Sermon & Annual Report
Matthew 25: 31-46: The Sheep & Goats - Final Judgement.
“Whatever you did, for the least of these; that you did for me”
Over the past few weeks we have watched the final chapters of Jesus life unfold; his parables get stronger, more scary, more difficult to understand. His stories become harder to relate to; harder to accept; harder to hear... because we don’t want to identify with the complacent wedding guest who didn’t make an effort; or the silly girls who weren’t prepared; or the lazy servant who couldn’t be bothered. And we certainly don’t want to identify with the “others” the goats of this world.
We don’t want to be considered, uncaring, or selfish, or mean, or ungenerous with time or money. We don’t want to be thrown out, locked out, disowned – we do not want to be punished.
And yet, here we are, a week before the start of Holy Week; a week before the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, when the crowd went wild! And children sang; and all was right with the world – or so it seemed. For we of course have the wisdom of hindsight. We know, that all was not quite as rosy as it appeared, and in that same week, those who had cheered and shouted alleluia, would be baying for blood, jeering, and shouting instead “Crucify!”
The truth is, we like they, are both saint and sinner, every day.
We have our blessed moments
And our cursed ones
We have joy and love and compassion
And we also have anger, and resentment and indifference.
We are human.
And so to this year just past, and the year to come. How can we weave together the Gospel message with the reality of being church here in Earlston in this 21st century world?
We have achieved much: Messy Church has gone from strength to strength; we are reaching families we would never normally see, and they are learning about Jesus and God’s amazing love for them.
Last year was busy – really busy!
I took more funerals than ever; and I conducted three weddings – here and in Stow.
We welcomed new members; we welcomed babies into God’s family and through the sacrament of baptism, we welcomed young Milly Burnham Boyle in a wonderful celebration of her faith.
The relationship I have been building with our schools has grown and developed, and is going from strength to strength. I am invited in for assemblies and class room visits and the schools come here for their special services too.
We have also been looking for ways to live out our mission statement:
“We are moved by faith to be recognised by all as the mainspring of the community, and so to bring its members closer to God”
Thus began our newest project: The Community Cafe. This will be launched on Wednesday 15th April and will then be open every Wednesday morning, for coffee and biscuits; chat and friendship. There will be a dedicated area for children; we plan to have a table with newspapers and board games available too. We hope to have a rota of helpers, and look forward to welcoming lots of friends, old and new who would welcome an opportunity to gather together in comfort.
In everything we do; as individuals and as a church there are things to remember, things to be aware of and things that guide and motivate us. And, in many ways, these “doom and gloom” scriptures we have been immersed in over the past few weeks are part of that too. Not so that we go and do good so that God will reward us – that really isn’t what Jesus’ message was about at all...
As I was bringing to mind the right words to conclude with today I was reminded of one of my favoured philosophical authors: Thomas Merton, 20th Century monk, theologian and spiritual writer. In his diaries he wrote of a pure “God-moment” walking along the street one day he was suddenly struck by the realisation: I love all the people: it was a godly revelation, that he could look along the street at individuals he did not, and likely would not ever know, but know in his own heart that God enabled him to love. A couple of years later he developed this idea further writing:
“To discover all the social implications of the Gospel, not by studying them, but by living them, and to unite myself explicitly with those who foresee and work for a social order – a transformation of the world – according to these principles: primacy of the person (...justice liberty, peace...) primacy of wisdom and love (...against materialism, hedonism etc.)” (Merton: June 1960; extract in Intimate Merton; Lion Books 1999)
This is what Jesus is trying to make his disciples understand through his teaching: to act and live out the gospel – God loves us. So we are able to love and give love and if we truly love, then we will naturally act in a manner that reflects that love. Not for any motivation other than to love others.
This is what our hope is in our mission statement, in our forward planning, in our hopes for the future of not only the church in Earlston, but the Community in Earlston. Church folk, village folk; new arrivals and multi-generational folk, all together, regardless, living and loving together.
Whatever we do, for anyone, we are doing in love, for God in Jesus Christ.