Let’s do what is right not what is safe!:  A sermon for the Parish Eucharist preached in Sherborne Abbey on Sunday 21 August 2022 by the Reverend Lesley McCreadie, Team Vicar. (Hebrews Ch 12: v 18 – 29; Luke Ch 13: v 10 – 17)

What is the worst case of pointless bureaucracy you’ve ever come across? I heard of someone who took an old and broken fridge to their local tip (not one in this area!):  ’Sorry sir, you can’t bring that here – it contains dangerous chemicals’. ‘Oh’ said the man – ‘then what should I do with it?’ ‘You must phone this number and we will come and collect it’. ‘OK’ said the man. He went back to his car, got out his mobile phone and called the number.  The man he had just been speaking with answered the phone.  ‘I wish to dispose of a fridge,’ said the man. ‘OK’ said the recycling man, ‘We will come and collect it. Where are you?’  ‘Sitting outside the recycling centre,’ said the man.… Sometimes it’s easy to keep the rules, but to forget exactly what they’re there for.

The Church of England is not exempt from this sort of thing either.  When I look back on my journey to ordination, through training and into ministry I remember getting very frustrated with red tape which seemed designed to make things difficult to follow the path you believed God had chosen for you, not easier.  As someone who enjoys sport, I understand the need for rules as long as they are applied fairly.  I got very upset when watching the netball match between England and Australia in the recent Commonwealth Games.  The Umpire was not being fair to our team, in my humble opinion, for example allowing a goal when the Australian’s shooter’s foot was clearly out of play.  Stuart will tell you I was not a happy bunny.

For Jewish people the Sabbath was and is a day of rest.  This did not just mean putting your feet up for the day, but actually doing nothing.  Jewish friends of mine only have hot food on the Sabbath because they set their ovens to come on automatically.  God had created the world and had arranged that there would be a day of rest within the week of creation.  I think there is something inherently feminine about this arrangement.  Being organised enough to get the work done in six days and leaving time for a day off to me certainly speaks of a woman’s hand!  Rules had grown up around what was and was not acceptable on the Sabbath Day.   The Sabbath today, is held differently by different groups of Jewish people, some adhere strictly to its traditions as my friend’s family did, others sit more comfortably with the day, but all acknowledge its existence and the importance of taking time out.  Previously in the gospels, Jesus had difficulty with the authorities over what could and could not be done on the Sabbath and he reminded his listeners that even on the Sabbath day they released their animals from work and allowed them to roam freely; to get off the treadmill and walk in a straight line.   Some animal rights people point to the Jewish day of rest for animals as a being the right example set up for animals thousands of years ago.

The president of the synagogue and those like him were people who loved systems more than they loved people – more concerned with the observance of laws than saving a life or in the case of the woman in our Gospel reading of restoring a woman to her full stature and dignity.  They might have asked what difference would one day make to this woman, after all she had been like this for eighteen years.  While, a midwife could work on the Sabbath to bring new life, the rabbis taught that anything else could always be done the day before or the day after.  Jesus, though, thought differently.  If he could end her obvious suffering today, why wait until tomorrow.  Jesus set an example of love in action, which came directly from God’s demand for justice and mercy.

Allowing women to be ordained first as deacons, then as priests and now as bishops shows that the systems and rules of the church do and can change and I for one am very glad that the calling placed on my life more than fifty years ago was eventually allowed to come to fruition in this country and in many parts of the Anglican Communion.   However, there are still areas of church life we need to look at and reform.  Those who chose to be absent from the Lambeth Conference this year are testament to some of those issues.  We will as a global church need to accept some change.  It cannot be right, for example, that you can be a gay Christian in this country and live a full life within the church, but in other parts of the Anglican Communion you live in fear if you are gay.  After all we all worship the same loving God and we are all made in the image of God.

Like my jobs worth at the tip, it is very easy for all of us to let systems get in the way of doing what is right.  The church is no stranger to this way of thinking I am sad to say.  There are many people who sit in our churches, who at times are more concerned with church government than they are with the worship of God and service to others.  Those who are fond of correct procedures rather than perhaps seeing the bigger picture.  In the world and in the church, we are constantly in peril of loving systems more than we love God or love each other.

Finally, thank you, all of you, to have served here, in this benefice for the last twelve years has been a real privilege and a joy.  I thank you for being so forgiving, so loving and so encouraging. Thank you for all those who helped with Open the Book and I am so pleased that at last we can get it going again in our two primary schools, and for those other occasions when we filled this church with young people.  I have a feeling that you will still see me around so it is a bientot not au revoir.