s223cuthbert97 St Cuthbert's Prospect Dedication Festival
"you ... show deference to no one." Mark 12.14
This is actually the first time I have celebrated a Dedication. I have certainly celebrated Patronal Festivals, the feast day of the Patron Saint of a church. As well I have celebrated the odd anniversary - 130 years at Kapunda, 90 at Hamilton and 40 at Somerton Park. But it is the first time I've found somewhere where a dedication festival is annually celebrated.
If this were a Patronal Festival we would look at the life of St Cuthbert. If this were an anniversary we would have gathered past parishioners, now scattered far and wide, for a special celebration.
However we are really celebrating the foundation and continuing existence of this Church, and rededicating ourselves to the further growth of the mission of the kingdom of God in this place. So we focus on this community of faith, this church building, and our part in the extension of the kingdom of God as a congregation.
So I thought I would start with a story, a story of a family who didn't do things "by the book". So, quite some time ago now a family wanted to have their children baptised here at St Cuthbert's Prospect. It was in 1953. The boys were 7, 4 and one. Neither of the parents were confirmed in the Church - indeed they lived at Highgate, right across the other side of town. They had little connection with either the Anglican Church or St Cuthbert's. Indeed to this day, as far as I am aware, neither the parents or the children ever returned to worship or to take their place in the life of this parish. But the three children were in fact baptised - the Rev'd H. C. Thrush who performed the service. He probably had little opportunity to give the parents preparation for this sacred rite, other than a brief time during the time of the service itself, considering the circumstances.
Of course if the Bishop's rules had been followed, probably the baptism of the eldest would have been left till the time of confirmation. In those days the names of the godparents were not written on the certificates, so to this day, at least one of these children is not exactly certain who were his godparents. The rules in 1963 specified at least one other godparent, who had been confirmed. I think that was the case. Not a very auspicious start, you might say, on the path of the Christian life.
However a year or so later the father in this family, after preparation by Canon Swan at Hawthorn was confirmed. It was not until 1957, four years after that service of baptism, that the mother was confirmed after preparation at Brighton.
But the story of the family who broke the rules and didn't do things in the correct order didn't finish there, because after the two eldest were confirmed, they had occasion to attend an ordination at St Peter's Cathedral. Ordinations in those days were extremely long and tedious. Not a place to take a young family. It was in 1960. The youngest one aged 9 (at this point still not confirmed) forgot when going to the Altar rail, and put his hands up to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. Bishop Tom Reed - probably not quite "with it" in the midst of the long and sacred service - unthinkingly gave the Holy Communion to him. He would probably turn in his grave if he knew. I was amused to see in a recent edition of "Church Scene" that the Diocese of Sydney is considering the question of Communion before Confirmation. However all was not completely lost, because after doing the unthinkable and attending the Methodist RI one year - to the chagrin of the Rector - and rather sporadic attendance at Confirmation Classes - the youngest was confirmed in 1962.
By now the penny ought to have dropped. I have confessed enough of my own sins for one day. This wayward soul was in fact me.
So it is appropriate that you have asked me to preach, because in fact it was I myself who was baptised here at St Cuthberts on the 13 of December 1953 with my two older brothers. Through "devious means (though not) foul", the green stole that I am wearing today belonged to "Birdie" Thrush, though it would not have been the one he wore that day - as it would have been a purple on for Advent. So I come to share with you some gratitude for the foundation and continuing existence of St Cuthberts'. As I say, it is to my knowledge the first time I have ever been in St Cuthberts since that day 44 years ago. I did go to St Christopher's Kilburn for a YAF service in my teenage years. I am looking forward to checking the Baptismal Register to check who I think were my godparents actually were.
Perhaps it was not during the morning service even. If so it would have been one of those ministries of the priest, one of the many, of which congregations are completely unaware. Indeed there would be some clergy and people who would quite look down their nose at me for not having abided by the rules; as there are some who want me to only baptise children of parents who have attended church for a period, who have undergone a course in Christianity or who have committed themselves to the life of the congregation.
So I start today by witnessing to the good things which come from baptising children even when parents and godparents are not staunch members of the Church. It is good that we don't take too much notice of the niceties of structures or Ad Clerums. God can and does work through us, not always in the order that the bible or church structures seem to dictate. God was working through the ministry of priest and people here at St Cuthberts Prospect, even though it has taken 44 years for you to get some small return on that investment, and "Birdie" Thrush has long since passed to his rest.
So much for my reminiscing - to the more business end of today - the rededicating ourselves to God's service. One of my favourite hymns - one that I have chosen for my funeral - is "My God how wonderful thou art" - it must the the favourite of chiropractors. The final verse goes: "Father of Jesus, love's reward, what rapture will it be to fall and worship at thy throne and gaze and gaze on thee!" (FW Faber AHB 71) Have you ever thought how difficult it will be to gaze on God when one is lying prostate (face downwards) before the Almighty. One would soon get a very cricked neck! If eternal life is life with a cricked neck, I'm not at all sure I want it.
Perhaps you also may share some of my concern that rededication is a little "previous". You might think, I'm not quite ready to rededicate myself to God's service. I have certainly felt that in the past.
