Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff
Sunday 26th July
Do you find it strange that when most people would agree that they don’t like change – everything seems to be changing at an unprecedented rate. Things have always changed – they have to otherwise they stagnate and die .... but lately there doesn’t seem to be time to get used to one way of doing things before it changes again ........ there seems to be no stability.
The changes taking place within our church can be equally disturbing ...... the concern that fewer people are attending services ....... the anxiety caused by lack of funds to pay the bills let alone invest in mission ...... and some very scary ideas about what mission is all about, add up to a sense that nothing is certain any longer.
There are, of course, accounts of churches growing rapidly, churches that are on the verge of closure, within six months having congregations reaching over 200 – and no, not Pentecostal churches or churches of other denominations, Anglican churches. Accounts of hundreds of prisoners being converted through Alpha courses being taken into prisons, of the most unlikely people having their lives transformed through the witness and prayer of Christians so confident in Christ that they are prepared to approach strangers who they believe God is leading them to ............
and that is wonderful and encouraging – evidence that God is, indeed, at work and has all things in his hands ........
but I don’t know about you but if I’m truly honest, rather than making me feel reassured and confident to trust in God, my first reaction is a sense of panic .... and guilt ....... I’m scared of things changing to that extent – I want them to change a little bit, slowly and comfortably, in a manageable sort of way ...... but I have a very strong suspicion that God has his own plan and when we pray ‘come Holy Spirit’ we have to be prepared for changes and to be changed.
Something that I am confident about though ....... is that we are all God’s precious children; loved beyond our wildest dreams and all, through Jesus, safe in his presence ...... and that’s what I keep coming back to.
We must always remember that we all have a part to play in his purpose for his creation .... .... God has created each one of us to do him some definite service ...... we may not be called to go out and plant new churches, or go into prisons to proclaim the Gospel ....... but then again we may ...... or at least be a part of it - be a link in the chain .......
Both our Old Testament reading and today’s Gospel reading tell us of times when God has used seemingly very little in order to bless many.
We are shown how one person’s faith and trust in God’s power can enable thousands to be fed.
I know that one of those people was Jesus – but as Ian said last week, everything that Jesus did was in his humanity, through his obedience to and trust in his Father and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit ...... and because of him we too are God’s children and the Holy Spirit also dwells in us.
Look at the chain of events in the gospel story – Jesus performed the miracle but it was the young boy’s loaves and fishes that he used ....... and it was Andrew who knew about the boy – introduced him to Jesus. Neither Philip nor Andrew knew what to do – how the boy’s meagre lunch was going help the situation – but they bring the boy and his lunch to Jesus’ attention .... and then look what happened ..... they were links in the chain.
Perhaps we need to be reminded that the starting point is always to bring what there is to the attention of Jesus. You can never tell what he’s going to do with it – though part of our faith should be the expectation that he will do something – and be prepared for it to be something we hadn’t thought of - perhaps something new and different.
As Paul tells the Ephesians ‘It is in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for’
Christ is in charge of running the universe – everything and forever and, at the centre, Christ rules the church, it is his body, in which he speaks and acts. We are part of that body – you and me, here is this place at this moment in time .....
Like Paul we need to get down on our knees before the Father and ask him to strengthen us by his spirit – not brute strength but an inner, glorious strength, a confidence that Christ will live in us as we open the door and invite him in.
Tom Wright observes that the Western church has perhaps allowed itself to be lulled into thinking that prayer and action are at opposite ends of the scale of Christian activity.
They are not. If we want our actions to be effective for God’s Kingdom we should redouble our time and effort in prayer. Prayer brings together love and power: the relationship of love that grows up between God and the person who prays ..... and the flowing of power from God to, and especially through, that person.
That is what Paul’s prayer here in his letter to the Ephesians is all about. It is a prayer that this young church may discover the heart of what it means to be a Christian ..... and it is a prayer that is equally true for us today.
We need to know God as the all-loving, all-powerful father; we need to have that love as the rock solid foundation for every aspect of our life and we need to turn that love into a well-directed and effective energy. God has created us as unique individuals each one part of his family in Christ and within his plan for his creation.
Paul, quite clearly, knows all this in his own experience. He longs that those who have come to put their faith in Jesus should know it too.
I know when we look at the world around us the challenge seems overwhelming but It’s a mistake to think that people are opposed to Christianity; most people would follow Christ if he came among them ...... but for many Christianity has become church – something that has become irrelevant to their lives ...... it’s up to us to grasp every opportunity to show them differently.
God can do anything – far more than we could ever imagine or guess or request in our wildest dreams. Not by pushing us around but by working deeply and gently within us by His Spirit. I remember years ago being scared of the Holy Spirit – frightened that He would ask me to give Fliss away and go and work in Africa or walk around wearing a sandwich board proclaiming the end of time ..... and then I remembered just how gentle and patient his dealings with me had always been and it made me laugh and cry all at the same time that I could have been so stupid.
Just think of what God might do in each one of us and through us – as individuals and as a community as we become more and more open to the Holy Spirit.
Everywhere we look, we see the power of God at work, in all that he has made and remade and in all that he has done and is doing. Part of us is terrified of that power, as the disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking towards them on the water ...... because we know that power is not ours to control ........ but I wonder what would happen if we co-operated?
So let’s pray that God will make us a praying church rooted in and energised by our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.