My creative output has done better than blogging of recent months, not least due to the death of not only my wonderful father-in-law but of some good friends. However, to my great surprise, I keep selling items via the Etsy I started in January, particularly on the seashore theme; indeed I’ve received and completed a couple of commissions. More of the developments on that score soon.
Often life and ministry inter-twine; one speaks to and feeds the other, and my sermon this week is a good case in point. Reading around this week’s passages led me to a ‘weaving’ theme, and thus, unsurprisingly, to Dorset Buttons. The sermon needed a visual aid – not least as it was to be preached outside in St. Mary’s churchyard – and so a new ‘button’ design was created, and first a wall-hanging and then earrings formed themselves.
I don’t suppose for a moment that the design is a new one, but it was one I worked out myself, without recourse to instructions from Jen Best of Beaker Buttons, or the Henry’s Buttons team, so for me at least it’s a significant step forward. Both scales worked well, and I will try and create some more of each.
The sermon itself is below; it is reasonably specific to our context as parishes, and as much for reference for me, as it might be of spiritual or missional use to anyone else – although the wider post-pandemic vision will resonate for many. It does sow another thought in my head (or perhaps that should be ‘sew’ an idea?), but I need to work that through much more and discover whether it’s viable before sharing it widely.
A new commandment – weaving on the framework of our faith.
1 John 5: 1-6 and John 15: 1-17
Some of you will be aware that in the last 6 months or so, I have found & started to develop new creative skills & ideas, based (increasingly loosely) on the heritage of Dorset Button making. 400 years ago making buttons to adorn the fine clothes of the gentry and the work-wear of craftspeople and labourers, was a valuable cottage industry. Today the same skills are being revitalised as artworks in their own right &
feeding the creativity of many, particularly but not exclusively, those with a strong connection to nature.
The process of Dorset Button making sees a ring bound in thread and then spokes created through which an intricate or random pattern can be formed. This is then embellished with whatever you have to hand. For example I have lots of beach-combed seashells to use, and I’ve acquired many beads!
Similarly, the writer of 1 John 5 binds together faith in Jesus, with love of God, love of one another, and obedience to God to create a complex but beautiful picture. Faith in Jesus, and the pattern with which that is threaded into our lives, is the framework onto which the beauty of love and obedience can then be woven. But like all intricately crafted patterns, it can be tricky to see how we might bring something so creative to life ourselves – except at the cost of a lot of time & effort.
If we have chosen to take part in this worship today – in whatever format suits our circumstances – then we are responding to the love we have experienced and understand as being from God. In doing so we are self-identifying as “children of God”. Sharing in worship (weekly or daily) is part of the framework that brings faith to life in our lives. Of
recent times we may have (even if grudgingly) learnt new ways in which that framework can support our lives. We might be a bit wonky and uneven at times, and need the occasional knot tied when threads part, but we know ourselves to be loved by God and respond with faith.
The author of 1 John 5 doesn’t offer details of what the love that should adorn that framework of faith will look like. It seems like he expects us to know God’s commandments. We do, don’t we? But in case we need a bit of help, the lectionary handily offers Jesus’ summary of them in today’s Gospel; that “we love one another as Jesus has loved us”
(John 15:12). Jesus has indeed shown us examples of what this love might look like, through his ministry of healing, feeding, offering forgiveness, and raising the dead.
Jesus was being obedient to the pattern of life that God had sent him as the Messiah to fulfil. As God’s only begotten Son he came into the world by the “water and blood” of human birth, the same as you and I. But having been with God from the moment of creation (Colossians 1:15-18), the pattern of his example would be completed through the pouring out of blood and water of his crucifixion (John 19:34, Colossians 1:18-19). Our life as children of that same God comes into
being through the framework of faith, and the beauty of the love that we exhibit as our lives form their pattern, should be similarly Christ-like, perhaps even cross-shaped.
Jesus’ “new commandment” to love one another, as he loved us, is about creating within ourselves as faith-full Christians an image which is as close as possible to Christ’s pattern, but in our own unique style and colours. But we can only weave it, by listening to God carefully through the power of the Holy Spirit so that we understand the intricacies and difficulties of what it is that we are called to be and do. As with Jesus’ crucifixion, the biggest test of our faithfulness and love of God will be at the most challenging points in our lives and the life of our community. Loving as Jesus loved us will probably court opposition and controversy, but probably not violence and death as it does for some in the world!
So what does all this mean for us today as individuals, and perhaps more particularly as a fellowship of Christians? Jesus was giving his new commandment to his disciples at their last meal together, somewhat unusually hidden away from prying eyes – perhaps as we have been for too long. Here was worship and teaching to sustain them for what lay ahead, for what really mattered. Of course, Jesus normal rule of life saw him perpetually on the move: having individual conversations, occasionally in people’s homes; bringing healing to people on streets and in leisure facilities like the local baths; teaching forgiveness and justice on hillsides as well as in synagogues and temples. This private conversation was all about equipping his disciples as they went out into the world after his resurrection!
Over the last year our worship has been forced out of our church buildings, but been found to speak into people’s lives through video-streams and paper bags, as well as in blustery churchyards. I know many of us want to get back to singing in the warm, but should that be our main aim if we have been given a pattern to follow that involves loving others in our communities, as God has loved us?
Of course we need our church buildings as places to do things that serve our communities, not least the beautiful examples of the Foodbank at St. Barnabas, and even St. Mary’s hosting socially-distanced teacher interviews for CKS on Wednesday this coming week. But the fellowship we share in the buildings we love, that ‘worth-ship’ (giving God worth) that we may be so keen to return to, looks
dangerously like us doing the things we love, rather than focusing on the sort of love Jesus would have us show to others, a love that doesn’t involve making other people conform to ‘our way of doing things’, but is obedient to the pattern that God wants us weaving in the life of our
I am no more comfortable with what I’m saying than many of you will be; but as Jesus showed us, love isn’t about our own survival, as individuals or indeed as church fellowships. For those of us on our church councils, when the pressure is on us to meet attendance and financial targets, it’s very easy to inadvertently start equating God’s love with getting bums on pews, money in the offertory, and metaphorically (or otherwise) propping the walls up!
The love that 1 John 5 is talking about is world changing, indeed world conquering – and if we look at our world, it jolly well needs to be! For the faith we profess in our worship not to be contradictory, or lacking in integrity, we must remember that it’s God’s love that we are sharing not on our own; it’s no more about what we love about being a
church fellowship than it is about the buildings use! When was the last time we as Christian fellowships changed someone’s world by bringing them to faith, and an understanding that God loves them?
It’s going to be tough, uncomfortable & difficult weaving beautiful acts of love onto the framework of our faith, the faith that has sustained us through the last difficult months. But if we truly believe that we are loved by God as his children, it’s time we started working out what new threads of obedience we need to use to make the cross of Jesus sacrifice for us visible, and find the embellishments that will draw people toward the beauty of his love.