Today is the last of our series of Stewardship sermons.
Two weeks ago we thought about “Our generous God” and reflected on the abundance of God’s good gifts to us. Last week we considered our response, and focussed on Zaccheus and the huge change that took place in his life when he took Jesus seriously, with his money and possessions being part and parcel of his offering to God.
This week it’s about our time and our involvement in the church.
But what is the church?
Someone said that “The church is the world’s most extraordinary club. The entrance fee is nothing, the annual subscription is everything, and the society has been formed for the benefit of non-members.” So this worldwide body of people exists to reach out to non-members and love and serve them for the sake of Christ.
Last Tuesday some of us met at St Peter’s and thought about different pictures and models of the church. Peter Hayward was keeping count – I think we came up with about 12. Some are mentioned in the Bible, while some come from other sources. Each highlights in its own way how we belong together, and how we need each other. Let’s think about some of them:
For instance consider a hive of bees. They are led by a Queen, and so is the Church of England! The effort each bee puts in is phenomenal. They fly 55, 000 miles (2.2 times around the world) just to make one pound of honey. It is interesting that on its own a bee would be pretty useless, but as a hive they are incredibly powerful; and the output of honey is a real gift and blessing. Likewise, the honey of the word of God, and our Gospel message is the sweet message of life for a world that, too often, is fed with lies and falsehood.
Or consider a grape-vine. This picture of the people of God goes back to the Old Testament and was a symbol of the nation of Israel, with God seen as the gardener or vine-dresser. Jesus referred to this and said that he is the vine, and we are the branches. We must be grafted into him if we are to bear good fruit.
Then there is a nautical picture, that of the fleet or flotilla. Atlantic convoys in the second world war were stronger and safer from the threat of German u-boats if they were well organised, sailed together, and had the protection of the more powerful ships.
Back to the bible, we can say that the church is like a flock. Jesus is the good shepherd and we are the sheep. He promises to protect us, and to guide us to safe pasture. The extent of his commitment and love is clear when he says that he will lay down his life for the sheep.
The Iona Community also uses the picture of a flock, but this time a flock of wild geese. The wild goose is the Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit, and is the logo of the Iona Community.
It’s a fact that Geese in flock have 70% greater range than a single goose on its own; geese in formation fly 75% faster than single geese. In the church we need to keep learning the strength of sharing; sharing tasks, sharing challenges, sharing worship, sharing our lives. These are the hallmarks of a community of faith.
All these pictures tell us something useful about what the church is, and our place within it.
In today’s first reading, we heard St Paul talk about the church as a body, with Jesus Christ as the head. You might be a toe or an ear, an elbow or a finger. What is clear is that everyone is needed, whether they think they are important or not. The contribution of every part of the body is vital for its life, health and well-being. If the body suffers then every bit of it is affected. If things are going well, then the whole body appreciates that and is encouraged.
This is an important concept for us as we consider our own involvement in the church here, and the offering of our time. These days most folk are busy with all kinds of things, so we must think something worthwhile before we make it a real priority. My hope is that you will see the mission of our church here at St Mary’s/ St Peter’s as vitally important for us personally, and for the people around us. Our church needs to be a beacon of light and hope in a world and society that is increasingly confusing and worrying for many. On our own we could not hope to influence our local community for good, but as a church, as a body, we can really make a difference. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Be part of it. Consider carefully how you could be involved, what you could do to help God’s work to go forward right here in Whitegate/ Little Budworth.
All offers of help or participation will be gladly received and appreciated. Just have a look at the various tasks and jobs listed in the Stewardship leaflet. From serving on the PCC to flower-arranging, bell ringing, coffee rota, there are a multitude of things large and small that keep our church body ticking over in the work of the Lord. Take a moment. Is the Lord calling you? Be sure that if he gives you a heavenly nudge, then he will also provide the energy , time and wherewithal to do whatever it might be.
Finally, our Gospel reading highlighted one of the lesser-known pictures of the church. Jesus is the bridegroom and we, the church, are his bride. I’m taking several weddings over these coming weeks and I love seeing the devotion and love that couples have for each other. They reach a point where they want to declare their love publicly, and be joined as husband and wife.
The love of Jesus for each of us, and all of us, is just as profound. When we undertake anything in his name, he will uphold and protect us, inspire and enable us, because quite simply he loves us.
In the gospel reading it was the unlikely figure of Levi, Matthew, the tax-collector who Jesus was calling “Follow me”. We still remember Matthew because of his positive response. “And he got up, left everything, and followed him.”
So focus on the picture of the church that inspires you, whether that’s to do with bees, boats, vines, sheep or geese! Know yourself to be included in the love given by Jesus the bridegroom to his bride. You are important to God, and have been blessed with gifts and talents that are needed as part of the body of the church right here, right now.
Do look at the list on the Stewardship leaflet, and fill in the pledge of support form. We are strong together, and the church has always been able to fulfil its mission when its members recognise that God’s call is not confined to the clergy, but that his voice speaks to each individual, with unique gifts to be used and valued. As Paul told the Corinthians:
“Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.”