Inclusivity and tradition: Genesis 1, 26-31, Galatians 3, 23-end & Luke 4, 16-22

 

I would like to talk today about how this Church can develop both its mission and its worship. Mission and worship are, of course, closely related. People learn something about God and his love for each and every one of us through our worship. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that through the simple act of believers meeting together to sing and offer praise to God many came to believe (Acts 2, 46-47), whilst St. Paul stressed (1 Corinthians 11, 26) that ‘every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes in glory,’ (1 Corinthians 11, 26).

 

However, before I talk to you about the enhancements we wish to make in our worship and mission I want to start with a question; a self-directed, rhetorical, question: ‘why am I, Andrew, here as your parish priest?’ You see like all of you I don’t have to be here, no, I chose to be here. And, for me there is something deeply significant and challenging about the word choice. Choice implies attraction. There was something very definite about you that attracted me and made me choose you rather than carry on pursuing other conversations. The fact that I chose to become your parish priest is in fact down to you, not me. Think about it for a second. During the period of my placement, before I was installed, we could have decided not to carry on with each other. You could have decided I wasn’t right for you and vice-a-versa. Indeed when I started with you I was somewhat cautious about committing my longer-term future to you. So why did I choose to do so, what attracted me?

Two words: inclusivity and tradition. These words at first sight don’t necessarily appear to relate; but, perhaps, they do. You included me in your community. Your love and involvement with this church pre-dates mine. You took a risk. You knew a few facts about me, but you didn’t know about some of the things that have most deeply affected me, and continue to affect me, for good or for ill; the things which actually inform my ministry and comprise my identity: the really deep, often unspoken things.

What you did relates to the first reading we have heard from Genesis: you recognised me as a person made in the image of God, and you decided that this was good enough. Thank you!

And we must go on being all embracing and all inclusive, recognising that all are made in the image of God. We must go on insisting in the words that we heard from the Epistle that in Christ all are equal and that male, female, Jew, Greek, able bodied, disabled, young, old, strong, fragile, straight and gay, are all, because they are made in the image of God, to be fully included in an authentically Christian community.  I believe this with every fibre of my being.

 

And we must recognise, drawing on the Gospel reading, that Jesus came to set all free, to break any yoke that makes any individual feel less than fully human. Inclusivity, equality, justice and, liberation; these are some of the Church’s guiding principles. And, they are deep gospel principles. Sadly, not all churches recognise the ‘Inclusive God.’ Some, churches continue to build higher fences rather than longer tables. It is for this reason that after discussions with the PCC, and the Bishop, we have decided to join a network called Inclusive Church. Inclusive Church’s statement of belief is simply this:

‘We believe in inclusive church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful, which seeks to proclaim the gospel afresh for each generation, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and deep is the love of God.’

Other Churches, and there are over 150 of them, whose theology of hospitality and inclusivity has led them to join Inclusive Church include St. Alban’s Cathedral, Ripon Cathedral, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St. Mary the Virgin (the University Church) Oxford and, St. Michael’s Amersham. We will be in good company, as a Church which stresses that ‘all, yes all, really are welcome in this place.’

 

So if your spirit of generous and inclusive welcome was my first reason for, as it were, taking the job, the second was your tradition. I am very comfortable with our styles and patterns of worship. I enjoy both traditional and contemporary forms of authentically Church of England worship. This Church, I strongly believe, is a place where the way we worship is intrinsically linked to our mission. And, we need to build on our worship traditions. We will do so in two ways. First, we will build on our commitment to BCP worship by joining the Prayer Book Society, purchasing new Prayer Books and, on fifth Sundays offering Choral Matins, instead of a Sung Eucharist. We will continue to celebrate BCP Holy Communion on the first and third Sundays of every month and Evensong on the second Sunday. On the fourth Wednesday of every month the midday Communion will be from the Book of Common Prayer. This means that there will be a BCP service in this Church every week of the month. Our worship in Advent and Lent will also include Compline and Prime. These enhancements will come into effect from January next year.

We will also be offering a different form of Communion service called Come and Share All Age Eucharist on the third Sunday of every month - replacing the existing All Age Eucharist. This service has already been used in the Benefice and will be less formal that the current All Age Service. The new service will last about 35 minutes and will be followed by breakfast.

The PCC have also made the decision to admit children to Holy Communion, following preparation, from the age of seven. This will bring us in line with other denominations and recognises the Bishops guidance that baptism is the only necessary pre-requisite for communion and that ‘Jesus’ acceptance of children was clear.’ Recognising the ecumenical dimension - and Jesus won unconditional inclusion of children - the Canons of the Church of England were amended in 2006 so that children could be offered, as full members of the Church, the sacrament of the Eucharist.

 

The decisions we have taken, which have also been discussed at length with Bishop Alan, will stand this Church in good stead: our worship will be enhanced and, our mission extended.

