It has been a loooong time since I have felt free to get back to some writing that might – or might not – be of use to a wider audience. 2018 has been a bit of mixed bag with a wonderful trip overseas in May, followed by family trauma in the middle of the year. In the midst of this there has been a good sized bag of various things best described with the highly technical word, stuff! Some of that stuff has been good and some, well, not so good.
Today however, I have felt inspired to sit down and write, using another technical word as my basis – PRESENCE.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you. John 14:15-17
I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20
I want to think about presence in two contexts: worship and world. I know that some will
now contend with me and say that the two should not be separated and I agree, but hang in
with me anyway.
WORSHIP – Celtic belief is that heaven and earth are only three feet apart – about a metre – but in ‘thin places’ it is much narrower. These thin places can be physical places where the presence of God is more deeply felt, or moments in life when we experience the Spirit’s presence in a very clear and certain way. We have no doubt experienced these thin places in occasions through our own lives.
Worship can be an occasion where we experience thin places. I say can be, because it is my experience that sadly it is not always so, or, when there is a sense of the holy it is too easily lost. We need to be careful and guard our worship time. Worship is not defined by an opening call to worship and the benediction. I have experienced thin place moments before a worship service begins and post the final blessing.
In recent months I have been to worship services where the Spirit was clearly present (a thin place had formed) in a very deep way, but the moment had been lost because the time immediately after the blessing had been kidnapped – ‘seeing as we are all here’ - with another agenda.
Protect your worship space and time friends, all of it! Be aware of those who may not be as alert to the Spirit of truth among us as some.
WORLD – When Veronica and I were involved in a church plant in Sydney we organised a number of community events that helped us to connect with people around us. We ran parenting courses with noted psychologist Steve Biddulph. We lived in a new housing area where people were desperate for community connections and so we did our best to provide places for this to happen. ANZAC Day was a special day of commemoration followed by a
family BBQ and games afternoon. We hosted Melbourne Cup day parties with Fashions on the Field and other foolishness!
Where was the gospel in all of these moments I hear some ask? PRESENCE.
I recall vividly our being invited to a St Patrick’s Day party that was anything but genteel! The Irish know how to party and they certainly did it well at this one. I still recall that day as being one of the very real turning points for our gospel work in this new congregation. PRESENCE.
You are the light of the world.
So go shine somewhere. No, make that anywhere and everywhere.
You are the salt of the earth.
So go and give some flavour to your community. Preserve it from the risk of spoiling.
“Peace be with you, As the father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he
breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This is pretty big stuff! It seems to me that Jesus never intended us to hit people over the head with the Bible (you also risk damaging a perfectly good Bible). It was not his desire for us to hide away in our religious enclaves and wait for all of those deluded sinners to come so that we can sort them out. I think Jesus wants us to be present?
I come across people who really do live in Christian ghettoes. They tell me that their doctor is a Christian, or there financial counsellor is a Christian, or their chiropractor. That is all very nice, but I want to find a professional who is good and trustworthy and they can be a confirmed atheist and I really don’t mind.
I have played golf for years now and invariably I play with supposedly non-religious people. Apart from being great fun to play with, I am also trusting that my simple presence among them will make a difference to their lives. Has it made a difference? Yes it has.
Naive faith? Guilty as charged.
Grace and Peace – John Thornton – October 2018