In place of a traditional sermon on the first Sunday of Lent, Rev Deborah outlined the Mission Action Plan for the parish this year:
Let’s go back to ancient times and imagine that civilisation is underway. Humans are learning to live together in societies and inevitably are discovering that it is inherent in our human nature for individuals and tribes to fight their own corner, so there is conflict, jealously and violence. But there are good things too. Some people are beginning to see that they get further by caring for each other rather than destroying one another. Many people raise their young with loving care and try and live in peace with their neighbours. Most want to get on with farming in their fields and and tending their livestock to the best of their ability.
And then disaster strikes.
Perhaps it is a tsunami or a period of global warming that causes unprecedented flooding in the plains. Whatever it is, it becomes imprinted on the human psyche and the story of the flood becomes a mythical tale passed down from generation to generation. Whatever the basis historically, it has a mythical power far greater than its literal meaning and is a story familiar to many cultures
The story tells of how one man and his family find a way through devastation to something new, a story of transition.
The skies are blue, the sun is shining. Noah is out in the fields. He is a good man and has raised a fine family. He then starts hearing voices – God whispering in his ear.
‘Noah, it’s going to rain, you had better build a boat.’
‘Look at the weather Lord, never been a better summer. What’s with this boat?’
God says, ‘Noah build a boat’.
Noah gets a bit edgy. ‘Have you thought of what the neighbours will say if I start to build a boat. They’ll say that I have lost my mind.’
‘Build a boat Noah’ says God.
Noah is a God-fearing man and not the kind of man to argue with God – so he builds a boat.
‘Now’ says God. ‘take a breeding pair of all the animals and get them in the boat.’ I am not going it that part of the story as it will take too long – only to wonder whether woodpeckers and wood worm were included in the haul,
Noah does as he is told, still sweltering in the hot dry weather while the neighbours look on, shaking their heads and wondering whether to send for the doctor. Then one day the heavens open and it rains and rains and doesn’t stop raining for months. . The boat starts to float. The neighbours watch in disbelief as the waters carry Noah of into the sunset – except the sunset is a distant memory now, as the sun is perpetually covered by storm clouds.
It is a picture off being carried off by circumstances beyond your control into a world that seems full of threat and turbulence and a waving goodbye to everything you are leaving behind, knowing that nothing will ever be the same again. Travelling into the unknown.
Maybe we are closer to Noah than we thought!
Eventually the rain abates and Noah tentatively sends out scouts to find dry land. The boat is in a new place, on a mountain top – Mount Ararat. The ark comes to rest at a higher place than it could possibly have reached had it not been carried there on the apparent waters of destruction.
Life is going more or less smoothly and then circumstances change and the old order crumbles into chaotic disorder. Survival demands that we entrust ourselves to the chaos with a remnant of the old stability tucked in our pocket. The storm subsides and a new order emerges and we have made some sort of quantum leap.
Running alongside this reading is our gospel reading. Jesus is Jesus baptised by John, he then goes into the wilderness and is tempted and then he starts his mission. Jesus faces turbulence in his own life. During his time in the wilderness Jesus says goodbye to all that he has known, knowing that nothing will ever be the same as he starts his ministry towards the ultimate end – crucifixion and resurrection.
We, individually, corporately, nationally and internationally are in our own state of chaos and disorder, facing chaos and disorder, moving away from what we have known travelling into the unknown.
It is a good time for us to reflect on our own journey as a church family. Normally at the beginning of the year, we would set out our stall in terms of our mission action plan and where we are heading in terms of mission and ministry. We have currently come to the end of our five-year mission action plan. We are in the situation where we need to develop a new MAP but feel that this is not quite the time. Because of what we have been through during COVID as individuals, as a church family and as a community we need time to take stock, reflect on where we are, to take time to pray and then to prepare for the future which will result in the development of our next mission action plan. In this current time is difficult to plan long term, so this year has been designated as our year to pause, pray and prepare.
