Just over a week ago, I was in Jerusalem attending a magma, which is the synod of the diocese of Jerusalem. But this was unlike any synod in the UK because the diocese of Jerusalem takes in Israel, Palestine (including Gaza), Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The magma, the synod, received apologies from its members in Syria, for obvious reasons they could not manage it. The magma received apologies from Lebanon, again for obvious reasons. The members from Jordan arrived, but instead of taking a few hours to travel to Jerusalem, it took over 12 because of problems with visas and border controls. But despite these problems, the magma was quorate….quite an achievement. As with any synod, we had reports from the secretary and the treasurer, fairly mundane stuff. But then we heard reports from the Church’s involvement in their local communities across the diocese: we heard about the schools, the home for the elderly, the school for the deaf in Jordan and the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, a hospital which treats all-comers, whatever their faith community, a hospital whose director, despite a number of threats to her life, continues her work, a hospital which will be very, very busy today. This diocese, which does not contain a huge number of Anglicans and struggles for resources, witnesses to their faith in profound ways to their local communities. They embody their faith in Jesus Christ, who was born, died and raised in that very land.
Today we celebrate something very special here today as we bless and dedicate this ring of six bells. I thank God for the way that you and your Rector and some generous benefactors are making it possible for this Church to sing out the faith in this area in a very special way. Since 1552, there has been a chequered history of bells in this church with the tower, at various times, being blown down, burnt down and struck by lightening. But today you are doing a new thing. With the existing bell, there have never been seven bells in this tower and how wonderful it was to hear them. Today, you are doing a new thing.
In that first reading from Isaiah, the people of Israel are being told some good news. As a people they were depressed and down-hearted. They had become self-obsessed and self-absorbed and could not see beyond their own needs. They were mistreating the stranger, the poor and the needy in their own communities. They had no vision. They had turned away from God. As a result of all of this, they found themselves torn away from their toots and they lost perspective and they lost touch with all that had been precious to them. Then, they were given new vision and new hope:
You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. (Is.62.4)
They were encouraged to lift their eyes beyond themselves to something and someone other than themselves, to God himself, and there they would find hope and new possibilities. God was doing a new thing for his people.
In the New Testament reading, Jesus encourages his followers to see the world in a different way. In the way that St. Luke’s Gospel so often does, he turns the world’s values upside down. Instead of inviting to your candle-lit dinner parties those who will invite you back, Jesus tells his followers with a generous heart to invite those who cannot invite you back:
When you give a luncheo or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invites the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.(Luke 14.12-14)
Again, they were being encouraged to look beyond and above themselves and their own needs, to the needs of the other and there they would find hope and renewal. By turning upside down the values of the world, Jesus encourages his followers to do a new thing.
Today you are doing a new thing. By adding the sounds of these bells to this community, you are encouraging the people of Farnborough to lift their hearts and minds above and beyond to God himself. In former times, the farmers in the fields of this area would have stopped their work when they heard the bell in the middle of the Communion Service and the bread and wine was lifted to God. Their hearts would have been lifted when the bells heralded a wedding and they would have been saddened when the bells tolled a funeral. These bells are evangelists in that they are constant reminders of God’s presence in all of life, in the joy and the sadness and they are reminders of hope, possibility and new life that come from God. They lift us above ourselves. But the truth of this message being rung out by these bells is reinforced and given added power, it becomes all the more believable, when they see this reflected in the life and witness of this Christian community……. when they are aware of the depth and joy of the worship in this place and the commitment and love of this church to this community, a commitment in particular to those who are marginalised and pushed to the edge.
Today you are doing a new thing. This unique occasion provides an opportunity not only to dedicate these bells, but also to dedicate ourselves afresh to the mission and worship to which God calls us.
The Christian faith has its roots in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Today that area is still suffering and bleeding as Jesus did. But they are not without hope and courage as it is not only the land of the crucifixion, but it is also the land of the resurrection. I pray that these bells may provide an opportunity for this Christian community to commit itself afresh to Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. You are doing something new. People of Farnborough, take out your ear phones, unplug your ipods and turn down your TVs: listen and enjoy the bells, something new, and hear, too, the hope and possibility that they announce.
St. Giles, Farborough 18.11.12.
Dedication of a ring of bells