Sermon from the Induction of Keith Nethery as Rector of St James Westminster
What an absolute joy it is to be back here again with you all at St James. While it has been a number of years since I stood before you, I continue to carry St James close to my heart; I have thought of you all often and fondly and am honoured to have been asked to share some thoughts with you this evening. I appreciate this opportunity to share in your joy as you take this next step in your life of ministry with Keith at the helm, as he adds his gifts and talents to the many who have gone before, in making St James Westminster all that it is today.
With over 140 years of proclaiming the Gospel from this place, while much has changed all around in Old South and Wortley Village, and different ones have come and gone adding their particular touches to how ministry and service is expressed, through all of that, the heart of this faith community has remained consistent. For at the heart of St James Westminster is an invitation, an invitation to all to come in and experience God, through Christ Jesus, in a whole variety of ways — in what is said, and what is not said, in the words from the pulpit and the words in the pews, in the excellence of the music, in a multitude of gestures and in all manner of faith-filled expressions.
With this invitation has also always come the further encouragement to allow the truth and experience of God to work into those places within us that may need God’s light, God’s life, and God’s love. Having been encouraged and supported, tended and cared for in the faith, we are then able to turn to those beyond these walls, to see just how the Good News of Jesus Christ might be shared with others.
Tonight we gather to mark, to recognize, to celebrate Keith’s taking up of his new role as rector at St James, as he brings who he is and what he has to offer to all that already is here, so that together, this can continue to be a place of invitation to encounter the divine… a place with room for all, where the steps of many are woven into a great dance, a great celebration of all that it is to be disciples and followers of Jesus.
Now when I think of Keith, three words jump to mind: communication, community and commitment. My first encounter with Keith took place about 10 years ago. I was relatively new to the inner workings of the diocese of Huron and as a second year student from Huron, I was attending one of my first Synods having been given the task of writing the Popular Report – a brief summary of the proceedings. As you know, Synod is filled with reports of all different kinds (financial reports, committee reports, special appeals and presentations… just what you’d expect), but as the agenda for the day progressed, I was not quite sure what to make of the appearance of this rather oddly dressed fellow who the agenda indicated was from Camlachie. To this day, I cannot remember the content of what he was saying, but I was impressed with how he brought the gift of humour to communicate, as I suspect that at least some of what he was sharing could best be received only through humour. I would later learn that Keith, having spent his time before ordination in radio, was passionate about communicating and I would go on to see Keith regularly sharing with us through the Huron Church News, and in other ways, intent on keeping information free and flowing.
Community: Anyone who has been part of parish life for any time at all knows that different faith communities have different personalities. Keith has always understood this and has a deep appreciation for the uniqueness, the giftedness of each community. His questions become: how best to support what is already going on, how to draw out those still wondering about their gifts, and how to develop an openness to a God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or
imagine. For as much as tonight is a celebration of Keith’s new ministry, it is also a celebration of what already has been, what is, and what together will be. It’s about Possibilities!
Which brings us to commitment. Quite simply, we know Keith as someone who brings many years of passion and faithfulness to everything that he does; he is committed to seeing and joining in where God is already at work, adding his muscle to the jobs that need to be done, sometimes discerning, sometimes cheerleading … all with the goal of furthering God’s kingdom wherever he finds himself. How blessed you are to have him amongst you.
Turning our attention this Transfiguration Sunday for a few moments to our Gospel reading, I’d like us to think for a moment or two about mentoring. Mentoring, whether in a professional or personal setting, is the practice of a more experienced person taking a person with less experience under their wing, to support and direct them, to share with them what they have learned over the years, and to allow the less experienced person to develop in what is hopefully a supportive environment. Mentors teach, coach about particular skills, facilitating growth by sharing resources and networks, often challenging and pushing the one mentored to move beyond his or her comfort zone, helping them to get and keep the big picture.
