Monday, July 21, 2008

Hell-fire and Damnation?

Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43: Hell

(Comic monologue to start - adapted from one performed by Rowan Atkinson in the 1980s)

Good morning, and welcome. As the more perceptive of you have probably realised by now….this is Hell. And I am the Devil. Though you can call me Toby if you like – we try to keep things informal here…as well as infernal.

Now you’re all here for eternity… which I hardly need tell you is a very long time. So you’ll have plenty of time to get to know one another. But for now I’m going to split you up into groups. Are there any questions? Yes? No - I’m afraid we don’t have any toilets. If you had read your Bible you would have known that this is damnation without relief.

Now then, let’s get on with it. Can you all hear me? Can you hear me at the rack?

Right then – murderers – over here. Thieves and pillagers if you could join them. With the estate agents.

Atheists? Are you here? Just move over there would you. I bet you’re feeling a right bunch of charlies.

Now then – everyone who ever saw Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Could you come over here please? I’m sorry but you see, it seems that God couldn’t take a joke after all.

Arsonists, Axe-murderers, Agitators, - could you move over there to the left please? With the Anglicans. Thanks.

Right, well that will do for now. I’m going to leave you with Beelzebub here – who will finish sorting you, and then he’ll show you the ropes….and the chains…and the electrodes. I’ll just leave you with a little joke I heard last week. How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb? One to change the bulb, and all the rest to say how much they liked the old one!

Good bye!
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After all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in this morning's Bible reading, I'm going to focus my talk on subject of hell. Its one of the more disturbing ideas in the Bible - isn't it? Put simply, the question that arises is 'Why would a God who created us and loves us want to consign some of us to hell? And what is hell like anyway? What's it all about?

There is a great deal of mythological imagery in the Bible which attempts to describe hell. Some of it is rooted in examples that Jesus' hearers would have known only too well. For example, one of the words that Jesus uses to describe hell is 'Gehenna' - which was actually the name of the steaming, continually smouldering rubbish tip outside Jerusalem - where all sorts of waste was taken, to burn and to rot. That kind of imagery is supported by other images of worms never dying and fires never being quenched. Then there’s the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in which heaven and hell are very close - separated only by a chasm over which Lazarus and God can converse; and there’s the image of hell being beneath our feet, while heaven is somehow above us.

From these disparate images - we get a sense that hell – whatever else it is - is about destruction, and its about total separation from God.

The idea of hell flows from two important Christian doctrines. Heaven, and free will. For heaven to be something real – something to be obtained – simple logic dictates that there has to be a non-heaven. A place for those who reject God’s offer of heaven. And if there is free will – it is possible for us to abuse it.

Maybe you, like me, have struggled with the idea of a loving God who could condemn some of his own children to hell. After all, this is a God who sent his Son into the world specifically not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:16). This is a God who said 'Love your enemies'. Why on earth (or rather, why in heaven!) would God then throw his enemies into hell. Isn't his whole being bent on our salvation - not our destruction. Well, C.S. Lewis suggests that nothing could be further from the truth. Hell is a state of mind, a place that we put ourselves when we fail to respond to the love that God is freely offering us. He says:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God ‘Thy will be done’, and those to whom God says in the end ‘Thy will be done’. All that are in hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it...“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

So..let me be clear about this. Hell is not somewhere that God sends us to. It is a place where we chose to be, by turning our backs on God. Hell is where God is not – whether in this life or the next. God’s offer to us to total, unconditional, sacrificial love. He loves us so much that he is prepared to die for us! Every fibre of his being is bent on our salvation, not our destruction.

We know, don't we, that it is possible for two people to experience the same thing in entirely different ways. I am a fan of a 1970s progressive Jazz/Rock band called 'Blood Sweat and Tears'. I absolutely love their music - it sends me into moments of ecstacy. However, whenever I play it at home, Clare and Emily will always shout over the wonderful jazz-funk trumpet solos.."Turn it off! It's horrible". Well perhaps hell is a bit like that. Hell is, I suggest, God's love as experienced by two completely different people. Those who have honestly sought to love God will run to his arms with a cry of 'Abba! Daddy'. But those who have spent their lives so wrapped up in hate, in violence, and in deliberate evil will, I suggest, find the whole concept of God's love too painful to bear. They will turn from God, when they meet him, and turn away from the source of life.

