The text of a sermon preached by Fr Neil Kelley at the First Mass of Fr Martin Jones,
St Oswald's Church, Winwick, Sunday, 8th June 2008



In his book on priesthood entitled “Light in the Lord” there is a wonderful phrase of the late Cardinal Hume: ‘Saints have a past; sinners have a future’. A phrase which can be of great encouragement to all of us at times.

For I wonder how many of us priests here today would like to rewind the tape to the day of our own ordination, erase it and perhaps do things differently a second time round? Sadly, life doesn’t work like that, as we all know. Today is bound up with the celebration of two important sacraments, the sacrament of Ordination and the sacrament of the Eucharist.

But, Father Martin, give thanks today for another sacrament; for the sacrament of the present moment. You will never have this opportunity again of presiding at the Lord’s Table for the first time. As you sit here, in the role of presider for the first time at the Eucharistic banquet, give thanks for where God has brought and led you over these past years. Of course to say how many years might upset you, so I won’t! Give thanks for this moment: cherish it. Enjoy it. For it is where God wants you to be.

Presiding at the Eucharist is an important part of the life of a priest, and will be do for Fr. Martin, but this morning Fr. Martin, along with 11 other women and men, was told:

priests are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ's name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins

All of us stand in need of forgiveness. And one cause for celebration for all of us today is that for those of us who are in need of God’s love and forgiveness, we have been given a new priest.

Why be a priest? Of course people have written volumes and volumes about what priesthood is – and isn’t – but at the end of the day, the answer to the question “why become a priest” is because that is what God asks of certain people.

He doesn’t require it of the perfect and worthy, far from it, every priest here is living testament to that! God most certainly has a sense of humour and is long suffering when you look around at us lot! Priests are called and set apart to do the work God has for them. Why, in fact, do anything for God, some would say? Of course people say that because we live in a society which easily understands the concept of satisfaction: self-satisfaction, but not the concept of sacrifice. We tend only to engage in things which will have some benefit for us. Ask people to do something and the answer may be “what’s in it for me?”

Following Jesus and being a faithful disciple is a difficult thing and the call to follow Christ takes each one of us in a different direction.
If someone senses a call to priesthood, then the call to follow Jesus in that particular way means taking seriously a life of sacrificial service. For priesthood is demanding. It is not an easy option. And despite what some people think, it is not reserved for the perfect and flawless, but for those who know their brokenness.

Martin, today you are set apart as one who will bring healing to that brokenness, the healing of Christ. You, in His name, will forgive sins and declare absolution.

There are those who think that membership of the Church ought to be a reward for good behaviour, and certainly those who think priesthood is.

None of us is worthy. Every time we go to Communion we say, 'Lord, I am not worthy' - not mere words, but a statement of the truth. We're not worthy of any of the sacraments, and that's why the sacraments are gifts, not earnings. We are not given the Church, we are not baptised, or confirmed, or forgiven, or married or ordained because we are worthy, but because we are needy. The sacraments aren't treats or luxuries, they're necessities. We need them. The Church exists not for the sake of the righteous, but for the sake of sinners. We are a Church that needs Christ.  And therefore we are a church that needs priests.

‘Saints have a past; sinners have a future’
And the people of Winwick, Glazebury and Hollinfare have a new priest today. The Church of God has a new priest today (and I mean the Church of God, not the Church of England as was quite incorrectly stated in the Cathedral liturgy this morning). That new priest, Fr. Martin, will enable us who are sinners to have a future. So today is a day of real blessings.

Martin however, does count his blessings. He realises how lucky he is, to have had Bob as his Curate for the past nine months! Martin, is this year as deacon, has had a passion for wanting to share with his people things of the faith that are important to him. And for those of you who knew Martin 10 years ago and remember how tone deaf he was and how awful his hymn singing was, the fact that he sang the Easter Exultet this year is testimony to the fact that miracles happen! On a more serious note it says something of Martin’s determination to perform his priestly duties to the highest possible standards in every way possible.

