This is your life
Sermon at St James Easter 3 (before APCM)
To listen to a recording of the sermon as you read:
Let’s start with a television quiz question! … If I was to walk around with this item (Big red book, Eamon Andrews, etc.), what famous show of yesteryear, might I be alluding to? ‘This is your life’.
‘This is your life’ is a very good title indeed for this third Sunday of Easter. So we continue to celebrate Easter and God’s greatness and his goodness. And in a series of readings from scripture we share in the incredible story of how that greatness and goodness was revealed to the disciples of Jesus; the empty tomb with the stone rolled away; Jesus appearing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. And here today, from Luke’s gospel Jesus appears to his disciples seemingly just before they were about to eat. Some were frightened, we read, startled, amazed. Others didn’t believe it; whilst others wanted proof. He challenges them; he gives them the opportunity to touch his hands and his side. And then six little verses in, in the midst of the extraordinary and powerful scene Jesus says “so what’s to eat?!” – Just as matter of fact as you can get. And they enjoy a fish supper and he begins to talk and to teach. For me a wonderful little story about life. Jesus, the new life, crucified, died, who rose again on the third day. And that the new life, meets… well …just life… plain, ordinary, everyday life…. Some men gathered around chatting; probably contemplating the meaning of life, working out where their futures lay, given this Jesus they had followed had now gone; all of them about to cook up a fish supper. Just ordinary life. And into the most ordinary steps the most extraordinary. New life meets old life; extraordinary life meets ordinary life.
And for me that’s the most amazing thing about Easter. We can truly be an Easter people; Alleluia is our song! – because God has given the most precious gift of all, his son Jesus Christ, who died to save us; but God’s giving is the gift that keeps on giving; God’s giving is life transforming, live enhancing, life giving. “This is your life” he says to those ordinary disciples at their fish supper; “This is your life” he says to you and me too; an extraordinary love, giving life and love to little old me and little old you too, into our sometimes very ordinary lives, but God given and God blessed lives, if we believe and trust in him and if we too are ‘witnesses to these things’, as our Gospel account says.
But it’s also ‘This is your life’ Sunday in another way too – for you here in Colwall it’s a special Sunday when we especially think about the life of the church here and give thanks for it and make exciting plans about the future. It’s of course your APCM meeting after this service. A story - A bishop boards a train at Hereford. He gets a good seat and makes himself comfortable. At Colwall, a rather scruffy man gets on and he sits down right opposite the bishop. The man has a bottle of gin pocking out of his side pocket, a packet of cigarettes pocking out of his top pocket, and over both of the cheeks of face, is smeared red lipstick! He proceeds to open up a newspaper and begins to read. The journey continues in silence. After a while, the man looks over the top of his newspaper and gestures to the Bishop. “Bishop, Bishop!” he calls. “Do you know what causes arthritis?” The Bishop decided he’s going to take this opportunity to have a bit of go at the man about his lifestyle. “Arthritis is caused by drinking, smoking and hanging around with loose women!” says the Bishop. The man looks a bit confused and goes back to reading his paper. The journey continues in silence. After a while the Bishop decides that perhaps he was a bit harsh on the man, so decides to start another conversation. “I’m sorry if I was a bit harsh sir” he says. “Tell me, how long have you had arthritis?” The man looks out over his paper and says “No bishop, I haven’t got arthritis; but I’ve read here in the paper that the Archbishop of Canterbury has!”
Why do I tell you this? Well firstly, it reminds me that the Bishop of Hereford sends his best wishes to you and for our gathering today and for your APCM. I’m often heard to say that the Bishop and I have a relationship firmly based on trust and understanding – he doesn’t trust me, and I don’t understand him!
But secondly, it prompts a question for us all; one we all need to ask on this APCM Sunday. What do people see when they look at our Christian lives? What do they see when they look at you and me? What does the community of Colwall see when it looks at the life of this church? People make judgements, assumptions and decisions on what they see. What do we see when we look in the mirror and hold out church life up to that mirror? It’s my job and my privilege today to look at and to highlight the great work of your church in this community over many, many hundreds of years. People have all sorts of affection and affiliation for and to the life of their local church. Many of you will have been avid viewers of the recent television series ‘A Vicar’s Life’ – and unique and special and often moving insight into ministry and the life and role of the church in this diocese. Someone wrote to me this week “We thoroughly enjoyed the Hereford Diocese TV series recently, and the company of your amazing colleagues through the screen. I thought the Street Pastors feature was spot on and I was really quite humbled and proud.” I am frequently humbled and often proud of the churches in this diocese and I’m privileged to serve all 430 of them – and all their members and clergy.
I am passionate about the life of your wonderful church here. People might be passionate about worship, or about wonderful ministry and care they’ve received at the best times in life, and at the worst times too. Or passionate about what the church does in the community, or with our younger people, or our older folk, or about the beautiful, historic buildings, or about how together we can give to other charities or causes and make a huge difference to the lives of many who are less fortunate than all of us.
I am passionate about the life of the church and of your church, and I am excited about giving; giving to support and grow that life and the work of God in these communities. Today I want to ask you clearly, directly and unashamedly, to join me in being excited about giving and the difference we can all make. You’ll each have received an envelope over the past few months containing a small pack of information about a new way of giving to your church. Please consider how you can best make a difference to your local church, so it might thrive and flourish and so we might pass on something so good, to the next generation too. It’s an easy direct debit; monthly, quarterly, annually, whichever you prefer; to this church, and each year if you wish, you can choose to allow your gift to gently rise with inflation so that the value of your gift keeps making a difference into the future. And the scheme can claim Gift Aid too and pass it on to this church and save some of your folk here a huge amount of work in administration. If you currently give by Standing Order or by Giving Envelopes, please, please, please…. Give them up! Save your church time and money (have you any idea how much those giving envelopes cost your church?!!); and painlessly move over to the PGS today. And no ‘we haven’t always done it that way’!! Few, if any people gave in envelopes before the 1970’s and Standing Orders are a more recent thing still. The way we do things constantly evolves and changes; the way we give should not be an exception.
This simple little scheme is catching the imagination of people all over this diocese in an incredible way; amongst those who worship regularly, from those who’ve moved away but still want to give, to folk in our communities who feel the church is important to them, and from visitors and tourists to our churches too. It’s so easy to do, and so easy to make an incredible difference to your church, however large or small your gift. Please read, and please respond as best as you are able, with the passion and excitement which you feel for your church and your community and as for our God too; we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song! This is your life!
Transforming Giving – Renewing Church – Changing Lives – please join the Parish Giving Scheme as the best thing you will have done for this church for a very long time! Form a queue and see Mr Richard King after the service! Let us pray:
To God be the glory, now and always. Amen.