Funeral Address for Mike Sellars

“People thought he was the caretaker.” Sandy told me this of Mike as we were sat in his room at hospital a few days before he died.

It was something to do with his demeanour, maybe he didn’t always look like someone who was a head of department or year, yet he was and as a teacher there are I’m sure many who owe him a great deal as do we here at St. Mary’s.

I didn’t know him that well, sadly, but I did spend a little bit of time with him and soon realised what a charismatic man he was one of those people who drew people to him and enabled others to fulfil their potential.

Liz has spoken of some of the different strands in his life, working, at home and in his spare time. Mike has led a rich life.

The last few weeks have difficult for him, Sandy and the rest of his family particularly. A holiday in Greece was soon followed by the discovery of a brain tumour. It has seemed all the more difficult for us because Mike was such a fit man, he loved to run.

That’s why in part at least I chose our reading from Isaiah ‘they shall run and not be weary.’ Strange that for runners know what it is to be weary. Mind you as Liz has reminded us Mike had an ability to keep talking amidst weariness when for others words ran out.

The reading also holds the weariness of life alongside ‘the everlasting God’. In life we know something of this weariness and the experience of God’s presence with us.

We’re wearied because there are things we struggle to understand, the brittle harshness of life and the depth of sadness we know.

Being a priest means you come close to that sadness more often than others might and so this role often reminds day after day that life is fragile and precious and that we are to live as fully as we can and make the most of the opportunities that are before us.

Mike it seemed to me did just that, he made full use of the talent God gave him and in so doing has taught us much in all kinds of ways.

Yet alongside the weariness, there is also the experience of God’s presence, the everlasting God whose love was made real for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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Clay and Friendship

‘We are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.’

What a wonderful image to have in mind as we begin this blessed season of Advent

It made me ask that when a potter takes a lump of clay, sits at the wheel whether they know exactly what they are going to make.

Sometimes that must be true and the potter Edmund DeWaal is famous for producing hundreds of what appear to be exactly the same pots.

Likewise a potter may sit and want to make a bowl because they have received an order for them and so they make six.

However I have dwelt on the idea that on some days the potter my simply sit at the wheel and see where their imagination takes them.

Maybe Isaiah had seen a potter at work one day and seen the work being done as a metaphor for God’s relationship with us, and it’s still a lovely image ‘we are the clay’ he wrote ‘and you are our potter.’

God has created each one of us, we are the clay, the same in terms of physical components but each one of us unique in terms of looks, size and shape, mind and imagination.

God moulds us in our Mother’s womb, we take our first breath and live and in living we learn that as we grow and experience life, we are re-moulded through it again and again.

Life is the potters’ wheel that turns. We are the clay shaped by that life and we are in the business of discerning God’s hands at work in our lives, revealed to us in all kinds of ways. Reshaping and remoulding us as we seek to live to his glory.

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The Election Manifesto

Not sure if you saw it, but a few nights ago there was a party political broadcast for Jesus. Just kidding but just imagine for a moment if there was.

Election Fever will, I fear, build over the next few months as we prepare for the general election next May.

Each of the parties will vie for attention, every word will be picked over and analysed. Political commentators working overtime. Party Leaders will worry about what to say and do.

But let’s stay with that though of Jesus standing for election, what would his policies look like? Would we vote for Jesus? The man whom this day we acclaim as king.

In conventional terms his manifesto would look strange.

He doesn’t seem worried about money ‘sell your possessions and give to the poor(1).

He doesn’t much care for status or palaces ‘the son of man has nowhere to lay his head(2)

He doesn’t engage in spin for when before Pilate he could have saved himself he ‘makes no reply’(3)

He doesn’t do power instead he washes his disciples feet and talks of serving each other(4)

He doesn’t really do grand arrivals but instead is ‘born in a stable’(5).

Jesus’ manifesto looks strange yet St. Paul writes of ‘the immeasurable greatness of his power.

A strange sort of power then is revealed in this give it away, homeless, sometimes silent, foot washing servant who is born in a shed.

Strange Power this yet Christ is the King. We’re here this morning because that’s what we believe and each of us, in our own way desires to follow this King wherever he leads us.

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1Luke 12.33
2Luke 9.58
3Mark 15.5
4John 13
5Luke 2

The Radiant and Unfading Wisdom of God

They are not so common now, but in some schools alongside those rather grand boards that celebrate achievement. You know the sort of thing Rugby 1910; First XV Captain, H.P.T. Madforrugger.

Alongside these boards for achievement are war memorials. We like so many churches have one here in St. Mary’s. Yet for me there is something about a war memorial in a school, a place of learning and life that seems particularly wrong.

Most of the time, as indeed it should, life goes on the children run past and pay little attention to it. Maybe though, once a year that old dusty board becomes a focus for the life of that community, as they remember.

