All Saints Day sermon:
A man went to see his parish priest after the death of his brother. ‘I’d like you to conduct the funeral service for my brother’, he said. ‘And in the eulogy I would like you to say to everyone that he was a saint’. ‘I can’t do that’, the priest replied. ‘I knew your brother. He was a cheat, a liar and a thief’. Nonplussed the man replied, ‘If you announce publicly that he was a saint then I will give you a cheque for £10,000 for your church roof appeal.’ The day of the funeral came. In the eulogy the priest said, ‘Everybody knows Jim had a colourful life and that he was renowned for his cheating, lying and stealing, but, evil and sinful though Jim was, compared with his brother he was a saint.’
‘Saint’ is a term we regularly misunderstand and misuse. Sometimes we use it to describe someone who is just a little bit too good to be true. Sometimes we use it to describe someone who has a difficult life with a great deal to put up with but who seems to get on with things quietly and without complaining. Sometimes we use it to refer to those who lived long ago and whose faces we see in stained glass windows. Sometimes we think it has something to do with ‘being good’.
And we will all have heard of those who say, ‘I don’t go to church, but I’m a good person, not as bad as those hypocrites and judgemental people who do. That is to miss the point. Any diligent and conscientious person can be ‘good’. Xtns don’t have a monopoly over goodness.
‘Saintliness’ describes something else. In the NT the word ‘saint’ is never used by Jesus and it only occurs once in the Gospels. That is right at the end of Matthew’s gospel – and was probably added later. Saint is used by Luke in Acts and it is used most often by Paul in his letters to the first churches. So the word, Saint, belongs to the time after the Resurrection when the church was beginning to get established. And it is always used in the plural (except on one occasion in the letter to the Xtns in Philippi and even there is it is in the context of the group) We don’t hear of individuals referred to as saints. There is no reference to St Peter or St Paul or to saint anyone else. It is a group word like the word ‘church’. The words ‘Church’ has been borrowed from the army and is about belonging. It refers to those who have been called out from everyday society to be gathered together in battle formation ready for action. You can’t be ‘church’ on your own. Church describes the group continuing to live the life of Jesus and ready to confront the forces of darkness in our world. The group was called ‘the saints’. The people who had responded to God’s call and who see themselves as called to be holy. The letter Paul wrote to the Xtns in Rome is addressed to ‘all God’s beloved in Rome, called to be holy’. And the word ‘holy’ we translate as ‘saints’. It is the same word. ‘Saints’ describes ‘us’;
We are a work in progress – people who are on the way; Oscar Wilde penned many good lines and he put it quite truthfully and profoundly like this: ‘The only difference between a saint and a sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.’ We have a tendency to label people and write them off for what they have been or done. God, on the other hand, cares more about what people are becoming. And he cares deeply that we keep on trying to become more Xst-like and more the people whose lives show kingdom values. ‘I will be with you’, Jesus said, ‘to the end of the age’. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison and began his remarkable work of forgiveness and refusing to demand revenge, frequently he had to deflect people’s words of astonishment by saying, ‘I’m no saint – that is unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying’.
There is a TV series on at the moment which make you weep and laugh at the same time. ‘Bad habits, Holy Orders’. Some very modern 20-something young women had reached the point where they had become dissatisfied with their lives. They had realised that something was missing. Their life of indulgence, excess and self-centred pleasure-seeking was just not making them happy. So they agreed to spend a month in a convent living by the rules and sharing the disciplined life of the nuns in worship, work, meditation and concern for the world outside. They have entered an environment that is totally unfamiliar to them. It will be interesting to see what happens week by week. One of their first lessons was to learn that a broken finger nail is of minimal importance when compared with the number of people in our world who are starving. We could say that they have accepted the invitation to live among those called to be saints. The nuns are not stained-glass-window saints but real people whose lives will be less than perfect, but they have committed themselves to God and each other and their prayer is that through that togetherness the goodness of God will be revealed and the spreading of the Kingdom advanced. They know they need each others’ support, understanding, and good-humoured forbearance if they are to grow in holiness. They, like every congregation, are the people who in Paul Tillich’s words are saints not because they are good but because their lives are transparent and reveal something that is more than themselves. They and we are the people through whom the light of Xst shines to inspire those around us and lift them up to become better people.
‘Saints’ are those who belong to the group, who are ‘on the way’ and are very conscious of how far they fall short. But that does not put them off. The most important thing is that they know God loves them and cares more about what they are becoming than about who and what they once were. We live by God’s grace. ‘Grace’ describes the guiding presence of God with us, sustaining us, as we make our way through the changes and chances of this messy and crisis-ridden world.
In conclusion: ‘Saint’ is not a word we can use to describe ourselves. In the NT it is used not of individuals but of the group. Being a Xtn is to be a member of the group called out from the society in which we live; and called to work together to fulfil God’s will for his world. As for ourselves, we are a work in progress; sinners who keep on trying. And we are here, supporting each other, to enable that transformation to happen. As Xtns we do have our feet are on the ground and are therefore well aware of the pain and sorrow in the world around us. But our heads are in heaven and therefore we have hope. During Communion we shall sing some of Charles Wesley’s wonderful words, and I’d like to conclude with just the first verse,
‘Let saints on earth in concert sing with those whose work is done, for all the servants of our king, in heaven and earth are one’.
5th March 2017 Lent 1 and Stewardship Sunday
A teacher asked her class of young children to make a drawing of the Old Testament story they liked best. One boy depicted a man in a top hat driving an old car. In the back seat were two passengers, both scantily dressed. ‘It’s nice picture’, said the teacher, ‘but what does the story tell?’ The young artist seemed surprised at the question. ‘Well’, he exclaimed, ‘doesn’t it say in the Bible that God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden?’
The story of Adam and Eve succumbing to temptation and the story of the tempting of Jesus, are two very sophisticated stories. They are essentially about making choices.
Adam and Eve were tempted to eat the fruit of the one forbidden tree. Naturally, like all children, that was the tree they wanted to sample. They knew it would give them the knowledge of good and evil. What they didn’t know was that that knowledge would mean that from then on they would have to accept being responsible. They would have to accept the need to make hard choices. Being responsible is hard.
What the story is saying is that right from the beginning of human history we have been tempted to make wrong choices. Irresponsible, selfish ones. Ones that cause pain to other people and also to ourselves.
It is only a story but behind it is a fact of human experience. We find it easier to take a short cut and also to do things that we know are bad for us and harmful. We think that, just this once, we can get away with it.
There are all sorts of things that can tempt us.
