Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, United Benefice of Holland Park, Sunday 5th February 2017- 4th Sunday before Lent.

Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, United Benefice of Holland Park, Sunday 5th February 2017- 4th Sunday before Lent.
Today I would like us to reflect two things
First this morning’s reading from Isaiah, and the inspiration and example of one man’s life in the 20th Century as “a repairer of the breach” (verse 12)
And second, the legacy and direction from our wonderful Bishop Richard who took his last service as Bishop this week – some of us here had the delight of being present at the Candlemas service at St. Paul’s on Thursday night
 – a legacy that has set the church in London on the road to being confident, creative and compassionate.
The repairer of the breach.
In the years after the end of the Second World War, in an echo from Isaiah, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house,” a man in his late 20s took into his home an old man who had no one to care for him and who was in the last stages of cancer. The young man had received a basic course in nursing. He cared for the older man, cooked for him, changed his clothes and held his hand as he was dying.
It was 1947. The young man was restless. In his own words “for the last six years I had been trained to be a killing machine.” And very successful he had been at it too. The result was universal admiration. He had driven a Bentley, worn Savile Row suits, and had access to wealth. But 1947 he had lost all these material trappings and he was restless.
I will return to the young man shortly. Turning to the Bishop of London, in his valedictory sermon (For full text of Bishop’s sermon – see  he said:
We are simply Christians seeking to serve the world in a spirit of humility. Jesus Christ teaches us that the first step in becoming a mature human being is to refuse to be a little god. Jesus came in the form of a servant and so should we.”
The young man, nursing in his own home, had stopped being a little god. His new activities attracted attention. A hospital almoner visited him. She recalled “we took tea by lamplight in his sparsely furnished house in which he was already caring for two homeless and sick people. Donning a white coat he left the room to tend the boy upstairs. He told me during our conversation that he had no money and showed me a pile of bills. His faith that God would provide made an enormous and lasting impression on me. Here was a saint amongst men who had a real belief in the power of love and faith. I had never, and certainly not since, met anyone like this simple man who truly loved all men throughout the world. By his international achievements he leaves a fitting monument to his beliefs”
Well I expect some of you may have guessed that the young man, this compassionate young man, confident in the love of God, creative and entrepreneurial, was Leonard Cheshire. Cheshire, who won many decorations including the Victoria Cross in the war, was the British observer on board the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki and personally briefed Prime Minister Atlee about it and then founded what has become Leonard Cheshire Disability which now cares for thousands of disabled people across the world.
Isaiah’s word remind us of his example, not just in the verse “share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house” but also in verse 12 “repairer of the breach.” And perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that LCD’s international strategy is called “Bridging the Gap.” Leonard Cheshire’s legacy, powered by his strong and confident Christian faith, has brought in thousands of people from the margin, is to have “repaired the breach” for thousands of disabled people.
I find Leonard Cheshire’s example an inspiration. Like Bishop Richard’s vision, Cheshire’s life was one of absolute confidence in the Gospel, it was creative and compassionate.
“Many people” said Bishop Richard “enjoy a standard of health care and material prosperity unparalleled in human history and this is something to celebrate. The problem is that our project of growth without limit with no end in view beyond the accumulation of more and more things, this project is unsustainable.
We under-value the gifts of life we receive from God and from one another in the beauty of nature, in friendships, in being good neighbours and in family life. The foundations of our civilisation depend on social spiritual culture which materialism can erode but not create. Every day I meet people who feel obscurely cheated or left behind.”
Bishop Richard’s question on Thursday night and to us today is
How shall we serve in such times as these?
Here at St. George’s we are a community in which the Spirit of Jesus Christ dwells.
What more can we do in our Benefice to be a community “of repairers of the breach,”
That satisfies the needs of the afflicted
That is like a watered garden
Like a spring of water, whose waters never fail
The answer to these challenges I suggest is, as Richard Chartres directs, is that we are to be confident in our faith, creative and compassionate.
Confident: Leonard Cheshire was confident that God would provide. He was a man of prayer. He prayed constantly, He even said a little prayer each time he answered the phone for instance. Prayer he said, “is a matter of being in touch with God and trying to find his purpose.”
Prayer has to be at the heart of all we do as a Christian community. Many of us find making time for prayer difficult. So doing it in the presence of others in a structured form can give deep inner joy. We have morning and evening prayer here each weekday except Fridays. More people are coming to it. It’s 15 minutes. It shapes our day. These services help us to see better the world through the eyes of Christ. If you haven’t been, to quote Philip to Nathanael “Come and see” – come and join us. At the very least – pray more.
Creative: Bishop Richard stressed the importance of not being a little god – which I take to be putting ourselves at the centre of our own mini universe with a focus on accumulation of more and more material things. When our minds churn away in contemplation of material matters – You will know what such matters are at the forefront of your mind currently
let us ask ourselves how, whatever matter we are considering, it might be used by us to grow the gospel.
To share more of Bishop Richard’s words: Anchored in the scriptures we have been given an insight into the deep structure of God’s purposes beneath and beyond the passing moment. We have the freedom to act and not be immobilised by the pressure of the passing moment.
Let us use our gifts –material and otherwise - to act.
Finally Compassionate: the example of Leonard Cheshire, the words of Isaiah and of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount. We probably all have breaches in our lives that need repairing.
Jesus tells us we are salt and light in the world. We must use our gifts for good, not evil. Let our light shine before others so that God’s purposes of justice might be realised in our imperfect world.
Let us, when we leave here this morning, go forth in peace and “repair the breach.”

Holland Park Benefice