Monthly Archives: July 2015

Why Will They Come?

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NRSV)

A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. (John 6:2 NRSV)

The question is, why did the crowds follow Jesus in such great numbers?

Well, because he was the Son of God, we might answer; or, because he taught with authority; or even, because they saw him as the Messiah who would free Israel from foreign oppression.

Maybe, but I think the answer is simpler, but no less important for being so. I think the answer to why so many people flocked to hear Jesus in such great numbers is “Self Interest” – or at least that’s where it began.

You see, I don’t believe that, at its root, human nature changes a great deal from one generation to another.

We may live in a society which is more sophisticated in some ways than that of First Century Palestine but when push comes to shove, we’re not that different really. We may smirk at the superstitions and pretentions of previous generations, but we have our own, which future generations will laugh at in their turn. We may abhor the brutality and violence of older societies but, in truth, it is never far below the surface of our own.

Certainly, we have learned and are continuing to learn of different ways to approach the problems of our world, but hindsight can be the weapon of the smug and to project our values onto the people of ancient times is to act with considerable arrogance. You see, we’re not so different; which is why the Gospel is just as relevant to us as it was to the people of Jesus’ time.

The clue to why so many people followed Jesus on his earthly travels is given to us in that short passage from John’s gospel, above. In verse 2 of chapter 6 the evangelist tells us: “A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.”

They came to him for healing of the body and stayed for the healing of the soul.

The people of Jesus’ day, just like the people of today, needed hope. And Jesus gave them hope. He didn’t need, on the whole, to teach them to believe in God. The vast majority of them already believed. The same is true today.

Many people came to him because they heard that he could heal them of their infirmities. They came to him in their brokenness, and he gave them their lives back. For that is what healing is – to be given a new lease of life. All those people Jesus healed would go on to face death like the rest of us; but their encounter with him changed their lives.

And having come to him, either for themselves or bringing their loved ones with them, they saw that this man was different; and they stayed to hear what he had to say. Their encounter with Jesus reconnected them with the God who loved them. He not only gave them back their lives: he gave them hope – for this life and for eternity.

He didn’t judge who was worthy, who was the right kind of person, or who could best benefit from his services. He just met the needs of everyone who came – and proclaimed the Kingdom of God.

He then called his followers to go out and do the same, first in half a dozen pairs and then later in larger numbers. And finally he commissioned his friends do carry on his work – not to build an institution, a sect or a denomination – but to care, to proclaim, to baptize and to teach.

That task falls upon our generation too; and we still have the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower and enthuse us for our work. We may feel that we are frail and faltering Christians, and that is probably true – its certainly true for me; but by God’s grace and in God’s name we are called to share his love with those around us – to help them to have that life-changing encounter with Christ.

The people of our time need hope too. Can you think of anything more hope-less than just getting by from birth to death with no sense of purpose or aim?

But Christ offers us hope, and God has a purpose for each life. In Christ we can discover that purpose. We may not have Christ’s miraculous powers to ourselves but the purpose of the church church is to be a community of hope and encounter with the love of God.

That is a tough vocation, but it is also an attractive one, for when people catch a glimpse of hope they are much more likely to stay to hear the words of eternal life, and grow into the people God created them to be.

But, we say to ourselves, “Oh, I could never do that. I could never bring someone to encounter Christ. That’s not for me. I could never do it.”

Well, you’re in good company: including people like Moses who, in his old age, when called by God to go and free the Israelites from slavery, responded with words to the effect of: “Here I am lord. Please send somebody else!”

But we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide us in our vocation.

And we should also remind ourselves of those words from St Paul in that passage from Ephesians, above: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Advertisements

Who Dares, Serves!

What, precisely, is the mission of the Church? It’s an important question if we are to seek to serve God in the place where he has set us.

Think of it this way: armies divide their campaigns into strategy and tactics. Strategy is about the big picture, the overall aims and objectives; tactics are about how those objectives are achieved. Tactical actions need to be co-ordinated, led and based on the reality of the people and resources available; but fundamentally they should contribute to the overall strategy.

If we may lean on that analogy for a moment and consider the Church’s mission, we may come to the conclusion that we often start from the wrong place. In our focus on tactics, we may sometimes lose sight of the overall strategy – our mission. We may spend so much time dealing with the details that we forget to ask, “Why are we doing this?” or “Is this particular activity contributing to the overall mission of the Church?”

But how can we do that if we don’t know what that Mission is? We could be doing all kinds of things which, whilst good in themselves, may not contribute to the mission of the Church. Ultimately that can become a debilitating waste of time, energy and resources.

So here’s a suggestion: our mission is to share in God’s mission to transform the world through the proclamation of the Gospel of love, justice and salvation, in word and (significantly) in action; to draw people to the fire of God’s love in worship, prayer, celebration and praise; to empower them to love God and their neighbour; to grow disciples who will serve God and their community in their daily lives.

All our outreach, all our social action, all our evangelism, all our giving should contribute to that mission. In every activity we undertake we should be able to answer the question, with integrity, “How does this support the mission of the Church?”

Have a look at Luke 4: 16 – 21.

Nigel

10th July 2015

The Real Losers

Who are the real losers when political systems fail?

Leaving aside the significant numbers of failing states around our world at the moment – fuelling anarchy and extremism with all its vile consequences – spare a thought for another group of people: the ordinary men, women and children of Greece.

Whatever the failings of successive governments of that country, whatever the foolishness of a political correctness which drew an ill-equipped and fragile Greek economy into the Eurozone, in contravention of the economic doctrines of that system’s architects; whatever the unrealistic financial expectations of the mega-bankers who have tried to protect the status quo against a tsunami of indebtedness: let us remember that there will be real and substantial suffering amongst the Greek people for years to come.

As enlightened Christians that should concern us deeply. The very fabric of the Greek nation is under threat in a way which last manifested itself before most of us were born: in the Europe of the 1920s and 30s. It is a spectre which we should not be prepared to contemplate.

Please pray for the governments of Europe, for the international financiers and, most of all, for the people of Greece: that, in a wealthy and interconnected world, a civilized and compassionate solution may be found.

Perhaps Luke Ch 15: vv 11 – 32 might offer a model for reflection.

Nigel

3rd July 2015