Proper 26 Year A
May my words be in the name of the living and loving God whom we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
It’s good to be back! Almost two years have passed since I last stood in this pulpit
A lot seems familiar; a lot seems to have changed
Frankly, I have been filled with a degree of trepidation about coming back
What will be people’s expectations of me?
Will I live up to them?
You have a new Rector – taller than me, thinner than me, a better golfer, a better singer – he even plays guitar!
What is going to be my role here in the new United Benefice – how is it all going to work?
You will see that I have gained a Miss World sash – my priestly stole
But I am here today as a Deacon – Harry is the presiding priest. A Deacon stands to the right of the celebrant and that seems appropriate as I shall try to be Harry’s right-hand man, as indeed Peter was to Jesus.
My feelings of unease have been exacerbated as I have been physically disconnected from the Parish – working and worshiping first in St Mary’s Ewell and then in Epsom and Langley Vale
The diaconate year which I had intended to use to get to know our community better has seen me getting to know you less and others more
But as I look around I see lots of familiar faces (good) and some new people (even better)
I am very aware that there are a number of missing faces – a few important people have died in the last year
This is the season of Remembrance – when we remember those whom we have lost
I have been away for a few days and I attended a requiem mass for All Souls during the week at the Anglican church of St Mark in Florence – when you are abroad on holiday it is a great thing to seek out the local Anglican church and go along.
Despite being Anglican, this service was more Catholic than the Pope’s slippers and the highlight of the liturgy was the censing of a symbolic catafalque (a coffin draped in a black pall) while the choir sang in paradisum from Faure’s requiem – it was deeply moving and as the priest read the list of names from his community I added my own – Bob Ellison, Anne Banks, Ethel Jobber, Joyce Hulf, Robert Hunter, Tessa Bridges and most recently Derek Smith, from my own family, my uncle John Jefferies Stratton, my former boss, Georges van Erck
As the incense rose I was in no doubt that they were indeed in paradise
So I had rather assumed that we would be celebrating the lives of the saints this Sunday and I would be preaching about the three great saints of this benefice – St Andrew the first called, his brother Simon Peter, the rock upon whom the church is built and the Blessed Virgin Mary – the mother of God and a constant presence in Jesus’s life.
That this would be a festival occasion
But instead we have the lectionary for the end of the world
I began to wonder is there in this some subliminal message in this – about me being a false prophet – a phoney messiah
How are we to interpret this talk of wars and rumours of wars? Are Harry and I not to get along?
This didn’t make it any easier to think about coming back!
As usual in preparing some words in the Gospel jumped out at me.
Jesus is asked by his disciples ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’
He answers: ‘this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’
The Gospel will be preached to the whole world – in Greek, hole te oikounmene – the whole of the inhabited world – before the end of the world will come.
Two things: first that is quite a tall order – ‘the whole of the inhabited world’ means absolutely everybody must hear the Gospel. That is still a long way from happening now. (How many Chinese have heard the Gospel?). So Matthew is not saying the end of the world is around the corner – there is a lot of work to do before the kingdom of heaven can be established in all the world.
Secondly, he is saying it is through spreading the Good News of Christ that the new messianic age is brought in.
Indeed, these words echo the words from the Great Commission in Chapter 28 at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where he sends his disciples out
‘Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Mt 28:19-20)
‘Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age’
So Jesus is actually saying: ‘I am already here. I will remain with you. There is no need to wait for a second coming. Focus instead on the Gospel and letting people know the Good News that I have brought.
Well this may be a bit surprising but I think we can take some very positive things out of it.
Yes, we are all going to die and the world will at some point end – but not yet!
Instead there is work to be done now – we do not know when we will die or when the world will end which means that we should always be prepared for it. Live each day as if it is our last – treat everyone as if it the last time that we will see them.
I was told in training that we should treat each Eucharist as if it was our first, our last and our only and I think that is a great lesson for life more generally.
Secondly, we must work to spread the Gospel of Christ – just like Paul working night and day to preach the gospel of God. But before we can do that we need to work out what the Gospel is for us.
For me, the Gospel is the love of God as revealed in the teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The teaching is centred on the great commandments of love that you will have heard in church last week – to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all soul your and all your strength and secondly to love your neighbour as yourself
The death of Christ is the example of self-denying self-sacrifice which is at the heart of Christian discipleship it is also a sign of the intimate relationship between the creator of the universe and us – who sent his son ‘to be born of a woman and to die upon a cross’
Finally, the resurrection is the story of the love which never dies – that there is life and hope to be found from God even in the darkest places and above all that we should not fear death but look forward to the singing of the angels in Paradise.
‘For I am with you always to the very end of the age.’
And so my hope is that I can serve you and serve Christ by making his Gospel and his presence known in these three communities which we serve.
You will note that it is three communities. One of the things they teach you in a Curacy is how to appear to be in two places at once but no one can do three (except perhaps a Bishop?).
So not only does Harry need me but we need you – to be a Christian presence in the communities in which you live.
I will strive to be a Rock to Harry and to you as Peter was to Christ in building the church in these villages.
I will call upon you as Andrew called others and expect you in turn to invite and call the members of your communities to hear and live the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps above all I will strive to make the presence of Christ known in the world through his Holy Word and in the celebration of His Holy Eucharist – where we meet together sharing one bread and one cup in the name of our crucified Lord, who is with us always, ‘to the very end of the age’.
Sermon delivered by Revd Christopher Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, 5th November, 2017 on the occasion of his licensing to the Benefice.