We are a growing community

This week at St John’s we continue our series of sermons thinking about our mission statement. The second sermon has the title: We are a growing community. 

2 Timothy 3.14-4.5; Luke 18.1-8

I realise many of you will find this hard to believe, but I was a very well-behaved child. Despite that, I learnt from a very early age that my mother would often ask questions when she thought I wasn’t behaving as she would wish – questions which, however much I felt deserved an answer, I knew would result in her wrath if I tried to give one. Questions like:
Am I talking to a brick wall?
Are you deaf or something?
How many times do I have to tell you?
What did your last servant die of?
Do you think I’m made of money?

And then – well all else had failed – as a last resort she would come out with: Why don’t you just grow up! Bit difficult really, when you’re only ten years old, but I was old enough to know that telling her that was not going to get me anywhere or help the situation!

We all have to grow up in the end of course, but it’s not something you can do instantly just because someone tells you to! And that’s as true of our Christian life as it is of life in general. But unlike life in general it’s perfectly possible in our Christian life to not grow at all.  A ten year old child will inevitably, in time, grow up into an adult. But unless we take steps to ensure that we grow as Christians then at best we will just stay as we are.

Today we are reflecting on the second of the three values in our mission statement. Last week we were thinking about what it means to be a worshipping community – and of how worship must underpin everything we do as a Christian. And today we reflect on what it means to be a growing community. For unless we grow, in the end we will wither and die.

Now, I wouldn’t mind betting that when you hear the word growing in a church context you immediately think about growing in numbers. Of course that’s important – Jesus told his followers before his ascension: Go to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples.[1]

But the growing we are thinking about this morning is the personal growth that we each need to embrace as a Christian. And when I hear the words growing or growth in a Christian context the first thing that comes into my mind is the old chorus that we used to sing on Church Army children’s missions many years ago:

Read your Bible, pray every day,
pray every day,
pray every day,
read your Bible, pray every day,
if you want to grow!

That might sound to our modern sophisticated ears a little simplistic. Yet it contains a great deal of truth and very nicely picks up on the messages that God gives us in our New Testament and Gospel readings for today: Read your Bible, pray every day, if you want to grow. Read your Bible is the message from the New Testament! Pray every day is the message from the Gospel!

Let’s begin with the first part of that – read your Bible – and what Paul has to say in our New Testament reading. This comes from one of two letters written to Timothy. Timothy was a young Christian from Asia Minor who was a companion and assistant to Paul on some of Paul’s missionary journeys.

And Paul, in the extract from the second letter we’ve heard this morning, begins by reminding Timothy, “how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. And then he goes on to say this: All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Paul was referring to what we now call the Old Testament – what we call the New Testament didn’t exist as the time he wrote to Timothy – but the principle holds true for the New Testament as well. Scripture is inspired by God and we ignore it at our peril. The Bible is not something for church on Sunday but for every day, as we seek to know God’s will, as we learn about him, as we seek to know where he challenges us and reproves us and corrects us when we need it! And as we read and learn so we become, as Paul puts it, proficient and equipped for every good work. Never let your Bible be a book that just sits on the shelf. God has chosen to communicate with us, to teach us, through it!

Read your Bible! It is God’s Word to us.

And then, pray every day!

Which brings us on to our Gospel reading. We hear how Jesus tells his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. Back to my mother for a moment. Two things she used to say always seemed to me to be mutually exclusive:
I want doesn’t get!
If you don’t ask you don’t get!

The problem with prayer is that so often we do ask and then don’t get – or at least we don’t get what we want – and so we give up. Or we just don’t ask at all. Well, in today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells us that in fact we need to ask, and ask regularly and often, and trust that God will hear and respond.

For Jesus tells us that God will respond if we ask over and over again. “Pray always,” he tells us. And don’t lose heart – just keep on praying and praying and praying! And God will hear you. And the thing about prayer, of course, is that it is not just a matter of God hearing us when we pray. When we engage in regular prayer we discover that prayer is a two-way conversation. Or even not a conversation at all,  but an opportunity just to be with God, a time to enjoy being in God’s presence

For our prayer is precious to God, because we are precious to God. He invites us to come back again, and again, and again, because he loves to hear from us. He loves to communicate with us. He loves to have us near. He loves us.

And while he might not always give us everything we want or think we need – anymore than we give our children everything they want or think they need – he promises to bless us and guide us when we call on him day and night. And sometimes he surprises us by answering our prayers far more abundantly than we ever expected – that’s been my experience.

If you don’t pray, how can God converse with you, or be with you – don’t be surprised that you do not hear from God if he does not hear from you. So make prayer a regular – daily –  part of your life. Spend time with God. Then wait to see how he will bless you.

Read your Bible! Pray every Day! If you want to grow!

I started by talking about those things my mother used to say:
Am I talking to a brick wall?
Are you deaf or something?
How many times do I have to tell you?

I sometimes wonder if God feels like that. Because God has given us the Scriptures so we can hear his voice, so we can learn from him. God has given us prayer so we can hear his voice, so we can converse with him. And yet so many Christians think they can get by with neither, or have just never developed a habit of regular prayer and Bible reading.

If you’re one of those, make a commitment today to do something about it. And if you don’t know where to start don’t worry – there are plenty of things you can do to help you, and Mother Anne-Marie and I are always happy to talk to you about any aspect of your spiritual life and to point you in the right direction. And if you’ve already developed a weekday pattern of prayer and Bible reading, then perhaps it’s now an opportunity to reflect on and review what you’re doing. And we can talk to you about that as well. Just ask!

Read your Bible! Pray every day! So that together we may grow!

For we are – we must be – a growing community. And to be that we need to be listening to God as he speaks to us, as he communicates with us, through the Scriptures and through our life of worship and prayer.

For if we do not listen to what God wants to say to us then we do not grow spiritually, and if we do not grow spiritually God cannot work among us. And if God cannot work among us then how can we know how he wants us to serve him?

[1] Matthew 28.19