900th Anniversary Address

Delivered at the Civic Service of Thanksgiving on 5th June 2022 by Alan Roadley

Has it struck you how many times words like “Build, “Building”, and “Built”
have occurred during this service so far? And we haven’t done yet! My mind
goes back to childhood, and building things from Lego bricks. From their
earliest days babies and toddlers seem inclined naturally to put brick on brick
to try and build something. God, OUR creator, OUR builder seems to have
given us humans an ingrained desire to build. The Jewish and Christian
scriptures are full of building and buildings; but we note a subtle change
develops, from the building of physical temples, to building up people, as
living temples.

And the time of Pentecost, which we’re celebrating this very day, was when it
really began to get going. With tongues of flame the Holy Spirit came upon
Peter and the early Christians, inspiring them to tell, in the diverse languages
of all people, of the good news of Jesus, to bring in new followers, and to
serve the needy and suffering. The Church was born, but not as a physical
building.

As you can see, we DO have a physical building and very beautiful it is.
We’re proud of it and the town should be too, because it and its people have
served Burnley for generations. And as a major theme of our 3-fold
celebration today is the long and loyal service of Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth – who even before she came to the throne, pledged to serve us for
all of her life – our thanks and prayers go out to her for her example of service
to this nation, the Commonwealth, and to God.

Our wonderful children have just inspired us with a song and a poem about
what it means to build. “I’m building my house on the Rock, it’s going up brick
by brick”. That could make you think that at some point the building will be
finished, roof on, floor tiled. Job done. Maybe we should look at it differently.
Maybe it’s not something we work on and then it’s finished, a static
monument, a museum piece. Maybe the building we’re called to be coworkers with God in, is a group of people. And that building never stops.

Our Mayor read a passage from Matthew’s Gospel reminding us that a
building with solid foundations can withstand storms. We also heard, as we
recounted key moments in the history of this building, that in the late 1980s
the foundations were found to be sinking. It had a little wobble, could even
have collapsed. Is there a message for us there? A reminder that even the
most solid, well-founded buildings need looking after? Yes, and that applies to
the people too, to us. As a body of faithful people, we need to renew
ourselves as time moves on, reinforce the parts that might have become
weaker, refresh and re-energise to keep those foundations secure.

So, what of the future? How might we go forward as a beacon of hope,
building people up? What does that actually mean?

It means we continue to look after this place as custodians for the town, now
and into the future, yet recognising that as peoples of faith our work extends
far beyond these walls. At Pentecost Peter along with the disciples and the
followers were “sent out”. They left the house where they’d retreated to after
Jesus’ death and went out amongst the people. They were literally set free
from the prison of their fear, the door unlocked by the power of the Holy Spirit.
They offered hospitality, inviting others into their homes, showing and sharing
with them what God was doing, and trying to fulfil their needs.

We continue to do that too, addressing the many needs on our own doorstep.
Hunger and homelessness. Refugees and asylum seekers. Growing numbers
of the elderly and the lonely, and some of the issues following the pandemic,
not the least of which are mental health and well-being.. As the world around
us changes, so we need to refresh our mission and work differently in
changing times. And we best serve the needs of Burnley in solidarity with
each other, in partnership – we get more done that way.

But in a changing world one thing won’t change. We’ll keep on spreading the
rumour that the unchanging God – the same yesterday, today and tomorrow –
HE loves us and wants us to know him.

God made us as builders. He gives us the materials. For the Christian
community he gives us the plans and instructions in scripture. He gives us the
example of his Son, Jesus. He gives us the key.

So, together, all peoples of faith and none, let’s rediscover that instinct for
building that children have. But not with toys, made of wood or plastic, but,
with people, living stones, just like St Peter.

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