Katherine Hedderly’s Final Sunday
A Sermon by Revd Katherine Hedderly
Readings for this service: Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Romans 10. 8b-13; Luke 4. 1-13
Well, when it comes to giving up something for Lent, I didn’t expect to be giving up St Martin’s. It’s a big ask!
Perhaps what I am doing today, with Loren, rather than giving up St Martin’s is ‘disembarking’. St Martin’s is a huge ship and I have been enormously privileged to be with you here over these last ten years, and we have found it a wonderful community to be part of, as we have worshipped and served God here together. It is very special to have friends and colleagues here today that have shared in ministry and in our life together, to wave us off.
One of my colleagues gave me a warm shawl in different shades of red and she said it was to remind me of St Martin’s cloak. The story of St Martin, tearing his cloak in two and sharing it with someone in real need, is in the DNA of this place. What I have come to realise is that we are that cloak – each person in this community, in your own way, our lives woven together, a sign of God’s protection, generous love, thoughtfulness and care – the fabric of Christ’s love in this place to be shared with all. It has been a complete joy to share in that together with you, to have our lives woven together, to experience that love and share that love generously for others.
We will take the warmth of that cloak as we go to the City and the ministry that lies ahead there at the church of All Hallows by the Tower and amongst the City churches. I trust that God will show us how to share the same love and compassion in a new place, with that new community.
At this beginning of Lent our passage from Deuteronomy reminds us to give the best of ourselves to God – the first fruits of our lives. We give back to God the things that God has given to us. For Israel it was to acknowledge that it was God who brought them through to a place of safety, and abundance. God had been faithful in his promise in Egypt and brought them out of oppression to a place of freedom and new beginnings. But it took 40 years of wanderings to learn to trust God and fully experience that great liberating love. A sign of that trust was to give back to God a part of what God had given them, to be shared at harvest time with those who were most vulnerable. These 40 days of Lent are for us days of trusting and knowing the promises of God and learning how to give the best of ourselves, not what is left over after we have spent our time and energy and attention on the distractions and temptations of our lives.
What does that tell us about God and our relationship with God? That it is all about Gift – God’s gifts to us and our gifts to God. Generosity is at the heart of God’s relationship with us, God gives to us fully in the life of Christ, nothing is held back. Lent can be a time for us to reflect on that generosity and abundance of God, and see how we can learn to give the best of ourselves to God in these weeks, in a way that will rekindle or set a pattern for us for the future. How can we be generous with our time, attention, our love, our gifts and abilities and prayer?
St Augustine, who is the author of the book that many here will follow for the Lent course, encourages us to reflect on God’s generosity by having empty hands. He says; “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.” Maybe that will encourage you make some space in your life, to let go so that you can have empty hands for a little while and see what God wishes to place in them. That is certainly a helpful image for me as I leave St Martin’s to be open to having empty hands, at least for a little while.
Jesus shows us how to live with generosity at the centre of our lives, when he was without, in the desert. Again and again he returns to that generosity in the face of the hardest temptation. Worship the Lord your God and serve only him, Jesus says. Live faithfully and generously towards God and it will lead you to life.
Worship, and serving, and seeking God are what this community is all about. And I am deeply grateful for the ways to worship and serve and seek God that I have found here and will always treasure.
I have learnt about the beauty of holiness, in creative liturgies, and beautiful music, in moving services where vulnerable people are honoured and supported; in the hundreds of people on Christmas Eve who fill the church several times over; whose eyes are bright and hopeful at what they have discovered here; in the rich stream of prayer, here in the morning, day in day out, honouring God in the ebb and flow of life at the heart of this city; in the Bread for the World community that gathers on Wednesday nights, as we have journeyed together and deepened our life in God – and through lectio divina – have listened to God and to one another in expectation of discovering more. Here we bow down and worship and adore. And it is best when we do it together as a community, and we are blessed by it. As we worship we are put in a right relationship with God, and with the world.
Together we have learned about serving God and loving and serving our neighbour. We serve best when we give our energy and skills and help and love and steadfastness, when we are outward focused and creative in the ways we build community together for those who are at the edge of society to find their place at the centre. I have listened to many people share their stories and worries and woundedness and prayed into darkness and despair and sought God’s healing and light and strength and blessing. And been surprised by God’s goodness in people’s lives and the rich deep steams of love that spring up unexpectedly, overflowing with hope and joy and delight.
It has been a privilege to share with the stewards in the hospitality of welcome, with the vergers in the many ways in which they facilitate worship, care for all who come here and keep this a place of prayer and encounter, with the chaplains in their prayerful presence, who in their conversations with visitors, open doorways into God. I have worked alongside many staff and volunteers on committees and groups and boards and our common life together. Seeing people through the appointment process and into new jobs, seen them grow and develop, their gifts and talents finding their place here. And in the senior staff I have shared with others in the oversight and operational aspects of St Martin’s. Serving God is also about budgets and schedules and the risk register. And I have been served too in countless ways, by your grace and patience and friendship and love and support and blessing.
Jesus gives us the pattern to follow to serve only God. For God to be the focus of our attention and love and faithfulness and trust. He lived in total obedience to God and knew himself to be God’s beloved.
Seeing people come to faith and prepare for confirmation as they make God the focus of their lives is like watching spring coming. And it has been a particular blessing to accompany some on the path towards ordination and be with the vocations group.
Ministering alongside my clergy colleagues has taught me about grace, trust, and steadfast love because I have seen that reflected in their lives at close quarters. There’s nowhere to hide when you work so closely together. (dear colleagues, this is the only chance I’ll have to ask your forgiveness for all the ways I have stumbled and fallen short of the love of God as I have served alongside you). But there is also nothing to shield you from the glory of God shining from lives that are lived for God and for others.
As we journey in these early days of Lent we are called into the desert, into the unknown, but into the ever-deepening love of God who draws out the glory in us, the best from us, the first fruits, which can also mean we have to face some of the harder truths about ourselves too.
Our response is to turn to Christ again and again, to re-orientate our lives in the pattern he has set us and calls us to follow – together, to worship the Lord our God and serve only him. As we do that we find God with us, God’s word is on our lips and in our hearts.
We go into the desert because we respond to the call to be where Jesus is.
We go with empty hands but hearts turned to God, full of thankfulness and love and praise. And that’s how I (together with Loren) will leave St Martin’s today – full of thankfulness, and love, and praise – going to worship God and serve only him. Thanks be to God!
 Augustine of Hippo, City of God