Monday, July 21, 2014

Agape Love - an address at the memorial service for Jane Cameron

I’d like to take us back to the reading we heard earlier in the service from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian christians.  These words so often fill these walls as a couple come to seal their lives in love, and yet for me at least, they gain new poignancy as they fill these walls as we gather to give thanks to God for Jane today.

The love which Paul writes of is not that of two lovers - (eros), nor is it a recognition of our shared human concern - (philios), but it is the love that of God Himself lived out in the person of Jesus Christ - (agape): self giving, servant-hearted, putting others needs before your own love.

Jane’s love and life are woven into the fabric of many lives locally - whether inside or outside the church community - as a keen supporter and member of the Mother’s Union, as an ardent supporter of John in his time as Parish Warden, or as one of the very earliest members of the In Touch Bereavement support group.  But also, with others, Jane is woven into the very fabric of this place literally, as she played a part in manufacturing the kneelers on which we pray.

Whilst many of us have been on the receiving end of Jane’s love and care and are here today thankful for that - the love of which St Paul writes is not about receiving something.  It is ultimately about knowing a person ‘face to face’ - which Jane did.  In this fuller vision of love’s capacity, infancy will be exchanged for full maturity; imperfect or shadowy vision will be exchanged for a recognition that ultimately it is not so much that I know things, but rather that I have been known by someone.  The love and care that Jane expressed were a response to being caught up with the whole church, in the love of God Himself.

These words of St Paul are a legacy. He doesn’t just write describing love at it’s very best which in many ways describe the Jane we’ve known and loved. Rather what Paul writes about applies to all of us, as it is a vision of the whole church as a caring community that is the gift of the Holy Spirit at work amongst us.  Therefore if Jane’s life is to mean anything to us now and in the days that lie ahead, let it be this - let us also love as Jane did - gently, graciously, kindly - but generously, loyally and transformatively too so that faith, hope and love abide amongst us.

I am taken with a contemporary translation of 1 Corinthians 13 by a spiritual theologian named Eugene Peterson. "We do not yet see things clearly. We are squinting in a fog, peering through the mist, but it will not be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright. We will see it all then, see as clearly as God sees us, knowing God as directly as God knows us. But for right now, until that completeness comes, we have three things to do. Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.” There would be no more fitting a tribute to Jane than that. Amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

YES! (Now slightly edited!)

As I write, some are saying that history has been made as The General Synod of the Church of England has voted to follow the clear mandate of 43 of our 44 Dioceses, and the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit, to allow women, duly called and equipped, to become Bishops.

This is a decision that has and will cause enormous pain for some and much rejoicing for others.  But this article is not the place to rehearse the theological and scriptural arguments for or against women’s place in leadership in the church (which I believe is very clear indeed), which will continue on for weeks, months and I suspect years to come.

What is worth saying that in some ways, history was not made at the vote.  History was made as Christ came amongst us, and called all of us, men, women and children to follow Him; to fashion our lives on the pattern He gives us; and to see God’s hope and promise in Christ sealed on and in us by virtue of our Baptism.

Friends, our baptism isn’t just a naming ceremony under an other name.  It is not ‘just’ our entry into the Church of God. Rather our Baptism binds us to the death and resurrection of Christ and is a call on our lives to follow Jesus’ Way, to abide by His Truth and live His Risen Life.

But Martin Luther, Church Reformer, understood Baptism being even more significant than that: ‘…Whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that [they are] already a consecrated priest, bishop and pope.” (Treatise To the Christian Nobility (1520)). Friends, our Baptisms are our ordination to a life of Christian discipleship, formation and service.

I am neither trying to negate the historic three-fold order of ministry that the Church of England has received it; nor I am I seeking to undermine the authority and validity of those called to the recognised lay ministries of Reader, Lay Worker, or Evangelist, as all these ministries have and continue to serve us well as a means of ordering our ecclesiastical life; nor am I downplaying the significance of the vote that prayerfully took place at Synod recently where Catholic, Liberal and Evangelical members alike understood the will of God for the Church of England was to see men and women serve in every Order of our shared life. 

Friends, what I am struck by afresh though, post ‘Yes!’, is that it is by virtue of our Baptism that we are all called to Christ and called to serve Him - primarily as Baptised Lay people, and it is only from there some of us are called to serve Him secondarily as deacons, priest and bishops.

Whatever we may personally feel about our shared life together following Synod’s discernment of the will of God, my friends, we are all Ordained - children, women and men - to serve Christ because of our Baptism. We may not wear a cope, mitre or pectoral cross, but as it says in our Baptism liturgy:

‘… Here we are clothed with Christ…
As children of God, we have a new dignity
and God calls us to fullness of life.’

As the Ordained, let us continue to pray for the ministry Christ calls us all to share:

Heavenly Father,
by the power of your Holy Spirit
you give to your faithful people new life in the water of baptism.
Guide and strengthen us by the same Spirit,
that we who are born again may serve you in faith and love,
and grow into the full stature of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit
now and for ever.  Amen.


For those who would like it, the voting statistics by house: Bishops 37 yes, 2 no, 1 abstention. Clergy 162 yes, 25 no, 4 abstentions. Laity 152 yes, 45 no, 5 abstentions.