Cathy Cox

Sermon, September 10, 2023
My last day at St Alban’s
Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 100, Philippians 4:4-8, Luke 11:9-13

Some of you will remember that I have told you to choose your funeral readings and hymns carefully because they will represent your final opportunity to witness to your faith. This isn’t a funeral, of course, but rather a joyous occasion of new beginnings for us all. Still, I am a word-person, as you know, and I care deeply about what we understand as well as what we love, and that we not be shy about either. And so I chose carefully.

You’ll remember also, if you were here twenty years ago, that when Dr Alex Deasley preached at my ordination, he took as his text the passage I have chosen for today’s first reading. I have never forgotten what he said, and I have kept these words from Isaiah before me for twenty years. And so I want to hear them again as I move into a new path – and I want you to hear them for yourselves on my last day with you.
Ministry has never been an exclusive function of the ordained. Your baptismal promises are sufficient. The gifts of the Spirit are not distributed to clergy any more than to lay people. The call of God is to each of us.

So I invite you to recognize honestly who you are, and who God is – and to acknowledge the difference. Isaiah said that he was “a man of unclean lips” who “lived among a people of unclean lips.” He knew perfectly well that he was not worthy of the vision he had when He saw God, “high and lifted up.”
And it terrified him. “Woe is me! I am lost!”
But the angel touched his lips, and he heard the voice of the Lord saying,        

“Whom shall I send?”  And Isaiah said, “Here I am.”
That’s the only answer you ever want to speak. You don’t want to tell God what you will or will not do, what you will or will not say, where you will or will not go.
Just, “Here I am. Send me.”
It doesn’t matter whether you are a school teacher or a businessman, a farmer or a welder. But you will certainly have an interesting and fruitful life if you allow God to send you wherever God wants to go: into a hospital room, or a Walmart or to a basketball game. And you will be sad to come to 76, or 96, instead of joyful, if you don‘t.

Then, from my beloved Paul, whom I hope I have also taught you to love, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”  Just do it. It’s not a matter of mood. And certainly it’s not a matter of circumstances. It’s matter of trust, of hope, of love. If God is really like Jesus, and if the life of the Risen Lord really is ours, there is a bubbling up of joy underneath every sorrow, every suffering, every doubt or confusion or irritation -or anger. Joy undergirds and steadies me. And when I do not feel joyful, I can pray a psalm, like the 100th that we just read together, and remember that despite what I see, “the Lord is good, his mercy is everlasting, and his faithfulness endures from age to age.”
And joy, like so many other essential things, comes from remembering what God has done in the past – for Israel, in Jesus himself, and through the lives of believers through the ages, and within our own congregation, in our own lives.
Joy reminds us that the Lord is near. That we do not have to worry. And the result of joy is simply this: You will find that “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Paul found that to be true. So have I. So have many of you. And keep your hearts full of truth and honor and justice, even when others around you do not; think about whatever is excellent, commendable and worthy of praise even in the midst of ugliness, deceit and cruelty.

Keep on asking, searching, knocking, again and again all the rest of your life as individuals, as a congregation. There is no end point. There is no time when you will have come to the end of God’s care for you, or to God’s eagerness to answer your plea for a fresh vision, a new mission, a reason to be hopeful – no time when God will slam the door shut in your face.
I do not say that any of this is automatic, or that it is always easy.
If you know me well, you know it has not been so for me. But it is the truth.

And so here are my words to you as we celebrate our final Eucharist together – and understand that I have no problem mixing metaphors:
Bake the bread of life. You do it. You don’t need a lot. You have all you need right now. A little yeast really does leaven the whole loaf. Don’t be afraid of your littleness.
Be the bread: “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven;” be the genuine food that every human longs to find.
Give yourself away: Nourish each other. And offer absolutely everyone the living bread that only you, individually and together, can give. Don’t look for someone else’s recipe to copy it.

Take time to discover your unique calling within the great, wide framework of the gospel and your baptismal promises. Just follow what you sense to be the way: and when you find deep joy, you’ve found it.  Don’t be afraid, either, if you discern multiple other side paths opening to you within the way. Be weird. Follow them all. They will converge again. Don’t limit yourself, each other, or God.

And be brave. Being a troublesome, difficult character or congregation isn’t at all a bad thing. And it isn’t hard to do. Walk at right angles to the world around you. And sometimes to the Church around you, too. Make sure that you offer both bread and joy to your opponents as freely as to your friends, but do not let them stop you from getting into good trouble.  Let the Lord Jesus be your close companion on the Way, he who is himself the Way.

And be glad.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; And his faithfulness endures from age to age. Amen.



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