Sermon transcript, 5 July 2015
The way forward by Fr. Dana
I want briefly to pluck out a couple of things from the readings. In the Old Testament reading, God is sending Ezekiel to the people and He says, “I am sending you to them and you shall say ‘Thus says the LORD God’ – that’s what I’m telling you to do” (Ezekiel 2:3). And then He says, “As for them [for their part], whether they hear or whether they refuse… they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 2:5); in other words, “Your responsibility is to speak the Word – not to make them do it, but to speak it; it’s their problem if they refuse, but it’s your problem if you refuse to speak My Word.” We’re called to proclaim the Gospel, whether it’s popular, whether people agree with us, whether they think we’re great people or terrible people, bigots or whatever else, we’re called to declare the Gospel of the Lord in love, to speak the truth in love. That’s what we need to do.
In the New Testament, even Paul has a “thorn in the flesh”: we’re not perfect, and God won’t always heal us from those thorns; sometimes He lets them stay there. Often that’s because we’d become proud and puffed up if we didn’t have them: every time that thorn jabs us a little we remember that we’re human and have problems like the people we’re talking to. That’s good: it helps us to proclaim the truth in love rather than in arrogance. (II Corinthians 12:7-10)
Without vision we perish
What I really want to talk about this morning springs out of a very short half verse in the book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs was written by Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, and so it’s a book of wisdom. Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no vision the people perish”. That doesn’t mean they’re blind; he’s talking about a vision in the sense of a destination. When God called the Hebrew children out of Egypt, He didn’t call them out to escape Egypt; He called them out because He had a place for them to go, and they couldn’t go there unless they left Egypt. This is why God got a little ticked off when they said, “Oh, if only we could go back to Egypt! I remember the onions and the garlic; it was so good!” – forgetting about the bricks and the straw and the mud and all that other stuff. He had a place for them, and they were staying, “Oh, but the old place was better”. We all know that the old place wasn’t better: they were just remembering the food; everything else was lousy, but the food was great.
In May we celebrated twenty years of ministry as the CEC in London. I can’t tell you what the vision was during those twenty years; I do know that there was one, because you didn’t perish. And you know that there was a vision: Fr. Donn came to London because he had a vision of planting a church here; and what happened was bigger, because we have a mission in Edinburgh and one in Dublin. Now we come to a change: we have to change; we’re not running away from anything, because we didn’t choose this change. We’ve been praying that God would show us what He wants us to do, and He made it clear that He wants us to leave St. Margaret’s; that was a work of the Holy Spirit, because He set on their hearts to ask us to leave; He didn’t set it on our hearts: He has a purpose in it. That means that by 1st September we’ll be meeting in a different place: we have no choice. And in that process as we move we will be changed. We can let that change be bad – “Oh, I remember the leeks in Egypt; they were so tasty!”– it’s not likely that we will move to a place that will look like this. But if we listen, we’ll move to the right place. The change does not have to be negative; it does not have to harm us. The enemy wants it to harm us: he wants it to cause division and frustration, and no doubt there will be challenges; but it does not have to be negative. And so the question that we need to answer is, “Who does God desire us to be?” or, to put it a different way, “In May 2035, what will we be celebrating on our anniversary, when we’ve been here 40 years?”
We haven’t yet formulated a vision for St. Stephen’s, and I’m not going to give you one now, because the vision for St. Stephen’s is not one man’s vision – if it is, we’re in trouble. What we long for is the Lord’s vision; and our role – whether you’re Bp. Elmer, me, the Deacons, the clergy’s wives, or laity… whoever you are – our role is to discern what that vision is, to support it and to pursue it with all our hearts.
I would like to draw a big picture of what God could be calling us to. I’ve shared it with Bp. Elmer and he’s already cut out parts of it; but I want to share with you so that we can all be praying: Which parts of this are for us? Which parts are for us now? Which parts should come into play as we look for a place? Which parts are so far in the future that we don’t need to think about them now? Let me propose something to you, and just let the Holy Spirit speak to you.