We will become even more widely known as a Church committed to celebrating the deep and enduring traditions of the Church of England with freshness, relevance and joy. We will also become known as a congregation committed to offering the love of God to everyone, without exception, just as you did to me, based on a theology which insists that each and every person is made in the image of God. Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

 

You should have gone to Specsavers.’

 

‘You should have gone to Specsavers,’ - surely one of the most quoted advertising strap-lines? It’s a line we use in our house whenever someone fails to see what’s right under their eye. It’s used as a form of gentle ridicule.

Today’s Gospel reading is about seeing and perceiving. But, it starts with the rather strange thought that what we see will be conditioned by the state of our heart. In a very real sense we are only capable of seeing what we want to, or are trained to, see. So here are a couple of questions: ‘What do you want to see,’ and ‘how have you trained your eyes to see?’ Or put another way: ‘what lenses are you looking at the world through.’

These are important questions because the Gospel suggests that the rich man really should have gone to Specsavers, not only would his eyesight have been improved but his soul would have been saved. The fact that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t see properly, ultimately cost him everything.

For St. Paul ‘godliness,’ is related to how we see and perceive the world around us. And, the challenge is to see the world around us as God sees it. This is the beginning of Godliness.  We can, of course, only do this if we train our eyes properly. And, the way we train our eyes is by treading Scripture slowly in such a way as to allow it to penetrate our very souls and, through prayer.

Through reading and absorbing Scripture, and through prayer, we develop the ability to see both what is immediately under our noses whilst looking far into the distance into ‘eternal life.’  We get to wear a divine set of varifocal lenses! We develop the ability, in the words of St. Paul, to ‘take hold of eternal life,’ whilst simultaneously responding to the Gospel imperative to see the contemporary Lazarus’ laying at ‘our gate.’  And, they really are there.

Of course the rich man in the gospel story knew his Scriptures; we are told that he knew all about Moses and the Prophets. What he didn’t know, because he couldn’t see properly, was that the whole point of Moses and the Prophets, and let’s not forget that Jesus is the fulfilment of the law and the prophets, is inclusion and liberation for all. Grace and mercy extend to the poor, the outcast and the plain different. But, he couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, see this. Why? Because the orientation of his heart was wrong; he prized and valued the wrong things. He thought in a highly distorted way that his earthly material status would somehow impact on his eternal status. He should have gone to Specsavers!

And, I guess that we should all from time to time go for an eye test; you see we can know all about faith and religion but without living as though we do.

To live a godly life, beginning with paying attention to the state of our own hearts, and then seeing the very real human need that surrounds us and responding to it with love, is the challenge of today’s readings. Your challenge and mine.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

Does anybody here enjoy eating sour sweets? I do; especially Haribos.

Well, for me, Harvest, like the Haribo, has something about the bitter-sweet about it. It is a festivity that reminds us in the words of St. Paul to ‘rejoice.’ We need to be thankful to God for his material, physical, provision. In the words of the hymn we need to be thankful that ‘all good things around us are sent from heaven above.’ And, if this true our only response should be one of thanks; shouldn’t it?

Well, yes and no. Of course we should be grateful for all of the good things we get to eat and enjoy. Of course we should be grateful for the beauty of the countryside and, of course we should be grateful to all who work the land for the common good.

But, and it’s a massive but, harvest should also call us to lament the sour fact that the abundance of God’s provision is not equally shared; not in this county and, not in the global context. Consider the number of people in this country forced to rely on food-banks, over 1 million, turn on the news and witness the plight of some of the world’s poorest and vulnerable people and it becomes an inescapable fact that the world’s abundance is not equitably shared; not even remotely so.

 

I guess that is why in the second part of the epistle St. Paul makes his great exhortation: ‘’whatever is true, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on DOING the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.’

St. Paul asks us to look truth squarely in the eye, to see the world as it really is, and then act justly.

So, if gratitude is the first of the harvest challenges, truth and justice are the second. Harvest gives us the opportunity, again in the words of St. Paul, to do that which is ‘excellent,’ ‘commendable’ and worthy of the name Christian. St.James suggests that true religion – religion acceptable to God – consists merely of this ‘to look after the widows and orphans in their distress and keep oneself unpolluted by the world.’

Pollution in this sense means the toxic idea that the poorest and most vulnerable of people are somehow, mythically, able to self-determine without help and support from those who are genuinely able to rejoice in God’s abundant provision. This is of course a false, secular, worldly ideology; one that lets us off the hook. Our harvest job is to build longer tables and not higher fences.

 

So I am glad that the churches of the benefice this Harvest Time have committed to distributing the food we have been given to the MK food-bank and, cash to the Christian Aid refugee appeal. As churches we may not be able to solve the world’s problems but we can reach out to others in love. In fact we must reach out in love, and, in a spirit of humility, we must also say thank you for all that we have and enjoy.

 

Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown