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Welcome to

ST MICHAEL & All ANGELS CHURCH

(Church of England)

St Michael's Green, Warwick Road, Beaconsfield, Bucks HP9 2BN

 

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Sermon given by Licensed Lay Reader, Hazel Chow

Sunday 2 February 2014

 

The meeting between the Holy Family and Simeon and Anna in the Temple is one of my favourite Bible stories. I think I told you last year how it reminded me that I after I had both my children it felt important to me that the first place I took them was to Church to receive God’s blessing. I’m sure that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple partly because they wanted to show that they wanted God to be at the centre of their life as a family and partly because in Jewish custom Mary was considered unclean to take part in public worship until she came to the Temple. But the main reason was because it was a requirement of Jewish Law that 40 days after the birth parents brought their 1st-born son to the Temple in Jerusalem to pay the turtle-dove or pigeon offering which redeemed their 1st-born, buying him back from God so that he was theirs to bring up, as the Law decreed that every First-born son belongs to God.

 

Friday was Chinese New Year and one of the Taoist customs is that meat is the most important food so on Chinese New Year Day it is offered to the gods and everyone else eats a vegetarian diet. Also before you cook a meal you place a piece of each food you’re going to cook in a bowl and offer it at a small shrine in the kitchen for the kitchen god. And, as with this Taoist tradition and the Jewish tradition of the 1st-born, so Jewish and Christian tradition is that the first fruits belong to God. Originally this meant of the harvest, the land belongs to God and is only held in trust by the landowner and farmer for use by future generations and the produce belongs to God, but it also applies to money and possessions – and this means before the taxman has had his share too!!

“All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee” – words we say as we present the bread and wine and our money offerings every week at the Eucharist; the Scriptures teach that God is the owner of all things and peoples, and he has given us the responsibility as his stewards of both life and possessions (according to Genesis); and we are to acknowledge both his ownership and our stewardship, for we shall each be held personally accountable to God for how we exercise that stewardship. So careful thought has to be given on how and what we do with our income and possessions, our care of land and creature, our time and talents, over which God has made each and every one of us stewards.

 

What is there in today’s Gospel reading that can help us in any of this?

Mary’s role was as a wife and mother – supporting her husband, Joseph, providing meals and clothes; she would have been the main influence in Jesus’ very early years – showing him love, how to make and keep relationships. My mother used to get so mad if a caller came to the door and asked “do you work or are you just a housewife?”!! Many of us are called by God to be wives and mothers; it’s not as easy a role as many think – Mary was often taken aback by Jesus’ forthrightness yet she stayed, encouraged, supported – “do whatever Jesus asks” she told the wine stewards at the wedding despite his curt remark to her; she was there when he hung on the Cross, watched him die, and she was expected not to worry and to know Jesus was safe when he got left behind at only 12 years old in Jerusalem – so motherhood can seem quite thankless at times, but with God in the picture there is an added meaning, an extra sacredness; bringing up children as Christians isn’t easy in today’s climate – but that may be exactly what God is calling you to do as your main role right now.

Similarly, to be a husband and father is difficult today where the role of the male isn’t so easily defined as it once was, but on the whole he is still seen as the main bread winner and the protector of the family. How does the Christian husband and father fare in a workplace where ethical decisions have to be made or discarded? Although this may not be regarded as a ‘gift’ or a ‘talent’ as we know them, it’s still about stewardship and has repercussions on others.

 

Simeon – what was his gift? We are told that the Holy Spirit rested on him, that he was told he wouldn’t see death before he’d seen the Lord’s Messiah and that he was guided by the Spirit to come into the Temple. Simeon was a man of faith, he was decent, he was devout, he kept his prayer lines open to God, he was a good listener to God. I’m reminded of Peggy Butcher - she was a quiet, faithful lady, regular at Communion and a good person to approach and talk to about God because it was so evident that she knew him. In ‘churchy’ parlance she was a ‘Contemplative’ – a “be”-er rather than a “do”-er; this was her calling. Perhaps this is God’s calling for some of you, too; to be the quiet, faithful person that others can approach and talk with; a steward of the faith.

