Contact us at:
St. Stephen's Church
St. Stephen's Street
Worcester WR3 7HS
Please note that these are all personal phone numbers.
There is no phone in the church.
Reverend Andy Todd Curate-in-charge
Parish Administrator and Churchwarden
Tel: 01905 863537
Tel: 01905 616427
Missed a service or want to revisit a particular sermon? Below you will find some of our sermons for you to read. More will follow!
4th February 2018 - 10 am Sermon - Vision
Gospel Reading: John 1:1-14
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
You might recognise those words, which were written perhaps 3,000 years ago in the Book of Proverbs. The writer was commenting on what he saw as the moral and spiritual decline of ancient Israel when its people failed to look to God for guidance.
The same words have often been used since to point to how fundamentally important a sense of vision is for setting the compass of any community – be that a whole nation, a commercial organisation, or a church. Having a sense of vision means being able to answer the questions: “Who are we? Why are we here? What are we trying to become?” Vision is what drives and motivates us; vision expresses our core values. Without a clearly articulated sense of vision, the group, business, church or society has no sense of direction. It wanders aimlessly. “The people perish.”
You do not need to look far today for signs that contemporary society lacks a clear shared vision of what it is for and where it is going. The financial crisis a decade ago brought into the spotlight the massive gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The years of austerity which have followed have rammed home how deep the inequalities run, both globally and at a local level. We live in an age of unprecedented awareness of problems like slavery and people-trafficking, of refugees abroad and homelessness in our own cities. And in the most highly-networked civilisation ever, loneliness and isolation are being identified as some of our biggest problems. I doubt many would say this is the sort of society we should be creating. But when it comes to offering a true sense of vision – Who are we? Why are we here? What are we trying to become? - I don’t think any political party has much to say.
This is not just pious hand-wringing or finger-pointing, deploring the state of our political system, either in this country or anywhere. Like it or not, each and every one of us shares in the responsibility for the sort of society we are creating. You and I have as much of a right and responsibility as the next person to seek a vision which will make some sense of what we are about.
If you and I believe that God cares about our society, and everyone in it; if we believe that part of our calling as Christians and part of what the Church (including this church) is about is to signpost and actually to bring God’s care to the world; then we need to have a vision which captures and expresses those beliefs. We need a vision which helps us to answer the questions about who we are, why we are here, and what we are trying to become in the context of God’s plan for His world.
A few years ago I was walking in the Lake District. It was a truly miserable day – low clouds, damp, visibility maybe 100 yards, certainly none of the views I’d come for. I was about to give up and turn for home, but I thought, “OK – just another 5 minutes up this path.” Suddenly I was above the clouds, and all around me opened the most amazing views – the hilltops bathed in afternoon sunlight, unbroken vistas for as far as the eye could see. Now I could see how the landscape fitted together. Sometimes you need to get above the clouds, to see the bigger perspective.
And that is exactly the vision which our readings today offer us: the writer of Proverbs, Saint John and Saint Paul. Together they express a vision, not just for the Church, or even contemporary society, but for the whole Creation. That vision makes sense of all the details of the landscape in which we often feel we are wandering blindly.
They do it by telling a story: a story which is as vast as the universe itself; a story which begins at the very beginning of all things, and ends at the very end. And the thread which runs through the whole story, and makes sense of it all, is Christ himself.
The story tells us that Creation, the whole Cosmos, is no accident, but the working out of God’s plan, the outflowing of God’s love. We are here because God loved us into existence. It is Christ who in the beginning gives expression to that love of God in Creation, and who at the end will bring it home. Christ is the image of God, and all Creation will one day be brought to the point where it radiates God’s reflected glory. That is where we are heading, and that is why we are here. And who are we? We are children of God, made in the image of God, but needing to be transformed so that we truly reflect that image. That is our destiny, as individuals, and as community.
It’s a breathtaking vision, and above all a vision of hope.
