A Story that Calls and Sends

"We get up to strange things in church", said Pastor John at our baptism service this weekend. He was reflecting on the fact that Christians regularly get together for such weird rituals as a community sing-song to God; we talk to him as our invisible Father, we put money in a velvet bag, we eat bread and drink tiny amounts of grape juice together, and occasionally, we dunk people underwater in ceremonial fashion! These activities are so strange that we need to explain then, not just to our visitors but also to ourselves. This was the beginning of the message for Part Four of our Lenten series, Engage Gospel, aimed at highlighting the role of the church in making God's amazing salvation available to his people. 

Last week we recalled how the Big Story tells us we are created for good but damaged by evil, and that in the Jesus event, life, message, death, resurrection, we are restored for better. Today's tag line was sent together to heal, though John expanded that to "fix", because the whole creation needs fixing, not just our physical  bodies. In James Choung's useful little tool for spiritual conversations, healing is
meant in that wider sense of helping with God's purpose of restoring his world and the people he loves to the good he had in mind at that beginning. In the graphic that is the wiggly lines that do get smoothed out - not a process that will be completed in this life, but we make a start on it, and that start transforms people's lives. John reminded us that this is the task of the church; it is the church that is "called and sent" to continue the ministry of Jesus as we are told in John 20: 21: As the Father has sent me (Jesus) so I send you (the disciples). 

Worship is a crucial part of what we do together as the church, often on Sunday. The temptation though, is to shrink worship down to whatever best connects us individually to God, (eg songs, sermons) and forget that it is much wider than that. In worship, John said, we are called to retell the Big Story in word and picture and role plays. We get fired up to love and enjoy God's world and to live the Jesus' life, doing what Jesus did, the rest of the week. That means we are sent to comfort, heal, relieve suffering, speak truth, protect and care for the earth, stand against injustice, include the excluded and serve one another, at home, at work and in our community. Our preacher's Big Claim was that we can't do that Jesus life 'out there' unless we regularly reconnect with God and each other 'in here' meaning at corporate worship. church is a re-minder, a re-telling of the story so we re-experience his transformation and re-filled with the mind of Christ. Without that mysterious but real re-connection with the reality of his resurrection. we try and fix the world by ourselves and run out of steam. With life of Jesus shining through, we can love God and love others as we are called and sent to do.

What an appropriate way to introduce  a series of three testimonies followed by baptisms. Each of the candidates had a different story of their faith journey, each incidentally  including a season of resistance to pressure from others to take this step years earlier. In their different stories we heard of God's unrelenting pursuit of lifelong relationship with them, and of the decision to make this public commitment at just the right time in their adult lives. There were many wonderful verses shared, but I thought this one from the Hebrew Bible summed it up for all of us: 

What does the Lord require of us?
 To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

or in the Message version:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what GOD is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.  Micah 6: 8 

To Chew Over: In what ways are you experiencing the life of Christ and his call to collaborate in his mission to "fix the world" right now? 

Jesus take me as I am
I can come no other way
Take me deeper into You
Make my flesh life melt away
Make me like a precious stone
Crystal clear and finely honed
Life of Jesus shining through
Giving glory back to You
© 1978 Kingsway's Thankyou Music