Last year was the 200th anniversary of Church Schools. The theme for the service held in York Minster to celebrate that event was Looking back, looking forward, looking up. It seemed to me that that was a fitting focus for us today.
We could easily spend the next ten minutes looking back over the time Brian and I have been in Filey, at the events we have shared as a parish and the personal contacts made, but we’ve all probably done that anyway.
On the other hand we could look forward and consider the next few months until the next incumbent arrives. But we’ve done that too - I’ve concentrated recently on what it means to be a united, loving, Christ-centred church. So that leaves ‘looking up’.
Now I realise that some of you are here because it’s my farewell service; you’re here because I have touched your life in some way. That is so very humbling and lovely and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart, but if I were to leave things on that level I would be doing you a disservice. Because the reason I may have helped you, indeed, the reason why I came in the first place has very little to do with me, but everything to do with the one who sent me.
Anything I may have learned and been able to share comes, not from any unusual goodness in me - I’m no different from anyone else, even though I wear this most of the time (speaking of dog collar.) Ask Brian, he has to live with me!
I’ve been quite indulgent when I put this service together and I have included some of the songs that have meant a lot to me over the years. The verse I chose to begin this service is one I have tried to put into practice - to lift Jesus high, to give Him the glory for everything, to point people to Him, because it is only through Him that we can know God and understand how all things fit to-gether and fall into place.
Until I went to Teacher Training College, I thought like many that to be a Christian was merely a matter of trying to do as much good as possible and to live a morally good life. It wasn’t something that impacted much on the way I lived 6 days out of 7. Then I met a fellow student called Janet. She and another girl went to a Baptist church and were often asked to sing at various functions. One of the songs they sang was ‘For me to live is Christ to die is gain.’ And it didn’t make any sense to me at all. Not the ‘dying is gain’ bit, I could grasp that when a Christian died they went to heaven, but the ‘for me to live is Christ’ bit baffled me.
Janet and I talked a lot over that first half term and she explained very simply that to be a Christian is not a matter of just trying hard. It is having a relationship with the living God. Wow! Although I’d been going to church for a couple of years or so before I came to college, I’d never heard anything like that before. How could any-one have what boils down to a friendship with God? It didn’t make sense. So she explained very patiently that the world is in a mess. The mess it’s in is be-cause human beings have rejected God, and gone their own way, so instead of living as God intended, selfishness, hate, corruption, and greed have resulted in wars, the break-up of society, poverty and the ruin of the planet.
It would have been easy for God to just leave us all to it, but because He loves us, He decided to do something about the situation. Now He knew that because we had broken His law of love, He couldn’t just sweep our sin under the carpet and pretend it never happened. That would not have solved anything. The problem of our sin would still be there, and not only is God the God of love, He is also the God of justice, and it is only fair that wrong-doing is punished. We echo that in our laws, there is something within us that screams out for justice to be done. That’s because we are made in His image and we instinctively know that certain things are wrong.
But we are all incapable of putting things right ourselves, and the awful truth is that we are all under the shadow of sin, for not one of us has ever been able to be perfect all the time. So there is a great gulf between us and God, and we are not able to cross over it to reach Him. So God in His compassion did something. He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ to take our punishment on Himself. He paid the price for everything we have ever done wrong when He died on the cross in our place. We deserved God’s wrath, but He didn’t. By dying for us He offers us a way out. But we each have to do something about it, like a gift offered, we have to reach out and take it, otherwise it will never become ours.
So my friend Janet explained that I first needed to acknowledge that I had done things that were wrong. No problem, I knew full well that I was far from perfect. Then to ask God to forgive me. She told me I needed to thank God for sending Jesus and to accept His sacrifice on my behalf, asking His Spirit to come and live within me, so that for me to live was Christ living within me. When any of us do that we are a new creation, we are reconciled to God and it is no longer we who live, but Christ within us.
This is what I have tried to preach, I’ve laboured at it because it is so important. Because one day, Christ is coming back to earth. Not as a baby as he did the first time, but as a mighty King. Every one of us here will stand before God, and He will ask, ‘What did you do with my Son? Did you accept Him or did you reject Him? And if we have rejected Him, then we will be separated from all that is good. There is a judgement coming, and when it comes I long for each of you to be able to look God the Father in the eye and say ‘I accepted Christ as my Lord and Saviour.’ It’s never too late, even if you in your stubbornness, have turned your back on Him. It’s not too late.
Every day is a fresh beginning with God and He longs for us to be receptive to His Holy Spirit’s gentle voice. So don’t put me or anyone else on a pedestal, reserve that honour for Jesus. And may each one of you, dear, dear friends know the peace and joy of the God I love and serve and have sought over the years to commend to you.
Now to Him who is able to do more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3: 20)
Mary (Final Sermon in Filey Parish)