St Giles Patronal 2010
It’s a pleasure to be gathered here with the people of God to celebrate our patronal festival at this evensong this evening. A pleasure because our remembrance of Saints, and today we remember particularly St Giles of Provence, is an uplifting way of reminding ourselves our our heritage of faith, and because a patronal festival reminds us of our heritage and history in this place, and calls us to faithfulness as God’s saints here and now in our parish and as part of our Mission Community.
As I said this time last year (though I would be interested as to who could remember that, I had to look it up). We have a good example for us in St Giles of Provence whose feast day was actually on Wednesday of this week just gone. Little is known about him apart from his birth in the early 7th Century, probably to noble parents who were Athenians, and the foundation of a monastery in Provence, in a place now know as St Gilles-du-gard between Arles and Nimes in South East France. The stories talk of him being nourished by the milk of a Hind, crippled by the arrow of a Frankish king and therefore the ‘patron saint of cripples and lepers’ as it says in one history, and of his service to the poor and needy.
Churches of St Giles are often dedicated to the saint because his feast day was the nearest day to the opening of the church or because they are churches particularly welcoming to outcasts, often found on the outskirts of a town or on a pilgrimage route. I suspect this Church was first dedicated on or near the 3rd of September so we find Giles our patron, meaning our guardian saint.
That tradition of welcome and embrace, particularly of outcasts and the needy, is though, the best legacy our naming. It is that which should inspire us rather than devotion to any one person in our church history!
Despite how it may seem Christian faith doesn’t – or perhaps shouldn’t - really go in for hero worship. Yes we have many ‘Saints’ in the tradition of the Anglican Church, which comes from our Roman Catholic roots, but they are remembered with veneration not in order to place them on to pedestals, but to inspire and to challenge us in our own walk of faith. These ordinary-but-special individuals, often deeply flawed yet deeply faithful, are fellow-pilgrims on our journey of faith. Their passion should be our passion, they are brothers and sisters not set apart but alongside us as we seek to live the Gospel in this time, this place, amongst these people here in Kilmington.
That wonderful short but powerful reading from the Song of Songs (also called the song of Solomon) is a cry of love from the heart. “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm” is the passionate cry of human love which can be translated into our devotion to and love for God. St Giles in giving up all he had and following a way of poverty, chastity and obedience is simply an example of the way we should all, with God’s help through his Holy Spirit, live. We are called to lives of simplicity and obedience, of faithfulness and mutual love.
Our Scriptures again and again call each one of us to faithfulness – not just a chosen few, but each one of us. When Paul refers to ‘The Church’ he is referring to the people of God, not a building (for there weren’t any Church buildings) or an institution or organisation. Paul also frequently refers to ‘Saints’ – by which he means all those who have accepted the life Jesus offers and who are being transformed in the power of the Spirit into the likeness of Christ.
On this Patronal day, when we celebrate St Giles – we don’t simply celebrate that one man, we celebrate the people of faith who have lived and prayed and worked and worshipped here in the village of Kilmington over many years. We don’t just celebrate the Vicars, or the Readers, or even the Curates – wonderful as they may be. We celebrate the Churchwardens and PCCs and Vergers, the bellringers, flower arrangers, church cleaners, those who have been baptised, married, buried here, those who have played the organ or been in the choir, those who have read lessons and led prayers, who show the mission and ministry of God in this village with acts of love and kindness, those who have come faithfully week by week, to pray, to think, to learn, to grow and to live and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
They, and we, are the Saints of St Giles.
The Christian faith doesn’t divide us up into who is more or less worthy of God’s love, or of respect. Each one of us are saved sinners, being sanctified – made holy – by the Grace of God. For just as the Bible tells us that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God’ it also tells us that each one of us, saved by faith and rooted and grounded in Christ, are being built into the Body of Christ with the risen Jesus as our living head.
Another common name for a Patronal Festival is a Dedication Festival, so called because it is the day that the Church was dedicated and consecrated for worship. Let us use this dedication festival to be a people so dedicated to Christ, and so consecrated for worship that not just on this day, or just on Sundays, we are bearers of the life and light of Jesus Christ. In our second reading for this evening – readings taken from those offered for festivals of the Saints – we see St Paul writing with passion ‘Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. ‘ If each Christian person echoed such passion, and the passion that leaps out from the words of the Song of Songs, then our Churches would be living, active, attractive, challenging, inspiring places in which people would continue to encounter our living God.
So in the light of our Patron Saint Giles, and following on from the great heritage of faith that has been shared with us here in Kilmington and in our Mission Community, we have an opportunity to put our own journey of faith into perspective. We, like the saints, are followers of Jesus Christ our living Lord. Are we like them willing to allow God to transform us through his Holy Spirit into the the disciples he calls us to be? Are we willing to give our all for Christ, no matter what the cost?
If we want our Church to grow in faith, if we want to reach out to the world around us, if we want more people to be a part of the life of our Parishes then it’s not going to be your Clergy that do that, It will be the prayers and faithfulness of the whole Church that will make it possible.
We must pray for one another in our common task of living and sharing the Gospel. The Saints give us examples not of spiritual heroics, but of what it is possible for each of us to do in the power of the Holy Spirit and bathed in the prayers of all God’s people. So let’s recommit ourselves to prayer and to each one of us finding our vocation and ministry within the Church, through the Holy Spirit and in Prayer we can all fulfill God’s calling to us to live faithfully and to share in the task of bringing the Gospel to this world that God loves so much.
As St Paul says:
this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.Thanks be to God.