Saturday, 25 April 2015

New local church leaders' commissioning

Tomorrow I will be preaching at Flavel, Dartmouth, as we commission Karl and Deb Stone as Local Church Leaders.
The readings are Ephesians 1: 15-23     John 10: 11-18

Today, as we celebrate this new chapter in the life of Flavel Church, it’s a great chance to give thanks to God for all that has happened, for all the people here today – and especially of course for Karl & Deb – and to place the future into God’s hands.

How did it all start?
First, from John’s gospel, we have the reminder from Jesus “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”.
Whatever has been and whatever will be achieved here is because of the love of Jesus Christ, shown most of all in his death for us; and because of the power of God the Father, shown most of all in Jesus’ rising from death.

Jesus is clear that he is giving himself for the sheep – five times in that passage we heard Jesus talks of laying down his life.
As we commission you, Deb & Karl, to this work here as local church leaders, we pray for the Good Shepherd to protect you and guide you, knowing that the work of Jesus is not always easy.

Some here well know far better than I do the history of John Flavel  - after whom this church is named. He was the son of an Anglican vicar, who himself was ordained in the Church of England, coming here to Dartmouth in 1656. When the Act of Uniformity was brought in, in 1660, he declared himself a non-conformist and was ejected from his post. John Flavel's own father and mother were thrown into Newgate prison with their flock, where his parents died of the plague.
John continued to preach on beaches, in private houses, in woods, often escaping soldiers at the last moment, at one time riding his horse into the water in one Dartmouth cove and swimming it round the headland to the next to make his escape.  
In 1687 King James II dispensed with the laws against noncomformists and Flavel was free to preach to his followers in peace. Only four years later he died suddenly after a stroke.
Hardly an easy life or a secure one, but Flavel gave his life to caring for the flock of the Good Shepherd, and trusted in God’s care. In this place, surrounded by boats, it’s not surprising that he put it this way
“The care of God, engaged for you, is your convoy to accompany and secure you until it sees you safe into your harbour of eternal rest.”

Karl & Deb, I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that being a church leader can be tough at times – but the promise of Jesus is that the care and love of God the Father is always with you.
And for all of us, following Jesus Christ, the promise to guide us and care for us is just the same – the Good Shepherd will be there, always.
How did we get to where we are now?
When we listen to the letter to the Ephesians, you may have been intrigued by the start of the reading ‘for this reason’ or ‘because of all this’. What reason? All what?? Paul writes – in the part just before the passage we heard
‘In Christ our release is secured (Eph 1: 7)
In Christ we have been given our share in the heritage (Eph 1: 11)
In Christ you also, once you had heard the message, were stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit.’ (Eph 1: 13)’
In other words, because in Christ they have known God’s love, they have faith in Jesus Christ.
Because of this, because of their faith in Christ, Paul then prays for the church at Ephesus. He prays that because they have known God’s love and want to share that love with all people, they will be able to love the people around them.
This is the reason for any church existing – isn’t it?
This is how we got to where we are.
To share the love of God we have know in Jesus Christ with the people around us,  in words and actions.

But the letter to the Ephesians is particularly concerned about praying for the right resources to allow this work to flourish.

The recent history of Flavel has taught us all a lot about resources. Not so long ago, there were questions about the future here. Rev Phil Nevard came in September 2012 with the brief ‘To investigate whether this congregation has a viable future and what support and resources it might need to do that.’

A lot has happened since then: the pews being removed has given you this more flexible space; Phil helping to explore some possibilities which he has described as ‘dead ends’; and lots and lots of prayer.
And then there was a conversation with Alan Cox of Pioneer Connexion, who introduced Karl & Deb to the people here… and here we all are today!
I’m just delighted to have been able to float in right at the end to celebrate with you!

Of course we shouldn’t be at all surprised at where we are now. Ephesians says it plainly
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…
may give you spiritual gifts of wisdom and vision…
so that you may know the hope to which he calls you… and how vast are the resources of his power open to us who have faith” .

