Chrism Mass 2018, Worcester Cathedral
- 1 Samuel 16.1 - 13a
- 2 Corinthians 3.17- 4.12
- Luke 22.24-30
I was talking to a priest in the Diocese the other daywho will be retiring before too long. I thanked her for all she had given. Shereplied that she didnt think she had done much shed only been with herpeople and loved them, those who go to church and those who dont. I respondedthat I thought that was the most important thing she could possibly have doneand, really, the only thing that matters.
What is it that makes us think she is surely not theonly one that being with our people and loving them is inadequate, is notenough?Is it just inchoate guilt that comeswith being human in our fallen world, always concentrating our attention on ourinadequaciues? Is it the activist reductionist, performance indicator obsessedsociety of which we are a part? Is it because of the mission shaped churchthat we are continually told that we must be?
Maybe its a bit of all of these, and more, but if itsassociated with the mission imperative, I wish we could get beyond polarisingthings into missional and pastoral. Thats why Im giving a copy of SamWells book Incarnational Mission toall the licensed clergy itll be available in the cloisters afterwards. Ihope youll lend it to others when youve read it! It suggests that being withis the most essential component of mission as well as ministry. I hope it willspeak to you as it spoke to me.
In the book Sam develops a reflection first articulatedin his brilliant A Nazareth Manifestoon the phrase God with us which, in Jesus, is at the centre of our faith. Hepoints out that though there is much writing about God and us there is verylittle on what he suggests is the crucial word in that phrase, with. Jesusspent about 9% of his life ministering in Galilee, 1% in Jerusalem at the endof his earthly life and around 90% of just being with people in Nazareth. Thatword just has crept in again even though I dont believe it belongs there. How could God incarnate just do or beanything? Anyway, are those percentagessignificant? I imagine they are: Jesus surely knew what he was doing. Samsuggests that, if so, they provide a template for Christian mission. If thatsthe case, I think it would be quite a relief and a release to those of uscalled to ministry, ministry which we are told should be mission shaped.
Being with is the business of the persons of the Trinity,being with one another, and enjoying and delighting in one another. Being withis at the heart of the Christian faith, if the word Emmanuel is to be takenseriously. Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall callhim Emmanuel, which means God with us. If with is at the heart of God and at theheart of the faith it should surely lie at the lie at the heart of ministry andmission, too.
In this mornings gospel we heard again Jesus saying tohis disciples I am among you as one who serves. Has it ever struck you asstrange that we tend to ignore the first part of that sentence in our exegesis?We concentrate on the fact that Jesus serves. But he begins by reminding thatthat he is among them, he is with them.He goes on to say that he is among them asone who serves but were rather inclined to see that in activist terms.Being with someone is the necessary precursorto serving them and sometimes that alone is the best way of serving them.Often, the best service we can do for people is simply to be with them.
You dont have to be in ministry long to have theexperience of feeling completely inadequate in the face of some pastoraldisaster. I think of being called to hospital following the death of a youngwoman whose husband was inconsolable. I had no words. All I could do was justsit and hold his hands.Theres thatword just muscling its way in again.
Much later the husband thanked me profusely for thetremendous help I had been following his bereavement. I found that difficult tohear as I had not yet realised that being with is at the heart of all goodministry and the basis for all good mission. In fact, that being with had amissional as well as a pastoral effect. Its sometimes said that the faith isgenerally caught and not taught and you have to be with someone if youre goingto catch anything from them. Often thats all you have to do. Just as theresno activity necessary to catch a virus from someone, so it is with the faith.
In fact, as Sam Wells points out situations that cannotbe fixed constitute the vast majority in life and certainly the mostsignificant moments of our lives: love cant be achieved; death cant befixed, pregnancy and birth arent a problem needing a solution. In ministry wecan seldom solve peoples problems. What we can do is be with them. Servingothers may well involve practical assistance but it is first and foremost aboutbeing with them, giving them attention, loving them.
Jesus tells his disciples that he is among them, amongthem as one who serves. But that is not the end of the matter. He goes on totell them that, having stood by him in his trials, his disciples will haveconferred on them a kingdom, so that they might eat and drink at his table inhis kingdom, and sit on thrones. Their destiny is to be with Jesus and with oneanother in glory.
That is our destiny, too. It therefore behoves us tobecome accustomed to being with Jesus now in prayer and to being with oneanother. Paul tells the Christians at Corinth, motley crew if ever there wasone, that with unveiled faces, they are seeing the glory of the Lord as thoughreflected in a mirror and are being transformed into the same likeness from onedegree of glory unto another.
I suggest that they were being transformed to the extentthat they are able to be with God and be with one another. May we be sotransformed, this Holy Week and always, and may others perceive the glory ofGod reflected in us as we seek to be with them.