Monday, 13 April 2009

Listening and telling

It was a full day yesterday, starting at 6 am with an Easter 'sunrise' service on Farthing Down. No sun, but plenty of mist, and sleeping cattle on the downs. The birds were awake and were naturally more tuneful than our early morning groanings. As it was the only service I didn't have to organise myself I was able to enjoy just being a worshipper of our risen Lord along with a few dozen other Christians from the churches in Coulsdon.

I was blessed by two encouraging sermons during the day: one from our curate, Simon, and the other from our bishop, Nick. Simon preached from Mark 16 on the words about Jesus: 'He is going ahead of you...' We were reminded that Jesus goes ahead of us into every place and situation - at home, at work, at school. A simple message, but one that makes the Easter hope of the risen Jesus real and transforming.

Bishop Nick preached at our evening festival service to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the extension of the church. The first reading, from Johsua 4, was about the Israelites putting up stones to remind generations to come of how they crossed the Jordan. When their children asked 'What do these stones mean?' they were to tell them the story of their deliverance. The same could be said today of church buildings. We often say that the church is not the building but the people, but buildings say a lot - like those stones in Israel - and they can raise the same questions: 'What do these stones mean?' We can then tell people the story of why the church is here.

And so to Bishop Nick's sermon based on Luke 24 - the road to Emmaus story. Something Nick pointed out really struck me: how Jesus walked along the road and asked what the disciples were talking about. Then he went on to tell them the whole story of salvation, in a way that helped them completely reinterpret what they had experienced. I was left with the thought that if Jesus spent time asking what they were talking about, then the church needs to do the same - listening and asking what concerns people, then telling the story of God's good news in a way that transforms.

I sometimes go to Neighbourhood Partnership meetings set up by the Council. They are generally bad tempered affairs involving a few noisy residents arguing with the Council representatives. What these meetings seem to show is that people feel they are not being listened to, so they have to shout. If this keeps happening then they get cynical about local democracy and the possibility of ordinary people making a difference to the neighbourhood.

How does the church listen to what people are talking about? I suppose just by each church member using their eyes and ears - it's as simple as that. We are not called to provide another layer of local democracy - we have a much bigger story to tell - but we must listen before we can tell.

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