Thursday, 15 August 2019

What is truth?

Jeremiah 23:23-29. False prophets and their “dreams” are here contrasted with the voices of true prophets. True prophets can be distinguished by the fact that true prophesy is like fire and a hammer – that is, words that unsettle and disturb, rock the established order, and unmask hypocrisy and injustice. True prophets can only really be discerned in hindsight, and in private may be wracked by self-doubt.
Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2. The faith (and the suffering) of all the Old Testament figures is given to encourage the faith of contemporary Christians. They are included and lauded not just as figures from a long dead past but as a present “cloud of witnesses” to whom the current crop of believers owe a debt of responsibility. All of those figures were driven by faith in God despite themselves never seeing the fulfilment of God’s will – Jesus Christ – “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (12:1).
Luke 12: 49-56. Jesus describes the reality of the situation that his message of peace will ironically cause division, even amongst families. His “baptism” refers to his crucifixion (and St. Paul also describes Christian baptism as being baptised into Jesus’ death). Fire is also associated with cleansing and more positively with the Holy Spirit. Jesus then derides people for being able to forecast the weather accurately but are blind to the signs of the times.

How do you know that what I, or anyone taking a service is telling you is the true word of God?
One answer to that is that within the structures of the ordination process, the church tries to ensure that within certain parameters like high or low church, or theological emphasis, they have confidence in the person chosen to try and accurately discern, reflect and interpret what the Spirit reveals to them.
In short, the church tries to weed out false prophets. There wasn’t any kind of process in Jeremiah’s time of course. Who was a true prophet and who was a false prophet was a very grey area. Prophesy itself came into huge disrepute so that what turned out to be genuine prophets didn’t actually want to be associated with the title at all.
Amos, one of the most respected prophets tried to distance himself by saying,
“I was not a prophet, nor a prophet’s son but a sheep breeder and a dresser of sycamore trees” (7:14).
One way that Jeremiah offers to discern a true prophet from a false one, is that a true prophet’s words are like a fire and a hammer. That is, the true word of God unsettles, disturbs, shakes the foundations, and confronts hypocrisy and injustice. Today we might say it speaks truth to power.
The honeyed words of the false prophets just say what they think people want to hear. Prophesy not from conviction but by focus group and opinion poll.
A great modern hero of mine was Harry Williams CR, a monk at Mirfield when I was there, since sadly died.
Harry had been a great and highly thought of theologian, preacher and teacher, and had been a fellow, lecturer and Dean of Trinity college Cambridge.
Right up until his nervous breakdown caused by his cognitive dissonance between his life and the gospel he was preaching.
When he had recovered after years of psychotherapy his true ministry really started, when he became concerned by true experience.
He vowed never to ever preach anything ever again which didn’t have its roots in true lived experience and he became a true prophet, rather than just a “dreamer” as Jeremiah calls it.
Words and ideas can purify like fire, and shatter peace like a hammer and this is what Jesus rightly prophesied when he said to his disciples,
“Don’t think my words are going to bring peace, it’ll be more like a sword. I will divide opinion, split families”. His words and actions weren’t designed to do that – they were words of love and peace – but he correctly forecast that discord would be a natural result, because words and actions divide people.
For us it means that as long as we are as certain as we can be that we are speaking truthfully and representing as accurately as possible the nature and purposes of God, we shouldn’t be either surprised or deflated if our words cause division.
One of the most pertinent questions in the whole new testament is posed not by Jesus or an apostle but came out of the mouth of Pontius Pilate, when he asked Jesus “What is truth?” (John 18:38)
This itself was a retort to Jesus saying he was a witness to the truth, and John’s gospel contains the answer to that question when Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
We worship truth, embodied for a while here on earth in Jesus.
The way of Jesus is the way of sacrificial love.
The truth of Jesus is that he is the eternal word made flesh.
And in that truth and love is revealed the true nature of being, of life itself, which is God, which cannot be destroyed.
Whatever else we preach, to be a true prophet of God we have to preach that. Only God can save anyone. If Jesus is the true son of God and God is one, then true Salvation cannot be found anywhere else except in God and the truth of God is made manifest in Jesus. In that way salvation being found no-where else is not a statement that excludes anyone but states a fact about God who is entirely inclusive no matter what religion or none that you follow.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Coming home.

Genesis 15: 1-6. This section provides the proof text to St. Paul that Grace preceded law in God’s economy of salvation because Abraham predates Moses (and the ten commandments) by several centuries. Abram believed God “and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (verse 6). That Abram continually doubted and questioned God though should encourage us. Faith is no easy option.
Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16. The Genesis reading is a good accompaniment to this reading from Hebrews which lauds the faith of Abraham among others. Without knowing that Abraham often doubted though, we could end up having a false view of faith as necessarily being full assurance all the time, which is unrealistic. We are human and subject to human frailty. But at our best, the vision of everlasting life in a new heaven and a new earth should spur us on to become the person God always wanted us to be.
Luke 12: 32-40. Jesus says to his disciples. First of all get your priorities right. The “treasure” that should be motivating us is of the Kingdom of God. This will have economic repercussions on our earthly treasure but the kingdom is all that really counts in the end. We are told then to keep awake, as a slave should keep awake for the return of his master in the early hours – so a warning against Christian complacency.

