Sermon preached at the official re-opening service of Wreyfield Drive – 29th September 2013

Welcome to Wreyfield Drive. If you haven’t had a chance to look around the building yet, there will be time after service – we love giving guided tours!

I want to draw your attention to a couple things about this building, as we consider what is its purpose – in fact what is the purpose of any church, and of the church as a whole in the world.

One thing you may or may not have noticed,but which you certainly passed on your way in here, which ever entrance you used is striking red door mat – one at each of the entrances. Yes – that was part of a colour scheme choice, but I believe is more than that. A red carpet is laid down to welcome an important person, a celebrity. This is a long held tradition, with its roots in ancient culture. The message we want to give here, which the red mat might just underpin, is that every person who steps over the threshold of this building is an important person and a welcome guest, to be treated and respected as someone who is loved by God.

There’s a story told about Alexander the Great that one one occasion, he passed a beggar at the road side, who was poor and desperate. Alexander the Great threw him some gold coins into his pot. One of his followers was astonished at this lavish generosity. “Why did you give him gold coins,” he asked, “when copper coins would have more than adequately met his needs?”  In our terminology, that could have been – why give him pounds when pennies would have done? Alexander the Great responded “Copper coins would suit the beggar’s need,  but gold coins suit Alexander’s giving.”

God’s generosity and style of giving far exceed Alexander the Great’s. The God we worship is lavish in his generosity and his welcome,and we his church need to be the same, whether our guest is a member of Girls Brigade, the Mayor of Scarborough, an elderly person or a tiny baby, a committed Christian or a struggling alcoholic – even the food hygiene inspector or the man from Methodist insurance!

We heard the reading from Genesis 18: 1- 9, one of the most familiar stories on hospitality in the Old Testament, as God is seen in three people arriving at Abraham’s camp at Mamre. Hospitality was then and still in the Middle East, a vital matter, and far more than a social convention. There was a recognition that to offer of hospitality in a desert country could mean the difference between life and death.

The rule of their society was and is that even perfect strangers should and must be provided for if they appear at your door, because at sometime in the future, you, the host, could be a traveller in need yourself. And so, Abraham’s instant response to 3 strangers on his doorstep was to provide them lavishly with hospitality. Abraham himself was unaware initially that these people were messengers from God, and that was in no way the reason for the welcome he gave. He did as he knew he must, willingly and ungrudgingly. For the travellers, Abraham’s camp sounds very much like a pleasant place in midst of a dry country – a bit of an oasis under the trees. Of course the trees were only there because there was water, and that was the reason that Abraham chose tho settle there. He and his tribe could live there in relative comfort, and be in a place to provide a lovely warm welcome for these travellers when they arrived.

That image of an oasis – a place of welcome and comfort, and of refreshing and strengthening for the journey is very much what this building is about. We are glad to be able to offer a welcoming comfortable light and spacious place, where we hope that people will feel at home and have the opportunity to connect with the God whom we serve. The red carpet is laid, and we have done everything we can to create an oasis of welcome and hospitality for all who come within these walls.

But we don’t want this building to be just an oasis, where we wait to welcome those who come to us for things like worship, or Boys Brigade or Rainbows, or Messy Church or Pop-In or a game of badminton, or a baptism or wedding or funeral.  If the church is only about being there with an open door and a welcoming smile, then I believe we are missing an important truth. Before you entered you may have noticed something else, which has been commented on widely, especially by members of the local community – people passing by in recent weeks and people who come occasionally into the building.  While the inside is huge and spacious, light and welcoming, the outside looks just like it always did. It’s a bit bigger, but it blends in, and the bricks match beautifully.

Ages ago I remember Colin Davies saying how important it is that building looks  and feels like a part of its community. It certainly did before and it certainly does now. And we are confident that that fact will enable the free flow between this community and this building to continue as it did before and increase over time. The free flow is not just from the outside in but also from the inside out.

At this point I want to do something risky and use an analogy that has been buzzing round in my mind but of which I have only the simplest layman’s knowledge, based on an O-level in biology almost 40 years ago. I remember being mildly fascinated by the principle of osmosis, and the concept of semi-permeable membranes. It’s risky to talk about such matters, when I am sure there are others here who have a much better grasp of it than me. My concern is about how that principle in nature may have a parallel of sorts in the theology of what the church is all about. Osmosis is “the spontaneous movement of molecules through a semipermeable membrane into a region of higher concentration, in the direction that tends to equalize the concentrations on the two side.” That’s what the dictionary says.  In other words, what is on the one side of the divide is weaker than that what is on the other side, but because the dividing wall in semi-permeable, there can be free flow from one to the other, creating a greater balance in the two substances. Jesus told his disciples they needed to be in the world but not of it. We, as a church, need to be part of our community, but offering something distinctive too – distinctive in that we are of God. The semi-permeable membrane, the barrier, can keep out some thing that are undesirable, but can allow for free flow in other ways. We, as the church, need to form a semipermeable membrane with our community. Our walls must never be an impenetrable barrier, and neither must community around the church be a no-go zone for church family. Those on the outside need to be comfortable with being inside, whilst what is on the inside can also flow comfortably to the outside. But the church also needs to be distinctive, not blending so utterly that there is no difference.

Jesus Christ is the difference here. He is the difference in our lives, the difference in all this world, because he lived and died and rose again and is living still. Jesus didn’t sit in the synagogue waiting for the poor and needy, and the questioning and the curious to wander in. He was more outside than the inside, making the contacts, building the relationships, demonstrating the love and passion for people that characterised his ministry, and sharing that love in words and in actions.

We have a magnificent building here at Wreyfield, one of which we are, I believe, justifiably proud. And its walls are not a barrier, but a semi-permeable membrane which can allow the community to flow in and the love of God to flow out in a myriad of different ways.

We heard those familiar words from Matthew 25, 31 – 40, about the sheep and the goats. Actually only heard Jesus, the King complimenting the sheep on all that they had done to build his kingdom: feeding the hungry, quenching thirst, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, tending the sick and supporting the lonely and isolated.  We didn’t hear his criticism of the goats who failed to do these things. We as Christ’s church should never be seen to be the goats, neglecting those things,

because they are a fundamental part of what Christ calls his church to be. We might be able to do those things in within the walls of a building, but we also need to be ready to do those things out there in the world, where the real needs may be hidden from sight behind closed doors. We need to have the willingness and the courage and the confidence to step beyond our warm and comforting walls, and let Jesus himself lead our hands and feet and hearts to where he would have been had he been walking these streets today.

We at Wreyfield are proud of this building – one member told me recently she just love being here,  I don’t want to go home! But the building is not an end in itself – its a new beginning,  for all that God in Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit wants to do here in the area of town. As we invite his Spirit to lead us , as we listen for his voice and as we step forwards into new possibilities we do so with the confidence that Christ is our model and our guide, our direction and our purpose, our peace and our hope. May God bless this building, and all those who will pass in and out of its doors in need or in his name, now and always. Amen

Rev. Clare Stainsby