13 Sep 2020
Church Anniversary 2020
Passage Matthew 22:34-40
Speaker Chris Haley
This morning’s message can be summed up in one word: love. Last year we had three Ls for our year – Leadership, Location, Loving Community. This year we have just one L: Love. As we look to the year ahead this what I want us to focus on. But love is such as vague term- we could make it mean virtually anything. Just look at songs that have come out over the years: Love is only a feeling, Love is more than a feeling, Love is the sweetest thing, Love is a catastrophe. Love is so vague in our culture the best they’ve come up with recently is: Love is love, there’s even a song called “Love is love is love” – Leanne Rimes- look it up! So this morning I want to focus on what love really is. The love Jesus wants us to have and see what that really means. And if we get our heads round this, it could be life changing! So our first point this morning is: Real Love means…
Living for God v36-38
First and foremost that is what we were put here on this planet for, to love and honour God- to live for Him. Not because he’s an ego-maniac, but because He is the only being in the universe worthy of all such love and honour! We’re to love God with all our being! All our hearts, souls and minds. It is a massive undertaking, one which involves every fibre of our being, every faculty we possess, every portion of our lives, but it’s so easy to forget that, isn’t it? In the midst of life whatever that means for you; jobs, kids, grandkids, houses, global pandemics! In the middle of the lots of things, good and bad, we can forget what we’re here for- life take over and loving God and deliberately living for God takes a backseat. We stop making the effort and, as much as we romanticise things, we know that when we stop working at a relationship it can grow cold. What are you actively doing to work on your relationship with God? If this is our highest calling, if this is our first and greatest commandment, which Jesus says it is. What time and thought and effort am I putting in to this? If this is why I am here? I say effort because Luke records one of our faculties to explain this as strength, literally ‘might’, ‘force’. What energy am I putting into my relationship with God?
As we look to year ahead we want to grow in our love for God. We want to come to this point next year thinking ‘Yes, I know Him and love Him more than I did last year’. Our mission statement as a church is this “To teach Christ in His Word for Mission, Ministry & Maturity to the glory of God.” Part of the reason we exist as a church is help one another grow in maturity- in our relationship with God. Maturity is always a tricky one, as no-one else can do it for you, but we can make some suggestions. This year as a church we want to suggest resources to read or listen to throughout the year that will help you grow as a Christian. We’ve done this before, but I’ve been terrible at following it up. This year we’re going to make sure we keep reminding each other and helping each other go through them. There’s just five and one them is just for men and the other just for women, so it’s only four really. We’ll keep highlighting them through the year, but it’s something we can do, alone or in a group to help us grow in our knowledge and love of God. Last year we asked could you add one thing into the week that would push you on Spiritually- could you do it again? Or try again?
But that’s not all love means. It might be tempting to think that. After all what of us is left if ALL our heart, soul, mind and strength are to given over to loving God? But Jesus carries on in v39-40. And that brings us to our second point. Love is also…
Alongside loving God, we are also to love our neighbour. I say alongside, but really that’s not the idea. It’s more within that love for God, indeed because of that love for God, love your neighbour. It’s not like God is our partner and our neighbours are our ‘bit on the side.’ No, it’s more like God is our partner, but He comes as a package with His children. If we love our partner, we will love the children as well. We love them because we love Him. The great Augustine of Hippo (Hippo as in the place in North Africa, not a Hippopotamus). He got this right when he said “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for thy sake.” We love them, because we love Him, but what does love for our neighbour mean?
Love for our neighbour means other-person-centredness. We’re quite familiar with self-centredness- putting ourselves first. Well this is other-person-centredness, putting our neighbours first. Who do we mean by neighbours? Not, Scott and Charlene, from the popular Australian soap opera. If you don’t know who Scott and Charlene were, Charlene was Kylie Minogue, and Scott was the bloke from the Darkmilk commercials! Anyway, not them! Not even, just those who live next door. Jesus broadens this out to even the relationship between Jew and Samaritans- who hated each other! It’s anyone and everyone we come into contact with, everyone in our personal sphere. We’re to put their needs first. We are to, as one commentator put it “tear the skin off our bodies and wrap it around another person so that …we now feel for that other person as though they were ourselves.” We’re to serve the needs of other, put them at the centre rather than ourselves. This is the way our love for God shows in the physical realm so to speak- we care for the other.
