Telling!

 
This is the text this sermon was based around. (It's not a transcript.)
 

The Reading (Jeremiah 29)
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom [King] Nebuchadnezzar [the conqueror] had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 

2This was after King Jeconiah, and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. [Everyone had been taken away.]

3The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said: 

4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 

5Build houses and live in them;
plant gardens and eat what they produce. 
6Take wives and have sons and daughters;
take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage,
that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 

7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare…

10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 

11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

The Gospel: Mark 1:9-15
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 

The Sermon
Somewhere when I was growing up, I got the impression that Christianity was about keeping on the right side of God so that you don't go to hell. I don't think that's what my church was trying to teach but that's what I learned. When I grew of older I learned that lots of people in church weren't happy about this notion that the God who loved love us unconditionally would send us to help hell, and I learned a different kind of Christianity. It might be summed up in Jesus' first words in the gospel of Mark.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 

Now there are words in there about the repenting and believing, but the most important thing in Jesus' first words in this Gospel is that  he says the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.

And I learned from that that the most important thing we can be the doing
is not telling people that they need to be saved
and is not telling people that they need to be repent.

The thing that we need to be doing first, and most of all is…

… becoming a little local outbreak of the kingdom of God.

The good news, Jesus said, is that the kingdom of God has come near.

— — —

To put that into ordinary English, when people see us…
when they see the way we live together in this church…
at least some of them should be able to say, "Heaven will be something like that church in Hare Street."

When God has made the world perfect…
when God has completed the world and everything is fulfilled…
people should see that the way we were living at the Hare Street Uniting Church…
was a small outbreak…
a pretty good echo…
a good foretaste of the completed world.

They should be able to say, "We've seen something a bit like this before! Hare Street was like this."

In Council we are clear that we are not here to get bums on seats, as they say. People are not a commodity. We are here to be a local outpost of the Kingdom of God. We are here to invite people to join with us in being the local outpost of the kingdom of God, and knowing the joy and healing that brings in our lives.

And the way we teach the kingdom of God is by living it. Someone said, "Preach the gospel always and if necessary, use words."

One: So this is perhaps the first key thing that the council executive has been coming to see in its thinking and deliberating. Don't look for recruits and members, but learn to live like an outbreak of the Kingdom so that people will long to join us.

Two:  The second key thing for us to learn is that the world around us which is not coming to church does not speak church. Many of them don't understand what church is.

 
Scots Church Adelaide

People walk past Scots Church in the city— that imposing classical church building— and when Scots people talk to them they discover that some of them don't even recognise that this building (which has actually got church written on the sign) is a church!

People recognise coffee shops and speak coffee.
People recognise football and speak football.
People don't speak church.

So when we invite friends to our church…
when we tell them what God and what church has done for us…
it may not help to talk about
     worship…
     praying…
    communion…
    liturgy…

because it is very likely they have no idea what those things mean. Or they've got some crazy idea from American tele-evangelists.

Many people don't know who Jesus is.

Things have changed since we were kids.
People don't even expect to find the answers to their problems in a church.
For many people the image of church is a place of oppressive mumbo-jumbo
that has lots of paedophiles and child abusers
and people who believe stupid stuff.

There is a cartoon doing the rounds of Facebook at the moment. It says

When we use religious language, this is the sort of people many folk think we must be!

We need to be a congregation that is such an outbreak of the kingdom of heaven, that people can see we are different from the stereotypes they have learned.  

How do we do that?

What we have to do is to learn to speak about our experience of what Church and God has done for us without using all the religious language.

Something like this. This is my story. Your story will be different, but you have a story that will speak to someone.

One Christmas, when I was eight or 10, I was going back to the sideboard in our farmhouse dining room to help myself to a third serve of my mother's famous jellied peaches. Something stopped me. Wehn my mum saw I had been standing there staring at the peaches for several minutes, she came over and asked me what was wrong.

I didn't know. All I could say was that I thought Christmas "would be more than this." I didn't have the language to express what I had felt.

But in the years that followed I began to understand. I began to see and to feel inside myself a huge void and emptiness, that could not make sense of the world, and which found that the world was an empty, and lonely, and hostile place. I began to feel something was deeply wrong about the world.

I didn't have the words to describe the pain that was inside me for a long time.
At school, I was a bit of an outcast— I was abused, bullied, and I still struggle to feel safe around people, and to fit in. I don't like crowds. I can't spend long with people before I need lots of time on my own.

But the whole time through this—well, it was a pretty miserable childhood in some ways— the people of the Gladstone to Methodist church looked after me.
They welcomed me.
They accepted me.
They valued to me.

And I realised, much later, that each Sunday moring, and at every Sunday night tea, they would put me back together, and give me the strength to carry on through the next week.

And when I was at university, lonely in the big city, still trying to work out who I was,
not really knowing what the world was about, but seeing it was full of pain and injustice,
the people at Scots church gave me a home.
They welcomed they accepted me.
They built me are up.
They valued me.
They made me family, and gave me a place to belong.

And all this crazy stuff about the idea of a God who loved me began to make sense because they were living out Kingdom of God. And so I could say to a friend, "Come to youth group. It's good fun there. They look after me there. They are kind.

And when I got involved in Scots, and other churches, and started helping out,
it began to heal the ache inside me.
It began to heal the abuse that had been done to me.
It began to heal that sickening guilt in me… about how poor a person I was.

Church has made me well.

— — —

I'm a minister, and I'm supposed to have all the words and knowledge about being a Christian—you can laugh here! — and the words are useful. It's good to be able to go deeper into things. It helps us understand who we are and how we can live better.

But in the end, what really counts, all I've really got, is what the local outbreaks of the kingdom of God have given me and done for me. That's what I can tell people. It's what people understand.

How would you talk about what Hare Street has done for you, how you have met God here? Who could you tell? Can you say it without all the jargon? Amen. 

(Andrew Prior)

 



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