That we are saved by faith in God’s grace and not by following the law was absolutely fundamental to St. Paul and in his great treatise on the subject in his letter to the Romans, the incident we heard read to us from Genesis was pivotal.
Abraham had “righteousness” – that is declared right before God simply because he believed God’s promise, well before he was circumcised and certainly well before the written law which wasn’t delivered to Moses until many centuries later.
Being declared righteous includes being accepted and forgiven – a spiritual healing of the soul we call Salvation – the divine healing.
The author of the book of Hebrews also looks back to the example of Abraham amongst others as an example of great faith and verse one defines faith like this;
“The assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.”
But if you are anything like me, that description of faith could be daunting because in reality faith oscillates and is stronger on some days than on others.
But a simple reading of the story of Abraham and Sarah reveals that while  their faith was often strong, the doubts and scepticism were constant companions as well. Which is good news for all of us that despite the doubt and scepticism along the way, God declared Abraham right with Him.
Jesus spoke some comforting words to his disciples, many of whom doubted Jesus even after the resurrection according to Matthew’s gospel and the words we heard today are ones we all need to hear,
“Do not be afraid little flock, for it the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”
Having the kingdom – God’s Spirit working with your Spirit to bear fruit for you and the world is the only real treasure worth having because the kingdom is eternal. Our money and possessions stay here when we move on. “You can’t take it with you” as they say,
But the kingdom is an eternal transcendent possession. Fruit grown here will serve you for ever in your purse which is your soul. 
But living a virtuous, good life here is often hard. It is not glamourous or cool and life can grind us down, but the advice is not to lose patience. Keep faith and don’t tire of being and doing good or worshipping God. In the poetic language of the parable,
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit”.
For the promises of God contained within the Bible are that which inform our faith. And the person making those promises is important.
It is often reported that Jesus spoke, not as the scribes and Pharisees, but as one who had authority.
We are much more inclined to believe someone who is manifestly upright and wise and true and speaks with authority.
The promises of God in the mouth of Jesus have divine authority. He is a person to be believed and followed in full confidence.
That future that we cannot see, or even well understand, is described in Hebrews as a homeland. Finding God and his kingdom is a “homecoming” and discovering that God was there all the time, waiting for you is a description of salvation we recognise from the parable of the good Samaritan.  
And we all thrive best when we have a secure homelife. Finding God and his Kingdom is coming home.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Towards a new perspective

Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 12-14; 2: 18-23. This is an honest antidote to all those who say that the world naturally points to God. The author is a pessimist who is sensitive to the injustice of the world (4:1-3) and uncertain about organised religion (5: 1-6). Trying to find any meaning to life by human effort is folly, and human achievements are temporary, and life is unhappy. The “Teacher” ends up acknowledging the awesomeness of God and deciding that God doesn’t have to justify himself. That this tract is in the Bible at all is a testimony to the breadth and search for truth that the Bible encompasses.
Colossians 3: 1-11. All the morality that follows is dependent on verse 1 which says “If you have been raised with Christ”. The morality that follows is pretty conventional and one of the main messages is contained in verse 11 which says that in this renewal all differences between race and culture are transcended for those “raised with Christ”.
Luke 12:13-21. Luke is adamant that property and wealth are spiritually dangerous and this parable echoes Ecclesiastes in saying that effectively this is vanity because all lives come to an end. But there is no mention here of the good that money can do or how terrible poverty can be, and common ownership and a collective pot were ideals that were never taken up by the church. But how we use money can be seen as a prime indicator of where our heart’s loyalty lies.  
I have a confession to make. When I had a crisis of faith after encountering the wild claims of certain people on the charismatic fringe of the church, it was reading Ecclesiastes that brought me back into the church.
Its decidedly pessimistic understanding of our lot, human ambition, and apparent futility of life was a powerful corrective to the wild claims of magical healing, speaking in tongues, and people falling over that had such a negative impact on me at the time.
The very fact that such a book could be included in the canon of the Bible spoke volumes to me of a much more realistic, truth seeking version of the Judeo-Christian tradition that took opinion and testimony from all sides. That took contrary sceptical views and insights seriously. It took the search for truth itself very seriously. Apparently, this is the only piece of Ecclesiastes that is included in the whole three-year Sunday lectionary cycle, which is a shame.
The pursuit of truth is very important. Scientific truth, or spiritual truth makes no difference. One cannot be in competition with the other.
Getting to the bottom of the essential nuggets of truth contained within scripture is a part of my job description which I do to the very best of my ability.
Applying that wisdom and insight to our two other readings today what can we discern with any certainty?
Both of them assert that when we accept the truth claims of Christianity our values and way of looking at the world changes. We re-orient our outlook and ways of being and doing to reflect new information – new truths. This dramatic sea change the Bible calls Metanoia – which we translate as repentance. It involves changing our standpoint from a self-centred way of looking at things to a more God-centred way of looking at things.
Paul writes in Colossians that “if we have been raised with Christ” (ie, changed our view of the world) the following should happen, and then he lists a whole litany of things we should no longer do, a list which prioritises self-gratification over the good of all, mentioning everything from fornication to abusive language. The list is pretty uncontroversial in itself but are marks of the process of the re-orientation of the self.
One mark of that re-orientation is seeing all people whatever their race or culture as equal in the sight of God because God made all human beings in the image and likeness of God and Jesus died for the sins of a Somali drug dealer as much as he died for a English stockbroker. We need to be reminded of this radical insight into the truths of Christianity on a regular basis because it runs so counter to conventional human wisdom which wants to put everyone on a scale of goodness from 1 to 10. Shifting from human wisdom to God’s wisdom seriously taxes our ability to accept these kinds of insights.
Likewise, Luke’s gospel if taken too literally could be said to say, “Don’t ever plan or prepare for the future”, but that is not I believe what it is saying. As part of the re-orientation of our life should come the realisation that the proper use of the money we have is an indicator of where our heart’s loyalties really lies.  It is also a reminder that we are mortal and what God desires from us in our dealings on earth is respect for others, a concern for fairness and justice, using our money to further the kingdom of God no less, instead of our own kingdoms.
Discipleship is a word which we have heard of but perhaps haven’t realised that it is the task of every baptised Christian. Think of discipleship as you and God working together in your very being to gradually turn us around, to look at life, other people, politics, everything really from God’s perspective who wills the best for everyone and make that more and more, our perspective.
It is a narrow path to walk, and requires a certain discipline to make it happen but as Jesus said in Luke 17, the kingdom of God is within you and any change we want to see in the world has to start with us.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Immersed in God's Spirit

Trinity 6 (Proper 12)
I am at St. Peter’s in the morning and Karen is in the villages. We have a baptism in the morning service of Albie Kelly. The readings of the day are as follows;
Genesis 18: 20-32. In this important piece of writing, a moral question is being resolved by discussion, and in the discussion, it is God’s morals that are being investigated. Two moral absolutes collide; that wickedness must be punished, and righteousness should not be punished because of the wickedness of others, and in this case, it is justice for the innocent that prevails over punishment of the wicked. 
Colossians 2: 6-19. Paul is desperate to convey the fact that Jesus is the one thing (way) necessary to understanding our spiritual health and relationship to God. Nothing else is necessary, not religious rituals, angels, philosophy, or asceticism. We have direct access to God through Jesus without any other mediators being needed.
Luke 11: 1-13. The Lukan version of the Lord’s prayer is shorter and less well known than Matthew’s version and the rest of the passage encourages persistence in prayer and that God will and can only give good gifts which are all gifts of the Spirit.

