renewal Conference that I experienced for the first time last year. I blogged about it then - and had been looking forward hugely to reconnecting with this network and finding out what God had in store for me. I went with some pretty huge things to pray through - and, this time, with the reassurance of knowing I was going to spend time with established friends, people with whom I'm comfortable sharing at deep levels. On day 1 as we enjoyed a gin before dinner I commented to one about how lovely it was not to be in a state of badly-suppressed terror...this time the arrival at High Leigh had something of the same feeling of home-coming I usually associate with Greenbelt. I was excited and hopeful.

Which made it harder, I think, when some of the teaching on offer this year was distinctly UNhelpful. Some things were said in ways that I'm pretty certain would not have been part of what the organising committee expected or wanted...and there was a stirring of unwelcome memories for some of my friends.  Having not been part of the charismatic movement in the past, I was immune from those particular struggles - but had plenty of my own as the week unfolded. 

Of course, there was much that was completely wonderful. Time with friends, raspberry gin, addresses by the Bishop of Hertford - and encounters with God in the Blessed Sacrament both at the Eucharist and during Exposition and Benediction. 

But there was also disappointment.When I took a deep breath and went forward for prayer ministry, placing all that I was carrying with me firmly in God's arms - though friends left and right were falling down, it seemed that (to paraphrase) "in Kathryn, nothing much happened"
And that, of course, triggered all my own insecurities about charismatic gifts. Had I let God down somehow by not being open to him? 
What was I holding onto unconsciously that was stopping God from doing what I firmly believed that I needed God to do?

That wasn't a good evening.

And then we reached the final Mass. A service where the music was mostly familiar, the sermon truly outstanding and in which we were each lovingly anointed for whatever God was calling us on to. 
Like other services at "On Fire" the Mass included a time of waiting on the Spirit. Last year there had been a picture that seemed to be specially for me...but again, this year, there was discouraging silence where I had hoped for something loud, clear and unmistakeable. 
All there was was was the reassurance "God says, I am not SENDING you out but going with you..." (did I say "All"? - oh well, you see what sort of mood I was in...full of grumpy mutterings to myself about "wasted opportunities" and "a whole year til you'll be with people who get this stuff" and....)

And then - well, then I went forward to do my job as a chalice assistant as the rota had indicated - and there and then, as I did what I do week after week after week God met me and swept me up in a whirlwind of love and joy that made it impossible not to grin like a lunatic at each and every person to whom I handed the chalice. I just about resisted the urge to say to each
"The blood of Christ - and you do know, don't you, that it comes with all the love that you'll ever need and more.......?" but that was most definitely what I was feeling for myself.
And isn't that just LIKE God? and just like me?
I'm spending ages hammering on a door that doesn't seem to want to open, - while beside me stands another, flung wide...

Perhaps the charismatic gifts will be part of my future. 
Perhaps they won't.
I know myself well enough to resist saying that I won't mind either way. I want any and every shiney thing that God might be offering - so I will keep on asking, but I do know that God doesn't love me less if those gifts do not become part of my life and part of my ministry.

I know too that as I stood there yesterday God affirmed me in my vocation as His priest...affirmed me in doing what I do day after day after day as I stand before His people and offer them God's own self in bread and wine.

Oh - and the Rolling Stones quote? well, I guess that might just have been the prophetic word I was craving, as over our final lunch a friend said, a propos of nothing obvious "You don't always get what you want..." and my heart responded happily 
" might find that you get what you need".

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My sheep hear my voice - words for 8.00 on Vocations Sunday, Easter 4C

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 

Today we celebrate vocations Sunday...and in case you were in any doubt, can I say loud and clear that vocation is for everyone.

The God who created the unique individual who is YOU gave you gifts to be used in his service...
An article on our diocesan website puts it rather neatly
We are all called, no matter what our occupations may be. There is no special status in the Kingdom for those in “top jobs” or “important responsibilities”...
It used to be that we understood particular paths as vocations – teaching, nursing, ordained ministry, the creative arts – but vocation simply means CALLING – and there is no doubt that each one of us has particular work to do for God.

During the Confirmation service, the bishop says to each candidate
God calls you by name and makes you his own” - but that calling begins long before we are ready to stand and make an adult commitment to our faith...From the very beginning the God who searches and knows us has a particular work for us to do.Our whole life should be a celebration of what God does for us,a response to the amazing love in which we live and move and have our being, a living out of God's purposes in our everyday world.
So...all we need to do is to listen for the voice of our Shepherd...because he knows us and knows where we should go.

But somehow, we seem to struggle with this.

Perhaps it's just that we've stopped expecting God to speak – so we don't REALLY listen.
Perhaps its because the path God calls us to seems at odds with our own understanding of our needs, our desires or our abilities.
Perhaps we doubt whether that inner restlessness, that sense that we are not quite at home where we are, is really God's voice at all.
A while ago a group of clergy friends came up with a check-list of ways we might know if God is calling us...a check-list that is only slightly humorous. 