And it’s this vision, of a God who holds all things and all people in His loving purposes, which needs to form the backdrop for our own vision as a church. We need to hold onto it, and keep it in front of our eyes as we try to work out what that vision looks like in our day-to-day and year-to-year life together here.
We need to let that big vision, that big story, challenge, comfort and inspire us as we try to grapple with our own sense of identity and purpose. How will we seek to extend in our neighbourhoods that invitation from God to all to come and share in His love? How will we help shape our communities to reflect the sense of hope and welcome for all that lie at the heart of the Gospel? How will our life and worship reflect Christ to others – his creative and redeeming power? How will we, as he did, create in others a sense of deep longing for God?
We need a big vision. Not big because it reflects our own ambitions or flatters our vanity. But big because we serve a big God. We need a big vision of a big God.
But we also need humility. Humility, because our own part in the drama of God’s plan for His Creation, though important, can only ever be modest. We’ll be tempted to feel it is insignificant, not worth doing. Only a sense of the big vision within which we play out our small part will sustain us.
These words from Oscar Romero – the Archbishop of El Salvador, who gave his life defending the oppressed of his country – express it well:
It helps now and then to step back and take the long view.
The reign of God is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete….
No statement says all that can be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith….
No programme accomplishes our mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
We plant the seeds that someday will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise…. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and do it well.
It may be incomplete, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end result of our efforts. We are prophets of a future not our own.
So I’d like to invite you this morning to begin to try to give shape to your vision for this church, and how it lives out its vocation to worship God and serve and help build our communities.
But make it a big vision.
We need a vision big enough to point us beyond our own weakness and frailty to our faithful God who holds all Creation in His loving purpose, however hard that sometimes seems to be to believe.
We need a vision big enough to keep us going when we are tempted to turn aside to a more comfortable or less demanding way.
Above all, we need a vision big enough to lift our hearts and make us want to sing a song of hope to a despairing world.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” But where you and I are energised and uplifted by the vision of God’s loving plan for all things which began in Christ and will one day be made complete in Christ; when we see our own role, however small it might seem to us, as part of the outworking of that amazing plan; then, as Oscar Romero said, we can be free to do something, and do it well… and perhaps to make an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
A Prayer: Loving God, fill us with a sense of Your vision for our lives, and our life together as a church; challenge us to discover and embrace a vision to bring your creative and redeeming love to the people and communities we serve; and inspire us to place Christ at the centre of all we say and do, so that we may be salt and light in a needy world.
Sunday 3rd December 2017 – First Sunday of Advent - 8 am Sermon
New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel: Mark 13:24-37
Advent is here (again), and we know what that means: a gentle countdown to Christmas, with plenty of warm, familiar images everywhere. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire …”, that sort of thing. However far removed it may be from your or my real experience of this time of year, the images are comfortable and dependable: you know where you are with Advent.
You find a lot of the same thing in the Church, too. As we tell and retell the story of the events leading up to Christ’s birth, it can all feel very cosy and familiar, like a favourite old jumper, or a pair of comfy slippers.
So being faced with the stark warnings we have just heard Jesus give, right at the beginning of Advent, can seem a bit disconcerting. No comforting images here. “The sun will be darkened … the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Picture language, probably, for earth-shattering events, rather than a literal description of the end of the world, but that does not make it any the less unsettling.
The event which these cataclysmic happenings accompany is the mysterious “coming of the Son of Man”, for which Jesus encourages his hearers – both then and now – to be prepared.
What did he mean by the “coming of the Son of Man”?
At one level, he seems to have had something in mind which would happen imminently: “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Many commentators have seen the events a generation after Jesus’ death, when Jerusalem was besieged, taken and destroyed by Roman armies, as a fulfilment (or part-fulfilment) of Jesus’ prophecy. Certainly, that would have felt like the end of the world for those involved, and to Jesus’ followers would have seemed a vindication of some of his warnings to the people of his day, set as many were on a path of violent resistance.
