Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Church for the world

The way I'm thinking about church was clarified in an instant this Sunday, in the unlikely setting of an 8.00 am BCP service.  Or perhaps not so unlikely, because unlike some clergy, I find the communion service of 1662 to be a liturgy that powerfully expresses the liberality of the gospel, built as it is around the explosive declaration that "God so loved the world".  God didn't just love the 5 of us who did him a favour by turning up to the service, but the whole world, even the ones who don't seem that bothered about him.

This was brought home to me by the Gospel reading (completely different to the one that non-17th century congregations were reading): 

Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?  And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
(sensible version here)

Would a shepherd really leave ninety-nine sheep to their own devices in order to go after just one? This shepherd would. The God that Jesus reveals to us is a restlessly questing one, who loves with a passion that will not be quenched until the last sheep comes home.

Of course, if the shepherd had consulted with his churchwardens first, he would never have got out of the fold.

That is horribly unfair to many churchwardens, but as a general point it is sadly true. Many congregations have very little interest in the sheep outside their own little fold, and actively resent the time "their" clergy spend on community work, visiting non-church members, and evangelism.  The irony that in the modern Church of England there is only one sheep left, and it's the ninety-nine who have done a bunk, is lost on these myopic Christians who would rather we spent our final days as a denomination looking after the tiny minority who are "in", and leaving the rest outside.

Sunday by Sunday we worship a God who is totally unrecognisable in a church that exists only for itself.  If there is any future for us, it's time to reconnect with the Shepherd who leaves us behind and goes out to those who aren't tucked up in the cosy building where he keeps the sheep.


2 comments:

Jean Rolt said...

Thanks for that Charlie...very good post!

Neil Coleman said...

Just found my way via @davidmkeen and really struck by this powerful perspective, thanks Charlie! Maybe Jesus telling Peter to feed his sheep is important too but (as I heard Steve Chalke nick from better theologians) I still an wrestling with how much knowing God should lead to Mission & direct our Worship...