 

And then we come to Anna: a lady, a widow, who spent her life in the Temple compound and she approached Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.  People have often said in the past that St Michael’s is a ‘welcoming Church’; there are some of you who are naturally ‘welcomers’, with smiley faces ready to approach people, ask how they are and to welcome them in. It would be lovely if some of you would offer to be ‘welcomers’ on a Sunday morning – yes, I know we have wonderful sidespeople who do that – but they also have other jobs to do and if we could have some specific welcomers, able to spend that little bit longer listening as they lead to a seat, may be to then sit next to the visitor and help them through the service, would be fantastic – age is no barrier – a smiley face and welcoming attitude is all that’s needed.

 

Recently some members of our Church attended the Pastoral Care course, and are offering their time and special gifts in this area for others, in response to God’s call on their hearts; and we are grateful for their listening to God and their response to him. We are still without a second Church Warden, Peter has been wonderful on his own, but surely as a Church we must have someone who is willing and able to offer themselves in God’s service in this way?

 

This year begins our centenary celebrations and we remember those early pioneers of the faith who thought of building a church in this part of Beaconsfield as the town grew up around the new railway; over the years others from this church used their administrative and  pastoral talents in starting the Iain Renee hospice at home service, together with other Christians in the town they conceived and had built Bradbury House for the elderly and a youth club, the Beaconsfield Advisory Centre, a Carer’s support group which still meets once a month; they ran a coffee shop for a number of years; many support the Beaconsfield Community association which also holds a weekly lunch club for the elderly; others have come forward and offered their talents as Town Councillors or use their academic talents in various ways. We remember Dom Gregory Dix, one time priest here, who wrote ‘the shape of the liturgy, an important work which theological students  from all around the world study; and over the years people from St Michael’s congregation have offered themselves to the Church as LLM’s or ordained clergy, in response to their listening to God.

What and where is God calling you to exercise your Christian witness?

 

“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” – so is said in the Book of Common Prayer Communion service at the Offertory and which, of course, comes from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount: to be salt and light, keeping the advance of sin and decay at bay, preserving and bringing out the flavour of life, bringing life in all its fullness, and reflecting the divine light of shared love into our surroundings, bringing hope and encouragement, offering ourselves, our money, our possessions and our time for God’s purposes, which is the calling of each and every disciple.  For money and possessions aren’t wrong or evil in themselves, but they are to be used wisely and, as the farmer in the parable of the Rich Fool learned, true wealth is a matter of being rich towards God; the size of our bank balances aren’t the determining factor but, rich or poor, it is the use we make of what God has given us that is important.

 

The Early Church held everything in common, they shared money and possessions, without prejudice, so there was no-one in need and to show that this was in response to the love that God showed in Jesus for all humankind. They saw being in God’s Kingdom as involving responsibility, responsibility of living their lives according to God’s requirements for the blessing of all.

Down the centuries Christians have tithed, some still do, faithfully giving 10% of their income as a financial obligation to the Lord, and freewill offerings in addition as God’s providence prospered them, for the support of the whole Church, local, district, educational and general, and this was considered a priority over all other giving opportunities which they may be called to do in society. Many of us think that using our gifts generally, giving and working for other charitable organisations is as part of our Christian giving; yet here we see that that hasn’t always been the case – giving specifically to the Church first was the main obligation.   It’s a difficult one, and how do people know that we are giving money and help to Iain Renee, the Advisory Centre, the schools, the Thursday Lunch Club and all the other things that many of us are involved in, because it is part of our Christian witness, and our response to God’s love for us and calling to us?

 

Each of us has to answer to God for how we act and use our money and our gifts; I can’t tell you how to do that. But I do know that if we don’t sacrificially give our finance, give our time, give our talents, specifically to the Church for God’s use then we won’t be able to train our laity, upkeep our clergy, our buildings, our Church schools, and then our Christian presence and witness in the world will be diluted – at a time when Christianity is already marginalised in people’s thinking and in society as a whole.

 

I think the last word must go to Anna – “At that moment Anna came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” – as we look to Jesus, the Light of the world, let us tell and show people, in words and action, about this wonderful God who has come to bring light and Hope to a broken world. Amen. 

 

 

 


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