Sunday January 10th

Walking the Way

Walking the way and living the life of Jesus today was a new initiative that the URC launched in 2018 to help churches to redefine who they are and what God intends them to be. It was an ethos rather than a fixed programme and it had no start and no finish. It was about re-discovering the fact that Jesus calls us to whole life discipleship not something we simply do on a Sunday.

Church services are good for your health according to a whole series of scientific surveys carried out in the United States. For instance, a survey of 4,000 people in North Carolina found that older people who attended church were less depressed and physically healthier than their less religious counterparts. The study was described to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Dr Harold Koinig, who said, ‘Church related activity may prevent illness by a direct effect, using prayer or scripture reading as coping behaviours.’

Dr Dale Matthews of Georgetown University reported that in a review of 212 comparable studies he had found similar results. But he emphasised that this did not mean that should supplant Prozac or that saints are always healthier than sinners, even though as a group, those with religious commitment are healthier.

But whether those of us who attend church regularly (or did before Covid) are physically healthier than those who never set foot in the church, Christian disciples are spiritually healthier because we have made a decision to follow Jesus Christ and as a result are filled with the Holy Spirit and have set out to follow our Saviour. But are we? Or have we made that decision and ticked that box and content to just stay the same. Because following the way is a proactive thing, it should change us and develop us and build a relationship with us and Jesus Christ.

So what is the heart of being church? We have just celebrated Christmas and experienced again the story of God’s Son coming to earth to show us what God is like. To give us an example for life and then to give his own life so that we can be forgiven our sins and follow him the Saviour and know the certainty of eternal life with God.

Jesus was sent as a light into a dark world and he was sent with a manifesto, not a political one, but one that was promised many years before by the prophets. Jesus stood in the synagogue and read the words of Isaiah 61: 1-2, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ He then said, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

So the heart of being church is for us who have accepted Jesus Christ into our lives to become disciples and to live out our faith not just on Sunday when we are together, but every day of our lives.

But then Jesus promised to build the church and in Matthew 16:18 he says to his disciple Peter, ‘And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.’

But what did Jesus mean when he used the word church? The Greek word for church is ecclesia and it is used 115 times in the New Testament. It is strictly defined as ‘The called out ones or the elected ones.’ In Greek culture an ecclesia was a select civil assembly, ordinary people brought together for a specific purpose and it always referred to people not a building. But what did Jesus and the writers of the New Testament mean when they used the word ecclesia to describe a Christian body of people? We can assume they intended to convey something of the original Greek meaning of the word which was a group or body of Christians called or elected by God, called out from the Roman and Judean system. Coming together as a separate civil community. It meant a politically autonomous body of Christians having no king but Jesus. This was revolutionary declaring Jesus as King not Caesar.

But Paul and Silas weren’t church builders as we might think in terms of trying to establish groups of believers known as churches. They were kingdom builders! They were dethroning earthly rulers in the minds of the people and alienating them from the hold Caesar had on them through heathenistic government. They were teaching the principles of Christian government and they were presenting the call of God to whoever would hear and respond to the call. The consequence for any such believers was that they became citizens of Christ’s kingdom and became part of the ecclesia, or community of believers.

Jesus sent out his disciples. You see all too often we just think of the church as being here in the building and what we do on Sunday is all we need to do. We simply wait for people to come in and bemoan the fact when they don’t.

Also when we read that Jesus sent his disciples out we often think that he meant for a time limited project. But I believe we need to redefine this sending out so that we understand that the implications are for wherever we go in our day to day life. As Jesus sends us out, he doesn’t just occasionally send us to a specific context for a specific moment, but he simply sends us out.

Obviously as we are in the middle of a pandemic and going out in the normal way is not happening. If we are going out it is probably to go food shopping or taking the dog for a walk or just taking exercise and getting back home as soon as possible making sure that we wear our masks and keeping away from people. But we are still meeting and talking to people even if it is virtually. Many of us have become more used to using technology. We have smart phones, iPads, zoom meetings, most of which we had never heard of before last year! But even if we haven’t a clue how to use any of those things, we can still use the phone and write letters.

To be witnesses for Jesus, to make more disciples, to be channels of justice, peace and healing and to be good news to the poor or just being a friendly voice on the end of the phone to a lonely person is living our lives for Jesus even in a time like this.

As we embrace this mind-set, we will be ‘Walking the way’ and living the life of Jesus today, Amen.

Jim Thorneycroft