Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Our Life. Our Worship.

Richella Heekin saved £1200 over two years to pay to take her boyfriend Ben Marlow on a surprise holiday to Las Vegas for his birthday. She spent a long time researching flights and routes which she finally booked - flying from Birmingham to Dallas and then on to Las Vegas.  It was only as they got to Birmingham airport that they discovered that instead of flying from BHX - Birmingham International airport in the UK, they had booked to fly from BHM - Birmingham, Alabama. Sadly the surprise was on both of them…

It’s kind of like that with our worship on a Sunday and during the week. We know the destination as it were - our worship is offered to God, expressing our love of Him, our thankfulness to Jesus’ for His teaching and leading of us and for His willingness to walk the Way of the Cross and His resurrection, and to be fed by the Sacrament of Holy Communion and filled with the Spirit sending us out in love and service to make Christ known. But are we certain of our starting point? Is our worship just about what ‘I like’, or about ‘what we need’ to best enable us to reach our destination?

In these early chapters of John’s gospel, in the preceding verses, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar. Crossing social, ethical, historical and religious boundaries, He shares with her a truth about the worship of God - it’s not about place or style - but about the intent of the heart. Jesus then returns to Cana in Galilee. Whilst there an official from the royal court in Capernaum come to Him seeking healing for his son, which Jesus grants, offering us insight into the work that God has called Jesus to - that Jew and Gentile alike are called to worship the God of Israel and that all people are invited to witness the breaking in of His kingdom in their lives and the world.

‘… After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem…’ Tim Peake, the British Astronaut on the International Space Station has had a new challenge - it involved him driving round Stevenage. Well, indirectly actually. He successfully managed to drive a remote control car from the ISS around a large sandpit in Stevenage which was part of an experiment to see how astronauts can control remote systems on other worlds. In Jesus, God does the opposite. Instead of sitting remote to that which He loves, Jesus comes to us to navigate us into a new relationship with God. It is no accident that He comes to Jerusalem - the centre of Jewish life and worship. He, the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin - enter’s the city through the gate through which the sacrificial animals would be brought, and comes to the pool of Beth-zatha - which means house of grace or place of shame, to bring the grace of God to lives shattered by sickness and shame. Worship was central to Jesus’ life and ministry - through it He drew close to God His heavenly Father. We need to ensure that the worship we offer in our church our ‘houses of grace’,  feeds and resources us in the same way.

Jesus said to the man at the pool, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up… So it seems that BHS and Austin Reed are likely to disappear from the high street for good. It feels like some of our top name stores (or certainly ones from my childhood) have just disappeared - Woolworths is a recent casualty along with Comet and Dixons, but how about Dewhurst the butchers or Freeman Hardy and Willis? Brands and names that once were thought immoveable, due the economy changing, have gone by the wayside.

The man by the pool was also immoveable. Not only had he been ill for such  long period of time but his expectations were totally stuck and even when Jesus offered to heal him, he rejects the offer because no one could carry him into the pool. He only could see healing happening in one way.

Research clearly shows that for a church community to grow numerically one of the very important factors is not the style of worship or whether modern songs are sung or robes worn, but rather the fact there is an act of worship at the same time every week. Now I know we looked at and revised or pattern of worship only relatively recently to enable me as your parish priest to lead worship in our 3 churches as regularly as possible. Since that revision our ministerial team has grown with the arrival of Anne and Jairo and the licensing of Helen, but our needs are changing too - we now have an act of family friendly worship in each church over 3 Sundays of the month month.  Our worship needs to meet the needs of the community today and dare I say look to tomorrow also, but also must be offered at a time that allows people to attend every week at the same time. This will require some careful planning and negotiating for the whole team of clergy and readers to enable us to all encounter the Living God in worship each week and to be fed and resourced by Him.

What is Jesus asking of us? Our pattern of worship as a parish is confusing. Here it laid out by each church.  IS it any wonder that we aren't growing as effectively as we could be if no one knows for certain where and when our services are?

St Peters
Week 1: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Sung Eucharist
Week 2: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Family Eucharist
Week 3: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Sung Eucharist
Week 4: 10.30am Parish Eucharist (in one church)
Week 5: 8am Said Eucharist, 10.45am Sung Eucharist

St John’s
Week 1: 9.00am Said Eucharist
Week 2:10.00am Family Eucharist
Week 3: 10.00am Family Eucharist
Week 4: 10.30am Parish Eucharist (in one church)
Week 5: 9.00am Said Eucharist

St Thomas’
Week 1: 10.30am Family Eucharist
Week 2: 9.00am Said Eucharist
Week 3: 9.00am Said Eucharist
Week 4: 10.30am Parish Eucharist (in one church)
Week 5: 9.00am Said Eucharist

Our worship is as crucial to our life as Christians as is the air we breathe is to living. But are we offering worship at a time that is only convenient for a few or perhaps for those of us who lead and not at a time that enables the maximum number of people to attend each and every week? Are we immoveable like the sick man, assuming that things have to be done a certain way because they always have been? Are we willing to see something new that we can offer to others and God as we worship? Are we willing to look generously away from what I want, to what we need to allow our worshipping life to flourish?