If you cast your mind back almost 7 months, you may remember that the reading I selected for my licencing service here was the reading from Ephesians (https://ref.ly/Ep4.1-16) that we have heard today.
Earlier this week the PCC completed the last of 6 sessions of the Leading Your Church into Growth course. That has given us an invaluable opportunity to deepen bonds of fellowship and friendship as together we seek to discern God’s vision and plan for this Church. Our next step will be to distil that learning and experience into a mission action plan which will be communicated to the wider Church in due course.
For me, engaging with the PCC in these sessions has enabled me to subtly echo Paul’s charge to the Church in Ephesus…“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” That’s something I have encouraged you all to do too over the past few months, especially as we journeyed through the challenges and frustrations of Covid.
It’s been good to get to know people better through conversations, visits where possible, and meetings. It’s a privilege for me to get to see people exercising their giftings, calling and ministry – for example when the pastoral team came together for a meeting, at PCC meetings, or at the recent Sunday School and Seekers relaunch event and in many other ways too. That reminds me of how “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service.” We are ALL blessed with gifts and talents, we all have a role to play, we are ALL part of the body of Christ. In functioning as the body of Christ and giving opportunity for people’s giftings to be used we see the body of Christ being built up. This is for a noble reason…so that we might all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. In that we might bring glory to God.
That isn’t always easy…change and transformation can sometimes be challenging. But there is a need in this to speak the truth in love, as I do and as I always will, acknowledging the responsibility and accountability we have to God and also to a lesser extent one another. A healthy church is one that grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. A healthy church is one that tends its garden, pulling up the weeds, pruning unhealthy or unfruitful branches and clearing away the things that stifle growth and inhibit people from being all that they are called to be in Christ. We have to get the foundations right.
All of this speaks of the need for and the importance of discernment and belief – which is at the heart of our gospel reading today. Many who sincerely seek God wonder what he wants them to do. The religions of the world have many answers to this question, but Jesus’ reply was brief and simple: Believe in him whom God has sent. Satisfying God does not come from the work we do, but from whom we believe. You can’t have orthopraxy (doing the right thing) without orthodoxy (believing the right thing). What we believe affects what we do, and why we do it. What does it mean to believe? The first step is accepting Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. We declare in prayer to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Accepting Jesus means giving him control of every area of life. To believe means to yield our wills, our desires, our plans, our strengths and weaknesses to Christ’s direction and safekeeping. It means moment-by-moment obedience. It isn’t about pursuing our own personal agendas. It is about saying “your will be done, not mine” and then acting upon it. Believing is a relationship with the one who promises to live within, trusting him to guide and direct us to do his will.
Jesus offers the ultimate spiritual satisfaction and fulfilment: If we believe in him, we will never hunger or thirst. But in a broken world, that does not mean an escape from life and its problems. Thousands of Christians still face physical hunger, and millions face crushing difficulties. The gospel frees us to face life and gives us hope. In the middle of the world’s increasingly pessimistic and despairing outlook, the gospel unflinchingly claims that Jesus offers infinitely more than this life can give. We must always live in the present, mindful of the past and expectant of the realisation of our future hope in Christ. It means in the face of adversity – through sin, struggles or failures – we can claim “I know that my redeemer lives”. One of Jesus’ last statements was, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (16:33). And this is my charge: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction…keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5)