Sunday, February 12, 2012

We belong to each other

Since the beginning of the year we have been looking at what it means to belong.

It’s one of those special things about church.

That sense of belonging.

We started with the biggest belonging of all.  We belong to God.  That God dimension in our lives is important as it roots us to something beyond our imagining and relates us to the God who is concerned for us in the tiniest detail.

Then we looked at what it means to belong to the Church.

We celebrated baptism with little Jessica – and continue to remember them in our prayers and thought that belonging to one church here at Highbury means belonging to the one church world-wide wherever it is.  On that occasion it was great to hear from Stefan and Birgit in Brazil.

We have joined with friends from the Anglicans and from the URC and so explored what it means to belong along with other churches locally.

Joining with friends from St Luke’s we thought of that wider belonging we share.  They and our friends from St Michael’s are very much in our prayers at the moment.   It is a couple of years since we shared a day together as Deacons with the PCC’s of St Michael’s and St Luke’s to reflect on the way forward for our shared sense of mission.  Just as we were preparing that day, St Luke’s and St Michael’s went into a long period of consultation about their relationship.  That has now come to a resolution.  Possibly as early as this summer, St Luke’s will be joining up in a partnership with  St Matthew’s and St Mary’s in the Town Centre and St Michael’s for the foreseeable future anyway will simply continue as an ecumenical partnership with the Methodists, with Robert as the Vicar and John  Wren.  They are all very much in our prayers at the moment and we think of special prayers for John Wren who has been off work for over six months undergoing treatment for cancer.

Other things are afoot with churches in Cheltenham – as the clergy of the town got together on Thursday thinking about evangelism and as the Church Leaders in Cheltenham group prepare to get together with the Chief Constable, Tony Melville, at his initiative to share insights into the needs of the town and ways in which churches can be supportive of the community in partnership with among others the police.

The next Street Pastors commissioning service will be at C3 Church over in the Reddings on Saturday evening and for the first time we will have a couple of people from Highbury being commissioned as Street Pastors – Sue and Paul very much in our prayers.

Belonging to God, belonging to the church here is to belong to the church world-wide.  Belonging to the church locally binds us together with people in our community seeking to share the wonderful Good News of God’s love for all.

We belong to Highbury.  It was great to explore the things that make Highbury special.  Following the service when we explored that theme we met as Deacons and processed all the responses people had made at our January Church meeting when invited to come up with words and phrases that describe what makes Highbury special.  It was fascinating to see how a picture quickly emerged as Deacons stood and sat around a table arranging slips of paper with those words on into a pattern.

As a picture emerges of the church we are it will give us challenging things to think about over the next half year as we shape our services around those pictures and the challenges they give to us.  But as you look at those you cannot help but notice things that are missing, things we could strengthen, things we could develop.

Belonging is so important.

And through all this process we have been conscious of difficulties people face.  In our own church family, bereavements and frailty in older years, illness in hospital.  Family issues, work-related issues.  All sorts of things.

And we touch disturbing things on the world scale in the news.

Today we come to another thought.

That we belong together.

There are so many places to turn to think of what it means to belong together.   Over the last year or so we have been following a Congregational Federation course, Growing Disciples, at our Church Meeting.  One of those sessions takes us to a story of Moses in Numbers 11 which is all about the need to belong together and then to share in God’s work together.

AT first sight it seems to be a story about the need for shared team leadership.  But read on to the very end and something else emerges.  It’s not only about shared team leadership, it is also about all of us as God’s people together having that sense of sharing that means we really do belong to each other.

14I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favour in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.’

The Seventy Elders

16 So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. 17I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. 
 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’ 29But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!’ 30And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
First it is an issue of leadership and of the vital importance of shared leadership.  The Lord speaks to Moses …

17I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. 

But as the story comes to a climax it is not simply shared leadership that is the concern of Moses here.

He has a vision for something greater.

Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!’ 3

That’s the insight we need to take to heart.

It’s one that Paul took to heart.

Paul sensed that in Christ all this talk of the Spirit’s outpouring had somehow been fulfilled.

Towards the end of Galatians 5 he speaks of the way all we do, all those traits that we think of as what we need to work at as Christians are the fruit of that inner strength and power that the unseen, yet very real, Spirit of God gives us.

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As that becomes something that grows within us that has an impact on what we do with our lives.  It challenges us

Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Paul is challenging us to be like those geese.  The youngsters in our M'Ocean group had acted out a sketch to accompany the following video exploring the lessons we learn from Geese.  The video is called Pulling Together

  • Are there lessons about team work that we can learn from geese?
  • Decide for yourself
  • As geese flap their wings, they create an uplift for the bird following
  • By flying in a V formation the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if any bird were to fly alone
  • If we share a common direction and a sense of community, we can get where we are going more quickly and easily because we are travelling on the thrust of one another
  • Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone
  • And quickly returns back to formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front
  • If we have as much sense as geese, we will stay in formation with those who are headed where we want to go…
  • And we will accept their help as well as give our own
  • When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into formation and another goose flies at the point position
  • If we take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership, as with the geese…
  • We become interdependent with each other
  • The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed
  • If we ‘honk’ we need to make sure it is positive and encouraging
  • When a goose gets sick or shot down, 2 geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it
  • They stay with it until it is able to fly again or dies
  • They then launch out on their own, with another formation or catch up with the flock
  • We too should stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong
  • Let us all try to fly in formation and remember to drop back to help those who might need it
  • apparently, the geese at the front and back of the formation have the hardest jobs, the middle ones are most sheltered and have the easier journey.
  • the V formation means everyone can see everyone else so, everyone keeps an eye on everyone and can communicate well.
What we are doing as we do that is allowing the Spirit to bear fruit not only in the living of our lives individually but in all we do as we truly belong to each other.

It’s what Paul goes on to see in Galatians 6.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.

To belong to one another is to carry one another’s burdens?

That’s what we do  when someone needs our help and our support.

But what of the time when someone is shamed, someone is disgraced … is that the point at which we too abandon them.  Or is there something special about the Good News of Jesus Christ that we seek to stand by one another come what may … and maybe that’s the most important point of all.

We belong to each other – and that is something special that binds us together as the family of God’s people here.

I wondered if I could find a hymn that would catch some of those thoughts.  Maybe a new hymn.  I looked up HymnQuest, a wonderful database I have, and I discovererd an age-old hymn that for people of a certain age will quite possibly be an old favourite.

I was taken aback how pointed the words were.

Blest be the tie that binds
       our hearts in Christian love;
       the fellowship of kindred minds
       is like to that above.

2     Before our Father's throne
       we pour our ardent prayers:
       our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
       our comforts and our cares.

3     We share our mutual woes,
       our mutual burdens bear,
       and often for each other flows
       the sympathizing tear.

4     When for a while we part,
       this thought shall soothe our pain,
       that we shall still be joined in heart,
       and hope to meet again.

5     This glorious hope revives
       our courage by the way:
       while each in expectation lives
       and longs to see the day,

6     From sorrow, toil and pain,
       and sin we shall be free,
       and perfect love and friendship reign
       through all eternity.

John Fawcett (1740-1817)

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