FAREWELL – BUT NOT TO MISSION [6th Sunday [C] –17 Feb. 2019]

Leaving a parish is not too much different from arriving in one.  Both are occasions for anxiety.  The priest or lay leader will feel nervous at the beginning because almost everything and everyone have yet to be met.  Fr Doug feels that right now; Debbie, not so much anymore.   Nerves again start to bite when the time comes to leave because almost everything and everyone that lies ahead are unknown or at least unfamiliar.  And that’s where I am.

The gospel passage we’ve just heard follows immediately after Jesus names his 12 apostles.  The moment signals an end to the life they’ve known without Jesus, and the beginning of a time with Jesus but shrouded in mystery.  And, as they step into this “unknown”, they hear Jesus pronounce blessings on all the things they were not expecting to be part of their life with him.

They’d had secure livelihoods and didn’t want to be poor, but Jesus is blessing the poor; they’d enjoyed good meals, but Jesus blesses the hungry; the last thing they want is to be sad, yet they hear Jesus blessing those who weep!

Of course, Jesus is not condemning riches, food or laughter; these are good in themselves and Jesus enjoyed them all.  He’s warning though that, when we have these things in abundance, it becomes easy to forget God, or to act as though we don’t need God – or, in the words of Sir Humphry from that delightful British comedy, Yes Prime Minister, God becomes “an optional extra”

I have been richly blessed during these 11 years at SH Cathedral Parish; food and laughter have accompanied me in all my visits and times with you.  They have not drawn me away from God, because they are reflections of your faith and your love.  I am aware of my poverty at the times when I am not able to adequately meet your need, or ease your doubt, or comfort your grief.  There is poverty and there is blessing in accepting you can’t do everything.

I feel the weakness that hunger brings when I cannot stem the flow of people away from Sunday Mass; when I hold the Bread of Life in my hands but am aware that fewer people want to share it.  I hunger for people to more fully discover the wonder and beauty of the Eucharist.  But I know my call is to serve.  There is hunger and there is blessing in knowing yourself as servant, not master.

Blessed are those who weep – who feel the suffering of others, who understand weakness because they know they are themselves weak; I weep for the goals I have not reached, for the example I have not given.  But I also know the blessing of laughter, for I have been helped by your honesty, your positive criticism and your faithfulness – to laugh at myself; not to take myself too seriously, and not to take for granted the riches in my life.  To be blessed in this way is to be truly blessed.

It is with these blessings that I move into a new phase of my life.  The “unknown” will unfold as it has always done.  Among you I have been, as Jeremiah puts it in the first reading, like a tree by the waterside, with my roots in the stream of your friendship and loving support.  I know Fr Doug and Debbie will find themselves in this same stream, so there’s no need for any of us to be afraid.

And then there is the stream into which we are all called – to be rooted and to grow in the waters of God’s love and kindness – to be a forest of faithfulness – putting our trust in God and letting the breeze of the Holy Spirit move through our branches, uniting us in the work of proclaiming the gospel of peace.

That remains our mission, wherever we are.