Future Planning

2nd Sunday before Lent

Revelation 4
Luke 8:22-25

A new friend of mine (Darcy Chesterfield-Terry) is being inducted into the next door parish (Datchet & Colnbrook) tomorrow evening and I am so thrilled for them and him. I have spent the last year covering various services & offices at St Mary and St Thomas and have enjoyed my time there. It has made me think about what I would be looking for in my next parish as I should be in a similiar situation in the next few months. So this is what I would like my next (but as yet unknown parish) to know about what I believe about being a worshipping church!

You are on the cusp of a new season in this parish and it is going to be exciting! I have been thinking a lot this week about you, the congregations of St Mary and St Thomas and Darcy as I will hopefully be in a similar situation in the next few months – not sure when or where though.

It got me to thinking about what I would want my new (although as yet unknown) congregation to know about what I believe about being church. I am going to be brave and tell you what I would want them to know and I hope this lands in the right place for you this morning. You can tell me later or tomorrow evening if I am completely naïve!

I do like the Book of Revelation and I always try to take the opportunity to preach on it when it comes up. I like it because it is scary, unpredictable, very challenging and gives us a glimpse of God that is so much bigger than we usually imagine him to be. Revelation also shows us that things aren’t always going to be as there are. Change is a comin’!

The American evangelist and writer, Beth Moore wrote this about Revelations 4: ‘In reading Revelation’s description of the throne room of God, please keep in mind that John related the completely unfamiliar through the familiar. Imagine, for example, escorting an Indian who had never ventures farther than the most primitive part of the Amazon through a tour of that state-of-the-art technology of NASA. When he returned to his fellow tribesmen, how would he describe jets or rockets? He’d probably have to begin his illustration by using birds as an example and try to stretch their imagination from there. Likewise, throughout much of Revelation, John employed known concepts to express images beyond our understanding. The throne of God is simply beyond anything we can imagine.’

Revelation 4 takes places in the throne room of God; John is ushered into this room and sees not only the throne but one seated on it. This would have been a dramatic yet glorious sight! It also takes some imagination to get this image – again John is using the familiar to describe the unfamiliar.

The one seated on the throne – who is it? God! What’s the picture that goes through your mind? We aren’t given any idea of the form but only of colour. Jasper can be found in shades of red, yellow, brown, green. Carnelian is red-brown in colour. The one is also surrounded by a rainbow – every colour. The God that John sees is not a God that is black and white but one of colour.

There are some things that are of course black and white about God and his teaching. God though in himself is not so black and white but one of colour, creativity and expanse. This is the one that we worship – the one seated on the throne. Who’s the one on the throne then? Well – it’s not us, nor the PCC, the Bishop, the Archbishop and nor Darcy. It is God. Never lose sight of that.

I was once asked by a rather cynical friend: ‘why did I go to church as I didn’t seem like the type?’ I was completely lost for an answer! To my rescue came another church-going friend who happened to be present. Her answer, one of the most brilliant I have ever heard and was quickly adopted as my own was: ‘I go to church to be challenged in my relationship with God.’

The primary reason for coming here week in/week out should be so that you can be challenged in your relationship with God. There are many good and useful reasons to come to church – service, fellowship, socialisation, the list goes on. We can be challenged in the worship of God, the sermon (I hope!), the prayers, in meeting God in the Eucharist, in the commission to go out and make disciples. When we lose sight of our relationship with God and if that is not primarily why we are here then church becomes a social agency, a club with inconvenient meetings times and at worst an inward facing self-serving clique.

Secondly, faith, Christianity and worship takes some imagination, some creativity. It should be a relief to know that these are not prohibited by God or even the Church of England although they can be scarce commodities sometimes. The Bible is full of stories that require some imagination to be fully understood! Don’t be afraid of trying new things or hearing new ideas.

I would be looking for a parish that has some enthusiasm for new things, reaching new people, taking some risks in hopes that the Good News of Jesus will reach the people who need to hear it. Gone are the days of opening the doors and waiting for people to come in.

