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Faith at Work: St Neots’ Deanery Evensong Sunday March 3rd 2013. A sermon preached by Richard Noble.


I am pleased to be able to post the third of our Lent St Neots’  Deanery Evensong sermons on paxtonvic blog. Richard Noble, ALM at Buckden kindly preached for us and the following is the text of his sermon.

Our last Evensong for the series is at Great Staughton Church on March 17th at 6pm and the preacher will be Rev Jesse Zinc, assistant chaplain at Emmanuel College Cambridge.


St Neots Deanery Evensong, St Mary the Virgin, Eynesbury
Theme of series: Faith in everyday life, 3rd Sunday in Lent
3 March 2013 (Richard Noble ALM, Buckden, St Mary’s )
When Annette, our Rural Dean, asked me to fill this Lent slot I was quick to
make my excuses, explaining: I don’t do sermons. It’s not my thing. I simply
try to be a faithful Christian working out my faith in the outside world, rather
than inside churches. So when she explained the theme was to be, ‘faith in
everyday life’, I was somewhat hoist into this pulpit by my own petard!
And so here I am. In the words of the psalmist (Ps 19:14), I pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing
in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen
Many years ago I met an ordained non-stipendiary minister whose day job
took him all over eastern England, talking to business people. We were at
a seminar on Christianity at work. Somewhat innocently I asked: In your
work, how visible are you as a Christian? When he replied, hardly at all, I
was quietly staggered by his explanation. His energies were fully taken up in
church at weekends, preaching and leading worship. His work was just
something he got on with. What an opportunity missed! I never saw him
again but let’s hope the seminar opened his eyes. The effect on me was
profound because it led to a new take on ministry. As church people we are
part of a repeating process of gathering and dispersal:
We can bring to our worship in church all the cares of the past week. There,
in the strength of a Christian community we can confess our failures, give
thanks for good things, and find renewal through worship of our God and
Saviour. Then, we go out, into the week ahead with the strength and
assurance of his blessing, to serve as Christian witnesses out in the world.
As soon as we see our church based faith as an activity in everyday life we
become deacon like. One or two long standing deanery reps among you,
may remember a motion being sent all the way up from this deanery,
through the Diocesan Synod, and General Synod to the House of Bishops of
the Church of England. The resulting report fleshed out a gathering and
sending church, characterised by distinctive deacons with their ministries in
the everyday world.
General Synod took little notice. But in fact, a number of lay people entered
training as distinctive deacons, imagining their main ministry out in the
working world with jobs in things like health, social work and education. Due
to the general shortage of clergy it seems most of them have ended up as
parish priests instead. In contrast, the concept of distinctive, vocational or
permanent deacons is well developed in several Anglican provinces.
My point in mentioning distinctive deacons is that ordained deacons working
in the everyday world, but sustained by their parish church, can make a very
visible point: Contrary to what some secularists would like to think, the
church has a recognisable place in the world beyond the parish church. We
all spend most of our waking, weekday hours earning our keep, doing
voluntary work, bringing up our families and in leisure activities. But so does
everyone else. Deacons would be role models training and encouraging lay
people to follow their lead. Our objective as Christians is specific. We follow
in the wake of the first apostles with the great commission, in this evening’s
Gospel reading (Matt 28 16-20), to go and make disciples of all nations. Our
own nation is under the intense pressures of secularism, worldly spirituality
and other faiths. So what can we do about it?
Basically, we need to stand up, take risks and be recognised as Christians.
This requires a real sense of being a living disciple of Jesus, the Son of
Man; seizing the moments where our choices can make a difference; getting
involved in the local community and secular activities; serving the needs of
people in a way that shows we are serving Jesus; showing our love and
fellowship with other Christians. Besides the Great Commission there is
only one direct commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples: that they
should love one another as he loved them. He gave it as a New
Commandment, explaining that by doing so others would see that they were
his disciples. Some of the greatest damage we do as individual Christians
and churches is when we fall out with one another.
There are lots of resources available to help with faith in everyday life. A
really helpful little booklet is Out of hours faith for everyone. It comes from
one of the groups in Buckden & the Offords. I have it on my mobile phone,
which I find a useful place for storing prayers and texts for daily sustenance.
It can be down-loaded from the church website:
The Bible is an inexhaustible resource. Inexhaustible because, guided by
God’s Holy Spirit in prayerful study, it continues to reveal its relevance today.
Besides all the guidance Jesus gives in his teaching, the stories of men and
women, both in the Old and New Testaments, make powerful role models.
Have you ever noticed how most of the parables describe secular rather
than faith situations? When faced with dilemmas and difficult situations in life
I find it helpful to ask myself: ‘What would Jesus do?’
Last Lent, just a year ago, I started putting together a little booklet to fill a
gap: a really short and readable, contemporary guide to the Bible. It has a
single page for each of the 66 books, headed by a secular phrase from the
Bible that has become part of our everyday language. It has an intriguing
title: by the skin of its teeth which originates in the book of Job. It has been
checked over and commended by theologians in Cambridge and was
launched on Bible Sunday in St Mary’s, Buckden last October.
The launch copies went quickly, and the PCC had 200 more printed. It’s
useful for giving to friends who, encouraged by its enticing contents, might
get their Bibles out again. It’s the sort of book you can read while travelling.
It might even be noticed by a stranger beside you and spark off a
conversation. Why not give this a try yourself? I have brought a few copies
with me and it is available from the church website.
Being a visible Christian is not easy. Sharing faith with secular friends and
neighbours can be anything but easy. Its actually much less of a problem to
share what Jesus means to us with strangers. To live out our faith in
