Sermon for Sunday, 26 July 2020
By Revd David Moore
The first time I conducted public worship was in a tiny Methodist Chapel in the village of Hinton Charterhouse, which is six miles from Bath where I lived. I was nineteen. Dorothy accompanied me and, as the organist was sick, had to play the harmonium!
We travelled by bus. It was winter and the Chapel was heated by a coke stove positioned in the centre of the chapel. I read the notices, which were in a large notebook. But the last notice was a folded poster, which, by the time I had unfolded it completely, I could no longer see the congregation and it was much too near my face for me to read. So, carefully turning the poster I asked the congregation to read the poster to me. Which they did! Not the usual Call to Worship!
That first sermon somehow got parcelled up in the chaos and cooperation of those moments. The service proceeded and eventually concluded with the Blessing and when I opened my eyes there was a kettle on the coke-fired stove!
Then there were, of course, disputes within the service as to which tunes were sung to two of the hymns and that was part and parcel of the worship! That’s West Country chapel-religion for you!
This was a congregation who in the main had known each other much, if not most, of their lives. And today, sixty-four years later, the memories of that day remain in a deep secure place in my memory. The chapel is no longer there…, but in my memory it will remain as long as I live.
I tell you all this personal history because somehow ‘the hit and miss’ nature of reading scripture aloud in church is still as critical to me as it was for my first service all those years ago. So today’s reading about finding a treasure in a field, a man acting with dubious morals, is held up as virtuous! So what do we think of that? What are we to make of this?
Parables are about story-telling and at their best are just wonderful, but to the modern mind there are plenty of issues which make some recoil.
The one thing I wish to point out to you from the Gospel reading today is that we encounter the purposes of God, and indeed the presence of God in countless ways – waving our personal religious flag – Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed, which mean nothing to God.
But Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, United Reformed actively pursuing a joined-up Ecumenical agenda will make God do more than smile – probably whistle or even tap dance!
This Church of Christ the Cornerstone was built as a fortress to the lasting values of Ecumenical modernity. After quite a good start we have, to my mind, for years been slipping, missing the mark, failing to be sufficiently ambitious to remain positive and politically true to our vision. Churches that boast of political neutrality, or who fail to focus upon the period of history of Ecumenism in Milton Keynes sell the future short.
We as a congregation, and I include myself in this critique, can turn up on Sundays, say our prayers, listen to a sermon, receive communion, have a chat and that is it for another week. Belonging to a congregation means more than turning up on time and putting money in the collection – it should be about sharing the weight of the overall purpose of this place in recognising in today’s world every church is now an outpost for pilgrims.
That tiny congregation in Somerset I referred to earlier has not survived and there is no guarantee that a church such as this will survive in the same form for ever. That is why Cornerstone first and foremost chose an Ecumenical Partnership; it is the only way to survive in a city centre.
All praise to God for every office holder, and every hand that drops coins in the collection basket. … We haven’t arrived, we are simply catching our breath for the next stage of a very long journey, and that means formulating what our long-term game plan really is.
That is why we should be shaking the gates of heaven in prayer for the Ministers, the Officers, the Stewards and all who are part of this community.
City-centre churches are extremely hard places to work and that is another reason for praying for our Ministers and for ourselves.