It's been a while since I've written a sermon in under an hour and felt absolutely sure that it said what it needed to..Despite this, actually delivering this yesterday was deeply scary...When I'd finished there was one of those silences which is either a prelude to a riot or, just possibly, means that someone there has caught your vision. Still praying that it's the latter...
Once upon a time there was a church.
That church stood at the hub of the village, close to shops and pubs, on the way to anywhere and everywhere.
It had stood there for a long long time, and for the most part the people of that community were proud of it.
They came there to celebrate great events, births and marriages. They came there to mourn their dead.
They dropped in on the way to collect children from school, took shelter from the rain after tending family graves in the churchyard outside, savoured its atmosphere of dim quiet.
Some were regular visitors, some came only once...but they knew that, at significant times of their lives, times when they’d needed a sense of stability and safety, that building had welcomed them.
They might not have thought of it in that way, but the open doors of the church building reminded them at some deeper level that there was somewhere else which they could call home, Someone who would accept them no matter what.
For those people, the church building was a silent witness, a sign that spoke of God’s presence among his people.
“Let me dwell with you in this place” said God.
But inside the church not all was well. Generations came and went, and the worship of God was no longer a high priority in the community life.
The group who gathered in that church began to feel beleaguered, perplexed that the worship that had meant so much to them, that had seemed the perfect expression of the way things ought to be, appeared to leave the next generation cold.
They wondered what to do. . Like many another, the church had to take to take its chance amid the rocky waters of contemporary life as the problem of maintenance, money and maths began to grow.
Should they withdraw, allowing the old ways to die quietly, or should they so adapt that they themselves would feel no longer at home?
It certainly wasn’t easy.
While some of the congregation therefore decided that their best plan was to sell off the church building, and use some of the money generated to create a community centre more appropriate to the demands of contemporary life, others, feeling threatened, began to huddle together for protection. They chose to cling to the certainties that had supported them through the years, the certainties that were enshrined in the very stones of the church itself.
This group felt that now was the time to close ranks, to work on getting the worship of the church just right, confident that if only they could recover confidence in that, everything else would follow.
For a while, it seemed that they might just be rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, but then something changed.
Some people began to ask themselves searching, uncomfortable questions.
They wondered whether in their anxiety to get everything right for God during the decades, they’d somehow lost track of God’s reality…whether perhaps they had been distracted by the business of worship and mislaid its object.
They set to and began to pray with a new determination.
They remembered that the church existed to serve the people and not the people to support and fill the church.
They wondered whether they should leave their beloved building behind them and go and look for God somewhere else.
They remembered those words of the angel to the disciples
“He has already gone ahead of you into Galilee” and began to expect to discover God alive and active in the world, rather than simply longing to recreate the past times when he had seemed closest in worship.
Their focus changed, as they heard afresh the dual invitation to serve the world for the sake of the Father, and to come to the Father in worship for the sake of the world.
They reminded themselves that however strange and abstruse worship may look to the world outside, it is in fact the whole point of the church’s existence.
They came to recognise that mission and worship are not mutually exclusive. With relief, they turned away from the hard choices of either/or. They celebrated their mission, to bring the whole of creation into a right relationship with God, - a relationship in which God’s absolutely sovereignty is universally acknowledged, in which the whole created order comes to give to God what is God’s due, to worship.…
And, of course, as they focussed on God, things began to change.
They recognised new opportunities for service in their community, adopting strangers and those without other support.
Finally, they realised that the church couldn’t seek to draw others in unless its members first went out to them…that the presence of God in that community was not confined to even the most precious pile of ancient stones.
“ Let me dwell with you in this place”
And it was so.
Thanks be to God!