Mar 22, 2020
Today (Sunday) was a hard day for me. In more than 22 years as a minister I have never missed a Sunday in church unless I was sick or on holiday. Even when I am on holiday, I feel extremely grumpy if I do not get to go to church. I have also never had a Sunday when I was 'on duty' where I have not preached a sermon - given a message. COVID19 has put a stop to all that. As of Wednesday (the 18th of March 2020) all face to face worship has ceased.
I know we can and are doing live streaming and online worship, which is great, but it is not the same as gathering together. I know we must do it, but I don't like it.
It has often been said of me that I "come alive" when I preach, and I am sure that is true. I am myself, but an audience brings out an aspect of me that is hidden most of the time. As a minister I do lots of things competently but the thing I do best is deliver a sermon.
On a course on leadership I was doing recently I blurted out "I preach therefore I am." It was meant to be a sort of joke and it got a good laugh from my fellow students. It was also said out of a sense of angst and frustration. Preaching by itself is a bit useless. As a former teacher I know it is a pretty useless form of communication. Most people will not remember what I said straight after I said it and it will have disappeared completely from heir consciousness within a week. Occasionally something will connect, and some part or word of the sermon will stick. For myself I can only remember the outline of two of my Dad's sermons and I heard hundreds if not thousands of them. And I am an oral learner!
The real task of the minister, the leader, the Christian and the human being is to live in and build relationships. This is built into the very heart of the Christian faith. "Love God and love your neighbour as yourself" and loving God and loving your neighbour cannot be separated from each other. That's Jesus' point when he's asked for the greatest commandment and he answers with those two.
Relationship is also built into the Christian understanding of God. God for Christians is relationship. God is at one and the same time The Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit and these three are in such close relationship that we say they are one. This is the doctrine of the Trinity.
People often make fun of us Christians for it, but it demolishes the notion that God is an angry bearded man in the sky. It also demolishes the modernist individualistic view that we must create our own personal meaning apart from others. Instead God is an interrelationship. To be a Christian is to be drawn into that relationship. Paul in Romans puts it like this: “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God”.
For this reason I recently decided to do something out of character for me. I decided to adopt a personal mission statement. Now I am not usually a fan of mission statements. They are often bits of paper or wall plaques or tags on letterheads that no-one remembers, and no one takes to heart. It is this: “to build relationships which build for the Kingdom of God”. Now I know that’s a bit of Christian jargon but in less faith based terms I want the purpose and action of my life build relationships which build for a better world, a world of peace and friendship, a world which is free and fair and whole.
It reflects a new view of life. No longer, “I preach therefore I am” but “I am loved therefore I am”. I am loved by God. I am loved by my wife and kids, by friends, by fellow Christians. That is the truth of my life. And it is the truth of your life too!
Now in these days of pandemic, of COVID19 social isolation, this is still and incredibly difficult challenge. But by phone, by text and email, and of course with my immediate family I can begin to build and strengthen those relationships. I have made a modest start. Today I connected with a school friend I have not seen for almost 40 years. In my new ministry placement, I am trying to build relationships more intentionally. It is hard to change the habits of a lifetime, believing the right words said in the right way will make the world a better place. Yet I am making small steps of friendship and community building.
I still love to preach. I am still committed to it. And I look forward to the day when I will stand before a congregation again, look into their eyes and speak words of hope, encouragement, comfort and challenge. But it does not define me! I am because I am loved. I am because I am in relationship with you and with God.