The Seriousness of Vocation. Sermon for Evensong – Lent 2 – Sunday March 16.

Sermon for Lent 2 – Evening Prayer – Year A – Sunday 16th March 2014

Numbers 21:4-9
Luke 14:27-33

‘The Seriousness of the Christian’s calling’

One of the to me enjoyable facets of life here in New Zealand that I am still getting used to is that to travel any distance you have to fly, and that this is nothing of note. Back in the UK, although I often travelled several hundred miles, trains were the way most folk got about. I quite enjoy flying.

Imagine for a moment though, that the next time you fly up to Wellington or Auckland; prior to the flight the Captain introduces himself with the words, ‘Although I’ve spent many hours on simulators, I’ve never flown one of these for real, so I’m very much looking forward to our flight today, and I hope you share my sense of anticipation! . . .’

I don’t know about you, but I think I would be joining the queue for the exit. Recently we hosted a friend from the UK whose husband has been training as a pilot to fly with British Airways. Airspace in the UK is very crowded and there isn’t room for lots of folks to be up in the air training – so they train here instead where there is still realtively little air traffic. Of course, one might say, simulators being so good, they COULD train on the ground . . . BUT . . . as I know from my own very limited experience as a pilot, there is something about the threat of imminent death should you make a serious error that sharpens your training and makes you a better pilot than someone who has never flown for real. (And therein perhaps lies a serious warning for an entire world increasingly immersed in the Virtual . . . )

Flying aircraft as tragic circumstances this past week only reminds us is a very serious business – lives, many of them are at stake. When I went skydiving, one of the things that helped me to enjoy the experience rather than scream all the way down, was the knowledge that the instructor to whom I was attached had made over 10,000 jumps – I wasn’t jumping with someone who hadn’t done it for real, AND what is more – HIS life was every bit at much at risk as mine – which of course is the same as for pilots – their own lives as well as those of their passengers are in their hands and THAT I suggest is a thoroughly good thing . . .

But this begs for me a troubling question – or rather it causes me to ask troubling questions of the church, especially here in New Zealand and in our Diocese. In the Catholic and Orthodox churches, before anyone is ordained Priest, they must train for many years – in the case of the Catholic church, for seven years. Even back in the Church of England there is a minimum requirement of either two years full time or three years part time study and formation required prior to ordination, and that is on top of evidence of several years of study and formation in courses for the laity of the church. When I arrived on these shores I was and remain seriously troubled by the practise of ordaining people to Holy Orders in the Church of Christ with NO prior training . . .

Now of course for some this may be a matter of little or no concern. The prevailing understanding of priesthood in the church seems to amount to little more than an ability to manage a church, or to be a generally nice person. Why begin my remarks with such illustrations as Pilots or Skydive instructors – there is no comparison! And I agree. However much the spirit of the age might have blinded us to this fact, and this is an age when the truth of the matter has been hidden from us, more than ever,  there is no comparison with pilots and skydivers, the vocation of a Priest in the church is immeasurably more significant, dangerous and responsible. (In a few moments I shall broaden my comments to include the life of the whole church, but please bear with me . . .)

It is 20 years since women were ordained to the Holy Order (a sign of my own immersion in the problem is that I first wrote ‘Office’), the Holy Order of Priest in the Church of England, in Bristol Cathedral. I was privileged to have one of those 12 women as my spiritual director. Christine had the insight that only comes from a priestly life, one dedicated to prayer, devoted to Christ, and more than once she revealed my sin to me, and the deadly peril I was in through my pride or some other aspect of my nature. To use a metaphor from our Old Testament reading, she showed me how I had been bitten by poisonous snakes and needed to look up for healing before I died spiritually.

