Friday 11 August
Rev. Heather Morris is a Methodist Minister with a PhD in Practical Theology from Edinburgh University. She was the first female President of the Methodist Church in Ireland in 2013 and is now the General Secretary of the Home Mission Department of the Methodist Church, based in Dublin. This year, she is leading the morning Bible Teaching at New Horizon. Here’s a summary of her message from Friday morning:
We are focusing this morning on the Holy Spirit and the Church. Have you ever seen a sign in a lift, or in a shop, or in a business and thought, “There must have been an interesting back story to that sign?”
- On a Milk Fridge – “This is not an exit.”
- “Please do not lick the bathroom walls.”
- “Attention, please make sure the elevator is there before stepping in.”
- “This is a spaghetti free zone. Seriously, spaghetti in the library? What were you thinking?”
Sometimes when we read Paul’s letters, I wonder what the back story is to make him write what he does. (For example, when he writes to the Galatians about biting and devouring one another.) It should be normal in the life of every Christian that the Holy Spirit dwells within us.
The first sermon I ever preached was on Acts 2: 41 – 47. It is such a significant passage. The day of Pentecost comes and we don’t just have an experience of the Spirit for a small group of believers but we have a new community being formed.
In this tent, I know that you have stories to tell of church being exactly that sort of community! A woman found herself 8 months pregnant and homeless. She heard that a church had a baby bank and went to see if they could help her out with supplies. They did more than that. They helped her find a flat. She became a volunteer at the baby bank and she came to faith in Jesus. That is the church being church!
When you are preaching it is very easy to know who is listening and who is not. Most of the time you can tell who is with you! I was speaking once about the church as the Bride of Christ and I saw a look on the face of a man sitting in the audience. It was a look of distain. He had clearly been frustrated by talk of an ideal Chrsitian community because he knew and I know that we are not… we have all stories about gospel and back biting and jealousy.
Writing to the Galatians, Paul is responding to problems like this. We can match the beautiful stories of the church with stories about hurt and division. Why are Christians to nasty to each other? I love church and sometimes I struggle with church, when we fight over secondary issues, when we disagree poorly and rather than seeking God together we fall out. When we forget the big picture and when we let personal interests win out. In those moments, I wonder who is the church? Why are we so broken? How is the that the church can be a source of healing and life AND cause so much hurt to others and to ourselves?
With a depth of trust in God that sees what the church ought to be and also what the church sometimes is… let’s read from 1 Peter 2: 4- 10
Listen to this message: You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.
Let the Holy Spirit speak those words deep into our spirits this morning. That we the church, diverse in this tent and representatives of the church universal that we would understand who the Holy Spirit is calling us to be… that we might declare the glory of God.
The book of 1 Peter was written by Peter probably from Rome to Christians scattered across a wide geographical area. It would be difficult to think of a more diverse group. In the midst of that, they share a common experience, an experience of having encountered Jesus (as you come to Him, the living stone). This passage, that has so much to say about church, begins clearly with coming to Jesus.
It starts with Jesus but results in community
We begin with and are sustained by an encounter with Jesus but this passage pushes us to understand another truth that this encounter leads to community.
Church is what happens when people encounter the risen Jesus and commit themselves to sustaining their encounter in their relationship with each other.
When Saul comes to faith in Jesus, after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he is drawn into relationships with God’s people. Ananias goes to Saul and greets him with the word, “Brother”. We see it in Barnabas who takes the risk of introducing Saul (the ex persecutor) to the apostles.
The 12 sons of Jacob becomes the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. When Jesus calls 12 apostles, He is laying the foundation for the new people of God – the church. We are being built together…
Maybe you are saying, “Great theory but terrible practice.” To live above with saints we love, now that would be a glory. To live below with saints we know, well that’s a different story.
For my 50th birthday, my husband brought me on a trip to New York City. We did a cycling tour and cycling brings out all my insecurities. There were four of us in the group and then we were joined four more – the fittest people I have ever seen. I felt like the weakest link.
Maybe our hesitation about church is not the fact that we fall out but that we feel not good enough.
The secret is where that verse begins. As you come to Him, the living stone. In relationship with Jesus, who knows us, who has died for us, who is alive, we find ourselves loved. We are part of His family and we are in this together.
Ephesians 4: 1 -6 The significance of what Paul is teaching here about Christian unity cannot be underestimated. Writing to a church that is young but which is facing struggles, he teaches them about unity that is not just about their behaviour on the surface. It is a unity that is rooted in the essential unity that is in God. We are called to live in the world as a reflection of the nature of God Himself.
In John 17 – part of that same farewell discourse, we find Jesus praying for His disciples and for those who would believe. He prays that they would be protected. He prays that they would be sanctified. And He prays that they would be one, as He and the Father are one.
