Saturday, August 08, 2009

Drawn by God - a sermon for Trinity 9B

What draws you to church?
You come here faithfully, once a week or once a month, and I can’t help but wonder why.
I guess that on one level at least there will be as many reasons for being here as there are people in this congregation – and for many of us it may be hard to work out exactly what is the prime motive that brings us together.

Perhaps you are drawn by long habit; you come because you always have – you simply cannot imagine yourself anywhere else on a Sunday morning.
Perhaps you are drawn by beauty – by lovely words and familiar music, by rituals and patterns that seem to make sense of things beyond the reach of rational thought.
Perhaps you are drawn by loneliness: you come from an empty house, in search of companionship.
Perhaps you are drawn by need: you are seeking authentic community and see it breaking down in the world beyond the doors
Perhaps you are drawn by anxiety; you come because church represents a place of safety and comfort in a changing world.

Perhaps you are drawn by love, your love for God.

I pray you are, that you come for an encounter with the living God, the God who can sweep you off your feet and set you down again facing in a completely different direction, the God who surprises and challenges, the God who feeds us, week by week, on the bread of life.

It is worth pondering why you come, because, of course, you will soon be asked to invite others. As we prepare for Back to Church Sunday next month it’s good to consider the place that Sunday church has in our own lives. Now is a good time to begin to think about whom you might invite to our worship that day…and also to pray, since we can be certain that God will already have prepared some of our friends for the invitation. We are told that there are 3 million people in Britain today who would come to church if only they were invited. 3 million! Some of those will be people we know, people in this community who are ripe for an invitation, because they have already been disturbed by an insistent disquiet, that kind of gentle nudging that is a sign of God at work…
Augustine wrote, long ago
“Lord you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless til they find their rest in you”
and though we may be very slow to notice and acknowledge this, it remains true.
God is now and always at work drawing people to him…

Whether we know it or not, we are, all of us, drawn by LOVE – God’s love for us.

God is constantly at work drawing us into his love…. – but we have our part to play, for we too are invited to co-operate with the process.
We are asked to be agents of his mission, to bring the whole of creation into relationship with Him. [Ephesians 1:9-10 according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up ALL things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.]
That is the underlying purpose not just of BTCS but of everything the Church attempts – we exist to share God’s love with the world.
Imagine that love as a great magnet, drawing us towards God. Then think of how things that are in contact with something magnetised behave. It’s fun, isn’t it, making a whole chain of paper clips dance in the wake of a single magnet… Those far away are still affected as the magnetism passes from one to another…

God’s love is the strongest thing in all creation, an unstoppable force that has drawn us…and, please God, will work through us to draw others.
“Be imitators of God, beloved children, and live in love…”
Is that what we see in our churches?
That question has extra point as positions are polarised and barricades manned across the Anglican Communion – where there is plenty of bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and not a little slander at the moment. It’s far too easy for any institution to get side-tracked, and lose sight of core values, essential foundations…
We can, and must, pray that this will change but for now let’s concentrate on our own local context.

When we gather here week by week, I certainly hope that it is for more than just a social event.
If the church building vanished, if the organ imploded, if your familiar friends and neighbours all moved away, if you lost patience with the vicar, fell out with the Bishop and despaired of the whole Anglican Communion, you would still have a calling to be the Church, imitators of God, sharing the love you have received.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another
That’s our blueprint for behaviour here.
In other words – in our church community we practice the love we are to share with everyone…for it’s that love that will make a difference, that love that will draw others.

As I talked about this sermon with a friend, she asked
“How will people know that God loves them, if those gathered in God’s name don’t show them?” while another friend, on the eve of leave-taking before a big and difficult move, found time to bring me back to the heart of things, to the Bread of Life once more.
Between them, they made real the love that I’m trying to talk about, the love that draws us not just to this place, but, -which is far more, - the love that draws us to its source.

When we come to worship we come to give thanks to God for all his blessings, to celebrate his love and to be nourished and transformed as we encounter God in Word and in the Sacrament.
And it’s to that encounter that we should invite our friends.
Ultimately, it won’t matter if visitors choose to stay and become family here…
We’re not inviting our friends because we are setting out to fill our churches – rather we are inviting them because we want them to experience the limitless, unconditional love that we have received.
So our love for them must be no less without condition…

Martin Luther once described evangelism as “one beggar telling another where to find bread” – and as we seek to make God’s love real for our friends and neighbours, we know that here we are nourished by the Bread of Life.
We come together because we are drawn…lured by God.
Lured into God’s presence, lured into community, lured into hope.
And when we come, we receive all that we need, the living bread in whom all our hungers are satisfied
Christ himself, the bread of life, present not just not as we kneel for Communion, but present too in the friends around us – and in those people with whom we struggle.
Christ himself not confined to the sanctuary but close to us amid the mess and muddle of everyday life – where we spoil relationships, grapple with tiredness, mean well and do worse.
Christ constantly present, working his loving purpose that all should be drawn to Him, all redeemed, all raised up on the last day.

No comments: