Sunday, 27 April 2014

Jesus, Uselessness, Fascination, Strange Reasons and More Jesus—My Last Homily as the Parish Priest at St Barnabas, Medicine Hat: with Reference to John 20.19-31

Jesus still comes and stands among us when we, his disciples and believers and doubters and backsliders, meet. He did it “on that day, the first day of the week,” when “the doors of the house where the disciples had met” then “were locked for fear of the Jews.” (John 20.19). He does it now. Without fail. He still says, “Peace be with you,” (John 19.19, 21 & 26) as he shows himself to us in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. He breathes on us still saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 19.22). Jesus still comes and stands here among us and reveals himself and breathes on us even when we feel like Thomas, so whenever we come to worship there are always others who can still say to us who doubt and struggle, “We have seen the LORD.” (John 19.24) And as we worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and listen to his word and eat the bread and drink the wine—with Thomas, we’re saying over and over again, “My LORD and my God! My LORD and my God! My LORD and my God!” (John 19.28) And through our believing we have life in his name (John 19.31). All that was happening then, when John was writing, it is happening now and it will continue to happen every Sunday when you gather to pray Morning Prayer together and when priests come from all over the diocese to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with you. Jesus will come and stand among you and breathe on you with the sweet breath of his presence and the Holy Spirit.

I believe Jesus was standing there sixteen years ago today when Archbishop Curtis asked me consider letting my name stand for StB. I wrote this in my journal the next day: Yesterday (27th) the Bishop asked me, in confidence, if I would let my name stand for St Barnabas, Medicine Hat. He said it needs good strong leadership, is the handsomest church in the diocese and should be one of the largest parishes. Is that you, Lord?

I believe it was the LORD. And here we are. We’re still the handsomest Church in the diocese and you’re the best looking congregation. I'd hoped we'd be larger yet—more people following and enjoying Jesus with us—but no matter, Jude and I consider ourselves mightily blessed to have served you these fifteen years and we’re proud to be numbered among you.

GK Chesterton once wrote: “a clergyman may be apparently as useless as a cat, but he is also as fascinating, for there must be some strange reason for his existence.” (See more at: In the old canons of this diocese there was a whole canon, number seventeen, dealing with, “Intrusions and Inhibition of Strange Clergymen.” Chesterton must have known something of that. I don't know how fascinating you'll find it, but this morning I want to take a few minutes to reflect on some of the strange reasons and ways of my existence here as your priest. I hope it will also explain any apparent uselessness away.

First. Jesus. I think you know how vitally important Jesus is in my life and all that I do. I may well be useless as a cat in many areas (ask Jude), but Jesus never is. I find Jesus endlessly fascinating and the reason for his existence is mysterious and wonderful, but not strange. I’ve not experienced much in the way of spectacular revelations of Jesus in my life, but somehow He has captured my imagination and my heart and I cannot but do all in my limited and flawed power to draw attention to him, to point him out, to extol his virtues and to try and help you and others to notice him and meet him and to taste and see how very, very good he is.

Second, not long after I started out as a priest I realized that this job is like being a mother. It’s never done. Whenever I go home, there’s always something more that needs doing, something to be folded and put away, to be tidied up—always someone who could do with a call or a visit, always, always. And then The LORD drew my attention to Psalm 127.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.
If St Francis, then, and St Barnabas, now, is to be built and guarded well, it’s The LORD who must do it. So, I resolved to observe my Sabbath faithfully and do my best to avoid workaholism—for The LORD’s sake and for Jude’s sake and for my sake and for yours—I remember reading about a pastor from South America who built a church with a large number of people only to have The LORD tell him that he hadn’t grown it, he’d only made it fat. I thought it important to model a balanced life with Jesus at the centre, depending on Jesus, loving my wife, working hard and honestly, while resting well and thoroughly.

Third, I’m a guy. I tend to be ambitious, to want to be “successful.” To build a big (fat?) church. Not too long ago The LORD lit this verse up for me:
Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth." (1Co3.7)
The strange reason for my existence as your priest is really not so strange after all. I water and I plant. If there is to be growth God gives it. Amen.

Fourth. All the above happens in relationship building. In one sense, relationships can’t be built on a timetable. You can’t decide you’re going to be in love with somebody by Tuesday. Neither can we discover how fascinating we all are on a timetable. It just takes time. In another way we do have to build our relationships on a timetable—Sunday morning by Sunday morning, picnic in the park by picnic in the park, dinner invitation by dinner invitation. And the time it takes, most of the time, feels strangely unproductive. Useless. It’s all about relationships—allowing them to grow with Jesus, with one another. Slowly. Sometimes painfully. Just spending the time so The LORD can build the house and give the growth.

Do I have regrets? A few. There are things I wish I could have done better. Connections I wish I’d made. Disappointments? A few of those, too. I am sad that we lost some folk over the years, but I know that life happens. If I have sinned against any of you, or been careless, please forgive me. But more than any of my oh so few regrets is my joy and pride in you all. You’ve warmed the cockles of this old pastor’s heart and I am honoured to have been your priest.

Finally, please do what Jesus commanded—love one another. Pray for each other and for our new Incumbent. Be kind and generous. Bear with one another. Please, please, don't give up on this. We all need a worshipping community saying to one another and “We have seen the LORD.”

And, above all, remember you serve a Risen and Glorified Saviour who loves you. His Name is Jesus and His Name is the last word I want you to hear from me as your priest from this pulpit.

Believe in Jesus. Worship Jesus. Enjoy Jesus. Serve Jesus.