Sunday, June 6, 2010

Restoring the Sacred Centre

It has been a strangely disturbing week. For those of us who visited Bethlehem and the Holy Land last year there was the awfulness of all that happened in the Mediterranean this week.

And then the sheer awfulness and horror of all that happened in Cumbria has touched us all. We particularly remembered our Carlisle church and Brian Grist who has recently become our Congregational Federation President.

Throughout our service we had a focus on prayer and the need to ‘restore the sacred centre’ in our church life, in our own lives and in society at large.

Today’s sermon took followed on from the recent sermon series inspired by John Pritchard’s book, Going to Church. It focused on restoring the sacred centre, but began with a glance forwards towards the World Cup.

They think it’s all over … it is now!

And I am not thinking of Rio Ferdinand and the prospects of a re-run of 1966. There’ll be plenty of time for that in the next four weeks. Let’s just bask in this next week, a week full of exhilaration, anticipation and hope.

I really did think it was all over. After all, a couple of weeks ago I came to the end of my series of ten sermons prompted by John Pritchard’s book, Going to Church – ten things to go to the stake for in any church.

But then, two weeks in from the end, I noticed something I had not noticed before.

What appealed to me about the book was the way John Pritchard’s vision for the church chimed with the vision of the church that’s at the heart of Highbury.

As he explores the Chruch as it should be he asks the question What’s the church for? I described the three chapters that answer that question in a way that coincides exactly with the three ways we think of the church here at Highbury.

What’s the church for? Worship

What’s the church for? Mission

What’s the church for? Community.

That’s how we make sense of the life of the church … we are a worshipping community, committed to Christian mission serving the community. Those three dimensions to our church life are then underpinned by the administrative work that needs to go on behind the scenes to make all the rest of our church life happen.

What I had not noticed in my first reading of the book was that there was a fourth chapter in that section.

I didn’t let on at the time.

But at and around that time I was increasingly aware from lots of different people, and maybe aware within myself as well, that what John Pritchard touched on in that fourth chapter, must also go to the heart of what church is about.

It is what we need, not least in the busyness of our own lives, and in the business of our church life.

This is not by way of an appendix to that set of sermons.

Instead it is going to be something that prompts our thinking through the summer.

What’s the church for? John Pritchard asks.

Restoring the sacred centre.

This is what he has to say at the start of that chapter.

“In the previous three chapters I’ve been asking the question: “What’s the church for?” and I’ve given three answers – worship, mission and community.

“If you imagine those three as interlocking circles, there is an overlap between the circles in the centre.

“That’s where I would place a fourth answer to the question: one of the Church’s chief concerns is to restore the sacred centre – in ourselves and in society at large.”

In the wake of all that has happened in Cumbria, this is maybe a timely thought for us all. It was moving this morning on the Sunday morning to hear people in ministry from Cumbria reflecting on the tragedy of this week. They were being pressed to address the question why. But they resisted. Now is the moment they suggested simply to come together, to be a support to each other and to seek the presence and the strengthening of God.


Church is a place to do and we are very much do-ers.

We do worship. We do mission. We do community.

But we can do none of that unless we constantly restore the sacred centre at the heart of the church.

How can we do that?

Let’s start our thinking in a passage suggested by the Bishop of Reading.

Colossians 3:1-4

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your* life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

To restore the sacred centre we are to seek the things that are above, where Christ is … we are to set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth …

When we are at that moment when we need to ‘restore the sacred centre’ I want to suggest that we can do three things.

First, wherever we are, however momentarily, we can stop, pause, think a while and then look around us. And as we look around us we can see above and beyond, around and within, we can see the ‘other’ that is the ‘God dimension’ that somehow is behind and within and beyond and above.

Here we are in this place. Look at the bricks – see the rich variety of colours, from web’s brick yards – why should there be such a range of colours. From the earth beneath our feet. Touch the age old sands and clay at the foot of the escarpment.

Look at the lead in the leaded lights. It goes back to the early 1930’s where did the lead come from? The Shropshire lead mines that were still just working? Deep in the earth.

Look and see above and beyond and wonder at the God of creation.

Or look at the flowers. Or just select one flower. And look at it. Look at it properly. And see the God of beauty in the wonder of his creation.

How do we seek the things that are above where Christ is?

As it happens here in this place everyone is within reach of a Bible.

That’s the second place I would turn to in that moment when I need to restore the sacred centre.

Here in all these words, God speaks, and we can hear God’s word for us. It’s good to carry a Bible around with you. And I don’t mean a pocket bible that weighs your handbag down or. No, carry, a Bible around with you in your head. It doesn’t matter whether you are word perfect … remember those words of promise that help restore the sacred centre.

One bit of the Bible I carry round with me is the twenty-third Psalm

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
He restoreth my soul.

And then there is one more … a third place I would turn to. At the heart of the Bible is Jesus.

We have been raised with Christ, and so we can seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. We have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

So bring to mind something of Jesus. It may be an image of him reaching out a hand to touch you at that point of your deepest need and bring you wholeness.

It may be a word of promise. I come back to those final words in the Gospel according to St Matthew.

Hear again those words of Jesus … Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.

When Christ who is our life is revealed, then we also will be revealed with him in glory.

In the prayer time that follwed the sermon people were invited to spend a quiet time walking around the church reflecting and praying in response to these thoughts. We were also directed to the RE Jesus website and its focus on prayer in the work place.

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