Sermons

Please take your time to read through selected sermons we want to share with you.

Licensing Service of  Fr. Stan // April 10, 2019

Philippians 2.1-11

Matthew 20.20-28                                                   Lanzarote 10 April 2019

It is a real joy to be here today as a new chapter in this chaplaincy begins.  The last year and a bit have not always been easy but with the support, care and guidance of Bill and Michael in particular, nut also with the help of some excellent locum priests, you have emerged from what were fairly dark days to be a brighter, more united and committed community eager to serve our Lord and to love him and your neighbours.  So thank you all who have persevered through these months and for your determination to ensure that the chaplaincy not only survived but now begins to show signs of growth and potential for full flourishing.

The Licensing of a priest at the beginning of a new ministry gives us all an opportunity to consider what is our calling as Christians.  We are called to share the good news of God’s Kingdom and this is something we do not only in words but also by what we do. Remember the words attributed to St Francis of Assisi: ‘Go and preach the gospel and use words if you have to.  In other words it is the way we live our lives that matters most of all.

Our aim as Christians must be to become more Christlike and we shall do that, quite simply, in so far as we are enabled by God’s grace to serve. Christ teaches this fundamental truth by what he says, by what he does and by his whole life, his incarnation and his death.

Jesus teaches us of the importance of service in words in his response to the question which we heard in today’s gospel: ‘Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.’ Greatness, as God understands it, means laying aside concern for status and using one’s gifts in the service of one’s fellow human beings. That is why, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it: ‘Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.’

Jesus reinforces this crucial teaching in action when he washed the disciples’ feet on the night before he died and which many of our church re-enact every Maundy Thursday. Though I must admit the full power of this symbolism is not easy for us to appreciate as our feet stay reasonably clean in shoes (and I guess most volunteers on Maundy Thursday make a special effort to ensure their feet are pristine clean before coming to church!)

But people in Jesus’ day despised feet: dusty, grimy, smelly and filthy as they inevitably were. This sort of service was the lowest of the low but it is what Jesus disciples are called to: ‘Do you know what I have done for you? ‘ he asks. ‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’

Jesus teaches of service in word and in action but also by who he is, through his incarnation, his life, and his death. The foot-washing is an acting out of that magnificent hymn from the letter to the Philippians where we read that Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.

In the account of the foot-washing in St John’s gospel, the ‘table’ can be seen to represent heaven which Jesus leaves; the ‘outer robe’ to represent the trappings of divinity of which he strips himself and the towel which he dons a symbol of both human nature and of service. And, ‘being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.’

Your new priest comes to you as a servant.  Stan is called to be a servant and a focus of the work of this Christian community.  Your vocation Stan, is to hold these members together so they can act together and collaborate with other Christian sisters and brothers in the great work of spreading Christ’s love in the world. The tools you have at your disposal to build up the community for this task are the tools that the Church throughout all ages has used. First the sacraments through which the Gifts of God flow into this people, so that they receive the new life in Christ which comes in baptism, so they are fed with none other than Christ himself in the eucharist, so that they may know the power of the Holy Spirit in the times of blessing, healing and reconciling. Then your ministry will centre on preaching and teaching the Word of God, so that Christ, who is the Incarnate and living Word can truly take root in their hearts and minds. But all this you are doing so that this community can live, act, minister, witness and worship as part of Christ’s Body.

This means, dear members of the Chaplaincy of St Laurence, that Fr Stan is here among you, not to do all the work of ministry, but to stimulate you, lead you, inspire you and pray for you. You are the members of the Body, you are the ambassadors for Christ in your daily lives, and your calling is to bear fruit in your lives, to build the kingdom, to love your neighbour.  A priest’s job is not to do the work of ministry, but to make sure you do that work.  Rather like the coach of a football team, keeping an eye on all the members of the team, exploiting the talents and gifts of all the players.

Dear friends, you are welcoming an excellent priest and coach. He is deeply devoted, hard-working, a sensitive pastor, and a person with a warm embracing heart.  He comes with such great enthusiasm, love and commitment the like of which I have rarely witnessed before.

