Preparing for a new chapter in our church's life
What follows should help to set the scene for the upcoming preaching series. Each of the week’s sermons will allow us to see part of the Lords prayer with fresh eyes. As we go through the series housegroup leaders are encouraged to help housegroups to make connections between the Lord’s prayer and our own experience as we prepare for a new chapter in the life of the church with the arrival of a new Rector.
Our reading each week will be taken from Matthew 6:5-15.
Please spend time reading and reflecting on this, exploring pre-conceptions and interpretations.
Sometimes we need to re-look at something very familiar with fresh eyes.
Sometimes we need to gain a new perspective on something that we think we already know inside out.
Sometimes we know something so well that we miss its meaning and significance.
Sometimes we’re so familiar with something that we fail to see all that it offers us.
Two different but related things spring immediately to mind:
The Lord’s Prayer
Our very own church of St Giles’ & St George
This series and a new chapter:
With the arrival of a new Rector we’re starting a new chapter in the life of our church. It’s not disconnected from the chapters that have already been, but rather the latest in a long line of chapters that stretches back some 900 plus years in St Giles’ Church and infact even further back than this in the village.
But none-the-less it is indeed a new chapter.
As we prepare for the beginning of this new chapter we want to deliberately and consciously prepare ourselves to look afresh at something we know so well – our church. To see it with fresh eyes. To gain a new perspective on it.
The Lord’s Prayer and a new chapter
To help us do this we’re going to look at something just as familiar as our church – the Lord’s Prayer. A collection of words so well known, so well integrated into the life of faith that we often miss the extraordinary content of it.
The words of Rowan Williams surely apply to this text above all: “Words of faith are too well-known to the believer for their meaning to be knowable.”
Is it possible that something can be so well known that it is unknown? I think it can be and so too does the former Archbishop (he’ll be pleased to know that he agrees with me). Sometimes we know something so well in a particular way that we’re blinded to knowing it in any other way and so at least part of its meaning is obscured and unknown.
This is surely true for the Lord’s Prayer and it is surely true for our church.
When it comes to the Lord’s Prayer, and for that matter our church, we know it’s contours and feel and structure and it takes on a familiar shape in our hearts and minds. We know both so well, or at least we think we do.
In this series then we’re going to look at the Lords prayer with fresh eyes in an attempt to gain a new perspective on it, and indeed on how it nourishes our lives of discipleship and mission.
In the same way we’re going to look again at our church, with fresh eyes, and ask what the Lord might want us to see as we look at it afresh in preparation for a new chapter in our corporate life.
It’s a question of trust:
One of the things which is undoubtedly true of the Lord’s Prayer is that it conveys a sense of trust in a God who is good. A God whose Kingdom is marked by benevolent rule, provision, and the meeting of needs.
As we prepare for a new chapter in the life of our church it is important that we individually and corporately are deepening the degree to which we trust in God.
Seasons of change can be difficult. We all respond differently to them. Some are desperate to throw everything away and start again. Others want to cling tightly to everything that already is. For some, embracing new seasons is easy and exciting, for others less so.
As we approach a new chapter in our church life it is important that we:
Root ourselves in Jesus
Trust God and his purposes
Commit to loving and serving each other
Commit to the call to make disciples and bring the Kingdom to bear
If we can do these things with the help of God’s Spirit then we can, in trust and hope, embrace the start of a new chapter in the life of the church with a sense of expectation and hope.
It’s not all about you / me:
Forgive me if I speak plainly, and please take this in the manner in which it is meant, that of gentle love…
Sometimes in pastoral ministry the thing one wants to say (often loudly and in an animated fashion) is “It’s not all about you!” Most pastors want to say that, few do, but all probably need to once in a while, to both others and also themselves!
You see the thing is that at times of change we can sometimes fall into the temptation to look inwards. Maybe it’s driven by worry or fear, maybe by the hope that finally we might get what we want. But either way this unhelpful and fairly ugly tendency to prioritise what I want raises its head in most of us in seasons of change and uncertainty.
