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With unveiled faces

Sermon preached at the ordination Sue and Alison as priests.

St Michael and All Angels 28th September, 2020.
Holy Trinity, Westward Ho! Exeter Diocese.

 

 ‘… we have such a hope, we are very bold.
[for] We with unveiled faces are seeing the glory of the Lord …. displayed in the face of Christ.’  2 Cor 3.4-5,12-18&4.1-7

I notice that preachers are among those officially allowed to not wear masks.
Clearly it is believed that nothing dangerous or infectious is ever caught from pulpits.
So it means you can all relax. This sermon is completely harmless.

 

There’s a saying – ‘Life is what happens when you are making other plans’.
God’s call is like that too actually. Ask Sue and Allison. And perhaps that is one reason why this business of Christian believing, ministry and doing church rarely seems to happen in ideal circumstances.
But we need no reminding of that as we gather here … the masks, distancing, number limits, live streaming, hands nearly webbed from endless gelling – and ever-changing guidelines from an uncertain government in the face of an uncontrolled pandemic….

And here we are, in the midst of all this, because we are compelled by a faith that this traumatised world can make little sense of.

We are here because of God.
We have no other reason.

There was a question near the beginning of the service that always catches my attention.
Bishop Jackie asked Sue and Alison – ‘do you believe God is calling you to this ministry?’
Is it just me? – it always feels a bit late in the process to be checking this out.
But Christian faith is public faith – something explored and tested, over many years – is now for declaring out loud.

This is a service of loud ‘Yeses’!

The question used to include a significant phrase. ‘Do you believe – so far as you know your own heart – God is calling you’?
I wish that phrase was still there.

You have not been asked
‘Do you know it all?’
or ‘Can you fix all this?’
or ‘Our Archangels are all furloughed – do you think you
can cover for them?’

It is not your certainty you are asked for.
It is your trust.

It is your  ‘yes’ and your continuing willingness to walk a particular way of faith that is always beyond us – our own strength to achieve, our own understanding, even beyond our sight.

And your trust in the compelling call of God who knows what he is about.

Thank you for your ‘yes’ to God today. We are very grateful.
And to your ‘yes’ we will soon be adding our ‘yes’.
But our combined yeses are but an echo of God’s own ‘YES’ – to you, to us, and to his world.

Sue and Alison – you are here because God wants you to be here.
And so are we.

One of the greatest pleasures in my life at the moment is when I can take off my mask – outside church, or in the Tesco’s car park. You know the feeling. After feeling breathless, confined, hot and vaguely anxious and off balance – it’s that wonderful moment when I can turn my face to the fresh air again, breathe deeply and freely – and see more clearly too as my glasses de-mist.

This is our message:
That God, through Jesus, has unmasked himself to us.
It means that in this world there is always a face that is turned to us – open, without threat, anxiety or social distancing.
It is a face of love … it is the face of the unseen God revealed to us in the face of Jesus.
And that means there is somewhere we can take off our masks and coverings – all our attempts at protection, misguided self-images, anxious hiding, best intentions, confused identity, fears of exposure or infection …
There is somewhere we are truly seen, known, welcomed and loved for who we are.

Someone put it like this …
‘Jesus’ face is what ours is supposed to look like, if only we could be as human as God. Our faces are a series of masks that we try on and discard, always searching for the real ‘me’, always looking for the face that will make others love us or fear us, and all the time getting further and further away from the face we were made to mirror, the face of Jesus … How many different masks we seem to think we need – masks that make us powerful, invulnerable, beautiful, feared, acceptable, some that we don’t even know that they are just masks. But the irony is that without these masks, we are made in the image of God.’ Jane Williams.

Christianity does not offer itself as another philosophy or theory to agree with – it comes to us as an unveiling.

Christianity is a religion of faces.

Our faith is found in a turning.
We say it at our baptism – ‘I turn to Christ’.
As we turn our face to him – we find his face already turned to us. It is all mutual.

‘We with unveiled faces are seeing the glory of the Lord …. displayed in the face of Christ.’ (2Cor 3.18 & 4.6)

It has been suggested that when we finally see the face of Jesus, in heaven, we will recognise him.
Rather like those times you pass someone in the street, or see a face across a crowded room – and they seem terribly familiar but you can’t remember why or where. ‘I’m sure I‘ve seen them before somewhere’.
We will recognise the face of Jesus because all our faces are found in his. He was present in every searching and turning of our lives together in love however fragile and fleeting.
No story wasted, no struggle unknown or ignored, no tears uncollected, no hope left abandoned – there is somewhere we are held and known and loved – face to face.

He is the unmasked, un-distanced, presence in your life and mine
A lost image is being restored.
In his face we find our own.
He gives us back to ourselves.

This is our message: we can trust to Jesus the mystery of who we are becoming.

All committed relationships involve the vulnerability of living under the constant gaze of another, daring to trust ourselves as loved and accepted for who we are.
Learning to live without masks.
The journey of faith is no different.
We are held in the steady, secure, unveiled gaze of one whose love is true.
The response of faith is to return that gaze.
Just that.
There is no longer any need to hide.

Sue and Allison

this is the heart of your priesthood,
that you turn to Christ
that you live full face to God
and so live
full face to the world with Christ

And this is our vocation with you.

To be communities without masks
A people of bold and improbable hope
With faces turned to Christ
and faces turned to the world with him …
telling of the unmasked, non-distancing love of God …
to a world desperately in need of good news.

Thanks be to God.

 

Offered in joyful gratitude on the fortieth anniversary of my own ordination to priesthood.

David Runcorn   Sept 2020.

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