Perhaps we might imagine hell like this - imagine a person before the throne of the Almighty, whose soul is so dirtied by their life of hatred and evil, that their response to the love of God is - just as they did in life - to turn away. Hell would be that person - turned with their face to the wall, with their fingers jammed into their ears...while God stands behind them, eternally, saying 'I love you. I love you. I love you'.

The destruction that takes place in Hell is not, therefore, a punishment. It is simply the end product of a chosen path. Let me put it this way. If I starve myself of food – I will eventually die, physically. In the same way, if I chose to starve myself of God, I will eventually die spiritually as well.

Taking the right path, the road to life, implies a deliberate, daily engagement with what it means to be truly human – to become day by day more like the source of life. Passion about the world, passion for other human beings, a longing to see the Kingdom established. These are the qualities of the Christian – and the qualities of all people who turn away from self, and turn towards God. Such a person, because of their real, actual, choice to follow God, is picked up by God, held in his arms, and welcomed into heaven. That’s what it means to repent…to turn away from self. An eternity in the presence of the love and creative power of God is the free gift that is offered to all who truly repent. As the gospel-writer John said…’whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

A popular myth has been allowed to surface that heaven is the place for goody-goodies who will sit on clouds stroking harps, whereas hell is the place for everyone who wants to have a good time. The rock group ACDC sang ‘I’m on a highway to hell’ – ‘living easy, living free’. No! Hell is not a party of the damned, with Satan as host. Satan is not the king of hell…he is simply its first arrival. And he too will be annihilated by his selfish desires. There is no king in hell, no demonic servants with pitchforks…just weeping, and wailing, selfish agony….and no God.

I know that the doctrine of hell will invite mocking. Those who preach it will be labelled as vindictive, manipulative and ‘fundamentalist’. Satan has done too good a job of promulgating the hell myth – so that it is very difficult to break through the imagery of hot, exciting eternal booze-ups and describe the reality of empty, Godless, destruction. I don't want anyone to think that we preach hell out of any gleeful sense of retribution, but rather a real and genuine hope that some at least can be saved from destruction and brought to new life in Christ. Being mocked is surely a small price to pay for the salvation of a small infinitely precious soul. And that is the business we are supposed to be in.

So perhaps my little drama at the beginning of this talk was wrong. I was naughty to do it – but I chose to do it in order to illustrate just how easily we settle into the cartoon image of hell. I hope that you’ll join me in praying for Rowan Atkinson – whose sketch it was based on, and every other exponent of the Disney version of hell – that they may find the path to life. Before it is too late.

Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"The Word of God" and the Parable of the Seeds

This sermon was preached on Wednesday 16th of July in the middle of a tense period for the Anglican Communion - a period of debate over such issues as women bishops, and the legitimacy of gay ministers.

The Parable of the Sower would perhaps be more accurately called the 'parable of the seeds' - because the story Jesus tells is much less about the man who sows the seeds, than about what happened to them after they were sown. Its a parable that is actually quite difficult to preach about, because - unusually - Jesus' own explanation for the parable is recorded alongside the parable itself.

But the parable does rather beg one very important question. What is 'the word' that Jesus refers to throughout the story. What is this 'word' which can be snatched away by the evil one, or fallen away from by the person who has no root, or choked by the lure of wealth and the cares of the world?

I'm going to tell you something rather controversial now. Something that might shock you a little...so its something that I really want you to think about for a moment. I wonder what you think when you hear people in different parts of the church describe the Bible as 'the Word of God?' Because you see, I don't actually buy into that phrase. There. That's shocked you, hasn't it? So, let me tell you why I don't think the Bible is the 'Word of God' as such...

Let me try to explain by using an illustration. Imagine, if you can, a world in which the Bible does not exist. Imagine that instead the only things we had to go on, to try and understand what God is like, is all the words that have ever been written about God by all the hundreds of thousands of people who have ever claimed to have got a glimpse of what God is like. There would be the book of Mormon, the Koran, Gospels written, supposedly, by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but also Peter and Barnabus, and Judas and Mary. There would be books by people like David Ike, and the Jehovah's Witnesses. There would be theological treatises by Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury. There would books of poetry and myth like Jonathan Livingston Seagul, or The Prophet by Kahil Gibrahn. But no Bible. No definitive collection of books which we can turn to and say, with certainty, this is God's Word, with a capital Wuh.

