Jeremiah 1:1-10/John 15:1-17
The theme of the sermon this morning is ‘Our relationship with the community’ – My Life and your life - Images of being God’s people…
Both of our Bible readings point in the direction of being called and bearing fruit.
The call of Jeremiah is described in terms of the coming of the word of the LORD.
Jeremiah is told that he has been set apart by God and appointed as a prophet to the nations.
And our reading from John’s gospel emphasises that Jesus, and his love for us and our love for others, is central to our faith, and the only route to lasting joy.
Not only is Jesus central to our faith, but the importance of his willingness to die and the fact of his resurrection to new life.
This highlights the extent to which he wants all people to hear this message of good news and to respond through repentance and faith.
There are many references in the Bible indicating that God wants us to be involved in building up our life of faith within the church building.
In addition, God also wants us to take this beyond the church walls, outside and into the community…
It has been observed that Jesus, as explained in the NT Gospels, spent only 6% of his time in the temple and 94% ‘in the marketplace’.
If Jesus spent 94% of his time in the ‘marketplace’ this then says something about our priorities and where we should be.
But, where is the marketplace?
The marketplace is anywhere in the community where we may meet people; men, women and children.
The question is, what do you do and what do you say in the marketplace?
How do people in your marketplaces perceive you?
In other words, what sort of person do they see and hear?
If the people you meet in your marketplaces know that you are a Christian, that you have a living and meaningful faith, what does your faith convey to them?
We should ask ourselves what picture we paint about ourselves, about our faith, about God, about Jesus, about the church?
And then ask, Are we likely to attract or repel people from exploring for themselves the Christian faith?
John the Baptist came preaching in the Desert of Judea calling people to repent of their sins, and as they did so baptising them in the river Jordan (Matthew 3:1-6. C.f. Isaiah 40:3-5).
This scene is just part of the story of the living history of the people of God.
As the exodus took the people of Israel out of slavery in the land of Egypt, it did so through the wilderness, a journey from bondage to freedom and promised inheritance.
John the Baptist is encouraging the people to take another step on the journey to a new life, this time following in the way Jesus Christ.
We need to remind ourselves that it is not a journey that we make on our own, although each of us comes to God as an individual, but that, in faith, we are part of the whole of the church of God.
Each one of us, then, in faith, participates in the life, work and witness of the church.
Consequently, the church is a place where we, along with others, can journey on a highway, enabling us to reach the Promised Land.
I would suggest that it’s vital for the church to play a John the Baptist role, which allows Jesus to be met through the work of the Holy Spirit in a hostile world.
The church's task is to clear the ground, making the journey straight; level and without obstacles…
…free from difficulties and unhindered for all who are seeking to find faith, to discover purpose, or wishing to explore a spiritual awareness in their lives.
When people are faced with the church do they find that there is a clear path, or are there obstacles in the way?
Are there valleys and mountains?
What impact does the church actually make?
When considering this we can do so in terms of the people, clerical and lay, the building, liturgy, resources, welcome, response, availability, visibility, communication, and so on…
But what is it that actually makes an impact?
From a positive angle aspects of welcome, friendliness, openness, warmth (physical and personal)…
…'attractiveness', relevance (especially in worship)…
…saying 'yes' or 'no' (positively)…
…helpfulness, being alongside, listening, responsive, 'up to date', changing, evolving, taking risks, and many more….
The opposite of these could be seen as negative.
The impact of the church is, of course, a two-way process; incoming, for those who approach the church, and outgoing, as the church is projected into the community.
These interweave to create an overall impression or image of the church.
What we must remember is that each of us is a representative of Christ and the impact of the church will largely depend on the image that we project.
If we look at the life of the early Christian church - the fellowship of believers - we find that this helps us as we model our lives on God's word, spoken to us through the Bible.
In Acts 2:42 we read, 'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.' It was as they did this that 'the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved' (Acts 2:47).
In other words, are we today, an attractive and attracting church?
Reflecting on the church's involvement in the world it has been suggested that…
'Although what Jesus said was not always popular, he himself was immensely popular among the ordinary people.'
If the church is to be the body of Christ in this world, we need to rediscover his model of disciple-making.
Although our message will not always be popular, people should be attracted to us.
Before they are attracted to our words, they will be attracted to our expression of community, for we are the body of Christ in this world…
If our faith has firm foundations and is real then it will, or should, stand out as being important.
It’s about what we are and how we reflect this in our lives that will make the difference.
In order to relate to people in the community it could be said that we need to be, in many respects, all things to all people.
This is supported by the apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians - 1 Cor 9:22-23 – as he writes:
22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
I know from my own experience that ordinary people responded warmly to a friendly, personal approach…
Our purpose is to present the good news about Jesus, the Gospel of Christ…
…and for the Holy Spirit to convince people of their need to repent of their sins and turn to Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour…
What I’ve been describing is just the beginning of our responsibility as Christians:
going out into the community, meeting people in the places where we live and work…
…but also meeting with people in a way that will enable them to find faith, and grow and blossom and flourish…
The Venerable Mike Lodge
19 March 2023