The programme at the October 2018 Synod overran slightly, and so I didn't share this reflection in the closing worship. This, then, is what I had intended to say, following a reading of Acts 2:37-47...
Who is your Number One?
I hope that I’m not the only one in the room who used to sit next to a transistor radio on Sunday evenings, with a very low-tech cassette recorder, listening to the chart show, trying to record my favourite songs, hoping against hope that the Tony Blackburn wouldn’t talk all over the intro. Just me?
Certainly for a generation, that anxious wait to hear who is at number 1 in the official charts was a not-to-be-missed weekly appointment.
Perhaps pop music wasn’t or isn’t your thing, but you take time to look at the list of best selling books in the weekend newspapers? Or you are glued to Eurovision, or the Oscars, or Strictly, always keen to know who is in the the number 1 spot?
Life moves on, and interests change. I don’t think I could name a single record in the Top 40 let along the Top 10 at the moment. But some things should not change. Our Number 1 should be the same. Our top priority should not waver with the passing of years.
When I challenged some Elders a couple of months ago to show leadership to the local church by giving real priority to being in church for worship on every occasion that they could possibly be there, it was suggested by one of those Elders that I wasn’t living in the real world.
Perhaps you might even share the view of that particular Elder, that spiritual leader of the local church. But let me say it again, because this is the truth. We should all be making attendance at worship an absolute priority and be there with other Christians to worship the Living God on every occasion that we can.
I do understand, because contrary to certain rumours I do live in the real world, that some people have work commitments that mean they can’t be in church every Sunday morning. I do understand, especially when family members don’t share your faith, that there are pressure points, and sometimes, the more powerful witness is to honour your family relationships rather than make them resent your desire to be in church. I do understand that your faith sometimes comes at a cost, and it was ever thus.
But point is not that we should make church number 1 in our life. The point is that God must be. God must be number 1 in our life.
I wasn’t preaching last Sunday, but in the church where I was I heard a sermon on the ten commandments, and was reminded how it was God who said that we must have no gods before Him. Who or what is the God or god who has your primary allegiance?
The important point about church is that is where we meet with other Christians, and hopefully some who are not-yet-but-on-their-way-to-being Christians. We meet with others to express our worship to God. We meet with others to learn more of God and God’s ways. We meet with others at church to share Christian fellowship one with another. And remember that Christian fellowship is much deeper than a cup of not-always-as-good-as-it-should-be tea or coffee. Christian fellowship is that time we spend with each other when we can care for one another, support one another, encourage one another, challenge one another, spur one another on towards greater Christian living.
So all of that means that church is the vehicle. It’s the means to the end of getting to know God better and preparing ourselves to live more Christ-like lives. Church matters, but God matters even more. Church is in our Top 10, but God must always be Number 1.
Those of us in leadership positions must particularly set a good example in how we prioritise our time. We need to give urgent attention to being excellent role models, and we can’t expect others to do things that we are not willing to attempt ourselves.
Oh, and here’s the rub. On the 1st of November I start a 3 month sabbatical leave. During that time I will be studying and writing on the subject of discipleship, and particularly in the area of how I believe that every disciple, as an essential and integral part of their deepening discipleship, should be growing as leaders. Some will go on to recognised ministries within our churches – Eldership, Church Related Community Work, the Ministry of Word & Sacraments, Lay Preaching, and so on. But I believe that everyone of us should be serving God through serving the church and serving our community. Leadership and servanthood are two sides of the same coin. By serving others we are giving leadership to the world and to the Church. Every one of us should be growing as disciples, every one of us should be serving God, and every one of us should therefore be growing as leaders. More of that on another occasion.
The point here is that I want you to understand what a high calling you each have. Everybody here and everybody in your local church has the same high calling to worship God, to enjoy God’s presence forever, and to share the Good News of Christ crucified and risen. Each of us is called to this ministry, this service, and so each of us need to set the kind of example that we would have others follow – and more importantly the kind of example that Christ set us and expects us to follow.
And that means that God must be number 1 in our lives, and that means being with others to keep God at number 1 in our lives.
We heard how in the early Church, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles…Day by day as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
As I finish, a question for your reflection: do you think it was coincidence that the people made God their number 1 and they made being with others for worship a high priority resulted in significant church growth?
As the writer to the Hebrews said, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:24f)
May God bless us in our relationships with Him and with each other as we keep Him at number 1. Amen.