Streetly All Saints Church

Sermon , Year B, Easter 7. 9.30am All Saints Church, Sunday 17 May 2015

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People sometimes attach human attributes to organisations. They talk about a company being happy or healthy; they describe their organisation as being caring or sick. I wonder how you would describe the Church in terms of its emotional and mental wellbeing. I wonder how  would you describe our emotional or mental wellbeing here at All Saints ?

I think I’d use a term like bi-polar: not in a serious medical sense ( I am well aware that it is a serious medical illness) but rather in the way the Church is called to live simultaneously in two different realities: earth and heaven.

At the earthly end the Church is frighteningly like most other institutions, clunky, slow and unresponsive. It’s bad now, but it’s never been great! Even in today’s reading from Acts chapter one, on the first day of the Church as an organisation, Peter and the others are struggling with issues that are all too familiar. They have a recruitment issue – the replacement of Judas. Peter addresses the Annual General Meeting which was attended by ‘about a hundred and twenty people’ (so someone was counting and someone was taking the minutes!). Peter has clearly been on an Art of Management training course, as he carefully avoids talking about Judas in a way that could lead to a complaint; Peter says Judas was the one” who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus”. In the election for his replacement, they look within their own number – for one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us” whatever we may think about the way the Church makes appointments these days, controversial and imperfect as it may be, it is probably better than saying a prayer and throwing a dice! Can you imagine the next bishop of Lichfield being appointed at the toss of a coin!

The church is a clumsy, worldly, slow-to-learn institution at one end of the scale, but at the same time, the Church is visionary and passionate. A community where God’s love and grace, healing and redemption are not just talked about, but felt and experienced. The Church is God’s active presence in creation. You and I as followers of Jesus are God’s active presence in creation!

That’s our paradox, our bi-polarity. The Church is a body of real human beings longing to be faithful to God’s call, holding the world, as it is up against the template of heaven and doing what we can to make God’s kingdom come.  One foot on earth, and one in heaven. It’s a hard balancing act to achieve. Much easier to opt simply for pious otherworldliness on the one hand, or pragmatic secularism on the other. But somehow we have to learn to live in the tension between the two.

Ascensiontide looks as if it’s trying to resolve the tension by bringing the two poles together. In Christ’s return to the heavenly places, Jesus’ work on earth is complete, the age-old fracture between heaven and earth is healed and reconciled. But like a lot of theological realities that picture is both true and not yet true. The separating veil of the Temple may have been torn down, heaven’s gate may have been opened wide, but we haven’t yet passed through. We are both saved and on the way to salvation.  

This uncomfortable and unsatisfactory state of affairs is, I think, acknowledged in our Gospel reading. This dense and quite difficult reading from John’s Gospel was written by a group of Christians doing their best to imagine what must have been going through the mind of Jesus before he died. Jesus’ prayer in John’s Gospel is a sermon. It’s filled with abstract notions like unity, glory, truth, sanctification and the mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son. Yet, in the middle of it all is the great paradox for every Christian. Jesus prays ‘I do not ask you to take them out of the world’ ……‘Father I desire that those whom you have given me may be with me where I am.’  But where does God want you and me to be?

Well, ‘Church’ and ‘World’ are not opposites, nor, should ‘the world’ be used to describe all that is hostile and alienated from God. John’s Gospel is fully aware that the word for ‘world’ means both the whole created order, in all its beauty and mystery, and it also means the people who have lost their way.

This is the same world God loves so much ‘that he gave his only begotten Son,  that all who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life’. The world, lost as it may be, is God’s world; and there have been plenty of occasions, in our time, when God has had to speak to the Church through the world, because the Church wasn’t and isn’t listening.

Of course the Church must exist in the world, as part of the mission of God, for the world.  How can the hands and the feet, the eyes and ears of the Body of Christ be of any use to anyone unless we are rooted and earthed in the same realities as everyone else? It’s the principle of incarnation. Of getting involved.

That’s why we place so much importance on being within a church community. Together we are trying to make church work, trying to make it a place fit for human beings. The problem with those of us who come to church and unthinkingly put a couple of pounds on the collection plate is not our lack of generosity – a couple of pounds can be a lot for some – but our unthinkingness. We don’t always get what being Church is all about. We think someone else will do it.  And that’s also why it’s so important that the Church of England, has hung on in the villages and inner cities of our land. We still – just about – have branches in every high street and Christians are involved, embodied in the everyday life, the joys and sorrows of their communities.

It’s not easy to be involved and to have the other foot in heaven. To live creatively in the world as Christians requires us to be as street-wise as everyone else, to understand what makes the world go round. Being naïve doesn’t get us very far. That kind of incarnational involvement means getting our hands dirty. If you want to be sanctimonious, you call that, compromise and worldliness. If you’re concerned about doing God’s mission here in Streetly Jesus’ way, then you call it transforming relationships and engagement with the community.

So the Church must exist in the world and we must learn to deal with the world skilfully, if we are to retain our integrity. But how different those words must look to Christians in Syria, in Iraq, in parts of Nigeria, in Zimbabwe. How tempting it must be for them, when every day involves suffering we can’t even imagine, to pray to be spared this excess of worldly reality.

I wouldn’t wish a bi-polar disorder on my worst enemy, but for the Church it may be part of our salvation. The moment we simplify the ‘both-and’ to make ourselves more comfortable, the moment we separate Church from world, the game is lost. Living with the tension is demanding and hard but it is essential. Like Jesus, holding together in his own body the vertical and horizontal lines of the Cross. 

We must help to keep one another real. When you’re chatting over coffee after this service, let’s not talk churchy stuff, or whether so and so needs a hair cut. Talk about the lives you live, the issues you’re coping with. Talk about how you manage the tightrope-walk of Christian discipleship, how you manage to live in the world without losing touch with heaven. What helps? What have you learned? What wisdom can you share?

Where do we get the energy to sustain us in this balancing act, and to help us to resist the pull in one direction or another? We get it from the experience of the Holy Spirit, the fire of God, the wind in our sails, the divine presence that mends us when we break, warms us when we are frozen, moves us when we’re stuck. It’s the person of God whose presence we celebrate next Sunday, that person of God that helps us live faithfully in the kingdom that is both among us, here and now, in the world and still to come. Let’s pray for more of God’s Spirit to come amongst us this week. Amen.

 

 

 

Charity Number: 1134127

Address: All Saints Parish Church Streetly, Foley Road East, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B74 3JL

Regular Services


Sunday
7.00am Morning Prayer 
8.00am Holy Communion
10.00am Parish Family Eucharist
6.00pm Evening Service 
 
Monday-Saturday 8.30am Morning Prayer 
Tuesday 10am Holy Communion

 

Special Events- Dates for your Diary

Saturday 21st April Time 7.00pm- Quiz Night 

Saturday 28th April 7.30pm- Jean Martyn in Concert

Saturday 12th May 10.30am- Coffee Concert with Simon Lumby and Angela Sones (Organ) 


 

 

 

 




 


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