I have been thinking about the word “Open “; that this year a spirit of openness would guide and inspire us.
Open to God’s Spirit working within us and through us: shaping us to be a community of believers as close to the first Jerusalem church as we dare to be.
Open to what God needs us to do:
open-hearted and with open arms to develop all the more our welcoming outlook.
to be willing to adapt and change, to respond with love and compassion when the situation demands.
Open at the edges:
to continue to be truly inclusive, to enable meaningful involvement
and a sense of belonging.
So, are we open to these possibilities for 2019?
“Sing for joy to the LORD, all the earth; praise him with songs and shouts of joy” Psalm
This Christmas, in spite of grim things happening around us and for many, in our own lives. In spite of the struggle that life can be. In spite of the confusion and uncertainty of Brexit and the ever-deepening dangers of climate change. In spite of our experiences of loss and pain, of illness and sadness… I hope that we can experience at the very very least, something of the joy that Christmas brings. Isaac Watts, in his great hymn, proclaims “Joy to the world” because our King has come, so we should make room in our hearts. “Let every heart prepare Him room”.
We need joy in our lives: it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Joy makes life bearable; actually it makes life enjoyable! The angels announced good news that would bring joy to all people (Luke 2:10). Jesus is this good news and I hope that in the midst of all that we do and all that happens to us, we are able to experience something of the joy that having Jesus in our lives can bring. And Christmas is a very good place for us to start opening up to this “Joy to the world”.
I recently heard someone speaking about why it is important to come to church. Sometimes I think that kind of message is pointless at a church because the people there are already doing it!
So, why do we come to church? I do actually believe it is useful for us to ask this question!
My answers, of which there are many, come back to two words again and again: Encounter and nourishment.
We come to encounter God, to meet with him and get closer to him. We come also to encounter people. We must surely expect that there will be other people there! But essentially we are made for God and we come because of who he is. Being with others, serving, fellowshipping, worshipping together are also a key part of this.
We come to be nourished/fed/built up through worship (learning, song, prayer, Bible) so that we can be healed and restored, strengthened, transformed, empowered and fuelled ready for action.I share the above to encourage us to think about why we come to church and to challenge us, spur us on for those times when we slip away from attending church or find it easier not to come.
As the writer of Hebrews says (ch10, v25):
“Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.”
Much of our summer has been hot and dry – one we will remember for years to come (unless climate change does indeed mean that every summer is like this). It has also been memorable for us as a fellowship as more than I can remember us doing over the past 10 years, time has been spent with each other, enjoying each other’s company: growing and learning together.
An away day at Lichfield. An outing to Weston-Super-Mare. A residential trip for our young people. And all the other things we do together more regularly. It has been good. And it is important.
Psalm 133 says:
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil…”
These times are important. They strengthen us and bring us together. As Christians it is pretty obvious that we need to believe, but it is also so important that we belong.
We should do more things together!
I have always felt that there is a danger that we have made Christianity seem like something that lacks mystery and wisdom.
People pursue other religious and spiritual routes because they can often give the impression of being much more interesting. It is true that ever since being a follower of Jesus became the official faith of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, we have lost our radical edge and something of our role of wisdom from the margins. And yet: we have the words of life; we have mystery; we have the key to eternal life; we have amazing deeds of miraculous power; and we have wisdom.
As a people we underplay too many of these things. As a people we very much underplay the fact that we have running through our faith the wisdom of ancient teachings. In the words of Jesus, for instance those that Matthew records in what we call the Sermon on the Mount, we have such strength and depth in guiding how we should live both together and as individuals. We have ancient wisdom that speaks into our hearts, challenges us and urges us on to live as more rounded individuals: loving enemies, not judging, not worrying and so much more. We neglect it our peril.
Over the next few weeks we will be exploring some of this ancient wisdom in our Sunday morning services, not just for the sake of it but so we can live better, more Godly lives. I invite you to take up this opportunity to access this ancient wisdom.