Video for July 6th, 2023
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
We had a wonderful ordination last Saturday. It’s a privilege to be part of a service in which we commission a group of people to serve the Lord’s church. The retreat was beautifully led by Guy Bridgewater, an old friend, and Rector of Bath Abbey. In one of his sessions he recalled his own ordination retreat 36 years ago, which was for him a memorable and moving experience. I called to mind my own, 29 years ago, which was rather less memorable, although I do remember the Bishop’s charge which was a very simple, “be good, go to Chapter, and keep out of the newspapers.” It was the essence of ministry of a sort! At a retreat, one tries to distil something of one’s accumulated experience for those setting out on the ministerial journey. In my charge to the ordinands I felt led to Paul’s memorable passage in Romans 12, where he urges the Christians to keep their spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.
In any profession long experience can evolve into a sort of weary cynicism where one stops learning and filters everything through jaded glasses. The motto becomes, “we tried that and it didn’t work” Sadly, it can be true for clergy as well, particularly in a culture where ministry is incredibly difficult. It can be hard to keep going with the same enthusiasm and courage so evident in those ordained last weekend. That zeal is in part maintained by taking good care of one’s emotional life, since the spiritual and emotional are closely linked. It is also maintained by having a good theological world view. The scriptures teach us that God is both sovereign over the world he has made and is working his purposes out to a good conclusion of a new heaven and earth, and that human choice is genuine. If we hold the two together we can hang onto faith that even in difficult times God is still at work. We can also recognise that our incompetence is never going to be the last word. God can weave even our sin and disobedience into his purposes without ever being thwarted by them.
But preaching to others is always a dangerous business, because you find it coming back to speak to you as well. The phrase that has resonated with me from that Romans passage is ‘serving the Lord’ I reflected how easily I slip in to thinking I’m serving the church. As a sort of ‘professional’ Christian (although I wonder what an amateur one would look like) I notice how often I talk about institutional churchy things and how little I really talk about Jesus. A very dear friend came to dinner a few days ago, whose faith is inspiring and conversation always turns to the Lord’s work in her life and community. She was full of what I call Holy Ghost stories. If we believe God is at work and keep our eyes open they are not hard to spot, even in the most mundane of experiences. All that we do can be re-framed in those terms. We are not just ringing bells – we are calling people to worship the Lord. We are not just arranging flowers, we are decorating the Lord’s house. We are not just caring for the building we are tending a sign of God’s presence in his world. We are not just giving money we are responding generously to the Lord’s great love for us. All of us will have stories of real spiritual experiences which are encounters with God’s love. We claim to be followers of Jesus, yet I ask myself why I find it easier to talk about the institution that has grown up as a container for the community of his followers than I do about Him and the difference He has made in my life. It is incontrovertible that the future of the church belongs to those with conviction who are courageous enough to share the good news with those who don’t know Jesus Christ yet. All the statistics about Church growth and decline make that abundantly clear. Perhaps we need to begin by sharing stories of Jesus with one another. I confess there are several occasions over the last few months when I haven’t responded to that inner nudge of the Spirit to ask a question of someone on a parish visit that might have opened up a spiritual conversation. I settled for easy charm and bonhomie instead. I’m reasonably socially adept – I don’t find that difficult. But the open, honest conversations within the Church about the difference Jesus is making in our lives day to day could be the faith building we need to open our mouths in the wider community. Sometimes that happens more easily in the safer space of a small group but if we are to be an evangelistic community as well as a pastoral one we and I need to grow in this area. So, I leave you with some homework. Where have you seen God at work this week? And could you share that story with someone else this weekend? Leave some feedback on the Facebook site or email me. Let’s encourage one another.