Sunday, May 19, 2013

Highbury - a place that's open to all

A strength from beyond ourselves
Unseen yet so real
The Power of God’s Spirit
Let loose in the world
A strength, a power, a presence for all
Women and men speaking God’s Word
Men and women speaking truth to power
Young and old dreaming dreams
Old and young sharing visions
At every level, at every moment
The Promise of the Presence
The Strength of the Spirit
Open to all.

You may think of it as a parrot: it’s actually a Macaw.  I didn’t think much of it when it escaped and was found perching on the parapet of our roof.- that must have been 20 years ago.   The macaw is still going strong and can often be seen on the shoulders of the neighbours over the road.

Already in his 20’s the Macaw can live well into their 70’s and beyond.

One blog caught my attention this week which reported that they ‘after many years of research into the behaviours, diseases, genetics and life history of scarlet macaws, a team of scientists have taken their studies to the next level…. And have sequenced the genome of the scarlet macaw.”

“The newly sequenced scarlet macaw genome will provide many important insights into avian and human biology, behaviours and genetics and will contribute to parrot conservation.”

I guess in a way it’s the story of my life-time – 1953 was a good year not just for the coronation and climbing Everest but it was also the year when Crick and Watson announced the discovery of DNA and the double helix, a discovery made possible by the work of crystallographer Rosalind Franklin.

60 years on (nearly) that discovery has shaped the world we live in more than any other.

Tremendous excitement when the human genome was mapped – and put into the public domain in spite of pressures to patent it and limit access to it.  And now a scarlet macaw’s genome has been mapped – wherever next.

It’s interesting how we think of the Church in biological terms.  We often speak of the Church as ‘the body’ of Christ.  And today, the Day of Pentecost, is a day when we speak of the birth of the Church, and often think of the Day of Pentecost itself as the Birthday of the Church.

So, I wonder what the Church’s DNA would look like.

If the church is the body of Christ, and its birthday is the Day of Pentecost, the first thing about the church’s DNA that I would home in on is to be found in what the very nature of  God is.

We think of God not as a static, monolithic entity but as dynamic, living, interactive.

The early church leaders described the Trinity using the term perichoresis (peri=circle resis=dance): The Trinity was an eternal dance of the Father, Son and Spirit sharing mutual love, honor, happiness, joy and respect… God’s act of creation means that God is inviting more and more beings into the eternal dance of Joy.   Brian Maclaren

We speak of one God as Father, Son, Holy Spirit – there’s a clue there in the word Father.  That’s made explicit by John in 1 John 4

What is the nature of God as Father?  John tells us in 1 John 4.  God is love.

What is the nature of God in Jesus – again John, this time in the Gospel, John 3:16  God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

What is the nature of the Holy Spirit – this time to Paul in Galatians 5 – the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

What binds Father, son and Holy Spirit together is what is the very nature of God – love.

What is in the DNA of the church – love.

That is the stamp of what we are – seeking to live out that love for one another, for others around us.  Look around at the churches of Cheltenham and what they are seeking to do … love is very much at the heart of all that we seek to do.  Every church a network of support that gives a network of support to people who are not well, to older people, in bereavement care – visiting schemes, pastoral care.  Care for children and young people.  Lunch clubs, coffee times – drop ins.  It was great to join with others on Thursday afternoon at the commissioning of our Brenda Dowie, our new Hospital Chaplain, and the re-commissioning of those who make up the Chaplaincy team.  All of this activity is around this dynamic of love.  The very nature of God.  It is in the DNA of the church.

We saw it in the mix of churches who came together at our Assembly in Kent last week – community activities, all seeking not just to live out the command to love God and love your neighbour, but somehow with the imprint of love.  Those friends from Malawi were speaking again of the things they seek to do in their churches.

There’s something that binds us together – this imprint of love the very nature of God.  It is in the DNA of the church. 

But as I hear churches telling their stories I see that all those churches are different.  Coming back here to Cheltenham there is also the realisation that we are all different.  We do things differently.  The worship we followed on Thursday was very different from the kind of worship we would share.  Different churches do different things.  Are very different.

This can phase people.  We should all have an identify.  But somehow it doesn’t phase me.  There is difference stamped into the very nature of God.

Love is in the very nature of God, because the God we believe in is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – different and yet bound together in love.

The love of God is real because in the very essence of God there is difference too – God the Father creating from the beginning, God the Son bringing redemption and salvation, God the Spirit sustaining, strengthening and empowering.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit – yet one in the essence of that love.

Churches are different because we are made up of different people.

Margaret Morris, a good friend of ours who is from Ispwich was welcomed as President of the Congregational Federation last Saturday.  She quoted Michael Green who had recently spoken to churches here in Cheltenham as saying that the Holy Spirit never leaves identical fingerprints.

The church is made up of people who are different and each of us who belongs is different.

She went on to suggest that ‘diversity was burned into the Church’s genetic code when it was born at Pentecost’

That set my mind thinking.

What is this diversity?

On the Day of Pentecost Jerusalem was teaming with people from all over the Mediterranean world each speaking a different language and yet together understanding what was going on …

Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs

There’s a wonderful sense of something new happening – that binds people together. 

When Peter explains what’s going on he draws on the prophecy of Joel –

In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy.

This diversity goes only so far, however. Different languages there may be but they are all Jewish.

But Jesus has come for Gentile as well as Jew.

That took some thinking through – and it is not until you get to the middle of the Book of Acts that Peter is the one who has a breakthrough in his thinking when three times he has a vision when he hears God commanding him to eat food that breaks the food regulations of the Jewish people.  He makes a breakthrough and shares the message of the love of God in Christ with  Cornelius – not just any centurion but one that comes from the Italian cohort.

Wherever there are barriers Christ brings those barriers down – so Paul speaks of the way there is neither Jew nor gentile, male nor female, slave nor free – for all are one in Christ Jesus.

Diversity burned into the genetic code of the church from its very birthday.  That is a diversity then we are to celebrate.

To have Christ at the centre of all that we do here in our church means that we are open to all – that our welcome is not curtailed but is open to everyone.

Highbury a place to
share Christian friendship,
explore Christian Faith and
enter into Christian mission
with Christ at the centre
and open to all.

If we are to take that vision forward then maybe we can come back to those words of Joel that Peter quotes and make them our own

A strength from beyond ourselves
Unseen yet so real
The Power of God’s Spirit
Let loose in the world
A strength, a power, a presence for all
Women and men speaking God’s Word
Men and women speaking truth to power
Young and old dreaming dreams
Old and young sharing visions
At every level, at every moment
The Promise of the Presence
The Strength of the Spirit
Open to all.

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