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Sermon: St Mary's Ewell

Sunday 7th September 2014
St Mary's Ewell
Micah 5:2.4a
John 19:25-7

+ Patronal Festivals are tremendous celebrations: opportunities for hospitality and rejoicing.  They are in the richest meaning of the word 'solemnities'.  They draw us more deeply into reflecting on the character and gift of a particular saint.  In drawing attention to a particular life, we contemplate the mystery of God's love and its power to transform.  More than that, in the midst of all that threatens to overwhelm us, renewed and challenged. Renewed in prayer and hope; challenged in witness and the call to reconciliation.

That renewal and challenge are integral to Archbishop Justin's vision.  He has called for renewal in the life of prayer within church, that we might attend deeply to God and the world; he is encouraging us to witness in words, as well as in action, to the generous love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ; he is taking Paul's call that we should be ambassadors of reconciliation and placing it at the heart of mission and ministry. 

Unlike initiatives such as 'decades of evangelism' or strategies that focus exclusively on the kind of 'growth' that can be quantified, Justin's priorities are habits of spiritual discipline, engagement and relationship which are not dependent on our numbers or resources.  They are rooted in the inexhaustibility of God's love and grace.  They make demands on our time and attention; they reshape us. 

We are not members of just one human institution among many, competing for space, time and money; nor are we a holy-huddle, a close knit community keeping things ticking over. We are called by name as members of a body; united in Christ our head; and members one with another.  Bodies move and create; they walk, pause and interact. 

As a body, the church gathers together for worship: meeting in the name of Father, Son and Spirit. We come to attend to God - receiving forgiveness and peace; being drawn into the economy of his love in word and sacrament; renewing our fellowship and being inspired by a vision of God's kingdom of justice.   Then we are sent out in peace to love and serve the Lord: with all the challenges and delights of that as we encounter friends or strangers; as we work in partnership with people of good will in our communities.

We are transformed and caught up in the transformation of the world. 

We walk, step by step. We engage, face to face.

Both of today's readings, and the experience and example of our Archbishop, offer us encouragement as we celebrate this Feast of Title.

Lambeth Palace released a YouTube clip launching the new Anselm Community to be based there from 2015.  Justin is welcoming young people to commit a year to God's time: living, praying and serving God together. It is a beacon of hope and renewal, not just for the CofE, but for the whole Communion.  Prayer is that disciplined attention to God and also to God's world. Energy flows our of pray into our relationships, enabling us to become more joyful and compassionate, forgiving and generous.

Last week also saw an series of unprecedented meetings between Archbishop Justin and and Church leaders from the Middle East.  Their prayer and witness was an act of solidarity with all those who continue to suffer gross violations of right and freedom to practice their chosen faith.  It was an act of witness to the leaders of the nations to have the courage and determination to act and seek peace. The stood together under the hashtag slogan WeAreAllHuman.  The Archbishop's statement ends with Revelation 1:9 we share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patience and the endurance.

We are all called to patient endurance for the sake of the Kingdom; in this Diocese, this parish our lives. To be agents of reconciliation: taking time to listen to hurt; to grant forgiveness; to renew relationships.  Today, our celebration of the Blessed Virgin is so profoundly important.  It is a call to persevere; it is a day of encouragement. She knew the joy of the incarnation in the most intimate way; bearing the Word of God; she knew the sorrow of death; and the anticipation of the outpouring of the Spirit. 

The prophet Micah reminds us that God's ways are unlike ours.  God work through the seemingly insignificant; using the apparently small and weak  to fulfil his purposes. The little clan; the tiny child; the young mother; the untidy church; you and me. Micah also reminds us of the importance of waiting, embodied in the image of pregnant woman; the ways of God take seriously our humanity; working through our frailty and fear to bring joy and the glorious hope of his Kingdom.  Mary pondered the words of shepherds as she nursed her new born son; but it is an image that reminds us of God's  faithfulness to us; in him we find strength.  That strength is paradoxically made known in weakness.   


Our Gospel draws into that mystery.  As Jean Vanier put it:   The naked king: stripped of power, mobility and dignity, to reveal the truth of love in an offering of self....  This naked man, condemned to death, is the Word of God made flesh who liberates us from all the  chaos inside and around us.


Mary is there, with the other women.  She is there with the beloved disciple, who takes her into his home; into his heart.  This brief exchange in the midst of agony and death could be seen as an act of practical kindness; a son securing his mother's future. It is far more radical. On the cross, Jesus draws humanity to himself; that is the work that glorifies his Father; now it is nearing completion.  This final gesture, says Vanier,  is to bring Mary and John into oneness as he and the Father are one, to create a covenant of love between them. 

This covenantal bond is life-giving. In the face of death, Mary is to be mother to all beloved disciples; bearing Jesus to them that they may share in that mutual indwelling. He in us, we in him.  Likewise, the disciples is to be come a son to Mary; to bear Jesus to her.  This reciprocity is the life the church is called to.  It is the unity of love and communion.  We are one in Christ; we are united in him; we are members one with another.

As the body of Christ your attention is on God and the world.  You are embedded in life of community; looking outwards, paying attention to the needs, gifts and hopes of all who live and work in the parish.  You are seeking to grow as a Christians;  deepen your faith and nurturing young people.  In worship, we give glory to God in worship.  Our vision of his Kingdom is restored; we are equipped to express that in care and compassion; in a rich and inclusive social life; in our political and civic engagement we are called to that risky work of reconciliation in the face of inequality and disagreement. The Eucharist is a place of challenge and blessing: glimpsing heaven and receiving what we are; the body of Christ, living and active in the world.

Today we give thanks for all that challenges and inspires us about Mary as a woman of praise and protest; a woman who bears Christ and who in her embrace of the beloved disciples also bears the church. Today we renew our calling to inhabit +Justin's priorities for us as an untidy church:  life of prayer, a life of witness and a life of reconciliation.  Knowing that all that flows from the cross; the making manifest of the generous love of God.

Mary and the beloved disciple stood near the foot of the cross; today as we celebrate this Festival Eucharist, we too are drawn near. Here we are called and recalled to proclaim God's love. We do not shy away from pain and complexity of our world; but in love offer a sign of life and hope. Jean Vanier's poem takes us back to the one to whom we are to bear witness in the power of the Spirit, the one who reveals the Father's reconciling love: Christ Jesus:

Jesus did not run away from pain, he accepted it

and went to the very end

of his mission: to proclaim the truth

of God's love.


Many rejected him

and his message of love,

not wanting to change

or be changed. Wanting to hold

onto their meagre power

and privileges,

they got rid of him.


But through his wounds and pain

Jesus brings life and hope to all people.

He opens the gates of love

to our broken hearts and world.