“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans, 8:12-25);
(Gospel: Parable of the wheat and tares: Matthew, 13: 24-30, 36-43)
I’m not sure if any of you go to the gym…but if you do, you will hear lots of grunting and groaning. If you watch weightlifters on TV you hear them groan as they lift weights off the floor and push them above their heads. Ever heard a truck starting to pull a heavy trailer from a standing start…the engine groans, gears push against other gears, the engine revs and groans as strains forward and gains momentum. Ever been present at the birth of a child?…it is not a silent activity…
Groaning is the sound of creation. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labo(u)r pains until now.”
Creation is difficult work; hard work. It is work that makes the creator groan with effort.
Here in our community of St Thomas’, we have spent the last ten years, groaning with the labour pains of re-developing our church hall. Not “moaning and groaning”…but groaning with effort and determination to plan the re-building. And over the last four years, in particular, we have been groaning to complete the building of the new church hall, which will be formally opened this Wednesday as Ty Price: the St Thomas’ Community Hall.
Groaning happens in a gap – a gap between what we are trying to do and what we hope to achieve. Groaning reminds us that the time spent in the gap between what *is* and what *could be* is a place of hard work; a place of painful challenge.
Our readings from the New Testament today are about living in this gap. We hear about the gap between Creation as God intends and wills it, and where we are now. St. Paul describes how to, somehow, live in optimism and hope in a world that so often doesn’t fulfil what God has promised to us. He calls this life in the Spirit. Paul’s whole ministry, in a way, was driven to close this gap.
Ty Price is a local resource, which the people of St Thomas’ Church wish to use, in practical ways, to benefit and to serve the community. Ty Price is intended to be a visible place of hospitality, where all who live and work in this community of Overmonnow are welcome. It is a place which can be used by community groups and individuals to celebrate; to learn and to gather. It is a place, which will encourage community support groups to work in partnership for the good of community life, supporting those who struggle with the challenges of life.
Ty Price, is a place of calling on each of God’s people to live out their full Christian calling, discovering practical ways of living the Gospel, and showing the healing power of God’s love to the wider community. Ty Price is to help us in serving the community – finding out what are its needs and taking Christ’s love, help and practical support out beyond the four church walls.
St Paul felt that he had seen the fulfilment of creation in Jesus, he knew that fulfilment was within reach. He also knew the communities he preached to, still lived with injustice, war, poverty and suffering. He knows both the glory that is to come and the very present sufferings of the present time.
The gospel parable also speaks to life in the gap. God’s kingdom, the reality of God’s Love alive in our lives is glorious. Jesus compares it to a grain field. A field of grain is the source of not just one loaf of bread, but an abundance of bread. This is an image of an abundance of what was, and for many still is, the basic food, the basic source of life. Yet, in the midst of this vision of an abundant life, there are weeds. The weeds mess things up. They cannot be removed easily without damaging the crop which is hoped for. How many things can we recall which have messed up the coming of Love and Peace into our lives? What weeds are sown in our lives right now?
The parable, today, is about having to wait in the gap – in a world of both abundance and weeds. The parable is there to comfort those who live in the gap with the assurance that at the end, the weeds will not ruin the harvest.
Ty Price is to be named after The Revd Canon Norman Price, who was vicar here in Overmonnow for 29 years from 1963 to 1992. He was the last vicar to refurbish the old hall as a community resource. I will share with you now, something I have not shared publicly before now. Just after I was ordained deacon, twelve years ago, Norman came up to me before my first service in this church; he put his arm reassuringly on my shoulder and said, “If you always preach about God’s love, you won’t go far wrong. It is all about love.”
These are good words to hold on to as we begin our project of serving the community. During the next year or so, I forsee times of chaos and frustration, as we try to bed in a huge new project, which will be developed in conjunction with Monmouth Priory. We will need to be a people of great prayerfulness; of patience; we will need to give one another space, remembering that not everyone can have their own way. We will need to be a people who show kindness to one another, understanding, healing, forgiveness and love.
St Paul exhorts the Christians in Rome to live in the Spirit, because he also sees the glory that is just beyond the gap. A life in the Spirit is a life characterized by the confidence that through Christ we have been freed from all the things that can increase our suffering. A life in the Spirit is a life lived free of hatred and violence, and instead filled with joy and reconciliation. A life in the Spirit is a way to live in the gap between what *is* and what *shall be*; to live in joyful hope, not in desperation.
It is extremely difficult to live in a gap. It is difficult to see the glory beyond the horizon and still live in a place that is not yet fully glorified. It is tough, sometimes, to live life! The first Christians must have felt this very strongly. Those who actually knew Jesus had known in their minds and felt in their souls the goodness and love of God in creation, the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Paul had seen the glory of the risen Christ, and his conviction, faith and excitement must have filled the minds and souls of the people in the churches he planted. Yet, just outside the door of each house church, every time the communion meal ended and people returned to their lives, they were confronted by the realities of a world that did not meet that vision. What do you experience in your world that does not meet that vision?
The church is the name we use to give identity to those who are united in a passion to share our belief that God’s love is able to bring about change. Change for the better in society – where people are accepted, included and loved; forgiven and healed. The kind of change those disciples were so excited and motivated about on the Day of Pentecost. We call that the Mission of the Church. Or more correctly God’s Mission. Our job, as the Church of Christ – the Jesus Movement – the people of Overmonnow, is to find out what God is doing, in our localities and join in.
The parables Jesus told about the end of time; the words Paul gave to his communities – were written to help those communities understand and overcome the gap between what is and what ought to be.
They are also words written for today. Christians still live in the gap. Many know the feeling of God’s love and have experienced it in their lives. Many have seen it in grand acts of compassion and small daily acts of kindness. Christians rejoice when justice triumphs and celebrate when sickness turns to health. These are signs of the Kingdom of God has come near. Yet, people everywhere, also, wake daily to news of war and rumours of war; of violence in homes and communities; of soul-crushing poverty in every country; of injustice and intolerance, and all the many ways the dignity inherent in every person is neglected. Let’s be honest, we all wake daily groaning with longing for peace, for freedom from illness, worry and challenge.
The Ty Price church hall re-development project was born out of prayer and was led by the Spirit. At the same time the project was conceived, the PCC produced, after consultation a mission statement for St Thomas’:
St. Thomas’ Church, Monmouth
We are called to love God, follow Jesus and be led
by the Holy Spirit to be a welcoming, inclusive
and active church serving our community
and each other to build God’s kingdom
in Overmonnow, Monmouth.
We are called, by Jesus, to live life in the Spirit. Through the power of our Baptism, we are given power to stride the gap: to strive for justice; to work for peace; to help the poor; to love as Jesus loved. God’s kingdom is Creation healed. Groaning is the sound track to building God’s kingdom. It is the sound of the gap closing. Christians are called to be gap-closers.