Every year the readings we hear on Sundays lead us through the story of salvation. There are joyful readings and sombre readings, there are readings to make us cry and readings to make us happy. Each reading encourages us to think about our Christian journey, our journey with Jesus and our journey with the community of the church. In particular, the season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday is a time when we should be looking at our lives and seeing how they match up with the faith we have in Jesus.
By coincidence, we hold our Annual Vestry Meeting round about the beginning of Lent. This is good because the Annual Vestry Meeting is about looking at the year gone by and preparing for the year to come. We can measure our success by looking at church attendance, or by looking at the financial statement or by looking at how many new ministries have begun. We can prepare for the new year by making plans and sharing new ideas. This is all good stuff and we’ll do that after church today.
There is one other thing every group needs to do at times like this. It doesn’t matter if it is a church or a school or a bank or a multinational corporation. Each year they will look to see if they have been true to their mission statement and if they have achieved their goals for the year.
At St Luke’s we seek to share God’s unconditional love and acceptance of all people, regardless of age, gender, race, marital or family status, sexual orientation, disability or wealth.
This is our mission statement and our aim. I think it is the most generous and great hearted aim that any church could have. Our aim is to include everyone in our community, old and young, male and female, happy and sad, easygoing or grumpy, people we love and people we hate. We want to share with the noisy and argumentative, the complainers and the whingers as well as the pleasant and gentle, the kind and compliant. Today and during Lent we set ourselves to look at this aim and think about what we have achieved and what there is still to achieve. To be honest, sometimes the task seems impossible, it is certainly unending.
In an email I sent to the parish I described story of children in church as a never-ending story. Almost every year we have plans which somehow fall apart, ideas which somehow don’t get off the ground. This is our human nature taking control, we make plans and forget them time and again as surely as night follows day.
This is nothing to be ashamed of. We have a wonderful mission statement, our aims are noble and great. The mission is Godly and the power we have to share God’s unconditional love and acceptance with all people comes from God. But, as St Paul says, we have this treasure in clay jars. Clay jars are fragile, clay jars are heavy and dull, clay jars stop the light shining out.
Paul said, “It is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” who has shone on our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
And we have put this wonderful shining treasure into dull, heavy, fragile clay jars.
You may remember how Gideon and his hundred men crept up on the enemy with blazing torches hidden in clay jars. At a given signal the men smashed the jars and the torchlight shone out, terrifying the enemy.
Maybe instead of trying to protect ourselves all the time we need to risk our fragile clay so that the light can shine. For instance, protecting our clay jar is like growing angry at something we don’t like. The jar starts to crack when we ask, “How can I share God’s unconditional love and acceptance with this person?” The light starts to shine through the cracks when we say, “Can I help you?”
I received a number of emails last week in response to mine. There were messages of support, and helpful suggestions and I thought, “Here is a glimmer of light. Someone’s jar is developing cracks!”
Let’s take last week as an example. A little child, whom we have baptised and welcomed into the community as a child of God like us, this little child, having been good all through the readings and the sermon, trotted out to the front of the church during the intercessions. I know that some of us, and I include me, were disturbed, our concentration was broken and we became less than generous. But the child is not yet two years old, and she was looking round the altar trying to find Jesus. She was saying, “Where are you? Where are you? Jesus?”
Now I think we should rejoice that a child of two is happily looking for Jesus in a church. All those texts about “Let the children come to me” seem to fit perfectly.
However, later on I was asked a hard question. I was asked, “Is the best way that we can share God’s unconditional love and acceptance to a two year old? We have made her sit through prayers and readings she couldn’t follow and then given her a sermon which she couldn’t understand and expected her to sit quietly through the intercessions. We are expecting too much of the child. We are expecting too much of the rest of the congregation. We are expecting too much of the child’s parents.
Here is a suggestion which could work. After the entrance hymn the children leave the adults in the church and go to Sunday School, or, if they are too young, to a program appropriate for preschoolers. Someone called it “Church Wiggles” – it would have a story, a song to learn and something else. Then, at the Greeting of Peace, the children could join their parents for the rest of the service. They could even be asked to sing their song to us all.
The written part of the sermon came to an end here. I have shared what there is because I want to be helpful and positive. I hope you agree. G