Have you ever read a book that completely turned your long established thinking on its head? I’m just finishing one right now and it’s made me remember the nonsense verse of Lewis Carroll;
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”
My hair is growing white, and I find that I am standing on my head more and more often as assumptions I’ve long accepted are ripped away, proving slowly but surely that there has never been a working brain under that whitening hair, just a warm muzzy space.
In fact, kiddos, I’m straddling three books at the minute – Philippians (by Paul) , Letters to the Church (Francis Chan) and ‘Shaped By The Word’ (Mulholland). The truly disconcerting thing about these three taken together, is that they seem to shout
‘Church? Are you mad? Church? Really? Have you nothing better to do? Get a blinkin’ life, DO!”
And they keep sending me to the Epistles, and to the Book of Acts, where again and again we discover what God’s Church really is. And I just want to say this and to put my hand on my heart and mean it, really really mean it:
Church is Love. Just as Jesus is Love personified, so is His body on this Earth.
If Church is anything else but Love, then it’s a fake, a fraud, counterfeit. I don’t care about the building, or the service, or the great teaching, the denomination, the wonderful singing, the coffee morning, even the Bible study, the politics, the growth, the anything…. I don’t care how good any of these things are…. you can dazzle me with words and sound and intentions and ideas but Church is Love. And Love is on the street, in homes, in a conversation, in an act of support, in a meal. Jesus didn’t stay in a good little Baptist chapel. He was out there. I’ve known more love on a film set, where people work long and hard together, and have fun together, and share each other’s problems, than in any church I have known. Catholic or prottie, big or small.
Churches talk a lot. They talk about mission and caring and the next step. Man! There are meetings all the time. All the time! Some people live from meeting to meeting – that’s what their spare time, their church time, becomes. But keep your meetings – if there are people within the church, as well as outside it, who are dying for social contact, for meaningful conversation, for care and for love, for a reason to get up and carry on, dump the meeting and go to them instead. Take Church (capital C) to them. Take Love to them.
Philippians 2:14-16 (Message version) Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night
We’re following a sermon series on Philippians at the moment and so I’ve read that little book (just 4 very short chapters) every day and it’s interesting how Paul’s words underline and validate the message in ‘Letters To The Church’ , and also how ‘Shaped By The Word’ has served to give me a new attitude to Philippians. Amazing! I’m stunned. Written two thousand years apart, these three books are ganging up to grab me by the neck, thrust me against the wall and shout loud in my ear “Church is Love”
I don’t mean my church, or your church, this cathedral or that chapel. I mean Christ. The body of Christ on this earth, His kingdom. Church is Love. Jesus is love.
Less churches, I say, and more Church.
And here’s a little miracle, of God’s leading and doing; our Pastor was attending a talk many miles away. I was sitting here, writing a blog. In the talk, over on mainland Europe, the subject got around to something the speaker called ‘table church’. At about the same time, here in West Wales, all on my tod, three blogs ago, I wrote “My house has to be my church. The pavement has to be my church. When people sit at my table and pour out their hearts – this already is church. This is church.”
How amazing is that? I’d never heard of table church before. Why did that idea synchronise, hundreds of miles apart? That’s more than co-incidence. That’s a bit like the answered prayer that reached all the way to Australia (blog excerpt below, in bold, skip if you’ve read it already). It’s a sign of God at work.
Table church. You and me. Sharing a meal. Listening. Learning. Meeting each other’s needs. I wonder if we’ll stop arguing about the hymns and start arguing about the meal instead? Stop arguing about ‘The Old Rugged Cross” versus ‘Oceans” and start on tuna pasta versus chicken soup? Because we will, won’t we? We are human and flawed and silly. And God loves us regardless.
Like Father William… I am standing on my head. Befuddled and amazed and thrilled that thoughts can be so exciting. Oh, and that I have an excuse for never attending another church meeting EVER!!!!
One night Mount Zion Church held a night of prayer. At about 3.45 am there were four of us praying, and chatting about God and life, drinking coffee… Paul began to talk about his brother, thousands of miles away in Australia, concerned because he’s not been well recently. We began to pray for him, a stranger to most of us, and one of the prayers went something like this: ‘You are the God of Cardigan and of Australia. The miles are nothing to you. Won’t you please let Paul’s brother know, somehow, that he is loved and prayed for tonight? He’s in the middle of his day, as we are in the middle of our night, but you are the God of time and space. Please let him become aware of your love and of our love, too.’ It was a heartfelt prayer, all of us honouring the love of these two brothers.
A few moments later, Paul’s mobile rang, strident and a real shock in that hushed space. Who could be calling him at a quarter to four in the morning? Who would be cruel enough to risk waking someone at that time of the night? Paul looked at the screen – it was his brother, in Sydney! He had called ‘by accident’. Paul laughed with the sheer delight of that moment. Again, his brother apologised, thinking he had woken Paul’s whole family, saying that it was an accident, but Paul told him, over the cyberspace and all those miles ‘It’s no accident, believe me, it’s no accident!’