Recent studies of Olympic athletes, world-class musicians, and chess grandmasters reveal that the thing they have in common is the ability to motivate themselves to follow relentless training routines. And, with the steady rise in the degree of excellence required to be a world class performer, these rigorous training routines now increasingly must begin in childhood. At the 1992 Olympics, twelve year old members of the Chinese diving team had put in as many total lifetime practice dives as had members of the American team in their early twenties – the Chinese divers had started their rigorous training at the age of four. These are dedicated children.
Likewise the best violin virtuosos of the twentieth century began studying their instrument at around the age of five. Starting earlier offers a lifetime edge; the top violin students at the best academy in Berlin, all in their early twenties, had put in ten thousand hours of practice in their lifetime. These are dedicated people.
The International chess champions of today started playing the game at an average age of seven. These are dedicated people.
Ronnie O’Sullivan made a 147 break in 6.5 minutes. Anyone who has chalked a snooker cue will appreciate that it is impossible to even approach such excellence if you are not completely dedicated to the sport.
People who achieve such high standards in sport or music or in other ways do so because of that one human characteristic called Dedication – total commitment to a cause or to a person. Highly focussed and disciplined, these dedicated people are deeply committed. We might even say that they are obsessed or fanatical. Of course, the pilots who guided the air liners into the twin towers in New York – they were also dedicated people. Dedication of itself is not necessarily virtuous. It depends upon the object of the dedication. What is the purpose of the dedication?
The dedication festival of a church is an occasion to celebrate and to give thanks for the commitment of the people of God to the work of Christ in a particular place at a particular period of history. St. Mark’s Church on Anlaby Common has for the last half century or so been carrying out that work of ministry in this area. The community of faithful people who have met together here and celebrated the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, have been the representatives of Christ here for that time and God willing, will continue to do so for many years to come. I am very proud of the fact that I have been a small part of this particular history. We have not always achieved excellence comparable to great athletes; we have been at times foolish and disobedient to our founder and a bit short on dedication. But we can claim – by of the grace of God, because God is a forgiving and redeeming God, to be part what Geoffrey Paul called, "that extraordinary ragbag of saints and fatheads who make up the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
"Where is the church now in Anlaby Common?" When I was the vicar that was a frequently asked question... They wanted to know where the building was of course. All I had to do was to say; "It’s next to that Nissan Hut". People would seldom ask the more profound question; "Where is the church now in terms of its mission and ministry"? "To what purpose is it dedicated?" That’s a more difficult question to answer.
I feel that the Anglican Church as a world wide community is reaching a crisis point. Issues like the church’s attitude to war – with particular reference to Iraq; the Church’s attitude to human sexuality – with particular reference to the consecration of homosexual clergy – and many other problems threaten to fragment and to polarize the church. There are two jobs which I decided not to apply for. One is the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other is Prime Minister. Who would want their jobs at the present?
It’s an overworked phrase I know, but I feel that a return to basics is called for – especially on this festival day when we are reflecting on our dedication. "What on earth is the Church for?" In particular "What on earth is the Anglican Church for?" "What on earth is St. Mark’s Anlaby Common for?"
St. Peter – writing to the people of God who formed the first Christian churches which were dispersed in far off places – said the great words of encouragement "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his marvellous light". The new people of God were not merely individual Christians; they were the church. St. Peter describes the church as a spiritual temple constructed out of the living stones of believers. This is one of the most meaningful interpretations of the church in the whole of the New Testament. To be a Christian is to live within the community of God’s people – to be the body of Christ...
Since those early days, the Christian community has been fragmented into many different denominations or streams of tradition. We, as Anglican Christians, claim in our creed to be part of that one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. In saying that, we acknowledge that we are formed by that particular ethos which is the Anglican Church.
Historically the Anglican Tradition was formed in the cauldron of the reformation over five hundred years ago. It ultimately took shape in the form of a tripod – a stable structure. This tripod is a triple foundation of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. We don’t base our faith on any individual person, like John Wesley for the Methodists or Martin Luther, or the Pope for Roman Catholics. Anglicanism is different in that respect. Scripture, Tradition and Reason are our foundation stones.
The Bible is read systematically at every church service. It is the basis for our learning and our communication. It is not to be abused as the fundamentalists do – treating it as a collection of quotations to be used to support our weak arguments but it is to be valued as the sacred writings on which we base our worship and our doctrine.
And then there is tradition. Not a fixed prejudice which is written in stone tablets but a rich heritage - a confluence of varied streams of living water into which we are born and carried forward to the next generation. We are right to value our traditions because these are the influences which have formed us as we are. Our rich liturgical tradition – with the Eucharist as central together with Morning and Evening Prayer to be said daily and to be sung in our cathedrals. These are treasures of Anglican tradition which we value.
And thirdly, there is reason. St. Peter said always have a reason for the faith which is within you. We say in the blessing "The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God …" It is true that there are many things which are beyond our mere reason to understand. Nevertheless when people ask us why we are dedicated to God – they deserve a thoughtful and sensible reason. We use our reason to determine how we react to the many ethical problems of our time. We do not resort to mindless obedience to Biblical texts taken out of context.
Scripture, Tradition and Reason – the tripod which makes for a balanced faith – this is true Anglicanism.
So as we gather together as the family of God in this place. Today, we celebrate our common heritage and rededicate ourselves to
the person who is made present among us in the blessed sacrament of the body of Christ. We are not dedicated to Scripture – we are not dedicated to tradition, we are not dedicated to reason. These things are only the means to an end. That end, that ultimate goal is God alone. The object of our dedication can only be God who is in Christ reconciling the world to himself. We don’t argue about the things which separate us from one another as frail human beings. We may not quite understand what exactly is going on when we dedicate or consecrate the elements of bread and wine which are the outward signs of inward grace. As the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker said 500 years ago "What the elements are in themselves it skilleth not, (ie. beyond our skill) but what matters is that on receiving the elements of communion we can say together "O my God, thou are true, O my soul, thou art happy". Then we can proclaim with confidence and humility, "We are the body of Christ". Amen.
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