Mary’s address for Festival Evensong – 21 May

Festival Evensong at St Bartholomew’s – 21 May 17

Zech 8.1-13 & Rev 21.22-22.5

3 Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain. 4 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. 5 And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.

2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Our two readings this evening together offer us an all-embracing vision of the world as it could be, as God meant and means it to be, as God created it to be – and a promise that one day it will be so. And it’s a vision which attracts us because it’s recognisable, familiar, not a vision of remoteness, of heaven beyond the bright blue sky, but a vision of old people sitting on their doorsteps in the streets and of children playing there: a vision of a river running through a city, a freshness and fruitfulness.

Neither book was written in a time of peace…. Zechariah was a priest and prophet who returned with the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the city – and most of his preaching was designed to rebuke the people for not getting on with the job, and to encourage and motivate them to do so…. to create a place of security and prosperity, a place where not only they and their families – old and young alike – but where all the scattered people of God could find a home. As for the Book of Revelation, it’s actually a letter, sent to Christians in Asia Minor – modern Turkey – at a time when they were being persecuted and oppressed – and all its apocalyptic and fantastic visions serve to reassure those persecuted Christians that God will triumph: more than that, they are a promise that one day all suffering will end, and that not only individuals but all society, all creation will be redeemed – for how else can we understand the words  and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

In its beauty and security and comfort, we may sometimes feel that Haslemere provides a foretaste of that promise. As its residents enjoy all that our town and countryside has to offer, and especially as we revel in the extraordinary range of events and activities offered during the Festival – as if there wasn’t enough going on throughout the year – it’s important that we don’t forget how fortunate – how blessed even – we are in where we live. Our lines have indeed fallen to us in pleasant places, as the psalmist said – Christian Aid Week, which ended yesterday, has given us an extra, high profile chance to show our gratitude for that and help people across the world for whom that’s not true. Envelopes at the back and do come to our coffee morning on Wednesday at St C – details in news sheet.

Zechariah is reminding the people that the achievement of God’s plan to rebuild the temple and the city is, quite literally, in their hands. Let your hands be strong, ye that hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets….. that the temple might be built.

And again: so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong.

The promise of Revelation is a distant vision, certain but remote: all creation will one day be restored, the nations will be healed and God will wipe every tear from our eyes. But in the meantime, we need to join in and work to make the world as good as it can be. And people in Haslemere have much to offer here. We are good at fundraising, and advocacy, and protest – in a very Surrey sort of way – and at getting things done. We have amongst us an enormous range of skills and experience. We have contacts, we understand where the levers  of power are and know how to get them moving….. This capacity to make things happen has been brilliantly harnessed in the successful campaign to ensure that people suffering from dementia – and their carers – will still have day centre provision in the town. And in another example of care in action, we’ve seen how keeping the needs of others at the heart of our decision making has meant that a house could be found for a family of Syrian refugees, who arrived last week.

ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong.

Today the world seems to be a much less secure place than most of us thought it was the last time we met for a Festival Evensong, two years ago. Whatever our politics, whether we are people of faith or not, we can all agree about that. Whether or not we believe in the Revelation promise of a world completely healed and made whole, we can all respond to the call of Zechariah to do all that we can in our own particular place and time to make it as good as it can be. As we rejoice in and enjoy all that we have inherited, the tradition and the beauty and the comfort and, even today, the security, let’s resolve once again to use our gifts, our talents, our resources to serve our world… God’s world…. God’s people.

fear not, but let your hands be strong.

And let’s have faith that one day the nations will be healed.

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