St Andrew, Glencairn

Glencairn Methodist Church

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September 2017

Farewell to Rev Emma Rutherford (Sermon by Rev Ken Houston)

For some reason, human beings like to celebrate all sorts of things by including a meal in the proceedings. Hatches, matches and even dispatches – that is Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals usually include a meal. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries by have a party and including a meal. We have a meal, often with our family, at Christmas. There are “ladies who lunch” including certain clergy in the mid-Belfast deanery (naming no names), and of course there are buddies who meet in a coffee shop to chat about golf and rugby and generally about how to put the world to rights.

 The Jews have been celebrating the Passover with a feast for nigh on three thousand years now. This was always celebrated by families in the home and it was to remember and give thanks for the wonderful experience of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. When Kings David and Solomon had established Jerusalem as the only centre for Jewish worship, the people would have made the journey to the capital city just for the celebration. And there is still a longing in the hearts of scattered Jewish communities worldwide to do that today. The toast is, “Next Year in Jerusalem”.

 And so it was that Jesus and his disciples made their way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. The disciples asked him where they should go to do this. But Jesus had made his plans, and he dispatched two of them into the city  to look for the man in a bowler hat with a copy of the Times under his arm and to give him the password. The venue was handed over to them and they started on the preparations for the meal. And when evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve.

 Now Jesus knew that this would be the last Passover meal, indeed the very last meal that he would share with his disciples and that, in itself, would be enough to make this Passover special, an occasion they would hold dear in their hearts and cherish its memory. Jesus knew he was about to betrayed into the hands of sinful men and put to death the next day. After Judas left the disciples were beginning to realise that something was afoot.

 But that’s not the end of the mater. Jesus wanted this to be an extra special experience, one that would remember and cherish, one that they and countless generations of followers of Christ would remember through liturgy and ceremony even to the present day. Jesus took bread, blessed it and distributed it as he would normally have done. But he added special significance to this act. He said, “This is my body which is given for you, take and eat this in remembrance that I died for you and feed on me in your hearts with thanks giving.” Similarly, he took the cup, and gave it to them to drink, saying, “This is my blood which was shed for you, drink it in remembrance of me and be thankful”.

 And this is what we are doing today, meeting round the Lord ’s Table in remembrance of his death and passion, his glorious resurrection and ascension, and prating that as we participate in the meal, we will be filled and refilled by the Holy Spirit that is the very spirit of Jesus that he promised us.

 And this too, today, is a wee bit extra special as it will the last time Emma will be sharing Holy Communion with us as the “Diocesan Curate in Charge with special responsibility for the parishes of St Andrew Glencairn and Whiterock”, and whoever dreamt up THAT title deserves - - - well, I don’t know, something appropriate. In short, Emma, our Minister is leaving, returning to the place from whence she came just four or five short years ago, back across the river to the Diocese of Down and Dromore.

 These days when a person in an important position, like a prime minister, resigns, the media compete with one another to assess his or her performance in the job. So, it might be interesting to see how you think Emma has performed in hers. How many marks out of ten might you give her? Now to do this, we need to look at the Job Description of a minister and then assess performance against the criteria.

 We find these in the Ordinal, the ordination service for priests or presbyters in our prayer book.

 They are to “proclaim the Word of the Lord”, that is to preach sermons. How has Emma done as a preacher? Hmm?

 Then they are to baptise and to catechise or to teach all aspects of the Christian Faith. Personally, I think these should be the other way around – teach first and then baptise, whether we are talking about teaching adults or teaching Godparents before infant baptism. How has Emma done as a teacher? Well I don’t think she has dropped any babies yet.

 To preside at Holy Communion: well Emma does that alright, doesn’t she? She hasn’t spilt the wine all over the table cloth, as someone else I know did once upon a time (again naming no names).

 The list goes on – to pray, lead worship, pronounce forgiveness of sins and to bless in God’s name; to visit the sick and to minister to the dying and bereaved including funerals.

 In short Ministers are to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has arrived, and to do this with their actions and words, but without using too many words, as St Francis once said. Ministers are to encourage people to become Christians and then to nurture them in their faith.

 So how many marks would you give Emma?

 Now I think we are looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. Clergy don’t convert people, Christ does. Ministers are to proclaim the Kingdome, to preach Christ crucified and risen again, how to conduct their lives as people of God; all to the best of their ability and making use of their training; but to convert them? No, it is Christ who converts, Christ who saves, and no minister of the Gospel should ever be judged by the number of new Christians that result from their ministry, the number of bodies in the pews, and bank balance of the church at the end of the year. Minister are to scatter the seed, but it is Christ who fertilises and causes growth, or not if the ground is too stony.

 St Paul says two things about ministry, well at least two things abut I am only going to mention two.

In Ephesians 4 verses 11 to 13, “So Christ himself gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

And in 2 Corinthians 5 verses 18 and 19, “God, who reconciled us all to himself through Christ, now gives us the ministry of reconciliation.”

 I give Emma 10 out of 10 for fulfilling the job description of the Ordinal, but it is up to you – each one – to ask, “Have I allowed Christ into my life to convert me? Am I working to reconcile the world to God and the people we meet to be reconciled with God.”

 When Emma leaves us today, we will feel bereaved at our loss of a dear friend, but we will celebrate and give thanks for her time with us and we will bless her as she moves at God’s calling to pastures new in St Molua’s Stormont.

 Hopefully she will not have a leaky roof to contend with.



Ken 10 September 2017


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