Sermon, 150th Anniversary Day
Sunday November 12, 2017, St Petri
1 Peter 2:1-9 From <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Peter+2%3A1-9&version=NIVUK>
John 10:22-30 From <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+10%3A22-30&version=NIVUK>
The best of time or the Worst of Times?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity(skepticism), it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way….”. (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859)
Words of Charles Dickens in 1859, that tumultuous time of the French Revolution when the world was changing fast. It still is.
In our 150th year, is it the best of times or the worst of times for us as a church? Are our best days behind us or still to come?
Were the days of worshiping under a gum tree at Poplar Holme our best days? It was simple then. We may even romanticize about it now. Were we at our best when we built the first blue-stone German style church building in 1867 or extended it and built the bell tower in the 1920’s?
Were we at our best in the baby Boom 50’s and 60’s when there were just too many people to fit into that blue-stone church building. So, we knocked the whole thing down, spun it around and constructed a large church building even with further expansion in mind for its northern side.
So many Lutheran congregations in Australia would point to the post WWII Baby Boom years as their golden days. Kids in their hundreds attending Sunday School, large Confirmation services, dozens of baptisms; big youth groups, Church being the social capital of your life; the centre of the fun of your youth, where you found your life partner and shared the child raising journey as parents. Church being heard and seen and lived in the local community with ease. It is just what you did!
But then it changed so much. The centre of the social and cultural city shifted away from church to entertainment, sport, business, “me” generation, searching in other places and things for God, frenetic work, reaching for the upper middle class and its comfortability and trappings.
Deeper change still; From the world of real things to the world of ideas that you cannot touch and taste and smell. Everything has become a personal choice, an idea; something you alone can make. “What is truth? asks Pontius Pilate of Jesus. “There is no truth except the one you choose”, we say.
And then internet explosion where the self is king and queen; access anything that takes your fancy and find facts that bolster your own view. Delete anything you don’t like and any voice that challenges you. A self-absorbed, less face-to face kind of community: A more lonely kind of life? A more dangerous life where a mistake can be known by millions.
Movement from a mild indifference to church and religion and faith based schools to public intolerance of religion and religious organisations and institutions, all in the name of tolerance! As a result, a generation and maybe two missing from among us.
So, which is it and what city are we – the city of the best of times or the city of the worst of times? Are our best days as a congregation behind us or in front of us?
Who can really tell? By whatever measure we judge this city, or in what times we now live, the best or the worst, two things are true today as we celebrate 150 years.
This city is still in God and God is still in his city. And the times are still opportune because God is still in his city.
The city we call church, does not stand or fall by our hard work, or laziness, our prayer or forgetfulness, our obedience to God’s word or rejection of it, or even our great pastors and art and singing or lack of. This city stands on the foundation stone of Jesus of Nazareth in any era – best or worst.
‘See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.’ (1Peter2:6)
he is the foundations of this community called St Petri. Always has been and always will be according to him.
It is his resurrection power, that create us. It is he who is still building us into a spiritual house and holy priesthood who offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God in his presence and name, whatever our name.
The only way this city falls is by rejecting him. Whether we are at our best or worst is not what determines our future – only the grace of God lavished on us for these 150 years determines our now and forever.
Whether or not we look good, feel good, maintain good numbers, reach new people in the gospel; whether or not we pray hard enough, sing well enough, serve actively enough, we will be in him because we are a chosen people, a holy nation, a holy city, God’s special city built to declare the praises of him who called out of darkness into his wonderful light (1Peter 2:9).
No matter how this country rolls or how this world spins, we shall never perish; because Jesus, the Cornerstone of this city, says,
“no one will snatch you out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given you to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch any of these out of my Father’s hand (John 10:28-29).
Safe, secure, built on him, whether you view these times as the best or the worst, they are opportune times. They are opportune times because the gospel flourishes in times that seem the worst in human terms.
Numerous Christians only 30 odd years after Jesus’ resurrection – numerous enough to be blamed by Caesar Nero for the fire of Rome in AD66. A flourishing Christian community even after Mao’s communist China and Stalin’s godless communist experiment called the USSR.
The gospel flourishes when it seems to us it shouldn’t or can’t. But it does, when real people ask real questions and search for real answers. People are doing this still! People have big questions about relationships, decisions, vocations, gender, identity, the pain of life, the meaning and purpose in life and work and family.
So, we are the Lord’s city – at our best or our worst. We are a local church with a 150 year old story in this place, connected to thousands of local churches in a 500 year old story, all coming from a 2000+ year old story of the new Kingdom of grace which itself comes in the best of times but especially in the worst.
Will we believe him today? Will we be built by his Spirit for our times and trust him for his preferred future of this, his city?
Will we believe him for our future as we give thanks for our past?
Will we crave him like a baby craves milk? Will we grow up into his way and his word and be his city on a hill for all to see without blame of bullying or politics, as we speak truth, honestly from the heart in love?
Will we offer our very bodies as living sacrifices to him and each other and this community as we serve in Jesus name so his hope and love might take hold of other bodies?
It may be the best of times and it may be with worst of times but it is definitely an opportune time; it is a gospel-kingdom time.
We may be at our best and we maybe at our worst, but we remain the co-workers of Jesus in this town to share the love and hope of him who died and rose with everything we have been given.
Whether we live or die we belong to him and live for the praise of his glorious grace.
This will be us for however long it is until the Bridegroom calls his bride home where everything will be fulfilled and a new heaven and earth will take shape by his mighty Word.
Now thank we all our God!