Sermon – Oct 25th 2020 – Bible Sunday and the Sunday of the APCM

Today is Bible Sunday, it is the last Sunday of Trinity in our church’ year. It is our Annual Meeting – albeit six months later than planned.

Our Gospel reading speaks of imminent happenings; it is a difficult reading in many ways as it is not clear to us quite what Jesus was talking about. However, what is clear is that there are the events of history and there is the coming of God in glory.

Not only was Jesus rejected, but there was unrest against the Roman occupation, which led to revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple even more cataclysmically than when the city and temple were destroyed by the Babylonians.  The world of Jesus’ time was not peaceful or stable by any means.

Picking up on this connection between God’s intervention and history, and it being Bible Sunday, two questions for today:

first, in what way have we seen God working and speaking in the last 18 months?

And second, how do we find God’s word for us in the Scriptures? What does it mean to read mark learn and inwardly digest them?

For the psalmist God’s words are sweeter than honey – for Ezekiel, his scroll which he was commanded to eat was bitter to the taste. If we are honest, we don’t always find the Bible “sweet”.

At the beginning of the year we had begun not just to make plans but to get going on them. We had found a 3-dimensional way to see our task as individuals and as churches.

#Looking Within, #Facing Up and #Facing Outwards

Covid and closures and then restrictions have stopped many of the things we were going to do and have damaged our income – just as for so many others. For at least the next six months we have got to learn to live within these restrictions – and find the spiritual resources to do so. The Hebrew descendants of Jacob lived in Egypt in ever-worsening conditions, the Israelites spent time in exile and under foreign rulers. The Bible is no stranger to restrictions and difficulties. BUT

I think it is important that we don’t become overly focused on Covid – there are other huge issues in our world, the politics of Brexit, of growing Chinese power and influence; ongoing issues of poverty and hunger in this country as well as too many other places, and war / violence leading to refugees and millions living in temporary accommodation; and possibly the biggest and least easy to reverse of all, climate change and the greater extremes of weather in so many parts of the world.

And again, these themes, of political oppression, of division, of injustice, the call to be good stewards of the earth are all explored in our Bible, though sometimes we need to know the background.

Facing Up – looking to God in these times – learning to worship and wait on God – the Bible helps us in praise and in prayer

Looking within, as individuals and as a church – again the Bible gives us the resources if we choose to use them –

Facing outwards – realistic, but hopeful, concerned for justice and the well-being of our community and world again the example of Jesus, the words and actions of the prophets, the ‘Law’ with its concern for the widow and alien and orphan all remind us of our call.

One other thing that I think may help us today – the diocese has a strapline that we need to be church for a different world – it came up with this strap-line before the covid different world, but how appropriate it is proving to be. I’m thrilled that the Turton Moorland Team won an award for our team response to Covid, but the challenge is how we will (continue to) be church in this different world.

What makes us stand out, or not, as Christians, as God’s Church are the values which Paul talks about in the Colossians reading today. – compassion, patience, kindness, humility and meekness – humility and meekness are about putting others before ourselves.
We are called to clothe ourselves with love, to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts – a lovely phrase, for peace to rule in our hearts

And whatever we do, to do it giving thanks. Gratitude has the same word-stem as grace – thankfulness for the goodness and generosity of God.

I think I knew when we moved here, that planning is always contingent, but the values we are called to live by are consistent, as are the principles. Little did any of us know what this last 12 months would bring. Things we wanted to do we can’t, things we planned for haven’t happened, things we enjoy have been stopped. But the truths of our faith – expressed in our creeds, the principles of how we should live, looking withing, facing up and facing outwards, and the values we should live by, grace, mercy and peace, they don’t change, though living them out might get harder.

We have a Covid crisis the like of which we have never faced, and we have a diocesan crisis which has been exacerbated by the Covid issues. At St Anne’s may have a major building cost if our boiler needs replacing. We are not just a church in our own little area, but part of God’s Church for the wider area, part of our Turton Moorland Team and part of the diocese of which we are a part, and other areas are struggling far more than we are; how do we support them as well?

Ron Heifetz is a Leadership guru who talks about Adaptive Leadership.

Adaptive leadership is what is needed when faced with complex problems rather than complicated problems. 

Some key elements in Adaptive Leadership are a clear sense of what we really want, (not just what we think we want), that is a clear vision; the building of trust, which means good honest communication, and an exploratory way of moving ahead, testing things to see if they are what we need. As so often we find that the Bible got there first. Moses, in preparing to enter the Promised Land, a new and unknown future, went up a mountain to have a look ahead, he sent out scouts to see what was ahead, he had to wait because the unity was not there – sadly fear took over, but he worked to build back the trust and the hope and the vision of a promised land. One final element of Adaptive Leadership as seen in Moses is the passing on of the baton, the developing of the next generation, people like Joshua, what today they call succession planning.

That is what we have to do in this coming year –

  • we need a clear vision – the diocesan vision a worshipping growing and transforming Christian presence at the heart of the community
  • to build trust with good communication and involving everyone,
  • we need faith, wisdom and courage so we do not lose heart,
  • we will test out ideas and not all will work,
  • we will let go some things that have been precious to us but are not able to be continued, sad, but we can thank God for what they were;
  • we must also look to how we equip the next generations; passing on the faith, for the different world they will journey through.

I don’t know what the church round here will look like, or how it will be organised in 20 years time, but I do know that we are called to face up face outwards and look within, and I do know that the values of grace mercy and peace are what should shape whatever we do and however we have to respond.

And our Colossians reading ends with the call to give thanks, and if I may, I want to say thank you to all who have helped me / put up with me / done so much to make my job easier and to make me welcome. Together we share in the work of God and that is how it should be.

  • There are people who are pastors, ministers who look out for others – there are people who pray – caring and praying quietly and lovingly. And there are those who minister by helping with the worship, leading services, intercessions, preparation, and now with the online resources too.
  • There are people who do the paperwork, the admin, the sorting, the stuff that needs doing; the managers, and we need good management so we can focus on the tasks. We need to manage our buildings, our finances, our governance, in order to be active and fruitful in our mission and ministry
  • And a healthy church which is facing outwards is also engaged in mission, sharing the good news more widely, caring for the needy, concerned for the community and the world. Without this outward concern we become a holy and even self-righteous huddle.

The engine room of a church is prayer – time spent with God where we will find strength to reach out, peace when things are uncertain, mercy for when we feel hurt or angry, grace against when we become self-absorbed.

Thanks be to God for all who have helped make St Anne’s and St James a place of prayer, praise and welcome; for those who have given generously of time, money and love; for all who share their faith in word and action; for all who care and look after the more lonely, isolated, and vulnerable. We are here because of the love and generosity and faith of others; may we be good stewards of what we have been given.

  • Let us clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness
  • Let the peace of Christ rule your hearts
  • Whatever you do, do it, giving thanks to God

Rev’d Peter Reiss: 25th Oct 2020