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Thought for the week and Fr Andrew's final sermon

There are some classic verses used as texts for a priest at the end of a ministry.

There is from Ps 95: “I was wearied of these people; their hearts are astray, they have not known my ways.”

Or even

From Genesis Ch 22 “You stay here with the ass; I will go yonder.”

There are likewise, as it were, responses from the congregation, the politest of which might be “Take up thy bed and go now!”

There are others of course – many of them even less polite! You might be relieved however, to hear that I have chosen for today, some quite different verses! You might however be concerned that there are three of them!

First, from Easter Gospels which will be heard over this and the next few days:

John 20:18 (“These words {news of the resurrection} seemed to [The Apostles] an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”) &

Luke 24:11 (Mary Magdalen said “I have seen the Lord”)

Then I continue with words not from the Easter Gospels, but rather, where my Holy Week homilies began, Maundy Thursday. “Jesus said, love one another as I have loved you.”

As I have repeatedly said, whilst worship of Almighty God is and MUST be our primary concern, evangelisation, spreading the Word must be next on the agenda. Jesus explained that the commandments are summed up in love of God and love of neighbour. To love our neighbour as well as service and care must mean telling them about the source of that love and care, which is God’s love and care for each and every one, no matter what their position or stance in life.

Spreading that Gospel though, is far from easy in today’s world – if it ever was.

For very many people, the story of Jesus really is an idle tale, and they will not believe it. That disbelief comes in part from how those who belong to the Church have behaved. We see all kinds of bad behaviour in the earthly Church. Everything from abuse of children to the attitude of the Russian Patriarch today regarding Ukraine. The Church in our own time has gained a reputation for obsession about sex and gender, whilst so often locking ourselves away in ivory towers whilst ignoring so many great injustices in the world, not least among them, the plight of the poor and the attitude to strangers and seekers after refuge. Why on earth would people believe what we say when they can see our actions?

It is all very well for us to say, “I have seen the Lord” but we must expect the response – ‘Well, so what?’

For us to tell the story of Jesus in any kind of compelling way, we must surely show that having ‘Seen the Lord’ has changed us. We must show that, like the Apostles after their period of doubt, our lives have been changed for the better. We must be seen to have moved away from inaction and judgmental finger wagging to a community of people with a life that is attractive. We must live out a life that makes people ask what it is that makes us so, and to want a share in that kind of life.

There is nothing more attractive than a genuinely loving community. Not a self-obsessed group of people, but rather one where it is obvious that all are welcome, all are valued. A community with a love so expansive that it becomes a place, a community, where people want to be, because they can see that they can be who they really are called by God to be. Such a community as that, has a love that overflows outwards to love and selflessly serve others. As we shall see over the next few weeks in our readings from Acts, so attractive was that Resurrection Community, built on Jesus, that thousands were added to their number each day.

Building such a community as that is never easy, and as with the earliest Christians, there will always be slips along the way.

I know that St Stephen’s can be even more of a community like that than it already is.

So that, my dear friends in Christ, is my final word to you as your parish priest.

Spread the Gospel; live the life. Above all, my beloved Family of St Stephen’s, grow in Love.

“By your love for one-another” said Jesus, “People will know that you are my disciples.”


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