Rev. Andrew Cunnington
17th June 2018
A Scattered Church

So the world cup is underway and England’s first match is tomorrow. I don’t know about you but I’ve booked the television, my wall chart is ready and my England T Shirt has been located from the back of the wardrobe. I am ready to go… And, yes I am ready to be disappointed.

Can I take you back three world cups ago. This very week in the year 2006. For it was on the day of England’s first match v Paraquay that I came here to be interviewed for the job of Vicar.

We will ring all the candidates this evening – said Bishop Nick who was in charge in those days.

So I went home put the telly on for the footie and left the phone by my side, enduring the double agony of a woeful game of football and wondering what the future would hold for me.

I really wanted the job but there were other younger candidates also in contention. So I was uneasy.

As I watched the game, I noticed how many English flags were festooned around the stadium and the names of the places from which the fans had come emblazoned upon them. Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Bristol and Truro and then a flag I had never seen before. Redhill.

There it was beaming its signal back to where I was sitting anxiously waiting and then a few flags along ( because this used to happen in those days) a flag simply bearing the bible reference John 3: 16… God so loved the world…

So there in front of my eyes – the place I was to go and the message I was to proclaim, and God saying, well if the only way I can reach you to tell you this is right is through a football match, I will do that.

It wasn’t long after that that Bishop Nick rang and the rest as they say is history.

But I would love to find out who went to that World Cup from here and who hoisted up that flag in the stadium to become unwittingly, a messenger of hope for me.

There is a strong theme to be taken from this morning’s well known Gospel reading and the obscure but beautiful fragment of the Old Testament.

If the kingdom is to be proclaimed – if we are to tell people of John 3: 16 – that God so loved the world – we have to go out into that world and make that known. We have seed for sowing and you can’t do that from a standing still position. not just stay in one place.

The notion of church that is prepared to become scattered in it’s mission.

When the Holy Spirit came upon the early church in Jerusalem, they were all together in one place, but they did not stay like it for long. Soon they would be off in all direction. Gladly and joyfully because of the prompting of the Holy Spirit. In fear and trembling because of imminent persecution.

A scattered church they became and through the scattering – John 3: 16 became a reality in Damascus and Corinth, Ephesus and Rome, Ethiopia and Greece. A massive scattering which finally hit the places on those world cup flags – Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Bristol, Truro and Redhill.

A similar pattern goes on in our day and I think we need to be more aware of it lest the practice of our faith become restricted to a building. To here and now. 10am Sunday morning.

He gathers his people to worship as we are today. He focusses our minds upon the work done by His Son on the cross and then he scatters us to bear that message wherever life takes us. Flying the flag in good ness knows what place.

If we allow ourselves to be scattered we learn from the Gospel that two things happen.

The seed of our faith fall to the ground, they sprout and it grows and we know not how!

I am amazed at how the seed of my most casual words and distracted actions seem to have outcomes I never intended. Scatter his love willy nilly, that’s the message. Let God do the work, you don’t have to. You don’t have to strive.

And the second thing is that the seed we have is so small – the deeds we do are tiny when set against the trials of the world on one hand and the majesty of God on the other. Yet what is scattered in smallness grows to become greater than we would ever imagine.

I wonder who it was who took the Redhill flag all the way to Frankfurt and waved it at the TV screen at that moment and who was it who hoisted up John 3: 16 little knowing it would catch my eye and settle my future.

The small and the scattered is what he uses – and the challenge is how we can let him use us like that.

Andrew Rumsey is the Vicar of Oxted and he has written a small but dense book on the history of parishes and one blindingly obvious thing hit me as I read it.

When the church was at its strongest it was the institution at the heart of setting up education for all, it was the mover and the shaker in social reform, it had a conviction to make things better for the poor that scattered it into all sorts of arenas.

The decline of the church set in as these things were passed into the hands of Government and Councils, and from there to businesses and shareholders. The church retreated into itself – no longer scattered but gathered. A church in retreat.

But now the tide is turning again, the church is being turned to because resources are scarce elsewhere. This is not new. This is how it once was!

I love this imagery as it is extended into that little passage from Ezekiel. This is not so much about the scattering of seed but the tearing down of a sprig from a mighty cedar and planting it on top of a mountain, and the sprig becomes a bough and on the bough grows the fruit.

A catch phrase of our day is – putting it out there..and that’s a vision for us today.

It’s the taking or faith and staking it in the ground in unlikely places. And you don’t have to be scattered far in order to do just that.

Isn’t that the joy of Bishop Michael Currie’s royal wedding sermon in that it was him taking the reality of John 3: 16 and scattering it with gay abandon down upon the heads of the great and the good in Windsor Castle and into the homes of those at home – who must have thought – the sermon, here comes the boring bit.

So how are we to be scattered. To take the seed of our times together here into our homes and workplaces. Our holiday destinations and our difficult conversations, our blessed places of unity and togetherness and the harder places of fragmentation and conflict.

Scattered to serve the needs of our community – popping up in all sorts of place and amongst all sorts of people. Being church effectively, where others might not expect to find church at all. Being a presence, being a blessing and then – take our cue from the Gospel – be ready for him, be ready and willing to act with him.

Last week to close down our Sunday morning service and set up worship in a school field amidst bouncy castles and a burger van. We may not see the results of that in terms of an increase in numbers attending on a Sunday, but we spread the word, like sowers, and we cannot tell what will take hold.

There is a flag for each of us to take from worship. A flag with a specific time and place on it. A flag with a message – the message – that God so loved the world that he gave his only son.

Take it and hoist it up or stake it in… and see what God will do.

See what he will do and see what he will make of you!

EZEKIEL 17: 22-24
MARK 4: 26-34