Sunday 21st August 2022

Tpday we had breakfast church, wiht a video and discussion time ( see at the end of this), followed by the service at St Peter's wihth followijg address, but both services dwelt on some similar themes;

Readings Luke 13 1017, Hebrews 12, 18-29


In 1942 Disney released its fifth full length animated movie, a film that had been frequently delayed in production due to the difficulty experienced in animating the main character. Recently it was voted the third most popular fully animated film of all time.

Bambi- there’s a scene which I’m sure you all know that still makes my wife cry, and it also contains one of her favourite quotes, from Thumper the baby rabbit;

“If you can’t say something nice,  don’t say nothin’ at all”

There’s a sense in which I can imagine Jesus saying this to the leaders of the synagogue, indignant because he had cured the bent over disabled woman on the Sabbath. He’s just a little more cutting as he accuses them of being hypocrites as they choose what they define as work or not, when surely giving the woman the freedom of good health was more important than feeding their donkeys. And the result, the crowds rejoiced, delighted at Jesus’ rebuttal of the pompous religious leaders and rejoicing at the wonderful things Jesus was doing.

In Breakfast church at Chapel this morning, we were considering the barriers the institution and people of the church often make to people of this generation to reach God. Our rules and regulations, our traditions, often alien to modern generations, our lack of inclusivity of those different from ourselves or those we don’t understand, our protecting of what we like, instead of enquiring what others might like, or embracing difference.

In many respects, some churches today, throughout much of the world, could be accused, just like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, of hypocrisy, of denying other’s the love of God by wanting to keep our version of God to ourselves, yet at the same time bemoaning that those generations ignore God. And there are times, sadly, when it could indeed be said of the church

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all”

Of course, it’s not always like that, the church does some amazing work, cares for communities and individuals, challenges injustice, spreads the love of the gospel, raises money for good causes, reaches out with the love of God, often quietly, often without fanfare, often through individuals faithfully living out God’s calling upon them, like many do here.

But when our modern generations perceive the church institution as a place full of rules and restrictions, full of traditions that are often difficult for others to understand, using language that belongs to generations before anyone today was even born and with some of its members being unkind, accusative, non-inclusive or simply not saying “nice things”, then is it any wonder we struggle to bring new people to Christ, if the only route is through that institution.

But of course, the reverse applies too, and that’s nothing new. If we look to the Old Testament, the prophets were forever berating the generations they lived amongst for turning away from God, of ignoring his ways, his words.

They often called for a return to God, sometimes that included a return to old traditions, away from the “ways of the world” of their days.

And today, we can often perceive the world outside our church walls as a sinful place, full of greed and corruption, selfishness, a Godless society. And that society often says nasty, unkind and untrue things of the church too. Yet sadly, like some of the religious leaders of the Old Testament, instead of trying to understand and love that society, with all it’s faults, the response is often to make more rules, more restrictions that somehow are supposed to persuade people to come to God by accusing them of sin, accuse them when they challenge us.

Which is not how Jesus worked.

Of course, he didn’t mince his words, when people were doing wrong he wasn’t backward in coming forward to tell them. But his accusations were often tempered with a solution, a way out of the sin they were in. Because his motive was not to trip people up, find fault for the point of it, his motive was their salvation, his motive was love.

Indiscriminate love. Even for his enemies. Love that took him to the cross so that all people could be forgiven. Forever.

“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God” our reading form Hebrews said as the writer speaks of the hoped for perfection of what we might now call the Kingdom of God. And it continued “You have come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and to innumerable angels in festal gathering and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, mediator of the new covenant.”

Do we truly recognise the power, the awesomeness the explosiveness of the faith we have been entrusted with?

Have we become so institutionalized in our structures, our churches, our traditions that we shut out the rest of the world, the sinners the unbelievers because they are not like us, instead, like Jesus sitting and having meals with them, spending time amongst them that they then might perceive though our actions the love of God? We might not be healing people, we might not be curing blind people or raising from the dead like Jesus did, but we are living witnesses to what he did, and our lives, filled with God’s love and inspired by God’s Spirit can transform lives, lead them to God that they too might rejoice like those who were healed, whose physical healing, throughout Jesus ministry, was  always secondary to their spiritual healing.

And where to start?

“If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say nothin at all”

Actually no, the better place to start, surely, would be by saying, or even doing something nice, wouldn’t it?

Like Jesus did.

 If you’re doing good, being “nice”, healing wounds, restoring relationships, or just saying loving words, there won’t be many rules or traditions that are worth having that you’ll be breaking, and you’ve a good example to follow and to quote if anyone ever questions your motives.

And then, maybe then, we will begin, just begin to reach the people of this generation with the gospel of Jesus, with the love of God.

And surely that is the mission of the church, any church, every church.

 This church. Amen.

At Breakfast church we showed the video below, followed by discussion and a short word: We used Joel 1, 1-3, Psalm 78 and Ephesians chapter 2

Throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.

When you read the old Testament it’s full of references to preceding or coming generations, the lineage is often given Z9 in the New Testament too), the purity of the bloodline and the sharing of faith stories were essential in the tribal communities especially in the early nomadic days. In the New Testament, we again hear about generations past and present, but when looking forward, it is always through the church, through Christ that these generations are perceived.

But we live in a world where, as our video showed, where young people, indeed most people, have become suspicious of the church, an organisation that seems stuck in the past, that seems full of restrictions and do nots, that isn’t fully inclusive, that is alien to the culture they are used to. A church that only perceives the traditional as the possible ways to worship, and wonders why people who might attend less traditional worship, even like Messy Church for instance, aren’t in “proper” church on Sundays. Indeed, for many this very service is deemed unsuitable, not holy enough, too informal, not proper church.

For Jesus, church as about people- sure he went to Synagogue, but most of his preaching most of his time was spent with people. Ordinary people, young an old, not even synagogue goers, and especially sinners and tax collectors, beggars and lepers and people the religious authorities of the day deemed unimportant. If he was around today, I don’t think he’d be found in our churches very often. Even his disciples, who should have known him well, tried to turn away the next generation, the children when they tried to come to him.

Now, don’t get me wrong, any large organisation is going to lead to a certain institutionalisation of its members, just to hold the organisation together and have some shared values and rules, if nothing else, but, for the church, if that institutionalisation leads to a stifling of God’s message, a slowing up of God’s plan, then we sometimes have to break the institutional barriers. The human ones we create, and replace them with the Christ centred ones Jesus showed us.

So, church, how does that look in practice. How do we connect with the world out there. How do we show them that what we have is a priceless treasure, so priceless that they will want it too. How do reveal to them, as the video said, authentic love.

A tough string place for a discussion- let’s see what you come up with.....