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Preacher: Canon Missioner Maggie McLean –
Title: Our duty and our joy
Date: 2/10/22 11am Eucharist
May I speak in the name of the Holy and Blessed Trinity. One God in three persons. Amen.
It might feel odd to some people for us to be offering thanksgiving today. So much of our focus in recent days has been on difficult news. The continuing war in Ukraine. Terrible storms in the USA and in other parts of the world. And, at home, a cost of living crisis with new energy prices that began yesterday. It isn’t hard to imagine people asking: “why on earth should we give ‘thanks’”?
Of course, difficulties and suffering are not new. The Bible contains many, many accounts of people facing pain and the horrors of war. And we pick up a little of this in our second reading this morning from Philippians. When Paul In the letter tells this community to ‘stand firm’; to ‘hold fast’; to ‘beware of the dogs’ and the ‘enemies of the cross’. It’s not difficult to infer from this that life was proving very hard for this early church.
Persecution was a real and pressing danger. Into the midst of this suffering Paul seeks to lift up the hearts of the people when he says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”.
When we are mired in difficulty it becomes all the more important to grasp a sense of perspective. An awareness of the bigger story in which our present sufferings are set. This isn’t to diminish the reality of hard times, but to remind us that hard times are not here forever.
It might help to reflect on this through the main prayer of thanksgiving which we use here every Sunday at Holy Communion. I’m talking about the Eucharistic Prayer. The word Eucharist itself simply means ‘thanksgiving’, and it’s at the heart of what we do in this Minster day-by-day, every day of the year. We give thanks.
As we will hear again today this great thanksgiving prayer begins with the statement that offering thanks is ‘our duty and our joy’.
It seems to me that the way in which we give thanks needs to hold those two words together. Duty and joy. Sometimes we give thanks because we are overflowing with joy, and joy leads to thanksgiving and praise. We sense it in the words of St Paul when he combines his encouragement to ‘rejoice’ with a reminder that ‘the Lord is near’.
It can be wonderful when we offer thanks and praise in sheer gratitude and love for the sense that our lives are held in the hand of God. It’s impossible to read Philippians and not catch a sense of this infectious excitement and expectation. But we also know that it isn’t always like that. Sometimes we might find ourselves here before God, not because of joy but because of duty. ‘Duty’ can feel a far less exhilarating sensation. While joy might make us feel elated and unthinkingly thankful, duty comes with a strong sense of obligation.
If we do our duty it is carried out because of commitment – not always because we feel like it at the time. Just as with the promise made by the late Queen, duty can steer a steady course across the years. On many occasions that might also involve joy – but duty underpins us, even when joy seems far distant and unavailable.
As we celebrate Harvest there will be countless people who are rejoicing. People who are thankful for the gifts of creation that sustain our lives.
Thankful for new life born into the world.
Thankful for families, friends and those who love us.
Thankful for the life of Francis Jackson and the legacy of his music which continues to inspire and give joy and sung in this Minster here today.
Thankful simply for the beauty we can see in the world around us.
On this Sunday as on every Sunday, we offer our great thanksgiving holding together the experiences of duty and joy. Out of these experiences we offer God our worship, not blind to the suffering there is in the world, but open to a God who takes what we offer, and transforms us. Transforms us so that we become people who work with God to change the world in which we live.
That’s why, here at the Minster, our harvest thanksgiving is linked to projects that help meet the needs of communities challenged by suffering. Worship reminds us of all that falls short of the love of God, not least ourselves. And worship inspires us with the hope that our world is being changed.
At times we may struggle to see that, and like the church at Philippi we may need encouragement to be steadfast, and to rejoice. To recognise in the Gospel that our God is more than food in the wilderness; and never less than the bread of life.
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