Below is the sermon I prepared for a joint service with our friends at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (who normally meeting in one of our parish buildings). The actual sermon was delivered 'off the cuff' - but the broad strokes of what I said are included here.
Deut. 30.9-14, Col 1.1-14 and Luke 10.25-37
Ever since we realised that we were going to need to move our worship into the hall, this Sunday, I’ve been so excited. I’m excited because it finally gives us the opportunity to do a couple of really important things…
First, I’m delighted that the congregation of the Redeemed Christian Church of God are able to be with us today. For about a year now, Pastor David and his team have been leading worship, Sunday by Sunday, in the Upper Room over in Church House. It’s an absolute delight that worship is taking place there, and, I detect, really exciting to see congregation growing in numbers and confidence.
Secondly, being here gives us an opportunity to reflect on all the fantastic work that goes on here in the Pallant Centre. Last night, Clare and I attended the latest concert by our friends from the Havant Orchestra. Fantastic, high quality music from an orchestra who we give rehearsal space to every week.
Next week, I hope all of us are going to buy tickets for the Dynamo production of the Roses of Eyam. There is no better way of encouraging our young people than to turn up to see their efforts. Watching some of the rehearsals this week, I just know that you are going to be bowled over by them.
And that’s just the tip of the Pallant Centre iceburg. We have the Solent Male Voice Choir, rehearsing every week. We have the Hayling and Havant Bowmen, honing their skills throughout the winter months. We have the St Faith’s art group, every Tuesday. We have a Mumbaba group. We have the fantastic Brownies and Rainbows, who provide high quality learning experiences for young people. We have a whole host of self-help groups – including Alcoholics Anonymous, Al Anon, Gamblers Anonymous and our latest new group, Narcotics Anonymous. We provide a hope to SSAFA, the armed forces charity – supporting any serviceman or woman – or their families - who has served for as little as one day for their country.
Thirdly, I’m delighted that it gives the St Faith’s congregation a chance to see the work in progress here in the Pallant Centre. I hope that while you are here, you’ll take the chance to wander around the building and see the changes that have taken place. Much of the change is currently ongoing. In many ways, the whole place feels like a building site at the moment. But, it is impossible to make an omelette without breaking a few eggs…and over the next few months, some really radical changes are going to be taking place. Work is now well underway on the new toilets for the hall. In the old Nursery rooms, we will be opening a Family Café in September. That’s going to be a place where parents and children can gather in an atmosphere of creativity and fun – using the courtyard garden as well. It’s going to become the place in Havant for young families to be.
There are still some big challenges that we have to overcome. In the garden, over by Church House, you will undoubtedly have noticed that we are installing new drains…that’s to stop all the rainwater from the car park and from the roof of church house from soaking into the brickwork. We have a structural challenge to overcome in the small Nursery room – where a warped support beam has to be held up with steel girders. We still need to install a fire escape from the Upper Room, and we are installing a central heating system for church house in the next few weeks. There’s certainly plenty to do!
And that is not all that we are seeking to achieve through our Big Build Campaign. Over in the church itself, there’s going to be a whole lot going on in the next few months. New wiring and lighting will be installed. The clock faces and weathervane are being overhauled – and our heritage pipe organ is about to be completely restored.
The question that often hovers on lips is ‘why’? Who would we do all this work? Why not just sell all these buildings – even our crumbling old church – and just meet for singing and worship in a school hall somewhere. Life would be an awful lot simpler if we did! Why not let someone else have all the worry and the challenge?
Well, to get close to an answer to that question, let me take you back to Jesus’ summary of the law at the beginning of today’s gospel reading. A lawyer asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life…and Jesus tells him to do just two things…Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself. This summary of the law was actually something that other teachers of Jesus’ time were using as well.
There’s an old story about a Jewish Rabbi called Hillel, who was challenged to stand on one leg, and recite all the law. So Hillel lifted up one foot off the ground and said: “The whole law of God is this: Love God, and Love your neighbour as yourself. All the rest is commentary”
In other words – as Jesus would have concurred, I’m sure, Rabbi Hillel was teaching that all the little laws about what we should eat, and when we should pray, and when we should rest, and how we should treat strangers, the fact that we shouldn’t murder people, or steal from them, or covet their possessions – all of this was just commentary on the central teachings of the faith: Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.
So why are we embarked on our Big Build Campaign? – because by improving our church, we show our Love for God, by making the house of worship as precious and beautiful as we can. By improving this Pallant Centre, we show our love for our neighbours – by making it as comfortable and useful to the whole community as we can. It’s as simple as that really.
There’s one more thing I want to say – to everyone here. And that’s to underline how delighted I am to welcome the Redeemed Church to our worship today. The Redeemed Church has its roots in West Africa – and as a result, many of its members are not from the UK by birth. Right now, after the Referendum, there’s a danger that some of our African friends here today might fear that the whole country is against them. Well, I want to say, on behalf of the whole St Faith’s community – that’s not the case for us. You are welcome here. We are delighted that you are here. You bring new ways of worshipping, new ways of thinking. You bring skills and talents…and today you bring food to share as well! Please believe me when I say that we are glad to have you as our neighbours – and we hope that this last year of sharing this building with you will be the first of many, many years together!
To quote, finally, St Paul’s words to the Colossians: “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father!”