In this sermon, John Churcher, former chair of PCN Britain, encourages church going Christians to act like mothers, making sacrifices in order to nurture the future of the Church.
Being a mother is not easy. Mothers usually want the very best for their children and they will sacrifice even their own self and their own life to protect and to nurture their children and provide a better future for them than they themselves have experienced. Surely, that is also what we should be doing for the Christian Church today, sacrificing many of the words that remains precious to us to protect and to nurture the future of the Church in an increasingly secular world?
In my continuing retirement I spend a great deal of my time talking with and working alongside the fastest growing branch of the Christian Church – those who used to attend but have left it. There are two major themes emerging from my asking the question as to why they have joined the Church Alumni. One theme is that the words that they are expected to say and with which they should agree week by week have long ago lost any relevance and meaning. These are people who want to continue following and living the social justice agenda of Jesus but who have found that the Church has become a stumbling block on their spiritual journey. The other theme is that no one from their church has ever bothered to ask them why they have left. Unless we, the remnant, have the courage to ask such a searching question then we will continue to misunderstand and therefore continue to make the same mistake of words rather than of actions.
The challenge is not the words that we are asked to confirm to be members of the Church. The challenge for the Church today is to support, encourage and enable followers of the Way of Jesus to actively promote and to live his social justice agenda, breaking down barriers and offering life to the full to all God’s people. And that requires a re-think about the relationship between actions and words of faith. At the end of last week’s service a woman came to me and said, “Your quote from St Francis, ‘Preach the Gospel by your lives – and use words if you have to!’ reminded me of the Congregational Church family to whom I was evacuated during the dark days of the London Blitz – the farmer’s wife used to say “Your actions are more powerful than your words!”
For the Christian Church to have a future in our increasingly sceptical world we will need to go back to the drawing board and do theology all over again. We will need to set aside much of what has been and what remains precious for many of us. We will need to do less talking about faith and place much less importance to creedal words and doctrinal statements. Instead, we will need to emphasise much more living the Way of Jesus so that the world can be radically changed for the better for all.
And in my continuing retirement I spend a great deal of my time reading. But no matter how important reading may be to encourage us into action, it is action that will change the world. Earlier this month I marched through Central London alongside thousands from all over Britain protesting at the Government’s austerity programme that is undermining our National Health Service. And yesterday I marched through Central London again with thousands of others proclaiming our right to be heard over our future relationship with the European Union.
You may have a different approach to such things but you still have the right in this democracy to campaign and to protest so that your voice is heard. Silence and exercising one’s democratic right not to get involved in politics or political action serves only to keep the oppressed in oppression and the marginalised on the margins. It was Leonardo da Vinci who once said, “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”
Being a mother and acting like a mother is not easy. But we need to bring the courage of motherhood into the Church and ask searching and soulful questions to guide our future. Martin Luther’s 500 year old word-based Reformation is over. It is time for the Christian Church in a post-modern sceptical world to develop a new action-based social justice Reformation fit for the world in which we live. But take heart because, as a local church, you are involved in the major social justice work of combating environmental degradation. This is a sacred work, a great work and the news of what you are doing needs to be spread through the community beyond your church walls. But there is more that you can do as a Church and as individuals to bring about God’s Kin-dom in this crazy and broken world.
And to us all, mothers, fathers, young people, married or unmarried, I remind you of Dr Seuss, the children’s author of ‘The Cat in the Hat’ who once wrote, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Can you rise to the challenge? And if you can, let us smile as we walk together into the desperately needed Reformation of the Christian Church that will offer new hope and new actions to this beautiful but still broken world.