Worship

Sermon preached by The Revd Christopher Wardale on Newcastle 17th February 2019

10am Holy Communion • Jeremiah 17.5-101 Corinthians 15.12-20 • Luke 6:7-26

 

It’s good to see you. It’s been a long time since I was here of´Čüciating on a Sunday, so thank you for inviting me.

 

Where are you next Sunday?” a clergyperson asked me last Monday. 

“St Tom’s,” I said.

“Where?” 

“St Tom’s, in the Haymarket, Newcastle City Centre.”

The other person paused for a moment, frowned somewhat and said, “You’ll have to watch yourself there — they’re a rum lot in that place.”

There was a pause. My heart began to rush to your defence and then my Yorkshire brain began to think. “Yes,” I said, “they are a rum lot — and that’s what makes them so extraordinary.”

 

This struck me even more when I came across a church notice board, as reported in a parish magazine from another church in this deanery. One should never trust church notice boards — the well-meaning writers can often make dire mistakes which give exactly the wrong impression. However this one caught my eye because we share something with this particular church. St George’s in Jesmond and we here are the only 2 churches in the city who have signed up as part of the Inclusivity movement. 

If you had forgotten that or didn’t know, perhaps I can remind what that means by the words of the quoted church in the south of England. Listen carefully — there may be homework later.

The headline is BEWARE — in big letters. 

In this church we practise the inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ. This means in here you may be mixing with tax collectors, sinners, doubters, hypocrites, Greeks, Jews, women as well as men, female and male priests, gay people, the disabled, the dying, thieves and other sinners; white people, black people, Asians and peoples of other races; Muslims, bishops, bigots, people of other faiths, strangers from all over, heretics - the list is endless - and the list includes YOU dear guest — you too are most welcome. In fact anyone like those who Jesus mixed with. So beware — this is not a private club! Welcome to all.

And that’s why we are a rum lot — and thank God for it.

In the gospel today we hear Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching which echoes from Matthew — the Beatitudes — also called the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew gathered a whole series of sayings and put them together to show what Jesus was about. The words were meant for all to hear and to make their own. 

In Luke, as we just heard, Jesus turns to the disciples and tells them what they are going to go through. There will be woes as well as welcomes. There will be rejections as well as open arms. There will be dark days as well as days filled with light. And Luke is making it clear that if we, as the ones hearing this, want to be a follower of Jesus then we shall be like those — the words are not just for them — they are for us. So indeed - beware.

Here in St Tom’s we have recognised that — here we see Christ in anyone and everyone who comes into this building - whether we like the look of them or not. Jesus never ever said anything about having to like people. We are to love them and to see Christ in them — however hard that may be. And we are, like the disciples, to point everyone to Jesus by showing Jesus radiating from our lives and examples — however dodgy we may be, however doubtful we may be, however uncertain we may be, however unchristian we may sometimes feel.

Why are there only two churches in the Newcastle central deanery who are prepared to take this on? Perhaps it is only us and the people of Jesmond who are the rum lots that are called to make other people think. I was really quite shocked that there are only two of us. We serve very different areas of God’s kingdom and a very different and diverse clientele, but we link ourselves together into the discipleship pattern of trying our damnedest to be inclusive. And it ain’t easy.

But no one ever said it would be — Jesus never said it would easy. Here in the gospel he makes it very clear by pointing the disciples out as the examples of a rum lot who have made a choice and who, up to now, have not run away. Many of those who heard Jesus did run away. There were those who liked the idea of being nice to people and people being nice to them, but not having to get their hands dirty. There were those who loved the prize of a front-row seat in the dress circle of heaven, but the cost was rather more than they could bear. Only one of the disciples would die a peaceful death of old age. Not one of them would ever live a quiet life ever again. This is what Jesus chose them for, this is why he called them. To be a rum lot. And that’s why he calls us, each in our own way to be part of this rum lot as well.

There are parts of the church, of course, who are horrified by this nature of inclusivity. There are those who feel all those groups of people I outlined in the church notice board should be distinctly left out. Heaven will only be full of nice people, of believing people, of humble, holy people who are working hard for their halos by a life of exemplary goodness. And of course they are called as well. But the church of God is not a private club into which we pay our dues and expect our rights. It is in all senses an open house into which we pour our God-given skills and talents, our gifts and our time to make it open to everyone who has need of it.

And here we stand in the city centre. This building is not just a place of prayer and peace, but a place of holy ground, a spring of faith welling up to water the city and all in it. A resource in the best and widest sense of the word not just for a few but for many. So beware — there are those out there who think that we in here are a rum lot. And they are right - we are — and thank God for it. We offer an inclusive view of faith in life, lived out in the lives of saints and sinners and everyone in between. We see Christ in everyone, just as Jesus saw hope and possibility in everyone. We have a God given role in this part of the city to be this spring of hope and faith, a place of holy ground, a place of prayer and outreach, a place where our arms are open to welcome those who have been turned away by other places and other communities. We are the inclusive, spiritual home for those who have nowhere to call home and we are the family of faith for those who feel they are lost and deserted.

And, of course, this doesn’t just happen here on a Sunday. It happens each day of the week as hundreds of people slip into this building to find a moment of peace. A place to pray, a place to light a candle, a place to feel at home with God.

And we must defend this inclusivity. It is the gift we have taken on and the gift we offer to this part of the kingdom in God’s name. It may not make us popular, it will not make us rich, it may not do many things in the world’s eyes. But we are not called to see, or be seen, with the world’s eyes — we have been called by Jesus to see with his eyes and he sees not with eyes of liking, but of loving even the most unlovable.

In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes there are woes as well as joys and that is the reality of our faith. But hundreds of years ago a woman, Mechtild of Magdeburg, beset by troubles of her own, saw through her woes and offered those around her, and us, words of praise and hope that we can keep close to our hearts that in the dark days there is, for rum lots like us, always the light of Christ. She writes -

We praise you, Lord, that you have searched us out with humbleness; that you have cared for us with tenderness, that you have guided us with gentleness, that you have ruled us with wiseness, that you have hallowed us with greatness, that you have counselled us with trustfulness and we praise you, Lord, that you have lifted us to new heights with your love.

Thank God others have realised what a rum lot we are.

Amen.

 CLICK to link to Inclusive Church

 

 


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