A student survey conducted at one of our local schools determined that young people see the church as being full of old people and pews. And they think that the pews have to go. There’s some good news in that survey, they didn’t say the old people should go, only the pews.
Think for a moment: How does their perception match reality?
We might immediately begin to defend the pews. They've been good enough for generations. They keep us awake. They haven’t killed anyone.
Or we might be offended that they’ve labelled us as old. We might argue that we’re not nearly as old as our grandparents were at the same age.
We might want to join James and John to ask Jesus whether we should call down fire from heaven and destroy them.
But before we get too defensive, these young people are crying out for the church to recognise and value them. They don’t think the church cares about them, they don’t think we care. They think the church is only interested in the people who’re already involved, which to them means old people.
I wonder whether they’re any different to those of any age who aren’t connected to our churches. Would the whole ‘unchurched’ and 'previously-churched’ community agree that we don’t care. Would they contend that we’re only interested in ourselves.
If we’re so busy polishing and defending our pews then they have to go. If there’s anything in our church that uses up our time at the expense of living our lives for Jesus then it has to go.
Even more urgently we have to go. Not leave the church, the community of God’s people, but go with the good news that because God loves and cares for every single person in this world so do we.
“As you go”, Jesus says, “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus cares about this because he has ‘skin-in-the-game’. He died for each and every one we encounter as we go about our lives.
How do we, as individuals and a church, need to change so that no one in our community will feel that we don’t care about them?
We’re celebrating 25 years of ministry together. I was installed in this parish on Mothers Day 1994 and we’ve been privileged to serve the community together for all those years.
We’re not the same as we were in 1994. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy Gandalf goes from being ‘Gandalf the grey’ to ‘Gandalf the white’ and something like that has happened to me over this period of time.
As we look back over the 25 years or part of that time, what stands out? We might all have different answers but we can be sure of one thing: God has been gracious to us throughout this time.
We’ve shared God’s gracious love as we conducted 526 baptisms, 248 confirmations, 340 weddings, and 250 funerals. If we could've spread those out evenly over the years we would’ve celebrated one or the other of those events every week with some to spare.
If we compiled a list of highlights it might include:
· Triple C, ministry to children
· Christmas and Easter services at Faith Chapel
· Adding a third Sunday service
· Seminars with Geoff Bullock and Tim Hein
· Establishing “Cross Roads family ministry”
· Grow Love Garden
· The visit of Nadia Bolz-Weber
· Having combined services with the Baptists (and HC!)
Your list might be quite different and you might like to take some of those off the list. With the wisdom of hindsight we might’ve done things differently. With God’s help we did our best.
We’re not finished yet, there’s still work to be done. And when I retire at the end of 2020 the ministry of this parish will continue with the blessing of our gracious, loving God. To God alone be the glory!
Did Roman soldiers keep a tally of how many successful crucifixions they’d conducted? Did they add a notch to their mallet handle for each person they nailed to a cross? Did their job become mundane and boring?
Another Easter has come and gone. Has Easter become mundane and boring for us? The same old message year after year. Do we run out of room on our ‘faith shields’ to make another mark? Are our hearts hardened to the wonder of Easter?
This Easter might’ve made a major impact on our understanding of God’s love for us in Jesus the Christ or it might have seemed ho-hum but whichever it was - the ongoing challenge for each of us is to live as Easter people.
The resurrection of Jesus on that Sunday morning so long ago continues to impact our lives eternally. Because Jesus died and rose again we who die will rise again to live with him forever. Sin pays off with death. But God’s free gift is eternal life given by Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23
We are Easter people and that changes everything. Easter doesn’t just change our eternal future but changes how we live. Paul says in Romans 6:13
Give yourselves to God, as people who have been raised from death to life. Make every part of your body a slave that pleases God.
Living as Easter people means knowing we have an eternal future but it also means having a divine purpose right now.
We’re dearly loved children of God and remembering the cross certainly confirms that truth. Jesus rose from death and we’ve been raised to life. This is our present reality. Our everyday lives are different because we’re Easter people.
How did Jesus’ disciples know how to live as Easter people? We have very little record of what Jesus taught after his resurrection. That shouldn’t surprise us because he’d taught his disciples all they needed to know before his death and resurrection. They’d learned how to live as his disciples by living with him. His whole life was instructive.
Above all they’d experienced his love. His amazing unconditional love was a feature of his life before the cross, on the cross, and in his post-Easter appearances. The Holy Spirit comes into us fills us with this same divine love so our lives are empowered with love to be Easter people.
Live it and love it!
Do you get the feeling that God has changed over your lifetime?
In the last book of the Old Testament God says through the prophet Malachi, “I am the Lord, and I do not change.” (Mal 3:6)
James says something similar in 1:17 Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens. He is always the same and never makes dark shadows by changing.
God doesn’t change but our understanding of God does. Paul says when he was a child he thought like a child and so do we. Once we’ve matured we no longer have a childish view of God.
It’s interesting to consider how the Bible gives us a developing view of God. For example the Israelites gradually moved from believing that God was one among many gods to the only God. Now it’s quite clear God hadn’t changed but the people’s understanding of God and the truth about God had.
God doesn’t grow up with our faith but our faith in God grows and develops. It might be interesting for you to take a break from reading this and think about how your view of God has changed over time and how this affects the way you relate to God.
One of the big questions I’ve been puzzling over because of the theme I was given for the Lenten services is did the incarnation change God? When the word was made flesh, as John puts it, when Jesus was born and became one of us, did that change God?
As we continue on our journey to Easter I wonder in particular whether Jesus experience of death on the cross changed God? Does God understand us better now than he did before? I don’t know the answer but I know that Jesus’ death and resurrection makes a world of difference to each of us. Praise God for his amazing love!