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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon


24th April 2005

Fr David Shepherd

Easter V

'...You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people...' 1Peter2.9

If you gave up something for Lent, alcohol, cigarettes, chocolate, you probably experienced cravings. Once something is denied us we want it more, we crave for it, although only the addict has true cravings, going through great mental and physical agonies until the next fix.

In his epistle St. Peter tells us, 'like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.' It is fortunate for most newborn babies that their parents are programmed to love and care for them. Their behaviour in crying for food until they get it would otherwise be ignored. Babies crave for milk because their very survival depends on it. They need it for salvation if you like. The image of a baby longing for milk and letting everyone know about it is one that we need to have before us as we read this passage.

As a caution we might note Bishop Richard Holloway's observation that religion can be addictive, but that said, we are meant to long for the things of God so that we may grow into the people he wants us to become.

Today's epistle is a good one to set before us at our APCM as it reminds us what God is calling us to be as a Christian Church. If we feel discouraged by St. Peter's description we need to remember that his church wouldn't have been like that either. His words point to what the Church by God's grace is meant to be. St. Peter's church facing persecution would have felt down hearted and afraid.

We can pick three important points form the epistle to help us understand what God wishes us to become.

  1. Longing for spiritual milk. This we have already began to think about. How can we long for God? All of us, whether or not we are people of faith have longings. The trouble is that we often believe that they are bad. Deep down we all long for love and security. We have to rediscover them and help others do the same. What makes the difference is the Christian realisation that we are actually longing for God, that we have already tasted that he is good. Once we realise this for ourselves we come to Christ who is the living stone, the very foundation of the church. Our life of sharing in prayer and worship, in the sacraments, in study is vital.
  2. Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices. The key idea here is 'let yourselves be built'. In other words this is something God wants to do to us and with us, if we let him. We tend to think of the church as a brick building we come to and the priesthood as the clergy. What is needed is the radical rediscovery of this biblical truth that God builds his church out of us; living stones and calls each one of us through our baptism to exercise a sacrificial, priestly ministry. The ' letting ourselves be built' involves the practical working out of what this means for us, of what God is calling us to be, of how we can continue to exercise our ministry as St. Matthew's Church. Membership of the church is sacrificial in terms of time, talents & money. It is vocational; all are called and through each God can call others.
  3. A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God' s own people. These words from my opening text are both a challenge to become and a description of what by God's grace we already are. To the frightened few of the NT churches, persecuted by the powerful, often in slavery or very poor, those words must have given a real boost. You a poor widow are chosen by God, you slaves are kings, queens, priests, you sinners are holy, all of you says St Peter are God's own people. He says that to us too. To receive those words for ourselves is to receive that boost to our confidence as the people of God.

To end with a topical thought we are often discouraged because the Western Church is an aging Church. Actually I believe that as we rediscover the truth of St. Peter's words we open up the possibility of renewal, of becoming a young church once again, not just in actual years but also in outlook. That said I notice the impact on our youth obsessed secular society of the witness of the frail and aged Pope John Paul II, in life and also death. I also note that in Pope Benedict XVI we now have a 78 year old as Pope.

I'm not quite sure exactly what but I feel that God is trying to tell us something here. Perhaps it is that an aging Church still has within it the seeds of renewal if we long for God, if we let ourselves be built into a spiritual house and if we rediscover our calling as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God' s own people.

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 have 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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