New Years Day Sermon

The reading today gives me a chance to talk about a subject very close to my heart. That subject is adoption. The wonderful awesome truth that the God of the universe decided to make me his adopted son. I will talk in a moment about the basis of that adoption but first I want to pay tribute to a couple of bishops. I have had dealings with many bishops over the past 45 years. The first bishop I met was in 1976. I had just asked Hilary to marry me and then I discovered that she had to be interviewed by the bishop to confirm that she would make a suitable wife for an ordinand in training. The poor lady was terrified by the prospect, but the bishop was very kind and plied us with his favourite sherry. Hilary passed which was a relief for both of us.

On the whole I have found bishops to be both Godly and gifted but also nice people. Inevitably I have had some favourites and I came home from church last Sunday to the news that one of those favourites had gone to glory on Boxing Day. Some of you will have known him. Patrick Harris who was bishop of Southwell in the 80’s and 90’s. He appointed me to my post at St. John’s Mansfield. He had been a missionary in Argentina and was one of the few people that mixed evangelistic and pastoral skills. If you went for a meeting with him he would seat you on his sofa with a mug of tea and one of his dogs would come and curl up at your feet. One of the things I remember about him was that if came to conduct a service he would always go into the kitchen afterwards find a tea towel and help with the drying up. He was also what I call a vision caster when he preached. He left you with that sense of being reenergised for whatever mission task he had licensed you for. Now he is with his master and getting ready for the great feast and I sent a message of thanks with the words ‘well done good and faithful servant’.

Just one more bishop I want to mention and you will soon see why. When I was in Guildford diocese I was both a parish priest and a training office. My given role was to train pastoral assistant to gain the bishop’s certificate. That meant that each year I would conduct a residential with David Wilcox The Bishop of Dorking. I loved working with him. He was a great story teller. It was from him that I learned that people love stories more than dry theology.

David was the gentlest of men but I remember an evening after a day of training when he and I and the 20 or so candidates gathered in the bar and one of them said to him ‘Bishop David do you ever get really angry?’ In Jesus fashion he answered the question with a story.

‘When I was appointed as bishop a local reporter came to interview me. He had done his homework and knew that I was married with four children. We had our children late. When it seemed, we could not have children, we adopted two lovely boys. Then, two years later, we had a lovely surprise when we discovered Louise was pregnant. We went on to have another son and a year later a daughter. Then the reporter asked, ‘Bishop do you love your adopted children as much as you love your natural children?’ and do you know at that moment I was filled with such rage, I wanted to punch him.’

Even as he told the story he went red in the face with the memory of the anger.

Now all these years later I can say that I know how he felt. I am looking forward to getting a picture of all six of my grandchildren at some point, when we are allowed to do things like that. I do have this splendid picture of the oldest four. Of course, I remember the days when five of the six of them was born. This year, I didn’t meet Peter and until later, and Chloe I have only seen from afar.

One day this year, 2021, I will get to hold her and it’s lovely looking forward to that day.

When Jayden was born neither I, as his grandad, or Becka, as his mum, even knew he existed. However, I was there on the day that he became my grandson. So were all these people. It was one of my special days that I will never forget.

This sermon is definitely a one-point sermon, but that point is so important that it deserves to be surrounded in wonderful real life stories. With that in mind let’s return to John chapter 1.

(Joh 1:12)  But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.

(Joh 1:13)  They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father.

It’s easy to miss the profound truth of John 1. Our status as adopted children is not focussed on our response to the father. It was God the father that kicked off the process. It was God the father that fashioned the eternal plan. But it is not God the father to whom we respond and give welcome. Our status as adoptive children of God is based on our response to Jesus the father’s ultimate messenger.

Many people believe in God and that’s great.

However, as the book of James points out even the demons believe in God and they tremble.

Believing in God is vital, but it is not in and of itself the thing that transforms us. It is welcoming the son of God as intimate family that makes us part of the family to.

I was born in The Greenwich hospital for mothers and babies on the 19th of June 1952.

That was the day I entered the family of humanity.  

It was on the top deck of a number 53 London bus, in November 1968, just after 11p.m. that I did the John 1 17 thing.

Having heard the gospel clearly explained and after a couple of hours of wrestling and reflection I formulated a prayer in which I said I did want him, I did believe he was who he claimed to be and I would do what he said, Then at that moment God made me my true self, my child-of-God self. That was the day I became part of the worldwide family of the church. On that day it was around 950 million people strong today that number has risen to over 2 billion.

These people celebrated the adoption of Jaden Malachi into the Howe family. It was a great day.

On that day in 1968 on that bus I was alone on the top deck, but I knew that the angels in heaven were having a welcome party for me. A party they hold every time a new member is adopted into the family.

As we start 2021 the worldwide family of the church is scattered by a Pandemic, but we don’t stop being family. We have not been able to have a Christmas feast with our human families but one day we will join Bishop Patrick and all the other ‘saints triumphant’ for that party that never ends.

That’s a truth to start 2021 with; for, most assuredly; ‘The best is yet to come’.

Let’s Pray.

Rev. Alan Howe (3/1/21)