Baptist Church Garland Street Bury st Edmunds

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					Baptist Church Garland Street Bury St Edmunds 20th January 2008
       Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Pulpit Exchange)
          Ephesians 3:20-21, Philippians 2:1-18, John 15:1-18

I just would like to say how privileged I feel to be able to talk to you
today during this week of prayer for Christian unity where preachers
exchange pulpits. I waited in anticipation as the organisers of the
pulpit exchange decided where to send me. I have to say I am very
pleased with the result. The last time I was here was to listen to
Baroness Shirley Williams when she was travelling round the
country giving some very interesting talks on the world and social

Like many politicians, which she is, the Church too is concerned for
the welfare for the individual and she was no exception, but that is
not all. The Churches role, besides being concerned for the welfare
of the individual, is to make Christ known and to bring people into a
relationship with the living Lord. Today’s world presents the Church
with many challenges and opportunities.

We have to accept the truth about our society that Christ is not very
well known at best and his glorious name abused as a swear word at
worst. Similarly the basics of the Christian faith are little known
especially the outworking of the faith of loving your neighbour as
yourself and to be forgiving towards others.

The Christian challenge is to bear effective witness to the Christian
gospel in what is now basically a secular society. The word gospel
means good news and that makes the Christian the bearer of good
news about Jesus Christ. Unfortunately the Church has not always
been very good at bearing the good news. Instead it has the tendency
to navel gaze and vigorously protecting its own corner or tradition
and ways of doing things. We are getting better at working together,

There are unfortunately, some very serious theological
disagreements going on today which hinder the unity of the church
and obstruct the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus
prays that we will all be one, as John tells us in his gospel. How can
the non-Christian come to believe in the gospel of Christ if
Christians are disunited in their beliefs? Also at worst are somewhat
woolly in their thinking about Biblical truth and also in their
knowledge as to who Jesus really is.

We have an emphasis on personal rights and individualism which
cuts across the gospel of love and reconciliation and also community
living. The self-centredness of some takes precedence over what we
can do for others. The self–centred focus is what we can do for
ourselves. The Christ-centred focus is what can we do for others.
This comes from faith in Jesus which requires us to follow his
example of putting others first. The emphasis on personal faith and
of receiving spiritual gifts for the building up of Christ’s Church
seems to receive less importance. But that thankfully is not the case
everywhere and there are signs, I believe, where God is re-building
the church.

The church is now in the unique position of being counter cultural
towards the modern culture of me first and others second and where
there are no absolutes in life. Except the fact that we are born and
that one day we shall die. In other words the boundaries of right and
wrong have become blurred. We also have a situation where a sense
of togetherness in a community is breaking down. This is partly due
to the fact that people move around the country far more today than
they did years ago.

Right from earliest biblical times biblical history records evidence of
communities working and helping each other with God at the helm.
In Psalm 80 the psalmist writes of Israel as the vine which spreads its
branches far and wide. In theological terms it is a metaphor for the
spread of God’s people over the land. Jesus takes up the theme in
John’s gospel I read a moment ago.

Now I do know from my horticultural experience that that a vine
grows very rampantly and can grow out of control and bare little

fruit if it is not carefully pruned. That goes for all trees and shrubs.
My Father was a keen vine grower, it was his pride and joy and
pruning was an essential part of caring for the plant. He pruned with
a view to maximising its fruit production. He also pruned the
bunches of grapes which meant that the remaining grapes were extra
large and juicy. The variety incidentally was Black Hamburg if you
are interested.

This analogy is carried out in Jesus’ words about being the true vine.
He is the true vine and God the Father is the gardener. I believe
today that God is active pruning the Church, the body of Christ, so it
will become more effective in its work in this country. God as the
gardener cuts the unfruitful branches to encourage the other branches
to bear fruit.

Jesus’ audience would have understood these horticultural terms
being very much part of the rural economy at that time. They would
have understood the concept of preventing the vine from growing
into an entangled and intertwined mess that would be no use to
anybody. Jesus tells Israel as well as us that he is now the true vine
and he is the one upon whom the true purposes of God rests.

You will remember at Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan the Holy
Spirit came upon him and God declares that Jesus is his Son with
whom he is well pleased. We see this in Matthew’s gospel. God is in
effect telling us to put all our hope in Jesus, that he is the one to
follow. When he speaks of the pruned vine he is speaking of the
Body of Christ, His Church.

We need to submit ourselves to the pruner’s knife for the glory of his
Kingdom brought to us by Jesus. Building up the Church of Christ is
about developing the Body or the Church that is fit for its purpose
and fruitful in its outreach. This means identifying spiritual or God
given gifts that can be used for the glory of the Kingdom and his
church on earth. Taking the theme of the carefully pruned vine
means careful selection of who does what and what gifts are

available in the Church. In all Christian communities there are a far
larger range of God given gifts than you might at first imagine.

As you know each fruit bears seed which will grow into a new plant
which in turns bears more fruit and so the growing cycle goes on.

There is a strong emphasis on community here where we are all
linked by a common faith, the vine branches. Claiming to be a
Christian and NOT being a part of a Christian community is a
contradiction in terms. We need each other to help us under God to
bear witness and to grow in faith. In other words it is about the
church bearing fruit in winning people for Christ and in that the
church must connect with modern day culture. This is of vital
importance if the Church is to have any relevance in the world and to
show that there is a better way of living. We only have to read the
scriptures relating to Jesus’ ministry where He had to go into all
sorts of unsavoury places for the sake of the gospel. He spent his
ministry being out and about with the people ministering to their

That is the task of all Christians, ministering to the needs of others
how ever large or small. Paul in Philippians has some very profound
words to say about building up the Church. I quote from the Message
version of Philippians 2: 1-4 which we heard read earlier.

  If you've got anything at all out of following Christ, if his
love has made any difference in your life, if being in a
community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a
heart, if you care— then do me a favour: Agree with each
other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push
your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top.
Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be
obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves
long enough to lend a helping hand. 

In a few words Paul sums up what being a Church is. If following
Jesus means anything to us we must put him first and have a humble
spirit willing to listen and not to be judgemental. The words I like
best are where he speaks about being the Community of the Spirit. In
other words a community that is Spirit filled and Spirit empowered
and has the church community at the heart. The Community of the
Spirit consists of unique people brought together in the bond of faith
in the one Lord Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the one part of that passage form Philippians which could be
difficult to take on board is the one about agreeing with one another.
We are all different and have our own agendas and will disagree
with others but we can all agree on the vision and objectives of the
local church in line with the gospel. We can agree on strategy and
approach even if we bring our own God given style to the process.
We are like actors on a stage all different but performing in the same
drama under the heavenly kingship of Jesus.

Paul had a great love for the Church in Philippi to which he wrote
his letter. He tells them that they must grow in maturity and have
confidence in the Lord and his purpose, which he is working out in
each one of us. Paul tells them to shine like a beacon in a darkened
sinful world and to work out what being saved in Christ means to

A question we can ask ourselves, what does it mean to be saved and
what does it mean to be in Christ The Community of the Spirit.

The hallmarks of this community are:

      being united in Christ,
      to show God’s love to our neighbours,

      to allow the Holy Spirit to shape us and make us new and fit
       for his Kingdom,

      to have the same approach and attitude.

       above all to pray regularly and to give him all the worship
        and praise as our King and redeemer.


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