Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday 27 Mary 2007 - Baptismal Sermon for Pentecost

This sermon is based on Acts 2:1:21. It is a sermon for an infant baptism delivered on Pentecost Sunday to a mixed group of Christians and non-Christians.

During the sermon, I referred to the child, her parents and the godparents by name. Here in the sermon, I have used initials except for the baby's mother and father as the baby and her father have the same initial.



It’s a real joy and a pleasure to celebrate with E and her family on the occasion of her baptism.

The church family here at B Methodist church is pleased that E and her mum have been worshipping with us. (You can see that E has already made her mark on our church, as she’s been showing rather too much interest in the pulpit for her mum’s liking. We’ve decided that she’ll need to learn to talk – and walk! – first before we allow her up there.)

I said earlier that E’s baptism is about two things. It’s about E being baptised into the Church of Christ. And it’s about God’s love for E. So I would like to talk about these two things this morning.


First of all, I want to talk about the Church of Christ, the universal Christian Church.

I also said earlier that today is a very special day for E to be received into the Christian Church. Because today is Pentecost and on Pentecost, we celebrate the birthday of the Church. You heard the birthday story earlier. It’s a strange story about tongues of flames descending on a crowd and about people speaking together in foreign languages that they had never learned.

But what’s this rather odd story got to do with the Church? I want to suggest one fairly simple idea for our consideration this morning: That relationships are very important to God. I want to suggest that relationships are so important to God that God breathed his holy breath of life into the Church by founding it in relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with our fellow human beings.

Now I don’t really think that I need to ‘preach’ about the importance of relationships. A good many of you are here today because you are in relationship with E and Mum and Dad. Whether by blood relationship or by friendship, your lives have touched them and been touched by them in some way. And there is also the Church community here at B Methodist Church; As a regular attender, E has also touched our lives.


I’d like to you imagine that we had a very, very long piece of magical string. And imagine that this string could become as long or as short as we wanted it to be and that it was infinitely flexible and could divide as many times as it needed to. Like a virtual reality drawing tool.

Now imagine that we took one end of this string and gave it to E and then E gave another end to each person here who she knows. Each of those people, in turn, would extend their strings to those people here who know them, and so on, until everyone was connected by this magical string to every other person here who they know.

Think of how many people here today who you know and you can begin to understand why the string needs to be magical. I might be mistaken, but I think everyone would find that they were connected to this piece of string. And if someone decided to change their seat or to leave, then the shape of our magical string would change, and that change would be felt in some way by everyone here.

That’s how it is with relationships: everything we do has an effect on others, either directly or indirectly.

But the Christian Church is not just about relationships between human beings, it’s also about relationships between individual human beings and God. And it’s also about God’s relationship with the community of Christians. Imagine that each one of us also has a string that connects us with God.

When we deliberately gather together as Christians to pray and to worship, we are gathering together in acknowledgment of our connection to God. In these deliberate acts of prayer and worship, the Christian Church calls upon the power of the Spirit of the Triune God to help us to grow to become the people who God calls us to be: a people who are rooted and grounded in love.

This is the church into which E has been welcomed and baptised this morning.
The Church which was founded in the Holy Spirit of the Triune God and which strives to be faithful to that Spirit. Although today E is not old enough to intellectually work out what being part of a Christian Community means for her, she is nonetheless part of that community.

Because baptism was never about just me and God. Baptism – by water and by the Holy Spirit – was always about community.

As the old song goes: ‘love isn’t love until you give it away’. Love is about relating to other people; you can’t give love to yourself.


And so that brings us to ‘love’. We said that, in addition to making E part of the Christian Church, that her baptism proclaims God’s love for her.

The bible talks about a God who loves us like children. It often refers to God as our Father but there are also images of God as a mother. It is in these parental images that we can get a hint of God’s love for each one of us.

Mum and Dad have very literally committed the rest of their lives to being in relationship with E and seeking the very best for her. They will devote all of their waking hours to her during her first years, and a considerable amount of emotion, attention, time, money and devotion after that. No matter what she does, they will always be her parents and always seek what is best for her.

