Address at Evening Prayer, Sunday 2nd August 2014 marking the occasion of the 80th birthday of Revd Eric Heather

1 Kings 8:22-30, 54-60

Matthew 9:35-10:23

This afternoon’s readings (or lessons, as they were once called) have set a very good tone for this act of worship. 

First of all we have been given words of the wise King Solomon as he prayerfully dedicates both the Temple and his own life to the God of his ancestors - including his father David. In doing so, Solomon also blesses and dedicates the whole assembly of God’s people, those who will meet for praise and worship, sacrifice and offering.

Then we are given Jesus’ example to his disciples before his commissioning of them to go out to do his work. We see Jesus’ compassion for the crowd. We also see his giving of power and authority to his friends, accompanied by suitable warnings (a dose of realism if you like) that those who walk in his ways and keep his commandments, his statutes and his ordinances can expect to face opposition.

Taking the readings together, we have the dedication of a place along with the offering of a life.

Notwithstanding the fact that Eric would not want me to talk too much about him today – like Solomon, he would prefer me to talk about the Lord whom he serves - it ought to be allowable for me to remark upon the obvious. 

So ….. at a mere eighty years old, Eric is, of course, far too young to have dedicated where we are this afternoon to the worship of God.  This is nevertheless a place which Eric loves, and in which he spends many hours lost in wonder, love and praise. And in doing so, he is strengthened by his encounters with God and his people. Through his ministry and his wisdom, Eric continues to build up God’s people in this place. We give thanks for all of that today.

Eric is also widely known out in the community. He does not usually need to go very far to minister with his characteristic compassion. So far as I am aware, Eric doesn’t carry much gold, silver or copper in his belt, and I don’t imagine that there has been much serious persecution on account of his ministry (any more than there has been for the rest of us who have the privilege of ministering with him). 

But, like the disciples, Eric is obedient to his calling, as a Christian person, and he relies on his heavenly Father for all that he needs to minister in the power and authority of Christ. Whether his fellow labourers are plentiful or few, he continues to work (even in retirement) for a Harvest in this parish. He is, rightly, loved by us all. 

Speaking personally for a minute, his friendship and support have been more than I have deserved and,as I prepare to leave Hook in a few weeks’ time, I know that I will go thanking God that I can number Eric amongst my excellent colleagues and co-workers in Christ.  And I am also proud to call him my dear friend, something which will not change wherever either of us lives.

Of course I could say so much about Eric today, but although Vera and many other would love it, Eric might not forgive me. Oh - and I might become a tad too emotional.   

So, later on this afternoon, we will celebrate further by eating together and – I dare say – letting rip with a rousing rendition of ‘Happy birthday to you’.  However, a more lasting celebration of Eric’s birthday – and of all of our own birthdays, past, present and future - would be to continue in Hook with what is important to Eric.  This will include being here in that Anglican way for those who come to church and, crucially, for those who don’t. 

It’s helpful to have clergy to do that but of course the continuing life and health of a parish actually depends upon the congregation.  So what can we as a congregation take away from this afternoon?

Well, we can take away the importance of a sacred space, yes, but more importantly the integrity of the worship which is offered within its walls. This has nothing to do with differing styles of worship, but everything to do with the authenticity of what we yield to God in our daily lives and which then comes to a prayerful focus here.

We can take away the faithfulness of the God whom we worship, and know that when we set foot outside of this building in faith, hope and love, God will by his Holy Spirit be with us and equip to do all that he asks of us. We don’t need material trappings to witness to our faith, just an honest and humble recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives and in the world, and an acceptance of his will and purposes for us.

We can take away the knowledge that our worship, welcome and witness will not always be appreciated by those we meet. Yet we know that we are not here to please human beings, and certainly not to please ourselves; but to love the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul and with all our strength. And to love our neighbour as ourselves. For in that service – as Eric shows us - we will each find our reward.

So, Eric, as you look around this place today I hope you will be encouraged and blessed, and will enjoy many more years of happiness in this place. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, and – with you – we commit ourselves to loving and serving Him wherever we find ourselves.

CH

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