Sermon: Just Turning Up

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Preached on 24th February 2008
by Reverend Keith Harbour

            1.         Inspiration from an unlikely source: Woody Allen.  A fan of his or not makes no difference, a simple quote of from ‘Annie Hall' which I've never seen or read.  "96% of success is just showing up!"   TURNED UP!

            2.      That is what many church conversations centre on.  How many turned up, or didn't turn up?  It's said John Wesley measured the size of a crowd by counting legs and multiplying by two.  We judge results on numbers.  Common phrases from Stewards,  not many here today a lot on holiday -  a fine day a lot will be going off - bad weather many won't come - a lot of people are ill.  It can be embarrassing, especially if ‘The Preacher' has travelled a distance.

            3.      But Woody Allen didn't inspire me to think about numbers. "96% of success is just showing up"  directed me to the Bible.  This is what God keeps saying in the Bible and he is challenging us with today.  The reason we have a Methodist Church in Morpeth is that over the years people have made the effort to ‘Show Up',  you could say "God inspired them to ‘Show Up'."

            4.      ‘The Call of Jeremiah'.  In the Bible there are dozens of situations, like the Call of Jeremiah, where God calls, and the excuses tumble out - hang on God, ‘nobody will listen' - ‘I cannot speak' -  ‘I'm too old' - ‘I'm too young'.   Most prophets had a myriad of good reasons to explain why they couldn't possible do it.   However, God keeps telling them  "Just turn up, I'll do the rest, and by the way you'll be amazed at the results."  He says, "Don't worry, I know you're only human, just turn up and let me be divine, you'll be surprised, I'll speak for you, I'll be there to help, you're not on your own, I'll sort things out for you, I'll work miracles, YOU JUST TURN UP!"

                     The story's repeated in the New Testament, where members of the Early Church are surprised just how God speaks through them and works through them.  They simply turn up and the Lord works his wonders.

            5.      Arnold Hood and Joyce Hindmarsh gave us some pastoral training in the last Circuit.  One key issue we looked at was the skill of listening. Never forget, before you listen to someone you have to be there, you have to turn up!

                     Someone thanked me for a funeral service, "You must have known the deceased very well."  I said I never knew them.  "You must have done your homework."  I suppose I did, not too difficult, I just turned up, the family wanted to talk about their loved one and I listened.

            6.      I've said this before.  I can remember my Sunday School teachers, I can remember they always turned up, even when I didn't.  I think of them as committed people, caring people.  They had much influence on me, but honestly, I cant tell you what they said or what they taught me.  They just turned up when I needed them.  I suppose they thought of me as a fairly good member of the Sunday School because I usually turned up, even if at times at didn't listen and was occasionally disruptive.  One reason I'm here today is because they turned up and I turned up.  That could be 96% of it anyway.

            7.      The root of our devotional prayer-life  is not about what we read, or say, or how we say it.  Nor is it about the myriad of thoughts buzzing through our heads, things we must tell God about.   Neither is it about the right liturgy or what someone else has said or written. All of these things have value, but the root of prayer is about turning up, by that I mean ‘just being there for God'.

            8.      An old French Peasant was asked what he did during the hours he spent regularly in church.  "I don't say anything,"  he said.  "I just looks at ‘im, and he just looks at me, that's all."  Simple? It's not that easy, but it's profoundly beautiful.

                     An old lady telling a young Russian Priest the value of silent prayer.  "All of a sudden I perceived that the silence was a presence.  At the heart of the silence there was HE who is all stillness, all peace."

                     Prayer can only be effective if you make the time to be in God's presence, just be there, he'll do the rest.  Mother Theresa - a wow quote -   "Prayer enlarges the heart until it is big enough to contain God  himself."

            9.      The true definition of adoration is more than those super hymns we sing with gusto.  Adoration is being in the presence of God and enjoying it.  There is nothing wrong with a good resounding hymn or a poetic liturgical prayer.  You don't need to say anything to enjoy God's presence.  But it is being in God's presence that is something to adore, it is good, it is beautiful.

            10.    When I fell in love with Catherine, I wanted to be with her and still do.  Being married to a Preacher has problems, we miss sitting next to each other, that was especially so when we were courting and something we missed when Jeanette and Suzanne were little. 

                     Just to be there together, whichever church, whoever the preacher.

                     I nearly take my time off when Catherine is free so we can just be together.  In courtship we didn't care where we went, a walk at Seaburn, a church service, a film show, out with friends or with family.  As long as I turned up and she turned up, that was all that really mattered. 

                     It's about relationship, which is what prayer is about and what Christianity is all about.

            11.    It's the same with parenting, it is taking time for your children, babies want and need the nearness of someone who loves them. 

                     I understand people who say "We work all week, we don't see as much of our children as we'd like, so when we come to church we don't want our children to be hustled away into Junior Church or Crèche, in many ways I'm surprised that is not more of a major issue in churches with young families.  That should mean that ‘All Age Worship' is a vital feature of how we worship together?

            12.    Do you remember the pensions adverts some years back, a couple with strong Birmingham accents talking about what they wanted for the future.  The girl kept saying I want - all sorts of material things, a new house, a nice car, a lovely kitchen, exotic holidays.  All he could say was "We want to be together!"  She was portrayed as sensible and well adjusted; he was portrayed as thick.  The Gospel says it should be the other way around. 

            13.    We want to be together should be the battle cry of the church. 

                     God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a prefect unity of love.  We are called to be one as he is one.  Jesus remains in his Father's love, he challenges us to remain in his love.  He is always there for us, he never fails to turn up,  are you always there for him?   Perhaps Woody Allen was inspired, 96% of being a Christian is just being there for God, being open to him, he will do the rest, whatever is needed.  And being there, in God's love, for others.

            14.    In Whitley Bay, our dog, Becky, got very old and frail.  When on holiday we were grateful for our neighbour Jimmy Teesedale.  We left her at home and Jimmy ‘Just turned up for her' and most often she got a biscuit or three, he took her out, took her into his house, he was there for her.

                     When we'd been out a couple of hours Becky was  normally at the door pleased when we got home, we made a fuss of her then she settled in her bed, content.  Content we were there.  Just turning up - key to life and relationship.

                     Being there for God, being open to God, resting in him and being happy in his presence -  This is rich food indeed.  He provides our spiritual nourishment, all we will ever really need, for all eternity.  Question your own devotional live!  Take time for God.

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