Todays reading for Sunday Easter 6 in 2018 Year B Acts 10:44-48 Psalm 98 1 John 5:1-12 John 15:9-17
Transcript of the Sermon preached by Reverend Anne Kennedy:
May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen This sermon is based on a reflection for Parish Council last month, and they asked me to preach on it. Doesn’t mean Parish Councilors can go to sleep – I’ve added some! What an amazing day yesterday! I don’t know about you – feet were so sore by the time I got home, I could barely walk! But putting my sore feet aside, we thank God for all the help at the Fair and for those who weren’t able to come, thank you for your prayers for a successful day with great weather. Only a short shower – put covers on the Trash and Treasure stall the rain stopped, uncovered all our goods again. Great day of encouragement for us all. But there is a lot in our world that people can be disheartened about – particularly in our Christian life. The common feeling is that very few people in the community care about Christianity, or even God. For small churches like ours, financial burdens are great, and as Congregations age, there are less people to help with liturgy, maintenance and general support. In Camberwell, according to a report in the Age recently, 48.1% of the 22,398 residents, that is 10,827 people, referred to themselves in the Census as Christian. According to Google, there are 20 churches in Camberwell, but I’m pretty sure that they do not receive visits from that number each week. Even counting the Christmas and Easter folk, and those who still call themselves Church of England (which usually indicates they haven’t been to church for at least 40 years), there are a lot of ‘lost’ people out there. For many of us, it’s hard to understand why people don’t think like us – why don’t our children come to church, why are people turning away from something that we love and know is essential for our being who we are? There are many reasons for this disinterest, and most of them stem from what has been achieved in this amazing country largely through Christian witness and hard work. We have peace, we are educated, we are mostly equal, we have generous welfare and fair justice systems, and we believe in a fair go for everyone. Most of you know that I came from a church which closed just before I was ordained. The twelve people remaining in the congregation could not keep it going, even though it was financially viable, and helping to financially support the mother church in the parish. These faithful and hardworking people made the decision to return to the mother church where they have re-invigorated the congregation there. These are difficult times financially, which many smaller churches are grappling with, and St Dunstan’s isn’t immune to these problems as you know. Here at St Dunstan’s, we have an 8am congregation of around 14 We have a 9.30am congregation of around 30 We have a monthly Open Church congregation which can reach 40 We have a midweek congregation averaging around 10, including residents and staff from Camberwell Gardens. Some people, but not many, attend more than one service, so we have, on an average, 60 people who worship each week at St Dunstan’s. This is something to be rejoicing about! There are more than 20 women coming to the craft group weekly. Mothers Union has had three new members in the last year. Mainly music families gather every week during term. The Kindergarten has around 30 families involved. We minister to over 80 residents and staff at four Assisted Living Facilities. The Tennis Club is vibrant and active. Community Yoga is getting into gear on Saturday afternoons. The people here at St Dunstan’s care about each other, but also about people outside these walls – there is a strong feeling of social justice – just look at the Hope for Boorondara and beyond bags in the Sanctuary that people have filled with goods for the needy. And at Open Church this afternoon, more will come, as well as “jox and sox” and warm clothes for people doing it tough. So why are some of us feeling despondent? Just recently a neighbor told one of our parishioners that they were sorry to hear that St Dunstan’s was closing. This is an example of ‘fake news’! Yes, we have financial issues which we have reported to the Bishop – I’m pretty sure there are parishes in similar situations who haven’t faced up to this and haven’t kept the Bishop informed – but good governance is part of St. Dunstan’s ethos – we do what is right and as a result have been encouraged by Bishop Genieve to work towards overcoming our shortfall. No-one has announced that this church is closing. No plans have been set in motion to facilitate this. We have a Vicar who is passionate about building up the congregation here. We have an Assistant Curate who, the Archbishop and God willing, will soon be appointed as Assistant Priest, licensed for three years to this parish. Does that sound like we are close to shutting the doors? Yes, as always, people will die, move into care, retire to other places, move due to work situations, spend more time at holiday homes and on overseas trips – that’s Camberwell! And if, in the future, there are not enough people to constitute a congregation, or there is not enough money to keep the doors open, or not enough Christian spirit to think about others before ourselves, perhaps this Church will close. If that eventuates, we will look back with immense gratitude to God that in a century of service, St Dunstan’s congregation has touched thousands of people through their prayer and service. We have work to do at St Dunstan’s, and we need to stop being disheartened, and look to a future where our goal is to worship God and to be his people in this place. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was told by a businessman that the main job of the Church was to do good (maybe to discourage involvement in business and politics). The Archbishop replied “No! The main role of the Church is to worship God and to bring as many people as possible into the Church. If we do that, the result will be amazing!” This Thursday is Ascension Day, and the beginning of the worldwide ecumenical prayer campaign “Thy Kingdom Come”. Between Ascension and Pentecost, we are invited to pray intentionally for five people (hand out cards and cords, and explain). Let’s participate and see how amazing that extra prayer can be! As well as extra prayer, we the clergy and congregation, need to dig deeper into our pockets, as families, as individuals, and give more money. We have to find innovative ways to raise money, just as the people who built this church did as they approached the Great Depression, and as many of you here have kept it going throughout your lifetime. Our founders had a vision, and we must keep that vision ahead of us, confidently and with faith. So be positive – The parish fair yesterday was a great opportunity to showcase what we do and why we are doing it – because of the love we have for God and for his people. And in the Gospel today Jesus talks about just that – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”…. and … “I have called you friends” because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father….” And this – “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” Jesus Christ has chosen us – you and me – to bear fruit that will last. We are not talking about planting fruit trees here. In Galatians 5:22-23 (CEV) we read 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. By allowing the Spirit to work in us and through us, and by allowing those fruits of the spirit to guide our lives, we will feel the joy promised to us by our Risen Lord. We will become better people and the light of Christ will shine through us to everyone we meet. So, as we approach Ascension Day this Thursday, think about the five people or issues you will pray for. Take a cord and tie a knot to remind you of each of your intentional prayers, and on Pentecost Sunday (Also St Dunstan’s Day this year) bring the cords to church, and we will offer our prayers confidently to God in faith, hope and love.
The Lord be with you.