About a third of the congregation stayed on for a bring and share lunch at our Word Cafe. On each table was a two sided table mat with a summary of some of what was said in that conversation and the preaching, and questions to prompt discussion.
At the first Church Meeting of the year we asked people to come up with five words that sum up what makes Highbury special. These are the words we came up with.
I guess you could say that’s what it means for us to belong to Highbury. With the help of our Deacons on Thursday we are going to home in on six of those words and then we are going to dig a bit more deeply in Sunday services in Highbury News on the web site on face book in as we ask ourselves how we can build up that aspect of our church life here at Highbury. We have something special, something we feel is really worth sharing – we want to go from strength to strength.
But today I want to push us forward a bit. What are our dreams and visions for Highbury for the future? Are there words that come to mind that capture the vision we have for the church here at Highbury in the future that lies ahead of us.
That’s a subtly different question – and it makes you think.
It’s a question I put to
at the end of a fascinating day at Horfield
Saturday. The response I got was not
what I was expecting. It was good to
share with Bristol
in conversation. Sharon
When you told us you were going to go to the University to do a degree in Philosophy and Religious studies, I remember you saying one of the things you wanted to work at was giving presentations, not least in church. So … first, how’s the course going?
One of your lecturers set up the day last Saturday. Tell us a little about the day.
Observing that Christianity in the west no longer has that position of power it once had and has become marginalised, he went on to suggest that that is no bad thing.
With his roots in the Anabaptist tradition Lloyd Pieterson is very close to the tradition I come from. How you read the Bible will be shaped by the community of faith you are part of – and his reading of the Bible acknowledges that. It is a community of faith that has common roots with our own Congregational heritage in the radical reformation of the sixteenth century. I was excited as I found myself sharing common ground with Lloyd Pieterson in the way I have been teaching the Bible in the last 30 years in the context of our Congregational churches.
In particular, Lloyd Pieterson was concerned to explore the way much of the way the Bible has been read has been shaped by the aftermath of
Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The result of that was to tame the radical
nature of much of Jesus’ teaching. The
Christianity of Christendom that had power and influence was a Christianity that
had been harnessed, or hijacked, by those in power to buttress that power. Now, in the west we are in a post Christendom
period we need to go back to the way the Bible was read pre-Christendom, in the first couple of hundred years of
Christianity and indeed seek to go back to the Jesus of history. Then we shall have a very different way of
reading a Bible that challenges us to take seriously the teachings of Jesus as
we follow in his way ….
That then will shape the way we are church.
I recalled how as we got back into the car after an excellent day ‘reading the Bible after Christendom’ it struck me that we needed to follow up the day and share with everyone else what we had shared.
Today we are going to be looking at belonging to Highbury and we will be looking at the hopes and dreams we have for the church. And then there will be an opportunity to gather ‘around the word’ we have shared during our service at our Word Café when we shall have an opportunity to share our thoughts together.
So how could we explore our hopes and dreams for the church? I asked
for her response wondering how best we might ‘shape’
the church for the future. Sharon
responded set me thinking along different lines. And I found what she shared really
challenging and really helpful. Sharon
I was fishing I guess for ideas about what shape the church should take, what kind of things we as a church should be doing.. What hopes and dreams for the church here? What’s your vision? What kind of things would you like to see going on in the life of our church? What shape do you think our church should take.
The question implies that the church should take a certain kind of shape, she said.
But that is to misunderstand what ‘church’ is about.
We should not seek to make the church a certain kind of shape.
That is to think of the church as ‘an institution’.
And the church is very different from that.
It’s better to think of church as ‘glue’.
We live in an age when there are around us all kinds of different people. We live in a society that is multi-faceted and immensely diverse. We should think of church as ‘the glue’ that helps to hold that diverse range of people and ‘societies’ together.
Our conversation went on … and built on that analogy of the church as ‘glue’.
It feels very much as if things are falling apart at the moment – that can be in people’s personal lives, it can be in a community in our locality. That’s how it feels in the wider world, in the work place, in the state of the world’s economy, the financial crisis in our country, in
Europe. So many things are falling apart.
Church should be the glue that helps puts things together again, that mends what is broken.
If the church is to be glue, however, we must focus on Jesus. That’s what makes us church and not some other organisation. Lloyd Pieterson had been passionate about modelling what we do and the people we are on Jesus, the Jesus we can access through the Bible.
