Live and share


Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 2 September 2018

Readings were Mark 7:1- 8, 14-15, 21–23 and James 1:17–27

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I’ve been on study leave most of last month (again!), and before I went on study leave I preached about our new Mission Statement, and the connections between Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Our Mission Statement is:

God gathers us to worship and grow our faith
so we can live and share Christ’s hope for our world

Hear again the movement in our Mission Statement – from worship into life – ‘live and share Christ’s hope’.

The reading today from James is explicit about the necessary connection between our worship and our lives:

be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.  (v23)

This connection between our worship and our lives is what I want us to ‘get’ again this today, and not just in our heads, but to make some actual connections of our own – to live and share Christ’s hope for our world!

Last Sunday we sang a song (Be God’s), and I want us to hear these terrific words again…

Let your life change the world one person at a time.
Let your life be the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As the bread becomes his body, we can be the living sign.
With God’s love, change the world with your life.

One way of hearing today’s Gospel reading is: WHY, we do what we do, matters.

Jesus was critical of the religious people – not because they were religious, but because they hadn’t made a connection between their worship of God and their lives. They didn’t take God seriously enough. They didn’t allow God to change their hearts. Their actions were stale and not an expression of their faith.

And so, thinking about our Mission Statement again… we can recognise that we aspire to the connection between true worship, true heart-felt motivations, and true actions.

God gathers us to worship and grow our faith
so we can live and share Christ’s hope for our world

I want to share a story about making connections between worship, motivations, and actions; about our responsibility to live and share faith.

Have you ever thought who would most like to have a dinner party conversation with? For me, Adrian Plass would be high on my list. This UK author and speaker has a charming self-deprecating wit – which often points out the foibles of those of us in the Church. Adrian Plass tells this story…

Some time ago I walked into a supermarket to buy some sugar. As I set off to hunt down the sugar (super­markets `hide’ the sugar for obvious commercial reasons) I noticed a huge sign hung above the tills. Its message was printed in large, vivid, red lettering. This is what it said:

CROSSROADS VALUES CUSTOMER CO-OPERATION.

WE WOULD BE WARMLY GRATEFUL IF SHOPPERS
COULD REPORT BREAKAGES OR SPILLAGE IN THE AISLES. THANK YOU!

I registered this information vaguely as I trailed dismally around the store searching for my hum­ble purchase, but just after I discovered the sugar (tucked away between toilet rolls and garden compost) I remembered it with sudden clarity, for there, in front of me, lay a beauty of a breakage or spillage.

A big fat jar of Piccalilli sauce, the yellow gelatinous stuff with chunks of something-or-other in it, had fallen on to the floor where it had burst like a huge ripe fruit. The resultant mess, a yellow, sludge, with glass sticking out of it, was quite spectacular.

`Time’, I said to myself, `for a bit of customer co-operation. Here’s where I earn some of that warm gratitude.’

Clutching my package of white granulated, I made my way unerringly to the ‘Ten items or less’ queue, anxious to report my discovery. Idly, I found myself counting the purchases in the bas­ket held by the lady in front of me. ‘One — two — three — four . .” The discovery that she had eleven items to pay for filled me with a quite irrational fury. For some reason, taking eleven things through the ‘Ten items or less’ exit seemed, at that moment, a much greater crime than murder or genocide.

I wanted to proclaim loudly to the whole world the depths to which human nature was capable of sinking. But I didn’t. Instead, I contented myself with imagining the warm gratitude with which my co-operative gesture would be greeted. At last (the criminal in front of me having accomplished her evil designs) I arrived at the front of the queue and paid my money to the female cashier, a girl who looked as if she might have just passed her ninth birthday.

Then, with what I considered to be rather suave nonchalance, I proceeded to co-operate.

‘Oh, by the way,’ I said, ‘there’s a big jar of Piccalilli all over the floor round the corner there, in the pickle aisle. I just thought — you know — I ought to tell you.’

Without a single word or change of expression the girl jabbed her thumb against the button beside her. A bell rang somewhere in the dis­tance. She waited, her eyes wide with bored vacancy. I had the uncomfortable feeling that I had ceased to exist. Eventually, a young man wearing a little green hat and a bow-tie of similar shade arrived at the till with an expression of mechan­ical enquiry on his face. He was much older than the girl — fifteen at least judging by his moustache.

‘Wot?’ he said.

The girl spoke, her words emerging in little leaden lumps of weary exasperation. ‘Customer complainin’ about a breakage in the pickle aisle.’

The young man, clearly a master of verbal economy, emitted a single grunt – which managed to express annoyance, impatience, and scornful distaste for the whole pathetic customer race. He started to move away.

