This week I’ve done my last stint for this year as Visitors’ Chaplain at Wells Cathedral. It’s been an amazing experience and I certainly hope to be doing it again next year.
Each time I’ve been on duty several people have come to me just to say “wow, this is such a beautiful and special place”. We look up in awe and wonder at the columns and arches, marvel at the stained glass windows and the way sunlight streams through them and adds colour to whatever it touches. We’re amazed that such a building could be built so many centuries ago and doubt anything like it could be built today.
Some visitors also ask about Louis, the cathedral cat who has a great sense of occasion and of his own importance. There are many stories about Louis but they’ll have to wait for now.
The cathedral building is, of course, stunningly beautiful but there’s so much more to the cathedral than the stones and I think probably most visitors are aware of that something more. No matter how many people there are walking around, talking and taking photos, there is another sound to be heard – the sound of silence.
But the silence is not the silence of nothingness. It’s the living pulsing silence of an unseen presence, the sound of the saints in glory, a silence demanding to be heard – so often I just sit and listen.
Many places of worship, including ours, hold within them that silent and unseen presence. Spending time tuning into that silence may bring to us a greater awareness of the fellowship we share with “the whole company of heaven” and “the cloud of witnesses” that surround us. We are part of a much larger fellowship than we can ever imagine.
Let’s just spend 30 seconds together in the quiet stillness. (keep 30 seconds then)
We are in the company of the saints in heaven and we’ve been singing about our relationship with them:
“O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.”
There are the saints in heaven who shine in glory
And there are the saints on earth, us, God’s people, who often struggle with this life and all its trials and tribulations, disappointments and disasters, foolishness and fears.
But we and all saints on earth and in heaven are part of God’s one kingdom of fellowship. The saints in heaven are separated from us but they have not left us. We are surrounded by them and they are cheering us on, encouraging us, strengthening and loving us.
They will be around us in two weeks’ time when we review the progress of our Action Plan and pray for God’s guidance in the next stage of putting this into effect.
They will be with each of us as we prepare ourselves for that day because if St Andrew’s is to be a saintly church proclaiming the Good News of God’s kingdom, each of us has to be committed to growing in faith as disciples, as God’s saints on earth.
Our pilgrimage of faith in this world is about growing ever closer to God; about becoming fully the people and the church God wants us to be. It’s about growing into the full fellowship of all the saints in glory and it’s not always easy.
In our Gospel reading this morning we hear Jesus talking to his disciples about the spiritual qualities which characterise those who find their hearts’ desires in the kingdom of heaven – the saints in glory.
I’d like to look at bit closer at three of these qualities and think about how they might be expressed both in our own lives and as a church fellowship of God’s saints here on earth.
Firstly, Jesus says that people who are made happy by God (which is what the word “blessed” in this context means) are those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness”. The righteousness Jesus is talking about is the right conduct that God requires. God’s saints long for complete harmony with God, a relationship with him of obedience and trust.
If you and I long for that intimacy with God, if it is the treasure we search for all our lives, believing passionately that it is there to be found, we are going to find within us, through God’s grace, a motivation and a strength to go on looking even when it’s dark and shadows dim our view. We will also find that together we will form a renewed fellowship of saints in St Andrew’s. Together we will long for and seek the living out of a God given vision for our future.
Secondly, Jesus says that those who are made happy by God are those who are pure in heart. Those whose hearts are untainted by sin. Saints love God with all their heart and everything they do or say harmonises with that love.
We are pilgrims and haven’t yet reached our destination. We are not pure in heart but if we want to be and are ready to work at it then we’re on the right track and God will help us. God’s love within us can help us to be more self-aware and self-disciplined in our live. We can learn to keep quiet rather than grumble, criticise, gossip or speak to others in anger or impatience.
As a church we can learn to encourage each other, to be positive in the face of problems, and to take our share of responsibility for the life on St Andrew’s. Together we can grow our fellowship so that it’s coming ever closer to the fellowship of the saints in glory.
Thirdly, Jesus says that those who are made happy by God are peacemakers, those who seek reconciliation with others both in their own lives and relationships and wherever there is conflict or hostile estrangement of any king.
There’s so much division around us. Division within families, between friends and churches, in politics, within and between nations. Wherever there is such painful separation God’s saints are called to seek healing and reconciliation and to offer forgiveness and new beginnings.
It may be that you and I have our own divisions within us which undermine our faith and discipleship. It may be that each of us needs to address that wound and seek its healing. It may be that there are issues between us and our church that also need healing and forgiveness.
It may be that as a church we are called to work for peace and reconciliation within and between the families of our parish.
So, in fellowship with the saints shining in glory let’s do our best to become ever more like them as people and as a fellowship of saints on earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.