When someone is being baptised, as when we ourselves were baptised, and as Albie Kelly is being baptised soon, we need to remind ourselves what we were, and Albie will be being baptised into, and what baptism itself signifies and Paul’s piece in Colossians today gives a good description of that.
Baptism literally means “Immersion”, though of course we will just pour water over Albie’s head today. It speaks of being immersed in God’s Spirit, that same Spirit that was so evident in Christ’s life and works.
That same Christ who Paul says today is all you need, to be healed, or made whole, or made clean, which are all ways for describing what the word Salvation means. The root of the word Salvation is “salve”, a word we still use to mean a healing balm.
We were baptised into the salvation of God revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the knowledge that this is all we need and doesn’t need any supplementary input, whether that be good works, the intercession of Angels, self-mortification or asceticism, thorough knowledge of theology or philosophy, nor attendance at certain religious festivals.
Some of those things may be good in and of themselves but they can’t add anything to what is already complete. Salvation – divine healing – is the ground, the foundation on which everything else is built. You can’t be “more saved”.
And baptism is the full and complete rite of initiation into Christ. The newly baptised have all the rights and privileges of incorporation into Christ, including the main one of being declared a “child of God” and part of the body of Christ, the church.
We baptise children as an act of faith in God’s prevenient Grace, a grand term that means that we believe that God always makes the first move and is working within an individual long before there may be any formal acceptance of the faith. We believe that our prayers for Albie are effective whether Albie knows he is being prayed for or not.
God is working within each one of us whether we are conscious of it or not.
We of course hope that one day Albie will consciously accept the baptism promises that will be made on his behalf today, but that is not a given. God requires us humans to do some of the heavy lifting ourselves. Baptism is not magic and God doesn’t force Himself into anyone’s life.
The truth only has the power of truth when it becomes true for you.
That is the role that faith plays in the human economy of salvation. The Baptism promises of God only have an effect on the life of an individual when they are believed and lived.  
God and his promises of love and commitment will need to be made known to Albie when he is old enough to understand. He will need to be introduced to worship and a worshipping community if he is to understand what those things really mean.
He will need the prayers and encouragement of parents, godparents and the church.
We thrive as individuals when we have the love, encouragement and support of others and of God and this is what the church at its best offers to its members. That was what was offered to us at our own baptisms and that is what is being offered to Albie later this morning.

Monday, 22 July 2019

She sat at Jesus'feet and listened.

Genesis 18: 1-10a. The visit of the three men (The Lord in verse 1) to Abraham is one of the most enigmatic stories in the Bible and provided the subject matter for probably the most famous icon of all time, Andrei Rublev’s Trinity. In this icon the three men represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (from left to right) depicted as such through the colours of their clothes.
Colossians 1: 15-28. “The image of the invisible God” is a phrase that immediately testifies to the inadequacy of language when trying to express divinity, for something invisible cannot have an image, and yet we somehow know what Paul means. He then describes what Jesus has achieved for us “reconciling all things to himself”
Luke 10: 38-end. The story of Martha and Mary, coming as it does after the story of the good Samaritan is no accident. It affirms that discipleship is not only limited to love of neighbour but also love of God. The Samaritan and Mary belong together. Doing without listening can degenerate into purposeless busyness while listening without doing just mocks the words. We are told only two things about Mary – that she sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to Him. This story has nothing to do with the merits or otherwise of housework!

Let me say right off that the story of Mary and Martha is not about housework or its importance. I don’t think Jesus held any strong theological convictions about dusting!
The key to understanding this story is noting its position in the text. It comes directly after the parable of the Good Samaritan for good reason – they are to be seen in parallel.
The Good Samaritan is about putting your beliefs into practice and loving your fellow man. Mary and Martha is also a parable if you like. It emphasises that as well as loving your fellow man, loving God is quite important too.
We are told only two things about Mary. That she sat at Jesus’ feet and that she listened to Him. There is a tendency amongst some more activist parts of the church to see the church as only being church when it is doing something and that time spent in worship is time wasted. This is the people this story is aimed at, just as the Good Samaritan is aimed at people who are happy to spend time in worship but don’t put their faith into practice.
Worship and action are two sides of the same coin. One should feed the other in fact.
It might be good to think of worship as the time to stop reflect and re-fuel. It is the strengthening of worship that feeds and empowers the manner and character of your life – like a virtuous circle.
That sets the scene for two readings that extol the glory of God nature and purposes.
In Genesis, in a story that has always captured my imagination we are told that Abraham was visited by the Lord. In the very next verse, the Lord becomes three men. Sarah is detailed to prepare an appropriate meal, so if anyone is still perturbed by Martha’s treatment in the gospel reading, let it be know that hospitality and taking time and trouble to welcome visitors, especially so here as it is God himself, has always been central to the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
But the striking thing about the visitors is that their concern is practical and related to the lives of Abraham and Sarah. Their concern is that there be physical offspring even at this time in their old age. Carrying on the theme of last week that God is both transcendent and at the same time intimately involved with creation.
What an episode like this emphasizes, much like the birth of John the Baptist, or like the virginal conception of Jesus, is that, God’s power is able to overcome all human limitations.
Being interested in the lives of humanity, Christians believe that God visited his people decisively, not in the guise of three men, but one special man Jesus Christ, and Paul’s description of Him starts with his role in the creation of everything, then moves to describe his redemptive work for all people, then moves to the work of the church which is the vehicle for continuing life, and all held together by the cosmic universal nature of our faith.
In this, the church has a vital role. Paul tries to describe how the Spirit of the risen Christ is bonded with all the disparate Christian communities that were rapidly springing up.
He was trying to express a bond that was much richer and more intense than just a teacher and his followers – it was experienced as much more personal than that.
My hope and prayer is that our relationship with God through Jesus Christ wherever it happens to be now continually matures and deepens into a more personal connection. Paul affirms here the oneness of Jesus and his people, even though it is hard to articulate exactly how that occurs – Just that is to what the experience of the church bear witness.
A oneness Jesus prefigured in life when he instituted the act of Communion that we celebrate. Do this in remembrance of me, and word remembrance is anamnesis, which carries with it not just the notion of remembrance but also of “making present”. So lets make manifest God amongst us as we commune with both earth and heaven.

