Sermons from St Faith's
Fr Neil Kelley, May 13th, 2012
Recently, I had a funeral visit to do. The next of kin spoke of the
deceased and said “he never went to church, but he had his own
private views on religion. His faith was very personal but he kept
it to himself”. Clergy and Readers officiating at funerals get used
to hearing such comments and they are always very interesting,
although a funeral visit is not the time to psychoanalyse or
challenge what may or may not be someone’s expression of faith.
When we speak of ‘sharing our faith with others’ many are turned
off. Faith is private or at best personal. It’s not the done thing –
it’s not the British middle class way of doing things to talk about
Sometimes we enjoy keeping others at a distance. It gives us some
sense of security. It provides us with personal space: a cotton wool
shell that may help protecting our identity but which may also serve
as a weapon.
But our faith is not about keeping a distance.
From the moment we are created, God constantly offers himself to be
with us. In baptism we become, whether we like it or not, part of
each other. We are called to serve each other and to bring to the
Lord those who do not yet know him. In the mythological accounts of
the Book of Genesis God makes us dwell together with him in the
garden of Paradise, not to keep us at bay but to be close to us. But
it was we who tried to hide our faces from him, not responding when
he was calling. Then – as we read at the end of the story of the
fall – ‘God placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned
every way, to guard the way to the tree of life’.
It was necessary for us that God should become one of us so that we
may regain access to that tree of life. It is only when the Son of
Man came on earth that we realised that it was not God who forbade
our access to the tree of life, but our own stubbornness and
It was necessary for us that the Word of God should start anew his
conversation with us, to breach the distance, to restore God’s
presence to us. The desire of God to share his life with us is
expressed again in Christ who says: ‘I have called you friends, for
all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’.
John’s is the gospel of incarnation. In the beginning, John’s Jesus
is majestic, cosmic; he was with God and he is God. The Word becomes
flesh and lives among us in order to bring life to the world and
transform the conditions that make for death.
Today’s gospel reading is part of Jesus’ extended farewell, as he
anticipates his own death. It is a passage that looks forwards and
back: backwards to the washing of the feet, as Jesus implores his
disciples to know the heart of the new way of life that he offers,
and forwards to the sending out of his disciples (John 17:18), and
his prayer of unity (John 17:20-26).
The meaning of discipleship has been a theme throughout John’s
gospel, and the loving service that Jesus entreats his disciples to
follow is the climax of this. Jesus’ farewell speaks of the unity
and love between himself and the Father in the Spirit, and this
unity is extended to the disciples. Jesus calls his disciples to
abundant life in this love – and tells us that in doing so, their
joy will be complete. Jesus is not advocating the way of love as
something we should do, but as something that we will be enriched
In Britain and Ireland, community does not always come naturally to
us. Christian Aid Week is an opportunity to work together and
celebrate the love we have been offered, and bidden to take into the
The unity between the Father and the Son is one of perfect
relationship. As Jesus relates to his disciples as friends, so are
we to relate to one another. And this has deep implications for the
way we live out our faith. No man is an island. We are not baptised
into a personal relationship with the Lord but into communion and
community. Christian Aid clearly demonstrates that sense of getting
“stuck in” – which is what the Incarnation is truly about; sharing
life with others in all its joys and sorrows, seeing their needs
and, where possible, meeting them.
Jesus bids us love one another. And the reading from Acts is a hint
as to what this love looks like. God’s salvation through his Spirit
is for all the world – not just for our own corner of it. The first
Christians who received the Spirit found it unthinkable that the
Gentiles should do so too (Acts 10:45). If we truly believe that God
values the whole world the same, and that God’s salvation and
abundant life is for the whole world, how does this imply that we
behave? Jesus calls us to love one another. This is his final wish.
Love involves reaching out to people we don’t know and will never
meet, and working for the good of the whole world. In so doing, we
are told, our joy will be complete.
So whether its eating delicious cakes at the Christian Aid tea
party, listening to G&S at a Christian Aid concert or delivering
envelopes and returning to collect them, hopefully full of money, we
are all given a chance in Christian Aid week to remember and act
upon the fact that our faith requires action.
St. Francis of Assisi said “preach the Gospel – use words if you
must”. Jesus bids us love one another and this Christian Aid week is
one opportunity when we can respond to that call.
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