September 27, 2020

Change is in the air – 16th Sunday after Trinity – Revd Sally Bedborough

Change is in the air. With the autumn equinox just last Tuesday, we entered a new season. Next week we will celebrate Harvest; indeed as I speak, Rachael is leading another virtual BW event and their theme will be Harvest, and in particular, new beginnings.

And with the arrival of our new Rector, Mike Trotman and his family: Heidi, Sam and Phoebe, we look forward to new beginnings and a new chapter in the history of this parish of St Peter’s, St Osmund's and St Mary’s.

So today, as our interregnum ends, and as Mike Trotman’s ministry in this parish begins in just a couple of days, we find ourselves on something of a cusp. Here we are at the point of transition. How can our readings steer us through this transition? What gems can we mine from them?

In our gospel reading, some very important people come to ask Jesus a question. They are the chief priests and elders of the law. They want to know from where Jesus gets his authority. It is a kind of ‘Who do you think you are?’ question. Jesus doesn’t actually answer this question with what would have been expected: probably along the lines of his heritage and his learning. But no, in reply to this ‘who do you think you are’ question, Jesus answers with another question. And this is important. He asks more or less where did they think that John the Baptist got his authority? They can’t really answer this question because whatever the priest and elders come up with, they are going to indict themselves in some way: either because they disregarded John the Baptist – so they couldn’t really say that his authority came from God; or because they disregarded the people who thought John the Baptist’s authority came from God. It was a great answer!

Jesus’ reply was based on a judgement about actions. The actions of Jesus, and the actions of John. Jesus in one fell swoop was saying test the beliefs of people; that is, weigh up what a person says they believe, against what they do. Then judge if their actions are of God or not.

Our readings are all based around this view. Actions have to flow out of our words.

In our OT reading from Ezekiel we learn that heritage doesn’t get you into the kingdom of God. Our ancestors might inspire us, but it is for each of us to make up our minds about who will be our authority; and then act accordingly. Each of us, individually, must ‘turn and live.’

And turning and living involves a process of kenosis, to give it a proper title. Kenosis means ‘self-emptying’; this is what the writer to the Philippians is describing in these verses. We are urged to have the same mind and attitude as Jesus; to turn from ‘bigging ourselves up’ and to become less in order to become more. To become like a servant so that we can be filled with the insight and guidance that comes from God through Jesus Christ. We might be reminded here, going back to the gospel reading, that Jesus mentions John the Baptist, who had said of Jesus that he, Jesus, had to become greater and that John would become less.

To illustrate his point about actions needing to flow from our words, Jesus tells a story. The story of the two sons; one with all the right words, but with a lack of follow-through; the other with the wrong words, but he changed his mind. He turned and lived. What a positive message that is: no-one is written off in God’s economy. There is always this chance that a person who denies God and his mission, may ‘turn and live’.

I’m reminded here of my own words not many years ago. Working as a chaplain in a secular environment wasn’t easy and I found my love of the church being eroded. Something possibly about absorbing people’s disappointment and mistrust of church. But as my ministry in the hospice came to an end, people would say to me ‘I expect you’ll go back into the church’ and I can well recall saying that I would never go back into church ministry. Meanwhile, I’d found this church and my opinion changed. Looking back, even my retirement that came at least a year too early in my plan of things, was perfect timing for having some time and space to devote to where I found myself, here at St Peter’s. And even then, I recall with some amusement my conviction at the beginning of the interregnum that I would just limit my church work to a couple of days in the week, plus a Sunday. Ah, well; so much for plans… However, I have to say as I look back over my ministry of nearly 20 years, I know that this past 18 months may well be the highpoint of my ministry; it has been a real joy and a gift to be part of this team.

We stand here today, as individuals on the cusp on a new chapter in the life of St Peter’s and this parish. St Paul urges us to make his joy complete by having the same mind, the same love and being in full accord and of one mind. He urges us to have the same servant attitude as did Jesus. So let us take stock and celebrate the servant actions we have seen over these past months of our interregnum: the pastoral care that we have been blessed with from our whole congregation and from our clergy – especially Hilary and Michael B; the care of the homeless by Pat; the wisdom and experience given to us by Fr Keith; the organising of livestream services by Richard and his gradual introduction of singing by our choir; all the unseen things that go on here: the cleaning, the preparation for services, the overseeing of the sound desk and the leading of many other groups by those too many to name.

But there are three people who I feel we do have to name today and they are our three church wardens: Jan, Clive and David. They have really done a sterling job with their blend of different gifts. I’m not sure if they’d seen what lay ahead that they would have signed up for the job, but it’s great that they did and that they shared the load together. They have worked tirelessly; they’ve been faced with all kinds of unexpected and unplanned issues and they have faced them and worked through them with grace and efficiency.

So, as we come together today, as individuals who have chosen to ‘turn and to live’, let us remember that we come as individuals with a common purpose, and as this interregnum draws to its end, let us notice and give thanks for all who have played any part in the life of this church; whether that be in overt and noticeable service or in the quieter actions of prayer, and keeping in touch with people; and let me highlight this line from the eucharistic prayer that Pat will say in a few minutes, and which we will hear again as we celebrate this eucharist:

As we offer you this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving….we thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you.

And then let us turn to our new beginning in this coming week, with joy and hope and anticipation for all that is to come. Amen.