On 24 July we were delighted to welcome Bishop Andrew to help us celebrate the re-opening of church. Here are some extracts from his sermon.
It’s a great joy to be with you on this special day in the life of St Peter’s – and how we praise God for the excellent re-ordering of this church and for all the time and money and skill that has gone into making it such a welcome and hospitable space.
Church buildings are important of course: they’re important in creating a sense of belonging, of welcome, of hospitality, of home; they’re important in placing the things of God and the presence of God right at the heart of a village like Wrecclesham; they’re important as good practical space in which to come together for worship, encouragement and prayer to our Father in heaven who gives good gifts to his children.
Had St Peter been preaching at our service this morning, I’m sure he would have praised you for the re-ordering work and told you how flattered he was to have such a lovely church building named after a humble fisherman like himself. But then he would have reminded you that our primary home is to be found in one place and one place alone: not in some holy building that we call our church, but in some special holy relationships that we call a family.
And there are three more truths that seem particularly relevant to the life of St Peter’s today. First and most obviously, Jesus wants to build His Church. When he came to announce the Kingdom of God, he wasn’t picturing a bunch of individuals dotted round the place. No, he was envisaging the gathering together of a new community, a new society, a family looking to their heavenly Father for forgiveness and purpose and their daily bread, and living out the gospel values of faith, hope, love, justice, compassion. And even now that’s what the Church is about – a huge extended family numbering 2.1 billion people all around the world.
If Jesus wants to build his church, then a second lesson is this: we are the building materials. As Peter put it in today’s reading, ‘You also like living stones are being built into a spiritual house’. It’s much easier to build a house with regular bricks than with irregular stones and rocks and the reality is that the church that Jesus is building is made up not of neat, rectangular building materials but rather of an almost infinite number of different personalities and backgrounds and gifts. When we’re talking about stones, especially living stones, it’s obvious that only Jesus can carry off this building work.
Jesus doesn’t want to cut us into neat, rectangular bricks. He loves our individuality. But he does want to cut away any deposits that have built up over the years. And so he cuts away at the stone – and because it’s a living stone that can hurt – and he shapes it into a glorious unique shape, the shape it was always meant to be, and then with the flexible mortar of love he places the living stone into the wall of the church where it will be supported and where it will support others.
And the final point is: we are to make room for other stones. In a normal building of course there’s no need to do that. But what about living stones? Can living stones afford to stay in the same place with the same neighbours and not to make room for other stones? The willingness of the congregation here to re-order your building, to make it more welcoming and accessible is a sign that you’re seeking to be welcoming and accessible yourselves. For there are lonely and lost people in this community and people haunted by the question, ‘So what’s it all for?’. There’s an urgency about the task with which God has entrusted you, an urgency that requires you all to offer room, space, even to sacrifice your own comfort and things you hold dear, if others are to be drawn into God’s house of prayer, his family, his great plan of salvation for the world he loves so much.
Jesus wants to build his church. We are the building materials. We are to make room for other stones. That is God’s threefold challenge to his chosen people as he chips away to reveal our full potential as sons and daughters of the King of Kings.
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