Saturday, 2 May 2009
A Gospel Service Sermon
Jesus is Gospel….
In my first weeks here we had our first Gospel service with the Kroft Originals in Dalwood. It was a great service, as this one is, and I had two instructions regarding the sermon – keep it light and keep it short! Funnily enough on my way out of Church this morning I said I needed to work on this talk and a certain Churchwarden who shall remain nameless said ‘not too long!’ – I can’t make any promises, but hopefully no matter how long this it will speak to us.
The difficulty I have is that I have so much to say! Just as I took the opportunity it introduce myself at the first of our Gospel services and to say a bit about my belief in the Good News – which is what the word Gospel means – I am keen now to reflect a bit on my first six months in our parishes, and to say a little more on this ‘Good News’ business which we Christians make so much fuss about!
It helps if we start by remembering something of where the Gospel music we are enjoying this evening comes from. The Spiritual songs we have heard and sang this evening come from the churches and the people who were slaves many years ago in the USA and West Indes. These songs come from a place of despair, and yet are filled with life and hope, they are powerful, inspiring and uplifting songs and are the foundation of a music heritage which combines African, American and European music and went on to be the foundation of Blues, Soul, Jazz, Motown, Rock and Roll and ultimately to influence the Rock and Pop and infinite variety of contemporary music we enjoy (or not today).
In the midst of slavery, the spirituals were songs of hope and faith and love. Though Christian faith was often forced upon the African slaves, they made it their own, and in the powerful language of redemption and hope they found comfort and strength, and the truth of a God who understood and was alongside them in their sufferings was their inspiration and joy.
But its not the history of Gospel music I want to spend a few minutes on today, it’s the today of the Gospel and our part in the chorus of faith that is carried in our villages and communities today.
I wouldn’t even begin to really understand or compare our situation to the suffering that those in slavery go and have gone through. But in many ways we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, as the Israelites described their slavery in Babylon, today. We sing a song of faith, hope and love in a world filled with anger, greed, despair and faithlessness. We hold to a Gospel which though a declaration of God’s Good News isn’t good news for most people. It’s a Gospel that isn’t trendy, it involves sacrifice, hard work, standing up for what is right, it involves denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following the one who suffered and died for us. The theologian and writer Francis Scheaffer described the Christian message as ‘bad news for modern man’. It doesn’t conform to the message of the ‘me generation’, it doesn’t involve status, power, recognition, fame or fortune in the way the world values.
And I think that here in the villages of our Mission Community we are in the middle of learning and living that important lesson – that being God’s people, being God’s Church isn’t easy. But it is worth it!
In the six months I have been here I have been impressed again and again by the willingness of our Churches to reach out to the communities in which God has placed us. I have been impressed by the commitment of many people to Christ and a genuine desire be a faithful witness of Christian truth. I have been overwhelmed by the faith of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
But I have shared in the frustrations of exactly how we can be churches which bring in people of all ages to know Christ and to share our life. I have shared in the apprehension that comes with considering change, and in a desire to balance moving forward with standing firm for what is good and right for our Churches.
But in the midst of this, good and bad, we sing the Lord’s song, and that song is ‘Hallelujah!’.
So to move on to my choice for the reading for today. Unusually as I usually follow the Sunday readings week by week very closely, I chose something outside of the lections – though not very much, today’s story of the Emmaus Road can be found in the verses just before today’s set reading – Luke 24 verses 13-35. There’s a lot here, but I want to highlight some ‘Gospel’ attitudes and thoughts from this passage quite quickly…
We see these two companions, who are walking home to a village called Emmaus near Jerusalem. They haven’t seen Jesus, as far as they know he is dead and gone, and all of the hopes and dreams that went with knowing Jesus are dead and gone too. They are talking about this when a stranger approaches and asks them what’s up. First of all they react with incredulity that this person might not have heard of the events of the past few days, then they listen as he takes them through the scriptures that talked of the messiah, then they invite him in to share a meal – as would be traditional in middle eastern cultures where hospitality is important – and then as he blesses and breaks bread they see that it is Jesus, then he disappears and they run all the way back to the disciples with the news of what had happened, and how ‘Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread’.
It’s an incredible story, perhaps my favourite of the resurrection appearances – though all of them are pretty amazing! But I want to consider three things
Firstly that, simply, Jesus was with them. Whether they saw it or not, whether they understood it or not, he was there alongside them. Though it took a particular moment of recognition for them to see it was Jesus he was there all the time on that Journey. And it is the same for us, just as it was the same for the original Gospel singers and originators of the music we enjoy tonight. Jesus was with them, whether they understood how or why or when or not. Jesus likewise is with us, in everything and through everything. He teaches, he guides, the shares. This is the essence of our Good News, of our Gospel. Jesus is here! He is alive!
Secondly they were hospitable. Yes, it’s traditional in Middle Eastern culture – but they still reached out to this stranger despite the fact that it was late, despite all they had gone through, despite the fact they had lots of reasons not to, they invited this stranger in to break bread with them. Our Good News is to be shared, we have a Gospel of love, welcome, hospitality and friendship. In a world where relationships are often broken, where families are under strain, where a sense of community is often hard to foster and sustain we have a message of family, of love, of inclusion. All are welcome at the Lord’s table, in our worshipping communities – no one is worthy of being brought into the presence of God, but because of what Christ has done for us no one is unworthy! Even when it takes time and effort, even when it involves sacrifice, even with those we might find difficult, or those who find us difficult, we are called to welcome, to share the love of Christ.
Lastly, and springing from the previous two – they told. Their first reaction is to sprint back to Jerusalem and share their story! And here perhaps is the greatest challenge to us today – when was the last time we told someone about Jesus? When was the last time we shared the Good News? Even in our Churches it is often hard, embarrassing to talk about God! How many of ask each other ‘so, how’s your faith?’ We are in the Church to build one another up so that we might reach out to others – to tell the story of Christ.
Now I am not saying that we all have to zip out and purchase the next soapbox we see and start preaching to everyone, or at everyone as most soapbox preachers seem to do. Our lives are the greatest way of telling the Christian story, and living lives of faith are the greatest sermons! As St Francis of Assisi once said ‘preach the Gospel, and when necessary use words’. That’s not a get out though! We still have the responsibility of sharing our faith and drawing others in as we share this Good News of the Christ who died, who rose and who is coming again!
So in our Churches and in our lives let us remember that we walk with Christ in all things, let us welcome others into our Churches, let us share the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And I leave you with one last thought. When these two disciples talked together they asked ‘did our hearts not burn within us’ as Jesus spoke to them. Let us allow Jesus to speak to us, that our hearts may burn, and that we may invite others into the burning passion of God’s love.