Ecclesiastes – it’s an unusual choice of reading for a licensing, but a brave one. It paints a powerful picture of how the world and cosmos around us really seems, from one point of view. It is full of weary repetition, in which nothing really satisfies, and in which any sense of meaning, purpose, or achievement is made up vanity.
Feelings like that – we all have them – are particularly poignant at the moment. No matter what your view on the bombing of Syria, none of us can be under any illusion that the conflict there or conflict in general will end any time soon. So perhaps we should just shrug our shoulders, and accept that we live in a pointless world?
And yet, as I gazed into the face of our newest grandchild a couple of weeks ago, I saw and I suspect many of you have a seen something more than an accident of matter; I saw a person, full of promise, precious beyond words – though as vulnerable as a twig beneath a boot.
Whatever the neuronal mechanisms, that is also part of our consciousness about ourselves, alongside the ennui. We discover ourselves to be alive as if we are characters in a story, not just collisions between particles. And even those collisions are part of a story that makes sense to us: we can analyse them with maths and decipher with experiments. We live in an intelligible universe, and a beautiful one too, and that intelligibility and that beauty are real and replicable, not just in the eye of the beholder.
It’s a story of lives lived with sincerity and endeavour that I see in parish churches like this too, in which we remember and see the deposit all around us not just of a roll-call of the lost but of a rich layer-cake of service and love – of which your warm invitation to those around you to Come and See is the latest level.
And you are not finished yet, as with much already to celebrate, you sense that there is still more to come, and are planning to delve into our diocesan strategy to help you become and invite others to become People even more Fully Alive than you are already.
No pressure then, Simon! And it is tremendous to have had the chance to meet up with you earlier and discover for myself just how much you are bringing to this party. I was particularly struck by the idea of seeing if the church here could offer something for younger people, but not the usual high-octane stuff: something more reflective, Taize-style perhaps; because not all youngsters are extraverts any more than we are, and in these troubled times maybe they like we need space to be still and reflect.
Because we face big questions. Intriguing ones but big ones. As we discover ourselves to be alive in something that feels like a story, we start to ask ourselves where we came from and how the story began; how we can work out what sort of character we are and what our right actions should be; where it is leading and whether we can share in and help bring about a good ending.
That diocesan strategy I spoke about is actually not just a set of tools for getting the Church of England plc up and running better. It is an invitation to join in the story and explore more deeply what it is all about; to come alive more as a character in it, and make a difference for the good.
Dig deep with God is its invitation. Get in touch with the author; sense the big picture in all its glory and all its challenge. Then Discover how the author of it all is there in the story too and alongside you, even within you somehow, guiding you and growing you as a disciple, and not just you but a whole community of you, in that expeditionary force that we call the church. And then to Dare to engage in real and risky action that might just help the story run true, help the kingdom come – just as we pray in that prayer that the cinemas found so problematic.
It’s a call to be revolutionaries, but without rifles. To be companions in the greatest adventure of them all. And a hand scarred with sacrificial love but strong with resurrection life is held out to you to join, and is held out now.
Read more about Simon at http://standrewsstapleford.org.uk/introducing-our-new-priest/