A vision for St. Stephen’s
The vision, in very general terms, is to build disciples who will stand, regardless of the situation, regardless of the cost: to build strong disciples; and that is to build the Church so it lasts for all generations. If St. Stephen’s goes away as soon as everyone over the age of eighteen who is here now moves, dies or whatever, then what have we done? We want to build a church not just for the next generation but for generations after that; because Scripture tells us, “You as living stones are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). We’re just stones in the spiritual church, and that spiritual church is way bigger than we are. We’re the stones that are laid in the first twenty years above the foundation; but what if it’s a hundred years or two hundred years? There will be a lot of stones on top of us; and we need to prepare the way for those stones to be hewn and put in place.
The mission – should you choose to accept it – is to make disciples of all nations. For us, that means England, Scotland, the two Irelands and Wales, and all the nationalities that reside there. We’re not just going for natives, Filipinos or North Americans; we are for everyone. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20) – Not just “make converts, get people saved” – that’s step 1; but “make disciples”: teach them and prepare them.
- What’s a disciple? Jesus said these two things: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31, Matthew 22:28) A disciple is someone who does this. We proclaim those two commandments every Sunday because we think they’re important, because Jesus thought they were important.
So how do we build people who will do this, who can love the Lord with everything that they are, and can love their neighbour as their self? That’s not an easy thing in today’s world because there are some really “unlovable” people around; sometimes they’re part of the church, sometimes they’re not, but we’re called to love them anyway. What’s our strategy for accomplishing this mission? I believe that to build a church that can do this, we have to build in a community of ministry and commitment; someone better than me has put it like this: “Belonging precedes believing”. I think we have seen that in the last year, in Robbie. A primary reason that he has come into the church is that when he came here we reached out to him, we loved him, he found a place to belong; before he ever knew any of the theology, he found a place where he was valued. We can do that; there are other people who have mentioned the same thing. Those of you who know Bernadette, her husband Paul when he came here for the first time said he felt different; he had never experienced that before. It wasn’t because we’re really good-looking or kind, but because the Holy Spirit is here working through us; and we need to build on that.
How could this look? How do we do this specifically? One way would be to establish a place of comprehensive ministry to our Parish and the community surrounding it. Comprehensive ministry: we have some small groups, but right now most of what we do is to come together and worship and administer the Sacraments, then we go home, and we come back again a week later. I believe God wants us to do more.
- If I look some years down the road, I would see a building that we own, which means we occupy it 24 hours a day 7 days a week, all year round if we want to have worship rehearsal at 2:00 on Thursday morning we could; if we want the young adults to get together on a Friday evening, we could; we wouldn’t have to ask anyone’s permission. We don’t have to come two hours early to set up every weekend, or space to take everything down and put it back in the corner so we’re out of the way.
- I see a place that is ours, with property that has homes on it where people in the Parish who want to can live there; or if that doesn’t work, a church building that we own in a neighbourhood where some of our people live in that neighbourhood. It doesn’t mean they have to live there now, but someday we’ll have people living around the church so that we can be involved together in a community life.
- In that place, we minister to the people in the Parish: not only those who live nearby, but everyone in the Parish. My heart is that even though we are changing locations, we don’t leave anyone behind. If we need to travel around, do a midweek Eucharist in someone’s home, that’s fine, because we’re called to care for the people, wherever they are.
- In this location I see a small group of people doing the prayer offices every day, which is essentially every three hours. We may still have Morning Prayer, but if we have prayer every three hours, whenever you have time – morning, noon, or evening – you can come.
- We’ll have the Eucharist: I see us having the Eucharist every day; anyone who wants can come.
- We’ll proclaim the Gospel: we’ll have sermons, and also little teaching on Scripture and the early Church Fathers on these other prayer offices. They won’t take an hour, but the goal is that those who don’t have much time can participate.
- Every Friday at one of the offices we’ll have the Liturgy for the Pre-born, which is essentially a Mass for the dead for aborted children: they are thrown in the rubbish or flushed down the sewer with no recognition that they ever existed. I’ve been doing the prayer part every Friday since about 2005 because I think it’s important, and I think the way we’re going to win that battle is through prayer, not protest: it is God who will change hearts.
- This place will be a place of service: if we have a permanent place it will make it much easier to train acolytes, new people in worship (we already have new participants in the worship team, and there are more to come); and this includes dance, art, banners, flags…. Also the altar guild: sewing, making paraments for the altar… There are lots of ways people can serve, not all of them during the Mass. Serving Christ in the shadows: we’ll need people to clean and maintain, people who know how to fix things. There will be lots of ways to serve using the talents that people have. We might need groundskeepers and gardeners.
