Tuesday, 31 October 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".

Friday, 13 October 2006

Using our gifts

MATTHEW 25:14-30

We're looking at the three parables in Matthew 25

Last week: parable of the 10 bridesmaids: 5 were wise and 5 were foolish. We need to be vigilant: as the people of God we are called to watch.

Today, we are looking at the parable of the talents. It is quite well known, but it is worth revisiting.

Three headlines

1. We need to use what we have been given

The talents that we have been given are from God and to be used in God's service

A 'talent' today has become something special. In education speak we talk about 'gifted and talented'.

But it is not how Jesus understands it here. Our talents are all the things that God has given us that can be used for service to others and to him. JC Ryle writes, "Anything whereby we may glorify God is a 'talent'. Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our senses, our reason, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ's Church, our advantages as possessors of the Bible - all, all are talents". (Commentary on Matthew 25:14-30)

And yes, the master gives different talents according to ability. He knows what we can take and bear. But notice there is nobody here with no talents, and there is no limit on how much any talent can be developed and grown.

And the master gave the different talents to the servants to be used. "He entrusted his property to them" (v14). And clearly he expected them to be grown and developed.

A few years ago, there was a lot of talk about stewardship campaigns in churches. At its best, stewardship was about this parable. It was about recognising that everything that I have is gift - gift from God. And it is about recognising that I hold it on trust, and that one day I will be asked to give account of how I have used it. If the world asks, "What does a person have?", Christ asks, "How does a person use what they have?" We will be accountable for what we have, not for what we do not have.

2. One day our excuses will be stripped away.

The servant who has been given one talent and who has not done anything with it, excuses himself by saying that he was afraid of the master (v24-25). He seems to be saying: "The master has so much. Whatever he does flourishes. So whatever I do will be so pitiful in contrast. I'll be shamed. Therefore I will do nothing."

It is an argument that, I suspect, many of use with God. We say: "Look at my pitiful talent. I can do so little". And we look at the great needs, and we look at others who we think seem so talented, and we say, "I'll leave it to them. They're much better at it. And God is big enough to look after his world, and he doesn't need me. He doesn't need my prayer, my giving, my service."

But notice the answer of the master. He says, in verses 26 and 27: "You know whatever I put my hand to, whatever I give, I desire to see it grow and flourish. And that is true of the talent that I gave you. And yet you did nothing."

"You think that your excuse is fear, is inadequacy. But that is not the reason you did nothing. The reason you did nothing was laziness and wickedness.

Laziness: you just couldn't be bothered. You stayed in your comfort zone. You weren't prepared to take any risks. (Notice that we are talking here about a significant period of time: the master was gone for 'a long time')
Wickedness: you had the gift I gave you, and you chose to do nothing with them. You chose to live for yourself and not to live for me. You could not care less about my things, and it really was a question of 'out of sight, out of mind'.

So many of us are like that servant with the one talent. We use the excuse of inadequacy. 'I couldn't possibly play an instrument in church, join the choir, set up a women and girls choir, lead the prayers, go on the tea/coffee rota, join the church cleaners, flower arrangers or pew shifters. I couldn't possibly think of church commitment or leadership.' But it is not just about using our gifts within the church community. We might say, 'I don't read the bible because I don't understand it. I don't talk with others about God because I don't know the answers. I'm not going to offer for service because others can do it so much better. I'm not going to think this issue through, because I am no good at thinking. I'm not going to bother about how I invest my money because it is too big for me.
Remember Moses. God calls him to use his many talents to do a terrifying job. Moses comes up with all sorts of excuses: 'How do I know it is you speaking? How will I know that you will go with me? The people will never listen to me". And God answers him very graciously and patiently. It is only when Moses says, "God, I'm no good. Send someone else", that God gets very angry. We're told, "His anger burned against Moses".
Basically when we claim inadequacy we are saying to God: "Let me live my life my way. Don't bother me. The last thing I'm going to do is to take a risk, to step out of line for you".

I don't know what your talents are. But I do know this. Whatever God has given us, he has given us to be used - and to be used in his service. And yes we can choose to pretend that all that matters on this planet is me and my life here and now - but in the end, we are going to come face to face with reality. And the question will be: "What did you do with all that gift that I gave you? Did you use it just for yourself? Did you bury it? Why have you retreated into your castle and shut your doors? You could have done so much? Why have you horded up so much money? - to give to your children when you die. But they are not going to need it then. But there are people now who do need it, and it can be used for my glory"

And on that day, for all of us, the excuses will be stripped away.

3. There is a great reward

The master says to both the one who has made five and the one who has made two talents: "Well done, good and faithful servant: you have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness"

There is a universal truth. Those who are faithful with small things will be entrusted with greater things. And the reward for faithful service is not rest, but further and greater responsibility. Heaven is a place of great peace; it is not a place of inactivity.

And notice that whereas the third servant couldn't care less about his master, or the things of his master, the first two really did care about him. They did want him to think well of them. They did wish to receive his praise - his "well done, good and faithful servant". And for many Christians, I know that really is the motivation that drives them. We may not have been particularly significant or effective or talented, but we have tried to be faithful to God with what he has given us.

And one last thing: The master says to them, "Come and Share your master's happiness".

Our God delights when we use our gifts and talents in his service. And he does not just say 'Well done'. He shares his joy with us. In the film chariots of fire, Eric Liddell is talking about his running. He says - with great joy - "God made me to run, and he made me to run fast"
And so the master praises his servants; he rewards them and he shares his very heart with them: so that they delight when he delights.

So what about it? You may be a 5 talented person; a 2 talented person or a 1 talented person. It really doesn't matter. What matters is how you are going to use what God has given you.