Sunday, November 4, 2012

Christ in All Things

What’s special about Highbury?

We came up with our six themes – a welcoming church, pastoral care, worship and prayer, mission, child-friendly, inclusive and diverse.

So what do we need to focus on for the future.  And at our Highbury@home weekend we came up with three things to focus on.

Mission and outreach
Personal faith and prayer
Renewal and gifts

And since the weekend we have got down to it.

Renewal and gifts – growth comes with pruning, was one of the comments made by the group that focused on that.   The deacons shared with Thursday’s church meeting the sense that has emerged in a number of different parts of our church life that how we structure the life of our church needs looking at again.  It’s not enough just to tweak the present structures to make them function better, we need to re-imagine how our church life works.  At our church meeting we set out a time frame to do just that – and we’ve begun by researching the experience of other churches, and by drawing on expertise from outside our church family.  We have set a timeline that will help us to address these important issues without sidetracking us from what church is all about.  By the time of our next church meeting at the beginning of January we hope to be able to do a first sketch of where we can be going together.  As someone said at the church meeting – it’s good to have such a positive feeling in going forward.

Renewal of structures is closely linked with the gifts that every single one of us has and the way we harness all those gifts – that will be something we are going to look at in our Sunday services in the New Year.

Mission and Outreach was another of those focal points.  There are things we can act on immediately – at our weekend people opted for different areas of concern – one group formed to look at renewal and gifts.  And we needed two groups to look at mission and outreach.  In her church family prayer at the start of our church meeting Diana prayed that we might be a mission centred church, with mission and outreach at the heart of all we do.

It was great having our weekend away at home, but next June we are going to go away for the weekend to Brunel Manor once again.  Now is the time to be taking bookings – and Lorraine is the one to receive those bookings.  What are we going to focus on?  We are going to focus on what it takes to be a mission-centred church.

Two of our young people, Adam and Matthew, wanted to lead one of those groups – and they did with a wisdom that impressed greatly one of the older members of the church.  They wanted to develop a child sponsorship link as they did at school – that fitted with thinking others had shared earlier … and so with Carolyn’s help the M’Ocean group are going to set up a child sponsorship link with CHIKS.

Thanks to Sue’s involvement we have built up quite a link with Children’s Homes in Kerala State over the years.  It was great to welcome Robin Radley earlier in the year and of real concern to hear how the financial climate has impacted on CHIKS.  So it felt right at the Church Meeting to give our Christmas Collection once again to CHIKS.  A very real on-going support.

How do we share our faith – one of our mission initiatives is Hy-Speed – helping us to reach out to men.  That meets again on Saturday and again is in need of something that arose in the other two group s that met.

Focusing on personal faith and prayer, one of those groups made the observation that it was important to pray very specifically for initiatives in the church.   May we pray specifically for the group looking at that re-structuring – if Hy-Speed is all about relational evangelism, then our prayer should be for those relationships Hy-Speed can develop.

Again, there’s one thing we can develop straight away in the context of Personal Faith and Prayer.

It’s important to run an Alpha course or something similar, commented one group.

And that’s exactly what we have beginning for five weeks on Tuesday evening.

And that brings me to a comment made again to me only a couple of weeks ago.

Of all the words we chose to describe what’s special about Highbury we didn’t mention ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’.

Maybe that’s because that’s what it is all about!  Something we all took for granted.

But there again, the things we take for granted, we need to be reminded of from time to time! They are precisely the things we can so easily take so for granted that we forget all about them.

It’s interesting to come back to that course that’s starting on Tuesday.  It’s a new course that has been put together by Suzanne Nockels from our Market Harborough church specially to explore church membership and what it means to belong to a Congregational Church.

And what should the course be called but ‘Christ in all things’.

“ ‘all’ is such a little word but of course it has a huge scope, writes Suzanne at the beginning of the booklet.

“Throughout Paul’s letters he talks of Christ coming before ‘all things’, bringing unity to ‘all things’, and that ‘all things’ are placed under his feet.

‘All’ implies no exceptions, there is no ‘everything but’ in ‘all’.

It is a short but massive word.

The local church is this wonderful set of people that tries by God’s grace to place Jesus ‘b efore’ and above ‘all things’.

It’s not easy, there are often set-backs and mistakes, but the life of Christ CAN be seen in the character and actions of a local church.

It can reveal ‘the fullness of him who fills everyting in every way.”

That’s what belonging to church is all about.

Christ in all things: Christ our head, Christ our hearts, Christ our minds, Christ our hands in giving, serving Christ together.

Christ in all things.

The course takes as its starting point a verse from Ephesians 1:22

God placed ALL things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

In presenting our plans for now and the future in the followup to our Highbury@home weekend I found myself turning to that wonderful prayer of Paul’s in Ephesians 3 from verse 14.

I have always felt it a wonderful prayer for that particular church in Ephesus, for any church since, and in particular for our church now and in the future.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 

We cannot ‘go it alone’ we need a strength from beyond ourselves, this is that power of God, unseen and yet so real in the Holy Spirit.

I pray … that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 

Faith is not just something cerebral – that enables us to come to the conclusion that we can believe in God.  Faith has to do with the mind AND the heart.   The living Christ is not something we believe in from long ago: it is a presence that comes deep within our hearts … and then it makes a difference to our lives.

I love that image – rooted and grounded.  It is something is earthed – made real down on the ground in active love.

Having Christ in our hearts means being rooted and grounded in love.

Then comes that remarkable set of phrases that have inspired so many prayers, so much thought – and is so powerful.

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Above, beneath, around, within – the love of Christ – it is that love that fills us with all the fullness of God.

Love is at the heart of it all.  A love released in the presence of the Christ who is in all things.

Then comes a wonderful summing up, a doxology that gives God all the glory.

 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,

I just want to stop there.  Usually I skim through those words to get to the climax of the prayer.  But as we have been thinking about the life of the church in recent months, weeks and days I have found myself coming back to this verse quite unexpectedly.

We asked the question at the  Deacons meeting, do we need to tweak what we do in order to do it more effectively, or do we need to re-imagine the life and structure of our church.

We sensed we needed to re-imagine.

And that process of ‘imagining’ is for Paul prayer.

We are used to Paul and so many linking the idea of prayer to the process of ‘asking’, but not so used to linking prayer with the idea of imagining.

We are encouraged to ‘imagine’ things as they might be.  And as we have that picture in our mind’s eye so we put that picture into God’s hands sure in the knowledge that he has the capacity by the power at work within us … to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can…  imagine

 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. 

So as now we turn to focus on mission and outreach, renewal and gifts and on personal faith and prayer may we see Christ in all things and make this our prayer.

Christ in all things
Alive in our hearts
Bearing fruit in our lives
May we be rooted and grounded in love.
Over all things, beneath all things
Ahead of all things. behind all things
Deep within all things
May we know the love of Christ
And so be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who
by the power at work within us
is able to accomplish abundantly
far more than all we can ask or imagine,
to him be glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus
to all generations for ever and ever Amen.

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