Making More Disciples: Dare to Dream
Morning Service for Trinity Sunday led by our Minister.
This sermon is taken from John 16, verses 12-15 and Romans 5, verses 1-5
Making More Disciples: Dare to Dream
Like a lot of men, my father enjoyed model railways. He created some really ambitious ones in the course of his life and thoroughly enjoyed working them. In fact, on the night he died, my three brothers quite spontaneously went into the room where the last model railway had sat, untouched for several years and managed to get one train to run along the rails again in his honour.
Like many fathers, it took my Dad a while to come to terms with the fact that children are not model railways. They do not run obediently along the tracks you lay down for them. No matter how much you love them; or how much good advice you give them, they will go their own way. It is not that loving parents do anything wrong; it is just the way life is. When you create a living creature, it must grow and develop in its own way.
Today is the last Sunday on which we shall be looking at the Holy Habit of “Making More Disciples.” And I am saying, “Dare to Dream” because this dream can be quite a challenge. In the first place, the signs are not encouraging. Local churches are closing down all the time. Our own church membership is diminishing as former members die or move away and there are not as many new people taking their place. Children’s and youth work is a perpetual challenge as young people have many other interests and are growing up in a secular society. Our confidence burns low. We start to wonder if it is we who have got it all wrong, all of which makes it hard to dream of Making More Disciples.
But there is also a second challenge. And that is of allowing our dreams to reflect the reality of life. For most of us, our dreams reflect largely what happened in the past. We would like to see local churches restored to the numbers, the vigorous support, the good works they achieved that we remember. For that is why we are here. The great, loving, inspiring congregations of which we were a part played a huge role in bringing us to faith. We want our friends, our neighbours, our children and grandchildren to have that same experience.
There is nothing wrong with that but just think for a moment- many of our friends, neighbours, children did have that experience but for them it did not work. The “good old days” did not reproduce themselves into the next generations. We are back to the model railways- churches may have set out tracks on which we hoped our children would run in faith. And the tracks we set out were probably good, imaginative, encouraging. But many chose not to follow them. And although, as with being a parent, a lot of mistakes were made, it is not that we did anything drastically wrong. It is that life has taken its own course.
So yes, dreaming of making more disciples is going to take a lot of daring.
And today is Trinity Sunday, traditionally the day many ministers find it convenient to be on holiday because we cannot face trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. One Christian writer asked “what difference does it make anyway? What difference can it possibly make to a bus driver, a refrigerator salesman, a dressmaker, or the manager of a laundry?”
He has a point. If I stand here trying to explain scientifically, mathematically and theologically how one God can be three-persons-in-one, what difference is that going to make to you, wherever you are this time tomorrow? But this writer (D.W.Cleverly Ford) went on to say that it is not about explaining the Trinity. It is about introducing people to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Once again, he is right. If you think about it, very few people come to faith purely through academic arguments. Most find faith at the point where their deepest needs come into contact with the reality of God’s presence.
SO who needs to be introduced to God as Father? Many say that there is little evidence of a loving, caring God in our world. If God is our Father, then why is there cancer? Why are there earthquakes? Why are children born only to die? Think of all the people you know who are angry with God and despairing about life, with all its pain.
It is a cruel world. I can make no excuses for it, nor provide all the answers but I do still hold that, without belief in a loving God, we would have no hope. Cleverly Ford writes “This belief provides a light by which to go on hoping, and while there is hope there is life.”
And I look at the people who use their own tragedies to make life better for others and see there an underlying belief in the Fatherhood of God because they are responding as sisters and brothers to sisters and brothers.
I look at the people who are campaigning vigorously for stringent measures to be taken to protect our planet from destruction and see an underlying belief in the Fatherhood of God because they do not see this earth as their personal possession but as a gift, a resource to be protected for future generations.
St Paul, writing to the first Christians in Rome (not the healthiest place to be for a church at that time), encourages them to keep hoping. Hope is not an illusion, he says. It is founded on the love of God. They are not fools to keep hoping; they are realists because God is the source and strength of all life. And so, their “endurance” of suffering is a lot more than passive acceptance. It is something like the attitude of Beethoven, when faced with losing his hearing: “I will take life by the throat.” I will not give up on life. This is the spirit which can overcome the world and the worst that life can do because we have hope. So it is that as we live and behave as people with hope that those now living in bitterness and despair will be introduced to God, as Father.
Who needs to be introduced to God the Son? There are still many who jeer at the statement “God is love” as no more than wishful thinking, a figment of our imagination. But to be introduced to Jesus Christ is to be introduced to an actual historical figure who claimed and was proclaimed to be Son of God, the fullness of God poured into a human life. If he is who he said he was, then we see the reality of God in Jesus Christ and we cannot then deny that God is love. If there is one quality that Jesus displayed above all others, it is that of love. If you read certain parts of the Old Testament in our Bible you will find some horrible passages about God, where he is portrayed as cruel and malevolent and destructive. Some might argue that the people he is destroying have deserved what they got but does that level of vindictiveness ever produce goodness in the long term? And does anyone ever truly get what they “deserve’ in life?