Being Jealous tempts us not to give others the praise and credit they deserve. Fear tempts us never to take even the smallest risk that could enlarge our horizon.
Pride tempts us to think too highly of ourselves. To think that the world revolves round us.
As we reflect on our Planned Giving we face temptations; we may be tempted to think our contribution won’t really make a difference; that, I give my time and talents instead; that the church has plenty of money, or that church isn’t the place to talk about money.
Temptation is a fact of life and so it was natural for Jesus to be tempted. Tempted right at the beginning of his ministry. He had, after all, given up the glory of being divine and emptied himself to become like us, human.
Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread. To take a short cut to solve the world’s food problems at a stroke. But he knew he had rather to change human nature. Jesus was very hungry but was not tempted to satisfy his desire, but for what reason? Jesus does this to strengthen his focus on God. ‘Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
While giving up chocolate or alcohol might be good for physical health it is not the main focus. Lent invites us to make space in our lives, and provides an opportunity, to focus more on God. Lent can be a time to read the Bible regularly, to make time to prayer whether privately or through one of our services during the week.
In the third temptation the devil suggests what we would call today an alternative fact – Jesus is shown all the kingdoms of the world, which are offered to him in exchange for worship. Jesus, as he prepared to embark on his public ministry could have much more easily taught and influenced the world from this place but instead again said no, confirming the need to worship God and only God.
Unlike Adam, Jesus resists temptation, and goes onto live a ministry that helped people, changed people, brought them life and changed the world. All through history people have been changed by Jesus.
Following his temptations Jesus set about choosing and training a group of followers. The twelve followed and learnt from him;
They helped people. They brought the sick to Jesus. They helped 5000 people to have enough food for the day. They saw the madman among the tombs cured. They saw Zacchaeus the dishonest tax-collector reformed.
Two remarkable things happen to Zacchaeus in response to Jesus’ presence. He pledges to give half his wealth to the poor. Such generosity comes from a sense of being accepted, forgiven, welcomed. It far exceeds the requirement of the tithe which was 10% and it helps Zacchaeus rebuild his relationship with God’s people. Secondly, he promises to repay those he has defrauded far in excess of what the law required. The extravagant grace of Jesus invites an extravagant response.
A story is told that, while walking at Balmoral, Queen Victoria got caught in the rain. Calling at a cottage, she was grudgingly offered a tatty umbrella. She went on her way and the next day a courtier in a splendid coach returned the umbrella. As the courtier left, he heard the owner say, ‘If I had known who she was, she could have had my best umbrella’.
There is a story of Jesus sat in the Temple and observing the giving of the rich and poor. Some things never change. Just as today, those who have money give more in cash terms than those on lower incomes. And when they give, those on lower incomes give more in proportion to their income than those with more money. The story is called the widow’s mite. The gifts of the wealthy that Jesus observed were big gifts, but his attention was drawn to the giving of a poor widow who in percentage terms gave far more.
It is easy to miss the point of this story. The heart matters to God, but there is more. It is not that she gave the last that she had to give but that she gave the best she had to give.
Last week Jun asked us in his sermon to reflect on what we really think of as our priorities, what really matters. He spoke about the significance of our relationship with God, creation and each other. And that just like other relationships, the relationship we have with money affects greatly who we are and what our values are.
At this time as each of us considers our giving – the issue is not actually how much we give – yes of course, we as an organization have bills to pay and hope that we can fulfil our vision.
The far deeper question is: how much of me and the life God has given to me, is truly reflected in the gift I give?
If we can see the difference that our ministry as God’s people in this place can make in people’s lives, rather than bills, then whether we have much or little, we should give ‘our first fruits’, our first and best not what is left over.
Today, our call is to live a Holy Lent, beyond fasting and abstinence, to embracing the truths that will set us and our churches free to live out the fullness of God’s mission. May we all seek to find the self-denials that will strengthen our focus on God.
And today, everyone who is here – together – are invited to review the level of our giving to All Saints to help us to continue to grow and make a difference in peoples’ lives. May we continue discerning God’s will together and walking together along the road to growth and to effective service of our Lord.
Last Sunday was the third anniversary of my licensing as your parish priest. I have commented before how struck I have been by the Spirit of welcome here. I have also been particularly struck by all the selfless generosity and I see in all that is done to support our common life; I see it in so many different ways. I do say Thank You to all of you for that.
Today, Please take your envelope home – pray about it – think about it – reflect carefully , then see whether how you can rise to the challenge of playing your part in building our future so that we can more and more be a parish church which thrives, and can reach out to accomplish the Vision that we have been discerning and building together.
Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit; and, as you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
26th Feb 2017 Sunday Sermon
Stewardship Sunday, Year A
“You cannot be the slave both of God and of money” Jesus tells us. I don’t think though Jesus didn’t know the struggle and hardships of our lives. He himself was born in one of the poorest place in Israel. Before he started his ministry, he was a labourer and carpenter. It would be probably safe to say that Jesus very much understood about the needs of our life, that we cannot just live with nothing to wear and nothing to eat. We need those things. I think Jesus very much understood why we sometimes worry about those things. We pray for the provision of those things. We pray to the Lord to give us this day our daily bread just as he taught us. Jesus knew what it is like to make a living. What is it then Jesus is trying to teach us today by mentioning money and our worries?
Here Jesus is asking us to reflect on what we really think as our priorities. What is it that really matters to you and your life? I am no expert of business in anyway but in business, you are always required to distinguish those things that are urgent and that are important. The urgent things are the things that have to be done to keep turning the wheels. If your work is just occupied in doing the urgent things, things that have to be done then it would be difficult for the business to grow. Good managers are those who keep remembering the important things and gradually moving towards it while dealing with the urgent things.
In the same way, there are urgent things and important things in our lives, in our faith. Christian faith starts from seeing ourselves in relationship with God and with his creation. Some people think as though their relationships can be separated from themselves. But the relationships we have with other people and a wider world do tell us about who we are. The relationships we have with our friends for example reflects at least some truth of what kind of person we are. The way I make relationship with my parishioners and the community tells what kind of priest I am. It is the relationships that define who we are and where our values are. The fact that we all experience broken and difficult relationships in our lives reflect our vulnerabilities, our own weaknesses as human beings.
Relationships do not just reflect us but form us. In faith, the way we have our relationships with God decides our identity. The Old Testament Reading today tells us the kind of relationship God wants to make with his people.
“Zion was saying, the Lord has abandoned me. The Lord has forgotten me. Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you.”
