Sunday 15 November (evening service)

I am taking as my text, Hebrews 10 v 23 and 24: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”
The lectionary reading for today includes our gospel reading from Mark where Jesus foretells of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem – the building that Haggai and his mates had rebuilt once before. Jesus told his disciples that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. Spend a moment to think how important the temple was for the people in the time of Jesus and his disciples. It was a place of worship, a meeting place, a bazaar. Life revolved around it but it was not a place that Jesus was entirely comfortable in. Did that building have anything to do with kingdom of God? Was the potential there but its people blew it?
In June I preached a sermon about the kingdom of God and took, as my text, 2 Corinthians chapter 5 v 20: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us”. Some kind people said they found the sermon helpful and encouraged me to put in on the website. I didn’t and time moved on.
However, today’s readings bring back to me the focus of the kingdom of God and how we may play our part in bringing that kingdom into reality. After all, each week we pray “our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, THY KINGDOM COME…”
In Mark chapter 4 and verse 30, Jesus said: “With what can we compare the kingdom of God…it is like a mustard seed which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in the shade”.
This parable presents us with an approach to growth that is based on enhancing the kingdom of God. Can we apply this to the Christian Church today – to our Church? Can we talk physical AND spiritual?
A few years ago, Michael introduced me to a resource called “The Preacher” which is a magazine that includes a sermon suggestion for every Sunday. I am going to pinch thoughts from Brian McMahon, a Roman Catholic deacon ministering in southwest London who says this about a kingdom-based approach in Church:
“In our churches, do we give time for our pastoral and missionary activities to develop organically? Or have we become contaminated by a worldly spirit that imposes a hasty, gungho managerial approach? Are we taking little time to discern the blade, the ear, the full grain in the ear, of the Spirit led promptings?
Last Christmas Pope Francis admonished the Roman Curia for over planning and leaving little room for the action of the Holy Spirit. Are we as guilty? Thereby excluding from our pastoral and missionary planning, the voice of the little ones? …Jesus is telling us that his Kingdom will be generated and grown by the Holy Spirit. It will not be a Church that resembles a Non – Governmental Organization, or a multi-national; echoes of Pope Francis here again. We hope for full growth and harvest, but only when God decrees the time. Not some human metric.
Having developed a Kingdom based approach to Spirit led growth in our churches … are we sharing this gift with those in our areas who do not come to our church? They are people of good will, often struggling in small community groups, poorly funded. Is it not right that we should reach out to them in solidarity, so that they can take shelter in our shade? We can love them by sharing our resources with them to help them grow; for they too are agents of the Kingdom of God and seed will have been sown into them by the Living God. We must go and tend the seed scattered there to help it grow. The Holy Spirit is not confined solely to our buildings or Christian communities, but vibrantly present in the field that is the world, hovering over it, to bring the full harvest.
Can the local communities where business operates find a shelter in the shade as it grows? …
In our families do we nurture the seed of the Kingdom sown there? Being loving and gentle with our spouses, tending the field that is marriage, not forcing educational and intellectual growth with our children, but accompanying them as they develop in relation to their abilities, rather than pressuring them to satisfy key stage targets? With our friends, do we accompany them as they grow and not force our ego and pride driven needs upon them, but provide them with the sheltering shade of mutual affection and compassion, until God realises the full harvest of the friendship in heaven?”

So I ask – where are we going in this Church here in Farnham? What are our motives? Are they led by the Holy Spirit? How do bricks and mortar, which do not last forever, help that mustard seed to grow?