everyday life we need more support than just going to church. Such support
can be found by meeting in small groups during the week. At different times
during my own years of secular employment I used to find support in a
midweek Christian Aid lunch, in a prayer triplet, in my church’s one day a
week prayers before breakfast and in Bible study groups. There are many
other possibilities such as a workplace Christian Union or just spending
some lunch times as quiet times for reflection and prayer.
Something Annette particularly asked me to tell you about is my work in
prison. This started about nine years ago when the word ‘prisons’ jumped at
me, out of the blue, in the middle of a quiet time. I ignored it at first but it kept
coming back and eventually I found myself being escorted by Richard
Bunyan into Littlehey prison through security checks and slamming steel
gates. At first I helped with some chapel services and a lifers discussion
group. It was rather lack lustre work, an inauspicious start and ceased when
the Prison changed their policy, putting the lifers together on a wing instead
of using them as a calming influence on each separate wing. During this
time I discovered how prisoners, rejected by society, really value the many
volunteers who come into prisons. The fact that time, concern and attention
are freely given, without pay, has a real impact on restoring their self worth.
Since those days the chaplaincy has expanded and I have become involved
with an organisation called Prison Fellowship. It is some of the most
worthwhile and stimulating work I’ve ever done. This experience has helped
me realise that to be a purposeful disciple, I need to pray, to discern, to keep
faith and not to be put off, either by shortcomings in myself, or by
circumstances that frustrate the way ahead.
Tomorrow I shall be in the Category C prison at Littlehey, helping to facilitate
the Sycamore Tree course. This is a restorative justice course which puts
the process of restoring victims and offenders ahead of penal justice. The
course is based on the Bible story of Zacchaeus, or Zac for short, the
extortionate tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. When
confronted by him, Zac promises to repay those he cheated.
As a secular course, open to any or no faith, we are not allowed to talk about
Christianity as such, but the underlying message of Zac’s story is clear.
Participants meet a real life victim, learn about the ripple effect of their
actions, saying and feeling sorry and moving on with a real heartfelt change.
The final session is always an emotion-filled occasion. They make what we
call a symbolic act of restitution in front of everyone there, plus a few
representatives of the outside community and, more crucially, one of the
prison governors. The course has been shown statistically to reduce
reoffending and is being taken up by more and more prisons.
Prison Fellowship was founded in America in 1976 by one of the Watergate
criminals. It brings together men and women from various Christian
churches to share the love of God with prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their
families. The organisation has been instrumental in promoting the concept of
restorative justice. The Sycamore Tree course is one of these initiatives and
there is a pressing need locally for more facilitators. I’m part of their new
prayer group which meets once a month in Brampton. There are a few
leaflets at the back, and our next meeting is tomorrow evening. If any of you
are interested or know someone who might like to know more you will be
very welcome.
Tuesday sees me and another Prison Fellowship volunteer in the Littlehey
YOI, the Young Offenders Institute, working with a group of 18-21 year olds.
These men tend to come from violent and very different backgrounds. Some
time ago, when I was asked to help take the Sycamore Tree course into the
YOI, it was a pretty daunting prospect. But then someone reassured me that
although this age group have little respect for their parents, they tend to
respect their grandparents! … We will be working with a group learning
about the Christian faith. This is real cutting edge stuff because our Bible is a
closed book to most of these young men. We loosely follow the layout and
content of the Alpha course and aim to present Jesus, as a palpable
personality and the Holy Spirit, as an active fact in our lives. It quickly
became apparent that the most effective teaching is when we give testimony
to our own personal experience of God’s intervention and guidance in our
everyday lives. On alternate weeks we are joined by a third person who is
an ordinand, not training as a vicar, but as a distinctive deacon. Thus, would
you believe it? Here, within our Deanery and Diocese is a product of that
initiative from this deanery all those years ago.
One of the things we cover is particularly relevant to everyday life. Offenders
who are trying to turn their lives around are assailed by all kinds of issues.
We explain that the same applies to all of us Christians, and that Paul’s
specification of the Christian’s body armour described in this evening’s
reading (Eph 6: 10-20) is a graphic picture of how to protect our integrity,
especially when we explain that God’s spirit fills our whole being, body and
soul, not just our thinking brains. Roman soldiers were all around at the time
of Jesus: the soldier whose servant Jesus healed, the soldier who stood at
the cross watching Jesus die, declaring ‘Surely this man was the Son of
God!’, and the soldier in Acts 10, where all in his household were filled with
the Holy Spirit, before they had even been baptised. Roman soldiers and
their body armour make vivid illustrations for sharing Christian faith with
these young men.
With my colleagues we have found that as soon as things start going really
well and there is a real sense of achieving God’s purposes, something jumps
in the way as if to send everything hay wire. It seems the Devil really is alive
and well. So we pray together before and after each session. We prepare
ourselves and debrief ourselves. Keeping faith, one can often see these
upsets coming …… face them, and find the way through.
It can be precisely the same with everyday life, but in prison things are more
sharply defined. Here are some ways I’ve found helpful for living my
faith in everyday life:
• Seek God’s particular calling….
• Live life to the full, enjoy it and keep looking forward….
• Spend regular time in prayer and Bible study, especially in company with
• Watch for God’s promptings and opportunities for sharing faith
• Remember, as visible Christians, others may be following our example.
A closing prayer: Eternal God, whose son is the way, the truth and the life:
Grant us to walk in his way, to rejoice in his truth,
and to share his risen life. Amen

March 9, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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