Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Dying Church Living The Love of God

There was an article from the Telegraph this week which proclaimed that the Church of England will be dead in 20 years. It referred to a debate in General Synod this week where it was speculated that by 2020 the CofE would fail to be practically functional. With the average age of congregations currently around 61, by 2020 we will be in terminal decline apparently. We need to have a very real sense of crisis about this apparently.

This got me thinking. How do we respond to such stark news? Let me give you a sense of what I believe we do not do.

We do not change our liturgy and suddenly dumb down our worship to the ‘lowest common denominator’. We do not put to one side the hymns we have been singing - led by organ and choir for generations - and sing only simplistic new songs instead. We do not take out our pews and replace them with chairs. We do not do away with our robes. We do not change our received traditions and customs... Now, before you wonder whether I am advocating some sort of entrenchment against the odds to see if we can weather the storm or worse still ignore the reality of the situation, I invite you to look with me again at this morning’s New Testament reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Paul does not call the Roman church, and us to entrenchment against the odds or to move the furniture or to change the music, instead he reminds us of something fundamental and obvious.  If we call ourselves Christians, then it must count in an obvious way.  In other words, to be a growing Christian community in some way Jesus' life and death must free us into new ways of living.  Something distinctive.  What does that freedom mean?  Well Paul's answer is compelling: life.  If we call ourselves Christian then we should be living lives recognisably full of Jesus Christ for if we are not, we are living according to 'the flesh' as Paul calls it.

Paul says we can only live true life if the Spirit of God leads us. To be led by God’s Spirit transforms our future as starkly as a turn from death to life and our relationship with God from rebellion to obedience, from being an enemy of God to His beloved child.

To fully help his hearers to get their heads round this he compares the life of a slave with that of a child in a family.  To be a slave is to be under oppression, owned by and directed by someone else, without freedom and living in fear. This is not Christ’s way.

Being a child on the other hand means becoming a heir.  It means being loved no matter what.  It means addressing the head of the house in the same way that the Son does – with the utmost intimacy, as Daddy!  It means God giving us equal rights in the family just as his Son, and for us to see and recieve all the things we might expect too with it.  And the Son does not mind as it is Jesus the Son who has gone out of his way to invite us in – offering us freedom, life and hope.

As Jesus' siblings we have a duty to be a good advert for Him.  We should be finding ourselves so transformed by God's Spirit, that we desire to please our Father by the way we live.  Children usually look up to their parents in respect and love and long to be like them.  As adopted children of God let’s strive to please Him – but let's not romanticize it.  It's not all love, love, love.  Paul reminds us that we cannot pick and choose which parts of the life of Jesus we buy into.

Just as Jesus endured suffering – so will we.  Yet God's spirit in us reminds us of our true nature – in those moments when we question who we are and what we believe, when we forget who we are, when we desert who we are – God spirit says 'You are God's child, now behave like it!'  If we are going to talk like the Son, we also need to act like him and until we do, the rest of the world cannot receive what's on offer from God through His church.

We know how to act like Jesus - He clearly told us - love God with all that you are and love your neighbour as you love yourself. This is the fulfilment of the Law and of everything that God expects of us. Whilst the predictions of the future of the Church of England may look bleak statistically, the one thing that statistics cannot measure is ther quality of God's life enhancing, all transforming love.

Friends, in love God sent Christ to call the Church into life and love, not to see it die in ten years or so. He does not and nor do I. Paul reminds his hearers and us this morning that as children of God, our future is glorious, but this hope is not one based on statistics showing doomed decline, or powerpoint displays, or comfy seats but a sure and certain hope that his love will transform us, others and this community just as He done in the lives of many others over the centuries.

If we as a church want to make the most of our status as beloved children of our heavenly father we need to be led by His Spirit into new ways of loving for it is the quality of our love of other and of God that is attractive to others not our seats or songs. We need to spend time reflecting afresh with God on how and where we should express His love most effectively in our parish and their communities.

As churches we will begin to do that over the next few months in three ways: through listening to Him in prayer, listening to each other’s hopes and dreams for the church and listening to the wider community’s needs and longings.  Through that listening, we will begin to determine a few priorities in living out the love of God across our parish and within the homes, shops, schools and lives of people in each community.

The big story that God has written with people over the pages of the centuries goes something like this - God says: I love you, I want to be with you, will you be with me? We are called to respond to that love story ourselves and share it with others by allowing our lives to be transformed by His love. God longs for His church to be growing, thriving, engaged in the community, transforming the community - this morning who do you trust? Gloomy statistics or the transforming love of our Father lived out by each one of us? Amen.

1 comment:

Ben said...

my favourite chapter, powerful stuff amen to that