Saturday, 3 May 2014

The choices we make, reveal the true nature of our character...

‘The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.’ So reads the strap line of the new  and surprising advert for Guinness featuring what looks like a game of wheelchair basketball, until we realise that only one of the team of friends is disabled - the rest are playing as him and with him.  It says something about their bonds of friendship. This is should be true for us as Christians individually, as churches and as a wider parish.  The choices we make should reveal the true nature of our Christian character, and should say something about our growing faith.

One would like to think that this was true for our politicians too.  There has been a lot of headline inches and news print taken up recently following David Cameron’s pronouncement that the UK is a Christian country.

He staunchly defended the role of religion in politics and said the Bible in particular was crucial to British values, ethics and our interpretation of justice. He said,

"But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.”

Those comments are not really about what David Cameron personally believes or not, but they are about Jesus Christ and our understanding of who He is and what He teaches.
In the 2001 Census 72% identified themselves as Christian but in 2011 that had decreased to 59%. Less and less people publicly align themselves with Jesus. They struggle to have faith.

The Risen Jesus meets Thomas, sometimes known as Doubting Thomas.  He is Apostle for many in 21st Century Britain as a he unafraid to ask the hard questions of faith, he wants to come to see and believe in the person of Jesus.

The choices we make, reveal the true nature of our character as Christians growing in faith.

This year has been about continuing to see God at work amongst us and all of us coming to believe in Him in new and deeper ways. Like the Common Mayfly which lives for just one day, it is about make thing most of the opportunities presented to us - making the most of now. Will we reach out and help others to embrace the Resurrection life of Jesus.

One of the obvious ways of doing that is meeting people in their need. For us as churches that is done, most fundamentally in our Occasional Offices - the numbers of Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals we conduct.

Numbers of Baptisms are slightly down since our last APCM, but nothing to really worry about as numbers tend to go up later in the year.  We have seen the numbers of Weddings go up as couples celebrate their love for one another - I said to you that I hoped this would happen, and this is in part to do with other local couples having an excellent experience of the church and being prepared by us for married life, and couples realising that their local church is somewhere, maybe even the right place, for their wedding to happen.  Good news spreads.  Similarly the numbers of funerals we are conducting is also going up, as we offer comfort and hope to those who are grieving locally and we should be indent to the ministry of people like Anne Peat and the In Touch Bereavement group in this respect.

This last year has seen a continued flourishing: Play and Praise, the Foundations course, our Lent and Advent study groups, we have a Reader in training, the parish Confirmation where 4 adults and 6 children were confirmed by Bishop Paul, we have had 4 people on parish placement (ordained and lay), our SWAG youth group, new services for Holy Week and Easter, developing Schools work, our food banks, more Home Communions, sustaining the ministry to the residential homes, developing the work of In Touch, church growth - especially with young families, a renewed flourish of the Maple Cross school service and Friendship club, preparations for the arrival of Jairo as our Assistant Curate.

The choices we make, reveal the true nature of our character as Christians growing in faith.

What new things are ahead of us to help to see Christ at work and to believe in Him ever deeper? We hope to establishment of Parish-wide fabric and finance groups to help care for our buildings and look after our money;  to extend the reach of our food banks; to offer 2 new Bible study groups; to completely renew our Misson Action Plan and discern God’s priorities and vision for the parish; to discuss how we effectively use our buildings for the good of the church and in mission to the wider community; to establish a regular pattern of worship offering the ministry of healing; to run a short course on the very basics of Christianity called ‘Start’, to extend the opening and reach of Play and Praise; and to engage more meaningfully with our wider community.

Jesus says ‘If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any they are retained’ (John 20:23.)  This is not giving disciples some special power to decide whose sins will be forgiven and whose will not. Rather, he is further specifying what it means to be sent, to make known the love of God that Jesus himself has made known. As people come to know life in Jesus, they will be “released” from their sins. If, however, those sent by Jesus fail to bear witness, people will remain stuck in their unbelief; their sins will be “retained” or “held onto.” The stakes of this mission are very high indeed.

Jesus’ response to Thomas, ‘Do not doubt, but believe (John 20:29) is not a rebuke, but rather a blessing for all those who will come to believe without having had the benefit of a flesh-and-blood encounter with Jesus. Indeed, the author goes on to declare that this is the very purpose of this book, addressing all of us who have not seen but have heard this testimony: “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31).

What is more, this Jesus keeps showing up. As he came back a week later for Thomas, Jesus keeps coming back week after week among his gathered disciples -- in the word of Scripture, bread, and the wine -- not wanting any to miss out on the life and peace he gives. And he keeps sending us out of our safe, locked rooms, filled with the life of God, into a world that, like us, so desperately needs his gifts of life and peace.