I’ll never have to preach for the first time in a Cathedral ever ever again! It was interesting to get the feedback from my husband, who came along to shepherd me, and generally make sure I didn’t crash the car through sheer nerves. Apparently I sound a lot better when I’m not reading head down, but head up (which is why I no longer write out my sermons except when they are “important”).
I didn’t lose the Virgirs, managed extempore prayers (no-one told me the preacher does the prayers until just before the service!), and didn’t trip over my cassock.
This sermon seemed to be well received, no-one fell asleep or walked out, as far as I could tell. It was lovely of @ramtopsrac and @ramtoptgrum to come along – i didn’t realise they were there until it was over. And afterwards, OH took me to the William Walker for a glass. It felt gooooood!
A huge thank you to everyone who has prayed, thought of me, calmed me down and generally helped. You are all wonderful, and I greatly appreciate your care.
I’m now off for another glass – day off tomorrow!
For those who are wondering, what I preached is below. I may have deviated slightly from the written words, but this is the script.
4 before Advent Year B
Winchester Cathedral Evensong 4thNovember 2012
1 John 3:1-3
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I hope I may be forgiven for being a bit confused about which way I am facing in time this afternoon. Whether I am looking back, at the present or forward. This is the fourth service I’ve been part of today. The first three times out in Ampfield, Chilworth and North Baddesley were all in celebration of All Saint’s Day. We were thinking of the people of today who strengthen and encourage us in our faith and in practical ways too. And this afternoon, as I stand here, one service (in our parishes) has finished, and another is beginning, to mark All Souls – a time when the church reaches out to those families in the parishes for whom it has conducted funerals. It is a chance to gather people together who may be at various stages of grieving, to remember their loved ones, and to remind them of the hope in the Christian faith.
Of course here it is neither looking back for All Souls, or looking at where we are for All Saints, we are looking forward because it is the 4th Sunday before Advent. The Sundays before Advent are a comparatively recent invention in the Lectionary, perhaps an attempt by the compilers to compete with those garden centres which are already putting out trees and decorations in anticipation of ….no…. I can’t bring myself to use the C word yet. Or much more positively, the Sundays before Advent are a chance to slow down gently from busy lives and seasons ready to begin the watching and waiting.
The readings we have heard today also look backwards in time, speak into a current context and then look forward.
Jeremiah looks back to the Laws of Moses, reminding the people of what should have held them together with God, just like a couple held together in marriage. Jeremiah likens the breaking of the covenant to the break down of a marriage. Marriages generally start with the very best of intentions – to have and to hold, for better for worse. But human beings aren’t always great at keeping promises. Especially the big promises. It can be hard enough to keep the small promises at times. I promise to keep my room tidy, I promise to do my homework in plenty of time, as we get older I promise to be home from work on time, and my own (least) favourite – Of course I’ll remember to do that. This from the woman who has failed to buy more birthday cards than most of you have had birthdays. It’s not just marriages that break down starting with the small things, it’s friendships, work relationships, and of course our relationship with God.
But Jeremiah speaks to his present time and people in Jerusalem, a people whose society has been deliberately broken down by the Babylonians, a society where their religion has been undermined by the destruction of the all important temple, the home (as they saw it) of an often physically present God.
In the midst of the destruction and dislocation the prophet offers reassurance “the days are surely coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” This covenant is for all the people, even though the two houses have been warring between themselves. This covenant is for all the family, even though the family is divided. There will be healing, just from the fact that this covenant is for all. And even more excitingly, the content of the Covenant, its basis, is forgiveness. There will be no need to carry the crippling level of guilt at past wrongs, they can be forgiven by God. There is no need to feel guilty for failing to preserve the Temple against invaders, this covenant is about God in people’s hearts, and acted out in people’s lives. Yes, there is still Law, but it is Law lived out through love and care for others, embodied, not imposed. Jeremiah’s prophecy is of God giving future hope to God’s people.
John also looks back, reminding his readers of God’s love for them. Even the love of God was not enough to hold this Christian community together – John was writing to the remains of a Christian community that had been split, this time not by force, but by different beliefs. John’s letter is more of a sermon, reminding one particular community of what holds them together. And like Jeremiah, John writes of a changing relationship with God. Jeremiah speaks of a move from law to living out a forgiven life; John speaks of a relationship of a parent and child.
The thing with a human baby, is that although she is fully human, it is not terribly obvious what kind of adult she will become. As parents, we may detect tenacity, patience, calmness, a certain restless energy in our offspring. But we can’t tell how she will interact with others, what her interests will be, what kind of a person she will become. But it is often a good guide to look at the parents to see how children will turn out – going back to marriage for a moment, a prospective bridegroom is often advised to take a good look at his future mother-in-law!
John writes when our true selves are revealed, we will look like God, for we are all in God’s image. But that revelation of self, and of God, is …not yet.
So what of all this for us today? Where does this leave our looking forward and back? The Church of England stands on the edge of momentous decisions about the future shape fo the Episcopate. The Diocese of Winchester, with its new bishops, faces the challenge of being church in the 21stCentury, here, in this place. Bishop Tim challenges us to do this with passionate personal spirituality, pioneering faith communities and prophetic global citizens.
And here, in the Cathedral, it is easy to look backwards. There is a marvelous history here, stories of people and buildings, tantalizingly and magnificently hinted at in the Chronicles of Light, where only a few of them could be told. But there is a present – of people to be reached, of Gospel to be lived out. And a future to be dreamed of and prophesied.
But let Jeremiah and John serve as examples to us. They prophesied, they shared the Word of God into their context. But they listened attentively to what was going on around them, to the dominant and minor discourses. What happens here, in this place if we do the same? What happens if we listen to the city, to the people, and at the same time, listen attentively to God? If we all listen, we will surely hear. And what happens if we respond to the voice of God that we jointly discern – prayerfully, passionately, and prophetically?
Look backward, but not too hard. Pay great attention to the present moment, for in it we find God. And move forward confidently, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.