Through entering a deeper relationship with God we become more and more one with God. This doesn’t mean that we can become the same as God but that we can be more fully with God. In the relationship with God, we can find our true selves as his children, his own image, that we cannot be separated from him. The Bible tells us, the closer we get to God in our relationships with him, the fuller we become as ourselves.
Just like other relationships, the relationship we have with money affects greatly who we are and what our values are. Just as we can be lifted to be more one with God in a deeper relationship with him, we can be lowered to be more one with money and our material possessions in our relationships with them. The way we make our relationships with money and wealth decides whether we are letting ourselves to be slaves of our own money and possession however much we have them.
St. Paul tell us today that God calls us to be his stewards entrusted with his grace and mysteries. The greek word he uses here for Steward is Oikonomos whose original form is Oikonomia. The English word economy derived from Oikonomia. The meaning of oikonomia is household or someone who is entrusted with its affairs. All of us are called to manage the household of God, the entire creation represented in the life of the Church. Therefore a good economical way of life is not only to pursue one’s own profits and wealth but also to take part in looking after the common life of God’s family. It is to acknowledge that all I have is not just mine but that have been entrusted to me by God, that my life is more deeply related to others than it seems.
Faith teaches us that God’s grace and blessing are given to everyone free of charge. Christian teachings on tithings and offerings are not about paying the bills for his blessing or paying for assurances for the future. It’s rather a reminder of that we belong to each other in the world God has created and that God has given us a variety of gifts and blessings to support each other and to nourish each other through our common life. To take part in stewardship is to remind ourselves who we are and what we truly value, that we are created as his children, as a member of God’s family in which we rejoice together and share together his blessings. This is why offering is in the context of worship. It isn’t just about the collection and contribution to the work of the church but the offering of something that represents us, our values and our priorities.
There is a lovely prayer in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Korea. It’s a prayer for compline. This is the prayer Koreans say before they go to sleep. I think it shows what lies at the heart of Christian Stewardship. So let us end with this prayer.
O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live. : Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others rest, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr Jun 26/2/17
Mothering Sunday Sermon (6th March 2016)
Readings : Exodus 2.1-10, Psalm 34.11-20, 2 Corinthians 1.3-7, Luke 2.33-35
Church, a new family embodies God’s grace and love
Make us to know your ways, O Lord; Teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth. For you are the God of our salvation; For you we wait all day long. Amen.
How lovely it is to gather all together in this church especially with our junior church staying with us. It certainly reminds us that we are the one family, young and old, rich and poor, English and non-English, in the Church of God. Mothering Sunday is of course the day to give thanks to our lovely mothers, grand mothers, god mothers, step-mothers but also I think this is a good day to remember and give thanks to those who took care of us, who took responsibilities for us, who has shown us the love of family regardless of gender or biological relation. Whether it is mother or father they wouldn’t exist without a family. So today I would like to think about family in Christian faith with you.
One of my friends once told me a story about how naughty he was in his childhood. He used to steal money from his father’s wallet while his father was asleep. He always saved the stolen money under his bed. One day his mother found the money under his bed and told his father. His father looked straight into his eyes but instead of scolding him or punishing him, his father said just one sentence. ‘We have no thief in this family.’ My friend told me that it was one of the most powerful words that he has ever heard and that he has never felt more embarrassed than that.
His story made me wonder what family really means. What is family? The form of family could vary for each of us. When I was serving in the army as a sergeant, I met people from all walks of life and from all different kinds of family. People who didn’t have parents, who had foster parent, who didn’t have children, who had foster children, who were cut off from their biological relatives but had a partner or a friend who is like family. Family was wider and stronger than blood. Family was the reason that kept the young boys in the uniform going in the harsh army life. And at the end of the day what they all wanted was the same : to get their jobs done and to go back to their family.
Family is where we find trusts to the end; where members are always together in ups and downs even though they may not be in the same space and time. Family is where we give each other strength just by being there. We find the same sense in the Bible. The love of Mary for her son Jesus, the love of Moses’s mother and sister and his foster mother. But the Bible leads us into the wider horizons in terms of family. In today’s Gospel Mary is told by Simeon about the pain that she will have to go through as her dear son will suffer and be killed on the cross. I can’t even begin to imagine how painful it must have been for Mary or for any other mother to bury her own child. How could she even accept her little leaving his family home and fulfilling his calling to be with complete strangers and facing danger. I imagine it must have been not easy for our Lord as well for he was a full human being just like all of us. He had home, had mother and father. But he knew that God was calling him to a wider, bigger, deeper family, the family of God. He answered to the call to build God’s family by sharing his life with others, the pain, the comfort and the joy of life with others. In the midst of the suffering of the cross Jesus opens the way to a new family. John chapter 19 verses 15,
‘Jesus on the cross saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Here is your son.’ Then he said the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’
In today’s Readings, we see other examples how God calls his chosen people into the wider family of God. Moses was born in one small tribe of Hebrews. But he didn’t stay in the boundaries of his original family nor in his foster family yet he embraced and gathered the whole people who were suffering in slavery into one family and led them out of Egypt. St. Paul makes very clear what it is like to be God’s family in his letters to the early churches.
“We share in the terrible sufferings of Christ, but also in the wonderful comfort he gives. We suffer in the hope that you will be comforted and saved. And because we are comforted, you will also be comforted, as you patiently endure suffering like ours. You never disappoint us.”
St. Paul believed that the Church is where Christians share the sufferings, the comforts and the joys of life together in Jesus Christ. The Church is the new family in which the love and the compassion of God are embodied. Christians are those who are called to form this family and to invite people into this family. The Church is the place where strangers become one family through God’s grace and love. This family is not a family built by our own blood but by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us, who died for our sins. The Church, the family of God is built by the blood of Christ and by the blood of martyrs and saints who willingly sacrificed themselves for others as they believed in this greater family.
No human family is perfect. In the same way, no church is perfect. According to studies there is one relatively common characteristic of families in crisis. The members tend to idealise other families while condemning and blaming their own. The truth is every family has its own challenges and shadows. How they handle those times of trial together as a family decides what kind of family they become. In the same way, no church is free from its own conflicts and challenges. Actually we may often see even more disagreements and challenges in the Church than in other communities. But we shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed by it.
Dietrich Bon Hoeffer, one of the greatest theologians and a martyr of 20th century who was killed by the Nazis wrote about the life of the Church.
““It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”
“The Church of the gospel is not the community of saints but the fellowship of sinners. The church is the community that believes in grace despite the realities. The Church lives only by grace. ‘Those who expect to be a saint won’t find their place in the Church’ said Martin Luther. The Church is of sinners, of grace and of faith.”
