Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Children of God

Sermon for an induction on November 10th. Readings were:
Luke 18.15-17 , John 15.1-5 (the readings used at Prince George's baptism!) & Isaiah 11: 1-6

So here we are at the start of something. The start of a new ministry. This is the start of a relationship between Gary & this United Area, and especially between Gary & the churches at Market Lavington, and Devizes . It is also the start of Gary’s relationship with the South Western synod. One of the great joys of a new start like this and welcoming any minister in an induction is getting to know him or her better.

So what do we learn about Gary from his choice of readings? The gospel readings from Luke and from John were the ones he chose – the same ones chosen for the baptism of Prince George a few weeks ago. At first this worried me: are we dealing with delusions of grandeur here, Gary? Are you introducing yourself to us as the heir to the throne? Maybe ‘Prince Gary’ has a bit of a ring to it?

But my fears were dispelled when I looked again at the readings.

Jesus talks about a kingdom, it’s true, but he demonstrates the values of the kingdom of God, not the hierarchies of our world. In a society where children did not count for much until they reached adulthood (and where women were second class citizens all their lives), Jesus offers a new way. The great and powerful are loved by God, but so are the smallest and the least – the heirs of the kingdom are not those who are specially high born, but each one is welcomed by God in Jesus as if she or he was royalty.

I don’t know how many of you saw the footage of the Pope, in the middle of giving an address to thousands in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, being interrupted by a little boy in a yellow rugby top. The Pope made no attempt to shoo the boy away, but patted him on the head, chatted to him at one point, and just carried on whilst the boy hugged his legs. I’m sure the security guards do not operate with the instruction ‘do not stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to these little ones too’ – but it was a great reminder that God’s love is for us all.
Whatever you think of Pope Francis as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, you cannot fault his humanity and his grasp of God’s truth that this boy was not an unwelcome intruder but a welcome guest.

So we welcome Prince Gary, as a precious child of God and an heir, with us all, to God’s kingdom.

The baptism service for Prince George was not televised, of course, but we have been offered ‘highlights’ from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address, and it seems that Justin Welby focused on the reading from John. He apparently said that those who take the journey of baptism must look in 2 directions – to the world, sharing the life of Christ with all; and to Christ, who says ‘abide in me’.

That’s also pretty good advice for churches and minister in a new ministry.
Jesus reminds his followers ‘I am the vine and you are the branches’. No new ministry can bear good fruit if we forget to remain centred on Jesus Christ. It is the love of Jesus flowing out through us that drives our mission in the world. It is the love of Jesus flowing into us that keeps us close to the life and love of God the Father. It is the love of Jesus that keeps us united together as branches of the one vine – whatever our differences as church members, churches, denominations, we are one in Jesus, the true vine.

But if we’re all one in being heirs to God’s kingdom and we’re all one in Jesus the true vine, is it wrong to induct Gary here as a leader?

If I say ‘yes’ we’d have to stop the service right now, wouldn’t we? But of course I’m going to say ‘no, it is not wrong to induct a new minister to lead you here’.
The Isaiah reading looks to the time when God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness – a fantastic time when all normal natural laws will end, when ‘The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid’. God’s kingdom is so unlike the world we know that Isaiah says ‘a little child shall lead them’.

God is not looking for Princes of the church to lead his people. Jesus himself refused to use the political or hierarchical power of his day to fulfill his mission. God’s leader is one who knows they are just a child of God. Just a precious child of God. Just a chosen, beloved, child of God. Because every child of God is an heir of the kingdom and a servant of Jesus Christ. And as long as Gary remembers that that is who he is – it gives him the authority to lead in the way Isaiah envisions, through the Spirit of the Lord.

So we welcome Gary as one who will help others to hear God’s word, to know God’s love and to heed God’s spirit. Then together we will be parts of the true and living vine.

The Archbishop of Canterbury apparently concluded the sermon for Prince George in this way: 'For life to be complete, the living and trusted love of Jesus Christ is the foundation. That is something we grow into, live out, hold onto, and which finally carries us home. With Christ and his love as our centre, all the needs we meet are faced, all the hopes we have are shaped, and all the possibilities of our life journey are fulfilled.'
May this be so – for George, for Gary and for us all
In Christ’s name.

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