I am sitting watching the rain pour down this week looking out from my study window over the city, reflecting that last week I was basking in the warm sun looking over the garden. My laptop is open, and I have calendar tab open reminding me how quickly September is approaching with its usual raft of meetings and that sense of new beginnings.
As I write I am mindful that, as I said last week many of our churches are in the process of carrying out risk assessments, and considering safeguarding protocols for as we seek to return in some way to gathering and enabling user groups to access our premises. I wonder then what returning means to you, it cannot be a returning to what was, it must in all cases be a turning to something new, for me that carries with it echoes of repentance, a turning from, and renewal, a looking to the new thing and discerning where God is calling us and how the Spirit is at work among us. In that sense our returning means finding a new path, and a new way of being and doing church.
If we are to find a new way of being and doing perhaps the question posed by Jesus in the Gospel reading set for this coming Sunday is rather pertinent, and perhaps one, that as the body of Christ we need to answer for ourselves. You can read the whole passage in Matthew 16: 13-20, but I invite you to answer the question “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, or in some versions “Who do people say that I am?”
Who are we, the people of God, and how should we be? How doe we interact with our local communities, are we a blessing to them, are we salt, bringing out the God flavours of the world, and are we light, brining out the God colours in the world? In the challenging days that we have been walking through recently what has our prayer been?
I have to admit that I feel that my days have been a bit of a roller-coaster, at some points I have been able to be community and other focused, and at other times I have been rather selfish and have only been able to concentrate on getting through the day! Most times I fall somewhere between the two, and need to remind myself to travel gently, whilst holding the question, who are we (the church) very much in mind.
So, as we prepare to turn towards returning, taking in the changing daily scene of what is and what is not permissible, what does and what does not feel safe, maybe in answering the question of who we are, we need to return to Jesus question “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, and look to find the pattern there of who and how to be. We remember that Jesus first called the disciples to be with him, in relationship with him, and from that as a basis sent them out to bless and to serve. We remember that pattern of self-emptying that Paul points to in his letter to the Philippians:
“Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. 4 Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.
5 Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, 6 who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, 7 but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men.[a] 8 And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross.”
In this I suspect our returning is perhaps more of a re-orientating, which begs the acknowledgement that we have been through a profoundly disorientating time, , and to quote Walter Brueggemann from his book “Psalms of life and faith”:
“Human experience includes those dangerous and difficult times of dislocation and disorientation when the sky does fall, and the world does indeed come to an end.”
He goes on to say:
The countermovement of reorientation comes… through a representation of a reality that is genuinely new and has the mark of a gift. The reorientation has both continuities with, and discontinuities from what has been. But the accent is on the new.
The accent is on the new, a thought to chew over as we ask the questions of who we are and how we should be. Bruggeman points to the Psalms and offers us the pattern of orientation-disorientation-reorientation we can find within them, inviting us to move from what was to what is through a journey that includes grappling with the tough stuff and the need for lament. If we are honest and real, we must not neglect that gift as we move forward together. Yes, we will want to celebrate, but we must not neglect the downs as well as the ups!
So, as we move forward, we ask ourselves what the gifts are of the past that we might want to reclaim, what are the gifts of the times we are still travelling through, and what might the future of the people of God in our context now be? Remember we don’t have to have the answers all at one, we take the journey one step at a time!
Reverend Sally Coleman
Sheffield Methodist Circuit