So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God…
Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
… a holy temple in the Lord;
a dwelling-place for God.
These verses remind us: salvation involves more than forgiveness of the individual sinful self; it is the integration into God’s work of redemption and reconciliation…
About six weeks ago as I was walking to the shops in Brooklyn three young orthodox Jews came across the street to me. They wanted to wish me happy Jewish New Year. One of them asked me if I was a Jew. I said, no. And then, was your mother Jewish, I smiled and said no. I was only too happy to receive their New Years’ eve greeting and to wish them a happy New Year.
If they had said to me, Father Abraham had many sons, are you one of them, they would have got a very different answer. They might have been puzzled by the strange dance that my answer would have automatically generated. But here is the important thing, as Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us even though we are not Jews we are not strangers and aliens. We are members of the household of God. We don’t just want to celebrate a happy new year but an extraordinary new epoch. I don’t know that we ever fully appreciate the message Paul wanted those early Gentile Christians to hear. He wanted them and us to know: the gift God lavished on humanity in Jesus born in Bethlehem, crucified at Golgotha and raised to glory encompasses the whole of humanity. By the grace of God we enter into that gift, as individuals and as a community but also becoming a part of the gift bringing grace to humanity.
The only trouble with this big vision of God’s amazing grace is that some people find it hard to hear as a personal gift. Somehow we have to ground this message for ourselves. It was interesting to hear Bp Jeremy’s story on Friday night.The defiant 12 year old who wrote, “God”, I don’t believe any of that stuff, I will never be a bishop like my grandfather. He spoke of the angry young teen ager who would argue with his parents every Sunday morning and refuse to wear shoes to church as a form of rebellion. Then of the young man who dropped out of Uni twice and then took himself off to a faraway country. His parents and grandmother mean while kept praying and their prayer was answered when he took himself off to Taizé in France. His motivation was to meet a beautiful Scandinavian girl; it worked for his sister to meet a handsome man. But the loving God he was running away from finally caught up with him.
For Bishop Jeremy, going to the New Bishop’s school in Canterbury made him realise that his genealogy didn’t just go back to his grandfather and his great grandfather who were bishops but to St Augustine of Canterbury. And of course from there all the way back to Nazareth. And with Jesus and my Jewish friends in Brooklyn back to Father Abraham. He was part of and had always been part of the household of God, the holy temple. He and the community he belonged to, was and is the dwelling-place for God.
I retell the story not just to fill the gaps for those who missed out but to say, we too as members of this community of the Resurrection have a genealogy older than 37 years. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and Bp Jeremy’s story remind us of our vocation as a community of the resurrection. Firstly, you and I, individually are embraced in the loving arms of a gracious God. Just as God embraced the young hesitant Jeremy in Taizé, we are embraced. In the same way as God stood beside Jacob in his awesome dream assuring Jacob of protection and love, God stands beside us. Even if we run away or lose our way God comes to us in Jesus Christ.
That means that we are integrated into God’s work of redemption and reconciliation. That means that like the community of Taizé in France we share in the work of helping lost souls discover the love of God. We can do that in many different ways. Our shared desire to have a vibrant youth and children’s ministry is because we all know the importance of good nurturing during the stages of development.
The various ministries like Mainly Music, Meals on Wheels, Rosie’s in the park, Classes for Seniors and the Men’s Shed are there because we know we are called to be a blessing to our community. What worries me is that we forget to be intentional about these ministries. It would be easy to see the men’s shed as an add on that has nothing to do with the Church. We can’t even find people to open the door for classes for seniors and make them feel welcome. We need to make sure Mainly Music gets enough volunteers to run it effectively.
Part of being integrated into God’s work is that we need to intentionally ask ourselves, what are we doing, why are we doing it and is the Gospel being proclaimed through it? It may be that as a Community we need to simplify the things we do. I am sure that many of us will have to reduce our mad cap business so that we can be more centred in God.
Another important aspect of being integrated into the work of God came out in Bp Jeremy’s story. Bp Jeremy knew his grandmother was diligently praying for him. Many of us can’t do a lot of the active ministries either because we are getting too old drive a car for Meals on Wheels or sit on the floor with kids. Others can’t because of work commitments. But we can pray. We can be a part of the Prayer chain and we can hold before God all those on our pew sheet. On top of that we can pray especially for those bring children for baptism, admission to communion and those coming for confirmation. We can hold these people in our prayer all year. I am sure that prayer is much more powerful than most of us realise.
But there is another very important element of being integrated into the work of God. That is being always ready to share the hope that is within us. Bp Jeremy’s story on the whole was of a rebellious young man who was running away from one who he already knew. It was about re-discovering that he was loved by a very patient loving parent.
Each one of us has a different story of faith. For the most part we don’t have to quote Bible passages or know theological arguments for the incarnation. What is important is that we share with others our own journey of faith with its questions, frustrations and discoveries. Many of us will have special moments when the questions and frustrations seem to evaporate because the love of God caught up with us.
So today, as we celebrate 37 years of ministry in this church let’s give thanks that we are embraced by a loving God. And as members of the household of God let’s nurture the young in their faith, pray diligently for those in need, and very intentionally be a blessing to our community, with a willingness to joyfully share the story of our faith.