Monday, 15 July 2019

The kingdom of God is within you

Deuteronomy 30: 9-14. The word of God is near you – it is not so remote that we have to strain to hear. It reminds me of Jesus saying in Luke 17:21, “The kingdom of God is within you”
Colossians 1: 1-14. God wants us to have “life in all its fulness” as it says in John and here Paul too prays for our growth as human beings, a process called “bearing fruit” in the New Testament. This is in fact the purpose of God for every individual. To grow into the person that God always wanted us to be.
Luke 10: 25-37. Perhaps one of the best-known parables of Jesus in the New Testament. “The Good Samaritan” tells us not only who our neighbour is (all fellow human beings), but that neighbourliness is demonstrated when we answer their need.

We believe two different things about God at the same time. We believe he transcends all things and is in some way outside and distinct from the created order – the Orthodox call Him the source less source of everything.
But we also believe that God is involved and present to us within the created order. We believe that Jesus Christ was as Paul describes Him in the very next verse in Colossians “the image of the invisible God” but that is the start of next Sunday’s reading from Colossians
Paul also wrote in 2 Corinthians “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”.
So God is distinct from the world, yet entered the world, to bring that world back into a relationship with Himself that had strayed from his way and his truth.
I think it only fair to tell you at this point that there will be a test on all this at the end.
Everything I have said so far speaks of relationship. How God relates to Jesus, how God relates to the world, and because we are made in the image of God, therefore how we relate to God and how we relate to the world.
The Bible is a book dedicated to those two twin dilemmas facing humankind.
Through Jesus, God communicated with us directly through parables how to address those two dilemmas and one of the most famous is this parable we heard today called the good Samaritan.
The Golden rule is basically Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.
But the question “who is my neighbour” was asked because the questioner wanted to know where to draw the line between neighbour and non-neighbour.
In the parable Jesus makes clear that real love does not ask for limits, but only for opportunity, so if a person has real love in his heart, he won’t ask the scribe’s question.
Jesus was saying, using their own terms and prejudice against them, “Here by your own admission is a half-breed heretic fulfilling God’s law better than the pillars of the Jewish religion”. This is what neighbour love means my friend and this is the kind of action God requires of you.
So while it is natural for humanity to organise ourselves into groups, nationalities, languages, social classes, religions and nations and a hundred other ways of drawing lines between us, those lines must be porous.
Before ad behind all those divisions, we share a common humanity. In Christian terms we are all made in the image of God, and love knows no barriers.
If we can relate to people in that way, we are doing what God requires of us when we relate to others.
That is one of the hallmarks of being transferred from the powers of darkness as Paul puts it today, into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
Bringing people into the kingdom of God was the central feature of all Jesus’ preaching. The first record of what Jesus preached is recorded in Mark, “Repent for the kingdom of God has come near.”
The Kingdom of God is present wherever God’s ways, his truth and his life reign or hold sway in anyone’s heart. That is what we mean by saying “Jesus is Lord”.
Jesus is only Lord if you actually follow and do God’s ways. Someone is your Lord when you owe them your loyalty and allegiance and they direct your thoughts and actions.
Everything I’ve been speaking about this morning is neatly summarized in a beautiful exchange in Luke.

Luke 17:20-21 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Coming of the Kingdom
20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, [a]‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

The kingdom of God is within you. It is all about the disposition of the human heart, mind, soul and spirit.
Following Jesus is how we enter the kingdom of God. In doing so we heal our relationships with each other and with God creating peace.

Monday, 8 July 2019

He died to save us all.

Isaiah 66: 10-14. The exiles who had returned to the ruined city of Jerusalem were the recipients of this text, and it first portrays the city, and eventually God himself, as a nurturing mother. Though the piece promises a materially prosperous future (never to be discounted) to the Jews, Jewish history shows that this is dependent on social justice and spiritual prosperity.
Galatians 6: (1-6) 7-16. Verses 1-6 say that within the Christian community kindly repair is preferable to a ticking off when it comes to dealing with any problems. 7-16 say that the harvest of the future is sown in the present. The meaning of “flesh” and “spirit” here can be described as the difference between suiting yourself and only yourself or serving God and neighbour.
Luke 10: 1-11,16-20. Jesus appointed people to go before him “where he himself intended to go” to prepare the way of the Lord in a kind of echo of John the Baptist. That is our mission by extension as well, but it warns us not to waste too much time and energy with people that reject the gospel. Those who reject us reject Jesus and therefore reject God. We have to marshall our resources and energy wisely.

A Spiritual attribute I pray for more than most is wisdom. The wisdom to discern what is most important in a piece of scripture, wisdom to discern accurately what is desirable or possible at any given moment, and wisdom to read the recipients of difficult pieces of scripture.
There is much practical wisdom displayed in these readings today particularly by Jesus when He says “wipe off the dust from your feet those places that don’t welcome you”. Don’t waste precious and finite energy on people who have already rejected God – we have a much bigger job trying to reach even the ones that are open.
To that some pious people might say “but isn’t everyone a potential child of God? And worth trying to convert?”
Well of course Jesus of all people knows that – He died for everyone both near and far off – but He recognises practical wisdom. When evangelising, when you hit the buffers, recognise them for what they are and don’t push against locked doors. Look for doors that are already ajar for we don’t have infinite mental and physical resources.
From Paul in Galatians we have some practical wisdom as to how we deal with people who transgress in some obvious way. We are advised to be gentle and work to restore someone to fellowship while acknowledging they did wrong. That takes forgiveness which is the hardest thing for a lot of us. Practicing what we preach is not the easiest path to take.
But in the doing of God’s revealed will we are sowing the seeds of our and the world’s future. When doing good we don’t discriminate between believer or unbeliever, good or bad people, insider or outsider. God’s good will is for all people even while many people reject it.
“For to this end, we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the saviour of all men, especially those who believe” (1Timothy 4:10)
One of the most important verses in the New Testament. Paul there says boldly;
“Everyone is saved by Christ, whether you believe it or not”. It is an objective fact.
We both evangelise and do good works, whatever they may be, because God so loved the world , not the church or religious people or the Jews or Christians, but the world.
The difference between a believer and a non-believer isn’t that one is saved and the other isn’t. It is that one knows they are saved, and the other doesn’t and knowing that has a better quality of life because they have life in all its fulness. What we try to give to non-believers is a gift that enables them to see the truth about life. For Jesus is the way, the truth and the life”. Amen

Monday, 1 July 2019

"But who do you say that I am?"

