Easter 6 Acts 10: 44-48, 1 John 5: 1-6, John 15: 9-17 10.05.2015
“You did not choose me but I chose you,” was a favourite verse of my dear friend and mentor Robin Smith, a priest of this diocese. It’s quite a confronting verse for people these days who might think that I’ll decide my involvement in the things of God thank you. And here we have Jesus saying that he chose us, we didn’t choose him. We did choose to respond, however, to his initiative. Robin used to say that it was a very helpful verse for clergy, in particular, because we can say, if you chose me, you got me into this, so when I mess up I know you will be there to help me clean up, because after all you did choose me! Remember! We love because God first loves us…
We are chosen, indeed appointed to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. At the AGM last week I spoke with you briefly about some thoughts for the future of children’s ministry in the parish. Bearing fruit among children and new believers is how we demonstrate our discipleship. We are called to bear fruit that will last. Fruit that lasts needs to be both tasty and genuine.
For fruit to be tasty to children it has to be simple enough for them to grasp and pertinent to their needs at their stage of life. However in its simplicity, it is vital that it is not contradicted later. (So no Father Christmas stories.) Yet children can understand analogies, like the Good Shepherd, for example. There was an Italian woman called Sofia Cavalletti who along with others developed a Catechesis for young children based on the Good Shepherd. They did that because they discovered that the Good Shepherd was both an attractive entry point for children which contained the full depth of the Christian faith, indeed all that is essential.
Children can realise that the Good Shepherd knows the sheep by name, and that the sheep can learn to recognise the shepherd’s voice. When the children come to understand who the Good Shepherd is and who the sheep are they gain some deep knowledge that draws them towards friendship with Jesus. They realise Good shepherd also searches for us when we are lost and brings us home. Those of us who have been on this journey a while will most probably have experienced that. We also know that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his friends, the sheep because he loves them and we begin to realise how the whole paschal mystery relates to us personally and as a community.
It follows then that the Shepherd will lead the sheep to the good pasture. It is a short leap to realise that this is what is happening when we gather for Mass. A celebration of the Mass is a celebration of the New Covenant. The words of the liturgy convey this but so do the actions of the priest. In the epiclesis we call on the Holy Spirit and the priest’s hands come down recognising the initiative of God in the incarnation. The elements of bread and wine mixed with water are from God’s creation and they have been formed by human hands are consecrated and become for us the body and blood of Christ. When these are raised at the end of the prayer we are offering to God our praise as our part in the covenant.
These things are the basis of fruit that lasts. That fruit, that discipleship, is founded upon a deep and sure conviction that there is a God who loves us abundantly and personally no matter what. Everything else about our faith is commentary on that. As we grow older life throws up other issues that need to be explored, and in their time they must be, because every age and stage has its particular questions.
I think all this is so important that I am exploring the possibility of starting the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in conjunction with the after school programme at our school so that our children can be offered fruit that will last so that they might come to abide in God’s love so that their joy may be complete.
When we come to worship there is really only one thing to learn, and it doesn’t really matter how old or young you are, or how experienced or new or learned you are. That thing is how to worship God. We are here because God first loved us and we learn how to love God through liturgical worship. We come, eventually, to realise that our whole life is worship, not just the times we spend in liturgy. In the rest of our life we worship God by loving our neighbour, by seeking for justice, by caring for those in need, in short, by proclaiming the good news Jesus Christ. In the Covenant we are blessed by the love and grace of God and our part in gratitude is to be the hands and feet of Christ, indeed his body, in the world.
Children also need to learn how to worship so that is why we are using the term Children’s Church to underline that. This means that the children are having a liturgy of word and prayer in parallel with us. They will be hearing the Gospel; they will be reflecting on it and making prayers of intercession and thanksgiving before they rejoin us for the Peace. The idea is that they are doing it in such a way that it clearly reflects how St Michael’s does things. We have paid some attention to the setting for their worship so they have a gospel book, a table that is dressed with fine linen, candles and so on. Today we are putting our toe in the water with the Young Voices to see how this might develop here at St Michael’s.
The point of it is that we might bear to the children fruit that will last so that their lives will be enriched as have ours. So that indeed their joy might be complete. In this we offer them a great gift of coming to abide in Jesus as one of his disciples because they are chosen just as are we. And when this happens the promise that was made to our ancestors Abraham and Sarah of many descendents will be fulfilled among us and then our joy will be complete.