Jonah 3:1-5,10 Repentance of Ninevah
Ps 62:5-12 ‘For God alone . . .’
1 Cor 7:29:31 ‘The present age is passing away . . .’
Mk 1:14-20 ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand . . . come follow me’
Where are we going?
The New Year is often a time for setting new priorities – we may make New Year resolutions. Hopes and fears for what lies ahead, known and unknown are ruminated on and sometimes shared amongst us. We wonder what the year will bring, or put another way, we wonder where are we going?
We may wonder about our personal lives or we may wonder about the World. As we see the global financial crisis continuing with little sign of things turning around – wars and rumours of wars – all set against a background of a rapidly growing population and what seem to be unstoppable and highly threatening changes to the Earth’s climate – as we see all this we may well be led into various forms of despair. The despair of the elderly who say ‘ I am glad I will not live to see it’ or the despair of the young which reveals itself in incoherent protest movements which seem to disappear as fast as they appear, or the quiet despair of those who find solace in the Entertainment Culture. Or indeed the despair of the religious that understands God as some kind of comfort blanket from the pain of Life, who may read todays Psalm and understand it as a retreat from the world ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence’ – or who buries there fear under a mask of shallow cheerfulness of the ‘Smile Jesus Loves You’ type. Fear of the unknown, fear of the future. Where are we going?
Of course particularly in the church we live in times of tremendous uncertainty. Much has been made and will continue to be made of churches in decline etc etc. Just this week I’m meeting to talk about the future of Brockville community church, in our parish – a wonderful mission enterprise but facing a huge dilemma as they can no longer afford to support their minister, Andrew Scott. And such stories are legion. I think of Bradford, the city of my Cathedral back in England and how in inner Bradford now the Methodist church has no presence at all except a Project worker, doing good and valuable work, but history suggests that eventually that will disappear – either the work will stop or be taken over by secular agencies. As has happened with many of the good things that churches have begun. The faith element if you like has become less and less significant. For many many years in Western culture Our Story about where we were going was one that held sway. Society, so it seemed was organized around a Christian understanding of reality and human history and that produced much that was good. Without the church we do not know we would have had hospitals or schools both of which had their roots in a gospel impulse. Yet that impulse has waned and faith has been sidelined in these institutions. Back in England certainly it is almost impossible to see the difference between a faith school and a secular school – where are we going?
Of course, whilst we may have thought that it was the Christian Story that held sway – this reading of history is of course very popular amongst Christianity’s detractors, thus wars etc can all be blamed on the religious impulse – the reality was that it didn’t. Rather, Christian faith had entered into partnership – in a sense you might say that it had abandoned the words of the Psalmist – ‘For God Alone, my soul waits – He Alone is my rock and Salvation’ and the story became God AND . . . If you like that there was much in Life that God couldn’t provide – A mindset that if you like suggested to us ‘Well Religion has its place’ Going to Church has its place – but there are lots of other things in life and having put religion in its place the world set about going its own sweet way with an air of religious respectibility
Now of course the whole church didn’t buy this – from the desert fathers, to the Celtic saints, from Saint Francis of Assissi to myriad ‘troublers of the Status Quo’ there have been many who have stood up and declared that the church had been taken captive and in so doing, in the words of the Risen Christ to the church in Ephesus, ‘had lost its first love’. One of those voices from our own century was The Rev Martin Luther King. We think of course of how he led the Civil rights movement in the United States but forget how complicit so many Christians were in preserving the status quo and how he had to recall many parts of the church to the authentic Christian Life. I had a sharp reminder of something similar when I was a young Christian – I remember a visit from a member of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, telling my church how Apartheid was God’s will.
Well this week the United States celebrated MLK day – it’s rather odd as like several folk here I have American friends and didn’t realize it was MLK day till it was flagged up on FB etc a day late for NZ so to speak J
One quote of his though caught my attention
Throughout the era of Christendom, that is to be frank throughout the whole era that has shaped the church as it is, and that means it is poor equipped to face life in a Secularised society. In Christendom being Christian was precisely about conforming – for despite the dissenting voices we largely thought ‘The World is Christian and so are we and all is therefore well with the world’ Christians it must be said are not very good at nonconformity, although our call is precisely to this. As St Paul says ‘Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds’. The reality of Christendom was not that the world was made Christian, but that Christianity was made worldly – and thus our whole way of thinking, even about faith itself is radically infected with ideas from our surroundings, and thus as we think about ourselves or the future of the world or indeed about the future of the church we are left thinking the same thoughts that everyone else is thinking. As painfully too many observers note, the life of an average Christian is not measurably different from anyone else’s.
