Sunday, June 27, 2010

Service Sustained by Spirituality

It has been said that the best of sermons have three points.

Even better, in the estimation of some, is the sermon that has three points beginning with the same letter.

And so for a Sunday Special around the theme of the letter ‘s’ a sermon in three points, each of which begins with the letter ‘s’.

In His Service.

A wonderful theme for a Sunday Special

It goes to the heart of what our Christian faith is about.


This is what Jesus was about. It was not a matter of being the greatest – how the James and John wanted to get to the top of the tree.

Instead Jesus mapped out a way of service.

He came not to be served but to serve, to give his life as a ransom for many, to set people free.

To follow the way of service for Jesus was to follow a way of selfless sacrifice and suffering.

This was the very essence of what Jesus was about.

It is what he called his followers to.

Nowhere is that put more powerfully than in Philippians 2:1-11

Philippians 2:1-11

What a description of ‘service’ the service that is of the essence of Christ.

Compassion, sympathy,
The same mind, the same love, oin full accord and of one mind.
Nothing from selfish ambition
Look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.

It is the mandate of the Christian – Christian service and it is modelled on the one who humbled himself to become servant.

Think of the challenge – the service you have done – the service we do as a church – the call we have.

There is a problem.

And that’s where I come to my second ‘s’.

My second word is ‘sustainable’.

How can we make our service sustainable.

There are so many demands, so much that we could do. Let’s see how Jesus made his service sustainable.

He didn’t do it all himself. He shared the task with others. Isn’t it interesting to track through what he did and then what he shared. His service entailed bringing healing to the lives of people who were hurting. He shared that task with the twelve and with the disciples. That’s the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount, it’s the whole point of the mission of the twelve.

As if that wasn’t enough he then shared the task more broadly still, with the 72 … and then more broadly still.

Service is not something we can do alone … it is something we need to share.

Interestingly, Jesus was careful with his time. He did not serve – he actually got into trouble for the meals he enjoyed and the partying he shared in. John the Baptist was the ascetic who rejected the good life and was condemned for it by many; Jesus on the other hand partied with people … and again was condemned. You can’t win was his comment! Though he did say it in more picturesque language.

He sat with Mary while Martha worked.

Maybe we need that kind pattern too.

But there was something more that sustained Jesus in his ministry.

He had a rhythm of prayer and worship. Each week he sustained his life of service with a diet of reading of Scripture, praying with others and sharing in the Synagogue, the place of Gathering Together. And each day he sustained his life of service with prayer.

Prayer and worship.

And that gives rise to a problem.

Neither begins with the letter ‘s’.

So why don’t we try the word spirituality instead?

Jesus had a spirituality that took prayer and worship seriously. He knew his prayer book, the psalms, he knew his Scriptures, and could draw on their resources when facing difficult times. He took time out to spend time in prayer and reflction. Read through Luke’s gospel and you see how before each major event he spent time in prayer.

This is a spirituality that has content, structure and purpose – it is the kind of spirituality that can sustain a life of service.

It works both ways.

Spirituality that is interested only in meditation, peacefulness and getting your inner self right with the world, as an end in itself is worth nothing.

Spirituality that issues in service is the spirituality that is in the mind of Christ. That’s the kind of spirituality to cultivate and develop.

Quiet time in prayer, with a reading of the Bible, and a readiness to allow the mind to wander – in the direction of the needs of others. This is prayer that is important not just in its own right, but as it prompts and then sustains active service.

The needs of someone come to mind in that time of praying, the visit that follows is the outworking of the service.

But it also works the other way round. Service that doesn’t pause that doesn’t give time to prayer, reflectin, to worship, to reading those promises. That’s the kind of service that’s heading for burnout, that is difficult, impossible to sustain.

I have been drawn to those ‘rules’ of Christian life that map out such a way of life to follow. The rule of St Benedict, the teachings of St Francis. All recognise the rhythm of prayer and worship sustaining an offering of service.

Such a rule has been re-devised in the twentieth century into the Iona Community. Active service sustained by a programme of prayer.

Part of me is drawn to sign up.

But then I think again. To me this is what church is about. This is what we are part of as we are part of our church life. We have a rule of life.

It is a life of service, sustained by a spirituality of prayer and worship.

Let’s strengthen each of those three dimensions and build up the life of our church together.

Service without spirituality cannot be sustained.

Spirituality without service is worthless.

Service sustained by spirituality matters.

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.

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light