Archdeacon of Dudley’s Charge 2018

Romans 8:1-11 Set free to fully live!

To be a church warden at this time in the life of the C of E must feel to some like living a life bound by the most overwhelming and stringent rules and regulations. Data protection, safeguarding toolkits, endless questionnaires, faculties and form filling – the ruthless requirements of the law that must be fulfilled.A sometimes deadly weight of responsibility. Could it get any worse?

Maybe so! Imagine that the church in which you carry that responsibility as church warden or its equivalent is a royal peculiar, with a fairly major wedding booked,The guests, six hundred or so, are mainly VIPS, media stars, royalty, the Queen …. A couple of billion people are watching live on TV, just to add to the pressure.You think you are OK, you’ve done the risk assessments, briefed all the key players, checked the light bulbs, watered the very many flower arrangements. The service has been rehearsed down to the last second, with military precision, literally. What could possibly go wrong?

Enter the preacher. Poised for his six minutes of solemn sermonising. Six minutes. Solemn.We are, after all, seated within the lofty walls of the pinnacle of the Anglican establishment. A place where the rules are known, the laws are obeyed.

Except this particular preacher is living under the law of the Spirit of life. In Christ Jesus, he knows he has been set free from the law which condemns, so for fourteen whole minutes he shares the gift of life and the love of God, with a message generating 40K tweets in each of those fourteen minutes, becoming the most talked about sermon for many generations. I’ll bet the royal peculiar version of church wardens, together with a few others involved in the planning, were having a minor panic and one or two surreptitious glances at their watches as he drew to a close.

Friends, we have been set free, through the Holy Spirit, to live life fully and to change the world. And however weighed down we feel by the necessary constraints church regulations put around us, let’s never lose sight of that. Let’s keep perspective, and rejoice that the very Spirit of God dwells in us!!

Paul says in his letter to the Romans that the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, actually lives in us, dwells in us, giving us life.When we live with this reality front and centre, setting our minds on the things of the Spirit, life looks different. We are given a different framework in which to live, and it is one of freedom. It is a life with no condemnation, it is a life to be lived to the full, a life to be lived in full knowledge of the all-encompassing love of God, a life with potential to significantly change everything with which it engages.

Bishop Michael Curry, in his passionate and profound sermon, wooed and wowed a watching world, simply by sharing the good news of God’s love. He seized his moment. He spoke of revolutions, and provoked one, in many ways. But he was speaking of the good news we all know and can share, whether we minister in the corridors of power, or the tiny villages of the Worcestershire countryside, amidst princes, politicians and pop stars, or Black Country factory workers, teachers, nurses and pensioners. We are all part of that same church, that movement Jesus began as he ascended to the Father and sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in us, and when we get bogged down in the admin and maintenance tasks that can so easily fill our lives as committed church officers, it is so important to remember that within us dwells power to change the world.

Michael Curry said,

“Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history: a movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world – and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself! I’m talking about power. Real power. Power to change the world.”

I think the world changed a little, even as he said it, because he had courage to be who God made him to be and preach with passion of the God he clearly loves. And he won people’s hearts. And of course the same spirit who lives in him, dwells in you and me.

I have had a fascinating few weeks meeting all of you wonderful church wardens in the annual visitations, and seeing many of you come alive before my eyes as you have shared something of who you are, of who God made you to be, the plans he has for your churches, and the many ways in which you have seen him at work.Some of you arrived weary and burdened, weighed down by the rules and regulations which make your role a tough one, completely understandable. But almost without fail, when I asked you to tell me about what there has been to celebrate, that weariness was transformed into animated descriptions of new ministries started, churches packed out for special services, the lonely invited into coffee, cake and chatter events, new Open The Book teams formed.

Across the varied churches of the archdeaconry, large and small, high and low, I have heard stories of people involved in a quiet revolution, people who are part of a movement grounded in the unconditional love of God, putting that love into action as, filled with power of the Holy Spirit, they do their bit to change the world. Not famous people, but normal, everyday folk, the people sitting here in this church tonight. People of power, because God dwells in us.Ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their communities, as you live out kingdom values of love, compassion, justice and freedom in your activities, service and actions.

When God dwells in us, we love with his love, and we pray the kinds of prayers which transform. It was wonderful that same weekend as the royal wedding, to be part of two major prayer events for Thy Kingdom Come on the day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit Paul is writing about first came to fill and equip the church.To see people of all denominations and traditions praying and worshipping together in the open air in Dudley, then in a packed out Worcester Cathedral, felt indeed like being part of a world-changing revolutionary movement.

When we come together in unity, celebrating our diversity, together petitioning the God who loves the world to come and transform the world, something happens. We can’t be bound by rules and regulations when Catholics and Pentecostals, the Sally Army and the Church of England come together, because all our rules and regs are different. Where the Spirit of the Lord reigns supreme, there is freedom! Freedom to focus on what is eternally important.Freedom to focus on how we share with a broken world that God’s love is unconditional and for all.

Paul’s letter talks about being set free from the law, and walking in the Spirit. But he doesn’t abandon the central premise of the law, that we need salvation and setting free from our old way of life, rather he reminds us that what we are powerless to do, Jesus did for us, in order that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled.Many of the New Testament letters are written into the context of new groups of believers trying to make sense of which parts of the inherited law of the people of God, the Old Testament, still apply, and it’s clear that in essence, the main tenets still do. The law which the psalmist meditates on day and night, the commandments and statues which he loves, the promises which give him comfort and hope, in which he delights, are not now null and void, but lived out with a different mind-set, a Holy Spirit mind-set, an approach which values the Spirit of the law over the letter of the law. The power of perspective.

I have mentioned the many rules and regulations of church law which we have to contend with, and sympathised with some of the pressures these bring, but I cannot declare them null and void.I am an archdeacon remember, I have to behave!! But I hope I can encourage us to regard them with a Holy Spirit mind-set, see them as safety nets, checks and balances in place to enable us to live in an orderly way as church communities, protecting the vulnerable and weak, being wise in our stewardship of buildings, and finances, and information, as we view them all through the lens of mission.The power of perspective! We are here to live lives of love and thereby change the world.That is what we are freed to do.

I am immensely grateful for all your hard work. I am massively encouraged by all you hope and dream for too, as we look forward to what God might do in and through our churches as this quiet revolution continues, as we pray for his kingdom to come, and as we walk by the Spirit.Remember, God dwells in us, giving us life.God dwells in his church, giving his church life, and through his church life and peace is given to his world.

So be who you were made to be, live life freely, keeping a Spirit-filled perspective, and rejoice that God dwells in you, and in his church!