Whilst I was at Launde Abbey a few weeks ago, with some lovely friends... God gave me a very clear message for both myself and the circuit churches... It's been quite scary preaching this, and although it's not gone around the whole circuit (it would be easier in terms of planning if it did ) I felt it was right to stop last weekend, and therefore I can share what God has said to me. You may or may not be in this circuit, but I offer you this sermon and hope that God may wish to speak to you through them as well.
"A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days at Launde Abbey –the place you can see on the prayer sheet. It’s now a retreat centre in a beautiful area in Leicestershire, which has extensive grounds. It’s a favourite retreat pace of mine, and I go there regularly. And on this occasion, it was a chance to spend time with friends who I trained with, to have time for physical rest but also most important spend time serious quality with God and get the spiritual rest I need.
Whilst I’m there I always try and visit 2 particular areas to help me do this - one is a labyrinth and the other a very small chapel. At the entrance of the labyrinth there is a sign which includes words from psalm 111 which says great are the works of the Lord, who is like God – creator, Lord. In awe we worship you.
I had been in the labyrinth a few times now, but on one particular occasion, I felt that the further I went in, the closer to God I got. I was determined to get into the middle, but noticed on the way, that there were lots of things to distract me; there was piles of dead leaves and areas that looked that wild; there were stones and tree roots that you could trip over, there were gaps in the stone path outlines where you could escape if things got too difficult, but there was also some beautiful things like flowers to stop at slowing down the journey.
But I was determined to get to the middle, and apart from taking photos, I managed to avoid the distractions; when I got to the middle there was a large stone plinth with a cross made out of smaller stones on top of it – a reminder for me that Jesus needs be at the centre of my relationship with God. It was really difficult to leave the labyrinth for I felt closer to God than I had in a long time - But as I left that place, there was a reminder at the exit in the words of another psalm – I will bless the lord of all times – and that God’s will is goodness, and loving kindness, and good are his paths he leads us on.
We are all on a journey, a journey to become closer to God, and a journey on the paths that he leads us on. At times though there are also things that distract us on the journey, for being a Christian isn’t always easy. Like the flowers growing in the labyrinth, there will be times that are good, like the dead leaves and tree roots, there will be things that aren’t so good and things that will trip us up, and then there will be times that we just want to escape!
And this links with the visit I made this year to the small chapel - which is hidden at the back of the converted stables. I went there one afternoon to be with God. It is a special place – for God has spoken a lot to me whilst I was there, it has made me fall in love with God all over again and given me strength and encouragement in my life. Whilst you are in the chapel, you are encouraged to that reading from Luke 24 – the story of the disciples walking to Emmaus after the resurrection. I read it once and then asked God to speak it me as I read it through again.
What struck me most was that the disciples had got bogged down in their despair – and because of this they missed the obvious – that Jesus was with them. They were so distressed that they had forgotten all that Jesus had said about the purpose of his ministry and death.
I heard God saying that in order for me to see clearly what he wants for me, I have to put aside the distractions and messiness of life, family, church and the circuit and make decisions based on what is important, on what God wants - not what I or other people think should happen.
But I was also told that that message wasn’t just for me it was for our circuit and the local churches too. Often we get so bogged down and caught up in what we think is right, and making sure things happen the way we want it to be done, that we end up fighting with each other, with the circuit and the Methodist church thinking that our way is best. We get so caught up in the distractions and problems that we forget the purpose God has for us – to worship and serve him.
In our lectionary reading a few weeks ago, we heard that Jesus prayed for all believers, including us – he prayed that all might be brought to complete unity – so that the world will know that the love that God through Jesus’ death has for them. Jesus’ great desire for the disciples was that they would become one – he wanted them and us to be unified so we can be a powerful witness to the reality of God’s love.
I don’t know whether you saw the story about the London Mayor election –Sadiq Kahn gives a speech after winning the election – calling for a unified London – one that puts hope over fear – but as he speaks the British First candidate Paul Golding turns around and faces the back of the stage in protest of Sadiq’s appointment. This action has caused a huge backlash online – with people calling him a sore loser, a small minded pathetic bigot and many more words that I couldn’t possibly mention today. He has already become a laughing stock within London and across the country.
What do our actions and words say about us – about the church – about God? Are you – am I helping to unify the body of the Christ - the church – are we helping to unify the circuit – does our behaviour help us to be a real witness for God, or do we, in our stubbornness, our fight to keep the church as it was when we were growing up and our determination to do things our way help portray the church and Christians as a laughing stock and irrelevant to the world today?
Jesus prays for us to help unify God’s people and to do this, we need to pray for other Christians, avoid gossip, build others up work, together in humility, give our time and money, exalt Christ and refuse to get side tracked arguing over decisive matters.
Earlier in John’s gospel – in chapter 8 – whilst in dispute with the Jews, Jesus says "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” God wants you and all of his children to be free – not so we can do what we want – but we are free to follow God, and as we seek to serve him, Jesus’ perfect truth frees us to be all that God meant us to be. Something that is reflected in that Galatians passage we heard – which goes to tell us that as a free child of God, who walks with the spirit, we are to produce fruits of the spirit.
I wonder if our lives, and our actions as individuals, as the church, as a circuit, would make others turn to God or be a hindrance to them. We are called to live our lives to reflect the fruits of the spirit - love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, so that we are a witness to others and to share God’s story of love, hope and salvation to all we meet, through our prayers, words and actions.
Last week years 1 & 2 of the local primary school went to New Road, to have a look around the church – and do some activities – those of you who are Facebook friends may have seen my post that says: total chaos but great fun today as we welcomed 80 (ish) 4 - 6 year olds to Church today... the highlight was the excited look on one of the little boy's face (who is a Muslim) as this was his first ever visit to a Christian church.
As part of that visit I told them the story of the lost sheep, and they sang us a song called God loves you and I love you ….. Which they all joined in enthusiastically – they could give us Methodist’s a lesson in singing! But at the end of it I said – and that’s the most important part to remember – that no matter what happens – God loves you.
It’s simple - but for me the heart of mission – if we can get people to know that God loves them – no matter who they are or what they have done – it’s the best thing we can do – but to do that we cannot just wait until someone comes into church – the different things and groups we do in church are brilliant – but aren’t really mission – it’s more service! Mission is about going out to meet people where they are. I love the church, but get really frustrated by the way its people look inwards and only think about themselves or what they like.
There is a picture that regular goes around on Facebook and the internet – that shows a man standing outside a church – and a member of the church is standing in the church door. The church member says – hey come on in – and the other man says – no you come on out. When God calls us to serve him, he isn’t calling us just to stay in our buildings, and do what pleases us – but to go out and make disciples of all nations.
Are you willing to go out into the world and serve God – are you willing to put your hopes and dreams and the things you appreciate aside for the sake of others - so they can come to know God… for that is what has asked me to do – and what he asks of you ….
If God was sat next to you today – would you honestly be able to say that is what your life is like? Take a few moments, and talk to God now in the silence and ask him to show you where your life needs to change to in order to be the person he created you to be...... "