This is with this parental tenacity that God loves each one of us. Although we do have the freedom to decide not to speak to God, there is nothing that we can do that will make God stop offering us his parental love. God’s love will always seek to bring us into right relationship with him and into right relationship with other people. God will always seek to do right by us.

In baptising E, we did not bring her into this love of God for the first time, we simply acknowledged together as a Christian family the love of God which already existed for her before she was even born.


Today is Pentecost, the Church’s birthday. It is the day when the Church celebrates her relationship with God. And it is the day when Christians celebrate their relationship with each other.

Today of all days, we remember these invisible strings that connect us, in love, with God, with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and with all of humankind. We remember that relationships are fundamental to our humanity and to our spirituality. And we remember that love, the commitment to the well-being of others, is the stuff by which good relationships are made.

Today we also celebrate the fact that Mum and Dad have brought E to be baptised and to acknowledge God’s love for their daughter. We rejoice with them that J, D, T and R have pledged to support Mum and Dad in nurturing E in her Christian faith. And we give thanks that E has been baptised into the Christian Church.

I pray this morning that E and her family and Godparents may grow in the knowledge and the love of God, and that the Spirit blesses each one of us here today with God’s love.

And I make my prayer in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sunday 20 May 2007 - Slavery and Freedom

Today's sermon was based mainly on Acts 16:16-34 and a bit of the Gospel reading: John 13:20-26.


‘One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination.’ (Acts 16:16-34)

I like a challenging story and I was attracted to the reading from the Acts because I think it presents us with some good challenges.

At the very superficial level, as modern people we have the challenge of the supernatural: a spirit-possessed individual on the one hand and God’s arranging an earthquake to set Paul free on the other hand. But at a deeper level, we are challenged to ponder such questions as slavery and freedom, and despair and hope.

Who is it in this story who is free and who is enslaved? Who are the people who should be despairing and who is it who has hope?

The Slave Girl

First of all in this narrative, we have the story of the slave girl.

It might very well be that she is associated with the temple to the Greek god Apollo; some commentators think this because the spirit which possessed her was a spirit of ‘divination’, a quality associated with the god Apollo. Interestingly, Apollo was associated in Greek mythology with medicine, healing, light and truth but he was also supposed to be the bringer of the plague.

From a Christian perspective, everything in the story of the slave-girl is topsy-turvy.

She’s following Paul and Silas around declaring that they are slaves to the Most High God. But the girl herself is twice-enslaved. She’s enslaved by the spirit who possesses her (we know this because she does not continue to behave in the same way once the spirit is cast out); and she’s a literal slave to human owners who use her as a means of earning money for themselves.

The spirit that possesses her is supposed to be the spirit of truth and light and yet, it does not tell the full truth; it only tells a partial truth – that the disciples are proclaiming a way to salvation.

It seems to me that one of the central questions in this scene is: ‘whose disciples are free and whose disciples are slaves? The disciples of Christ or the disciple of Apollo?’ Which disciple tells the truth and which disciple tells a partial truth? Which disciple genuinely has the power of healing and which disciple needs to be healed?

Now the one thing I find odd about the story is this business about the spirit-possessed girl followed Paul and Silas around for ‘many days’.

It raises a couple of questions for me. First of all, why didn’t Paul use the girl’s testimony to his advantage? Secondly, if the Spirit recognised that Paul and Silas were followers of The Most High God, why didn’t it lay low in order to save itself? Why did it call attention to itself day after day and risk being cast out?

The story doesn’t give us an answer to this question, of course. But if this was the spirit of Apollo, you could say that, in the context of the story, this spirit might have been the spirit of the present age, the spirit of the majority culture. I wonder whether this spirit represents the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of that culture?

It’s as if the spirit of the prevailing culture is following the disciples of Jesus around saying ‘Jesus isn’t the way to health and happiness. Apollo is the way to health and happiness. Order your life to worship the values of our wonderful Greco-Roman culture and you will be healthy and happy.’ Possessed by the spirit of the prevailing culture, the spirit-possessed girl may have felt strangely compelled to insist on the superiority of Graeco-Roman culture over the Church of Christ.