That was precisely the situation which pertained in the year 397 - when a Council was called in Carthage in order to agree which books were 'in' and which books were 'out' of what is called 'the canon of Scripture' - or in other words, 'the Bible'. Put your imaginative hats on again. Imagine again that we were living in a time in which the Bible had not yet been agreed. Imagine then that you heard that a council of Bishops had just met in Carthage...and that they had considered all the books which have ever been written about God, by all the different people I just listed - and many more - and that they had decided which of these books were 'in', and which of them were 'out'. How would you feel about that decision? Would you be able to trust that these bishops had got it right? Would you be content to accept their judgment? And before you answer that for yourself...just think about how many things Bishops in the church argue about, even today.

I think most of us would be pretty suspicious of such a decision. I think we'd want to know which books were excluded, and why. The press would have a field-day, wouldn't they, looking through the list of excluded books, and wondering why a certain Bishop had argued so strongly for it to be excluded or included?

But that is exactly what happened. In the process of agreeing which books could be in the Bible that we have today, many many other writings about God were excluded - some of which might just deserve to be heard by thinking, intelligent people who want to make up their own minds about God. I wish I had time to explore with you some of the books that were not included...but that will have to wait!

So what we have, when we pick up our Bibles, is a glorious library of texts which have been handed down to us over thousands of years. Many of those texts are, I believe, indeed the Word of God - his expressed wishes and commands to his people, as understood by people who knew God well, and understood God's character and desires for humanity. But many of the texts are a reflection of human beings' attempts to understand who God is - and sometimes, frankly, they got it wrong. There is poetry. There is myth. There is song. There is history - although as we know, two people's accounts of the same historical event is always tricky! What we don't have is a set of texts, dictated word for word by God to a scribe...who then faithfully preserved God's words for us down through the centuries...unaltered. That, incidentally, is what the Koran claims to be...the actual words of God, received by Mohammed, and then preserved for all time. But that is not what the Bible claims to be. Nowhere in the Bible does the Bible itself say 'this collection of scriptures contains the Word of God, the whole Word, and nothing but the Word'.

The upshot of all this is that I treat the assembly of books that we have received as the Bible with a little bit of healthy scepticism. You see, God did not want us to base our faith on a book...he wanted us to base our faith on a person...ultimately on the person of Jesus of Nazareth. That's why Jesus came among us. Not to lay down a rule book that we have to slavishly follow...Jesus himself never wrote a word of the Bible down. He wasn't even very clear about what we should think or do in some situations. Some of his reported statements seem to contradict one another. He often spoke in parables, without explaining their meaning to ordinary people. Instead, he came to show us what God was like...and how we should respond to God and to one another. And what did he call us to do..."Love God, and love one another"...as I said last week. Simple. Straightforward. No questions asked!

All of this is by way of saying that I feel very sorry for people who hold on to these historical, fascinating, inspiring, thought-provoking texts as if they had been written down, word for word, by God himself. God must weep when he sees us arguing over the minutiae of individual texts - arguing about, for example, whether or not the world was created in six days, or whether homosexuals have a place in his church, or whether it is legitimate to ordain a woman as a bishop. Jesus must be saying "Is this what I came for? So that my church could divide itself into ever increasing factions over whether or not there should be a pope, whether or not the bread turns into my actual body, the exact meaning of my death on the cross, whether gay people have the same rights as straight ones, or whether it makes any difference at all whether a woman ordains a priest or whether a man does it."

Jesus came, instead, to inaugurate a Kingdom...a new world order...an entirely different way of living that was based on love. A kingdom based on love would simply not concern itself with the kind of nonsense that seems to take up so much of the church's time around the world. A kingdom based on love would concern itself with feeding the hungry, freeing captives, and challenging the failed concepts of war. A kingdom based on love would show the world how to stop treating one another as consumers and customers, and to begin seeing one another as brothers and sisters. A kingdom based on love would cry 'stop!' to the madness of modern consumerism. A kingdom based on love would be so united in its concern for the Two Thirds of the World who are starving, that its voice could not be drowned out. A kingdom based on love would transform the way we do business into one which protects the earth, for the love of future generations.

