My first sermon in St Luke’s (4th Oct) – the one where I turned a page and Lucy had to ask me if I meant to 😊 and when I used up all her wifi on her phone.
Last week I preached in St Leonards and I mostly took up the theme of saying Thank you. Counting your blessings. And the spiritual discipline of having an attitude of gratitude.
Partly to do with what saying Thank you does to the person who receives it.
But mostly to do with how it shapes and changes the Thanker, the Sayer.
And that wasn’t really about learning how to be an optimist, learning to spot silver linings, it was about seeing small signs of God’s goodness, because with it came a deep joy, a strength, a resilience and courage to Pray and to cry out, to Protest to God about life and injustice – but doing from a basis of knowing already that God is a God who answers prayers.
So that reminds me to say a Thank You, thank you for my welcome, thank you for appointing me as your vicar! Thank you for your cards and chocolate and food baskets and painting and gardening and chocolate.
This week, can we look at the issue of Confidence.
St Paul lists what gives, what used to give, him confidence.
His list is good – the Anglican equivalent would go like this – and this is really me – and each time I say one of these I would like you to reply, liturgically, with an impressed Ooh – so
My parents were Christians, my Dad was a vicar, I was christened very early on, I had bible stories read to me every night, I got confirmed as a young teenager, I went to Ridley Hall Theological College and took the Tripos so I have a Cambridge MA in theology, later I got Church History MA, I have taught at theological college, I sit on General Synod (the CofE’s parliament) and I sit on the Bishop’s Council (the highest cttee in this Diocese). Perhaps some where in that list I should add that I am White and Male.
At my licensing Archdeacon Martin bigged me up and said a bunch of these things about how amazing I am. So I said to him afterwards ‘Wow that was really nice of you to say such nice things about me’. So he said, ‘Good! It wont happen again!’
St Paul says I think that all of that hugely impressive list, the sort of thing that helped get me shortlisted to an interview – I think that all of that is tosh and piffle and nonsense. He says I think its garbage, different translations put ruder words in there.
Now you ought to be mildly offended at Paul for saying that sort of stuff. You’re supposed to say ‘Well aren’t you the lucky one! No wonder you’re so confident about God and faith and stuff. I wish I had your faith’.
I have really good reasons for standing here all bold and confident like I know what I’m doing. But St Paul is right. It’s all garbage – compared to – knowing Jesus as a friend, as someone who has healed my bruised and bullied school history, who has transformed me from a rather nasty angry little teenager, who has pulled me back from the brink of suicide, and has begun to take me on this wonderful pilgrimage.
What is the basis of my confidence for standing here today? It’s not because I am a fancy pants theological know-it-all (which actually I’m not but I might be braver at bluffing than you).
But it is based on knowing that Jesus loves me, died for me, rose again for me, ascended for me, his love has been poured out inside of me.
And frankly even that sounds smug, which is why I agree with Paul that we need to remind ourselves that this is a slow journey in which we are straining forward, pressing on, we are learning to be the people that God has made us to be.
Jesus tells us another parable.
This is Jesus having a go at the religious people of the time and how smug and precious they had got about how their religion works out. They were in charge of Who is IN who is Not In .
In such a closed tight set up there’s no need for, no room for God.
Oh yes God might send His prophets – but they are reliably whiny people who can be quickly put in their place if you feel confident enough to shut them up. ‘That’s not how we do things here’.
Have you ever been part of a Pub Quiz? I hate pub quizzes. Because its rarely about knowledge, its about trust and confidence.
So you get a question like What’s the capital of France.
And you’re sitting there thinking Ooh a question that I do know the answer to. But then the person who’s been answering most of the questions so far says “Its Luxemburg, I went there once, lovely place, there’s a huge Eiffel tower thing there, the answer is Luxemburg.”
And you’re thinking ‘No, that’s not the answer’. And you’ve got to work out whether to speak out, and then risk being wrong. False Confidence.
But will you speak out and be the prophet.
We’re not short of prophets but it is not easy to speak up. Over this year we have heard the voice of the Planet – burning, flooding, blowing , the planet is screaming at us. But will we hear?
This pandemic – in many ways bringing out the best in us, our kindness, generosity, – for many people it has brought out our Faith. We have had to be a bit more public about our Faith.
I’ve become a televangelist! People like and share what we do as a Church and so you have found your faith to be more in the public sphere than you were used to.
But others have also found that they have more faith than they remembered. Others have tuned in to watch Church Services, or they have phoned up the Dial a Sermon. Some have joined online Alpha Courses. And our pastoral care has been seen to be second to none.
We’re not short of prophets, but to speak out requires some confidence, and for that we must pray, and we must grow, as we walk together on this pilgrimage.
((One of things that I’m keen on is to get Wifi here into St Luke’s. If we could do that, then we could virtually welcome people here, they could see what worship here looks like and it might help them work out if they might find the courage to walk up the path and come in.
It would be good for Stefan and the Youth group and the Holiday Club.
It might not be something that especially affects you, but if you think that could be a good idea for the kingdom then you’d be most welcome to chip in to it, to help us buy it.)
Last week I preached about the importance of Receiving Joy. Because if we can be receiving Joy, counting God’s blessings, aware of God at work in our lives, then that gives us Courage to seek more of God, to protest more to God.
So what’s the next step: its Receiving Joy, Living Love.
How we go about living our faith, showing our Love.
What does your faith do for you on a week by week basis?
My prayer is that this moment of worship, (of Holy Communion) gives you strength to forgive other people, to walk lighter to your worries, to your attachments, to find moments of Peace in your day, to feel a quiet Call from God –
that this is who you are, that you have a place here in this Church Family – whether you’re here, or on a sofa, on telephone, or not at all, – my prayer is that your faith will be helping you receive joy, helping you live the love that God pours into our hearts.
((You’re about to eat this little wafer – take it as a symbol of God’s love and commitment to you))
So here’s a small way to start tomorrow: Instead of waking up and muttering to yourself, Good Lord its morning!
Say: Good Morning Lord! Where are we going today? What blessings are you going to show me today? Where do you want me today? Good Morning Lord!
Ah, we are all of us Vineyard Tenants. And it behoves us to listen out for prophets and not take ourselves too seriously.
But what I really aspire to is Paul’s comment – he says When I grow up I want to be more like Jesus – I want to be like Jesus with all that resurrection power – wouldn’t that be something. And we can all nod our heads at that. That sounds good.
And then he says – I want to be like Jesus – I want to suffer the way he did. If I’m going to suffer, I want to do it with all the forgiveness and grace that he did. And we’re thinking – No, I do not want to suffer.
So how do we suffer the way that Jesus did?
I think it starts with receiving joy. It starts with knowing that God is blessing you and me and spotting glimpses of his love and his kingdom in your life, this church, this community. Like a darting kingfisher, a flash of glory. Gorgeous.
And then from receiving the joy, into seeing that work out in our lives, living his love, on a daily basis.
This is a sermon about Confidence.
What today’s readings tell us is that the building blocks to it are God’s love for you in Jesus – here today in our worship
(in this sacrament) – in our daily prayers –
there’s a moment when we can have our confidence properly restored and strengthened to live with God’s love.