Sunday, January 1, 2012

We belong to God - New Year's Day

There’s a special feel to the first Sunday of the New Year, especially when that’s the 1st January.  There’s something special about this place.  We have had some special services over Christmas.  There have been moments that have been really moving.  There’s something special about this place.  There’s something special about belonging to Highbury.

What is that something special?   If we can identify what it is that is special about this place, then maybe that gives us something that will help us to build up the church here at Highbury.  That’s going to be our focus in our Church Meeting on Thursday evening – and on Sunday mornings in this New Year we are going to explore what it means for us to belong here at Highbury.

On this first Sunday of the New Year we begin by asking what it means for us when we make a very big claim and say that we belong to God.

In its 186th year it has to be one of the longest running TV shows in Television history.  Well, to be fair, it’s only been on TV each Christmas for 46 years.  Started in 1825 by Michael Farraday the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are aimed at young people not just to teach science but to inspire and enthuse young people with the wonders of science.  With a break only in the second world war the lectures have been delivered from the very same lecture hall in the  Royal Institution in London since Michael Farraday started them in 1825, they have been televised since 1966 and they are a highlight of the Christmas TV schedules.  This year’s lectures were given by an experimental psychologist, Dr Bruce Hood with the catchy title Meet Your Brain.  At one moment holding in his hands the brain of someone who had bequeathed their body to scientific research and in another moment doing a live link-up with one of the country’s most powerful CAT scanners which just happened to be round the corner at the Cobalt Unit here in Cheltenham, he had his very young audience riveted.

He kept on coming back to the really big question … who am I?  Am I the sum total of all the links between the bits in my brain … or is there something greater than the sum of the parts that makes me, me?

Who am I?  What makes me, me?

What was very apparent in his lectures was the absence of any mention of God.  I sensed the implication of what he was saying was there was no space for God.

I want to say something different.  There is something about this brain that really does make us humans unique, at least on planet earth.  Human beings have the capacity to investigate the beginnings of the universe and understand its workings.  Human beings have the capacity to appreciate the wonders of a world of beauty and the dangers of nature’s awesome power.  Human beings have the capacity to create and to be incredibly creative.  IT is as if we bear within us the stamp of something that permeates the universe itself – we bear the.  For me that something that is deep within and far beyond all we can see or explore is the creator God.  Our capacity to investigate and appreciate that creation and ourselves to be creative bears out the conviction that we are made  in the image of God.

What difference does it make to say that we belong to God?

I want to point to three thoughts, each linked to a powerful passage of Scripture.

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ 
So God created humankind
 in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;

   male and female he created them. 
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’

Made in the image of God that means we seek something of God in all other people and we must never forget that.  It is one of the great insights of the Quakers that there is ‘that of God’ in each person.  That changes our perspective on other people.  Each person is precious in the sight of God and we must always seek in others ‘that of God’.

At the same time we have a responsibility to the whole of creation – to have dominion is not to have a free hand to destroy that world – it is to care for that world, to act as good stewards of that world and hand it on to the next generation.

What is this creator God like?  That’s what this Christmas season is all about.  The notion that the God of creation is to be found in all the fullness of God in a person who bears the stamp of God in all its fullness.

It was wonderful at our Candle Lit carol service to hear the opening words of John’s Gospel read from the Authorised Version as the 400th anniversary year of the AV came towards its close.  Wonderful to read those words together again on Christmas Day.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was  God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten, full of grace and truth.

That is the big idea behind Christmas, behind our Christian faith that focuses us on Jesus Christ.  The God we belong to is the God who is to be found in every way possible in Jesus Christ.  Those thoughts from John 1 are echoed in the opening verses of Hebrews 1.

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Want to find out what this God is like?  Look to Jesus and see God.  And what is it that we see.  Love, compassion, forgiveness … Look to Jesus, see God, and discover that God is Love.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine

To belong to God means that we seek that of God in other people and care for God’s creation.

To belong to God whets our appetite to find out what this God is like.  Look to Jesus, see God and know that God is love.

So the key for us and what we do with our lives is then found in Jesus Christ.  We can sense in him the forgiving love of God reaching out deep into our very being to transform and renew us … and set us up with a new start, not least at the beginning of a New Year.  More than that we have someone we can model ourselves on.  That brings me to the third of the passages I want to turn to.   It is from Philippians 2.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

That’s the most wonderful of thoughts – let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

That’s for us to do individually.  A great measure of what we can do with our lives as a new year unfolds.

But it is also what we seek to do as a church.  At the heart of our way of being the church is the opportunity we have to come together and through the conversations we have with each other and the prayer we share with God we seek out the mind of Christ for us.  That’s what our church meeting is all about.  And why we are going to do Church meeting differently.

To belong to God means

We seek that of God in others and care for God’s creation.

The God we belong to is to be found fully in Jesus Christ – look to Jesus, see God and know that God is love.

Come to Jesus, know the forgiving love of God that sets us free and seek to have the mind of Christ in all we do.

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