Acts 12: 1-11. I suppose the essential message here is that God works for the good of anyone who has the gospel in his or her heart and that (just as were readings a few weeks ago) freedom from either mental or physical chains is a central gospel message. An angel (or messenger – the word is the same in Greek) frees St. Peter from his chains to do God’s work.
1Peter 2:19 – 25. Suffering, as we know is part and parcel of life. Buddhism says that explicitly, but Christians imply it by having the cross as our most important symbol. Though for most protestants the cross is empty which speaks of suffering transcended. Peter says here that bearing suffering for doing right we are allied with Christ himself who walked that walk first.
Matthew 16: 13-19. Jesus commends Peter’s insight as pivotal, and such faith is the rock on which the church will be built. Armed with such faith we are given responsibility for deciding what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and the yardstick we will use is love.

Jesus said to them “But who do you say that I am?” and Simon Peter answered,
“You are the Messiah, the son of the living God”.
This is the rock on which the entire Christian church has been built, the insight of Peter revealed to him by God’s Spirit.
But as well as having this great insight, Peter himself was also very human and famously demonstrated fear and betrayal when Jesus was eventually arrested and denied even knowing Jesus three times when he was challenged and put to the test. Peter had a great fall out with St. Paul because he came under the influence of Jewish Christians who said he shouldn’t eat with gentiles so he started avoided them.
That combination of human frailty and great faith coexisting in St. Peter speaks to the vast majority of us I’m sure as describing ourselves in our lives.
We are only here at all because at some level we agree with Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God but we are also aware of our shortcomings, our capacity to sell Jesus short, and in worst case scenarios to deny Jesus as Peter did, perhaps not so much in our words but perhaps most frequently in our actions.
Our goal is to try and make sure that however often we miss the mark we are also continually strengthened by the knowledge that if God is for us, who can be against us, and that ultimately the divine insight is stronger than our human frailty and reveals itself in our life more fully.
We can identify with Peter and gain some  solace in that even after he denied Jesus three times he was reinstated on the beach after Jesus was raised from the dead – and in the book of Acts we are assured that God in Christ will always be batting for him in the remarkable story of him being released from his prison chains in a way attributed to divine intervention.
In his own contribution to the New Testament via his first letter today he writes about overcoming our fear and frailty and facing up to the consequences of doing so as being a reflection of the sacrifice of Jesus who bore all the suffering and pain as a direct consequence of following God’s will.
Jesus sets us an example for how we face life itself. Into every life comes pain, torment, unjust suffering and situations we find it hard to deal with.
We have a choice. One of the most influential books I've ever read is "Man's search for meaning" by Viktor Frankl who notes that none of us have any control over what life throws at us. The only control is over how we react to what life throws at us.
We can wilt and become bitter, and lose any sense that life is worth living at all, or like Jesus we can face up to all that life throws at us, battle against injustice to the best of our ability, knowing that life is a gift and innately worthwhile no matter what happens. Do good and live well even when the consequences are dire.
Peter writes that by following the example of Jesus in our own lives we return to the way of God, the way of Jesus, the shepherd and guardian of our souls.
Following the way of Jesus is what Peter and most of the disciples did in the end in that as prophesied by Jesus on the beach when he was reinstated he was eventually led where he did not want to go and by tradition was executed in Rome by being crucified upside down.
Peter was weak, fearful of his own safety, and easily led. But aren’t we all?
But he simultaneously showed great insight, showed instances of great bravery when preaching the word, and followed the way of Jesus literally in the end.
In the end, following the way of Christ won out over his very human failings, and as such is a great and honest example for everyone who has tried to follow Christ ever since.
Peter was truly one of us and using his life as an example we know it is possible to overcome all the failings that inhabit our souls , know like Peter that we have been set free from the mental chains that bind us, and like Peter can follow the better angels of our nature.  

Monday, 3 June 2019

Freedom in Christ

7th Sunday of Easter

Acts 16: 16-34. Two stories of deliverance from bondage. A girl is set free from demonic possession and Paul himself is set free from human bondage in a jail. It is the “name of Jesus” that is the active agent in the girl’s case and more ambiguously an earthquake in Paul’s case. Both the girl and the jailor would have been slaves in Philippi whilst Paul is a “slave of God”. Freedom is understood by Paul not as licence to do whatever you like. He understands humans as always being slaves to something, either sin, another human being, society or God.
Revelation 22: 12-14,16-17,20-end. When all is said and done, apocalyptic literature like revelation is not about predictions of times and events but about the certainty that the God who existed before creation will also exist after it comes to an end. The power of God who raised Jesus from the dead is the guarantor that whoever is suffering now will one day be vindicated. The dualism of works like Revelation serves to bolster the suffering and oppressed Christian communities at the time it was written whereas modern Christians would be much more generous in deciding who was included and who was excluded.
John 17: 20-end. A piece of Mystical writing so deep as to make the church slink away in shame at its triviality and misdirected energy. Though this piece does carry implications for how we direct ourselves, John did not have ecclesiastical institutional unity in mind when he wrote this. This is about salvation being the mystical incorporation of human beings into the Godhead and operates at a far deeper level than church unity.