So if you ask me for my opinion about all the arguments which whorl around the church all through the year, I will tell you...I don't really care - except in so far as I care about the hurt that the arguments cause to people I love. My focus is on how well we are doing, here in North End, as well as in the wider world, at ushering in God's Kingdom of Love. Nothing else matters.

So when Jesus says, in the parable of the seeds, that there are thorns which can choke the seed...thorns, as he says, of cares of the world and the lure of wealth...is it just possible that he is pointing at those in the church who have let the cares of sexual politics - a very worldly concern if there ever was one - and the lure of wealth, power and influence get in the way of enacting his true word? His "Word of the Kingdom" (Matt 13.19). His Word...'love'?

I'll leave it to you to decide.

Do You Get It?

Preached at St Mark's North End on 6th July

Reading: Matthew 11:16-19 & 25-30

Have you heard the one about the Bishop, the priest and the student who were in an airplane, when the engines failed? Well, unfortunately, there were only three parachutes. The pilot, who knew this, grabbed one and jumped out of the plane – leaving just two parachutes between the bishop, the priest and the student.

“Sorry folks”, said the Bishop – using nice inclusive language because the priest was a woman – “but I am a very important man; there is a whole diocese relying on me for leadership. I’m afraid I simply have to have one of the parachutes. So he grabbed a pack, and jumped out of the plane.

“What are we going to do?” asked the priest. “How on earth can we choose who gets the last parachute?”

“Oh, I shouldn’t worry,” said the student. “The Bishop has just jumped out with my rucksack!”

Do you get it? Well, not everyone does. Humour is a funny thing – if you’ll pardon the pun. Humour is a funny thing? Get it?! Whether or not you do get a joke rather depends on who you are, what your life experiences have been, and what kind of sense of humour you have.

One of the funniest things I’ve experienced as a priest is to watch people in a pub telling each other some rather risquĂ© joke, who then realise that they have been overheard by a priest. The look on their faces is usually very funny – especially when they see that I’m usually laughing as well!

Not getting a joke is one thing. Not getting who Jesus was is something else entirely. This morning’s gospel reading is just part of a much longer section in which a whole host of people entirely fail to get who Jesus was. First there is John the Baptiser, who had baptised Jesus and had even heard the voice of God calling from heaven that this was His son, with whom he was well pleased. But even after that, and after hearing of so many miracles that Jesus was performing, John still didn’t get it. He had to send some of his disciples to Jesus, to ask “Are you the messiah we were promised? Or should we wait for another?

The towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum – where Jesus had time and time again performed mighty miracles which declared the dawning Kingdom of God – they didn’t get it.

And then in the gospel reading we heard today, we see that scholars and the wise, who could explain much, but missed the revelation in their midst…they didn’t get it. Jesus prays to his father, and says, “I thank you, Father…because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent…”.

And then, what about the image Jesus uses of children in the market-place. Who was he referring to? Let’s just read those verses again, right from the beginning of the Gospel…

(Mat.11:16-17) But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn’.

Jesus uses this image of children in the market-place to speak about himself and John. On the one hand, there is Jesus, whom Sydney Carter famously called the Lord of the Dance. Jesus is accusing the entire generation of Israel of not getting what he was all about. Here he is, announcing the peaceable kingdom of unconditional love and forgiveness and of celebrating the goodness of life with all – and no-one wants to dance to the tune he is playing. But neither would they mourn to the message of John, whose warning of coming judgment was too threatening, and whose life-style was too unworldly for the sophisticates of his generation.

They just didn’t get it. They didn’t get John’s invitation to repent – to turn away from sinful living – followed by Jesus’ invitation to have life, and have it to the full (John 10.10).

Why didn’t they get it? That’s the question that we are invited to ask.

And to get an answer to that question, we have to understand something of where all these people were coming from…something of their context. This was a people who were under occupation…the occupation of the Roman Empire. They longed to be free of the yolk of oppression which Rome had put on their shoulders. They longed to be able to go about their lives without having to pay taxes to Rome, or having to do whatever they were told by whichever drunken Roman soldier bossed them about. They were fed up of being ruled from afar by an Emperor they had never met, and would never see. So they longed for a ‘saviour’, a ‘messiah’ who would set them free.

