Sunday Sermon 16th May
The chosen hymns for this week, All hail the power of Jesus’ Name! and Sent by the Lord am I can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
I remember my Selection School for ministry – an exhausting and exhilarating weekend at Gartmore House.
Here we were given all sorts of tasks and examinations to see if we were fit for ministry.
We were split into groups of 5 people who were supposed to work together.
Our first task was to get to know each other by team building and demonstrating leadership skills. I was dreading it.
I was dreading it because I knew it was where we were given some ridiculous practical task to concoct a contraption which would do something.
In our case we had to drop a raw egg from a height into a container without smashing it. We were given items to help us do this – I forget what now.
I hadn’t a clue. Fortunately, one chap was a civil engineer and began to explain theories behind different properties. It all sounded very technical.
A friend and I listened and when he had finished we looked at each other and whispered, “he hasn’t told us what to do”.
He heard us and said, “I have given you the theory. Apply it”.
“I have given you the theory. Apply it”.
Today is an important day in the Church calendar. It is Ascension Sunday.
It is the celebration of the passing on of responsibility.
It is the assurance that we have not been abandoned.
It is the emphasizing that we have the principles, we have the knowledge, but to a great extent the application is up to us.
That is important for many different reasons.
Firstly it give us responsibility, it asks us to step up.
Secondly, as an extension of that it acknowledges that Jesus is no longer with us and that time moves on.
We know what he is and what he taught, but now it is our task to apply that.
Our lives are full of experiences and education and learning which we use daily to apply to the situations we find ourselves in.
This past year alone has taught is more than we know about how disease is spread, and how to avoid it. We have rules about social distancing, the importance of washing hands wearing masks, and the benefits of fresh air to name a few.
These rules help to stop the spread of disease the experts tell us. And we know from our own experience that this is so.
Some people treat the Bible as a set of rules set in stone.
But as 21st century people placing ourselves in the ancient Middle East and seeking literal truth from a book of metaphor and story does not work.
We need to look at the truths the metaphors and stories give us, not apply them literally.
On Saturday the General Assembly begins – in a socially distanced hybrid in-person and zoom way – and if the church is to survive and we are to continue to influence and make this society better we must continually look at the truths that are held in this book.
We, as a church, need to distil the principals of care, radical hospitality, jubilee, forgiveness, resurrection and redemption and apply them to the very modern world we live in.
As a history teacher you would expect me to say that the modern world has much to learn from the past – and it is true.
But that learning, that given education, needs us to reflect critically, search for truth and apply that to the different situations of today.
What has the Church to say about foreign aid, world conflict, nuclear weapons?
What has the church to say about food banks and poverty?
What can the church say about sexuality, human relationships and marriage?
What can the Church add to the great issue of climate change and biodiversity?
Should the Church divest from fossil fuels?
Should our ministers have more, or less theological education?
How can we solve our financial position post pandemic?
How do we change the structures and ministries of our Church, so we can thrive?
To answer these questions, we do not have to thumb through pages for the right answer.
What we have to do is to distil the thought of the ancients and listen to the principles that Jesus left us and respond to this modern world with his insight and goodness, inspired by the very presence of God.
The grace set free by the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and ultimately the gift of the Holy Spirit is enough to bring about God’s plan
The question is whether we will choose to join in that work.
Will we participate fully in the mending of creation, or will we choose to stand back and watch from a comfortable distance?
It is a gift of love, this calling we have received to be as Jesus was and do as Jesus did, as members of Christ’s body.
We are challenged to receive the love God offers us in Jesus, and then to move out to share that love unconditionally.
We can choose not to move with God.
We can choose to turn inward and cling to what we have previously recognized as signs of God’s presence among us.
Or we can turn and face outward, rejoicing to recognize and celebrate where God is present and active, even with many who will continue to serve God’s purpose while totally unaware of it.
In these most challenging and difficult times, with great change underway in our finances, our culture, and our global relationships,
-most will try to keep steering church life back to our personal comfort zones,
- to hold on dearly to church life as we’ve always known it.
But the Risen and Ascended Lord, who is filling all things, beckons us to step out of our comfort zone and discover new ways to celebrate life and love, and to share boldly in the work of reconciling the whole world to God.
Are we ready for the challenge?
“I have given you the theory. Apply it”. Amen.