On Sunday October 10th, as our week of focussed prayer and reflection as a community on generosity and vision for our church came to an end, the Vicar preached the following sermon. October 10th also marked Rev’d Canon Rachel’s induction as our Vicar following from here initial licensing on Zoom in April 2020.
As I look back over the last 3 years it is with profound gratitude to our God and to our communities that I reflect on all that has been achieved here in the heart of our town.
The final completion of our Cornerstone project means that we now have a fully accessible and fully utilised building – with diverse community groups keeping the crypt in use throughout the week – and a full annual concert programme with music of all genres in a unique venue now appreciated by people across South Kirklees and beyond.
Our calendar of Civic services and events, enhanced and firmly established for the future in the last 3 years, sees thousands of people who would otherwise never come to church join us in celebration and lament for the life of our communities. With themes such as education, celebrating our business and enterprise, Remembrance and more we have seen people of all faiths and none brought together in a space and with a welcoming heart that is distinctively Christian.
We celebrate too the corresponding growth in our congregations and in visitor numbers – something made possible by the broad range of well resources services we offer and our now well established and well trained team of hosting volunteers throughout the week, helping people to engage with both the heritage and living faith story of this place that means so much to us all.
Our regular enquirers courses, linked to our annual initiation service where people of all backgrounds step out together on the next part of their journey of faith has, over the last 3 years, seen so many baptisms, first communions and confirmations.
We have always been a diverse worshipping community, but over the last 3 years we have made intentional inclusion a priority, ensuring access to our services, events and community life is thought out for the access needs of all the diverse groups and individuals whom God is calling to live in community with us here. We made a commitment and have worked hard not just to welcome new groups to church, but to help people who disagree to disagree well, in a safe space.
I could go on…. And on…. There is more…… About all we have achieved in the last three years….. and all we are grateful to God for…… I wonder how many of you are thinking I’ve lost the plot, and how many of you have cottoned on to what I’m doing?
The things I have just spoken of are part of the dream we were dreaming at yesterday’s church council away day – they are part of the imaginary sermon I long to preach to you here in 2024. This week we have all been thinking and praying about all we might be able to give to enable the life of God’s church in this place. With our focus today on gratitude, I wanted to give you a glimpse of that life – the abundant life to come that only God and our own grateful giving of time, skills and money in response to God can bring to fruition.
Last week Amanda gave you all a person – a cardboard representation of you – and asked you to pray with it this week and bring it back to church today. I hope you have decorated it or written on it – with something that represents your personal commitment to be grateful to God and to give all you can of your skills, gifts and resources in service of God’s vision for this place. There will be a place for you to put those as you come up for communion today.
And as I ask you to give generously with a grateful heart – we hear Jesus speaking of what happens when we think we can somehow hold back from God that which has always been Gods – by which I mean of course all that we are and all that we have. “All things come from you – and of your own do we give you.”
Jesus reminds the young man who kneels before him that we are called to live by God’s commandments, and we are called to live generously, because the things we think we can hold back from God will become our own stumbling blocks, our own barriers, between us and God – made not by God but by us.
Jesus does not set out a complex metaphor about gates into Jerusalem – he states a fact. In a world where there is hunger – how can someone who hangs on to their riches know the Kingdom of God? It is not God who is denying us access – we have built our own walls, made our own prisons of imagined financial security. The only way a camel can pass through the eye of a needle is if you’ve put it through a blender first – and that, as Jesus says, is not easy. I’m not even sure how billionaires who go on joy rides to space look at themselves in the mirror – never mind expecting to wangle a pass to the Kingdom of heaven.
Creation is burning, we live in times of gross economic injustice – not just around the world but here in our own town – people need to hear and see in action the Good news of Jesus Christ in this place. Will we enable that with our generous hearts? Or will we go away sad because we can’t stop hugging to ourselves that which could transform the world around us if we let it go?
When we ask you to give to the church – this is the truth of that request. Our giving enables ministry – ministry enables the sharing of the Gospel by clergy and laity together – when we share the gospel in word and deed the barriers that divide us from the kingdom of heaven melt away – like that blended camel, leaking through the eye of the needle.
It was Desmond Tutu who said “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” When we give to the life of the church we are committing not just to being people who bring cans of soup for the food bank – that helps pull people out of the river. We are seeing the bigger picture – that in a world that is ordered by God’s commandments, that strives to live Jesus’ way every day – people wouldn’t be falling in. We’re not giving to our hobby or our Sunday social life – we’re giving to share God’s fundamental truth in a world that has never needed it more.
Our generosity could be the difference between wanting to be an eco church – leading the way on becoming carbon neutral and sustainable in our stewardship of God’s creation – and falling at the first hurdle because we think we can’t afford the toilet paper that will save the planet.
Our generosity could be the difference between wanting clergy who will teach, lead and inspire – and falling at the first hurdle because we think we can’t afford to pay our dues into the Diocesan pot – a pot which notably gives us back way more than we put in to it.
Our generosity is the difference between not daring to dream, holding back from God, thinking all the church can be is smaller and smaller and smaller with each passing year – and resourcing a church that can be a beacon, a lighthouse, a living sign of what it means to live God’s way and share God’s goodness.
If we want to be part of what God is trying to do here – we need to be all in. I urge you today not just to offer your cardboard cut-out as a sign of your commitment to this journey, but to make a financial commitment too – fill out the standing order form and stick it in the pedestal – make your giving the kind of giving we can rely on month in month out so that bills can be paid and God’s people can focus not on fear of decline – but on how best to serve those we are called to serve. Jesus tells us we will receive a hundredfold if we can find the courage to pursue his way.
Let us be courageous today. Amen.