The values of the prevailing culture are powerful. They present themselves as ‘the way things were, are and always will be’. They present themselves as being Reality (with a capital R).

So, filled with the confidence that these Christians were misguided and that the spirit of the age would certainly prevail over the Church of Christ, the Spirit followed Paul and the disciples for many days until the name of Christ vanquished it without much apparent effort.

The Culture Enraged

But challenging the prevailing cultural values can be a dangerous business, as the story attests. Immediately the spirit is cast out, the girl is free and the cultural values are challenged, a kangaroo court is assembled. Paul and Silas are charged with ‘advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe’

In other words, the charge is that they have gone against the cultural norms. The fact that they are Jewish probably just adds to the conviction of the magistrates and the crowd that Paul and Silas are guilty.

Paul freed the spirit-possessed girl from enslavement to the spirit which possessed her and from the enslavement and the exploitation of her owners. The reward for having done this is that Paul and Silas are dragged before an angry mob and fastened with stocks to the innermost jail cell – no escape possible.

The men’s reward for proclaiming The Way of Christ over and above the values of the culture is to be treated violently and unjustly and to be removed from the society at large. Or at least the prevailing culture attempted to remove them from society.

Hope and Despair

As we come to the last part of the story, Paul and Silas are in a rather serious mess. The reality of the situation is such that they have every reason to believe that they will likely die in prison. Yet the text tells us that they were praying and singing hymns to God.

I think it’s easy to trivialise this statement and say ‘Yes this is the way Christians should behave in times of trial’. But when we find ourselves in times of real and genuine danger or difficulty, it can be incredibly difficult to praise God and to have faith that he is present.

So I want to just pause and consider the depth of faith that was required to praise God in a dungeon whilst shackled with chains. I want to pause and consider that such hope is actually at the core of the counter-cultural message that Christianity proclaims. (It’s not the only message, but it’s at the core.)

The prevailing culture tells us that, in the final analysis, those who have power, resources, money and influence will determine the course of history and that they will determine what is right and what is wrong. In contrast, the Christian faith proclaims a place for the ill, the outcast, the poor and the powerless in the Kingdom of God. The Christian faith proclaims that God is in control of history, that the last shall be first in the Kingdom and that it is God in his justice who determines what is right and what is wrong, not the expediency of power or money or the prevailing culture.

When Paul and Silas are busy praising God in their prison cell, they did not know that God would bring hope into a hopeless situation. It would be wrong to say that this story teaches us that if we just pray and praise enough or that if we just have enough faith, God will always make a particular situation turn out the way we want it to. It would be more accurate to say that this story teaches us that God is present in even the most hopeless situations.

Even when we can see no hope, even if we can’t see a positive outcome like the story of the conversion of the jailer and his household, God has promised us that he is present in every situation. God can use even the most apparently dire circumstances to his purposes.


In closing, I just want to remind us all of the prayer that Jesus made in the Gospel reading this morning. He prayed for the strength and the unity of his Church and he bestowed on the Church his glory.

This prayer would be a simple and straightforward prayer if it came on the eve of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The amazing thing about it, however, is that Jesus prays this prayer not on the eve of his ascension, but on the eve of his crucifixion.

Knowing the end of the story, you could argue that this is the prayer of a conquering hero. But, because it comes just before his crucifixion, it is also a prayer of tremendous faith in the purposes of God.

Today is the last Sunday of the Easter season and it’s also the Sunday after the Ascension of Jesus. In the resurrection we recall that God’s purposes are to draw all creation into genuine life and truth and light. In the ascension, we recall that Christ rules at God’s right hand and that the story of creation is shaped by Christ’s sacrifice for our sins and his triumph over death.

God is life and light and truth. Hope reigns even when we cannot see it. This is the faith of the Church. Amen

Sunday 13 Mary 2007 - Inspired by Oscar Romero

Today we tried having a discussion rather than a whole sermon. It worked very well and we had a very interesting discussion as a congregation about 'what is sin'?

As you can see from the sermon, it was a sermon for the launching of Christian Aid Week. The discussion was inspired by the Gospel reading that Oscar Romero read on the day he was murdered:
John 12:20-26.


