Rev. Andrew Cunnington
6th July 2014
In the Clearing Stands a Boxer and a Fighter by His Trade

Imagine a different scenario from the lovely start to this morning’s service. We stand ready to sing our opening hymn. Here comes the cross leading the way and then the choir, as usual, and then, to be honest, everyone is looking out of the corner of their hymn book to see Sharon dressed as a Priest for the first time, and maybe we might catch her eye.

But something terrible has happened. Sharon seems to have disappeared and has been replaced at the end of the procession by a professional heavyweight boxer!

The boxer is dressed not in a chasuble, but in a shiny sparkly silvery robe and instead of a stole round the neck, the boxer has a jewel encrusted belt around the waist of a very fetching pair of shorts. The boxer is flanked not by acolytes with candles, but by two bodyguards in black suits, chewing gum. There are no candles in the procession only great wafts of dry ice controlled by Stephen Richardson at the sound desk, and what’s this, Wendy is not playing the opening hymn any more, but the theme tune to “Rocky”

On the back of the long robe in glitzy letters are the words “Puncher Prentis …the Horley Hurricane”

And we realise that this is our Sharon. And that ordination has turned her from a Priest into a Boxer. Her hands once clasped in prayer have become great fists, bound up in huge leather gloves and she pummels the air and shadow boxes her way down the north aisle.

For the world in which we live Sharon, wants more boxers, and less Priests. We need people to show us what’s what!

For Sharon, boxers are what the world wants these days. Boxers and not Priests. People who will show other people what’s what. Boxers fight for control. Boxers take on the enemy and win by their own strength. Boxers judge you, they find your weakness and they knock you over. Boxers are roared on by crowds to whom they are heroes. Boxers train hard. Work hard and fight hard. Boxers are proud of their calling and devoted to it. Boxers give the sort of lead the world understands.

When you meet someone, anyone, you need to decide, is this person in front of me a boxer or a priest and you will be able to make your mind up through the language of their hands.

I watched you yesterday Sharon when they consecrated your hands and how it was like the cross being carved into your palms like a tattoo, making them painfully holy.

Above all that’s been said to you can I add this, your hands become the priestly example you must set the rest of us. To be in your ministry as open handed as Christ and never curl them into fists ever again or reach out to grab what might belong to someone else.

I was reminded this week about the time I raised my fist to an OFSTED inspector and sent it crashing down on the desk in front of them. You see there is a bit of a boxer still left in this Priest. Do as I say Sharon, not as I do!

Take your example from the lovely bit in the Gospel – when Jesus says those wonderful words, come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. His hands were open as he said them for Jesus was a Priest, he was not a boxer and that’s why in the end, they crucified him.

They led him before Pilate and Herod and the rest and the hope was that he would box them for his life, but he would not even climb into the ring. He did not curl his hands into a fist, but rather he took their blows like a punchbag.

For the world understands boxers, Sharon, but it doesn’t understand Priests.

Behind closed doors as if this were a training gym, Sharon and I have been getting ready for today and I know I caught you flinching when I told you how important body language is. For surely this is no performance we’re about putting on when we lead worship. The Eucharist is not Dick Whittington. It is reality. It is heaven meeting earth in what we do and say.

Sharon begins her ministry as a Priest today and her expression of it is going to be unique to her. There is a function and a work and an expression of God’s love that will find its root in Sharon like in no other human being alive and we at St Matthew’s will rejoice to see what it will become.

But here’s a punchline you might not be expecting. This sermon is not about Sharon, but about each one of us for we are all called to be Priests in some way or other. Don’t get me wrong, not all are called to break bread and pour wine at the altar, not all are called to bless holy water and precious rings. Not all are called to offer absolution, but all are called to mirror Christ in that place where life has put them. To mediate his love. To see where the sacraments of your daily living can be found.

Now either you accept this calling or you allow yourself to be bound in boxing gloves.

So Sharon’s hands are bared before you at the Eucharist as an example to follow.

She will open her hands wide as an exhortation to worship God, will you do that, not just in the safety of St Matthew’s but beyond here, recognising the endless people and the whole mass of places where his glory is revealed.

She will make the sign of the cross over us at the absolution to assure us of the forgiveness of our sins if we are truly sorry. Will you do that whenever you can, or will you, as they say, mark the other person’s card, if someone tries to betray you.

The Priest siezes the bible in both hands and raise it above us as if to say, all I need for strength is in this Word. Will you raise up truth in a world that has become downcast through being so very full of words.

Sharon will receive into her hands the gifts of simple things. Bread and wine brought from the back of the church and she will mingle the wine with plain old water. Will you follow her example and take the simple things that come your way day by day and recognise, however careless the offering, that they are sacramental. That Jesus lives and breathes in every gift.

She will place her hands over these simple things and she will be praying that God will make them special. Will you have a view of life, where you see the divine possibility in everything set before you, or will you pick and choose only the best.

She will raise the blessed bread and wine, high above us as if presenting Jesus to the world. Will we see the destination of our mission action planning in that liturgical moment or struggle to see any connection between here and there.

And then, oh then beware, beware, of that last action of the Priest’s hands at the altar. When Sharon takes the bread, the blessed bread, the holy bread, and does the unthinkable, she breaks it. Slap bang down the middle. And rather than flinch at this, will you see that in the end it is through the fragile and cracked parts of our lives that his blessing flows. So will you look out for the beauty in brokenness, rather than condemn it when you see it, for that would be the boxer’s mentality. Look for the cracks in the defence and punching through.

Will you see between the cracks in yourself and others as the opening for his grace, like an empty tomb on Easter Morning.

In these actions lie then the heart of Sharon’s priesthood and the heart of every calling here.

We’ve been having a bit of a clear out in this past fortnight and on Tuesday Sue Laing brought me this. I had just been thinking about today in the Lady Chapel and she brought me this with the question of whether we should keep it. It shows hands being held open to receive into them and raise up in a heart shape that describes the essence of all we are and in this picture I saw the conclusion of what I think we are each about as we present Christ to the world.

At the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, Peter objected to begin with, but when he understood what Jesus was doing he said, Lord wash not my feet only but wash also my hands and my head”. The whole of me.

So if Sharon is ordained and consecrated even, so must we be with her….would you like to be spontaneous and sing hymn 581 unaccompanied,