A Sermon Preached by the Reverend Trevor Jamison at
Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, May 16th 2021
I see trees of green,
Red roses too,
I see them bloom,
For me and you,
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.
By Robert Thiele and George David Weiss, but always associated with the voice of Louis Armstrong
So, how do you see the world? Is everything wonderful? Undoubtedly there’s much in this world that is wonderful; much for which we want to give thanks to God. At the same time, though, not everything’s as it should be. We get a hint in that from today’s reading from John’s Gospel.
Even if we did not have the Bible we would know that all is not well with the world. On our tv screens we see images of whole buildings being destroyed by bombs from Israeli aircraft and rockets flying through the air from Gaza into Israeli residential areas. And, of course, conflicts across the wider Middle East are one source for great numbers of the refugees and asylum seekers in this world, a small percentage of whom reach the UK. An here, they are confronted by current and proposed government regulations that seem more concerned with keeping people out than finding out if they have a need for refuge and asylum.
It’s not easy to follow today’s Gospel reading if you are listening to it. Even if you have the text in front of you, it can be difficult. It’s part of a long section in John’s Gospel where Jesus is saying farewell to his disciples. That’s appropriate for today because this is the Sunday following Ascension Day. That’s when the Church remembers not only that Jesus lived, died and rose again, but that he returned to his Father. He returned to heaven, promising the gift of the Holy Spirit to equip his followers as they and we focus on living in today’s world.
Jesus suggests that not everything in the world will be wonderful for those who follow in his way. In his prayer he seeks their protection, for, he says, ‘they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world,’ (17:16) and, of course, Jesus was killed by hostile forces of this world. Perhaps those who first heard these words of Jesus also remembered words from the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you … for your reward is great in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:11, 12)
So, how are you feeling about this world, and your place within it as a follower of Jesus Christ? How do you feel about the world of twenty-first century North Shields? To start with, we can be thankful that we do not experience being reviled and persecuted because we are followers of Jesus. Our situation may have its challenges, but we do not face the dangers experienced by those first followers of Jesus, or by some of our fellow-followers of Jesus who live elsewhere in today’s world.
All the same, we are called to engage with the world around us. When we do so as Christians, that involves saying what Christians believe to be right. It includes sharing the story of Jesus as the revelation of who God is, and how God loves this world. So we can expect some rejection … though we might also experience acceptance.
North Shields is a changing place, and our sharing of what we believe about the world needs to take that into account. The town centre of North Shields is due to change. The centre of Northumberland Square is to be relandscaped. The area in front of the church and all the way down Howard Street will become a pedestrian thoroughfare, linking down to Fish Quay. And already, building work has begun on new housing on Norfolk Street. The world around the church is changing. Our challenge – and opportunity – is to engage with that in ways that enable us to share the love of God as it has been made known to us through Jesus Christ.
That makes me think about the Easter hearts initiative that we recently undertook. Knitted hearts were made and adorned the railings of the church. Passers-by were invited to take one as a reminder of the love of God for them, made known through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter time. And lots of people took a heart away with them.
Now, as Pentecost approaches, we are going to do something similar. This time people passing by will be able to take away with them a Pentecost item, plus a copy of an accompanying prayer: You are loved and appreciated. As you carry this prayer, may you be reminded that you are never alone. We pray for your protection, and that God’s love gives you peace, and brings you safely home.
These Easter and Pentecost initiatives are a hint of ways forward for Saint Columba’s. They tell others something of the good news about God’s love, and on this occasion we invite them to pray. People of this North Shields world are free to accept or decline our invitation to take part. Hopefully, those who decline won’t feel the need to revile or persecute us, but if so, it’s part of the cost of doing Christian business, says Jesus. On the other hand, these are non-threatening ways to engage with the world’s interests and concerns, and allow us to introduce a little bit of wonder into this world.