How can we be the Church better?
Both Fr Chris and I started our priesthood in Sheffield Diocese and I recall from my days a diocesan theme of that name which was very successful: Being the church better. It was a challenge to do no more but to put more into what we were doing.
As a somewhat repentant former mission adviser I’m aware of how diocesan initiatives can sap energy by putting extra burdens on busy priests and people. That being said I rejoice in our diocesan year of vocation because our calling or vocation flows straight from what we are in Christ so it is timely to open God’s word with that in mind.
How can we be the Church better and better fulfil our Christian calling?
We’re human beings not human doings. Even if, like me, a lot of what you do is pottering around as a retiree you can still forget to ‘take time to stand and stare’ as the saying goes. Jeremiah and the Psalmist draw an analogy between the life of faith and trees sinking roots into subterranean water. When I was a Curate in Doncaster I woke up one summer morning to find a crack right across my bedroom wall. Four thirsty plane trees in the garden had drunk the water under the Clergy House in a drought such that the House came to subside! Such is the power behind a tree - or four trees.
How much more power there is in a trustful life! Happy the one who has placed his trust in the Lord… yielding fruit in due season… all they do shall prosper. Being the church better is about putting roots into the word of God, savouring for example this week’s readings from Jeremiah 17 and the first Psalm day by day, being reminded whenever you pass a tree - and we are much more blessed with trees to remind us in Chichester Diocese than we were in Sheffield Diocese!
We’re two weeks or so from Lent. Not all of us can make extra groups or services though I hope to and hope you will also try to, when you can. Being the church better for many of us might be less about coming to extra things as putting extra heart into our Sunday celebration of the eucharist. Being a regular Mass attender I wrote an article about this in February's New Directions. It's a reminder to myself and the readership of the awesome reality of Mass. Here’s a bit from that article:
‘It is the perception of the eucharist as the God-given transformative action it is that draws me day by day into its orbit. As often as we celebrate the eucharist we advance the work of salvation through no simple transaction but a showing of Christ crucified which helps bring the world into what he wants it to be. So many times I have been able to look back days or weeks later at the fulfilment of intentions I have taken to the eucharist even concerning world crises.
Day by day we have an invitation to participate in a blessing and distribution of bread and wine that impacts the cosmos through the eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus who died in our place and comes here and now, there and then, to be in our place and that of the whole world before our Father. His institution of the eucharist calls forth obedience - ‘do this in remembrance of me’ - but more profoundly obedient self-offering in his own for our salvation and that of the whole world. ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (Hebrews 10:7)’.
How can we be the Church better?
Talk to your priests or fellow church members about the meaning and power of the eucharist. Get a book to read or some guidance on what terms to Google so you can get more rooted in the faith of the church through the ages.
After last autumn’s week of guided prayer there was quite a ripple of God talk around at St Richard’s. When we as individuals deepen our prayer the joy of that ripples out compensating less joyous demands of church life like seeing to the challenge of the electrics. Rewiring will make for a better and safer church, yes, but need I say a membership more lit up with the light of the Lord will best serve the Beacon aspiration Fr Chris sets before us.
In the second reading we’re challenged to a fuller sense of the Church as God’s never-ending family. Saying farewell to Tony and Frank is reminder of those words we just heard from St Paul: ‘If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied… Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died’. As we prepare through Lent for Easter what better preparation than aim to share with our circle how in the last resort there are only two alternatives: either to have God, and in Him everything, or to have nothing but yourself. The hope of heaven needs strengthening in us if we’re to be effective witnesses in such a materialistic culture. We don’t need to do extra things to strengthen that hope, just pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us to books and individuals that thrill with such hope.
How can we be the Church better?
The Gospel has the Beatitudes abbreviated from nine in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount to four here in Luke’s sermon on the plain with four woes all with something of a sociological take compared to Matthew who has Our Lord declaring the ‘poor in spirit’ blessed rather than the ‘poor’.
You could read and compare the two versions in your own time to help you take the Beatitudes more to heart, especially Matthew’s call to poverty of spirit, purity of heart, hunger for righteousness and so on. When we read Christ’s Beatitudes they’re a tall order but to be the church better we need to spiritually ‘stand up straight with our shoulders back’. As Jordan Peterson summarises their challenge: ‘Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today. Don’t waste time questioning how you know what you’re doing is wrong, if you are certain that it is’.
To be the church better we need individually to take the shock-treatment of the Holy Spirit without running away. Sinking our roots more in the promises of Scripture may we prosper like healthy trees people look up to. Rewired in spirit through using our imagination more about the way we pray may we discover afresh the meaning and power of the eucharist. I end with a description of the anticipation of heaven we are thankfully about this morning from the Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann:
‘When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfil, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God's creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect eucharistic being. He is the eucharist of the world. In and through this eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.’
Behold the Lamb of God this morning - the risen Lord coming to be present in bread and wine - blessed are those called to his supper both here and in the age to come!