Preacher: The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

8th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 29: 15 – 28, Psalm 105: 1 – 11, Romans 8: 26 – 39, Matthew 13: 44 – 58

“You really do believe you have a future, don’t you?” That question/statement has stayed with me since being made in conversation two weeks ago. How to answer it – as a Christian living in the 21st century, as Dean of St Peter’s Cathedral, as a priest in the Diocese of Adelaide – that is the question. And it’s a question for you too. Do you believe in the future – of this Cathedral, of the Anglican Church, of the Kingdom of God? That is the question. And how will you answer it?

This is the fifth in a series of sermons I began on the 2nd July – our Patronal Festival. I suggested then that we need to pay attention to the call by Jesus to follow him, to become disciples. And that the hymn beginning “God is here! As we his people meet to offer praise and prayer” would be a good one to keep in mind over the following weeks of disruption with the organ being dismantled. Each week I have focused on a different verse, teasing out some of the implications of poetry. Later this morning, we will sing the whole hymn again – as we did on our Patronal Festival.

But back to the future. There have been times over the past few weeks when I have wondered what we had started. The Cathedral building turned upside down – filled with scaffolding and workmen, organ pipes and packing boxes, a massive 40’ shipping container being manoeuvred into the car park, loaded, sealed and hoisted back on to the truck. Last Sunday it seemed impossible that we could be here today. Yet here we are – no scaffolding, no plywood or boxes on the floor. Over the past five days the Cathedral has slowly regained its identity as a much-loved sacred space of worship – our sacred space of worship. We are, in the words of verse 2 of Hymn 445, able to appreciate the well-known symbols that remind us of our ‘lifelong need of grace’ – table, font and pulpit; windows, pillars and pews; polished processional cross, beeswax candles, stunning arrangements of flowers. Thank you to all who worked so hard – during the week and then yesterday morning – to bring to life and beauty this, our sacred space.

We have, I hope, learned some things along the way. In the second of the sermons we thought about exile – and what it means to be a people in exile. What is it like when the familiar everyday landmarks, which we scarcely even notice on a day-to-day basis, are not there? What do we have left when the everyday trappings of our faith, our identity as a congregation, are taken away? I suggested than that we need to look to our baptism – to the questions asked of us – to find our true identity in Christ. “Do you turn to Christ? Will you strive to live as a disciple of Christ, loving God with your whole heart, and your neighbour as yourself, until your life’s end?” When the symbols that remind us of our need of God’s grace are taken away, we turn back to the sacraments – defined in the Catechism (APBA pg 817) as “an outward visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given to us by Christ himself…” If we are truly to believe we have a future we do, I believe, need to come back to baptism – that conscious, intentional, public decision to follow Christ, to be a disciple. At the end of next month a number of people in our congregations will make that public declaration for Christ – both through baptism itself, and the renewal of baptism known as confirmation. Pray for them.

In the third sermon we discovered that all is not lost in Exile and that new ways of living are quite possible. The ancient Jews turned to their scriptures, their holy writings – as do we. Education became important as people gathered together in small groups to read and study the Bible. You will find in the latest edition of the Cathedral Notes – out today – a supplement detailing the outcome of last year’s questionnaire on education in the Cathedral context. There are many different opportunities offered in and through St Peter’s Cathedral – pretty much something for everyone. I hope you will make full use of them as you grow into discipleship, and follow Him as we explore what it means in daily living to believe and to adore. At midday yesterday the Sanctuary team – servers, MCs, Eucharistic Assistants and Cathedral clergy – gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. The readings chosen for this service, the first in the newly cleaned and reclaimed Cathedral, were both about the servanthood of Jesus. The one who calls us to follow was not averse to taking up bowl and towel and washing feet. Can we do otherwise? Should we expect otherwise?

And then, just a week ago, we had a stark reminder that, no matter how good we are, or think we are, we do all fall short of God’s glory. The ABC broke a story on domestic violence in religious institutions – including the Anglican Church. It was and is a sobering reminder that it is all too easy to fall away, to turn away, to stop following the Lord of all. The age in which we live, with all its change and doubt, too often works against being faithful. Which perhaps brings us back to that question/statement I began with: “You really do believe you have a future, don’t you?” That is the question.

And it is the question I pose to you today in this, the final, in this five-part sermon series. My original, rather clumsy, title was: “Patronal to Planned Giving. Through exile, hymns and theology: a journey into discipleship.” Now, as I preach this last in the series, I think I would prefer the much more manageable title, “Patronal to Planned Giving: a journey into discipleship.” It’s the planned giving that will take us into the future; that will contribute to securing the future. And it is to Planned Giving that I turn now.

I have written a little about this in the latest Cathedral Notes. But I want to include some of the words I wrote there in this sermon. We have over four hundred people, families or units, on the parish roll. Each of them will have received, or will shortly receive, a letter through the mail containing a simple card, identical to the one you were given this morning. It is our annual Planned Giving card inviting people to commit ourselves to supporting the financial needs of the Cathedral. While I rejoice that we have one hundred and thirty-eight people or families that do actively participate in the planned giving programme and support St Peter’s Cathedral and its ministry in this way, I have to ask, what about all the other people on the parish roll? And what about those who are regular, or occasional, worshippers here – who actively participate in all sorts of ways, from singing in the choir to enjoying a cup of tea after a service – who, no doubt for a variety of reasons, are not on the parish roll and not part of the Planned Giving programme?

As you came in today you were given a Planned Giving card. At the end of this sermon there will be time for you to look at it carefully, perhaps go and pick up a pencil from the stewards at the entrance, and then, following a time of prayer and soul-searching, complete the card. I can’t tell you what to write there. There is no charge for God’s grace. But there are costs, considerable costs, for keeping a building such as this going, and offering the sort of worship, music, pastoral care, teaching and all the other things associated with a cathedral, which we enjoy. The question about believing in the future is followed by another: Will you help ensure that future happens?

The final verse of Fred Pratt Green’s hymn has these words, which seem appropriate to this day – a day of dedication, re-dedication, of this Cathedral and ourselves – as people journeying into discipleship.

Lord of all, of Church and Kingdom,
in an age of change and doubt,
keep us faithful to the gospel,
help us work your purpose out.
Here, in this day’s dedication,
all we have to give, receive:
we, who cannot live without you,
we adore you! We believe!

 Let us be quiet now as we come before God in prayer. Use the time to consider your giving to the mission and ministry of the Cathedral over the next year. If you need a pencil please go and collect one from a steward at the entrance to the Cathedral. When you come forward to receive communion place your Planned Giving card in the yellow box.