Over the last couple of weeks various people have asked me to share the contents of my Circuit Advent sermon in which we launched our Circuit year of risk-taking mission and service, based on the book by Robert Schnase “5 practices of fruitful congregations” which is a major part of our circuit five year vision.
I don't for one minute think I'm a great preacher (and certainly not a great theologian) and so I'm always reluctant to publish written notes as the spoken word is always different to the written one; however, here goes………
1. In ancient Israel, sheep and goats separated only at night: daytime grazed together. Separated at night because goats weren't as hardy as sheep and needed to huddle together for warmth. Any goats not gathered in ran the risk of separation from the others and freezing to death. *
2. Is this an image of the end times, of death and judgement, as it's usually thought to be ? or is it an image of something more ? I've spent most of my Christian life thinking the former about Gods wrath, hell and judgement. Don't get me wrong I believe in hell, but not in the usual way; I think that's too simplistic. *
3. no, I now wonder if this is more to do with living the Christian life now, in preparation for the end times. Let's go back to earlier in Matthew as he begins his five discourses on the end times. Matthew 16:24-25 “Then Jesus said 'don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self'”. (Message Bible) *
4. Danger today is that we live in a world where we're encouraged to put ourselves first. Me, me, me- look after no 1 etc. Natural human instinct of self-preservation. So waste time and energy on others ? And we'll use all manner of excuses to hold onto what we have by blaming others. It's the fault of the homeless that they've nowhere to live; it's the fault of the migrants that unemployment levels have risen; it's the fault of teachers that children don't have any manners; it's the fault of others etc etc. We also question the need to be involved in the lives of others “it won't make a difference, so why bother?” Or the classic “it's not my problem, someone else will sort it”. Jesus was different. *
5. Hold onto what Jesus said in our passage (turn to it in your Bibles or on your phones). A reminder, Matthew 25:31-40, and as I re-read the two key words in this second passage, think about the implications. FOLLOW ME ! Jesus instructed his followers to be just that, people who followed. NOT people who sought to follow their own inclinations, but sought to model their lives on Jesus. *
6. In the passage we heard various needs are mentioned, feeding the hungry, serving those who are thirsty (both can be spiritual as well as practical), hospitality to strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and helping the prisoner. When did you last do these things ? Yes, many churches collect for food banks, some will help in overnight shelters, some donate clothing (at least one church in our circuit has done this in my time here), many are involved in pastoral visiting but isn't it easier to visit those we get along with ? and some may donate to prisoner week or a whole host of charities. ALL of which is commendable but I want to challenge us all as Churches and as individuals to go further and take risks. *
7. Following Schnase book (some still available to buy or borrow) as our circuit direction the CLT wish the Church to ask everyone to focus on the chapter “Risk-taking mission and service” for the year 2017. We hope to have some themed preaching on the subject, and that the circuit may hold Bible studies on it, and Church studies may be similarly focussed. Tonight is our launch night. *
8. I think that all I've said above has to go beyond our comfort zones, and that is risky ! Couple of weeks ago I did the annual YMCA sleep-out as you know. A man from my former circuit of Borders Mission came to join me all the way from Chesterfield. I asked Nick why ? He said that last year he'd donated money to my fundraising page and then later in the year had reflected that he wanted to go further, as he put it “get involved” so he'd travelled a long way to do so. I'd have been happy if he'd simply donated again but he'd gone further and got involved. Many of you have heard of my Romanian friends, Alex and Heather; used to occasionally visit Romania each year but then felt God calling them to more so they sold all their belongings and moved into a tatty farm building with their three children in a poverty stricken village in order to help. They got involved. *
9. Now we can't all do that but following Jesus is about 'getting involved', whether it's getting up at 5 in the morning to hang angels all over your village or committing yourself to standing alongside a cause for disability, or deafness or something else; whether it's putting yourself forward as a Local Preacher, Minister, or Worship Leader to serving on your local council or in politics. For Churches it may be about rearranging furniture to create dedicated space within worship to make young parents feel at home with their children to encouraging young breastfeeding mothers to know they won't be condemned or shoved in a corner. It may be for churches to stretch out welcoming hands to the LGBTQ communities (look it up) or to homeless people. It may be about taking the risk of saying 'our work is done' and letting go of the building for a new work of God or to release resources for elsewhere. Not for me to say but I'd like each church this year to consider what risk taking mission and service Gods calling them to in their community. An agenda item for the Spring Church Councils. *
10. And why launch tonight ? Precisely because it's Advent which reminds us of the risk Jesus took-from Heaven to earth, from the cradle to cross, and all because of love. I can't say this loud enough, Advent screams at us that GOD got INVOLVED. *
11. Who can we serve ? Individually or as a Church/Circuit ?
What will be the result of it ? Sponsored walk for water-aid, knitted blankets for various causes, angels in Uttoxeter and this year all over the circuit and so on. Never feels like much but even if one life is enhanced it's worthwhile.
Covenant prayer “put me to what you will……”