“TIME AND MONEY for Christians” sermon, with hoped-for resignation as rector….

P1000474St Lawrence Morden – February 17th 2013
Readings:Jeremiah 31:3-6, 31-34; Matthew 9:35-38
TIME AND MONEY – for Christians.

Before the sermon, slides of the St Lawrence Morden old church clock mechanism were viewed. I pointed out the heavy weights that Charles Jeffery has wound up every week for the last 30 years, and that the clock only works with the movement of the pendulum, which if not given a little swing to start it off, the clock will not go. Then pictures of the church clock pendulum were shown, in St Lawrence, Bidborough, Kent. The Youth Alpha group had visited there on a day out the day before. On the 50cm. diameter pendulum is the verse:

When as a child I laughed and wept, Time crept
When as a youth I dreamed and talked, Time walked,
When I became a full-grown man, Time ran
And later, as I older grew, Time flew.
Soon I shall find when travelling on, Time gone.
Will Christ have saved my soul by then?

My father Fred, rector in Bidborough for 30 years until 1982, commissioned Mr Cramer the verger to paint onto the pendulum the verse, which he found on a clock in Chester cathedral.  It was composed by Henry Twell, a victorian hymn-writer.

Sermon: Last Sunday morning my sermon title was “Money and Time”. I didn’t say much about money. We read about the parable that Jesus told, one about an unforgiving servant who, having been forgiven a huge debt, the equivalent of the income of a Roman Empire province, refused to forgive a fellow servant a trifling sum of money. I referred briefly to another parable, about the three people who were given talents, one five talents (say £5,000), one two (say £2,000), and one was given one talent (say £1,000). The five and the two were doubled, the one was not.

From 500 years ago, we heard about Martin Luther’s understanding of grace, undeserved love, poured out at great cost, and how grace was responded to in these parables, either with a glad response or not. And we thought about how clearly these parables are for people who call themselves Christians, followers of Christ, but fail to live as Christians, responding to Grace. I hope there was something there to challenge us about our use of money.

Rich people who pay a much smaller proportion of their income in tax than do poor people with their tax avoidance schemes, and companies, came in for a side-swipe, I don’t think I drew out enough the lesson there, that most of us Western Christians sadly come under the same criticism, as we fail to give even an Old Testament standard of 10% of our income, and Old Testament tithe, back to God. And then there is the New Testament standard, where all we have belongs to God and should be treated as such, as we are forgiven so much through the Cross of Jesus. How much more do we fail to reach that standard?

Last week I didn’t say anything much about time. Today’s theme is Time (first), and then Money. Earlier in the service, we saw the pictures of clocks with their pendulums. How serious are you, in recognising, as the Psalmist did (31:15) “Your times are in God’s hand”? How often do you pray with the Psalmist (90:12) “Lord, teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom”? I’m not sure if the lesson sank in with the Alpha boys (mid-teenagers who have attended our open youth club for several years, they have no church background but are considering whether or not to be confirmed).  We had a walk around Bidborough and Southborough, and I took them into the church and showed them the verse on the pendulum – that in youth, there seems to be all the time in the world, but how it runs away with us more and more as we grow older.  Of course, there are stories of death-bed conversions, and army chaplains generally find young soldiers much more open to the Gospel than their contemporaries.  But how much better when young people respond to the Gospel, and allow it to change their lives and of those around them, during their life-time, helping to fulfilling Jesus’ prayer to His Heavenly Father: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as in heaven.”

Here I could take a side-swipe at those evangelical Christians who only emphasise saving souls for Heaven, and who play down rescuing people from hell on earth. It must be, it has to be both. But there is no time to go further with that this morning!  But I want to focus on the question: How are you going to use the time remaining to you, here on earth? However slow, or fast it seems to be running?

And, unashamedly, I am going to link it with my own situation. Some of you know that in a few weeks time, I will be 68. I could have retired three years ago, and used remaining energy to look after myself and my family. But there was still a lot of unfinished business – seed planted if you like – which if left then, would not have grown. Now there are signs of growth stirring, and also an offer on the table which I, and Hilary, think we should accept. I have given a brief statement to the other team churches to be read out today – I read it to you now…

“Bishops Christopher and Richard (our diocesan and area bishops) have verbally agreed that I may resign my licence as rector but I will be given a new licence to help develop the sports project in Morden Park aimed at community cohesion between all the groups that make up our area; and, helping to develop separately, Meetings for Better Understanding, with Ahmadiyya and Majority Muslims.

This will mean that Hilary and I expect to move to Kent in the early summer, and that the parish can get on with the process of appointing a new rector.”

An actual date is yet to be agreed, but this is where we are at. Time to slow down, a bit. Time to let someone with greater energy and hopefully wisdom to cope with most of the issues that face the congregation of St Lawrence, as well as being team leader and spouse for the four churches church in our parish. I am grateful to Bryan Harris, the journalist who has written up the story of the Morden Team for the Southwark Diocesan newspaper this month, I hope it gives a fair picture of where we are. It does spell out the challenge of the competing and fast-growing Muslim populations of our parish. For readers on the internet, go to this weblink and flick forward to page 8:

I hope to be around for a while yet, with the encouragement of our bishops, to help the team specifically with the huge mission opportunity facing us – especially young people, as Morden and Sutton Christians make the most of the freedom we enjoy, of sharing the Gospel openly – while we have time, of course through genuine friendship with all comers.