Of course, as is true of any good mentor, Christine herself had an insightful spiritual director. And I remember, as a not so subtle teaching method her recounting how in a conversation with her spiritual director, having had a torrid time with her flock, she had commented, ‘well at least I’m not responsible for their Salvation’. Quick as a flash her director was back at her – ‘whatever gave you that Idea!! You ARE!’. Like on occasion Christine’s comments to me opened up the ground under my feet, this comment saw her stood over the deepest of chasms

Of course the idea that any of us is in some sense responsible for the Salvation of our brothers and sisters is to those of us who have grown up in a largely Protestant and increasingly secular atmosphere within the church – either a nonsense, or worse an anathema. We are more brazen than Cain – declaring ‘I am not my brother’s keeper’ ‘He is responsible for his own life!’, and we declare this before God. Given that state of affairs it is hardly surprising that we treat preparation for Priestly ministry with such indifference and carelessness.

And we all suffer as a result. The Protestant error is based on a number of wrong assumptions, but like many wrong assumptions, with a tincture of truth. In this respect the truth is a quite proper insistence on ‘The Priesthood of all believers’, but coupled with an emaciated understanding of what a Priest is. So that rather than all being Priests, ministering the Grace of Christ, one to another, confessing and forgiving sins, none are Priests . . . and thus neither are those who are so ordained.
This is the consequence of treating lightly something which is Holy. Another example might be the Rock star who stands on stage and loudly declaims ‘I love you all!’, in an instant revealing himself as one who loves no-one, except himself. I have to admit that in my earlier years I fell into this trap, announcing the priesthood of all believers and at the same time loudly saying that no one was called to be a priest . . . God has a sense of humour and I was the butt of the joke when my own call to ordained ministry came. Admitting to people before whom, indeed whom I’d taught that Holy Orders were invalid that I was called to such Orders . . . humble pie

The Church sets apart Priests, not to flatten or lower the vocation of the laity, but to elevate it. To remind us all of the Seriousness and costliness of our calling as the body of Christ. That God in Christ has chosen to reveal his Light to the World, to Save the world in and through the Church.
So, the Priest is the one who first must count the cost and then lay everything aside to be a disciple of Jesus, even if as often the case this finds him or her at odds with God’s people. Priests must understand within themselves and seek to reveal what it means to Carry the Cross, to ‘give up all their possessions’. It is why as the Church we have demanded so much of those who the church calls to Holy Orders – we don’t want to hear from the flight deck, ‘I’ve never laid my life on the line except in a simulator – hope you enjoy the flight!’. Lives are at stake in the very fullest sense of the word. For we are dealing with The Holy, with Life or its absence, with Death

And so as the role of the Priest is a Representational one, Representing the Life of the Community to the Community of faith – that the role of the people is revealed as of ultimate seriousness, for which we all need to be trained.

Jesus as he speaks with those who seek to follow him, again reminds them of the costliness of Discipleship. It requires Cross bearing, which means laying aside our own priorities for those of the Kingdom of God. Cross bearing is NOT that suffering which is the common lot of human kind, broken relationships, pain and illness and the rest. Along the lines of ‘we all have our crosses to bear’ – no, Cross bearing is a laying aside of our life to seek the Kingdom of God. God becomes the Centre of our lives in the sense that the meaning of our lives is found purely and sufficiently in his service. The Priest is to have no life apart from that of Discipleship. And Jesus makes this plain at the outset – this will cost you Everything you have – take note of that. This Journey of following him has a cost – don’t disregard the cost. Don’t find yourself some way down the track grumbling about the conditions of your life serving God, not your own desires.

But as I said, this IS about all of us. So again in former times, the church required candidates for Baptism to undergo three years catechesis, training, rigourous confession of sins – for the call of Christ would demand everything of you. It was only right to do this. Now it seems that in the church we baptise blithely and then spend years afterwards trying to show folk what they have signed up for and finding few are enthusiatic about the way they are shown. In a sense perhaps the emphasis on Priestly training might be because having failed to call people to count the cost at Baptism, the church decided that it couldn’t make the same mistake twice. ‘None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions’. Now as I said, it seems that here in New Zealand at least we are more than content to continue to make the same errors over priests as well – and thus the whole church suffers . . .

