St Peters Patronal Festival 2019 Sermon

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St Peter’s Patronal Festival – 2019  SERMON

May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

As is often the case in the gospels, Jesus’ questions are more important than the answers.

Questions rather than answers - that’s an easy way to really start my patronal sermon. 

But Questions and answers are going to be important to us over the next year together  as I  launch our Benefice review- which I have nicknamed Mission not Maintainance.

The Gospel account is all about identity. Who do you think I am?  What’s in a name?

If we looked at that question from a benefice stand point -  here’s the answer: 

The Parishes of Powick and Guarlford and Madresfield and Newland.  A bit of a mouthful that. 
So, from this point here’s my unofficial answer, From this point onwards, and for the benefit of our required presence on the World Wide Web , our benefice will have a different, shorter,  name. It’s not the legal entity -  just a different identity:
Old Hills Malvern 

This simplified name is a reflection of our geography , gathering as we do in the Malvern/ Worcester hinterland.  It has already been used well on social media- where we have reached out to  so many people already.  It hasn’t affected church attendance – at all as yet – but our message is going wider and being heard and commented upon. Largely positively. So there is hope.

Some might not like it,  some might have to put up with it.  But it will be a good rallying point for our onward ministry to each of the communities in which our churches serve:
• The church in Powick
• The church in Callow End
• The Church in Madresfield
• The church in Guarlford
• And the Church in Newland

Those “straplines” – the Church in the respective Community will also become more common, moving forward, as we build the Kingdom of God ever closer to the people that we serve and live with.
Matthew’s Gospel, more than any other, is associated with building the Kingdom of Heaven. So that’s what we are tasked to do then. 

So, let’s go back to the Questions in the Gospel -- and appropriately, on this church’s patronal festival, let’s concentrate on Peter’s answer from the many given by the disciples.

Who do you say the son of Man is?

It is a leading question. But the answers are interesting. 

• The answers are individualistic.
• They are (mostly) well thought through. 
• They came from people with a knowledge of Jesus and his way of doing things.
Accordingly, we hear a plethora of answers:
Some say John the Baptist. 

Not a bad guess
 – the Son of Man, according to the prophet Isaiah, was to be despised and rejected by mankind like John. John certainly suffered for his preaching and baptising in the Jordan didn’t he. Some say Elijah. 

Again, not a bad guess. 

-Elijah, taken up to heaven in a whirlwind according to the Book of Kings, is a herald of a God’s return to re- make the world. A people under the power of an occupying power like the Romans would be keeping an eye out for a sign of change.

These answers are individualistic. They are the result of long thought, and hopeful desires.

Questions and different answers to the same question….  
We can all answer certain  questions differently - perhaps not if we were asked who the Son of God is.
 
But chances are we would answer differently questions posed  about the Church of England nationally and dare I suggest locally. 

Questions about the issues we face as a set of aging gracefully congregations, and churches with opportunities and issues. For example.

What is going on in these four churches? Why aren’t we growing as a church? Are we doing the right things to bring people to the faith and love of Christ? How’s gong to dip the oil here? Where are the next Church wardens and parish treasurers going to come from? Where are the children and families? 

To be honest, I simply don’t know the ansrrs. I have my answers -  I have tried asking. Some answers I know -  here’s one: the children and families are not here because we see then in school. However well intentioned, our  Sunday Worship is not welcoming or attractive enough, yet, to make a family change its Sunday routine.  

Maybe you know the answers in your heart of hearts. Maybe my analysis is wrong.  Shall we find out the answers together?
Answers - Is it for  me. Is it for  you? Is it for us?
Asking questions is good– it allows us to develop and share our understanding together. But do we truly listen and act or just hear the answers.  Are we going to ask the right  questions?

So, to help us along -  you have your own fish.  Use that fish to pose a question, a comment or a prayer for our parishes as we embark on a time of reflection during the Parish Review.  Write them as I continue preaching, or in the lull after communion.  Whatever comes into your head or heart, write it down. Try though to think “the future” for those that need to follow us. What worked 20/30 years ago with the Davids, Nichol & Martin or Revs Irwin or Green  may not work now or in the future.  

Are we fishing on the right side of the boat?  Well, let’s see.  This is first of a few exercises we will do together.  The nets will be out at the end of the service.  Please don’t put your name – unless you are offering your time and skills to help.  You can be honest, not hurtful. Reflect on what we are doing.  What can we stop or do better.
Who do you say that I am?

Simon Peter’s answer is not given to him by his own reasoning, but from his experience of who Jesus is and what he has done in his presence. 

