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The Power of a Simple Life: A Sermon for Today

October 16, 2011

This again is a post from a few years ago that seems just as relevant today:


I’ve recently been up in the frozen North – well Co. Durham and Scotland.

While there a friend took me to perhaps the oldest church in England. It is the 7th Century Anglo-Saxon church of St. John at Escomb , near Bishop Auckland in Co. Durham.

Standing in that small church I was reminded of the deep roots of Christianity in this country. I was also reminded of how the church has come and gone only to return again. And of how ordinary Christian people have just carried on living a simple Christian life right through it all.

That little church was mostly built from stone taken from the nearby Roman Fort of Binchester. Some of the stone still has its original Roman inscriptions. Those stones will have witnessed the first conversion of Britain to Christianity when the Romans still ruled.

Then came the Saxons and Angles who destroyed the Roman church that they found here. Then the Anglo-Saxons became Christians, converted by monks from Scotland and Ireland. Then came the Danes, destroying the churches once again only to be converted themselves, before being banished from these shores.

Then throughout the history of England the Church has flourished for a while before losing its fervour, only to be revitalised once again. And through it all ordinary Christian people have stayed faithful.

We are now in one of those times where the Church seems to be in decline. Numbers are falling and churches are closing or having to band together to survive in a hostile world.

When I see churches closed or full with nothing but silence, I think about the history of our church. I think about the past and know that now is not the time to give up. A new and vital church is on its way and perhaps is already beginning to grow.

Now is the time to stand firm for what we believe. For values that the rest of society need so much. People who are more likely to believe in Halloween ghosts than in the presence of the Saints whose festival eve they unwittingly commemorate.

Values of love and forgiveness. Values of truth and honesty.

The value of forgiveness and the knowledge of the ever present reality of the world of the divine.

We have a rich tradition. A mass of resources available to us to help people find hope and meaning for their lives. Meaning beyond the material things. Meaning that helps us to see the real value of the things that we have.

We, and our church, have so much to offer. So much to give.

The challenge to our Church is to hold onto what is of value from our past and let it grow in new and vibrant ways. Ways that people who have had no contact with the church can understand. We think of mission and outreach and hope that our church buildings will be full. And that may be the result.

But it may not. Mission may lead to people praying and learning online, or in their own homes. It has led to the main service for some people being on a day or evening other than Sunday.

The friend that took me to that little Saxon church, is one of the most influential theologians in the world today. But he is almost unknown in this country. He does most of his communicating online, over the internet, with bishops, theologians and ordinary people like you and me. He is in contact with hundreds of people every day. He inspires lives and challenges iniquity and duplicity. He has more influence for Christ than a hundred parish priests but his approach is different and he has now lost his house and all income from the Church.

Thankfully, his wife works and they have been able to find a little house on her income. But this is an example of how we can miss what God is doing simply because it doesn’t fit with our idea of what God should be doing. Or when God’s acts don’t exactly match what he did in the past.

This world, God’s world, changes constantly and the way God leads us to reveal him in the world changes with it.

I love our Church of England. But it also drives me mad at times. It inspires high and low to live lives of world changing holiness then almost in the same breath it can be petty and inflexible; full of bureaucratic yes-men (and yes-women – I don’t want to be accused of being sexist).

Then I remember that little church in Escomb, and the even smaller Saxon Church in my home town of Thornaby. And I think of the ups and downs in the fortunes of the church that they have seen come and seen go. And I smile. God is in control. All is well.

Jesus faced far worse than we face, the Spirit has transformed more stiff necked countries than ours.

So, until you and I get the chance to do something big; let’s continue living our simple Christian lives. That’s far more radical these days than being covered with tattoos and piercings. Far more outrageous than living a wild life or having an affair; living a decent, honest life; loving rather than hating; being generous rather than grasping; are not what you learn from the tv adverts.

You – by just being here are being controversial. You are reminding anyone who notices you that their latest purchase doesn’t satisfy, that there is a hole in their life.

Let’s continue challenging our country by living our simple Christian lives.



  1. I have recently started a blog, the info you offer on this website has helped me tremendously. Thanks for all of your time & work. “The murals in restaurants are on par with the food in museums.” by Peter De Vries.

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