Sermon 11th June


Easter seems like a distant memory, then Pentecost, then Trinity Sunday, the church now moves into what, in the church of England is called Ordinary Time. That always seems a little strange to me, yes, there are no festivals, no major Christian events, but these times in between should be far from ordinary. Jesus, as we shall see in our New Testament reading later made ordinary people and events extraordinary by his presence, his teaching and his healing, and if we are to be his body here on earth, continuing his mission, as we spoke about last week, then what we do in the ”ordinary time” is just as important as what we do as a church in the  Easter and Christmas seasons. So let’s hear what the lectionary in this Ordinary Time brings to us, and let’s think about how we might respond, starting with soe teaching from Paul as he wrote o the early church in Rome…

Reading Romans 4, 13-25


Talk part 1

Sometimes, as ministers, myself and my colleagues are criticised for introducing change. People like it the way it was, people want to keep traditions going, people like what they know and it’s comfortable, like an old armchair at home. And I get all that, and respect all of that. We have an enormous heritage within our churches, and it needs protection, or at least those things that are essential to our faith and further God’s mission do.

Paul, as Jesus was with the religious authorities and rules of his day, was up against this problem in the early Church, but equally, with his strong Jewish background, he “got” all of that too. But with the insight of his Damascus Road experience and his deeply spiritual journey with the Holy Spirit, he could see that whilst the past and traditions were important, new things could be learnt from them, new insights, when seen through the lens of Jesus life, death and resurrection.

So Paul goes right back to Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation, and all the promises God made to him. Not to cast aside that tradition, but to learn from it in the new context of Christianity. What was it, Paul asks, that made Abraham stand out and be chosen by God?  What was it that caused his offspring to continue and grow the chosen people of God, as they became known?

Of course, the first thing was that it was God who chose Abraham, not the other way around. And some of the choices in that seemed odd to human eyes. Abraham was already old, 75 years old when God chose him for the task of building a nation. Sarah, who had been barren, at 90 was promised a child by God.

 And there were many things asked by God which meant Abraham leaving his country, separating from friends or relatives and even being asked to sacrifice his longed for Son, although, of course, God would not allow that to happen.

Abraham was chosen because of his faith, not because of following any rules, or traditions, or through any amazing things he had done, through an incredible conversion experience, or by exorbitant sacrifices of wealth to God, he was chosen because he was incredibly faithful to God, over all other things. And, in God’s way, and for God’s purposes he was rewarded, the Israelite nation sprang from him as promised, he had a son, he gained land and wealth and many offspring.

It would be easy to surmise, as some evangelical Christians might, that being faithful to God brings riches and wealth and success, but that’s not what the story of Abraham is about, as Paul teaches the Romans, and now us, as readers of that letter.

The legacy of Abraham, the nation of God was key not to just the Jewish nation but to Christians too, but his faith led to the promises to him by God being fulfilled, not as a reward, but as a consequence of that faith, and, Paul says, it is in the same way that our faith in Jesus fulfils the promises of God, of grace, forgiveness, healing and eternal life, not as some sort or reward for following the laws and doctrines of religion, but as a consequence of our faith.

Of our response to being chosen by God, as a response to our calling to the way of Christ. We’re going to continue to think on that after we read our Gospel reading.

Reading  Matthew 9, 9-13 and 18-26

Talk part 2

When the war in Ukraine began, it at first seemed hard to believe that such evil would rear its head yet again, yet information was sparse. I wanted to know more, to be able to support and pray for those suffering, and one of the huge advantages of social media is that you can find people who are living though it. I began to follow some, and over time those people have gained hundreds of thousands of followers, who, like me want to support them, reassure them that despite the war, there are people in the world who are with them in yearning for peace, and in mourning the lost and the maimed.

There is one such lady on Twitter, just a normal Ukrainian, now in Kiev, reporting on the daily missile and drone attacks, hoping for a quiet night, but resolute in her faith that the Russians will be overcome and peace will return. Amongst all the war, destruction and death she reports, she also posts videos and pictures of the beauty around her, because she wants to remind the world that this beauty is her country, not the wastelands that Russia is creating, and it will be beautiful again.

