4 And in answer, Jesus said to them, ‘In your going, relate to John what you hear and see. 5 The blind receive sight, and the lame walk; lepers are cleansed, and deaf hear; dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel proclaimed to them.’
Matthew 11:4-5 The Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible
10 The days of our years are three score years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away.
Psalm 90: 10 – The King James Bible
I first met Humphrey in 2010. We meet periodically and always end up discussing theology. His deep and loyal faith over 60 years as a priest shine through him and I always find myself inspired after our meetings.
During Advent, he preached what follows; it may be his last sermon as he is now retiring. I’ve decided to include it on this site, as I think it is what should be all our hopes for 2023, summed up in the title above, that God will give his love to the world through us.
“7 o’clock, snug in bed, he says, ‘I won’t go to church this morning; the Vicar won’t mind.’ His wife replies, ‘You are the Vicar.’
God is grateful to us for coming out mid-winter.
Today’s Bible readings look ahead – heaven on earth. Imagine Armistice Day 1918. VE Day, 1945. Soldiers in Europe, ‘We’re going home.’ Sixth century BC, the people of God, exiles in Iraq – ‘We’re going home.’ Now, 30 AD, Jesus brings the Dawn of the Day. A week later, John is beheaded.
As a curate I visited a lady in hospital. She said, ‘I’m going home tomorrow.’ I said, ‘Oh Good,’ but thought, ‘She’s wrong.’ Young curate knows best. She was right; she died the next day. She went ‘home’.
My mother wrote to me before she died. ‘I hope Jesus won’t mind. Rather than meeting him, I’m looking forward to seeing Dad again, and Jack.’ Jack was her ill brother, who died aged 19. Joy my wife allows me to say that she was distant from her father. She looks forward to getting to know him better in heaven.
A First World War cartoon: Vicar says to Villager. ‘Terrible news from France, George.’ George replies, ‘And my back is bad for digging my potatoes.’ Macro crisis; micro crisis. I feel for George. At 86 I watch the News – Poverty, Hunger, War. But I don’t engage. Problems and Pains nearer home dominate: Scams: Computer and on-line Glitches: Drains: Family Tensions: Falls: Doctor’s Appointments – Bowels and Bladders. Joy, chronic pain, arthritis. Me, deaf: no good on the phone. All these focus our nervous energy in old age. Do some of you share what I mean? The Psalmist said about 80-year-olds, Yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow.
I have a friend, after a stroke, for six years completely incapable. God says to him, to us, ‘It’s easy to trust me when things go well. Hang on when things get tough. You are right to complain that I forsake you. I am sorry for you. Please forgive me for your pains and problems. This is your way of the cross. I would it were otherwise. I want my world to be better for you, but I let every atom of creation be free to be itself; that includes planet earth and you. I am in charge, and concerned and care about you, but I am not a puppeteer who controls you or manipulates the world. I invite and welcome you to interact with me. Together, with love and wisdom, we can heal the world.’
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. Yes, we do have hope. Not fairy-tale propaganda, but trust in God’s promises.
I was ordained priest 60 years ago in Portsmouth Cathedral by Bishop John Phillips to St James’s Milton. At Lincoln Theological College Alan Webster our Warden said, ‘Tell your vicar about your love-life; if you don’t, someone else will.’ True enough. Two ladies said to Patrick Mitchell, ‘We saw Father Prideaux in the cinema with Miss Maitland.’ Patrick said, ‘Yes, isn’t it splendid.’ Brenda was our church warden’s daughter. We married in 1966. In 1991 she died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage, aged 56. In 1993 Joy and I married.
Chance: Luck: ‘Providence’ – a difficult religious question. Yes, God does ‘provide’, but here on earth we have only hints and glimpses of his Providence. Can you, like me, look back to when we turned an unexpected corner? – a gift, a grace – often when things were bad? As John Keble wrote in his great hymn: New mercies each returning day, hover around us while we pray; new perils past, new sins forgiven, new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven. And don’t we find that when we do pray, ‘Co-incidences’ do start to happen? New mercies.
Your priest Paul will be shocked, but at school I did no science at all. I did Classics – Greek, Latin, the Ancient World. (Later with the Open University I did study science, maths and computing.) I applied to do Classics at University, but I was invited to do Theology, and that’s what I chose. I studied and taught it all throughout my ministry. With one group we looked at the Christmas stories. We explored the different messages that each of the writers is uniquely trying to give. One man in his 70s said, ‘Why wasn’t I shown this, ages ago?’
We are each a theologian – a person who thinks and talks about ‘theos’, God. In biology, as Paul knows, there are always new ideas, new insights, sometimes complete changes from earlier assumptions. It is the same in theology. Keble in that hymn said we daily have new thoughts of God.
I love Archbishop Cranmer’s words in this centuries-old service. He does know God. That first prayer: ‘God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.’ With God we don’t have to pretend. We can be open – glad, sad, mad, bad – honest with him, because he holds us in his care. This isn’t a feeling. It’s a fact. We can’t prove it. But it’s a fact to cling on to, often by our fingertips.
Good old Cranmer, the martyr. Yet he himself was willing to burn at the stake people who disagreed with him about what Communion means. Our theology has changed completely, about how God wants us to treat one another when we differ. New insights into God.
It is always the same basic question -‘What sort of God? What is his character, his passions?’ Already I’m wrong: I’m giving him the male pronoun. Why is this the basic question? How we live depends on it. Say I think God will intervene with a miracle to heal my friend – and they die. I now lose trust in God.
I am anxious about our mother church. She is very busy with procedures, policies and projects. She is not focusing on theology, on the wide range of thought that Christians profess and share. It is not our job to take people on our journey. We have to listen and try to see what unique path God wants for them.
Whatever our age, we all look back. We are grateful to God for our journeys. What we long for is that God will give his love to the world through us.
We hope for this, not because we are good, but because God is.
Heavenly Father, thank you for all those who like Humphrey have dedicated themselves to the service of others. We pray that we may be worthy to follow in their footsteps. And as we start another New Year, we ask for you to breathe hope into us – hope that we can be a conduit for your love. Amen
2 thoughts on ““What we long for is that God will give his love to the world through us.” Guest post by the Revd Humphrey Prideaux”
A beautiful thought-provoking p article by Humphrey Prideaux,a wonderful start for this new year.
What a gorgeous sermon. It danced and sparkled.