In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You’ve probably never heard of Bill Shankley. He was a Scottish football player who went on to manage Liverpool Football Club in the 1960s and 70s. When I say “football”, I mean “soccer”, which is the winter game played in Great Britain. When Shankley first arrived at Liverpool, it was a struggling second division team with poor facilities and low morale. One of the soccer pitches looked as if bombs had been dropped on it; Shankley asked if the Germans had been over in the war. Shankley took Liverpool Football Club from the second division to the Premier League, making them one of the most successful clubs in history. Once he was asked about his philosophy in a television interview. He replied, “Someone said to me ‘To you football is a matter of life or death!’ and I said ‘Listen, it’s more important than that’.
” Bill Shankley’s remark struck a chord with me – not because of football, but because of my faith. If someone said to me, “To you, Christianity is a matter of life and death”, I would reply, “It’s more important than that!” Living as a Christian, as a follower of Christ, is something which demands my life and my all.
I know these days we are supposed to do everything in moderation, (to which I say, especially moderation), but where God and Jesus Christ are concerned, being moderate just doesn’t work, at least not for me. In fact, the closer I get to God and the more I surrender my life to him, the happier I seem to be. As I said to someone recently, you can’t get close enough to Christ.
For Jesus’ disciples – the first of whom were the brothers Andrew and Simon, John and James – getting close to Jesus began when Jesus said to them: “follow me”, and they left what they were doing, and followed him. Of course that command of Jesus – “follow me” – is a deceptively simple one. It’s like Columbus saying to someone in 1492, “come sail with me”. When you get on board there’s no way of knowing what each day will bring or how long the journey will take. You begin the journey more in hope than in expectation. That’s what the Christian journey is like – it’s one of adventure and exploration, where you can never be sure what you will find over the horizon.
This journey begins when you decide to place your trust in the one whom you are following: Jesus Christ. He is both our captain and navigator; the closer we stay to him, the more certain it will be that we will reach our destination. Of course, what Jesus doesn’t promise is a trouble free time. The first disciples were fishermen, and they knew the dangers of the sea: how the wind could pick up and the swell beneath them turn into waves that could swamp the boat. The gospel of Luke records an incident where Jesus and the disciples are in the boat together and this event happens. The disciples fear that they will perish, and tell their Lord in their alarm what is happening. Jesus rebukes the wind and the raging waves; and there was a calm. He then says to the disciples, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:24-25) The point of the story is that the disciples call upon Jesus in their hour of need. Jesus is always there when you need him.
I want to stay with the analogy of the boat because our sails are useless unless the wind fills them. So it is with our Christian journey, that the breath of the Holy Spirit is needed to move us along. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God – like the wind, you cannot see the spirit but you can see what the spirit does. When the Holy Spirit fills a church, its members are fired up with love for God and neighbor, and with a passion to serve others. You can tell a “spirit filled” church by its main attribute, which is joy. Where the Holy Spirit dwells there is joy in abundance.
The Holy Spirit is here today, because in a moment the Spirit will descend on the newest member of the Church and put some wind in her sails. Ella Rose Quinn will be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. With the water she will be washed clean of sin and brought into right relationship with God. The oil of chrism with which she will be anointed is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace she will be reborn into the new life of faith and begin her spiritual journey as an adopted daughter of God. Today is the beginning of that journey, and she will set sail today with the prayers and good wishes of her parents, godparents and brothers and sisters in Christ. I feel very privileged to be a part of her beginning on this great adventure.
Today my own journey takes me away from a place where I have been blessed, loved and brought closer to Christ. That place is the Church of the Redeemer. The thing about the Christian journey is that each person’s journey is different. For some people the journey involves lots of twists and turns while other people’s journeys seem to be in more of a straight line. I am definitely in the first category. I’m not sure why this is – I sometimes think that God has a history written for me that he only reveals to me as I go along. I trust in God’s providence for me, and try to put into practice a saying I learnt a while ago – “bloom where you’re planted”. I feel incredibly blessed to have served you and known you.
As I leave you today I want to direct you to the words of Scripture in today’s service. The first reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy: it is part of the farewell speech that Moses gives before the Israelites cross into the Promised Land. As you know, Moses never reached it himself; he died before they reached their destination. His words therefore have the force and power of a final testament. Listen to these words again:
“Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
Moses exhorts his people to choose life and the very best life is one which has God at its center. And please don’t be moderate where God is concerned – give yourself to God fully and whole-heartedly. The one who does is never disappointed.
Our gospel reading also has some beautiful words which Jesus says to his followers before he leaves them. I would like to make them my words to you.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
Those, then, are my parting words. And along with those words, I say “thank you”. You and I have shared a journey together, and I have felt the wind of the Holy Spirit at our backs as we moved forward to where God wants us both to be. Thank you for your prayers and for your love. Thank you for sharing your stories, both good and bad. I have learned that there is so much pain in the histories of people that I wonder at the human spirit that it can withstand so much. And yet I know that God is a great healer and that when Jesus rose from the dead his wounds were still visible, so that he would not stand apart from us in our own suffering.
The job of a priest is to represent God to the people and the people to God. That is what I have tried to do, in my prayers and in my ministry. No prayers are ever wasted – God hears them all. Continue to keep one another in your prayers and remain strong in the faith.
Although there is sadness today, there is room for joy as well. The joy of friendship, and of growing closer to God. The joy in singing God’s praises in our hymns. The joy of welcoming Ella into this new and exciting life in Christ. Be thankful in the Lord for the blessings that have been and for those yet to come. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you”; my peace I give to you”. May God’s joy and peace be yours always.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Father David Beresford