All Saints’, Ryde

2nd Sunday of Easter, 11th April 2021,
with the Licensing of the Revd James Percival
as Interim Priest in Charge

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-end

Sermon – the key

May I speak in the name of God…

In the first verse of our gospel today, the disciples are meeting, and the doors of the house are locked because they are afraid.

I was given this set of keys by our churchwarden on Thursday.
This is a key I was given early in my time by the churchwarden in Limpsfield, my previous parish. It arose from a rivalry with Kathryn’s grand mediaeval church at that time which had an even bigger key!

But the great thing about this Church Key is that it is actually…a bottle opener. One of my closest friends, Matthew, Vicar of Whitkirk in Leeds, coined the phrase for beer as ‘grace in a glass.’ And may I particularly recommend this fine Welsh ale, called the Rev James after the 19th century minister who brewed it.

Shutting and opening, locking and unlocking is a crucial theme in our gospel this morning.

Keys can speak of power and control. But Jesus unlocks our worldly sense of power and fear and offers the gift of the Spirit, the wind and breath of God.

I hope that our church in my time here will be a place where we can experience the breathing of the Spirit afresh: a place of gentleness and healing and grace.

We hear from Acts of the great grace upon the early church. In case we are tempted to romanticise the early church, remember they also had big arguments – we read, for instance, of sharp disagreement and separation in Acts 15. The great grace comes through generosity and sacrifice.

Great grace is free but it isn’t cheap, it’s costly. Alongside the pressures of the pandemic and lockdowns on us all, and alongside plenty of energy vision, leadership and new life, I know there has also been a serious breakdown of pastoral relationships here over the past year. And I want to acknowledge that people have hurt others, and been hurt.

But we need now to begin to look forwards. Forgiveness, like grace, is a costly thing.

Like Thomas – who has a bad press as ‘doubting Thomas’, but through his courage in finding out for himself is also the first disciple to declare to Jesus:
‘My Lord and my God!’

But with the help of God- and especially the help of the crucified and risen Christ, who shows his scars to the disciples – I hope we can begin to look forwards together. This will take time – so it will help us to remember that, though our Easter faith and hope can sometimes be expressed as a single blast of triumph, actually Easter is a whole season unfolding with fear and uncertainty amidst the glimpses of glory and new life.

Can we give space for the grace of God to open the way forward for us together?

Only 10 days ago, at the Last Supper, Jesus gave us a new commandment, that we love one another as he loves us. This can be much easier to say than to do.
We may need to acknowledge our own need and brokenness: as Jeffrey John put it, to allow the church to be ‘a hospital for wounded and joyful sinners being made whole.’

I think it’s part of our human nature – certainly speaking from my own experiences! – that we find it much easier to recognise the sins of others, rather than our own. We find it much easier, don’t we, to recognise when we have been hurt or wronged by someone else rather than when we have hurt or wronged someone else.

That can bring anger and fear and pain in its wake, causing the doors to lock. What can God do with this?

The scarred and risen Jesus comes among his people through the locked door and breathes the gift of the Holy Spirit, the comforting, challenging, reconciling wind of God which we all know something about.

And in the prayer that Jesus gave his friends when they asked him how to pray, which we will pray together again today, notice the challenge to us to start the other way around to the kingdoms of this world. The other way around to our worst selves.

As we pray ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done’, we begin not with the faults of others, but our own:
‘Forgive us our trespasses’

Then God’s grace in meeting our need with compassion enables us to meet others with the same:
‘as we forgive those who trespass against us.’

This is also sometimes much easier to say than to do. But this is our calling as followers of Jesus. And at the beginning of this new chapter for All Saints today, with the new life of Eastertide among us, this is a good time to renew our commitment to living in this way with one another. This will also help us to build on the work of decades, and the past year, in our witness to the light and hope of Christ for all those in our parish and beyond.

Thank you to all of you who, in so many different ways, have sustained the life and witness of All Saints to this day.

I hope that living in this way with one another may soon involve ‘grace in a glass’, or indeed a cup or a mug. And isn’t it true that, if we can share a drink together, of whatever description, we are closer to God than when we find that impossible to share?

When I went to my first clergy conference, 16 years ago, in the diocese of Southwark, I remember a speaker saying to us:
“I’ve got a radical idea for all you missionary clergy, how about this
…open your church and pray in it!’

And that’s what I intend for us here – to open the doors and to pray here. You are welcome to join me. Listen out for the bell if you’re nearby. When I am here, usually on a Thursday and Friday as well as a Sunday, and at other times as we grow our ministry team, we will open the doors and pray. Please be assured of my prayers for our whole parish and all whom we serve.

With the help and great grace of God, and the Spirit of the risen Christ among us, may we be a blessing to one another, and to others as we pray again,
‘Thy kingdom come.’

May this be the key that helps God to lead us on in our time together.