Sermon at Evensong on the Tenth Sunday after Trinity 2019

Encouraging words and actions have the power to motivate and breed success.

The Venerable David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 25th August 2019 at 3.00 PM

Some of us are undoubtedly more emotional than others, but we all know that positive emotions generally work in an opposite way to negative emotions.

Emotions like fear, anxiety, stress and anger tend to narrow our focus, interrupt our concentration and decrease our ability to think rationally, positive emotions can do exactly the opposite.

All over the world, whatever the nationality, creed or religion, people genuinely want to feel important and cared for.

Encouragement reinforces the right things, encouragement inspires people through tough times, and encouragement builds loyalty.

It is often the key to unlocking untapped potential, especially within those who, for whatever reason are struggling.

This applies to us all, not least as together we are charged with building up Christian communities, indeed all of us hold a vocation to build up the church. Positive words and actions have the ability to lift others up.

Encouraging words and actions are more often than not taken to heart, and have the power to motivate and breed success.

In our second reading (2 Corinthians 9) St Paul is directly encourages the young church in Corinth.

Here he is dealing with a particular issue, that of a collection for the saints at Jerusalem.

As the reading unfolds, it becomes clear that he has been encouraging the Corinthians to be generous by quoting to them the example of the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8. 1-5) and at the same time encouraging the Macedonians by quoting the Corinthians!

Now he is a little worried and a bit concerned that the Corinthians could let him down. This tells us a great deal about St Paul’s intrinsic generosity.

The crucial point here is that Paul never criticised one Church to another; rather he praised one to another.

We all know that there are some people who take great delight in highlighting the worst aspects others.

Paul was the complete reverse he delights in encouragement and highlights the best in other people. Here in Corinth we find St Paul encouraging the young church with great affection.

For example he says I have great pride in you and he goes into some detail first speaking objective truth and then describing fully how he sees that truth playing out amongst them.

He also uses powerful adjectives to describe them: he calls them earnest, innocent, refreshing, and obedient.

Paul does not hold back from boasting about them to others, because he knows that the good things he sees in them are the works of God.

We see this throughout his writings:

To the Ephesians he says, ‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.’

And to the Thessalonians he says, ‘encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing’.

Although he was greatly challenged, St Paul didn’t give up, and he didn’t despair. In his struggles, he was always conscious that the power of God was at work in him, and he tenaciously clung onto his faith.  

In trying to find the true Paul, theologians invariably use a combination of sociology and forensic anthropology.

He was undoubtedly a complex man, but he actually wrote some of the most beautiful and important passages in the whole of the Bible.

In the final analysis, St Paul was the first great Christian theologian, who established some of the building blocks of the faith that we now take for granted.

Above all he was passionate about encouraging others in the faith and building up the church.

One of the fundamental challenges that comes through to us from his writings is for us to do the same. To encourage others to faith and encourage church communities to grow.

The contemporary church has now become pre-occupied with this conundrum, and it is one of the burning questions for our generation.

If you asked St Paul, why did Christ die you would receive a very consistent answer: Christ died for you and me. He is the Son of God who loves us and gave himself for us.

For Paul this message of love is absolutely central, for he himself said ‘God proves his love for us by the fact that while we were yet sinners Christ died for our sake’.

This wonderfully encouraging news tells us in no uncertain terms that God loves all creation and that he loves humankind with all its fractures and weaknesses.

So we come to see that God has made us all for lives of mutual joy and caring. He doesn’t ask any more of us that he is not prepared to endure himself.

He shows us that if we live in this love, we will live in God’s own kind of life and that we can enter his eternity.

But even more than that, he shows us that when life is lived in his love the kingdom is already coming into the world, even if some do not know him or recognise the kingdom as his.

The really encouraging news is that this is what the church is all about. It’s not just something to be maintained for its own sake, but rather it exists to bring people to God is the sole purpose for the church’s existence – the only justification for its existence at all.

In other words the church is a means to an end, not the object of God’s activity, but rather the instrument.

This is the message of encouragement that he gave to the early church communities and it’s the message of encouragement that lives on today, so many centuries later.

St Paul reminds us that this is a gift whose wonder can never be exhausted and whose story can never be fully told.

In so doing, he encourages us by saying that just as God has been so generous to us, surely we too should be generous to our fellow human beings.