Sunday, June 30, 2024

A Sermon for St Edward's Kempley, Trinity 5, for the first Mass of Molly Boot.30th June 2024

 It’s a complete delight to be with you here in the beautiful Leadon Vale...a bit of a change from Elephant and Castle, where my day began. Coming down the A40, as soon as I crossed the border from Oxfordshire the memories began. I passed signs to The Rissingtons, where I served as a Reader fir 10 years before ordination, Charlton Kings where I served my title and resisted the urge to follow the road to Stroud where I was a very happy incumbent.

I loved living in Gloucestershire – but for one thing. It is so distressingly far from the sea.

Like Molly, I grew up in East Sussex, and have loved the sea all my days, whatever the weather.

As a child I imagined the Sea of Gallilee to be very like the English Channel off Hastings – and whenever I heard the gospel that has just been shared with us, I imagined Jesus and Peter crunching their way along the shingle as they completed their life-changing conversation. I would be there,  trailing along behind, and catching a few words til the wind blew them away.

I have since had the joy of visiting the Holy Land, and even read this passage to a group of pilgrims on the shores of Galilee – but even so, I’ve yet to re-imagine the story in its true setting. Somehow the sea off Hastings, in all its many moods, has become inextricably entangled with my images of God, so the first time I sang the hymn we’ve just enjoyed together, it made perfect, uncompromising sense.

"There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.."

When I sing it, there I am, a small child on Hastings beach, looking out at the vastness that stretches as far as my eye can see...The chances are that I am singing, or shouting poetry into the waves (I've not changed much through the years!), safe in the knowledge that the sound of the breakers will drown me out. I can say anything and the sea will just keep on being itself and let me be myself, and everything is absolutely alright.

Please don’t panic at this point, and think that I’ve given in to panentheism and am so intent on meeting God in creation that I’ve confused creation with Creator. While that can sometimes seem a tempting diversion, it's never really more than a signpost...a prompt to help us look in the right direction.

"A wideness like the wideness of the sea..."

God’s boundless mercy, God’s endless love – there, just for the taking.

There for Peter, who has so comprehensively failed in his aspirations that he has denied the One whom he held most dear.

There for each of us, no matter what is going on in our lives, whether we feel able to respond, to dip a cautious toe in, or not.

There despite what our flawed and broken institutions may say.

A love that is truly broader than the measure of our minds

And it is into this love that each one of us is invited today.

Our Gospel has a very particular invitation, which understandably resonates with many who have taken a leap of faith and hitched their wagon to ministry in the creaking institutional church. 

Jesus tells Peter – Peter, crushed, mortified, overcome by his failure to stay true to his call – that he still has work to do…

."Feed my lambs...tend my sheep…"

Despite his proven inadequacies, he remains one of the foundation-stones on which God builds his Church, and Jesus trusts him to care for the people Jesus loves.

Often the call to ordained ministry is thought about in those terms – shepherding a flock, keeping them safe, fed, watered. 

If you were in the cathedral yesterday, you’ll have heard a lot about what the Church expects of her priests…They are not just to shepherd but to teach and preach, absolve admonish,  baptise and so much more....It’s an exhaustive and exhausting list, which can all too easily leave clergy feeling defeated at times, but I think that at its heart it boils down to one central calling


“With all God’s people, priests are to tell the story of God’s love”

That’s it. That’s at the heart of everything. THAT is what Molly has signed up for this weekend...but it’s not their calling alone .

Yes, of course ordination matters.  

God’s Church has been blessed and changed forever by this new priest – who, wonderfully, gloriously, is the self-same Molly, flawed and gifted and graced as we all are...

Our Molly, whom we love,- and so we are rightly excited and delighted to see what they and God will get up to together in this new phase.

As God’s priest they are empowered to tell God’s story in particular ways, inviting others to take their place in it, offering God’s forgiveness to those burdened by doubt, feeding God’s people in the Sacrament of Bread and wine, God’s very life offered to each of us as a gift of transformation and hope. 

Molly, your new priest, will seek to tell that great story through how she lives her life each and every day...but it’s not their calling alone. 

As God pours an immeasurable, unbounded tide of love into our hearts and draws us inexorably ever closer. there is a vocation and ministry for all of us, that uses all our gifts, and makes sense of all that we are to shape a song that only we can sing.

Today, and every Sunday as we gather for worship, the God stories become real, lived experience 

We meet with God in one another – made in God’s image, carrying oour own spark of creativity and compassion- gifted by God to serve the world in this time and this place.

We meet with God in God’s Word, shared and interpreted to challenge and change us.

We meet with God in a fragment of bread and a sip of wine, God’s very life offered to each of us as a transforming gift.

And then – this is where it gets really exciting – we are to take that gift and share it….take that story of love and tell it to others, using words if we must….

It’s a story born before the world began to be,.a story which sweeps us up and carries us along until by God’s grace we are embraced in love for eternity.

Molly, even on the bad days, stay with that story – for it is the truest thing there is...and let us tell it here together til, by Gods grace we see God face to face and need story no longer, for we know as we are known.

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