Canon Jenny Wilson preached at St Oswald’s Parkside on Sunday 5 August 2018 at their Patronal Festival and Dedication of a plaque in memory of The Rev’d Andrew King.

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. … I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. 

This passage, from the 31st Chapter of the Book of the prophet Jeremiah , where we hear the voice of God’s longing to restore God’s relationship with the people, this passage was Andrew’s King’s favourite passage from the Old Testament he so loved. It least, that is my memory of things. We gather with our memory of things, today, don’t we? Our memory of this parish dedicated to St Oswald and how we have been blessed here. Our memory of Andrew, just over ten years after his death, and who he was for us, family, friends, the flock of sheep who heard God’s voice through his voice. We gather, swirling around us, our memories of what he said to us, when he prayed with us, when in the fierceness of the Godly justice that infused his being, he, and Don Owers, raged at the church for their failure to hear and respond to those who had been abused in the very place where they should have been utterly safe.

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord.

Andrew once put this longing of God another way. We were talking about God one day and Andrew imagined God speaking to us and then, knowing that we had not heard, speaking to us again. “I love you,” says God, … “Let me say it again another way…” I’ve never forgotten those words. Andrew, like the prophets,  expressing God’s relentless desire and longing that we know we are loved, we know we are forgiven, we no longer need to teach one another or say to one another ‘Know the Lord’ for we shall all know the Lord from the least of us to the greatest. “I love you”, says God … “Let me say it again another way.”

Andrew King was not so much a great orator when he was preaching, he more engaged us in a conversation. Andrew would stand before us, wouldn’t he, with a small piece of paper on which were written a number of dot points in his easily recognisable scrawl. Andrew would usually make comments on each of the readings though we all knew that his great love was the Old Testament. Somewhere towards the end of many of his sermons something strange would happen. I thought of it as the “God moment”. I would find myself with tears rolling down my cheeks some days when the God moment happened. In the God moment you know that God is about, and you know God knows exactly who you are, and you know God loves you still.

You know God knows you exactly as you are. And you know God loves you still. “For I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.” As Jeremiah put it.

We so struggle with that. Knowing people as they are. Not rejecting them because they are so frustrating or difficult or different from us or incomprehensible. “People say the strangest things,” Andrew once said. I know he said this to many of us, trying to help us not to judge one another so quickly. “People say the strangest things … the question is … what is the story?” Andrew sais.

What is the story? Andrew thought of priests as repositories for stories. I remember, once, when I was in the strange process that is formation for being a priest, saying to Andrew that I thought I might need to make my confession. I had never done this formally before. I think I secretly hoped that he would say, “Oh you’re a pretty good person. I don’t think you need to bother with that.” He didn’t say that, of course. In fact he asked me to think about things and then talk to him in a few days time. It was then I came to think that confession isn’t really about turning away from our sins at all. They say that don’t they? That in confession we turn away from our sins. I came to think that before we can make our confession we have to turn towards our sins. To look at them, remember them, feel the discomfort of them. And then tell that story to someone we trust, and through that someone, to God. And it is only then that we can hear God’s voice saying that God forgives our iniquity and will remember our sins no more. That we might live and thrive knowing the freedom of God’s forgiveness.

That we might “keep alert, stand firm in our faith, be courageous, be strong.  That all that we do be done in love”. As Paul expressed it, writing in what we know as the second letter to the people of Corinth. That we might, as Bruce put it when we were meeting to plan this service, be a true human being. Like Andrew, like Oswald, the patron saint of this parish.

Be a true human being. We are made in the image of God, after all.

God has named us, names us, in all places and perhaps, especially, in the places of struggle, in the dead places. In places where we struggle with how flawed we are, in places where we struggle with the griefs life seems to hold for us. In places where those we love have died. It is part of being fully human to have those places, places that look like tombs. It is part of being a community, a parish too. Times of great struggle, times of loneliness, times of transition, times when we wonder if we aren’t a little blind, times when we are not sure if it is God who is standing beside us.

“Mary,” Jesus says.

In the gospel passage we chose at liturgy planning for our service this morning, we read a portion of the account of Jesus’ resurrection from the Gospel according to St. John. Mary goes to the tomb, to the place where Jesus’ body lay. Jesus, the one who had restored Mary’s life has died. Jesus had cast seven demons out of her, so Luke’s gospel tells us. Did he sit with her, hear her story, help her know God’s forgiveness, whatever her sin. Was that how Jesus freed her? There’s always a story, remember. And now Mary has witnessed Jesus’ death and she returns to that death, hoping to pay homage to his body. But Jesus is not there and, when she looks around and sees one she assumes to be a gardener, she does not recognise that this is Jesus, risen, standing before her. Until he says her name.

“Mary,” Jesus says.

When Jesus speaks her name, she knows him. And when Mary recognises him, her first thought, as she reaches out to touch him, is that he is restored to her. Restored as he was. That they can go back. But this is not so. And he helps her know this by forbidding her to touch him, to cling onto him. This is the truth of the new relationship that has not quite yet come. It is a spiritual love, a spiritual life, that is to be given her. That is why Jesus says “Do not hold onto me because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

Do not hold onto me. This gospel was read at Andrew’s funeral and I think he wanted us to hear those words. He would have hated it if we had idolised him. The great sin of the Israelite people was to make a golden calf and worship that golden calf instead of God, …the great sin, …and Andrew knew that we are so easily tempted to love almost anyone, anything, in place of the God who creates us and redeems us and gives us life. To love anything in the place of Jesus who died forgiving and rose and gives us his spirit that we might “keep alert, stand firm in our faith, be courageous, be strong.  That all that we do be done in love.” That we might be a true human being.

The calling of a priest, the vocation of a parish is to point to God. To say the word God in a country where it is almost a whisper of a memory. To tell the story of God and to hear the stories of God’s people that we all might know that our stories are held in the story of God. To have a wide open door that strangers might be welcomed in and the love of God might be taken out, that the hungry might be fed and that the strong just voice of God might be spoken in the world as Andrew spoke it in the world. The vocation of a parish is to be Christ’s body in the world.

We gather this morning to treasure this parish of Parkside, to honour St Oswald whose faith has inspired us and to dedicate the icon written to help us reflect on him. We gather to remember Andrew King, this repository of so many of our stories, and to bless the plaque dedicated to his memory. We gather to dedicate our lives again to inviting God to put God’s law within us, and  write it on our hearts, and to help us know, at the very core of our and this parish’s being, that we are the people of God, the God in whose wild and beautiful story we find life.