- We’ll want to equip people: studies in the Scriptures, Christian virtue, how to apply the Scriptures, how to develop things like humility, taking the lowest place, joy in the midst of adversity, commitment even when things are not going well, selflessness, and other areas of spiritual formation.
- We’ll want to provide “net-mending”: as we’re trying to be fishers of men, there are things in our lives that are holes, things that are wrong with us, hurts and even possessions. Whatever it is in us, net-mending is getting rid of those things: deliverance from any oppression or possession, physical healing, healing of the past, healing of memories.
- We also desire fellowship: the homegroups that we have now, and the eating together and sharing of meals is part of fellowship; we’re not going to give that up. If we have our own place, we’ll have an opportunity for common work, for example putting a carpet somewhere or installing a football table, something for the youth to do. Working together is part of fellowship.
- And of course there’ll be teaching.
That ministers to the needs of the Parish, but that’s only one side. What about everybody else? What about seekers, people who come to us – especially if we have our own place in a neighbourhood, there will be people who will come to us because they’ll know that we’re here and they’ll know who we are and they will have heard good things about us. They’ll come to us for food, clothing, basic hygiene, lodging…
- What about people who had a job but who are temporarily unemployed? (That could be somebody in the Parish.) If you’re unemployed long enough, the money runs out, and for some people that doesn’t take very long.
- For those who are disadvantaged: maybe they don’t have any job skills, maybe they have an impairment that makes it hard for them to get a job; they need help to get on their feet.
- Perhaps a ministry to those who gave come out of prison: they really need a new start.
We’re called to minister in compassion, and so to have not only a place but to have a heart for giving food, clothing…
- Maybe some of the houses on the land could be a place to provide overnight lodging to people who are needy – not to duplicate what other ministries and charities do, but more for people who are referred to us through the Parish. We could give them a place to stay overnight, and maybe God would call us to do longer-term things.
- Perhaps some lodging for the elderly, a kind of nursing home, to take care of our own people when they get older, and others as appropriate, to give them healing, to give them love, to give them a purpose.
If we do all that and do it well, that’s needed everywhere; that mission that’s now a Parish in Edinburgh, that mission that’s now a Parish in Dublin, that nothing at all right now that becomes a Parish in Wales, will need to learn to that. So we can be a training ground for them, and for people from other Parishes in Europe; they can come and learn how to do those things – if that’s what God has called us to do. Whatever of these things God has called us to, if we learn to do them well by listening and following, we can share our knowledge and it can happen elsewhere. You here in London can change the world. We can do this: we can have a training school for Liturgy, a school of worship arts to train people not only in piano and voice but in worshipping: not being the centre of attention but worshipping with the heart, singing to the Lord rather than to an audience.
Who knows the kind of people God may bring to us? We may have people who are skilled in woodworking: they can make processional crosses and other things… I don’t know. But God can do this. And if we have a heart to do whatever it is He’s calling us to do then He’ll open those doors. If our heart is open, He won’t shut a door on what He’s called us to do.
Where do we start?
This all sounds really good: let’s do it tomorrow! No, we couldn’t do it all at once; but we must start somewhere. If God has called us to any of these things, we must start moving in that direction. God has spent the last twenty years making a really solid foundation: if you haven’t left yet, you probably won’t, because you’ve been through stuff. Now it’s time to build on that foundation.
To do any of these things requires certain sorts of facilities, and the question is: What do we need soon, as opposed to down the road? I’m going to a list a few things, and the goal is for us to start talking about this – What is it that we’re called to do? – and thinking about it, so that we can make a good next step.
- Wherever the next location is, it can’t be close to everyone [Please refer to the map], but more importantly, is it easily accessible by tube or bus? It could be anywhere that people can get to.
- I would like a place that we can have full time: I think that’s high up the list.
- It would be nice to have scared space where we could have the Eucharist on the main floor so that people don’t have to go upstairs or downstairs just to get to the Eucharist.
- We need an altar; if they don’t have one we need to be able to make one and fit the paraments to it, because we can’t worship without an altar.
- We need a place with adequate power for the worship team: we have some electronic things.
- We need space for vestments,
- We need storage for items that are not in use even if it’s not our own place: places to store the Christmas things when it’s summer time, children’s supplies, and so on.