But Jesus turned out to be something very different from the Messiah they were expecting. For Jesus, Rome, or Roman occupation, just wasn’t the problem. When challenged to incite the people to rise up again Rome, and to stop paying their taxes, he simply said “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. Jesus knew that empires will rise and fall – by his time in history, the world had already seen the Egyptian, Greek and Babylonian empires rise; and then crumble. No, the overthrowing of empires was just not on Jesus agenda. He was much more concerned about the issues in people’s lives – issues which were stopping them from living their lives to the full.

Jesus’ solution to the world’s problems was actually very simple…so simple that it could be grasped by a child. Which is precisely why, in the Gospel reading, Jesus thanked his father that he had hidden ‘these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants’ (Mat 11:25) What was it he said on another occasion? “Unless you receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a child, you will never enter it” (Mat 18:3, Mk 10:15, Lk 18:17)

Jesus solution was simple…almost childishly simple. It wasn’t about complex theological somersaults. It wasn’t about over-throwing political powers. It didn’t rely on philosophy for its underlying truth.

It was very very simple.

So what was it? What was the amazingly simple message that Jesus had…a message so simple that an infant could grasp it? It was this… Love One Another. Or, perhaps a bit more fully, Love God and One Another.

That is it. Understand that basic, fundamental truth, and you’ve grasped the very heart of Jesus’ message to the whole of humanity. Love God and One Another. That’s it. Nothing more. Done and dusted.

So what does this mean for us? After this service, we are going to spend some time thinking about what the future might look like for us, here at St Marks. We are going to think about all sorts of possibilities which might be open to us…everything from ways to introduce Jesus to the people in this community who don’t already know him, as well as ways to deal with the crumbling building we have inherited thanks to the shoddy builders in the 1970s. We are going to think about our styles of worship, and our ways of reaching out into the community. But all of it, all of it, needs to be undergirded by that simple message of Jesus…Love God and One Another.

If we get that right, then Jesus promises, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. “Come to me, he says, all you who are carrying heavy burdens of worry about this and that…and I will give you rest. Focus on me, and on my central message, and you will find rest for your souls.”

So be it. Amen

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What's in a Name?

Matthew 16:13-20 - What's in a Name?

Preached at St Mark's Church NorthEnd, Portsmouth, on Sunday 29th June.

(Apologies for the late posting of this...I've had internet problems)

When I was a lad, I was not the most popular boy in the school. There were a lot of reasons for this, now I look back on it. I was tall and gangly, and had a face covered in acne. I was also the only musician in the school, which marked me out as rather different from the rest of my rather macho classmates. I was also extremely allergic to sport...and was always the last one to be picked for any team game...mainly because I was rubbish at it.

I did once demonstrate a bit of energy on the rugby field mind you. I can remember that day very clearly. There I was, in the middle of the scrum, when the ball came my way. I picked it up, and ran as fast as my lanky legs would carry me. I pelted down the field, towards the goal, knocking aside a little Jehovah's Witness called Ellis Fisher (bless him), and kept on going straight and unopposed to the goal. In the background, I could hear my team shouting 'Go on! Go on!'. I crossed the line, and victoriously dumped the ball right in the middle of the goal...turned round...to realise that I'd run to the wrong end of the field, scored a try for the opposing team, and that my team-mates had actually been yelling Stop! Stop! (which sounds a bit like 'Go on!') when you are gasping for breath!

As a result of all this...and the fact that I was, frankly, an insufferable big-head...I got called rather a lot of nasty names...very few of which are repeatable from a pulpit. And often I would come home very upset. My poor parents did their best to try to help me cope, including making frequent use of that old saying, "sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me".

The trouble is, that old saying is a load of rubbish, isn't it? The reality is that name-calling does hurt, doesn't it? In some ways, a name can be even more hurtful than a punch or a push in the playground. Our names are part of who we are...they are a key part of our identity. And when someone replaces our identity with a horrible word like "idiot" or "scum" or any other number of unrepeatable names, it hurts. It creates what psychologists would call a 'dissonance' between who we think we are, and who others perceive us to be - and that dissonance physically hurts.

For example, when I think of the name 'Tom' it carries with it a whole load of associations...most of them positive. Its the name that Clare uses to call me to dinner (which is always a positive experience for me!). Its the name my parents and family use on birthday cards and christmas cards, and when they ring me or visit me. Its the name I used when I was confirmed, and then ordained, and now recently inducted into this Team. So, the word 'Tom' has a positive ring about it - its part of my positive identity..along with many other names that I use, like Dad, and Uncle.