““In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)
We are all called into this Church, the family of God where the sinners, the undevout, the strangers embrace one another, embrace one another’s brokenness, weaknesses and failings as God embraces us just as who we are despite the horrible mistakes, pains and shadows of our lives. God embraces us all, he embraces everything of what we are and he tells us ‘You never disappoint me. You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter’ just as St. Paul told to his brothers and sisters in his letter. The Church is the family in which we affirm this amazing grace, in which we live together and train together to live by this grace as we share our wounds, our pains together as one family in God.
Last Sunday, I was very impressed and encouraged by that how many of us remained after the service to share and discuss the future of our choir. As a new curate of this parish with a great tradition, I have always been humbled by all the support, commitment and generosity of the congregation. I valued all the precious opinions and priceless memories of our choir. As I listened one question came across my mind. Why are we here? What is the reason we exist here as church? Why has God called us to be here? To recruit more people, young people? To keep our precious traditional choir? To allow girls to use their musical talents? Let’s say we managed to recruit more people in the choir and more people in the congregation. What is it that we want to give to them and share with them? Yes, we want our choir to thrive, we want pass a thriving church to the next generation, yes we would like to see more people in the Church. But what is it that we are really meant to fulfill; that God is asking us to our hearts. Perhaps what God is asking us in this time of challenge is not about boys or girls in the choir; but about : Can we become God’s family, sharing pains, comforts and hopes with the strangers, with those who we don’t agree with, despite the differences and disruptions?
God forbid, but If we don’t become one family of God in this church, if we miss out our vocation, our reason to exist, to be the family of God, to embrace each other’s pains, to heal the wounds of each other’s lives, to bring God’s comfort and hope, what else can we pass on to our next generations? The faith we have inherited was started amongst the lowly people in the desert. They didn’t have a great choir, they had no brilliant recruitment strategy, they had no beautiful church building. They had nothing but the gospel, nothing but the faith that they were called to reach out to their neighbors to share God’s love and compassion with all their heart. They journeyed together to build God’s family as they loved each other, looked after each other, embraced each other despite the conflicts and challenges. The Church is the family of God where God’s love dwells and spreads. This is the greatest legacy of our faith. This is the gospel that the missionaries from England brought to the strange soil of Korea. And this is the only gospel that we have to pass on to the children sitting at the front and at the back today in this church. This is the gospel that we are called to share, that into which we are called to invite the people out there.
The Rev’d Jun Kim 6/3/2016
Sunday 8th November
Remembrance Sunday sermon:
May the Word of God be spoken….
It is a year of anniversaries. We have remembered the relief of 1945 but it seems that most of our memories are of tragedies with untold suffering and loss of life. There has been Edith Cavell who claimed resolutely that she was only doing her duty. And this year we have had the centenary of Gallipoli. That ill-fated expedition landed at the base of cliffs and stood very little chance.
In a cemetery on the hillside where the fallen are buried there is an inscription with some words of Ataturk, ‘Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. You, the mothers who sent your sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.’There is also a statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded British soldier to safety. How common that attitude was we don’t know but it and the example of Edith Cavell make important statements about being human.
Today we gather to remember all those who have given their lives in the service of their country and those whose lives have been changed by the injuries they have received. We remember too all the families who have lost loved ones and the pain they must bear for the rest of their lives. The money raised from the sale of poppies is so necessary for the ongoing care that needs to be given.
The Great War of 1914 – 18 was called the war to end all wars. How hollow that now sounds. So many wars and conflicts since. So many lives lost. So many peoples lost. They are all part of our remembering. What was it, we ask, that led sophisticated and developed nations on a sequence of events that became unstoppable ? What pride froze out rational thought and prevented anyone from calling, ‘Enough’. What arrogance could think that the genie of destruction once let out of the bottle could be put back inside ?
It is said that you fight the next war with the technology of the previous one. It is also true that you move towards the next war with the mid-set of the previous one. So, in addition to looking back today at the past and remembering those who gave their all, we need to think of the world of the present and the likely shape of the future.
It is still a world of conflict. But the participants are changing. New and powerful nations are emerging as contenders for world recognition. Communication now is instant and world-wide. Through social media words and pictures go around the world in minutes and create an instantaneous reaction. The small boy fleeing Syria whose body was washed up on the island of Lesbos. Today nothing is secret and yet at the same time much is hidden.
Today complex and conflicting loyalties make it difficult to predict whether nations traditionally on the same side will support each other or not. China was upset that the UK hosted the Dalai Lama. As a result British jobs were at stake. Saudi Arabia feels affronted at the UK decision to cancel a commitment to build a prison. How does that affect the web of conflicting relationships in the Middle East. Israel is quite happy to sell arms to nations in Africa where Al Qaeda and Hezbollah – their deadly enemies – are involved. Why ? ‘It’s business’, they say, and, ‘It’s over there.’
Nothing today is simple or straight forward. Who is trustworthy is very difficult to answer. The scale may be different but the pattern is as it was in the time of Jesus. Palestine had four Roman legions, more than anywhere else except Britain. Two of them were stationed at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. It was a hotbed of revolt. No one was safe.
Yet Jesus steered a careful course through all the intrigue and double-dealing. The Romans found no fault in him.But from those who said they wanted to be his followers he asked for an approach to life that was totally different from all that was considered normal.
He recalled the vision of Isaiah – ‘the wolf shall live with the lamb,’ and, ‘swords shall be beaten into ploughshares.’ It was a dream in Isaiah’s time and also for Jesus. It must be our dream too however unlikely it may seem that such a radical change can happen. Jesus called on people ‘to love one another as I have loved you’. He expanded that to, ‘Love your enemies’. And yet, all too often we don’t love our neighbours, or even know their names. But Jesus is calling for a new way of thinking. Go out of your way to help your neighbour in his need. Think of the Good Samaritan. Your neighbour may despise you if you reach out to help him but he may also come to see you in a new way.
After the murder of Lee Rigby a mosque in Luton, that had nothing to do with it, was burnt down. It was Ramadan and the Muslims needed their mosque. A church and two synagogues decided to open their premises to the Muslims. That one act broke down fear and suspicion between the faiths and led to a new relationship of trust. Strangers became friends.
The days when wars were fought between fixed armies drawn up opposite each other may well be over. Wars in the future will involve people pressing buttons from thousands of miles away. With satellites, missiles, drones, cyber attacks, and with advanced espionage and surveillance systems and much more, boots on the ground may be towards the end of the conflict. More dangerous will be the enemy within; the person who in any society gives the appearance of being a friend but is really a deadly foe.