But let me tell you a little secret: A loving, caring church can turn a good priest into an extraordinary priest. That is your role. All pastors are dependent on the prayer and moral support of the people of God. Fr Stan is in one of the loneliest and trickiest jobs there is. The loneliest and most dangerous parts of the job are the weariness that comes from trying to satisfy conflicting demands, from being on call day and night, from not knowing when the next pastoral crisis will come, from listening to criticism when confidentiality demands that you can’t say everything you know, and from dealing too often with the huge gap between expectation and reality.

So it is your task to be good to him. Not only because he’s my colleague and because I care for him, but also because you will never know when he most needs some encouragement from you.

Of course, he is not perfect. There are no perfect priests. And there are no perfect congregations either! So if Stan tells you something you don’t particularly care for, or asks you to stretch and grow as a team in a way that you might find uncomfortable, pay attention. He may not be right 100% of the time, but probably it will be something you need to hear. And Stan, when the parish does the same thing for you, for there may be times when you should pay attention to them, I know you will be listening.

Fr Stan, in a moment I will give the Bishop’s licence, which is really a licence to love and serve your people.  Enjoy leading them in the celebration of our faith, never tire of teaching them the wholesome doctrine of  Christ, the faith passed on from the apostles, and constantly remind them of who they are: the Body of Christ, and that the Holy Spirit of God moves among them to strengthen and guide them in their mission as servants of God.

And my friends, I am not giving you a licence, but nevertheless love your priest and pay attention to his coaching, for her is here to help you grow in your discipleship.  Forgive him when he is less than you want him to be, as he is only human.  Together with him I want you to build a wonderful community that humbly serves our Lord, reaches out to those in needs, transforms your lives and the lives of others and builds up God’s kingdom of Love, and justice and peace.

The sermons below are quite old (dating back to 2016), preached by the Ven Geoffrey Arrand when he was our locum during interregnum and are linked to and underpin our discussions on the Diocesan Strategy.

Introduction:
In order to give the church council and congregations a starting point when looking at the Diocesan Strategy “Walking Together in Faith” I decided to address three subjects during Advent which link into the strategy. They are Worship, the church and the world.

Advent 2   WORSHIP.   ( sermon precis )

Many years ago when celebrating the Eucharist in a cold church early in the morning with just one lady present I had a moment of awakening. I disliked this early encounter with my one attendee and suddenly as I said “therefor with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven we laud and magnify thy glorious name….” I knew that it was not about me and her but about our relationship with God. We were in the presence of the whole company of heaven, angels and archangels, those who had gone before us and those the world over who worship with us. There can never be just two of us, we are always a part of something eternal and bigger than we are able to imagine.

Worship is directed to Almighty God. Did you enjoy the service? is not a question that we should ever ask because worship is not about me and what I get out of it, rather it is about what I put into it so that God may be glorified. Of course we will always get something out of it, for as we worship and God becomes real to us, so we will be nourished by him.

Worship must always be directed towards the holiness of God. A couple of years ago my wife and I entered an orthodox church in Russia. Candles flickered in the gloom, the icons looked down on us from the screen and the walls, the air hung with incense and the deep tones of the choral liturgy reverberated around us. “This is the gate of heaven”, was my response. Worship must make that connection for us, worship must bring earth to heaven and heaven to earth.

When people come to the island as holidaymakers and they join you here in worship what do they find? A place where heaven and earth meet or just a group of nice people who have come along to be entertained for an hour. Worship is not entertainment, worship is an encounter with the holiness of God and a meeting with the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

On the second Sunday in Advent we are challenged by the prophets and the challenge is how we respond to the holiness of God. Read any of the prophets and that is what they are about, the holiness of God and how people respond to it in their lives, in society and in worship.

The prophets point to Bethlehem where we meet the angels and their song of worship, “Glory to God in the highest.” Where we meet the Magi, whose response to the child is to fall down and worship.

The question we need to have always before us is simply this, does our worship draw us and those who come to join us from time to time to an awareness of the holiness of God. Do we sense the wonder of the living God and the presence of the risen Christ in our midst?

 

Advent 3  The Church…..for better and for worse !! (Sermon precis)

We have a garden which we love. In my dreams and visions I see that garden as I hope for it. Pristine manicured lawns, roses with no hint of mildew or leaf rust, weed free flower beds and evenly trimmed shrubs. Needless to say the reality is somewhat different.

