I am mulling my way through a discussion that I was part of yesterday kicked off and facilitated by Mark Wakelin who is currently President of Conference for the Methodist Church UK. He dared us to dream, and to share our hopes for what might be and as the conversation unfolded we found that we were being drawn to think further and further outside of the box. Let me explain; a question often asked in Church Councils is "where will be in 5 years time?" The more cynical responses are often along the lines of " well if things carry on as they are we'll be closed" , though to be honest they are often not wrong, and dare I say if that is what happens then perhaps we get the church that we deserve.
The trouble with the question "where will we be/ where would we like to be...?" is that it often makes us introspective, it asks us what we want and fails to move beyond that. The last time I asked a question like that I watched a discussion descend from a low starting point of how lovely it would be to have soloists on a Sunday morning ( to entertain us?) and descending to deeper lows of who used to be good, and whether they still would be. I held my silence, it helped me to understand where people were. It also made me groan inwardly and weep outwardly in prayer later on.
Don't get me wrong, I am not a Saint with a big S, but I do think that we saints with a small s ought to be less focused upon our wants and desires and more focused upon both God and the situation he has called us to, so much so that our question needs to start to change, to become less about what we want and more about who/ how we are.
To truly reflect upon who we are demands that we connect again with the depth of our calling to be one with the given-ness of Christ and here the power of the words of the (Methodist) Covenant Prayer: "I am no longer my own but yours" demands that we dare to step into that space where rather than looking inward at what we want, that we step outward into that place, and among those folk that we are called to. When we turn from ourselves and embrace our calling we become salt and light to ourselves and to/within our communities and as such we bring out "the God colours and God flavours in the world". I love the way that The Message renders Matthew 5: 13-16:
"Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven."
Keep open house, be generous with your lives, be hospitable, be givers, be open, be welcoming, this way you will prompt others to open up to God. I read this and it warms my heart, and at the same time it sets of a tremor of nervousness within me, because quite simply I know that I can't do this on my own, and it brings me back to my need to rely upon the grace of God, and to our need for finding that grace in and through one another. I find myself asking if this is what it really means to be church, to be a community of people called together within a community, called and blessed, blessed that we might be a blessing and that we might celebrate God wherever we find him at work both within and without...
To do this means a breaking down of barriers and walls, a willingness to let go, to cease to be precious about our "stuff" be that buildings, doctrines, practices, or a myriad of other things. But what about or distinctiveness? How do we hold share the blessing we have been blessed with if we have to hold it so loosely? I think the answer lies in being alert to an ever present tension; we are in this world to make a difference, to be different, to be flavourful light-bringers, not within the church but out in the world, it is in the world that we are called to be different. Our problem I think is well described by Sarah Savage and Eloene Boyde-McMillan in their book "The Human Face of Church", citing Max Weber they say:
“Weber argued that any great vision require a human process to carry it through time, sometimes in the form of “a man, a mission, a movement, or a monument”. Even with the Body of Christ, the life giving charism has to be embodied in a routine – in some form of human organisation. Yet, life giving visions do not fit easily into neat boxes. So the very process that gives the vision continuing life also begins to kill it. When the maintenance of the institution (which protects the charism) becomes the institutions primary purpose, the death of the charism is on the horizon. Only spiritual revival or reform will re-ignite the gift.” (Savage and Boyd-McMillan 2007. p4)
We are not called to maintain the institution but to give ourselves away, just as Jesus gave himself not only on the cross but through the incarnation, leaving the glories of heaven for us...
In short how should we be, we should be those who with eyes fixed on God, take upon ourselves Jesus yoke, and walk into the world in company with him. We should be those with eyes open to see and embrace the ways that God is working in and through our communities, we should seek to retain our saltiness while being shaken out of the salt cellar, we should retain our colour weaving a glorious tapestry with those we live amongst, through dialogue, through hospitality, through being willing to be a blessing and open to receiving blessings from others, and we can receive because we are confident in who and whose we are...
Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.
Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. (2 Corinthians 5: 14-20)
When we begin to work from this focused centre, to live and be from this focused centre our questions become less about what we want and more about how and who we are, and why, and that could take us on an exciting journey, out there to who knows where!