The annual Halstead sermon at St Peter’s is on the text from Hebrews which we heard as our first reading Hebrews 13 verse 14 “for here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come “
And when I hear the word enduring my mind is taken to the ship Endurance which was used by Ernest Shackleton to explore the South Pole
I have brought with me today is of the Endurance trapped in the ice of the Antarctic back in 1915, it remained there for four months.
Ernest Shackleton had led an exploration to the South Pole but his ship the endurance got caught in the ice and was frozen solid then the ice began to squeeze the ship so that it was no longer safe or could provide shelter.
Shackleton and his 10 men left the ship and towed the three lifeboats across the ice until they got to the first land which was elephant Island this took them four months.
The next part of the journey was to travel across the wild South Atlantic in an open boat to the island of South Georgia that took them just over 30 days in the open boat to reach a rescue station.
The ship Endurance may have been lost but Shackleton had an enduring ability to rescue all his men.
They all returned home safely by 1916 and many immediately signed up for King and Country and service in the first world war.
I believe the example of Ernest Shackleton is a great inspiration to leaders today for whilst he lost his ship, he returned home safely with all his men in extreme situation we cannot imagine.
This is an inspiring story, and this picture reminds me that nothing is impossible.
Today’s first reading talks of an enduring city which does not exist on Earth but only exists in eternity.
However, in this last year we have been on a journey which has required of us great endurance and resources,
We have not been adrift on the ice or wrestling the ice to travel to safety, but we have been in a season which has challenged each one of us.
The season of Easter reminds us of the work of Jesus Christ in the resurrection and the writer of Hebrews in chapter 12 says that “Jesus endured the cross” knowing that something better would result after the suffering.
I hope that we can build something better after these last these last 12 months.
Not just going back to how life was before but recognising that something new can flourish and grow from what has gone before.
Our Gospel reading reminds us that the gardener prunes the branches that are not fruitful and cleans up what has been damaged. Jesus says that he is the vine, and his Father is the Gardner.
We like the idea of a vine bearing fruit – we are not so keen on the vine being trimmed or pruned and made more fruitful.
But perhaps this last year has reminded us that we’ve been pruned in some ways and that we’ve been cut back and reminded of what is essential and what is enduring.
St Paul wrote at the end of one Corinthians 13 that these three things remain or Endure – Faith hope and love.
I think we have discovered in this last year how faith hope and love have enabled us to endure these last months,
faith hope and love have enabled us to flourish in difficult times.
Perhaps it has challenged our faith to be so confined and unable to gather in worship, but we have found ways of praying and of encouraging one another.
Perhaps we have continued to hold onto a hope in God for an end to the lockdown and have a hope for vaccinations.
And while we have been separated from our loved ones – we have held them in our prayers.
So, these three qualities endure and are what have held us through the endurance of the last year.
What this last year has taught us is that some things on earth cannot be taken for granted, the things of earth are passing by.
And we have been reminded that our hope is in God and that the enduring city we long for is the heavenly Jerusalem
I want to finish with a few lines from the book of Revelation chapter 21 which describe that heavenly Jerusalem
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth has passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for a husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be there God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes there be no more death or morning or crying or pain, for the old order of Things has passed away.”
This my friends are the enduring city, this is the place that we are bound for, the journey might be hard, the journey might call for us to experience difficulties on the way. But because of Jesus, his death and resurrection, we can anticipate a heavenly Jerusalem. That in this Jerusalem there were no more crying or tears or death or morning or pain, a new beginning, a new way of living is possible.
The writer of the Hebrews was aware that earthly things were temporary, and we have no enduring city here on Earth, but we look for one that is to come.
Ernest Shackleton may have endured Antarctic winters, but he brought home his men.
We have endured a year of lockdown and we have been sustained by faith hope and love
But we are looking for the heavenly Jerusalem, may that be at the forefront of our thinking and our anticipation of better times to come and of how we build heaven on Earth, when we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven“