In any anniversary service I think it’s both helpful and important to remember how we seek to live in the present, mindful of the past and hopeful of the future. With that in mind and in our service so far, we’ve remembered:
- The time – that looking back and remembering our spiritual heritage from the past 160 years and how in God’s grace we have come to this moment
- The people – those who have gone before us whose vision led to the establishing of the society, the building of this church here in Crag, and the fruit of their labours that we might enjoy today
- The place – as we give thanks for building here and all that it allows us to do in this community, a place of peace, acceptance, transformation and renewal
In all aspects of time, people and place God has been there in our midst and will continue to be so. We are who we are today, and where we are today because of those that have gone before us in faith, who stepped up and stepped out for God. That’s what you have continued to do, carrying the torch as you seek to run the race. That’s the thing about ‘Church’; it’s all about the people. We are reminded of that very powerfully in our first reading from 1 Peter 2. We like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
I may not be an architect or a builder, at least not in the physical understanding of those terms – but I am an engineer; and I recognise the significance of a cornerstone. A cornerstone or foundation stone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure. Our cornerstone is that living Stone – rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him – that is our Lord, Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ. We are not called to be aligned to the things of this world…“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) Sometimes that might feel like we are swimming upstream, and going against the flow of this world. But we are to be set in reference to Christ, safe in the knowledge that the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame, even if to the world that cornerstone is a “stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”
The truth is this…“you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
I would like you to turn to the person next to you, and one at a time say to the other person “you are a part of a chosen people, called into a royal priesthood, and a holy nation; God’s special possession.” Do we live our lives in the reality of that truth?
We are so good at forgetting, aren’t we? Our chapels and churches are physical testimonies or monuments to our forebears’ encounters with God – they are physical reminders of our collective faith history. But there’s a deeper truth. So are you. You are all physical testimonies to that legacy of faith you have inherited as you have taken on the privilege and mantle of being the body of Christ in this place. It is so important to remember and re-tell the story of our faith as a means to keeping it alive – this church building and the congregation that meets in it are part of that process. It is comforting to know that there are over 6000 Methodist communities in Great Britain. Most are small – half our churches have fewer than 30 members.
In our remembering, these words need to be written on the tablets of our hearts:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
As we hold these words I’ve shared with you in our hearts and in our minds, I wanted to pray for you as a Church…and I want to do that by praying with Scripture as we shall see.
Heavenly Father, we know that we have all sinned and fallen short of your glory (Romans 3:23) We recognise our poverty of spirit, and we come before you in penitence and faith with humble and grateful hearts, thankful for your overwhelming love and grace that has brought us to this place today.
We mourn for our brokenness and the brokenness of this world that you so lovingly created, and we ask that you send your Comforter and Helper, the Holy Spirit to bring life, peace, restoration, healing and wholeness.
St Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” There is nothing about ourselves that can commend us to you; we come before you in awe and wonder, thankful that we are chosen people, chosen to be in this place at this time. All that we are, all that we aspire to be we give to you and ask that you direct all our undertakings and lead us to a place of blessing.
We truly hunger and thirst for righteousness, for your justice to roll on like a river, and your righteousness like a never-failing stream in this place that we live and minister. We pray that you might equip us and use us to be a voice for the voiceless and in the power of Jesus bring hope and healing to all that we encounter in our community.
As you have shown us mercy, a mercy that triumphs over judgement, help us in turn to show mercy to one another and to the people we encounter who may have turned away from you. Give us a patient and a confident faith, that we may not err from the path you have set before us.
We pray that you might draw us closer, wash away all our iniquity and cleanse our hearts so that we might be whiter than snow. Create in us a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within us that we might know you, feel you, see you and fellowship with you.
Protect us, Lord, when we are awake, watch over us as we sleep; that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in his peace. Make us Lord, a channel of your peace bringing love where we encounter hatred, hope where we find despair, comfort where we find grief and in your mercy may we bring the light of Christ into the places of darkness.
Guard, guide and protect our hearts in those times we may encounter discouragement or even persecution for our faith. As you forgive us, help us truly to forgive those who have sinned against us.
Thank you Lord for showing us that when it’s all been said and done all our treasures will mean nothing, only what we’ve done for love’s reward will stand the test of time. Thank you Lord for showing us that heaven’s our true home and you are our life when life is gone.
Wesley said “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Neither is love content with barely working no evil to our neighbour. It continually incites us to do good: as we have time, and opportunity, to do good in every possible kind, and in every possible degree to all men.” So help us Lord to be the salt of the earth, and let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify you, our Father in heaven. Amen