Is our answer or different to that of Peter’s?  the challenge for us today is to reflect on what difference that makes to us.
One way to reflect on this is to think about the name “Peter”.
Peter – or Petros in Greek means rock (the Aramaic word Cephas means stone). 
Jesus’s naming of Peter is describing the nature of Peter – in the same way that his questions go to the very depths of our nature

Peter is a rock. There are some excellent qualities to rocks. They are stable, reliable, useful, durable. If you need more proof – take a look around our buildings. There is something reassuringly solid about rocks.
Jesus sees this in Peter.

There is another side to rocks though. 

Unfortunately, in some places in our world they are used with violence, to put up walls, to break things. To be thrown. Some rocks fracture or erode easily. Some rocks are so hard, nothing can break them.
If we scratch the surface of Peter, this is the other side of the man we see. 

A rock with fault lines - cracks or impurities.

Making the stone fracture or crumble or too hard to shape.  Are we like that?
Peter has his faults. He is asked by Jesus to stay with him in the garden of gethsemane – and falls asleep. He cuts off the high priest’s servant’s  ear when they try to arrest Jesus – only for Jesus to stop him.
 
Most importantly, he denies knowing Jesus 3 times before the crucifixion.
By calling Peter a rock, Jesus knows exactly what he’s saying. He knows that Peter can be stubborn, unyielding, and has the potential to cause a lot of damage. Are we like that?
Nevertheless, Jesus offers him a choice to act upon his answer. 
Jesus sees through Peter and all of Peter’s good qualities and bad qualities.

‘Who do you say that I am?’

The question that is asked of the disciples, of Peter, is the one that is asked of us. 
Peter, in Matthew’s gospel is often the spokesperson of the disciples. He weighs it up. All of his experience of Jesus’ miracles, the wisdom of his teaching, remembering the fishing boat he left with Andrew at a strange invitation. 
He looks deep into himself. Cuts to the core, the heart, the truth, the rock of an answer.
‘You, Jesus, are the Messiah. The Son of the Living God’.

This is Peter’s answer. 

What is your experience of Jesus, and what would yours be?

Are we a crumbling or strong rock -  hewn in the volcanics of the Malverns or by our faith?

Over the next year, we must as a group of churches ask some searching questions of where we are at.
We must ponder, pray and think through these questions. Not impulsively jump naked into the sea and swim.  

The PCCs are already set to begin a process of thinking things through. But it is much bigger than the elected representatives responsibility. It’s actually bigger than the few of us that bother to come to church.
Last year, in my inaugural sermon and pastoral letters , I asked you all, those in church and those not, to think about our faith, our churches and our attractiveness and welcome.  Therefore, it is the very same question that needs to be pressed home.

I am very conscious that the opportunities are great but the willing people to support are getting fewer.  My requests to get involved are, largely , falling on deaf ears, to quote from the prophet Jeremiah.  But I am not despondent.
These churches, all four of them, are all built on the bedrock of our respective Communities - however crumbling or fractured the sense of community or faith is.

We mustn’t deny the Gospel message. We must proclaim it. 
We must show others the love of Christ and find a way of reaching out. That means, like Peter, we need to change. And change we must.  Amen.


Notices

Firstly,  thank you for yesterday.  All the effort to make for such a wonderful afternoon of merrymaking and money making. From the joy on people’s faces,  most appeared to be having a great time.  It’s all about fellowship and my two favourite words of the past year -  attractiveness and welcome.  And we demonstrated that well yesterday.  So thank you to those who organized, set up, tidied up, baked, and entertained all of our visitors. The Scouts who helped in the field – the bands in the church. All our stall holders and those that provided so much to be sold for our church’s benefit.  The exact figure is to be financed but it is looking like a little over £1500.

Secondly,  we had considerable involvement in the Malvern Priory Lifepath last week.  At least 8 parishioners were involved all week, some yesterday at their inaugural community day.  That’s a real expression of our engagement in the community.  Something I have been watching out for.  Ant two out of three schools went.  It was a joy for me to journey slong side them in their activities. I am hoping for a hattrick next year , and may be more involvement from sake of our churches too.

Finally, I want to pay tribute and give thanks to our Friends of St Peters for all they have done to fundraise for this church over the past year. I am still looking for items beginning with the letter P from David Allen’s picture puzzle from the pudding and puzzle evening/ strewth, can’t say that was easy with my teeth to say that alliteration! 
The committee is small - May be it is teaching me a further lesson in how small can be beautiful in terms of decision making! And let’s send our best wishes and our prayers to David and Margaret this morning. If you want join,  I notice that the leaflets are in the pews!

I will now pass on to the Chairman,  Michael Briggs to say a few words and lead us in an opening prayer.