Sermon 29th July 2018

Sermon:  29th July 2018

Preacher: Rev Andrea Price

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

A few weeks ago Bob Thomas, a member of the Iona Community ended his fundraising walk from St Columba’s Church in Farnham to St Columba’s Church Pont Street and attended our St Columba’s Day communion service. 

Iona, where St Columba lived and worked, as you may know, was the place from which Christianity spread around Scotland and the isles. Starting with Columba, an Irish prince in exile, a Christian Community grew up and brought the heathen tribes of Scotland to the faith.

However the Reformation and the dissolution of monasteries meant that the church and monastic buildings, which had grown up on Iona, were abandoned and fell to ruin.

Until that is in 1938, when Rev George MacLeod led a group of unemployed craftsmen from Glasgow and some volunteering ministers as their labourers, to rebuilt the abbey.  

He founded the Iona Community, an ecumenical community of men and women from all walks of life and from all over the world to live their faith reflectively and actively in discussion with others. 

How did George MacLeod rebuild the ruined abbey at a time when the great depression had ravaged world economy and spare cash was hard to come by for ordinary living, never mind for grand projects?

What’s in it for me, an investor might have asked. George MacLeod would have replied: “You are taking part in building for the greater Glory of God and to give work and income to some fine unemployed craftsmen.”

Rebuilding Iona Abbey was a great leap of faith and numerous stories exist which point to it being a bit of a miracle. 

Like the story of the roof beams, buying of which would have been next to impossibly expensive. However a great storm beat the Atlantic and a ship with Canadian timber on the way to Sweden became distressed and had to shed its load. Those beams just happened to drift ashore on Mull, directly across from Iona – all the right length.

“Whenever I pray,” said George MacLeod, “I find that coincidences multiply!”

What’s in it for me? This is a most natural question. We do things, which make sense to us and benefit us in some way. 

In a complicated world it is however not always easy to assess, what the benefit is:

We want to help others, be charitable and then are put off by news that charities have misused funds or people. 

We want to look after our health and choose to eat healthy options, say with less sugar, and then are told that some of the things put into foods to compensate for the replaced sugar are no better or cause other problems.

We want to take part in groups and then find that our offers of help are blocked politely or even rudely by the way things are organised or some people speak to us.

We want to draw near to God in church and then are confused by the odd ways of the church and the strange people gathered there.

What’s in it for me? Many people sadly find commitment to organisations or institutions hard these days. The internet and social media on the other hand offer countless instant “friends”, who are also like minded. And should we disagree we can just switch the gadget off. We have become very impatient with each other.

What’s in it for me?

Sadly churches too are suffering from the lack of trust in institutions or commitment to them. 

Here at St Columba’s we have embarked on an exercise with each other, which you may have noticed in your Order of Service for the past weeks. “Listening for the Future” is a set of questions asked of all groups and individuals associated with St Columba’s to listen to their views and opinions, experiences and ideas of how St Columba’s Congregation is faring now and how it should develop.

If you have not had your say yet, please take part on Sunday 9 September or take the survey on line yourself or both!

What is in it for me?

Church more so than any other institution does not exist for its own glory but 1. for the sake of its people and, it has been said, 2. especially for the people who are NOT there – and 3. of course for the greater glory of God.

Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that we are gathered into God’s family, given his name, that we might grow together to be his body, his living stones as church.

It is a miracle really: people from vastly different backgrounds, with different interests, jobs, personal preferences, languages and politics are all gathered in church as family! Brothers and sisters in Christ!

In the past being part of the Christian church was a must! What is in it for me was easily answered. If you were not part of the church, spoke up against it, chose to live differently than the perceived wisdom of the church dictated, you were making yourself an outcast of society.

The church had a lot of social control and sometimes abused its power. Just think of the intransigence over centuries when marriages broke down, the cruel handling of children conceived out of wedlock, the struggle to advance scientific insights about the universe, the human body.

When people found Jesus preaching and teaching with authority and power they were captivated and followed him everywhere. When he fed hundreds they decided that they knew “What’s in it for me”: a perpetual free lunch! Who would not want someone like that as their country’s leader.

But Jesus, John tells us, was not interested in human power games, not interested in fame or fortune. When he realised that they were about to grab him to make him king, he withdrew. 

What is in it for me? God is not a genie to fulfil our human wants. And yet many people think that that is what God is about. And when they do not get what they want, well God cannot be there. Case closed!

What a self absorbed world we live in.

The God Jesus spoke about is however not like a lamp with a genie from a fairy tale but more like a nutcracker – cracking some hard nuts and also religious nuts!

Connected to God we receive God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit helps us to grow, to gain spiritual strength and to become more discerning about the world, what is for the good and what destroys – with the help of the Spirit of God!

Connected to God we will become part of the love of Christ at work in this world and gain understanding in its sheer astounding and all embracing size and ways.

Connected to God we will become part of the fullness of God and God part of us.

This is what Paul wrote in his prayer to the Ephesians.

But this means not just a jolly time, enjoying the grace and mercy of God for ourselves. The Anglican priest David Watson wrote in his book ‘Fear no Evil’:

“About one a.m. on Advent Sunday morning, I had a bad asthmatic attack. In my helplessness, I cried out to God to speak to me. I am not very good at listening to God, but between one and three a.m. God spoke to me so powerfully and painfully that I have never felt so broken before him (and still do).

He showed me that all my preaching, writing and other ministry is absolutely nothing compared to my love-relationship with him. In fact, my sheer busyness had squeezed out the close intimacy I had known with him during the first few months of the year after my operation.

God also showed me that any ‘love’ for him meant nothing unless I was truly able to love from my heart my brother and sister in Christ. As the Lord put various names into my mind I began to write letters to about twelve people asking for forgiveness for hurting them, for still being inwardly angry against them – or whatever. It was the most painful pruning and purging I can remember in my entire Christian life. But fruitful! Already some replies to my letters have reduced me to tears.”

(David Watson, Fear No Evil; Hodder&Stoughton,1984,p.171)

When Mark, Luke and Matthew tell us of Jesus feeding the 5000 they emphasise his compassion and leadership as the good shepherd.

John uses the story to remind Jesus’ friends not to underestimate the power of Jesus. 

What’s in it for me? For those connected to God through Christ living in the Holy Spirit and out of his Spirit the question changes: What is in it for God and for our neighbour as for myself?

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth!

Do we just say words or do we believe what we say? Do we want to make it real, God willing?!

When we struggle like the disciples on the lake in darkness, with wild nature and forces threatening to overwhelm us – fear not. Christ will come to give us strength. 

When we are comfortable and strong give thanks and ask how you can share your comfort and strength with those who are placed around you, ready to pass on the bread of heaven you have received.

Let me finish with another poem reflection by Ann Lewin:

Unexpected blessing

Another beggar on the street.

Not willing to give money, or ignore,

I asked if he was hungry.

“I’d love a drink,’ he said,

‘A Coke.’ Conveniently placed

Beside a shop, desire was

Swiftly met, (a modern

Cup of water in his name).

And then, just as I thought

I was the one bestowing blessing,

From his nest of filthy blankets

Came his words, ‘God bless you.’

As so often, I received

Far more than I gave.

Amen