So, change is in the air. But will it mean that for the parish things slow down a bit, or even a bit more as some might like to say, until a new rector comes? Who can then move everything up a gear? Or can you say: “In the time available to me, for the rest of my life it it comes to it, what more can I do, in response to the great and undeserved love that God showers upon me?

So many tasks that need doing. A few weeks ago, we thought of some of the voluntary tasks in the church that need to be added, to the long list of tasks we invite help with, each year. Where can you help, and show your response to the love of God in Christ – for you, through the cross?

Now to the readings for today. Jeremiah’s promise to the people of Israel, that they are to be a blessing to all their countrymen. The New Testament writers were quite sure that Gentile Christians, the newly emerging world church, was part of the Israel, given the task of making disciples among all the nations, and peoples and creeds?. Are you ready to play your part in fulfilling Jeremiah’s great prophecy?

And then Matthew 9: 35-38. As I resign one licence, and take up another, does that give you the rest of the congregation and parish, the opportunity to put your shoulder behind a great harvest time in Morden parish? Might the next year or so be the God-appointed time for a movement of the Spirit which would cause a great earnestness to spread through the parish, convicting of sin, captivating our desires, and empowering us for fruitful witness? Might this be the time in which God grants us to see many people converted to obedient faith in Jesus Christ? Don’t fail to give thanks for what has gone before. But look eagerly, earnestly for what is to come. And be part of it.

The reading describes a situation similar to ours. It also tells us how Jesus responds to that situation. All I want to do is lead you in obeying the command of our Master given in the text.

Jesus pinpoints the need of the crowds, v36: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” People without Christ are like sheep without a shepherd. They will soon run out of pasture and starve, or they will get lost or caught in some thicket and die. And in the meantime they are harassed, wearied, and helpless. Now the unbelievers you know may not seem to fit that description. But if you see them with the eyes of Christ and are not misled by their shell of self-assurance, you will recognize sheep who desperately need a shepherd.

Then, notice in verse 36 that Jesus had compassion on them. The word means, literally, to be moved in one’s stomach with pity. Do you remember the last time you felt real strong pity? Then notice how Jesus saw an amazing potential (v37). The boys I was with yesterday, the children that come to our Friday open youth club, the people around you, however old. Given the Holy Spirit working in their lives, and of course it is God that does it, not us, then what potential great saints in the church of the future might we be given the privilege of being part of their nurture?

But of course, it is only by prayer. Strange, isn’t it, that the farm labourers have to ask the farmer for more labourers? Surely he should know how many he needs and act accordingly? Order up more combine harvesters! But they still need drivers! God loves to bless our world, but he has given to us the awesome responsibility of being part of that blessing, and in calling that blessing down. It is God’s way before he does a great work to pour a Spirit of supplication upon his people so that they plead for the work. Therefore, the sign that God is going to bring in the harvest in the parish of Morden will be a widespread movement of prayer among you people. If in response to this message there is no new movement to pray, then I will not be encouraged to expect a great harvest in the new future. I will press on to labour in the work God has laid before me, but know in my heart that it has been up to now a huge challenge, over many centuries. But if in God’s sovereign kindness he pours out upon you the Spirit of compassion and supplication and there is a great movement of prayer, then I will begin to count the days till harvest begins.

Enough for now. Watch, and Pray.

Nine minute film made in 2009, looking back to Mission:England in the North-East 1982-5

Several evangelistic initiatives are stirring in and around London:

PASSION FOR LIFE ran in 2010 and returns in 2014, with evangelists Roger Carswell and Rico Tice involved.

NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER AND WORSHIP began life several years ago with football stadium praise and prayer events held on Pentecost Sunday.  In September 2012 a crowd gathered at Wembley Stadium, under the leadership of Jonathan Oloyede.

CROSSING LONDON with Stephen Gaukroger is the new one on the block, launched in January at an evening in Central Hall, Westminster.

There are probably more such initiatives, they will involve expense outlay and I admire the faith of organisers who respond to the vision spurring them on.  Given the challenges facing London churches – nominal discipleship, secularism and  other faiths to suggest three – there surely needs to be more prayerful co-ordination?

Back in the 1980’s, Mission:England had a strong emphasis on clear Biblical preaching backed up by many expressions of practical service and healing ministries;  Billy Graham spoke well to the North-East’s suffering mining communities.  Then, nationally, we drew on a large ‘fringe’ of people in the regions who had some understanding of the Christian Gospel.  Thirty years on here in the Capital, we are in a different world.  One reaction is for evangelism to retreat into a simplistic ‘pie in the sky when you die’  message.  I hope that will be resisted, and that whever possible we act together,