Jesus spent a great deal of the gospels either eating and drinking or talking about food and drink. Eating and drinking are central to Jesus's life and teaching. He was forever at wedding feasts, eating with his disciples or his friends, with tax collectors and sinners, or with five thousand hungry people in the hills. His first great sign is turning water into wine; his most recorded miracle is the multiplication of loaves and fishes. All these miracles are at crucial points in his ministry and they were all abundant, magnificent, divine extravagance. Not just food and drink, but more than anyone could need or want.

It was at the end of a long day of eating and drinking, more than doctors and dieticians say is good for us, that walking back from a curry house, Miriam being helped to walk a straight line, Martin said to me “do you think the church would ever have me as a priest?” or words to that effect. If any of you have ever been fortunate to eat and drink with Martin and Miriam then you know what I mean when I say feasting and celebration are gifts of the gospel. I will never forget that conversation that evening, though exact detail is difficult for some reason!

The journey to this altar today for Martin was not a smooth one, nor was it quick. Like many other journeys in life, we would all like to control the pace rather than have it controlled for us. There have been frustrations and disappointments on the way, there were certainly lows before the highs came. But one of the things which speaks volumes to me is the way Martin and Miriam have kept faith. No profound joy comes easily, and we only need to look at the cross to see that everything that is precious comes at a price.

And the costly demands of being a priest continue until the day we die. As a priest, put upon pedestals at times (sometimes by ourselves, sometimes by others) what matters most is not so much the mistakes we make, but rather our ability, when we have fallen from grace, to be lifted up again and restored to the Father’s love. Hypocrital Christians aren’t those who have made mistakes, but those who will not allow themselves to be lifted up. We must thank God each time we come to the Eucharist that we are people who have been ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven!

Martin, that is the good news you must preach. That is the Good News we must all live. Without that we have nothing to offer the world. If that is not alive in our own hearts then we may as well shut up shop, go home and watch Euro 2008 Match of the Day Live!

But be prepared for the disappointments – the things we believe to be important aren’t always shared by others. You, like so many priests today, are serving three parishes and that will bring frustrations and disappointments at times. There is nothing more frustrating to plan a special service only to find that it’s because it is in the ‘other’ church some refuse point blank to come. We talk about mission and growth in the church today and yet some can’t bear the thought of worshipping in their sister parish. No hope of a future with that attitude!

You may spend hours preparing bible studies and special prayer groups to find that only a handful are interested in the things you are passionate about. In arguments, people may want you to take sides, they will want you to be part of one group rather than another. I sure none of that attitude is to be found in the good parishes of St. Helen’s, All Saints and St. Oswald’s! Life can be tough, difficult and lonely as a priest, married or single. That is why the discipline of saying the daily office is vitally important and there is no substitute for that. You take those difficulties, those people (and sometimes those difficult people) and place them and you before God in prayer each day. With prayer, we never despair.

Yet there is hope for the church and for the world, and in a very few moments, Fr Martin, that hope will actually lie in your hands.  
Martin, as you take, and break this bread you enable us share in the suffering and resurrection as members of the Body of Christ. That is why I believe there is hope for our broken church and for our broken world because it is in the very brokenness that we encounter the Wounded Healer.

The fact that we don’t deserve to be priests makes the gift of priesthood even more precious. Brothers and sisters, today is as much about you and me as it is about Fr. Martin. He cannot bear the weight of this calling in his own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. That is why this morning we promised that we will continually pray for you; we promised this morning that we will uphold and encourage you in your ministry. And so, with our love, we will.

The legacy of Miriam and Martin in the parish of St Faith will live on because they gave so much there, and they are giving so much now to the people of St Oswald’s, St. Helen’s and All Saints.
But, Fr. Martin, you will shortly give us hungry, needy, frail human beings the bread we need for our journey. God has a purpose for you – we rejoice with you and for you today - and he has a purpose for each one of us. Bless your people, love us and help us to discover more how we must love God.

Martin, in saying yes to God and becoming his priest, you have not chosen the easy path. However, God’s gift to you today is this:

To live in the midst of the world without desiring its pleasures:
To be a member of each family yet belonging to none;
To share all sufferings;
To penetrate all secrets;
To heal all wounds;
To go from people to God and offer Him their prayer
To return from God to people to bring pardon, peace, and hope;
To have a heart of fire for charity and a heart of compassion for sinners;
To teach and to pardon, to console and to bless always;
This life is [now] yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ

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