Sermon 12 December 2004

One of the most important things that churches are learning about reading the bible is we must pay attention to the time and the place and the space in which we read it.

For our God is alive and is with us in the here and now.

When I turned to the gospel reading that is set for this morning, my mind was turning over the process by which our new bishop would be chosen ? the election process that finished yesterday lunchtime, having begun in July.

And as I reflected on the four candidates in succession ? I had in my mind, the voice that we hear in the gospel this morning, ?Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another??

But that was yesterday. That might have been the gospel for yesterday. But we read it afresh and anew this morning. That was then. This is now.
Now as I read it anew, today, I find myself thinking about how we as a congregation must respond.

And I ask you, are you the one that is to come or shall the world wait for another?

For you, the congregation dedicated to the Holy Saviour here in this place, you are the body of Christ. God bearers to the world.

Not living in the past. Not waiting for some ultimate glory. But living in the here and now, we are the body of Christ, the people of God.

And this morning, this Advent morning as we celebrate this anniversary, I invite you to take stock (for that is what Advent is about).

Take stock and think about this place and especially this community.

When the first Episcopal congregation gathered together in 1854, were they the same as us, or were they different.

No doubt they used Advent prayers in the run up to Christmas ? though the Christmas that we take for granted, with lit up tree, cards, carols and so on was a very fresh and modern invention. Indeed, I suspect that the celebration of Christmas itself would have been one of the things which would have marked this congregation out as being different and distinctive ? for it would not have happened in other Christian communities at that time. Indeed, perhaps that is why the new fledgling Christmas congregation took for their name Saint Saviour ? the Church of the Holy Saviour.

They gathered for worship in a world which was both like our own and unlike our own.

Britain was at war (with Russia in the Crimea).
Bridge of Allan was growing and expanding.

Did they who gathered for worship know that in 150 years we would be gathered here?

Did they ask themselves ?This new church community ? is this the one for us? Is this the one or shall we wait for another??

People have all kinds of reasons for choosing a church. Nowadays more than ever people shop around, looking for what suits them. I?ve never been one to condemn this ? for I am an Episcopalian by conviction and conversion, not by birth. Shopping around was something I did. And I remain convinced and confident that God has a distinctive role for us in Scotland ? a small but growing community of grace in a world which often seems to pass faith by.

And I hope that we are becoming, always becoming the kind of congregation that people will join because for some reason they get the notion that here, right here this is one of those places where the good news of God?s kingdom is announced with fresh vitality week by week. This is a place were people have known God. This is a place where people can get to know God. This is a place where people do get to know God.

John sent his disciples with a message to Jesus ? ?Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?? And the answer that they got was one which is relevant to us today.

Jesus did not say ? look, I am the Messiah, the promised one, the one who has come to save the Jewish people and restore the Jewish kingdom.

Jesus did not say ? this is what I believe, I am here to save those who think likewise?

Jesus did not come proclaiming a kingdom which was open to the good people, or the nice people, or the holy people.

Jesus came and said ? look around you. See, the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleased, the deaf hear, there is good news for the poor?.

Let that be our test on this significant day in our life together. Let this place be known as a place where in Jesus name incredible things happen. People see things in new ways, people learn to walk the walk of faith, people are healed of what harms them, people hear words with refresh them which they could never have imagined alone, people proclaim together that God?s good news is here.

Let this be a place where all are welcome. Let this be a place where no-one is turned away. Let this be a place where people are reconciled to one another and to God. Let this be a place were all things are fresh and in God?s eyes, all things are made new.

150 years ago today, people gathered in worship in a new congregation. Today we gather in a new congregation ? renewed each week by fresh faces who join us for the journey ? a journey which is far from over.

Not many of you will have been members of a Scottish Presbytery. As it happens, I have. When one moderator takes over from another, after their year in office, it is customary to say something about the year gone by. And whatever is happening in the church, the there is a kind of stock answer ? the outgoing moderator will say, ?The church is in good heart?.

(It covers all kinds of realities!)

Here in this place, I know that this community is in good heart. We face the future together with confidence.

Who would have known 150 years ago that the busiest decade in this congregation?s life would be the last 10 years?

We face the future together, proclaiming our faith to the world around. Demonstrating our confidence in a God who loves us to distraction.

For he is a God who makes the wildernesses bloom, who makes broken lives whole, who strengthens fearful hearts. This is the God whom we proclaim here in this place. A God who is here. A God who is near. A God who has been with us for 150 year and a God who is here with us now.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

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