Those in sixth form especially might just imagine what it must have been in like in 1914 to enlist, to be so filled with zeal for king and country that this is what you had to do.

And as we know so many young men didn’t come back.

One hundred years on, it’s still the sense of waste that prevails in my mind. The waste of young life and the potential they still had to fulfill.

And I want to think about fulfilling our potential a bit this morning, through silence and encountering the wisdom of God.

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A vision for living – The Good Life

One of my favourite sitcoms was and still is ‘The Good Life’. You remember it, Tom Good, fed up with his life, of the rat race, to and from work, the pressures that go with it, leave him longing for another way, so with the lovely Barbara they decide to become self-sufficient in Surbiton and live what is for them the good life.

At some point they’d grasped another vision of how their lives might look, no longer dictated by external demands in being self-sufficient they were singing their own song. This morning we remembered Lady Richeldis and her vision of the Holy House at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham but what of us?

So let me begin tonight by posing three related questions. What would you describe as your vision for life? What would be the factors that inform that vision? And have those factors changed?

And vision is also on our minds because of that first reading from Ezekiel when in verse 27 we heard ‘The vision that he sees is for many years ahead; he prophesises for distant times.’

So how would you describe your vision for life? For many of us I guess it’s something we don’t think about it that much. We just get on with living.

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Place and Thanksgiving

This is a day to celebrate St. Mary and of how her life as our patron is in some weaved with our life as the body of her son in this holy place.

And this is a holy place, many of you have told of how within these walls you feel enfolded in love, the ‘Whitkirk Blanket’ is how some describe it.

Perhaps that feeling is something about the prayers of the faithful seeping into the walls over the years and creating a place where the veil between heaven and earth, however crazy it might sound, seems that little bit thinner.

Holy Places like this are special and thinking about Mary as we are today another special place came to mind – The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

If you’ve ever been, as I know some of you have, you’ll know something of the story, of how Lady Richeldis saw a vision of the house where Mary was invited to become Christ’s mother. That vision was made real in a small building, the Holy House which became the centre of the Shrine.

In one way the Anglo-Catholicism and Marian devotion of Walsingham is all a bit weird and I’d always say don’t take some of it too seriously. Yet in another and I wouldn’t want to be precise about what, there is something special about the place, little miracles happen there, once tired faith is rejuvenated and renewed.

It seems a strange coincidence but a spring of water, a symbol of new life, was discovered just by the holy house. So for many Walsingham, where Mary is the focus of thought and prayer is a place where the veil seems thin.

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Heart Speaks To Heart

An archaeologist was digging in the Negev Desert in Israel and came upon a casket containing a mummy. After examining it, he called the curator of a prestigious natural-history museum.

“I’ve just discovered a 3,000 year-old mummy of a man who died of heart attack!” the excited scientist exclaimed. To which the curator replied, “Bring him in. We’ll check it out.”

A week later, the amazed curator called the archaeologist. “You were right about the mummy’s age and cause of death. How in the world did you know?” “Easy. There was a piece of paper in his hand that said, ‘10,000 Shekels on Goliath’.”

I wanted to use that to introduce my theme for today which is to talk in three little connected sections about the heart. Not that beating organ that keeps us alive rather the word that in faith goes someway to describing our very essence, who we are, our deepest, truest selves.

And I do so because the heart takes centre stage in both our readings. St. Paul writes ‘The word is near you on your lips and in your heart.’ Then a little later ‘One believes with the heart and so is saved.’ And then in our Gospel Jesus says to the disciples ‘take heart it is I.’

So where to begin?

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He had compassion on them

What made him do it? He’d taken his little boat and found a nice quiet spot. Maybe it was time for a bit of carefree day dreaming rather than the earnest prayer we might usually think of, but his peace didn’t last.

The crowds he’d left behind were there again. All he wanted was a bit of peace of quiet yet there they are like lost sheep. Maybe he was tempted to say “Go away” or “Get lost” but he doesn’t, instead ‘He has compassion on them.’ He sees their need. They are hungry. So he has compassion on them, feeds them and in so doing reveals to them something of the nature of God’s love.

But what is compassion? How might we define it? Well for me, putting on one side precise dictionary definitions it’s something about both see another in need and how that need brings forth from us a change of heart. Let me give you some examples of what I mean.

Now you’re all much nicer than me but I’m afraid I can think of times when I’ve been arguing about something or other. In the midst of it I can certainly be angry but then often something happens for when I see the distress caused something changes, so that I don’t want to be angry and argue anymore.

For me that’s something about compassion taking over and changing the situation.

Think also for example of how you might once have held very strong opinions on things, like divorce or abortion or race or religion. Maybe once you were clear about what you believed until that is you become emotionally involved in a situation through family, friends and neighbours.

For when you walk alongside someone who is struggling, our compassion for them and therefore our understanding of those kind of situations changes.

Compassion changes things.

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