And of course in Lent we remember that Christ himself is tested – the Reality of his calling is tested by being sent into the desert, fasting forty days and nights, that he might be tempted of the devil and the reality of his heart exposed . . . and this forty days and nights mirrors the 40 years of preparation of the children of Israel in the wilderness prior to entering the promised land where they are to be light to the nations. Prior to taking up the LIfe of Christ, there is a counting of the cost

This strange story of poisonous snakes and the Bronze serpent can only be understood in terms of this testing of the vocation of Israel to be a light to the world. Having been adopted as God’s children they were now being trained for that which God called them to, to participate in God’s saving Acts – to be a visible sign of the life of God in the world, to share in God’s work of Salvation, to take the responsibility offered them by God. But they have not counted the cost. All too eager to be out from under the heel of the Egyptians, they pay no heed to what life in God’s service will mean and so they grumble and fiery serpents are sent amongst them. Like careless trainee pilots, they have lost sight of the horizon to which they are heading, they have not taken the call seriously, they do not see that they are engaged in life and death matters and so there are bitter consequences.

This is no story of a moody God who just gets angry and lashes out. No it is the story of God who so loves the world that he sets aside a people to be his vehicle of Salvation, who invests himself in living with them, showing them his Life, training them for the life he is calling them towards in ‘entering the promised land’. A people through whom one will be born who will bear all the sin of the world – a people whose vocation is to herald and reveal Him. A people who need to be trained, prepared, carefully taught all that it means  – all that it will cost. The cost is great for the very life of the world is at stake.

And as it must be where God is, it is a story of Grace. The people recognise that they have failed, sinning against the God who rescued them from cruel slavery in Egypt and so God commands Moses to make the serpent of bronze – which will be for their healing; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

And here to is Grace for us, for when we also take our eyes of our vocation to be God’s people, we too find that their are many poisonous serpents around us, the rapid decline of the church and many other signs of that – where will we look? There is One to whom we can look for our healing – our renewal.  just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Through the disciplines of Lent – may our senses be reawakened to the seriousness of our calling – our responsibility before God for our brothers and sisters and their spiritual condition. Let us give thanks to God for the training of Lent – may we in and through the Hikoi, our mission partners visit, but above all the simple yet testing disciplines of this season find our focus restored on Jesus Christ. The One in whose life we are all called to participate through the Grace of baptism.

Ordination Sermon

Sermon on the occasion of the Ordination of Jo Fielding to Priesthood in the church of Christ – PENTECOST 2013

Jeremiah 1:4-9
Psalm 33
John 21.15-29
‘Do not be afraid’

In a few moments time, +Kelvin will ordain Jo to the Sacred ministry of Priest, a Priest in the church of Christ. Priesthood only makes sense in the context of God’s people, And Jo, you may well look at the church today, and think ‘what on earth am I doing here??’ I hope you do.

One of the things that seems to pass pretty much unremarked in this well known gospel incident, where Peter encounters the risen Christ, is that Jesus refers to His people as Sheep . . . feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. It is all too easy to Romanticise sheep, but only someone with no experience of them can do so. It is an unpromising metaphor!

I have several shepherds in my family, English Lake District Hill farmers . . . – and from personal experience I know that there is nothing at all romantic about working with sheep. Sheep are ignorant, they are willful,  they require you at times to be up in the night at times risking life and limb to rescue one that has got into a jam, they are remarkably unbiddable, and above all they are easily scared by anyone and anything. Sheep are Full of fear, and although I have never myself witnessed it, there are those who say sheep run West every morning at the alarming sight of a strange ball of fire rising on the Eastern horizon

So Sheep is not a flattering metaphor for the people of God, but in that we are fearful, it is perhaps the truest. For of all human emotions, fear is probably the most powerful, the most prevalent and the one which drives so much of what we do, albeit usually at a deeply unconscious level . . . and the people of God are not immune from the human condition in this respect.

The OT in pretty much its entirety is a testament to the ignorance, the unfaithfulness, and the wilfulness of the people of God. Why are they unfaithful? Why are they willful? Why are they unbiddable – because they are afraid . . . But let us not deceive ourselves playing silly games over the uniformity of the two testaments. There is a remarkable uniformity between the children of Israel, the disciples, and the infant church to which Paul writes – a remarkable uniformity of . . .  well for want of a better word ‘sheepness’, frightened ‘sheepness’.

