Signs of God’s promise and presence

Preached by Kate Bowers, October 4th 2015

Lord Jesus; May I hear your voice and speak your words;

May we hear your words and build your Church – to the glory of God the Father and in the power of His Spirit.

Eleven years ago when I was just testing the water to gauge whether or not this was the church for me I was somewhat surprised to be celebrating the dedication of the church on a random Sunday in October! Random because of course we do not know the date of the dedication of this church building!

As a child I went to St Alban’s church in Southampton, a church that was built in 1933. The date of the dedication was not only known but in my childhood there were those in the congregation who remembered the building of the church – the fundraising, which included a mile of pennies (a mile of pennies today would not go far towards building much more than a garden shed!) and who remembered the celebrations when the church was dedicated.

Some of you have long memories of this church but even so we can only imagine the building of this church. The motivation of those involved – the impact of what must then have seemed a huge building and the sight of the spire in the small market town. It is a beautiful building. A building in which people’s faith has been nurtured, a place of prayer, a spiritual home.

It seems to have become unpopular nowadays to speak of the Church building as the “house of God”. There is the concern that of course we can’t limit God to a building – however this is the place where people come expecting to meet God, in quietness, in worship, in the Eucharist, and I hope in the people who are the Church in this place.

Jacob recognised the importance of the place where God had met with him in the open air, under the stars and wanted to mark that place, using just the stone he had used as a pillow.

For many people this has been the place where they have met with God and they have responded by caring for this building.

One of the things I have learned in the few months since becoming Churchwarden here is how much time and energy some people are giving to the maintenance and care of this building. Last year in our Amazing Grace campaign we talked a lot about giving. This inevitably focussed mainly on giving money as a response to God’s grace. This month we expect the redecoration of the church to get underway and this is possible because of the way people responded to that appeal.

I know that the appeal last year had the emphasis on money and while of course our church needs and is very grateful to all those who dig deep into their pockets to help finance the running and the maintenance of the church there are many other ways to give too.

A few people are giving very generously of their time and their talents but we need a bigger team – more people to share in tasks.

We need more people to clean the church, to make it a place that feels cared for and welcoming to those who visit; we need church sitters to welcome those who come to the church on Saturdays. (Only last week Julian and I went into St Dionysus Church in Market Harborough where the church sitter was doing an excellent job looking after visitors – it is an important ministry).

We need flower arrangers, more servers, people to help with coffee, people to work with children and young people, we need people with skills in administration and in I.T…. I could go on.

If you have been blessed by God in this church please consider what you might be able to give of your time and your talents so that others might also be met by God here.

But of course the church is more than a building. I don’t know whether it is coincidence or with intent that the Sunday set aside for the celebration of the dedication in churches where the actual date is not known is the Sunday closest to the feast day of St Francis. This year the dates coincide.

Francis spent years praying to know God’s purpose for his life. One day he was praying in a church just outside Assisi – San Damiano when he heard Christ speak to him –“Francis re-build my church.” Francis assumed this meant the crumbling building he was in. He took fabric from his father’s shop and sold it to get money for the building work. His father dragged Francis before the bishop who ordered Francis to repay the money and told him that God would provide. Francis went back and rebuilt the little church of San Damiano with his own hands using stone he had begged for; but his greater work and calling was to rebuild the Church as the people of God. He gathered a group of brothers, gave them a few Gospel texts for their rule of life, and sent them out like the disciples of Jesus to live and announce the Good News of God’s love. They worked within the Church preaching and teaching about returning to God and outside the Church bringing the Good news to the poor.

We celebrate today the dedication of this building – our church, giving thanks for all that it has meant to us, remembering God’s presence with us through joys and sorrows.

We also rededicate ourselves to being the Church that God has called us to be – living stones, His Holy people.

When God came to Jacob at Bethel He came with a promise, a covenant. God was binding himself to be with Jacob and his descendants; and in the Gospel reading Jesus promises eternal life to his sheep – no-one will snatch them out of his hand.

This church with its spire pointing heavenwards declares to the community around that God is here and does not go away.

When he has promised to be with us, he does not break that promise, and we who believe in him, we who are Christians, we are to make that promise real in our lives. We don’t go away. The Church does not go away from need and suffering. The Church is there where people are bowed down, and you and I are there to offer God’s compassion and God’s promise to those broken, anxious and in pain.

So when we say that today we re-dedicate ourselves to God’s service, what we are doing is to promise again that we will be signs of God’s promise; we will be signs of God’s faithfulness and God’s presence in the midst of a community that suffers and struggles. It is for us to show in our words, in our lives, in our faces, that same love which does not go away.