Sermon: Fourth Sunday of Easter, 26 April 2015, St Matthias, evening

For the Annual Parochial Church Meeting of the Richmond Team Ministry

Readings  Exodus 16.4–15, Revelation 2.12–17

Preacher  Canon Robert Titley

 

The Book of Revelation is responsible for a lot. It has given us some of the most compelling images in all Scripture – ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth’ (Revelation 21.1) – and it has fuelled the fantasies of fanatics. (Remember, don’t blame the Bible, blame the idiots who read it.)

Today we have one of the seven letters to the churches. This one is to the church in Pergamum, a former capital city and the first centre in Asia of the imperial cult, worshipping Rome and its emperor as divine. Pergamum had two big temples – the ruins are still visible on its skyline – one to Zeus and one to Asclepius, the god of healing. Both had the serpent as their symbol and, as Revelation describes the devil as ‘that old serpent’ (Revelation 12.9), that might be why the writer calls Pergamum ‘the place of Satan’s throne’.

The church there seems to be facing persecution – one of them, Antipas, has been killed. John our author writes in the name of Jesus, who has a ‘sharp two-edged sword’, perhaps a dig at the Roman authorities – who had the ius gladii, the power of the sword, the right to execute – to assert Jesus’ authority.

This church is embattled and courageous, holding fast to the name of Christ, though some, we hear, follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. We’re not sure what that is, though the context suggests some kind of accommodation with pagan society and its rituals. There are hints on the text of quasi-religious events that sound like a cross between a banquet and swingers party. Perhaps some church members have got involved, if only to avoid the fate of Antipas. Repent, says the letter, or instead of the Roman sword they will face the sword of Christ’s mouth. To the one who holds firm there is the there is the offer of nourishment, ‘hidden manna’ – the mysterious food in our first reading that God gave the Israelites in the wilderness – and the equally mysterious ‘white stone’, possibly a reference to how juries reach acquit someone in court, by a white stone dropped into the ballot box.

Imagine a letter written from Jesus just to our churches. What would it say? Well – shouldn’t we see this letter as addressed to us? Otherwise why read it? We read Bible passages in services because we believe they are addressed to us, that we are in some way continuous with, one with the original audience.

So how does the Pergamum letter bear on us? We are a much kinder environment than they were. For us to talk of persecution in any real sense is absurd, especially when Christians are suffering genuine persecution in unprecedented numbers elsewhere in our world. Many, like Antipas, have died for their faith. The worst we suffer is a bit of condescension or a tirade from a drunken reveller aimed at a team of Street Pastors. (These, by the way are very rare. The drunken reveller is much more likely to give you a vodka-charged hug and a kiss and a ‘You’re [expletive deleted] marvellous, you are!’ which is actually quite pleasant, like here.)

Even so, the task we have is not utterly different from that which faced the church in Pergamum. The Richmond skyline may be dominated not by pagan temples but by the spire of this place of Christian worship; to get here you may have come up Church Road rather than Asclepius Alley; but we live in a climate where public expression and private habits are not generally those of Christian faith. The climate doesn’t actively deny it. Indeed, it has trace elements of Christian faith within it – consider the eleven couples here yesterday for marriage preparation: most do not go to church, yet they want their marriage to be in one.

Here, then, as in long-gone Pergamum, the same questions press on us, though in a different way. How distinctive should we be? What is there in our society that we can work with and support? And where should we be different, prophetic? With that in mind, let’s turn the Mission Action Plan (MAP) which we are committed to reviewing at our Annual Parochial Church Meeting this evening.

First, some backstory. It began in this church in November 2013, when several dozen of us worked with the Diocesan Missioner on our hopes for our Team and its churches. These gathered themselves into three clusters:

  • being a the heart of Richmond’s community
  • being paces of warm welcome and effective pastoral care
  • being churches that embrace people at all stages of life

The Parochial Church Council adopted the plan in its final form (again, at St Matthias) and the different constituencies of our Team – Church Committees, staff meeting and so on – were set to do the things the plan contains, with an agreed review date of today. Look at your MAP leaflet [see below] and you will see

  • First, community. The MAP has two movements: drawing people into our buildings – we are quite good at this – and letting ourselves be drawn out into the public square. This is harder. We are making some progress on town centre chaplaincy but have no new Street Pastors yet. We have no progress yet on an externally-promoted Christin basics course, but the success of St John’s Lent group, held in a pub, could be a model.
  • Secondly, welcome and pastoral care. Our welcome literature is produced centrally by the parish office and all three churches now have it. How we do the welcoming is a matter of local application which we can discuss at the meeting in a moment. As for pastoral care, St Mary’s pastoral care groups have made a good-ish start. They needed an overhaul, which we have just done and now await the fruits. St John’s and St Matthias are committed to parallel (not identical) systems whereby we can look after and look out for each other.
  • Thirdly, all ages and stages of life. Again there are two aspects, being age-aware in all we do and plan, and offering more age-specific events.

And what about the Pergamum question, as we might call it? How is God calling us to be distinctive in all this?

God calls us to be at the centre of the life of our town, not to be in the limelight but to compel people’s attention in order to point beyond ourselves. In the welcome we offer we pray that those who encounter us catch a hint of the welcome of God, and in our care for each other we make flesh the purposes of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Finally, as we get better at embracing people of all ages and stages of life, we offer something very unusual. In this atomised stratified world we inhabit, where else – outside their own families – do younger and older people ever meet each other?

