Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7, Matthew 9:35-10:8
It is good to be here today, to help you to celebrate your 100th anniversary as a United Church.
As we were thinking about some of the events of 100 years ago in the all age talk, earlier, you may have been wondering how different the world of 100 years ago really was to our world today.
At a time of violence and uncertainty and upheaval – during the first World War – people had to make a decision to act in faith, with hope for the future, to bring good news to the people around them by forming this church.
I see from the website that your strapline today is “Knowing and showing the grace of God” – and in our world of continuing violence and uncertainty and upheaval you, too, need to act in faith and reach out in hope.
Abraham is something of a by-word for faith. Yet in the reading we heard, we arrive at a bit of a crunch point for Abraham.
He has travelled, at God’s bidding, from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran and then out into the desert, towards Canaan. Throughout his travels God has spoken to him and promised to be with him wherever he goes, and to bless him with many children. Now here he is at the Oaks of Mamre and he sees three strange visitors.
He could, perhaps, have let them walk by and the story might end right there. He could have given them basic hospitality, as any desert-dweller would in the heat of the day: and that’s what he says he is offering – water to wash their feet, rest in the shade, a little bread … But in fact Abraham goes over the top – he orders Sarah to take three measures of flour and bake cakes – that’s enough for about 200 pitta sized ‘cakes’; he gets a servant to kill a calf, he serves the visitors himself and he stands by as they eat.
Abraham offers his whole attention, and in return he is offered news of a great blessing. Sarah will, at last, have a child. And she laughs in disbelief – but later laughs with joy and names her son ‘laughter’ – Isaac.
I wonder if this story makes you smile rather wryly – if God is so ready to bless Sarah, who was thought to be past the age for bearing children, why could God not bless us more here in Wells, with more people, better ideas, a new chapter of life?
Have we let God just slide past us somewhere and not opened our ‘tent’ to him, or have we not done enough to entertain the God-given presence in our midst?
If God is blessing us to know and show his grace, what will that mean for the people around us, especially for a fearful and hurting world? How can we offer good news to those around us?
The other reading we heard was Jesus proclaiming the kingdom of God and then sending out the twelve apostles to do the same.
“Go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”.
Jesus doesn’t offer his disciples a comfortable life, a place to rest and call their own, he wanders this earth and tells them to do the same – so that all people may hear the gospel, the good news of God’s kingdom. Jesus sends them out, and later when they return he teaches them using parables.
Remember Sarah’s three measures of flour, which she takes to make bread to welcome the angel of the Lord?
Jesus tells his disciples this parable.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who takes three measures of flour – and hides in it some yeast, which leavens the whole of the batch”.
The kingdom of heaven is like this, says Jesus – like yeast, working in secret to make the whole loaf good.
Here is my yeast - safe in its tub – lid securely on, nice and dry and usually kept safely in my cupboard. Keep the plastic cap secured tightly, say the instructions on the tin.
It also says on here ‘making you a better baker’ – but not if I keep it in the tin it isn’t. While it’s safe & contained it can’t do a thing, Jesus says – it needs to go out, to be mixed in, to be hidden and dispersed if it’s going to do its work.
As we celebrate today it might be tempting to pat ourselves on the back for surviving for 100 years as a united church, let alone for making a difference to the lives of people in Wells.
This place, this ‘tin’ has served you well and you are right to celebrate.
But this celebration is also about asking where Jesus is sending you. You need to be taking good news into a world which desperately needs it. I don’t know where you’ll end up doing that, for the sake of the kingdom, but I pray that wherever you are you will be yeast, lightening the world around you, making a difference for the kingdom, changing in God’s hands so that you will all be better witnesses of the God you have known here.
When Abraham was in Canaan, south of Haran, he kept meeting God, hearing God’s voice, recognizing God’s presence. He took stones and made altars to show that God was there, at Shechem, at Bethel, and at Mamre.
God was in every place he went: God was everywhere.
God is in this place: you have known it and felt it and celebrated it week by week over many years, and I pray you will continue to do so for many more years.
But do not doubt that God is waiting for you everywhere else in this wide world – and know that the love of God the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit will be with you, today and always, here and everywhere, now and forever.
Go and share the good news of God’s love
Go and be good news for your community
In Jesus’ name.