Standing symbolically at least between the Ascension of Jesus – His return to the Father - that we celebrated on Thursday, and Pentecost when we mark the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the church next Sunday, we are given three pieces of scripture that tell of the deep mystical nature of the Christian faith.
The themes are eternal salvation, freedom, and mystical union between a believer and God – themes so big that I feel myself wilting when attempting to address them.
But let us concentrate on freedom because that is the most pressing and perhaps the most misunderstood subject especially in relation to God’s grace.
The passage from Acts has two stories whose spiritual message is that God’s motivation and purpose is to free us from bondage. A girl is set free from spiritual oppression in the first story and Paul is released from physical imprisonment in the second story.
The girl we are told was a slave, and it would have been understood that the jailor who was eventually converted and baptised would have also been a slave. Paul was imprisoned, so everyone in the story is enslaved in some way. The power of God frees them all though only in the case of the demon possessed girl is “the name of Jesus” specifically invoked. The fortuitous earthquake frees Paul and seeing that event and Paul’s example of faith frees the jailor.
As I have said before, it is the result that matters rather than the medium that achieves the result. The deeper message is that God’s Grace frees us from our mental chains which requires physical freedom as well.
But what does freedom mean? Is it the freedom to do whatever we like, good or bad, simply because we can?  This was a live question in the early church which Paul was required to address which he does in Romans 6.
Some people thought that because the law had been abolished and replaced by Grace, you could do whatever you liked because no law could be broken.
Paul explains why that is not what Christian freedom means in terms of slavery. We wouldn’t do that today, but these are things that would have been readily understood in Paul’s time. Paul’s point of view is that human beings will always be a slave to something. “Something” always directs the way we feel and act. In a sense pure freedom, you could say is an illusion. What Paul says is let that something that directs our thoughts and actions be God. A slave of God is how Paul describes the Christian, or a slave to righteousness as he also puts it in Romans.
The advantage of being a slave of God, as Paul puts it is that the free gift is “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23)
Which brings me to the other two offerings; Revelation offers a glimpse of the eternal glory of God who lies outside time and will offer to anyone who wishes the water of life as a gift. The water of life is God’s Spirit and on reflection, being a slave to the beginning and the end of all things, the one ultimate reality, is no hardship at all for all things rest in God’s hands.
The gospel story in John 17 brings all that mysterious glory and presence of God into the present for every believer.
In becoming a Christian, we have personal unity with God. The Glory of God the Father, and the human intimacy of Jesus Christ are both present when the active and life giving Spirit of God lives in our hearts.
This is a mystery in the truest sense. That there is always more to be revealed and understood and experienced than we can possibly comprehend at any one time.
The enormity of the claim made in John’s gospel articulated by Jesus is so deep that as I wrote during the week, as to make the church slink away in shame at its triviality and misdirected energy.
But we don’t have the spiritual energy or imagination to operate at those spiritual heights for long. But our faith tells us that this is the reality that undergirds all life no matter what pressing prosaic concerns may tell us.
Seeing and living this reality more and more is what we call discipleship or following in the way of Jesus.
Incorporating this reality into our lives we become attuned to the witness of Julian of Norwich when she wrote in “Revelations of Divine Love” of the overwhelming benevolence of God and that ultimately “all will be well and all manner of things will be well”. As I have quoted recently, This is the music of the future and faith is the courage to dance to it today.

Monday, 27 May 2019

You are never alone with Christ

Easter 6
Acts 16: 9-15. I don’t know how one distinguishes between a dream and a vision, but this one prompted an immediate reaction and  on arrival in Philippi the first convert was a “God fearer” – a non-Jewish lady who was nevertheless attracted by the Jewish understanding of God and morality represented by the Jews. She was an independent businesswoman and head of her household reflecting the importance of women in Luke’s biblical accounts of the faith.
Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5. Speaking of visions we enter the vision to end all visions – Revelation. One can simply wallow in the magnificence and the powerful symbolism of the scene painted by John of peace, light, healing, and abundance bisected by the river of the water of life. Everything needed for life to flourish is provided by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
John 14: 23-29. Jesus prophesies the coming of his Spirit which will “make our home” with followers of the way. The conflict between the full presence of the divine present to believers as described here and notions of a “second coming” is most acute. “I am going away, and I am coming to you” (verse 28).

Physical loneliness is a terrible thing in my experience.
Having someone to talk with and share with is equally important in the good times as well as the bad times. Having someone to share with, to touch, to cry on their shoulder, to celebrate with when something good happens.
Emotional loneliness is keenly entwined of course because we are scientifically and theologically speaking a psychosomatic unity. This means that our minds and bodies are linked and cannot be separated. A simple example of this is that when our bodies hurt that causes mental trauma and mental illness has serious effects on the health of our bodies.
There is also a spiritual loneliness where one can feel that we are completely alone in a cold uncaring universe and it is this element of the Christian religion that speaks most eloquently and seriously to the human condition.
All religions try to do this but Christianity is very special because the God we believe in entered into our world to make that relationship with God that much easier. When we want to relate and get to know God and his character we have Jesus to get to know and in seeing what Jesus is like we know what God is like.
But what happens when that icon of God, that “image of the invisible God” as Paul describes Jesus (Col. 1:15) has to leave this earth as He did when he was killed on Good Friday?
We know that on Easter Sunday He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples but only for a limited time and in a localised form. He was a presence at a certain time in a certain place. To be present to all his followers all at the same time He knew He would have to return to His Father and ask his Father to send his Spirit to be with us all for ever.
The return of Jesus to His Father we celebrate as Ascension Day next Thursday and we celebrate the gift of His Spirit ten days later at the feast of Pentecost.
This is what Jesus is preparing His disciples for when John writes,
“My Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them” (V. 23)
Later in that same piece Jesus says those enigmatic words “I am going away and I am coming to you” (v.28)
Layers of spiritual meaning are held within that phrase because the simple words “I AM” are of course the name of God that was given to Moses in Exodus 3:14,
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
God makes his home with us when the Holy Spirit is welcomed into our lives.
It is God by means of His Spirit that can direct, guide and teach you and perhaps most importantly just be with you. How that actually happens is not the important thing – the important thing is that you hear and respond to God’s promptings.
In the book of Acts Paul describes God speaking to Him in a vision to change course and go to Macedonia, in a move that changed the history of Christianity as it was taken to Europe out of Asia Minor.
God can speak to you via a vision, a dream, through other people, through a gut feeling, through circumstances. The medium is not the important thing, it is the message.
Like Paul, we need to be attentive and open to what is being said to us and direct our lives accordingly – as individuals and as a community.
In answering God’s direction, Paul found Lydia who believed and was  baptized, as well as her whole household and a church was planted in Philippi, the start of many churches in Greece and eventually all over Europe.
Returning to the gospel story and its message, it is absolutely clear that we are not alone in a cold uncaring universe.
God wants us to know that we are known, loved and cherished, and whatever happens to us here on earth we have a wonderful future where we will be joined with God forever in an existence that stretches beyond physical death into an everlasting future.
God’s Spirit testifies to the fact that you are never alone with Christ.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Work out your salvation

