Gracious God, your Son Jesus Christ came from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world, evermore give us this bread; that he may live in us and we in him, Amen
During Lent, it can sometimes seem, that the church is more focused on sin than at other times of the year. That seems to be an oversimplification of what this penitential season is really about.
For at various points in our day, our week, our year, or in our lives, we stop and take stock of what is going on in our lives, both in terms of what we are doing or not doing, and also what is happening to us, and perhaps what we do to other people. That is part of Lent is about, taking stock of our lives.
This week I was looking at a new book that celebrates the wisdom, experience and ministry of elders in the life of the church. It is long overdue.
For too long some churches have focused (and by that I mean the Anglican Church rather than individual parishes) on how our congregations are ageing and how we are not attracting young people. We are fortunate at Epiphany because a good number of the Chaldean and Arabic-speaking members of the congregation belong to a younger age bracket. Let us not forget that only six months before COVID started Epiphany welcomed 13 young people to first communion.
However, we tend to think of our congregation as ageing, which many of us are. That said, although we might be limited physically from doing what we used to do, our faith tends to grow and develop, rather than diminish with age.
Indeed when we think about our congregation we can marvel at the years and years of experience, wisdom and spiritual insight that is of benefit to us all.
And although the lack of in-person services has limited our options to worship together, Zoom has meant that we no longer discriminate against those who cannot physically attend worship because of ill-health, or age, those for whom being at Epiphany by 10:30 am is no longer an option.
We are able to gather together from our homes, we come from Fraser Heights or Fleetwood, from Dorset or the Island. And that is our future. Once in-person worship returns, as we expect in the coming weeks, our Sunday worship will continue in Church and by Zoom, to enable us to continue to be together as one, regardless of who we are or where we are.
For ageing, or physical limitations do not ever stop us from thinking or praying, or being concerned for one another or from wanting to be together.
In the most enlightened cultures, respect and a willingness to listen to the elders, lead to more inclusive and well-rounded communities, and in the church, we sometimes forget that.
I’m not suggesting that the rector stays as such until he is 80 years of age, although it may take that long to get the new church build. But I am suggesting we listen to our community as a whole, and seek the advice of all of us, rather than the few of us.
One verse in the gospel passage from John stands out of course.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’
The challenge with this verse is our tendency to isolate it and not see it in the context of the passage as a whole, or perhaps more importantly in the context of the fourth gospel as a whole.
Yes God did send Jesus into the world to enable us to have eternal life, but it isn’t just about believing. For instance: if we say we believe in someone we are not much use to them if that statement remains our only response, ‘I believe in you’. We have to mean it, we have to live it, we have to say it and repeat it, and we have to demonstrate it through our actions as well as our words, time after time. When we say we believe in someone our words, our actions, our support and encouragement make the difference, make those words real.
In the same way, if we say we believe in God we have to mean it, we have to say it, and our actions have to demonstrate that trust.
When we say the Creed we confess our belief in God, our Sunday words have to be followed up with our weekday words and actions. If we say we believe in God; does that make a difference make to our reactions and responses to our everyday interactions with others? Do we take others for granted? Do we treat everyone we meet with respect? Do we take seriously the needs of our world, our country and our community? So we cannot alone solve all the world’s problems, but can we make a difference.
The last year has meant a lot less contact with people in general terms. At the same time as we walk in our neighbourhood, or have that special trip out to the stores, or simply encounter those who come to our door, we have that chance to say hello, or good morning, or thank you to those who serve us in stores or greet us with hand sanitizer or deliver to our homes. Every time I go to a store I am grieved when shoppers don’t treat workers with respect, by not using the words please and thank you, or offering a smile or a friendly word.
Perhaps if we tried to figure out what this sermon is about it might be respected. First respect for the seniors and elders of our community, in terms of how we honour and appreciate their contribution to our common life, and to take notice of their ideas and suggestions for how we shape that life. And secondly respect for those who are in the front lines of this pandemic: including medical staff, teachers, first responders and those who grow, process and deliver our food. These people deserve our considerable respect, honour and gratitude for keeping us well, our children and grandchildren educated, and our food in stores, in spite of the risks to themselves, and their families day after day for the entirety of this pandemic.
Jesus demonstrated throughout his earthly life considerable respect for all people and we should seek to model that behaviour in our lives, being mindful of the wisdom and experience of years and the significant contribution of those who have cared for us, protected us, cared for our children and grandchildren, as well as provided the food we eat each and every day.