Saturday, January 23, 2016

Salt and Light: The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2016

Salt and Light
What a great week we’ve had, haven’t we?    I’m personally very sorry that the crazy life I call my ministry prevented me from getting to all the different services we’ve held during the week.  But those I did manage were an enjoyable plunge into a new aspect of what it means for us to be Churches Together.

It bothers some people that we have all these different styles of churches, and all our different theological ideas.  For some people, the word unity expresses their desire for an ever closer union of all Christians, with one standard theology, and perhaps even just one way of worshipping.  But that, I think, is to miss the point.  As some of you heard me say yesterday, at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, I believe that all our different approaches to God are themselves a pointer to the sheer depth, height, breadth and width of God himself – or indeed herself!

We should not be surprised if our churches reflect the infinite depths of an infinite God.  I have no doubt that God is present in high church, Catholic liturgies, with smells, bells and plainsong chants.  But I also have no doubt that he is in high octane charismatic or Pentecostal worship, or the modest decency of a reformed-style hymn sandwich.  God makes us in God’s own image – and God is infinite.  Therefore, an infinite variety of worship should not surprise us in the least.

Neither should it surprise us that each church has a subtly different call to mission in Havant.  Think, for a moment, about light bulbs.  Think what an infinite variety of lights there are in the world.  All light, ultimately, comes from our Sun – collected, stored, converted and then shone from a thousand thousand different light fittings.  There are neon lights, and LCD lights.  There are energy-saving bulbs and tungsten lamps.  There are twinkly Christmas lights, and super-trooper search lights.  Each one is but a dim reflection of the Sun from which all light comes in the first place.  But each one has its place.  Each, while reflecting the Sun, contributes to the overall amount of light in the world.
Churches are like that too.  Some have a passion for preaching, some for songs.  Some feel called to a mission to the homeless, or a ministry of healing.  Some feel led to develop programmes like the Havant Passion Play, bringing people together.  Others feel led to keep on offering the heritage they have received to a new generation.  Some serve their neighbours through providing community space that brings people together.  Others serve their neighbours through providing food for the hungry and sleeping bags for the homeless.

We are each a reflection of the Son – the Son, that is, of God who has given us all life.  Like a thousand lightbulbs, we shine Christ’s light in all its infinite depth out into the community we serve.

We have just heard that collection of sayings called ‘the Beatitudes’ – at least in Matthew’s version of them.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn, and so on.  These were radical words, powerful words.  Words that could change a world, and turn it on its head.   For many centuries, these were considered dangerous words by the leaders of the churches who valued their personal wealth and status too highly.  For centuries, these words were rarely if ever read by a clergy who didn’t want people to use them as an excuse to uproot clerical power.  They were rediscovered, rather, when people like Luther, and John Wycliffe, started to promote individual reading of the Scriptures for all Christians.  Light was shone on the Scriptures by men like them – light which enabled all people to realise that wealth and prestige were not the natural order of things for the followers of Christ.  Rather, God showed us, in Christ, that his priority for was for the poor, for the downtrodden, for those who mourn, for the meek, and for the hungry.

These then are words which should inspire us all, in the whole Borough of Havant, to continue pressing onwards towards the prize – the goal of a world in which there is good news for the poor, in which the blind will see and the lame will dance.  These are words which inspire us to keep on scattering salt into the world around us…flavouring the world with God, giving its people the taste of God.

How shall we do this?   What programmes shall we develop together?  What should we actually do about it?

Well, I would encourage us first and foremost to acknowledge and celebrate what we’ve already noticed – that God is at work among us, in all our different ways, and through all our differences.  This is God’s mission, and it is God’s kingdom.  As Jesus said to Peter, “I will build my Church” – meaning that it is also God’s church.  Let none of us make the mistake of thinking that by our own cleverness could we ever come up with a better way of advancing the kingdom than God himself is already doing.

Our task is alertness.  Our task is to prayerfully and diligently keep on listening to God as God directs his mission among us and through us.  In St Paul’s words, ‘let us not cease meeting together, as some have done’ – but let us rather keep on being together, learning together, loving together – that is, loving each other, God, and the world around us.

Then, we shall be lights to the world.  Then, we shall be salt that gives the world the flavour of God.  Then, we shall continually advance the work of God.  Amen.

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