Sermon – Epiphany 7: 24th February 2019

Genesis 45: 3-11; 15; Psalm 37: 1-11, 40-41; 1 Corinthians 15: 35-50; Luke 6: 27-38

It’s a natural thing to look at this Gospel passage, and indeed many other teachings of Christ, and think… this is really hard; it’s challenging and it’s going to be a struggle to be able to do this. Here’s the thing.   If we enter God’s Word in that spirit we are actually dishonouring, misunderstanding and indeed disobeying that Word.  All the readings today point to the joy we are to live in now because we are confident in God’s future.  That is, the future we live in with God. And Jesus says – that future has begun in me, redemptive re-creation.

We have begun the planning for Lent and Easter services and ministries through this period – and as we do so, I am very conscious once again that we can do so in the reality of being resurrection people.  We know how Easter turns out!  We are not Good Friday people, or even people waiting at the entrance of a tomb.  We are the people who have met Christ in the Easter garden and publicly stated “you are the risen Lord”.

 

So the teaching from both Paul and Jesus today is about how we are to be resurrection people.  That is, to let the life and love of Christ flow through our lives so that the transformation of this world into God’s kingdom can happen.  Do you see that difference – we don’t see as a duty or a task loving those who we don’t love (according to the Gospel today).  It will happen as a natural flow from our being if we are living in the new creation of resurrection truth.  In Paul’s rather complicated, if not dense, working out of the difference between the natural body and the spiritual body, he is talking about that transformation, ie, redemptive re-creation.  Tom Wright puts it this way:

Resurrection will be an act of new creation, taking up the old within it, like an architect and builder taking stones from a tumbledown old building and reusing them, enhancing their beauty thereby, within a great cathedral.”

This is timely teaching on the day of our Annual General meeting as we look at the story of the past year, and how we are living in the new creation.  That is, the call to be continually transforming.  This echoes the challenging concept I have included in the Rector’s report:

The Anglican church can no longer afford ‘to look the same’ – and with new life coming amongst us, we know change happens.  We need to dismantle, before we disintegrate – and these are not words to create fear because, as said strongly before, we will journey this way together, with respectful listening and honouring all.”

 

The really exciting thing is that none of us knows what will happen!  and Jesus says quite clearly to focus on the needs of the day, and who we are in the day.  If we continue to be a community firmly built on his foundation, praying, worshipping, caring, exploring, offering hospitality, having fun, growing in faith… TOGETHER – then we are joining in God’s mission, and it will become apparent to us, as we go.

I hope you feel this is an exciting thing!  It seems to me we are called to dismantle all the time – we have to have loose and flexible patterns of holding so that we can allow the Holy Spirit to be the main driver.  We must always remember this is not our church; this is God’s church. We must remember that every time we say, talk about, the church we are talking about the people of God – not buildings and plant.   God will thus call the church God needs in this point of time in God’s mission.  If we listen we will respond to God’s needs, not our own.  It’s great to have the story of Joseph included in today’s reading, because that is exactly what he did – he looked to God’s future, believing in it, and so any anger and deep hurt of what his brothers had done became what God needed – forgiveness, healing, generosity.

 

It seems to me the two essential processes, indeed cultures, that are needed for living into and of transformation are things you can’t build KPIs around, ie, Key Performance Indicators.  These are… Listening; and Reflection.

Our primary listening is how we listen to God; that is, prayer and prayerfulness.  We also need to listen to each other, and the needs of our community and world.  Intentional listening, and praying, are hard work by their very nature.  From that listening though will come mission and purpose in how we connect with God’s mission.  There is confirmed research and data that those churches who have clear purposes before them will grow.  We need to create and grow a culture, place and space of prayerfulness; and we need to develop leadership that will conduit our community listening into God’s purpose.

 

The other proven finding for growth in faith communities is being ready to self-reflect and learn continually, together with being willing to change and adapt.  There was a significant piece of research done in 2014 in the Church of England, “From Anecdote to Evidence” – which proved with evidence the things like the statement above as actually being true.  This is one of the quotes from the researchers:

At a minimum, the arrival of new people disrupts what might be a cosy club.  In all probability there will need to be larger changes in the timing and type of worship, in how and when the building is used and crucially in shifting lay leadership towards younger and more recent members.  Such changes are uncomfortable….

 

The really big premise we often make though is …..  that Christian people believe we should grow.  Do you believe we, as faith community, should grow?  We have to find this out, about this parish, because if the starting point is not about growth and handing on the faith, it is not going to work and many of us will burn out.  This is not just about numbers and money; in fact it is more about growth through faith formation, ie, depthing faith, and connecting with unchurched and those on the edge, and especially with children and teenagers.

And it is about being uncomfortable – of arriving and finding the worship space set up for the new expression of Sunday Messy.  Of acknowledging the leadership will be focussed on this growth and may need to put other ministries into other hands.  It is very much about welcoming people and realising things will never be the same.

 

My experience thus far is of a wonderful willingness to strengthen who we are as faith community, and to commit to grow God’s kingdom here.  Let’s all make a commitment to being open to change, in an environment though in which we are all listened to.  It is exciting to belong to our God who is ever on the move, creating in love, calling us into transformation.  With God’s grace may this coming year move us into God’s dynamism, and Christ’s living discipleship.  Amen.