Confirmation at St Mark's Church
Sermon preached by
The Rt Rev
John Richardson, Bishop of Bedford
28th October 2001
It's lovely to be here again at St Mark's, in a Church which has become very special to me. For a start, it's on my doorstep and although you are not actually my parish church I pray for you often—not least as each day I pass by to take our dogs for a walk at the end of Westrope Way.
You have also been so much in my prayers during these last few months following first the appointment, and then the tragic death, of Jacqueline Phillips.
Years ago, I remember one of our daughters saying to me "It's funny, Daddy, isn't it how when you pray for some one often you feel so close to them." Well, that's exactly how I feel about you, so that in coming here this morning I feel in a very real sense as if I'm coming home. So thank you for making me so welcome.
So what shall we talk about? Before a service like this the switched-on minister sends me a 'menu'. Charlie of course is switched-on so when the menu arrived, as always I looked through it carefully to see if there were any clues about the kind of things I might want to say. And as I read it, two things struck me.
First (and very properly), this service is an opportunity to say thank you to God for those whose generosity, courage and commitment is an inspiration to us all.
In particular this morning, of course, we remember the Leckies in whose memory the beautiful new window has just been dedicated. But then too there are those being confirmed—who very shortly will have the courage to stand up and to say in so many words "this is what I believe, this is what I want to do. I want to follow Christ."
To those of you being confirmed, I want to say thank you for having the courage to be you. Again and again this week I have said my prayers for you. Your example, your courage, both challenge and encourage us. We need people like you to remind us that the Church is not just about old wrinklies like me, but about people like you who, in every generation, have the courage to do what you are about to do, to put their lives where their mouth is. It makes me proud to feel that we stand shoulder to shoulder with you as fellow Christians. The Church needs you. We need you. God needs you. Well done!
But there's a second way to see this service, and it's this.
Whilst in every generation there are those who have the courage to stand up for what they believe and to commit themselves to God. What they are doing is to respond to God's call.
In no sense does this detract from their commitment—but it does mean that always and everywhere (that wonderful Methodist phrase) God is there before we are, loving us, calling us, and providing for our every need.
Our menu this morning gives us two classic examples. In the preamble to the dedication of the new Leckie window these words were printed (you'll find them at the bottom of page 5 of the service booklet) 'This window proclaims the love and care of God for all His creation and invites us to put our trust in Him.'
The second example comes on page 11 in the words which shortly I shall say to those being confirmed. I quote: 'I ask you now to respond to God's love and grace by making these promises'.
Christians, in other words, live not in their own strength or to their own self-gratification, but as those who have responded to God's call to be fellow workers with Him, within a partnership within which He is boss and He has promised to give us all that He knows we will need to be faithful.
For some of us that means just everything. Because, you see, whilst we may do our best to be faithful, loving, caring disciples, actually you know and I know that again and again we don't so as well as we would wish.
Why? Because you and I are human beings. We are fallible. Of course at times we get it gloriously right. But at others we get it hopelessly wrong because, you see, in ourselves we just ain't got the vision, strength, holiness, spirituality (call it what you will) to get it right.
But God knows this. It's precisely why 2000 years ago He sent His only son Jesus to do for us what we can never do for ourselves. And what God says to each one of us, even the bestest and the goodest of us, like Jeremy or Charlie here, the Pope, Garth Rogers, or even the Archbishop of Canterbury, is—
'That you will let me guide you and strengthen you through prayer, through studying the Scriptures, through the sharing of the Sacraments (especially the Sacrament of Holy Communion), through the support you can give one another through my family, the Church.'
With all my heart I believe that. With all my heart I believe that if it were God physically speaking to you at this moment instead of me, not only would you get a decent sermon, but He would say something like this and most especially to … [the names of the confirmation candidates, spoken here, are omitted in accordance with our internet policy] …
'Only remember this (I think God would say) that within that partnership, whatever I give you to do, I promise to be with you always, to give you all that I know you will need to be faithful. For you see it was I who created you in the beginning, I who have called you. I who need you—'
(Have you ever thought of that, incidentally, God actually needing you? That says something special about the kind of person we believe God to be).
That is, for me, what our service is all about this morning.
To all of you being confirmed this morning I want you to hear me say welcome to your new place within God's Family here at St Mark's and Putnoe Heights. Your courage and your commitment inspire us and we love you lots.
We see in your commitment a reminder that our God is for ever calling us to work together whatever our religious tradition and background.
More important still, perhaps, we see in your confirmation a reminder of God's promise to be with us always as Lord and King, within a Royal Partnership where He will never fail us.
What a privilege.
What a vocation.
In all things, Lord, help us to be faithful and trusting.
Intercessions for 28th October 2001