The Joy of The Gospel
The Joy of the Gospel Session 3.
The story so far: encountering Jesus in Word and Spirit brings joy, hence the title of our series The Joy of the Gospel. Joy which is more than whoopee, joy which is deep contentedness. We begin to encounter that joy for ourselves as we encounter Jesus, which we can encourage by being still, to soak up God, being with others in their pursuit of God, mutual encouragement and actively being open to God being at work in us and through us.
I mentioned we are deeply in need of joy: 9.30am is coming to terms with age and ill health;
11am has been unsettled and all in all, there has been too much church politics going on. We need a fresh encounter of joy. That joy comes from an encounter with Jesus that simply makes you deeply, inside, be at peace with the world around you. You know all is well with the world because you encounter Jesus.
And as we receive joy through encountering Jesus so our spiritual tales wag and others see that joy. I gave the example of our dog Meg, and her infectious tale that gets people stopping us in the street to know more.
I spoke, too about this being a key value in our PCC’s thinking about opening up the Church for wider community use. I think I need to keep saying this bit! The PCC decided to open up the building as much as possible to encourage people to come in to get to know us. Remember I mentioned Bishop Martin’s ‘year of mercy’ is about throwing open the church doors to encourage people in? Its part of that. But if we left it at that, throwing open the doors and just taking the money from bookings then that would be wrong. Money is needed, but not the primary reason behind opening the church up to wider use.
The primary reason is to draw people into a space so that they may come to encounter Jesus. That’s the reason. Remember last week we spoke about God being a missionary God, first reaching out to us? Opening up the church is this Church entering into that. Making contact with people. Reaching out to them. Wanting to get to know them. Spend time with them as they come into the building. Be where they are. And then we can begin to pray with and for them, This is part of this Church’s mission.
But why is this such a challenge to do? Why do we find it such a challenge to tell others about Jesus? Why is it challenging to let people use our space? Why is it so difficult to truly let others come and be part of a church community, unless they are very much like the rest of those already there?
That’s what we’re thinking about this morning. Why is it truly a challenge to be who we are? The reading we’re asked to consider is Peter writing to a group of new followers of Jesus. This is the advice of a mature follower to those just starting out. He says: You are chosen – just like Israel of old. God has a purpose for you in life. Because you understand this, so your life has got to be different – live as aliens in the land. Conduct yourself honestly in the land.
For us as we think about joy and the image of wagging our spiritual tales so perhaps Peter’s words of advice may translate as: You’ve encountered joy, so you know God is real. Now, as a result, live your life differently. Wag your tale – be distinctive! And in response I’d image the vast majority
will say: ‘Yes, I get that David!’ But why, then, is ‘being’ church, showing off our wagginess
such a challenge? This is the question the Pope and his advisors have been wondering about. And the issues are historic.
Well, how individuals understood how belief worked has changed so significantly over the past 50 years, hasn’t it?! We know that. Historically, there was the social expectation that everyone simply understood a need for God. And people simply got on with it. It was generally accepted that God made us feel safe and secure.
Now, because of things like secularisation: that’s the weakening of the Christian story in the social life of the country; Historical industrialisation: people moving away from church centred communities to big towns (historic but its affected the long term story telling of Jesus). Globalisation: being open to differing cultures and life getting so much faster, so our talk about who God is has changed. Traditional forms of power and their institutions are being ever more challenged: the church; politics; police; doctors…
Because of all this the dynamic has changed around. The thing is that individuals now feel on their own. Rather than being told what to believe to feel secure we all now have to do what we can to make ourselves feel safe and secure. Religious sociologists call it the subjective turn! And because that’s down to us, now, people are looking in all directions to find a sense of joy in life.
So, some people say God doesn’t exist. Some say he does but isn’t found through Jesus. Some go for a mixture of differing isms and ologies. And some say Jesus is the way. Its not a free for all – this isn’t anyone doing what they want because they can or because they want to. That’s a completely wrong understanding of our culture.
Simply, people are scared. Just for a moment think of your own questions to do with your own mortality – that’s what people are scared of. We want security in life and we are simply trying to make do with how we understand things. There was a French sociologist called Michel De Certeau
who says that people ‘poach’ from different symbols and cultures to help make sense of the world around them. He says people “make do” with what’s around them. And I think that’s correct.
And its into that mix of ‘making do’ that Jesus speaks: ‘My peace I give you, it isn’t as the world gives – its different – but peace I give you.’ His peace is the joy of the Gospel. Life isn’t about making do – its purposefully allowing Jesus’ peace to change you!
Western society is characterised by individuals feeling a deep dis-ease with the world around them
and that creeps into church life too. So we then have discussions that Church has to be done this way over that way. The battle of tradition. Even here, we have some finding their security in a 9.30am style and others in the 11am style, and for some when that style doesn’t fulfil that need for security so they won’t come! An that is seen in the attendance of our United service!! And here’s the challenge. Our security, knowing we are loved by God is never going to be found in a style of service. Taste is different from security. We all have taste preferences, but that is different from security.
That security has to be found in Jesus. He’s the rock, the centre; that’s where the joy of the Gospel is found. Now, remember that reading: we’re told to be a royal priest hood, a holy nation. This is about being distinct – a royal priesthood. Our distinctiveness, though, is found in knowing and understanding Jesus. It is not found in tradition, hymns, choruses or coffee. Its not found in being part of a church for years or just a month, even in a particular style of church. It is found simply in knowing and encountering Jesus. And its from that encounter which gives us the energy and freedom to say to people, come on in!
Its that encounter which enables us to let our tales wag. Remember the Pope’s pithy comment from last week, about being bruised and dirty? Being able to keep your tale wagging and keeping going when you feel bruised and dirty, that can only be offset by an ongoing deep encounter with Jesus.
We truly need a deep encounter with Jesus. That’s what lies at the heart of this. Church life always comes back to being assured about who Jesus is and how he loves us. The call of this series ‘the Joy of the Gospel’ is a call to go deeper with God. To get to know him more, to trust him more even if this brings you into fresh ways of doing things.
Because it is that encounter alone, with Jesus, which we can do today through encountering Jesus in his story and through the work of his HS, which lets our spiritual tales wag, that keeps us going when, for example, the church is broken into for the umpteenth time.
One of the home group questions for this session sums it up, and is key to how we can view all that happens in the life of this church community: “If you were to see your spiritual life not as something
that brings personal comfort but sends you out to encounter others, would there be anything you need to do differently?” Can you think about that for a moment. “If you were to see your spiritual life not as something that brings personal comfort but sends you out to encounter others, would there be anything you need to do differently?”
Its that turn about, moving from a spirituality of personal comfort to that of a spirituality that allows us to reach out to others. That’s the thing! And the question, Church, is are we up for that?!
For us to flourish, to encounter that joy, we have to! The rest of the series is looking at how we can each resource this change in mind-set, about how we can play our part regardless of who we are.
So, be still, be with, be open. Let your spiritual tale wag. Go deeper – go deeper encountering God,
because that’s where the joy of the Gospel is going to be found.