Sermon for Halifax Minster on Sunday 7 July 2013

The Revd Christopher Woods, National Worship Development Officer

Louis Vierne, the end of 19th/start of 20th C French organist and composer, with whose beautiful and sumptuous music we praise God this morning at this Festival Eucharist, did not have an easy life. He was born virtually blind, but at the age of only two was recognized with the extraordinary musical ability. He had the great fortune of being tutored by excellent French organist maestros and managed to secure the best organist position of the time in continental Europe – Notre-Dame de Paris. 1900-1937. Vierne had spiritual, emotional and physical difficulties, much of which would have caused any great person to give up, but he had a steely determination to praise of God through composition and performance. All of this is expressed and apparent in his musical work.  He died at the organ during a live performance. The textures, flourishes, lilts and sonic experiences never fail to touch the depths of even the most hard-hearted of us, even if we would find it hard to admit it.

The beautiful and fairly obvious lesson about the life of a composer such as Vierne, is the God-given talent which shines through despite all the frustrations and hindrances which life throws at us. Vierne was lucky – he discovered his God-given talent at a young age and never let God’s spark which was burning in his life disappear once it was discovered.

What is your God-given gift and talent? Each one of us has a talent, some have several talents, and many of us do not discover them until we are much older, but God has bestowed upon each one of us the gift of life and within that life there are sparks of talent which we can offer as gifts to others to help human communities flourish. We just have to recognize them, unlock them and help each others unlock them.

And this is crucial: to help others unlock their God-given gifts so that their life and the lives of others might flourish.  And this is in many ways part of the great task and commission which Our Lord gave to the seventy in the Gospel reading this morning – Go on your way..I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves…Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there and say to them, “the kingdom of God has come near to you”.

In sending out the seventy (which is a symbolic number), Jesus is entrusting us to share the great gift of faith with the world and to tell them through actions, words and talents that the kingdom of God has come near to you. God through Vierne’s music and the splendour of the liturgy is encouraging us to recognize that the kingdom of God has come near to us. Jesus taught his disciples, he made sure they were prepared before he sent them forth. It is the Church’s task to do the same for all of us. And that is why we come to Church. It is the supreme reason why we come here on  a beautiful Sunday morning like this rather than stay in the garden and sunbathe.

Because it is in the liturgy and worship of the Church that we are given the strength and courage and wisdom to share our talents and our faith with others in the coming week.  It is at the altar when we receive the body and blood of Christ himself that we are anointed afresh to go into the world and live the life which God has called us to live. It is when we are blessed and told to Go in Peace to love and serve the Lord that we are given again the call to go out in to the world and tell others ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you’. We might be rebuffed, we might be laughed at, we might be ignored, but that is part of the risk. We take the rough with the smooth, but one thing is certain – God is holding us in the palm of his hand.

The contemporary Church might easily claim that the passage in today’s gospel is the mandate for mission, and that is true, but that word has become clouded with a lot of baggage, and in actual fact the word mission comes from the act in the liturgy itself which i have just mentioned – the Dismissal – the sending out – Go in peace to love and serve The Lord. It is from this passage in Luke that we are tasked with the the responsibility and calling to be sent out, to go out into the world, encouraging each other and supporting each other along the way. Jesus did not send just one person out alone to share the gift of faith – he sent many out together. So as we go into our separate lives later today, may we remember that we are together, bound together by the love of God in community to fulfil the task of sharing the beauty and mystery of God with others.

The language which Luke attributes to Jesus – sending out like lambs into the midst of wolves is rather battle hardy in an attempt to prepare us for the trials and bruises which we might sustain along the way. Nothing which involves sharing something of ourselves for the sake of others and of God is going to be an easy ride or plain sailing.

And there in a sense is the link between our talent and the mission of the Church – that nothing beautiful is ever without some small amount of pain or sacrifice. If we think about that a little more deeply and perhaps reflect on our experiences or the experiences of others whom we know and have known, whom we admire and have admired, we know it to be true – there is a cost with Christian discipleship. But in the end that can only add to the overwhelming joy in sharing our talent and our faith with others, because they will then know the measure of that sacrifice too.

And today here in the Minster you are celebrating the great talents and gifts of music, theatre, art- all of which are a great gift which unlock the beauty and mystery of God for the world around. But what is it all for? Is it to simply enjoy the talent for its own sake, or is there more to it than that? Surely it must always be to know this: ‘The kingdom of God has come near’?


Readings on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

2 Kings 5: 1-14, Galatians 6: 7-16, Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20