Thirdly, casting our crowns before the throne. There is always a danger in the face of change to romanticize the past when the future looks uncertain. We long for the old and dress it up, better than it actually was; ‘Oh, for the good old days’ we sigh and become selective in our memories. This goes both ways.

We must cast the crowns we’ve made for ourselves before the throne and trust that what God has planned is actually better than what we could ever ask or imagine.

Underneath all of this we have the one who gets into the boat with us. I love this story of Jesus. Luke 8 is full of the activity of Jesus’ ministry – no wonder he fell asleep in the boat! Jesus had been going through cities and villages proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God, curing people, laid it all out in the parable of the sower and told people to bear fruit with patient endurance, Jesus had some family issues when his mother and brothers showed up. No wonder he needed a nap!

And one day he got into a boat with his disciples and had a snooze. How utterly human. Even what happened next was not out of the ordinary – the Sea of Galilee is known for its quick change in tide – it can be as smooth as glass one moment and then choppy and windy the next. Jesus is also with fisherman who knew that water, had lived and breathed it their whole lives. They are scared! That storm must have been beyond what they were used to.

Beyond what they were used to. We like what we like because we like it! Even if we don’t like it, the pain of change can often seem a better option than the benefits that change can bring. As human beings tend to like security and the familiar, so we get use to things whether they are beneficial or not. Now I am not saying that everything has to change right now but over time. This comes back to what I said about creativity and worship.

I wonder what the disciples in the boat would have done if Jesus wasn’t with them? Rode out the storm I suppose. How much better though to have the one seated in the boat to rebuke the wind and the waging waves in an instant. There was a calm.

Whatever happens over the next few weeks, months and years here – when times of wind and wave sweep down and in times of calm, Jesus is on your side, he’s in the boat. Where is your faith? This is the question Jesus asks the probably sea-sick, pale faced disciples and is not a bad one for us today.

Where is your faith when change comes, when what your used to isn’t what your used to anymore?

Lastly, I want people, my congregation to know Jesus. To know the one who commands the winds and the water that they obey him. Again, takes some creativity and imagination to read the Gospels and understand at a deeper level what he was doing and what that means for us.

I want them to know the one who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man. Who for our sake was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried. Who on the third day rose again in accordance with the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. In that glorious throne room.

He is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

He is in the boat with us on the journey of each our individual lives but also our communal life as a parish and congregation. Let’s see where he is taking us!


Trinity 20: Seeking Change: Job & The Rich Young Man

What is better than a Sunday morning sermon on a Monday morning?! Still getting my autumn act together. I am very fortunate that I have been able to set aside almost every Monday from now until Christmas Eve as Study Days. I am entitled to – it has just taken me 2 years into my Curacy to actually do it. It is a time of change and this sermon reflects some of what I said in my Harvest sermon last week. Some credit to Debie Thomas’ wise words from the ‘Journey with Jesus’ lectionary essay.

Trinity 20

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

We have some big readings this morning! So much going on in each of them and so little time to really dig in!

Autumn has always been my favourite season of the year – I love the smells, the colours, the change of light and mood. I also love the change that autumn brings to life more widely as activities and programs start again, kids back at school.

Our bible readings in church bring stories to challenge us and stories of celebration. The people in the readings today want a change of circumstance. Maybe some of us do too.

How many of you are good with change? Some of you might embrace it with enthusiasm while others might be slower (ahem) to embrace. I am good with change – you know that I was a nurse before I was a Priest. As a nurse you learn early that sometimes things change quickly, and you need to response to change really fast.

Not all change is bad or negative either. Sometimes change is actually a very good thing – we may not see it at the time though. I also find that those things I want changed – never seem to change. And the things that I don’t want to change – always do!

In our readings this morning we see two people – Job and the rich young man seeking change in their lives. Both are calling on God – a very good thing to do. But neither of them gets the answers that they want!

Starting with Job – he is in some real trouble! He has lost everything – children, money, land, possessions, status and reputation. Job is described as a blameless and upright man in chapter 1 – just living life. Then one day some heavenly beings presented themselves to God and they brought Satan with them. They had been wandering around the earth and decided to test God. A conversation ensues and before we know it – Satan could do whatever he wanted to Job (except kill him) to see if Job will curse God.