There can be a number of reasons for this. For instance, while we can and often do look back to the "good old days" - the good old days were not perfect. I would not want to go back to life without a computer, for instance. But the issue is not as simplistic as that. The reality is that the past severely restricted the sorts of activity women might do. Few women were able to break clear of the stereotype "wife and mother, Sunday School teacher and member of the Mothers Union". I rejoice that the Mothers Union is now opening its doors to single women and those who have been divorced and remarried. I rejoice that we consider the indigenous people of our land as human beings, not just people to convert and "civilise", "like us". I rejoice that we are beginning to accord those with a sexual orientation and practice somewhat different from "normal" with similar dignity.
But there is I think another reason that I myself have felt a little diffident to rededicate myself to God. Sometimes I've felt that those of past generations have experienced more, have seen clearer than I. In the words of the hymn, yes, brought face to face with God, I too would rejoice to gaze and gaze and get a cricked neck ... The apostles experienced the risen Jesus in a powerful way - St Paul's experience meant a complete turn around in his life. So I want to see as the disciples saw, to hear the voice of God stopping me in my tracks as I travel on my own road to Damascus, before I can make up my mind.
But the reality is that the disciples who experienced first hand the ministry of the earthly Jesus were in no different or better position than us. I am reminded of St Peter who took Jesus aside to rebuke him - for a senior officer never berates a junior officer in front of the junior officer's subordinates. Peter didn't see - he was too busy bossing Jesus around ...
Jesus had gained a reputation for not showing deference to anyone - even amongst the authorities, the Pharisees and the Herodians. What does this mean except that there is nothing special that we have to have to get into Jesus' good books. Let me expand. If a person shows deference to the rich, then those with money are accepted by that person and those without aren't. Money of course can be one basis for deference, but prestige, power, beauty, law abidingness - each can be used to determine who one defers to. But it is not just these things. On the spiritual level, we can use baptism as something that can be the magic thing that makes God accept us (and the sentence flows on - when God would in fact prefer not to accept us ...) We can use "keeping the rules" as the way we please God (hoping God doesn't see us when we bend them elsewhere ...) We can use our response to Jesus as the thing which makes us acceptable, our knowledge of all the intricacies of the Christian faith and our mature and definitive "Yes" to God. How many times have we heard sentiments expressed that God would prefer to wipe the slate clean and start again, but Jesus on the Cross, and / or our reception of the sacrament of Holy Communion averts this disaster.
But God doesn't show deference to anyone - because God accepts each and everyone one of us as we are. God takes us as we are when we have seemed to get things around the wrong way. God takes us as we are, with the faith that we have and the hesitancy that remains with us. We of little faith ... God takes us as we are, baptised or no, confirmed or no, regular communicant or no, pledger or not, Anglican or not, Christian or not ... God takes us as we are, whether we exercise our intimacy with another who is socially acceptable, or in a socially acceptable way, or at a socially acceptable time, or not. None of these are the magic ingredient to make us acceptable to God - for we are already acceptable to God as we are. We don't need any magic formula to change God's mind about us. God's mind is made up about us all already. God accepts us as we are. That is the good news. That is why we are baptised, and confirmed, and communicants, and for some of us, ordained.
As we look around at this wonderful building, I guess each and every one of you have something special, something that has your name on it - figuratively if not in actuality. It might be an article of furniture, the robe the priest wears, or the purificator which is used to wipe the chalice during the administration of the sacrament. Whatever the article with your name on it is, it is this personal significance which makes it sacred for you. However when thought about in these terms, of course these items are not as sacred as the Cross behind the Altar, or the Altar itself. But what about the Bible on the lectern - God's holy Word? Good High Churchpersons genuflect to the reserved sacrament of the Altar in the Aumbry or Tabernacle - as the most sacred object in this place. Perhaps as "ordinary" Anglicans (are there actually such individuals?) we genuflect to the newly consecrated sacrament before and after receiving Communion. Then there is the font where we, our children and grandchildren, were made "children of God". For the organist the instrument he or she plays is the most sacred object. Some may even have been deluded into thinking that the Rector is a bit special. There is the old joke about the authority in the Catholic Church is the Pope, the authority in the Evangelical Churches is the Bible, and the authority in the Anglican Church is what the past Rector decreed.
However none of these is in fact the most sacred object here. Of course it is you and I who are the most sacred object here. Jesus died on the Cross for you and for me. Jesus didn't die on the Cross to set up a new Church. Jesus didn't die for the sacrament of the Altar. Jesus didn't die to institute the sacrament of Baptism. The sacrament of the Altar is Jesus genuflecting to you and to me, to one and to all - for Jesus shows deference not to no one - but to everyone.
For let us make no mistake about it, Jesus was crucified because he failed to defer to the religious authorities - because he sat down and ate with sinners, and accepted their contributions.
Today you may choose this dedication festival to rededicate your lives to God - or not - that is entirely up to you. But the reason I would choose to do so is not because in doing so I make myself is some way special to God so that God might defer to me. I rededicate myself to God who defers, not to nobody, but to everybody, including me.
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