Here’s an exercise to do as a group:
Ask yourself this: What do you think the next chapter in our church life looks like?
Now think about your answer or what you picture. How much of this revolves around your own preferences? Your own hopes? Your own desires? If you’re anything like me then probably quite a lot of it.
Strangely, as I picture the future, to my mind what the Lord really wants roughly equates with that I want. As I picture the new Rector of Ashtead, he or she puts a priority on the same things that I do, the new Rector wants to lead in the direction that I think is best….funny that.
But what if what we’ve pictured isn’t anything like what the Lord has in store for us? What if our desires are far from the plans and purposes of God? What if our preferences aren’t catered for? Even worse, what if we’re called to lay our preferences aside for the greater glory of God and his Kingdom? What if we find ourselves having to support a Rector with whom we disagree?
This is immensely challenging for all of us, and rightly so. But we must face this.
We must be willing to lay down our own desires, hopes, ambitions, and preferences and humbly submit to the desires, hopes, ambitions and preferences of God. That’s fine in the abstract, but becomes more difficult if they don’t match with ours and seem closer to those held by someone who we don’t really agree with!
Unless we are able to lay down our own desires and preferences, our love of control and getting our own way, we’ll never be able to see with fresh eyes or gain a new perspective. And in my experience this doesn’t mean that God won’t achieve what he desires, it just means we’ll miss out on being part of it to a greater or lesser degree.
A couple of questions I have asked myself which I now ask you:
Have I got the faith and love to openly follow God into a new chapter even if it’s not being written in the way that I’d choose?
Have I got the courage and trust to let go of the things that I hold dear and allow God to show me something new?
Do I love my fellow Christians in this place enough to work together for their good and for the mission of the Gospel even if it’s outside of my comfort zone?
Or, do I really think it’s all about me.
In the Ten Commandments we’re asked simply to Love God with heart and soul and mind, and love each other as we love ourselves. Jesus summarises the whole law in this way. During times of unsettledness and change our commitment to this is put to the test.
It’s not about me. Nor is it about you. It’s about Gods desires for his church. It’s about loving God and loving each other (and in ‘each other’ I include those not part of the church)
What mattered to Jesus matters to his church:
When Jesus disciples asked him to teach them to pray he spoke the words we refer to as ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ Prayer was important for Jesus, and so presumably the things that he talks about in the Lord’s Prayer, the sentiments that he expresses, must be important to him.
It’s true to say that what should matter most to the church is what mattered most to Jesus – after-all one the aims of our life as disciples is to become more like our master, Jesus. The things that matter to him, should matter to us.
As we take a fresh look at those things that mattered most to Jesus we’ll also be looking at our church and asking whether the things that mattered most to Jesus are the things that matter the most to our church? As we prepare for a new chapter we must be ready to re-orientate ourselves and our shared life as the Lord directs.
Faith, Hope, Love:
As we prepare for a new chapter and to take a fresh look at our wonderful church we do so with:
Faith – In Christ, the one who has saved us and the in whom our lives are secure
Hope – in the assurance of Gods presence and love and the ultimate fulfillment of his kingdom plans
Love – for God and for each other. Deep, transforming and sacrificial – real love.
And we pray:
As always we anchor ourselves in prayer, bringing before God our hopes and desires, fears and concerns, and asking him to work his transforming love in us and through us as we continue to walk with him.
At the start of this new series, take some time to pray. You might want to pray for:
The recruitment process and in particular the interviews which are scheduled for Oct 14/15. For Bishop Ian, Archdeacon Paul, Rural Dean Robert, Churchwardens David and Julia – all of whom will sit on the interview panel
For all those who are considering applying for the post of Rector of Ashtead, for wisdom to discern Gods call.
For ourselves and our church, that we would be rooted in faith, hope, and love.
For ourselves and our church that we might lay aside our own desires and ambitions for the sake of the Kingdom of God and his call
For fresh eyes and fresh perspective on our familiar and very deeply loved church. Fresh eyes to see where God is calling us, and how he wants us to get there.
Simon Butler, 26/08/2014