The church was packed. Just under 100 people largely from Easton but also from the other villages as well. The format was the same as our usual Valley Worship services – informal but this time without the band but still singing some worship songs from the blue hymn book – Be Still for the Presence of the Lord, The Lords my shepherd and Amazing Grace.
For the good news slot Vanessa Rosewell one of our Churchwardens gave the following talk:
Theo and I would like to welcome everyone to St Mary’s today and thank you for joining us in this celebration of our beautiful church.
We have many people to express gratitude to this morning – for the time, talents, dedication and financial support they have given throughout the year.
Firstly, it is important that the church remains constantly open to everyone, so thank you to all those who unlock the south door each morning and close it at night.
We thank the people who maintain the wooden notice board, clean the brass inside the lych gate, look after the churchyard and keep the church clean. Everything always looks ship shape and welcoming.
It is always lovely to hear the bells rung at all the different types of services throughout the year, in particular last week for Remembrance Sunday. Thank you to our ringers.
The flowers consistently look beautiful and on special occasions are stunning, no more so than recently on Remembrance Sunday. Thank you to the flower team. The favourable comments from visitors are numerous.
We like to welcome everyone who attends our services, so thank you to those who greet, act as sidemen and serve the coffee. Your competence and smiles of welcome are very much appreciated.
We acknowledge and say thank you to our Rector, LLM, visiting clergy, organists, band members, those who read the lessons, offer the prayers, help at communion, and the leaders of the children and youth groups, along with their helpers. Without this support we would not be benefiting from the increasing congregation we are witnessing and the pleasure shared in a growing church within the Itchen Valley.
We are fortunate in, and grateful to, our Verger whose diligence covers many tasks; she is a mine of information and contributes enormously to the smooth running of the church. A huge thank you.
Another hard working group is the DCC (District Church Council). They are responsible for the conservation of this beautiful building for us to benefit from now and for future generations. The continued dedication and huge effort that goes into prioritizing maintenance work required, organising fund raising activities and gatherings such as this, is amazing. Thank you all so much.
Since this service last year we have enjoyed an Auction of Promises, the Duck Race, and Flanders and Swann revisited. Thank you to those who provides venues and for your support.
We also value our links with the village hall and cricket club, particularly in our joint effort to run the village fete in August. The fete committee meetings were a good chance to socialise across the different groups as well as plan the day. Our thanks to everyone who supported the event, come rain or shine!
In the hope you may feel inspired this morning, we would welcome more help with church cleaning, additional green fingers in the churchyard or you may like to try your hand at bell ringing; there is no age limit and younger members would be particularly welcome.
Winchester Basics Bank provides emergency food and toiletries to vulnerable individuals and families in need. We have a collection box in the church and any donations would be much appreciated.
The Friends of St Mary’s was formed some years ago and the wardens would like to revitalise it’s existence to members, old and new. Please go the Itchen Valley Parish website (Data Protection/St Mary’s Easton) and sign on if you would like to be kept informed about events, activities.
Finally, please enjoy the rest of the service and buffet lunch. Thank you for all your wonderful support, we are extremely grateful.
For our Every Day Lives slot we heard from Mark Hibbert-Hingston about the work of the Winchester Street Pastors.
Then we heard a bit about Theo and Judith Mezger’s experience and training and then we commissioned them as Winchester Street Pastors.
Our Bible reading was from Philippians 4 and the talk was as follows:
Philippians 4:10-23 New Generosity
Those of you who are not regular attenders of this service may not know that we are in a series of talks on Paul’s letter to the Philippians which we started in February in our monthly informal Valley Worship services
In February at Valley Worship we looked at the new heart that we have in Jesus Christ when we are baptised by the Holy Spirit and born again from above and we become followers of Christ.
In subsequent months, we looked at all sorts of other aspects of having that new heart.
This month, I am going to talk about the new kind of generosity that we have in Jesus Christ when we have that new heart.
