Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Church Army Preachment St Michael and All Angels Penkridge All Saints 2015 (transcript)

                                                  St Michael and All Angels Penkridge

Isaiah 25.6-9 John 11.32-44

Last night Halloween was celebrated, if ‘celebrate’ is the right word.  Although it has become commonplace to see ‘Happy Halloween’ – largely an import from across the pond as is ‘Trick or Treat.’  Not one of their best exports in my opinion, especially when coupled with the rampant commercialization putting yet another strain on over stretched family finances.

Thankfully many churches now offer an ‘alternative’ – Light Parties or some such event. Around 1990 the Mothers’ Union in the Leicester Diocese began to offer an Alternative Halloween Pack. I noticed this as a Mothers’ Union member and began offering an ‘alternative’ party.

Halloween however is largely a Christian construct as the word refers to All Hallows Eve introduced around the 9th century as an ‘alternative’ to the pagan festival of Samhain.  

Samhain was a ‘liminal time’ – a time when the distance between the living and the dead was thin.

Therefore, the Western Church as an alternative, introduced a time when we would remember the souls of the faithfully departed, called either All Saints or All Hallows.

(Hallow = holy e.g. Hallowed be thy name)

The night before, All Hallows Eve, conflated over time to give us today’s Halloween. 

Among the ghost and ghouls, I am sure that last night there would have been a few folk dressed up as Zombies.

Zombies are fictional undead creatures created through the reanimation of human corpses.I was fascinated to see a film trailer last week for ‘Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies’ that is being released shortly.

Zombies sometimes referred to as the ‘living dead’ in one-way are all around us.

In the Letter to the Ephesians, we read…

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:1-5  

In our Gospel story, Lazarus is dead in every sense of the word. This story is one of the most poignant of all stories we have in the Bible. It is so full of human drama, of pain and loss, of hope set against despair.  Moreover, there in verse 35 – those two words ‘Jesus wept’ – do we need to say anymore, does this not sum up the Gospel message?

Jesus wept – and Jesus still weeps.

Jesus weeps for all those who lost and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

For those caught in addictions, for the violent and the violated. For the elderly woman who is ending her days alone, unloved and forgotten.

I tried to get some sense of this when I wrote this short poem – ‘The Tears of God.’  (see below)

When was the last time you shed tears for someone? 

Another story we will be hearing soon enough has a disturbing episode of a brutal tyrannical ruler ordering the slaughter of innocent children.

"A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

Rachel still cries out…

Church Army Officers have been weeping and standing alongside tombs and calling people out into a new life for over 130 years.

Like the young people at our Residential Centre in Wales, who self harm and abuse themselves.

People like Jordan in Greenwich, London, living on a tough LA housing estate and meeting with Captain Nick Russell. Nick befriended and helped Jordan, offering support as Jordan tried to get hold of a life of drugs and crime spiraling out of control and with time spent in prison. Jordan heard the call of God to come out from among the dead and to walk among those truly alive – those who are in Christ Jesus.

There are many, many more stories like this you can read about on our web site – and check out the ‘One Series’ of videos shorts of people telling their stories of lives transformed and hope renewed.

Today is All Saints Day – I love the saints, although I am skeptical of some of things written about them and uncomfortable with some of the veneration afforded to them.

However, the celebrated Saints stand out as markers of faithful witness throughout the ages.

For alongside each name and celebrated saint there were thousands of others whose names only God knows. 

You and I are only here this morning because of the saints, past and present, celebrated and unknown.

The question is will we be faithful witnesses in our own day and age, to our own generation.

For, while not everyone has a calling to be an evangelist, all those baptized have a calling to evangelize and to bear witness to the life transforming power of Christ.

We have the task and the joy to invite our friends and family and our work colleagues, plus any others God places along our path, to come out of the darkness and embrace life in all it fullness.

Jesus said ‘I have come that they may have life and life in all its fullness’ 
John 10. 10.

As I draw to a close let me leave you with four things for you to consider.

The Church Army is charity and depends upon the generosity of God’s people to enable it to continue its work and ministry. Would you consider drawing alongside us in offering your support both in prayer and in giving?

Number two, where are you this morning? I heard the voice of Jesus call me out of darkness and responded on 1st January 1975 – making a New Year’s Resolution to become a Christian.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Glorious day, and yet I find that little by little I begin to walk back towards the tomb. I start putting back on some of the grave clothes.

Is that your story as well this morning?

That little lie, those extra expenses, that quick peak at on-line pornography, the unkind word, the gossiping, telling and sharing of smutty jokes. The relaxing of fervor for prayer and Bible study.  Little by little, we begin to walk back towards the tomb and wrap the clothes of the world around us.

After all, they are the latest fashion – and we all like to step out in what is fashionable today.

It is not easy to say to our children that we are not going around dressed up at Halloween but we will be going to an alternative party – and yes, they can dress up, perhaps as a Saint of old.

If that is where you are this morning, can I invite you to participate in an enacted prayer.

Pray with hands held up considering what it is we may have embraced, what grave clothes are we holding?

Turn hands over and let those things go.

Turn hands back up and receive God’s good gifts – draw them to your heart.

Then thirdly, I cannot possibly allow this moment to pass by without asking if there might be someone here this morning that has yet to respond to God’s call.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.  Revelation 3.20

If there is someone who wants to heed that call, remember it is an invitation? Lazarus could have turned over like a slugger-bed; pulled the covers over and said leave me to my sleeping.  

Please do not let this moment pass – do not spend another day among the living dead – heed the call.

Can I invite you to raise a hand signifying that you are willing to respond to God’s call?

Please repeat this prayer after me…

Lord I have walked among the living dead for too long. I know that Jesus offers life and life in all it fullness. I recognize all the wrong things in my life and accept that Jesus died and rose again so that I can have new life in Christ. I accept that gift of new life and am willing to step out of the tomb, to take of the grave cloths and follow Jesus. Amen

Prebandary Wilson Carlile who was a larger than life figure, founded the Church 
Army in 1882.

His life and the founding of Church Army is another marvelous story but for another time.

I want to end with what we know as the Chief’s Consecration Prayer.

Can I invite you to stand if you are able and repeat this prayer after me as we dedicated our lives once more to being today living saints, picking up the torch of faith from our forebears and passing it on to the next generation.

Now and here I give myself to you,
And now and here you give yourself to me;
And now and here I find your love within.
Break through me Lord that others I may win;
Your wounded body and your lifeblood poured
Impel me forth to live and preach you Lord.



In Nottingham
A young girl is shot
Where her body lies
God appoints an angel
To wash away the blood
With tears

Myriads of angels
Do Not sing
'Glory to God'
But stand and weep
For this broken world

By the gas ovens
Of Auschwitz
The starving child
In Africa
Where each person dies
God appoints and angel
To watch and weep

Thus the blood of the innocent
Are mingled with the tears of God

'....and he shall wipe away their tears'

(c) Gordon Banks


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