I had thought to begin this sermon with the parable of the talents and focus on the third slave – the one who is afraid – but of course to speak of ‘talents’ is itself an all too easy way to evade that primordial fear. ‘OUR talents’, so we tell ourselves ‘make us safe’. We may well think, we need a talented person. We need someone we can all take confidence in!! Send us someone to get us out of this mess!!

We also hear the cry in the church, Send us Strong leaders. Send us someone with a track record in growing the church. Send us someone to save us, for we are afraid!! And ignore what God has done. And ignore the gospel – that God Has Sent His only son into the world. It is an odd thing that the Church in its fear ignores Jesus Christ and the salvation he has wrought, and His promise to build the church.

. . . but don’t go feeding us the strong medicine of the gospel – don’t make us face the Living God. If we truly understood ordination, we might well say – whatever you do, don’t send us a Priest. Indeed the people of God in one way or another will always try to stop a Priest being a Priest

One of the key reasons we should require our priests to be faithful in the reading of Scriptures, is so that they are under no illusions about the people whom they are called to serve . . .

But, God be praised, the Scriptures are an even more consistent testimony to the long suffering God who has called them into being, who breathes his Spirit upon them, and who calls some of their number to the sacred ministry of a priest.

Some of their number. The other reason we require our priests to be faithful in the reading of Scripture is that they never forget, they too are sheep. Where does Christ look for shepherds?? Amongst the sheep, Amongst the wilful ignorant unbiddable and the fearful – ‘but I am only a child!’ Wails Jeremiah. Yes, the priest must also read the Scriptures to unmask her own tendency to conspire with the people of God – it was after all Aaron who made the golden calves and such ministry goes on unabated to this day in the church. No – Priests come from the sheep and they need to be alert to that.

There is a foolish tendency to imagine that the disciples ‘Got it’. That following the resurrection they were so brim full of the Love of God, the realisation of what the resurrection meant, that now Peter ‘gets it’ Now he understands. But the evidence of the New Testament suggests not. Peter, however boldly he proclaims the gospel at Pentecost  – is afraid of the implications of the gospel – as we read in Galatians 2, he separates himself from the Gentile believers – Aaronic ministry continued

And Jesus sees this in Peter – listen to His words. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ Peter, you weren’t prepared to lay down your life for me, and even at the end, after you have been following me however many years I choose, you will have to be taken unwillingly to die for the sake of my name and to glorify God. Peter, called to feed the sheep, is a sheep to the last . . . as the people of God, we’d love to see ourselves in a more favourable light, We are deniers of the truth – And Jesus reinforces the point – placing the one who denied him at the front of the line where we can all see him, if we but looked. Peter is chosen that we do not get above ourselves, that we do not think that it is about us and our skills, our abilities, our knowledge – Or even, and Peter is the best example of God – our ‘desire to lay down our life’. Peter is chosen to remind us that it is All about the Glory of God, as Peter’s death will be, and as I pray, your priesthood will be, Jo

Yet despite the overwhelming evidence of Scripture and the history of the church, regarding the church and its leaders – we still run away from it. The Spirit of Aaron is not dead. We may Romanticise the Priesthood, – and perhaps more so on a day like today.- Ah, the sacred ministry of the Priest . . . how Wonderful . . . Romanticism is utterly out of place – it is a horrible sign that we are avoiding Christ – that we do not believe – we haven’t looked the cross in the face.

And then again we run away as I have suggested by imagining that it is all about the competence of the one  called – I think on this second point it is instructive that those elements of ministry which are the strict preserve of the Priest, require no skill set whatsoever. Blessing the people, pronouncing absolution of sins, baptising, and presiding at the Eucharist. At the heart of Priesthood is something which requires nothing in terms of skill, learning, training, natural gifting – and everything in terms of giving yourself.

