Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Confidence in God’s Story
January 26, 2014, 5:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday 26th January 2014

Our Area Dean spoke last week about the Diocesan project, “Confidence in God’s Story.” In introducing it to the clergy, Bishop Mike began his letter with a quote from Pope Francis, “The only purpose of the Church is to go out to tell the world the Good News about Jesus Christ.”

I would like to add another quote from the Pope: “There are too many ‘defeated Christians’ in the Church who do not fully believe in the faith handed down to them by way of tradition and who do not completely trust in God.” In a recent sermon, he asked how many Christians regularly recite the Creed at Mass, but only with their lips and not with their hearts, or believing some bits of it but not others. There are few people who have the capacity to really worship because, in professing the faith, we aren’t convinced or we are only partially convinced. “Profess the faith! All of it!” he said, and protect the faith in its entirety as it has been passed down by way of tradition.

Comparing the intensity of people’s ardour in worshipping God to taking someone’s temperature, he added: “I dare say that the thermometer of the life of the Church is a bit low here.” I think Bishop Mike is asking us all to raise our temperature this year, to have confidence in our faith and not to be ‘defeated Christians.’ He writes of “confidence in God’s story,” and that is a good way of thinking about our situation. What is “God’s story”? How well do we know it? What is our part in it?

When Lent begins, in a few weeks time, I have asked our guest preachers Sunday by Sunday to take “Confidence in God’s Story” as their overall theme; and in the Bible studies planned for Tuesday evenings after Mass, I would like to just run through the main points of the story we have to tell, as contained in the Bible.

How the story begins, with God’s creation of the world, his choice of human beings to be his agents, and how human beings went astray. Then the middle of the story, with God calling Israel to be his people, and how he lived among them in their Law and their worship. How Israel too went astray, and went into exile. How in the years and centuries that followed they looked for God’s return, for an ideal King and an ideal Kingdom. Then the unexpected fulfilment of all this, a King born in a stable and dying on a cross, only to rise again and re-form his People, living in them by his Holy Spirit.

We need to be confident in the story itself, and confident in our own ability to pass it on, to help others to believe it too. Pope Francis sees an intimate connection between spreading the Good News and worship: worship in the widest possible sense of acknowledging the greatness and goodness of God who has poured out his love upon us.

There is a close connection between our witness to Jesus and our unity as Christians. The great commandments are to love God and to love one another. Paul begged the Corinthian Christians not to have divisions. He did not mean mere differences of opinion, but partisan spirit and hostility to those who disagree. This is an offence against the commandment to love one another. Our Lord called the fishermen, and immediately they followed him, although it was only gradually they fully appreciated his teaching and his Spirit. We are already followers of Jesus, but we still have much to learn, especially about living together in harmony.

Yesterday, at the Ebbsfleet Congress in Bath, Bishop Jonathan expressed the same vision. We need to be united. We have a Bishop to lead us, and the Sacraments to nourish us. This is all we need in order to proclaim the Gospel. We come to church- to Mass- each week not simply to meet one another, pleasant though that is. We come to meet Jesus, who makes himself present on our altars, who feeds us with himself in the Blessed Sacrament.

If we are to be convincing witnesses to God, we must intensify our own sense of God as Creator and Father, who has made us and the beautiful but often puzzling world we live in. We must intensify our belief and trust in Jesus, God-with-us, our friend and brother, and also our King. We must intensify our experience of God the Holy Spirit, God as the very air we breathe, in whom and by whom we live. We must see the story we tell as not only “God’s story”, but our story.

This is a big ask, a big challenge. As Christians, even if we are not exactly “defeated” (that might be harsh), we are not exactly victorious. Can we use Lent as a springboard for the rest of the year, and beyond, to make All Hallows the very model of a vibrant, Spirit-filled Christian community, drawing other people by our word and by our example to a deeper relationship with God in Jesus Christ? Can we do that? Will we do that? Time will tell.

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