Loving your enemies in that situation may demand a great deal of judgement and, in the end, a willingness to take a risk. We may not be able to change the world but we can begin by changing ourselves and becoming daily more Christ-like. We can also help the Christian community of which we are a part to grow daily more Christ-like as it faces conflict situations. We can support and encourage each other so that in our togetherness, communal life, discipleship and mission shows the resurrection life of Jesus. People then will come to see and value the quality of life and the vision that inspires us; where justice, compassion, forgiveness, and new beginnings become part of daily life;
That process will be taking place not just here but all over the world. Swords beaten into ploughshares. A vision for the future which we can begin to make a reality in the church, in our community and in the wider world. We pray that we may hold that vision despite the appalling destruction, wanton slaughter and acts of barbarism that we see on our TV’s perpetrated by groups such as ISIS.
As we remember today all those who have died for their country we pray that in the hope of a better tomorrow we may ask ourselves, ‘What does it mean to be human ?’ The soldier at Gallipoli carrying a wounded man to safety; Edith Cavell doing her duty; The Church and synagogues of Luton opening up to strangers. Such things point to an answer.
And we pray that the ways of bitterness and division, aggression and brutality may be replaced in our hearts and minds by a vision of swords beaten into ploughshares. May that resonate in our togetherness and inspire us to persevere in courage, and with love.
Sunday 23rd August 2015
‘choose today whom you will serve’
May the word of God be spoken, may the Word of God be heard and may the Word of God by each of us be obeyed.
There are in life decisive moments when one has to take a stand, declare where one’s loyalties lie, or make a definite commitment one way or another. Last Friday on a train in France three Americans took a stand and chose to overpower a heavily armed gun man.
We have freedom to choose in our life of faith. God does not force himself upon us. He has given us the freedom to choose whether we serve him or not. Freedom to choose how we allocate our time, talents and cash. He gives himself to us in love and we can choose whether to return that love. Some choose to ignore or go against god; others ignore him, letting more immediate things squeeze God out. If we are to love and serve God, we have to be sure we have made this a definite choice – to be an active disciple – to be a member of the Body of Christ.
In the first reading we heard that Joshua called the tribes of Israel together and asked them to dedicate their lives in the service of the true God. If they were unwilling, they should at least choose whom they were going to serve, the gods of Egypt or the gods of the Amorites. Joshua gave the lead by saying, ‘As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’
In today’s Gospel we find two definite groups of people. Those who find Jesus’ teaching too hard, who take offence and turn away and no longer go with Jesus. The second group are those who seek to stay with Jesus and be loyal to him. The group includes the disciples. They are not forced to stay: if they want, they can leave as Judas later did. Peter replied for the disciples, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.
We too are given the opportunity of turning away or committing ourselves to follow him. It’s not just a one-off choice; we have to make it every day, sometimes many times a day.
Western society has been making choices, particularly over the last 400 years. First developments in science and philosophy secularised knowledge. Then the rise of the nation states saw power being wrested from the church. The secularisation of culture with art galleries and museums to some extent replacing churches. And finally, in the 1960s the secularisation of morality and the blossoming of individual choice. Knowledge, power, culture and morality no longer anything to do with the church. ‘God is dead’, they said, ‘There probably isn’t a God, so stop worrying and enjoy life,’ was the not exactly profound statement plastered over the sides of London buses a few years ago.
The unexpected result is that after four centuries of God being steadily demoted we emerge into the twenty first century with maximum choice and minimum meaning. Who am I ? Why am I here ? How shall I live ? These questions have become increasingly difficult to answer for many people. Yet they will not go away. And it is impossible to live without meaning; knowing who I am and why I am here.
But today, with the explosion in the use of the internet, history is going back on itself. There is a new empowerment and again it is based on religion. This time the radical, politicised religion coming from the Middle East. Knowledge, Power, Culture and Morality are all being reclaimed by those who have very determined ideas promoted by their faith. The result is that today the West feels powerless against the religious extremists and fanatics who spread their ideas ever wider.
The four centuries of development in the West have taken place based on the principles of the social contract, that there are limits on the power of the state. There has been an attitude of tolerance, freedom of conscience, and the concept of human rights. But during those four centuries religion has been slowly downgraded and the result has been decadence, materialism, and the loss of identity. No wonder then that such bodies as Islamic State have found ready support among disaffected mainly young people. It offers, meaning, identity, a code of conduct with regard to Knowledge, Power, Culture and Morals in a way that the free-market, liberal democratic West does not.
The seventeenth century saw the start of a process of secularisation. The twenty first century is seeing that being reversed. The world is becoming more religious. 84% of the population of the world claim to have a religious affiliation. Religion has not gone away. It is growing in numbers and in significance. The religious voice that is being heard may be one that we do not like, but that is the way things are.
So the question that matters is still the one posed by Joshua, ‘What sort of religion should we go for ?’ ‘whom will you serve?’
Throughout history there has been a recurrent answer. Aristotle in the 4th C BC said, ‘What is the essence of life ? To serve others and to do good.’ ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, as long as ever you can,’ was John Wesley’s take on this.
Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi in the UK, has written a book urging Jews, Christians and Muslims to remember our common ancestry; that we are all children of Abraham. All three faiths do have much in common. He urges all three to forget their sibling rivalry. We need to work together, he says, to stress our common agenda for peace and to counteract the malign influence of those distorting our scriptures for their own purposes. The three faiths all stress the importance of justice, peace and hospitality for the stranger.
Religion is being used by the extremists to give a particular identity to those seeking meaning and purpose in life. They may be using the internet and may be doing it very successfully but they do not have a monopoly over its use. It is there for us too. All three faiths have important news to share. We are all responsible for each other. At the world level that means working for social conditions which ensure that every group in society takes into account the rights and aspirations of every other group, and the well-being of the whole human family. If we are to survive as a species we must build cultures of peace and justice, kindness and trust with sympathy and understanding of each other’s’ needs. The world faiths have much to contribute to that and Christians especially.
Adam Smith, the economist, whose teachings we follow in a capitalist market economy also wrote an earlier work stating that the pursuit of wealth should not take precedence over social and moral obligations. Lasting happiness is found, he said, not in consuming ever more and more but when there is an overall sense of social well-being with justice, active goodness and the careful management of resources – with frugality. Some economists may well shudder. It is the very opposite of thinking that profit is the only goal and anything goes if you can get away with it.