- A fellowship area, with probably high on the list a place where we can eat, and that means a place where we can cook, which means a kitchen.
- We need a place that’s safe for nursery/toddler people. Maybe that’s not immediate, because we don’t have any at the moment, but it needs to be on the list.
- It would be nice if there was an office there so that stuff can be kept in the office rather than in the clergy’s houses.
That should get you thinking about what we should be looking for.
In the meantime
It’s not likely that God will provide all of that on 1 September. He could, and if He wants too I would be so grateful; but if He might not. And how He provides it is not clear either. If we think about where we want to be long term, the steps on the way could be in different orders.
- The next step might be that we won’t find any place and that we will meet in homes for some months, and we’ll have Eucharist in different areas.
- He could provide a rented hall to use every Sunday; if it has storage, that would be better, but if it doesn’t we would have to decide what is important to bring in, because we would have to bring it in every Sunday, and since most of us don’t have vehicles either we spread it out among a number of people or we find some other way.
- It might be a shared church, which might mean that services can’t be on Sunday morning.
- It could be a rented business space on the ground floor and space to live above it, if the price was right.
- It could be a rented house with a room big enough that we could do church in.
- If there are other people are willing to consider He could provide a house where two or three families could live with a room big enough to do church.
God could do any of these things, and I don’t have an inside track on what He’s going to do.
A call for intercessors
How do you begin looking for that? It could be anything, and it could be lots of places. We’ve walked around in neighbourhoods and started looking, but we really need you to be our eyes. There’s no website where you can say “find me a church or a house or a hall that looks like this…” If you see or hear about something, let us know.
We can’t do this in our own strength: we can see what’s out there, but we can’t make a decision or pursue the right places in our own wisdom, or we’ll go wrong: I guarantee I will. We need God’s guidance and direction. We need Him to speak clearly and plainly; and we need to hear His voice, not my nagging little “But you need this… you’ve got to do this…” For this reason we need intercessors. Moses is an excellent example of an intercessor: God would say, “Have them do this”, and Moses would say, “OK, guys, do this” – and they wouldn’t do it; and God would say, “I’m going to fry you!” and Moses would say, “Wait! These are Your people…”, and God would say, “Oh, all right…” It wasn’t because God didn’t care: He wanted Moses to intercede; it wasn’t that if Moses hadn’t said something God was going to fry them: because He loved them, He brought them out. We need someone who’ll stand in the middle: to intercede means to plead our case to God and carry his words to us.
The important part of being an intercessor is that you must be willing to follow God wherever He leads: if He says, “Right there” [the most unlikely and inconvenient place on the map], you must say “Yes”. The role of the intercessor is to bring back to the Rector’s Council – who will part of the intercessors – “I think God is saying this”, not “I think God is saying the church should be across the street from my house”. You must be willing to hear what you hear God saying even if doesn’t make sense, and even if He’s not saying the same thing to anyone else. we’ve talked about government by consensus: getting people together and hearing what God is saying to each one; you must be willing to stand up and make a fool of yourself: when twenty-nine people have said, “This is what we’re going to do” one person says, “You know, God told me just the opposite” – because there have been situations in the CEC in a Bishop’s Council where that happened. They thought they had consensus, and one person said, “That makes no sense at all based on what God said to me”; and when they worked it through, they decided he was right. It’s hard; it’s very damaging for your self-esteem when everyone disagrees with you, especially when you think those people are important; but that’s what you have to do. A willingness to seek and an openness to hear God’s will despite our own personal preference, and a willingness to share it so we can make the right decision. We need people who will do that.
If we can we’ll try to set up a time when they can all get together regularly; if we can’t, then there will be a time when we come together and talk about we’ve heard. But whether we’re praying in the same room or not, we need to be praying for the same thing with the same goals and the same heart. And so I’m asking if you would consider being an intercessor. I could choose people, but I want someone who is willing to say “I might not be very good at it, but I’m willing to try” because God will honour your heart. I think people who do this will see God working, because they’ll see all the things we could have done in the beginning and that people were saying, and where we end up, and it will be clear that God did it.
I’ve been talking for a long time; this takes the place of a Parish meeting. I’m sorry, but this is important for our future as a church. I believe this will open the doors of heaven: I think He will change our hearts, and our ministry, and if we’re willing He will do things you couldn’t imagine.