Where are we going next?
It’s not that long since we celebrated Easter Sunday – just three weeks ago. We said and sang and celebrated then Jesus risen from death, living and among us. And we see the things that the risen Lord Jesus is already doing among us.
And in another four weeks we will celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing that God cannot do for us and in us and through us.

Thank you, Deb & Karl, for giving us an excuse to celebrate today – and may God continue to bless you all at Flavel.

So as we celebrate the past, present and future,
I pray for greater things to unfold here
And deeper faith to be known here
And further light to shine here
And all to the glory of God,

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Easter 3

1 John 3: 1-7 Luke 24: 36b – 48

Today is a chance to look back and celebrate the life of this church. You might think about all the faithful people you have known through the years, all the things which have been said and done here as witness to God’s love, all the times you have come here to celebrate and mourn, laugh and cry.

And I know that the last 2 years or so have been baffling and difficult, and that you may well look back with a mixture of longing for what has gone from the years long past and dismay at some of the things that have happened in the recent past.
And then when you look to the future, you might wonder what is in store for you all here, and whether you have the courage to face what is to come…

But this mixture of the highs and lows of life, and the determination to face the future faithfully, and the hope

that God will be with us in it all, this is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Paul puts it well in his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5:7) when he says “we walk by faith, not by sight”.

So let’s look again at what happened in the sight of the first disciples, and what that did to their faith.

There are many Easter stories we might be used to hearing or seeing on film or TV, and quite a lot of them seem to involve food and drink.
Jesus eating the last supper with his friends, being offered wine as he hangs on the cross, the women with spices finding empty tomb as the sign of resurrection, and the moment when Jesus breaks bread and the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognize him.

But Luke tells us this odd story – Jesus appears to his friends and they are amazed but also a bit scared – they wonder if Jesus is just a ghost or if this is just wishful thinking. So Jesus eats a piece of cooked fish. Not very glamorous, is it?

Bread, wine - we're used to them as symbols rich with meaning and significance - but fish is just a bit of supper left over on someone's plate. But perhaps that's the point - Jesus is real: not a ghost, not a nice idea, real life, down-to-earth - back from the dead, but back - really!

Jesus himself says to them “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself”. He is there with them.
But then he says “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.”
We might wonder which words are true – is Jesus there, to be seen and eating fish, or is he not and speaking in the past of ‘while I was still with you’?
The followers of Jesus have to learn that Jesus is alive and will be with them always – but not in the flesh-and-blood way they’ve known for the last 3 years – yet still really with them.
They need to learn to look for God-with-us in new ways, perhaps more ordinary ways, but no longer only in the flesh-and-blood Jesus.

Jesus’ disciples, then, are in a strange in-between time, when their faith is still growing.
They have been through all the agony of Jesus death on the cross;
they have started to come to terms with the fact that Jesus is risen, and yet Jesus will be with them in a new way;
and they do not yet know what the future will hold (because they have no idea that the day of Pentecost will come and the Holy Spirit will blow them off their feet!).

They have mixed feelings about the past, they are uncertain about the future, they desperately want to know that God’s love in Christ will never abandon them.

Does that sound familiar?

You have mixed feelings about the past, you are uncertain about the future, you desperately want to know that God’s love in Christ will never abandon you.

So what happens to those disciples in the midst of all this change and uncertainty?
Luke tells us “Jesus himself stood among the disciples and their companions and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’. ”

Here, then, is the good news for us, however uncertain we feel. Into the depths of all our feelings and thoughts and worries, the words Jesus speaks are the same : ‘Peace be with you’.
We might look back at years gone by and might mourn those we have lost. Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’.

We might still be feeling terribly confused and hurt about the things that Tom did. Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’.

We might wonder what life will be like when Patsy arrives here as the new minister. Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. And Christ is with us – alive forever and breathing his peace and his power into our present and our future.
Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’. Today, tomorrow and forever.