Saturday, 31 January 2009

A good quote

“The whole church... must become a mobile missionary force, ready for a wilderness life... it is time for us all to be thinking of campaign tents rather than of cathedrals” John McKay (Whitby Conference 1947)

Mission as organizing principle

I found this on Alan Hirsch's blog (Alan is author of a really challenging book: The Forgotten Ways)

Mission as organizing principle
In a remark ascribed to Gordon Cosby, the pioneering leader of that remarkable community, Church of the Savior in Washington. DC, he noted that in over 60 years of significant ministry, he had observed that no groups that came together around a non-missional purpose (i.e. prayer, worship, study, etc.) ever ended up becoming missional. That it was only those groups that set out to be missional in the first place (while embracing prayer, worship, study, etc. in the process) that actually got to doing it. This observation fits with all the research done by Carl George and others that indicate that the vast majority of church activities and groups, even in a healthy church, are aimed at the insiders and fail to address the missional issues facing the church in any situation.


Called to deep water

"Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch" Luke 5:4
Jesus had been teaching the crowd from a boat in the shallows and he then commands Simon to go fishing after a night spent unable to catch anything. Simon obeys and they catch an abundance of fish which is taken to shore with additional help. Simon breaks down and calls Jesus 'Lord' and is promptly called to follow him, which he does, leaving everything.

Shallows and deep water
Shallows are lovely and safe. We sometimes need time in the shallows but we don't need lots of time there. You can't let down nets in the shallows, fish are unlikely to be there. You can get some good teaching in the shallows but then you do need to put it into practice. In the shallows you can rely on yourself, in deep water you have to rely on Jesus.
It is no wonder that Jesus wanted Simon to do something that was against his 'better' judgement - he was teaching him a lesson of reliance and trust - Simon had already seen that Jesus could heal his mother, now he would see that at the word of Jesus he, himself, could do something just as amazing in the company of Jesus and with help from his friends!
There is a tendency in us to seek control - especially amongst professional middle-class Christians. If we stay in the shallows we can manage things, we can make the most of what there is in the shallows - we play at church rather than live as followers of Jesus. We play safe and rely on our own understanding, skills, talents and experience. Of course we do have the nets and the boats that can be used for a catch but if we aren't following the commands of Jesus then we will end up not going deep enough to let them down in the right place.
Deep water is not very comfortable for us when we have spent so much time in the shallows and yet it is what we are called to and where the teaching and example of Jesus constantly calls us to be. As a church we are putting out into deep water and we have to give up on our better judgements, sacrifice our own control, stop relying on ourselves and keep trusting that Jesus knows what he is doing and if he says do something.... then we do it and we will have a catch of fish.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The impulse to go

"they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, 'I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.'" Luke 4:42-44
Jesus clearly understood his 'sent-ness'. Rather than give in to the compulsion to people-please, staying where there was success, where the kingdom was clearly coming he heads off to where the kingdom has not yet come but will come as the good news is preached. Too often we feel a sense of compulsion to people-please, to play safe and we end up domesticating the 'wild gospel' which has at it's core an impulse to go elsewhere, to go where the gospel hasn't yet been and where the kingdom is near.
We are developing mission-shaped communities in the belief that the we are not supposed to be a domesticated church but rather one that goes out, goes elsewhere because we believe with all our hearts that the kingdom is near and people want this good news of the kingdom.
I find it interesting that Jesus expressed the impulse to go from the place of prayer... a solitary place. How are we to get the kingdom impulse in our lives? How is it to become the impulse behind our MSC's? Prayer is the place to start.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Tomorrow I am at Harlow Hill Methodist church - one of the 'united services' between Methodists and Anglicans that have been going on for some years. Just part of the variety of things I find myself doing in this extraordinary situation of 'emergence' at SMC.
I am focussing on the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1 and part of what I say will be regarding the calling for our baptism to be 'manifested' or 'shown'. Something that makes a difference. Robert Crampton, the columnist writing in the Saturday Times once said that Christians "have a purpose but not a product" - ouch! Matthew 28 suggests that Jesus thought our product should be disciples baptised and taught to obey him. Jesus clearly set a high value on baptism and expected that as a result of his work and commission there would be a product.

As I have continued reflecting about all this (maybe helped by the depth to which temperatures have been plummeting to this week!) I remembered something someone else taught me...

