Sermon for the Dedication of St Mary the Virgin, Woodstock, Cape Town

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Service of the Dedication St Mary’s Woodstock

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What a privilege to be here on your day of Dedication your Church of St Mary the Virgin, Woodstock, Cape Town…..

All the readings today are wonderful passages of scripture – you can spend this whole week just meditating on them.

The beautiful prayer of Solomon on the dedication of the first Temple of Jerusalem

‘But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! ….29 May your eyes be open towards this temple night and day, this place of which you said, “My Name shall be there,” …. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray towards this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

 

Psalm 8

How lovely is your dwelling-place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young –
a place near your altar,

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

I Peter 2

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

 And then the Gospel

Luke 19: The story of Zacchaeus – the example of a new human being, the change of heart, the transformed individual.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

 So we start with stones. Solomon offers the prayer for the dedication of the first Temple – but how can the great God of all creation dwell in a house of stone. How can God’s name be here! Bricks and mortar. Forgive us for thinking that it is even possible.

The Psalmist though seem to have a deep sense that the Temple is a place of beauty where God dwells:

How lovely is your dwelling-place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.

What a transformation this area of Woodstock has gone through over the years, the buildings had become run down, and many people and St Mary’s people moved out of the area.  Then the outside of the church was transformed and stood as the most beautiful and valued structures in the area, holding the story of Woodstock’s past. The stones a golden honey in its busy and noisy surroundings.

Mary Oliver has an interesting poem:

The spirit

likes to dress up like this:

ten fingers,

ten toes,

 

shoulders, and all the rest

at night

in the black branches,

in the morning

…………………………….

It could float, of course,

but would rather

 

plumb rough matter.

Airy and shapeless thing,

it needs

the metaphor of the body,

From Thirst

God comes to us on our journey, God likes to dress up – God comes to us under the forms of Bread and Wine to feed us his Community, to feed us Body and Soul. God is found under the form, of churches, trees, sky, mountains, earth, sea.

St Francis must have known, at least intuitively, that there is only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible. (From Richard Rohr)

This special and sacred building reminds us that every building, our homes and business, our work place, our school can be a meeting place with the divine, round the table, in the garden under the tree, in the playground.

Some recollection of St Mary’s

My first experience of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream coat – it must have been in 1970s, the boys and girls of St Mary’s and this area, made up the cast. They were dressed in Hessian bags.

 Then another memory of St Mary’s is of the saintly Fr John Rowland who had been here for many years. St Mary’s is built on his prayers:

Do you know that the new liturgy started here? Fr Rowland started what became known as the Woodstock Rite.  A movement away from the high altar, and priest facing away, like a great leader, to an altar in our midst, and priest and people together, being the people of God, the priesthood of all believers. Such a creative liturgical movement took place here at St Mary’s, then came liturgy for Africa, then Liturgy 75, then prayer-book we use today.

And of course Bishop Mervyn Castle was a great son of St Mary’s, a man who helped to shape the spirituality of our church, with his gentle personality.

As one walks through Woodstock on a Sunday, you will notice that worship is pouring out of so many buildings, and in many languages praising God. And the poorest attended churches are the most beautiful, Anglican, Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches.

Does it speak of a failure on our behalf? Have we missed many opportunities to grow the church into the lives of people?

Richard Rohr says in his Thursday Meditation: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.

Soon the flats across the way will be filling up with people – they will see this beautiful church on the road and enquire about it. Will you even want some of those people here, and how will you engage them?

  • Perhaps in this new upmarket area, lunch time or Sunday evening music/concerts, a jazz eucharist, will be a way to bring people into this lovely church which speaks of the beauty, holiness and humanity of God, and of course you may have many plans to engage new people.
  • We engage people by our warm humanity. There is a movement in Scripture from stone temples to the pulsing temple of the heart where God’s Holy Spirit indwells.
  • And the story of Zaccheaus is a story of a life transformed, a movement from a scheming, corrupt and deceitful individual, so that this cheat becomes an example of the new human being, a Christ conscious person.
  • At an Interfaith gathering a few evenings ago I came away with these thoughts:
  • Never think of a person as a problem but as a mystery to be contemplated – Jesus and Zaccheaus
  • How much personal self-reflection are we doing
  • And when we change, the whole world changes
  • And we become who we are: Who are we?
  • 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Bob Commin

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Sermon for the Dedication of St Mary the Virgin, Woodstock, Cape Town

  1. Susan

    Getting into our own centredness has become my prayer for women and men
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reflections that pour more light on my path

    Like

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