Almost two millennia ago, a man in Pergamum called Antipas died because of his faith in Jesus. Fifty-two years ago, another disciple who was to lose his life wrote a letter to seven pastors. It became known as the Letter from Birmingham Jail. In it, the prisoner, Martin Luther King, drew inspiration from the martyrs of the early church and how they were distinctive witnesses in the climate of their day.

There was a time when the church was very powerful – in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

Annual Parochial Church Meeting, Sunday April 26th 2015 

Mission Action Plan Review

 

Our Mission Priorities

agreed by the Parochial Church Council on 17th September 2014

1    OUR CHURCHES AS CENTRES OF OUR COMMUNITY

We aim to establish and maintain our churches at the centre of the life of Richmond. We aim to do this in two ways

  • by making our church buildings available to and used by the people of Richmond for activities that strengthen our common life
  • by involving ourselves as the church of God in the heart and life of Richmond – wherever that may lead us

Making our church buildings available – action             by whom and by when

Keep church buildings open as much as possible, to provide space to encounter God through prayer, reflection, conversation and exploring beautiful and historic buildings

Decide range of things offered in each church                             Church Committees
(eg coffee, leaflets, minister present)

                                     – launch at Advent 2014
St Mary’s – done – Christmas 2014

Recruit and train volunteers                                                            Church Committees

– launch at Advent 2014
St Mary’s – recruitment & instruction – done – February 2015
                                                                                                      More training needed?

Publicise opening times (around parish and internal)                            Admin team

– by November 1st 2014
St Mary’s – internal – done – February 2015
                                                                                                around parishnot yet

EXTRA

       Monthly concert series                                               done – from January 2015

       Building development project                          underway– from Summer 2014

 

Involving ourselves – action                                    by whom and by when

Town Centre chaplaincy

Research practice elsewhere for report to           Team Rector – by October 2014

Staff Meeting
not yet

Identify pastoral needs in our businesses – conversation with Richmond Business and Retail Association                                                     Team Rector – by August 2014

                                                           begun – in conversation since October 2014

EXTRA

Richmond Business Carol Service                                     done – December 2015

Street Pastors

We have at present four Street Pastors and two Prayer Pastors

Recruit at least one new Prayer Pastor from each church     Church Committees

– by Advent Sunday 2014
St Mary’s – not yet

have at least one Street Pastor from each church in training    Church Committees

– by APCM 2015
                                                                                                       St Mary’s – not yet

Christian Basics course aimed at those who do not already come to church
Report to PCC or Standing Committee                                                 Staff Meeting

– by Advent 2014
                                                                                                                            not yet

Ask of each action Will this help our congregations to grow in number? If so, how?

2    WELCOME AND PASTORAL CARE

We aim to show that the glory of God is found in human beings who are fully alive. We aim to do this by

  • providing a warm and sensitive welcome to all who attend our worship and other events, or who visit our buildings for any reason
  • developing a pastoral structure that will be responsive to each person’s needs as they arise

Welcome – action                                                              by whom and by when

ensure that each church has an ample team of trained and confident welcomers to cover each service                                                                                  Church Committees

– by Advent Sunday 2014
St Mary’s – done – Advent Sunday 2014
More training needed?

ensure each church has existing newcomers’ literature in place              Admin Team

– by September 1 2014
                                                                                   St Mary’s done – Advent 2014
Pewsheet tear-off  – done – Easter 2015
                                                                           Is literature adequate?

encourage members of each congregation to engage with newcomers and each other (by those means best suited to each congregation)                                        Ministry Team

– at once
Church Committees – at once
                                                                                                          How are we doing?

Pastoral care – action                                                 by whom and by when

St Mary’s to review cluster group network                                 Church Committee

– by end October 2015
St Mary’sdone – January-March 2015
                                                                                                                       Next steps?

St John’s and St Matthias to adopt parallel systems          Church Committees

– by APCM 2015

Each congregation to identify who might need help  travelling to and from church and who might help them                                                                      Church Committees

– by Advent Sunday 2014
                             St Mary’s done – notices November 2014 – February 2015
                                                                                                              Further action?

Identify interest in setting up of one or more home groups – report to Ministry Team                                                                                                    Eileen Vickers

– by end of September 2014
                                                               done – group meeting since October 2014

Ask of each action Will this help our congregations to grow in number? If so, how?

3    EMBRACING ALL AGES

We aim to honour the gifts and respond to the needs of all people, whatever stage of life they have reached.  We aim to do this by

  • being ‘age aware’
  • developing a range of age-specific events and activities

Age aware – action                                                      by whom and by when

Ask in relation to each event ‘Which age groups do we seek to include?’

PCC, Church Committees, Ministry Team, others
– at once
                                                                                                 How are we doing?

Consult SevenUp team about opportunities  for young people and older people to interact                                                                                                 Ministry Team

– by August 31st 2014
                                                                                                                        not yet

Consult Richmond Good Neighbours about co-operation                            SPAs

– by end August 2014
                                                                                                                        not yet

Age-specific – action                                                by whom and by when

7-teens provision – report to PCC                                           Youth Strategy Group

– by November 2014
                                                                                              done – November 2014
                                                                                                                    Next steps?

20s-30s provision – report to PCC – November 2014                       Ministry Team

                                                                                                                           not yet

Baby sitting needs and offers – seek requests and offers                     Admin team

– at once
                                                                                                       doneunderway
                                                                                                              Further action?

Ask of each action Will this help our congregations to grow in number? If so, how?

                    

Posted in Sermons, St Matthias | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply