Preacher: The Rev. Jonathan Kester, Vicar of Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead, London, England
Thank you so much for the warm and generous welcome which you have given to my on my sabbatical here at St Michael’s. I bring with me the prayerful warm wishes of your partner parish at Emmanuel, West Hampstead in the Diocese of London and from Robert, our Area Bishop of Edmonton as we await the appointment of a new Bishop of London.
Emmanuel Church is situated in the northern part of the diverse and cosmopolitan London Borough of Camden. As a rough guide as to where we are, it is about the same distance from Emmanuel to Piccadilly Circus as it is from St Michael’s to Times Square.
As many of you know, London – like New York – is a place of multifarious artistic and musical culture and also of a vast number of museums. If you go further south in the Borough of Camden to the area known as Bloomsbury you will find the London Foundling Museum.
The Foundling Hospital, which continues today as the children’s charity Coram, was established in the year 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to give much needed care to orphaned babies and children or those at risk of abandonment.
Several well-known and renowned people were instrumental in supporting Thomas Coram in realizing his vision in setting up the Foundling Hospital, among them the artist William Hogarth and the composer George Frederic Handel.
My full name is in fact Jonathan George Frederick Kester and many people suppose that my parents were musical devotees and particular appreciators of the music of Handel. In fact it was nothing of the sort and then names George and Frederick were my maternal and paternal grandfather’s first names respectively!
If you go to the Foundling museum you will see much of the art and culture which was instrumental in setting up the Foundling Hospital in doing its much needed work in the unpropitious conditions of the early eighteenth century in which many, many children were orphaned or abandoned for a wide variety of reasons.
In our contemporary world, marked as it is by so much warfare, violence, famine and disease the media attest to the fact that the prevalence of orphans is at least as common today as it was in the early eighteenth century in the UK, which led to the setting up of the Foundling Hospital.
No less so than in the first century when Jesus walked this earth.
The reason why his teaching in general and his parables in particular were so powerful and commanding was that he was able to take matters of everyday life and experience and use them to communicate something profound about his great and amazing God of ours and his just dealings with his creation.
And so in this morning’s Gospel, part of the so-called Farewell discourses of John’s Gospel, after the washing of the disciples’ feet in Chapter 13 and leading up to the great High Priestly Prayer of Chapter 17 (which we shall hear next Sunday), Jesus says “I will not leave you orphaned…” going on to say, “I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live”.
Directly after the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, the disciples may well have experienced a condition akin to being orphaned.
Some of them had left homes, families, and well remunerated work behind and had followed this charismatic preacher and healer… and suddenly it all seemed to have been in vain.
All was dark and hopeless.
The resurrection of Jesus, far from being merely a happy end to a tragic story, in fact confirmed the decisive victory of the cross in loving them – and you and I – into salvation, but humanly they might have been forgiven for wondering “what next?”
And so it is as the beginning of today’s Gospel that Jesus tells them “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him or knows him. You know him, because he abides with you and he will be in you”.
It’s this mysterious figure of the Advocate which was to come mightily upon them at the Festival of Pentecost, in in two weeks time, setting them on fire and energizing them to take the liberating and inclusive love of God to earth’s remotest bounds, not only in what they said, but in the way in which they lived their lives, so as to transform the lives of others.
As it says in the Acts of the Apostles the action of the Spirit in the lives of the followers of Jesus was to turn the world upside down, because an inverted, darkened world so needed to be transformed, to rediscover God’s original blessing and to be put back on its feet again.
The followers of Jesus were, thus, not orphaned in the earthly sense of that word.
They were to be clothed with power from on high, rooting them and grounding them in the creative, redemptive and sustaining love of God and in that high calling to permeate the world with that utterly transformational love of God.
And so it is to be with all those who seek to follow in the way, not only for the past two thousand years, but for all the years that are to be until he comes in glory.
It’s that transformational love of God which envisioned Thomas Coram to work tirelessly in the setting up of the Britain’s first children’s charity when he was granted a Royal Charter for King George II in 1739, enabling him to establish his Foundling Hospital when the first babies were admitted in 1741 to 1954 when the last pupil was fostered from the Hospital in its original form, during which time over 25,000 were cared for an educated, giving them the very best start in life.
From the 1950s onwards the work and vision of the original Foundling Hospital continues in the work of the Coram Charity which helps over a million children and young people every year to develop their skills and emotional health, find adoptive parents and uphold children’s rights, creating a change which lasts a lifetime.
Because Jesus did not leave his followers orphaned, but because they kept his commandments and remained in his love, so they were empowered to transform the lives of others with that love which knows no bounds.
It’s that same transformational love, I guess, which inspires the work of the Bronx Freedom Fund, founded as a nonprofit organization in 2007 to pay bail for those who can’t afford it. It’s an organization which has secured the release of nearly 800 New Yorkers , restoring the presumption of innocence, allowing clients to return home to their jobs, families and community. We much look forward to Mr Ezra Ritchin telling us more about this in the Forum in the Grey Lounge, immediately following this Eucharist.
The utterly transformational love of the Advocate which Jesus promises is that which nurtures, liberates and raises up the downtrodden and the marginalized from cradle to grave the world over in the actions of the church, of people of other faiths and of good will everywhere so that a distorted, darkened world may be turned upside down – and put on its rightful feet once again.
The particular focused period of prayer for the coming of that liberating and unleashing Spirit is traditionally from the Ascension to Pentecost each year, when Jesus tells his followers to stay in the City until they are clothed with power from on high.
From the staff meeting this week Mother Leigh wanted me also to mention her intention to put on line through the parish Facebook page and elsewhere some resources from the whole Anglican Communion entitled “Thy Kingdom Come”, to pray for the coming of the Advocate, the Comforter, the transformational Spirit – to deepen our life of prayer, but also so that we might be agents and ambassadors of that transformational love in the world – that no one might be left abandoned and alone and so that we might be the hands and feet and eyes and mouth of this great and amazing God of ours in the world until God’s radical Kingdom comes, on earth, as it is in heaven.