But at another level, the Church has always believed that Christ would one day come again to complete the work of redeeming and healing the world: then he will be seen by all to be what we believe he already is - the King of All. That hasn’t happened yet, but it is fundamental to our hope as Christians that it will. We do not know when, but Jesus was clear that we need to be ready for it, like servants awaiting the return of their master at some point during the long night.
How to make sure we are ready? Paul offers some pointers in his letter to the Corinthian Christians, and it’s all about keeping focused on Jesus himself. In the few verses we heard this morning, Paul mentions Jesus no less than 6 times! Christ is to be at the centre of our understanding of the world, and of all history. Staying focused on Christ is the way for you and me to keep ourselves in the place where God can be faithful to His promises to us, strengthening us and giving us the gifts we need to be ready for Jesus’ return – and effective in the meantime.
So this Advent, amid all the warm fuzzy images, try to listen for the undertone of warning. The coming of God is not a comfortable, familiar thing; it shakes each of us and our very society to its foundations. Stay focused on Christ! Look for his coming more eagerly than a child waits for Christmas! That is the true meaning of Advent.
Sunday 26th November 2017 – Christ the King - 8 am Sermon
New Testament Reading: Ephesians 1:15-end
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-end
The International Court of Justice has made it into the headlines in Britain not once but twice in the past week or so: with the announcement that - for the first time in its 71-year history - the UK will not have a seat on its bench of judges; and its sentencing of Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment for war crimes during the Bosnian conflict in the 90’s.
Whatever you think of the rights or wrongs of the ICJ as such, it surely represents one of the really significant developments of the past century in the way human society orders itself. No longer is the international community willing to stand by and allow gross injustices against humanity to pass unchallenged.
In that respect, the ICJ points, I think, to a deep human longing for justice to be done and to be seen to be done – not only in the detail of our own lives, but at a global level, too. However elusive the idea of justice may be in practice, it seems to be part of our make-up to want to see wrongs righted and a sense of balance and order restored.
Today the Church reaches the end of its liturgical calendar. The year, which started last Advent with a sense of longing expectancy for the coming of God’s promised saviour, ends with the celebration of Christ the King, affirming that God has exalted that Saviour, Jesus, to the highest place. And part of that celebration is to affirm the hope that, in Jesus, God has begun and will one day complete the process of judging all that diminishes life, and of restoring right order to the whole cosmos.
The picture – it’s not really a parable – of the sheep and the goats is a graphic expression of that hope. It’s all about judgment, but perhaps the most striking feature of it, is the surprise of both the sheep and the goats at the criterion by which they are judged: how did they treat the “little ones”, the insignificant ones, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner?
But the real point of the picture is not that the really important thing in life is to show kindness to others. Instead, I think it’s that it isn’t possible to make a neat separation between our relationship with God and how we behave towards our suffering brothers and sisters – certainly our fellow Christians, but all who suffer anywhere. When St Paul prays for the church in Ephesus that they may know God, this recognition is at the very heart of what he means. When you and I look into the face of those who suffer, we are seeing Christ’s face. And when one day we look into Christ’s face, we will recognise – with joy or with horror – the faces of the poor and suffering we either helped or ignored.
For the Church today, this is both a comfort and a challenge.
A comfort to our many brothers and sisters who today suffer persecution for their faith, that Christ is right there, alongside them.
And to any – maybe including you and me – who might have failed to recognise the face of our King among the poor and oppressed everywhere, a stark challenge: to remember that the Church’s calling, like its Lord’s, is to bring life from death, healing from hurt, and hope from despair.
Trying to get clear on exactly what that means in practice is no easy matter. How do you and I show solidarity with our imprisoned and persecuted fellow-Christians? How do we feed the hungry and clothe the naked? These are hard questions, which will demand our best thinking.
But when you and I, dear brothers and sisters, apply our minds and use our resources to do just that, we will find ourselves engaged in God’s work of bringing justice now.
Like so much of the truth to which Christ points us, it’s not an easy or a comfortable message. But let’s be clear that this is not some optional add-on for “serious” Christians. Hearing this challenge and acting on it lies at the very heart of what it means for you and me to make ourselves ready to meet our coming King.