Then the world will know… The theory is great. The practice is difficult. Let us not become conceited. The history of the church is littered with broken relationships. Do we shrug or do we choose to write the letter, have a coffee… surely the power of the cross extends not just to the relationship between Jesus and me but also to our relationships with one another. In the power of the cross and in the power of the Spirit will our generation do the right thing? Will we resist the lie that the enemy speaks in our ear that is doesn’t matter.
It does matter. Our relationships with one another do matter. They are a sign in the world of our relationship with God. Yesterday we had a question… “What do Spirit-filled churches look like?”
Filled with His Glory
To understand what the writer means about being built into a spiritual house, we need to step back into first century shoes. On the journey of the children of Egypt God meets with Moses on Sinai and that mountain was considered to be holy ground. In particular, the ark of the covenant becomes associated with the presence of God. The ark was placed in the tabernacle. The book of Exodus, ends with Moses making sure that the tabernacle was exactly as God wanted it to be.
In Exodus 40, the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. The presence of God in the tabernacle was a sign of God’s commitment to His people. He was with them and He would journey with them. They could see it with their own eyes. The Lord was “tenting” among them and He was leading to the land of fulfilled promises.
When the people become settled, David wanted to build the temple to signfy the presence of God with His people. David cannot realise that dream and the task falls to his son Solomon. When the building is finished God’s glory fills the temple.
With that background in mind, hear these words for 1 Peter again… as you come to Him, the living stone… you also like living stones are being build into a spiritual house…” Peter’s first readers or hearers would have immediately thought back to the glory of the Lord filling the temple. Now, says Peter, the glory of God, the presence of God, dwells among God’s people. You are being built into a spiritual house. Just as the character of God was reflected in the temple. So the character of God will be reflected in you, the people of God.
In the power of the Spirit, we get to be that church! Wow! Something of the beauty and the presence and the character of God is made visible. But what does that look like.
I want to highlight a couple of characteristics. We are going to get practical. Remember where we started. Everything begins with that living relationship with Jesus and with unity (filled with and reflecting the glory of God).
God has not left us alone. This advocate the Spirit has come. God has not abandoned the world. How is the world going to know that? And Peter points us to a picture of the people of God being built together like living stones in the midst of the world. The people of God, built together as a sign in the world that God ahs not abandoned the world. The spirit of God still hovering over the face of the whole earth.
One minister laments that KFC is more committed to his neighbourhood than the church is! You are being built into a spiritual house. One sign of the presence and the utter commitment of God to your community and to the world.
When his wife of 39 years (Muriel) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the President of Columbia Bible College described how she could say very little but she could say, “I love you.” She would walk back and forth to his office up to 10 times a day. Sometimes in the evening when he was helping her to undress, he would find that her feet were bleeding. Muriel wasn’t going to let anything stop her, getting to the one she loved, even if it cost her “bloody feet.” When he told the doctor about it, the doctor simply said, “Such love!
So church, where are our bloody feet? I suspect we are wearing comfortable slippers!
How can we motivate the church to get into the community? Dare we pray for love for our community because we will do anything for those we love. I dare you to pray it in the name of Jesus.
Being practical, you might want to start prayer-walking your community. Another church put up a map and asked folks to pray for particular streets. We’ve seen it this week that it is the character of the Spirit to be ahead of us. Are we up for the cost? Are we willing to be broken and have bloodied feet? We get to be that sort of people in the power Gods spirit.
It looks like presence and it looks like radical hospitality. There is a difference between a friendly church and a church where I can make friends. A church where I can make friends is one where we can build our lives together. Paul and Timothy were not just willing to preach to the Gospel to the Thessalonians but they lived among them and with them.
Will we offer that sort of radical hospitality. Thank God for traybakes but it is more than traybakes. It is real relationships sharing our lives together.
It looks like obedience to the Spirit of God who is ahead of us. Don’t think house and think contained. Think house and think people. It is not our church. Our theology would improve if we thought more of the church being given to the Spirit than of the Spirit being given to the church. The chief actor is the Holy Spirit. The mission consists of what He is doing in the world and the light He is focusing on Jesus.
We see it all the way through the New Testament. Where Philip goes to the dessert road. In Acts 13, where the first missionaries are sent tout. The Spirit leads! A Spirit-filled church obeys when the Spirit leads.
As I look back on ministry, the really significant opportunities came along when we were prayerful and when we almost fell into what God was odng, when we experience God just opening doors.
Peter knows our failings and our fears. In the power of the spirit, he reminds the church, who they are. Cheered on by a great cloud of witnesses, we are being built into the spiritual house…a chosen people, a royl priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful ight. Once you were not a people but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
Ezekiel 37 As the wind rattles around us, will we allow the Spirit of God to blow through us and blow into us. Whether we feel like dry bones individually or in our experience of church. Will we allow the spirit to bind us together as the people of God?
Come Holy Spirit, come breath of God. Come sweeping through us, revive thy church in power and love. Cleanse renew us. Come Holy Spirit.