Christians and the Community. Sermon 28th February, St Mary’s, Breamore
Today we are being asked to consider the relationship between Christians and the Community.
Socrates apparently once said: “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing”. Donald Rumsfeld, one time American Secretary of State for Defence took this a stage further and said:
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”
I might go further and say the latter are impossible because we will never know what we don’t know.
If we look at the Isaiah passage God is explaining to people that they don’t know what they don’t know – “Why spend your wages and still be hungry” he says, the implication being, it’s not because you haven’t enough money to feed yourself, it’s that what you feed yourself on will never satisfy you however much you have of it, and also as a result you will never know what you are missing – you don’t know what you don’t know. You may be perfectly content in your ignorance but you will be missing out.
In case you think I sound like Sir Humphrey Appleby in “Yes Minister”, I will try to make more sense from now on! What is it they say about the British and the Americans – two great nations separated by one language?
But back to Isaiah, God says “come to me and I will really show you life, I will bless you.” But here’s the rub – he then says “Now you will summon foreign nations; and in our terminology in 2016 – you will summon those in your community who do not know me, God. He goes on to say that if you invite them they will come running.
So my question is – where are they, I don’t see them do you? So what conclusion might we draw – well one could be that we haven’t asked them? Have you asked them? God is quite clear, if Isaiah has heard properly, as he says next “I will make this happen”.
So let’s fast forward to Jesus and the parable of the unfruitful fig tree. My rudimentary knowledge of genus Ficas suggests to me that most figs do not fruit for at least four years. So the first thing to note is that the man who owned the vineyard was ignorant of the fruiting pattern of fig trees because his had only been in the ground for three years, so it was unlikely it would already have fruited. The gardener does have more knowledge though, I wonder who the gardener is, and he clearly has knowledge, could he be God? And what is the fig tree, is it the church? Does he already know the fig will in all likelihood fruit next year anyway, or does he do something to give the owner something tangible to hold on to, to help the owner believe? He says, “I tell you what I’ll do, I’ll feed the little tree with some goodness but before that I will loosen the soil around it a little and that will help the goodness to get in. But, if it doesn’t fruit next year then you can have it removed if you want to.”
So is that why we aren’t all squashed in here like sardines? Is the time about to come and we should be patient? If you read the research around current church attendance that seems unlikely as we are told that attendance continues to drop. But wait a minute – how are we being counted – on a Sunday, but many churches who are forward thinking meet at many times apart from Sunday. You only have to drive four miles down the road to Fordingbridge several times a month and you will find both toddlers and their parents and infant and primary school children and their parents doing church, but they aren’t in the numbers.
In Fordingbridge the people have dug around their fig tree – the church, and opened it up to some new goodness – that goodness happens outside the church, in the hall as well as inside the church and it happens on different days to Sunday. The people have opened up the church to new possibilities because they have moved away from just Sunday and the church is now fruiting. Fordingbridge is a very small example – there are many churches across this land that have moved away from their central stem – the church building and are flourishing because they as they have moved further out they have met the people who don’t know what they don’t know.
Bishop Tim has set us all on a journey and I get a sneaking feeling he did know what we didn’t know. Maybe until last year you didn’t feel very involved but now you have your sections of the pMAP to focus on. The point is this – if all you continue to do is to come here on a Sunday it won’t be long before no-one is here because these beautiful walls not only keep us in but they avoid us reaching out and no-one out there can see in. I notice that part of your plan is to make a bigger link with the school – not just Ian, or Gary, Rachel, John, Nicky and occasionally me when I take an assembly but each and every one of you. You now have the opportunity to dig wider round this building as far as the school and maybe the Bat & Ball and let some goodness in. The people might think it is a bit smelly to begin with but in time new growth will sprout and the main stem will grow, but not before, to go back to Isaiah, we have welcomed in the foreign nations by going out to see them. I shall look with interest at what you do in the coming months.
Of course the big question is – are you up to be that smelly manure, not very welcome at the beginning but in time turning what is barren into something that flourishes and pours forth fruit? Community exists all around us, we can offer much to it but we have to let it know what we have to offer,, we have to welcome it by giving it some extra encouragement and we can’t do that by trying to do it from in here. We have to let it know what it doesn’t know. Maybe you now think I have created a stink that you would rather not have – well if so you can throw me out.
And I’m going to finish now where I’ve potentially been the whole time – in a controversial place. By being in community within this partnership will make the journey into community easier. The vineyard in the parable has vines in it and at least one fig, they exist close by to each other, sharing the same soil – do the three parishes in our patch of ground exist as different things that live in the same place but do not entwine or do we travel between churches, support each other, see ourselves as one united patch of fruitful ground or do we say “I’m a grapevine, or I’m a fig and we don’t need to have anything to do with each other?” If I’m honest, and I might as well be as I am probably deep in the manure already – I think we remain, after what 10 years – separated. I’m not saying we should all be grapes or figs because there is room in God’s acre for all, but the point is we share that acre for the mutual benefit of all:
“For the body itself is not made up of one part, but of many parts. If the foot were to say, because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body, that would not keep it from being a part of the body…God put every part in the body just as he wanted it to be. There would not be a body if it were all only one part. As it is there are many parts but one body…so then the eye cannot say to the hand – I don’t need you…if one part suffers all the other parts suffer with it, if one part is praised all the other parts share its happiness.”
So says St Paul to those not just in Corinth but to us in Hale, Woodgreen, Godshill, Breamore, Sandleheath and Fordingbridge.
If we are community, we can be community, not just as Christians but right through the community in which we live. Amen.