Sermons from St Faith's

Mission and Ministry
Fred Nye: Sunday 20th April 2008

Have you been with me all this time, and still you do not know me?

Those were words spoken by Our Lord to Phillip at the last supper. But this past year I feel as if they were addressed to me, personally. It’s not necessary perhaps to go into all the reasons for why I feel this way, but it has a lot to do with my membership of St. Faith’s and St. Mary’s, and my experiences with  the Ministry Team and with the Mission Shaped Ministry course. And a special thank you to everyone who has shared with me in the insights we have gained from the MSM course, a big thank you to Cynthia and Lynda and to Jackie and Kari.

Have you been with me all this time and still you do not know me? It’s quite a question isn’t it? And in answer I’m certainly not saying that we in our two churches have got it all wrong, and that the only way we can really know our Saviour is to rip out the pews, have worship songs instead of hymns and set up a café church in the Hall! No, the question is more to do with finding and recognising Our Lord anew within our churches as they are, and seeing where that will take us. It has more to do with discovering again the authentic presence of Christ within his church, and learning afresh to follow where he is leading.

So where is the authentic presence of Christ within his church? Well that’s another good question isn’t it? But we don’t in fact have to look very far – just look around you! We find the true presence of Our Lord in Christian community – in a bunch of ordinary, slightly odd people who know that they are accepted and forgiven and loved to bits by God, and who take the trouble to praise and thank him for it! When in a moment we share the peace with one another it isn’t an embarrassing social ritual – it is the way in which we openly recognise Christ in one another – it is curtain up to the sacrament of Our Lord’s Real Presence with us this morning!

But of course our acceptance and forgiveness are both the end and the beginning of our journey of faith. Again, at the Last Supper, Thomas asked Jesus ‘Lord we do not know where you are going, so how do we know the way?’ To which Jesus famously replied ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’. To know Jesus, and his love and forgiveness, is the only way forward; it is the only road map we have been given. To follow him is to be loved and forgiven, and to love and forgive in return. And so our pilgrimage leads out of church and into the world of mess and muddle where we both give and receive love, where we learn to be accepted as we are, where we learn to accept others as they are.
It is really remarkable, so remarkable that it can only be the work of the Holy Spirit, that questions about the basis of our faith have kept resurfacing in many guises over the past year. Within the Ministry Team, Father Mark and Fr. Neil have been helping us to decide on a strategy for our churches. We have been encouraged, not just to go on thoughtlessly arranging the same activities, but to ask ourselves why we are doing them in the first place. From baptisms to bazaars, from Quiz Nights to Quiet Days, from prayer week-ends to pantomimes, in all that we do – are we really being obedient to Our Lord’s commands to love God, and our neighbour as ourselves?

We have divided our activities into five overlapping groups – Proclamation and Gospel, Service, Fellowship, Worship, and Resources and Sustainability. For each of these activities, rather than asking the question ‘how should we it?’ we are trying to ask ourselves ‘why should we do it?’ We are trying to look at everything we do in the context of God’s will for us, and our obedience to him.

Why do we proclaim the gospel? Isn’t it to make real in the world the love of God in Jesus Christ? To do that we need to foster a Christian community where acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation go hand in hand. All of us, church members, newcomers, and our whole community, need to hear the story of salvation as it is celebrated in the scriptures and in the traditions of our churches. We need to learn how that salvation works out in our lives, our families, our work, our community, and in all that we do. And perhaps if we spoke the name of Christ to each other a bit more we would find it a bit less embarrassing to speak of him to other people.

Why as Christians do we think that serving others is important? Isn’t it because many people don’t enjoy much love or forgiveness or reconciliation in their lives, and that Our Lord calls us to help him make his kingdom of peace and justice a reality? The things that our church members do for charities of all sorts, both at home and abroad, are both acts of kindness and service, and a proclamation of the Good News. We need to involve more people in that sort of activity and we need to lobby for social and economic justice in our world.

Why do we bother about fellowship? – sure, because we all need the comfort and support that friendship can bring us. But as Christians we need more than this, we need to share with one another the hope we have in us. We need one another to help us make sense of our lives, both in sorrow and in joy We need to hear from each other that Christ is risen. At St. Faith’s we have had some interesting magazine correspondence about the Men’s Group. Of course social groups have their part to play in church life, but we need to understand that a ‘one size fits all’ policy doesn’t work, that a particular group will not suit everybody, and that some people will never feel comfortable in any group. We need to be, not just a friendly church, but somewhere where anyone can find genuine friendship.

Why do we have a liturgy? Yes, to worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness. Here we have a holy place where we celebrate the otherness of God and give him thanks. But this church is no mere shrine. Like the abbey of Conques in France, which some of you will know, here we have both a holy place, but also a place where as pilgrims we receive food for the journey. Here we have not our destination, but a resting place along the road to Emmaus, where we meet the Risen Lord. This is our starting place, and there is much to do.

Which is a good way to think about resources. For however committed we are as a church to Christian values, few of them can become a reality without also committing people and buildings and money. While on the one hand we should not feel guilty about resources we haven’t got, we must also realise that the Christian life demands some sacrifices. We can’t be disciples without a bit of discipline. I don’t know exactly how to square this circle but I think I do know what might help. On the MSM course we met groups from other Churches who were convinced that what brought in the necessary cash and people for mission was not so much appeals and campaigns, as the power of prayer. We should be praying that we may discern God’s will for us at St. Mary’s and St. Faith’s, and that we will somehow find the courage and the resources to do it. It’s worth a try!!
This week we will be holding our annual church meetings for our respective parishes.

So do please pray for our two churches and for the Ministry Team, as we all seek to re-discover our deepest Christian values, as we try to see the future in the light of Christ. Please help to re-discover the risen Lord in our midst, please help us to discern his will, and to learn obedience.

Have you been with me all this time, and still you did not know me?

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