Acts 11: 1-18. It may seem strange to us that the things we take so much for granted about not being bound by dietary laws, or the universality of Jesus, still needed to be fully accepted even by Peter, and he then had to explain to other Jewish Christians the significance of Jesus after he had been convinced in a vision. The deciding factor in convincing Peter and the others was the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on all people.
Revelation 21: 1-6. A reading familiar from funeral services. In this vision John sees the glorious future awaiting mankind. A new heaven and a new earth and God dwelling with his people in eternal bliss. This is the music of the future. In order to dance to it now God gives us His Spirit described as “water as a gift from the spring of the water of life”
John 13: 31-35. This text is sandwiched between episodes of betrayal and denial so stands as a beacon to followers of Jesus. The command to love one another stands as a continual challenge to church communities to model this, but it should help that even though our response may be wanting, we are always recipients of unmerited love ourselves. “ Just as I have loved you..”(v34)

The way we interpret the ministry of Jesus nowadays seem to suggest that it was always obvious that Jesus overturned the Kosher food laws and that his ministry extended far beyond the Jewish people.
But that only became obvious on reflecting on what Jesus said and did. The Biblical witness was written decades later whilst discerning what the Holy Spirit was telling the church.
According to the book of Acts, Peter - post resurrection - was still adamant that the kosher food laws remained intact and was far from convinced that gentiles were included in God’s plan of salvation.
It took three visions and an accompanying voice from heaven to convince Peter that all foods were clean, and there was strong opposition from lots of Jewish Christians to the inclusion of gentiles. It was only seeing the Holy Spirit fall on them and them speaking in tongues that finally convinced most of them. 
This is important for us because it shows us that revelation and insight are ongoing and continuous because the Spirit of God is living and active.
Certain things are set in stone – the life, ministry death and resurrection of Jesus are central facts but how the Christian faith is understood, interpreted and lived is a dynamic ongoing process.
In a poignant verse in Philippians 2:12 Paul writes “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”
What salvation looks like as lived out by you will differ to ow it looks in other people.
How we work it out is by keeping close to God in worship and prayer and desiring God’s Spirit to work within you.
The result of us all living in Christ won’t result in a monochrome culture with us all looking and sounding the same – the Spirit will enhance and work through your character and likes and dislikes – so you become a better version of yourself.
Life in all its fullness takes into account your personality, and gifts and talents, your likes and dislikes.
You become more truly “you”.
Nearly all of us wear a mask when interacting with other groups of people – we are only ever really ourselves usually with our close family, and sometimes not even then, when we can let the mask drop and just be yourself. We often wear a mask when we approach God also.
But there is no need. God knows the true “you”, the you have become adept at hiding from other people – He knows your innermost thoughts.
The process of repentance, of re-orientating our lives is an exciting sometimes painful and unsettling process which means that the church is always in a natural state of flux, of change and development – an ossified church where nothing ever changes is a church that is not connected to the Spirit of God.
The thing that does remain constant is love. This is the commandment Jesus gave us as a church to embody so that we would be an example to the world by modelling a different way of living.
Taking the commandment seriously puts us under a certain amount of pressure. I mean “do we really embody love within the congregation?” is a continual and open question.
But if that pressure makes us feel a bit guilty and nervous, that is no bad thing - the Spirit is a disturber as well as a comforter - and those feelings should inspire us to re-double our efforts and we should rest easy that no matter how weak our response we can be sure of one thing;
That God loves us regardless of our response. Of course God wants us to respond but we are not judged on our response. Our response is a state of continual correction and refining as we attempt to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that yes we are loved and yes we are saved.

Monday, 13 May 2019

God is as Jesus is.

Acts 9: 36-43. This sign is reminiscent of the raising of Lazarus by Jesus and the thrust of the message is that the power of God exhibited in Christ is now present within Christ’s body on earth – the church. The raising of Tabitha is an acted parable and we embody his authority and power on earth and can discern the difference between spiritual life and spiritual death. Tabitha is called a Disciple here in the correct feminine form. This is the only instance of this happening in the New Testament.
Revelation 7: 9-17. The near conflation of God and Christ predates orthodox Trinitarian theology here in Revelation. As is commonly supposed the book was written in a time of great persecution – the great ordeal referenced in verse 14 – but are all now in heaven, their robes washed in the blood of the lamb. After enduring the traumas on earth, they have inherited a blessed existence, free from all hunger and thirst and pain or suffering. These words are an encouragement to all Christians suffering persecution in John’s time, that no matter what they are enduring now – in the end they will be vindicated.
John 10: 22-30. The questioners demand a straight answer to a straight question but one that fits their pre-conceived notion of who or what a Messiah ought to be. Jesus transcends all those categorisations (as He does ours today) and His answer also makes it clear that discerning his status is not just a question of having the right information. Repentance requires a complete re-orientation of life. Someone must “belong to my sheep” to fully appreciate the status of Jesus. The last statement says that functionally God and Jesus act as one.  

