Monday, July 11, 2016

Sermon on the Occasion of Worshipping together with the Redeemed Christian Church of God

Below is the sermon I prepared for a joint service with our friends at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (who normally meeting in one of our parish buildings).  The actual sermon was delivered 'off the cuff' - but the broad strokes of what I said are included here.

Deut. 30.9-14, Col 1.1-14 and Luke 10.25-37

Ever since we realised that we were going to need to move our worship into the hall, this Sunday, I’ve been so excited.  I’m excited because it finally gives us the opportunity to do a couple of really important things…

First, I’m delighted that the congregation of the Redeemed Christian Church of God are able to be with us today.  For about a year now, Pastor David and his team have been leading worship, Sunday by Sunday, in the Upper Room over in Church House.  It’s an absolute delight that worship is taking place there, and, I detect, really exciting to see congregation growing in numbers and confidence.

Secondly, being here gives us an opportunity to reflect on all the fantastic work that goes on here in the Pallant Centre.  Last night, Clare and I attended the latest concert by our friends from the Havant Orchestra.  Fantastic, high quality music from an orchestra who we give rehearsal space to every week.

Next week, I hope all of us are going to buy tickets for the Dynamo production of the Roses of Eyam.  There is no better way of encouraging our young people than to turn up to see their efforts.  Watching some of the rehearsals this week, I just know that you are going to be bowled over by them.

And that’s just the tip of the Pallant Centre iceburg.  We have the Solent Male Voice Choir, rehearsing every week.  We have the Hayling and Havant Bowmen, honing their skills throughout the winter months.  We have the St Faith’s art group, every Tuesday.  We have a Mumbaba group.  We have the fantastic Brownies and Rainbows, who provide high quality learning experiences for young people. We have a whole host of self-help groups – including Alcoholics Anonymous, Al Anon, Gamblers Anonymous and our latest new group, Narcotics Anonymous.  We provide a hope to SSAFA, the armed forces charity – supporting any serviceman or woman – or their families - who has served for as little as one day for their country.

Thirdly, I’m delighted that it gives the St Faith’s congregation a chance to see the work in progress here in the Pallant Centre.  I hope that while you are here, you’ll take the chance to wander around the building and see the changes that have taken place.  Much of the change is currently ongoing.  In many ways, the whole place feels like a building site at the moment.  But, it is impossible to make an omelette without breaking a few eggs…and over the next few months, some really radical changes are going to be taking place.  Work is now well underway on the new toilets for the hall.  In the old Nursery rooms, we will be opening a Family CafĂ© in September.  That’s going to be a place where parents and children can gather in an atmosphere of creativity and fun – using the courtyard garden as well.  It’s going to become the place in Havant for young families to be.

There are still some big challenges that we have to overcome.  In the garden, over by Church House, you will undoubtedly have noticed that we are installing new drains…that’s to stop all the rainwater from the car park and from the roof of church house from soaking into the brickwork.  We have a structural challenge to overcome in the small Nursery room – where a warped support beam has to be held up with steel girders.  We still need to install a fire escape from the Upper Room, and we are installing a central heating system for church house in the next few weeks.  There’s certainly plenty to do!

And that is not all that we are seeking to achieve through our Big Build Campaign.  Over in the church itself, there’s going to be a whole lot going on in the next few months.  New wiring and lighting will be installed.  The clock faces and weathervane are being overhauled – and our heritage pipe organ is about to be completely restored.

The question that often hovers on lips is ‘why’?  Who would we do all this work?  Why not just sell all these buildings – even our crumbling old church – and just meet for singing and worship in a school hall somewhere.  Life would be an awful lot simpler if we did!  Why not let someone else have all the worry and the challenge?

Well, to get close to an answer to that question, let me take you back to Jesus’ summary of the law at the beginning of today’s gospel reading.  A lawyer asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life…and Jesus tells him to do just two things…Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.  This summary of the law was actually something that other teachers of Jesus’ time were using as well.

There’s an old story about a Jewish Rabbi called Hillel, who was challenged to stand on one leg, and recite all the law.  So Hillel lifted up one foot off the ground and said:  “The whole law of God is this:  Love God, and Love your neighbour as yourself.  All the rest is commentary”

In other words – as Jesus would have concurred, I’m sure, Rabbi Hillel was teaching that all the little laws about what we should eat, and when we should pray, and when we should rest, and how we should treat strangers, the fact that we shouldn’t murder people, or steal from them, or covet their possessions – all of this was just commentary on the central teachings of the faith:  Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.

So why are we embarked on our Big Build Campaign? – because by improving our church, we show our Love for God, by making the house of worship as precious and beautiful as we can.  By improving this Pallant Centre, we show our love for our neighbours – by making it as comfortable and useful to the whole community as we can.  It’s as simple as that really.

There’s one more thing I want to say – to everyone here.  And that’s to underline how delighted I am to welcome the Redeemed Church to our worship today.  The Redeemed Church has its roots in West Africa – and as a result, many of its members are not from the UK by birth.  Right now, after the Referendum, there’s a danger that some of our African friends here today might fear that the whole country is against them.  Well, I want to say, on behalf of the whole St Faith’s community – that’s not the case for us.  You are welcome here.  We are delighted that you are here.  You bring new ways of worshipping, new ways of thinking.  You bring skills and talents…and today you bring food to share as well!  Please believe me when I say that we are glad to have you as our neighbours – and we hope that this last year of sharing this building with you will be the first of many, many years together!

