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Below is the sermon given at the 2018 Christian Unity Service

Where do we go from here?

Something very significant happened in this place 12 months ago at our 2017 Christian Unity service. Gathered as one Christian community we confessed and repented of our divisions. We confessed our lack of love, our hate and contempt, false accusations, our broken communion, our intolerance to one another, our desire for isolationism and our pride. As  Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Living Waters, Baptists, Elim and Quakers we confessed and we repented, seeking the Lord’s forgiveness and being reconciled once again to Him and to one another. Do we have any idea of the spiritual implications of what we did together 12 months ago? Psalm 133 gives us some illumination:

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity…there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life for evermore.”

Our confession and repentance opened the door for a spirit of unity to descend upon the churches of Ludlow. This new move of God among us can no better be witnessed than in the new monthly gathering of the Ludlow Church Leaders. We have met to share a simple meal together, to open our hearts to one another, to confess our fears and doubts in a safe and confidential place and above all – to stand shoulder to shoulder, leaders of the various denominations, ONE in Christ as we have collectively begun to seek His face – and to do His will in this town.

A new work among us has started – so where do we go from here?

We pick up the story that was shared with us a short while ago from Mark chapter 5. Jesus’ ministry is in full flow. As a result, many are following him on a daily basis pressing in around him to perhaps see another miracle or to hear some more astounding teaching that was shaking the “religious establishment” to its core.

And there is a woman in the crowd, not there to necessarily chase another miracle, but there because she no longer had anyone else to turn to. She was a woman in dire need - rejected and shunned by the people, by her own community, because of her issue of continual bleeding that had been plaguing her for 12 long years. According to the law, anyone who came into contact with her would be made ceremonially unclean – best to have nothing to do with her at all! Yes, as a result of her infirmity, she had experienced the loneliness of rejection, marginalisation, humiliation and being an outcast.

She reminds us of many in our society who, through no fault of their own find themselves on the fringe of life – lonely, hungry, cold, rejected, broken, abused – victims of a society that struggles to know what to do with those who are in need help. “Can’t they just sort themselves out?”

One of the first things to hit me when I became Baptist Minister in March 2014 was how much the people of Ludlow – both within the churches and without, cared for those who found themselves on the fringe of life. There is a real heart within this town to stand alongside those who are in need – to feed them, to clothe them, to help them, to befriend them, to advise them – to walk alongside them as they too take the journey of life.

Is this not the heart of Jesus? “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Yes, the gospel of Jesus compels us to walk with the broken and the bruised, and to do what we can to make their journey that bit easier. But there is more. The heart of Jesus also longs to see people being healed, delivered and saved. And so this woman’s journey begins…

“We read: “When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd

and touched His cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.”

Did you hear that verse – the one which we all skip so easily: “When she heard about Jesus.”

Well – who told her about the Lord? Most people would avoid her for risk of contamination. Perhaps she did have a small number of close friends who overcame their prejudice, and befriended her. Perhaps she had heard on the grapevine about this man Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God, who could heal, perform miracles, and even offer eternal life to those who chose to accept it. We do not know for sure. But what we do know is this – she heard about Jesus and that act of hearing opened the door to a personal journey of healing – but more than that – it opened the door to her spiritual salvation.

Yes, we are called to get along side the marginalised and help them. And yes, we are also called to get alongside the lost and lead them to the One who can save them – Jesus, the Saviour of the world!

How will the people who cross your path every day hear the good news that they can be saved, healed and delivered from their brokenness, from their sin, from themselves? Almost certainly when you tell them about Jesus – so that they too can hear about the One who can not only save them, but offer them eternal life!  Don’t you think the Alpha course is a good idea? An opportunity for others who have not yet heard, to hear the good news for themselves – just like this woman did? “There is someone who can help you and His name is Jesus.” Surely we all want to see men and women, boys and girls – being saved.

With great courage, the woman reaches out, touches Jesus’ cloak and is instantaneously healed. 12 years of infirmity and set free in a mere moment! But not just 12 years of infirmity but also 12 years of rejection, isolation, being marginalised – being shunned – dignity restored in a moment – all because she had heard about Jesus and pursued Him with great vigour and determination – and faith!

The Lord’s response is fascinating. Having identified her in the crowd and having heard this woman’s incredible story of faith, persistence and personal risk, Jesus says to her:

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Daughter – that is, you are now a child of the Living God

Faith – that is, you determined to set out to find and put your hope in the One who brings release, liberation, hope and an eternal future

Healed – the Greek word actually means “saved” “Your faith has saved you”

Go in peace – a biblical reference to the eternal assurance that can only be found in Christ.

Can I suggest that this woman had one big smile on her face as she returned home? Free at last! But not just physically free, but also spiritually free for the Lord Jesus had met both her physical and spiritual needs. She had commenced her journey lost, broken, sick and alone. After hearing about Jesus and choosing to have an encounter with Him, she returned home a transformed woman - saved, healed, restored and at peace!

So where do we go from here?

We continue to meet the needs of the marginalised as best we can. But we do not stop there. We also take every opportunity to tell others about the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ - the One who has come to save, heal and deliver those who are lost.

May the Lord continue to bless our unity, bless our vision and purpose and bless our mission as stated in the CTAL constitution: may the churches “respond together to the needs of society AND witness together to the good news of the gospel AND live, serve and evangelise together AND take further steps towards fuller unity.” Amen

 

 

Below is the sermon given at the 2017 Christian Unity Service

Following the Master’s example!

