So its Epiphany tomorrow, when Christmas decorations come down in some cultures, and in others they exchange Christmas gifts… and in a small town once upon a time, a few years after the local social outcasts (=shepherds) were given a gold-plated invite to a celebration, some travellers claiming to have wisdom and gifts for a king turn up (they probably nicked the so-called gifts from the last place they visited and were political asylum seekers…).
We’re thinking about welcomes, and including others, and I also ended up talking about birthday’s and family celebrations as a tangent… but here’s the ‘proper’ version of what I shared yesterday morning with folks, based loosely on the reading from the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Western Turkey…
What kind of church are we called to be? 2yrs ago we looked at some ideas, some long words, which I don’t expect anyone to have remembered… but this year we’re looking at some simpler ideas, which may have some far-reaching impacts on us… welcoming, caring, worshipping and holy. these aren’t carved in stone, but seem to be what is emerging out of the PCC’s discussions over the last few months- hopefully by the Spring at our AGM we’ll have a clearer sense of how things fit together, but this is the sense of where we are going. The first idea we are going to look at is that of being a welcoming church and as we progress through the weeks and months of 2015 I hope you’ll be able to connect the various things in our corporate life to those ideas… Today we’re thinking about the visit of the Magi to Jesus, the visitors who came from a far off land, who were welcomed and who’s worship was received- the first signs that God’s promise now included more than just his chosen people. They brought gifts that were also signs- gold as a sign of royalty, frankincense as a sign of holiness, and myrrh as a sign of sacrifice… Each of those things were a sign, examples of things we do or have up that point towards something else… have a look around the church, see what signs you can see (some may be obvious, others won’t be, so have a good look!)
Thinking again about being a welcoming church, one of the things folks have commented to me on is how warm a welcome they receive at our coffee morning, at our mini music and social events, at the door on the way in and after our service when we’re having refreshments. So we want to extend that warm welcome into our worship… and what that means is the sort of thing we all do naturally when we have visitors to our own home. It’s the sort of thing that Jesus did throughout his life, starting with the inclusion of the wise men, and the idea that Paul calls grace that we heard about just now in our reading. When we want someone to feel welcome into our home, where do they sit? What food do we give them? What sort of things do we do while they are there? How do we try to make them feel? There is no reason why we can’t do the same sort of thing when someone comes to join us on a Sunday morning- the days of ‘that’s my seat’ are not so far gone, and our straightforward times of worship are still confusing to those unused to church. The ideas that are familiar to those of use who’ve been worshipping here for a year, let alone the many of us who’ve been going to church for all our lives, are very new to those who we’d like to see coming and joining our church… we won’t be letting go of any of them, but we will be thinking carefully about how we explain things and lead our worship times. From next month onwards we’re going to introduce a few small changes to things, open up the layout of the church, encourage more discussion and include some of the young people in planning and leading services. Why? Because we want to make it as easy as possible for the 150 people who come into the church each week for our other activities to come along on a Sunday morning and know God. The role of every church is to find ways of doing this- serving the Gospel in ways that are appropriate to us…
There are 3 things that I’d like to ask you to do as your part in this-
Firstly, pray with us- pray that those of us planning and leading these services would get the balance right and lead us in worship that glorifies God and makes His name known in an accessible way to those who come.
Secondly, be gentle with us- this is something new for us here, and for us leading these services, and so we ask for help and support from you all. And if you feel this isn’t working, give us time and help us to work through the teething issues rather than standing back and watching, or just walking away.
Thirdly, be here with us- for this to work, we need to be inviting and welcoming folks into our church to worship God with us… if we all take the day off because the place will be full of visitors or strangers, then they won’t meet God’s people, and they won’t have anyone to help them learn how to worship. When we welcomed folks into our church for the carol and Christingle services it was great that we were also here… guests came to join us, and that’s how it should be.
This is all part of being welcoming- we want to welcome people to our church, into a relationship with God, we want to invite people to come to know Jesus… because just as when you have a friend to visit you give them your best, so we want to give people our best- and the best we can offer is Jesus, God’s son, visited and worshipped by the magi, who called Paul to preach to the gentiles and calls us his church today.