2nd Sunday before Lent
A new friend of mine (Darcy Chesterfield-Terry) is being inducted into the next door parish (Datchet & Colnbrook) tomorrow evening and I am so thrilled for them and him. I have spent the last year covering various services & offices at St Mary and St Thomas and have enjoyed my time there. It has made me think about what I would be looking for in my next parish as I should be in a similiar situation in the next few months. So this is what I would like my next (but as yet unknown parish) to know about what I believe about being a worshipping church!
You are on the cusp of a new season in this parish and it is going to be exciting! I have been thinking a lot this week about you, the congregations of St Mary and St Thomas and Darcy as I will hopefully be in a similar situation in the next few months – not sure when or where though.
It got me to thinking about what I would want my new (although as yet unknown) congregation to know about what I believe about being church. I am going to be brave and tell you what I would want them to know and I hope this lands in the right place for you this morning. You can tell me later or tomorrow evening if I am completely naïve!
I do like the Book of Revelation and I always try to take the opportunity to preach on it when it comes up. I like it because it is scary, unpredictable, very challenging and gives us a glimpse of God that is so much bigger than we usually imagine him to be. Revelation also shows us that things aren’t always going to be as there are. Change is a comin’!
The American evangelist and writer, Beth Moore wrote this about Revelations 4: ‘In reading Revelation’s description of the throne room of God, please keep in mind that John related the completely unfamiliar through the familiar. Imagine, for example, escorting an Indian who had never ventures farther than the most primitive part of the Amazon through a tour of that state-of-the-art technology of NASA. When he returned to his fellow tribesmen, how would he describe jets or rockets? He’d probably have to begin his illustration by using birds as an example and try to stretch their imagination from there. Likewise, throughout much of Revelation, John employed known concepts to express images beyond our understanding. The throne of God is simply beyond anything we can imagine.’
Revelation 4 takes places in the throne room of God; John is ushered into this room and sees not only the throne but one seated on it. This would have been a dramatic yet glorious sight! It also takes some imagination to get this image – again John is using the familiar to describe the unfamiliar.
The one seated on the throne – who is it? God! What’s the picture that goes through your mind? We aren’t given any idea of the form but only of colour. Jasper can be found in shades of red, yellow, brown, green. Carnelian is red-brown in colour. The one is also surrounded by a rainbow – every colour. The God that John sees is not a God that is black and white but one of colour.
There are some things that are of course black and white about God and his teaching. God though in himself is not so black and white but one of colour, creativity and expanse. This is the one that we worship – the one seated on the throne. Who’s the one on the throne then? Well – it’s not us, nor the PCC, the Bishop, the Archbishop and nor Darcy. It is God. Never lose sight of that.
I was once asked by a rather cynical friend: ‘why did I go to church as I didn’t seem like the type?’ I was completely lost for an answer! To my rescue came another church-going friend who happened to be present. Her answer, one of the most brilliant I have ever heard and was quickly adopted as my own was: ‘I go to church to be challenged in my relationship with God.’
The primary reason for coming here week in/week out should be so that you can be challenged in your relationship with God. There are many good and useful reasons to come to church – service, fellowship, socialisation, the list goes on. We can be challenged in the worship of God, the sermon (I hope!), the prayers, in meeting God in the Eucharist, in the commission to go out and make disciples. When we lose sight of our relationship with God and if that is not primarily why we are here then church becomes a social agency, a club with inconvenient meetings times and at worst an inward facing self-serving clique.
Secondly, faith, Christianity and worship takes some imagination, some creativity. It should be a relief to know that these are not prohibited by God or even the Church of England although they can be scarce commodities sometimes. The Bible is full of stories that require some imagination to be fully understood! Don’t be afraid of trying new things or hearing new ideas.
I would be looking for a parish that has some enthusiasm for new things, reaching new people, taking some risks in hopes that the Good News of Jesus will reach the people who need to hear it. Gone are the days of opening the doors and waiting for people to come in.
Thirdly, casting our crowns before the throne. There is always a danger in the face of change to romanticize the past when the future looks uncertain. We long for the old and dress it up, better than it actually was; ‘Oh, for the good old days’ we sigh and become selective in our memories. This goes both ways.
We must cast the crowns we’ve made for ourselves before the throne and trust that what God has planned is actually better than what we could ever ask or imagine.
Underneath all of this we have the one who gets into the boat with us. I love this story of Jesus. Luke 8 is full of the activity of Jesus’ ministry – no wonder he fell asleep in the boat! Jesus had been going through cities and villages proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God, curing people, laid it all out in the parable of the sower and told people to bear fruit with patient endurance, Jesus had some family issues when his mother and brothers showed up. No wonder he needed a nap!
And one day he got into a boat with his disciples and had a snooze. How utterly human. Even what happened next was not out of the ordinary – the Sea of Galilee is known for its quick change in tide – it can be as smooth as glass one moment and then choppy and windy the next. Jesus is also with fisherman who knew that water, had lived and breathed it their whole lives. They are scared! That storm must have been beyond what they were used to.
Beyond what they were used to. We like what we like because we like it! Even if we don’t like it, the pain of change can often seem a better option than the benefits that change can bring. As human beings tend to like security and the familiar, so we get use to things whether they are beneficial or not. Now I am not saying that everything has to change right now but over time. This comes back to what I said about creativity and worship.
I wonder what the disciples in the boat would have done if Jesus wasn’t with them? Rode out the storm I suppose. How much better though to have the one seated in the boat to rebuke the wind and the waging waves in an instant. There was a calm.
Whatever happens over the next few weeks, months and years here – when times of wind and wave sweep down and in times of calm, Jesus is on your side, he’s in the boat. Where is your faith? This is the question Jesus asks the probably sea-sick, pale faced disciples and is not a bad one for us today.
Where is your faith when change comes, when what your used to isn’t what your used to anymore?
Lastly, I want people, my congregation to know Jesus. To know the one who commands the winds and the water that they obey him. Again, takes some creativity and imagination to read the Gospels and understand at a deeper level what he was doing and what that means for us.
I want them to know the one who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man. Who for our sake was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried. Who on the third day rose again in accordance with the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. In that glorious throne room.
He is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
He is in the boat with us on the journey of each our individual lives but also our communal life as a parish and congregation. Let’s see where he is taking us!