Saturday, April 16, 2016

Setting out for the Future Together

Setting out for the Future Together
A Statement from the Rector
to the Annual Parochial Church Meeting 2016

The trouble with thanking people, as every leader knows, is that there is always someone who gets forgotten.  There is almost bound to be someone sitting here today who is quietly seething because I have obviously not noticed their personal act of self-sacrifice…the way they came in that day and quietly made tea for visitors in the church, or the day they put that extra donation in my hand for the Big Build Campaign, or the day they organised some work to be done on the church’s behalf. 

The one thing that has consistently impressed me about St Faith’s is the sheer number of you who do volunteer your time in one way or another.  It seems that almost every one of you is involved in some way – for the good of the whole parish.  Cleaners, flower arrangers, bell ringers, choir members, servers, pastoral visitors, welcomers, sidespeople, musicians.  Then there’s the vast array of committees that we run – there’s the Communications Team, and the Pallant Buildings Development Team.  There’s the Finance Committee and the Capital Campaign Group.  There’s a Buildings Management Committee, and a weekly Site Team meeting.  There’s a Churchyard Development Group, and the Church Electronics Team.  And many more besides.

And this is of course precisely the way it should be.  As we are often reminded, before sharing the Peace, that ‘We are the body of Christ’.  That’s an incredibly profound thought.  Just ponder it for a moment.  With the wave of holy hand, God could surely do everything that needs doing without our help.  We believe in an ‘Almighty’ God, for whom nothing is impossible.  And yet, he invites us to be his serving hands in this community.  He invites us – you and me – to co-operate with him in his mission to redeem Havant and the whole world.  What a privilege we have been given…to be God’s loving hands to a dying world!

I thank God every day for the service you all give.  I thank God that Father Peter, Father David and even Father Brown of blessed memory have faithfully preached this most fundamental message of the Christian faith.  We are a body.  Without each other, without each other’s service to one another, we would achieve precisely nothing.  We stand, or fall, as the people of God in this place entirely on how much we are willing to give up our own desires, and serve the common good.

As we set out for the future together, I find myself joyfully optimistic about what we can and will achieve together, by the grace of God.    Our Mission Development Plan has given us a firm foundation on which to build…a direction in which to travel.  There are many challenges ahead…and there will be many sacrifices to be made along the way. 

It is, of course, the very idea of Sacrifice that stands at the heart of the Christian Faith.  With Good Friday only a few weeks behind us, we have once again reflected on the sacrifice of our Lord – and on how his pouring out of himself led to so much creative energy, that he ultimately burst out of his own tomb.  Just this week, I was at Bosmere School, taking an Assembly and chatting to the children.  A couple of them came up to me and asked “Why is Good Friday called ‘good’”?  The standard answer, of course, is that it was good that Jesus died for the world.  But the deeper meaning is that personal sacrifice, of any description, is ultimately the greatest good that any of us can do.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is an icon, a grand metaphor, a prime example, of what can be achieved through sacrifice.

So, as we set out for the future together, don’t be surprised if, from time to time, I ask even greater sacrifice of you.  I’ll ask you to sacrifice the time you normally give to your TV, to come and be part of this community – in worship as well as in fun and fellowship.  I’ll ask you to sacrifice the money you normally save up for that cruise or exotic holiday – so that we can achieve the costly work of maintaining these buildings as signs of the Kingdom.  I’ll ask you to sacrifice the comfort of your sofa, for the distinct pleasure of a plastic chair in the church hall, or a paint-brush, or the sometimes frustrating work of a Committee.  And I will do so unashamedly, and without reserve…because of Christ.

We call Christ our Lord.  And by his own sacrificial death, Christ calls us into sacrifice and service.  He does this for the good of the Kingdom, and also for our own good.  He calls us to sacrifice, because sacrifice is good for us.  It takes us out of ourselves and our own tiny self-obsessions.  It expands our consciousness, and enlarges our heart.  It strengthens our character, and shapes us to be more like Christ.  I preached last year on the way that Orthodox Christians believe that our destiny in Christ is to become ‘deified’ – to become, ‘gods’ with a small ‘g’ – people who are so like God the Father that people see God’s own face in ours.  All of that becomes possible when we offer ourselves, body, mind, heart and soul, to be ‘living sacrifices’ for God.

So, thank you all.  Thank you for the sacrifices you have already made.  And thank you for the sacrifices that you will yet make.  We are the body of Christ, setting out for the future together, to build our designated corner of the Kingdom of God here in Havant.  Looking to the Ultimate Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus as our model, let continuing sacrifice be our watchword, our inspiration, and our path to salvation. 


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