A Sermon Preached by Canon Simon Butler on the Fourth Sunday of Lent
31st March 2019
A Rule of Life: Tell
Our Lent Sermon Series at St Mary’s is an exploration of a Rule – or Pattern – of Life, a structured way of living out the Christian faith, which we are considering making part of our life together at our church. This sermon is the fourth of six on the elements of such a rule: Pray, Read, Learn, Tell, Serve, Give.
So, many of you will have Mothering Sunday commitments at lunchtime, so I’ll try and be as brief as possible this morning. This morning we turn our Rule of Life journey outward. So far, as we’ve explored a structured pattern of Christian living, we’ve focused on the journey inward – praying regularly, reading the bible, and learning the Christian faith together; this morning we turn to the outward practices of the Christian faith, the way we take the journey inward out in to the world.
The first of the ways in which we do this is by telling others about Jesus Christ. Now, stay with me this morning, because immediately you’ll be thinking that you’re going to be asked to be like the man I encountered at Westminster on Wednesday afternoon, standing on a soap box and preaching a fiery sermon, which seemed to be about Nigel Farage as the coming Messiah. Or you’ll be imagining that, if you take on a rule of life, you’ll be expected to knock on doors like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Do you know the old joke about the difference between a Skoda and a Jehovah’s Witness? You can shut the door on a Jehovah’s Witness.
We’ll I’m not. Neither of those things are part of what it means for a Christian to witness to their faith, to tell others about Jesus Christ. Rest assured on that.
But I know that, those caricatures apart, there are real fears and anxieties about talking about our faith with others. Many of us are worried about what others will think of us, and there’s no denying that, unless it’s done very naturally, there can be a cringe factor in others talking about their faith to us. Some of us will be worried about finding the right words to say. And others will fear that they lack the knowledge of Christian faith to face up to a debate about the existence of God, or the bodily resurrection or the problem of suffering, all of which are common intellectual objections to faith.
But, even if talking about our faith perhaps could become more natural, and even if a little practice at it will help us find the right words, and even if there’s no harm in understanding a little more deeply what we believe and why, none of those are essential to telling others about Jesus Christ. All you need is one thing…and that thing is a story. Your story.
Perhaps some of you remember a few months ago – and we’ll do it again soon – that we had a Hymns and Pimm’s service, in which (Pimm’s apart) members of St Mary’s chose special hymns. When they had chosen a hymn, they were asked to tell the congregation why they had chosen it. And many of the people who did that told us a little bit of their own faith story. Something about how a particular hymn helped them at a difficult time; something about how the words helped them express something deep about their relationship with God. That sort of thing. And, as they did that, each of those people were telling their faith story, or at least part of it. They were, to use the biblical word, witnesses. And, in telling this bit of their story, they encouraged others, and bore witness to the value and meaning of faith in Jesus Christ.
We all have a story to tell of faith, about our journey with God and towards Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. It many not be a particular spectacular journey, it will have elements of up and down in it, it may have great highlights and tremendous sorrows in it, it certainly may not be very religious, but it is your faith story.
Friends, the story of your faith is part of a bigger story, the story of what God has done and is doing in and through Jesus Christ. Our story and his story are linked. We are part of that much bigger story about what God is doing in the world, and when we tell our story, just like a witness in the witness box, we tell of the things we have seen and we have experienced. We don’t have to tell the story of someone else, we don’t have to pass judgment. We just have to tell what we saw and experienced. And, I reckon that people will be far more interested in your story of faith than you might first think.
A few weeks ago at General Synod, in the middle of his address to us, the Archbishop of Canterbury stopped and asked us to turn to our neighbour and share something of why we are Christian people. I was tempted to ask you to do the same today, but I decided not to. But, just for a moment, think about this: if you were to turn to the person next to you on Mothering Sunday and tell them something of the role your mother played in your life, I’m sure you could do it, even if the story wasn’t necessarily easy to tell. How would you go about telling the person next to you about the role God and Jesus have played in your life? Perhaps you could ponder that, ponder the story you might tell.
There’s a second part of the story-telling to think about too. And where that comes in is through the story and the invitation around our community of the church. As Christians we are part of a community of faith – for most here that is this church of St Mary. We think that, despite our faults and weaknesses, St Mary’s is a great place to be, a place where people are welcomed, loved, accepted and where God is known, worshipped and named, and a community that is seeking to reach out to serve our neighbours. We find fellowship here, we find warmth, we find love and – perhaps importantly on Mothering Sunday – some of us find a deeper level of family than we have known in the biological families we have come from. So, when someone asks you about what you did over the weekend, why not tell them about St Mary’s, tell them about what happened here, what we did, what we talked about. And then, perhaps, the moment might arise when you say, perhaps you’d like to come and see for yourself?
So the second practical point on telling others about Jesus is invitation. In the Rule of Life material that we have been exploring and which we will launch in the coming weeks, there is an invitation to us to Bring One Friend. You can bring one friend to a service here, so they can experience what it’s like with someone by their side. Someone to lean on if it’s difficult taking their first steps. Could you begin to get into the habit of offering invitations from time to time to people to come to church with you.
One of the things that I’m planning to introduce as we explore living out a Rule of Life is services at which inviting people is easier, because the service is somehow aimed at making it easier. We already have some of those – we have had occasional Pet Services and Hymns & Pimm’s. Baptism services and weddings can be great too, because they happen in day to day life and are a good way of starting up conversations about why you go to church. Surprisingly, we see younger people attracted to more traditional services, and that will continue to be offered. But on the first Sunday of the month, we are going to try out having a pattern of services across the year to which members of our church will feel more comfortable about inviting others to come along, to which you can Bring One Friend.
Two practical ways of telling others. No soap boxes are required, no theology degree is necessary. Two simple things: telling your faith story and inviting others.
Our bible readings today all invite us to ponder the way in which God is himself a missionary. God sends Jesus to us and Jesus’s mission is to create a missionary church, a church that, through faith in Jesus Christ and baptism into Jesus Christ, becomes part of the very same mission of God to creation, drawing people into God’s love and inviting them to share that love with others. None of us are evangelists. God is the evangelist. All we have to do is witness to what we know. And God will do the rest. Amen.