We can see that Adam Smith was saying, as Christians down the ages have said, You need to encourage people to be ‘givers’ rather than ‘takers’. It is so easy to make bad choices; not to do the good that we want to do and to find ourselves doing the bad that we don’t want to do. That is all part of the human condition. When Paul wrote to the Christian community in Ephesus to make a distinction between themselves and those living around them who were not Christians he urged them to be discriminating because the times they were living in were not easy. It is the same today. He encouraged them to Use all the resources that God gives. Be truthful; upright, fair-minded; walk the path of peace; judge everything by whether it measures up to the life of Jesus; and remember that by your Baptism you are marked out as belonging to God.
Let us finish in prayer:
In every age, O God, you give your people freedom to walk in faith or to turn away. Grant us grace to remain faithful to your Holy One, whose words are spirit and life. We thank you that you have not left us to ourselves, help us to be faithful disciples of your Son. Amen
The Parish Priest
Sunday 19th July 2015
Make us to know your ways, O Lord;
Teach us your paths
Lead us in your truth,
For you are the God of our salvation;
For you we wait all day long. Amen.
I stand here today, humbled by the generosity of All Saints’, aware that the love of my family and friends whom I met in Peterborough has sustained me. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger story of the missionaries who came to Korea 125 years ago from England. In 1890 Bishop Charles John Corfe who was a naval chaplain said ‘yes’ to the calling sending him to Korea as a missionary. A friend of his who was a naval officer advised him that he was following a reckless hope; that it is like attacking a battleship in a boat. Bishop Charles answered his friend “but if you had an order to attack a battleship in a boat you would obey.” Bishop Charles John Corfe and his team left England, leaving their families and friends behind. They arrived in Korea in November 1890. They planted the seed of the Gospel in the soil of the strange land. They themselves were buried in the soil of the strange land as the seeds of the Gospel. So my presence here is a fruit of what they have planted. In fact, our lives are not what we have achieved by ourselves. We are here because there was someone who has sustained us by their love, kindness and sacrifice whether we remember them or not. We often realise this as we look back.
However, the world does not only consist of the people who support us. Basically this world is a strange place which is full of strangers to all of us. And it seems getting more and more heartless and lost. But none of us can be sure which one is the right way although we hear all the time the shouts that claim that they know the right way. It is difficult to discern whom we should follow, whom we should trust. Today The Old Testament reading describes the world in which we live, divided and broken by the image of the flock “scattered and wandering.”
However God proclaims the message of hope to the people who are getting further and further away from him; that he raises up shepherds to look after his people. Where can we find our true shepherd then? Who is the one that we can trust? St Paul answers to this question in his letter. In today’s second reading he speaks to the Gentiles. “In Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far apart, have been brought very close by the blood of Christ.” Gentiles were considered being apart from God in the ancient world of Israel. But God’s love and grace is given to those who seem to be so far from him. Jesus has shown that God’s activity of love and grace to save his people is not confined by anything.
Jesus who was born in a dirty manger has shown us that even the ugliest place of the world can be the holy place in which the divine dwells. Through the tragic death at the cross and resurrection, Jesus has shown us that even the worst human act of rebellion and hostility against God cannot deter his love towards us. God’s love and grace is inexhaustible and indestructible. Almighty God can always let new things emerge no matter what the circumstances are. So when we say we believe in God Almighty, perhaps it means trusting that there is always a way of change, a way of restoration, a way of reconciliation even when things seem deeply damaged and wrong. When we trust this, we open ourselves to the act of God who keeps the doors open to bring something new out of a situation. Christians are those who are called to live this faith in each of our lives.
However the world is not so easy place to live our faith. I am sure we all have had experiences in which we felt our lack of strength against the reality. Today the gospel tells us that Jesus and his disciples have faced with a similar situation. “The apostles have rejoined Jesus” after accomplishing their mission. They have dedicated themselves to casting out devils and proclaiming the good news along with Jesus. But it seems like there is no end. “There are so many coming and going”, asking for help and healing “that they have no time even to eat”. In this passage we can see how deeply the world has been wounded. Jesus and the apostles seem to meet their limit as they face with the depth of wounds of the world.
Even Jesus says that “they must go away and rest for a while.” But the world does not allow them to have a short rest. The crowd from every town is already there before Jesus and apostles reach the shore. I imagine Jesus could have said “You can go back home and come back tomorrow as it is enough for today!” However, the gospel tells us what happened in Jesus’s heart. “As he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The expression translated ‘taking pity or having compassion’ means in Greek ‘σπλαγχνίζομαι’ (from splanxna) ‘from the inward’. Jesus moved deeply from his inward parts as he sees his people.
Jesus could feel deeply the sufferings of those who are wounded. He always could respond to them despite his body and mind were weary. In the same way, God is there at the heart of our sufferings, feeling our pain, trying to get us through at all cost. If we fall into deep darkness that we feel completely lost apart from God’s presence, he is still there. Even if we are in the middle of the fire of hell, he is still there. Because there is nowhere God is absent. There is nowhere he cannot reach because he is the maker of heaven and earth.
Nihil longe est deo. Nothing is far from God. Bishop Charles chose this as the motto of his arms as he prepared the journey to Korea. Nothing is far from God. There are many barriers and walls which we have built to keep us separate from others to protect ourselves in this divided, broken world. The barrier between classes, races, regions, political parties. But none of the barriers can stop the steady swell of God’s loving presence, pouring upon us. This love is utterly unconditional, unrestricted, perfectly given for all.
Perhaps we may say that becoming a Christian is to open ourselves to make room for this unlimited love which is being given to us. In doing so, we become the channel, the door through which his love flows into the world. Now, those barriers of the world can no more imprison us as we live within God’s loving presence. As St. Paul said he “breaks down the barrier which used to keep us apart. And he creates one single New Man in himself.” We who once used to be scattered and broken apart are transformed into a new human species who shares one bread and one cup at the Lord’s table together.
Now we consent that the Lord is our true shepherd. We still live in the same everyday world but the world no longer rules us. We are ruled by God as citizens of God’s kingdom where there is no barrier no border. English, Irish, Korean, Lithuanian, conservatives, liberals, young and old, rich and poor, saints and sinners we are one in God’s kingdom. There is one Lord and one people of God. Though we are many we are one because the Lord is our shepherd and he brings us home where we all belong.
The missionaries who came to Korea 125 years ago knew this deeply in their heart. They witnessed this through their lives as they trusted in God. I stand here as they planted the seed. It was them who planted but it was you who watered it. If it wasn’t for you the seed would not have grown. If your love, your prayer haven’t sustained me I could not come this far on this journey. So thank you.
