What is God Calling St Mary’s To in the next Five Years?

A Sermon Preached by Canon Simon Butler

Epiphany 2020

What is God Calling St Mary’s To Do in the Next Five Years?

At the end of this sermon those present were asked to write down on a response sheet one thing that they are passionate about seeing come to pass in the life and mission of St Mary’s. These ideas would be used to help the Church Council discern the Mission Action Plan for the 2020-25.

When the Magi left the crib, unbeknown to them something new had begun. Or rather more accurately something old had been rekindled.

And old promise, never forgotten by God, was born again in a new and living way.

For these Magi were not just wise men – or maybe wise women, we don’t know – they were Gentiles.

As they left the stable, warned in a dream to return home by another route, they took with them news of the birth of one who was not just the Messiah, the Christ of the Jews, but the Saviour of the World.

But they were also the bearers of a promise, one that God had made to Abraham, to Israel through the prophets and in time through John the Baptist. The promise that God was to draw all people to himself, not just the Jews but the Gentiles too. A promise that God would bring to pass through Jesus Christ.

Promises are exciting. I like to imagine the Magi hastening to the stable in anticipation but leaving in excited conversation. Perhaps, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us?”

Today, at the beginning of a new year, I would like to invite you to remind yourselves that, along with the Magi and the disciples at Emmaus, you too have been caught up in that promise of God to mend and renew the world. You – no we – are invited to not just anticipation but excitement about what it is God calls us to do, and how we are to bear the promise the Magi did.

So, here’s this morning’s question, and for once, I’m going to ask for a fairly immediate response.

  • Perhaps for you, the excitement is because you see the role of the Church as making disciples of Jesus…going out with Good News and bringing more people into the life of faith, and perhaps into the life of St Mary’s too. Perhaps you long to see a more confident St Mary’s, with its members equipped to share their faith and invite others to join our life together in Jesus Christ.,
  • Maybe for you, what excites you about the Gospel is the way in which we can grow in the knowledge and love of God, as we learn together and are nurtured in the Christian faith. What you want most of all for this place is for it to be a learning community, where we no only worship God but, as our strapline says, Grow Together with God.
  • Or perhaps what kindles that spark of enthusiasm is the service of others. You see in your world, in our community a world of need, brought on by poverty, lack of opportunity, sickness, and much more. For you, what you long for is to see this church doing more in services of our neighbours and community.
  • For others, your service of others or your experience of life reveals a passion for a world that needs mending, because its structures are broken and need changing. For you, your following of Jesus is shaped by a passion for justice in our world, and you long to see this community doing something to challenge the status quo, both locally and on the wider field.
  • And for others, all you can do is watch our world begin to taste the consequences of our failure to tackle our climate change crisis. You see the fires in Australia, floods in places where friends live, or just sheer human desecration of the planet, and you want this church to do something locally about that. You are excited about caring for creation, but it is an excitement generated by a desperation of a world not listening to the planet.

What I believe, because each of you as disciples of Jesus, holds the presence of the Spirit of God in your hearts, is that among these things, some things excites you about being a disciple of Jesus Christ, something in all of this touches your heart and makes you passionate about being a Christian.

And, yes, I know Anglican Christians, especially English Anglican Christians, are not noted for their high levels of excitement. We can be just a little bit too sanguine though, so this morning, please feel free to connect with your excitement : that is what I want to invite you to connect with this morning.

Because, as a church, as we embark on a new sense of purpose for the coming five years, as we develop our Mission Action Plan 2020-2025, I am absolutely sure that we will be more effective, more energetic and more passionate about what we are to do, if we focus on the things that excite us about being a Christian.

So, the response I’d like to invite you to consider this morning, is to share with me and the Church Council one thing that you’d like this community to focus on in the coming five years, to write it down on the sheet you’ve been given and to have it collected in at the Offertory in a few minutes.

Because this is about passion, let me say this: please don’t write down what you think I want to hear. That will do us no good, because it’s not about pleasing me or the PCC. Please write down what you feel. And because it’s about passion, this is not one of those occasions where we’re looking for lengthily considered views or opinions. We’re looking to connect with the gut here: what it is that you think you would want this community to do or become.

So, there’s a piece of paper for you to write on and I’m going to give you a few minutes to write while some music plays. If you find it hard to write, then please have a word with someone near you and ask them to write it for you. Let me remind you again of the things I mentioned so you can think around those areas

  • Making new disciples and growing the church.
  • Teaching the faith and nurturing new believers.
  • Responding to human need in loving service.
  • Seeking to transform society and its injustices.
  • Responding to the damage we are doing to the planet and caring for creation.

When the Magi leave the crib they begin again God’s promise to draw the world into his love. Where does God’s promise to us in Jesus set your hearts on fire? Write down your idea.