Who knows who Oscar Romero was?

Oscar Romero was born in El Salvador in Central American in 1917. When he left school, he apprenticed to a carpenter but soon started thinking about becoming a Roman Catholic priest - against the wishes of his family. He trained for the priesthood in two cities in El Salvador and then went to study in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1942, during the Second World War.

Romero returned to El Salvador and worked as a parish priest and as the head of a theology college before becoming the Archbishop of the capital city of San Salvador in 1977. He was murdered, in his church by the army, on 24 March 1980 because he continually spoke out against the government’s murder of the poor people.

Does anyone remember why the government was killing its own poor?
The right-wing government said that it was trying to defeat communist guerrillas and the government’s murder of its people was funded by the United States.

Does anyone want to have a guess how many of its own people the government of El Salvador was killing every month during the late 1970s and early 1980s? 3000 people per month.

When he first became Archbishop, nobody expected Oscar Romero to speak out against the government and to take up the cause of the poor. He was actually elected to be bishop of the capital city San Salvador because he was seen as being a ‘conservative’ - as someone who wouldn’t rock the boat and give support to the poor (and to the guerrillas)

But all that changed when a priest in Romero’s diocese was killed by the army along with two of his parishioners. The priest was killed because he defended the peasant's rights to organize farm cooperatives. Romero went to see the body of the priest as well as the old man and seven year old child who were killed with him, and he was changed forever.

On the day before his murder by the army, Romero spoke out and said that it was a sin for the government to murder its own people and that, because of what the army was being used for, Christian men should not feel that they had to obey the draft. Romero said that Christians were free to disobey human laws which went against God’s law.

As I said earlier, Romero was shot down in church the following day, whilst leading worship. The Gospel reading that morning was the one we heard earlier: ‘…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’

I’d like us to listen to some quotations from Oscar Romero and I’d like to have a chat about whether or not we can see any connection between his thoughts and the Gospel of Christ. Before we start, I also want to say that you may disagree with some of the quotations and that’s perfectly OK. I’m not saying that Romero got everything right or that we can’t question him. I am not elevating what he said to the status of God’s word. I simply think that, in light of the witness of his deeds, that some of his thoughts might be worth us thinking about this morning.

1) ‘The Church, like Jesus, has to go on denouncing sin in our own day. It has to denounce the selfishness that is hidden in everyone's heart, the sin that dehumanizes persons, destroys families, and turns money, possessions, profit, and power into the ultimate ends for which persons strive. And the church has also to denounce what has rightly been called 'structural sin:' those social, economic, cultural, and political structures that drive people onto the margins of society. When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to the misery from which the cry arises.’ — Oscar Romero, 6 August 1977.

2) ‘To try to preach without referring to the history one preaches in is not to preach the gospel. Many would like a preaching so spiritualistic that it leaves sinners unbothered and does not term idolaters those who kneel before money and power. A preaching that says nothing of the sinful environment in which the gospel is reflected upon is not the gospel.’ Oscar Romero, 18 February 1979.

3) ‘The church is obliged to demand structural changes that favour the reign of God and a more just and comradely way of life. Unjust social structures are the roots of all violence and disturbances. How hard and conflicting are the results of duty! Those who benefit from obsolete structures react selfishly to any kind of change.’
Oscar Romero, November 1979.

[Reading of the Gospel again]

‘Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies… We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us’. Oscar Romero, 24 March 1980

We are still in the Easter season and I think that the grain of wheat which dies is a fantastic picture of resurrection. The picture that Romero paints is also a very challenging picture of what the church is about. There is a very real sense in which Christ lives on in the world through the church. That’s why we’re called the body of Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that Jesus’ resurrection or our future resurrection is only about planting seeds. I don’t think that the resurrection is a mythical morality tale. It’s not that we plant the seeds of God’s love or do what is right because these are the only ways for resurrection to happen. It’s that we plant the seeds of God’s love and we do what is right in the eyes of God because Jesus rose from the dead.


In Jesus, God became human. He lived with us, he experienced our joys and our sorrows and he taught us God’s ways. He taught us to love one another as he loves us, because our love is the way that other people experience God’s love on earth. Our love is also the way that others can hear, see and experience the good news of Jesus.

