This morning we’re starting a series on John’s gospel, and Lydia and I are also saying farewell…
It’s been wonderful to meet you these last few years, and we’ve loved being in the neighbourhood. Just as we’re moving out of the neighbourhood, St Johns invites us to think this morning about God moving in. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us – or as the Message bible puts it, God became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.
St John is saying that ‘Jesus’ is what it looks like when God comes to meet us. And it’s not very dignified!
Jesus told a story about God coming to meet his people- the story we call the Prodigal Son, with a Father who runs with open arms and open heart, casting aside his dignity to meet his wayward child and welcome him back into his presence.
The image of ‘arms and heart opened wide’ is one we have in our Eucharistic liturgy as well- Jesus opened wide his arms of love upon the cross- he cast aside his dignity to die in shame, naked and disgraced.
That’s what St John says it looks like when God comes to meet us. God is ready to throw respectability and pride out of the window, because that is what you do when you’re acting in love. God was born in poverty and died in disgrace- and thought it well worth while for our love.
This love is the life that is the light of the world, and the light of all humankind. St John is suggesting that if we can put aside our respectability and pride, our barriers pretences and suspicions, if we can open our arms and our hearts WIDE, then we will find ourselves living eternal life, life in all its fullness. We’ll find ourselves living the life of heaven, here on earth. Just like the Prodigal Father, and just like Jesus.
‘Like it or not, heaven is other people. Did you think it was God? You are right; but it is God in people, just as it is God in you.’ John.V.Taylor
As Lydia and I have moved into your neighbourhood and met you, we’ve discovered that St John is right! We’ve learned to see God- to see heaven- in you, as we’ve opened ourselves to you.
So I’d like you to have the chance to do the same! God came to meet us, let’s go meet each other.
[BINGO TIME! – a break to play “Human Bingo”]
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…’
Our world can seem full of darkness, but every bit of that darkness can be overcome if people do what we’ve just been doing. Meeting each other. Just like God came to meet us in Jesus Christ. That’s very simple, but it’s also very profound and true.
As we leave, please will you carry on doing this- mixing, meeting, breaking down barriers and creating friendship and love. Then your life will shine like a light in the darkness.
Meeting you- in all your diversity and craziness!- has been the most invaluable lesson for us these 3+ years. Thank you and we love you!
* * *
A short thank you address on behalf of the Church of the Ascension, by Trevor Donnelly:
I’m going to keep it really, really short
I’m just going to begin with a quote, end with a prayer and say very few words in between…
Rowan Williams spoke to a group of people preparing for ministry and he talked about the things that destroyed ministry, the greatest enemies of doing God’s work:
“Now these three abide: laziness, anger, and fear—and the greatest of these is fear.”
There’s something profound for us all to think about there, but I realised that Heston and Lydia do not need that advice, in fact their work across the team has showed the very opposite:
- hard work
Heston has worked tireless and with commitment that puts myself (and pretty much every minister I know to shame).
As his training incumbent my advice was never to “do more” but rather to maybe take more time for himself…
My personal vote of thanks has to be for the time I had to fly off to Belfast at very short notice.
I would phone him on a Saturday night and ask him to take the service at the Ascension on top of a service at Holy Trinity and St. John’s and I was greeted with a “no problem, do what you have to do. I will be eternally grateful…
Heston and Lydia have great confidence – confidence in the people of our Churches, confidence in you all, confidence in the power of love to change lives and confidence in the Gospel…
I have a few small tokens of thanks from your friends at the Ascension, which I will give in a moment.
The people of Leeds are lucky indeed.
I end with a prayer by John Henry Newman, although it is written in the first person, add you ‘Amen’ to make it your prayer too:
God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this world. But I shall be told it in the next.
I am a link in the chain. A bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do his work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments.
Therefore will I trust him. Wherever, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him.
He does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about. He may take away my friends, he may throw me among strangers, he may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me… still…
He knows what he is about.