A Sermon by Rev Chris Williams

28 August 2016

Psalm 100, Ephesians 5:1-10 and John 15:9-17

Finish this Bible verse ‘Without a vision…’ (most people will respond’…the people perish.’ Actually the New International Version is more accurate: ‘Where there is no revelation the people cast off restraint’ (Proverbs 29:18)

Although we can’t use that particular verse, the fact remains vision is absolutely vital for us to flourish – either as communities or as individuals.

A definition of vision: ‘a picture of the future that produces passion’.
or, more simply, ‘a goal to which one aspires’

Vision is the motivator of much that we do. At its most basic a vision provides a reason to get up in the morning. Some of us will know first-hand how it feels to wake up without a vision and the impact on ourselves and all those we influence cannot be underestimated.

I arrived in Liss exactly 7 years ago today. When I arrived, a couple of people said I was a breath of fresh air. Others saw my impact more as a gale. But I came with a vision – and one which overlapped in many respects with the vision of this church as expressed in the Parish Profile. There have been many changes over these last 7 years and we have had some exciting and very meaningful times in our church life. But it feels as if we are at a place where we need to stop and reconsider who we are, why we are here and what we should be doing.

One of the presenting issues is the church hall and works needed in this building. Simply, our vision for these things is going to cost more than we think we can currently afford and so we are being forced to consider whether the direction we are taking is the right one and, in particular, in what way is this connected to our overall vision as a church. Also, the church has moved on in the years since we first set off on this path – a number of people have moved away, new people have joined. I think it’s important that whatever we do – what we put our energies and time and money into is the right thing for us.

Is the vision we had then still relevant? What is our vision for the future? Or, put another way: what is your picture of the future that produces passion?

Coupled with this, I think, is an increasing lack of confidence in the faith we profess– some people seem to be struggling in the face of challenges from our increasingly secular society; influenced perhaps by the challenging messages of the so-called New Atheists or maybe struggling to make sense of faith in the face of suffering or maybe just trying to connect what we do here on a Sunday morning with real life on a Monday morning.

Well, in the minutes remaining to me this morning I can’t address all those issues, but I would like to come back to this idea of vision – or our picture of the future that produces passion.
I still have a vision for this church:

I want to see a church community growing in faith and commitment to Jesus – with the resources and structures in place to enable us to grow deeper. A church typified by love for God and an extravagant love for people of all ages and backgrounds, in the church, in the community and in the wider world. I would love to see a stronger commitment to each other – a stronger commitment to be at services and supporting church initiatives – not because we are told to, but because the church is relevant and exciting., I would love to see a sense of hope when we meet together because we are expectant as to what God might say to us, or whom we might meet or just because we want to worship God with our brothers and sisters. I would love to see our giving reflecting that commitment. To be confident in our faith and able to stand up proudly in the world and declare our confidence in Christ and his church.

I did write another half a side of more specific goals I would like to see in the church, but these generalisations will do for now.

I wonder if you would agree with my vision and if we sat down to look at specifics and detail, how far our dreams would overlap? I hope that over the next few weeks we can find space for such discussions.

But all this is well and good, but do you know the Bible never speaks about vision as such. It never advocates 5 year plans, or vision statements. Those things can be helpful, of course but the Bible does speak of one overarching vision which should give us all we need to get up in the morning and put all these things into practice. The vision is Jesus.

Now, I wonder how many of you groaned inwardly thinking, ‘we’ve heard this before’, or ‘we all know that’, or ‘that doesn’t help’.

But if our vision is not primarily of Jesus – then we can forget the rest because it is Jesus who links the present with the future – indeed, with eternity.

It is the reality of Jesus in our lives today that gives us hope for the future and gives meaning to anything and everything we do. Let me repeat that:
To know Jesus and become like him is the greatest vision and highest goal.

I could quote many verses, but just one will suffice at this stage: Ephesians 4:13 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Let’s quickly walk through this text because, to get to this last line – the ultimate vision – there is a process.

First, Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers. It is noteworthy that this process begins and ends with Jesus.

