This sermon was given by Rev Sue on Wednesday 4 September:
Monday evening, I was rehearsing with the baptism and confirmation candidates and I was reflecting on the interplay between individual faith and the faith we share as a church. The candidates firstly declare their faith as individuals: each one will promise to renounce evil and turn to Christ. But then the next thing that happens is they profess their faith in the words of the creed – and we all join them because it is the faith of the church. The creed can be difficult to understand, and it is not necessarily the way an individual would express the things most important to her, but in saying it we are uniting ourselves with the church throughout the centuries and geographically throughout the world. It is our faith, the faith of our parents and the generations that have gone before, and the faith of those yet to come. Then, the focus is once more on the individual as Nadia will be baptised and the bishop will lay a hand on the head of each individual candidate, telling them that God has called them by name and made them his own. Every one of them, and every one of us is precious in his sight.
The early church worked in much the same way. Paul is writing a letter to the Christians who live in Colossae, a city in what is now Turkey. He thanks God for their faith, for their love for all Christians everywhere and for their hope. The gospel, the good news of God, is bearing fruit not just in Colossae, but in the whole of the world. He asks them to acknowledge that they are part of something much bigger than the people they know and love, and then brings it back to their congregation as when he talks about the gospel bearing fruit among themselves.
Jesus, similarly, has concern both for the individual and for the people as a whole. At the start of today’s gospel is the story of the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She comes across as a real person. She became ill with a high temperature. In the days before paracetamol, that was in itself dangerous, so Jesus’ disciples asked him to help. He healed her immediately. So what did she do? Go to bed and have a rest? Take control but ask others to do the actual serving? No, this was her house, and she was going to do everything properly. The moment Jesus healed her, she was on her feet, bustling about in the kitchen, making sure that everyone had everything they needed. I’m sure you know people like that.
After Jesus had eaten, he began to heal all the sick people that were brought to him. From the home of Simon Peter Jesus’ ministry had spread to the rest of the town. They must have felt so fortunate to be blessed by his presence, and they hoped to persuade him to stay with them, but Jesus’ mission was to the other cities in the region as well, and he had to leave that town.
Some people have a lively personal faith. They are grateful to God for his love and forgiveness to them. They pray and read the Bible at home. The communion service is about receiving the body and blood of Christ, their saviour. They like to express their faith in hymns and to learn from the sermon. There are Christians who find God mostly in the company of other people. The come to church for a communal experience – singing hymns is a way to worship together. For them taking communion is about being part of the Body of Christ, and the Peace is an important expression of our love and solidarity. It is, of course a spectrum, and most of us, while we lean to one end or the other, embrace bits of both.
The confirmation service this coming Sunday is a chance to reflect on which aspects of your faith are important to you, and perhaps to understand better the aspects that you are not immediately drawn to. Our faith is our own, and we are ultimately responsible for our own relationship with God, but their will always be companions on our journey to encourage and support us along the way.