Yes there are differences. Yes Christians are more generous than non Christians, yes Christians are significantly more likely to be involved in charitable work, BUT not in anyway that really makes anyone sit up and take notice – not least because even in those cases, these elements are such small parts of their lives in total that to all intents and purposes their lives are the same. Put another way, if our faith isn’t causing us problems in the work place, or in the shops, or indeed in our families its largely because our faith has been shaped to fit our world and frankly folks we have no business allowing that to happen
You and I, we together as bothers and sisters in Christ stand not only at the beginning of yet another New Year but in terms of Christian faith and the life of the church a particularly critical juncture – Yet although History flows on – Christ is An ever present and Constant reality, His word to us the same yesterday today and forever. St Paul says ‘the appointed time has grown short . . . for the present form of this world is passing away’ - undoubtedly as this is Eternally true it is also true in ways visible to those around us in these days. People are asking – ‘What is happening? Where are we going?’ Risen Christ addresses us as he addressed his first disciples with words of Challenging Hope, so he addresses us also – ‘The Kingdom of God is at Hand – Repent – Believe – leave your nets and follow me’
Last week we thought briefly about how God’s New Reality, Heaven if you like, was already present in the Risen Christ – the first fruits of the New Creation – A creation that reveals the life of God present in the World – a Creation that causes people to say ‘surely God was in this place and I did not know it!’ a Creation that lives entirely in response to God’s Voice as Jesus its author and perfector lived a life given over to God’s will. We call this The Kingdom of God and Jesus says, it’s right here, it’s at Hand – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds – Repent and believe This Story – leave your nets and follow me – Let go of all that binds you - Give yourself totally into my hands
That Life my friends is God’s will for us – it is God’s Call through his son to we who are the church of St John’s Roslyn – it is a Life of Devotion to God through discipleship to Christ.
Devotion and Discipleship are Big words – and we have been trained by the world in which we live to see them as at best ‘for Saints’ and at worst as ‘for fanatics’ – Special people, Called people – not for the common or garden run of the mill Christian. But the truth is that there is no such thing as the common or garden run of the mill Christian – Devotion and Discipleship is not an optional extra for the keen Christian or the professional Christian. No it is the description of the authentic Christian Life. People whose lives are wholly given over to the will of God –that is precisely who we are, all of us, as a body. It is the meaning of our Baptism and we reveal it in our own response to the call of Jesus to leave everything behind and to follow Him.
In our baptism we are baptized into his death – in other words we are longer good for anything from a worldly point of view – and we are raised to new life with Him – we enter the Kingdom – a whole new way of Living that offers to the world an utterly Beautiful, compelling and yet challenging answer to the question ‘Where are we going?’
I’d like to finish with a further brief reflection on those words of Martin Luther King, that change in the world comes from ‘
In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. So Our maladjustment, the maladjustment of those who follow Christ is Creative and I Carefully say Our. MLK did not see a future where isolated individuals would make a difference rather it was a nonconforming minority – in other words a people. Not a large number, but a People all the same. It has always been a people, the people of Israel, the church. When we are called, we are individuals, but we are called to leave that behind to be formed into a people – into a Community of disciples – the truth is that it is in our Life Together that Discipleship and Devotion to God is worked out and revealed to the world.
At the beginning of the New Year we hear once more the Word of Christ, the people of Nineveh responded at the preaching of Jonah – we are called to respond to the preaching of the eternal Logos of God – Christ the Lord – He calls us in this New Year to renewed Discipleship, to say ‘In Truth Our hope is in God alone!’ to leave our nets and follow him. We are going into the future, the future revealed to us in the Life of the eternal Logos, Christ the Lord.