Today is Christian Aid Sunday, the beginning of Christian Aid Week. It is part of our discipleship to support the work of Christians who are called to work full time to bring relief to those in need – whether at home or in other parts of the world.

So, as we come to communion together in a few minutes, we remember that we are Christian brothers and sisters together with Christians in Latin America and in all parts of the world; and we thank God for groups such as Christian Aid. We remember that, at his table, we are united together with Christ who was crucified for our sins, rose triumphant from the grave and reigns with the Father through all eternity.

We ask that God will strengthen all people who suffer and that he will bring all creation into his Kingdom. And we pray this in the name of Jesus, our risen Lord and Saviour. Amen

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spirit Values

This sermon is based on Acts 11:1-18 and John 13::31-35.

Introduction: The Story of Peter and Cornelius

The story that we heard this morning in our reading from Acts Chapter 11 is a story that actually begins in Chapter 10. It’s the story of Peter and of the Roman centurion, Cornelius - the story of the conversion and baptism of Cornelius and his household.

Who knows whether Peter would have even gone to the house of Cornelius if he had not had the vision that we hear about in this morning’s reading? But because of his obedience to God’s command, Peter visits Cornelius and, in the process, he comes to understand the gospel in a new light.

Peter articulates his new understanding when he says in Chapter 10: ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’ If Peter had any doubts about his new vision of the Gospel, they must have flown out of his mind when the Holy Spirit spontaneously descended upon the Gentiles – in exactly the same way that the Spirit had come upon Jesus’ close followers in the upper room.

And so we arrive at this morning’s reading at the beginning of Chapter 11. Peter has arrived back home in Jerusalem and the circumcised believers there want him to give an account of what he has done. They want an explanation. They are not simply upset that Peter ate with Cornelius; they are very likely more upset that Peter has baptised Cornelius’ household, thereby including Gentiles in the Church of Christ.

And so Peter explains the situation to them step-by-step until they too believe and proclaim that ‘God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’.

Gentiles Shall be Included in the Kingdom

Let’s not underestimate the drama, the anguish and the outrage that including Gentiles in the church of Christ would have caused this new church of Jewish believers. The controversy over Gentiles in the church not only presents itself in Acts. It is an on-going issue throughout the letters of Paul, particularly of course, the letter to the Galatians – which is largely devoted to the question of the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church.

It’s my personal belief that Saul, the Pharisee and the persecutor of the Church, understood very well that the message of Jesus meant the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God. I think that this understanding was the reason for his zealous persecution of the Christian Church. And I think that it was also the reason for his equally zealous mission to the Gentiles after his conversion.

His conversion wasn’t so much about a sudden download of new information from God which he didn’t know about before. I think that his conversion was a turning around: from a fierce passion that Gentiles could not be included in the people of God to a fierce passion that they were already included in the people of God.

Like Paul, Peter also had to learn this lesson of inclusion, but for him, the lesson came through a vision and through personal experience. Already a disciple and apostle of Christ, Peter learned through his openness to the Spirit of God and from seeing with his own eyes the Spirit working in the lives of Gentiles. Although this remained an issue that Peter would apparently continue to wrestle with.

The Spirit's Working in the World

One thing that impresses me about the circumcised believers in Acts 11 is the way that they accepted the work of the Spirit of God with regard to Cornelius’ household. This particular working of the Spirit turned all their ideas about who is a child of God upside down, but they accepted this radical shift in the Church because they recognised the signs of the Spirit at work.

I wonder how willing any of us are to be so open to changes that the Spirit of God might be calling us to engage with?

In a fortnight, we’re going to celebrate the anniversary of this church and we’re going to spend some of our time together to think a bit about our congregation’s work and mission. Don’t worry, I don’t have any hidden agendas that I intend to spring on you about some great change that I think that God is calling us toward, but I do think that every Christian community could do well to ponder where the Spirit is at work.

How is the Spirit of God moving in our congregation? Where is the Spirit of God working in the community at large? Are we able to recognise the working of the Spirit if it doesn’t come with the usual labels that we would recognise as ‘Christian’ and if it doesn’t fit our usual categories?

