The End and the Beginning

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Revd Gareth Leyshon came to St Dyfrig’s Parish, Treforest, as a deacon in October 2006 and was ordained priest in St Dyfrig’s on 5 May 2007. He will move to become Parish Priest of St John Lloyd Parish in Cardiff on Tuesday 25 September 2012.

An end is coming, and a new beginning. A dying, and a rising. A going, and a coming.

Our Lord Jesus prepared his disciples for his death, and for what was to come after.

This weekend, it falls to me to prepare you for my departure, and for the blessings which are to follow.

We have journeyed together over the last six years in the life of this parish, a journey with a clear beginning, a middle, and an end.

In the beginning, in October six years ago, I came to you as a deacon – not yet in charge of the parish, but as a preacher among you. So you won’t be surprised if even on my last weekend, I start by breaking open the Word of God.

Today’s first reading presents a striking figure – a gentle man, who acts rightly, and annoys other people by his words and actions. Someone who chooses not to cut corners, someone particular about following the rules. This man is part of a community who share a religion, who share an understanding about what God expects of human beings. But most of the members of the community struggle each day. Will they do what they are told God expects? Or will they settle for what they can get away with in practice? The community members make excuses: “God couldn’t really expect us to do that – it’s too difficult.” The trouble is, the virtuous man is doing it – proof that it’s possible!

On the day I was ordained Deacon in the seminary, the Bishop placed the Book of Gospels into my hands with the following words: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

As a preacher of the Gospel, there’s a solemn duty upon me to live out, in my own life, the standards which I proclaim from this pulpit. I hope that, at times, I have annoyed you. If I haven’t annoyed anyone, then I haven’t been doing my job. We are all angels with feet of clay, needing to be reminded each week of the high standard of Christian living to which God calls us. And why? For one simple reason, so that when we meet God on the day our life ends, we can receive the smile of God and rejoice in the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We don’t do good to earn our place in Heaven. We do good because it’s the right thing to do, because it serves the needs of others, and because it stores up a greater reward for the place in Heaven which is already ours by God’s mercy.

Five Pastoral Purposes from Des Robertson's Build Up Our Parish website

The middle: soon after I was fully responsible for leading this parish, I invited Des Robertson to work with us. Des reminded us that the work of God includes five distinct activities: telling or reminding people of the message of Jesus; preparing them to be full members of our community; planning and celebrating our acts of worship; growing in head-knowledge and heart-knowledge of God; and serving the poor in our local and global communities. We tried to set up five working groups in the parish,one for each purpose, with mixed success. Des encouraged us to adopt a radical prayer to pray as a parish: “Here I am Lord – use me as you will.”

In due course, we chose to adopt a less challenging parish prayer, asking the Lord that we might know Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly, day by day. You might ask yourself today: “How have I come to know, love and serve God better over these last six years?”   My prayer for you is that each one of you will reach a stage in your own relationship with God when you can choose to pray daily, “Lord, use me as you will”.

St James’ letter reminds us that the way we pray is a good reflection of what we really want in life. It also talks about ambition, and how it can lead us away from what God wants for us. That reminds me of the time a friend in seminary asked what my “clerical ambition” was. I think he expected an answer like “becoming a bishop” or “getting a doctorate in theology and becoming rector of a seminary”. But I gave the only honest answer I could give, and the answer is the same now as it was then: “to serve the people entrusted to my care to the best of my ability and in the way most pleasing to God”. That’s what I have tried to do for you in these last six years, and that’s what I shall do for the new parish which Archbishop George is now entrusting to me.

This, then, brings us close to the end. I am very proud of some of the things I leave behind, and not because they’re MY work, but because they’re OUR achievement, priest and people working together. Foodbank. SVP. Small Faith Groups. The Saturday Vigil Mass hymn planning group. Catholics Returning Home. These have only happened because we’ve embraced these projects with our hearts and minds. I believe that when God looks down from heaven at St Dyfrig’s, what he sees is not peeling paintwork, but open and generous hearts.

As a parish, I invite you to continue the journey of faith. From Tuesday you will have a new Parish Priest, and change naturally brings with it uncertainty and fear. The Disciples of Christ were most unwilling to hear that he was going to leave them, but the Lord assured them: “It is better for you that I go away. If I do not go, the helper whom God will send to you, cannot come.”

As your new pastor comes to the parish, I can do no better than repeat the words of Our Lord: “Do not be afraid!” Change won’t be easy, but it will be good, for the heart of the Gospel is this: you are one of God’s growing children. Accept change as a gift, and believe God’s Good News!