Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Final Prayer; "Good Bye"

The Final Prayer; “Good Bye”

We have now come to the end of my time with the good people of St Paul’s Church in North Andover. As you prepare to receive your new priest Sarah Kelb, so now you and I must prepare our hearts to say Goodbye.
To say “Goodbye” is not to say I’m leaving; it is to ask a prayer.
Look at the word. Study its etymology; its source and derivation. It comes to us from an older English word which we can trace back to around 1470AD; the word is “Godbwye” or to spell it out; it means:
It does not mean I’m leaving. It means “God be with you”. It is my prayer now. Like the time I left David or Michael at their college dorms, knowing that never again would it be the same, just like that time driving those many, many miles home again with my eyes full of tears; as I said to my sons, whom I love with all my heart, so now I say to you; “May God be with you.”
This is my prayer as we now come to this last Eucharist. We have shared many a chuckle, and many a perplexity, and a few tears. All of which is called life. I have likewise come close to some of you, yes even in this short 9 months together. I came to serve here as your “Bridge” priest for a period of perhaps 3 months. As the time lengthened, it felt to me that I was becoming more of a “Causeway” kind of priest than a “Bridge” priest
So too, I must say to you one and all; “Goodbye” which is to say, I pray for you in exactly these terms; “God be with you”. 
But let me hasten to add what I mean by that as the gathered of God in this place today; I mean this:
 God is love
You must love one another with all your hearts, all your souls, all your mind and all your strength. That is who God is. God is Love. You cannot say you love God unless you love one another. And if you want to love God, then begin by loving one another. 
Note that the scripture recognizes the many difficulties in the business of love. In the first lesson we heard how the whole congregation of Israel complained in the hearing of God. There’s the smoking gun; complaining in congregations is nothing new. But God did a wonderful thing. He sent quail to give them meat to eat and in the evening and in the morning he sent “manna”; literally “what is it?”. As the children of Israel gathered the “fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground”, they said to one another “what is it?”. Since that was what they said as they gathered it up each day, that was then what they ended up calling it; “What is it!”
In our own time as we are fed and nourished by the Eucharist each Sunday we might ask ourselves the same question; “What is it?” Is this the body of Christ? Is it a symbol of Christ’s Real Presence with us? Is it focused on the Bread and Wine, or the Scripture, the Prayers of the People, the moment when we come to the altar rail or when we leave the church to make a better world? Is it in the entire mystery of gathering and being sent out again? God feeds us today as he did the children of Israel long years ago with Manna in the wilderness. 

In today’s Gospel we also heard of the Landowner who went out to hire laborers to work his vineyard for the day. They agreed on the wage for the day. But when he went out a little later on at 9 o’clock in the morning he found those idle in the marketplace and he sent them out to work the vineyard too. So too he went out at noon and three in the afternoon; and he said “What are you doing standing around here idle; go into the vineyard and get to work!”. Then again as the day was drawing to a close, he sent yet more workers into the vineyard at 5 pm. And when the time came to be paid, beginning with the last hired, he paid them all the same wage. This parable does not please economists and certainly flies in the face of sound business practice. It pleases me because if it were up to me I’d put every idle teenager in the inner cities and rural areas of this and all countries to work. Idle hands make for mischief and loss of hope. Loss of hope makes young people the targets of those who seek to do harm through crime, drugs, and extremism and terrorism…but I’ve already said that more than once.
But this landowner, in the imagery of scripture, who does he represent? Perhaps God? This vineyard often represents Israel throughout the imagery of scripture and certainly does here. The folks standing idly by, that be you and me unaware of how urgent a matter it is for us to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God. And the pay at the end of the day of course, is it none other than the Kingdom of God itself? 
It is the business of the love of God. “What is it?” we might ask might ask with the Children of Israel as they gather the “What is it?” that God provides. The business of God’s love gets turned upside down in unexpected ways as the first sometimes come in last and the last sometimes come in first. How do we make sense of it all?
“Its complicated”, as the movie might say. I know its complicated. Love is complicated. Forgiveness is almost incomprehensible and impossible were it not for the presence of God in our lives. But then loving God with all of our heart and soul, and mind and strength...that takes everything we’ve got. And loving one another takes a little more. So get on with it. That’s the work of the people of God; to love one another. This is our “liturgia”, literally, the public work of the church. There is plenty of work to do in God’s Vineyard. 
Blessed Paul the Apostle puts it well of our work in the vineyard in today’s Epistle; “Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” 
Therefore you must love God. You must therefore love one another. Oh and, one more thing, you must love your new priest too. Just to make sure I go on record; you must love your new priest with all your heart all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength. Got that?
And Goodbye. Remember what that means? It is a prayer; how does it go?
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Paul

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