Now at this point a thought often pops into our heads doesn’t it? Surely we need to look after ourselves? Throughout church history the pendulum seems to swing on this one. Over recent years there’ve been a lot of books and sermons preached on those two words “as yourself.” The teaching then becomes to love others we need to love ourselves- so go out there and be good to yourself! I think this is a pendulum swing too far- it will be costly to us to love others. The call is for a sacrificial love- which always costs. Christians down through the ages have put themselves at risk to love their neighbour; going to cannibal tribes to tell them about Jesus, going to visit sick people at the risk of getting sick themselves. There’s a sense in which it should cost us- otherwise our love is worthless. Yet we need to avoid the other pendulum swing which leads people to burn themselves out. Robert Murray McCheyne famously said of his own body as he lay dying aged 29, “The Lord gave me a horse to ride and a message to deliver. Alas, I have killed the horse and cannot deliver the message.” He had worn his body out by overworking and refusing proper rest and ended up contracting typhus, which with his weakened constitution killed him. Of course we need to look after ourselves to be able to look after others, but let’s not use that as a way out of the challenge of these verses. We are to love our neighbour. We are to put their needs first. We are to work for their good.
This love, this other person centredness, works itself out in a general way, as we seek the general good of our neighbour, but also in two special ways depending on the who the other person is. If the other person is a believer it works itself in addition to our general care of them in…
I’ve called it vinework because of the Bible’s imagery of the church as vine or a vineyard. There’s a great book called the trellis and the vine which talks about church structures being like a trellis for a vine, but that actual gospel ministry we do being vinework. A good trellis does help the vine, but it’s no good having the trellis all sorted if the no-one’s doing any vinework! There’s a real danger that we can become so occupied with trellis work, that we forget about vinework! Churches does not work as well without rosters, treasurers, child protection policies, someone to print the notice sheets, someone to put the talks online- you get the idea! But it’s no exaggeration to say that if there’s no vinework happening the church does not work at all!
We can all make ourselves busy this year doing things, but if no vinework is happening amongst ourselves, then we’re like that legendry hospital on Yes Minister, that worked wonderfully well, except that no-one was treated there! It ran very efficiently, but its purpose was forgotten, and people were kept busy with upkeep of the organisation and building. We must not, must not, must not fall into that trap which so many churches have down through the ages. We need to be involved with vinework, all of us, in whatever contexts we can, and when we’re talking about other Christians it means building one another up with the word – Ministry as we have it in our purpose statement. Speaking the truth in love to one another. Helping one another apply the Bible to our own lives and contexts. The Bible calls on us to teach one another, to encourage one another, to exhort one another, even to pull up one another when we’re going the wrong way. In many churches this job is sort of delegated to the pastor or elders, but in the Bible it’s something all Christians do. Listen to this from Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. That is our life’s work with one another. That is a unique way we express our love to another and towards God; We help one another, we build one another up with the truth of God’s word, we keep reminding one another of the Gospel we believe and pointing one another to Jesus.
What are we doing to help other believers in this way? In what ways am I involved in building up other Christians? Not am I on a roster or do I have an office at church, but what I am I doing day by day to build up other believers? And if the answer is ‘nothing’ or ‘very little’ then I can I make a couple of suggestions for this year? Could you commit to sharing something with another Christian once a month? Just a thought or something you’ve been reading in the Bible. Could you put something in the WhatsApp Group? Or maybe just commit to do something every month to encourage a Christian brother or sister? Show your love for them. That’s not every person we come into contact with though is it? At least I hope not! What about people who don’t share our faith, in what unique way do we love them as Christians? That brings us to our last point, love means…
That’s the last M ‘Mission’ in our purpose statement. Now love and evangelism don’t often appear in the same sentence very often in our minds I think, other than ‘I really don’t love evangelism!’ Let’s face it- believers find it hard, and non-believers often find it cringy or even offensive. I was speaking to someone recently who said that the thought of overseas missionaries made them sick, and we can understand why. We live in a culture that says ‘Each to their own.’ The only thing you can’t do is tell someone else that they’re way is wrong. Unless that person is telling someone else that they’re wrong- in which case it’s ok! But even the most culturally sensitive forms of evangelism though at some point will have to say to people- in these areas you’re wrong. And in our culture that sounds unloving, it sounds intolerant, it can even sound arrogant and aggressive, but I want to say that actually evangelism is the most loving thing you can do.
Imagine for a second that someone told you a way to cure Covid 19, in fact it would make you immune from even getting it in the first place- would you tell other people about it? Of course you would! You would tell all and sundry! You’d shout it from the rooftops. Go to the four corners of the globe! But what about that surprisingly large group of people who think the whole thing is a hoax? Would you tell them? They would think you were a nutcase! They would not appreciate it. They probably wouldn’t believe you! But would you still tell them? Some of you are thinking- I’d send someone else! But I hope you would, because it’s the loving thing to do.
