A Sermon from Sherborne

The Inauguration of the Sherborne Team Ministry

A sermon preached at Evensong at Sherborne Abbey on Sunday 2 April 2017 by the Bishop of Sherborne, The Rt. Revd. Karen Gorham

 

It is good to be here tonight as we celebrate the new Sherborne Team and together rededicate ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Tonight marks a new phrase in the life of the benefice. There is an acknowledgement of the benefice growing up and out, as each church and each minister has its place recognised and each becomes true to itself, but also takes a responsibility for being part of something more. There is a commitment across the area for everyone to work together creatively in mission and ministry in a time of change for the sake of the kingdom. The key thing to say though is that everyone is being invited into a mature way of relating. Which both recognises the individuality of the different parts, but recognises the importance of the whole, all for the sake of the wider area, to make a difference to each part of this town and its neighbouring villages.  

I wonder what legacy we would all like to leave, or whether we have ever thought about the mark we’ll have made on the world during our brief time on earth? What kind of role will our lives have played in fulfilling God’s purposes on the earth? For us as Christians that legacy is more than a nice inheritance for our children and a gold watch for twenty years of employment. It’s more than buying a nice car and enjoying our grandchildren. A legacy from God’s perspective is participating in the purposes of God in our world.

Which is why I have chosen as our New Testament reading that passage from the Second Letter to Timothy, chapter 2. It talks about how we can live a life that is built to last. That kind of life is more than a successful life. It’s more than a happy life or a life that’s affluent. A life that’s built to last is a life that makes a difference.

As Paul reflects back on his own life and the legacy he’s leaving, he gives young Timothy some important advice about how to live the right kind of life and hopefully these five insights will be something you can all ponder as you begin this next stage of ministry together.

 

  1. We are to be strong in the Lord (2 Tim 2:1) ‘You then my children, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.’

 

This can more accurately be translated, “Let yourself be strengthened” or “be empowered”. In other words, we don’t get strong by trying harder or drawing from our own strength. Being strong in this sense is not a matter of gritting our teeth and flexing our biceps. It’s the kind of strength which comes from outside of ourselves, from the grace found in Jesus Christ. If we want to make a difference we need to find our strength in God’s resources. When we are in connected to God, his resources flow into our lives to empower us to do that which we could not do on our own, the love we need to care about people, the patience we need when we’re frustrated, the courage we need in the face of fear…all these things come from being resourced by God’s grace.

That’s one reason why we need to worship together week by week, as separate churches or combined, to be empowered by God’s grace. To admit that we can’t do it alone, that we need God’s powerful grace operating in our lives to be the kind of people God wants us to be. Our worship breaks the spell of self-sufficiency, so we can embrace a sense of God’s sufficiency.

 

  1. We are called to entrust our message to others (2 Tim 2:2) ‘And what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people.’

 

Here in v. 2 Paul gives Timothy a plan for how to help the church in Ephesus before he leaves for Rome. The command is to “entrust.” Notice the four generations mentioned here. It began with Paul, whose message of the good news was passed onto Timothy. Now Timothy needs to find reliable people to entrust this message to and these reliable people must also be able to teach others. Ultimately they too will have to pass the message on to another generation, so they must be equipped to find reliable people so in the next generation they can pass on the message to the next generation.

Now the immediate context is the preservation of the Christian message in the church in Ephesus after Paul dies. Yet we also find a principle here that applies to our lives which means finding people to entrust with the Good News for the next generation.

There is a film called Mr. Holland’s Opus. It’s a film about an aspiring composer named Glen Holland who takes a job as a high school band teacher to pay the bills. His real passion isn’t teaching, but it’s to compose a symphony. But life has a way of edging out our dreams, and he spends the next 35 years teaching the high school band, never finishing his symphony. When he retires, all his former students gather together to honour their high school music teacher. One of his former teachers is now a governor, and as she takes the podium she says, “We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.”

Our task is to share the Christian gospel, which is why children’s work and encouraging younger families is so important, to reach the next generation. And it is most definitely the task of all of us all.   We also multiply our influence through our involvement in Christian service. Whether it’s by serving as a volunteer in the local community, or being a welcomer on a Sunday or helping with various church groups, we share the gospel by playing our part in entrusting it to others through our teaching, our proclamation or our lives.