So I asked
to reflect on passages from the Bible that
pointed us in that kind of direction. Sharon
Then something special happened.
came up with passages from Paul, starting in Ephesians 2:19-22. I found myself going to similar passages, and
drawing particularly on Colossians 3. We
were in the same part of the Bible, in the same range of thinking. And it hadn’t been planned. One of those
special moments. Sharon
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.
There is something in those words about being ‘joined together’ and ‘growing into a holy temple in the Lord’ that has about it the feel of ‘glue’. I found myself reflecting on the way Jesus was enraged at what the powers that be had done to the temple – it should have been a house of prayer, but it had been made into a den of thieves. Destroy this temple, he had said, and I will re-build it in three days.
As I have been thinking about those thoughts
Sharon shared in the last few days, I
have felt more and more that
has put her finger on something that goes to the very heart of what it means to
be church. It goes to the very heart of
the Good News at the heart of the Christian faith. Sharon
What’s the big picture that we work to?
For lots of people church and all it stands for is a framework – a set of do’s and don’ts – a way of life to follow.
For others church and all it stands for is about getting people into heaven – a personal salvation.
What’s the big picture we work to – that individuals need to get into heaven and that’s what we have to offer? That people need values to live by and that’s what we offer?
Or is there a bigger picture.
Can we think of this as a picture. We can often be conscious that things seem broken – in our personal lives, in family life, in the nation. The big picture is that that is the case. There is a brokenness in our world. From the largest scale to the smallest most personal, it can feel as if we are in thrall to powers beyond our control that damage. It may be greed that is so endemic in humanity that no one can get the better of it, as someone suggested to me at the Community Café this week. It may be the breakdown of things we have come to take for granted.
What is the big picture that our faith holds out for us?
The very first followers of Jesus sensed that Jesus not only put things back together for the leprosy sufferers, for people whose families had fallen apart, for people who simply felt as if the world was falling apart, he also was about putting the world back together again. He came saying the
was near. God’s rule breaking in. Paul sensed that in Christ there was a new
creation – it was possible to look to a new heaven and a new earth. Nothing less than a new order. kingdom of God
When Paul writes to a church in
about the kind of
church they should be, he does exactly the kind of exercise we did at the
church meeting – he came up with key words that summed up the life of the
But before he got to that nitty gritty kind of detail, he painted the big picture.
In Jesus Christ he saw one was the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, notice what he says in Colossians 1:15ff
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together.
This is the big picture – that sets the frame for us. It is that in Christ all things hold together.
We are conscious of a broken world.
Our Christian faith holds out for us the vision of a restored world.
That’s the big picture.
No sooner has he spoken those words, than Paul goes on to speak of Christ then as head of the church.
We are not far off the analogy of glue.
Christ – the light, the love, the care that he embodies, the victory over darkness, the victory over death he invites us to share – this is the glue that holds all things together.
What of us in the church?
We are called to em-body Christ. Be the body of Christ. And in being the body of Christ we look to Christ as Head of the Body and we seek to live out all he wills for us.
So Paul goes on in Colossians 3 to come up with his core words …
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
That has to be one of my favourite passages when it comes to thinking about the church. Those words are so powerful.
Compassion, kindness, humility, patience
Bear with one another
Forgive each other
Then comes something I had not noticed before.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
I had always linked those words with what the church should be like as an institution. We should be bound together in love.
Clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together.
Isn’t this the key to being part of the big picture?
If in that big picture we se in Christ all things hold together, we see Christ as the glue that holds things together, then it is for us to live out that love so that in our little bit of that big picture, the people we are, the things we say, the things we do can bind everything together – in other words church can be the glue our broken world so needs.
Now then, if that is our vision for the future of Highbury, we need to be asking ourselves – in all we do are we being the glue that holds things together in the world around us?
How can we work that out in practice?
There’s one thing more to add. I shared today’s theme with one of our older members, Jocelyn Bell one afternoon this week. She came back with a thought-provoking response – the glue must be the kind that’s flexible. It mustn’t be too rigid! How wise, I thought!
This was the double-sided placemat that served as an aide memoire and a discussion starter when a third of the congregation stayed on for lunch at our Word Café