It all goes badly wrong for Job and he is left with his 3 close friends and his wife for comfort. The friends start well – come and sit with him in silence for 7 days and 7 nights. Then they start to talk. The rest of the book of Job is the back and forth conversations between Job and his friends. This morning we find Job at a really low point – ‘today my complaint is bitter’ he starts off.

Job has this battle going on inside of him. He is asking big questions like ‘Who is God?’ ‘Where is God?’ What can human beings reasonably expect from a life of faith?

For Job, God is nowhere: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him.” And yet God is everywhere: “His hand is heavy despite my groaning… I am terrified at his presence.” Job also wants nothing more than to confront God face to face: “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!” Job wants to literally bang on the door of God’s house! Yet he’s desperate to leave God’s sight: “If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!”

As this inner battle rages on, Job maintains that he has followed God’s rules: “I have not departed from the commandment of his lips.” I did all the right stuff – Job is saying. And yet he finds (to his bewilderment) that this goodness, following the rules, will not protect him. The formula Job had organized his life around (If I do A, God will do B) has failed. Either he must step into change or lose his faith altogether.

Job wants God to change his situation – but that is going to require a big change for Job and how he views life and God. His friends are trying to help – but the wisdom they offer is stale and old as they still believe that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. To suffer mean to experience God’s displeasure. This doesn’t hold up!

Eventually God shows up to meet with Job and the end of the book they have a conversation and Job begins to be restored – both in his relationship to God as he sees life and God differently. He is also given back some of the things that he lost.

Let’s fast-forward a few centuries as we see the rich young man kneeling at Jesus’ feet. This young man is looking for a change too. Like Job, he has all the material goods and does all the right stuff but unlike Job he still has it all. I think that having the stuff and doing the right stuff has made life boring for this young man. He wants more of something – so he goes to Jesus!

Jesus looks at him and loved him. I love these little verses that get tucked in – we almost always overlook them. Jesus loved him. He loves you.
Now Jesus could have gone a few ways with this young man’s question of how to have eternal life. It would have been easy for Jesus to secure a new convert. ‘Great!’ Jesus could have said ‘come on! You already follow the commandments, you’re already calling me ‘good’ so you must know who I am because only God is good. You’re in!’

Jesus could have also worked him in more slowly – easing the young man into the values of God’s kingdom. ‘How about you write a small cheque to charity this year? Nothing scary – just a token?’

But Jesus is not interested in convenience or comfort. That is what I (maybe we) are concerned about. Remember that Jesus loved him – because he loved him and said the truthful thing, the hard and unwanted thing he knew would cause the young man’s excitement to disappear on the spot. “Sell what you own, give to the poor and follow me.’

This was not what the young man wanted to hear and so he goes away shocked and grieving. This was not the change he was looking for! He was probably shocked because he considered his wealth an entitlement – a symbol of worldly accomplishment and of God’s favour.

The young man had not found true happiness despite the trappings of life. He seems to be after life in its fullness as we all are. Maybe he thought that he could buy his way to eternal life by observing a special commandment.
Jesus welcomes his desire but also knows his weakness – his attachment to possessions and this is probably why he invites him to give it all to the poor – so that his treasure and his heart – will be in heaven and not on earth. But the young man decides (as far as we know) to hang on to his wealth which will never give him happiness and eternal life.

In this season of change – God is offering us change. Following Jesus will challenge us to lifetimes of change where we are invited to encounter God in new ways apart from tradition, memory and resting on history.

Like Job we might be tested by a change is our circumstances beyond our control. When this happens, do we shake our fist and walk away – like people seem to do when they realise their idea of God is not that of a fairy godmother just waiting to grant whims and wishes? Or do we stand firm and seek out what God might be trying to stay.

Like the rich young man, we might want more from God but may not want to give up what God wants us to. We might choose to hang on to the familiar – even if it doesn’t bring us happiness or eternal life because it is comfortable.

Are we willing to risk being disappointed with the answer God gives – but choose his way regardless?

With this season of change – are we ready for the changes that God may have for us or are we wanting to make some changes ourselves? Like Job and the young man, we need to go to God.