Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A vision for St Peter's

Matthew 5:13-16

What is our vision for St Peter's?

A few weeks ago, St Peter's committee went away for a day to think through the direction for St Peter's: what are we about? What would we like to see happen? How would we like to grow?

Afterwards I spent some time working through what was said, and came up with the following summary statement:

A community of Jesus Christ, submitted to His word and serving His world.

I'd like to look at that, in the light of those verses that we had read from Matthew 5

1. A community of Jesus Christ

There was a common consensus that we wish to be one community. We do not wish to have one service that is more traditional, and another that is more modern. Our aim is that, when we meet together, we will be a single community that seeks to embrace people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds.

But we can only be that if we are centred on the one who can break down all barriers. We can only be that if we are centred on Jesus Christ and if we are a community of Jesus Christ.

In our passage, Jesus tells his followers that we are the salt of the earth.

Today, in these days of paranoia about health, salt is very definitely out, but in Jesus' day when there were no fridges or freezers, salt preserved food and added some seriously needed flavour. We hear many talks on this passage saying that as Christians we are called to be flavour in the world and that we are to be those who 'preserve' that which is good. I'm sure that is right. But it not what Jesus is emphasising here.

Here he emphasises the danger of losing our saltiness, and the uselessness of salt that has lost its saltiness. Technically of course salt cannot lose its saltiness: but it can become diluted and useless. And the warning here is that we must not lose our heart, our centre.

Jesus Christ is in the centre. We do not follow Jesus because he was a great moral teacher, or because he was a noble example, or because he did great and wonderful things. We follow Jesus because of who he is: he is the Son of God.

And we cannot let go of the cross of Jesus. Without the cross there can be no true community. We do not have the freedom to be honest with ourselves or others; we do not have the assurance of sins forgiven, or of God's love. Without the cross we have no comfort in suffering. Without the cross we do not have a model of how we can die to self in order to come alive to others.
And we cannot let go of the resurrection of Jesus. Without the resurrection we have no shared final destiny. There is no hope, no life after death. Without the resurrection, death triumphs over life; evil is victorious over love.

And we cannot let go of the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit

It is the Holy Spirit who creates this community of Jesus Christ. He unites us by showing that we have a shared need, a shared identity, a shared purpose, and a shared destiny.

It is the Holy Spirit who speaks to my inner person, who convicts me of sin, who shows me my need for God.
It is the Holy Spirit who speaks to my inner person and assures me of forgiveness, of God's acceptance, of my identity as a child of God within the family of God, and who reassures me of my destiny in heaven
It is the Holy Spirit who gives us different gifts, for the building up of the body of Christ

The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to draw this individual, that individual into the family of the Father and the Son. It is to make us one family, one body.

We are a community of Jesus Christ

2. We are a community of Jesus Christ, submitted to His word

You will notice that I have strengthened the statement that I wrote in the letter. There I wrote, that we would be 'open to His word and open to His world'. The slight danger of saying that is that it could imply that both are equal - that our authority is what the bible is saying and what the world is saying. But that is not the case: As the community of Jesus Christ, we submit ourselves to His word.

I'm not going to say much on this. When we were on the day away, we took this for granted. The bible, as understood by the whole people of God, past and present, is our final authority. This is what points us to Jesus, what shows us him; this is our guide and our light. It is the ground for our preaching and teaching and learning and living.

3. We are a community of Jesus Christ, submitted to His word and serving His world

Verses 14-16 use a different illustration: light

It is very different.
If the first is a warning, this is more about the nature of being a Christian

If the heart is right, then we will be light.
You can't hide a city
You can't hide a light

And when Jesus Christ is in the centre of a community, then we will be light - unless we choose to extinguish the light. The command that Jesus gives is, "Let your light shine". In other words, 'It is already there. Don't try and hide it. Don't be scared'.

And we are called to be light not by blowing our own trumpet, not by saying that we are better than other people but by simply doing the things that Jesus did: doing the things that come naturally to the man or woman of God: living as Jesus, being a minister of God in his world, serving His world.

That is why a community that is centred on Jesus Christ will be

1. A welcoming community: open to new people. Of course every church says that it is a welcoming community. You are not going to get a church that says, "We're a very unwelcoming church". But the key is not the welcoming on a Sunday morning, even if that is important. The key is how the welcome of our words on a Sunday morning is backed up by the welcome of our lives during the week. If we are centred on Jesus Christ then we will be learning not simply to open our church, but to open our homes and open our lives to others.

2. Hospitable community: the central service of the Christian church is the communion service. God invites us to eat with him at his table. Again, a church that is centred on Jesus will live that during the week. We will show hospitality as a community (we're looking to reinvigorate the sort of social events that we put on - as a bridge to bring people into contact with the church); and we will show hospitality as individuals. And Jesus challenges us in our hospitality. 'Don't simply invite those people who you would normally invite. Reach out, beyond them'

3. A community that demonstrates practical service: Christians will see that the work that they are doing in the world can in fact be, should in fact be, service of Christ. If you cannot see what you are doing in the world as service of Christ, then you should talk with one of the staff, and if you still cannot see it as service of Christ then you should probably be thinking of moving. And as a community we can serve our community: whether through the Hyndman Centre facilities, through running a toddler group or 'lunch and chat', or youth and children's activities. Again this should naturally flow out of our life in Christ. That is why one of our 5 aims as a parish is to 'equip' people to serve. We do not need to motivate people to serve. It is Jesus who does that.

4. A witnessing community: Again, witness that comes out of our life in Christ will be so natural and unforced. The problem is we really do need to hear Jesus' command to 'let our light shine' in this area, because we can be so fearful, especially in today's climate. That is why we are hoping to set up Introducing Jesus courses and next April, A Christianity Explored course

But notice how here, in verse 16, witness flows from our action. And it is echoed in 1 Peter 2:12: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they may accuse you you of doing wrong (of being intolerant), they may see your good works and glorify God on the day he visits us"

Someone once wrote: "Do all the good you can, to all the people you can, whenever you can, in the name of Jesus".

I have great hope for St Peter's

Yes, I know that our services are not always absolutely right. I know that the data projector goes wonky occasionally, that the music may not be what you want, that the services can be chaotic, that the 'show' is not as professional as it should be, that our preaching at times is uninspiring or irrelevant or dull. But it is not actually what it is all about. What it is about is our meeting together as a community of Christ, coming to worship the Father, to receive from Him, to learn from Him, to grow in faith, to encourage one another and challenge one another, and to then live that community during the week in our neighbourhood.

We have tremendous resources.

We have tremendous people: such experience and maturity and gifting and openness. Yes, we are aware that we need to grow younger leadership, that we need to focus particularly on younger families and single people - simply because we are missing them at the moment - and we need to be aware that that means that there will be noisy and misbehaved children in church. But I think that the reordering (when it happens) will help enormously.

But more than the resources, more than you: we have a great God who has called us to be members of the community of his Son, who will equip us, who will guard us and grow us, and who will keep us as salt and shine through us with his light.

So would you pray with me that we would be "A community of Jesus Christ, submitted to his word and serving His world".

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