The Carmelite nun, Ruth Burrows speaks of the Christian life, that life which is focussed in the Priesthood, in these terms – It is as if we carefully craft a life – we work hard at it, we bring all we have to it and then – as if it were a most beautiful vase we carry it up a steep mountain to proudly show it to God, only to get to the top of the mountain and discover that God is not there, and that God is down the mountain, down a steep and perilous path, down somewhere we cannot see, and that we have a choice – we can seek after God, or we can stay on top of the mountain. but to seek after God requires us to lay all that hard worked, that beautiful vase, al that learning, all those skills, to lay them down. As a priest presides at the Eucharist, they do just that. Lay down all their skills, learning, accomplishment and risk themselves, entering the Holy of Holies, seeking out the living God – the one whom no one can see and live  – and what is more – to lead the people of God to that place. To pick up the Cross.

And so we run away, or to use Burrows’ metaphor, we stay in the light of the things we believe we can trust – we hold on to our skills or Romanticism, we strive to be Strong leaders precisely because we are running away from the Cross of Jesus.

God in his mercy is weakening his church, precisely that he might be its all in all – but we do not believe. We do not believe that death is the door to life – we are afraid precisely because of the Cross of Christ. Even though it is often on our tongue – we reduce the Cross to a metaphor, or a doctrine. ‘The Cross is about God’s Love for the world’ – a subtle means of romanticizing the Cross – or a doctrine – ‘God was in Christ reconciling himself to the world’ – Yes it is Scriptural, but it is also dissociated from the Reality of the Cross, which is a first century Jew, nailed to a piece of wood, naked, flogged, gasping and dying . . .

it is no wonder that the Church is always to be found running in the opposite direction, but in a few minutes we are going to Ordain Jo to hold the gaze of the people of God on that reality in ministry of Word and Sacrament to say ‘Behold, your God’- to embrace it in her life, and bid God’s people to follow.

Of course – like the prophet Jeremiah she may well say – Who? Me??

‘Now the Word of the Lord came to me’ – How fine that sounds – There I was just enjoying life and ‘the word of the Lord came to me . . .’
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, That’s nice 🙂 but we don’t follow the path of what is unfolding : before you were born I consecrated you; Hang on a minute . . .! Isn’t this something I choose??? I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’

Perhaps THE clearest sign that someone is truly called of God to the ordained ministry is that they are running like hell for the exit . . . At least it shows that they really have encountered the Living God . . . you realise that you may after all end up . . . like Jesus. [Another cause for romanticism – ‘Ah, you want to remind people of Jesus? You want to be like Jesus . . .???]

‘a naked, flogged, gasping and dying first century Jew, cruelly nailed to a piece of wood’ by whom? By the people of God’

As a priest you are to hold the crucified one before the eyes of the church. And we may well not thank you for it – so you need to hold it before your own eyes day after day after day. For this is the pattern of your ministry. People today may well wish you every success in your ministry – but what are we the sheep looking for??

What does success look like – ‘If only Jesus knew what we knew’ ‘If only Jesus had access to our skills our wisdom’ ‘If only Jesus got it . . .’ is the translated bleating of so many of the sheep

‘It is finished’ he said – and there was no-one there – there at the zenith of his ministry – the sheep had all scattered. There is Successful ministry – There is God reconciling himself to the world. There is The Priest

As a priest called to be with God’s people – your greatest challenge is that it will often be God’s people who don’t want you to follow that path. Who desire to be part of something which soothes our fears – something which makes us sure we are on the winning side – Like Peter they will say  “This must never happen to you . . .” Where have we heard this voice before??? Look! You need to turn stones into bread – here’s a book to show you how – Go on a course in “How to Throw yourself down from the Temple” – that will get the crowds flooding in – actually if you want, we can sit you at the feet of many who ‘for a fee’ can show you how you can rule the world . . . Just whatever you do, don’t turn us to face the Crucified one . . . Don’t be a Priest . . . be a manager, be a good pastor, be the sort of person everyone can admire and love . . . but don’t be a Priest. So today the Church also calls you to make vows – that you not forget that you are a Priest, to hold your gaze on the crucified one, and to promise to hold ours there also, even though we may not thank you for it, or indeed wish you success . . .

