A sermon given during the 6pm Choral Evensong, by The Rev’d Canon Bill Goodes, on the 28th of August 2022.
Jeremiah 5:20-31,Luke 14:15 – 24
“says the Lord…I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it.” (Jeremiah 5:22)
Do you remember the days when everything was stable: we knew where the sea ended: the beaches always had sand, seafront properties stayed the same distance from the water, even the winter storms seemed to keep in their proper place, roaring but not inordinately.
Seeing the sand as “a boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass” went along with other “boundaries — like those between nations, with different racial groups and cultures clearly defined, with any violation of those boundaries by foreign powers an affront to our sense of justice and what is “right”!
Yes, we like to remember it that way, but deep down we know that this romantic view of stability and changelessness is just that — a romance, a fiction that we have devised for ourselves and our own comfort!
The prophet in tonight’s reading looks to God’s vision of the stable shoreline, the stable seasons with their “autumn rain and spring rain” and their “weeks appointed for the harvest”, and recognizes that things are really much more unpredictable than that. He places the blame for this unpredictability on the people’s wickedness — wickedness that exists even in the most outwardly-godly places, where “the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule as the prophets direct; and my people love to have it so”! He calls the people to forsake their wickedness and return to the Lord — to “tremble before him”, for then, he implies, the predictability will return!
Well, we are daily reminded that “the autumn rain and the spring rain”, the boundaries of the sea, are not as predictable as we would like them to be — and there is considerable evidence to suggest that this is directly resulting from our action “wickedness even!. But we still long for stability, for unchanging goodness — even an unchanging goodness that will reverse the unsettling phenomena that we see in storms, changing climate, drought, flood, fire — to say nothing of the violation of national boundaries!
If we look at the building in which we are meeting this evening, there are things about it that speak eloquently about God’s unchanging goodness and love towards us — a goodness and a love that stand secure in a rapidly changing city. The stones, the spires, flood-lit proudly at the entrance to the city, speak both of “a safe stronghold” and of a life beyond the daily grind. It is richly decorated as a sign of the beauty of the God who is both with us and beyond us. I love the description that Lynn Arnold often uses of the Cathedral, “a symbol of God’s sacredness”. You see, the building is much more than a place to shelter us from the rain, and to keep us warm in cold weather — its foundation stones state that it is built AMDG — “to the Greater Glory of God”
However, it is what goes on inside the building that makes it more than a symbol — for here the beauty of God’s holiness is regularly placarded in prayer, in music, in liturgy, in communion and fellowship, in the opening of the scriptures, and in the provision of symbols of God’s care for individuals. And all of that, too, is AMDG — “to the greater glory of God”
Of course, we recognize that we are, and are growing into being “a Christ-centred, sacramental, inclusive, thinking, mission-oriented faith community”, but before all of that, we are at base, a worshipping community, a praying community, a community dedicated AMDG — without this direction, we are nothing more than a social club. I say that to myself as much as to anyone — it is so easy for a priest to be so concerned with the day-to-day management of a community, of providing for the needs of the building and the property, even of anxiety for the financial needs of the operation, to be so concerned for these practical things that the essentials of prayer, worship, and study of the scriptures can slip off the radar!
Back in 1961, while I was serving as an Assistant Curate in the Diocese of Adelaide, our Bishop, Thomas Thornton Reed, gave his Pastoral Address to the Synod of the Diocese, speaking of the work of this Cathedral. He quoted the Statutes of Ely Cathedral from the time of Elizabeth I which stated five principal things that a Cathedral should provide: daily worship, diligent preaching, studious clergy, care for the poor, a body giving counsel to the Bishop. This last function has been taken over by bodies like Diocesan Council and Pastoral Leaders, but the other four functions remain as the essential Cathedral roles — daily worship, diligent preaching, studious clergy, care for the poor.
At the time that Bishop Reed spoke, this Cathedral had two resident vicars doing the work of the Bishop — who was then the Rector of the Cathedral, one vicar living in the house next door which we know as the Deanery, and the other in the Cathedral Lodge across the road. An Organist who was also Master of Choristers, and a virger/caretaker living in a grotty flat behind the John Dunn Room, completed the “Cathedral staff”. Altar servers and sidesmen were most often members of other parishes who came to the Cathedral when rostered.
This pattern of life changed dramatically when Archbishop Rayner in the 1980s relinquished direct responsibility for the life of the Cathedral, and a Dean of the Cathedral encouraged the growth of a regular congregation who saw the Cathedral as their “parish church”. This change radically altered the role of the Cathedral clergy, and also suggested that the Cathedral’s programme should be focussed on the needs of the congregation, and not on the symbolic task of maintaining the regular round of Eucharist, Morning and Evening Prayer each day. So, when attendances became sparse for a particular daily service it was discontinued.
There are few churches in metropolitan Adelaide where services are provided during the week, so perhaps we can catch the vision of being the place that maintains the Church’s tradition of these daily gatherings for prayer and worship. Our life with God moves in two directions — one directed to giving God glory and honour, the other looking to the needs of our own spirits. If we focus only on the first of these our life with God may easily become dry and demanding. If we focus solely on our own needs, we have succumbed to the “consumer culture “ that is so prevalent in our society.
Could we embrace the idea of being, not simply another parish community, but a Cathedral, a place of daily worship. Perhaps as we do so anew, each of us might consider taking responsibility to be part of the congregation at at least one of the week-day services each week. A group of us has decided to meet each week to say Evening Prayer on Wednesday at 5.30 pm and it would be good if that could become another focus for the daily offering of prayer that has been so much a Cathedral function down the centuries.
Of course, it would be wonderful if the staff of the Cathedral could be of sufficient size to enable the clergy to be more able to spend more time in study! Perhaps then the preaching could be even more diligent than it is at present! But all that depends on financial support, and a willingness to set this studious activity as a priority in the allocation of resources — we know only too well that the building itself will absorb any money that we like to allocate to it! .
The good God regards us with an unchanging good-will and love, but always exercises that love starting from where we are. May he continue his loving-kindness towards this Cathedral Church, its congregations, its clergy, as it seeks to maintain and deepen its prayer and worship life, and to cooperate with God’s mission in this city, this world.