Saturday, 25 June 2016

Generosity - sermon June 26

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Well – what a strange week we have had!
I did not believe it could happen – but it did.
In fact two major things happened – one personal, one national.

The thing that has rocked our world this week, is of course the result of the referendum and the subsequent fall out across the world.
I am not going to make any political statement about it but I am going to reflect on what we do now.
The world has changed because of the results that came in over Thursday into Friday.
And as ever, the collision of lectionary and real life, the real world seems to be able to speak to us.
Generosity: giving out of what we have – wealth or poverty.
Getting on and finishing the work.
And not counting the cost.

Two years ago, after that other referendum we had to pick up and move on some elated and others bitterly disappointed; and here we are again, picking up and moving on, some elated and others bitterly disappointed.
Now is not time for recriminations but instead a time for unity; for looking forward and hoping against hope that good will come as stability is restored.
Because stability WILL be restored, it will take time and considerable effort, and I do not doubt there will be much turmoil in the interim. But what we need to do now is look forward, pray for unity, pray for peace and acceptance and pray that out of this will come new strength and new hope.
As Christians we have a job to do; Paul puts it this way when talking to the Corinthians –
God’s grace can accomplish much;
Give yourself to God; then give yourself to the community.
Your richness comes from: faith, speech, knowledge, eagerness to help and love.
He exhorts them to help those who have less, or are less able.

And most of all to finish the work – to finish what was started.
We cannot know what the future will bring; but we can determine how we work within it.

On a personal level this week was tumultuous too; after six years and one month of knowing Alastair, he moved from being my fiancĂ© to being my husband. Friday was quite the day!

The world moves on; life goes on.
Politicians will keep making bold statements and then trying to stand by them; or wriggle out of them; or declare that we have misunderstood their intent.
People will keep going the extra mile for friends, and colleagues and family and total strangers.
I believe
I still believe that the world is inherently good.
That people are inherently kind
That it is in our nature to seek the good, the kind and the hopeful.
The prophet Jeremiah received a vision from God and this is what God told him:
“I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.  Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you.  You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:11-13)

Those who listen for God’s word; for God’s vision
Those who live out and live within God’s word
Those who strive to be generous in their giving – of money yes, but more than that – giving of ourselves
Giving without counting
Giving support, kindness, compassion and love
Those who do these thing; are God’s people
We follow God
We follow Jesus  
We do our best to live faithful lives; generous and kind and loving.
And finishing what we begin.
Praise God!
God knows the plans – we may not – but that is ok – because God has this.
And God we can trust.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Sermon 19 June: Reconciled

2 Corinthians 5: 11-21

What a week it has been!
Death and violence seems to have haunted the news; guns; flares; knives; rocks; weapons and non-weapons used as weapons.
My heart sinks
I avoid the news, I turn off the news programmes – because I cannot bear to hear once more about the “brutal attack” or the “injured fans” or yet another candlelit vigil… what is happening to our world?

Whatever you think about the LGBTQ community; or football hooligans; or the Labour Party; none of us can condone or approve a mindset that takes such exception that it is deemed a right action to protest by taking lives; threatening lives; causing injury.
Each person whose life was cut short or changed forever this week, is a beloved child of God.
God created us all in our own rich diversity
God gave us free will to choose
God loves each one of us: regardless of creed or race or outlook or gender or orientation or faith.
God does not wait for us to turn to God before love is poured out

God’s love is unconditional
Freely give
God’s forgiveness is also ours – given freely – but not without cost. The cost was paid by Christ; the reward is ours.

Knowing we are forgiven and accepting it, living with it, are totally different things.
God’s forgiveness is holy, is pure, is without an agenda.
We on the other hand have less capacity in our hearts for such magnanimity.
How can we forgive and move on?
How can we see people we know, or love, or respect hurt, injured, killed and forgive, and accept and move on?

Reconciliation is more than simple forgiveness.
Reconciliation implies renewal; refreshing; a new start.  
“Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18 All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also” (2 Cor 5:17-18)

Reconciliation in mere human terms is virtually impossible. We may be able to do it a little on our own strength, but through faith, through grace, through our coming together in Christ something deeper, more wondrous more amazing happens
And we have this New Thing.
We are New Beings
Enemies can become friends
Because God’s reconciliation is bigger and better than anything we can muster.

Moving on
Letting go
Re-newing – becoming new.
Another of God’s amazing gifts to us
Reconciled, made new in Christ
Today and always
Even in this mad and scary world

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sermon 5th June: Hope

Sermon: Hope: We are in this together!
2 Corinthians 4:1-15

The traditional Chinese Folktale of the Cracked Pot was read earlier in the service.
There was once an elderly Chinese woman who had two large pots, each hanging on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.
One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream: “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”
The old woman smiled, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”
Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them

“God in his mercy has given us this work to do, and so we do not become discouraged”. V.1“As God's grace reaches more and more people, they will offer to the glory of God more prayers of thanksgiving”. V.15

Today's reading is bracketed by a couple of typically Paul declarations:
God gives us the work – so we are not discouraged. And,
God’s grace reaches out and everyone offers prayers of thanks…

This reading, and those declarations cause so much unnecessary pain and guilt in so many believers…. Because what happens when we do get discouraged?
What happens when we do not see God being given the glory?
What happens when our lives seem to implode and nothing goes right and we simply lose hope?
How on earth can we take any comfort from these words, and all the others that seem to condemn our very human frailties?

The truth is we all have times in our lives when we lose heart; when we are discouraged; when we cannot find it in ourselves to give thanks – because life feels terrible.
And, I’m going to say it right now: me too. Often!
My faith remained, but it kind of felt like it was on the back burner.
And – this is ok.
This really is OK!
Paul’s writing is often controversial – and this is a real doozie. Becoming a Christian, declaring that we believe in Jesus, and claim him as our Lord and Saviour is not some magical formula that will suddenly protect us, empower us and enable us to be immune from the vagaries of life.
And Jesus never said it would.
Paul’s theology was speaking to a particular time and sometimes his teaching can do more harm than good.

In the middle passage Paul describes “this… not that…” to a whole lot of situations. (v.8-9)
Troubles but not crushed
Doubt but never despair
Enemies but never without a friend
Hurt badly but not destroyed

Once again he leaves mere mortals feeling inadequate.

Here is where I found the hope in all of this.
First, I think he’s wrong – you’ve probably realised that.
Second, even within that wrongness I found a nugget which did give me hope.
“There are many enemies, but we are never without a friend”

In my experience this is really true within our church community; within my circle of friends. When I am despairing, grieving, sad, anxious or feeling hopeless; there are friends who will comfort me, pray for me, support me, encourage me and simply sit by me until I feel better, showing the living love of God.
This is my HOPE – as Christians we are never alone. We are in this together. It’s what being the Church Family really means.
This is what I understand by that last verse of today’s reading:
“God’s grace reaches more and more people, they offer prayers and thanksgiving” together we are strong; together we are better; together we can make a wondrous thing.
Christian Hope is bigger, brighter, better, because of the love of Jesus; because of the treasure not always visible or known, but there nevertheless; just like the cracked pot – grace comes in unexpected ways.
We all may indeed as Paul asserts be common clay pots – but hidden in each pot is treasure: grace, love, hope, faith
Hope: because we are all in this together

Footnote: writing this as I did on the first anniversary of my Father's death, I found I was remembering all the friends and loved ones who supported and held me, both physically and spiritually; restoring my hope, my peace and my faith. Thanks be to God!