Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

April 14, 2013, 2:41 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday 14th April 2013

The Gospel reading this morning was very long; and the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, as it appears on the pew-sheet, has a longer form than the one we actually heard. Both these readings tell us something important about our Christian faith. Now that you are likely to hear me more frequently (poor you!), I want to run through some of the basics of our faith, ideas and words we often take for granted and don’t think about much.


This morning, I want to think about “tradition”. This is a word Christians often use without understanding what it means. Sometimes it seems to mean just “the way we do things here, as far back as anyone remembers.” Sometimes, “as far back as anyone remembers” turns out to be not very far back at all- perhaps only as far back as the last vicar but one!


Tradition really means “handing on”. St Paul, in several of his letters, writes “This is what I received, and am handing on to you.” In today’s readings, we see how this process started. In the Gospel, our Lord after his resurrection meets the disciples by the sea of Galilee- the place where they had started to follow him, a few years earlier. He takes them back to the beginning of their discipleship, so as to “re-launch” them, as it were, for their new mission.


peter feed sheepPeter, of course, who had been chosen to lead and support the others, is full of guilt and shame because of the way he denied the Lord in his hour of need. Jesus does not talk about that. Instead, he asks Peter gently, “Do you love me?” He asks three times, just as Peter had denied three times. Peter understood; he understood that the Lord was concerned not so much about Peter’s lack of courage, but about the underlying reality of his love. “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”


As Peter confesses his love, three times Jesus commissions him to feed his lambs, tend and feed his sheep. Jesus the Good Shepherd is “handing on” the care of the flock to Peter (and of course to the rest of the apostles as well); but Peter has to care for the shepherds, as well as the sheep, because the shepherds themselves are part of the Lord’s flock. In the first reading we heard how  Jesus called Saul, who had persecuted the Lord’s flock, and gave him a mission. He was to take the Gospel out to the nations of the world.


Peter and Paul each received a commission from Christ himself; and part of that commission was to hand the commission itself on to others, who would receive it and hand it on in their turn. At the Last Supper, St John tells us that our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit from the Father, to teach them and to enable them to remember all that he had said. The tradition, the handing on of the trust committed by Christ to his first disciples, is safeguarded all down the centuries that separate us from them, by the action of the Holy Spirit, who is the life and soul of the Church.


whispersSomeone said in my hearing not long ago, “tradition is always changing.” But that is precisely what true Christian tradition does not do. You know the children’s game called “Chinese whispers”, where someone whispers a message to one person, who repeats it to the next, and so on round a big circle; until what comes out at the far end is nothing like what was said at the beginning. Well, Christian tradition is not Chinese whispers! It is more like a stick of rock, with the same word all the way through- not “Blackpool” at one end and “Brighton” at the other. You could almost say that Jesus chose a Rock (Peter) to ensure that the Word (of God) would remain unchanged, however many centuries passed.


“I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” The test of true tradition is a simple one. Is what we receive from our current pastors the same as was received and taught by the pastors of the Church in earlier times, from Peter and Paul down to the present day? If not, take no notice of it! If it is, accept it and put it into practice. It is the real thing!

rock blackpoolrock brighton


1 Comment so far
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It seems you have fully left All Saints Clifton? I guess this letter sets out what’s happened there – another lost parish

Comment by Joseph Golightly

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