Sunday, 29 October 2006

SERMON: 29 October 2006

This was the LAST sermon preached in this church ... wow! I was still new to the Team, but they asked me to preach because I had less "history" with the closing of the church than the others. The church "needed" to close because there weren't enough people to serve on its volunteer Parish Church Council "PCC" (like TEC's vestry) to literally keep the doors open AND it needed about 300,000 pounds of work done to its roof and building to keep it safe and dry. There were probably about 25 people on a "good" Sunday in a church that seated up to 200. A beautiful 1900's building, but no way they could really support it. Which was sad, because earlier, a plan in the area to share it jointly with the local Methodist church had not gone ahead. There are just so few people going to church here in Manchester - especially the working class in inner city areas - that churches just can't continue to be open. The building will continue to sit there for who knows how long.

29 October 2006
Last Sunday after Trinity (Proper 25)

TEAM Worship : Gorton Abbey Hey Team @ St George’s Church
With Baptism : Abigail Olham (sp?)

Mark 10: 46 – end : Blind Bartimaeus

On Thursday night many of us were here for the “Celebration of St. George’s” as we gathered to remember the life and acknowledge the closing of this sacred place. That night it was fitting that we were focused ONLY on St George’s and this particular building, people, and ministry within here – and appropriate at that time that many of us were sad and mourning what feels like the loss of “church”. I understand sense of loss - because in my short time here, the faithful people of St George’s have been very kind to me and my partner.
However, with the church full of people who wanted to say thanks and farewell to the parish life HERE, we were not saying goodbye to church – and difficult as it was, we were only saying goodbye to this specific place.

Today, we’ve come together as a team in liturgy with a baptism to focus on the wider church – the whole of Christianity – a church greater than St. George’s or the Team, indeed greater than the denominations of which we are all a part. Not dismissing any sorrow, I’d like to suggest that perhaps today we re-frame and readjust our focus.

We’re here as followers of Jesus Christ. And even with our many various practices and differences, that I believe is the common life we share. Our prayer book, Common Worship, tells us that baptism is a joyful moment when WE rejoice in what God has done for us in Christ. We are connected to God and one another by making promises and declaring our faith in Jesus Christ.

Like Sarah [team vicar], I have spent time in Africa. I spent a summer Tanzania in 2000, living with very poor subsistence farmers without running water or consistent electricity in their homes. It is a hugely difficult life they live.

And when I was called to preach, I wondered what I could say to them; I wondered where I could find a similarity between us.

It’s been somewhat the same coming here to Abbey Hey & Gorton. Our lives in England and America are indeed different ... It does feel like, as someone told me, “we’re two countries divided by a common language.” And I’m definitely a newcomer here to some of the ways of the English Anglican church even though I’m an American Anglican.

Again, what can I say? where are our similarities?

Well – thanks to God, I’m able to connect with you the same as I did with the people of Tanzania :: Through our most basic connection -- as Christians – as people of Christ! And, it’s the experience of baptism that all of us from our incredibly different places share.

Most of us haven’t met baby Abigail or her family before today. Yet, after this morning, we’ll be connected to her as sisters and brothers in Christ. I find that each baptism of a child deeply moves me because it is such a sign of new life (which I guess is fitting for one of the last services here at St George’s.)

With Abigail today we are all called to new relationship with God, one another, and our own church lives.
Being here today gives each one of us a new beginning and celebrating her baptism reminds us of our roots.

It’s fitting to think of roots. On Thursday, the Gospel and Sarah’s sermon were about vineyards. As she spoke I was caught up by the image of how the vines are trained to be connected to one another. In my mind I could see the vines stretching out toward one another, intertwined and linked, twisting over and around one another for strength and stability.

It’s the same for us today. We are connected, intertwined and linked through baptism. The life of St George’s will not be lost – the memories and stories will be carried in our hearts and minds; the things of St George’s will not be discarded – they’ll remain in faithful use. Most importantly the people of St George’s will not be forgotten – you’ll be joining in churches of the Team and Deanery … grafting on with other vines producing again.

I see us stretching out to one another, constantly connected and part of the Body of Christ as we continue to share our lives and communion.

It’s the water of baptism that makes it happen. In a few minutes, Sarah will pray and bless the water that is “to sustain, refresh, and cleanse all life.” This holy water sustains us. We know that water that can rejuvenate us after work and refresh us after rest. The water of baptism is what gives the energy we need for strength and growth. This is not just for the people moving out of St George’s – today’s baptism is a time for each one of us to look again at our commitments.

Through our baptism we’re part of two things at once - the big picture: Christ and the world, and the local: our own relationship with Jesus.

It’s that relationship with Jesus that we have in our Gospel story. The blind man Bartimaeus is sitting by the road. He could have been very sad, definitely feeling lost and alone for in these times people like the blind were just “put” near the outskirts of towns along the road to beg. Along comes Jesus, but WHO tries to stop Bartimaeus from calling for Jesus? It was the people in the crowd who scolded him and told him to keep quiet. But Jesus heard him. And, as Bartimaeus wanted, Jesus heals him. Then Bartimaeus doesn’t go back into the city or along with the crowd. Rather he follows Jesus along the road.

I think we are often part of the crowd. In our own churches we sometimes miss the fact that we want to be with Jesus and that he is journey that we follow. Being in our own little groups, we can forget his larger message of love, healing and transformation.

Baptism gives us the chance to renew our connection with our bigger story. Just as traveling and visiting other places, meeting new people opens our eyes to a broader view of the world than our own neighborhood.

Abigail is a lucky baby! After today she is part of the worldwide Body of Christ – joining millions of Christians, some of whom happen to be Anglicans and Methodists. She’s also part of her local neighborhood church and the (new) Gorton-Abbey Hey team where all of us now know her name. She’s got a lot of people praying for her – promising to support her … not only her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, but generations of Christians before her – generations twisted, connected, and supporting one another just like vines in the vineyard of God.

And I’d say we’re all lucky too! We’re part of that vineyard too – connected to one another no matter in which specific place we worship. But that doesn’t mean these next few weeks, months will be easy for the people who have named St George as their home. I call on all of us – in the name of our connection through Christ – to remember them and pray for them just as we’ll pray for Abigail and all people of faith on this day and the days to come.