Sermon 30th July

Readings Romans 8, 26-39, Mathhew 13, 31-33, 4-52

 Last week, I spoke about how being isolated in ministry in Sark means I interact with a lot of colleagues virtually, on Zoom, social media etc in order to learn more about God, share experiences, and deepen understanding of our Christian life and ministry- and we reflected on how we all need to seek that deeper understanding.

This week, amongst all the things going on in the world and on the island, I was reflecting that the same applies to Sark as a whole. We have multiple issues here, political, financial, in education, and in medical and social provision, poverty and debt alongside great wealth, housing and a host of other things. It would be easy to despair that there seems an impossible task ahead.

But then, if we look beyond the isolation of our little rock in a huge ocean, there is news in the world that certainly makes me despair. The illegal Migration bill in the UK, the treatment of refugees world-wide, with their suffering accentuated by the ravages of climate change, ( not to mention the fires in Greece), almost forgotten wars in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria and Yemen amongst others, poverty and famine, corruption and misuse and redirection of massive wealth amongst UK and world governments, at the expense of populations suffering from a cost of living crisis, massive extra use of foodbanks, riots, injustices in the legal system, corruption and immorality in our churches and a leadership which doesn’t act, prejudice, persecution, and self-seeking behaviour- I could go on, and I’m sure you can add other examples.

When Paul was writing to the Romans, he was writing to a church community suffering significant persecution from a secular and immoral Rome, and infighting between Gentile and Jewish Christians in the church, the latter feeling, with their heritage they had true faith. They faced the issue of being Romans, or amongst Romans, who, in the other countries they had invaded and claimed as part of the Roman empire, there was cruelty and injustice to those they occupied and diversion of wealth to their own coffers. Perhaps the church community was despairing, the promise of the Messiah, all that Jesus had done, seemed to be having no effect beyond their small group, the world was not changing. Paul, and the early Christians were relying on the hope that the second coming would happen soon.

 Paul extends the hope, that to hang on and trust God will lead to the enjoyment of the coming kingdom if they could just be faithful. The encouragement that no matter what, God is there, and nothing, not even death can separate us from him, because of what Christ has done.

Paul is eloquent, his argument well-constructed, the message of hope clear, but nevertheless, for the suffering Roman Christians, holding on to their faith must have been difficult, all too easy to despair. The central message of this passage is to trust God. God doesn’t cause all the bad things, and having faith doesn’t wave a magic wand to make it all better, but God is with us in all of it, no matter what. And, as that lovely sentence says, when we are at the depths of despair and cannot even find the words, the Spirit intercedes with us with sighs deeper than words.

I must admit, that on Sark, when I’m slowly trying to inject, in my role here, some sense of justice and fairness into everything from education through medical, to taxation and social welfare and housing, not to mention the issues in continuing and reimagining our tiny church community, I sometimes feel it is an impossible task, and often an unrecognised and unrewarding one, or even one some think is in places outside of ministry. But it is not, it is my calling and the calling of Christians everywhere to bring about these kingdom values. My despair at the difficulties of progressing these things often leaves me turning to the Spirit to intercede with those groans and sighs too.

And the same extends to the seemingly helpless situations I mentioned around the world, where bad seems to go to worse, and there seems nothing we can do, except sit back, and let it happen, look after our own corner, the forces of the world seem too powerful against the forces of good and of God.

But they are not. Paul is insistent on God’s involvement, God being alongside us, with us, never separated from us. There is hope and encouragement, if only we have faith enough. And that comes through Jesus and the Holy Spirit who give us that strength of will and faith if we trust God enough.

But for what? To live in this broken world, simply surviving, seeing all that is bad around is, but being helpless, in our local community, or in the wider world.

Well, maybe for some, it’s the simple way out, the way of the world.

But that’s not what Christians are called for. We’re not called by God to just worship faithfully, and to enjoy our safe Christian communities. We’re called by God to, as Jesus says , to preach, teach, baptise and do all that Jesus did. To teach social justice and compassion where it is absent, to show the same, to love, unfailingly, without judging, as Jesus did. To transform the world. To bring about God’s kingdom on earth.

An impossible task, you might say. How can so few of us make any difference?

Well, the Roman church and the rest of the early church did, many of the social reforms of a properly civilised society have arisen through Christian influence over many centuries, despite those places where they are not present or are corrupted. We have to trust that God is in all this, as Paul says, and his timescales my not be ours.

To bring about God’s kingdom on earth. Kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is like……like a mustard seed, a grain of yeast, a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great value, Jesus said in our gospel reading.

Those who seek out the treasure, the pearl become catalysts, infectious, the kingdom spreads, the influence of the seemingly insignificant, the lone Christian, the tiny church, can have massive consequences in the world, can spread like a pandemic, if we trust God and the Spirit enough, if we treasure that pearl enough, if we are actually willing to give all to attain it.

Everyone who becomes a disciple, Jesus says at the end of our Matthew passage, everyone who becomes a disciple, or a teacher in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.

We have a Christian heritage, our traditions, our churches, what the saints have achieved before us, the social reforms that we have inherited, they are all great treasures of the kingdom.

But there are new treasures to find, new challenges to face, new loves to be formed, new compassions found, new justices to be begun, new lives to be transformed. Here on Sark, and in the world.

And we are part of that, yes, maybe a part as small as a mustard seed or a grain of yeast, but with a true faith and trust in God, like Paul called for, we truly can become, in kingdom terms, the yeast that transforms the whole of society, the tree that provides rest and shelter.

The kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

Yes, even here on Sark.

Not on our own, but with God’s help, even when we despair, through the intercession of the compassionate, yet not despairing, sighs of the Spirit.

For I am convinced that neither death not life, neither angels or demons, neither the present or the future, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that in Jesus Christ our Lord.

That’s why I’m here. How about you?