Christ the King, AGM Sermon
21 November 2021
Jesus said to Pilate: My kingdom is not from this world.
So then, what kind of king and what kind of kingdom? Well, the answer is in this picture. This is the king who gets down on his knees and washes our feet. No wonder Pilate doesn’t understand. And in John’s Gospel he follows up this act of servant kingship by saying, I have left you an example that you should do for one another what I have done for you.
So this is the task of the Church, of our Church, to point to St Salvador, the Holy Saviour, the God who gets down on his knees in front of us, all of us, even if it beggars belief that God would do such a thing.
The founders of our Church were driven by love of this servant Saviour-king to follow the folks who in the 1920’s and 30’s were being moved from the tenements of the Old Town, the High Street, the Cowgate, to these homes for heroes with wide leafy streets, gardens and every house with its own bathroom. I just met someone the other day who remembered that move and she said they thought all their birthdays had come at once.
But our predecessors who built this Church were in no doubt that where the people went the Church should be with them, to love and to serve and to create a beautiful place in which people would find this servant God who always wants to be with his people. So the spire was an announcement, a big, bold statement intentionally pointing people to the Holy Saviour already and always in their midst and in their hearts.
The rector of the time even wrote a poem about this and every member got a copy: It’s a poem of dedication for St Salvador’s written for this Feast of Christ the King in 1938: “Gifts of love have builded there a house of prayer, whose tower and spire seen far around their witness bear; Pause then awhile ye who pass by. Your thoughts upraise with heavenward gaze to where yon bright Cross brightly gleams on high and homage bring to Christ the king. Within its walls God’s family meets.”
Now that language might be a bit dated for us now, but this building is still an expression, a proclamation even, of the presence of our servant Lord right here in Stenhouse. And in this year that understanding of why this building matters has inspired probably the biggest programme of works we’ve undertaken since the building opened.
So this is not conservation, preserving a building as a museum piece, but mission – with a passionate belief about why we’re here.
So all the time this living, breathing sacred place, animated by the pulse of our prayers, the lives we’re living and sharing, the Gospel imperative that drives us, this building preaches the Gospel for us and with us; and as we care for the building, the building is serving our mission – which is the mission of God.
So in this past year that’s been Easter butterflies, each carrying a “Happy Easter” from St Salvador’s to our neighbours passing by, just last week our poppy Cross and poppies (calling the community to Remembrance), and it’s been creating our little St Francis garden as a place of quiet reflection, or the Peace Garden we’ll be opening soon with a newly restored gate on the front street. The message of the UN peace pole we’ll be erecting says “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in the most commonly spoken languages in our community. And all of these things are a way of saying to the people around us: this is what we care about and very probably – you care about the same things too. It’s about finding a shared language with people around us, not being some little island of piety cut off from the world. Martin Luther King as he walked past Churches in the Deep South often used to ask, to wonder: What kind of God is worshipped here? And it’s a great question. What kind of God, what kind of King?
For us this is the Saviour who is truly the host at the Eucharist we share before food bank, now frequently attended by fourteen or fifteen people – some volunteers, some neighbours from nearby for whom Wednesday has become Church. And this breaking of bread at the altar flows straight into the sharing of daily bread, daily necessities from tinned mince to baby clothes, presents for kids at Christmas and chocolate eggs at Easter. And this year we’ve been able to share both of those with our friends at the prison for prisoners’ families because people have been so amazingly generous.
So the Christ who washes feet, is the Christ who wants none of his brothers and sisters to go hungry and more and more we realise and we feel at food bank that we’re all one in need. We’re all receiving, all of us, and Christ is the host.
As the weeks have gone on not only has food bank become ever busier but we’ve been able to bring back the kind of fellowship we had before, with tea and coffee, bread and scones and almost everyone who comes now staying on just to chat and to enjoy having someone to listen. So much so that we’ve expanded our team specifically to include folks who come along to do just that, to simply sit and listen and give folks some attention and some time. This is what friends of Jesus do. This is what Church looks like. Anne noted the other day that the support offered to food bank from other Churches (now at least eight of them), from individuals, from community groups like a staff team at Edinburgh University (currently fundraising for us for Christmas presents), she said “it’s inspiring” and it truly is. We’re so thankful, as we are to everyone who makes food bank happen week by week.
