June 13, 2021

Citizens Sunday (1 Samuel 15:34-16:13)

A sermon preached by the Revd Aaron Kennedy

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34

So, why Citizens Sunday?

Well, we’ve planned two or three of these Sundays

over the course of the year,

to help us stay focussed as a church on our commitment

to serve our community with care and intention.


And I would say there are probably two main reasons

to serve our community,

and be members of London Citizens.

The first is that it is our calling as Christians

to bring the good news of the love of God to everyone.

I long to see our pews filled

with people from all walks of life,

coming together to worship God as one.

And I think reaching out to our community

is going to increase the likelihood of this happening.


The second reason is deeply related,

but without the expectation of benefit coming to us as a church:

and that’s what you might call the common good,

the simple enjoyment and satisfaction of seeing people thrive,

take agency over their lives and the life of their community,

and for the good fruits of that to become visible to all.


So there’s serving the community for the good of the church

and more selflessly, for the common good,

and both are strong motivations for me,

and no doubt many of you.


And reach out we must.

Because as we all know

we have problems in Battersea.


From the steady trickle of murders,

to the loss of community centres and outdoor spaces and trees,

to digital exclusion and food poverty.

And these are just the external problems.


There are other internal problems, too,

deeply related to these,

such as absentee parents,

high rates of convenience abortions,

to the prevalence of loneliness and isolation,

and the prevalence of drug use.


Many will remember that our community work in Battersea

reached a recent high-water mark

when we were last members of Citizens

around 2010, 2011.


Many people were involved,

from across the community,

in various campaigns which bore real success,

such as the replacement of windows in Surrey Lane Estate,

and the installation of a football pen for young people.

As I reflected in the newsletter article this week,

this culminated in a dramatic accountability assembly,

where key Council members

faced questions from local people

in a packed-out Battersea Arts Centre.


Where has this community spirit gone?

Well, clearly it hasn’t all gone away.

We saw some great community spirit during the pandemic

with, for example, the coronavirus angels.

But why hasn’t it continued simply building from strength to strength?


Well, a wise priest once told me, as a minister,

to make a contribution to what began before I arrived

so that it will continue after I leave.


Our Old Testament reading highlights

what I think is the best thing to contribute to,

which began before I arrived,

and will endure long after I leave, whenever that may be.

And that is people.


The model of community organising that London Citizens uses,

is centered around a few key things,

one of which, crucially, is developing people to become leaders.

But it doesn’t begin with fully formed leaders,

but often those who never thought of themselves

as a leader in any sense.


This is, of course, what happens in the story

of the anointing of David the shepherd boy,

as King of Israel.


Saul, the first King of Israel,

was impatient, self-serving, disobedient to God,

and we are told that the Lord was sorry he made him King.

So he sent Samuel, the prophet,

to anoint a new King from the tribe of Jesse.

When Jesse’s first son,

a strong, handsome chap comes forward,

Samuel assumes this must be the man chosen by God,

but we then hear the memorable words:

‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature,

because I have rejected him;

for the Lord does not see as mortals see;

they look on the outward appearance,

but the Lord looks on the heart.’


Rather than choose one of Jesse’s 6 other strapping sons

all of whom were present,

the Lord chose David,

apparently the runt of the litter.

Certainly the youngest,

and the least important,

since he alone was left in charge of the sheep.

The Lord passes over all those with most obvious leadership potential,

and chooses the one least likely.


Now, you might say that David was an exception that proves the rule.

And you would have a point.

It is not just anyone who can be leader of the Council, say,

or MP or Prime Minister, whatever you may think of Boris Johnson;

or PCC member or church warden for that matter either.

Competence and experience do matter.


However, David the young shepherd

was not competent at that moment to be King of Israel.

But God saw his potential,

and was committed to transforming him

into the person he needed him to be.


Now, again, you might say,

that leaders are few in number.

Does London Citizens expect everyone to be a leader?

Well, you would be right again.

That’s the point of leaders, isn’t it.

One person, or a small group,

whether that’s the PM, the cabinet,

the vicar or the PCC,

leads the organisation or the community,

the other members of which, follow.