As a Church we need to make decisions in the next few months which require us to look forward. Sometimes, to put things in context, it is worth starting by looking back. I look back at this year in the Church as one that has presented challenges. One Saturday in March, a member of the public witnessed a bit of masonry fall off the Spire. This turned out to be bit of a crocket from high up on the Spire and thank goodness it did not land on her head! This was another in rather a catalogue of problems – some long term, some urgent. Electrics, sound system, the boiler and heating, the Spire coffee machine, the crocket falling off the Spire which has turned out to be a small sign of bigger issues that must be addressed in the future and, in recent weeks, water penetrating into the large hall and other parts of the building when it rains.
At the June church meeting, Michael encouraged us to think about a discussion document produced by the URC entitled “What is the Spirit saying to the Churches?” I am just going to read a bit from that paper about the marks of the Spirit – ponder whether you think these are evident in our congregation:
“a) The Holy Spirit is the giver of life and the energiser. In shared discernment, the Church identifies the aspects of life that give energy and learns to sit lightly to those aspects which drain people of energy. This is not about choosing an easy road, but about being passionate disciples, set on fire by the Spirit.
b) The Holy Spirit is the giver of gifts and these come through different languages and voices. The Church is called to identify and celebrate the diversity of gifts held within the body of Church, not judging people, but helping each one to discover his or her particular gifts, giving thanks for the gift of each person in each part of the Church’s life and recognising that it is the same Spirit drawing all people to God.
c) The Holy Spirit is the Indweller, dwelling in the midst of God’s people. A high priority of the Church’s life is to rediscover the importance of worship, prayer and theology, to sense the tangibility of God – in sign and symbol, in bread and wine, in each other – and to convey that tangibility to a needy world. The Church needs to find again an appropriate sense of “fear and trembling!” in encountering the mystery and wonder of the living God in our midst.
d) The Holy Spirit leads God’s people into truth – not my truth or your truth but God’s truth….
e) The Holy Spirit is the Sender. The Church is not here for itself alone but, by sharing in the life of the Holy Spirit, shares in God’s purpose for God’s world.”
The Church is not here for itself alone. It is not just a Sanctuary for us on Sundays. It is here for the children and young people who meet in our premises in the week; here for the people who come into the Spire coffee bar; for the people who wish to be married in a Church, who want to bring their babies for baptism; for all the groups who meet here, whether they be Christian or secular, business or charitable; it is for people to have presentations, parties, meals and markets; for the dancers and singers and musicians.
The Church must be here for the community of Farnham as well as for us but why …. why does God want us to share his Church premises with the community? Why do we feel it so important to be here in the centre of Farnham? Is it not so we can pass on the blessings of the Spirit, so that God may touch the lives of all His children?
I sit in this Church most Sundays and I have started to pay a lot more attention recently to what it looks like and how it feels. I love this place but I want others to love it too and want future generations to enjoy it for years and years and, in doing so, I need to have faith that God’s presence is among us here in Farnham and that His kingdom WILL come – that there will be a revival in the love and worship of God. I think there are many people out there searching and, with our help, God can provide the answers.
The Church is surely a resource in this town that God wants us to share. I think the Holy Spirit is moving within this place. Do you? Think of this Church as it started as a seed as a breakaway Church taking in those who had been rejected elsewhere. It has grown on different sites to become a pretty big shrub here in South Street, but is it the greatest of all shrubs? Is it putting forth large branches so that people can feel safe in its shade? Do we need to do more?
I think the fact that we are having services centred around prayer shows that we accept that there is room for us to grow spiritually and to help others to meet the Lord and do the same. Even if we do not see all the people who use our premises in this Sanctuary every Sunday, we are still providing them with a tree that is rooted in God and the Holy Spirit.
I say “we” but “we” is made up of you and me, the people who were in Church this morning, the Church members who could not be here today.
One person may feel that he or she is something small in this Church. Of course we ARE small individually. Just seeds. Yet if we feed on the food from the Holy Spirit we will grow and blossom and flourish. Wherever we feel we are starting from, we all need to allow the Holy Spirit to feed us to help this Church grow and to share in God’s purpose for this world of ours for “we are ambassadors for Christ”.
Please come to the Church meeting on 6 December. Encourage others to come. Come to share in God’s love. Be prepared to grow for, if we do not grow, if we do not seize the moment and take up with the Holy Spirit where will we be in 10 or 20 years’ time? Will there be here a thriving place of worship and sanctuary for the people of Farnham here or will it have gone?
We will need courage that’s for sure but let’s remember the text: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”

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