The Civic and Parish Church of Bournemouth

Sermon – 17th March 2019 – Philippians 4: 1 “Stand firm in the Lord”

Perhaps Paul means, ‘Have faith’.

Well – let me ask you: Does your car run on faith?

If not, what else does it need?

Churches and other faith communities were delighted by research which, I am told, produced a car that would run on faith.  It was spoken of as the very latest evidence of ‘the glory of God’, shown, in this instance, in the glory of a motor car. The Churches were aiming to show it off in Bournemouth’s annual “Wheels” festival ~ that would be ‘one in the eye’ for the atheists!

There was great excitement when a prototype was produced for testing.  The driver got in and was told that if you said, “Thank God”, the car started and would increase speed with more “Thank God”s!  

It sounded good ~ after all, aren’t faith and gratitude what the world needs more of in order to stand firm by the right things? ~ so ~ very good to encourage them!  Oh, and to slow or stop you said, “Amen”.  Easy ~ and brilliant! ~ the glory of God shining forth in a car!

So the test drive began.  “Thank God”, said the driver, and off it went; and all went smoothly until he reached a hill.  It took quite a few “Thank God”s to get the car to make it up the hill, but, once over the top, it positively whizzed down the other side ~ indeed, a little too fast:  “Amen”, said the driver.  Nothing happened.  The car gathered speed even more as it went downhill.  “Amen!!”, said the driver again, more sharply. Nothing.  And he saw a cliff approaching at a hair-pin bend, with the car now going far too fast to make it safely round the corner.  He positively yelled, “Amen!!!”, and, in the nick of time, the car shuddered to a halt, front wheels already over the precipice.  The driver wiped his brow, “Phew! Thank God!  …… Aghhh”

After his funeral, it was agreed that production of the once-glorious faith-car would proceed no further.

You need more than just faith to run cars.

Faith and a show of glory don’t get you very far by themselves, there has to be a lot of hard work going on under the bonnet!

So what did Paul mean when he wrote to the Philippians : “Stand firm in the Lord”?

I’ve heard it said, “Some minds are like concrete, thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.”  Is that what standing firm in the Lord is about?  (pause –  Shake head)

If we’re going to have a little fun with one-liners (& why not?) then I prefer, in terms of ‘standing firm in the Lord’, “Prayer: Don’t give God instructions — just report for duty!”  Be there.

But ‘how’ to be there?   In 1949 Roger Shutz and six other men who had been helping him hide Jews escaping from Nazi persecution committed themselves to living together in their little village of Taize, in Burgundy, under a self-imposed rule of life – daily prayer, work on the land, and helping the local community. They did that for some twenty years, ‘standing firm in the Lord’, until, coinciding with student riots in Paris in the late 1960s, young people began to come to visit the community, to pray, to share their desire for peace and reconciliation, and to seek ways of holding in balance sitting in contemplation and actively struggling with vulnerable people against injustice.  Then it took off.  In 1970 with 20,000 young people at Taize Brother Roger announced the Joyful News of Easter 1970:

“The Risen Christ comes to quicken a festival in the innermost heart of man.

He is preparing for us a springtime of the Church: a Church devoid of means of power, ready to share with all, a place of visible communion for all humanity.

He is going to give us enough imagination and courage to open up a way of reconciliation.

He is going to prepare us to give our life so that man be no longer victim of man.”

That gives us some clues about ‘how’ to be there – that is, in what specific ways God needs us to ‘stand firm’.  Personally, I resonate with holding the vision of ‘springtime’ – and this is traditionally one of the ways the Church has understood Lent, as a ‘springtime’ – a time of fresh energy, with light, new life springing-up – it is a time when endurance leads to hope.

John V. Taylor wrote:  Lent:

“Jogging blind through winter’s leaflessness

We must last out this marathon of rain and cold,

Though grime gathers under the grey duress

And faith is grown old.

Give back our springtime so the first petals’ pink

Falls like alleluias through the melting air,

Deep in the loose loam let the gnarled roots drink

And clenched ferns open to the sun in prayer.”

So, let’s ground this ‘standing firm’ business.  It has to be seriously down to earth, and not ‘so heavenly-minded that you’re no earthly good!’ – like the Taize brothers – just getting on with their everyday work, with making relationships good in the village, and with daily prayer.  There simply is no escaping the priority of prayer.  Prayer meeting tomorrow evening – 7.30 pm.  Taize prayers 6 pm in the RC each Sunday in Lent. Why is this central to ‘standing firm’? Easy:  If you don’t talk with someone, you lose touch with them – and ‘talking with’ anyone, let along God, ought to be more about listening than telling God what needs doing. Learn to sit with God in quietness.

My gut feeling, as I sit with God, is that He says to us two urgent things – 1. “Grow my Sunday School at St Peter’s!”  and,

2. “Make us financially secure.”  At the moment, I’m afraid, despite some sacrificial efforts, we are running at £368 a week loss.  I don’t enjoy talking about this fundamentally necessary side of keeping the church on the road any more than you do, but we ought to be aware that, despite keeping expenditure to a minimum, this church building costs £100, 000.00 a year to run.

Of course, faced with such costs, there is a risk of us, along with other churches, lowering our eyes from God’s mission, of love for His world, to maintaining buildings for worship.  To be sure, maintenance is important, and for that we certainly need adequate funds and volunteers, but if it all becomes about maintenance then we’ve lost the plot!

The plot is God’s love.  This springtime of Lent is for sharing that love, for allowing it to refresh our hearts, minds and the whole of our lives.

I say to you, then, as Paul said to the Philippians, “Stand firm in the Lord.”