So, to enable us to be like him, Christ has given us people – with gifts. Much has been written about the meaning of each of those roles. I just want us to notice that this is not the job of one person – but many. The solution to good church leadership isn’t with one person – it is in a number of people – and their role is what? verse 12 to equip the church. We do that here through our preaching, through the input of our children’s workers, through the provision of Christ-centred, Christ-glorifying worship and liturgy, through the ministries of our homegroups – to name but a few.

But all these ministries equip Christians for what? – works of service. The role of these Christ-given ministers is to make ministers of us all!. I love the inclusivity here – no one is left out, everyone is needed. And as we each minister to each other, the whole body, says Paul, is built up. What are these ministries. Well, it’s everything we say and do that encourages, that heals, that brings peace, that forgives, that demonstrates love: a smile, a prayer, a gift, time given, energy expended, a sacrifice made, love shown. In fact I would say practising ‘Christ-likeness’ (but that’s jumping ahead to the end).

And I love the inclusive nature of this: the multiplication of ministries enabling the whole body. There’s no space here for celebrities and gurus – and there is no space for passive observers just Christians, enabled by God to minister to each other – encouraging and enabling each other to be mature and Christ-like.

Then we come to verse 13 and we are beginning to see the purpose of these ministries. If you consider you have a ministry in the church – ask yourself how it measures up against these outcomes. Until we all reach unity in the faith: –If I am seeking the unity in the faith, then I myself will live by faith. I will love others because they are God’s people even if I do not get along with them well. I will seek God and others to teach me all at I need to know so that I can carry out my work of ministry. Faith always brings us together because it constantly calls us to go beyond how we would treat others and to care for others as Christ would.

But I think this vision of unity is also linked to the next outcome: knowledge of Jesus. Because as we each come to know Christ, we experience a closer unity – like the spokes of a wheel getting closer as they get to the hub.

If I am seeking the ‘knowledge of the Son of God’, then all other goals in life have become unattractive. What once occupied my mind and heart, is now gone because I have tasted of the love of God.

Nothing compares with Christ! We want more of Christ rather than less. Forget church politics, infighting, jealousies, etc. We just want Christ!’ (actually, I admit, I don’t think we are a church that has a particular problem with those issues). This isn’t about knowing facts about Jesus – knowing facts about Jesus never got anyone anywhere. It is about knowing in an intimate and personal way. Some of us need to fall in love with Jesus – some of us need to know him. Some of us go through the motions – we come to church, may even get involved, but we can remain what I call ‘nominal Christians’ untouched by the one thing – the one person – who that actually gives life and purpose and passion.

Another result of the church ministering together effectively is that we are brought to maturity. Now maturity is a process. To become an adult a person has to go through a process that begins with incontinence, dribbling, crawling, tantrums, selfishness, ignorance – all normal expressions of early human growth – but ones which we pass through on the way to something else. But when an adult is still dribbling or is ignorant then we assume something has gone wrong with the process of maturity. But when the ministries of the whole church are working, then we are drawn towards growth and maturity.

And all of this is leading to this next point – the ultimate vision – the goal – which is to attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Put your hand up if you have already reached that goal.

But what a goal – it is nothing short of Christ-like-ness. It is God’s vision for us to attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Not to be ‘as much like him as we can’. Not to’ just try a bit harder’ – it is to attain to the WHOLE measure of the FULLNESS of Christ. It is shocking and would seem blasphemous were it not written in our Bible because this is almost about being Christ. Dramatic stuff!

Maybe the verse ‘without a vision the people perish’ is not in the Bible, but our faith offers us a vision beyond all visions – one that will certainly give you a reason to live and a reason to get up in the morning. It begins with the right ministries being enabled within the church and as the whole church works together we are enabled to God-inspired unity, we are enabled towards deeper knowledge of God – really knowing God, we are enabled to become mature and, above all, we attain in to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

I don’t know what is around the corner for this church. We have some challenges facing us but with Jesus we are more than up for the challenge. In fact if we can learn to live together like this, then I’m tempted to say ‘bring it on!”…