Today is quite a watershed moment in my life. Today after this service I will be gainfully unemployed. In the next few days, Gay and I will be on our way back to Christchurch where I am going to retire, or as the Listener put it about us baby boomers, rewire. I think this is the fourth and final time that I am re tiring, and no doubt the re wiring will lead to all sorts of interesting ventures in the future.
I have been ordained priest 45 years rhis year, and I remain a beginner on the journey of faith. I like you am just scratching the surface of an understanding of this God who loves us so much that he would die for us in order to show us the nature of the love which he calls us all to. We are all on an amazing roller coaster of a journey through life. What a pilgrimage as we seek to discover and become the people God has created us to be, each of us as he puts in in Isaiah - unique and honoured on his sight.
It has been a huge privilege to have had these last two years with you. I have learnt and relearnt so much in my own pilgrimage.
I want to be very personal about how I experienced some of the worship of Holy Week this year with you. Thank you Cath and Mele and the youngsters of St Mary’s for your Good Friday worship. It was amazing. I was asked to be at the 9th station which was about Peter denying Jesus. Pretty appropriate for me. After all I was born on St Peter’s Day. It’s a coincidence that I am called Peter, but I do have a lot in common with him – all to easily betraying my Lord, all too easily getting out of the boat in a fit of enthusiasm to walk across the water to him, then panicing and sinking so that he has to reach down and pull me up. It was humbling as the folk who came to sit at this station were deeply moved as they wrote on flames of paper a time where they felt they had denied or had let Jesus down. These flames were then cast into the fiery shredder as a symbol of them being let go of. I thought of the times when my faith doesn’t feel strong enough to as it said ‘to withstand the world, the flesh and the devil!’. So I wrote some stuff on a flame, shred and I felt released
Then the three hours. Sue, thank you. You asked us to take our stones and lay down our burden whatever that may be at the foot of the cross. Because of the journey I had been on for those two and a half hours I found myself laying down a burden which I guess I have carried through my life whithout really recognising it. I gave up resisting Jesus. I wanted to lay down the stone, the burden of resisiting God’s love This poem of George Herberty of course which I hold dear to my heart puts it just right. In this poem the soul, as far as I’m concerned as I read it...me, is invited to a heavenly banquet and is welcomed by Love, Jesus.
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.
And then at the end of the service the last words from the Cross ‘Father into your hands I commend my Spirit’. And Jesus died. To my suprise I had a deep sense of joy for Jesus. I had that same feeling of joy for Barry Vinnicombe being present just before he died. I often these days hear the words he or she ‘passed over’, passed over to the other side of this thin divide between our mortal lives and the eternal life embraced in the fullness of God’s love. Jesus in this moment of his dying is welcomed home into the arms of Love. What joy is this!
Some of you know that I knew Sir Ed Hillary very well and I had a quite a big part to play at his dieing and his funeral. A total privilege. The New Zealand Herald had a cartoon on the day after he died, and they gave me a framed copy. It shows St Peter on clouds at the gates of heaven, The peak of a mountain points through the clouds and Ed ice-axe in hand just climbing to the summit as he approaches the heavenly gates. The angelic host with huge smiles are clapping with enthusiasm. I thought of that as I thought of Jesus commending his spirit to God, his father. And I recognised that despite all the ways I get in God’s way and like St Peter betray his love in my life, I know that Jesus lives, that Love lives. At the foot of the cross this last Good Friday I knew in a deeper way than I have ever experienced that Jesus lives, that Love lives, and that I can be certain that nothing is stonger than this love, this love for me As I have said so often from the various puplits I have spoken from in countless sermons – the truth is that life is stronger than death, love is stronger than hate; that all that separates and injures and destroys is overcome by all that unites and heals and creates. ‘All shall; be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’.
What amazing readings we have today. In John’s letter these words are to inspire us in our resurrection faith ‘We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it….truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
And yet we read in John’s gospel today that even though John himself had ‘seen and believed’ and even though Mary Magdalene had raced to tell them all that she had seen the Lord, the disciples were locked away in the upper room for fear. Fear of the authorities, fear that it wasn’t true, filled with doubt and uncertainty. Boy, don’t I know that feeling! And Jesus bursts through their locked doors and bestowed his presence, his peace upon them. We’re told that they rejoiced, and yet a week later there they were again locked in the upper room. Jesus bursts through again and bestows his peace on them. He will not let them go.
And Thomas of course, wonderful doubting Thomas demanding the proof of Jesus risen life. Jesus says to him ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him ‘My Lord and my God’.
Well people of St Mary’s Cathedral, I have no doubt that the Risen Christ is in your midst. I have no doubt that God’s Holy Spirit is driving what is happening here. Look around you, see what God is doing in your midst. It’s amazing. Look and feel the worship we share in this hall – the world hasn’t fallen in since the catehdral was closed. See what you are doing and being to one another and to the community around us here in New Plymouth, striving asdyou are ‘to be as Christ to the community’.Be inspired by the vision that God is growing witjhin you here for the revitalisation not only of the building you love so much, but the very life and purpose of this community of faith. Believe it my friends. ‘Put yout finger here in to what is going on around you and with you and see Christ’s hands. Reach out your hand and touch and feel the power of God’s love and grace working amongst you. Do not doubt but believe. Let your response be as Thomas ‘My Lord and my God’
I responded to God’s call to come and share in your life for these last two years, and I have had the privilege of being part of your community and being caught up in what God God is doing here. Now I go home in total confidence that God’s plan and purpose for St Mary’s will be realised. Believe it my friedns. As Mother Julian told us way back in the 13th cenury. God did not promse that we wouldn’t be tempest tossed, challenged to our core. What God promised is that we shall never be overcome, and that the Love of Christ will be proclaimed.
Christ vhas given you a great commission and will be with you every step of the way. Congratulations.
Praise be to our Lord and our God. Kia kaha people of St Mary’s. God bless you.