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16th November 2014 - Sunday Morning - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for 2 before Advent
1 Thess. 5.1-11
Matthew 25. 14-30

It's a funny time of year this - we are, in the church year, still in ordinary time.... Even though the shops cannot wait for Halloween and Remembrance to be past so that they can assure us "It's Christmas!" (No it is not, Mr Tesco, Aldi, M& S, Sainsbury and John Lewis - however delightful your advertising campaign.) Advent - the time of preparation for Christmas, is still two weeks away. So we are getting ready to get ready, as it were. Sometimes we refer to these weeks before Advent as the Kingdom Season - which takes its name from next week's celebration of Christ the King... but there is a real sense of something "just around the corner"; something that might be a blessing or a curse; something we need to prepare ourselves or pre-prepare ourselves for. Something to' stir us up' - as the old collect puts it... we need stirring up just as much as the puddings and the cakes.

Well here in this church, we are "Digging Deeper" during these weeks before Advent and indeed we will continue well into the New Year. And while the financial implications of that are of course important, I want to encourage you all to dig a little deeper into your faith and spiritual growth. Dig Deep and Stir Up those thoughts inside.

This week we held a memorial service for a former Parish resident and local farmer - John Shanks. And it is no exaggeration to say that this place was packed - close on 200 people came - which is an achievement for anyone, but for a man of 93 is little short of amazing!

It makes you think, doesn't it? How many will there be when it is my turn to go? And how will they sum me up? Will I be flattered? Or furious? Or frustrated, at how I am described? Or perhaps no-one will come at all?

Maybe I'll look back - or down - or up (?) - from my place of knowing, and be amazed at how we underestimate both life and death. Underestimate what treasure has been entrusted to us - such gifts and graces... and the accountability for what we have done with them?

Often today we do not like to think of a God of judgement - and I don't think that God judges us harshly for things like who we love, or how we worship; but that does not mean that we will not be judged with the divine, all-seeing eye of judgement and mercy. And sure enough, in heaven the veil is removed; nothing escapes the divine examiner and we will be called on to explain our workings out in detail.

"I entrusted you with health and strength and a father's heart: what have you done with them?"

"And you, I entrusted you with a good brain and a golden tongue: what have you done with them?"

"And you, - you have had wealth, and the skill to gain more wealth: what have you done with them?"

And I will have nowhere to hide, no one else's answers to crib from; nothing to download from the internet or find in a book. For the first time I will see how far short I really fall - and what might have been, and I will be devastated - bowed by the enormity of my complacency, and God's grace.

And then I will hear God say "And to all of you I have offered forgiveness, my gift of a new start, if only you dare admit your need; to all of you I have offered my Holy Spirit, my very life in you, if only you also bear the cross of self-forgetfulness."

The word gospel means good news and Christians believe that, in Jesus Christ, the whole world is offered the good news of God's love for them. But the NT also bears witness to the fact that not everyone receives God's love as good news.

When they look at the person of Jesus, some feel threatened, some feel bored, some hate the way he breaks their rules about God, and some simply do not recognize what is on offer.

Why should the good news of the love of God be so alarming? Perhaps because few of us actually know how to be loved. We know how to be pampered, or to indulge ourselves, or to whine about being misunderstood. But to be loved with God's total, consuming, transforming and utterly perceptive love? Are we ready for that? (I think that is what John Shanks got right - not only did he love others, but he knew what it was to be loved)

We are all digging deeper and stirring things up... This weekend is the occasion for Children in Need - when many in this country help us to restore our faith in humanity, by digging deeper to help those vulnerable children who are in need. As a church we too try to practise what we preach - what we advocate for others. So some might think it strange that at a time when we are appealing for extra funds, the PCC is still committed to giving 10% of our voluntary income away to other charities and good causes. But that is precisely what we need to do - to demonstrate to God that we are not simply burying the talent that he gives us. We are trying to use our assets to benefit others too - in the firm belief that by demonstrating a generous heart, we (or more correctly God) will inspire others to be generous-hearted to us too. We all need to give back to God what is right and not simply what is left.

We are getting ready to get ready; to receive the greatest Gift that could possibly come our way - so come now and receive in bread and wine that symbol of God's love; God's very self - his son Jesus Christ. Amen.