This month I am on placement at St Mary’s in Princes Risborough. It’s an amazing church and this is the first time that I have preached a sermon there… I struggled a lot with this sermon because I couldn’t get my head around what Paul was trying to say – it took an incident in the previous week (you’ll have to listen to find out) to shine some light on what was going on.
I’m really pleased with my delivery and message here – I spoke far too quickly in places but.. being Welsh I am prone to that.
Please do listen and let me know your thoughts.
There’s no script as such for this sermon because it was delivered to an Evangelical congregation and it would not have been appropriate to stand in the pulpit – but below you’ll find my initial notes as I tried to pull together my thoughts. It has very little connection with the sermon that was preached so you’ll really need to listen to it to take away the message.
Readings: Ephesians 1:3-14
When I put this reading down it started me wondering about the world ‘blessed’ about what it means when community has discovered the depths of what it means to be ‘blessed’ – a joyful baptism, the deep joy of taking part in a community effort to help others in some way or forgiving others… it’s the joy we feel at a funeral – that’s an odd thing to say but it’s the deep sense of blessing we encounter knowing that despite the sorrow death does not have the final word.
What does it feel like when we live up to this God-given vocation as a community of blessing? We exist as Churches to bless our neighbours – near and far – a powerful powerful counter-testimony agains the widespread view that christians are only interested in judging and saying no to people – not blessing them.
It’s all very easy to say but what does that look like – what does a church doing this look like? Well it looks very much like this church that’s for sure – but let me give you another example. It’s full of sorrow and pain, the worst thing that could ever happen to a Church congregation – the shootings in charleston.
A man walked into a bible study group, to a group of people who had opened their arms to him and then he shot them. He opened fire and killed, maimed and damaged people that had held him in love.
In a country where this kind of thing happens far too often I was waiting for the inevitable responses. The hatred. The stone throwing. The political ‘debate’ whilst the Church that had been damaged was left to pick up the pieces.
They did that – they started to pick up the pieces but you know what they did? They recalled what it meant to be given the spiritual gifts of Christ, they remembered that we are all adopted by God – even those who are not ‘in our gang’ and they went to his initial hearing. In the states victims of events such as these are allowed to address the court as victims – these are usually extremely emotional. People tell their stories and then they ask the judge to put this person away for the rest of their lives or worse – they ask the judge to kill this person. I was waiting for this, I was waiting for the hatred – but what I saw was a spiritual outpouring that left me crying in front of my computer.
I watched as the man who was arrested for the shooting stood in front of the court via a big screen and I watched as each victim, each person who had lost someone stood… they told their stories and then they forgave him. Over and over and over again.
“I forgive you”.
“I forgive you”.
“I forgive you”.
“I forgive you”.
Every single person who stood in that court forgave him.
THAT is what it means to be blessed through Christ. That is what Paul is telling us in this reading. That is what we must live every single day in every single thing that we do.
I’ll tell you another story.
I was sat outside Lacy Green School. I was parked quite near a corner into a side road and I was early for our assembly. I was reading todays reading, starting to think about what I was going to preach about… a van pulled up next to me and he had a go at me for parking so near to the corner. I put my bible down and I just looked at him – he had disturbed me, how dare he- doesn’t he know what I was doing! I was doing work for the Church and this guy, this person who’s not in my church DARES to disturb me! So I replied calmly but incredibly rudely that he must be confused because he was talking to someone who didn’t care what he thought.
The guy hit the roof – he went nuts – he called me everything under the sun, he swore, he called me fat he went balistic – but I didn’t care – who was he to tell me what to do? who was he to shout at me – I just looked back at him smiled and waved – it’s fair to say he got even more mad… then he drove off and I picked up my bible again.
Then it struck me – um… what a complete… well what a dreadful person I had been… here, right here in this reading I’m being told we are all one because of Christ and here I was throwing things at someone – I wouldn’t have done that to any of you guys and none of you would have been rude to me in the first place because we are all nice to each other because we’re all part of this Church – but this reading tells us we are ALL one in Christ we should live that example every day with every person.
As I pondered this I reversed the car away from the corner and started to regret my behaviour, I said a prayer – in fact I took out my rosary and prayed for forgiveness…. I got forgiveness – the chap in the van came back. This time I had my bible on the seat next to me and my rosary in my hand – I looked up and here he was in his van coming towards me. He stops next to the car, gets out and… well… he says sorry for being so rude to start with and that he felt dreadful about it. I took his hand and I said sorry to him, then I gave him a hug and with tears in our eyes we remembered that we were both men and men don’t do this kind of thing so we nodded to each other got back in our respective cars and parted company.
When we open ourselves as Christians to the spiritual gifts given through Christ then we remember that these gifts are given to everyone and then maybe, with prayer, we’ll get to experience that blessing, that joyful blessing in Christ.