Do you ever get that feeling, when you read a familiar passage of Scripture, that something within it strikes you anew, as if you’ve never read it before and are reading it with new eyes and new understanding? This is how this passage in Colossians struck me just recently.
I’ve been taking the time to do some study reading on the subject of New Atheism. New Atheism came into being circa 2007 with the likes of Richard Dawkins and his book “The God Delusion”, and Christopher Hitchens and his book “God is not Great”. If you have read any of these books or heard of the authors, you will understand they treat religion – any religion – with something lower than contempt and are apt to treat those holding fast to faith – be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim – as parasites (I kid you not!) which should be eradicated (I kid you not!).
In my reading I’ve encountered several who have refuted this idea, among them those who claimed to be Atheist but who, after careful investigation and much reflection, changed their way of thinking and accepted Jesus joyfully into their hearts. Among them is the brother of Christopher Hitchens – Peter – who accepted Jesus into his life after recognising that the Eastern bloc – East Germany, Russia, etc, communism didn’t and couldn’t work leaving many in fear, hunger and poverty stricken.
I recognise that many of us, even myself, don’t necessarily come up against the vitriol spouted by these authors, yet, we may still come up against opposition to the name of Jesus in our everyday lives. The phrase “call yourself a Christian” has often been spoken as an attack due to some fault or failing on our part – the attacker believing that if we’re Christian then we should be perfect. Our defence should be “I’m imperfect, I know I’m imperfect which is why I have the Holy Spirit to help me.” Being Christian or following Christ does not make us perfect. We strive for that prize Paul talks about but we will never be perfect until we see God in eternity.
Here in Colossians, we recognise and affirm that Christ existed when the world was made – as John’s gospel puts it “In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We also can affirm that Christ is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body’s life.
Jesus is the source of the church’s life. Many again, jeer at those who attend church claiming that they are goody goodies. Actually, my answer to that over the years, is “I need to go to church because I know I’m not perfect. I need to go to a place where I can worship God and know I can be forgiven for all my imperfections. I want to go but I also need to go.”
The church, during this coronavirus pandemic has shown, in numerous ways, that it’s still needed – foodbanks, keyworkers children’s play areas, vulnerable people groups using its’ halls for various reasons – but at its heart, the church is there to tell others of God and his Son Jesus. It’s not a community centre. Jesus is the head of the church and he is the source of the body’s life. We need to grasp that idea. Whatever the church as a whole becomes in the “new normal”, first and foremost, it should be about telling others of Jesus.
We are not left alone to do this. Jesus is there to tap into at every step through the Holy Spirit. He is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body’s life. If you like, he is the constant battery which will never run down. Church can be many things, yet it should never stray from its’ source and its’ message.
The digital age in church worship is here to stay whether we like it or not, yet there is no reason why the two – physical and digital – cannot work together. It has been claimed recently that more people are tapping into worship on a Sunday than would ever attend church. Why? Perhaps it’sthe comfort of being in their own homes. Perhaps they fear what others may say both within and outside the church. Perhaps, in this time of the unknown, they have recognised that the world cannot offer what they are looking for. We, as the church, need to recognise this as we move forward. Not in great big leaps but just in small steps.
Recently, news headlines stated that Christmas is cancelled this year due to the pandemic. I for one would shout “No it’s not!” Christmas will never be cancelled – yes the tinsel, the lights, the large gatherings and all the money spinning trappings of Christmas – is cancelled but not the message that has always been at the heart of the season. Jesus birth – the giving of God’s Son to the world – will never be cancelled.
Let us, with new and renewed heart, take joy in what God can do in these times. Let us not be afraid of what is to come. What does it say further in the chapter? “You must, of course, continue faithful on a firm and sure foundation, and must not allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel.” Hope cannot be bottled and marketed. Hope is something which Jesus can offer, with his church – not the building mind, but his church, the people, only toowilling to offer it.
Father God, so many times we forget who the source of the church is. We busy ourselves with more worldly things believing that maintenance, cleaning and fund-raising are the things which keep the church going. Good and worthy these things are, they are not the source of it. Your son, Jesus is. Jesus has tasked the body – his church – to spread your word, forgive us when we fail to do so, finding comfort in more materialistic and transient things. Help us to see that, while it’s challenging to do so, nevertheless Jesus wants us to go and make disciples for him. Help us to never forget that the body is not the building, but the people within it with all their failings and shortcomings. Help us through this pandemic to bring your love, comfort and peace to the vulnerable, those isolating and the lonely. We may be lonely ourselves, Lord. Help us to take comfort in Scripture hearing your voice through its’ pages. Amen.
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