Readings: John 1:43-end & Psalm 139
Sermon for St Edward’s Church family focussing on the year ahead.
So here we are at the start of a new year. Last week we rededicated ourselves afresh to Christ in the year ahead using the Covenant prayer. This week I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about what our expectations might be for us as a church in this year ahead, and also what expectations we might want to put on ourselves.
On Wed eve in our Wed worship session I encouraged people to pray for guidance asking God for just 3 words that might be a theme for the year ahead. We also did the same for the church. And I will be praying into these as will the prayer team. I’ve also been praying myself and my sense is that we are to continue on the same line as last year with the key focus being around growth, both spiritually and numerically. I’ll unpack that a little as I go through.
We just heard some of Psalm 139. It’s quite a well known Psalm, in it David talks about his relationship with the Lord, how he feels his identity is in God. and these words are a great guide for us too.
The first few verses speak of a God who knows us inside and out. Knows our innermost thoughts. And who surrounds us. It goes on that we cannot hide from God. And this isn’t meant to be some kind of threat, like whatever you do wrong God will know, no the opposite, it is a comfort, God’s hand will hang on to us when we are teetering on a precipice, God’s right hand will hold us fast, we read – God will not let us go, even when we feel we are not worthy, that God cannot possibly love us. Even when the darkness overwhelms us – in those times we feel we cannot pray, we cannot seek God – God is still there, unbothered by the dark, bringing light.
And then these beautiful verses:
you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
A sense that God has known us from our very beginning, actually made us who we are. And if we believe God makes amazing things then we too are like that – a wonderful work of God.
Part of our spiritual growth is in truly knowing we are God’s precious children, that God is always with us, no matter what. But we need to keep reminding ourselves of that and seeking to know God deeper. Spiritual growth is about not standing still in our faith but about feeding it, feeding ourselves. It’s about reading our bibles regularly, being part of a home group where we can grow together and support one another. It’s about worshipping and praying together and on our own.
And like last year I feel God is challenging us all on this – what does growing deeper in your faith look like for you? What can you say has changed in your faith since this time last year? What do you need to do to feed your faith?
As a church we’ll be doing a few things to help with this. Obviously you can join a home group if you are not already in one. Come to times of prayer and worship. But also, this year is the year of the New Testament as set by the diocese. As with last year when we focussed a lot on the OT, this year we will largely be focussing on the NT. Later in the year we’ll be taking some time to focus on Paul’s writing – Paul is like marmite – especially for women – he’s either a grumpy critical misogynist or he’s a great church planter who had many women in his ministry!
And I am really delighted to say that we have a fabulous scholar, Paula Gooder, coming to speak to us in September. Paula is Canon theologian at St Paul’s Cathedral, she has written many books and she is an expert on Paul. I am actually amazed she said she would come! But if you don’t ask you don’t get as they say! I am sure that event will be very popular and we will be opening up to others but St Ed’s folk will have the chance to book in first. For now save the date – Wed 25 September in the evening. So Paula will I hope, really help us to get to grips with Paul.
I’m also hoping we might do a short series on Revelation – which I am actually studying this term at uni! Revelation rarely gets preached on and yet it is actually not as hard to understand as it may seem, so I hope we can help to unpack it a little and make us less afraid of it.
We’ve also got Earl Collins from the diocese coming back to do an intro session on the NT in May as well.
And finally as many of you know the CofE has just agreed to churches being able to bless same sex relationships. I’ve been saying for a while we will do a teaching evening on this area and sorry it has taken so long but we will also be putting this in the diary as well, date TBC.
All of these will help us to think deeper about scripture, about what the bible is actually saying and in turn help us to go deeper in our own faith.
And the thing is if we want to grow as a church numerically then growing in our own faith will help that. If we are authentic about what we believe, people will see that.
I love how in our John passage when Jesus calls Nathaniel, he shares what Nathaniel was doing before he saw him. Something he could not have known as an ordinary person. Nathaniel is convinced then, but Jesus is like – hey if you liked that wait until what else I’m going to do!
We need to be like that – drawing people in with our faith and leaving them wanting to find more.
You know a little challenge for you all:
How many of you actually invited a friend or someone else to any of our Christmas services? And how many actually brought someone to a service? I’m not going to make you put up a hand! Because I was at all those services and I know who was there so I’m going to go out on a limb and say not many of you – so if you did well done, keep doing it!
But if you didn’t I want to ask: why not? Xmas is literally the easiest time to invite people to church or to an event. What are we afraid of? You know if we want to grow as a church we need to see people coming to know the Lord and that is for all of us to do, not just for me, or a select few. We are all this church. Remember me saying last year the word for church is ekklesia which mean gathering – not a building or a person, it’s a gathering of people – us. And if we don’t grow, this church will not survive, we still have a long way to go to keep the bishop happy! We’re still only paying just about half of our parish share, it’s an increase but not enough! So we have got to commit to growing this church together, making it a place that we want to invite people to.
Jesus literally went out and said to people – come follow me as we have seen in the John readings so far, he went up to people and said come on – now I’m not expecting you to be quite so blunt but we do need to be bolder.
So this year we are going to continue to think about evangelism. About making sure that anything we do has an element of sharing the gospel and inviting people in. Prioritising what we do as a church – because there are many ideas out there and in here, but we have to focus on sharing the gospel.
For example we started Rainbow Tots last September, from that group we have had people come to Church in a pub, garden church, and some of our Christmas services because they were invited by one of the team. These are the stepping stones we need – people don’t generally suddenly decide one day they are going to come to church = although I know that did happen for one person here! but that’s not the norm, research shows people need lots of touch points or stepping stones before that are open to hearing about faith. So we need to be thinking along those wider lines.
Invitation option coming up – the pet blessing service in a few weeks. Low key, informal not communion, all age friendly, bring your pet or a photo of it for a blessing. Who can you invite to that service? Or bring with you?
One thing we are doing to be intentional is we have 2 new teams which will be taking over from the vision team. Our vision remains the same with our key areas being the garden church, children’s work and mission through the café, but those updated teams are going to help us to take that vision forward. So we have a new strategy team and a worship team, both are made up largely from PCC members and with mixture of views and experience to represent the diversity of St Ed’s. and they will be thinking firstly about strategy – as in how do we see our vision become a reality – how can we aim to pay our full parish share – what do we need to do in order to see growth etc
And worship – taking a look at our services and thinking about whether what we are offering is still right for now. How do we embrace the diversity of experience, of being anglo catholic and charismatic – of being a church of scripture, spirit and sacrament. You know we’re quite unique in that respect that our worship is very varied and not simply in one style and I firmly believe that is part of the beauty of St Ed’s – part of the DNA if you like so we need to think carefully about how we continue that. Please do be praying for those teams.
So 2024 – we are going to continue to focus on spiritual and numerical growth.
Commit yourself to going deeper with God – get in a home group, read your bible more – I can advise on that/ reading plans etc if you need. Commit to come to events that help to explore the bible more. Challenge yourself.
And be bold – invite people to church or to events we host. Think about how you can be a part of seeing this church grow, making it a place you want to invite people to.