And likewise Citizens doesn’t seek

to make everyone an organisational leader.

The model focusses on key people,

even unprepared, rough diamonds,

and helps to prepare them to one day become competent leaders.


However, in a sense everyone can be a leader.

And in a sense, everyone is called to be a leader.

It might be that our area of influence or leadership is no bigger

than our own personal lives.

It might be that you are not, and never will be,

called to be an organisational or community leader.

But it is the case that as a member of the body of Christ,

you are called to live to the highest standards:

which to say that we are called to strive to be like Christ,

the author and perfector of our faith.


We look on the outward appearance,

but the Lord looks on the heart.


St Paul has a relevant comment for us when he says:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.

If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation.

Everything old has passed away;

see, everything has become new!


So this message is for everyone.

There are those here who are destined to be community leaders,

but who do not know it yet.

Who may be unprepared and unready,

but who God is nonetheless calling

to play a role in the life of this community.


And there are those here – most of us, no doubt,

who may not be destined to be a leader in an organisation,

but who are called to play their part in the Kingdom of God,

and the community of Battersea,

however humble, however thankless that part in human eyes,

even if that is simply to fulfil to the best of one’s ability

the vocation of all faithful Christians,

to imitate Christ,

and love God with all our heart,

all our mind, our soul and our strength.


St Paul puts it in this way:

Christ died for all, so that those who live

might live no longer for themselves,

but for him who died and was raised for them.


This, my friends, is the great purpose of all our lives,

and the high calling that every single one of us has received.


And let’s keep that clear in our minds.

Our purpose in “community work” as Christians,

is not to be a food bank,

or a community centre,

or to become a GP practice,

or community credit union,

or any of the things that churches have done over the years

in the name of community outreach.

We may be a part of all such endeavours,

and support them with prayer, expertise, money, and service,

but our purpose is not to be a service provider,

but to be the people of God in this place.


If we look on the outward appearance,

but the Lord looks on the heart,

how does he see Battersea?

Those parts of Battersea that have been written off,

as not worth investing in,

as godforsaken even:

what great hidden potential does God see there?


And more personally,

how does God see you?

Whatever your sphere of influence,

whatever your level of competence,

as a member of the body of Christ,

God is always calling you onwards,

into deeper service,

into a greater likeness of Christ.


In our gospel reading Jesus describes working for his Kingdom,

as like someone who scatters seeds.

So we are called to actively serve God’s purposes in the world,

however humble that may seem.

However, once the seeds have been scattered,

it is over to God to make them sprout and grow.

We can’t control that,

and we shouldn’t concern ourselves too much about it,

except that we need to be ready for the harvest.

We need to be awake, alert

and ready to seize the moment as the Spirit guides us.

But if we’re not ready,

if we’re living for ourselves rather than Christ,

we may miss those opportunities.


For those seeds, while they may seem extremely humble to us

– so humble we may even now be discounting their value to God –

these tiny mustard seeds can sprout and grow

through the grace of God

into the largest of shrubs in the garden

and so in time – perhaps long after you and I have passed on,

the birds of the air will make nests in their shade.

In other words, the small acts of service,

that we commit ourselves to today,

may tomorrow provide resilience and strength to our community,

in ways we never imagined possible.


Community outreach for Christians then

is not about merely offering a service to the community.

However valuable that might be.

Other organisations can do those things,

even with our support and service.

But the vocation of the church

is nothing less than to be Christ

to those we live alongside.


God is always drawing us further up and further in.

Whatever our social standing,

we have all received the call

to live not for ourselves but for Christ.


For Tolkien fans,

we are all Frodo.

We all feel small and insignificant,

unready and unprepared,

and none of us knows the way forward;

if we did we wouldn’t be human.

But we are nonetheless called into a great service,

which will require everything from us,

but which through the grace of God

is bringing about the redemption of the world.


We look on the outward appearance,

but the Lord looks on the heart.

And no matter who you are,

when he looks at you he sees Christ,

he sees a new creation.

Everything old has passed away;

see, everything has become new!















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