Sermon from Sunday 23rd January 2011 - Helen Powell
Readings: Isaiah 9 v 1 - 4 & Matthew 4 v 12 - 22
Gwen has lived in Copple Street for most of her life. When she had moved in
with her husband Joe it had been a quiet little street. Theirs had been by far
and away the prettiest of the terraced cottages with its window boxes and neatly
clipped box hedge. The borders aren’t quite as impressive now but Gwen still
does all that she can to keep things clean and tidy. Not so easy now that she
has to find room in her little courtyard for several recycling bins and there
are endless piles of takeaway containers that find their way onto her lawn with
every breath of wind.
The neighbourhood just isn’t like it used to be. Recent years have seen an
influx of what can only be described as ‘problem families’. Oh, they have to
go somewhere, of course they do, but Gwen just can’t see why that somewhere
has to be here. Such a quiet area before and now this… and it’s not just
Copple Street. The whole estate has become like a foreign country to Gwen, a
place with a new set of rules that she just doesn’t understand. She’s afraid
to go out at night and it’s not much better during the day. There always seems
to be a large gang of lads up to no good on the corner by the Post Office and
the language that she hears from them is colourful to say the least. The girls
are not much better and Gwen wonders what it is that these youngsters dream
about, what it is that they hope to achieve.
Gwen wonders what Joe would have made of all this. Joe had been foreman at one
of the local factories before he fell ill and Gwen herself had once been a
teacher in the local primary school. In those days the children were keen to
learn, keen to make something of themselves.
Of course, once her children were born and Gwen had stayed home to look after
them. That was the way it was done then, proper parenting. The good old days,
days when Joe was big and strong, not the shadow he had slowly become. In her
mind, Gwen would always remember Joe that way, the way he was when he swept her
off her feet at that Saturday night dance in the village hall. The good old days
Still, Gwen doesn’t let life get her down. St. Cuthbert’s has always been
important to her and it’s been even more so since she lost Joe. Just recently
she has taken on several extra jobs there - she’s on the flower rota and the
cleaning rota and she helps with refreshments on the third Sunday of every
month. A small group of church members meet at her house on Tuesday evenings and
she really enjoys that.
Every meeting follows the same routine as they inevitably seem to turn every
Bible passage they study into an analysis of the problems on the estate today
and then seek to put the world to rights over cups of tea and homemade lemon
drizzle. As well as study and chat, the group prays faithfully every week for
change in the Copple Street Estate. They pray for the families who live there,
for the children and young people, for the mums and the dads, for the people who
work on the estate, and for the older ones who just don’t seem to fit in
anymore. Just recently they had been particularly led to pray for the young
woman who had moved into the house next door to Gwen.
A quiet lady - Gwen doesn’t know her name. She looks to be foreign but Gwen
doesn’t like to pry. The lady has two children, boys, and they both look about
the same age - 9 or perhaps 10. Gwen only really sees the boys when they come
home from school – always together - and she guesses that they must be at
school some way away as she never sees them go out in the morning. Unlike a lot
of the young hoodlums, they don’t go back out in the evenings and, as for mum,
she only ever seems to poke her head out of the door to put out the rubbish or
take in a supermarket delivery. That must mean they have the internet and there
is a Sky dish on the wall. Gwen can’t keep up with the way young people live
today, where their priorities seem to lie.
But Gwen’s house group has decided to pray for this lady because there’s
just something about her that worries them, something not quite right. She
always looks somehow frightened when she comes to the door and even when the
boys come home from school she barely opens it up more than the smallest of
chinks. They feel really quite concerned and so they pray and they pray
that things will work out all right for her. They pray that the boys will do
well at school and manage to stay out of trouble. They pray that she will feel
safe and secure in her home, that she will lose that frightened look and perhaps
just get out and about a bit more. And they pray, of course, that she will come
to know about Jesus Christ. They popped an invitation to the St. Cuthbert’s
Christmas carol service through her door last month which seemed like a friendly
thing to do, but she didn‘t come.
When she thinks about her, Gwen is always reminded of some verses from the book
of Isaiah, a coincidence really, because her home group had looked at the book
not that long ago. “The people walking in darkness,” it says, “have seen a
great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has
dawned.” This woman seems to be in some kind of darkness and Gwen feels that
she needs to see that great light. Maybe it will happen to her next year - maybe
- if they pray hard enough….
Greg is also worried about the woman living at number 22 Copple Street. He knows
that she is indeed living in darkness. Greg has worked in the area for some time
and has seen many people like her come and go over the years. His agency seeks
to help those who are struggling for all kinds of reasons, but the job is just
so difficult these days. Budgets have been cut but the problems just keep on
coming thick and fast. There used to be so many people keen to help out but not
nowadays, people seem to be so scared of red tape and consequences. No one seems
to have time any more, so many great and useful skills that could be being
passed on to those people in the community who somehow missed out on an
education, have been abused or exploited by society, or who have just been
victims of extremely bad luck over the years. At one time people were so much
more willing and able to help one another.
Gita is a perfect example of how people are suffering as a result of that
decline in community spirit. She came to England six years ago with her husband,
but is now struggling to look after her twin boys on her own and in a strange
Gita’s husband has been barred from coming near her after she finally
plucked up courage to seek help. She had put up with his violent ways for way
too long. Of course, she doesn’t really believe that a court order will
actually keep him away and if he ever catches up with her who knows what damage
he could do this time. What Greg would really like for Gita is a friend,
someone who she can trust and build up a relationship with. But she is just so
frightened of everything that moves that there seems little likelihood of that.
Her little row of cottages seems okay but if she should ever venture outside on
her own who knows what abuse those lads on the corner are likely to hurl her
way. Greg thinks that the lady who lives next door always looks friendly enough
but she seems to keep herself to herself which is a shame. There is a
little group that meets at her house each week for Bible study. They all arrive
clutching their Bibles and Greg knows that Gita has several crucifixes on her
wall. Maybe she could fit into that little group and gradually be accepted in.
Still, Greg doesn’t suppose she’s ever likely to be invited.
Of course, Gita isn’t helped by the fact that she really struggles with her
English. She relies almost entirely on the two boys who even have to do the
shopping for her online - at least she has managed to keep a credit card open to
pay for that. Her only other pleasure in life seems to be watching the TV, just
the most basic of Sky packages, but it keeps her from getting too depressed.
The boys seem to be happy enough at school, but having to look out for
their mother must be stopping them from making friends. The agency used to offer
simple English and Maths lessons to people like Gita but, again, first the money
and then the volunteer teachers have just dried up.
Whenever he thinks about Gita, and the far too many other people just like her
in and around Copple Street, Greg can’t help but feel angry. He feels angrier
still when he looks down the road and sees St Cuthbert’s church. The sign
outside says that St Cuthbert’s is the place where the community can find God’s
love. Well, thinks Greg, that’s all well and good but the place where people
need to find that love is out here, out here in Copple Street.
Let us pray:
Your Son, Jesus Christ, entered this world to bring a great light into the lives
of those living in darkness. On those living in the land of the shadow of death,
Father, Your Son brings the promise of a new dawn.
Father, as we reflect on your words this morning, we pray that we will not
seek sanctuary within the walls of our faith but instead seek to break down the
walls and barriers that prevent others from drawing close to you.
We pray these things trusting in the power of Jesus’ name and with
confidence that you will hear us. that you will hear us and equip us to respond
through the power of Your Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, as you call, we pray that we may follow.