Sermon for Trinity 3 (Pentecost 4) 2022

Two weeks ago I handed out the packs for The Vine Community – if you didn’t get one, there are still some available at the back of church.

The Vine Community is an initiative of the Diocese of Blackburn which is designed to help people to grow as Christians.

It does this by helping people to develop what is known as a rule of life. This is a personal commitment to living your life as a Christian faithfully

The Vine looks at 3 areas of Christian life and invites us to make some commitments in each area – up to 3 in each area. The 3 areas are

  1. Making Space for God
  2. Keeping Growing as a Christian
  3. Showing the hope and joy of Jesus in the world

This is confidential to you. No-one else will know what you have written and no-one will be checking up on you. 

The Vine Community will meet occasionally for those who want to do so – there will be talks and services and a chance to meet other Christians who are also seeking to grow in faith. These gatherings are not compulsory – they’re just there to help if you want to join in.

Each week, on Tuesday afternoon at 4.30 I take part in a sermon preparation workshop livestreamed on Facebook from St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square. I find this an immense encouragement – it’s so interesting, and Rev Sam Wells, the Vicar of St Martin’s is a clever, clear and original thinker. And Rev’d Sally Hitchiner, who co-presents the workshop, keeps him earthed very effectively!  You don’t have to be a Vicar, or preaching a sermon, to watch it. This weekly hour has been a really significant point of growth, encouragement and hope for me. I look forward to it!

This week Rev’d Sam was talking about Naaman, the army commander for the King of Aram, who’s story is in our first reading for today. Specifically, about how upset he was when, in order that his leprosy be cured, he was told to wash 7 times in the River Jordan. He was furious! Why? Well, aptly because he didn;t get to meet Elisha the fearsome and famous prophet – I expect Naaman was hoping for a personal audience, so his ego was a bit bruised when this didn’t happen. But also because what was asked of him was too easy. So he went into a rant about how there were much better rivers in his own country than the Jordan.

And Revd’ Sam was talking about how we complicate things to do with our faith, when there’s no need to. He gave the example of him reading a book about the arguments of physics against the existence of God: he’d read 500 pages of really hard formulae and dense arguments which was, mentally beyond the grasp of most of humankind. When he’d finished the book he set it down and looked out of the window – just sat and looked – and then thought that such beauty surely cannot be simply an accident – something that randomly happened. And this is an example of the simplicity of faith – just to look, and see and think ‘this is of God’. No need for arguments about whether it was all made in 7 days, which isn’t really what the creation in Genesis is about in any case. Just a simple, instinctive belief that this is of God.

And so, when we come to think about developing a Rule of Life, of filling in the next section of The Vine pack, we are not being asked to do anything complicated or even difficult, as Naaman expected. The idea is to find simple ways to keep growing as a Christian. Here are some suggestions:

  •  You already get a gold star because you’re here in church. How about adding value to this by using your journey to church to get in the right frame of mind? 

Maybe, as you walk or drive here, you could ask God to speak to you, somehow, in the worship, and be on the lookout for that for whatever that might be throughout the service.

  • How about this? Choose a parable of Jesus, or some of his teaching, and stick with it for a whole year and be aware of it and see how it can shape your life. 

So, if you chose the parable of the lost sheep, you could pray each day for people who have lost their way, or for people whose loved ones have gone missing. You could donate to a charity for vulnerable children.

Or the parable of the mustard seed: be conscious of the small things you can do to make things better and ask God to make your small acts grow and bear fruit.

Or the parable of the Good Samaritan – be on the lookout for acts of kindness and notice who is doing them. Then give thanks. 

Or, if you take the Beatitudes, you could be on the lookout for all the people who Jesus says are blessed: the poor or the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who suffer persecution – just notice them, and let Jesus’ teaching adjust your beliefs about who is truly important.

  • You could try to remember just one thing from the sermon each week and take it home with you, so to speak, and try to apply it to your life, or simply to think about it,
  • You could take the reading sheet home and look at the readings again throughout the week, and use the prayers on the back.

You might have lots of other ideas. Why don;t you spend some time after the service with your friends, thinking about who you could fill in the next section of The Vine pack. I’ll be listening out, after the service, to see what ideas you’re batting about

Incidentally, I think one or two commitments is fine, as I think 9 in total (3 for each section) is quite a lot.

I hope this helps. If The Vine is still confusing for you, please come and ask me for help. I think this is a lovely initiative – everyone can join in in ways that suit them. It’s there to bring us blessings – and we all need to be blessed?

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