It was a pleasure and a privilege to be part of the ordination of Stella, our curate, earlier in the summer. This was my sermon as she led us in celebrating Communion the next day.This sermon was part of our sermon series on The Spirit at Work. It was preached on 1st July, hence the references to the World Cup.
The Spirit at Work through our Service; 1 Corinthians 12:4-14
Yesterday was a significant day for many people. It was, of course, the first knock-out matches of the World Cup. Some other stuff may have happened too, which I’ll get on to later. But, first, back to the World Cup. Argentina and Portugal were both knocked out, meaning that two of the best footballers, Messi and Ronaldo are both going home.
Which is a great reminder that, no matter how good you personally might be, you need to be part of a team. And it’s a team bigger than the 11 players on the pitch. The squad, the manager, the backroom staff, even the coach driver, are all needed. As the England player Dele Alli put it, “We’re all in this together”.
Or, as Paul put it in our reading “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body … the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
Yesterday, one of the other things that happened, was that Stella was ordained at Derby Cathedral, as a priest, a presbyter, an elder, a leader of God’s church. She has stopped working at Rolls Royce, to come and work with us and Emmanuel full-time, and will be working with us for another 2 or 3 more years. We laid hands on her and prayed for her to be filled again with the Holy Spirit. She has been given the authority to lead us as we celebrate Communion, to marry, to baptise, to bless, to declare the forgiveness of people’s sins.
But, this is all about what Paul talks about in the reading: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” This isn’t about cheering on another superstar from the sidelines. It’s about us all being on the pitch together, about us all being on the shared adventure of discovering where God’s love leads us.
At the start of the ordination service, the Bishop says this:
God calls his people to follow Christ, and forms us into a royal priesthood…
The Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. In baptism the whole Church is summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of God’s kingdom.
To serve this royal priesthood, God has given particular ministries. Priests are ordained to lead God’s people in the offering of praise and the proclamation of the gospel.
Or, in other words:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
The Holy Spirit is given to help us, to make us more the people that God created us to be, to reveal in us more of God’s love for the whole of his creation. And, to bring about through us his Kingdom here on earth.
So, what does service look like? Well, this video made by the Church of England might look similar to some of the things we’re already doing.
And we might not have made a video about it, but that’s essentially what we’re doing each month through serving drinks at the Post Office, and through our regular Senior Citizen’s lunches. So, let’s celebrate the things that we are doing and the ways that we are already serving.
Over the years Christian service has looked like different things. Some of the world’s first hospitals were run by Christians. The NSPCC and the Samaritans were both set up by vicars who had seen the suffering of their parishioners and wanted to do something about it. The probation service and schools were set up by churches. In this country, a million children are in Church of England schools, and as a church we support Hartshorne school. This gives a great opportunity for us to help those children and their families encounter God, as does our toddler group, Little Sparks. As does Youth for Christ, which we support.
Tearfund, Open Doors and other charities are working across the world to transform people’s lives, as other expressions of Christian service. And one of the major things that Tearfund is encouraging us to do is to care for God’s creation, because people are already dying of climate change. That’s another way we can serve, by using less, reusing where we can, recycling more.
And our service to God also looks like prayer, and care of neighbours. It looks like running the prayer chain and being the Safeguarding Lead. It looks like supporting the foodbank, volunteering for charities, and working as managers, teachers, carers, TAs, cleaners, vets, pharmacists, and so on. It looks like signing petitions, going on protest marches, and working with politicians. Christian service looks like all those things because it is about doing those things that reveal God’s love, that do God’s will on earth so that it becomes more like heaven, more a part of God’s kingdom.
So, the Bishop of Derby has been a leading part of efforts to change the law and to raise our awareness of modern slavery. And one of the ways that we’re called to get involved is to recognise it. Nail bars and hand car washes are two of the main places where people trapped in modern slavery are forced to work. The Church of England has created an app to help identify people who might be slaves working in car washes. So, if you use hand car washes, please download the app and use it. That too is part of our Christian service.
From September, Stella will be Chair of Churches Together in Swad. Churches Together are already serving not least through the Town Chaplaincy and the Assemblies Team. The Chaplaincy, bringing God’s love to people. The Assemblies Team, telling children, and staff, of God’s love for them.
And one thing that Churches Together are discussing at their next meeting is whether to serve the area through setting up a Christians Against Poverty advice centre. Whether or not it’s the right time and we’re able to do it, it’s a great reminder of what service can look like. So, just a short video on what that might look like.
“They’ll treat you as a human being, of infinite value, loved by God”. That’s what our service is about. Treating people as humans, beings made in the image of God, of infinite value, loved by God. And treating the world as God’s creation, loved by God as well.
Alone, that might feel a bit of an overwhelming list. Which isn’t the point. Well, actually, it sort of is the point. Stella was asked a whole long list of questions yesterday about what she was going to do and how she was going to do it. And the answer to each one wasn’t “yes”, but “With the help of God, I will”. We can only do this stuff with God’s help. This is about the Holy Spirit equipping us, so that we can serve. And it’s also about us working together, about using the gifts that the Spirit has given us, about serving in the ways that we can: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” To each one. For everyone.
Our service, together, is about demonstrating God’s love, in our actions and in our words, for the whole of his creation. Our service, together, is about revealing God’s love, about working for his kingdom coming here on earth. It’s about celebrating the ways that we do that. Mowing the grass in the churchyard, or of a neighbour. Making a drink for a friend, or for someone we’ve just met. Talking to someone about their struggles, whether that’s in church, over the garden fence, or wearing a Chaplain’s jacket. About celebrating the commitment that Stella has made, and the commitments that many of you have made to God’s service over the years.
And it’s also about spurring one another on in love and good deeds. It’s about challenging ourselves and sometimes each other to ask ‘is God calling me to do something else, something more, or something different?’ It’s about asking God to fill us again with the Holy Spirit.
As I’ve said before, one of my favourite Rend Collective songs is called Broken Bread. It speaks about our service, and what that should look like:
May I be broken bread, may I be poured out wine
May I incarnate, Your kindness Lord
Spend my life Jesus, anyway You please
Whether on great things, or what seems small
“May I be broken bread, may I be poured out wine.
Communion is about meeting afresh with God, about taking the ordinary, everyday wine and bread and setting them aside for God. That’s what we’re called to do with the whole of our lives. To set them aside, to make them holy, so that they become places where others can meet with God, not least through our service. And, just like with communion, we need the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit to make that happen. So, as Stella leads us in celebrating Communion, in remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection, let us ask God to pour the Holy Spirit on us again, to fill us to overflowing with his love so that we can serve him in his power. Amen.