Transforming Presence 1

9 Mar

With 4 slots when I was due to preach before our new vicar starts, I decided to talk about the 4 headings from the Chelmsford Diocese initiative, Transforming Presence. Each of these talks will be, more or less, typed up as said. Here’s the first:

Living distinctively – preached 19/2/12

Reading – Matthew 5: 13-16
Salt and Light
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

On January 21st this year there was a gathering of around 1000 people from across Chelmsford Diocese, to discuss the way forward for The Church. There had already been some discussions about priorities that had led to a booklet about it.

These priorities were:
– Living distinctively
– Evangelising effectively
– Living accountably
– Reimagining ministry
With 4 family services including this one between now and when Dave Chesney is inducted as our vicar, I will be focussing on each one over these services.
This week is “living distinctively”

What does “distinctively” mean?
My dictionary says that another word we might use is “identifiable”. Basically, it is about how we, as Christians, are seen as visibly different to the rest of the world.

Taken from the “Transforming Presence” booklet
The Christian church is the Body of Christ in the world and each individual Christian a member of it, each called and equipped by God for ministry and service.
It therefore follows that every Christian has a ministry (more of this later) and that every Christian should live a distinctive life. The way we inhabit the world should be different. This does not mean that we are somehow better than other people. It is manifestly true that there are all sorts of good and generous people who are not yet part of the Christian community. But it does mean that there should be something distinctive and attractive about the way we live our lives. Conversely, if our lives are indistinguishable from anyone else’s it is little wonder that people conclude that the Christian faith is our hobby; a fascinating and exhausting pastime, but not the life changing transformation that is evident in the lives we lead Monday to Saturday.

Ok, now first of all we should be clear that this is not about what we do defining us as Christian. We’ve already had a long discussion about this in a recent Bible Study and I am clear that the Bible does not talk about how we can do things to become a Christian. As Paul clearly says in his letter to the Romans, we are saved by faith in Jesus. But what the Bible does say is that simply having faith is not really what we are called to. In James 2:18 we read “But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
James is not saying that faith and deeds are 2 different ways to Heaven, rather that when you have a faith it will cause you to want to do something as a result of it.

So what does that mean to us? I believe that it means that we should be remembering that the life of a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus, which means that we are set apart from the rest of the world and dedicated to God.
Look through the Bible and we will see many examples of where people are called to be set apart for God.
– Leviticus talks about it a lot, both generally for the people of Israel but also more specifically for the priests and Levites, who had particular religious and ceremonial tasks to perform.
– We see it with Nazirites, particularly Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist. They were set apart not only in service of God but also they were not to drink wine or cut their hair.
– The sermon on the mount, part of which we had for our reading, talks a lot about how to live. It takes in the Mosaic Law and then strikes to the heart of it, rather than the literalisation that had happened over the years so that people old get away with certain things if it meant that they weren’t breaking the letter of the law. It spoke about murder, adultery, divorce, lathes/promises, revenge and much more.
– In Paul’s letters to Timothy we see Paul giving instructions for Timothy both on how to lead and how to choose people to become leaders.

The key in all of this is making sure that we do not dilute our faith to the point where we are either justifying it by ignoring the spirit of God’s call on our lives or claiming that we need to be relevant to the world in order for them to understand us.
Too many times I have heard that as an excuse for certain behaviour by Christians, most recently in a letter by around 100 clergy from London Diocese who signed a letter saying they were in favour of “gay marriage” and that the Church of England should “change with the times” to accommodate society. But that is not what we are called to. Nicky Cruz new this when he was a young Christian.

On the bottom of page 144 of “Run Baby Run” he expresses anger at the behaviour of someone who claimed to be a Christian and yet had acted in a way completely contrary to what she claimed to believe.

So how can we best try to be distinctive as a church? Well, one of the ways that the booklet points to is being a community that supports the growth of everyone within. We see this best lived out in Acts 2: 42-47, where we see the fellowship of believers living and supporting each other in any way that was needed. And they also looked beyond their own circle and outward to the surrounding community. Stephen and 6 others were appointed to look after widows.

But we can also look at this and apply it to much wider issues as well. Things like the environment, both in doing our bit to look after this wonderful label God has given us custodianship of and encouraging others to do the same. Or engaging with politics, either simply having the conversations and taking part in the voting process or maybe even becoming a part of the process and standing for positions within local or national government.

But it must lays be supported the centre of the community, and what better way to do this that through prayer. After all, what can be more distinctive that talking to our creator about how things are and how we would like to see them become? And arrayed is not just about doing, but also about encouraging and teaching others. It’s not like the day you become a Christian you immediately have a heavenly download on how to pray!

Remaining salty is both a personal and a community responsibility. We must continue to remind ourselves of what God asks of us when we are in the world outside of the church community, in order that we can keep ourselves from falling to the temptations that the world has to offer. And then when we are together as a church family we should be looking to encourage and strengthen each other so that we are again able to go out into the world again, living for God in the fullness of the life that He has given to us.
John 10:10 says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” If Jesus came so we can have this full life, why not live it?!

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