 

  1. We are to be willing to pay the price (2 Tim 2:3-7)

 

Now this insight is not a comfortable one, it causes us to think about punishment or worse, and not something I would wish on any of the team here. ‘Share in suffering’ says St Paul, which refers to a willingness to take the difficult road, the road less travelled. The kind of hardship Paul was speaking about can be found in three pictures:
The first, is that of a soldier. Soldiers endure hardship because being a soldier is a demanding way of life. Soldiers are exposed to the elements, to danger, to times without food or shelter. A soldier has to stay free from, getting tangled up in, civilian affairs. So the idea is that serving Jesus is like being recruited by Jesus to serve him. The focus here isn’t on fighting battles, as it’s on the single mindedness and self-discipline it takes to stay disentangled from things to please Jesus. That is a kind of suffering, because it means us saying no to certain things.
The second picture is that of an athlete who competes in the ancient Olympic Games. In order to compete as an athlete you have to meet certain requirements and anyone not disciplined enough to meet the requirements will never win. The training of a modern day Olympic athlete is sophisticated and comprehensive. I read an article that 1,000 hours of intense training will only achieve an improvement of a single percentage point in an athlete’s performance. Yet often a single percentage point is the margin of victory in today’s Olympic events. Being a follower of Christ is like an athlete who trains according to the standards to compete. It requires self-discipline and single mindedness.
The third picture is that of a hard working farmer. Getting up at the crack of dawn and working in the blistering heat until your fingers bleed. Staggering into your bed at nightfall, only to do the same thing the next day. The idea is that the hard worker can expect a crop. All three word pictures involve discipline, effort, and single mindedness.

The same is true of being a Christian today. Yes, church is hard work, and when there are fewer of us, it is harder work; It means having single minded devotion to the task; there are no short cuts.

 

  1. We are to centre our lives on Jesus (2 Tim 2:8-10)

 

In v. 8 we find our fourth command, to remember Jesus. Now I’m sure Timothy hadn’t forgotten about Jesus, so the focus of this command here means to keep on thinking about Jesus. Recall to your mind again and again who Jesus is. We are called to centre our lives on Jesus. That’s what Paul did, that’s what he encouraged Timothy to do, and that’s what the Bible encourages us to do.
It is sometime helpful to picture our life as being like a cycle wheel. Each spoke on the wheel represents something in our life: our spouse if we’re married, our job, our children, our church involvement, our house and possessions, how we spend our time, and so forth.

This text is encouraging us to make Jesus the hub, the source from which all the spokes meet. When we make the good news of Jesus the hub, then our devotion to Jesus affects everything we do. It brings about transformation in us and in all that we do.

And our final insight from this passage is

 

  1. Don’t give up (2 Tim 2:11-13) We are given in this passage what we all need – a kind of encouragement. We are given a series of four conditional statements: if this, then that. If we died with Christ, we will also live with Christ. If we endure we will reign with Christ. If we deny Christ, he will deny us; and if we are faithless he will be faithful.

 

This is a huge encouragement to us, when the Church has a bad press, and everything seems on a bad day rather hopeless. But it is also an encouragement on a day when we have many possibilities in front of us about ministry and mission, and a new person willingly bringing their gifts as an offering of service.

So I say to the team here especially when you can’t imagine getting up another morning and facing the day, remember Christ’s faithfulness. When your faith in Jesus is assaulted with doubts and questions, remember his faithfulness. Don’t give up, no matter what.

 

So here we find five insights.   We are to be strong in the Lord, called to entrust our message to others, to be willing to pay the price, to centre our lives on Jesus and no to give up. In the 1800s Alfred Nobel woke up one morning and opened the newspaper, only to see his own obituary printed. Imagine the shock. You see, Alfred’s brother had died, and the newspaper mistakenly printed Alfred’s obituary instead of his brother’s. Now Alfred had already made his fortune by inventing dynamite.  But as he read his own obituary, he wondered if that’s what he really wanted to be remembered for:  Alfred Nobel, creator of a weapon of mass destruction.
Alfred decided he wanted his life to count for more than that.  So he started making changes.  When he died, he left most of his immense wealth gained from his invention of dynamite to a foundation designed to honour people who made a difference. Thus was born the Nobel foundation, with prizes each year in five areas, including peace.

Tonight as we affirm and celebrate this new team ministry, let’s remember that each one of us is called to make a difference for the kingdom. My prayer is that you all take up the challenge of new opportunities, support one another in doing new things and rejoice in the wonder of seeing God at work in new ways.

Bishop of Sherborne, The Rt. Revd. Karen Gorham 02/04/2017
The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, Sherborne