We welcome Johannes Roth and his family to St Martin’s, Cambridge

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Johannes was born in Germany. He grew up amongst a cannibalistic tribe in the highlands of Papua, Indonesia, where his parents were pioneer missionaries. Seeing God setting people free and transform whole communities, he had the desire to serve God from an early age.

He studied Theology at Tübingen, Germany. He completed a BA in theology at what is now London School of Theology, followed by an MA at Kings’ College London. During this time he met Catherine. They have been married for 20 years and have two children, Sophia and Joshua.

Before training for ministry at Ridley Hall Cambridge, Johannes enjoyed working as an IT consultant and completing an MSc in Software Engineering with the OU, whilst Catherine worked as a secondary school teacher, following her BA in Theology at Kings College London. Johannes has been serving his curacy at Emmanuel Church, Northwood.

A rather clunky version of my sermon at the licensing service follows: we got far more excited on the night and “coming home” and being part of the family came out as themes as well.

 

It’s so good to have Johannes and Catherine, Joshua and Sophia here with us. Thank you for coming: we couldn’t be having this service without you! And thank you to everyone else who is here for coming, and to everyone who has helped sustain the life of the parish since Stephen left.

It will be a funny time for your new vicarage family as they find themselves on the move again, and I know you will look after them as then settle in. I found myself remembering our own eight moves during the years Jean and I have been in ministry, since the time about 40 years ago that we sold up and started training. In those days it really was a matter of selling up – house, car, the lot – and it was very strange for us recently, after years of not having a place of our own or any certainty about where we might live in retirement, to find ourselves inheriting a little house just in time for our likely retirement in a few years time. Part of the strangeness was realising that despite all my fine words about living a pilgrim life and following the call, the desire to have somewhere to call home was still powerfully there. And I would be surprised if that feeling didn’t resonate with many of you too, either in thanksgiving for what you have, or longing for what you don’t.

It’s not just of course about a roof over our heads – home means more than that – not is just about a useful provision for this life: those deeper questions about what life is all about and where our life is really leading us don’t go away. They were there in Jesus’ time and they are still with us now.

The reading Johannes has chosen for tonight’s service (John 15.1-7) comes from Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples where he has in fact just been telling them about their eternal home with him.

“In my Father’s house”: a place that will not just a roof over their heads but somewhere where they can be family with him for ever, held in love with him and with one another, and find fulfilment.

He has some very clear, perhaps uncomfortably clear, things to say about how they are to get probate on this inheritance: they have to be “in him”, to be part of the family.

It is something open to all and especially those in need “Come to me all you who ..”; but it is also something we have to want, to say yes to: a bit perhaps like the day when Jean and I said yes to other to follow the path our lives together. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

It seems that there is a natural and organic relationship between

Loving God in Christ: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

Loving one another in the church: Love each other as I have loved you; and

Loving our neighbours as ourselves and reaching out with God’s love in our communities: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Cut the flow at any point and the life of the whole vine, our lives, our churches, are at risk.

Let me give you give you three quick real-life examples of all this in action.

First, a church in Carlisle where I used to be archdeacon, the sort of church that could be an evangelical flagship sailing off into the sunset on its own, had a vision statement that picked precisely these three dimensions of love in a simple and memorable way: they aimed to b faithful, friendly and fruitful. The vicar accepted the call to be Rural Dean as well as convenor of the evangelical fellowship. When the great Carlisle flood came, which wiped out not just thousands of homes but the buildings of all the infrastructure like the police, the council and telecoms, built on the floodplain forgetting a certain parable, it was that vicar’s connections and that church’s generosity with its buildings set suitably on a hill that built a coalition of churches that saved the city. Faith grew a fellowship that bore much fruit.

Second, a church in the smart new suburb of Clapham in the 1790s was another evangelical flagship that could easily have just been a fashionable watering hole for faith. But Venn and Wilberforce and many others joined forces first to build what we now know as the Clapham Sect and then to change society significantly for the better, not least succeeding in seeing slavery abolished in this country. And the church they built had continuing influence too, as Jean and I know because her three greats grandmother Isabella moved to Clapham, caught the vision, and passed it on though six generations now to our own daughter who will ordained next year to a parish in Doncaster. Faith grew a fellowship that bore much fruit.

And third, you will probably know the story of Jean Vanier, the Canadian naval officer who turned Catholic philosopher and then in 1964 responded to the plight of the many disabled people he had met by founding the l’Arche community in which the able-bodied including himself and those with disabilities lived together, the latter being understood as the teachers of the former. When he came to write a commentary on St John’s Gospel recently, and on this passage of course, it was this experience of the art, not his academic studies of Aristotle, that shon through; and it is hard to think who else could have been chosen to address the primates of the Anglican communion when they met recently with human relationships on their minds. Faith grew a fellowship that is bearing much fruit and God willing will grow more.

So this invitation into the life of the vine really matters. It’s why our diocesan strategy of deepening, growing and engaging is all of a piece. And why it’s not just a matter of our business heads but our believing hearts. For Bishop Stephen it flows out of a deep devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus, to knowing Christ’s love for himself and sharing it with others.

For me it flows out of a deep experience of the work of the Spirit flowing into me and through me in a more charismatic way, and hearing God call me through this very passage as I prepared to be made a bishop to keep on speaking from the heart to go heart about the heart of the matter that it speaks of.

Your life as a parish over years I have known you has been shot through with the signs of this flow of love, and your parish profile declares your commitment to each of its dimensions so that

Inspired by the Holy Spirit we will:

❑ devote ourselves wholeheartedly to God

❑ care for those in need, and for God’s world

❑ widely share Christ’s teaching

❑ lovingly support one another

I want I ask you now, if you can, to own that again today as the desire of your hearts, the heart of the matter that you will keep coming back to, that will be the judge of what success looks like, as we say today, for you as a church. And if you are here “just looking” as it were, I want to invite you to take the plunge and say yes to a deeper, more committed relationship with Jesus Christ as part of his family that we call the church, tricky though that is in a world that is wary of such things, because I think you know as well as I do that it is in these sorts of committed relationships that love really grows.

And Johannes, the church in that same parish profile said that it was looking for a vicar who

has a deep personal relationship with God which will overflow into the church through example, spiritual insight and the ability to envision and enable the church to grow.

I haven’t known you as long as I’ve known the people here, but as we talked and prayed, I believe I saw that you have this same heart, and that in your own way, which will not be mine or Stephen Leeke’s or anyone else’s, you will seek God’ heart and share it with God’s people and grow with them in the love he gives. So I want to ask you too, will your today – and I am sure you will – not just say the words of the service but sing the words in your heart, and give yourself in service once again, as this new chapter of your ministry unfolds?

And as you, priest and people together, draw close to God, be sure that he will draw close to you, and that when you are in him and he is in you, you will bear much fruit. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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