Think again about what your faith gives you

Peter Seal, 18 July 2021

Jeremiah 23: 1–6; Ephesians 2: 11–22; Mark 6: 30–34, 53–56

It may sound incredibly simple, but I’ve found myself thinking again about what the Christian faith means. And this really was prompted by a funeral service that Julia and I went to of a family member who was very dear, but was very clear that he wanted what’s described as a secular funeral. It was the first of that kind that we’d been to, and it was very graciously conducted by a man of great integrity, who’d taken enormous care. And it all went well.

But I found myself having extraordinary feelings about how it was just about memories. That was the theme, and there were many, and they were rich, and they were beautifully articulated. But I found myself thinking, ‘So, what’s missing?’ What I realised was missing was what you and I call the Christian faith. And I really am wanting to encourage you to think again about what your faith gives you.

So I thought, it gives us the most extraordinary breadth in this life, in terms of relationship with others, near and far. Being here, pray God, enables us to go deeper into the things of life that give us joy and sorrow and encouragement and blessing and richness. And again, to be thankful and acknowledge the source, and say, ‘Lord, I believe you’re Creator. I believe it all comes from, exists in, has its fulfilment in you.’

And then, of course, there’s heaven. There’s life beyond this life. I think if I didn’t believe that I’d be in the most terrible state. We believe that when we die, the essential person that each of us is – and today in a very particular way that includes Estelle, who has been baptised – has a new future which is much, much bigger than memories.

The other day with someone who was just talking about their life and what they had managed to do and what they hadn’t managed to do, we just acknowledged that there are limitations to our fulfilment in this life. But heaven is the place, praise be, where every boundary will be blown apart, and all that God ever imagined we might be will find its fulfilment. So I just offer you that.

Heaven is the place where every boundary will be blown apart, and all that God ever imagined we might be will find its fulfilment.

And then, just a little reflection on the gospel. The wonderful thing about Holy Scripture is the way that it surprises us. We think we know a passage, we may have heard it already many, many times – we may even have preached on it – but something ‘new’, as it were, hits us between the eyes, and I’ll tell you what it was for me.

It was the opening sentences of today’s gospel. ‘The apostles gathered around Jesus [‘apostles’ – we usually say ‘disciples’, but technically it’s ‘apostles’] and told him all that they had done and taught.’ I tell you why I’m surprised – because it feels like a complete reversal of the way I normally picture Jesus with the apostles. I picture him with them, speaking to them, teaching them, and here, he’s listening to them telling him about all they’ve done and taught.

And maybe that’s what worship is, on a Sunday? We come from wherever we’ve been, from whatever we’ve been doing, and we say, ‘Hello, Lord, I’m back again. This is what my week has been like. This is what I have done (maybe you’ve taught something, maybe you sought to be something). But it’s our opportunity to be together, in the presence of God, and say, ‘This is what I’ve been up to’. It could be confessional, it could be thanksgiving – there’s all sort of bits it might be – and of course Christ in God knows about all that, but the act by us of acknowledging and communicating is what makes the relationship.

And then, finally, this is what he went on to say. Jesus said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while’. Isn’t that very wonderful? There’s Christian gospel, especially in testing times. ‘Come aside, with me, and rest a while.’

So, dear one [addressed to Estelle], this is the faith into which you are being baptised. And mum and dad and your godparents will, I know, guide you in that and teach you that, and maybe you’ll learn that Bible story, along with others. They say about work with children and young people that the calling of the Church is to give them just enough, so that after they’ve rejected it all in their teenage years, they’ve got just enough to come back to. Amen.