Sermon 28th May 2017

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUNDAY 21 MAY 2017, EASTER 7

Listen here: https://youtu.be/JHwCuCWGcLI

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you our Lord and Saviour. Amen

 

Anyone working for an organization or a company may have come across SMART, an acronym, setting out the criteria to describe the aims and objectives of the organization or company.

 

S stands for specific

M stands for measurable

A stands for achievable .

R stands for relevant

T stands for time bound

 

In a busy and competitive world and society it is vital that organisations, businesses and charities set themselves targets to do their work well.

 

For the challenges are varied and pressing: climate change, Brexit and its fall out, funding care for the elderly; sustaining peace in a world where 65 Million people are refugees and the rich poor divide is a continuing scandal hindering peace.

 

To address any of these issues good governance is needed by setting specific goals, measure if it works, watch that we can achieve it and that it is relevant; and finally set deadlines. SMART!!

 

 

A few of us have just attended the General Assembly in Edinburgh, the yearly gathering of ministers and elders of the Church of Scotland. The assembled delegates or commissioners, made up of equal numbers of elders and ministers, meet to discuss matters of faith and life of our church.

 

Some of you may have followed its business on the news or even watched proceedings live on the internet.

 

As an organization the church too needs to organize itself smartly and show that it operates with good governance!

 

And so we heard reports on mundane things like pension funds, property trusts and care of buildings. But we also heard and decided on the core business of the church: how to proclaim and live the Word of Life!

 

And then Manchester happened…and a few days later another attack on our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt.

 

If anyone was in doubt that this world needs people who are prepared to stand up for life and ways of making peace, these events reminded us how important and desperately needed Good News is for the world.

 

In the 500th year of the beginning of the Reformation by Martin Luther we are reminded of the searching questions with which Martin Luther and other reformers challenged their time and their church. What is the Gospel, the good news and how should we do church and live our lives?

 

Joke: How many people does it take to change a lightbulb in church?…. Answer: Change!!!?

 

This joke has been told too often in church circles with resigned humour! Too often change was and is feared in church. Our fear grips us and makes us hold on to all that has aye been – to the bitter death of the church. For around us change happens often, naturally – because God created an ever changing world. So how can we, the church, the living body of Christ not have to change?

 

The moderator invited the Rev Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin’s in the Fields here in London, to give a talk called “Catalysing Kingdom Communities”. In a fast paced theological tour de force he pointed out that Christian doctrine has moved on since the Middle Ages.

 

The church used to frighten people into faith and worship to avoid hell and to gain their entry ticket into heaven. Instead we now emphasize and encourage a personal relationship with God to live and celebrate the abundance of God’s gift of life. For we are through Jesus Christ reconciled with God and called to be peacemakers in our communities and the world.

 

And yet, Sam Wells said, we have not changed the way we do church, still insisting to take people for a magic hour out of the world and its problems. We are still treating the mission of the church as if we are a bank needing to stock pile Christians like money reserves.

 

Instead Sam Wells argued we need to become Kingdom Communities, disciples of Christ working together across generations, across backgrounds, across talents and even virtues, seeking the cornerstone among the rubble the builders have rejected.

 

This, the topic of active discipleship was the underlying topic of the whole General Assembly and will shape the work of councils and congregations for the next few years – or our church is in danger of disappearing from many places.

 

For soon, between 2019 and 2023, 75% of ministers in the Church of Scotland will reach the age of 65 and be eligible to retire. The church has at the moment already around 250 vacant charges and only about 13 people finish training for ministry per year. How are we going to cope as a church in the future?
In our society in which, as one commissioner said, people are drowning in information but are starved of wisdom, who is going to minister to the people? Who is going to speak words of comfort and tell stories of hope and challenge?

 

This year the finances of the Church of Scotland have shown for the first time a slight but real decline in income because of the decline in membership. Not enough new people are joining our forces while a faithful generation is going to deserved rest and God’s glory.

 

And yet in the face of stark statistics and challenges the General Assembly did not seem deeply depressed but told many stories of innovation, faithful action and hope.
Every morning we began with worship and the moderator spoke about a word of life like hope, with, water, hospitality, forgiveness.

 

For at the heart of all we are doing is the Word of Life. At the heart is Jesus’ call to all of us to follow him, learn from him and witness to the word of life in all the earth.

 

And yet how often and how easily do we treat our faith as a private comfort blanket, even fear offending others with it and never talk about what we hold dearest?

 

How often are we walking past others or ignoring them rather than forming meaningful relationships with those living around us crossing barriers and sharing God’s joy and wisdom?

 

One thing is certain: in the next few decades the people of God cannot rely anymore only on a “minister” to tell people of the Word of Life. We will all have to rediscover what it means to minister, which translated means to serve.

 

Otherwise: Who will tell the children, the youth, the lonely, the bereaved, the homeless, the ordinary person seeking wisdom where to find it?

 

Sam Wells emphasized that the cornerstone which the builders have rejected is found on a heap of rubble, discarded stones – and He is still the stone holding up all the building.

 

God is not reserved for the good, the clever or successful but instead is found everywhere and with everyone. Let us celebrate this!

 

For this is the message from our readings today, the message of Ascension:

 

We are not left alone! But sent!

 

God’s Spirit is working in the hearts and minds of each individual, in the community of a congregation and also in all the world where we give God’s spirit room.

 

To do the will of God in our time and place, we need to follow the example of the first disciples and of Jesus: we need to pray and then take action, inviting others to join us in being active servants of God. The General Assembly calls the Church to embark on a season of Invitation.
Our Lord sent and still sends the great helper, his Spirit.

 

Christ prayed and still is praying for us.

 

Thus when we pray, we put our hearts and minds into his way, to gain the strength to refuse the World’s despair and also the strength to refuse the world’s seduction and instead work together as the Easter powered people of God, disciplining ourselves even in suffering to live the love of God.

 

This does not mean being passive, but on the contrary asks for a determined effort. In praying we are making sure that we remain open, sensitive to God’s will or else the world will drown the still small voice of calm.
Prayer is the soul’s way of drawing breath, of coming close to life and love and refreshing us. This can happen in word or action.

 

 “Prayer that works is prayer that makes a difference, contemplation that turns into action, on behalf of peace and justice in a troubled and unjust world system. Prayer is energy, the energy of love and transformative power. It is given to us to use for the good of all creation. In prayer God gives us the fuel of life, and asks us to live it. Jesus prays for the community and, so prayed for, the community of Jesus becomes a community of prayer.”(From Sojourners Verse and Voice © www.sojo.net)

 

 

 

“Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” the angels ask the disciples straining to see Jesus.

 

We know this a very good question, as up above the ozone layer is the wide open universe.

 

Where is God? Where is the kingdom of heaven? It is not a geographical place but a spiritual place where love reigns, where God is present. So pray and work out love.

 

May God, who made us His in baptism,

who feeds us through bread and wine,

words and stories of Good News,

send us inviting others to join in being learner servants of God,

his disciples in this time and place

until his kingdom of love is fulfilled among us.

Amen