Sunday, 20 June 2010
Sermon for 20th of June, 2010
Yesterday I was ordained as a priest! It was a special moment in time for me. The photograph above was taken today just after I presided at the Lord's table for the first time, with Lesley our Reader, who also assisted with distributing Communion - another special moment in time. What follows is taken from the sermon I preached today. The readings were 1 Kings 19:1-15a, Galatians 3:23-end, and Luke 8:26-39.
There were a lot of photographs taken yesterday at the Cathedral. These snapshots will have captured some of the excitement of the moment: the joy of the ordinands and the support of family and friends. Photographs are snapshot images of moments taken out of time. They’re moments that have been taken out of their original context. Each Sunday our scripture readings are kind of like snapshots in this way. What we get is only a small picture of what is really a much wider landscape of events and meanings. The task of the preacher is to develop the picture in some way. But it can never be the whole picture, because ‘the word of God is living and active’, as St. Paul says in Hebrews 4:12. God is still completing the picture, for us and with us.
I’d like to consider just a couple of themes from our readings this morning. The first comes from the Old Testament reading, 1 Kings 19, of Elijah’s experience of the presence of God in a “gentle whisper”; the ‘still, small voice’ in some translations. God is both meekness and majesty. In the Old Testament, God’s presence is sometimes signified by thunder, clouds and fire. But here God’s presence is signified by gentleness, quietness and stillness. God works in his own way, and in his own time, and not always in the ways we expect. And if we busy ourselves too much in the noisy stuff of daily life, we can miss the still, small voice of God.
For a few days last week, those of us who were ordained priest yesterday were made to go on retreat. This took place at the Diocesan Retreat Centre, which is surrounded by woodland. I found the most refreshing part of my retreat experience was time spent walking in the woods, serenaded by birdsong. The blessing of the retreat centre is for all of us in the Diocese and I recommend it to you for a quiet day or a couple of days retreat.
Stillness, quiet reflection, and prayer are so important if we want to become more aware of God’s intimate presence with us, and his purposes for our life. What might God be saying to you, in a gentle whisper? In some cases, he may be reassuring us; in others challenging us or calling us to a new direction in our lives. Whatever the message may be when we make the space to listen, in our desire to respond, God will equip us for the next stage of our journey.
The next theme I’d like us to think about is from our second reading from Galatians chapter 3. It’s that remarkable picture of inclusiveness in Christ. Verse 2: ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’. It’s a picture of a world where there are no exclusion zones. In the new creation there are no categories in which people are boxed in or kept out.
Is there someone or something we would rather exclude from God’s grace? Remembering now our Gospel reading from Luke 8, picture the demon-possessed man, a horrific picture of distorted humanity, being healed by Jesus. Irenaeus once said, ‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive’. And God’s grace makes that possible, even for the most distorted of lives. No one is beyond the reach of Jesus.
And God’s grace makes reconciliation possible even in the most hostile of situations. Reconciliation is God’s work. And through Christ, by his Spirit, the ministry of reconciliation has been given to the Church. Going back to what St. Paul says in verse 27 of Galatians 3, ‘All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ’. And being in Christ, as his body the Church, we are to be a blessing to the world. All the baptised are ‘ordained’ to do this.
And all the baptised are ‘set apart’ to a ministry of serving Christ by serving others in the world. Jesus set this example for his disciples when, in John’s gospel, chapter 13, he washes the disciple’s feet, and says to them, ‘You should do as I have done for you’. In the body of Christ, in whatever role we have as laity or clergy, it’s an immense privilege to serve our amazing God. And I want to say today, as I preside at the Lord’s Table, how humbling this privilege is. As we say in the ‘prayer of humble access’, none of us are worthy even to gather up the crumbs from under his table. And yet, Jesus says: ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’.
Jesus gives his very self for the whole world. And the still, small voice of God calls all who are ‘clothed with Christ’ to take part, in this sacrament of thanks and praise. The Eucharist is a thanksgiving meal and it’s a memorial meal. And the act of taking bread and wine, blessing and breaking, taking and eating – this simple act contains a much wider significance in its whole context, some of which is simply beyond our comprehension.
But at its heart, the sacrament of Holy Communion is about participation, sharing, and fellowship – with Christ and with each other. By his Spirit, we share Christ’s body and blood. By his Spirit, we are clothed with Christ on the outside and Christ lives within us. By his Spirit, we share in his mission and in his servant ministry.
Jesus gives himself to us, and we make our response by giving ourselves to him. As St. Paul urges in Romans 12:1, ‘...brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, ...offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship’.
So as we come to the Table in gratitude for what Jesus has given us, let us also come to offer our lives afresh to God. And let us seek God’s purposes for our own life and for the life of this community; not by listening to the loud clanging drums of special interest groups, but by listening to God’s ‘gentle whisper’ – that still, small voice. The voice that says ‘be still and know that I am God’. The voice that says ‘Do not be afraid’. The voice that says ‘I am with you always’. It’s the voice of truth. It’s the voice that sets us free.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, thank you for giving to us your Son and your Spirit. Thank you for including us among your children, and at your Table. Speak to us afresh today, Lord. As you know our inmost thoughts and deepest needs, comfort us, and challenge us; to the glory of your name. Amen.