We have all likely had mentors. Perhaps they were in our immediate or extended families, in our faith communities, in our school, in our workplace — those who have helped us along the way. Our encounters and relationships with these individuals have changed us and in a very real way, have affected who we are today and even who we will be tomorrow. And really, mentoring just makes sense. Why not glean all the benefits of someone else’s experience, from someone who has already run the race, or who is at least is a bit further down the road than we are? In our reading from Mark this Transfiguration Sunday, we will see another example of mentoring as we see Jesus, Peter, James and John as they ascend the mountain, as Luke tells us in another Gospel, to pray. Mark is a little lean on the details, but we can imagine these three as they leave the crowds and ministry to start the long climb in the fading light of day. Each deep in thought, no talking, just straining of muscles and breathing heavily as they climb. Jesus stops, sits down; they were there to pray and that is what they begin to do. They continue in prayer until the disciples are weighed down with sleep.
The next thing they know they are aware of a light, of a shining that they cannot logically explain. The disciples with eyes fully open at this point, see before them, Jesus, who they thought they knew so well, their mentor and their master, now being transformed, transfigured, gleaming and dazzling before them. But there was more, for it was clear that He was not alone…but how could that be?
Two others were speaking with Him, bathed in this same transfiguring light. They appeared to be Moses, the great law giver and Elijah the prophet, but how could that be? God’s own glory lighting up the sky? Peter’s response… well we are told that Peter was, like all of us would likely have been, terrified, terrified, and so out of that Peter begins to babble something about tents and setting them up … perhaps thinking he is being helpful, but really not making much sense. And then, if they were not dazed enough they are then engulfed by a cloud, overshadowed by it, hearing all around them the words, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” And then … it is all gone!
As I read about this experience of the disciples I was reminded of a recent experience of my own of a cloud of sorts. It was several years ago on one of my many travels between St Thomas and London when I served at Trinity St Thomas. I was making my way home after a Deanery Council meeting
around 9:00 p.m. at night, when I encountered for the first time in a very long time, a snow squall somewhere around the Ford plant, though of course I could not really see exactly where I was.
It was as if I had driven into a closet, a closet that was lit only by the gleam of my headlights, and instead of these lights showing me the way ahead, the density of the snow as it blew and swirled around me, only reflected back its own light so I was travelling totally blind … helpless. I could hear myself running off the road to my right because I could hear my tires connecting with the grated pavement that road makers place on the edge for this very purpose of alerting drivers that they are near the edge. I slowed down, knowing that to stop could have disastrous consequences, and I tried to keep that ‘grrrrring’ of the tires to my right… I was terrified… and I prayed.
I was alone on the road at that hour with no other lights before or behind. After what seemed like an age, though it was likely not very long, from nowhere a windowless van whizzed by me. Was this driver crazy, going this fast??? Yet it seemed to me at that moment that this van offered me my best chance of getting out of this, if I could keep up. It was clear that its driver was very confident and knew where he/she was going, and so with a heart beating a mile a minute, I sped up into the darkness, eyes fixed only on the red glow of those taillights.
Eventually, by following this van I came to a place that was not quite so snowy or blowy, where the visibility improved a bit, and the driving was much easier. As I reflected back upon this experience, I wondered about that windowless white van that seemed to come out of nowhere; I wondered whether God had sent it, and just who was driving it?? On that evening when that cloud of snow dropped down on me from out of nowhere I imagined in a small way Peter’s fear and confusion in the cloud atop that mountain, as his mentor and his master was first transformed and then shrouded.
With this Sunday we leave the Epiphany season, the season of the bright star, the guiding star, and the star that directed the world to Jesus’ doorstep. This season of Epiphany began in one kind of wonder; it ends today in another… in the wonder of the mountain top. On this transfiguration Sunday, we remember, giving thanks, for those who have shown us what it is to live lives of faith, we remember, giving thanks, the brilliance of the gift of God’s Son to us, to our world and we gather up all of this brilliance for we will need to hide it up in our hearts, to keep us through the darker days of Lent before the brilliance returns on Easter morning.
As Lent dawns upon us, we will on Ash Wednesday and in the Sundays ahead be asked to come down from that mountain and to stand with Jesus on the edge of the desert, venturing into it with him, following the example of those who have been our mentors and our masters, knowing that while even there the clouds may kick up every now and again obscuring our vision, making our steps uncertain and hearts pound within us. We remind ourselves, and one another as the need arises, that God is faithful in all things.
Let us pray:
Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transfigure us into his likeness, so that, as a people changed and changing, we may illumine the world with your compassion. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Rev’d Val Kenyon