Final sermon for Advent Theme is The Church Holy

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” Phil 2.14-16


Advent is traditionally a time of looking forward to the birth of Christ.  A time when we wait, reflect and take stock of where we are in our journey with Christ.  Over the next four Sundays we are going to explore the Nicene creed by looking closely at what we mean when we say I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and apostolic church.  Today, I am going to talk about the Church Holy.


What is holiness?  This was the question that first came to me while thinking about this sermon. Throughout our worship and our prayers we use the word Holy, time and time again.  We talk of places being Holy, Holy people and having a holy experiences. But do we truly understand this word that can be taken for granted?


The word holy is from the Greek word hagios, meaning separated.  Some words used to further define holy are set apart, sanctified, and consecrated, along with pure and morally blameless. The fundamental qualities of holiness are separation, consecration and devotion to the service of God, sharing in His purity and abstaining from worldly defilement.


So, now we can see how the church is Holy because she is set apart by God for himself from the world, consecrated, and devoted to the service of God through the Holy Spirit.


But what do we mean by Church?  Do we mean the buildings, the institution of the Church of England?  Well no, as being a church is more than the buildings we use.  Each one of us here, gathered together to worship God, create the church and so become the body of Christ.  In fact, the word church is partly derived from another Greek word kuriakos, meaning belonging to the Lord.  And if we belong to God then He has join us together by the power of the Holy Spirit with His Love.


Therefore, if we are God’s church, if indeed we do belong to Him then we are in fact Holy.  Now this point may come as a shock to you or perhaps not. For how many of us here feel we are holy?  How many of us know ourselves to be good, pure and untouched by the world’s temptations?!  How many of us can honestly say we have only done and said good things?!


Let me tell you about a God botherer from the 16 hundreds called Thomas Goodwin whom at the aged 20, seriously found religion.  I mean really seriously religious which is not fun as I guess many of us have experienced over the years. For 7 years, he scratched around inside his own heart to see if he was holy enough, to see if he was feeling pious enough.  This guy was seriously obsessed with himself and how well he was doing with God.  Ultimately this searching, this obsessing did not help but led to desperation.   Thomas continued like this until he met a wise pastor who told him “look out.  Do not trust to your feelings, your behaviour for your security with God, rest on Christ alone”.  And with that Thomas was set free.


You see we can, like Thomas, take God’s command to Be Holy as He is Holy, as something we should do only by ourselves without needing any help from others.  Yet, when faced with something we do not want to do but know we should, who among us has not grumbled? Who has not muttered under our breath resenting the truth. Seethed with anger at being inconvenienced from our oh so important lives! Or maybe even argued the toss with impeccable, logical reasoning as to why it’s ok to do what we want to do?


We think that we alone must work hard at being holy, disciplining ourselves against worldly things that cause us to sin.  This is just not true. By looking so inwardly all the time, we forget to look out. We forget to look up. We forget to look to the cross, to Christ who is there waiting patiently, ready to help us become more holy because ALL are called to be holy.  Though we are sinners, the church offers space for forgiveness and grace. That’s why God sent the Holy Spirit. So He could be in us, strengthening and guiding us towards holiness setting us apart from this dark world for Himself.


And we can look out to the needs of others too. We can help others grow in their holiness by building up the church. Giving our time, our talents and financial support.  Do you enjoy praying? Then show others how you pray? Are you musical? Then find others and start a band! Do you enjoy studying the Bible, then why not create a study club?  Are you unsure about your faith or how to go about talking to others about it? Then why not form a group where everyone feels safe to share their journey? Perhaps you are already doing something quite amazing but in a behind the scenes, quiet kind of way.


If your sat there thinking what can I do? I’m no good at anything like that.  Why not ask God? Why not ask Him to show you what you can do?  I heard someone say once that God likes to show off! He likes to make the impossible possible! But no one dares to think BIG enough! And if we don’t ask, how can God answer?


A few weeks ago, I went to Apple Day at the community orchard in Fladbury.  The fayre was buzzing with people from many villages in this area. There, the people were picking apples choosing which ones they wanted, looking for the good ones and throwing away the bad. Even the apples used for juice pressing, what was left over were thrown back under the trees. I thought how much like the world this is. We live in the world where people are discarded for not living up to expectations perhaps they are too poor, too uneducated, too ugly, too sick to be thought of as worthwhile. Yet God is not like the world. He is present within the world, but not affected by it. He chooses the bad apples, those whom the world rejects, and loves them. For we are His children, His Holy church, chosen to shine like stars in the dark world. Amen


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