The last 18 months have given us a lot to think about and reflect upon. Houses in this region and down in Cornwall are being snapped up as people aim for a better quality of life, where nature’s beauty is seen instead of grey concrete and traffic.
Church services have been curtailed, and at times stopped altogether, which allowed some people to drop in to other churches or cathedrals via the internet, TV or radio. This helps us all to think about what we’re doing in church, and perhaps what we might do. What do we go to church for?
Until I was 50 years old I had no intention of going to church at all. I didn’t start to seriously think about it until I was bereaved. I’d never thought through the deep questions: Did God really exist? Was there such a thing as heaven? I knew for sure that I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, to go to church, or to become religious. I had distant memories of a Sunday school where kind ladies gave us biscuits and told us Bible stories in a fun way. The answer was supposed to be in the Bible, so I began to read the New Testament. Before long, I believed in Jesus. That was the beginning. I began to pray to Jesus every evening, asking questions. Somehow, they progressed, and raised more questions. One evening, I asked what worship meant. What was I supposed to do? Did I have to kneel?
Some weeks later, in prayer, I was given a vision of Jesus in a form of light, in which I was invited to go to his house in a voice which could melt butter. It wasn’t audible, but I heard it anyway. I wrestled with it. I really didn’t want to go to church services, or to tell anyone about it. I knew that I hadn’t imagined it. I couldn’t say no to Jesus. I went to the local church service. The sermon was about worship: meeting together in Jesus’ name, sharing communion, reading the scriptures and praying, all of this is worship, as is our service to other people - everything we do in the name of Jesus.
For four years I dropped in to different churches each Sunday, whether Methodist or Baptist or United Reformed or Anglican or Free Churches or the Salvation Army. Mostly I was welcomed, sometimes I was ignored. Some had bands or musicians, organs or pianos, a few had choirs. Some sermons were long and rambling, others were short and sweet. Some services left me cold, others left me elated. I learned a lot. I went because I knew it was what Jesus wanted of me, to be and to worship alongside other people who also believed in Jesus. At the same time, I was being called into service outside of church, to be alongside people who needed a listening ear, drawn near to people who were suffering. Worship was about loving God and other people.
I finally settled into a C of E church. Ten years ago I was licensed as a lay minister.
I know that God wants me to serve within as well as outside of the church. Everyone has a calling into service from God, whether or not it’s one which is based primarily within the Church. As in our reading: ‘The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’ God wants us to work together in community, and so we’re all given gifts which complement each other, as we work side by side. There is no male or female, slave or free, lay or ordained, young or old - we’re all one in Christ.
The Church is the body of Christ, the people we meet and worship with side by side, those who love God and other people too. We’re spiritually nourished here, whether or not we are conscious of it. We’re equipped for service as we live as disciples throughout the week. Our workplaces and communities benefit from the love of God we take out and share with them. Sometimes we, like the crowd in our reading, wonder where Jesus is, and then we find him in extraordinary places and people.
Living and serving our everyday faith isn’t easy, which is why we need to return to God’s house to be nourished by the true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ, who said “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent,” and “‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
What we do in service will change over time, but it never ends. God is faithful. We can rely on him to bring good out from every situation, even a pandemic. Nothing is ever wasted. We learn from our mistakes and from all we go through. We’re better able to relate to others as a result, to people who are suffering, and to share the hope and love we continue to receive. Amen.
Julie Rubidge, Lay Minister