Colossians 1:1-14 & Luke 10:25-37
Introduction: In the Gospel narratives there are several cameos of Jesus in a boat, on the Sea of Galilee. Today, happens to be Sea Sunday and with my trajectory having been away from aviation towards the maritime world it seems somewhat appropriate to pick up the theme.
Embarking seaward: Having moved our boat from the River Thames to the River Hamble and the open sea we are experiencing a far more challenging environment. The sea, with it’s tides, waves and exposure to the weather bids adventure requiring learning, planning and careful preparation. Heading out to sea amidst the changeable elements is at once exciting and a little frightening. All those familiar with the environment know that life at sea is unpredictable and so one requires safety gear and a working VHF radio.
As a metaphor one could do worse than applying it to embarking on a new adventure – a new season in ones’ life. This is both a reality for me and for this church, as it was for my being appointed here in my current role.
Reflecting on our journey together. Over the last (almost) 10 years we have journeyed together in the same ‘boat’ so to speak; setting our sails when the spiritual wind was blowing and rowing during the times when movement was required from our own energy and efforts. I’m reminded of a song called ‘Willing to Row’, which includes the words, ... And the one who stills the water says, “Before you I go; I’ll calm the wind; are you willing to row?”
There have been times of plane sailing and other times, such as during the pandemic, which have been more like rowing than sailing. But the Lord calmed the wind and now it feels like a breeze is blowing again. So, the next season is a time for discerning the wind direction and setting the sails appropriately.
The Lord has indeed been with us during this last season of All Saints Church, as he was before and will be in the next. It is, of course, Christ’s church – he builds it and governs it as long as he’s welcomed here and looked to for guidance.
For me, it’s been a challenging season but really worth it. To see the church flourishing in so many diverse ways with such a committed, faithful, hardworking and loyal team of leaders and volunteers is inspiring. I cannot think of any gathering, service of worship or social event which has not gone well. They’ve done us proud. The fact that such strong characters with diverse views have worked so effectively together is a great testimony to each one and to God’s work in our midst. It has become the crown of my stipendiary ministry, for which I’m hugely grateful. Thank you.
This church’s ministry has far-reaching impact: not only through its acts of worship and daily prayer for the town but through it’s civic gatherings, arts and spiritualty days and other wider public engagements. It is known as an authentic House of Prayer with which people of all Faiths, and none wish to be associated. It is, indeed, a place to encounter God and to find solace in a troubled world. It’s sacred centre has been sustained and the life of God’s Spirit continues to produce new shoots of ministry, especially during the week. Whether it’s the All Saints Plus group, the Conversation Café, or developing engagement in the work here by those on the fringe of society, to name but a few, God’s life manifests itself here.
A Community Hub: At its heart, All Saints is a community hub as well as a parish church. And to remain so, its culture must be rooted in right relationship; that is, with God, with one another and with the wider community. Christ has called us to be a welcoming community; welcoming to all who are drawn to part of its life and ministry, whatever their culture. As the Samaritan showed practical care and compassion for the wounded Jew (usually at enmity) so this is to be a place which shows compassion and kindness to all in need. I’m so proud that All Saints was instrumental in showing a welcome to refugees, thus becoming a fertile ground for the birth of what became the Wycombe Refugee Partnership. Of course, God had been working through the 38 Degrees group prior to our part in the work; its gestation began there. How wonderful that the work has now gained the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service! But it’s a sign of how God uses the ministry here to partner with other organisations in serving God’s compassionate ministry in the town. Engagement with people outwith the church community helps us to get out of our own echo chamber and to see where God is at work in the wider town.
Hosting the Repair Café is, I believe, an indicator of God using this church to show His care for the creation and the wider world through partnering with other community groups. This partnership, and others like it, enable warm-hearted and constructive relationships with key people working for the future of this town. In this I witness God at work.
A story of compassion: Today’s Gospel story of the Good Samaritan shows what loving one’s neighbour actually looks like in practice. May I conclude, therefore, with a story recounted at a recent International Christian Maritime Organisation by Cardinal Tagle – the Archbishop of Manilla.
He tells of a woman who used to work for Caritas, Lebanon, helping illegal migrant workers at a detention centre, some of whom were seafarers. She was once invited by Caritas Syria to deliver a training programme to the staff there about ministering to illegal immigrants. On arriving by taxi at the Conference centre one day she asked the taxi driver “How much do I owe you?” He said, “No, you don’t have to pay.” She panicked, wondering what the driver would want instead of payment, thinking that she might be kidnapped or raped. So, she raised her voice and said, “I have money, I can pay. Tell me, how much do I owe you!?” But, said the driver, “How can I accept money from Caritas?” She asked, “How did you know that I work for Caritas?” He said, “Three years ago, I was imprisoned in Lebanon as an illegal worker and I used to see you there. On the night before my release from prison, I had a terrible headache, and I asked for medicine from the guards. They didn’t give me any but, at that moment, you passed by and so I asked you for medicine, which you gave me. I slept very well that night, but I was not able to thank you. So now, let me thank you; please don’t pay for this trip.”
As small act of kindness is not small to the recipient.
I pray that the charism of acting together with loving kindness will always be in the DNA of All Saints Church. In this Christ makes himself manifest here.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Team Rector