|Event Name||Sermon given at Evensong on the Last Sunday after Trinity 2016|
|Start Date||23rd Oct 2016 3:00pm|
The Reverend Melusi Francis Sibanda, Rector, St George, Dunsborough, Diocese of Bunbury, Western Australia
I bring greetings from Western Australia, from Bishop Allan Ewing and the people of the Diocese of Bunbury, especially your friends at St George, Dunsborough.
The first time that I worshipped in this beautiful and world-famous Church was at the end of August in 2000, when I was visiting from Zimbabwe. I was on a ministry development programme, which involved leading a Summer Project for the Youth of the Wandsworth area, south of the Thames.
Together with the late Colin Roberts, who was the Vicar of St John the Divine in Earlsfield, in the Diocese of Southwark, I spent one day at Church House where we also had afternoon tea with the Chief Education Officer for the Church of England. Later that evening, we attended Evensong in the Abbey.
I still have very vivid memories of the day, and, sixteen years later, it is wonderful to be here as a guest preacher, in the company of so many friends.
There are many friends here from the Parishes of Colne in East Lancashire where I ministered for a few years – obviously, I arrived there many years after the ‘war of the roses’ had ended!
One of the things I learnt from the wonderful Lancastrians is that in life it is not for us to judge but to love: And love is one of the key foundations of Christian discipleship.
There are also many friends from Birmingham, where I spent a good part of ten years. Birmingham is an exciting city and ministering at St Stephen the Martyr, Rednal and the Kings Norton Deanery, on the outer skirts of Britain’s biggest city outside of London, was a great privilege – having arrived in the area at a time when the people there were mourning the closure of the Rover Factory – and leaving the place at a time full of promise, as the new Longbridge development is certainly one of the biggest in northern Europe.
Last year, it was an honour for the people of the Diocese of Birmingham when David Urquhart, the Bishop, was appointed to serve as the new Convener of the Lords’ Spiritual in the House of Lords.
Among us today we also have several people from St George’s in Australia, and some of them arrived this morning.
‘The Zimbabweans’ are also here today and together we give thanks to God for the privilege and honour to pray together for justice and peace, as we hold firm in our hope and belief that prayer can change things. We invite friends and fellow pilgrims from all over the world to continue praying for the suffering people of Zimbabwe, and to visit beauty spots there, such as the Victoria Falls or the Nyanga Highlands, as well as places of historic importance such as the Matopos Hills near the city of Bulawayo.
As I was preparing to come here, I was reminded of a certain preacher who used to travel from church to church.
On one occasion, he was about to begin his sermon when he realised that within the congregation there were also some members of his church who had already heard him preach the same sermon. So he began by observing that, ‘it is always better to hear a good sermon twice than to hear a bad sermon once!’
I want to thank the Dean, Dr John Hall, and the Chapter of Westminster Abbey for inviting me today, as well as Mrs Tiggy Sawbridge who managed the ‘correspondence side of things’.
The renowned Choristers and the Organist are always very generous in the exercise of their gifts in the ministry of music – we do hope and trust that one day you will all come and sing for us in Australia and in Zimbabwe, and perhaps in Birmingham and in the Diocese of Blackburn as well!
In his second letter to Timothy, which is also one of the lessons for this Evensong, St Paul speaks about knowledge of what is good, which comes from God, and is mediated through his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
We should remember that Paul’s knowledge of the goodness that comes from God, was born out of experiencing God’s faithfulness even in the face of suffering, uncertainty and persecution.
In chapter 2v7 of this passage, Paul writes with confidence, as he says to Timothy, ‘Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things’ (2 Timothy 2v7). In the next sentence that he is about to write, Paul exhorts Timothy to be strong in the faith, to trust in Jesus always – even in the face of many difficulties.
Paul is inviting Timothy to spend a few moments in thought – there are serious issues to grapple with – and also for us, as friends, visitors and members of the congregation at this beautiful Abbey Church that has seen so much history, through bad times and good, Paul is offering words of advice and a reminder to think and pray over issues of national and international importance, in the same way as we would think and pray about issues that pertain to our personal lives, our families and friends.
Our local and national leaders, too, need praying for at all times – especially those who serve in Her Majesty the Queen’s Government, at this time when, as key partners in the Commonwealth of Nations, we have to grapple with matters of justice, issues of a global and fundamental nature, relating to changes in the political landscape of this country, and to our responsibilities to the natural world.
In a book entitled The Politics of Discipleship, Graham Ward observes that St Paul’s words encourages us to conceive of the Church, and the mission of God in the world, as a vast network of interrelations. Graham Ward suggests that when we do this, our conception of the world ‘changes both historically and culturally’ (p26).
There is so much to be thankful for and, as visitors to the Abbey, we can capture something of the splendour and history of this place, a wonderful symbol of God’s faithfulness through the ages. History is, and should be, something we learn from and, from this place, we learn that these beautiful buildings which lie at the heart of national life in the United Kingdom, were built so that God, and his Son Jesus, could be glorified, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The promise of God’s love is reflected not just in the bricks and images we encounter here, but also in the people who visit, especially those who come here concerned with some of the challenging issues of our day and to pray for this land, and every nation on earth.
So today, we can take the love of Christ into our lives, by recognising that we are all visitors here on earth, who need the love and grace of God, so that we can continue speaking up for the vulnerable and supporting those who are going through bad times.
St Paul gave hope, guidance and moral support, to a friend and fellow disciple of Jesus at a time when Timothy had some difficult issues to deal with. A few weeks ago, I attended a church service in which a special prayer, provided by the Mothers Union organisation, was used. The MU Prayer highlights the natural qualities of the eucalyptus tree, and it goes as follows:
May the Australian eucalyptus with its diverse species, its unique blossoms, its perseverance to survive in tough times, and its healing properties, inspire us in our commitment … binding together people of different backgrounds, encouraging us to persevere in our faith, so we may share the good news of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and bring hope, beauty and wholeness to God’s world.
There are some connections between this MU Prayer and the words of St Paul who says to Timothy, and to each one of us, ‘Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things’. For we have come from many different backgrounds and experiences of life, and yet through faith, and perseverance, we can all work for the common good and the building of God’s Kingdom.
In the coming months and years, millions of people will continue coming to this place, the most famous Parish Church in the world, to marvel at the beauty of the Abbey, but also to think about personal and communal issues and to pray for God’s grace and love, in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.
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