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,