I said at the outset, that we might well look at the church today and think ‘Crikey’ – Actually perhaps there is no better time to be ordained – when all our earthly resources are spent, when all our attempts to save ourselves have come to nothing, perhaps when fear is at its height. When the vase we have carefully constructed is shown to be fit for nothing. I close with a brief thought, an image and a word from the Scriptures.

Firstly a word from the Psalms – Facing the Cross – confronting our weakness, the word of the Gospel is the same – ‘Do Not be afraid’. 18 Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love . . . to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. The Lord will deliver your soul from death, he will keep you alive in famine.

Then from my Tutor in Christian Ministry who when pushed to give a visual metaphor for the Priesthood said ‘The one Stood at the head of the line of God’s people at the Colisseum’ It is a picture of utter vulnerablilty and requires no skill, no gifting, just devotion to Christ – ‘Do you Love me?’ is the only question Jesus asks Peter. Not ‘can I trust you not to get it wrong again?’ Not ‘can you build a fine church for me’ – That is not what Christ requires of you – Jesus himself has promised to build the church . . . He asks ‘Do you Love me?’ That is Enough – That is Everything

Holy Saturday

There are times in Priestly ministry when its representative character is thrown into starkest relief. When Black and White lose any overlap. Life and Death is the Clear choice.

Today the church observes Holy Saturday. For many of those who note this day it is a day lacking a story. Jesus is dead. Easter is not yet. But that isn’t the fullest story.

‘He descended to the dead’ we recite in the Creed. But this is no passive slumber. No, today Christ is Harrowing Hell. The One who is The Word, the Alpha and the Omega, taking our last words and trashing them. The Living One is The Last Word.

Last week I was called from the slumber of a day off and bidden to follow Christ into a hell, to proclaim Life in the midst of Death. A young man, 20 years old had died by his own hand, and the church called me to step down into the Hell that this was for his family.

On Maundy Thursday I conducted his funeral – a church packed with young people few if any conversant with Christian faith, facing something that had left them utterly numb, facing Death, nothing else. With no other story.

As I waited outside church for the family I was forcibly struck by the contrast of attire. For all these young folk, Black was the only colour on display, from black dresses for the girls, black ties, and a shed load of sunglasses to hide from the fierce late summer antipodean sun. Despite the ‘modern’ predilection for avoiding death, for ‘celebrating a life’, there was no doubt in these young people’s minds, no hope. This was about Death. It was a funeral.

‘Contrast of attire?’ I was privileged to have as many years The Reverend Christine Clarke as my spiritual director. One of the first 12 women to be ordained priest in the Church of England, I learnt far more about Christian faith and life from her than anyone else over the years, by a substantial margin. The Wisest person I have ever known.
When as a callow seminarian I trained with Christine, I asked about the suitability of her funeral robes, white cassock alb and white stole. She said, ‘what else do we have to offer as Christians but the message of the Resurrection’

I have to say it took me a while to learn this, deep down. Then as a Good Protestant, this was way off my radar. I had learned that it was my job ‘to comfort people but not to give false hope’. ‘How can you proclaim resurrection if they weren’t Christian?’ How can you? How can one proclaim Life in the midst of Death?

But I have come to see that that is precisely what we are to do, to be the church, as a priest to represent the church, to follow in the way of Christ and boldly say ‘No’ to the narratives of death.

And so amidst all the black there I was, in white, the contrast all the sharper in the blazing sun.

Several people have asked me for the sermon I preached and I attach the text.

But I ask you to read it on one condition, that if you do so, you will join with me and the people of the church I am privileged to serve, in praying for the soul of a young man named Ross, and also for his family.

I know that for some of my readers this will be way outside your comfort zone, but this is where Christ bids us go. This is Holy Saturday. Christ Harrows Hell. Let us follow him boldly in prayer, for according to The Last Word even the gates of hell shall not prevail against us.

Today as we gather in this place to remember Ross, to pay our respects, to Grieve and to mourn, to share together in our confusion and pain and loss – we do not do so alone. We are not alone.

