This week we celebrated the installation and collation of Jerry, the new Canon Residentiary at the cathedral. Us Anglicans like to use long words do we not! To put it another way, we welcomed a new pastor to the church in the town centre! After the uplifting ceremony there was fried chicken, and chocolate cake, and wine, and it was a fun party. One of the cathedral members, seeing the wonderful and abundant spread of food, turned to me and asked, “Perhaps we should go into the streets and invite people to this banquet?” She was, of course, referring to one of Jesus’ parables, and it struck me that this is exactly why Jerry, I, and the other ministers are here. We are not simply employed to tend a flock or keep the show on the road. We are called to proclaim the message that everyone is welcome to the Lord’s table — everyone is welcome in the Kingdom of God.
The following morning, I led worship with a small group of wonderful women in a church hall. The first Bible reading set for the day was about how one of Jesus’ apostles, Peter, was led by God’s Spirit to minister to a bunch of people that were, at the time, considered outsiders. God was welcoming them into his kingdom, and Peter, realising this was part of God’s plan, shared with them the wonderful message of Jesus. The outsiders became insiders. The strangers became friends. The non-members became members. Then, when it came to our second Bible reading, the reader accidentally read the incorrect text, and instead of reading the set reading for the day, she instead recalled the part in John’s gospel where Jesus exhorts his disciples to “love one another.” It could not have fitted better with the first reading, and you do not have to be Einstein to figure out what God was and is saying to us!
Our churches should be places where heaven and earth meet. There is the lovely juxtaposition of the cathedral in all its splendour and glory — its impressive stained-glass windows and stone turret rising skyward — and then, down below it The Marketplace. Both buildings serve a purpose; both buildings serve the people; and, importantly, church can happen in both places. Ministry can happen in both places. Worship can happen in both places. The Spirit of God is not limited to those places that we consider sacred or holy. The message of Jesus is not just for the people that gather in the cathedral, but for everyone. It is a message for the marketplace, and for the streets.
If there is one thing I have learned about the Spirit of God is that the Spirit is always outward-looking and always looking to the interests of others. God is, in very nature, love, and love is always embracing, including, and welcoming. Us church folk may, at times, restrict our encounters with God to certain places and times, using special words or ceremonies, but God cannot be kept in a box. It seems that whenever we think we have God nailed down, he surprises us with his all-encompassing love. That evening, at the cathedral, we did our churchy thing inside the four walls. We said special words. We sang special songs. We dressed in special clothes. Even I, to the shock of my colleagues and friends, managed to don angelic white robes and a black preaching scarf for the occasion!
Then, after the ceremony we moved outside to share the food and drink, and there, at the banqueting table, was another symbol of a meeting between heaven and earth. For, between the cathedral and the marketplace, governors and bishops stood alongside the homeless and those without titles, a pertinent reminder that the Lord’s table is for all. In God’s eyes we are all equal and all his beloved children.
I hope you will join me in welcoming Jerry, his wife Marjie, and their dog, Cadbury, to Bermuda, but more than that, I hope you will pray with me that they may be blessed as the cathedral community seeks to serve the businesses, organisations, and people of Hamilton. And may we, too, be reminded that God’s heart is for those outside the church, and may we be open to God being a God of surprises. Amen.