Sermon – next before Advent 2019

St Mary’s Nantwich

10.45am 24/11/19 – next before Advent

Sir Edmund Wright Service

Jeremiah 23.5-8  John 6.5-14

preacher: Mark Hart

‘Let nothing be wasted.’

Are you all ready for the new food waste collection service starting on 6 January? You should have received a copy of Cheshire East’s magazine with an 8 page pull out on ‘Life with less food waste’. Soon your handy kitchen caddy will arrive along with an initial supply of compostable liners.

Don’t worry – it will all be fine. We moved here last year from Cheshire West where they’ve had this service for some time. It’s not a new idea. As we heard in today’s Gospel, Jesus was organising food waste collection 2000 years ago.

‘Gather the pieces that are left over’, he said. ‘Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets.

Let nothing be wasted. It’s a lovely phrase. And, as with so much in the Gospels, it’s meant to signify far more than leftover pieces of barley loaves.

If you went to a communion service in the second century, you were likely to see the priest take bread and pray these words: ‘As this broken bread, once dispersed over the hills, was gathered together and became one, so may your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.’

Let nothing be wasted. Let no-one be lost. No thing, and no person in this world is meant to be desolate or cut off or discarded or considered fit for nothing.

Christ came to draw all people to himself. And today the Church’s task is to be a sign that each part of creation has a calling to take its place, to be welcomed and to add richness to the whole.

That task starts close to home and with our daily duties. As it did for Sir Edmund Wright all those years ago.

On this day, in this church, in 1573, Edmund was baptised, and the priest declared that he was ‘grafted into the body of Christ’s Church’. He belonged. He had a name and a home and the hope of becoming, with the whole Church, an inheritor of the everlasting kingdom.

He grew and prospered in worldly terms as a merchant in London. But he never forgot his roots in Nantwich, and made it his business to provide for those of the town who didn’t fully belong. The poor and destitute.

So in 1638 the Wright’s Almshouses were built, for the use and benefit of six poor men, of the age of fifty years at least, natives of the town, and belonging to the Church of England. As well as providing a home, the trustees were to pay each almsman 20s quarterly, and supply each pensioner on Christmas Day with a new shirt, a pair of stockings, and a pair of shoes, at a total cost of 40s.

First and foremost, Sir Edmund’s purpose was to provide a home, a place to live. We may today question the rules about belonging to the Church of England and the requirement that the almsmen should duly frequent this house, but that was a key part of how you belonged and took your responsibility to others in society. You were part of the body of the church in Nantwich.

A longing for home is at the heart of the lesson read by Charles. The Jews are scattered, as they so often have been, living in places where they are regarded as foreign and a threat. Jeremiah gives hope that a King will arrive who will be wise and just. The days are coming when the Jews will be brought from all the lands where they had been driven. Then they will live in their own land.

Even the story of the feeding of the 5000 is about a place before it is about food. Because you need land before you can have food. We’re given the little detail that there was plenty of grass in that place. Mark’s Gospel tells us it was green grass. That’s where they sit and stay. It is symbolic of being in a place which is home, in the verdant pastures which can sustain them.

Jesus wasn’t going to send the people away because there was a shortage of food. He asked them to sit down and to stay, because this was a place of abundance.

And that’s the other side of the story. The reason why there is a problem of waste and a need to organise the collection, is that there was such an overflow of supply of bread. Two of the greatest miracles of Jesus are first, the provision of more wine than anyone could cope with, and second, the provision of more bread than anyone could cope with.

God’s purpose for us is not subsistence. It is joy in all the fullness of life. The rich plenty of goodness and beauty and love which is hope of the world – the enjoyment of God in the fulfilment of his kingdom.

Sir Edmund had some understanding of this because he didn’t stop at shirts and socks. He provided for celebration on the anniversary of his baptism, in perpetuity. First, the feasting on the bread of life in Divine service at the Parish Church, where he directed that the Rector should preach an ‘excellent sermon’ and receive ‘10s for his pains’. And second that in the evening there should be a feast.

24th November therefore became a red-letter day in the town and the history books show that the dinner has been accompanied by, I quote, ‘quarts of ale… and other quantities of strong drink paid for by generous gentlemen’. You may remember that the third order prescribed the forbearance of ‘swearing, drunkenness, and all such scandalous vices’, and it is recorded that the said order was often violated before the feast night was out.

Incidentally, this time last year, when I first experienced the anniversary of Sir Edmund’s baptism, I did wonder how it would be assessed whether the Rector’s sermon was up to the prescribed standard. The answer is that, after the dinner, various toasts are proposed including one to the Rector for his ‘excellent sermon’. This is after the sherry, wine and port have been liberally circulated, with the effect that each trustee raises a glass enthusiastically, while having only the foggiest recollection of what was said. All within the bounds of the third order, I should add.

Let nothing be wasted. A command which reminds us to act on behalf of those lost to society, those with no home or limited livelihood, those excluded for whatever reason. And it’s a reminder that God’s purpose is for there to be more abundance than we know what to do with. A lot of the problems of our time are created, not by shortage, but by excess, and our failure to gather in and look after the waste we create. Our failure not to regard it as waste, but to ask about every part of creation – What is its place? Where does it find a home? How can it be good for the world?

Here in this service we will bring bread and wine and then receive them back, blessed and consecrated by God to represent Christ’s own life given for us. One of the rules of the Church is that if any of the bread and wine is left over at the end of the service it should never be thrown away. It is reverently consumed or reserved for future use. That recognition of holiness is what we’re meant to go out and see in all things and in all people. To be a people who let nothing be wasted.