We meet in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We gather together as a community of people knowingly or otherwise bearing the image of the God who has created us and given us life, the One who is Community in and of himself, as the Christian faith asserts God is Love. And made as we are in the image of the God who is Love, then our lives are expressions of that Love in which we are made.

Put another way, as the poet John Donne said, ‘not one of us is a Island’, and your presence here today expresses that truth, not one of us is Alone, not one. However much the dark spirit of this present age might whisper to us ‘you have to stand on your own two feet’, ‘you have to be self sufficient’, ‘no one can live your life but you’ the presence of so many here today shows these are lies. If these things were the truth about us, then there would be no-one here today. If these things were true, then there would be no pain, no grief

It is close to impossible to find anything Good to say about the circumstances in which we meet, but perhaps if when we leave this place and go out into the world, we have learnt better to deny that life is about standing on our own two feet. To say ‘No!’ when someone tells us ‘you have to be self sufficient’. To know that leaning on one another bearing one another’s burdens is not an occasional necessity in difficult circumstances, but the very fibre of what it means to be human, that to be alive is to be deeply linked to everyone we meet – to know that we are never alone – to know that we are not self sufficient – to know that we are made to lean on one another – then perhaps Good may yet come out of this

All of our lives are inextricably linked. What is joy if not shared? What is Sorrow if not shared? What is Life if not shared? To be Alive is to be joined one to another, to live in mutual dependence, to need other people, and to be gift to other people – it is the meaning of our lives – that we are created By Love, In Love and For Love. It is the fundamental Truth of our existence – as your presence here today testifies.
And so I say to Ross’s family – you are not alone – you are held in Love. And here briefly I’d like to pay tribute to Ross’s close friends who have not stayed distant but I know have expressed such love and support to Ross’ family these past days – keep it up folks – we will contnue to need each other – it is what our lives are about.

And it is because that is the Truth about us, that our lives are inextricably bound up in each others, that there is so much pain today. Because Love is the foundation of who we are, when that Love is denied, it is as though the world falls apart.

We cannot make sense of what has happened. A young man has taken his own life. Yet Ross was so full of Life – happy, spontaneous, Kind,  the one who gave a running commentary on life and scrapped with his brother in the back of the car on long journeys. None of this makes any sense. He was so alive, he was and Is so joined to so many – his Life was not a life of isolation, no life is. This makes no sense – it is a deep contradiction of Life

None of us know why Ross did what he did – we cannot know and we are not here to judge. Speculation is hopeless and ultimately despairing and we need to turn from that. What has happened has happened, but the very fact that we are all gathered here today is testament that we are refusing to allow this to be the Last word about his life – that it is not the last word about his life. The last word is that Ross Is Loved. And that the pain and the grief and the searing loss we know here today, his family most of all, is a sign of that profound Love. Here on this terrible day, this day that no-one wanted ever to see, in the midst of the darkness and the suffering, the Truth about Ross is revealed in its fulness, He Is Loved. He is Held, He is not Alone, and neither are any of us.

And not even because of who he was, he was loved, he is loved purely because of his very existence. In all the stories that we have heard, in all the words that yet will no doubt be spoken about Ross – no words can in the end describe him, for Love is the meaning of our lives and we cannot express that, we can only know that it is the fundamental truth about each one of us.

We heard a moment or two ago the words of Jesus. To many perhaps these are words we have not heard before. ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me’.
In the midst of our Grief and Loss, we hear an invitation. These words of Jesus he speaks to his closest friends the night before he is cruelly put to death. He is telling them, tremendous darkness lies ahead of you – but there is one who holds you in the darkness. Love is the meaning of your life, you are held in Love – Trust in God, trust also in me.

Tomorrow is Good Friday, it is the day in the Christian calendar when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross for the sake of Love – and Christians live through this each year and we walk on to Easter Sunday, when beyond all human hope, Christ is raised from death. Love has the final Word. He is the Way and the truth and the Life – He is the meaning of our Lives made flesh – He is Love. And Love never fails

We do not have any resources in ourselves to go through these days – No! By the Grace of God who is Love and in whose image we are created, we have resources  amongst ourselves – we have Love for one another –  let us live and lean on that Love.