A photograph of St Salvador’s, Stenhouse as I first saw it. The hall to the right has since been demolished, and the trees across the road have now been replaced by flats.
Today was my final Sunday presiding and preaching at St Salvador’s church in Stenhouse, and I really felt quite sad about it, to be honest. I shall miss that community.
This was my final sermon there:
Year B – Epiphany 3 – St Salvador’s, Stenhouse
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 — “Final Sermon at St Salvador’s”
As St Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth: “Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short…” (1 Cor 7:29)
It is almost three years since I arrived back in Edinburgh, and our Ministry Team was established. At the end of April – in about three months’ time – my appointment here comes to an end. This morning marks my final Sunday preaching and presiding at St Salvador’s. Next Sunday the whole team will be here at 10:00 am to formally mark my handing over of responsibilities to Nicola.
I shall still be around for the next three months, mostly looking after things at St Ninian’s, Comely Bank during their period of transition in ministry – I don’t like the word interregnum because it literally means “between rulers”, and I don’ t believe that priests are rulers, we’re servants. But I will also be here to preside at some of the mid-week services.
There is probably a lot that I could say about my time here, about the things that I wish I’d done better – and that perhaps we as a team could have done better; or about the things that I’ve learned, about myself, about the Church, about God. But I simply want to say thank you for your love and support – thank you for the community that I’ve experienced and been allowed to belong to here at St Salvador’s. I will certainly take something of you into whatever I do next.
What will I do next, beyond April? To be absolutely honest, I don’t know. I’m still praying about it, still trying to hear what God wants for me next, still pushing doors and testing waters (and metaphors!). But so far it seems clear to me that I need to move out of full-time stipendiary ministry, at least for the time being.
I feel frustrated that the Church is in a state of decline. I feel frustrated that it appears that the institutional Church’s response to this state of decline and loss of membership is being addressed and governed more by accountants and lawyers, than by theologians. I feel frustrated when I hear Churchmen saying “We can’t do that because we can’t afford it!”, rather than allowing our faith in the God of miracles, who came to earth and walked amongst us, and showed us that in God anything is possible – even being raised from the dead! I feel frustrated when I hear excuses instead of vision.
Step out in faith
I feel encouraged when I go to Church conferences and listen to people saying that the Church needs to get ‘out there’, to be alongside the people – but frustrated that when we get back to our parishes we sit back and say “Yeah, but not yet, eh? – I’ve got too much to do here first.” I feel that – for me – the only way to do that is to take the plunge and get ‘out there’. The only way is to step out in faith and see where God leads me. Which is a scary prospect, but also an exciting one.
In some ways it sympathize with Abram who was instructed by God to leave his comfortable, secure and familiar life in Ur and go.
“Where?” asked Abram.
“Just follow me,” said God, “I’ll show you.”
There is something about that in our reading from Jonah this morning:
The word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord … Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth … When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
(from Jonah 3)
Not so simple
Simple, eh? God says, “Come on Jonah, off to Nineveh with you, and proclaim my word.”
“Sure!” says Jonah, and off he trots. Jonah preaches the Word, the people listen, repent, turn to God and God blesses them. Job’s a good ‘un! (Well, Jonah’s a good ‘un – Job’s a whole different ballpark of worms!) … er, no!
It’s a shame that we don’t have much more than that in our lectionary, because the book of Jonah is a powerfully rich story – and not a very long one at that: four chapters. Read it in your own Bibles when you get home today. Jonah was one of the first complete books that I translated from Hebrew while at college. The story is filled with drama, with tension, and with humour – and my version was also filled with errors, but we’ll overlook those! (You should have seen how my version ended!)
Jonah is a nothing story if [all that we think] is that God sent Jonah to tell the people of Ninevah to repent. So he went and they did.
Why bother? This story is high comedy. It’s a parable told by a highly skilled story-teller who gets the Hebrews laughing at poor hapless Jonah until they find they are really laughing at themselves … If we [read] this story skillfully it can have us laughing at ourselves, at our bigotry, our xenophobia, our pride.
(Ralph Milton, Midrash email group)
What’s it all about?
The book of Jonah is about the struggle we have in following God:
“the message of the whole book is about selfishness [about how we often do things for ourselves, rather than handing ourselves over to God]. Jonah was concerned only for his own skin and his own country, but God is bigger than that. [God] is concerned for all the peoples and nations of the world. [We as] Christians also need to remember that God isn’t our personal genie who is only there to make things run smoothly for us and our friends. He is concerned about everyone – even our enemies – and our job is to work for Him wherever He calls us.”
(Jonathan Brant, Downloading the Bible: OT, p.106)
I don’t yet know where God is calling me; I don’t know where God is calling you. But I do know that all He asks is that we keep listening to Him, and keep trying to be obedient to Him.