Sunday 3rd Jan 2021
This is going to be a challenging year for us as a church. Where should we start? There’s the church building – every fresh storm brings another wave of anxiety as the roof clings on by its fingertips. The vegetation in the graveyard won’t stop growing, and on top of it all, now there’s the Manse to consider as Ros begins to move out. Already there’s a damaged chimney stack to be removed and broken tiles to be repaired.
More important than the maintenance of buildings, there’s the question of ministry. Like many other church streams, we believe in every member ministry, but keeping ourselves motivated becomes harder when there is no recognised person, no Minister, to help us to focus on the direction God wants us to travel in. Then there’s our ultimate purpose – to glorify God, particularly shown by our bearing fruit in mission. There is plenty of scope for us to ‘hold out the word of life’ to the cluster of villages around (see Philippians 2:16) what with all the new houses going up and so on, and amid the pandemic it’s highly likely that many people are hungry for re-assurance and meaning in their lives.
We will make a reasonable stab at the maintenance issues. We’ve already proved that when necessary we can release the money to resource the needs, and when the restrictions will let us, we’ll pitch in to do the hands-on work that’s needed. As for ministry, we’ll all have to step up to the mark in supporting one another pastorally through whatever means we can, and prayerfully and imaginatively explore ways to be church into the future. Mission feels a bit harder – if we’re honest, for some of us the prospect of doing anything more than we do now feels overwhelming. Where do we start? Where’s the energy coming from? Where will we find the space to commit to mission when there are so many other things to do? We’re all getting older!
When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippian church his future looked very uncertain. He was in prison and execution was a real possibility. He knew that there was also an emerging threat from outside the church of state persecution. Bubbling up within the fellowship were some pretty divisive ideas which could destroy the church if left unchecked. The call to ‘shine like stars in the universe’ (2:15) must have seemed extremely hard. How could they (and we) face the challenges that are coming?
Be more Jesus! This is Paul’s word to the church. He draws on what is believed to be an early Christian hymn (2:6-11) as it centres on the person and work of Jesus. So, let’s try to do that now by asking some questions.
First, the question of maintenance… why do we have a church building, a graveyard, and a manse? Jesus didn’t have buildings to worry about! But he is described in terms of being the replacement temple, the place where people can come and meet with God. And to be that meeting place he emptied himself and became obedient even to death (2:6-8). So maybe we have somehow to let go of our buildings so that others can come closer to Jesus. To see the buildings as not just for us but for others. The graveyard of course holds a significant place in the heritage of the village. It’s not just ours, but everybody’s. As for the Manse, in the short term we will let it so that someone can have a home, but in the longer term it could become a tool by which we can enable someone to come to serve among us as a missionary pastor in the area.
Then there’s the question of ministry. What kind of ministry did Jesus exercise? The passage clearly speaks of his servanthood. Equality with God is his to keep, but he does not snatch it selfishly to himself. We’re to have the same attitude towards each other… notice the words Paul uses: united with Christ, comforted by his love, tenderness, compassion, humility, looking out for the interests of others.’ (2:1-5) If we do nothing else, let’s minister to one another with the same attitudes Jesus holds. Be more Jesus to our sisters and brothers, and those on the edges of church.
So, how did Jesus tackle the mission his Father gave him? Well, taking on human form obviously brought some limitations. He couldn’t be everywhere at once, but he did what he could, using his humanity to the full. So, he walked from village to village, stopping to talk to people on the way, and where appropriate, touching them with life-giving power. He concentrated on a bubble of people around him and by his lifestyle and speech introduced them to his own experience of the Kingdom of God. He accepted invitations to meals and parties. When he was tired, he went to sleep. He laughed, he cried, got hungry, got angry, mixed with the crowds, went to worship, and spent time alone talking with his Father. When the time was right, he turned to face death in humble obedience to his Father’s will and somehow through it all, God was making sure that ‘every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord’. (2:10-11).
We can only do what we can, but we do have a responsibility to do what we can. This is going to be a challenging year, but here’s the call and the invitation, to ‘be more Jesus’.