Endings are always also necessarily beginnings and they can be traumatic.
This is pertinent to me personally in the trauma of leaving one place and starting another and is true for this church in particular. In both cases, whatever has gone before is finished – over. So what is going to happen next is a question that quite naturally will be looming large in your minds.
A new man, a new ministry, a new way of thinking and doing things will happen, though perhaps not immediately. I did note that at the rehearsal our Archdeacon prayed that I be gentle and I did take that on board. But whatever I bring that might be deemed new be assured that what underpins them will be timeless and unchanging. I will be building upon the unchanging solid rock of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We will be a Christ centred Spirit led church. And that good news of Jesus Christ is what is being articulated here so clearly in the letter to the Hebrews that we heard this morning;
Hebrews is talking about the High priesthood of Christ - our one mediator needed between humanity and God.
So let me make one first thing perfectly clear. You don’t need me to gain access to God. I am not your mediator, Christ is. We are the priesthood of all believers because as a Christian we have our great high priest living in our hearts. That is how we have access to God. When I was ordained I did not become a priest. I, like all Christians shared in that common priesthood already. When I was ordained I was designated a catalyst, leader and teacher of the faith. Seeing things through the lens of proper Biblical theology rather than the traditions of men will always set you on the right track. Those who have ears...let them hear.
With the Spirit of Christ living within us we have unbroken unmediated access to God at all times. As the writer of Hebrews says we have confidence to enter the sanctuary of God through his very flesh. Notice the use of the carnal word flesh, rather than the word body.
The use of the word “flesh” is meant to underline the full humanity of Jesus. This is very important, for if Jesus was not human in every single way he was not really one of us, and therefore he didn’t really suffer, and he really didn’t die. But he did truly suffer and he did truly die. He travelled the same path that every human being must tread.
And therein lies the true glory of the good news. Jesus the man, who suffered and died, was raised from the dead. This earth shattering event is the pivot around which all history revolves. But the glory came, and only could come through pain and suffering and death. To borrow the final phrase from our reading from Mark today – this was just the beginning of the birth pangs. Jesus’ end was also a new beginning.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone and guarantor of our faith. Without the resurrection we have no faith, but faith in the resurrection is our guarantee that we will all share that glorious future if we repent and believe the good news. We have eternal life asour personal possession right now. We are saved, we are born again. We also have the pleasure and pain of doing God’s will no matter where that leads us and we look forward to a future where there will be no more pain, no more tears, where justice is done, where everything is put right.
We, the church believe that we are living in that time between the resurrection of Christ when our future was actually revealed to us in historical time, and the final end, the Day of the Lord when all things will be made new, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth and we will be given resurrection bodies that will never decay.
So we are living in that gap. Christians don’t need a De Lorean car in which to travel forward in time. We have seen the future. We know our ultimate future. Which leaves the question....what now? What are we supposed to do we do with this privileged insight into our end and the end of all things?
Well the Bible is perfectly clear about what we do in the mean time. In the power of God’s Spirit we work to bring in the kingdom whenever and however we can. We are to repent of our sins and become disciples of Christ. Lifelong learners and perfecters of God’s will as revealed to us in the life, death, teaching and resurrection of Jesus, in the Bible through the same Holy Spirit that rested on Jesus at his baptism.
Christ lives in our hearts by faith by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. A Spiritless church is worse than useless. Jesus had a phrase for such people and things – he called them whitewashed tombs. Looks great on the outside, all shiny and new and impressive on the outside , but just like a tomb, is dead on the inside.
Every church has the implicit choice to make between being a Christ- centred, Spirit led church that makes disciples of its members and being a whitewashed tomb. And understanding this is vital for our flourishing.
Let me start with some uncomfortable truths.
The Church of England is dying. And our dying is going to accelerate because tThe demographic time bomb that most church of England members are pretty aged means that in about twenty years, the C of E will pretty much cease to exist.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. At the same time that the church as a whole has been in steep decline, parts of the church of England have grown enormously, bucking the trend entirely. Outside of the C of E, in the North East alone 125 new churches have started and are flourishing. What do those parts of the C of E that are growing and those new churches have in common. They are evangelical and Pentecostal in nature. What does that mean? They are Christ centred, Spirit led, and adhere to Biblical authority. They take discipleship and commitment seriously. They study and discuss God’s word. They offer lively contemporary worship.
That leaves us with some interesting options doesn’t it?
Will we choose life or death?
I have a vision for this church where we have to put on extra services because people can’t all fit in at once. A place where people from 5 to 95 flock to experience the presence of Christ and to grow in the faith – a place where God is known through His son Jesus Christ, for there is salvation in no other.
That doesn’t mean throwing out babies with the bathwater. I have already seen all that is good and true and worthwhile happening here. We can justly rejoice in everything that is already happening and sustaining people’s faith, but if we are not moving forward we are going backwards. We build on some things, alter the balance of some other things, we start new things and we do it together.
People of God, friends, can we catch that vision together to grow this church in both depth and in numbers? I know and can see the potential with my own eyes.
I am really excited by the potential in this church. I’m sure that I can feel and detect the excitement in many people here. We need to validate, nurture and set free all that potential. run with it, make it happen. Together we make Holy Saviour a church fit for purpose for the 21st century? Corporately can we go forward as God’s family. Can we, as Hebrews extols us, provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another as we mach on towards our glorious future.
I am sure that with God’s help we can and we will.