No-one expected the Messiah, the anointed one, to be born into an ordinary family that wasn’t rich or influential; whose family had neither position or was particularly learned. Most certainly they didn’t expect Him to suffer and to die a criminal’s death as part of God’s plan.
As Isaiah prophesied about him in one of the suffering servant passages (Isaiah 53:2) “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him”
Jesus never wrote a single word in his life as far as we know, and
ever held any office, either civil or religious and there is no account of what he actually looked like.
But because of all those reasons He can represent any race, any culture, any person no matter what their social class or education. Jesus is a truly universal figure who transcends all attempts to put him into a box and classify him.
People now think it a terrible thing that we depicted Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes in some of our art – or in medieval paintings Jesus and the disciples wearing medieval clothes -  but all that was being done there is appropriating Jesus for a particular time and place and culture. People will say that Jesus couldn’t possibly be like that as he was a near Eastern Jew. But that misses the point. I’m sure you will also have seen Chinese, South Asian and black and female representations, but Jesus wasn’t South Asian, Black or Chinese or a women either. The point is, Jesus represents the human condition of any and every cultural, social and ethnic group in the world.
Just like God does.
In the reading from John today Jesus sidesteps the demand to say whether He is the Messiah because to do so would simply be an exercise in seeing whether he fitted their pre-conceived idea of what a Messiah ought to be.
It is then that He says that his followers recognise his true identity because they are a part of his flock. This means that they have undergone a transformation, a re-orientation of life that Jesus called repentance. They have been born from above just as he told Nicodemus (John 3) he must be in order to see and recognise the Kingdom of God.
It is this re-orientation of life when we start to do and say and embody the things Christ did and said that we become his body on earth.
This is the spiritual meaning of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead, just as Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter or Lazarus. His disciples are so at one with Jesus that they emulate even the most spectacular signs performed by Jesus. And they become the continuation of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
The messages contained within the readings today are that Christ can represent all and any people anywhere – He is a truly universal figure – and that anyone and everyone can be Christ in the world today - He is every man and every woman.
Another important point is that knowing Jesus is more than just head knowledge.
Knowing Jesus is being in an active ongoing relationship with God through Jesus. That relationship lives and grows in the same way as all your relationships live and grow. It is achieved through spending time together, talking to each other and getting to know each other. Prayer and worship and seeking to discern God’s will in the world, and through engaging with sacred writings, especially the Bible record.
There is no end to this process. We are all learners and we all grow at different speeds depending on many different factors. But if we want to get close to God we do so by emulating and learning from Jesus because as Jesus said in the gospel this morning “The Father and I are one”. “God is as Jesus is” as Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said.
I always encourage entering worship or any “religious” activity with a sense of anticipation that you will not escape from the encounter unmoved or unchanged. God is working here this morning. God is here and we are here to actively engage with Him. Any true engagement with anyone doesn’t leave you unchanged so how much more will an encounter with the creator of all things.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Feed my sheep.

Acts 9: 1-6. Conversions don’t come any more dramatic or unexpected than this. Saul (Paul) was a fierce opponent of Christianity and in fact oversaw the stoning of Stephen – the first Christian martyr. Spare a thought for Ananais also, who was aware of Saul’s fierce anti-Christian stance and yet was told to seek him out and lay his hands on him to restore his sight.
Revelation 5:11-14. “Apocalyptic” is a genre of writing that is most prominent in Revelation in the New Testament and draws on Old Testament imagery in books like Daniel and Ezekiel. They speak in complicated (and sometimes indecipherable) symbols and codes to convey spiritual truths often at times of great temporal/historical trauma. What they want to convey is that no matter how bad things look from our perspective, God is in control and in the end all will be well. John’s vision came to him in exile during the persecutions of Emperor Dormitian and exalts the slain lamb Jesus to the highest heaven whom the whole creation worships.
John 21: 1-19. This passage has tremendous personal resonance for me, because when I was considering my options whether or not to go into ordained ministry, my wife Alexandra, who wasn’t given to fanciful talk or experiences, exclaimed that she had heard God’s voice speaking to her after praying about the situation and clearly heard the words “Go feed my sheep”. I have been trying to do that to the best of my ability ever since.

The conversion experience of Saul on the road to Damascus is not an experience that many 21st century Christians certainly within the church of England can readily identify.
Many, perhaps most are cradle Christians. Some will have conversion experiences certainly that were not perhaps as dramatic as Paul’s but were for us equally important and life changing.
I think I speak for most of us when I say that our conversion to Christianity is an ongoing process which started for some of us with a specific event but not for others.
You could say that Saul’s conversion needed to be as dramatic as that because He was such an appalling actively aggressive opponent of what is still known at this point as “the way” – the way of life and light modelled and lived by Jesus.
It is suggested that he presided over the stoning to death of the first Christian Martyr, Stephen and was en-route to Damascus to round up Christians who were attending the Synagogues there and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
There are two points in Luke’s story of his conversion that Paul would have taken issue with.
Luke implies that Paul’s experience of the risen Lord was qualitatively different to that of the 11 disciples, thus excluding him from being a bona fide Apostle, but Paul always maintained that his experience was exactly the same as all the other encounters.
I think this is important for what that says about all our encounters with Christ that have happened ever since. Whatever form it takes, the important thing surely is not the specifics of any encounter itself but what that encounter means to us and how it changes our lives.
The spiritual health of our community, the body of Christ here this morning, is gauged by the quality of our response to God, which is the ongoing process of worship, prayer, meeting and ministry that we engage with.
It seems that the bigger the opponent of Christ, the bigger the experience needed to effect any change. What was most important was the change in Paul’s life, his missionary zeal, and his keen theological understanding, that provided the seeds of new growth across the Eastern Mediterranean and nurtures the church to this day with his written word.
The disciple’s encounter with the risen Jesus reaches its climax with the rehabilitation of Peter on the beach. Of course, we all remember that Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed on Good Friday.
Here on the beach we have the three fold question, “Do you love me?” When each time Peter says yes, Jesus says in reply;
“Feed my Lambs”
“Tend my sheep” and
“Feed my sheep”.
As I explained on my email this has tremendous resonance for me. We are talking about encounters with the divine, and my wife Alexandra a very down to earth person if ever there was one, not prone to flights of fancy was praying on our front door step. We were wondering whether I should go into ordained ministry.
She told me that she had heard a voice speak to her and it said “Feed my sheep”
As I wrote, I have been trying to do that to the best of my ability ever since.
Encounters with the divine come in all shapes and sizes. But what is much more important is how we react to that encounter and how we try to follow Jesus in the way that leads to light and life.
Every church service is an attempt to frame an encounter with the Divine. The true success or failure of any service is gauged by how it affects someone who engaged with it.
A wise old Bishop once said of the charismatic centred churches and their exuberant spirit filled worship. “I don’t care if they fall down. It’s what they do when they get up that concerns me”
And a healthy spiritually mature church is a solvent church, fully enabled to fulfil its mission in the place it is set. How we respond as a community to make sure that we are have a secure base to work from is a spiritual matter.
To paraphrase a theologian, I quoted recently.
It isn’t how or when you heard the music of the Kingdom of God. It is how you dance to it today that counts.