4th Sunday After Easter – 5th Sunday of Easter, 6th May, St Matthias 8am and 9:30am

Preacher: Revd David Gardiner

8:00am Book of  Common Prayer – Homily

Readings: James 1: 17-21; John 16: 5-15

May the words of my lips, and the meditations of all our hearts, be forever pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I want to take today’s sermon slot as an opportunity to introduce myself and begin the process of building the trust and collaboration that are essential to the functioning of a church.

This morning’s readings from the Epistle of James and the Gospel of John both seem appropriate for making such a start, speaking as they do of God’s faithfulness, how Christians should treat each other, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As for how Christians should relate, James writes that we should listen and not talk too much or get angry. Right now I’m talking, but I want to spend time listening. If you’d like to have a conversation some time, get in touch.

We’re also supposed to hear the truths that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, has to say to us. I was asked in my interview what I’d do here. The first thing I want to do is not really for me to do, but for us to do: to pray for God’s guidance and then to listen to what he has to say.

Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” That is Good News. The question is, what are we going to do with it?

 

9:30am Common Worship Eucharist – Sermon

Readings: Acts 8: 26-40; Psalm 22: 24-30; 1 John 4: 7-21; John 15:1-8

May the words of my lips, and the meditations of all our hearts, be forever pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I want to take today’s sermon slot as an opportunity to introduce myself and begin the process of building the trust and collaboration that are essential to the functioning of a church.

So the first question that may be on your minds is just who I am. You’ve read a bit about me of course, and some of you may have heard about me from North Cheltenham people who were here last Monday, and I’ve spoken with some of you. But you may still have questions. Questions about what has brought me here; questions about what brought the interview panel to select me; questions about just what kind of priest I am.

Well, a great deal of my understanding of my ordained ministry comes from my background, which is fairly varied.

I was brought up in the Church of Scotland, where some like to think they are not liturgical; this is not true, however: they are simply so familiar with what will happen that a written order of service is unnecessary. I like liturgy. I like formal liturgy and informal liturgy. I like worshipping God. I like the multisensory approach to liturgy that is found in the catholic end of the Church of England: colour, robes, bells, music, chant, incense, using bodily posture; it’s an incredibly rich way to worship.

I like the liturgy of the Church of England, but not because it’s all written down, rather I like it because the fact that it is written down means we are free to experiment and play with it. The rules in our services do not oppress us, they free us. One of my favourite experiences of the confession that we always include in our services was in a Fresh Expressions service in Coventry Cathedral led by Archbishop Rowan. In it, he made us all lie face-down on the floor as we made our confession, and sprinkled us with Holy water as he granted us absolution. (It helped that Coventry has lovely under-floor heating!)

One of the things that attracted me to St Matthias was that we have this incredible building. It’s a landmark feature from the outside, but it’s also wonderful inside. We have the beautiful intimate space of the All Saints Chapel, the wonderful grandeur of the quire and sanctuary, and the superb flexibility of this divisible nave. It’s quite my favourite use of pews I think I’ve come across.

With such a varied background, I’m not really a great fan of labels, yet another attraction for me about St Matthias was the description of this church family as inclusive and liberal. Yet both these words are open to abuse. Some hold that those who call themselves inclusive are actually exclusive of traditionalists.

Well, I have come to you from a team with parishes that included traditionalists who could not accept the ordained ministry of women. I would be lying if I said it was easy ministering to people whose theology differed so greatly from my own, but our Psalm today speaks of God not distancing himself from those outcast or hurting. I was a priest and pastor to those people, and my calling there was to understand and embrace them in my ministry, not to distance myself from them.

Nor will I distance myself from anyone here who may disagree with me on anything. I hope you will not distance yourself from me. As St John writes in his first letter: “beloved, let us love one another.” We cannot love God if we don’t love each other. And that commandment, to love one another, is for me at the very heart of Christian inclusivity.

What about Liberalism then? Just as there are some who would argue against the inclusivity of inclusiveness, there are some who hold that being a liberal means disregarding the Bible. There are even some liberals who think this of themselves. To me, liberalism rests on the concept of freedom. Not freedom from the Bible, which course robs us of a wonderful record of God’s love for his creation, but freedom to read and understand the Bible, unbound by others’ interpretations.

