A sermon preached by Bishop Steven Croft at the Confirmation service at St Mary’s on Sunday 9 May 2021.
It’s a real joy to be with you this morning on this first Sunday when some are able to worship in the Church and others gather as the church virtual. Warm greetings. Thank you to all at St Mary’s for sustaining the life and ministry and mission of the church over the last year, especially to Andrew, to Nikolai, to the Churchwardens and the rest of the team.
It is also a particular delight to share in the confirmation of Daisy, Jemima, Harry, Rufus, Laura and Jim and to be with their families here in the church.
I’ve been paying attention to a new word over the last few weeks: the word is languishing.
I first noticed it in a column in the Times. The word is being used by social psychologists to describe where many people are at this stage of the pandemic.
There has been a sharp rise in mental health conditions. The majority of people are not depressed in that sense, though if you are that can be very difficult. But neither are we yet living a normal and full and abundant life again. We are betwixt and between. Languishing: a mixture of tiredness and emotional exhaustion.
We need therefore to be especially gentle with one another – to give time and space and patience to the slow work of recovery: the economy may be set to bounce back but people and churches may take longer.
It’s in that light that I invite us all to pay attention to today’s readings and to what is happening in this confirmation service and in the candidates.
Our reading from Acts underlines how much help God thinks we need to be fully alive, to live a normal, full and abundant life in Christ. We are not able to do this and we are not complete unless God pours out upon us the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s very self, setting our cold, dull hearts on fire again and again and again. God comes to live in us, sometimes dramatically, sometimes gently, always to bless and to encourage and to love.
Our gospel reading from John offers us the opposite and complementary wonder: God comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit and we are invited to come to live in God.
‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.’ This is where we are to make our home: in the deep knowledge and understanding that God loves us.
As God lives in us and we live in God, so there is a profound and deep healing. Joy is continually reborn even in darkness and difficulty and even in our cold and stony hearts.
‘I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’
Our Christian lives are more than languishing: they are grounded in God’s love and overflow into joy in the power of the resurrection.
In this confirmation service we are witnessing the grace of God in six unique lives. We celebrate that each is declaring their intention to live their lives abiding in the love of God. I will declare before each is confirmed: Daisy, Jemima, Harry, God has called you by name.
We will pray for God to pour out on each of them the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, just as in the early Church. The Spirit brings joy and strength and the power to change and rebuild God’s world. This service is a call to each of us in our languishing to begin to live again.
The final verse of the hymn Now the green blade riseth has been with me through this Easter season:
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
Photograph by Roger Harris, licensed under CC BY 3.0.