The Joy of the Gospel
The Joy of the Gospel 6
So, final time. The Joy of the Gospel. hmmmmmm. Joy.
Be still, be with, be open. Wagging tails. Encounter. Engaging. Proclaiming. Star fish.
There’s quite a bit that we’ve been looking at these past five weeks which very much shape how we ‘do’ church and a key thing to hold on to is that this is mainstream Christian belief. As I mentioned last week, you can’t get more mainstream than a Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission study book, from which this series is taken! And some of the Pope’s pithy comments have been very challenging, such as:
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
I think this quotation speaks into where we are at the moment. And it is one of the biggest challenges for churches, certainly for those that identify themselves as holding the centre ground, theologically speaking, as we do, as such theology can become more talking the walk rather than walking the walk.
So, the joy of the Gospel, that certainty of a good relationship with God,
assured of being loved, of having purpose in life, that begins to rub off on us as we do the the things we’ve been considering these past few weeks. We’ve got to let that joy shape who we are. For many, our experience of church these past few months has been challenging for a whole host of reasons. Ill health; politics; seeing the church centre being more widely used. It’s a fair question: With this as our background, how can I experience this joy that Jesus offers us?
I’d like to say 2 things to answer that. Firstly, you know the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers? When do the lepers get the fact that they have been healed? Only after they chose to accept what Jesus told them to do. Jesus says ‘go show yourselves to the priests’ and its only as they turn to go, still with leprosy, walking under instruction away from Jesus, that they see their leprosy being healed. And I think there is a similar thing for us to hold onto this morning. If we as a church want to experience more fully the joy and peace that knowing Jesus brings then we, like the 10 lepers, have to take Jesus at his word and do something with it.
Its in our response to Jesus, our ongoing response, that we begin to encounter joy – peace. So, point one, if we really want to encounter this joy more deeply, then we have to do something about it! We have to pursue God with intent.
Second point, which is the final theme of this series, we can’t do this in our own strength. We have to pursue God with purposeful intent, yet It is our encounter of God’s Spirit that propels us forward,
that deposits joy and peace in our lives. We speak about the work of the Spirit in our services. And its giving space for the Spirit to challenge, to counsel, to be alongside us, that enables us to do all the stuff we’ve been thinking about these past weeks.
Time and time again, there are stories told within these four walls of some encountering the HS.
Example? When we sing, and as we sing we truly and deeply give of ourselves to God, then there are those moments of calm. Of encounter. Of the warming of your own spirit. You encounter something beyond yourself and you feel deeply at peace. That’s encountering God through his Spirit. When your faith level feels very low, as it will do from time to time as this is faith we’re talking about, remember those moments when God has drawn close to you. Remember the feeling of that. Don’t dismiss it. Remember and I suggest, ask God to renew such encounters.
Alongside to holding to the bible story, our corporate, family story, its these experiences of the HS that encourage and keep our individual faith story going. Yet, for many, the notion that God is Spirit
and that he encounters us does not seem plausible. The honest questions are raised:
“Does God really encounter us through his Spirit?”
“Do I want to encounter God, because if this is true then I have to respond to him?”
In response I would say this: If you rip the pages out of the bible that speak of the work of the Spirit you would not be left with very little! As the people who carry God’s story we simply have to engage with the Spirit. There really can be no other way. A further thing I would say is throughout history there are stories after stories of followers of Jesus encountering God’s Spirit. You know, they can’t all be wrong or deluded! The whole Christian tradition speaks of the work of the Spirit.
Lastly, we sit amongst people who hold stories of encountering God’s spirit. And it is that ongoing encounter, as we pursue God, as we pursue God, time and time again to be filled with the HS, remember its not a one off filling, its ongoing, its through this that joy begins to well up within us.
Yes, as we encounter God through HS, our lives will change. Posh theological word – sanctification happens! We see the fruit of the Spirit, Gal 5, being more abundant in our lives. Love, joy, peace etc.. The various spiritual gifts that you read of in the NT, they become evident in your life and as we grow in the use of these gifts, so they begin to affect the people we long to reach out to and they get drawn towards the Kingdom of God.
Paula Gooder, she’s the lady who has drawn this course together, is an academic working for the Bible Society, she is on General Synod – that the national Church’s big version of a PCC. She has written something that sums this all up which I’m going to read – its also on the screen. It sums this all up very eloquently.
“The Holy Spirit gives us the courage to proclaim the gospel with boldness in every time and place, just as he did at Pentecost. We need to call on him through prayer because without prayer everything that we do will be fruitless and our message empty. Spirit-filled evangelizers are characterized by two things: prayer and work. Spiritual experiences without social and missionary outreach are of no help; outreach without prayer is vacuous and meaningless. The gospel responds to our deepest needs – friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters – and we need to find a way of expressing this so that others can encounter it too. We need to remind ourselves of our passion for what Jesus has done for us because without enthusiasm, certainty and love we can convince nobody. As well as being called into relationship with Jesus we are also called into deeper relationship with others. Mission involves a passion for Jesus as well as a passion for his people.
At the heart of what we believe lies the mysterious working of the risen Christ and of his Spirit. Christ’s resurrection is not just a past event, it continues to permeate the world in which we live. Each day beauty is born anew. All who evangelize are agents of the power of resurrection. We can often not see the seeds of God’s kingdom growing but the New Testament teaches us that no act of love for God will ever be lost.”
And a final quotation from the Pope:
“My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an ‘extra’ or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing.”
We see this in the bible reading (Luke 1:46-55) as Mary recognises the depth of what God asks her to do. She simply says: my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. And she recognises, too, that through all this stuff that God is in the business of writing a few wrongs. Of getting food to the hungry and homeless; bringing down the powerful and raising up the lowly. That’s what Church is about! People encountering the life-transforming Jesus.
So, now we stand at a road junction and need to make a choice. Basically, will we rise to the challenge of what the past weeks has made us think about, or will we simply leave it at that? Do we choose going for this joy or do we seek to stay as we are? Surely, we have to pursue God. We have to pursue this joy…