Saturday, January 14, 2012

Come and See!

A little later on this afternoon I shall be leading another baptism service, one in an increasing number. We are booked up until March with one enquiry already into the early Summer! It’s also fantastic that we are booking to do more baptisms here at St Thomas’ too. It is a reminder to us that people are still seeking out the ministry of the church even in these increasingly secular days.

As I prepare the families for the service, I always ask them why they want to have their child ‘done.’  They usually clam up here and look a bit vacant, but they sometimes talk about wanting God involved in their child’s lives from the beginning or wanting a grounding to help them to grow to be a good person, and involvement with the church seems to fulfill that. They hardly ever talk about having faith in God themselves, the Baptism for them as a family being an expression of a living faith. More often it is a chance to say thank you to someone or something and to acknowledge the gift of life.

In the service, at the declarations, I ask the parents and Godparents on behalf of the child - ‘Do you turn to Christ?’ They respond, ‘I turn to Christ.’ There is sometimes a look of fear in the parents’ eyes... what are they committing themselves to? Is this some sort of Divine Contract between God and them that they are being duped into verbally signing? No, they are being invited to do what Nathaniel and countless others have been done over the centuries - to come and see, and make up their own minds as to who Jesus is.

This morning we hear of Jesus heading out to Galilee where he meets Philip. We know nothing of the detail that encounter with Jesus, other than Jesus invites Philip to follow Him.  What we do know is that because of whatever accompanied those two words, Philip leaves enthralled and enthused and has to go and tell someone, anyone about what has happened to him and who he has met.

The encounter with Jesus also convinces Philip that Jesus is the Messiah. As he looks for someone to tell, someone who will understand his excitement, Philip finds Nathaniel. Out tumbles the story - he has found the one whom all Israel has longed for in Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth. Nathaniel is skeptical, to which Philip invites him to make up his own mind.

We too are invited to make up our own minds as to who Jesus son of Joseph of Nazareth is. As we gather Sunday by Sunday, Thursday by Thursday we are, as each week passes, making up our own minds.

Why do we come to church after all? We come to meet our friends. This is really important and for some of us, this is the only time we may see each other from week to week. This building of community is such an integral part of coming to church. Even Jesus himself sought to build community by calling people to follow him.

We come to church though primarily though to offer Christ our worship. We come to meet with Him in the reading of the scriptures, the praying of prayers, in the making of the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Marriage but supremely in the Eucharist. As we eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of Jesus, He hounours His promise to be with us always. If we let it, this encounter, this communion with Christ, as Philip discovered, is utterly transforming. Through it, we become sure of who He is.

Friends last week I sent you all a letter. In it I asked us to realistically consider, together, how and when we worship, when we meet with Christ.

On Tuesday the PCC began to grapple with this issue. How can we have a pattern of worship that allows worship to happen in all three churches, in such a way that I can lead it? We have not yet come to a point where we can offer you some workable suggestions, but these will come. What we have become aware of though is it will require all of us to be prepared to change what we currently know to allow that to happen.

Our worship must not become the provision of something by me or others. Over the time I have been with you as your Priest in Charge, I have become all too aware that we cannot worship together at the moment with out our worship being reduced to that, the provision of something by me for you, before I have to leave to do the same elsewhere & I miss out on one of the things I imagine you value about coming to church at the moment - having the opportunity to see your friends, build community after worship.

I know you know that I cannot lead worship in more than one place at once unless we have someone else bought in. But you might say to me, well get over it, but as a result I am not being given the privilege to minister as your priest and get to know you.  As a result worship can become something that happens to you, and not something that we, priest and people, can offer together. The pattern we have friends at the moment I believe is just not sustainable by one priest without having to continue to seek the resources of others from elsewhere, however willing or capable they may be. In those senses what are we doing as we worship? Are we giving ourselves the time to meet each other and encounter Jesus Christ?

Worship is not the provision of something by me, but time for an encounter with God for ourselves. Philip’s encounter with Christ changed him in such a way that Nathaniel had to go and find out more for himself.

Our worship must be about opportunities to deepen our friendship with each other, but it must also be about meeting Jesus Christ for ourselves and leaving that communion changed and challenged.  Our encounter with Christ in worship, like Philip’s, should see our words and deeds bearing witness to Him. As a result, does the worship in our churches and congregations help people see Jesus for themselves in this parish? Friends I believe that this will only increasingly happen if we cease to allow worship to be something that is done to us, but something that we priest and people offer to God together, that spills out in  our friendships with each other and into every word and every deed. Amen.

No comments: