Monday, 30 January 2017

Jesus - Light of the World (transcript of Sermon 29/01/17

Church Army Preachment St James’ Barton-under-Needwood
29th January 2017 – Candlemass & Church Army Preachment 

Candlemass – that takes its name from the time when all the candles that were going to be used in the church for that year would be blessed. This was tied in with the Feast of the Presentation when Mary and Joseph according to the Law of Moses consecrated their first born to the Lord.

This is outlined in Exodus 13 and ratified in Leviticus 12.8 ‘If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.’

Jesus – Light of the World

‘A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’

Now what is your image of this scene – of Mary and Joseph with Jesus going into the Temple?

Have you got a picture of something like a parish church, perhaps like this one, maybe a baptism party type thing.

On the other hand, maybe you go a bit bigger and think of a cathedral.

That is still nowhere near big enough.

The Temple Mound was the size of six football pitches having been greatly extended by Herod.

It rose in some places over twenty stories high and had blocks of stone over a 100 tons and one a massive 400 tons.  The whole complex could accommodate 1 million people.

You have to think of thousands of people coming and going, the animals being brought for sacrifice, the Levites singing and music blaring out, the Rabbis in the porticoes with their disciples debating and discussing as only Jews can – loudly and with passion.

Into this melee, first Simeon and then Anna led by the Holy Spirit declared this one child of these particular parents to be the one who would bring salvation to all and be as a light to the Gentiles.

Nothing indeed short of a miracle.

And men and woman filled with the Holy Spirit have continued to point out Jesus to others – something the Church Army has been doing for the last 135 years since our foundation in 1882.

Wilson Carlile the Founder of Church Army and known affectionately as The Chief was a charismatic clergyman who had been involved with the great Moody and Sankey Rallies alongside William Booth.

Carlile's life as a young and successful businessman and subsequent conversion are fascinating – but a story for another time.

His first curacy was at St Mary Abbots in London where he began outdoor preaching and drew such a crowd as the police asked his vicar to stop him because the crowds were blocking traffic.

In 1882, his energies and evangelistic zeal found a ready outlet as he was invited to draw together some small and failing home mission charities.

His vision was to create a mass movement – he wanted to see men and woman fired up with the Gospel and able to speak out that Gospel in their places of work and at home. 

Outdoor gatherings continued as he declared war on sin and reckless living.  

There are some very exciting tales of his being shot at and beaten up and very regularly had eggs thrown at him and his brave stalwarts standing alongside him.

The Church Army much like the Salvation Army that had started a few years previous took the military discipline seriously.  

However, the Salvation Army expanded this much further as William Booth took the SA out of its Methodist roots.

Carlile was a radical and wanted the Church Army to remain firmly with the Church of England, to remind the Church of its obligations to share faith in words and deeds.

Initially this was for laymen – but shortly after, in 1889, his sister Marie Carlile joined him, and the woman’s work began.

Because there was no place for woman in ministry in the Church of England at this time the woman trained as medical sisters at hospitals – hence their title ‘Sisters’.

Captains, and we have only the one rank, were so called because ideally they had a 100 soldiers under their command who would engage with the Captain in the battle against, sin, the world and the devil.

Unlike the SA, the Church Army never grew to much more than a thousand Officers and although autonomous sister societies sprang up around the world it remained a home based mission.

The CA has shifted and morphed a great deal over those 135 years and in particular since 2006.

In an unprecedented and bold move, the Board appointed a Youth Minister from Christ Church Chorleywood, 31-year-old Mark Russell, to become the Chief Secretary. Mark soon styled himself CEO, just one of the many things he would change. 

Mark cherished the charisma of Carlile but recognized that for the most part Church Army had dwindled down to a core of elite Officers, all doing fantastic work, but with very few troops and with a real need to change our  modus operandi.

One of the most significant changes came in 2012 when after several years of consultation and review the Church Army became an Acknowledged Mission Community. A special Service to mark the occasion was held in September in the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral where Wilson Carlile is buried. Carlile died in 1942.

The Church Army now has four pathways –

  • Commissioned Evangelist
  • Covenanted Evangelist
  • Co-workers
  • Companions

During the process of discernment, we also reviewed our policy of taking away someone’s Church Army Commission when they became ordained, the Church Army being principally a Lay organisation. This policy was rescinded and subsequently a number of clergy, men and woman, have received back their Commission and been accepted as members of the Church Army Mission Community.

Today we now have around 600 members of the Mission Community scattered across the UK, including Scotland, Wales and Ireland both North and South.

One of our new ways of operating is in Centres of Mission. Here there will be a Lead Evangelist, who will have alongside them two or three other Officers, possibly an Evangelist-in-Training and maybe engaging with local Companions.

The aim is to bring people to a living faith in Jesus Christ. In line with our DARE strategy, our Centres of Mission have the following vision:

      ·     Doing evangelism
  • Advocating evangelism
  • Resourcing evangelism
  • Enabling evangelism
This vision sees our Centres of Mission collaborating closely with the host dioceses and local churches to offer their expertise and provide training to help other Christians share their faith through words and action.

We now have over twenty of these with an increasing number of dioceses asking to host one in their diocese.

One opened last year in Tuam in the far North West tip of Northern Ireland – in partnership with help from the Roman Catholic diocese who offered the use of Offices in their Diocesan House as base.

We do still have a few residential Centres and one in particular could take up a whole story itself – the Marylebone Project. Do go on line later and check it out – it is amazing. They take woman in danger off the streets and as refugees and offer them emergency shelter. Then they are able to support and walk alongside the woman until they can be housed in a flat of their own. The Marylebone Project offers the only Day Centre dedicated to woman in London. 

Last year, the Marylebone Project settled 86 formerly homeless women into independent living. The project also provided more than 40,000 bed nights to vulnerable women and supported some 300 women a week through its day centre during 2016. 

There is lots more I could tell you – about my own work, or the Amber Project in Cardiff working with young people who self-harm.  

Come and chat to Jane or me and visit our display and take some material with you.  The Church Army is a charity and needs to raise funds to help in its work of going out to the margins of society engaging with the least, the last and the lost. 

Therefore, I thank you for your gift and your prayers.

And in all of this let us not forget where we began – with the infant Jesus being proclaimed as the Light of the World and the bringer of salvation.

Through the work of Church Army thousands upon thousands of men, woman, boys and girls have found that Jesus is their friend, had their dignity restored, their lives renewed and discovered a personal relationship with God that sets them on a new course.  Salvation indeed in its fullest sense – new life now - and a hope for the future.

Church Army Commissioned Evangelist, Covenanted Evangelist, Co-Workers and Companions are servants of the Gospel.

What about you – how are you responding to God’s call, which comes to each and every one of us as Baptized believers, how are you serving the Gospel day by day in all the places you go and in all the things you do and with all the people you meet.

You are a unique and irreplaceable actor in the drama of human history, and Jesus Christ has need of you to make known his salvific work in this particular place and at this particular moment in history.’

Michael Quoist in his book ‘The Christian Response’

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