Thomas - on the other hand - creates a rather different sense of identity. That's the name that Clare, and my mother, use when I am in trouble. When I hear "Thomas!" from the other end of the garden, I tend to think "Uh oh; what have I done now?!"

So names are important - and they were even more important in biblical times. The bible is packed full of examples of people changing their names in order to mark a change or transformation in their deep-down sense of who they are. One of the most famous examples is that of Abram, the father of the Hebrew nation, having his name changed by God to Abraham. According the footnotes in the bottom of my bible, the word Abram meant, simply, 'exhalted Father' - a term of respect for an old man. But Abraham meant 'father of many', and was given as a sign that Abraham was to become the father of an entire nation.

And then, in today's Gospel reading, we hear Jesus changing the name of his chief disciple from Simon, to Peter (or Cephas). The name 'Simon' meant 'to be heard, or to have a good reputation'. It was probably chosen by his parents because they wanted him to be an upright member of his local community. 'Peter' on the other hand, means 'rock' - as I'm sure you know. And, said Jesus, 'on this Rock I will build my church'.

Imagine that. Imagine that Jesus took you to one side and said to you, "I'm changing your name. Your name isn't Doris, or Edna, or Bill, or Fred anymore. I'm giving you a new name...a new identity. From now on, you are going to be known as 'the dependable one', 'the generous one', 'the loving one', 'the reliable one' - or some such encouraging phrase. It would tend to alter your whole perception of yourself, wouldn't it? It would perhaps cause you to ponder "why has Jesus called me that? Could it be that he sees potential in me that even I haven't seen yet?". Perhaps that is exactly what Peter thought. Peter, who was just groping towards an understanding of exactly who Jesus was, and of what that knowledge might mean for his own life, suddenly finds that Jesus has described him as a 'Rock' on which an entire church is going to be built. Boy! I'll bet that was encouraging for him!

Names in the bible, then, are much more than just a word which helps to sort out who is who. Names are words which contain a sense of the full character of the person being named. Some names were also believed to have power in and of themselves - because of whom they are attached to. So, to 'call on the name of the Lord' was to invoke the power of the Lord himself. To pray 'in the name of Jesus' is to pray in the presence and reality of Jesus.

But what does all this mean for us I wonder?

Someone came to see me this week - I won't say who, because our discussion was private - but one of the interesting questions they asked me was 'what does it mean for us to be in a team, rather than a parish?'. They were pondering - trying to get a hold of this new word which has been introduced in only the last year or so. I've been thinking about that question a bit, since we spoke - and I think I'm beginning to grope my way towards an answer.

Who are 'the Team'? YOU ARE. The team is not Bev, Di, Ruth and me - we are just the co-ordinators, the animators, the leaders whose task is to hear what God is saying through all of us, and then to give shape to it. The team is not the Churchwardens, or the PCC. They are the people who take the tough decisions, and the legal decisions, on behalf of all of us. They are the custodians, and the vision-holders for us all. But we, all of us together, are the people who make up the North End Team Ministry. We describe ourselves as a 'Team' - that's our collective name for ourselves. And its a word which has power...if we will let it shape us. Its a word which implies working together, using all of the talents which we have; the talents of our ordained ministers, yes, but much more importantly the talents of everyone here. The word Team is meant to convey a sense that it is not up to me, or any of the ordained ministers, as to how we move forward in this place...its up to all of us. A team is a group of people who pull together for a common purpose. A team is a group of people who support and lift up their weakest members, and enable them also to be full members of the team.

We are the people who have been called out, by our Lord, to be salt and light to his world. We are called out to give flavour to the world, and to bring light to its darkest places. We are people who have been called out to be the body of Christ - Jesus' hands and feet to a world which desperately needs him. We are people who have been called out to live in community with our brothers and sisters - joining our hands and feet to their eyes, ears, mouths, noses, and even their knobbly knees! The body of Christ is at its most effective when it is the whole body of Christ - the complete Team, able to use all of its talents in the task of sharing the love of Jesus to the community of North End.

That's why this word, the name, 'Team' matters. That's what I believe we have been called to be, and to do - a team. That is the rock on which we are going to invite Jesus to build his church here in NorthEnd, Hilsea and North Copnor. And that's the vision that I hope and pray we can all embrace.

Amen