28th February Sermon St Mary’s Fordingbridge – Christians and the Community
You may need to read the following scripture alongside this sermon (Genesis 28: 10-19a and John 1: 35-51) Also when I say “this” at the beginning I refer to the church building!
Is Jacob responsible for all this? Would we have avoided English Heritage without him setting up the stone that had been under his head as a memorial that God was in that place? Has Jacob confined us all in these buildings and tied his stone as a mill-stone around our necks?
No, it wasn’t Jacob because he realised God was everywhere and more importantly inside all of us – we are his temple and as is everything around us and he suddenly realised that this life was the key to heaven. When he said that where he woke up was a terrifying place he meant awesome not terrible and frightening and I suspect he was somewhat panic stricken at his own lack of perception to this point.
So why have we locked him in all these places which take up so much of our cash and our time? Well before I get too much on my hobby-horse, what is the most identifiable thing that alerts people to Christendom, these amazing buildings in almost every village, town and city across the Christian world, so it’s not all bad is it. Of course the church – the building can be an amazing thing if it isn’t just seen as a pile of old stones rooted deep in the past. What I’m going to say next is ONLY my opinion and it’s entirely ok for you to think I’m wrong, and I might be. Oh how I wish when we had the new window above the heating vent that we had looked forward to the future and not back to the past, exactly 100 years before the turn of the year we were actually celebrating in 2000. In 500 years we will give the impression we were Victorians, not Elizabethans. And to my mind that’s our problem – we treat these places as shrines to the past and the net result has been English Heritage and their rules. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a historian, I like old buildings but for me, history is about the evolution of our society and everything changes, it doesn’t sit in aspic and neither should this place and others like it.
Our other reading sees Jesus meeting some of his new chums one of whom is taking shelter under a fig tree. This morning we also came across a fig tree in a parable Jesus told which I’m sure you know but as a reminder goes like this – A man owned a vineyard and in the vineyard was also a fig tree but at three years old it had yet to fruit. The owner thought it was a waste of space but the gardener suggested it could have just one more chance. He would dig around it to loosen the soil and then he would put some nutrient around it to see if that would encourage it to grow and he told the owner that if next year it hadn’t grown then the owner could, if he wished, remove it. Now the point was that the gardener knew the fig tree was likely to fruit in its fourth year because it usually takes 4 years for most varieties to fruit so would it have fruited anyway, was the gardener simply helping the owner to have some faith rather than just nurturing the tree? Well we assume that had the story continued, the tree would have produced figs for the following year and many to come. Nathaniel was sheltering under a fig tree when he met Jesus and Jesus told him that meeting him was far from spectacular and that he would see angels going up and down in heaven, making truth of Jacob’s dream.
The fig tree took time to grow and then it produced fruit. It started out as a small sapling and over time it grew and the one Nathaniel sheltered beneath had grown tall enough to protect him from the sun and I guess produced a good crop year on year. That tree changed over time and the more it changed the more bountiful it became. In my view – and again you are free to disagree, this is our fig tree. It isn’t as spectacular as what we will see in heaven but it is capable of growing and producing new fruit year on year, but only if we accept that its shape will change, that at times it may need a prune to cut out disease and to re-invigorate it for the future. From time to time its old fruit will drop off and be replaced with new fruit. It will change but it will still be the same tree but it won’t look like it did the day it was planted. And if it does change then it can be the gateway to heaven not just for the 20 or so here this evening but to many, many more for God is here and God is here (inside us). We too change, we too must move forward. Sometimes that’s a pain until we learn to cope with the change, but now I can watch a programme I would have missed 30 years ago just by pressing a few buttons on my TV, watching it whenever it suits me. I can also watch it on the train on my I-pad and even on my phone, and I can use my phone as a wallet on the underground and as a watch, an alarm clock, a means of seeing my grandchildren 200 miles away and talking to them as well. If all this changes then why not the very place of God who has created everything including my Samsung Galaxy mini and my Ipad. Nathaniel was amazed and Jesus told him that was nothing compared to what was to come.
And as I said to the congregation in Breamore this morning with my tin hat on and my Kevlar vest hiding behind a state of the art riot shield, unless we take this church (us) outside this church (the building) once the current crop of figs has fallen off, we won’t see a new crop. There has just been another doom and gloom report about our falling numbers, but they ignore all those people at Puddle Ducks on a Thursday and those who come after school to Boost and those who come to Lent Lunches when they don’t usually come to church, but of course if we go out there with this church (us) and are willing to be opened up we can meet so many more. This morning’s first lesson was about God telling Israel that as his chosen they had to invite others in, and to do that they had to ask those people, and they had to go to where those people were to ask them along. This of course (building) makes it more difficult because we can’t see them and they can’t see us, so maybe we should say “to hell with English Heritage” we will have a nice glass window all along this wall so we can see out and others can see in”, but better still we can go out there. I did a project some years ago for a course I went on and I called the project “the step of terror” – it’s this step here, it’s the one where many of us leave our courage behind (not everyone) and where others can’t find enough courage to come in here and pass over it. Peter Murphy drew me a cartoon of it which I still have.
So go plant your rock in the pub, in the co-op, where you work, where you play, where you meet others, and then dig it up and take it somewhere else. It might get chipped, it might have a few edges knocked off, but so what, for it is not a memorial as Jacob’s was but a living thing that can bring others to God. And pray God we have the courage to do with this place what God needs us to do with it, to use it to his glory rather than to look after it as if we’d never been here. Amen