Acts 7: 55-end,1 Peter 2: 2-10, John 1: 43-end
My head is buzzing, ideas are whizzing around inside my brain, and there isn’t enough time or space to get them all down on paper. Some weeks, the process of writing a sermon is slow and laborious, but not today. So much has moved on in just 7 days. On Thursday just gone we launched our telephone sermon option for people who cannot access the internet (020 8016 2474). After a successful Zoom Patronal get together last Sunday, we launch today our first Zoom act of worship. We have gone from a dry written sermon to a multiplicity of ways of sharing in worship, and it is very exciting. In addition, on Wednesday of last week, the House of Bishops allowed a slight relaxation of our churches’ closure, with permission to live stream acts of worship from inside our buildings, as long as only two people are present, and suitably distant from each other. The ways of keeping in touch with each other and of sharing worship together are increasing daily.
This is exactly what the writer of 1 Peter is talking about when he uses the image of “living stones”. Christ is that first, all-important living stone, the cornerpiece, the foundation of all that God is building in his Church, but we his people are also living stones, built up into an ever-expanding building for worship and for witness. However separated we are, we can come together to praise our God, to pray together and individually, and to share our joy in Christ. However separated we might be, we can still show in acts of love and generosity what Christ has done for us and how God’s world ought to be.
This building, so full of opportunity and challenge, does not get built without its tragedies. The death of Stephen is one such awful event, when stones are used not to build up, but to destroy. Just as the water of baptism talks of life and death, so stones were very much part of the Early Church’s suffering. Stephen was not the only martyr to be stoned and the apostle Paul and his companions on their missionary journies were frequently chased out of town by stone-throwing mobs. The writer to this group of churches in northern Turkey very deliberately uses this image to redeem those murderous stones that were used against Christians, stating that Christ himself was rejected as a useless part of the building of Israel, yet in resurrection he proves himself to be the most important part of God’s universe. What is so marvellous is that we are included in that living stone, part of the fabric, a piece of the whole. Resurrection includes us in God, totally, and that is wonderful.
However, our buildings are solidly locked this morning, and will remain so through this week. There will come a time when they will re-open for private prayer, but we may well have to sit tight for many more weeks before full congregational worship will restart. Therefore, this living building which offers prayer and worship to Almighty God will have to be active in different ways.
One positive part of the national lockdown has been the safe removal of 90% of rough sleepers from our streets, into the warmth and safety of unused hotel rooms across the country. The night shelter project was drawn rapidly to a close as this process happened, but the charity with which we work in providing these shelters continues to meet with these people, to support them into long term accommodation, to restore their documentation and benefits or to get them back in contact with their families. The work of Glass Door, St Mungo’s, the Salvation Army and many more charities working with the homeless carries on, day by day, with case workers making remarkable progress, and food banks supplying meals and other practical support. In an article in Thursday’s Guardian, it was reported that of the over 500 homeless people now in hotels in London, many had tested positive for Corvid 19, but none had died – testimony surely to the skill and professionalism of their support teams.
Today is also the start of Christian Aid Week, when normally we would be out inviting people to share in the work of Christian Aid with disadvantaged people across the world, but this year we can ony do this online, via the Just Giving pages set up for our congregations (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/the-barn-kew & https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/st-lukes-kew or by phone: 020 7523 2493 ) Please share this with your with your family and friends – many lives depend on our generosity.
The Kew Neighbourhood Association is providing much-needed support for vulnerable people here In Kew. They are blessed with a large number of volunteers, but they need our prayers for their continued efforts.
The Richmond FoodBank is continuing to operate, delivering hundreds of food parcels and frozen meals every week across the borough. If there is anyone you know who needs this service, which is free to anyone who cannot afford to buy food, please encourage them to ring 0808 208 2138 Monday-Friday, or 020 8940 0274, and help will be arranged as soon as possible. Donations of food or of cash are always welcome: visit https://richmond.foodbank.org.uk/give-help/donate-money or phone 8940 0274, and surround your generosity with prayer for all those involved in this critical work in our borough.
The one major difficulty we have during this time of lockdown is actually telling people what we are doing as God’s people and how they can get involved. We start with prayer, which must undergird all that we do, but the example of Philip in today’s Gospel reading is perhaps the most helpful in this. Nathanael responds as an old curmudgeon when Philip says that Jesus is from Nazareth – Nathanael was from the neighbouring village of Cana, and old rivalries run deep. “Come and see” says Philip, drawing Nathanael out of his aloof reticence and into the very presence of God. As Nathanael meets Jesus he sees immediately that this is the Messiah – and it was Philip who gently encouraged him to encounter Jesus. We are called to do the same today, but we cannot bring people with us to church on Sundays for the time being. So we have to be creative. Share sermons or acts of worship via email with your friends. Like and retweet or share our Facebook and Twitter pages. Make sure that people know that support is available and there are opportunities for worship for everybody – the glory of the internet is that anyone can access what we are providing from anywhere in the world. Just because our buildings are closed does not preclude us from inviting people to meet the risen Jesus – “come and see” can easily become “join us online” or “read this” or “listen to this”.
Living stones, alive to God, growing together, worshipping, prayerful and outward-looking – all of that is encompassed in what we have read this morning. May God give us grace this week, like Philip, gently to offer a meaningful encounter with the risen Jesus to all with whom we are in contact. And may almighty God keep us and bless us through these difficult and uncertain times.
Rev Peter Hart