Sermon: 6th Sunday after Epiphany, 12 February 2017, St Alban’s & St Aidan’s

St.Alban’s Epping and St.Aidan’s West Epping, 12th February 2017


Rev. Paul Weaver

(Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37)

What is the difference between a rector and a vicar? To help me get a clear answer I consulted the very well informed Professor Google, who directed me to a number of websites, all of which seemed to have a slightly different answer to the question. The simplest way of putting it seems to be that a Rector is normally in charge of a self-supporting church, while a Vicar works on behalf of the Bishop, in a church that is supported by the church authorities. However, there are many variations on this theme. In Sydney Diocese, as far as I can see, clergy in charge of a Parish or a Provisional Parish are nowadays all called a Rector.

Of course there are many other names for people in such a position. “Senior Minister” is popular in Sydney Diocese. This emphasizes the ministry aspect of what the person does, and it may or may not suggest that all the congregation are called to ministry. “Parish Priest” is the usual Catholic term, but Sydney Diocese is uncomfortable with the word “Priest”, and has chosen the term “presbyter”, which I suspect communicates very little. Another term is “Pastor”, or shepherd, a person responsible to care for the flock of Christ.

Well, we have a new Rector commencing next month. During his commencement service, Bishop Ross will be reminded of his responsibilities as Rector. He will be called to instruct his people faithfully from the scriptures and to drive away all false and strange doctrines. He will be called to be consistent in his own study of the scriptures and his prayer life. He will be called to faithfully administer the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism. He will be called to be a true example of godly living, and to seek to draw God’s people together in unity. He will be called to reach out with the Gospel to people in the parish and beyond. And he will also be called to obey the Archbishop and other senior ministers!

That’s quite a collection of responsibilities. And it’s quite a challenge!

But I was called to do these things when I was a Rector, and it is what is expected of all Rectors.

It can seem quite daunting. All the more so, when I tell you that Bishop Ross is not perfect! He is experienced. He has had a number of successful ministries. He is a nice person. But like every other Anglican, he is a sinner. He will make mistakes. He will get it wrong sometimes.

So what are we to think about our new Rector? What are we to think of anyone called to leadership in the church? Paul opens up some ideas in our reading from 1 Corinthians.

You will have heard that Paul was disappointed with the Corinthians. He would have liked to see signs of spiritual development amongst the congregation, but it wasn’t obvious. Spiritually, they still seemed to be babies. They will still “of the flesh”: their outlook was a worldly outlook, not a truly spiritual outlook.

What was the evidence for this? There was jealousy and quarrelling, instead of mutual Christian love. Competition has its value: it can encourage people to strive for their best, and bring particular forms of satisfaction. But positive human relationships are not based on trying to be better or to have more or to beat others. There is a better way to view our neighbour than as a competitor. That is true also of relationships between countries: I hope that President Trump will learn that one day!

The divisions and tensions in the congregation at Corinth were almost like sporting allegiances. Instead of “I follow GWS” or “I’m a Tigers supporter”, it was “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos”. Earlier in the letter, we read of others who said “I follow Peter”, or even “I follow Christ”. It’s a bit like those who pit denominations against each other: “I’m an Anglican”, “I’m a Catholic”, “I’m a Baptist”, as if the church I belong to makes me superior. Yes, we have denominations. Some of us sit lightly on our denominational allegiance. Others of us have strong convictions about our denomination. It is great to appreciate the traditions or the liturgy or the teaching of our church. But there are also things that we can learn from other traditions! And I am not convinced that in the kingdom we shall all be using A Prayer Book for Australia, or even the 1662 Book of Common Prayer! Our denominations have the characteristics, theirs strengths, not to mention their weaknesses. Let’s appreciate what we have, and let’s appreciate what others have when we have the opportunity to experience it. Let’s even see what we can learn from others!

And that’s also true of the different traditions within the Anglican church: whether it is Evangelical or High Church or Broad Church or Anglo-Catholic. We may compare our traditions. But we need to seek to understand before we seek to correct others, let alone condemn others.

And it’s true of ministers as well. Bishop Ross will come to us to be a shepherd. In a sense he will be an under-shepherd of Christ, the true and Good Shepherd. Like a shepherd, his job will be to provide food for his sheep, to guide them along the right paths, and protect them from danger. He will want to help us understand the scriptures. And that Psalm, Psalm 119 of which we said the first eight verses of its 176 verses, is a very extended hymn in praise of the word of God. The Psalmist extols the importance of God’s message, and the important of listening to it, taking it is, and putting it in to practice. Virtually every verse includes a reference to God’s law, God’s teaching, his commands. This is the foundation for our spiritual life.

Bishop Ross will not be the same as Fr Ross or Fr John or even Fr Ian before them. He will have his particular strengths and insights. Because he only a human being, he will not be able to do everything that we might think he should do, or everything we would like him to do. He might even do things we wish he didn’t do!

And if he isn’t perfect, there is no point in hankering for the old days. There is no value in saying he’s better than Ross Weaver or John Cornish, or that he’s worse than Ross or John. We clergy are all different. We seek to make the contribution that God calls us to make. Let’s not spend too much effort comparing clergy, let alone setting up fan clubs. When we discover that Bishop Ross is not a cardboard replica of any other clergy person we know, let’s not be angry or resentful. He will be seeking to serve us as closely as possible to the way he believes God wants. As Paul puts it, he and Apollos are merely servants. It’s not all about them. So it will be with Bishop Ross.

Let’s instead seek to learn what we can from Ross, and allow him to help us grow in our knowledge of the scriptures and the message of God. Let’s remember to pray for him – and for Jenny his wife – in the demands placed on them both. Let’s seek to understand not only what he says, but what he is trying to do, as he tries to see the best way forward for the parish.

Let’s be patient and supportive, not to mention welcoming and encouraging. Like every newcomer to the congregation, they will want to feel that they are welcome, that they can find a spiritual home among us. And let’s stick together: appreciating our differences, rather than using them as an excuse for tension or even an excuse for leaving!

What then is a Rector? Firstly he is a member of the congregation: in fact Bishop Ross and Jenny will of course be new members, finding their place. Let’s help them: whether it is by wearing our badges, by being consistent in presence as far as possible, by our friendly welcome, by our patience as they find their way.

Secondly, he is a minister. A servant of Christ, and our servant. But he is also a servant with us. Bishop Ross will be discovering his role as he goes. Let’s serve with him as we all seek to do God’s work amongst God’s people.

Thirdly, he is called to be a leader. He will always want to take us along God’s path. Sometimes that path can be obvious; sometimes it has to be discovered. Keep praying for him: for wisdom, understanding, strength, and the guidance of the Spirit. And pray for us all: that we would be united and enthusiastic in seeking and following God’s leading.

But he is probably not a miracle worker, so we must realize that effective change takes time, and we need to trust God to lead Ross in helpful directions, even when they might not be what we might have been thinking of. And let’s not spend too much effort comparing Him with anyone else. Let him be himself, and let’s encourage him, learn from him, and serve with him.

We live in interesting times in the parish. I am sure that there are both challenges and good things ahead. Change can push people apart, but it doesn’t need to. Let’s work together and pray together, open to God’s gracious leading, and let’s see where he is leading us as we seek to faithfully follow Jesus as a congregation of his people. Amen.

Paul Weaver