At the 11am service, Fr Peter Beck presided at mass and preached his first service as interim priest at St Michael and All Angels. The readings were Jeremiah 17.5-10, 1 Corinthians 15.12-20, and Luke 6.17-26.
Read on for sermon text and the service video.
It is a privilege and a pleasure to be your new Interim Priest in Charge. I sat in this beautiful church last week for a while on my own and is my wont when I begin a new ministry in a new place, I had a chat with the building, a sacred place which was consecrated 150 years ago on May 2nd 1872. In this time it has absorbed and been imbued with the prayers and yearnings, the joy and laughter, the pain and hurt, the hope and anxiety of countless followers of Jesus and no doubt many others seekers after truth, looking for meaning, value and purpose in their lives. People just like us. My intent was to absorb something of the essence, the ethos, the spirit and soul of this place and of this community which has been shaped over all these years.
As I said in my parish letter in the pew sheet today it was while I was an undergraduate of Oxford University that I was introduced to the mystery and beauty of our Anglo-Catholic tradition at St Mary Magdalen in Broad Street, one of the early formative supporters of the Oxford Movement. I remember going to mass one Sunday and being totally unprepared for the Asperges when the priests processed round the church scattering Holy Water over the congregation. I didn’t realise you were supposed to bow as they approached your pew, so I got a full load of water in the face! I hadn’t seen all this colour before, nor the chanting nor the smells and the bells, and priests in birettas and lace and glorious vestments..
But what struck me most of all was the beauty of it all and the sense of mystery. The power of the ritual was as much to do with my heart as my head. Here was a tradition which was about exploring faith, being open to the new and the energy of the Spirit of God working amongst us and opening new insights and depth. You see I had been brought up in an Anglican parish where it was very much ‘here is what we believe…just tick these boxes’. But here was something which was about a journey engaging every fibre of our being as we seek to grow and be embraced by the Risen Christ, inviting us to live in the very presence of God. Where when we say ‘the Lord is here’, we really mean it!
So here I am, we are, in this community whose purpose is?....well now, what is our purpose? Why are we here? What does St Michael’s stand for? I think it is summed up in the five-fold mission statement of the Anglican Communion:
How are we doing? How are you doing? How am I doing? My old reports from school would occasionally say ‘much gives satisfaction’ but more usually ‘Could do better’
We are followers of Jesus. We are to live out the good news of the Kingdom. We are to be faithful disciples, followers of the way. We are head and heart people called to live in the presence of the God in whom we live and move and have our being..
For us as people who share a catholic spirituality and way of worship it means we seek to be constantly aware that God is with us in every moment, and that we seek to be what God wants us to be and to do what God wants us to do all the time. So we must monitor our behaviour according to what we know is the way of Christ. I often ask myself, especially when I’m in a bit of a predicament ‘What would Jesus do now?’ Try it sometime!
For we all know how often we fall short, miss the mark, sin. Today’s readings are about the challenge and the struggle we have to seek to live in the presence of God 24/7. In the beatitudes, how blessed are we when we know our need and our hunger for God and God’s way to fill our lives, and but woe is us when we seek only our own satisfaction before all else, when we get in the way of God!
Listen to the Jeremiah passage again: Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord They shall be like a tree planted by the water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves will stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious it does not cease to bear fruit.
That’s how it is when we surrender to God.
But then the prophet goes on to say: ‘The heart is devious above all else; It is perverse- who can understand it?’
In the gospel passage from Mark in the mass last Thursday Jesus says this : ‘It is from human heart that evil intentions come, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride.’ He really lays it on thick!
In the face of all this I am forced on to my knees with the ancient Jesus Prayer ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, son of the living God have mercy on me a sinner’. And this I believe as I recite the absolution–‘the risen Christ, the one who triumphed over all evil, who proclaims and lives out the reality that life is stronger than death and love is stronger than hate (as Paul speaks of in today’s epistle) reaches out to me, lifts me up and says ‘take heart. I am with you, your hand in mine and I will never leave you to face your perils alone.’ (pick yourself up, brush yourself down and start all over again').
We are called and commissioned to be Christ’s disciples and proclaimers of his word and way of living. As Paul encourages us in Ephesians- ‘be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love as Christ loved us.’ (Eph 5.1-2)
As I sat in this sacred place a few days ago I reflected on these things and what St Michael’s energy and spirit is all about. I affirmed again in mind and hear the God in whom we live and live and have our being. That every moment God is with us, closer to us than we are to ourselves, more natural than breathing. So it behoves me to be as conscious as I can be in heart and mind and every fibre of our being that it is Christ who lives within me, who is guiding and instructing me in all I am and all I do.
My friends we are of a community of faith here which calls and invites us to live in the presence of God, to be still and to wait on God, to savour silence and contemplation that God may imbue God’s spirit and essence into us day by day, again and again and so to see that our behaviour matches our faith statements.. The resurrection assures us that all that separates and injures and destroys is overcome by all that unites and heals and creates.
So let us be still and surrender ourselves into the hands of the living God today, in this sacrament. Now:
I invite you to pray this prayers of surrender to God with me now:
God, I surrender myself to you and I ask you, put an end to my restlessness.
I give you my will,
I do not believe any longer that I can answer myself
What I am doing, and what is happening through me.
Lead me and show me your will.
I give you my thoughts
I do not believe that I am so intelligent that I can answer myself,
My whole life or other people.
Teach me to think your thoughts.
I give you my plans.
I do not believe any longer that my life finds meaning
In what I reach through my plans.
I entrust myself to your plan for you know me.
My anxiety about other people I give to you.
I do not believe any longer
That with my anxiety I can improve anything.
That remains with you. Why should I be anxious?
My anxiety about the power of others I give to you.
You were powerless before the mighty.
The mighty have fallen. You live.
My fear of my own failures I give to you.
I do not have to be a successful person
If I wish to be one blessed according to your will.
All insoluble questions, all discontent with myself
All my crammed hopes I give to you.
I give up running into locked doors and wait for you.
You will open them.
I give you my self. I belong to you, God.
You have me in your hand. I thank you.
All glory be to Thee O God, most holy, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I offer to thee this day my heart, my will and all my life to be a living sacrifice of obedient love to thee.
So fill me with thy love that it may be in me a flame to lighten and to kindle all around me in my daily life.