Thanks to Bishop Clive for his permission to reproduce the sermon from my licensing:
The Licensing and Installation of the Revd. Ali Chesworth, as Vicar in the SWITM @St Francis.
Monday 28th June 2010 ( Eve of SS Peter and Paul)
Reading I John 4.11-21
It’s been such a lovely day and it may be the heat, but I had the notion this morning of wanting to see St Francis from the air – Sheila and I discussed this. And short of one of us ascending in a hot air balloon with a camera, the safer solution was to generate a close up from a Multimap. And it’s just amazing – look , even from space you can see the church car park, inspect the roof, and spot the team rector, who from above looks quite different. No I’m only joking about the last bit.
What it does show to any aliens looking at this part of Ipswich (with a view to a vacation) is a planned community for human habitation: roads, housing units, of course, but also facilities like schools, nursery and play group buildings, local police office (right next door – what are they expecting us to get up to?) doctors and pharmacy (next door on the other side – are you feeling alright?) for our physical health, a pub for entertainment, (the night life of Ipswich you’ll discover rivals that of Glasgow – there’s a good bash in the Church Hall afterwards). From up here you can see a shop, well for shopping, and wait for it, no less than three churches: The Catholic Church next door but one, the Methodist Church just over there, and St Francis church and its hall. These human beings certainly know how to live, and are well organised for community.
In John’s letter, part of which is our reading tonight, chosen by Ali, we are introduced to the community of which we are part – the community of the love of God – created because of what Jesus has made us, one in him. ‘We abide in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.’
The themes of believing in Jesus Christ, obeying his commandments (the ground rules for living God’s life in the world) and in that wonderful phrase ‘abiding in him’, are what make the church the church, whether it’s Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic or Episcopalian! Believing, obeying, abiding are what binds us together. And John in his letter (a gem of a letter it is) John in his letter sweeps us up in a great hymn of praise to the God who loves us: listen: ‘Beloved, since God loved us so much we ought also to love one another.’ Job description, mission statement, and purpose in life all in one.
That is what the church is becoming: the community of those who know they are loved by God, and who therefore love their neighbours as themselves. The community of those who can’t help loving their neighbours as themselves. A community of love like this, like yeast, salt and light in the world, (as Jesus put it,) is here to work with God in making community. That means where people meet there is no room for fear, hatred, prejudice. But a place where Christ dwells, which has a quality and depth of relationships. You can see it in our worship, in our conversation, in the lives we lead, and in our service to the community. ‘They will know we are Christians by our love.’ How we live literally shows what God is like, and has the potential to bring many others to faith in him. A joinable welcoming community that is growing. That’s how God sees us, ‘from above’ as it were. This is what we are born for ‘in Christ’ born from above as Jesus said to Nicodemus. The very life of God within us as a community: God who sees all, knows all, and loves all.
!958 this community was constructed – and this church opened – to serve the growing community of the Chantry Estate (a religious allusion there?) Basil Hatcher, otherwise distinguished for his work restoring Chelmondiston Church after the bomb fell, was the architect. And it is very much the style we call Festival of Britain – there are similar churches all over the UK – simple in construction, not without problems after a few years life (this building is ten years younger than I am, so I have some sympathy with an ageing contemporary that does not have a thatched roof.) It has become something of a treasure, well lit from the sides, people like coming into it, an open sanctuary, and don’t forget the simple chapel of the Holy Cross, a tranquil place. What is best of all, and many a church in Suffolk would thank you for, is the connection, under cover, with the good and capacious hall, much used, the venue for all sorts of community events. (You know all this, but just appreciate it: because I tell you the Archdeacon and I go to some Suffolk village churches where the heart sinks when they tell you loos and refreshments are two miles away up a dark lane in the village hall, and there is limited parking.)
When you look ‘from above’ it all seems so obvious now, what the architects and planners were doing: marking on the ground in their buildings that church and community belong together, the one dwells with the other, alongside and in, and part of the fabric. It also showed, even in the fifties, each denomination had equal value and presence: room for all (and that’s quite something). Building a new community was a bold venture; places for Christian worship in those days did not have to be fought for in quite the same way as now, by deals with developers, but were planned in. (I believe St Peter’s land was gifted by the landowner for the church there – right?) Churches were thought to be vital, as vital as schools, police station, shops and pubs. O.k., in a way, we can see now where the idea came from: go to any flourishing village and you might find most of those, except the police office, but not so neatly positioned for community.
Ali, and Alan, you are in the midst of receiving a Suffolk welcome – it will go on weeks. Church, community, diocese, deanery, and lots more, as you will find out towards the end of our service. For the next few months, it will be a roller coaster ride of new names, and new experiences, and the funny ways of Ipswich, Suffolk, UK. And you will wonder about Church of England ways and you will ask your colleagues, what on earth did they mean by that? And you will struggle as we all do to find the right page, let alone the right book. Scots people have loved Suffolk over the years, and been welcomed here: many farming families in Suffolk, their grandparents anyway, came here from Scotland in the last century (must be the better weather; better land, lakes, mountains, heather, distance from Glasgow) – and when you see farms in Suffolk countryside surrounded by Scots pines, you know the Scots have been this way, in peace, sowing seeds from back home – mainly as wind breaks to stop their soil blowing away.
John’s letter reminds us of this: that we will value the diversity and gifts of the people of the team churches, and of this community and its huge potential for good, if first we have each of us been drawn into the very life of God. The love of God, is literally ‘for us’. This makes all the difference to our relationships with each other. Love here is not some abstract or sentimental attribute of God: the NT doesn’t anywhere say Love is God. It does say God is love! Love is the very life of God, how God is and will continue to be, and into whose life we are drawn, because of Jesus. This is what makes the fellowship with the Father and with Jesus: the life death and resurrection of Jesus made present in our lives through the Spirit. Love is what God is, and what God does, and will continue to do until the end of the world, and then more!
To abide in this love, to let our roots grow down into this love, means that we don’t have to struggle to love people – (struggle to like some of them, yes). Love is what we do: because of what God has done in Jesus Christ.
This means when we look our neighbour in the eye, when we see the stranger, and welcome them into our community, we see Christ himself, we see them as God sees them, as someone loved, and beloved, to the end of the world. This means that as we love, God is building the community of the love of God through us. This is what the church is, and is why, even in this day and age, the church, and the quality of its life and witness, is so important and part of God’s purpose.
Working with God building the community of love means there is no room among us for the enemies of love: fear, jealousy, or rivalry, or hatred, or gossip, or doing each other down. ‘Perfect love casts out fear’, writes John. When we abide in God who is love, then there is almost literally no room in us for things which contradict love, for the love of God is broader than the measures of our mind, as the hymn says. Of course, none of us is anywhere near that perfection in love, but occasionally in our lives we see it in others, where life is so filled with the love of God that there is no room for anything which contradicts it.
Ali, I forgot to ask you, but I guess you chose that reading, because it contains a lot of what you would want to say and do in your ministry here. That ministry will be alongside others, that’s built in hereabouts, team work, in this church, in the churches who are your neighbours, in the people you will meet, in the strangers you will welcome in Christ’s name, with colleagues in which you are a partner as vicar, and in the world in which we are all brothers and sisters.
We love one another, because God first loved us: and then comes the astonishing thought, wait for it, God lives in us. A community of love alive with the very life of God for the world.