A Place to Go: Creating a space for people to focus on God
Morning Service led by Revd J. Millington to celebrate the “The Turning” mission to Orpington.
This sermon is taken from The Reading is Matthew 25, verses 31-40. What does God want of us?
A PLACE TO GO
MY TURF/YOUR TURF: A PLACE TO GO
Does anyone recognise this piece of artwork? (The mounted statue of St Michael triumphant over the devil on the front of Coventry Cathedral)
Today-29th September-is St Michael’s day in the Christian Calendar, which was what reminded me of this statue.
Who was St Michael? Good question. He is only mentioned a few times in the Bible, as the “great archangel” who waged war against the devil. The stories in which he figures are full of high drama, fantastic creatures, supernatural warfare- all a bit “Lord of the Rings-ish.” And of course, the world is divided into those who think “Lord of The Rings” is one of the greatest books ever written and those who cannot see the point of it at all.
Likewise, there are people around who strongly believe in angels and demons and those who shake their heads (or tap their heads) and remind us that this is the 21st century….
But I am not getting into arguments about angels and demons. This is Coventry Cathedral we are talking about and it is all about goodness and evil.
On the night of the 14th November 1940, the city of Coventry and its cathedral were reduced to rubble by the bombing of the German air force. A former member of this church-Jean Martin- spoke here a few years ago of her experience as a child living in Coventry and of the terror of that night as all their homes collapsed around them. And Jean was just one child of hundreds living in that city on that night. She was just one child of millions across the world, traumatised by losing their homes, their schools, their families, their friends, their whole sense of security during that war. And they were the lucky ones who did at least live to tell their tale. Thousands of others never made it.
You have probably heard how, on the morning of 15th November, when sifting through the rubble of the ruined cathedral, Provost Howard picked up two charred roof beams, tied them into a cross, stood them against the broken wall and chalked up just the two words “Father, forgive.” It quickly became a permanent fixture in the ruins. Howard knew that the whole world was being plunged into increasing devastation; that the complex reasons behind all this went back decades, if not centuries (you could not blame it all on Hitler); that the human race had managed to unleash the most horrendous depths of cruelty, violence, hatred, destruction and that all people were, in a sense, “lost.” For whether you believed in an actual “devil” or not, you could not deny the existence of some terrifyingly powerful evil.
And, as we look at the world today, we cannot deny that evil is still very much with us. Countries are still being reduced to rubble by organised warfare; millions of people are still denied the basic human rights of food, water, homes and health care; terrorists strike without warning; drug barons knowingly get rich on the proceeds of broken lives; corruption is rife in governments; little children are suffering abuse and ill treatment. Whatever its origins, evil remains a terrifying threat to every single one of us.
After the Second World War, many towns and churches in the UK set up links with towns and churches across Europe, hoping to forge friendships that would help to heal the hurts of war and prevent such a thing happening again. When I was Associate minister in Purley, back in the early nineteen-nineties, that church had forged a six-way partnership- with themselves in the UK, a church in what was then West Germany, another in the East-still under Communist rule, one in the Czech republic-also behind the iron curtain, one in North America and one in Northern Ireland. Whilst I was there, we hosted a huge international conference, with people from all of these places joining together.
And the most unforgettable experience, for me, was the visit to Coventry. For there, in the cleaned up ruins of the old cathedral; in the shadow of the new cathedral- built as a place of reconciliation; in front of the charred cross and the words “Father, Forgive,” the people from each of those countries celebrated Holy Communion together.
And for me, this meant that, whether I believed literally in angels and the great archangel Michael or not, I could still believe in the power of goodness and in the power of God.
I hope you enjoyed the slideshow of people within this small faith community who, in their own way, have been “waging war” against such evils as disease, deprivation, isolation and social need. And I know that many more of you here have done and are still doing what you can, where you can to fight back against evil. Which is why, on Saint Michael’s day, I take this opportunity to salute you. For whoever or whatever St Michael was, you are his people, his “angelic force” fighting back in the strength of God against darkness and despair; pain and poverty; all the evil which destroys life.
Well done. And God bless you.
As we try to “Walk the Way of Jesus” in 21st century UK, we are exploring the different circumstances of our lives and how they affect our spiritual journey.
At the moment we are thinking about “Our Turf/Your Turf.” How do we live out our faith when we are outside the church? And what has the church got to offer 21st century UK?
A lot of people seem to have got the impression that having faith involves believing six impossible things before breakfast – like angels and demons, for example.
I would guess that all or almost all people in the world today would acknowledge that there is goodness in life and that there is evil.
I would also guess that normal human beings would wish for more goodness and less evil.
I am also aware that there are many men and women who are putting up a valiant fight against evil in some form or other and who claim to have no faith or religion at all. And good for them, I say. Keep fighting back.
It is just that the battle against evil can be a very long and very complex one. Most, if not all of us, get tired, confused, disappointed, despairing when the battles we try hard to fight just do not seem to be working. And perhaps for many of us the hardest thing of all to face is the evil in ourselves. For we learn, to our horror, that we too are capable of hatred and bitterness and vengeance and anger and greed and sheer human frailty.
The church, then, the community of faith, is, as I see it, a place to go when the battle is hard, and you just don’t feel quite strong enough. It is a place dedicated to a holy and loving God who is infinitely more powerful than we are. It is a place to which we come in order to be equipped to fight back against the evil in the world and the evil in ourselves.
Jesus said, as other great teachers said, that what God wanted of us was for us to do good and let’s face it, there is little point in a god who does not want to see goodness.
But Jesus also faced, as we face, the temptations to do things the wrong way; to give in to the weaknesses in ourselves; to give up on goodness altogether. And, in overcoming this himself, he is able to hold out a saving hand to each one of us.
The prophet Ezekiel had a dramatic vision one night of what the temple- the holy place in Jerusalem- was meant to be. He saw the Temple filling up with water. Then the water flowed out of the temple and filled the river which ran through the middle of the city, giving the city fresh water. The river in turn gave life to the trees planted on its banks and these trees, Ezekiel was told, would bear leaves which would be “for the healing of the nations.”
There is no “my turf/your turf” when it comes to the Christian church. For what happens in here will flow out into the whole life of our nation.
Keep that image in your mind through the week ahead and be glad that you were here today. Amen.