Church was never just the service or the building...
Like every church in the land, our gatherings and services have stopped until further notice due to the Coronavirus. While there is sadness in not gathering together, the church is, and always has been the people of God, not a particular building or service. We are finding new ways of being the church to each other and to the community, continuing to love God and one another, and reaching out to those around us with the love of Christ.
We don’t know how long we are going to be functioning like this, but we are doing all that we can to help people stay connected as part of church, and to continue to be church for each other and also for the community that we are part of, that we are here to love and serve.
These are difficult times, everyone is affected by through work, through cuts, through school changes, uncertainty, it’s massive and we don’t take that lightly. These are difficult times and they cause us to reflect on what we’ve built our foundations on and where we’ve found security. These times can bring out the best of people and community or can bring out the worst in us and we’ve seen glimpses of both of those things. We've already seen so many wonderful ways the community is pulling together here in Partington.
Everything that so many of us have become familiar and that we’ve taken for granted as part of everyday life are being stripped back; patterns and rhythms are changing in employment, health, education, economy, shopping, sports, the arts. It’s all changing so quickly…
and the same is true in the life of the church, our regular rhythm of events have stopped and it gives us an opportunity to examine ourselves a bit, and to re-imagine how we be the church at this time. We have that opportunity to ask, what does it mean to be the people of God at this time. How will we respond as the people of God at this time? I believe the teaching of Jesus informs our answer.
Matthew 22: 34-40 says this: Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus was asked this question, ‘What is the greatest commandment’ by the religious leaders of his time, and it was a time when Israel was living under the oppression of the Roman empire, and with that came a squeezing of your normal life, heavy taxes, a… not being able to fully be free because you were always ‘under Rome’, if you stepped out of line too far it could well lead to a crucifixion…And in that context, Jesus said the greatest commandment is Love God, with all you are, and love your neighbour as yourself.
We are not under Roman occupation. I’m not suggesting that for one minute, but we are living in difficult, uncertain, challenging times where the current climate and circumstances beyond our control could lead to us feeling the squeeze, the uncertainty, the ‘ we’re not fully free’ to live life as we’d hoped or planned. How are we to respond as followers of Jesus?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind, and Love your neighbour as you love yourself.
This is a good time to draw near to God. With everything being stripped back, with foundations being shaken, it causes us to ask, 'How is your relationship with God?' Times of crisis and uncertainty aren’t the times to run from God, they are the times to run to God. Even in the midst of a crisis his presence and love is life changing, it’s eternity changing – whatever’s going on in life, in Jesus we see the full extent of God’s love for us – self giving, sacrificial, costly, to the point of death, but also overcoming and reigning and inviting us into relationship with God.
In John’s Gospel Jesus said this, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!” and 1 John 4 verse 19 says ‘we love, because he first loved us.’ Our love for God, with all we are, is a response to his love for us, with all he is. These are the times to draw near to God, as we do we will find hope, and courage, and love and grace, peace that surpasses all understanding. As the church at this time let’s draw near to God, and love God with all we are – our heart, our soul, our mind.
Draw near to the one who is with you as you walk through the darkest valley! Let’s love God with our choices, our time, our energy, our what we watch, with our how we respond to the kids, with our how we do our shopping and how we bless those around us.
With everything stripped back this is a great time to draw near to God. In prayer, in reading the Bible, in sung worship, in stillness, remembering that you are IN Christ. Draw near to God, love God with all you are. Make space in your diaries to be with God. In a shaking world, in uncertain times come close to the faithful one, to the sovereign one. Find yourself in Him.
Of course, this isn’t an individualistic thing, it’s not just ‘love God and that’s it’ it’s Love your neighbour as yourself’ – the church is the people not the person, it’s not just ‘me and my thing’ it’s all of us together – loving God, loving our neighbours within the church and beyond the church too….
So loving our neighbours as the church - we can draw near to God together, and even though we are dispersed and unable to meet physically there are opportunities where we can still be church to each other, in prayer, in online gatherings, in staying connected and looking out for one another.
But beyond the church we are called to our love our neighbours and our community – we are here to be salt in the earth, light in the darkness, hope to the hopeless, offering care and provision to those in need. Loving those around us flows naturally out of a growing love for God. God’s love as we’ve said is sacrificial, is giving, is generous, is compassionate…Let's be looking out for those around us who need help, practical or emotional, look out for those who need hope, who are isolated, who need to know they are loved, and they have a hope and a future… This is the time for the church to shine with the love of Jesus.
I take no credit for this point but I’ll share it with you anyway - during 2 major epidemics during the Roman Empire the church grew, because Christians had a bigger story of hope, they took seriously the command to love one another, and they welcomed others in. I pray that we might be that church that loves God with all we are, that loves each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and that loves our neighbours and those around us with God’s love.