Jonathan Andrew's Sermon 13 August 2017



13 AUGUST 2017 – TRINITY 9

1 Kings 19:9-18; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

I must admit that the subject of the sermon I’m giving today is somewhat against my better judgement but, by popular request, I’m going to say something about what Jackie and I have been up to during our three-month sabbatical. Against my better judgement, I say, because I for one have suffered quite enough with clergy sharing their holiday stories – as a sermon theme it can be more than a little self-indulgent, and it’s certainly bit hard on those of you who’ll not be able to get away this year for one reason or another.

As a matter of principle, I believe it’s a good discipline to preach on the readings set for the day, rather than on whatever catches the preacher’s fancy, and so I looked hopefully at the lessons set for today:

At first glance, the Old Testament reading looked promising. Elijah’s on a journey, but unfortunately rather a different one from Jackie and mine – he’s running away from the awful Queen Jezebel and King Ahab after personally slaughtering the priests of the heathen god, Baal. Not really a close parallel to us accepting the Church’s offer of time off to refresh our batteries.

At first glance, the Gospel reading (the story of Jesus calming the storm) wasn’t much help either – we didn’t go on a cruise, so I’ve got no opportunities for homely anecdotes about sea sickness.

The Epistle for today is certainly full of meat, but unpacking Paul’s multiple Old Testament quotes, arguments and images might be better suited to a course than to a short homily.

But looking more deeply, perhaps I can salve my conscience by pointing out that Elijah experiences God not in the clamour of battle, earthquake, storm and wind, but unexpectedly in the silence, that the Gospel starts with Jesus taking time out to go up the mountain to pray, and that Paul stresses that God is very close to us, if we will but take time to listen.

You may recall that Martin’s sabbatical last year had an overall theme – ‘pilgrimage’. This involved lots of exercise (cycling up mountains) and visiting many cathedrals and other holy sites – he certainly crammed a lot into those three months.

Our approach, as you might have guessed, was rather different. Our overall theme was one of catching up with old friends and family – giving them the time and attention that a jam-packed parish diary tended to squeeze out. The sabbatical was structured around four main trips, but we allowed ourselves time in between, to digest what we’d done, and to enjoy our home, garden and grandchildren. Perhaps what we did not so obviously spiritual but, if given space, the Holy Spirit will make his presence felt.

So we started off with a real holiday –in the Alto Alentejo in Portugal. This is not tourist territory – very much the backwoods, hilly, sparsely populated and near the Spanish border. Historically it was very poor - smuggler territory. We stayed with a lovely 2

English couple in their villa B&B. There were no other guests while we were there so we were really taken into their home – not least with plentiful food and wine. We visited some amazing old unspoiled towns and did some long walks on which we met …absolutely no-one! On one of these walks we did, however, spot a poster that seemed to indicate that something special would be happening at the village church, and we learned from our hosts that a new, relatively young priest had been appointed to the parish and that he was making efforts to revive some of the local customs.

So, we trooped along to the church that evening as the people gathered. Soon it was packed with folk of all ages. There was no order of service, it was just assumed that everyone knew the prayers – in Portuguese of course. Anyway, the shape of the Mass was very much what we were used to so we had some idea what was happening, although the lengthy sermon went completely over our heads. We knew, however, that the Pope would be visiting the Virgin Mary’s shrine at Fatima in a few days’ time and it was clear that the evening was very much in her honour. Finally (after a second homily) the Mass came to an end and clutching lighted candles we lined up outside the church as the statue of Our Lady was brought out, and we followed her around the village while the priest led us in prayer and song. By the end, if we knew no other Portuguese, we did know the words of the Hail Mary! Why do I tell you this? Because it was such a privilege to join in the worship of another church – in some ways very different from ours, but in others very similar – the priest working hard to put his church back at the heart of the community, the procession very like ours on Good Friday – a bit disorganised, and with an unreliable sound system, but a real act of witness and involvement.

To finish off our time in Portugal, we spent a few nights in Lisbon, a fascinating city, with some amazing architecture, including our hotel – pure art nouveau, like a set from Agatha Christie’s Poirot. We visited museums, churches, cathedrals and just took in the sights, but it was at the airport as we prepared to leave that something slightly surprising happened. As one does, we’d stopped at the loos before checking in, just to get ourselves comfortable for the flight. The queue for the ladies was a bit longer than mine, so I was hanging around waiting for Jackie to emerge when a cleaner appeared, pushing his trolley. He said something in Portuguese, which I didn’t understand, but by dint of hand gestures I soon realised that he was asking me to pray for him. I’ve no idea whether he had a particular problem, or why he asked me, but perhaps he picked up something and, as I said a few words of prayer, it did no harm at the end of my break to be reminded of my priesthood.

Our trips around the UK were a real joy. By gentle stages we made our way up to Scotland and spent a couple of days with an old university friend, recently ordained as a minister in the Church of Scotland. It was the first opportunity for quality time together for over 40 years, but we simply took on where we’d left off. We visited the West Country and had the great privilege of attending the annual Jazz Picnic at Wells Cathedral School, where one of my Godsons is developing into a first-class saxophonist. We caught up with former members of this church (Pat and Bryan Ellis, and Bob and Liz Garnish, all of whom sent their love) and we had lunch with some of Jackie’s relations. Some of those we met were unchanged, some were showing signs of age, one or two were bereaved, and all the youngsters seemed to be growing into fine confident young people. As we enjoyed their company, it was lovely to feel how much the gift of our time was appreciated by them. 3

But as we enjoyed our time with others it was good to have the opportunity to spend more relaxed time with God – not just at that Mass in Portugal, but also, when we weren’t away, worshipping week by week at the little tin church of St George’s in Esher, only a couple of hundred yards from our home - with no responsibility for liturgy, preaching or any other duty apart from simply being there.

The one thing that I did the same as Martin was that I finished off my sabbatical with a short, four-day retreat at Alton Abbey, the Anglican Benedictine Monastery in Hampshire. It was good to have some quiet time, to worship with their community and to reflect on what I’d learned and what that means for the future of my ministry - but that’s a matter for another day!