Building on the past…honouring the present…working for the future

Building on the past…
Psalm 77:11

Does anyone know what we’re celebrating today?

How long?
355 years since the formation of the Presbyterian Church in Farnham
222 years since the formation of the Independent (later known as Congregational) Church
143 years in this (our fourth) building.

What do we know about those churches?
If the first Presbyterian Church in Farnham was in 355 years ago, when was that? 1660
Which church did they leave? St. Andrew’s parish church.
Where did they build a chapel? West Street, in the garden of one of their members – somewhere near where the Lower Hart car park is now.

If the first Independent/Congregational church was 222 years ago, when was that? 1793
Where did they build a chapel? East Street, where Swain and Jones garage is now.

I’ve brought something called the “case”, which was the appeal made by the members of the church, presenting their case for others to support them in their new building.

What happened? That was two churches, but we’re only one? Joined together. The Presbyterian church was at a low ebb and they joined up with the Independents. We know they joined because they took investments (the South Sea Annuities) from 1763 with them, which became part of the new church.

So why are we here, in this building? By the 1870s the law had changed. Before then you were not allowed to do lots of things if you didn’t belong to the Church of England. Once the law changes, our ancestors wanted to build a big and prominent church to show people we were real church and weren’t going away.

I’ve brought this commemorative trowel. What was it for? Opening of the Large Hall in 1893.

But there’s something far more important than a building – any guesses what? People!
When you go up to Junior Church, there’s a plaque on the wall on the stairs. Can anyone (apart from Nellie!) remember whose name is on it, and who they were? Joseph Johnson, a long serving Minister – the plaque is the only thing we have from the East Street chapel.

It’s not just Ministers, of course, but all the people. What matters is people. What we are really celebrating is the people of God down the years, who have been the family of this church. There’s a simple word that we sometimes use to describe people of God. Some churches use it about particular people, but in our tradition we believe it means all Christian people. Does anyone know that word? Saints.

What we celebrate above all today is the people down the years who have been, and who still are, God’s people – the saints of this church. We’re now going to sing a hymn about the saints, reminding us of them.

* * * * * * * *
…honouring the present…
1 Corinthians 13:1-13

People say the best sermons are those that you preach to yourself, and I want you to remember that very clearly. I’m addressing myself as much as anyone else, as I say this.

As we celebrate all these saints who’ve gone before us in this church, we give thanks for all that they’ve done for God. What we need to remember is that in this generation, it is us who are called by God to be his people in this place at this time.

Now, I don’t think we’re always as good at that as we might be. Too often, too many of us don’t manage to treat each other as well as we ought to. It’s too easy, not least when you can come into church on your own and sit quietly in a corner not looking at other people, to decide we don’t like people who are different from us, or not to bother to get to know people. It’s also too easy, in these days of electronic communications, to send people emails and texts that aren’t always as helpful as they might be, perhaps not as we would hope to be treated. Remember, I did say that I was addressing myself as much as anyone else.

I have news for you about our reading from 1 Corinthians: Paul did not write this passage for engaged couples, or to celebrate human love, but for churches. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was a letter written to a church, in reply to their writing to Paul. We don’t know exactly what they wrote to him, but from his reply we can guess their church was in a right state and they needed a jolly good talking to.

So Paul began this part of his letter, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”. Good point indeed. You can say what you like, he means, but if your actions don’t display love they mean nothing. He continued, “and if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing”. Not only does what you say mean nothing if your actions don’t display love, whatever you have, whatever you’ve achieved, everything that means something to you in life, means nothing if you don’t have love.

Paul then goes on to say:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This is not instructions to a couple, but a lesson for the community. Over the years, I know that I’ve got many things wrong. Most of the churches that I know have got some things wrong some times. However, God does not want us to live our life in vain regrets. God wants us to learn from our mistakes and move forwards, to try and accept each other in the way that Christ has accepted us.

Even if we have got things wrong sometimes, the good news of the Christian faith is that God always offers us forgiveness and a new start. We should not wallow in our mistakes, but do our best to learn from them and to strive for better in the future.

So, Paul ends his message to the church in Corinth by saying:
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

There are two important things passage it’s important to hold onto:
1. We do not have a monopoly of truth. If we always remember that others have something of the truth too, and even that they might have something right that we have wrong, then it can only make our community stronger and closer to Christ.

2. We need to have faith and hope, but more than them we need love. As always, God wants to be faithful to him, and he offers a message of hope, made real in Christ’s resurrection. In that God shows us how much he loves us, and asks us to try to love others like that, as best we can.

If you look at the churches that are growing in this country, they don’t all worship in the same style, they don’t all share the same theology, they aren’t all in large towns and cities. What they have in common is that they’ve become such communities of Christian love that people see in them something they want to be a part of. If we are to honour the saints who’ve gone before us in our time, this is something that God calls to try to be and to do.

* * * * * * * * *
…working for the future
Acts 2:41-47

We know we’re building on the foundations of the saints who’ve gone before us, as the current custodians of this church. We know we’re continually challenged by God to be ever more Christ-like in how we live, but what do we do, and how do we get there? A couple of weeks ago, I asked for your input, and the results are summarised on your orange sheets.

What you said was…

So, how we might update our vision and our mission to reflect that is…

What we’ll do now is circulate these among our whole church family, talk to one another, listen to one another, and at our next Church Meeting decide how we are going to proceed.

God’s people, the saints, have been faithfully trying to follow him for 355 years in this church, and our task is to work out how we do that in our time, as we move into the future. We don’t do that alone, but trusting in God, and knowing that God’s spirit is with us, encouraging us, and leading us, enabling to do much more than we can do alone.

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