Sermon: Easter 6, Year C

Theme: A Vision for the Future

In the name of the +Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Last week, Fr. John Draper, the Associate Rural Dean came and spoke to us about the perilous state of our finances. If you missed that sermon, here is the executive summary:

We aren’t meeting our bills.

If we don’t meet our bills we will close.

The Church of England suggests 5% of our disposable income, a minimum of £5, per person, per week

To meet our costs (such as your priest) we need approx £10, pppw

So much for the bad news.

But this sermon today isn’t about that news. It isn’t about that kind of challenge, it isn’t about finance, or deficits or about what we as a parish have to do to make ends meet.

Today, I want to speak about a vision for this parish, to speak about YOUR involvement in the life of this church, about seeking a common goal for us to work towards by 2015 (which isn’t when you think about it, that long away) and why we should think about making an investment now for the long term state of Christianity in Elson, Hardway and Priddy’s Hard.

On one level, we appear so vulnerable: saddled with expensive buildings and large costs, with a full time priest to pay for and the expenses of a non-stipendary priest. Our financial stability has crashed, and last year we fell nine and a half thousand pounds short of our necessary financial obligations. Let me repeat that figure: £9500, and at the moment, we are still falling behind on our monthly payments because what comes into the bank and onto the collection plate isn’t enough.

So should we just turn away, give up, stay at home? No, my dear friends, not a bit of it, for our very vulnerability is our strength, our weakness is our power and our challenges are the very stuff which enables us to submit to the one person we have so far failed to approach in all our difficulties: Almighty God: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

We cannot do this alone, for we are but mere humans, but we are humans who share the conviction that it is through Christ that we receive our strength and our ability to meet dire challenges head on.

If we are to overcome these difficulties, it will be through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, through her work amongst us and it will be only because we recognise that it is Almighty God who is the agent of transformation and we are his instruments to make it happen.

It seems so odd, doesn’t it? In these days of business plans and strategic packages, to turn and embrace the intangible, the mysterious, the spiritual, but my dear friends, it is precisely because what we seek is so complex, so major, so challenging that we must turn to God and seek his inspiration: each and every one of us – not just the clergy, not just the churchwardens, not just the PCC but each and every one of us who sits in this church, and not just at 10am, but at 8am, and at 6pm for the poorly but faithfully attended Evening Prayer, at the 10am Friday Mass, the 7.30pm Wednesday evening mass, the Healing Masses, the festival masses such as Ascension day this Thursday, the Blesséd alt.worships and a million other things in the life of this parish. We ALL need to turn to God and seek his inspiration. Don’t think for a single second that you can sit back and let others deal with this, this is our responsibility.

Vision. Look beyond the horizon and see what God calls us to. Pray, and seek the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to inform you of what this parish needs to look like. What values do we need to embrace to make a difference. How will this be? How can we be organised so as to best make this parish into what it needs to be?

Amidst our vulnerability and weakness, there is great opportunity and strength: there is a mission field out there and we have the privilege of being the labourers. Look at this parish’s youth work – there are much richer, much better attended, much better resourced churches in this diocese and this deanery who would kill to get 60 young people as we had last Friday together in a place where they could be told of the life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. Look at Blesséd – one of the South Coast’s most exciting, innovative alternative worship expressions, and it is these things that are making people look towards us, look at what we are achieving, and which can make us realise that in our very vulnerability, Christ demonstrates his power, vitality, inspiration and life-enhancing salvation.

Christ frequently shared his vision for the Kingdom of God on this earth: not some kind of pie-in-the-sky, wouldn’t-it-be-nice futurology, but a concrete revelation of the values and attributes of what will happen when heaven and earth are one. Christ made the Kingdom of God a reality through what he said and did and through his encounters with those on the margins of society. Maybe our vision may be based upon something of that.

On Saturday the 9th of June, we will be having a morning of vision. It’s only a few weeks away, but in reality, no-one should have a reason not to spare two hours to be involved with this: two hours is all I am asking; two hours to pray, to encounter holy scripture and to work with others to define what you want this parish to be by 2015 – to set an agenda and to dream some dreams, share some visions, be inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit (to be fed and watered – of course, I always believe in looking after this flock in the best way possible), but most importantly for all of us to have a contribution to a vision, a blueprint, a roadmap of what this parish is to look like in the next decade. By shaping the future, we can define our reality rather than have it defined by those outside of us, we can seize the opportunity that this very vulnerability gives us, we can meet our challenges and rise to the opportunities that

So, my dear friends, as you can see, it is not just about paying more, it is about us committing ourselves to transform this community: together, in partnership with each other and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not just about this building, although how we use this sacred space as a part of that vision will be an element. It is about people: people we work with, people who do, people who are prepared to invest in the future and leave this place in a stronger position than when we started.

Are you ready for the future? Let’s do it! Amen