Total Distance 8.8km Total Time 50’ 37” (Geologically slow)
Run out to and around Watermeads Country Park again. Going around King Lear Lake I was distracting myself from the pain by going over my sermon for Sunday Morning at St James the Great.
I was preaching so well, so erudite, so interesting, so spiritually dynamic (at least in my own imagination!) that I missed the turn off and ended up doing a second circuit of the lake.
This somewhat damped the warm spiritual feelings I had been having up to this point.
Next time I may leave a trail of lentils…
So you can judge for yourselves the quality (or otherwise!) of my sermon, here is the text;
Shaped by God Sermon:
(Texts: Genesis 1:1-12, 1 Peter 2:1-12, Matthew 13:31-32)
The Christian message is, at its heart, a tale of trees.
The creation story we read culminates its description of the world that God had made for humankind to live in with trees. Trees that will bear fruit for people to eat. All that God makes is good, all that God makes is fruitful, all that God makes brings Him glory.
The next chapter of genesis brings into the story two other trees, supernatural strange trees. In the middle of the garden are the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – which is forbidden to humankind – and the other the tree of life – which is not forbidden.
As we know Adam and Eve make the wrong choice. They disobey God, they rebel against Him, they refuse to believe He has their best interests at heart and they eat from the wrong tree.
In that act of disobedience they break the relationship they enjoyed with God, they also break the relationship between themselves and they also break their relationship to the created world.
Access to the tree of life is dependent upon a right relationship to God, in fact as Jesus will say later, eternal life flows from a right relationship with God;
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 NIVUK)
Under the metaphor of the garden, in their new state of brokenness God forbids humankind to eat of the tree of life.
The rest of the whole story of the Bible is about God working to restore the broken relationship between Himself and humankind.
The culmination of this happens on a tree, when God Himself is crucified to open up the possibility for us to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father, each other and the created world.
The last page of the Bible describes what happens when the relationship of harmony (shalom) between humankind, God and the creation is fully restored.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.
On each side of the river stood the tree of life,
bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse.” (Revelation 22:1-3 NIVUK)
That tree of life – which was forbidden to humankind because of sin and rebellion, is now made available through the death of Christ on the tree of Calvary.
The Christian story – it’s all a tale about trees.
In our gospel reading Jesus is telling his disciples about another tree – the gospel tree, the tree of the kingdom.
In between Christ’s death on the tree of Calvary and our full and final access to the tree of life in glory, stands this gospel tree.
As the gospel seed takes root in hearts and lives it creates a community of people that should be like this tree.
It is through the ministry of this tree that people get to hear the good news about what Jesus has done on the tree of Calvary.
It is through the ministry of this tree that they learn how Jesus’ death opens up the possibility for the broken relationship between us and God to be restored; a process which then works in our lives to restore the broken relationships we have with each other and with the created world.
All of which finds its ultimate, unimaginably glorious expression when we will join God in His eternal Kingdom fed of the fruit of the tree of life, healed by its leaves of all our ills and freed from every curse!
Each Christian community is called to be a gospel tree where this can happen.
The gospel tree is a place where the spiritually sick can find healing. As we read in the Revelation texts, leaves are a symbol of healing in the Bible – many of the herbal remedies of the ancient world were made from leaves. If we are truly a gospel tree the spiritually sick will find healing in our midst.
The gospel tree is a place where the spiritually hungry can find sustenance. Trees in the Bible are nearly always fruiting trees – figs, olives, dates etc. We read in Revelation that the tree of life bears 12 kind of fruit one each month of the year. If we are truly a gospel tree the spiritually hungry will find sustenance in our midst that satisfies their hunger.
The gospel tree should also be a place where people can find a welcome and a place they can make their spiritual home. If we are truly a gospel tree people will find a welcome amongst us, they will experience integration into the fellowship and feel accepted.
Today is “Shaped by God” Sunday, as you know this is a diocesan initiative designed to help each congregation, perhaps each ministry within each parish, take a long hard look at ourselves and ask what kind of a gospel tree are we?
This is a great image isn’t it? It’s a great tree. Who wouldn’t want a tree like that in their garden?! And those birds!
But sadly we can sometimes be a very different kind of tree.
This is a picture of a tree I saw in Leicester last Sunday evening. And I just felt God prompted me to take a photo of it and to show it to you.
This tree has been pollarded; all the ends of the branches have been cut off. There are no leaves on this tree, no fruit and there are certainly no birds nesting in it.
Sadly, our churches can sometimes be this kind of tree.
Ironically it can be quite a pleasant experience being this kind of a gospel tree.
No change, no cost, no discomfort, no effort, no messy new people who don’t know how to speak, how to dress, how to behave in church etc.
But sadly, this tree is totally useless – it serves no purpose, it is just using up the ground – there are no leaves to provide healing for the spiritually sick, there is no fruit to feed the spiritually hungry, there is no place for anyone to find a spiritual home. It would be best to chop it down and use it for firewood.
Most gospel trees, most church communities are somewhere between these two extremes. Shaped by God is a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down by the diocese;
The diocese has identified nine marks of mission that we can use to evaluate how well we are doing, celebrate our successes, re-think areas where we are not so good.
What kind of tree are we?
What kind of tree do we want to be?
Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that brings healing to the spiritual sick – if so how will we do that?
Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that feeds the spiritually hungry – if so how will we do that?
Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that offers people a welcome, and is a safe place for them to make their spiritual home – if so how will we do that?
May God grant us His Spirit’s anointing and the enthusiasm to embark on a new adventure with God in St James and Our Lady and St Nicholas.
May God grant that we become a flourishing gospel tree, a tree full of leaves that minister healing to the spiritually sick and full of fruit that satisfies the spiritually hungry, and may we be a gospel tree where people can find a welcome and make their home.