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A new beginning

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Philippians 3:17-41 & Luke 10:38-42
SMAS 10.30am CW Communion

Last November our PCC held an away day. This wasn’t a jolly at the sea-side but a hard-working day we held at Histon. We did this because from time to time all churches, via their PCC should look at where they are going, what they are aiming at and how their church is doing in general. On top of this the diocese requires all churches to have a Mission Action Plan (MAP) which states how they intend to grow in numbers and thrive in their faith.

So this was rather like giving ourselves a sort of health check.  This involved doing some check-up tests on what we are doing, what we are about and more importantly how well we are doing. Obviously the questions we asked and the answers we received were affected by the fact that there had recently been a long interregnum.

None of this day was about me pushing an agenda. The tests and questions came from a long and well-established source that’s recommended by the diocese. Further, I didn’t dictate how the PCC responded.

We had to mark ourselves against 7 check-points. All, eventually, things that have to be tackled but we had to choose two of them to go away and start working on as a first priority. At this point which was towards the end of the day I went outside so the PCC could make their own decision about how we move forward. I found that as difficult as the time I sat outside the hospital when my daughter was giving birth to her first child. Nerve-wracking, frightening but exciting too! Would they make the right choices? I was as pleased with their result as I was with the birth of my first grandson. A perfect result. The PCC made a spot-on analysis of what needed tackling as priority.

Firstly: as a church we need to become more energised by our faith. This means not being driven by worldly issues such as money, buildings, fashion. Our faith must dictate what we do and how we do it.

Secondly: that we must listen for what God wants. Actively listening and then doing what he wants rather than what we want.

There are five other points that need tackling but these are our first priority because they undergird everything else.

Going and having a check-up doesn’t solve anything. It merely shows what needs remedying.

A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor’s. After his check-up the doctor asked to speak to her alone. He said, ‘Your husband is suffering from a very serious disease, combined with stress. If you don’t do the following your husband can die. Each morning make him a healthy breakfast, be pleasant and make sure he’s in a good mood. Make him a healthy lunch; also an especially nice meal for him in the evening. Don’t burden him with chores or your own stress, this will make him feel worse. If you can do this for at least 10 months I think he will regain his health completely.’ On the way home the husband asked his wife ‘What did the doctor say to you?’ ‘You’re going to die.’

We are not going to let this patient die. We’re going to start working on a programme designed to improve the health of our church. And what better time to start work on this than Lent? You must have noticed the extra things happening in Lent. Homegroups, Prayer and Praise, a Prayer Vigil and a special sermon series too. It’s the start of our programme for developing a healthy church.

So, people of St Mary & All Saints, are you up for this? It feels as if I’m asking you to take part in a TV make-over challenge.

It might be daunting, but also exciting. Each of us will receive blessings and hopefully other Willingham residents too eventually. Truly great things could come from this.

Let’s have our first reading now: Philippians 3:17-41.

St Paul there is writing to the church at Philippi about those who are ‘enemies’ of the cross of Christ. You might think an enemy of the cross of Christ is a really terrible person: hostile and standing against Christianity? But that’s not the case: its quite easy for US to become one without even realising. Think of your non-Christian friends. For the most part they probably don’t display hostility. Mostly what gets displayed against Christ is apathy. We can’t be bothered, either to give our lives over to Him, or face His demands. Jesus described His enemies as being those ‘who did not want me to reign over them’. That’s what makes us enemies of the cross of Christ.

St Paul says they are heading for destruction; people who let their appetites dictate their lives. He‘s not necessarily talking about food: but anything that panders to self. He explains it in food terms because he’s mostly talking to religious Jews who were still adhering to religious dietary laws. Holding on to earthly rituals and beliefs that God gave Israel in the past. This resulted in them opposing the heavenly blessings that the Christian has in Christ. They were earthly minded rather than spiritually minded.

Being “spiritually minded” means looking at earth from heaven’s point of view. We must take care - it’s possible for Christians to be “so heavenly minded they are no earthly good.” But Christians have a dual citizenship - on earth and in heaven. Our citizenship in heaven ought to make us better people here on earth. The spiritually minded believer is not attracted by the “things” of this world. He makes his decisions on the basis of eternal values and not passing fads of society.

Paul encourages us to be spiritually minded - the Christian’s citizenship is in heaven. Just as Philippi was a colony of Rome on foreign soil, so the church is a “colony of heaven” on earth.

