Sermons from St Faith's   

'... And it's goodbye from her!'

Revd Sue Lucas, farewell sermon. Choral Evensong, Sunday 3rd April, 2016

Exodus 13.21-22, Philippians 1.3-9


If you’re  wondering where this evening’s lections come from, they’re the Franciscan lections for praying farewell.  Both are appropriate: God never ceases to lead his people, to be in front of them and behind them – though the route doesn’t always seem to be direct!  God has never ceased to lead me, and God never ceases to lead you more and more deeply into the mystery of his love.   Tonight is very poignant for me and my family; because, on my journey, it is not just a farewell to St Faith’s, although that is a huge part of it – but a farewell also to Liverpool, the City in which we’ve lived for 13 years, in which Joe has grown from being a toddler into a young man, and in which Tony has a business; and also to the Diocese in which all my ministry has been served so far, which has nurtured and supported my vocation and in which I’ve learned to be a ‘servant of the servants of God.’

 I began my ministry as a ‘tent maker,’ a self-supporting minister, at St Margaret, Anfield – and had a wonderful time there.  So wonderful a time, in fact, that it became gradually but quickly obvious that my calling was to full time Parish ministry.  I therefore moved to Walton and became ‘stipendiary.’

 And I say that because as clergy we’re paid a stipend, not a salary – I once rather rashly explained the difference to my husband and son by saying a stipend really means we’re paid not to work.  You can imagine the comments, I’m sure!  Actually, most of us work very hard indeed – but the idea of a stipend is something quite profound in a late capitalist society that recognises producers and consumers only for what they can buy and sell -  that someone’s work is an expression of themselves, and their time is a gift from God – contrary to the overwhelming witness of our culture – these are things that really can’t be paid for. 

And part of it also is an insistence that we shape our lives as clergy by healthy rhythms –Benedict knew all about this and wrote a rule of life based on times of prayer, work, study and rest.

 Of course, we often don’t manage it!  Those in ministry are as plagued by busy-ness and over work as anyone, me included.

Actually, liturgically, a priest has only four jobs – and three of them are as easy as ABC – we absolve, we bless, we consecrate.  We also ‘collect’ – we gather God’s people together in the Collect.  Sending them out in mission is of course the  deacon’s job.

 Those four things are almost everything – to be God’s people, we need to gather, constantly to repent, to recognise our humanity in all its frailty and be forgiven, to be made holy – to know we can come into the presence of God – in all its awe and wonder, and be transformed; and to be blessed.  Almost everything – because then, of course, it’s the diaconal thing – to be sent out to do the mission of the God of love.

  actually gave my last liturgical blessing at the Eucharist this morning – and because I like to sing the Easter dismissal, Fr Dennis allowed me to claim my diaconate as well and sing the dismissal. In a minute, I’m going to do a sort of clerical striptease and lay down my priestly (and diaconal) functions here, and instead of the blessing, we’ll bless one another in the words of the Grace.

 This is appropriate, because, of course, alongside the ordained priesthood, there is a recognition that the Church IS a priesthood and the first ordination is actually baptism.  The role of the ordained is simply to encourage God’s Holy People to be God’s Holy People – St Faith’s are about to discover that in a fairly intense sort of way in interregnum, but it’s a good pattern for the Christian life.  Or, since you know my liking for mixing the eschatological and the scatological – the collective noun for clergy is a ‘manure,’ because in small amounts we do a lot of good, but too much of us creates an awful mess!

 And it’s appropriate my last liturgical blessing was in a Eucharist – as the extract from Sam Wells’ ‘God’s Companions’ in the front cover of the service booklet says, even as I’ve blessed, I’ve even more received blessings, receiving all I’ve needed to be God’s friend, to worship him and eat with him, and I now resolve to make elsewhere the Eucharist I found here.

 ‘Here’ of course means St Faith’s in particular – you know the love I feel for its sacramental traditional; but with all the Churches represented here, I have found  Eucharist – the ‘real presence’ of Christ in the sacrament of the altar and the people gathered together.

 And Eucharist does mean ‘thanksgiving.’  I do give thanks for you, I ‘thank my God every time I remember you;’ for all we have learned together; for all you have taught me; for all the struggle and tension; for all the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, for all we have shared.

 So, now, as all God’s holy people, I’ll do my striptease, then we’ll bless one another;  go on being a blessing to one another.  It is interesting that our NT reading links love and insight; to see things truthfully is NOT to see them objectively, but to struggle to see things, to see one another with generosity, with gentleness, with compassion and love – to attempt to see them, that is, as God sees them.

 I’ve had the privilege of serving you for a while; and God, of course, doesn’t actually need anyone to serve him but gives us the privilege of doing so; but now, ‘hold one another in your hearts, share in God’s grace, and long for one another with all the compassion of God.’  And as we say farewell,  ‘I am confident that God, who began a good work among you, will bring it to completion.’  Amen.




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