We find ourselves living in a very fractured world – I think most people would agree with that statement - a very prejudiced world where some traditions, cultures, opinions and centuries old practices have raised up walls between many races and many peoples. The political upheaval that the world is currently facing exposes afresh the chasms of division that hold our communities captive.

The surge in racist and xenophobic hate crime reported across the UK, following the June Referendum result has been widely documented. Initial reports by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), four days after the referendum, indicated a 57% rise in the reporting of hate crime compared to the same period in 2015. On the 22nd of July, four weeks after the referendum, the NPCC announced that over 6000 hate crimes had been reported across the UK.

In July 2016 a homosexual was captured by an ISIS gang in Kirkuk in Iraq and thrown to his death from the top of a high building and his corpse stoned with rocks by ISIS loyalists on the ground – murdered for being a homosexual. Young children were present.

In December 2016 a survey carried out by the homeless charity CRISIS discovered that in the last 12 months, 77% of those who were surveyed had been victims of crime and anti social behaviour, 45% had been intimidated or threatened with violence or force and 7% had been urinated on.

Just before Christmas a prominent American official tweeted that he hoped “Barack Obama (a black man) catches mad cow disease” and that his wife Michelle would “return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she could live in a cave with the apes.”

Well, hatred, prejudice, intolerance and discrimination were just as present in Jesus’ day as they are now and yet the Lord had the character, the strength, the courage the yearning to overcome those barriers and bring hope to those who found themselves marginalised by others. He sets the example for all of us who are in Christ to follow – encouraging us to believe without the shadow of a doubt, that, reconciled to Him, reconciled to one another, we too can make a difference – we too can reach the lost, we too can comfort the lonely, we too can care for the abused and for the rejected, the broken and the forgotten.

 “When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her. “Will you give me a drink?” The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) John 4:7-9

Here is the good news brothers and sisters in Christ - Jesus’ very nature is to oppose barriers, discrimination, prejudice, hatred, abuse of power, lack of love and intolerance and to see every person regardless of colour, nationality, sex, race, regardless of whether a person is homeless or homed, disabled or fully functioning, vulnerable or safe – to see every person as  a human being who has been made in the image of God – and therefore worthy of the greatest respect.    

Listen to the woman’s response:

“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

Look at the barriers that Jesus overcomes to bring hope to this woman’s heart:

Hatred between Jews and Samaritans was fierce and long standing in Jesus’ day -- and yet he had chosen to travel through Samaria and have a conversation with a Samaritan woman – overcoming barriers.

Rabbis would rarely speak with women in public and yet here He was speaking directly to a woman – overcoming barriers.

Rabbis would certainly avoid speaking with a woman in public with a disreputable reputation and yet here He was – being willing to commune with someone others would turn away from! Was it any wonder that, as the disciples returned, we read, “They were surprised to find Him talking with a woman.” Jesus again – overcoming barriers.

And according to the Jewish tradition, using a Samaritan’s cup would make Jesus ceremonially unclean - yet He asks the woman for a drink – overcoming barriers.

Here is the point: Jesus was not afraid to oppose discrimination and accepted prejudices. He was willing to change and break from the established order. He overcame barriers all the time – in order to reach the lost, to comfort the broken, to raise the marginalised, irritating the Pharisees who were bound in tradition, hypocrisy and legalism:

“Jesus, why do you mix with sinners and tax collectors? Jesus, why do you touch lepers? Jesus, why are you willing to associate with immoral women? Jesus, why are you healing a person on the Sabbath day?”

“Why? Because I care, because I love, because each life is important to me – black or white, British or European, Asian or Western, male or female, the righteous or the sick, the rich or the poor, the successful or the failure, the homed or the homeless – I overcome barriers that you have put up – because I love with an everlasting love – I love every single person who has ever lived and who will ever live. That is why!” God IS love!

Well, this afternoon we have confessed our divisions, sought His forgiveness and have been reconciled once again with Him AND with one another! We are different but we are ONE in Christ! We rejoice in our differences rather than see them as hindrances. We recognise that TOGETHER we can be the Light of Christ in a dark world by following His example. We were never made to operate as islands, for it’s when we are TOGETHER that we can do wondrous things for the Lord. TOGETHER we can stand as one and say NO to discrimination, prejudice, hatred, abuse of power, lack of love and intolerance and as one say YES to standing with the marginalised, yes to overcoming prejudice and hatred with the love of Christ, yes to surrendering our desire to control and be willing to submit, yes to tolerating others who may be a bit different to us – yet still made in the image of God.

Do we recognise that in this sanctuary today we stand among brothers and sisters of Christ – each one of us called by the Lord to be reconciled to Him and called to help others find reconciliation in Christ?

Dear friends, have the courage to follow the Lord’s example, have the courage to overcome the barriers that divide us – that divide our communities and be willing to be the fragrance of Christ wherever you go, with whoever you meet, seeing the image of God in all that He has created. And may our love for the Lord who first loved us compel us to be His love, His Light in a dark world. TOGETHER we can overcome the barriers of division. TOGETHER we can be a signpost for others pointing to a better way, the way of Christ, the way of love. TOGETHER we can make a difference, moving forward as ONE body into the unknown, yet with the reassurance that the Lord will never leave us nor forsake us.   

Amen

Simon Lambourne

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