Preacher: The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson
1 Peter 2: 4 – 10, Psalm 34: 1 – 10, 2 Corinthians 8: 1 – 9, John 21: 15 – 22
I’ve been looking forward to preaching today – the first in a five-part series of sermons under the title PATRONAL TO PLANNED GIVING Through exile, hymns and theology: a journey into discipleship. The series is an intentional attempt to ensure there is some continuity through July as we face considerable disruption in the life of the Cathedral. On this, our Patronal Sunday, we will sing Fred Pratt Green’s hymn, ‘God is here as we his people meet to offer praise and prayer.’ It has become one of my favourite hymns and, judging by how often it is sung at the installation of a new parish priest, a favourite among many Anglicans. So it may be of interest to know that the hymn was written in 1978 at the request of a United Methodist Church in Texas to “be sung at a festival on worship, music and the arts, in which the church would dedicate chancel furniture and rededicate themselves to God.” https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-god-is-here And although we are not singing the tune today, the words were written to introduce the tune known as Abbot’s Leigh to the American church.
It’s the 3rd and 4th lines of the 1st verse of today’s Offertory Hymn, no 445 that offer food for thought on this Patronal Festival – ‘may we find in fuller measure what it is in Christ we share.’ We are so fortunate here at St Peter’s Cathedral. Despite the long blocked down-pipes and gutters with healthy-looking gardens growing in them at near impossible heights; despite the crumbling Willunga slate on the roof above the choir stalls which desperately needs to be replaced; despite the ugliness of the scaffolding behind me, the bent pipes, worn leathering, outdated capture system for the organ stops; despite the disruption to our routines, the inconvenience and the loss of income through having to move out of the Cathedral over the next few weeks, we are so fortunate here at St Peter’ Cathedral.
Why? We have people. Not just any people – but wonderful people. People like Carol and David who will speak briefly later this morning on what the Cathedral means to them and why they are prepared to give so much of their professional time and expertise. People like Lorna who created the two floral arrangements adding a touch of beauty to the ugliness in front of you. People like Pat and Pamela, Cricket and Phil, who come in when few others are around to clean and polish. People like Bill and Ben and Brian who welcome on cold wintry days, skim leaves from the duck-pond and sort through endless piles of archival papers. People like Louise and Leonie who devote hours of their time to caring and teaching our young people. People like Charlie and Amelia, Harriet and Luca who revel in singing God’s praises as they use their God-given gifts of music to add beauty and harmony to our worship. The list goes on and on, far too many to mention all by name. Yes – we have wonderful people here – you know who they are, you know who you are.
Today, on this Patronal Festival, one hundred and forty-eight years after the laying of the Foundation Stone on St Peter’s Day 1869, we celebrate the people who make St Peter’s Cathedral what it is – a place where, in Fred Pratt Green’s words, we do indeed ‘find in fuller measure what it is in Christ we share.’
And it is precisely because we are so rich in human and other resources that I dared to suggest to the Cathedral Executive a few weeks ago that we should take a special retiring collection today, and to include what might appear to be an unusual reading on St Peter’s Day. It’s an extract from one of St Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church where he talks about the generosity of the Christians in Macedonia. They were not a wealthy church but that did not stop them from taking up a collection to support others in need. Today I am suggesting that we support another St Peter’s Church, that of Upper Riccarton in Christchurch, New Zealand. It is just one of many, many Anglican churches still badly affected by the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.
A few days ago this reading from 2 Corinthians 8 was read at an early morning Eucharist. I found myself deeply challenged by it and, later, talking to Christine about what our contribution to this special retiring collection would be. It seemed very easy to say – shall I make sure I have a $10 note in my pocket today – that won’t hurt too much, it’s a cup of coffee each. Or perhaps we should include the cost of those tasty slices we had last Monday with the coffee and make it $20. But St Paul talked of the generosity of the Macedonians and how, out of their need they gave so generously. While not wealthy, at least by Australian standards, we are by no means poor. Perhaps $50 would be more appropriate. But that’s probably still not enough… It doesn’t really meet Paul’s measure in 2 Corinthians 8: 2? ‘During a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity…’ These words are certainly food for thought: abundant joy – extreme poverty – wealth of generosity.
By the way, I am well aware that this Cathedral community has not only a massive organ appeal going on (late last week tipping over the $800,000 mark) but is also soon to be reminded of our annual Planned Giving Appeal. But there it is: abundant joy – extreme poverty – wealth of generosity coming from St Paul, and, from today’s Offertory Hymn, ‘may we find in fuller measure what it is in Christ we share.’
How did the Macedonians do it? St Paul suggest it was possible because ‘they gave themselves first to the Lord’, modelling their generosity on that of ‘our Lord Jesus Christ who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.’ (2 Cor 8: 5&9)
It is this idea of giving ourselves first to the Lord – the Lord whose self-giving sacrificial death for others we remember every time we meet to offer praise and prayer, to break bread and drink wine – this giving of ourselves first to the Lord that is so important. This is our baptism. That moment when, remembered or not, we were marked with the sign of the cross, marked as Christ’s own forever. It’s tied up with the three uncomfortable questions Jesus put to Peter after breakfast one day. ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me – do you love me – do you love me?’ Not only did Jesus commission Peter to care for the church, to ‘feed my sheep’ but he added two words. They are key to being a Christian, key to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The words? ‘Follow me.’ (John 21: 19)
This is what we do isn’t it? This is what keeps us coming, keeps us offering our skills, our gifts, our expertise, our love for the Cathedral. This is what drives us to be, as is boldly stated week by week on the front cover of the service books, a Christ-centred, inclusive, thinking, mission-oriented, faith community. It begins when we respond positively to those two simple words of Jesus: Follow me. As we follow Jesus, whether for the first time, or the umpteenth time, whether we start again or have never stopped, it is then that we will begin to ‘find in fuller measure what it is in Christ we share.’
Over the next weeks we will have to endure a sort of exile. Tomorrow morning, for the first time in a very long time, perhaps since the opening of this Cathedral for worship, the doors will not be opened, visitors will not be able to come in and gaze with awe and wonder at the reredos, the stained glass windows, the beautifully patterned high ceiling and mighty stone pillars. The day will not begin in the Lady Chapel as the priest says, to a congregation of one, seven or twenty, ‘The Lord be with you.’ Next Sunday morning we will not worship in this space.
But we will worship God. We will, in the words of Psalm 34, ‘bless the Lord continually’. We will, in the words of St Peter our patron saint, come to him, a living stone – to continue to be built into a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.’ (1 Peter 2: 4 – 10). We will follow Jesus, giving ourselves first to the Lord and thus being able to give to others. A network of scaffolding, the dismantling of the organ, closed doors, knocking down of loose render, dust and noise – these things are temporary, necessary and ultimately enriching as we continue to discover what it means to be God’s people, meeting here or elsewhere to offer praise and prayer, finding in ever fuller measure what it is in Christ we share.
God bless you all.
God is here! As we his people meet to offer praise and prayer,
may we find in fuller measure what it is in Christ we share.
Here, as in the world around us, all our varied skills and arts
wait the coming of the Spirit into open minds and hearts.