Keys to the kingdom and spiritual border control
St Peter's Day, 29th of June, 2012
Fr Peter MacLeod-Miller, Vicar of St Matthew's Anglican Church, Albury
May my words be to the glory of the Father in the name of the Son and in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
Today, as we celebrate the feast of St Peter, I told your rector that many years ago when I was at the Cathedral in Sydney (before they went mad) on the feast day of St John the Baptist the service was interrupted by a man who brought a severed head as his own vivid contribution to the festivities. The Mother's Union were furious at being upstaged — with all the preparations for the day no one remembered who cooked the sponge but everyone remembered who brought the head !!
I bring you the good wishes, congratulations and prayers of the good people of St Matthews Albury and the Diocese of Wangaratta with whom are shared strong bonds of love (or "lerve" as I as shall probably say tomorrow morning when marrying the daughter of our Bishop at St Matthews.)
Fr John Davis came from St Matthews when he was translated to St Peters Eastern Hill and then was "apostolically retreaded" to Wangaratta where he has become a most valued friend, and I have been requested to give his love to you all — so there you have it !
As we walk down memory lane, I was interested to meet this morning a lady who, 75 years ago, was a girl living in a hostel "down the road from St Peters" who was warned against walking into the building on the grounds of it being "very high church". Tonight I was given impressive encouragements toward brevity on account of other strongly held fears so am pleased to reassure you of my adherence to the rule of the former Dean of Bury St Edmunds — "rarely low church, frequently high church, but never Long church".
Tonight as we celebrate our patron Saint, St Peter, I would like very much to think about gates, pearly and otherwise and keys to the kingdom and spiritual border control.
I am astonished to be here and I am standing here in this pulpit as a result of the outrageous flouting of hallowed traditions by your new rector.
It was only a few weeks ago after attending medical appointment with one of my trusty subdeacons that we thought we would spend a moment with God.
Big God at St Patricks was shut and we couldn't even get through the gate but St Peters was a different story — we sailed through the gate and found a young man who had also wandered in and was looking for something. The Church doors were locked so, summoning up all our courage, we rang the door bell of the vicarage and then began the "un-Peterly" chain of events that finds me here.
The door was opened! and I was met with a smiling face (I naturally supposed him to the gardener. "Why look for the living in the place of the dead?") — Fr Hugh, although he had never met me, a total stranger.... "bade me welcome".
Are you sure you are an Anglican priest? (displaying such wildly uncharacteristic clerical hospitality).
He said "I'm new" — ah( I thought) that explains it !!
St Peter never got over being new !!!
He had a life and a career but Jesus gave him a new one.
He was a fisherman but Jesus made him a new one.
He had a family but Jesus gave him a new one.
He had a way of living with God.
But Jesus gave him a new one.
He'd made lots of mistakes
And with Jesus he made lots of new ones.
He'd lots of doubts and with Jesus he had lots of new ones.
It was Peter who took new steps of faith and soon found himself in deep water and Peter has a problem when Jesus asks him 3 times if he loves him and gives this fishermen a land job in sheep feeding.
We are all, as Peter was, frequently in deep water and in possession of dangerous new realities if we have courage to step out into them.
So with Peter we are "all in the same boat" and it would not be right in this week, in this place which has courageously stood with the most vulnerable in the most beautiful way not to think about doors and border control as we consider the keys to the kingdom.
I could consider the spiritual border control and the age old fiction of sending souls to offshore processing centres in purgatory, limbo or to the Diocese of Sydney before being welcomed into paradise and it would probably be an effective deterrent against people attempting the journey.
Westminster Abbey shares the patronage of St Peter and though I organised the service in the Abbey for Australian bushfire victims, I noticed that for ordinary people it's quite challenging to get through its doors. I have laughed many times at the thought of the blessed Percy Dearmer who opened a soup kitchen at the Abbey when he was made a canon there and reflected how eagerly they would anticipate his funeral — close the soup kitchen and welcome the paying customers through the turnstiles.
Doors are not easily opened. I have been shortlisted at St Georges and Windsor, the Chapel Royal, Christ College Oxford and as Chaplain to Kings College Cambridge but it's not easy coming from a new country. They don't necessarily like new — even fresh neo-gothic can be a challenge.
I was most recently shortlisted as Chaplain to the Archbishop of York and probably gave the wrong response to the question "What do you find most interesting about the Archbishop of York" I responded — he only gets in a boat to rock it !! — wrong answer!!!
New ways can be challenging and we have a few new voices in our congregation at St Matthews Albury and their questions rather rock my boat. In fact tonight our youth leader Clinton is here singing in the choir and I am hoping that it is the start of a new partnership between our parishes — a town and country partnership, not just in the choir and sanctuary, but also in matters of youth and social justice. Young people can bring a new vitality to the church's mission. In our own congregation —
This week Clinton Monteiro an 18 year old Indian economics student stood up and probably spoke for the first time in public when the Premier of NSW and the cabinet met in Albury. The Premier tried to shut him up with a statement about "the Australian way" being about "a fair go" and that meant keeping your place in the queue and not pushing in. This new Christian voice in our choir and congregation responded:
"A fair go is not about looking after your own interests, a fair go is about what Jesus spoke about and lived out — 'doing to other people what we would have them do to us'." It is a politically simple question if the State Governments got on board and showed more support for refugees and expressed a clear political will, that would be a good start. Handballing is a predictable response of a politician but is a poor response from a human being. Young Australians expect more from the people who are representing us, in parliaments that kick off with the Lord's Prayer.
Jesus was a refugee and the question is — are we really seeing ourselves in the same boat or are our governments locking him up in detention centres or allowing him to "sink or swim". We will vote for people willing to do something about a more courageous reality and worthy of Australia's Olympic dream upon which Australian politicians so easily ride.
And he has spent the last few days in new things in contacting young networks in the region and challenging them to think seriously about changing things.
They wonder at Christian countries that spend so much on weapons and soldiers to see democracy spread throughout the world.
This same democratic system of Government that can break for holidays as though fulfilling a sacred duty and yet only recognise the humanity in asylum seekers when their bodies are floating face down.
At Petertide there are probably new ways to look at this and, like Peter, not write off our capacity to do something new and wonderful because of many failed attempts in the past.
To follow in the steps and crave the intercession of one who was intensely human, readily jumped into situations and easily got things wrong, but in the end he was faithful. Three times he had denied he knew Jesus; three times he declared his love for him. And was faithful unto death. Peter, this new man with a new life would be the rock on which would be built new ways of living the story of death and resurrection.
By divine interference, an unsuspecting and even undeserving
humanity was not "detained and processed", but in a most controversial, costly and transforming way was rescued through the deep waters of death to share in a new life.