We are here because there has been someone who has sustained us by their prayer and love. We are deeply connected to each other more than we can see just as Bishop Charles, all the missionaries who came to Korea, me, you, all of us meet together today across time and space. We are all related to each other as we are already in a relationship with God. This is what the scriptures and the history of faith witness. We are to continue this grand chain of love and faith as we love our family and friends, as we invite strangers to be our family and friends. Perhaps that is why the Lord said that he doesn’t raise up just one shepherd but shepherds in the reading today. God has sent Jesus and Jesus has sent us to carry on his mission.
This is a long narrow pathway. We might not see the end of it. However, we will keep going just like those who were before us did. Because God accompanies us and his love sustains us on this journey. So let Psalm 23 be our conclusion today.
The Lord is my shepherd
There is nothing I shall want
He guides me along the right path
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
No evil would I fear
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort. Amen
The Rev’d Jun Kim 19/7/2015
Sunday 1st March 2015
LISTEN to HIM! – Mark 9.2-10
‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’
May I speak in the name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Life-Giver. Amen
Throughout the Bible we see that things happen on mountains. Special things. Life-giving and encouraging things. Things we must listen to and take account of. Things that show us that God is present and seeks to draw us into his big, expansive vision for the world.
As we have heard in our first reading this morning, Abraham listened to God and obeyed his command to go to the top of a mountain and be ready to sacrifice to God his most precious thing, his son, and there he learned that because of his absolute trust in the Lord he will be blessed; on Mount Sinai, God made his covenant and his commandments known to Moses in a cloud and when Moses came down his face shone brightly with the glory of the Lord; and on Mount Horeb, Elijah encountered God, not in the earthquake, wind or fire but in the sweet sound of silence. These three themes of sacrifice, covenant and silence are to be found in today’s Gospel – the story of the Transfiguration in which, once again, the top of a mountain is portrayed as a “thin place” – a holy place where heaven and earth meet. A place where invisible things are made visible.
Now this is all very well but we are people who live at sea level on the edge of the Fens. For us, there is no handy mountain to climb for us to get closer to God. So, what are we supposed to do? Well, I guess it is no accident that this reading is given to us in Lent. This is the time set aside for us to dedicate ourselves to listening more closely to God, to giving up more of our time for prayer, to studying of the scriptures. It is a time when we sacrifice more of our money for the flourishing of the church and for charitable causes. It is a time when we seek to silence the voices of greed, competition and selfishness within us and seek to offer our gifts in service of the needs of others. Lent is a time in which we prepare ourselves for another mountain top experience. The one when God’s covenant of love with us was made visible in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. It is a time when we make ourselves ready to hear again the silence of the Resurrection and to listen to the response God wants us to make to that glorious triumph of light over darkness.
Jesus took his friends, Peter, James and John, up the mountain to prepare them for these events too. He wanted them to be strengthened in faith and hope by witnessing the glory of God in him. Despite their amazement and terror, what they experienced there enabled them to stay close to Jesus through the rest of his earthly life and to share in his risen life.
In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus’ divinity was made known to his friends. His body was transformed so that his true nature was clearly revealed to them but it was their hearts that were transfigured. And although they seemed quite bemused at the time and Peter blundered around rather comically wondering what kind of response to make, the three men were strengthened by that experience and it prepared them for what was to come.
These were the ones who Jesus would later take up another mountain, the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane to wait with him before his arrest. And really they didn’t quite get what was going on there either. They fell asleep and Peter denied Jesus three times.
I wonder if this resonates with our experience of Lent. We tend to start off with all sorts of good intentions on Ash Wednesday but 40 days starts to seem like a long time when you are denying yourself. Selfish desire tugs us one way and God’s invitation of love and flourishing pulls us another. It all starts to feel a bit messy and we can end up sleepwalking through Lent because it all feels so difficult and perhaps even a little terrifying.
So, let this story of the Transfiguration cheer you up. Jesus didn’t give up on his friends in their weakness and fear then and God doesn’t give up on the weak and fearful now. He doesn’t give up on those who like Peter can’t immediately make sense of things or those who say one thing and do another. God doesn’t give up on anyone but there is a special blessing of closeness and affirmation for those who love him and want to serve him, however inadequate we are and however much we get it wrong. He knows the potential each one of us has to follow a path of holiness and it doesn’t depend on our education, wealth, age, health or status. It simply depends on our willingness to be humble, to serve, to keep trying and to listen to him.
The true character of these three men – Peter, James and John – emerged after the resurrection when it was clear that they had heard God speak at the Transfiguration. God had commanded them to listen to Jesus and listening to him means emptying out our own agenda and looking at the world through his eyes. Their deep listening to Jesus ensured that their hearts remained transfigured, that the mountain top experience wasn’t a one-off peak experience but a way of life. Their total dedication to the service of God in Christ was revealed in their continuing of God’s mission of love to the world to the very end. Each one suffered in the name of Christ and so shared in his glory.
In Lent, we are given a precious gift: the opportunity to have our hearts transfigured and to be strengthened for Christian service in the world. Through our baptism we have the privilege and responsibility to spread the good news of Christ in a world longing for justice and peace to prevail. If we find Lent a bit difficult then perhaps we need to remember those Christians in the Middle East, Nigeria or North Korea who face not just the loss of personal pleasure this Lent but the very real threat of persecution, imprisonment and even death for following Christ.
Lent offers us an opportunity not just to re-order our personal priorities but also to think about what it means to be Church. What does God require of us, of this particular church community in this particular place? Listening to Jesus means that we go with him to the mountain top but also back down again into the ordinary and every-day.
God’s kingdom will come on earth when all things are transfigured, all eyes set on the glory of God, all ears listening to his son, all hands willing to serve and all hearts ready to love. As Christian people, we are charged to work together, to tend the sick, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to forgive the wayward, to protect the vulnerable, to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the God of grace who gives us life, loves us to the end of time and desires the flourishing of all people.
God says: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’
Our parish is named “All Saints”. The invitation this Lent is to catch God’s vision, to listen to Jesus and to see how we can be saints to the community around us. Jesus is praying for our whole-hearted response. So, this morning, as we receive in Holy Communion his broken body and the blood he shed for us may our hearts become courageous and our lives be transfigured so that his glory is revealed to the world through our generous service.
Helena del Pino (1/3/15)
Sermon 5th Sunday 2015 suffering, healing, stewardship
“The whole town came crowding round the door, he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another”
May the Word of God be spoken, may the word of God be heard may the word of God by each of us obeyed.