To quote, finally, St Paul’s words to the Colossians:  “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father!”


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Sermon on the Arrival of Vickie and David Morgan

Readings: Galatians 6.1-16 & Luke 10.1-11, 16-20

Once again, the Lectionary speaks uncannily into a very present situation.  Luke 10, verse 1:  ‘After this, the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.’

It is such a pleasure to be able to finally welcome David and Vickie formally into their new ministries among us.  They come to us as a pair, sent by God, just as Jesus sent out those seventy disciples in pairs.

What is it about pairs?  What is the significance of Jesus sending out his disciples like that – two by two. not one by one?  I find my mind taken right back to God’s assessment of Adam’s circumstances at the beginning of Genesis.  Then, he said “it is not good for the man to be alone”.

I know that my own Clare would agree wholeheartedly with that statement.  We are closing in fast on our 30th wedding anniversary…and I have no doubt that she often says to herself “It is not good for that man to be alone”!  Left to my own devices, I would undoubtedly eat chocolate for breakfast, and chips for dinner every day.  My clothes would never be ironed, and I would be late for every meeting!  Clare – as the opposite side to my ‘pair’ – provides balance.  She helps with the tasks I need help with.  She reminds me of what I need to do and where I need to be.  She nudges me towards good choices about food…never nags, just nudges!

The fact is that when Jesus calls us, he calls us into a series of relationships – first with God, and then with one another.  We are called out of ourselves, out of our mistaken belief that we don’t need anyone else to help us function.

It is of course a complete fallacy to imagine that we can live our lives in total isolation.  Some of us dream of doing so…I confess that there are very busy days when I dream of running off to live in a wooden cabin somewhere!  But even then, in order to get to such a cabin, I would need to drive on a road built by others, in a car made by others, to build my cabin from tools manufactured by others.  If I wanted even the most basic of amenities – running water or electricity – they would be supplied by others.  If I became sick, I would need others to care for me.  No, it is all but impossible for any of us to function for any length of time without the companionship of others along the way.

This has always been the case.  Adam was given Eve – both created in the image of God who is himself defined by the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Noah had his family.  Abraham had Sarah.  Moses had Aaron.  Elijah had Elisha.  Even Jesus drew companions and friends around him – not just disciples to be taught, but friends whom he could love and who he could lean on.

So Vickie and David come to us, as newly minted curates, already with that inbuilt support-structure of a family life, and their own marriage to sustain them.  Our task, as their new church family, is to add to that support structure.  Our task is to help them grow towards, and then into, the ordained ministries to which the church believes they have been called.  And their task is to offer themselves to us – offering the gifts and talents God has built into them for the good of this community.

St Paul, writing to the Galatians in our second reading, reminds us of what the character of a Christian community should be like.  To the Galatians, he says “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ”.  It’s worth just pausing for a moment and thinking about that instruction.  Paul tells us that to fulfil the law of Christ, the sovereign instructions of our Master and Lord, we should ‘bear each other’s burdens’.

Here then is a call out of our comfort, and into the messiness of all human life.  We are to be there for each other – each supporting the whole body of Christ as best as we can, with the talents and abilities we have.  For some, that means bearing the burden of leadership – such as sitting on the PCC and helping to steer the whole community into the future.  For others it is the burden of caring for our buildings to be able to better serve the whole town into which we are called.  For others, it is bearing the burden of visiting the sick and the lonely – those whose physical circumstances deprive them of the fellowship and companionship that every human being needs.

We do these tasks together – bearing each other’s burdens.  None of us can do all the tasks that are required.  I frequently find, for example, that bearing the burden of leadership leaves me precious little time for bearing the burden of someone else’s loneliness or illness.  So I rely on our Pastoral Care team for that.  David and Vickie will find too that there simply isn’t time to do all the things one would like to do in ministry.

But that’s ok.  None of us are called to do the whole work of the people of God.  If that were so, what would be the point of being the body of Christ?  But each of us, ordained or licensed, lay person or Reader, we are all called to play our part…to be a hand, or a foot, or an eye, or an ear, of the body of Christ.  To quote again from St Paul, writing to the Galatians: “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

Today, we joyfully celebrate the arrival of new ministers into our midst.  We give thanks that they have heard and responded to God’s call on their lives – the call to enter even more deeply into the loving service into which God calls us all.  Their offering of themselves can be an inspiration to each one of us.   Each of us is called too…out of our individualism, and into community.  What are the ways in which each of us could respond?

This is not just a calling to do more in the immediate community of the church – though more burden sharing would be greatly appreciated!  It is also a calling to bear the burdens of our neighbours – those we encounter in our workplaces and social clubs, in the post office queue and the foodbank.  There are a million and more ways in which our community could become more like the Kingdom of God, if the people of God would roll up their sleeves and live out the calling of God.

If there is anyone here today who would like to think through what such a call might mean for them, I encourage you to get in touch.  Come and chat with me, or indeed with David, Vickie, Damon, Sandra, Mike and Bishop John – and we would be glad to think and pray with you about God’s call for your life.

In the meantime, Vickie and David, Jake and Freddie too – welcome!  It is good to have you with us.