Sunday, April 27, 2014

"A tupperware bowl of holy water" - sermon for my final Eucharist as vicar of St Matthew's

This time last week, our churches were full as we came together to share Easter joy …
After the fireworks and fizz of Holy Sat night the whole church seemed brim full of life and hope and....yes... Resurrection
As we sang our final hymn Thine be the glory I was pretty sure that I could actually hear angels ,archangels and all the company of heaven lending their voices.
No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of Life
For a little while that sure and certain hope of Resurrection took hold of us, heart, mind and spirit, and there was no doubt left...or, let's be honest, maybe a smidgeon somewhere... But not enough to spoil things.

But it's a week on now,...a day that used to be known as Low Sunday...a day of returning to earth from the heights of heavenly praise. Even though the Common Worship calendar tries to steer us in another direction, firmly labelling this the second Sunday of Easter, there's still a lingering memory of LOW Sunday...and I know when I first realised today would be my last as your parish priest, I took a kind of gloomy satisfaction in reflecting that at least it was already a faintly depressed sort of day, when my tearful goodbyes might feel quite at home. I imagined a sound track which was a kind of blend of the Samuel Barber Adagio with Morrissey....but somehow now we are here that doesn't seem quite right.

We are still within the Great Fifty Days.,,,we continue to polish our Alleluias by the light of the Paschal candle, and it turns out that this is not so much “Low” but more "down to earth" Sunday, presided over by that patron of hard facts, the apostle Thomas. I'm very fond of him. I celebrated my first Mass on his feast day in July, and though I feel very sorry for him, labouring through the ages with his label "Doubting Thomas" for me he exemplifies thoseblessed souls whose presence can transform any group of which they are part, because they dare to ask the questions every one else has left unspoken. These are the people who can help us all grow, who challenge us by pointing out uncertainties and inconsistencies.
We all need their honesty, their passion for bringing truth into the light of day....and maybe Thomas has a special word for us on a day when I must confess to feeling a bit wobbly. You see I'd like a few certainties, please.
Some hard evidence that Jesus is alive, that the Resurrection is rather more solid than the clutch of tiny eggs I found in a melted heap in the glovebox yesterday.

And I don't have far to look. Look around!
Look at this building, still gleaming from the hard work of those who made a gift of time and energy on Holy Saturday.
Look at the flowers, their natural beauty enhanced by the skill of our arrangers.
Look at your neighbours, your brothers and sisters in Christ.
If you don't recognise them as evidence, then just listen.

One Sunday in March we wrote our joys and gratitudes setting htem against the links of the chain of sadness and concern we fixed to our cross. In contrast our gratitudes, there to lighten our hearts, were attached to a balloon which also stayed with us through the long weeks of Lent.
On Maundy Thursday, as we stripped the sanctuary together I got to read what you had actually written...and I felt like singing.
Here is our evidence.
Listen. Here are some of YOUR words...signs that you recognize God at work in one another – and I promise not ONE was written by the vicar.
The community is vibrant – the church is full of love”

Thank you for the opportunity of being a child of God without fear of recrimination”

Friends and singing”

A wonderful feeling of peace and belonging”

A church where everyone is welcome”

I rejoice in the love of God for us all and for the love shown in our church towards one another”

Compassion for the bereaved and needy. Acceptance of children”

The will to listen, act and help where necessary...being drawn into the fellowship of the Church...a gift of God”

Warmth and welcome”

The friendship within Church...the children's work and the drop in”

Open hearts and minds”

Giving of love and peace”

Friendly, dedicated people”

a network for harnessing all the agape love and care of acommunity...for practical, emotional, spiritual help and friendship...intrinsic pastoral care...if it brings others to God it is for their good, not ours”

a tupperware bowl full of holy water” (something that looks ordinary but contains a surprising treasure)

A community that works and prays together and welcomes ALL”

This is the Church. We,YOU are the Church,...the body of Christ here in this community, proclaiming in 1000 ways that Jesus is alive.
Because, finally, it matters less that we believe in God and more that God believes in us.
Easter is 50 days...but in the end Ascension comes and, for a little while we seem to be left alone as we wait the coming of the Spirit. Even then, as they stood with our Lord on the mountain and received his Great Commission, some doubted. Later those same dubious souls would be transformed by the power of the Spirit into compelling evidence themselves.
But they didn't see it that way.
Some doubted....doubted themselves, doubted God, doubted that it was even worth trying.

Time to turn, then, to another inspirational hero...a bear of very little brain but a deep understanding of love.
If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. ”

I believe in you. You know that.
But God believes in you...and has given you every gift that you need to continue his work in this place.
Let go of your self doubt, your fear for the future.
Be transformed yourselves,by the One who calls.
We've had a wonderful journey together...but we journey on to new wonders.
You are the gospel, the good news for Cainscross, Cashes Green, Ebley and beyond.

God believes in go on providing hard evidence that He is at work, in his world and in his Church. In the name of the Father....


Crimson Rambler said...

what a beautiful way to say goodbye to your flock -- THANK YOU for this, GiP!

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