Last weekend I was in Mevagissey, leading Sunday morning worship. Unfortunately, just an hour before the service I realised that I had left the sermon at home (2 and a half hours' drive away). I managed to collect my thoughts enough to preach - it may even have been better! Anyway, this is what was on my computer, all that time.
Readings: 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13 Luke 21: 5-19
It is a joy to be with you. Not only because I have made no secret of the fact that I love to see the sea, as I travel around the synod, but because this is a very special weekend, with the signing of the ecumenical covenant for Cornwall this afternoon.
In that covenant we commit ourselves – Anglican, Methodist, United Reformed, Salvation Army & Baptist Christians –
1. “to seek out every possible opportunity for joint initiatives at local and county level in mission to all the people of Cornwall
2. to work together to equip both lay and ordained ministry whenever possible and to share that ministry wherever appropriate
3. to continue the work of developing strategies whereby we optimize the use of our church buildings for the benefit of communities throughout the county”
That sounds like a lot of exciting possibilities ahead, to me.
Seeking, working, sharing, planning.. together.
But the most exciting part comes at the end of what we, your church leaders, will sign this afternoon:
‘We also affirm our intention to go on praying and working, with all our fellow Christians, for the visible unity of the Church in the way Christ chooses, so that people may be led to love and serve God more and more.’
Praying and working. Getting the balance between what we leave to God and what we do ourselves. How do we get the balance right?
The letter to the Thessalonians gives Paul’s warning to those who are prepared to wait for God to sort things out and so fritter their lives and their time away sitting around. ‘Do not be weary in doing what is right’ says Paul. Sometimes we cannot simply pray and hope for the best – but have to be prepared to struggle with all the issues to work out what is the right thing to do; to get on and work!
And in our Gospel reading, we are caught between realism & hope.
This is a relentlessly difficult reading. Jesus says to his followers quite clearly – don’t get carried away by the splendour of the temple – the fine stones and ornaments. Don’t put your trust in your fine building – because it won’t last. In fact, the Temple was destroyed by the Roman army about 40 years later – the temple will be destroyed. The Jewish people will need to reshape their faith without a temple – relying only on their local synagogues as places where they can study and pray and hope for the future. Someone suggested to me last week that the synagogues replacing the temple as the focus for worship was rather like our present-day churches finding new ways to work – a kind of “Fresh Expressions” movement for the 1st century AD.
Jesus warns his followers that there will be change, that they can’t expect things to stay the same.
So if we can’t put our trust in buildings, in solid bricks & mortar, what can we trust? People? Jesus says “Take care you are not misled. For many will come saying ‘ I am he’ and ‘the time has come’. Do not follow them”.
So however charismatic a leader, or whatever the claim they make for themselves, we mustn’t put our trust in other people, either.
No, Jesus says, when you’re really up against it, when you’re seized and persecuted and made to stand up in court to defend yourselves “I myself will give you such words and wisdom as no opponent can resist or refute”. God’s Spirit, given by Jesus, will be what saves us when we face the ultimate test.
We can’t and we shouldn’t trust buildings or people: but we can trust God – the power of God the Father, given by the Son through the Spirit: God is what we can always rely on.
That doesn’t let us off the hard wrestling of ‘what are we to do?’ – it doesn’t mean that we can sit back & hope God will sort it out. God’s spirit, the power of God, will come to help those who follow Jesus – but only when they are really up against it – arrested, imprisoned, and put in trial. Yet in the midst of that trial God will strengthen them and give them the right words to say.
As we stand at the brink of the new possibilities of this ecumenical covenant, perhaps we can look again at the challenge Jesus gives.
What does it mean to sign a covenant together to promise to seek, work, share and plan together? How can we be open to the work of the Spirit in the way we pray and work together for the sake of the world around us? How can we allow God’s Spirit to change us, so that we can be agents of reconciliation and unity in a world which longs for both?
We must work, we must pray and we must be open to God’s spirit.
God help us, God change us. Amen.