It’s sometimes easy to fool ourselves into thinking that what we desire is spiritual because its for the good of others - our families, a good education, nice home, clothes and holidays. But all of the time we’re thinking about those things we’re not thinking about our ‘citizenship of heaven’.

If we were then it would indeed be our faith that was energising us!

Listening to what God wants

God speaks to those who listen. It might be good when we are able to do what we want but life is a whole lot better when we do what God wants, believe me! In order to hear God we need to be fully connected. As a plug usually connects to the electricity supply through three pins so a Christian connects to God three ways: Prayer, Bible and Church.

Spending time with God is not an option, it’s essential.
Listen to Luke 10:38-42

Mary was ‘sitting at Jesus’ feet’. This meant being a disciple, a ‘learner’. When Jesus says she’s chosen the better part its not that the listening meditative one is superior to the one bustling about. It’s about what’s appropriate at the time. When to be a good host & when to attend to things of the Spirit.

Jesus was a doer but He allowed Himself plenty of time sitting at God’s feet - late at night, early morning, talking, listening. If Jesus needed that balance how much more must we?

It’s about input and output. Mary is taking in and Martha is giving out. Both are right. Both are done in service of the Lord. But you can’t keep giving out without being replenished - like a jug of water. You can’t give out what you haven’t taken in. If we are not steeped in Jesus, His ways, His power how can we show Him to others. An empty jug is an empty jug - you can’t show anyone water with an empty jug!

However much good we achieve doing good works, if we neglect listening to God, then we’re not in line with His will for our lives. We need to know what He wants us to do. The devil wants us to think that sitting listening to God seem boring, actually it’s the opposite: refreshing, rejuvenating, problem solving.

Please join in listening to God over the next few weeks, in growing closer to Him in order to hear His voice, and being energised by Him. We’re all at different places in our spiritual journey. To be ‘fully connected’ will be different for each of us: for some it might mean meeting with God and encountering his love in a meaningful way for the first time.
For others it will be growing in a deeper knowledge and awareness of what God expects of us. Jesus' invitation to 'take up our cross and follow Him' is an invitation to give up self and worldly things and see our whole life as belonging to God.

And its not just about God expecting more from us. It’s also about us expecting more from God. As we walk closely with Him we’ll encounter him more powerfully. We will know that we have eternal life through Him: know that we are loved by Him and that nothing else compares to this. The power of God that will flow through us and be seen in all we do by those around us.

Jesus offers everyone a new beginning today. Not a fairy tale, Disney type, happy-ever-after-wish. A new beginning: peace with God; forgiveness of sin; assurance of eternal life’ a right relationship with God. A 24/7 hotline to God. A source of divine love, joy and power to live for God. But we must respond: take the time, energy and devotion to nurture and grow in our trust of God. This involves discipline, not a popular word today, but you don't get to be a disciple without discipline. It means time and energy in worship, Bible study and prayer, both on our own and with other believers in church. Jesus invented the church so we can support and help one another, and show his love and life to the world.

There was a woman who wanted peace in the world and her heart.
The world seemed to be falling apart and her personal life wasn't great either.Out shopping one day she walked into a large store. She was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus because he looked just like paintings she'd seen in museums and books. Finally she got up the nerve to ask, "Excuse me, but are you Jesus?" "I am." "Do you work here?"
"In a way; I own the store." "What do you sell here?" "Just about everything," Jesus replied. "Feel free to look around and see what you want. Then come back and I'll see what I can do for you." She walked up and down the aisles, writing furiously. There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty. There was peace in families, harmony, no conflict, no more drugs, careful use of resources. She returned to the counter with a long list. Jesus looked over it, smiled at her and said, "No problem." He bent down behind the counter, picked out several things, finally stood up, and laid out the packets on the counter.

"What are these?" she asked. "Seed packets - this is a store of beginnings." "You mean I don't get the finished product?" "No, this is a place of beginnings. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. You go home and plant them, you water and nurture them and help them to grow, and someday someone else reaps the benefits."
"Oh," she said. And she left the store without buying anything.

Our extras in Lent are seeds. Will you plant them or just leave them sitting on the newsheet each week?

Later we’ll say the Lord's prayer. The world's most popular prayer is, "Thy will be changed." The world's greatest prayer is, "Thy will be done." Jesus’ mother Mary prayed that. She could have refused the invitation of the angel to bear the Son of God. It would have been understandable. She did it because God is God and he had chosen her. God chooses people to follow him today, He offers us the seeds of discipleship. Are we prepared to accept these seeds, plant them, feed them and nurture them?

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