Rev. Andrew Cunnington
22nd April 2018
I Lay Down The Life Of Me (Stewardship)

Out in the back garden sweeping leaves with my little Grandson and teaching him how to gather up handfuls of them, throw them in the air and then see how they flutter to the ground on the wind.

And then how different all these leaves are! Sharp and prickly ones, dead and dying ones, some flat and flimsy, others crisp and hard, some with the greenness of new life still there, clung onto all through this winter and, the thing that amazed him most, and caused him to stop and point, the flowers of fresh primroses somehow caught up in it all.

Like all the pieces of our lives, taken up into the giant hands of God and thrown to the wind in joyous celebration of who we are, and God and you together, watching them fall through the air, wondering where they will land.

It’s a lovely Gospel reading today for it brings to us the comforting imagery of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and you and I as sheep of his fold. It makes for snug and comforting reading to the backdrop of our world’s ugly situations. But as you read these verses and the ones which surround them, there is a more haunting theme to be found.

The Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I lay down my life. I lay down my life of my own accord. I lay down my life and I take it up again.

And unusually for me, I checked how this comes out in the original Greek and it says

I lay down the life of me! I lay down the life of me!

And I found that more haunting still, as if to say that this passage that I thought was about who Jesus is, is actually a passage about me and who I am.

For we are not just sheep in a pen you and I – with the big beaming face of the Good Shepherd tending to our every need. How that image has been used to draw people into a false understanding of faith and one which ultimately ends in disappointment.

Rather, we are called to share in the Shepherd’s work. As a church, it is what we hear Jesus saying and doing that we must say and do as well. We are the body of Christ. And with him we say –

I lay down the life of me!

I need to have a lie down and preferably in a darkened room. To lie down is to address the stresses of the day. Our weariness and exhaustion. All of us need to find a place of rest and refreshment, to take the weight of our feet for a while. That’s why we love Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd – he makes me lie down in pastures green, he leads me beside still waters, He will refresh my soul.

When you can’t take any more pummelling from anyone, you can come and lie down in here. Let this building touch you, let the worship enfold you, let the hospitality of the altar, the coffee shop, the coffee table and the Foodbank refresh you. Lie down here at St Matthew’s people with the same needs as you, make room for you in these battle weary pews.

Let me lay down the life of me in bible readings and prayers and reflections. Let me cradle myself before God at Holy Communion. Let me lay down the life of me alongside mattresses for the winter night shelter and candles in a stand before which Mary cradles Jesus as God would cradle us.

Let God pick up the pieces of your life, throw them in the air like so many different types of leaves and watch them come down and look for the tiny fragments of primrose.

And then when we are angry and dissatisfied we like to lay down the law. I am right and you are wrong – that sort of thing.

But I’m sorry – the Priest and the preacher must lay down the law to the people. There is no escaping it.

Those who opposed Jesus loved to do this – for with that law they drew circles which included themselves and kept everyone else at arms length. We do not learn so in Christ.

Lay down the law of the life of me. The way of Jesus is to give space and value to every person, to us, and that we won’t just lap this gift up – but want to share with others.

There are no limits to this love, No exclusion zones or no go areas, where you go I will find you and bring you home – so long as you want to be found that is.

And to show that this is not just words I will lay down the life of me to show what I mean. I will make myself a living example of what I say. Bur dying on the cross – I will show you where love takes you and how dare you, the church be sucked into the blame and demonising culture of the day.

The church is called to lay down the law of the life of Jesus until it chimes with the life of me.

Let the leaves not be swept away at all, but let them be gathered into the wounded hands of this Jesus – let them be thrown up together, the living ones and the dying ones, the prickly ones and the sweet ones and let each one be redeemed amongst the twinkling promise of tiny primrose that even a one year old child can find.

Finally we lay things down as a sacrifice. We offer our lives in service. And we may not think it adds up to anything much. Our sacrifice is a combination of joy and sorrow. The things we know we can do and rejoice in doing, and the things we are hopeless at and try to keep well hidden.

And the great joke about Jesus is that he wants us to offer up the things we have given up on. The dead leaves and the prickly leaves are the stuff of miracles for him.

I lay down the life of me – and then it says in the Gospel, but then I take it up again. What I thought I was, is given new meaning when I lay it down in front of him.

I lay down the life of me – in worship and prayer. I lay down the life of me by laying down his law of love in what I am and try to do. I lay down the life of me and when I do it leads to a surprising turn of events.

We strive to do this at St Matthew’s. “Are you sweeping up those leaves, or making more of a mess than you started with” calls my wife down into the garden. “and look at that child’s fingers, their black, what will his mother say.

This is messy work we are engaged with. We are not a large church for the amount of things we do and if we are to sustain the life we share and grow in that life it is good for us to each review the part we play.

Stewardship Sunday is about throwing the leaves of our lives into the air and seeing where they will come down. I lay down the life of me.

I could have filled these minutes with pie charts and statistics, graphs and forecasts about church attendance, about our budget and levels of financial giving, about the shape of the church and it’s ministry in, say, ten years time, and we cannot bury our heads in the sands about any of this.

We have to live in this world and like any other family we have to pay our bills and the task is getting harder and harder .Churches are falling by the way side where it is becoming impossible.

If we are to pay our way as a church this year – we have to find £441… per day. We have no Government grant. We do not have millions of pounds stacked greedily away for a rainy day. We have had to spend heavily on our tower this last year and there is now work to be done on the flat roof out the back. Work needs doing on our organ, some of the walls, the tiling outside, steps and lights and boilers always need things being done.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” – see what the cost of a crust adds up to. Can you help us towards at least a day’s worth?

We live in days where nourishment is scarce and where Councils and agencies and Government departments, cannot look after people on their own. That is a great realisation of our day, a yawning gap into which we must step and name it as mission.

On the sheet I will give you on the way out will be a request asking you to review if you are able, your financial giving to the parish. And there is no better way to do this than give regularly. Agree to give with a standing order, a direct debit or weekly envelopes. The sheet also suggests ways in which you could get involved in the life we share. Get involved differently. Get involved more. Get involved in ways that come easy. Get involved in ways that are challenging. I would really like to do that, but no one asks me, or I simply don’t know how to start.

But I look out on faces that already give sacrificially, I know that.

I lay down the life of me – that’s not new to us, it’s part of our striving and I say thank you to you for each and every penny you give and each and every second you give, each is like a leaf thrown into the air that comes to rest somewhere. And each leaf counts – and the primroses especially delight the heart of God.

I lay down the life of me and I take it up again.

There are a number of themes running through this sermon maybe too many for one sitting. It will be on the web site – copies at the back of the church, copies for those unable to be here today.

I believe there is a place in society for the church in a way there has never been before in our lifetime. The aching needs of people to be met in the aching need of the love of Jesus, and for us all to play our part. There is – I think – a leaflike vision for that here at St Matthew’s and we have shaped that together.

So one more time – let’s gather them, hold them and fling them – and glory in where they fall…

Download 2018 Stewardship Form

JOHN 10: 11-18