Chris Cocksworth, now Bishop of Coventry but formerly the principle of Ridley Hall in Cambridge, wrote that a priest needs to be both Catholic in having a world-wide view of the church, and Evangelical in having a love of scripture. Despite disliking labels, I embrace that advice whole-heartedly. I love the Bible. If three readings are given on Sunday, I will almost certainly refer to them all, because to me all parts of the Bible have as much significance as the rest, even if it’s harder to find. Sometimes those parts can be the most rewarding to explore.

I don’t think it’s infallible, because it’s written by people, not God, although God did inspire those people to write it. And it wasn’t written in English! I think it’s a good guide to the Christian faith and life, but one that needs careful study to make sure we’re not misunderstanding it.

I love it, because it’s a big book, and I like epics. I love it, because it is complicated, and let’s face it, we’re all pretty complicated ourselves. I love it, because it tells me that God loves me so much that he became incarnate in the person of the Son and gave himself up to death for my sins. I love it, because as a cheesy daytime movie once put it, “It’s a love-letter from God.”

So that’s a bit about my theology as a Christian and a priest. I can say more, but perhaps better for you now would be some thoughts on me as a vicar and leader. I am not a dictator: I won’t insist that everything must be done my way or not at all. I feel more affinity to the shepherd priesthood that Christ modelled. Nor am I one of those priests who will come in and insist on doing everything myself, leaving you to simply turn up and respond. The servant leader that Christ modelled at the Last Supper was about enabling the disciples in their own ministry, and that is what a parish priest must do as well. Finally, am I not so egotistical as to imagine that the life and growth of this church depends upon me. I do not come to you to bring new people and grow this church on my own.

The interview for this post asked me to prepare a presentation on the subject: What is the heart of the Gospel, and how will it influence your work among us? I said that the heart of the Gospel is this message of love for all that we have presented here in our readings today: in the Psalm for those who are outcast or in pain, in Acts for the foreign eunuch, in First John for every brother and sister, whether we’ve met them or not. This is the love that gives life, as Jesus said in John chapter 10 verse 10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

As for how this will influence my work here among you? I decided to change the question. It will not direct my work here in Richmond. It will influence how we will work together in this place.

I have a place in the work we do together, but it is not to dictate, nor to do it all myself. I am here to be your priest, to enable you in the work you will do. In the Eucharist we will share together in Christ’s life and love for us, and then I will send you out into the community saying “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

I want to end by considering the other main theme of today’s readings. We’ve already talked about God’s love for all and our call do love everyone regardless of anything, but there’s another side that we need to bring out, and that’s the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. When I was asked what I’d do in St Matthias when I arrived, I said that I wanted to pray, and that still holds.

I want us to be attentive to God, because he is the one who will guide us in the direction we need to go. Philip went to speak to the eunuch because he heard God tell him to go south on that road. John says that we can know that we are abiding in God and he lives in us by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and Jesus says that if we dwell in him and allow him to dwell in us, then we will bear much fruit.

We need to be attentive to God. If we want to grow our church in faith and in numbers, we need to pray for God’s guidance and then listen to him. I therefore want to start by inviting anyone interested to contact me about meeting up as a group to pray for our church and for God to be at work in us.

We know the world is weighed down by death and fear, but we know also that on Easter morning Christ’s tomb was empty, and that God says “do not be afraid.” That’s Good News. What are you going to do about it?

 

About Revd David Gardiner

David joined the parish as Team Vicar of St Matthias in April 2012, after completing his curacy (a kind of apprenticeship) in the North Cheltenham Team Ministry. David was born in Scotland, where he was brought up as a part of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, but moved to England in 1992, where he became an Anglican. He studied English and Drama at St Mary’s University College, Strawberry Hill, where he also met his wife, Sarah. David values and enjoys many different styles of worship, from simple quiet prayer to the beauty and complex ritual of the Easter Dawn service, and is equally at home with organs and drum-kits as accompaniment to music in worship. A liberal at heart, David believes in rigorous Bible study and prayer as the foundation for faith and theological conviction, and that the Bible is itself a message of love and freedom for all God’s people. His favourite verse is John 10:10, where Jesus lays out his agenda: “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly”.
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