A few years ago we visited our daughter Claudia on her gap year in Hong Kong. She was working for a very remarkable woman called Jackie Pullinger. Jackie who was a very accomplished musician felt called by God in 1967 to leave the UK, to help the poor. But she had no idea where God wanted her to go, so she boarded a ship that was sailing around the world and prayed that God would show her where to get off.
She disembarked in Hong Kong. Jackie describes in her book ‘Chasing the Dragon’
how she began teaching in the Walled City, a six-acre area of Kowloon.
Left out of the treaty between Britain and China, the Walled City was effectively lawless. It was a place of extreme poverty, full of drug addicts, triad gangs and prostitution.
Through setting up a youth club there, she encountered some opium addicts who, through her guidance, turned to Christ and were set free from drug addiction by being reborn in the power of the Holy Spirit without any withdrawal symptoms, without any pain.
Since the 1970s, literally thousands of addicts have been painlessly released from drug addiction through the work of the St Stephen’s Society which is the organisation Jackie founded to carry on her work. These addicts, having received the new heart in Jesus Christ which we have been talking about this year in Valley Worship and which is available to all of us have completely transformed lives.
Indeed, the programme has been so successful, and so many people, have come through it transformed that heroin and other drug addicts who are convicted by the Hong Kong courts for various drug inspired offences are routinely given a choice by the judge of the District Court of going to jail or going to Jackie Pullinger.
This is striking enough in itself and worth several sermons in itself….. but the point I want to concentrate upon today is how St Stephen’s Society, an organisation which is clearly guided by the Holy Spirit; how an organisation like that encourages volunteers and calls upon the other talents that it needs and raises money to keep its incredible work going.
Their approach is quite different from how we might expect a charity to go about getting support and although the situation is not exactly the same, I think there are some lessons for us in Itchen Valley as we struggle with the huge task of keeping the show on the road and bringing our facilities into the 21st century.
When the boarding houses at St Stephen’s Society’s facility where the drug addicts who are coming off heroin live with their often Western helpers, when these houses do not have enough food to eat, which seems to happen relatively frequently….they pray about it and mostly the money comes in….often exactly the amount they need.
And if no money does come in they go fishing to catch something to go with their slightly bizarre diet (to western eyes) of chicken’s feet pigs skin and rice.
They are an organisation which is entirely reliant upon God coming up with What they need When they need it.
So on the need side of the equation, they are entirely dependent on God and content with what God gives them.
This is so like what St Paul is saying has a big impact on how we approach asking our community to help us with time, talents and money. In verse 11 Paul says ‘I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
So the first point for a church seeking to encourage people to support it is to let the church’s needs be known to God in prayer.. as the St Stephens houses do.
But then the church needs to be content with what He provides, whether plenty or little
It seems a strange approach to our ears for Paul to say in this letter to the Philippians that he is not seeking support from the church there because he has learned to be content with whatever he has. But, amazingly, in the same way, Jackie Pullinger will say to anyone offering money, time or their other gifts to St Stephen’s Society that their policy is to trust in the Lord for their provision and not to ask for support and that they should only give their money or their time or gifts if they feel God calling them to do so.
BUT, on the other hand, what St Paul says that he wants for the church in Philippi, on the giving side of the equation, is what he calls the ‘profit which accumulates to your account’
He wants the church to be blessed in its relationship with God by giving, from ‘sharing in this business of giving and receiving’
I love this idea of ‘Sharing’. It’s like saying you the giver and we the receiver are in a partnership together. A partnership in the kingdom of God in which your generosity is credited to your eternal account in the Kingdom of God; a partnership which continues for ever.
Of course, the language being used is that of accountancy: Profit, Credited, To your account
What Paul is saying is that when we give money, time or talents to work which is inspired and led by the Holy Spirit, it has a permanent effect; for eternity.
Let’s face it, most of what we do in our lives gets buried with us. Our graveyards are full of people who are mourned for a generation and then forgotten….
