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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon


28th March 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Annual Parochial Meeting - Chairman's remarks

'Business as usual' is a typical reaction to momentous happenings that we cannot embrace or understand. We are reassured by the familiar and the common place. We like to return to normality. Today's gospel reading (John 12.1-8) describes a visit of Jesus to the home of his good friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary. They enjoyed a meal together, as they had done many times before. Yet the scene is far from normal. In fact it is extraordinary.

Firstly, we are told that Jesus was visiting the home of Lazarus, whom 'he had raised from the dead' and that he 'was one of those at table with him.' Martha was still her usual self, still serving, but what of Lazarus? St. John doesn't tell us. O that we could ask!

Secondly, Mary (Magdalene) went completely over the top. In an extravagant, charged gesture she poured a pound of expensive perfume over Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair. The whole house was filled with the scent. Judas feigned outrage at the waste of so much money. Jesus gave meaning to the action. Mary was preparing him for burial that unbeknown to his hosts was less than a week away.

A parish church can mirror the apparent ordinariness and familiarity of that Gospel story. And yet we too should have something of the extraordinary about us not least in the claims we make about our faith, God present with us in Christ, in the reading of the Word, in the breaking of the bread, in the sharing of our lives.

I set these thoughts before us to remind us that something as mundane as an annual meeting should not blind us to the extravagant love of God revealed to us in Christ and in his church.

So much for the first part of what I wanted to say this morning; I'd like to continue by inviting us to consider three questions.

  1. What is that you most value about St. Matthew's? All our answers will be different but will I suspect have much in common. For some the church they have belonged to since childhood will speak of continuity in a changing world, of God's faithfulness. Others will value the support and friendship they receive, particularly when the going gets tough, expressed in prayer and acts of kindness. Most will point to our distinctive Eucharistic tradition of worship enhanced by music and ceremonial enabling us to live out lives of Christian witness and service during the week. From out of all that I'd like us all to be very specific, to think of one particular thing we most value.
  2. Who can we pass it on to? At the heart of any Church there is a tension between the desire to safeguard that which we have received (tradition) and the imperative to pass it on (the future). I sense that tension in our church at the moment. As we get older we become more conservative, resistant to change and yet we also know that unless we can hand over to others (tradition, again) we actually risk the loss of what we most cherish. The Christian paradox is that only in the letting go of death does resurrection come. I'm sure we all recognize the force of what I am trying to say, but again there is a need to be very specific. Who can we pass it on to? Can we think of some actual people; friends, relatives, neighbours, those who come to our all age service, those who bring babies to be baptised, people in need? All of us can think of two or three people to whom we can pass on our faith.
  3. How do we pass on our faith? An apparently glib answer in worldly terms is to pray. If we do nothing else we can pray regularly for those people we have thought of for in the end it is God who gives the increase as Psalm 126 reminded us earlier. If we pray expectantly then our questions will be answered. For example, we are now at the point of having to decide whether to spend a lot of money to make it easier for the frail to get into our church, to give physical expression to our desire to care. Should we do so? In prayerful listening we will receive the answer. Actually I believe that we have been given a lot of people to pass our faith on too. Behind the picture of apparent demographical decline there are plenty of green shoots coming up. New people continue to appear. Once a month, our family service drawing thirty or so, gives us the opportunity to share our faith one with another. But again our answer to my third question needs to be earthed personally in our own particular circumstances.

To return to our Gospel starting point, much of the life of the Church is hidden, 'treasure in earthen vessels'. Sitting down at a commonplace dinner with the Son of God, is a man who has returned from the dead. We don't see the full expression of the life of our church unless we actually name what is going on. An annual meeting with its spirit of thankfulness gives us a chance to do that, to see things more clearly, to glimpse God's view, not our own. A prayerful consideration of my three questions I would humbly submit can help in this task, especially if we tackle them in a very specific personal way.

Heavenly Father we ask for grace so that we might know your will for our church; how we can pass on to others the riches you haven given us here at St. Matthew's. We give you thanks for all that you have given us in the past year and we ask that you will continue to guide us in the years ahead. We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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Last updated 01/04/04 17:00:00 Author: David Shepherd