Sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter

May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our God and Redeemer.

In the Acts reading for today, we have the only record there appears to be of an evangelistic talk by Paul. Of course we have lots from him in the letters, as he teaches and encourages and sometimes chastises the early church. But here, we have a record of him talking to the Athenians, who had plenty of gods, but had no knowledge of the God Paul worshipped.

He bases his talk upon an altar to an unknown God and takes that God to be the God of all creation – the God revealed to us by Jesus the Messiah. The God described by Paul here, is ‘one in which we move and have our being’ – he isn’t interested in rehearsing the whole history of Israel’s relationship with God, but in casting God in terms that his listeners could understand. The mention of Jesus at the end is almost a throw away remark – no doubt he expanded more once he had their attention.

We live in interesting times at the moment – separated from each other physically, and not able to worship in the way we are used to. However, over the last month or so, something amazing has started to happen – the Church is truly beginning to feel more like the people than the buildings. We also have an opportunity to reveal the God we worship to a larger audience- one that doesn’t really know God at all.

Also - what will we take from our experiences now worshipping as we are into how we do church after the lockdown is over?

Archdeacon Richard sent an email musing on this to the Rural Deans, and I think it would be good to share it with you:

Extract from letter by Archdeacon Richard

He wrote:

I heard a very useful couple of phrases last week that neatly describe where we are as churches. Ven. Bob Jackson, the church growth guru, commented that overnight we have moved from ‘Odeon Church’ (showing only at 10.30am every other Sunday in Little Piddling Church) to ‘Netflix Church’ (log on anytime from wherever you happen to be on any day you choose). Not surprisingly, Netflix Church is proving a very popular model across the UK with those who are unlikely to ever walk through our (currently locked) doors and walk into our cold character-forming buildings. According to some stats published by the BBC, the churches in the UK have moved from having regular contact with 6% of the population to having regular contact with over 25% of the population during the lock-down period. We have an opportunity and a challenge. When we are finally allowed to worship in our buildings without restriction (and that could be some way off) our opportunity and challenge is to run a mixed economy, catering for those who value meeting together AND those who are growing closer to God through the safety of online worship and nurture. Whatever we do to make this possible has to be sustainable. A wise hospital chaplain once said to me that if you pick up something new, you should also put down something that is past its sell-by date. Easier said than done! Many churches provide a whole selection of events that could quietly be abandoned. Having made such good contacts in the online communities beyond the church walls it would be a missed opportunity to simply return to old ways. Bishop Donald has circulated Bob Jackson’s thoughts with his most recent bulletin. It is very readable.

Leading on from that, I would find it very helpful if you would enter into a little virtual brainstorming with me. As our lock-down status gradually relaxes (probably over quite a long period of time) and we get closer to returning to something of the old normal, what do we need to put down from Odeon Church in order to pick up some new Netflix Church opportunities? Examples in my ministry would include: not travelling from Northampton to Peterborough (2-3 hours round trip) for a 45 minute meeting – use Zoom instead. Zoom could easily be used for the Northampton Archdeaconry Mission and Pastoral Committee: this meeting lasts for one hour and involves people ploughing through rush hour from as far south as Brackley Deanery and as far north as Peterborough. This is also true for a number of other regular meetings too: it would save hours of travelling plus the cost of fuel and the environmental considerations. So, for me, I would like to minimise my travelling in order to give time and energy to better communication. I have enjoyed being in more frequent touch with the Rural Deans of this archdeaconry and wonder why I have not done this earlier. The opportunities to provide a regular ‘Thought for the Day’ for the diocesan Facebook page have also been fun (and, initially, challenging). So, what are the lessons you will learn? What will you be putting down from the Odeon Church? What will you be picking up from Netflix Church?

Going back to our readings for today – in the Gospel – a record of Jesus, in his final conversation with the Disciples before his death and resurrection - Jesus promised a helper – the Holy Spirit which would be with them, making it possible for them to remain close to Jesus Christ and to God the Father. We have that Spirit still in our lives, and I firmly believe that the Spirit is leading us in these difficult times. Change is always painful, but out of change comes new life, and I think we are now growing into something new – maybe a new form of Church that will allow God to carry out his mission of leading all to know and love the God of love who created all.

Again some wise words from Archdeacon Richard – quoting from Psalm 145,

“The Lord is near to those who call upon him.”

Not, “the Lord DRAWS near …” but the Lord IS near.” He is already near when we remember to call upon him. Rather like the two disciples who walked the road to Emmaus with a stranger. They suddenly realised (as the stranger broke bread) that is was Jesus. They had poured out their hearts not realising that Jesus was walking with them. He was already near to them. In our down moments, when Jesus seems a long way off, it is so encouraging to remember that he is already near to those who call upon him. Right next to us. Walking alongside. Ready to listen. Ready to talk.  

 


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Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Easter 26th April
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Sermon for 4th Sunday of Easter
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Reflection 28th March 2020
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Reflections - 24th February
24th Feb