To start a sermon with a joke isn’t always wise; to start with a joke you used in a sermon a few months before – when it didn’t go over terribly well then - is courting imminent danger, but maybe, if you listen to the Gospel for today, safety is overvalued as a way of life. So I want to start with a story I told here late last year,
An old woman dies after a very long and very careful life. Two friends are talking about her legacy, the state of the estate. One says. “Did she leave much?” The other says, “Well, actually she left it all.”
Cut to the Gospel: Jesus says this to Peter:
“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
And the shorter version of that might be, “Peter, you’re going to leave it all”. It is easy to forget that; but as I wrote in a letter announcing an upcoming service at RMIT’s Spiritual Centre:
“Recent events, such as the tsunami in the Solomon Islands and the violence at Virginia Tech, make us aware how tentative life can be, as well as reminding us that many of our friends, associates, people we see and work with every day, deal with feelings of loneliness, depression, isolation and helplessness. These catastrophes can be costly lessons to help us remember how linked up we are with one another in a wide community of humanity… Times like this, when senseless tragedy occurs, call us together for a solemn occasion.”
We know how to do that here: solemn occasions, great celebrations, the serious joy of life and death in the very middle of the world. That’s what we’re about. To paraphrase our new brochure, "Welcome to St. Peter’s" (which is available at the back of the church).
"Worship of God is at the centre of our life together, and we seek to communicate the love of God in Jesus Christ in all that we do… Our Servers Guild and Sacristy Team work behind and around the altar rail as “Eastenders” continuing the tradition of Anglo-Catholic worship. Sidespeople, Greeters and Catering Guild, along with Intercessors and Readers serve as “Westenders” in ministries of assistance, guidance, welcome and hospitality… The St Peter’s Choir makes a joyful noise, and with frequent additions of cello, trumpet and drums can lift hearts, raise spirits and mystify visiting evangelicals with equal ease… [I added that myself]. Concerts, parties, dinners, and gatherings are all a part of regular life here... Hospitality and good fun are important to us. But growth in faith and spiritual formation, worship and service are the key to our community."
Growth in faith and spiritual formation, worship and service… key to our community: what we give away, key to live life as a living sacrifice, sometimes in very small ways, sometimes in the biggest ways. Like St. Peter and some others. Quoting from a recent article in the New York Times:
Prof. Liviu Librescu was imprisonment by the Nazi’s, lived under a totalitarian regime in Rumania, emigrated to the United States and, at the age of 76 was teaching solid mechanics when a student armed with pistols approached his classroom.
The professor never moved from the door. Directing his students to escape through windows, he was fatally shot. One of his students, said, “We had heard the gunfire coming from the classroom behind us, and we… headed for the windows… Professor Librescu never made an attempt to leave.” Instead he shouted for them to hurry. She said she felt sure his actions helped save lives. “He’s a part of my life now and forever,” she said. “I’m changed. I’m not the person I was.”
He is a part of all our lives now, like St. Peter: a man we are proud to call part of our family.
“When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’” You will leave it all behind. You will give it all away. Your life will change and your life can change other lives. All in the name of love.
It could only be a mild inconvenience for most of us most of the time. We may not be called to make that kind of sacrifice, our lives may not take place on that big a scale. We may simply have to welcome the newcomer, make friends with the lonely, greet the visitor, offer hospitality here in answering tentative questions and comments with great courtesy. We already know what to say: Here’s a quick quiz: I will give then answers, you figure out the question.
“Up those stairs to the left for women and through that door and up the stairs to the right for men… you might talk to Warren Collins or one of the clergy about weddings, plus there is information on the web page. Gosh, if you remember Father Maynard you have a long history here. No, actually we’re Anglo-Catholics, Would you like some tea or perhaps Sherry?”
William Blake writes: “we are put on earth a little space, That we may learn to bear the beams of love.” Sometimes the beams are those of a cross, sometimes the beams burn us, other times we are simply called to give some warm hospitality on Sunday or weekday with a smile that welcomes the stranger, welcomes the mystery, welcomes the God of the living and the dead. We do what we can.
In their witness and ministry St. Peter and Liviu Librescu did what they could, they countered evil with good: lives were saved, people were changed, the world was made different and better for their suffering, their ministry, and their shining martyrdom.
We are in that same light, learning to love and live in the sight of God and God’s people; growing in faith that stretches us out so that God can take more place in our lives and our ministry. So that God can speak finer words and deeds and grow more gracefully in the lives of other people as well.
Listen: in truth, we are here to become a new language, Christ being the model for the keynote address as well as the corner-stone. A language built on the history that we bring to God and the history that God brings to us, leading us to become part of the alphabet of glory: the word writ small but still writ fully, leading us to be love letters from God posted in peculiar and particular places.
Because I am convinced that God can and will say something specific and unique in the lives of each of us that can change lives. And this might even depend upon our very failure, perhaps even our death, at some specific point, so that God can succeed in some new way we could never envision. That is where we believe that Christ’s baptism, teaching, healing, crucifixion and death meets ours and changes it into resurrection and eternal priesthood.
So we join here in the Eucharistic banquet because we are the Eucharistic banquet. The feast of grace and love that we recall today is built by God’s grace in the broken flesh and spilled blood of our own incomplete lives and unfinished journeys. All washed clean here in the font of Christ’s love. So, in this company, with Saints and strangers, with all those whom God loves, we do what we can, we give thanks, and we go on.
In the name of Christ.