Sermon: Dedication Festival, Holy Trinity, Gosport

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I have been revising. Honest. Last week, Bob kindly provided me with this excellent pamphlet by Chris Wade which has given a marvellous insight into the wonderful history of the parish. If you havn’t read it, may I highly commend it to you. If you have, perhaps you might like to purchase a second copy to send to someone as a gift: I am sure the parish funds would be grateful of this!

I noted with great interest that Fr. Capper and I shared a common heritage, both of us having been formed for priesthood at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield. Perhaps that explains why I love being here with you so much.

It is important, in this 311th year of the Parish of Holy Trinity that we reflect on what we want to achieve, built upon the past and looking towards the future, drawing upon the riches of our Catholic heritage, but proclaiming the ever-present, vital Gospel of Christ.

I found a re-working of a most famous passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which, although not written with my church in mind (nor yours for that matter), certainly struck a few chords with me, and challenged me in such a way that I must share it with you.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I enjoy the beauty of holiness in the glories of Anglican Catholicism, but my building remains locked, that building is a Congregationalist chapel and not a parish church.

If I listen to the music of Mozart, Handel and Palestrina, but close my ears to the gospel, I am an aesthete and not a Christian. If I travel ten, twenty, thirty miles to reach the church at which I feel at home, but do not take my church and its prayer home with me, I am a spiritual tourist.

If I swing a thurible with all the precision of a guardsman drilling, but let that become my priority, it is not God that I am serving at this altar.

If I pride myself on the fact that my sermons are filled with Greek and History and obscure bits of Hebrew, but I do not give a helping hand to those who think my church is highly bizarre, then my intellectual life is stuck fast.

If I can fill my pews with visitors summer after summer, but have no organised system of welcome and greeting to all who arrive, then I am become a tourist attraction myself. If I take comfort in increasing numbers in an age of declining churches, but have no space for children then my church has no future.

If I proclaim boldly from the Gospel book words of Christ’s love and yet look down upon the needy in my community, the elderly, the homeless and the addicted at my gate, then I have not truly let those words into my heart.

If I give myself weekly to God for two whole hours, throwing myself with enthusiasm into the liturgy, the singing, the preaching, the scriptures, but no consequence of this flows over into the rest of my life, then I am deaf to the call of Christ.

That call is patient, and persistent. It is not strident, or overbearing; it does not ask that which we are unable to give. It is gentle, insistent, wheedling; creeping beneath our defences and our securities, challenging our confidence in that which we have known and that which we are desperate to preserve. It is encouraging, and daring, pressing us softly but firmly to go the extra mile, to try the new thing, to open our hearts, our minds, our doors to all the radical love of God, to the self-sacrifice which roots our lives in the life of the Trinity the Holy Trinity to which this church is dedicated, the Trinity itself.

This Church is a marvellous testament to the faith of the people of Gosport, over the centuries and today; but the Church is not this fine building – the word used in Scripture for the Church is Ekklesia from which we get the word Ecclesiastical, and that simply means a gathering of people.

You are this Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles, the people of Gosport, with Christ as the headstone. This Church, it’s next 311 years and its mission is based on YOU, what you will do – not just what your parish priest will do – for Fr. Andy cannot do the mission of this church on his own, but is YOUR task.

Oh you may say, we are so few, the task is so great, we are so old, so infirm, so under-confident, so new in our Christian journies to undertake any missionary work; but my dear friends, that is what the heart of the Gospel is about – to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others who need to hear it, not necessarily to speak clever words, but to be.

Your best missionary work takes place on street corners when you encounter young people with a smile, as you open the door for a laden-down young mum, when you sit with an old person on a park bench and when you make someone homeless a cup of tea. St. Francis is often quoted as telling his followers to “Go and preach the Gospel, using words only when you have to”.

You are this Church, you are part of a continuum for the past 311 years and you hand it on to the next generation. Filled with his blessed sacrament and his most precious blood, you are sent out, as missionaries in this land.

Go. Share. Believe. Be Strong.

In his name, conquer.