Rebecca conducted her first communion in the parish on Sunday at St Mary’s Avington. It was a delight for all of us and I hope for her also.
The preacher was Revd Stephen Hudson the vicar of All Saints Wick http://www.allsaintswick.org.uk/ and had been invited because he had been Rebecca’s vicar for many years and that Rebecca had lived at the vicarage for a while. It was an immensely proud moment for him to see Rebecca ministering as a priest. As he was retiring in January after 25 years as a priest he felt that he was passing on the baton.
He turned to look at the reading Jeremiah 28:5-9.
Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD; 6 and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the LORD, and all the exiles. 7 But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. 8 The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9 As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet.”
Stephen asked what we thought was going on in this reading. During WWII on 13th May 1940 Churchill made his first speech as prime minister. He said, “I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs – victory in spite of all terror – Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival”
Was this merely a stirring speech? No. It was realistic.
Could it have been prophetic?
As the German armies swept into France, Winston Churchill worte: “I felt as if I were walking with destiny and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial…I thought I knew a good deal about it all, I was sure I should not fail”. All his life had led him to a sense that he would save his country in its time of trial. God had raised up a saviour like the Judges in the Old Testament.
What about now?
England has strayed a long way from God’s plans – would God save us today?
What if someone had suggested that in the 1940s ‘The Germans are God’s punishment on England and we should surrender’. Well this is exactly what Jeremiah was saying in his time to the Israelites.
Another prophet Hananiah spoke differently – he told the people of Israel that all the gold and silver from the Lord’s temple would be brought back from Babylon and would be well – that the exiles would come home and everything would be fine. But Jeremiah had another opinion – Jeremiah 27:16-17
Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, Thus says the LORD: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are prophesying to you, saying, “The vessels of the LORD’s house will soon be brought back from Babylon,” for they are prophesying a lie to you. 17 Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon and live. Why should this city become a desolation?
In other words – Hananiah was saying what people wanted to hear but Jeremiah was speaking God’s word however unpalatable or non politically correct. No wonder Jeremiah was thrown down a well!
Today is Rebecca’s first communion as a new priest. What is she here for?
Firstly, she has been sent by the Bishop to preach God’s word – and Anglicans desperately need this. She is commanded in 2 Timothy 4:2 to preach the word of God. “Be prepared, whether the time is favourable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke and encourage your people with good teaching”
It can be uncomfortable (as in Jeremiah’s day) to hear God’s word. In Hebrews 4:12 we read “The word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires”
But we should hear the word of God as it build us up. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:8 “I may seem to be boasting too much about the authority given to us by the Lord. But our authority builds you up; it doesn’t tear you down.
In 1 Timothy 5:17 NLT Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
But Rebecca, remember 1 Peter 5:1-4 NLT “and now a word to you who are elders in the churches….as a fellow elder, I appeal to you:care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Don’t Lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never ending glory and honour”. Rebecca, learn to love these people with all your heart.
In yesterday’s ordination service 1 Corinthians 1:26-27: “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”
Rebecca is not perfect. She is just starting out on a different life as a priest. She is not your vicar. She is not here to run everything/do everything/organise everything. Dont expect too much and encourage her.
Make her ministry a joy – Hebrews 13:17 NLT “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly be for your benefit.”
And today’s gospel reading is relevant also:
Matthew 10:41 “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward”
Listen to Rebecca – even if she is wrong
Care for and encourage Rebecca
Send her to her first parish filled with optimism and love.
As heard by Revd Alex Pease