A sermon at the start of the inter-regnum
—Rev Tim Laundon, 17 June 2018
1 Sam 15. 34–16. 13; 2 Cor 5. 16; Mark 6. 14–29.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we are in an inter-regnum.
And, as it turns out, our first lesson for the Third Sunday after Trinity is an excellent reading for an inter-regnum because it’s the story of Samuel trying to discern which person has been chosen by God to lead God’s people. And that is the Church Warden’s responsibility right now and over the coming months; to try to discern who God is sending or calling to be the next Rector of the New Windsor Team.
It’s also a good story for this time—and it’s a story that I like—because it’s a story about not choosing the obvious candidate, “for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16. 7.) The Church Wardens—and all of us, actually, as Christians—must try to have this attitude of trying to see as God sees, looking to the depths and not thinking or seeing only superficially.
In the story it was David, who was the last of the brothers and therefore the least likely candidate, who was the one that was chosen. But it would be a mistake to think that David was chosen because he was perfect for the role or even because he was an exemplary person. If you know the story of David he was very far from perfect as a person or as a leader; he had his failings. And we should expect that.
In fact it would be idolatrous to expect David—or any other person for that matter—to be perfect. And it would be idolatrous to expect a “perfect” candidate for the job of being the new Rector of the New Windsor Team. Idolatrous might seem like a strange word to use, but let me explain... Either we are implying that we are such an important group of churches in the Kingdom of Heaven or that we have such an important an pivotal role in the world-wide church that we deserve the best possible Vicar, which would be excessive pride on our part. And/or we are implying that people can be perfect, when God alone is perfect. The reality is that all people, though made in the image and likeness of God, fall short and ultimately rely on God’s grace. This is true of you and me; it is true of all people, even of Rectors.
As Christians we should expect our clergy and our fellow Christians to be imperfect and we should not think of ourselves, or even our churches, as more important than we really are within the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s purposes here on earth. And we should not imagine that any person—even a Rector—can solve all of our problems and meet all of our needs and expectations. All people rely on God’s grace, even Vicars! It is idolatrous to assume that there is a perfect person out there when we should be placing all of our trust in God, not in a mere human being.
Talking of human fallibility, however, I do marvel at the remarkable foresight of the people who compiled the Lectionary all those years ago because they have put together some absolutely ideal readings for the start of our inter-regnum, because the second reading, from 2 Corinthians 5, carries on the same theme: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view” (2 Corinthians 5. 16).
So with these passages from the Scriptures as our guide how should be think about our current situation?
It would be only natural—and especially if we were feeling dramatic—to think, “Oh no! Father Ainsley has abandoned us and Mother Kate has left us and we are all abandoned! We’re doomed!” Perhaps that would be a bit extreme, but it’s OK to feel the loss of people who have been important to us, and it’s ok to feel afraid. But we must acknowledge that this is all very much from a human point of view. So how does God see these things?
Now I am not perfect and I’m not sure that I know God’s will for the New Windsor Team—almost certainly I do not know the mind of God on these matters—but our Gospel reading from Mark 4. 26–34 got me thinking about roots and fruits, and it got me thinking about my favourite topic in all the world which is composting. I love composting; it is the Gospel of redemption made manifest in the most earthly and humble form! I love it! But first let’s think about fruits and roots, and then we can get to composting a bit later.
Father Ainsley has left us and Mother Kate has left us and the Reverend Margaret has left us.
How should we think about this?
Is it abandonment? Is it rejection? Is it a sign?
Yes. Yes, I think it is a sign. But then the question follows, “What does this sign mean?”
Jesus often compares the Kingdom of Heaven or the Church to a natural image: a plant, a seed, a vine, etc. ... So perhaps we could think of ourselves as a tree. Think about it this way, the New Windsor Team of churches is a tree...and Ainsley, Kate and Margaret are the fruits... They are only some of the fruits, of course. There have probably been more fruits over recent years than only these three, but let’s think about them as fruits for the moment. And I don’t mean to imply that Ainsley, Kate and Margaret were fruity or completely nuts (!!!), but I want us to think of them as our fruits; the fruits of our churches.
If you think about it this way—a tree and its fruits—then you can see that they have left us because that is what fruits do.
Now I don’t know much about tree-psychology but I don’t imagine that trees feel full of despair when they see their fruits or nuts or seeds carried away by the wind or some bird of animal. I don’t imagine any plant feels like this. That’s because trees and all types if plant want new life, more and more life wherever it can find a place to flourish and so trees produce their fruits, nuts or seeds and delight in sending them out into the wider world. That is what you have done with Ainsley, Kate and Margaret. You have nurtured them for a time and now you have given them to be a blessing to other communities to bring new life there too.
And generously sharing our fruits is not a sign of weakness or abandonment; it cannot be a sign of failure or impending disaster because weak plants cannot produce fruits. The ability to produce a rich harvest of fruit is a sign of strength and it is a sign that the time of harvest has come. So it is a sign of our strength and our generosity and it is a sign of the times because we know which season follows the harvest time...it is Winter.
Winter is not a time to expect more fruits or even new shoots, but that does not mean that the tree or the plant is dead (I am talking only about hardy perennials in this next section; plants that do survive through Winter, although the analogy might also work with annuals and biennials I am not going to explore that here). Thinking about trees we know that there is still life and growth is even possible through the Winter but it is all hidden growth, the profound growth and preparation that enables the next season’s flowers and fruits to flourish. So now we are talking about roots. And now, in this inter-regnum, is a time for growing our roots. So what are our roots? where are our roots? I am probably being simplistic but I would expect our roots to be in the ground, in this area, in this community and now is the time to focus on nurturing our roots and feeding them. So now is the time to talk about my favourite topic in all the world because the way that you feed your roots it through composting.
I have noticed something about fruits and on the odd occasion that I buy my wife flowers I have noticed the same thing about flowers. The thing that I have noticed about fruits and flowers is that they do not last forever, in their current form. If you want fruit to last longer you have to change their form—apples into cider or cider vinegar, for example—because if you put fruit in the fridge or even if you put them in the freezer they only last so long.
But there is a better way. Rather than trying to keep things the same forever—which is impossible—when I buy my wife flowers we both delight in the fact that they are beautiful for a time and then I can compost them. And then what happens when I compost those flowers or whatever fruitful abundance there is from our garden or our fridge is that they are all transformed, creating the potential for new life, a new plant and a new flower.
You might say, “Well I can just buy some more flowers when these ones fade.” or you might say “Well that’s why I prefer fake flowers, because they do last forever.” and there is some truth in these ways of thinking, of course.
However, when it comes to the Church you can’t simply pay someone else to do all the composting and preparing of the ground, the feeding of the roots. There is no easy option of paying someone else to gather and sow the seed, and then nurture the plant. When it comes to the Church an abundant harvest of flowers or fruit cannot be bought, nor can we fake it, nor can we rush it. When it comes to the Church these things must be based on faithfulness and the Truth and will unfold in God’s time.
So do not be afraid: have faith in God and use this time well (by which I mean that we should be on the look out for things to compost).
In Jesus name. Amen.