Induction of Mary Bowden Haslemere Advent 2 2016
Isaiah 11.1-10 Matthew 3. 1-12
As we gather here this morning millions of people are on the move, fleeing war and rumours if war, facing long term exile from their countries, life in a refugee camp (possibly for years) and the ever present threat of hunger, exploitation even death. As we gather here to pray our political systems are more unstable then we previously imagined, our economic stability under threat the north south divide in this country widening and sections of our population are feeling alienated and fearful. There is a rising tide of anxiety which we ignore at our peril. We wonder how we arrived where we are and what might be our hope for the future.
If John the Baptist were to stride through the church door this morning looking for all the world like someone who had been sleeping rough for a while and too haggard to have had a good breakfast and who then proceeded to shout at us to repent we would probably expect the churchwardens to bundle him unceremoniously outside and consign him to join all those other lunatics and extremists whom we fear.
The trouble is, John the Baptist is here and we can only ignore him by refusing to listen. He speaks again from the words of Scripture which we have heard in the Gospel – ‘Repent’ for the kingdom of heaven is near. Or as The Message version has it he said ‘Change your life. God’s kingdom is here. ‘The root meaning of the word repent is to turn in a new direction or to have a dramatic change of mind and in particular to turn right away from the values and the practices of the old age and to turn towards the values an practices of the new age, the realm or kingdom of God ; a Kingdom described in ideal terms in the reading from Isaiah which is a remarkable picture of a re-ordered creation, where predators dwell in harmony with their prey, where the most vulnerable humans in society, children, are completely safe to play with venomous snakes. This kingdom of peace is ruled by a king, who treats the poor righteously and gives the meek a fair hearing,
John the Baptist proclaims Jesus as the coming uniquely Spirit filled king. As Christians we long for that reign of peace in Isaiah’s vision but it seems for from reality. Jesus’ mission is still incomplete; wars, strife and injustice are still rife. It is not that Jesus mission has failed, it is that we, his disciples, are to be part of its fulfilment. Christ has no hands on earth but outs, no feet but ours’ .We, his disciples are Christ’s body on earth. We are to be available to help bring in the kingdom through the power of the Spirit of Jesus dwelling in us.
At the very least this realisation will drive us to prayer, but it is also a call to repentance for all the ways in which we embrace the values and practices which are not part of the kingdom of love, justice and peace. Perhaps it is in our dealing with other people that we need to repent. Are we adversarial rather than looking for common ground with those who disagree with us? Do we feel our values are ok because we have done well in the world and yet are heedless of the needs of those who may live alongside us but who are poor? It is hardest to be poor in an affluent area. Deprivation is often hidden.
Are we profiting from the arms race? Do all our investments tick the sustainability and ethical boxes? Could we stand in the presence of Jesus and testify that all business deals and agreements are scrupulously honest? Are we at peace with our families, friends and neighbours and If not are we willing to go to mediation or to seek a resolution some other way? Do we even know those who are not like us but who are our neighbours? Do we need to repent?
Later in this service we shall share in a somewhat quaint piece of ecclesiastical and legal ceremony, as we induct Mary as Rector of Haslemere. It may seem a little peripheral, even second rate, with only an Assistant Archdeacon to preside or even just unnecessary since there has already been one formal induction with a proper Archdeacon and a party! However, it will be a reminder of our place in the Church of England which we value and for which, as I am, you may be very grateful. That’s all good but don’t forget the Pharisees and Sadducees who trusted their religious affiliation to justify themselves. We cannot rest on our Anglican laurels despite our inheritance of faith. We need to repent, to turn in a different direction away from ourselves and towards our communities.
The whole of the Church of England is being called to repent. Archbishop Justin began his ministry as archbishop with a call to prayer and to the renewal of the religious life. One of his first actions was to establish the community of St Anselm at Lambeth, a community of young people dedicated to a year of shared life, prayer ad service to the poor. It was quickly followed by his call to prayer ‘Your Kingdom come’ which is still in process.. But not only this he engaged in a war with Wonga and the loan sharks demonstrating that the kingdom will come both through renewed openness to God and also through action for justice. His upcoming Lent book Dethroning Mammon is not about being anti-money but about being anti so many people’s attitude to money In the whole transformation and renewal programme from General Synod we are being called to look not at ourselves but to the coming of Christ’s kingdom in he world, to look in a different direction.
As a small example, for the fourth year running the diocese of Truro has its own Christmas giving catalogue. Cornwall has not only one of the poorest economies in Britain but also a large proportion of homeless and vulnerable people. The catalogue invites donors to contribute to a range of projects helping disadvantaged, vulnerable and poor people across the county in creative and imaginative ways. If you own a second home in Cornwall or regularly go on surfing holidays look on the Truro diocesan website and do something to help. Look in a different direction
Mary’s induction to-day in one way may not seem to change very much although it does give her very definite authority which is to be respected. But it also gives you a real chance to repent as a community of churches to consider which way you are facing, Along with the rest of the diocese you are called to face forwards rather than dwell on past glories; to look around you rather than at yourselves and to meet the needs of others; to be a church community which spends time praying to be made attractively like Jesus; to take up arms not in war but in the struggle against injustice; to love those whom others do not love. To repent is to seek God first and to discover and seek to become what God is calling you to be. Above all it is to recognise our vulnerability and fragility as human beings and as Christians and to trust God in the changing and anxious times in which we live.
Centuries ago Julian of Norwich anticipated and shared the same fears as she looked at her world –this is what she saw –
deeds are done which appear so evil to us and people suffer such terrible evils that it does not seem as though any good will ever come of them; and we consider this, sorrowing and grieving over it so that we cannot find peace in the blessed contemplation of God as we should do; and this is why: our reasoning powers are so blind now, so humble and so simple, that we cannot know the high, marvellous wisdom, the might and the goodness of the Holy Trinity. And this is what he means where he says, ‘You shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well’, as if he said, ‘Pay attention to this now, faithfully and confidently, and at the end of time you will truly see it in the fullness of joy.” Amen