Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Church that takes God seriously

It’s a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year, a new decade.

And something has prompted all of us to go to church.


It was your minister’s wife who spotted it.

‘That might be a good book to have a look at.’

John Pritchard, Going to Church: A User’s Guide.

It makes a good read, though I trust my wife had not spotted the paragraph about the older minister searching in the wardrobe for his Sunday best clothes one Sunday morning.

‘In the back he found a box, inside which were three eggs and about 100 £1 coins. He called his wife and asked her what this was about. She looked a little embarrassed, but admitted having hidden the box there for all of the 30 years of their marriage. She hadn’t told him because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He asked d her how the box could have hurt his feelings and she explained that every time during those 30 years when he had delivered a poor sermon she had placed an egg in the box. The minister thought that three poor sermons in 30 years was certainly nothing to be upset about, and asked her about the 100 £1 coins. ‘Each time I got a dozen eggs,’ she said, ‘I sold them to the neighbours for £1.’

‘Looking in turn at the church as it is , the church as it’s meant to be, and the church as it might become,’ the Bishop of Oxford’s ‘highly readable volume offers not only humour and insight, but also encouragement to feel that going to church is really worthwhile.’

After a lot of fun and a lot of thought provoking comment John Pritchard finishes with a set of ten things to go to the stake for: when all is said and done, these are the things that he suggests we all need to look for in church.

First, ‘a church that takes God seriously – but not solemnly. God is the burning fire at the heart of the Church. The temperature in the middle needs to be as hot as possible because inevitably it cools off as you move away from the centre. God, then, is the joyous companion whose presence is all-pervasive and yet as light as a lover’s touch. God is, as St Augustine said, the glorious circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’

What does it mean for us to take God seriously?

I take my stand on Psalm 19.

Psalm 19:1-6

1The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament
proclaims his handiwork.
2Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.

3There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;

4yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens
he has set a tent for the sun,
5which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

6Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hidden from its heat.

On New Year’s Eve we spent the afternoon at Slimbridge, home of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

At 4-00 we found ourselves in that wonderful gallery overlooking the south lake with a couple of hundred spectators as the warden talked us through the feeding session as more of the Bewick’s swans arrived at the end of their 2,000 mile flight from Russia to their winter feeding grounds. Part way through the warden suggested that any who had come to watch the starling roost should exit by the back door. I have seen photos and I have seen films on TV but I had never seen starlings swooping and weaving in their tens of thousands as they come in at the end of a winter’s day to roost. For the first time I saw one of nature’s wonders. It was truly magnificent.

The next evening I took up one of my Christmas books, Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth – his wonderful account of evolution. As it happened I arrived at his explanation of the starlings roosting. No, there isn’t a leader. There isn’t an overall plan that all the birds are following. Each bird responds at each moment to the circumstances immediately around them. As all the birds do the same, so they weave and swoop and fill the skies.

I am filled with awe and wonder at what I see in the skies above and I marvel at the explanations scientists such as Richard Dawkins give me for what I see. And in all I see I sense the wonder of God and I want to say, the Heavens are telling the glory of God! For the God I believe in is creator, and is in all things, this God is being itself.

But to take God seriously does not involve denying science. Far from it, taking God seriously rejoices in the insights science gives. The Psalmist describes the world as he sees it with the sun moving across the sky, and he sees the glory of God in that world. I now know the earth is moving around the sun – and on New Year’s Eve I watched as the shadow of the earth passed across the face of the moon in a partial eclipse. I observe with the help of science … and I echo exactly the response the Psalmist made. And I am filled with the same awe and the same wonder the Psalmist had and I too say with the same conviction …

The heavens are telling the glory of God!

A church that takes God seriously takes the Bible seriously.

I want to move on in Psalm 19.

Psalm 19:7-11

7The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul;

the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;

8the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the
Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;

9the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the
Lord are true
and righteous altogether.

10More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.

11Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul

The decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple.

More to be desired are they than gold,

Even much fine gold;

Sweeter also than honey,

And drippings of the honeycomb.

I passionately believe that it is through the words of the Bible that we hear the Word of God for us today. But we need to tune into the Scriptures, we need to work at reading them. We cannot simply read the Scripture as if it were a scientific text book. We cannot read the Scripture as if it were all a straightforward history book, whatever a straightforward history book might look like! We need to dig into the scriptures. We need to see Jesus Christ at the heart of the Scriptures and then we need to read them through the eyes of Christ. And that does take some doing.

Try reading the Bible for yourself. We take orders for Bible reading aids at any time. In Sunday’s preaching we dig into the Bible and relate it to the world around us. This evening I am going to start reading through one of the great books of the New Testament, Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Thursday’s Church Meeting is special at the start of the New Year as well. The first followers of Jesus were called Disciples. To follow Jesus they learned from him, and that learning process was a lifelong process they followed. There was always something new to learn. The Federation is launching something for all our churches to help us grow as Disciples – people who follow Jesus and are constantly wanting to learn from him. On Thursday evening we will take a look at the materials we have been asked to pilot and then on the following Thursday and the second Thursday in February we will do a couple of the sessions. That will be in the Open the Book slot.

In Prayer meeting and House group we come back to the Bible – not just out of interest but to see how the words in this book, present us with the Word God wants us to follow for the living of our lives.


Take God seriously, wonder at the glory of God in creation, seek out the Word of God in the words of the Bible, and you will quickly become conscious of your own failings and inadequacy! I am not really up to it … is a very easy response.

Taking God seriously means that we will take prayer to God seriously and seek from God a sense of his forgiving love, always there to pick us up and set us going again.

Psalm 19:12-13

12But who can detect their errors?

Clear me from hidden faults.
13Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

If the Psalmist was aware of the forgiveness of God, how much more aware are we of that forgiveness as we look to Christ and see the one who maps out a way of life for us all to seek to live by, and at the same time offers a forgiving love to all who fall short of that ideal.

Jesus embodies the God who is filled with love for the world and with love for each one of us. It is the God who so loved the world as John 3:16 says, it is the God who IS Love as 1 John 4:7.

As John Pritchard concludes,

‘God is the compelling vision that draws and defines the Church, and yet somehow you wouldn’t be surprised to bump into him [in the porch] or in the coffee queue. In this kind of church we know that we have been made from love, and it’s only in love that we discover who we are. In this kind of church, God is the magnificent obsession who sets us free to sing and serve and pray.’

That’s the kind of church I for one want to be part of!

To help achieve that, what better prayer to pray than the prayer Psalm 19 finishes with.

Let the words of my mouth

And the meditation of my heart

Be acceptable to you,

O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.


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