Written by Nick Lear
Good morning friends
Over the past couple of months the Regional Team have hosted some conversations with Ministers to explore what God may be saying to his churches through the coronavirus lockdown. We have discerned five themes that we feel clearly came out of these conversations around ‘discipleship’ and these are available in a document that was sent out last week, and which I attach here in case you missed it. During those conversations I felt impelled to go away and explore Jesus’ parables about patches and wineskins and in turn that has led to me preaching from the passage in Luke 5:33-39*.
There’s been a lot of talk about ‘the new normal’ but for Jesus new was normal. Jesus told the parables in response to a challenge from the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were concerned that his disciples were not being religious enough by not fasting. Jesus’ response through the parables was that he had not come to patch up old religious systems but to bring in a whole new way of being that was a relationship not a religion – as different from their system as a formula one car is from a donkey: Jesus was welcoming and inclusive of all whereas religious rules excluded all sorts of people; Jesus touched those who were deemed untouchable by the religious rules; he forgave sin, but the religious people had decided that that was God’s job; he healed those who were incurable; he brought freedom whereas the religious rules shackled people; he offered a relationship with God, but religion offered rituals; Jesus was life-affirming, but religion was guilt-inducing.
So, what might Jesus be saying to us today through these mini parables?
It seems to me that the worldwide outrage and demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd by a policeman kneeling on his neck is a reminder that you can’t try to patch up an unjust system. We can see clearly how racism and injustice remain within our society, it’s not just a problem in USA. That’s a stark and bleak contrast to the all-embracing welcome that Jesus offers and which he calls his followers to emulate. We should all fight against racism in our country, our churches and even in ourselves – there has to be fundamental change. The message that you can’t simply apply a patch of something new to an inherently broken system speaks loud and clear to me in this context. Will we simply patch up the past or will we embrace the new?
But the parables don’t just speak to our society, they also speak to our churches. In fact, given that Jesus told them to the religious leaders of his day perhaps we need to take special notice of them as church. The new wine of Jesus’ kingdom bursts out of the old wineskins of out of date tradition. We need to search ourselves and see whether the message we communicate (with words and attitudes) is more about following rules than about being in a relationship with God. I have heard (and maybe preached) sermons which could be summarised as ‘try harder, do better, be nicer’. Don’t get me wrong, we do have a part to play in responding to the move and prompting of God’s Spirit. But if we without Jesus at the heart of what we do we are just another well-meaning self-help programme and support group. While our groups are suspended during the lockdown perhaps now is a good time to check again whether the prime purpose of what we are doing is to share the good news of Jesus? What changes might God want us to make? Will we simply patch up the past or will we embrace the new?
These parables also speak to us as followers of Jesus. Do we live as followers of Jesus every day or do we patch up our life with a visit to church every Sunday?
The Bible tells us in Lamentations 3:22-23 that “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” God is constantly refreshing our relationship with him by his Spirit. But are there times when we would rather he kept things as they are? When God’s Spirit puts his finger on areas of our life that he wants to change do we resist and come up with excuses or do we allow him to move as he wants? Are we willing to allow him to change us to be more like Jesus or are we happy to remain the way we are? Will we simply patch up the past or will we embrace the new?
* A video of an all-age talk, reading and sermon on the passage is available on the EBA YouTube channel (https://youtu.be/i3WMZiIyVzE). If you would like a version of the sermon to print out instead let me know and I can email it to you.
This week as an Association we are praying for Billericay Baptist Church (https://www.easternbaptist.org.uk/our-churches/prayer-diaries/)
This Sunday Beth will be ‘with’ Holly Lodge Baptist Church, Ipswich; Graeme will be ‘with’ Colchester Baptist Church; and I will be ‘with’ Homelands Free Church.
This week our Thought has been written by Jeniya Gwendu, EBA Moderator Trust God I read a caption which said, “ a bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is not on the branch but in its ability to fly”. H …
8th July 2020
This week our thought has been written by Graeme Ross Over the years, I’ve heard many people say that ‘God is with us’, but I’ve rarely heard anyone ask, ‘are we are with Him?’ Several weeks ago, I was really struggling and as I looked out the window, …
1st July 2020
Dear Friends, I apologise that this is longer than usual, but somehow I just couldn’t make it any shorter. I pray that it may bless you and provoke you to reflect. What does it mean to surrender? Do you remember those key times in your life when you l …
17th June 2020