SERMON - CANON ANDY TRENIER
Choral Evensong with the awarding of medals and admission of new Girl Choristers, 12.09.21, 3.30pm, Exodus 18.13–26 Matthew 7.1–14
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. In the name of the F, S and HS, AMEN.
In process of time, Christian arrived at the narrow-gate. Now, over the gate there was written, “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
He knocked, therefore, several times, saying, “May I now enter here — though I have been an undeserving wretch? If so, I shall sing His everlasting praise!”
At last, a serious person came to the gate, named Good-will, and asked who was there — from whence he came — and what he wanted.
Christian responded, “I am a poor burdened sinner, coming from the City of Destruction. I am going to the Celestial City…I have been informed Sir, that the way to the Celestial City is through this gate. Are you willing to let me enter?”
Good-will replied, “I am willing with all my heart!” And with this, he opened the gate.
When Christian was stepping in the other gave him a pull Surprised, Christian asked, “Why did you do that!”
Good-will then explained, “A short distance from this gate, there is a strong castle erected, of which Beelzebub is the prince. From there, both he and his minions shoot arrows at those who come up to this gate — hoping to kill them before they can enter in!”
Then Christian said, “I both rejoice and tremble!”
“Evangelist directed me to come here and knock — as I did,” said Christian, “and that you, Sir, would then tell me what I must do.”
“This narrow gate is set before you — and now you through” responded Good-will. No one can put you out!”
You might recognise that passage as being from the Puritan John Bunyan’s famous allegory The Pilgrims Progress.
Published in 1678 it is still one of the most published books in English now running at several thousand editions. Bunyan’s character Christian- goes on a long and arduous journey through a make believe land in which he encounters obstacles and characters that are allegories for the challenges and Way-markers of the Christian life. It can be read as an extended piece of advice to any Christian who is seeking to undertake a similar journey.
As we stand at the gate of this new year for the Girls Choir, as new choristers are inducted and welcomed and as the Senior Girls are entrusted with new responsibilities, I think it is reasonable that, just as ‘Christian’ received from his friend and mentor ‘Evangelist’, so you should also be offered some advice for your journey.
Final year Girls – you’re particular need concerns leading other girls. For all of you the advice I would want to offer you concerns leading us and thousands of others in months to come – in our worship. The reason I chose to start with that story of the narrow gate, which also featured in our second lesson this evening, is because I would give you the same advice.
Enter by the Narrow Gate – persevere with the harder thing, For though gate is narrow, Large is the life therein.
For Christians – the narrow gate corresponds to the Way of Life that Jesus invites us to live in- that we may find our Way into God and become a citizen of his Kingdom.
Our lessons tonight offer several examples of what that Christian Way might mean for young leaders like you. Here are four.
Firstly – Work as a team.
It is a much easier way. A far broader, fairer path, to simple play on your own by you own rules. But both Christianity and leadership are team sports.
In the first lesson Moses had to be told this by his Father in Law, Jesse.
“What you are doing is not good”– says Jesse, (who’s got a lot business experience) “You’ll wear yourself out Moses- you and these people with you. The task of leading them is too heavy for you; you cannot do on your own”.
He suggests that he shares his responsibility with others and Moses appoints a whole team of helpers to bear the load with him. Just as that worked for Moses – so too it works for us.
Us clergy are not very good as singing so we share our role with you. You help us out – and, trust me – everyone is much better off. But you also need to share the leadership amongst yourselves.
All of you – I know you’re brilliant at this – remember to look after one another. Give and share and lead and follow one another as a team. Senior Girls – that is exactly what you’ll be doing this year. So work as a team, whether you’re the head chorister or a supporting senior.
Don’t be rivals – be team mates.
“I know of no single formula for success”, says our ultimate team leader, HM the Queen, “But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”
To know that you need a team around you – and that you are better off working with others takes HUMILITY.
This is what Evangelist advises the distressed Christian when the two first meet.
The narrow Gate – a wicket gate in the story is the strongest symbol Bunyan provides for the humility required of pilgrims.
The way to heaven is not through an elaborate marble arch, or a fancy golden gate.
Wicket is a simple, cheap material we use for making fences.
To reach everlasting glory, symbolised by the “Celestial Gates,” one has to begin with the humble wicket gate. So too my next three little bits of advice are also about HUMILITY.
Number two? Be Humble with people.
In the second lesson we read: With the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
The gospeller continues with his own metaphor- advising us to be gentle and humble with one another. How can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? Don’t be a hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your team mates eye.
The broad way to success encourages us to self-promote, self-congratulate, but because we know what we are really like- leads us actually to self-loathe.
The narrow Christian way says ‘Be humble with one another’.
When you see – or hear- someone make a mistake, or be less than they ought. Don’t judge. Help. Don’t gossip. Love. Don’t despair. Hope.
The wonderful American author, Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
So work as a team and be humble with one another.
Thirdly- be humble with what is holy.
The gospel continues: “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine”,
In other words remember what is special, holy, and good. And remember how important the traditions and practices of this Holy Place have been are are to tens of thousands of people. Its in our chorister promise.
As you lead them in worship – in voice and in your actions and behaviours. Tread carefully, with us who lead worship with you. ‘Many others have spread their dreams under our feet; Tread softly because you tread on their dreams.’
Work as a team. Be humble with one another. Be humble with what is Holy. And lastly – but least – Be humble enough to ask for help.
Above the narrow wicket gate that Christian finds himself at- and being dragged through- are written these words from the second lesson: Ask, and it will be given to you; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
Of course to admit to ourselves that we need help requires us to be humble. To ask someone else to help us requires courage. But these, too, are part of the narrow way.
Whatever it is – emotional, musical, incidental, confusical… Sknock, Seek. Ask and it shall be given unto you.
Ask your friends, ask your parents, ask Mr Lumsden or Miss Grinnell. Ask me or one of the other clergy.
Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
So girls – I wish you the best of success this year. As Michelle Obama put it: “Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
You’ve a wonderful and unique opportunity to do just that as choristers and, like Christian – like any Christian you will achieve success if you step off the broad path and enter the narrow way. Go forward as a team.
Work with one another. Go with the grain of the traditions here. And always be ready to go for help.
Go this way- for though the gate is narrow. Large is the life therein.