SERMON: Looking to the future of Iffley Parish

SERMON: Looking to the future of Iffley Parish

A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on 6th November 2022

In my letter in this month’s parish magazine, I’ve suggested that as a congregation we’re going through a time of transition.

The pandemic seems largely over and most things have returned to normal. While at one level things appear to be how they were before the pandemic, at another level it doesn’t feel like that. We’ve ended up in a different place from where we were before.

Also we’ve recently said goodbye to our curate, Nikolaj, and we won’t be getting another curate for a while.

And Sarah and I intend to step back from parish ministry here in Iffley sometime next year.

I want to say immediately that the churchwardens and I have been assured by the diocese that there’s every intention that Iffley will continue to have its own vicar and that the vicar will continue to live in the rectory here. So please be assured of that.

Also be assured that additional priestly help will be found during this time of transition when obviously during the vacancy Graham and David will still be faithfully here, but the parish will be without either a vicar or a curate.

During any time of transition, hope is a precious gift. It’s the theme of this morning’s readings.

And that theme of hope has a wider significance for us too, when so much around us feels so hopeless. How things are globally and nationally is not an easy backdrop against which we each try and live out our lives, and as a parish steer a path through this time of transition.

What does it mean to be people of hope? What might our readings have to say to us?

Job, the central person in the story from the book of Job, where our first reading came from, knew the tough realities of life. Life events had completely overwhelmed him.

He had some friends who came to be with him in his troubles, but they had a system to explain why troubles come. According to them, it’s because you’ve done something wrong. So what Job’s friends set out to do is persuade Job that he must have done something terrible.

Job resists. A clear sign to his friends of just how bad Job must really have been.

Of all of them, Job is the only one who actually turns to God. His friends talk about God, but Job takes his troubles to God and pours it all out, reaching deeper and deeper within himself to find somewhere where he can stand before God with integrity, despite all his troubles.

And in our first reading this morning, we heard Job do just that, stand before God with integrity, and cry out:

          ‘I know that my Redeemer lives,

          and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

          and after my skin has been thus destroyed,

          that in my flesh I shall see God,

          and my eyes shall behold, and not another.’

Can we be people of hope? Despite everything, Job answers ‘Yes’. God is faithful and hears.

In this morning’s gospel reading we overheard an argument between Jesus and the Sadducees about whether there’s any ultimate hope or whether at the end of the day, life is brutish and short, which is what the Sadducees felt.

Jesus takes the Sadducees more seriously than many of us would have done, and gives a surprisingly subtle reply to the absurd scenario that they present him with.

Think of the angels, suggests Jesus. Angels are nearer to God than we are – they behold the face of God, day and night. The children of the resurrection won’t marry, won’t be given in marriage, but will be like the angels.

And the second part of Jesus’ reply is even more subtle. God is Abraham’s friend, Isaac’s friend, Jacob’s friend. And because of their friendship with God they’re all alive. Their relationship with God, and by inference ours too, can’t be destroyed by anything, not even by death.

Is there any ultimate hope? Yes, answers Jesus. God is faithful to his relationship with us and will not let us fall from his hand, even when we die.

Finally then Saint Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, just the last paragraph where we heard Saint Paul write:

          ‘Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God

          our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us

          eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts

          and strengthen them in every good work and word.’

Saint Paul refers to what the Lord gives not simply as comfort and hope, but as eternal comfort and good hope.

The implication is that there’s temporary comfort, fleeting comfort, comfort that lasts a short time and is then gone. We all know this type of comfort. But Saint Paul wants us to know for ourselves an eternal comfort given to us through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we know the difference between eternal comfort and passing comfort, what of that other word that Saint Paul uses here, hope, and the distinction that he suggests between good hope and other sorts of hope.

What might it mean for each of us to have good hope day by day, and for us as a parish to have good hope during this time of transition?

Hope is one of the three foundation stones of our lives as Christians – faith, hope and love – providing, in Saint Paul’s words, an anchor for our lives, safe and secure.

Good hope includes an ultimate hope beyond death, but it also it enables us to engage in life here and now. It inspires what I would call a tentative purposefulness that shapes who we are and what we do whether as individuals or as a parish.

That’s why we’re setting aside a Sunday morning together on 11 December. We’ll be asking ourselves important questions such as:

* What do we really value about St Mary’s?

* What new opportunities do we want to explore?

* What might our priorities be for the future?

We all have a contribution to make to these conversations, so that together we can look to the future of Iffley parish with confidence and hope.

We’re called to be people of hope, confident in God’s faithfulness. So let’s take to heart those words of Saint Paul:

          ‘Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God

          our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us

          eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts

          and strengthen them in every good work and word.’