Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Keeping us Moving Forward (1)

When I was seventeen, the Methodist Mission church I was attending celebrated its 25th Anniversary.  My grandmother, at 72, was the oldest active member.  She gave a speech and cut the celebratory cake.  I’d been a converted Christian less than a year.  Frankly, I wasn’t impressed by what I’d seen of her faith.  I’d witnessed all the petty fussing about what to wear and what to say when going to church.  We teenagers had a phrase for it: “lost her joy”.

My grandparents had been founder members of the church, and my grandfather a trustee.  I never knew him.  He died before I was born, having earned the rare distinction of being our city’s first casualty of the World War Two.  He got knocked down by a slow-moving bus on the third night of the blackout.  That tells you something about our family’s road sense.  My mother’s account of his poor handling of money and weakness for drinking made me doubtful of his faith and character also.

I wasn’t attracted by an event looking backward to a remotely distant time, it seemed to me, when Wesley himself might turn up on the preaching rota.  I was a child of the white hot technological revolution: contemporary was the in word, and the future ours.

Last month, my friend John told me that his Northampton church-household had clocked up 25 years.  He was ruminating that he’d never expected it would be the last planting pioneering he’d do.  He wasn’t in a celebratory frame.  I think he’s done well, but I also knew what he was feeling.  In 2014, Jesus Fellowship could celebrate its 45th Anniversary (as an event, such is unlikely).  I’ll have been a member, and leader, for almost 40 years.  The memory of my teenage boredom sits uncomfortably with my reaction to this relentless advance of time.  What do the two generation younger than mine make of this church?  I’ve found a few personal reactions.

1. First, we need to ungum the flow of relationships - which also means the flow of the Spirit in relationships - by prompt and full forgiveness.  My Methodist background defined holy communion basically as communion with God, not brethren.  Read the full order of service.  It was written in a time when general society was stable and cohesive.  There was barely need to mention the neighbourliness dynamic of one’s faith.  Wesley affirmed that “faith that works by love” was the evidence of its authenticity. 

Our bread and wine tradition embraces reconciliation after the pattern of 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.  In my Methodist beginnings I heard comments about which minister various members had preferred (Mr. Henderson, Mr. Lawson, and Mr. Mitchell), but it never amounted to discerning the body!  As for discipleship, we read the gospels as theological works.  We sifted out and systematised the moral and “sound” teaching.  We never appreciated the amazing significance of Jesus interacting with all kinds of people and creating many levels of relationships.  I’m glad I have come to do so since.  Yes, I knew the verse (Matthew 5:24) about leaving your gift at the altar if you were out of sorts with a brother.  But I’d never witnessed this in practice.

A formative Jesus Fellowship wisdom picture was a river, smooth on the surface, but with ridges, boulders and fractures in its bed.  When you looked deeper, the flow was obstructed.  The river plunged over a high waterfall.  From there on, it flowed on a clear unhindered course.  This depicted the Holy Spirit’s work among us.  So, God would break and unite us.  And He did!  Out of this time of being under His discipline, community was born.  We must tackle offences that build up as a legacy of the years.  One day the time will be right for Jesus to come again.  Our attention to our relationship with our brothers and sisters is part of the necessary conditions.  Keep relationships priority; and keep them open.

2.  Now, there seems to be more to reflect on than to dream about.  I go to a wedding or event in our chapel.  From the balcony or platform, the scene haunts me. I recollect families who once sat just there, or leaders who gathered their cluster of bright young followers on this row.  In fact, they’re more real than the vague faces that I really feel I should know better, or make an effort with, today.  Was it really that long ago that they left us?  My memories are etched clearer than reality. 

It’s the same when I visit a community house, or a public hall where we’ve held our national events.  So many intense and significant memories are burned in my mind.  It’s difficult to throw my focus forward and embrace the future.  Yes, even when that future promises to be equally eventful and gripping. 

The children of Israel were taught rituals and precepts, and erected monuments to preserve an accurate remembrance of their past.  We all need reminders: accurate ones, not subjective impressions.  Perhaps that was the benefit of the 25th anniversary event.  But Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3:3, asserts that we are not like Moses, people of fading revelation from one defining point in history.  We are “all are being transformed” (verse 18) with a future of expanding expectation and glorious manifestation.  Jesus didn’t award any points to the would-be disciples steering their lives through the rear-view mirror (Luke 9:62). 

Experience was the name given to one of the four shepherds that Christian meets in Pilgrim’s Progress.  But, as a church, we got where we are though the power of anointing, too.  I’m dismayed by members who always want the “good old brothers” as Pastors or event leaders.  We were better when we had little that amounted to tradition, and waited for the Holy Spirit.  It’s a massive discipline of mind renewal to keep all the channels of imagination open when the memory takes up most of your capacity, but it must be done.

No comments: