Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Sermon for Sunday 31st December 2023

One more day until 2024! I saw the year 2023 arrive in London, and I saw the year 2022 arrive in Moscow, and for 2024 I’m going to be in Geneva! A place I never really thought I’d ever visit. God moves in mysterious ways!

On this last day of the year, I think it’s right for us to give some consideration to how we got here, and to reflect on what has happened, and what we want to happen in 2024.

And I think our scripture readings today give us some guidance:

  1. In Jesus, we are in a new family.
  2. Let’s do what we can in our lives to help our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering so much.
  3. Let us do what we can to love and serve each other here.

Our letter from Paul today was to the Galatians, and in it Paul spoke of the amazing work done by Jesus to bring us into God’s family. The Bible often speaks of being “in Christ”, and this means that, when we put our faith in Jesus, we become part of his ‘body’. We become connected to each other, and part of his family and his body. We are linked: what happens to you, should hurt me; and vice versa.

In fact, we are called to a new family. Sure, our biological families still exist, but God calls us into a new family that transcends race, nationality, age, sex, and all other barriers! Naturally, I have no connection with people from Africa, or South America, or Asia – but as part of Jesus’ church, if people from these countries call God their father, and worship Jesus, then I should have more connection with them than with my own DNA family!

It is a really powerful level of love that we are called to have for each other. We are adopted by God. We are placed into his family. And what is the characteristic of that family?

Last week, me and Angela were invited to go and eat with another family. Jokingly beforehand, I said to Angela “You must be on your best behaviour! You are now representing the Ruffle family! What you do reflects on me!”

Obviously she gave me the contempt that my comment deserved! But there is a deeper point: we reflect God to the world, and so our family characteristic should be love for one another. When people look at Holy Trinity, they should see a caring community. We should support and help each other. When someone is sick, we all should be concerned and seeking to help – because we love them.

Historically, this has been a mark of Christians – that they are a group of people who really sacrifice to help and support each other, because we recognise that we are part of a new family – that we are in this together!

If we are Christians, we are in a new family!

Tomorrow is 2024. This time last year I was in London; the year before in Moscow. My life is so good compared to what many other Christians – people in my family – are experiencing.

Take our Christian brothers and sisters in Gaza and the West Bank. They are already a minority, suffering some social exclusion from the Jews and Muslims. But on top of that, they are now facing bombs and rockets, and having to flee for their very lives.

Am I praying for them as I would if they were my biological brothers and sisters?

Or take our brothers and sisters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or South Sudan, or Mali, or Nicaragua…the list can go on and on. If I were in these places, I would likely be fearing marauding soldiers burning down my house, or another disease sweeping through, or having to flee to a refugee camp, where I’d lose at least 10 years before anyone really managed to help me settle.

Are we praying for them as we would if they were our biological brothers and sisters?

They are my Christian brothers and sisters, and if I am in the same family as them, and if we call the same God our Father, then 2024 must be a year when I try and make life better for them. Because they are my Father’s children too. And if he loves them, I must too. Not “Oh, I’ve got to love you”, but real love! I’ve got to develop a genuine compassion!

Our reading from Isaiah tells of the prophet rejoicing that God has given him salvation, that God has made the relationship between them right, and is causing good things to spring up so the world can see.

But then the prophet says “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest…” until there is a shining light and salvation shining out. I think we need that passion to persist in seeking to help our brothers and sisters, because the Lord knows that today Jerusalem is not a place where salvation shines out.

If God has placed me in a right relationship with him, then I must persist in seeking justice, love and truth on this earth, and in seeking to make other places right too.

So one call on us for 2024 is to use what we have. We are blessed to live in Switzerland, where we have stability, warmth, fertile soils, jobs, health care…let us not become lazy, but seek to ensure that our brothers and sisters in Jesus also share in our blessings.

And yes, that means being a bit more political. We can’t do a lot, but we can apply economic pressure by buying wisely – buy products that help Christians, or don’t buy products that help their oppressors. Give money to help our Christian family in difficult places. Pray for peace. Write to politicians, and vote in ways that make them act when injustices take place.

So let’s remember:

  1. In Jesus, we are in a new family.
  2. Let’s do what we can in our lives to help our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering so much.

And what else do we want from 2024?

If we are in God’s family, and if God is our Father, then we are not only brothers and sisters to people far away. The people around you in this room are your family too. Now that’s scary. We didn’t choose each other…

I think the Lord would say to me that, in 2024, I must commit to seriously spend more time deepening relationships. To really commit to church, to being in “this family”, and to learning to learn from each other over the coming year.

Now there are so many meetings and events, but they mean nothing unless we deepen. So I would urge us all to perhaps simplify life and do fewer things better. We must not mistake busyness for quality.

So slow down! You won’t regret working an hour less in the future, but you will regret missing out time with your children, or parents, or friends, when they are no longer there.

Also, Daphne and me can’t go deeper with all of you – we simply don’t have the time. So we need you to help lead, we need you to open the door to being ministers!  You have so many talents – why not let 2024 be the year when you begin to minister in this church?!

There are so many areas where we can serve and love each other just in this church! We have the blessing of young children in our congregation – yet we struggle every week to care for them. Surely we can find ways to serve and invest in them?

We have elderly folk who struggle to come to church, and who are alone. Surely we can find some time to visit them?

So I encourage you to invest in relationships with people, to love one another, and to let 2024 be a year when you might be start a new path where you can help in the ministry of the church!  Take a step of faith, and see what doors open.

So for 2024:

  1. Remember that in Jesus, we are in a new family.
  2. Let’s do what we can in our lives to help our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering so much.
  3. Let us do what we can to love and serve each other here, because there are people around us right now who need our help.
  4. And dare to ask God if 2024 might be the year when He calls you to begin a new adventure…

I don’t regret getting involved in church ministry, it’s been very hard work but also a great blessing to me. The Lord might not be saying become a full-time vicar, but there are so many other ways the church can use your talents in service of each other, the church, which is us, our family, and Jesus’ body. Serve each other, and serve Him.