Sunday, 13 May 2018

'Gathered and Sent' - transcript of sermon for St Anne's, Brown Edge Easter Seven 2018

St Anne’s Brown Edge – Easter Seven 2018

On Wednesday I was in Stoneleigh at the Arthur Rank Centre for a Germinate Leadership Lecture given by Bishop Rachel Treweek of Gloucester Diocese.

Over lunch I was chatting to a young curate who told me she couldn’t stay on because she had to get back for a Youth Alpha Course that she is leading at a local school. She told me about one student, a 16 year old girl who said ‘if Jesus is raised from the dead then everything is different.’

That is very insightful and serves to remind those of us who might have been walking with the Lord a tad longer of the basic principles of our faith, hope and trust – Jesus is risen and everything is changed.

In her lecture Bishop Rachel also invited us to reflect on the basic principles of our faith and not simply try and fix the presenting problems that we face; lack of clergy, ageing congregations, low numbers, lack of involvement from children and young people, lack of finance, unable to find Officers for Church roles, high maintenance cost of buildings, etc.

The basic principle she referred to was The Kingdom of God come upon earth.

The now and not yet of the glorious Kingdom of God that has come in Jesus, and yet to be fully realised in the fullness of time when heaven and earth are conjoined.

The Kingdom of God which we are invited to participate in building and promoting.

The Kingdom of God is of course, as I hope you will be very aware, the name given to a worldwide prayer initiative from Ascension to Pentecost.

On Ascension Day, the day ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ began, I was watching one of the video shorts of Archbishop Justin Welby in conversation with Nicky Gumbel, Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton and pioneer of Alpha about ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ call to prayer.

Nicky spoke of people coming to a living faith in Jesus, finding their lives changed, the Church revitalized and communities transformed as people live out their faith day to day.
That is why one of the key elements in the Thy Kingdom Come initiative is to pray for five people who as yet to do not know Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour.

If Jesus is raised from the dead then everything changes – people can change and communities can become transformed as God’s People work and live out their faith Monday to Saturday.

In each and everything we do, always being prepared to give and answer for the hope that we have.

Always being prepared to share our story of how Jesus came and transformed our lives.

That was again one of the passionate pleas from Bishop Rachel – that what we do as a Gathered Church Sunday by Sunday, equips us to continue to bear witness as a Sent Church – when we are dismissed and sent out through the doors into the community and the week ahead, Monday to Saturday.

Our Gospel reading for this morning is part of Jesus’ final discourse to the disciples and in particular we heard a portion of what is commonly known as Jesus’ Priestly Prayer.

Taken out of context is might appear a tad confusing or at least puzzling and it is well worth taking the time and effort to study this prayer in full and in its context so that you can get a better sense of it overall.

For example we could read these verses and assume that Jesus’ is saying that although we are in the world it might be better if we are not in the world, because we don’t belong to the world.

Verse 16 ‘They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.’

What we need to bear in mind is that this reference to the world is the same as at our baptism, when we are invited to fight against the sin, the world and the devil.

It is the world exemplified by Pilate as Jesus stood before him on trial for his life. It is the power of the world as organised outside and with no reference to God.

It is the world as we find it portrayed in Psalm 1.

If you look at the first verse you will see a progress away from following after God and following the way of the world…

a) Walking in the counsel of the wicked

b) Lingering in the way of sinners

c) Sitting in the gathering of the scornful

Notice the progression or perhaps better to say regression...

Waling, lingering (stopping) and finally sitting down.

But for those who meditate on God’s laws, those who seek to diligently follow and fulfil God’s will and way – then they will be like a tree planted by streams of water bearing fruit in due season and with leaves that do not wither.

And as those who have meditated and received the Word from God we are sent out into the world…

V 18 ‘As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.’

God is a sending God beginning from Genesis onwards...

In Galatians 4:4-7 we read about God sending Jesus so that you and I can become the adopted children of God...

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

And therefore as sons and daughters of God what is that we are sent into the world to do? 

What is your calling? – What is my calling? – What is our calling?

Is Bishop Rachel wrong to suggest that our calling is not to try and fix or solve the presenting problems that we face; lack of clergy, ageing congregations, low numbers, lack of involvement from children and young people, lack of finance, unable to find Officers for Church roles, high maintenance cost of buildings, etc?

Shouldn’t that be our primary focus and concern because it certainly is screaming for our attention?

Wouldn’t everything be better if we had good liturgy, plenty of clergy, a thriving faithful community engaging with all ages and backgrounds.

Doesn’t that all sound marvellous and something to pray for and work towards?

Well maybe, but only if it serves the primary purpose – working and witnessing to build the Kingdom of God in Brown Edge and beyond.

Let me close by telling you a story about a Lifeboat Station….

The Lifeboat Station

On a dangerous coast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut and there was only one boat, but a few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost.
The wonderful little station saved so many lives that it became famous. Some of those who were saved and various others in the area wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort to the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little life-saving station grew.
Some of the new members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was
so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be
provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency
cots with beds and put better furniture into an enlarged building.        
Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members. They redecorated it exquisitely and furnished it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club.
Less of the members were now interested in going to sea in life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club decoration however and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.
About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, half drowned people. They were dirty and sick and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee had a shower house built outside the club where the victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club.
Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose, and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station further down the coast.
They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that coast today you will find a good number of clubs along the shore.

Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters but most of the people drown.

(Paraphrase of a parable from an, article on the Mission of the Church to those outside her life)

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