Also this past year, our offering a home to recovery groups for folks helping each other to recover from addictions is part of that same mission of love and compassion. To that favourite question “what would Jesus do?”, well Jesus would do this. If Jesus is Saviour how he must rejoice to see lives saved from any of the things his children struggle with, whether that’s poverty, hunger, addiction or anything else.
Again, he’s the host here; his is the hospitality. And we’ll never know the quiet miracles God’s working here as people experience the beauty of this place, as they find companions to share their journeys, as they take away (as they do) Gospels to read at home or they share the prayers and longings of their hearts in our new intercessions book. It’s the task of the servants of the servant king – all of us whom he calls friends – to offer this sacred space in his name, then stand back in awe of what he does.
That hospitality includes us too of course, as we’re fed in word and sacrament week by week, as we care for each other and that’s included four celebrations of baptism this year. And here I’d note how blessed we are, I am, in a ministry team of people who bring to this mission of God, passion, commitment, care and compassion, good humour and talent. Speaking personally, our working together is a gift for me and a real enrichment for all of us, I think. As is our music ministry of Paul and Anne and Amanda and Cosette and Alessandra, lifting our hearts to God, and bringing new things into our worship.
This is a place in which we’re fed and nurtured for this life that we’re called to, so as part of that we’ve had Bible study groups (led by Jenny) and adult discussion groups, not to mention our continuing Youth Group very imaginatively led by Ross, this year’s highlight being the Walk for Hope for COP26. A walk of witness from St Mark’s Portobello to the Cathedral, ending in pizza, but resulting from a serious discussion of how God is asking us to care for our planet.
So I come to the end of this year more grateful than I know how to tell you, for a year filled with good things in which our building has just buzzed with life, with gifts for ministry exercised by every one of us: members of Vestry and office-bearers, Anne particularly in her work as Treasurer this year, guiding us through a year of renovation and change, and the gifts that every single one of us brings to being here. For each one of us, whoever we are, our presence witnesses to the one in whom we believe and we bless each other more than we can ever know. Every one of us matters and ministers and serves and loves – between us we make Church, we are Church.
The ending of this year of course brings me a year nearer to retirement. That’s a situation which normally means an interregnum, a gap, sometimes for a year or more – and given the momentum we’ve built up here in the last few years and the growth we’re seeing, that’s something we’ve been keen to avoid.
One element in the mixed mode training scheme which has given us Ross over these past couple of years is the possibility that the student, once ordained, can continue in his or her parish for the further three years of their curacy. Ross will be ordained deacon in September 2022 just before my retirement and the Bishop has proposed that Ross should continue here as a pastor, to lead and, of course, to serve. And the Vestry, after careful discussion, has agreed to this plan, which looks like a really exciting way forward.
So Ross, as he very much wants to, will remain at St Salvador’s, and because an experienced priest will be needed to guide and supervise, Stephen Holmes, the Rector of Holy Cross, Davidsons Mains, will become priest-in-charge to take on that responsibility. I’ll say more about the detail of how that should work after the service. It’s the first time a scenario like this has been tried and the Bishop is keen to see this succeed, so over the coming year we’ll give lots of attention to how we support Ross to make this work well for everyone.
For me, knowing I’ll be leaving you in the hands of someone who loves this place and loves our Church family and the wider family we’re gathering around us, and is passionate about the Gospel of Jesus, the servant King, gives me great confidence that St Salvador’s has a future which would rejoice the heart of Fr Shand with his poem of 1938 who stood on this tower and dreamed great dreams of what this Church in this place could be..
Jesus says: My kingdom is not of this world; no, it isn’t, but it’s revealed in the world and it is revealed when the friends of Christ the King love and serve in his name. Amen.