Sermon preached on the Sunday before Lent (2 March 2014) by Sally Muggeridge, Immediate Past Master of The Worshipful Company of Marketors

Today at the Cathedral View More
12:00pm Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Evening Prayer
5:30pm Cathedral closes

Sermon preached on the Sunday before Lent (2 March 2014) by Sally Muggeridge, Immediate Past Master of The Worshipful Company of Marketors

Sally Muggeridge, Immediate Past Master of The Worshipful Company of Marketors, reflects on the needs of the church for hands on involvement, and the essential requirement for us to embrace opportunities to serve in our spiritual lives, always open to hearing God’s will.

The Winter Olympics concluded in Sochi last week and we look forward to the Winter Paralympics commencing on Friday.

Many of you may recall at this time two years ago, in 2012, how London was then getting into Olympic mode. I remember volunteering with thousands of others to become a Games Maker – people needed to help the Games go smoothly. It was a brilliant concept, well executed, which worked –and perhaps one or two of you here today may have also volunteered, donned the smart purple, red and beige uniform provided, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, helping others and hosting the many visitors. And afterwards Games Makers received a thank you gift – and here is mine (Pause). It is a relay baton , known as a symbol of teamwork and trust. So in discerning a theme appropriate to embrace our readings today, what came to mind was the challenge of Passing the Baton. For no matter how important a person is - a leader of a church, the Chairman of an organisation or a head of a government, we know the baton has to be passed one day, including if we die in office! Sometimes we can’t wait for it to happen! Other times, with great leaders such as Nelson Mandela, we fear the uncertainty of change.

Rushing about in our daily lives with a hundred and one things to do and all too little time to do it, we, each of us here, must think of ourselves as key participants in the Human Race. The ageing, the old and the exhausted eventually have to give way to the younger and the more energetic. Our prime time, becomes past time, in what seems like no time. It is, in the words of that musical the Lion King, the circle of life.

The prophet Elijah was more than happy to pass the ministry baton – a very hot potato - to his chosen apprentice Elisha, who after some years was more than anxious to take the pass. Elijah had proven himself a spiritual giant and powerhouse. Could Elisha possibly follow in Elijah’s footsteps, did he have the faith to fill Elijah’s boots – or perhaps more likely his sandals? For of course the decision did not ultimately rest with Elijah. God was the only one who could choose a successor to guide his chosen people.

Today baton passing is equally difficult and just as important. We can identify this in our Church of England, acting as the spiritual centre of a world- wide Anglican Communion, as well as leading in our local communities. Living in a small country village and acting as the sole Churchwarden, responsible for my own parish Church, I am only too aware of a congregation that is ageing. With so many essential jobs that need doing you anxiously seek others to whom one can safely pass the baton – secretaries, treasurers, flower arrangers, cleaners. Who is waiting there to receive that baton? Who will be prepared to take on the responsibilities of these long serving stalwarts? Who will have the skills, faith and commitment to take over an important and time consuming task for more than just a few years? Who is God quietly calling to service?

I recently visited another village in my home county of Kent for a Reader’s Meeting and noted that the local church there had not had Churchwardens for over a year. The Treasurer was standing down in April after ten years excellent service, and the Secretary was also departing. Everyone in the congregation was apparently shrinking back from taking on any responsibility: and all this in an otherwise active and well attended church in an equally thriving and popular village. Having energetically run the course nothing is worse than holding a baton in your hand and finding no-one to whom one can pass it, no-one willing to take it.

Fortunately, it was not like this for the prophet Elijah. He had a clear successor in Elisha. Elijah was ageing and weary. Elisha wished to inherit a double share of Elijah’s spirit. This can be interpreted by biblical scholars to allude to the double share of an estate traditionally allotted in those days to the first born son and expected heir.
Whichever way we choose to interpret this, the spirit that was in Elijah was not his own spirit, but God’s. It was not Elijah’s to give. The spirit could only be given by God. To whom could God pass the baton safely? Nothing could be left to chance. The baton could surely not be dropped or mishandled. God was satisfied in Elisha’s demonstration of utter steadfastness and purpose. Elisha would not be put off. And if we continue to read the 2nd Book of King’s we learn that Elisha became a great prophet albeit one very different from Elijah. Indeed reading on in the Bible we learn that Elisha served under several Kings for more than 50 years and, if you are counting, certainly gets to fill a whole lot more pages in the Bible than poor old Elijah!

And of course batons regularly change hands here in the City of London. Every year we have a new Lord Mayor who takes residence in Mansion House – again no shortage it seems of willing aspirants and the team line up has been seemingly worked out years in advance. Similarly in the Livery Companies [the Masters of the 109 Companies will be here next month for the annual United Guilds service]. Earlier this year my last act as Master was to install my successor – to pass the baton safely to a new holder who will run with it for the next year. I did not get to choose my successor, any more than the Lord Mayor gets to personally choose his or hers. Those decisions are rightly made for us at another level based on suitability and proven competence. So it was for God’s choice of Elisha.

Our New Testament reading also picks up on things that are beyond our sight and perhaps our understanding; the existence and reality of the invisible, three disciples dazed and clearly confused by what happens on a mountain. Jesus, their teacher, friend and prophet, that they are only just becoming to understand, unexpectedly changes into a glorified form, becomes dazzling white and is joined by the ancient prophets! After the transfiguration the disciples saw only Jesus and they were told by Jesus not to tell of what they had witnessed. Jesus knows all too well that he has to shortly pass his baton on to the disciples who had been unable to heal the boy with the demon. With faith even as small as a mustard seed they could move mountains! And Jesus foretells of how he will be betrayed into the hands of men who will kill him.

In our prayers we seek reassurance, grace and forgiveness from God. The great blessing and benefit shown to us in Jesus should make us bold and confident. Ash Wednesday is approaching and the start of Lent is a great opportunity for personal reflection, repentance and spiritual renewal within our own framework of confession and absolution.

As we will learn in the coming weeks Jesus wished for the cup to be passed from him "Yet not as I will, but as You will”. Christ submitted himself to his Father’s will - and we state our desire to do the same each time we say the Lord’s prayer - "Thy will be done”.

So in this hectic race of our own lives, let us recognise our place as an essential member of the team. Each of us has been given by God a will and mind of our own. We are free to make our own choices. Whilst it is our turn to carry the baton in our workplaces, in our families, in our churches, and in other areas of our personal involvement, let us determine to run our leg of the race well, submitting ourselves to God’s will. He has promised us salvation by choosing to carry out His will – free Grace comes to us from free choice.

Let us therefore emulate Elisha and never be the one not there to receive a baton that must be passed. Archbishop Tutu, who will giving an address at tomorrow’s memorial service at Westminster Abbey for Nelson Mandela, reminds us that we are the only resource God has here on earth – we, men and women together, are His arms and legs. And it is our willing hands that may just occasionally be needed to help catch and carry the baton. AMEN