I play golf. In dreams and visions I play perfect golf. My drives soar down the fairways, my approach shots hit the green just beyond the flag with enough backspin to ensure two easy putts or one really good one. Needless to say the reality is somewhat different.

So it is with the church.We know what the church should be. We say it every time we recite the creed. “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

The church is one because it is God’s church and bigger than our petty divisions. The church is holy because it belongs to the Holy God, the church is catholic because it is universal, of all and for all, the church is apostolic because it is rooted in the teaching of the apostles and called to be a missionary church.

We know that is what we are, one in God’s eternal love, enveloped in the holiness of God, made up of all peoples and for all peoples, created from missionary faith and committed to missionary faith.

But we also know that the church is a mess. It is not one, not holy, not catholic and not apostolic. The church, we, are more often divisive, judgmental, unforgiving and arrogant. The church, we, are in constant need of repentance and forgiveness.

The history of the church over 2,000 years is horrific. Yes there are shining examples of holiness, goodness and truth. There is also pain and horror. We don’t need distant history. The last 50 years is enough to make the point. The abuse of children and adults which we still have to deal with. The pain caused to women who were until comparatively recently denied any vocation other than the tea towel or the nunnery. The refusal still in many parts of the church to accept gay men and women as equal members of the church. A church which so often fails to stand with the poor and oppressed.

The church is a mess and a failure, as an institution, in its local gatherings and in its individual members. You all know of stories of how the local church has been judgmental, unforgiving, unloving, ungracious and torn by division. The church is a mess and we each of us contribute to that mess. Please don’t ever make excuses for our failure to be what we are called to be as a church. Please don’t make excuses for failing to be what you are called to be as a christian person.

So to John the Baptist. John came calling people to repentance and told them to “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance”. In other words to do something about the mess of their lives whether as a religious community or as individuals. To defeat bitterness and division, greed and animosity, anger and hatred with the weapons of love and forgiveness, of holiness and faith.

Let us look at our failures, at all that we have done and still do to make a mess of things. Let us look at what may be done to bring peace and goodwill to our church and all people.

Advent 4  Suffering (Sermon precis)

We cannot avoid hearing the cry of the suffering. Here, in this community, I have met so many in recent days. A lady who nursed a disabled for thirty years and lost him and their daughter within two months of each other. Two couples returning to the UK following the death or critical illness of children. People being treated for cancer and other illnesses. So much pain and sadness.

In the world natural disasters which kill and destroy communities. The horror of Syria and Aleppo, crimes of religious hatred in Egypt and Afghanistan. The evil and bloodletting seems endless and insoluble.

Today we remember Mary, mother of the Lord. The suffering mother. A pieta is a painting or statue of the grieving mother holding the dead Jesus. My favourite pieta is the Michelangelo in St Peter’s, Rome. The figure of Christ is of a strong thirty year old, Mary is still the young woman who bore the babe. When a mother loses a child she is still the mother who bore it, the child is still her babe. The pieta speaks of suffering at the heart of the divine revelation.

We celebrate the Incarnation at Christmas, God taking flesh and becoming a man so that he shares in all that it is to be human. Incarnation begins in a filthy stable, he is despised and rejected and the Holy family flees to a foreign land to escape persecution. This is not a God identifying with the comfortable and wealthy, this is a God who walks with the refugee and the homeless.

The story of Incarnation ends on a cross. God in Christ is ridiculed, tortured and crucified.
He is powerless and at the mercy of the powerful.

Whether as a babe, a wandering homeless teacher or as a dying victim God in Christ is one with his suffering creation. Understand this please; God does not send suffering, it is not a test or a judgement. It will ever remain for us a mystery. It will ever be the reason for great heroism and struggles, it will ever be the cause of tears and great anger. At the heart of it is the God who enters into the world and shares in it, who says to us, I know your pain, I understand your loss and your desolation for I have been there. At Bethlehem and at Calvary God became man and walked in the darkness alongside his suffering people.

Geoff Arrand (locum in Dec 2016)