 It breaks my heart, but also inspires me, by her faith, her strength and also the response of the world, the kind and loving words, the seemingly helpless responses that nevertheless strengthen and encourage her. The beauty she reveals amongst all the brokenness of war reminded me of the worship song which we shall sing later as part of our intercessions (Beauty for brokenness, Graham Kendrick). But it is her resolute faith in goodness and beauty and eventual peace which has raised her from an ordinary Ukranian woman to one who inspires similar faith in others and has made her extraordinary in many people’s eyes.

We spoke earlier of the faith of Abraham, and God’s choosing him because of that faith. In our gospel reading, there must have been something about Matthew that Jesus saw that no one else did, when Jesus chose him to be his follower. This tax collector, despised by his fellowmen and women for aiding and abetting the Roman occupiers and lining his own pockets, seen as a sinner, but redeemed by Jesus to become one of the founders of the church today.

Certainly not someone obeying any rules of a just society, perhaps not even of Jewish religious rules- but Jesus knew, even if Matthew himself did not, that he was the right person. Like Abraham, and yet so unlike Abraham. Jesus chose Matthew, as God had chosen Abraham, because of faith.

God knows us so much better than we know ourselves and when he calls us, he often calls us away from what we know, where we live even, what we are doing, whether good or bad, and if we are then faithful, he achieves what he has promised, which often may  not be what we expect. Or even perhaps would want.

For me, as I’m sure from many Ministers, God’s call is often unexpected and takes us away form what we know, what we do and where we live, and, believe me, that is sometimes not easy. My call to Sark for instance, was totally unexpected, involved a huge change in life, income, work, family and many other things, but it was a powerful and overwhelming call, and I have faith that in God’s faithful promises to me and this ministry, there is purpose that might be beyond my or your understanding, and may be and is  full of both joys and difficulties.

But I have to be faithful to God’s choosing, and when I see the legacy of those who have gone before me, and the faith of others, like the lady in Ukraine who live through far greater problems than we will ever face, then God, through his Spirit strengthens me even more to serve this community and tell of God’s love and hopefully inspire others to come to know God more, or discover God’s love perhaps for the first time.

And I speak of my call, because I also know that God chooses you, each in your own way, in your own circumstances and calls you, or has called you, to a Christian life of service and love, of worship and praise, just as God has called me, a call that might be full of joy and difficulties, a call that might call you through the traditions, doctrines and history of faith of our churches, yet calls you as if Jesus were walking our streets and came to your house for a meal, and said “Follow me”.

Because Jesus calls us in the “Ordinary Times”, he heals us in the ordinary times and places of our daily life and if we reach out to touch his cloak as he’s passing, he brings us to new life, even if we think our faith is dead, or even, like Abraham e think we are far too old to serve God. Yes, we might be uplifted and feel a surge of faith at Christmas and Easter and those peaks of celebration of our faith. Yes, we might  love and respect our traditions, our familiar religious patterns and worship, we might love our beautiful churches built in praise of God and to glorify and worship God. Yes, we might read the ancient scripture and gospels to learn more of God.  But we also live in ordinary times, where we meet ordinary people, in the streets, in the lanes, in our houses, around meal tables, just like Jesus did. 

And he offers those ordinary, yet extraordinary people all around us, in those ordinary places, healing and new life, and yes, calls new disciples, even calling  those society or the church might regard as somehow less suitable or deserving.

And Jesus does that through me and you, if we are truly faithful to his calling, his choosing, of us as his disciples. His choosing of us as his church, his body her on earth, here on Sark.

He chooses us, we don’t choose God, but we can answer, through the faith that Abraham reveals to us, or the woman reaching out to touch Jesus had, through the willingness that Matthew had, and through the insights the Spirit reveals as we read Paul’s words to the early church, or the life of Jesus in the gospels.

Will you answer, “Here am I, send me”?

God chooses you, it is your choice if you will respond with faith.