But if we’re looking for a working of the Spirit of God that doesn’t fit our usual categories, how can we recognise it?

I want to briefly suggest three characteristics that might help us to recognise the working of the Spirit in our everyday lives. This is not an exhaustive list and neither am I saying that I have ‘the one right view’ on this matter. The following are simply my suggestions of ways that we might be able to recognise the work of the Spirit. Together, we might want to try to identify more ways in which we can recognise the fruit of the Spirit.

I think that, among other things, the Spirit of God brings
o inclusion
o restoration
o reconciliation


So, first of all: inclusion.

‘Inclusion’ is not only the main theme of this morning’s reading; I believe it’s also an essential ingredient of the Gospel.

The Gospel of Christ tells us that each and every human being has equal worth and equal dignity in the eyes of God. There is no individual who is beyond the pale in God’s eyes, no one who is outside the possibility of salvation; no matter what gender, race, colour, sexual orientation, nationality, ability, disability or status in life, each person is a beloved child of God.

So I would argue that activities which seek to include individuals who would otherwise be excluded from some aspect of society are under the influence of God’s Spirit even if those activities do not appear to be overtly ‘Christian’ or ‘religious’.

Activities such as human rights for asylum seekers, help for children with special educational needs, care which allows people to live in their own homes. Any activity which works to include individuals who might otherwise be excluded in full participation in society.


A second Spirit value is restoration.

What I mean by the word ‘restoration’ is what the prophets call ‘justice’. But I’m using the word ‘restoration’ because I want to distinguish it from punitive justice. Exacting punitive or vengeful justice is not something for which we need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; on the contrary, we are well able to take revenge without God’s help!

Restorative justice is a Spirit value because is the sort of justice that worries more about restoring well-being to the victim rather than punishment for the wrongdoer. It’s arguably mentioned in the 10th chapter of Acts when the angel says to Cornelius: ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.’

Within our own justice system in the UK, restorative justice is something that is increasingly being used with young people. This is a form of justice which requires juvenile offenders to listen to the effects that their crimes had on their victims. It also asks young offenders to perform a community service that is related to the crime that they committed.

Other examples of restorative justice would be activities such as Fair Trade and the campaign to reduce Third World debt. These are activities which seek to redress the imbalances that have been created by the exploitation of the powerful.


A third Spirit value is reconciliation: another value that is absolutely at the heart of the gospel.

As Christians, we believe that because of God’s forgiveness of us, that we are able to come into a new relationship with him. A relationship of love and friendship. In today’s gospel reading, we heard Jesus asking us pass on the love of God and to love one another as God loved us. In other words, we are called to be reconciled with our fellow human beings because God has reconciled himself with us.

And so I believe that any group engaging in activities of reconciliation is engaging in the work of the Spirit, whether that group has a ‘Christian’ label on it or not.

Some organisations seek to mediate between neighbours in a community, other organisations seek peaceable and workable solutions to family break-ups. Still other groups are seeking peace at national or international level. I believe that any individual or group that is genuinely seeking reconciliation between formerly hostile parties is doing the work of God.


In this morning’s reading from Acts, Peter had a life-changing experience with God’s Holy Spirit.

This encounter with the Spirit turned his world and his values upside down.

Peter and the church came to understand that it’s God’s intention that every category of human being should be included in his Kingdom. They were able to respond faithfully to the fruits of the Holy Spirit, even though the Spirit moved in ways that they did not expect.

As we come up to our Church anniversary and we look for signs of the Spirit in our own congregational life, I hope that we can rejoice and be thankful for the grace that we have been given to affirm the Spirit values of inclusivity, restoration and reconciliation. But I also hope that we can keep our eyes open to ways that the Spirit may be working in unexpected ways in our congregation and in the wider community.

And I hope that we can identify and use Spirit values as touchstones to help us find God in unexpected places.

I pray, as we go forward in our journey as Christian disciples, that we put God in Christ in the centre of all that we are and all that we do. And I pray that we may be able to see the Spirit of God at work in our community in surprising and unexpected places. And I pray this in the name of the risen Christ, Amen