God has been described recently, by Stephen Fry, as “utterly evil, capricious, mean-minded, stupid and monstrous”. Stephen Fry’s says this because of the suffering seen in the world. He wants to ask God, ‘How dare you. How dare you create a world in which there is so much misery that’s not our fault?’
This is not a new problem. Humankind has wrestled with the problem of suffering for a very long time. In the first reading Job was rather depressed! He speaks of ‘nights of grief’, and that his ‘eyes will never again see joy’. He suffered, yet Job was an upright and blameless man, he had a loving wife, seven sons and three daughters and the largest estate in the kingdom. He didn’t abuse his power, he used his wealth for hospitality and his influence to help the needy. Yet he experienced a series of disasters; he loses his family, his friends, his fortune, his possessions. The only thing that Job does not lose is his faith in God.
He is afflicted with sores, from the soles of his feet to his head. His wife tells him to curse God but Job keeps his faith. Once described as the greatest figure in all the east, he is now afflicted with disaster and sickness. What had he done to deserve such a terrible fate? Why does Job have to suffer? Why should an innocent person face such a fate?
Job’s friends expressed the common view at the time. Suffering was connected to conduct. So someone who suffered must have sinned.Job protests that he had not sinned; he had loved God and his neighbour. He refuses to believe that his suffering is a consequence of sin, but, he has no answer to satisfy himself. He asks the question we can all ask, ‘why me?’, and he settles for despair, ‘nothing for my own but nights of grief’.
Job does not get an answer to his suffering, although his fortunes do improve. He represents all the innocents throughout history who wonder at their pain. We all have experienced hurt and anguish and bewilderment and we can all wonder, why is there such suffering.
In today’s gospel we heard that ‘after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another.’ When Jesus is confronted with human suffering, he does not stay with the question, ‘why suffering?’ but moves to heal the afflicted. No doubt all those who crowded around the door had questions about the why of their suffering, but they all shared the hope that Jesus would care for them. Their hope is not misplaced and Jesus does attend to their needs and heals them.
It’s not all about healing, Jesus needs to pray and early the next morning finds a lonely place. He is not left in peace, a search party finds him and tells him that ‘everybody is looking for him’. Jesus knows that it will be the same in the next town.
The questions of the suffering Job are not answered in the gospel. Jesus may have his own questions about the endless suffering that surrounds him, but he stays committed to caring for the sick.
That is his witness. And that must be the enduring witness of his followers. Through the witness of Jesus we hold fast to the truth that God loves us in our weakness and fragility, in our sickness and suffering. Many people feel called to do jobs that show a reflection of God’s care. We see it in the commitment of nurses, doctors, carers and all, whether paid of not, who tend to the suffering of others.
One of the things that the PCC has started doing is to wrestle with the question, ‘Why are we here?’ Why do we bother we having All Saints Church in this part of Peterborough? What is our vision? Our mission? Can it be expressed concisely in a mission statement from which a plan for the future can be agreed?
I think that today’s reading can give good pointers that help us answer the question about why we are here. Today’s readings can help us think about our mission. They help us think about different areas of church life.
We live in a world with a great deal of suffering. As followers of Jesus we called to become like him. So I wonder? Can this church be a place of healing in the community within which we are set? Can we be a people who show God’s compassion in the flesh? Can we be God’s care in action?
There are many ways we can do this. Our hall is used by community groups, we support the Food bank, we support charities such as CMS. I wonder? What is God’s vision for our church? What would we like to be the same in 5 years? What would we like to be different?
I recently completed a questionnaire for Peterborough City Council. They are asking all church leaders about their community involvement as the council realises that churches make a big contribution in their communities. The questionnaire listed 30 forms of community project: Lunch clubs, fairtrade initiatives, out of school classes for children, IT training, counselling, advocacy, food distribution, services for the homeless, hospital visiting – to name 10.
No church can do all of these. We read in the gospel that Jesus healed many, but not all.
I hope that, starting with the PCC, we will seek God’s guidance so that we discover His hopes for our church. Only part of a churches life is about projects. Jesus’ ministry was based on His relationship with his Heavenly Father. In the gospel we often hear of Jesus getting up early to pray, of him withdrawing to a lonely place. The future of our church must be rooted in prayer; in services, in prayer groups, maybe prayers of healing after a service, a prayer life that is nourished through quiet days and pilgrimages.
We gather here to worship God. We heard in the psalm, ‘Sing praise to the Lord who is good, sing to our God who is loving. I hope that the future of our church will involve supporting the musical tradition and working so that our worship is the best that we can offer. In the New Testament reading Paul speaks of preaching, of being able to offer the good news.
As we think about the future of our church and its mission, I hope that there will be quietness for prayer, worship that uplifts and nourishes in word and sacrament, community that welcomes, befriends, sustains and heals the wounds. I wonder can we be a community that shows God’s care in action?
Today we are keeping this Sunday as Stewardship Sunday – the day in the year when we encouraging people to think prayerfully about their giving; of time, talents and cash. We have bills to pay like everyone else and what is being asked of us is going up.
I know that a lot of people do give in many ways to the ministry and mission of the church. But they need the support of everyone – they can’t do it without you. Something that may well be hard to hear is that someone who worships here regularly and is not in the planned giving scheme is costing everyone who is, about £600 per year.
The Church of England has taught tithing for many years now. The Biblical standard is that God was to get a minimum of the top 10% of everyone’s time, energy, property and cash. That idea runs so firmly through the Bible it is impossible to ignore. The Church of England has interpreted this ancient idea to say that half your tithe ( 5%) should go to your church, and the other half to other wonderful charities which build up the kingdom of God.
Our church life would be transformed if we did this. No one is too poor to come to church; 5% of no income is zero. If income goes down then the 5% goes down as well. I tithe, it seems the minimum I can do, so 5% of the £24 000 I receive. I say that, not to brag, but to show that this is not something impossible for a Christian in the modern day.
We all have different incomes, so what we can tithe will all be different. On this Stewardship Sunday, may I ask you to spend some time praying about the future of our church. Pray that God will guide us and show us the church He would like in this place. May I ask you too, to consider prayerfully your giving and your response to the letters that John as chairman of the Stewardship Committee has prepared.
Please do feel free to share your thoughts with me and with members of the PCC. But for now, let me finish in prayer,
‘Heavenly Father, give grace to us, the living stones who form your Church, to reflect prayerfully at this time on out love for you and our neighbour. Make us mindful of the many gifts you bestow upon us and we ask that your HS will inspire us and direct us in our choice of giving, remembering that we are only giving back that which is truly yours. Stengthen us, Lord, to meet this challenge according to your will, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amenn;
The Parish Priest 8th Feb 2015