If you’re having a hard time sleeping or concentrating on anything else, if
what you’re thinking about doing raises your blood pressure and makes it hard
to sit still, then you MIGHT be hearing the voice of God.
If you’re thinking of doing something that you don’t feel at all qualified or
prepared for, you MIGHT be hearing the voice of God.
If you are comfortable where you are, and something is provoking you to
try something (in service to others) that places your comfort in jeopardy, you
MIGHT be hearing the voice of God.
If your family and friends think you're crazy for even considering a
change that might place your comfort level at risk, you MIGHT be hearing the
voice of God.
If you stop worrying about whether you’re hearing the voice of God, you
MIGHT be hearing the voice of God.
If, no matter what other direction you explore, you keep finding the same
option opening up before you, you MIGHT be hearing the voice of God.
If you’re thinking of doing something that you enjoy doing, that you are
good at, but for the first time  with the intention of glorifying God and serving
others, you MIGHT be hearing the voice of God.
If you’re concerned about what others might think of
you, you MIGHT be hearing the voice of God.
If it seems impossible, you MIGHT be hearing the voice of God.

What do you think? Does it ring true for you?

If it does, and if you're absolutely scared stiff....take heart. 
This is GOD'S call for you, remember...and Jesus is very clear about what happens to those who hear his voice and follow his lead.
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand."
If we trust our shepherd and follow his voice - all shall be well.

And if none of that strikes a chord at all – it might just be that you are exactly where God wants you to be, singing the song that He has given you to sing...
If that is so, then sing it with all your might...with every breath of your body, day by day.
There is no greater joy than in BEING true to the self that God has responding to the call of the shepherd who is himself the way that leads to eternal life.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Seeing is believing

Last week the world was full of Easter joy.
Whether you watched rockets knock stars from the sky as the Paschal candle banished the darkness from our hearts and minds or rose with the dawn to hear the resurrection greeted in the sound of joyful bird song - I hope and pray that for a while at least the uncertainties, questions and grey areas of faith were banished by the confident truth
"Christ is risen! He is risen indeed"

A week on, though, we're back with our own familiar a world where fear locks us in, behind closed doors - and where doubts and insecurities are part of the fabric of life.
It seems so unfair that nobody talks about Peter the Turncoat or - despite their evident ambition - James & John the Wannabe twins - but Thomas - oh, he's Thomas the Doubter for all time - and as such, surely, the patron of pretty much everyone I have ever known.

He hears the excited testimony of his friends "We have SEEN the Lord" - and is not satisfied.
He wants firm, tangible evidence...nothing that could be based on mass hysteria (can 10 be a mass?) or the power of suggestion. 
He wants incontravertable proof that Jesus is alive.
Don't we all?
Seeing is believing!

So - here's my own story of doubts and faith and proof and wonder...Are you sitting comfortably?
During ordination training, I found myself on a weekend exploring Franciscan spirituality, and was told to go out on a walk without watch, phone or any agenda except attending to what God wanted to show me. At the time a special friend was in hospital, so separating myself from the phone was a huge challenge in itself, and I was concerned that I would be so bothered at being out of touch with her that I'd be quite unable to hear anything from God at all.
However, I obediently set off down the drive, taking time to look and listen as I very rarely did. Having suffered all my days from a fair degree of short- sightedness, I tend not to be a very visual person, and it was good for me to learn to gaze without hurrying on to the next thing.

Normally, of course, I would never have met the spider.
As it was, I nearly missed him, as he span his line around an ivied tree. He had one of those mottled grey-brown bodies that was very much at home amid the layers of autumnal leaf-mould. I watched him scurrying along the bridge he was building from his own body, hardly breathing for fear that I might damage the fragile work of engineering that was before me. But then the rain started…large, heavy drops, which shook the dying leaves around his workplace. The spider froze, midway between one twig and the next, stopped dead in the very midst, the very moment of creation. Perfectly camouflaged amid the dead twigs and bark, suspended on his own silken way, stretched, elongated, he looked nothing like a spider at all.. I waited.
And waited.
As time passed, I became desperate for him to move. I began to doubt my own memory. Had there ever really been a spider at all, or had my eyes been playing tricks? I longed to shake the branch again, to prompt him to move, to reveal himself. I knew deep down that I had seen him, that what I now gazed at, willing him to move, to prove the truth of my experience, had only paused upon its delicate and dedicated course. I knew, but still I longed for confirmation, for fresh evidence of a reality that should need no proof.
Then I heard God laughing.
“Kathryn” he said “You’re doing it again. Don’t you realise that you do this with me, again and again and again? We spend time together. I fill you with a sense of joy and awe at my presence, and you focus completely on me. Then the time comes for you to leave the mountain, and even as you head homewards the doubts crowd in. “Was it really God?” you ask. “Perhaps I just felt happy because it was a beautiful place and a special day. Perhaps I was bouyed up by the presence of loving friends.” You will the moment to repeat itself, to confirm its truth.
That spider is a spider, even though its intricate work appears to halt, even though it seems to vanish, and merge into its own small world. And I am God. You may lose sight of me too, may wonder if you ever really glimpsed me here…but I have the whole created world in which to hide or show myself. You need not doubt the evidence of your eyes”

Remember that, as you engage with the world this week. 
God is here - as surely as the risen Christ encountered Thomas in the upper room. Just open your eyes and you'll see.