Did you see the video of the new Archbishop of York taking up his pastoral responsibilities on Thursday? (embedded above) Unusually, the legal ceremony, during which his appointment was confirmed and he formally became Archbishop, was conducted by zoom – everything happens by zoom at the moment. After this he walked into York Minster and took from the high altar the pastoral staff, the symbol of a bishop as shepherd of his people. He then walked to the great west doors and there rather than banging on them to be let in, as is traditional, be banged his staff on the doors to be let out.
The symbolism was strong and deliberate. He did this to show the church being open for people to come. It struck me, though, that, even if not intended, it was an act of setting the church free to go, love and serve in the name of Christ. He was then greeted by the crowd outside. This is where pastors and shepherds need to be, leading the church, the whole people of God in their vocation and ministry outside the walls, not just inside them; to go, love and serve.
One of the striking features of the past four months has been that while church buildings have been shut, the church has not been. We have had to think of different ways to go, and have reached out online, in loving and caring in so many acts of kindness and generosity of connecting and checking on one another and others in need. I have seen it as being important to fly the flag by walking around the city centre so that we have remained visible to those about. We are at our best as disciples and servants of Jesus Christ when we are outward looking and outward loving. The task is always to go, love and serve.
When we are in crisis, and we have certainly been in that recently, the task is to love: to show it, to be genuine in it, to live it. That can be difficult at times, especially when we are under strain and all of us can and do fall short at times. But love is the way, love is the truth and love is the life. Jesus commanded it, that we love one another, that we live his love for the world for which he died and rose again. By this we are known as Christ’s disciples. Without it we are not. Go, love, serve.
It is not a coincidence that we call worship a service. It is an act of service we give to God. We give the honour, the humble praise and thanksgiving to the one who is our source and goal. And that service is to be lived and not confined within medieval walls. We worship and follow the one who came as a servant and not only told his disciples to do this, he showed them by taking a towel and washing their feet in a remarkable demonstration of what it means to be like him. Washing feet means doing what is needed, however humbling it might be. It is a myriad of specific acts and not just a vague general principle. Go, love, serve.
Now if you are still wondering who this applies to, our Collect today is clear. Cast your eyes back at it if you have the Order of Service in a format you can do that with. In this we prayed for each of us in our vocation and ministry (another word for service). Each of us. So all of us are sent to go, to love and to serve. And we have the image of a new Archbishop banging on the doors of a cathedral from the inside to be let out.
When he stood on the steps his words were simple and straightforward, something Stephen Cottrell is known for. He said:
”I started off simply wanting to live and share the good news of Jesus Christ. And I look forward to doing it with you.”
Living and sharing good news together is not just the theme he gave, it is the theme of the Collect prayer for today.
The Gospel reading (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-end) was about seed being scattered. Some bore fruit, some did not. Some soil was well prepared and receptive, some was not. Some seemed to go well but didn’t have the staying power. And some of course flourished. This has long been taken as a parable of the church’s mission, of sharing good news. And it bears out in experience. Some places seem harder than others. But the sower is profligate. He just scatters with abandon because this is love spilling out everywhere.
So, the question for us is how can we be people who go, love and serve? How can we be outward looking and loving, not least if still shielding? How can we be people who love with the abandon and without restraint that we see in Jesus Christ? How can we be people who serve, do what needs doing to live good news?
Stephen Cottrell has started as a breath of fresh air. He has banged on the doors to let the fresh air in and go out into it. It is striking for its simplicity and inspiring as a sign of love being lived. Each of us has a vocation, a calling in Christ to go, love and serve.
Sermon for Trinity 5, live-streamed from Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 12th July 2020.