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Sermon: Cathedral Eucharist - 28 Sept 2014

Sunday 28th September 2014
Cathedral Eucharist
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-end
Matthew 21:23-32
Download Recording (MP3, 12.7M) Download

'What does it feel like to be you today?'

That was the question posed by a year 7 pupil at the Priory School to our Bishop designate on Friday.  It's a great question.  Perhaps it's one we should all ponder!

Bishop Andrew's answer was 'It feels wonderful'.

Wonderful: a word full of inspiration and joy; a word that captures impact of God's call and delight in his people. 

You can read more about Bishop Andrew on the diocesan website and catch a flavour of Friday's events on Twitter or Facebook. In a social media age, images and comment can be overwhelming; that makes it even more important to think about the questions we ask; to listen to the response; to focus our attention on God; to allow ourselves to be disturbed, challenged even changed.

At the heart of today's gospel is a challenging question about our attention and response.   Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem; a city that is crowded and full of turmoil. Many are asking 'Who is this?' 

In the case of Bishop Andrew, who was followed around by our comms team, a camera man, diocesan staff and local media, the question on everyone's lips was 'Is that him?' or at the end of Evensong here 'is he going to say something?'  The day was informal, but a sense of momentum and expectation grew. People wanted to ask questions - to find out who this man was; to get a hint of his vision; to know something about what made him tick; to know what impression he had of us as a diocese.

We paid attention to His answers; perhaps latching on to words that gave us hope or encouragement; the things that intrigued us.

For Jesus, the challenging question was rather different: by whose authority are you doing these things?  Who is it that gives him the right to teach, to heal, to welcome children, to eat with the marginalised, to debate with the leaders?

Jesus' authority flows from who he is as God's Son; God with us. Rather than say that, he asks a question of his own - and as we hear, the questioners find themselves caught in a dilemma of their own making.  They face the indication of the people; or they reveal their own failure to respond to the nearness of God's Kingdom.

They are too concerned about their reputation - their hearts and minds are consumed with what people might think or how smart they are. To pay attention to who Jesus is draws us into a transformative relationship. We are seen as we are: full of gifts and hopes; full of contradictions and failings.  Jesus draws us into a love that holds us. There is what we might call a prayerful release of potential.

And out of that love and assurance, how does it feel to be you?

Jesus continues the conversation with another story; with another question.

Which son does his father's will: the one who changes his mind and works in the vineyard, or the one who makes a commitment and fails to show up?  It is the one whose attention rests firmly on his father's who responds.  He turns back; he changes his mind.

Sometimes the moments when we recognise we've made a mistake are the most graced.  We are liberated from our own stubbornness and pride; realising perhaps we'd misjudged a person or situation; acknowledging that we're doing too much and allowing others to lighten the load as they use their gifts.  Shows vulnerability and maturity.

The difficultly for the elders is that they've boxed themselves into a corner. They understand the logic of Jesus's parable - the relational response. But their hearts don't follow their heads. When John presented the way of righteousness - offering people repentance they did not believe. Others however, did turn their lives around.

John created a climate where transformation  became possible.  He echoed the words of the prophet Ezekiel that we've heard today - calling men and women away from their wickedness to what is lawful and right.   They are to repent; they are to cast away transgressions; invited, as we are week by week, to lay aside our acts betrayal, impatience, scornfulness and fear - all that diminishes our common life.  Instead we are invited to adopt a new heart; and a new spirit.   

Those who'd heard John, had responded to the imperative of liberation: turn, then, and live! Having taken that step they could respond to the one who'd stood with them on the muddy banks of the river Jordan - God with us. The one whose authority rests on who he is. It rests not on human consensus or approval; nor on markers of attainment or the trappings of office.  His authority rests on the reality that he is the Word of God, abiding with the Father; now dwelling with us, not in power and might, but in self-giving love. 

Jesus ignites conversation; in encounter he converts us.

What does it feel like to be you, is an invitation to pay attention. Our choir embodies the physical quality of attention as Katherine directs them. Attention to gesture translated into music to the glory of God. To appreciate how hard that is, ask our own Mr Clifford-Hill to demonstrate the clapping game he used with our aspiring choristers yesterday!

Attention is serious. As was pointed out to me this week, it is a limited resource. If we spread it thinly, we're distracted and pulled in too many directions; it's not sustainable; it doesn't enable us to live fully in the way that God desires. 

It's why making space for stillness before worship matters; lateness or being flustered is an attention deficit. It is in our worship that our attention is seized - drawn back to God. It  focuses our attention enabling us to attend more fully and more carefully to others and to the world; to see those things not as competing demands, but as reflections of the love we encounter here.

As brothers and sisters in Christ we are called to abide in that love; to pay attention to it.  That love gives us assurance both to let go of our mistakes, but also to embrace out potential and engage with the world.  We learn to pay a consistent loving attention to the light of God - to both the dazzling darkness of God and the band of colour refracted in our lives and our world.  One spectrum. One point of attention.

However, this kind of attentiveness is not something we do in our own strength; our minds are too butterfly like, to weighed down with distractions and responsibilities. It is the generous mercy of God at work in us, through the power of the Spirit. The burning fire of God's love, as today's collect puts it, makes us fervent in fellowship, rooted in the Gospel.  By abiding, paying attention, in this way, we are found steadfast in faith and active in service.

This morning we are called back to God: to receive his love, forgiveness and strength in bread and wine and blessing.  We are all here, to use Bishop Andrew's phrase, as amateurs; as people who love.  As people who love in attentiveness to God's love. Our Archbishop has set out a vision for his priorities; the things that demand our attention too.  It begins with prayer - absolute attention to God.  It is reflected in reconciliation - living with difference in love. It bubbles up in witness - the faithful expression in word and deed of God's love.

Friday marked the beginning of a time of preparation and transition for us and for our Diocese. It was right that the day ended here - as we paid attention in worship and fellowship in a place which is the seat of a Bishop's teaching & preaching; the heart of our witness as a diocese.  In a few months time, Bishop Andrew will return to this Cathedral Church dedicated to the Holy Spirit for what is now commonly known as his inauguration. Then a new season of mission and ministry will begin;  we will be unsettled, excited and disturbed in our own calling as disciples, as a Cathedral.   May that be rooted in prayer, demonstrated in witness, expressed in reconciliation.  So let us pray, in the words Bishop Ian used last week:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of our new Diocesan Bishop, Andrew Watson. We ask you now to guide and strengthen him with your Holy Spirit as he prepares for the move from Birmingham to Guildford.

Help us to prepare for his coming among us with open hearts and a ready will to work together for the good or your Kingdom.  Bless him, his wife Beverley and their family.  May we welcome them and support them daily in prayer; We make our prayer through Jesus Christ your Son, who is our Chief Pastor and Lord. Amen.