1 Peter 3: 13-22
John 14: 15-21
(Just to explain the last part of the sermon - this week we 'launch' a new thing - four groups from all four churches to plan worship, mission & outreach, youth & children's work, & pastoral care. It seemed right to refer to this in the sermon).
Today - the fifth Sunday after Easter - is called by some people Rogation Sunday and can be marked by a congregation going out and ‘beating the bounds’ - walking around all of the edges of the Parish.
It got this name because of the words in the Prayer Book gospel for the day: "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give to you". (The Latin for ‘ask’ is 'Rogare' ). By the 17th century, the old Roman festival of "boundaries", had been adapted by the church on this Sunday and served a practical purpose. In the days before Ordnance Survey maps, there were not always clear lines of demarcation between the parishes, especially where there were open field systems. During the procession, all around the boundaries of the parish, boys were bumped on prominent marks and boundary stones, or rolled in briars and ditches, or thrown in the pond to ensure they never forgot the boundaries. The Victorians made it more civilized by beating objects rather than people, in the context of a service and procession, and also included prayers asking God to bless the crops, especially asking for protection against disease.
You might wonder, in these days of maps, and pesticides, whether we need to think about Rogation Sunday anymore, but I think our Bible readings remind us that we still need to consider how we interact with the world outside the church building, and that we still need to ask God to help us in all that we do.
Rogation was about the church interacting with the world around: working out where the boundaries were of those who were in the church’s care, going out and being seen, and asking for God’s help in the daily lives of the people outside the church.
In a sense, it is a form of evangelism – of reaching out with the Good News of God’s love. I realize some people find Evangelism a deeply scary word,
laced with ideas of jamming your foot in someone’s door – and yet we would not be much a church of Jesus Christ if we kept the Good News to ourselves. So what sort of Evangelism is it appropriate for us to get involved with, today?
The first letter of Peter tells us not to be afraid to be followers of Christ, even if we encounter hardship. The author has this advice to give the church : “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence”. No hard sell here, no door-knocking, no sales pitch. Be ready to ‘Give an account for the hope that is in you’ – be able to say what your faith in Jesus means to you, prepared to speak out about your own experiences of God’s love in your own life, in the Bible and in church.
At the end of April, the media reported the death of Revd David Wilkerson – author of “the cross and the switchblade” – an account of his work with teenagers in gangs in New York, who became converted to Christianity and gave up lives of drug abuse and violence to follow Jesus Christ. They were amazing stories – and yet…as I read them as a teenager I felt that their stories were not like my story: ordinary people need to hear ordinary stories of the extraordinary love of God. Your neighbour, your friend, your family need to hear your story, however simple, of a journey of faith to help them see they could make the same journey.
This may seem an almost over-whelming thing to ask – but this is Rogation Sunday, so let’s remember that when God is asked, God helps.
Jesus says to his followers “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever”.
On this day of asking the chief thing to ask for is the spirit of God to enable us to be true children of God. Jesus promises the spirit, which will ‘lead us into all truth’ and which will make us his followers, his body, his people. The Spirit will help us to speak to others simply and effectively about the God we know in Jesus. But we have to be prepared to open our mouths. We may feel scared, but Jesus promises we are not alone.
So, let’s imagine that we get up the courage to speak to someone. What then? What can we do?
A few weeks ago I was at the annual Ministers’ Spring school – lots of opportunity for discussion and worship and fellowship. As always it was tiring but well worth while. One of our speakers this year was Bishop Graham Cray, who is now heading the “Fresh Expressions” attempt to reach new people with Church. I was very struck by something Graham Cray said : ‘Church is community before it is an event, even a worship event’. When we invite people to church we might of course invite them to a particular event, like a Songs of Praise or Harvest or whatever. But we should be inviting them to come and meet some other parts of the body of Christ. We need to be drawing people into a community of followers of Jesus. Because here in the midst of the body of Christ people stand the best chance of encountering the best advert there is for Christianity - the risen Jesus Christ.
We might be left with lots of questions about how we can reach people with the Good News, how we can make the church a really good place to invite people to, and how we can make sure they meet God in Jesus, here. I hope some of these questions will be tackled by some of the new groups we are setting up, that I talked about in the notices. But I do know that to do this work we will need to be fed and nurtured ourselves, reminded of God’s love for us and assured of his strength.
And so we come to this table, to draw near to God and to be fed by him – so that we can then turn out to the world with hope in our hearts and a message of love to share. In the strength and in the name of Jesus. Amen.