It has been a very busy last 12 months. We have celebrated the 150th anniversary of St Peter's, and we have had the CL mission. Not to mention the pantomime.
One of the events that I found extremely helpful was Clive Paine's lecture on the history of St Peter's. The church was founded on the desire to further the mission of the church and the proclamation of the gospel. And the gospel has been preached at St Peter’s, and from St Peter’s for the last 150 years.
And that has continued: which is why it was appropriate to have a mission in 2008 - to declare the historic truths on which St Peter's was established, but their continued to relevance to people today.
And we need that.
We live in a lost world. The economic foundations in which we put so much trust are being shaken. People do not know how to think or feel anymore. So many of us are controlled by fear.
Lilly Allen: The Fear
The passage that I have chosen for this evening is from 2 Corinthians 5. It tells us why Paul and the early Christians put so much emphasis on spending time with other people preaching, urging, persuading them that we do not need to live this way
'We try to persuade others (v11) .. be reconciled to God (v20)'
And Paul gives four reasons for trying to persuade others
1. We know the fear of the Lord (v11)
We have been entrusted with faith and the message of The Faith.
We know, says Paul, that we will be held accountable for what we have done with the precious gift of the message of the good news about Jesus Christ.
And as a parish and as individual churches we have been entrusted with so much: our people, our buildings, our gospel heritage, and our resources. And we will be held accountable for what we have done with the things that God has given us.
The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is a parable about what we do with what God entrusts to us. We can use those things, or we can sit on them and lose them. The one who does nothing excuses himself by saying that he is fearful of the master. But the master rebukes him for being lazy. Paul in 2 Corinthians (and he is talking explicitly about what we do with the message of reconciliation) writes that fear of God will make us do something with what we have.
That is why I think that we need to do something with what we have.
It is why I am grateful to St Mary’s committee for having the courage to take the risk and appoint an Events and Visitor coordinator. At St Mary’s we have an amazing building, with about 11000 visitors each year. I think that we can build on that, not simply to increase visitor numbers at St Mary's and revenue, but to see how we can better promote the message of the gospel to visitors. There is a phrase that is doing the rounds of mission focussed churches: how to turn tourists into pilgrims
It is also why we need to do something about the Hyndman Centre. It is a great resource, but at the moment is mostly being used by groups as a venue. I would love to see us taking hold of our centre and using it to initiate community projects: so that what goes on is owned by one or more of our congregations, and is used as a way of both serving our neighbourhood and of building bridges with people in the community.
So the fear of God, the fact that each one of us will have to appear before the judgement seat of Christ, should drive us to seek to persuade others – not, in this case, because they will be judged but because we will be judged.
2. We are compelled by the love of Christ (v14)
We are talking here about a two-fold love
At an objective level we are talking about Christ’s love. Because Christ loves all people, I am compelled to persuade others. I do not try to persuade someone to be reconciled to God because I love them, but because Christ loves them. It does not matter if I do not get on with them or think they are beyond the reach of God - Jesus died for them.
That is why when we entreat people to be reconciled to God, we do so not on our own behalf. I do not urge you to be reconciled to God on my own authority. I do so, v20, on behalf of Christ. He died for you and he urges you to be reconciled with God.
Nevertheless, this love of Christ is also subjective. This love is the first of the fruits of the Spirit that will grow in the garden of the life of the Christian. It is this love that controls how we use the gifts of the Spirit. Paul in Romans talks of how God pours his love into our hearts, and in Ephesians, how he will fill us with his love.
We need to pray that God will give us this love: this love for him and this love for people. It is much easier to go out of our way to persuade someone to be reconciled to God if we love them.
And it is this twofold love: the objective love of Christ for all, and the love which Christ gives us - which I pray will drive us out to persuade people.
It is what drove people to found St Peter’s; it is what has driven people to preach on street corners (‘hell-fire corner’ – although that title should be a warning to us. We do not wish to be known as ‘hell-fire’ people, but as gospel ‘good news’ people). It is what drove people to faithfully serve, witness and preach in this place, to set up mission churches, to use innovation to promote the good news (magic lanterns).