We aren’t supposed to be thermometers - measuring the temperature, we are supposed to be thermostats - changing the temperature.
Mission-shaped community is thermostatic.
My thermostat for central heating needs to be set to the right level for the right effect. I don't want a temperature that is too hot or too cold.
It also takes time and experience to get the right temperature - our last house was a warm one, our present one is older and draughtier and getting the hang of the heating has been quite a challenge.
Getting the hang of how to live as a community of communities will take time and experience and of course getting the temperature of our communities right will be a challenge.
It is reassuring that Jesus concluded his command to 'Go and make disciple's' with the words "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." We do all this knowing Jesus is with us and therefore however fragile it looks (just picture how few Jesus gave his commission to in the first place) we can 'go' with reassurance.

I am praying that the Lord will bless and prosper those gathering in different places tomorrow as the communities of our community - 3 groupings in people's homes and one in a pub. May they be thermostats and not thermometers.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

The right attitudes for anxious times?

Tomorrow morning (Sunday 4th Jan) I will be preaching at St Peter's Shipley in advance of speaking at their Church Weekend in March. John Rainer, the Vicar of St Peter's, will be with St Mary's at our 9am and Central Gathering.
I will be using Luke 2:41-51 which is the account of Jesus getting left behind in Jerusalem and being found by his anxious parents engrossed in the question and answer teaching sessions of the Rabbi's at the temple.

Luke 2:49-51 have especially caught my attention; "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them"

I guess I am reflecting on this passage in the context of our re-engagement with an anxious western world during this New Year period. I find myself asking what is the right attitude for anxious times?

The passage raises questions about Jesus - surely he's being a bit perverse?
Initially this may be what Jesus looks like here. I reckon his mum goes into parental anxiety mode (a mixture of fear, worry, guilt produces a telling off for the child who doesn’t really deserve it).
But no – we do see Jesus seemingly working out what his Fathers 'business' (as the KJV puts it) is. Always, but especially in these times we need to be interacting with the scriptures, questioning and working out what is going on, what we need to learn and understand.

The passage presents a picture of a child dealing with tension
‘didn’t you know I had to be’ – indicates a sense of compulsion – expressing a necessity/compulsion to be responsive to his heavenly father whilst also having a need to be responsive to his earthly parents.
Here is a tension – here is a challenge – he is pulled in one way to be with his parents and the other to be with his heavenly Father. How is one to deal with this? It is good to know Jesus coped with tensions. How are we to deal with the tensions of life?
How did Jesus deal with it? He sensed his call to obey the Father but found that part of this involved submitting to his parents.
There will be times this year when submission is necessary at least for a time so that God can work out other things in your life. You may be able to do better than another, you may be cleverer, more skilled, more able in many ways and yet submission to another may be your call.
In fact in Jesus we see that submission was everything – it was exactly what enabled him to achieve his destiny and it may well be that Luke has given us a glimpse of how Jesus became mature enough to follow through his destiny to be our saviour – through many minor submissions and petty obediences.

This passage shows us a lost child who finds his security in the right place
Jesus must have known it was dangerous to attempt to go home alone – he wouldn't be clear how long it will take for parental help to come – so he goes where he will be safe and where he thinks is the obvious place to be.
Jesus’ logic is that surely his parents would know he would be in ‘my father’s house’.
The best translation is ‘house’ denoting ‘place’ – in other word's where the Father is. In the face of ‘lost-ness’ of insecurity and of anxiety Jesus is found in his father’s house.
Jesus, as a 12 year old, articulates something startling and profound – an intimate connection with a heavenly Father who is ‘daddy’.

We are meant to find our way to the Fathers house – the place of intimate connection, of security and of peace. We are meant to find Daddy – to find security in him – whatever the state of our relationship with our real Daddies – there is a true Daddy in whom we can find security, peace, meaning and joy.

When you lose your way... where are you found?
Are you found in your father’s house? Where Daddy is? Seeking his business? Do you even know him as Daddy?
I wonder if 2009 will be a year in which we (the Church) find a sense of calling to return to the Fathers House – rediscover relationship with Daddy.

In an anxious world what might our attitude be?
· Interact with the scriptures
· Be prepared to submit
· Find your way to security in Daddy – come to the Father’s House.