In most situations of this kind I am rendered impotent by the disease of politeness. Sometimes, when our car comes back from the garage in as bad or worse condition than it went in, I swear to my wife that this time I’m really going to give them a piece of my mind. ‘This time’, I snarl, ‘they’re going to get the rough edge of my tongue! I’m going straight up there and I’m gonna tell ‘em!’ Breathing threats and imprecations I stride up to the garage full of angry lion-like confidence. As I walk in through the door, though, something happens. I turn into a sheep.’Hello, there!’ I bleat cheerily, ‘the old car’s playing up again. Not your fault, of course. I just wondered if I could pay you some more money to fix it again. Ha-ha-ha! What a silly old life, eh . . .?’

This time it was different. I was too annoyed to be polite. I wanted my warm gratitude.

‘Excuse me!’ I said to the bow-tied one, ‘I wasn’t complaining, I was co-operating. It says up there’ — I pointed — ‘that you will be warmly grateful to customers who report breakages or spillage in the aisles. That’s what I’ve done. Now, how about a bit of warm gratitude?’

He stared at me for a moment, searching for words with which to seal this unexpected breach in the surrounding wall of his small world. His reply, when it came, was triumphant. ‘Well, you don’t have to clean it up, do ya?’

So stunned was I by this startling piece of non‑logic that I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

‘Breakage in the pickle aisle!’

The cry rang out from the bow-tied one, and was taken up and passed on with ever-decreasing volume until it could be heard only very faintly somewhere in the bowels of the shop. Finally, a diminutive member of the shop staff (probably a university student on holiday) arrived with a selection of cleaning implements and attacked the problem, muttering as he did so about ‘people who make trouble for other people’.

`So who,’ I asked myself later, ‘actually meant what was said on that sign over the tills?’ Perhaps if the managing director of the Supermarket chain had been present when I ‘co­operated’, he might have shaken me by the hand and formally thanked me on behalf of the board of directors for my wonderfully public-spirited act. But he wasn’t there, and clearly no one else was prepared to represent him.

I fear that many churches have exactly the same problem as that supermarket.

The huge sign that hangs over the church — the Gospel — promises love and forgiveness and adventure and miracles and involvement in an urgent rescue operation. Too often it is imposs­ible to find people who will represent the prom­ises that Jesus made. He still keeps those promises in all who genuinely follow him.

How sad that so many outsiders who venture past the portals of their local church are greeted with the equivalent of that young shopworker’s query — ‘Wot?’

We’d better be careful. Our managing director will make his next visit without any warning.”[1]

Despite Adrian Plass’ ominous warning at the end, we have a wonderful opportunity to live and share the Gospel. We can represent (re-present) the wonderful promises of the Gospel. Jesus redirects our attention to what is true. He points out what is most important, teaching us about ourselves, about himself, about God. Jesus tells us what true greatness is: faith lived out in service.

And, as well as telling us… he SHOWS us what this greatness looks like, most surprisingly: the cross. Living for others, to the extent of dying. When James says “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers” he quickly identifies some practical ways his community can live and share their faith. For them it’s:

to care for orphans and widows in their distress (v27)

What connections might we make between our worship and our lives? In the Bulletin (and below) is a list. This is given as some starters for us, in imagining what God is saying to us – to make connections with who and what is around us.

  1. Mission Statement – we’ve seen the way this expresses our mission to worship, grow, live and share.
  2. Living Faith lecture series – is a chance to consider Christian ethics as the practical living of our faith.
  3. The enduring witness of St John’s to the City – as the main motivation of the imminent strengthening project. Last week Malcolm led us in prayer: “We look forward with trepidation to the earthquake strengthening – do not make us nervous about the disruption to our routine, but let this be an opportunity to look ahead to a renewed and reinvigorated mission by St Johns.”
  4. Church Camp – this weekend on camp has the theme ‘connecting the dots’ as we connect our faith with our life.
  5. Workshop on ethics and vocation in the workplace (Sat 15 Sept, All Saints Hataitai) – how often do we reflect on how our faith is real in our workplace? Here is an opportunity for doing this, with the help of really experienced people.
  6. Evelyn and Emily swapping home baking for cans of food for Wellington City Mission today. How great that our young people are finding ways to live and share Christ’s hope for our world!

The other ideas are less specific, but may be ways God is guiding you to act…

  1. Forgive what you need to forgive. Restore a relationship.
  2. Offer kindness. Do something spontaneous that is heart-felt.
  3. Take some time to really imagine what it would be like to be someone else in a very different situation to your own.
  4. Spend quality time with a child.
  5. Share your faith story with someone.

You’ll see there is a space to make your own connection between your worship and your life – how you live and share Christ’s hope. You have until the end of our worship service to put something in that space!

Finally, a thought from a favourite author of mine, Francis Spufford:

[virtue isn’t] built up from a thousand careful, carefully measured acts. It comes, when it comes, in a rush; it comes from behaving, so far as you can, like God himself, who makes and makes and loves and loves and is never the less for it. God doesn’t want your careful virtue, He wants your reckless generosity.[2]

To God be all the glory!

Amen

 

[1] Adrian Plass, View From a Bouncy Castle (1991)

[2] Francis Spufford, Unapologetic p114.

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