And we need that drive, faithfulness and, at times, that innovation: film evenings, 5 o’clock services, dinner parties, fireworks, displays, exhibitions (LIFE exhibition, labyrinth), websites, twitter. We need to have the courage to try, even if we fail. But more than the innovation, we need the love
3. We look at people in a new way.
This is a central theme in these few chapters of 2 Corinthians. Paul contrasts what is seen with what is unseen.
Ch 3: we are people who are being transformed into the glory of Jesus because we are looking on him.
Ch 4: the people of this age are blinded by the god of this world. The only reason we can see is because God has shone his light into our hearts.
And Paul goes on to draw a line between the outer visible and the inner invisible. The outer is wasting away. But the inner will last (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Ch 5: continues and states that we walk (live) by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
And in our verses Paul says that he is not interested what people think of him, but what God thinks of him.
We do not look for the visible but for the invisible.
We do not look at the outer but at the inner.
We do not look at the outward appearance but the heart (v12).
By visible, outer standards Christ was a failure. He was crucified.
But from God's viewpoint, from a faith perspective, Christ crucified is the fullest expression and greatest demonstration of the love of God, the wisdom of God and the power of God. Through Jesus death on the cross, men and women were reconciled to God, evil and death was defeated.
So, Paul goes on, we don't look at people from a human point of view (v16). We are not interested in how attractive they are, how old they are, whether they are male or female, rich or poor, black or white, educated or uneducated. We look at them with the eyes of faith.
People in Christ are new creations. On the outside nothing has changed, but they are new people. The tiny seed of eternal life has been sown deep within them. You'll never see it, even with the most powerful microscope, because there is nothing visible to be seen. But by faith we believe it is there. They are resurrection people.
And we look at other people, at our neighbours, at our colleagues, at the people who use the Hyndman Centre with new eyes. Maybe they are successful or failures in the world’s eyes. But Christ died for all. Each person, young or old, is a potential new creation, a potential child of God.
I am so grateful that we are able to look at things through the eyes of faith!
Humanly speaking we are a dead loss. We might have nice buildings, but they are dwarfed by the towerblocks of our multinationals, and shopping centres. Christianity is being rapidly sidelined. Despite the spin, the reality is that the churches that are declining in numbers (even our own figures show a decline of 1 person). Even those congregations or churches that are growing in numbers are often growing at the expense of others, not at the expense of non-Christians.
And yet – looking at it with the eyes of faith – we see a different picture. A God who transforms lives; A God who provides; a God who builds relationships; a God who gives hope.
And even if we do live in a time when it seems that the god of this age has all the trump cards, the light is still shining (2 Corinthians 4:16). Nothing can stop it. And we do not need to give in to despair, or to simply give up. God is still God.
4. We try to persuade others because 'we have been given the ministry of reconciliation'. (v4)
It is significant that v20 is written to the Corinthian church and to all the saints in Achaia. Paul writes, ‘We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God’.
I suspect that this is one of those places where Paul is saying to believers, 'live out this reconciliation'.
Don't talk it. Walk it.
We can say, 'Jesus died for me, and I have been reconciled to God'; We can say, 'I was an enemy of God, but now I am a friend of God'. We can say it, and the words will be meaningless. You may have been baptised; you may remember when you prayed 'the prayer'; you may have always come along to church; you may speak the right language - but if we continue to live for yourself and not for him (v15), we are not living as people who have been reconciled to God. We talk about it, but we have not received the reconciliation on offer.
So before we urge others to be reconciled to God, we need to examine whether we are just talking the talk, wearing the badge – or are we living the life.
Next year we look forward to two major events: the LIFE exhibition and the PASSION FOR LIFE mission. Both are great opportunities for helping us as we persuade others to be reconciled to God. But before we do that, we need to know that we are living as people who are reconciled to God.
The world needed to hear that message 150 years ago. And it needs to hear this message today. It is our task as a parish and as churches to live the message and to proclaim the message