Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
On Sunday I preached my first sermon at St Mary Magdalene Church.
On arrival I was met by a Churchwarden who greeted me with the words: " I hope you are in good voice this morning. Last nights storm took out all the electrical supply in the church. The fuse box just melted. So, we have no lights, nor microphones." The service went ahead with some people using the torch on their mobile phones to read the hymns whilst others just hummed along. Fortunately there was a window next to the Lectern from which I preached so I had a little light and with a bit of voice projection even those in the back pews heard God's message.
Here is my sermon::
This morning’s Epistle was written whilst Paul was in chains, in a prison in Rome. Whether Paul himself wrote it or someone on his behalf is the subject of debate amongst scholars, but that need not concern us here. It is addressed to the small community that Paul established at Ephesus in Asia Minor on one of his missionary journeys. It uses the analogy of the armour of a Roman soldier, perhaps the one who was guarding Paul at the time. I take from it that he is saying that as the soldier trusts his armour to protect him against his enemy so the spiritual armour of God, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit will protect them as the King James version puts it ‘on the evil day’. In other words the spiritual armour, a trust in God, can be trusted as the soldier’s physical armour. However, from this passage the words that leapt out at me were: “Pray also for me that I may be granted the right words when I speak, and may boldly and freely make known the hidden purpose of the gospel.” Now I am not in prison nor in chains as Paul was, but as I start my preaching ministry, I echo St Paul’s plea, and ask you all to pray for me that I may be granted the right words to speak. It is a daunting challenge and one that I have been trying to avoid accepting. When the small still voice first spoke to me I resisted and continued to do so for many months, despite the persistence of the call. After all, I said to myself, St Mary Magdalene already has three very experienced preachers. Does it need an aged novice like me? Anyway, what could I offer? I am not qualified to preach. But someone reminded me that God does not call the qualified He qualifies the called. So here I am.
I thank you, Father M, and you Father G, for all your encouragement and support and for delaying this commissioning service until my friends and family could be present. It is a great encouragement to me that so many of you here to support me.
The young church at Ephesus was probably no bigger than the congregation here and would have met in one another’s houses, sharing food, comfort and worship together. But also because there were so many enemies out there; pagan deities to be worshipped and antagonism from the Jewish community who would not accept them, for example. They came together like a family really. Family is important. Together we share each other’s joys and sorrows. Together we share the bad times as well as the good so that if one is in trouble the others will rally round to help. Together the family provides a safe place, a home, to which any member can return, whatever they have done, and know that they are always welcome. Our families teach us how to share, how to love, how to be fair, and how to serve others. Of course, being human not all members of a family will see eye to eye on everything. Indeed, even in the best regulated family its members will sometimes cause us a great deal of pain and suffering, and again none of us can predict the future, which can throw up some very nasty surprises, as the coronavirus pandemic has shown, but still we all share a common bond.
When the going gets tough for us, as it did at Ephesus, it is easy to forget that we are members of God’s family and turn away from Him, to seek solace elsewhere. But God did not promise that our path through life would be smooth, God knows that there will be ups and downs, mountains to climb, rivers and valleys to cross. Yet when the disciples were faced with the option of going elsewhere Simon Peter said, as we heard in our Gospel reading: “Lord, to whom will we go? We believe and know that you are God’s Holy One”. But even he, when faced with the ultimate challenge, did what I suspect any of us would have done and fled.
We are all members of the large and diverse family of God. It is a family made up of human members who may not see eye to eye on everything and indeed who will sometimes cause each other pain and suffering. Now, one thing of which we can be certain is that God understands the problems all families face. After all over the centuries, the millennia, His human family has caused Him untold distress and suffering and, sadly, continues to do so. But it is a family whose God and Father loves His Creation unconditionally, each and every part of it. As Solomon said in our OT reading: showing them constant love. He is a God who wants the best for them whoever they are and whatever they have done. And because of that, the one thing He did promise was that He will be with us; He will never fail us or forsake us so that we don’t have to carry our burdens alone. The prophet Isaiah writing many years before St Paul put it this way: 'For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.'
Let me tell you a story that illustrates that point:
One day, pre Covid, I had to visit the dentist. Whilst awaiting my turn a young girl about 4 or 5 years old, came bouncing in to the waiting room holding her father’s hand. Father explained to the receptionist that he wanted to register his daughter as a new patient. They sat by the window where they could see the traffic, the passers-by, the trees and the birds. The child had no idea where she was or why. Daddy had brought her here in his car and led her to this room, where everyone sat quietly reading or staring into the distance, waiting for something to happen. Anyway, there were lots of interesting things to see from the window. Daddy spoke to a lady but when she left them he was still there so everything was ok, wasn’t it? She climbed on his lap, gave him a big hug and a great big smile that lit up the whole waiting room. Father put his arm around his daughter and there could be no doubt about the love he had for her. A love that was clearly reciprocated. When the nurse called them to see the dentist father stood up and offered his hand to his daughter. She took it without hesitation, clutched it tightly, and went with him through the door and along the corridor. She had no idea what lay beyond that door or where the corridor led, but Daddy had a firm hold of her hand and she knew instinctively that he would not let anything bad happen to her. She loved and trusted him as he loved her.
So, whatever you do this coming week remember we are all members of God’s family, a family whose Father loves us and cares for us unconditionally. He is a God and Father, who will not let us face the slings and arrows of this world alone. In fact, He offers us His hand and calls us to follow Him, to go with Him. As the little girl took her father’s hand with confidence and followed him, even though she had no idea where they were going, or what lay beyond that door, so are we called to take the hand our God and Father offers us and follow him, even though we may have no clear idea where we are going. The hand that is offered is God’s unconditional love for us summed up in the word Abba, which means Father, but can probably best be translated as Daddy. Taking God’s hand and following him is our response to God’s unfailing love for us.
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK