Rev. Andrew Cunnington
23rd February 2014
From Maintenance… To Mission… To Miracle (Stewardship Sunday)

The Grumpy Old Man syndrome struck this week!

Now I love a good film and I am a great fan of contemporary music, but these award programmes! The BAFTA’S and the Brits. They drive me to distraction. All these stars, celebrities and singers getting together to congratulate one another, and their dreadful long winded acceptance speeches. I sit snarling from behind my copy of the “Church Times”, at the whole spectacle.

I was grateful to the BAFTA compere, Stephen Fry, for at least asking the award winners to keep their speeches short.

After all, he said, when you get given a cup of tea you don’t thank the kettle or the teapot. You don’t pay tribute to the contribution of the milk and the sugar, you just get on and drink the tea!

Hear! Hear! I found myself saying, but when it comes to Christian stewardship, then I’m not quite so sure.

For as the body of Christ here on earth, if we are to get anywhere, we rely on everyone working together, and it is at our peril that we forget to value the contribution each person makes.

So at the outset of this sermon, I want to take a moment to give my thank you speech to the cast of thousands who make St Matthew’s the church it is and whether, in the great scheme of things you see yourself as a teapot, a kettle, a dash of milk or spoonful of sugar or merely one more perforation in a tiny tea bag. Please know that what you do is valued. And if ever I forget, You know, God doesn’t.

I’ve been thinking again of the first miracle Jesus performed. When he turned water into wine at Cana in Galilee.

One of the remarkable things about that story was that Jesus did not do the miracle alone. In fact, let me shock you by saying that he did not personally do it at all. The people did! They listened to Jesus. They trusted in him. Then they did what they thought he was asking of them. In that miracle story, when you add them up there were about thirty people with the hands on involvement that produced enough wine to sink a battleship. Jesus never touched the stuff.

Just think about it for a moment. There was Mary who made the first approach to her Son. There were any number of servants who were charged with filling up the giant stone water jars. There were twelve disciples caught up in the action too, alongside the steward of the feast and the bridegroom, and because I am a man with a wild imagination, I want to count the water jars themselves, who to me in that story, almost become like human beings, standing there, waiting to be used, waiting to be filled, ready to be of service. I’ve deliberately excluded the guests at the wedding, because I think they remained completely oblivious. Include them, and you have more than a church full!

The miracle took place at the Word of Jesus, but with the hands on touch of his people working together.

So as the church struggles for identity in our day, and as we personally reflect upon our contribution towards Christ’s ministry here, how might we be shaped by what we saw happening on that momentous wedding day.

It surely is our worship which defines us and when we come together we are once again listening to his voice, as they did at Cana, to a backdrop of rumours of shortages and scarcity. A shortage of peace, a scarcity of resources that can produce a sense of rising panic in the most faithful believer.

Our Gospel reading this morning exhorts us not to worry however bleak the picture might be. There is no point in loading your mind with burdens and anxieties, but when we do, and we all do, it’s possibly because we are not trusting enough for Jesus to work his miracles today, through us.

There is a buzz phrase around church circles of which I heartily agree. It speaks of the church moving from Maintenance to Mission. From a pre occupation with doing as we always did and just keeping the show on the road, to getting out beyond the church door and making a positive difference to the lives of people around us and knowing that it is what we find in Jesus when we worship that compels us to do this.

But I think there needs to be more to this catchphrase. The move should be from Maintenance, to mission… to miracle! To see the outworking of our faith prompting us to actions we would never have dreamed of. Water jars, just standing there, but becoming receptacles for miracles. Like turning water into wine.

All hands to the pump!

Soon our annual report will be out for you to read and just a glance through will enable you to see the variety of things we do as a church and how none of them are solo efforts, but rather we depend on each other for their successful completion.

It would be wonderful if we could do this without having to turn our minds to matters of income and expenditure and budget forecasts, but the church is anchored in the real world and we cannot be blinkered to the impact.

To keep the church running in 2014 will cost us just four days of one man’s salary. That’s not too bad until I tell you that man is Wayne Rooney and so the cost is £150k. It’s a huge amount and when you think that we have been able to raise these sorts of sums annually for a good many years now, well, it convinces me that the age of miracles is far from dead.

Now I know I say this every year, but it bears repeating. To make ends meet, we do not rely on one or two rich benefactors, there is no Government grant, there are no subsidies, there are no sums coming down any rich treasure chests of the central church.

Rather we raise this sum together through many contributions we all make and through saving money wherever we can.

But that sum of £150,000 also includes an element which supports the work of other churches in our Diocese who cannot get anywhere near raising the sort of sums they need to keep going, but whose mission is to areas of great poverty and deprivation. If we did not contribute to their needs, the amount we would have to raise would be reduced. But if we take Cana as our example, where it was all hands to the pump to bring about miracle, we would not withdraw our support, because to do so would be like cutting off other parts of his body in favour of our own, and that would not be a Christian principle.

Water into wine…oh yes please…but waiter…just this table!

I think we raise the money to support a vision and I hope you think we have one. The centrality of our worship, leads us to take the Gospel seriously, to welcome everyone and judge no one and to look into our community with increasing confidence, seizing hold of the opportunities we find their to serve Christ in one another. That’s it, it’s very simple and it can be very costly in the giving of our time, money and talents.

These are difficult times, and it just is not possible for everyone to increase what they give and do, but it does each of us good to reflect each year and see if personally, we’ve got it right and if possible to make an increase in what you give each week or month or year, so that we can meet the extra 7% we will need to not go into the red this year.

I mentioned there is no Government grant, but of course for all base rate taxpayers, you can gift aid whatever you give so that for every pound you give St Matthew’s we receive £1.25 and the best way of doing this is to join our planned giving scheme where, through weekly envelopes, or direct debits and standing orders, you can agree a sum for the year and we can look after the gift aid arrangements for you. Take away the form handed out this morning and do make a reply, even if it’s no change, and do use this form to let me know of areas of church life where you might want to get involved in the giving of your time and talents.

The turning of water into wine at Cana in Galilee.

Jesus’s inspiration to us of how we must move from maintenance to mission …to miracle!

Worth reading again prayerfully and asking God to show you where you might be part of the hands on miracle making that typified, his ministry and now needs to characterise his church.

JOHN 2: 1-11   ROMANS 8:14-21   MATTHEW 6:25-37