Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Sunday, 3 December 2023.
Today brings us to the Advent Sunday. I am departing from the usual tradition of a series of Advent sermons in favour of a series based on the statement about St Andrew’s Church that is printed in the pew sheet. This also means that we will not be having Advent hymns each Sunday. I hope that this is not too discombobulating for us who are used to the rhythm and rhyme of the traditional Church’s year and its observance.
I was interested to look up a web page that showed me all the words that end with the suffix “-ology.” There are 90 such words that begin with the letter “a’ – I didn’t bother to count all those that start with “b” through to “z”. But all those “ology” words, from Abiology to Zythology have to do with the study of something. That’s what the -ology part means. We know about archaeology and zoology and psychology. But “ferroequinology” and “pogonology” and “vexillology” are lesser-known studies of things. (I can tell you what they are, if you ask me privately). I am going to start my time at St Andrew’s with a little series of sermons on ecclesiology – the study of the nature of the church. And it will be based on the statement that you will now see in the pew sheet each week. “St Andrew’s is a Christ-centred, sacramental, inclusive, thinking, mission-oriented faith community.” Seven sermons. This statement is also in the pew sheet of our cathedral week by week.
“Christ-centred.” That’s stating the blooming obvious. Of course, the church is Christ-centred. It was Jesus Christ who started the Christian Church, and it’s Jesus’ teachings and example that we take as the model for our own teaching and living. The New Testament doesn’t use the expression “Christ-centred.” Rather it uses the idea of Christ as the foundation upon which the church is built. It calls Christ the cornerstone. A cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position and integrity of the whole structure. A head cornerstone is placed above two walls to maintain them together and avoid the building to fall apart. No cornerstone, no solid building. No Christ, no church.
When St Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians he said, “… you are fellow citizen with the saints … built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner-stone, in whom the whole structure is joined together …”
Recently at St Andrew’s you sang the hymn,
“Christ is our cornerstone, on whom alone we build;
With his true saints alone the courts of heaven are filled. …”
So, Christ is the foundation of the church, Christ is the cornerstone of the church, Christ is the foundation of St Andrew’s, Christ is the cornerstone St Andrew’s. For all the years of its history, this is what St Andrew’s has stood for, and represents and witnesses – and continues to do so right now, too.
If the Church is Christ-centred, then its leadership must be Christ centred. In his day, Jesus had great troubles with the leadership of the Jewish Church who were far more interested in protecting their entrenched power and their political influence than in living the life of God in their lives. We are blessed beyond measure here in Adelaide that the leadership of our church is God-centred. Not to drop names … and because he’s not here I can speak about him … but our Archbishop Geoff Smith is a good and godly and Christ-centred man. He is lovingly and ably supported and helped by his spouse Lyn who is also good and godly and Christ-centred. We may not be pleased with every syllable the Archbishop utters, and with every decision he makes but his life speaks of Christ.
If the Church is Christ-centred, then its leadership must be Christ centred. And here at St Andrew’s our leadership must also be Christ centred. Our Wardens our Parish Council, our group leaders, our parish workers, our Locum Tenens, our Allity visitors … all leadership must be Christ centred. Whenever we have a Vestry Meeting – oh! Gracious! We have one this morning!! – we must elect people we are convinced are Christ-centred. For that is the nature of the Church – that is the nature of St Andrew’s.
If the Church is Christ-centred, then its worship must be Christ-centred. All we do in our liturgy must be centred on Christ. And praise the Lord, that’s exactly what we find the Communion service is. Written by men and women who were determined that the old wrong emphases of the past would not be repeated in what they wrote. Our heroes have to be Archbishop Cranmer, Bishop Nicholas Ridley and others who literally gave their lives to ensure that Christ was central in the worship they have passed down to us. The hymns we have sung this morning have all started with the name of Christ – “Christ is the one who calls”. “Christ is the world’s light.” “Christ is our light.” “Christ bids us break the bread.” “Christ triumphant, ever-reigning.” Christ-centred. The prayers we have prayed, have been prayed through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The sacrament we share weekly was instituted by Christ. Our worship must be Christ centred – and praise the Lord – as we use the liturgy that has been prepared for us, our worship is Christ centred. We don’t need special effects and special lighting. We have Christ at the centre. Everything else is secondary.
If the Church is Christ-centred, then its members must be Christ centred. That means that here at St Andrew’s our parishioners must be Christ-centred. Not just when we gather as the church, but when we are scattered into our homes, and work places, and business clubs, and Bridge Clubs, and coffee hang-outs. If people look at us, can they catch a glimpse of Christ? When things happen that we disagree with, there’s even a Christ-centred way to grizzle and grumble! Who thought that grizzling and grumbling could be Christian?? – yet they can be if something constructive comes out of them … something positive and helpful. If we wish to grizzle and grumble, if we wish to be critical, lets’ do it, but in a godly way, not seditious and undermining.
The old Anglican catechism has a description of what it means to be Christ-centred as an individual. If you want to say this with me, under your breath, please do so! It’s called my Duty Towards God. “My duty towards God is to believe in him, to honour him, and to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul and with all my strength; to worship him, to give him thanks; , to put my whole trust in him, to call upon him, to honour his holy name and his word, and to serve him truly all the days of my life.” It’s an old form of words, but a first-rate form of words.
The challenging question that we face as individual members of the Christ-centred church is, are we Christ-centred individuals? It’s my experience that as we grow older and older as Christians, more and more we do Christ-centred actions, and think Christ-centred thoughts, and say Christ-centred words as a natural thing. Of course, we slip up sometimes and berate ourselves for saying and doing and thinking NON-Christ-centred things. But on the whole, as our growth in holiness takes its course, we do become Christ-centred naturally.
St Andrew’s Is Christ-centred … a church founded by Christ … Christ-centred leadership … Christ-centred worship … Christ-centred membership.
If we would be safe and secure at the circumference, we must be safe and secure at the centre. If the church would be safe and secure at the circumference, the church must be safe and secure at the centre.
(Ferroequinology – The study of railways in general, but especially locomotives. Pogonology – The study of beards. Vexillology – the study of flags)