Institution of the Revd Lucy Winkett
Location: St James's Piccadilly
Isaiah LV. 1-6
Ho all you who are thirsty come to the water
Beloved St James’s. Lucy is making a seamless passage from one Wren Church to another.
A holy place for me. Baptismal place of perhaps the greatest of the prophets of London, William Blake whose Jerusalem has been used this week as an anthem for the English Team in the Delhi Games.
[He said “And we are put on earth a little space
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.”]
St James’s is a phoenix of a church. Just as St Paul’s rose from the great fire, St James’s was rebuilt after the bombing exactly seventy years ago today. The day after the Bishop of London made his first visit to the parish. I was glad to receive a letter recalling those days from Miss Mary Lambert whose father the Archdeacon was Rector and whose remains lie in the sanctuary.
Then we can celebrate more recent Rectors. Donald who brought new life to the church and was delighted to be dubbed by Mrs Thatcher, “a most dangerous man”. Then Charles a doctor of science as well as a divine and a champion of sustainability.
The parish is a fascinating one with the Royal Academy opening the doors of perception at one end of the parish with the other learned societies in Burlington House. And the Economist at the other – one of the most influential journals in the globe whose editor has recently co-authored a book entitled “God is Back”.
In the midst of all this the community here has developed a strong and distinctive life and I would like to pay tribute to Lindsay and to the lay leaders for the way they have used the vacancy creatively and taken great pains to identify someone who would be equal to the inheritance and the potential of this place.
In Lucy I believe the right person has been identified. She has communications gifts recently deployed in the best selling Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book. [I suppose that I ought to declare an interest – it was published by my wife]. But most important after seeing at first hand her ministry at Paul’s, I can attest that she is a priest of rare depth and authenticity and that brings us to our gospel reading for tonight.
John V. 5-42
An earthy scene. Jacob’s well at the foot of Mount Gerizim where Samaritans still worship.
At all begins when you are thirsty. “Ho all of you who are thirsty come to the water”.
St James’s thank God has always been a church for seekers; for those who have discovered that they are thirsty deep down. Of course this deep thirst can be obscured by endlessly acquiring things and consuming things in a way that covers up our deepest hunger and thirst. Eating and drinking are very material and spiritual matters. It is true as the German atheist Feuerbach said “Der Mensch ist, was er isst.” Human beings are what they eat and drink and how they eat and drink.
We begin with talk of water and buckets in the heat of noon. At first the woman does not understand the reference to “living water”. “You haven’t even a bucket and this well is deep. Where then are you going to get this flowing water?”
But she continues to question. The passage moves on to reveal Jesus Christ as the source of the living water of the Spirit. It is the business of the church to be centred on Jesus Christ; to be transformed into his likeness and a transforming energy in the word. Our calling is to reveal and celebrate the Spirit in matter in space and in time.
Often it takes some extreme event; some loss; the collapse of a relationship; a birth or a death to reveal the depth of our thirst for the Spirit who flows from and relates us to the living God. In our own society “spirituality” is sometimes seen as a luxury extra. I was informed by one woman that she had been very successful and had a good home and income so she thought that she “would try spirituality”.
By contrast, in the darkness, deep below ground, not knowing whether anyone knew of their plight, Mario Sepulveda the miner said “I was with God and I was with the Devil. They fought and God won and I grabbed God’s hand.”
Life at that depth and simplicity is the place where we can discern the nature of the battle to be fought and we can also discover the source of that inexhaustible joy which can barely be distinguished from agony which comes to those who live in the Spirit whether miners; artists or anyone humble enough to know their need of God and that only God can satisfy their deepest thirst.
Believe me the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. The old material rituals, the sacrifices and offerings will be superseded.
Instead our thirst will be satisfied by the living waters which come when we communicate with Christ. The opening verses of chapter iv have a direct reference to baptism so it is a fair assumption that we are meant to connect the living waters with initiation by baptism into the church as the community of those who have shared a death to self in union with Christ and have come to participate in his resurrection life.
The mission action plan of St James’s reveals an unease with the word “mission”. The fear is that the word implies not dialogue but “one way street”. I am sympathetic with this unease.
The accent on mission has helped the church to emerge from complacent introversion and to nerve Christians to over come the disabling reticence which rendered them largely inaudible and invisible in contemporary.
But our business is not that of salespersons for the divine or some lifestyle advice; people always on transmit mode and never listening. We are a community being transformed. Serious about the lovelessness and injustice which reigns in so many dark places in our world, we are working for a transformation which begins with us and our life as a community here.
But transformation proceeds and is sustained to the extent to which we are outward facing, joyfully aware of the precious plot of London which is our parish but not confined to it; working for the transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God, a civilisation of love.
I have very high hopes for the partnership being inaugurated this evening. Lift up your eyes and look on the fields for they are white already to harvest. Lucy, I pray that you will know joy here. May God bless you.