Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Evensong 2nd August – Farewell to Julia – Mike French

  • My first thought is that it has been a long time since I was standing here. On my cassock, the belt has been let out a notch or two. Thank you for inviting me. Having accompanied Julia in various ways on her journey over nearly 20 years, I’m grateful to be here as she moves on in her life and ministry, and also to appreciate the marvellous music and the special worship of Evensong.
  • You may not know that Julia, Colin and Sally, and Sarah and I share a common love. It is the love of rabbits. Our rabbits, George, Billie, Bertie – some of whom have actually preached here in Holy Trinity in the past (and Bertie has sat here near the altar for Evensong on occasions) – have often gone to stay with Julia and the family, and all the rabbits, in the colonie de vacances in Ambilly.
  • So it was a disappointment to me that none of this evening’s Bible readings made any mention of rabbits. I looked, and there was a mention of Benjamin in the Psalm, and I thought maybe Benjamin Bunnie, and then “hast thou then broken down her hedge … and the wild beasts of the field root it up and devour it,’ and thought maybe it was a reference to the Flopsy Bunnies getting into Mr MacGregor’s garden. But no.
  • It’s not the only thing I struggled with in the readings. All of them contain something which jars a bit.
  • Bible passages – sometimes we use them to justify our worst traits. Now, it’s important to remember that just because you read it in the Bible, doesn’t mean you copy it. The Bible is not like that : it is the record of the journey of a people with their God. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they miss the point.
  • Whatever, we have to engage with the Bible : it is central, we don’t ignore it. It draws us in, grabs our attention. We then hold our lives – our experience of God, and the world and how it is – up against the light of what we read there, and explore the affirmation (at times), the dissonance (at other times), the disagreement (even).
  • That is the journey of faith : not a simplistic following the instruction book, but a grappling, an exploring, a working through, until we come bit by bit to glimpse hints of God, and of how we relate to Him/Her, and therefore how we can live our lives.
  • And as we sift and dig and sometimes struggle with texts, even if they jar a bit, behind it all we must never lose sight of the nature of God : a God of Love, Beauty, Truth, Hope, Grace. Forget that, and each time you read a difficult passage (such as some of those this evening) you may get drawn into supposing that God is harsh, judgmental, arbitrary, cruel; or all in favour of ostentatious wealth and excess; or that Faith is about whipping people into line ; or whatever.
  • But read the Bible remembering that God is Good, Loving, Creating Beauty, Breathing Hope into creation and into You and Me, and you will see passages for what they are : the record of a journey of people trying to figure out what this ‘God’ is all about, and sometimes getting it right, and at other times missing the point.
  • And so it is with our passages this evening, and I think there is something in the dissonance that they throw up which gives useful pointers for someone like Julia as she continues to pursue her ministry, and for all of us too.
  1. Grace
  • If there is one thing I’d like you to remember it is this (though I know it will actually be rabbits) : Grace. Remember advice I was given : preach Grace, not Judgement. You’ll find you will tend to one or the other. Easy to get drawn into judgement (rules, formulae). God is not that, Faith is not that. God is Grace – freely given, Love, Hope. Preach Grace, not Judgement. Believe in Grace, not Judgement.
  • In our Psalm, it is one of those typical laments (‘God this is awful – why do you hate us ; why are you cruel, punishing us ?’) One might suppose that God is these things, cruel, vindictive, judgmental. No – these are the struggles of a people in pain crying out to God. We will all live through pain, minister to those in pain. Through it all, God is good, loving, full of Grace. Believe in Grace, not Judgement. And when you preach, preach Grace.
  • As we heard in the anthem just now : preach Grace to « the poor … the broken-hearted … the captives ; preach Grace in the Hope that God is caring for the earth to bring forth her bud, and the garden to cause the things that are sown in it to spring forth »

2. Graciousness

  • In the passage from Acts we see Paul. Paul : love him or hate him. Actually he is loveable, a man of action, passionate. Here we see him reprimanding, castigating, cursing. It jars a bit.
  • There are some phrases which – might I suggest – you don’t borrow from Paul to use with the good folk of Chelmsford 🙂 For example, maybe it would be better not to address them as « son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy » and – just a suggestion – perhaps better not to strike them blind just to make the point 🙂 Whatever the people of Chelmsford may be like, I sense that may not be tactful …
  • Maybe it was appropriate at that moment, I don’t know. But it jars a bit. These days, and especially for Julia in the ministry you are continuing, choose instead Graciousness.
  • There will be times when you will face bitterness, manipulative scheming, whatever, and want to be blunt, brutal even. Choose Graciousness instead, and let Grace delivered with Graciousness be the thing that overcomes bitterness and hardness.

3. Generosity

  • … and what about Solomon in all his glory, with his wisdom and prosperity and lots of happy wives and servants, and gold and spices and precious stones, and servants and food and valets … ?
  • and showing it all off to the Queen of Sheba (and we know about the rumpy-pumpy those two got up to don’t we 😉 ) and good luck to them and why not …
  • and is all this a sign that God favours ostentatious wealth ? And the answer is ‘No’.
  • But it is a pointer perhaps to another kind of overflowing abundance, which is that of Generosity. Generosity of spirit, of being, of allowing others to be, of breadth of vision and of comprehension of all the foibles and riches of humanity, and the beautifully tangled ways of the world, and – you will know – the equally tangled ways of the Anglican church. Approach all this in a spirit of Generosity …
  • There you are then : Grace, Graciousness, Generosity. Hold onto all those, and you won’t go far wrong
  • … throw in a bunch of rabbits, and you’ll be home and dry 🙂
  • … Chelmsford is going to love you …