Jesus took the way of love and self-sacrifice, setting out to convince men and women that they were “worth it” in the eyes of God. As the ancient creed says, he descended into hell itself, the very blackest parts of this life, in the hopes of getting us out of it. Paul wrote “Jesus has introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness” and it is as we show kindness, faithfulness in care, reaching out to those who turn away that the world will be introduced to the reality of God’s love and to God’s saving grace in the person of Jesus Christ.
It is the people who have lost faith in themselves who need to be introduced to Christ; the people who cannot believe that anyone would put themselves out for them, much less suffer and die for them. It is those who believe that they are worth-less who need Jesus and, despite our comparatively affluent society, there are a lot of people out there who despise and hate themselves.
And the Holy Spirit? Where does he come into all this? Jesus says to his disciples that he cannot tell them everything they need to know right now. It would be too much for them. They must wait for the Spirit who will guide them into all truth.
Let’s be honest: a lot of what our parents tell us as children goes in one ear and out the other because we are not ready to take their teaching on board. It is only later, when we have experienced a lot more of life that we finally understand what it was they were trying to tell us. Faith is like that. It never comes as a neatly wrapped package. It unfolds and develops as we live.
But in a world with so many confusing and conflicting messages coming at us; and being human beings with mood swings and time pressures and uncertainties of opinion, how can we be sure that our faith will progress in the right directions? What we call “fundamentalist” religions thrive on this fear of uncertainty. They do offer faith as a neatly wrapped package and people think they cannot go wrong……
But Jesus promises the Holy Spirit; the living power of God active in our lives. The Holy Spirit will guide us into truth at every twist and turn of our lives. The Holy Spirit will confirm God as our Father and Jesus Christ as his Son through every hour of every day if we allow him to. And that same Spirit will work in us to achieve great and good and wonderful things in our world. Those who have drifted away from faith and think that they cannot get back need to be introduced to the Holy Spirit. Those who have little confidence in themselves and little confidence in the human race, full stop need to be introduced to the Holy Spirit. Those who are locked in to a system of belief or non-belief that shuts them away from new truth and fresh understanding need to be introduced to the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity does make sense, doesn’t it? It is just three different ways of encountering God- as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. And, for Christians, it is not about explaining a complicated doctrine but about being the people who can introduce others to God, the holy and blessed Trinity and help them discover for themselves the difference that God, that Trinity does make in the life of a bus driver or a refrigerator salesman or an accountant or your angry friend or your anxious neighbour or your difficult colleague. The Holy Habit of Making More Disciples is a much needed one wherever we look.
But can we dare to dream?
I was thinking that yes, my father was undoubtedly disappointed and highly anxious at times about the tracks his children were taking, which were not the tracks he had laid down for them. But I hope that in the end he could see that the gifts he had given and encouraged in us- his gifts of love and loyalty, strength and integrity-had ensured that, although our paths through life had not been those of his choice, we would nevertheless be OK. We would cope.
And as I look around at the society which our children and grandchildren are creating, yes, there is a lot to be concerned about BUT look carefully: local church buildings may be closing but new worshipping groups are springing up in schools, sports centres, pubs and coffee shops. Active support of organised religion may be decreasing but interest in personal spirituality continues to be on the increase.
If you have been following the local tragedy of the Gurung family, you will see that something approaching £100,000 has been donated mostly by individual givers for those two orphaned children. There is still a lot of huge goodness and generosity in our society.
We may get impatient and poke fun at the endless rules about political correctness but at its heart there is a deep desire to make our nation truly inclusive, a place where people are not judged by their race or their colour or their gender or their abilities or their sexual orientation. Is not this what Jesus Christ said the kingdom of God was all about?
The dream of seeing our churches as they were fifty years ago may never come to pass; we cannot compel other people to do exactly as we do. But the gifts we have offered and continue to offer of prayer, of teaching, of love, of acceptance, of faith, of hope, of goodness will never be wasted because they are the gifts we have received from God, offer in the name of Jesus Christ and grow in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And the dream of seeing faith, hope, love, justice and peace growing and flourishing in human life and society was the dream of the Old Testament prophets, the dream of Jesus Christ, the dream of the end times as described in the Bible. Others dared to dream and so should we because our hope is rooted in God.
Keep praying for the children whose names are listed in our Newsletter every month, whether or not we have seen them here regularly since their baptism.
Keep praying for those of this faith community who seem to have drifted away and try to find out why.
Keep praying for friends, neighbours and family who have consistently rejected all invitations to join you at church, that they may encounter the love of God, the peace of Christ and the joy of the Holy Spirit for themselves and in their own way.
Remember- when it comes to Making More Disciples, God does not call us to be “successful,” as we might imagine “success.” He calls us to be faithful. And as we are faith-full, so we still dare to dream. Amen