Not far from Otley is one of the most dangerous natural phenomena in the world. It’s at Bolton Abbey- it’s called the Strid. It’s been variously called by newspapers ‘the stream that swallows people’ and ‘the most dangerous stretch of water in the world.’ It’s less than six foot across at places- you can stride across it- hence its name- the strid. Yet no-one who has fallen in the strid has ever come out alive. The reason is that the whole river Wharfe, normally 30-40 feet wide is compacted to that narrow passage. There are huge underground caverns which the currents suck you down into, yet to look at it, it just looks like a fast flowing stream, but in reality its a deadly trap which has claimed the lives of many. The grounds of Bolton Abbey were given to the church it’s believed, because someone’s son died in the Strid. Now if you saw people messing around there- wouldn’t you tell them? Wouldn’t you warn them that their lives were in danger? Wouldn’t you tell them to stop? Would that be loving or unloving? I can imagine the abuse you’d get! ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ ‘How dare you tell us what to do?’ But it would still be the loving thing to do.
So let’s tell people because we love them. Let’s not play the points or numbers game. Let’s not do this so that we can point at ourselves and say how great we are. Let’s tell people because we love them, because we love our neighbour as ourselves. Wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you want someone to love you enough to tell you the truth, even if it was awkward or difficult? I hope if you’re watching and you’re not a believer you know that if someone has talked to you about Jesus it was hopefully out of love. Even if it was, awkward, mumbling or incoherent, I hope you know that a) They probably found it awkward too, and b) their motive was good. Maybe this year we should work as church and as individuals on loving people, because you can tell people without loving them- we’ve all been guilty of that- I’m sure, but you can’t really love people without telling them. Love will always find a way to get the message through. Love will always find a way when all other motivations fail. Love will keep going when point scorers and glory seekers give in. So let’s love people who don’t agree with us, even lockdown can’t stop us doing that!
But practically this year it is difficult to follow the path we had hoped due to lockdown. We had been getting involved in other groups. Richard challenged us last year to get involved in other community groups and gatherings and do some good out there. This is much harder at the moment as so many of those activities are not taking place. Nor can we be involved in community run events like Otley Victorian Fayre- as it’s not running. Nor is it easy to run our own events to invite people along to. We’ll have to look at whether we can run events like Stir Up. And it’s looking increasingly unlikely we will be able to have the big opening event we were hoping when the building is ready. There’s no one big event to invite someone along to like last year, but Big belongs to the old norm for the moment! But that’s ok- because we’re not all that big anyway! What we need to do this year is love people- and be creative in the ways we reach out with the message of the Gospel. And it will likely be lots of small scale things, but do you know- small is ok! God doesn’t often work through the big and impressive- he works through the small and weak.
So our big goal for the year is Love! But to help us over the next few months, we have got some shorter term goals for the months ahead that flow out of that one big goal: Don’t worry this isn’t a whole other talk, just a couple of minutes!
The first of our three goals is this: Sometime this year we want to: Regather. We were looking at October, but this is looking less likely. When we started talking about this the direction of travel for the government was opening things up, currently it’s more closing things down. On top of that Leeds is facing potential lockdown and opening during that might be legal, but it probably wouldn’t be sensible and risks harming our witness in Otley. We do though want to gather again as soon as it is safe and sensible. That is what we’re working towards to make loving one another easier, if possible, by being able to meet together as a group.
Our second goal is to: Reimagine. We will need to think through what church looks like Post Covid 19 and with the change of having a building in the centre of Otley. We’ve already started this work, but it would seem God has given us more time to think through what we want church to look like when we come back together after all this is over.
Our third goal is: Relaunch. When we have done the reimagining and everything is ready, it will be time to relaunch. I think the consensus amongst us is that a new name and a new look would make our mission in Otley easier- in that people will not get the wrong end of the stick with our name. As always though getting rid of something is always easier than knowing what to replace it with. Thank you for all the name suggestions people submitted. As elders we’ve narrowed it down to four- each with their own pros and cons; Trinity Church, Christchurch, Beech Hill Church, And Beechcross Church. Hopefully with a linked name for the centre. We hope to have made a decision by the Members Meeting in October- so if you have anymore feedback get it in before then!
A new building and a relaunch though won’t do the work of evangelism for us, it won’t do the vinework, it won’t love our neighbour for us. New logos, new lodgings, are no substitute for new life! We need to still be loving people by telling them the Gospel, loving one another by doing that vinework amongst ourselves, and loving God by living for Him day in, day out, loving Him with all our heart soul, mind and strength. So let’s commit to do that. Even if the building falls down, even if the whole country locks down, we can still love God and we can still love one another. We can still fulfil our purpose in life as individuals and as a church this year. Nothing can lockdown love, real love. So let’s pray that God would help us to love Him with our being and our neighbour as ourselves.