Friday, 31 March 2017

Ruth and Commitment and Loyalty

Ruth’s loyalty and commitment offers a good model for our thinking about what it means to be part of the church.  Ruth was ready to give up everything she knew in order to maintain her commitment to Naomi.  We can’t know how different it was between living in Moab and living in Israel, but, for sure, she left behind her friends and family.  She left behind the places she knew, the customs she knew, even the worship she knew.  Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.  Easy to say, not so easy to do.  But Ruth was determined.  Verse 18 – when Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.  Ruth wasn’t worried about the differences.  Her concern was to respond to the call.  What we need to be about as church is not doing what we want, but doing what God is calling us to do.

That can take us to some unexpected, and perhaps quite challenging, places.  I ministered in Islington through most of the eighties and one of the interesting challenges that took quite a bit of time over a number of months was a variety of refugee crises, particularly a large influx of Kurdish refugees to Hackney and Islington at one point.  It is interesting that some of the problems, and some of the crises, just keep on coming.  I always remember the Sunday afternoon when I got a phone call asking if we could temporarily put up a group of Kurdish men in the church.  Thank goodness that health and safety hadn’t got going quite as it has now in those days.  Thank God for a congregation that lived with the wild and wonderful decisions of their minister.  Because as the faithful arrived  for Sunday evening worship, so did about thirty Kurdish men, some of whom were going to end up using our church premises as home for up to three months.  Over the weeks that followed, I, and others, befriended these men and helped with the provision of food and clothes, despite the lack of a common language.  

I remember one particular Sunday some weeks later.  I had messed up big time in my preparation for Sunday morning worship.  I had only realised about fifteen minutes before the service that it was scheduled as all-age worship and so jettisoned my carefully prepared sermon and was very much making it up as I went along.  Shortly after the service began, one of my Kurdish friends, Halil, decided to come into the service.  He entered the sanctuary and looked around to see where to sit.  Well, it is always good to sit beside someone you know – and the person he knew best was me so, despite the fact that everyone else was, more or less facing one way – we were probably in something of a semi circle, rather than straight rows – and I was doing the opposite, sitting pretty well facing everybody else, he came and sat beside me and, despite the language barrier, proceeded to interrupt the time I was trying to use to think about what I was going to do next, by asking me various things about the service, mainly how to pronounce words that he didn’t understand but saw in the hymn book.  But, despite all this going on, so far as the congregation was concerned, nobody gave any indication that it was anything other than perfectly normal for someone to come in and sit down beside the worship leader – and, fortunately, they didn’t know just how much I wished I was not having those distractions on that particular Sunday.

Being the church today is not easy.  We live in a society that is overwhelmingly secular and the demands of our consumer culture are written large.  It is often a case of being a stranger in a strange land, and that is not easy.  Indeed it can be scary – but it can also be a great adventure.  It’s challenging, but it’s possible.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Against the Flow

I have been enjoying reading John Lennox’s commentary on Daniel, Against the Flow. Lennox uses Daniel as a great model for the Christian imperative to do things differently. Daniel refuses to conform and demonstrates how we should challenge the conventional worldly way of doing things. “The story of Daniel and his friends is a clarion call to our generation to be courageous; not to lose our nerve and allow the expression of our faith to be diluted and squeezed out of the public space and thus rendered spineless and ineffective.”

Lennox illustrates how difficult this can be, but uses Daniel to show how working with and for the secular powers can be achieved without compromise. That is what we need to be about.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Revelation Road

I recently read Nick Page's Revelation Road, a fascinating look at the book of Revelation largely drawn from experiences of being in the area where it all happened, not least the isle of Patmos.

I was struck by the encouraging challenges which he picks out in his exploration of this unusual text. It certainly offers us food for thought and enables us to see the need to do things differently. The Christian way is not the way of the world. We need to work at the transformation that society needs.

As Page comments: "Because the message of Christianity - real Christianity, the wild faith which has always thrived at the margins - is that you can change things. The way life is now is not the way it has to be. Revelation calls us to buck the system, rock the boat, upset the apple-cart. It calls us to identify the beastly powers, to witness against them, to refuse to bow down to them and, most of all, to believe that things can change."

With God's help and inspiration, let's work for the changes that we really need to see!

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Telling the Gospel

Are you one who boldly proclaims God’s good news or do you keep your faith hidden so that most folk don’t know that you are a Christian? The apostle Paul is not ashamed of the gospel – see Romans 1:16-17. He knows that it is a story that needs to be told.
In many parts of the church we tend to say and think that evangelism is not our thing. But how can it not be our thing? We are called to be God’s people and that means letting the gospel leak out of us so that it contaminates those around us. That means finding ways of being a church that is relevant to the context in which it is set. Things change. They need to. We need to find ways of communicating the gospel in a changing context – and that is most likely to happen when we remember ouir reliance on God. In all of things, let us remember, with Paul the apostle, that it is our faith which sustains us.  The righteousness of faith is revealed through faith for faith.