Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back To Church Sunday 2010

A little later than planned, here is my sermon from last Sunday's really excellent "Back To Church Sunday' service. Church was P-acked with barely a spare seat and lots of returnees. Our most 'successful' B2CS yet...

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I’d like to share with you some very solemn announcements that have been made in Churches up and down the land in recent years. Some are taken from Church Notice Sheets, Notice boards and magazines:

1.A report from the Church meeting: the Vicar spoke briefly and delighted the audience.
2.Next Sunday is the Vicar’s last Sunday before he moves. Our special anthem will be the Hymn ‘Come ye thankful people come’!
3.Ladies are requested not to have children in the church kitchen.
4.A notice stuck to the hot-air hand-dryer in the men’s toilet at church had these words on it: ‘Press this button for a repeat of last Sunday’s sermon’!
5.Tuesday at 4.00 pm there will be an ice-cream social. All are welcome. Ladies giving milk should come early!
6.From a Diocesan Newsletter: ‘You will all be pleased to hear that the Bishop is making very slow progress after his operation’.
7.The sermon next Sunday will be on ‘Hell’. A warm welcome will be extended to all.

All of us came to church for the first time once. Sometimes we might have a a bad experience. Apologise. Sometimes the church may not communicate it’s message very clearly. Our reading this morning picks up on the people who became Jesus’ closest companions meeting him and coming to be with him for the first time and hearing a very simple message loud and clear.

It is reasonable to assume that Andrew and John (the beloved disciple) had heard and met Jesus before this encounter. Our reading from John’s Gospel illustrates how they respond to what somebody else says, what John the Baptist exclaims “Behold the Lamb of God.” They follow because of what they have heard another say.

John the Baptist referred to his ministry in the words of Isaiah, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.' " He had been preparing the way even to the point that his own followers would now consider and indeed make the decision to follow Jesus. John the Baptist is pointing the way to the Anointed One, The Messiah.

Jesus is welcoming and he offers an invitation for his hearers to develop their relationship with him. To get to know Jesus, only if they wish too. "Come," he replied, "and you will see."

We now witness the first missionary act in a new ministry that would become Christianity. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

We do not know a great deal about Andrew. Maybe that is because he lived a quiet life as he followed Jesus but he was the one who brought Simon to be renamed Peter to Jesus. Simon has a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter). What a morning that was for Simon Peter. His brother invites him to come and see.

Can you imagine the scene. Your brother rushes home. “Quick Simon there is someone you must talk too.” “Who?” “This is the person; the one John the Baptist has been talking to us about. I have seen him. It is him. I am sure of it. Come and see and decide for yourself.”

What a brilliant brother! You walk with your brother feeling self-conscious hoping that no one will ask you where you are going. It feels a bit strange to say I have an appointment with the Messiah. “There he is” Andrew exclaims. Jesus looks at you and smiles. “Welcome. You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter).That’s it. Your life turned around in that very instant. You are now on the path of discovery to who you truly are. “You are Peter, The Rock on who I will build my Church,” said Jesus.

How would you feel if you were Simon? You are standing looking into the eyes of God who looks right into your very being and declares what you will become. He looks at you and you challenges you to follow him. I wonder how he explained that to his family and friends. How would you explain that your name has changed. You are no longer Simon but Peter. That is the invitation that Jesus is offering to all of us. To change and transform us for good, for God.

Gladys Aylward was born in London, in 1902, to a working-class family Gladys became a wealthy family's parlor maid at the age of 14. She trudged through this life of routine until one day after attending a church service a stranger confronted her with what being a Xn really meant.

It transformed her and her outlook on life. She began attending Young Life services and reading about the far-away land of China from books in the vast library of her employer. This birthed an unstoppable desire to go to China herself. Gladys applied with CIM as a candidate for China. After reviewing her advanced age and test results it was determined that she was too old and unfit to learn the difficult Chinese language. At the age of 28, Gladys dreams were momentarily crushed; she decided if she couldn't go with CIM she would go on her own. Every month, Gladys would save all the money she could from the small paycheck she received to buy a one-way train ticket to China.

On Oct. 15, 1932, Gladys left Liverpool Street Station by train to travel across Russia and eventually into Northern China. She carried two suitcases, a bedroll and wore a bright orange jacket. After a long and roundabout journey across Russia, Gladys finally set foot in her beloved China.

Gladys began to lean Cantonese and eventually became a "foot inspector." The tradition of binding Chinese women's feet had recently been outlawed, but due to cultural perceptions of beauty it was still being practiced in many places. Gladys began traveling around inspecting the bones in women's feet. As she traveled she would tell stories from the Bible and many looked forward to the days they could hear these strange new stories.

The people's esteem and respect for Gladys also continued to grow. What was even more remarkable was the ability she had to take on Chinese culture and language. By 1937, when the Japanese begin bombing nearby mountain villages, Gladys had so identified herself with the Chinese people that she refused to leave even as artillery shells begin to fall.

After 20 years in China, Gladys returned to England in 1940. She was embarrassed to find that she quickly became a celebrity. A book, movie and TV documentary were all made about her life. To many Gladys became known by many as "The Small Women," the title of her biography. She continued to travel and speak about her beloved China, returning to Taiwan in 1957.

Humble in spirit, Gladys once made this comment to a friend, "I wasn't God's first choice for what I've done for China. There was somebody else. I don't know who it was --- God's first choice. It must have been a man --- a wonderful man, a well-educated man. I don't know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn't willing. And God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward."

What about you and me this morning? What name is Jesus wishing to bestow upon us? Are we fishing in the wrong place as Simon was? Where are we being called to go? 70% of us, according to a recent survey, consider ourselves to be Christians, but being Christian isn’t about being nice, it is (as Simon Peter and the other disciples dscovered) about following and and listening and learning from Christ. Jesus doesn’t ask us to come with airs and graces, it’s not even about how we look. it’s not even about what we think we know about him He simply asks us to come as we are - for He accepts us and loves us just like that - and get to know him for ourselves. Amen.

1 comment:

Simon said...

For what it's worth this was my sermon on the same passage for B2CS on the theme of being chosen & changed:

http://revbickers.blogspot.com/2010/09/chosen-changed.html