Sermon given at Isham & Orlingbury 12.2.17
Readings: OT/Epistle 1 Cor 3: 1-9 Gospel Matthew 5: 21-37
There are obviously quarrels and divisions happening in the early church at Corinth – we don’t know what they were divided about but we can see that the issue was causing them to take sides and to be loyal to either Paul or Apollos.
This behaviour is typical of us humans! We can all get excited about an issue, whether it’s political issues like Brexit, Donald Trump, social issues like gay marriage, or things that are based on our personal tastes like art, music, sports, education etc. Often the way we appreciate things is based not just on our tastes but on our interests, particular abilities, and the way we pick up and learn things.
It’s a whole lot easier to mix with and have conversations with people who agree with you – it gives us much more pleasure than arguing! The problem is that talking to like-minded people can lead to things like the “Westminster Bubble” which is helping us to see how a group of people can become disconnected from other groups to the point where they fail to hear or understand them.
The other problem of talking mostly to like-minded people is that it might stop us hearing all that God wants to tell us since none of us is exclusively good or right all of the time!! We really do need to have some of those more challenging conversations – I had one on Thursday with Nick from NAYC about home education, and Keelan had some pretty passionate ideas about political education in schools which was new to me.
In the gospels we can see that the Pharisees were very enthusiastic about the issue of purity – they thought getting all Jews to obey the Law was the only way God would draw close to Israel again, or at least in the way he had been in the glory times of King David’s era. So they were genuinely horrified when Jesus touched dead bodies or did things on the Sabbath like healing people or allowing his disciples to pluck grain. We tend to think ‘thank goodness we’re not Pharisees’ but we can behave in exactly the same way over other issues!
Paul reminds the Corinthians that JESUS is the foundation, the one we should be loyal to above all our other loyalties – certainly if we want to grow in our faith and not remain as infants who continue to act and think in worldly ways. Jesus mixed with all sorts of people in a way that often horrified those around him! So we know that he wants to build relationships with people of all tastes, learning styles and cultures.
And it’s because he wants us to get on well with each other and to build good relationships between people that he says we have to have the highest ideals and to put God’s laws into practice as best as we possibly can – always asking for the help of the Holy Spirit of course as we can’t do it on our own and we need some supernatural help!!
Some of the things we can get excited about in our churches are music and hymns, the furniture and how it’s arranged, and the type and style of our services. Naturally some people prefer quieter more formal services which enable them to connect with God really well – but others find that sort of service uninteresting. Learning styles is not only a genetic in-built thing – it’s also a generational thing due to changes in schooling.
When I was at school we sat in rows of desks and the teachers taught us from the front. I particularly remember in my first school endlessly taking down dictation from the history and geography teacher – I don’t remember any discussion about the subjects at all!! So we older ones are quite happy to sit and listen to a sermon without interrupting or discussing what we’re hearing.
But for some years now children have sat round tables and been encouraged to discuss what their teacher is talking to them about – today they also investigate the subject on the internet too. They are NOT expected to just trust what the teacher or the book is telling them but to think about the subject and make up their own minds. So young families are much happier with interactive talks in church than older people often are – they pay more attention and learn more that way!
Hymns and music regularly cause divisions of opinion in church – all over our country and not just in our own parishes! I’m not at all musical so I am completely unable to understand what musical people appreciate in hymns – I just like a good tune, and often that can be a modern one that is ‘syncopated’ – I know choirs find it difficult to sing but I have no problem because I can’t read music so I learn from singing with other people or listening to records. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with either me or musical people – we’re just two different types of humans and our churches are filled with both types!
In towns these differences present less of a problem because you tend to get different churches catering to different tastes and styles. But here in our villages we usually have just one church and we all want it to serve the whole village community – it works best that way. So we do need to have different styles of service on our rota.
BUT, if we want to be a church that lays its foundation on Jesus and gives its loyalty to him above all else – we ALL need to go to ALL the different types of service so that we support one another and build up ONE strong church. In his last discourse in John’s gospel Jesus prays fervently for unity ‘that they may be one’. He also frequently talks about uncomfortable things like dying to self and picking up our cross – and he sums up all the laws by saying we must love God wholeheartedly and our neighbour as ourself (which means all our neighbours, not just the ones who feel like us).
Trying to help others to connect with God and develop their own relationship with him is a driving passion of mine! So I’m really thrilled to see you developing new styles of outreach and services – and I was so pleased that many people said they wanted another session with Charlie Nobbs to discuss how to help people who are beginning to come to our church outreach events to grow in discipleship.
Your efforts to reach out to people who are not just like you are beginning to bear fruit – so keep going!!