Please take your time to read through selected sermons we want to share with you.
During Advent, we shall be publishing a precis of each of three sermons which the Ven Geoffrey Arrand, our locum in December and January, will be preaching. These sermons are linked to, and will underpin our discussions on, the new Diocesan Strategy.
In order to give the church council and congregations a starting point when looking at the Diocesan Strategy “Walking Together in Faith” I decided to address three subjects during Advent which link into the strategy. They are, Worship, the church and the world.
Advent 2 WORSHIP. ( sermon precis )
Many years ago when celebrating the Eucharist in a cold church early in the morning with just one lady present I had a moment of awakening. I disliked this early encounter with my one attendee and suddenly as I said “therefor with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven we laud and magnify thy glorious name….” I knew that it was not about me and her but about our relationship with God. We were in the presence of the whole company of heaven, angels and archangels, those who had gone before us and those the world over who worship with us. There can never be just two of us, we are always a part of something eternal and bigger than we are able to imagine.
Worship is directed to Almighty God. Did you enjoy the service? is not a question that we should ever ask because worship is not about me and what I get out of it, rather it is about what I put into it so that God may be glorified. Of course we will always get something out of it, for as we worship and God becomes real to us, so we will be nourished by him.
Worship must always be directed towards the holiness of God. A couple of years ago my wife and I entered an orthodox church in Russia. Candles flickered in the gloom, the icons looked down on us from the screen and the walls, the air hung with incense and the deep tones of the choral liturgy reverberated around us. “This is the gate of heaven”, was my response. Worship must make that connection for us, worship must bring earth to heaven and heaven to earth.
When people come to the island as holidaymakers and they join you here in worship what do they find? A place where heaven and earth meet or just a group of nice people who have come along to be entertained for an hour. Worship is not entertainment, worship is an encounter with the holiness of God and a meeting with the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
On the second Sunday in Advent we are challenged by the prophets and the challenge is how we respond to the holiness of God. Read any of the prophets and that is what they are about, the holiness of God and how people respond to it in their lives, in society and in worship.
The prophets point to Bethlehem where we meet the angels and their song of worship, “Glory to God in the highest.” Where we meet the Magi, whose response to the child is to fall down and worship.
The question we need to have always before us is simply this, does our worship draw us and those who come to join us from time to time to an awareness of the holiness of God. Do we sense the wonder of the living God and the presence of the risen Christ in our midst?
Advent 3 The Church…..for better and for worse !! (Sermon precis)
We have a garden which we love. In my dreams and visions I see that garden as I hope for it. Pristine manicured lawns, roses with no hint of mildew or leaf rust, weed free flower beds and evenly trimmed shrubs. Needless to say the reality is somewhat different.
I play golf. In dreams and visions I play perfect golf. My drives soar down the fairways, my approach shots hit the green just beyond the flag with enough backspin to ensure two easy putts or one really good one. Needless to say the reality is somewhat different.
So it is with the church.We know what the church should be. We say it every time we recite the creed. “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”
The church is one because it is God’s church and bigger than our petty divisions. The church is holy because it belongs to the Holy God, the church is catholic because it is universal, of all and for all, the church is apostolic because it is rooted in the teaching of the apostles and called to be a missionary church.
We know that is what we are, one in God’s eternal love, enveloped in the holiness of God, made up of all peoples and for all peoples, created from missionary faith and committed to missionary faith.
But we also know that the church is a mess. It is not one, not holy, not catholic and not apostolic. The church, we, are more often divisive, judgmental, unforgiving and arrogant. The church, we, are in constant need of repentance and forgiveness.
The history of the church over 2,000 years is horrific. Yes there are shining examples of holiness, goodness and truth. There is also pain and horror. We don’t need distant history. The last 50 years is enough to make the point. The abuse of children and adults which we still have to deal with. The pain caused to women who were until comparatively recently denied any vocation other than the tea towel or the nunnery. The refusal still in many parts of the church to accept gay men and women as equal members of the church. A church which so often fails to stand with the poor and oppressed.
The church is a mess and a failure, as an institution, in its local gatherings and in its individual members. You all know of stories of how the local church has been judgmental, unforgiving, unloving, ungracious and torn by division. The church is a mess and we each of us contribute to that mess. Please don’t ever make excuses for our failure to be what we are called to be as a church. Please don’t make excuses for failing to be what you are called to be as a christian person.
So to John the Baptist. John came calling people to repentance and told them to “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance”. In other words to do something about the mess of their lives whether as a religious community or as individuals. To defeat bitterness and division, greed and animosity, anger and hatred with the weapons of love and forgiveness, of holiness and faith.
Let us look at our failures, at all that we have done and still do to make a mess of things. Let us look at what may be done to bring peace and goodwill to our church and all people.
Advent 4 Suffering (Sermon precis)
We cannot avoid hearing the cry of the suffering. Here, in this community, I have met so many in recent days. A lady who nursed a disabled for thirty years and lost him and their daughter within two months of each other. Two couples returning to the UK following the death or critical illness of children. People being treated for cancer and other illnesses. So much pain and sadness.
In the world natural disasters which kill and destroy communities. The horror of Syria and Aleppo, crimes of religious hatred in Egypt and Afghanistan. The evil and bloodletting seems endless and insoluble.
Today we remember Mary, mother of the Lord. The suffering mother. A pieta is a painting or statue of the grieving mother holding the dead Jesus. My favourite pieta is the Michelangelo in St Peter’s, Rome. The figure of Christ is of a strong thirty year old, Mary is still the young woman who bore the babe. When a mother loses a child she is still the mother who bore it, the child is still her babe. The pieta speaks of suffering at the heart of the divine revelation.
We celebrate the Incarnation at Christmas, God taking flesh and becoming a man so that he shares in all that it is to be human. Incarnation begins in a filthy stable, he is despised and rejected and the Holy family flees to a foreign land to escape persecution. This is not a God identifying with the comfortable and wealthy, this is a God who walks with the refugee and the homeless.
The story of Incarnation ends on a cross. God in Christ is ridiculed, tortured and crucified.
He is powerless and at the mercy of the powerful.
Whether as a babe, a wandering homeless teacher or as a dying victim God in Christ is one with his suffering creation. Understand this please; God does not send suffering, it is not a test or a judgement. It will ever remain for us a mystery. It will ever be the reason for great heroism and struggles, it will ever be the cause of tears and great anger. At the heart of it is the God who enters into the world and shares in it, who says to us, I know your pain, I understand your loss and your desolation for I have been there. At Bethlehem and at Calvary God became man and walked in the darkness alongside his suffering people.
Geoff Arrand (locum in Dec 2016)