But what Paul is saying, is that when we share in ministry either by the financial support or by the time and talents we give, that this has eternal significance, that God recognises this gift. For ever.
In practice, there cannot be a better investment, something that transcends death.
If it’s a truism that you ‘can’t take it with you’, then Paul would be saying, ‘that’s true but you can be recognised by the Creator of the Universe eternally for what you have given now, that it has a permanent effect on your relationship with him
It is, according, to Paul, credited to your account in heaven.
Please understand that I am NOT saying that by giving time, talents or money to the church that you earn your way, that you can earn your salvation, into heaven. That idea was soundly trounced by the Reformation and it does amaze me when I hear it suggested or implied from time to time….
Whether we are a saved Christian or not is purely an act of grace given free by Jesus when we repent of our sins and ask him into our lives and are baptised by the Holy Spirit and reborn with the new heart of followers of Christ. There is no payment by us for our salvation but our salvation is not without cost, because Jesus paid the price by suffering on the Cross to enable us to be saved.
However, Paul points to (verse 17) ‘the profit that accumulates to your account’
He wants us to know that for those who have been reborn, those who are followers of Christ that on the last day such generous service which expressed itself in the giving of time talents or money will not go unrecognized.
Now, I am not pointing to a future for those who have been greatly blessed in our present life that they can achieve similar status in eternal life also. Everything that we do is about our relationship with the king of kings.
So those of us who give in a way which makes us uncomfortable, who give out of our poverty, like the story of the widows mite (Mark 12:41 -44, Luke 21:1-4) are going by doing so to bring themselves closest to the king and this is rewarding in the kingdom of God not only on the last day but also now…..
Hudson Taylor was a missionary in China at the turn of the 20 th century. Thousands were converted through his ministry.
At the age of 27 he was preparing to go to China. He was living a very frugal life. He ate a bowl of porridge a day, and gruel on alternate nights.
One day he was asked to go and pray for a poor man and his wife who was dying.
The only money he possessed in the world was his weeks wages of half a crown (worth two shillings and six pence), but a single coin.
When he saw the family’s poverty, he wanted to give. He felt that he would gladly give, if he had the change, six pence.
But when he saw the poverty of the mother and the five children, he felt he would gladly give one shilling and six pence, if he had the change.
As he talked about the love of the heavenly Father, he felt like a hypocrite, as he was not prepared to trust God without his half a crown. At this stage he would easily have given the family two shillings, if he had the change.
Eventually he responded to their request for prayer. He struggled through the Lords Prayer. The husband said ‘if you can help us for God’s sake do’. After an immense struggle he gave them the only money he had in the world: the whole half crown.
Joy filled his heart. He sang all the way home.
The following morning he received an unexpected letter, including a pair of gloves and a half sovereign (worth 10 shillings).
He had received a 400% return on his investment in 12 hours!
The spiritual principle applies to everything that we give to the Lord. He multiplies.
Please note that this is not just about money. Perhaps our most precious resource in Itchen Valley is time, and the use of our talents: whether it be spending time:
Cleaning the church
Acting as sidesmen
Reading the lessons
Reading and composing prayers
Acting as car park marshals
Working with children and youth
Taking part in the Band
Being one of the Valley Visitors
Spending time with others
Being Street Pastors
Or Prison Visitors
All these things will be recognised on the last day. They won’t get us into heaven but once there, everything else will be recognised and not forgotten. Particularly when we have given of our time talents and money extravagantly; when we have been generous beyond our capabilities, beyond what is reasonable, beyond what is safe….
As so many of you do, and for which I want to add to what has already been said by saying my own personal and heartfelt, ‘Thank you’
Acknowledgment of the Philippians’ Gift
10 I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
15 You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. 16 For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. 18 I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Afterwards we pushed the pews to one side and the drinks and sandwiches and cake were unleashed for our Patronal Lunch. Thank you all so much for working so hard to put these refreshments together and for the amazing friendly atmosphere. Just completely brilliant.