Sermon preached on the sixth Sunday after Trinity (15 July 2012) by The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel
‘God be with you till we meet again.’
Ecclesiasticus 4: 11-end Romans 15: 14-29
The word ‘goodbye’ means ‘God be with you’ – ‘God by ye’ – ‘Goodbye’. Which suggests that we should avoid the expression ‘It’s not goodbye but au revoir’ since that would be to deny the bidding of God’s presence with your parting friends as they take their leave.
Nevertheless, when taking our leave of friends and loved ones, we tend not to want the leave-taking to be final so that ‘au revoir’ leaves open the happy prospect that we shall see each other again.
Perhaps that old nineteenth century rather saccharine hymn got it right after all by combining the two concepts: ‘God be with you till we meet again’.
And we certainly pray that upon our departing Choristers – Hugh, Ashton, Charles, Michael, and Jack: God be with you till we meet again.
But what about the mean time? Those of us who are privileged to contribute to the leading of worship in this place are just as prone as anyone else to believe that worship is solely articulated by liturgical acts that take place in church – like this service of Choral Evensong. But that would be to constrain the concept of worship and limit its efficacy. Prior to the passage from the Letter to the Romans which was our second reading this evening, Paul teaches that all Christian life should be regarded as worship paid to God.
That the living out of our lives under God and in accordance with God’s will, after the pattern of Christ, is itself an offering meet and acceptable unto the Lord – is a form of worship.
One of the prayers at the preparation of the table in the order for the Eucharist which is rarely used in the new liturgy is that which ascribes to the Lord greatness, power, glory, splendour and majesty "for everything in heaven and on earth is yours – all things come from you and of your own do we give you.” It’s based on verses from the First Book of Chronicles in the Old Testament which relate to the building of the Temple by Solomon.
The implication being that, when we offer our gift at the altar, we are merely giving back to God that which God has given to us in the first place. But, remembering that worship is not to be articulated solely by the liturgical acts that take place in church, we should broaden our understanding of offertory to encompass the offering of our love and praise, our time and resources, our gifts and talents in the service of God and neighbour such that, as St Paul teaches, all Christian life is worship paid to God.
Which is why we shouldn’t bury our talents in the ground but risk investing them in life in all its fullness. That’s a sharp injunction at the end of our first reading this evening: "Do not let not your hand be stretched out to receive and closed when it is time to give.” Or, in another pithier translation of the same verse, "Do not let your hands be outstretched to receive yet tight-fisted when the time comes to give back.” And this at the end of a passage of scripture about God’s wisdom as a guide to right-living.
For our lives to be very acts of worship, it is not enough that God is with us but that God should be seen to be with us by the way in which we offer ourselves in the service of God and neighbour, in the service of the Church and the world, in the service of the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of this earth.
One senses something of this in the sheer physical activity described in this passage from the Letter to the Romans. Paul is active in God’s service and in the service of the saints – amongst other things, taking money which has been collected in Achaia and Macedonia to the Church in Jerusalem so that those who have come to share in spiritual blessings can be of service in material things. All things come from you and of your own do we give you.
It would be so easy to use these passages of scripture as an encouragement to the faithful to make generous financial contributions to the mission and ministry of the Church and God knows how important that sort of giving is if the Church is to have any chance of proclaiming the Gospel afresh in each generation but it is so small a part of what it means to offer your gift at the altar. The collecting bowl is never passed along the line of Choristers during the offertory hymn in any of our services here but who would deny that a much richer offering comes from their hearts and souls as they raise their voices in praise and thanksgiving to almighty God?
And so it must be with all of us. If God be with us, what then other than to open our hearts and minds and hands and voices in worshipful offering to that same God. Nothing glib, then, in saying ‘Goodbye’ – ‘God be with you’ – rather, almost an instruction to be active in God’s service: to take the gifts that we have received with outstretched hands and not to be tight-fisted when the time comes to give back – when the time comes to offer – when the time comes to worship. All things come from you and of your own do we give you.
So, goodbye is just the beginning. And it carries with it much responsibility. The boys who are leaving us today have already given much but much is still expected of them as God goes with them and as their worship continues beyond this place.
God be with you till we meet again. Or, as Paul says a little later in that passage from the Letter to the Romans: "The God of peace be with all of you. Amen.”