Simon Barrington suggests that there are three phases for what happens after a crisis.
Firstly, the response phase.
Secondly the recovery phase.
Thirdly the reconstruction phase.
Let me illustrate this with the Jenga. Normally in the game, the idea is to push a brick out without the tower falling down. The pandemic has been like the collapse of the whole Jenga tower in one fell swoop.
(Knock the tower down)
Our first phase is response – how do we react to it, and in many ways that is what we have been doing over the last year. It is our immediate
The second phase is recovery. How do we start to pull things together? Things like remembering, reflecting and recuperating come to mind. How do we reconnect with each other?
(Gathering bricks together).
The third phase is reconstruction – I prefer the phase ‘re-shaping’. How do we build things together again? We will still be the church of St. Margaret’s but by the very nature of our experiences we are different – as individuals, as a church family and as a community. Our church life will be different. There will be things that we will go back to – our fellowship together, singing in church but there will also be new things that we have done for example our on-line worship which will continue. Our church community will be re-shaped – the Jenga shape, when put back together may not be the exact tower that it was a year ago but take on a different shape.
So how does this fit in with our mission action plan for this current year?
A time to pause – links to where we are at the moment. Pause doesn’t mean doing nothing. To pause is the opportunity to reflect and review on where we are as a church family in terms of COVID, to provide spiritual emotional and pastoral support and to provide worship in a variety of ways to increase accessibility and be more missional (particularly in terms of on-line presence). It is to think through how we have responded, identifying where we are all at and what we have been through and how we can help and support one another.
Pause – Where we are at the moment
A time to pray as part of the recovery phase, looking backwards and forwards. Hopefully, we are beginning to enter a recovery phase. There are signs of hope as we can see through the successful roll out of the vaccines, the reduction of the R number and a decrease in the number of people dying. Tomorrow we will know a little more about the road map out of Lockdown This is an opportunity to discern where God might be leading us through prayer and to look at our recovery from COVID, particularly in terms of connecting and re-engaging with people.
Psalm 127:1 says, ‘unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.’
Prayer – where might God be leading us
A time to prepare to reshape and think through what we might need to do for the future. To prepare for mission and ministry both in church and digitally, a hybrid mixture of worship and explore how we can reach out to our local community. This will form the basis of our future mission action plan – how do we grow, nurture and serve. Carol P is currently training as a digital authorised lay minister, Carol is our ALM for prayer and worship and Andrew G for pastoral care. Christine and Sue has been champion which is a good basis for us to start from. In many ways this is long-term thinking as we don’t know what will happen, but it does help to give us a sense of purpose for the future.
Prepare- What might we need to do
So, this year is a year to pause, to pray and to prepare.
You will find a letter which goes into a little more detail. It didn’t go out with the service paper – because I didn’t want it to pre-empt my sermon, but it will be sent out via E-mail later.
As well as outlining plans for of plans for this year, it is also to say thank you to you all and I want to re-iterate this now. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement. Thank you for your faith, courage and strength over the last year. In the last meeting of our book club, there is quote from the horse in the book ‘the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse’, sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent.’ I know that you have appreciated phone calls from each other, things that have been received through the post, the practical support that you have given each other and the prayers that we have offered for our church family, our country and our world. Thank you. Throughout all of this, whether we have been able to worship our church buildings, on-line or on our own at home, we have still been the church family at St. Margaret’s and St. George’s.
I would particularly like to thank Laurel and David as church wardens, for whom much of the responsibility for keeping our church open and COVID safe, has fallen upon. I would also like to thank the ministry team, Sue, Christine, Carol O, Carol P and Andrew G who have done so much in terms of our worship both on-line and in our building. A special thank you Sue who has taken on additional responsibilities whilst I have been shielding.
As we journey through our year of pause, pray and prepare we remember that promise that God gave to Jeremiah that is still relevant to us today.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)