Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Vine

The Vine
Reflections on the sermon given at Stopsley Baptist Church on Sunday 6 September 2009

Building a church based on New Testament principles.
What does the word church really mean to us and how can we engage with a new vision of the meaning of church in our lives? If the we take the definition of church to become one that is a body of people, and the physical building that we all call church becomes a community centre, how will that change the way Christians relate to others within their own body and with those in the wider community at large? How will it effect their relationship with Christ?

Some people may immediately wonder how much more is it possible to do because, surely, SBC is already a very missional and many members are active in the local community. Others may be so tied down to work and family responsibilities that forming a more outward perspective may be hard. Others may be terrified at the thought that it may involve loosing security and comfort.

I suppose alot of it depends on your relationship with God and your spirituality. If going to church on a Sunday fulfills your needs and this is your "God time" then that is Ok. I've no idea how many, but I expect a large proportion of the church do take their Christianity seriously enough to give it a certain amount of attention over the rest of the week. Some, at the extreme end - and I am one of those - may find Sunday church to be the time when they can feel distant from God because little there relates to their own experiencial perspective of God.

I liked the illustration of church being a interlinking network of elements rather than being and isolated box in the darkness. A very ecological perspective! All of nature is an interconnected set of systems and processes where nothing exists in isolation. These connections enable life to exist and perpetuate. I'd even say that inanimate objects have their place and form part of the ecosphere. An analogy was used regarding the potential of an acorn that contains all that is needed to produce an oak tree. When an acorn begins its journey of transformation it won't even start to grow unless it has various combinations of light or darkness, heat or cold, water, oxygen, time.... A gardener may love his acorn that he holds carefully in his hand, but unless he does something with it it will not release the potential locked up inside. God, the ultimate gardener and carer for his vine, Jesus, would have expected even him to bear fruit. I wonder how Jesus felt and how he was pruned? To me, faith cannot just be a "Jesus loves me, I'm alright" affair. I can't just be an acorn thinking that all is alright and that I'll grow into a magnificent tree. I need earth, light, energy and a habitat in which I will thrive.

Church should very much be the framework of people and community networks in which we relate to the world around us. It should be everything from formal meetings and home groups to social networks and work structures. I would call the times I spend with friends drumming around a log fire 'church'. It is there that we meet, share, talk, pray, realise intentions, seek guidance and value fellowship in a safe and unthreatening environment. We can be who we want to be, we can sit beside differing beliefs and share a welcoming smile. It isn't a 'Christian' group, but for me that doesn't matter. I can take it on my own level and be enriched in ways that are meaningful to me.

The Vine (John 15:1-7)
There was a quote along the lines of "Fruit bearing is not a human possibility; it is Christ's work through us". This seems to imply that you may not really be able to bear fruit unless you are a Christian. It also contains the idea of original sin which I struggle with - I am more of an "original blessing" sort of person (see Matthew Fox's work on the subject). Many people bear fruit and having a diversity of "vines" keeps a well balanced system in order as happens in nature. Rely too much on one thing and the whole ecosystem can collapse. Nature always promotes and thrives on variety, whereas monoculture needs an unhealthy input of unnatural elements to make it work. If we remove ourselves from the ecosystem that supports us, we will not last very long. We need to belong. Jesus' anaology here with how systems are found in nature is something I hadn't really seen before. "Remain in me" (John 15:4) belongs in quite an ecocentric passage, for it warns about the dangers of ignoring that which sustains us, supports us and gives us life. From a Cosmic Christ point of view, we ignore Christ, the animating Spirit of the Earth, at our peril.

Being and Doing
How should we go about "Being and Doing Church"? I am sure there is much that could be drawn out of that phrase...

I face a huge battle personally with the concepts of being and doing in my life. Half of me is always wanting to be "doing" something: gardening, walking, cycling, working, exploring personal development ideas, being dissatisfied with where I am at and getting depressed at not being like others whom I perceive as more successful. Then there is the quiet "being" half which is the mystical, quiet, listening, observing, meditating, solitary, nature aware spiritual side. The two always seem to be antagonistic with each other. Getting the 'being' balance right is hard because taken to its extreme you could 'be' so much and exist in such a state of relaxed ease and contentment with the present that you would never get out of bed in the morning. How you go about being active for your faith, missional, a learner and a disciple in a state of being rather than doing would probably provoke an interesting discussion at a workshop or talk on the issue. I think that it is a core principle of much Celtic spirituality and personal development work and is an interesting area which I find fascinating and could go on for hours about.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Night-time and The Gift

I've recently spent a few days camping near Fordingbridge in the New Forest. It was very much a family holiday and so I didn't get much time to myself to explore places and ideas at a deeper level. I like to be comfortable in a place so that I can explore it at my leisure and see in what way it might speak to me. There was an area of woodland near the campsite which I was able to explore - mainly it seemed late in the evening once "Piglet" had gone to bed and we had cleared up the tent and had coffee. Then I had a bit of 'me' time.

Going out into woodland in the encroaching dark is an interesting experience in examining what fears we have of dark unknown shapes and things that suddenly dash off in the undergrowth. Our minds are so programmed with scary thoughts, but in reality there is little or nothing, naturally speaking, that can harm us on a night's walk.

The woods were generally very quiet - just the soft swish of bats, the rustle of leaves in a breeze and the occasional hoot of an owl. Once, where I could walk out to meet the river that flowed silently through the still meadows, again all was quiet. But in the darkness I heard a gentle splashing sound and though the dim light of the lowering moon three swans swam down to river to where I was sitting and then cautiously turned up a small stream and into the tall vegetation and willows of the river bank.

With a couple of nights of clear skies I was able to lie down and gaze up at the stars above me. I don't 'do' stars so I have no idea where I was looking - apart from straight up! I am sure an occasional meteor streaked above me and are those satellites - the ever so tiny fast moving pinpricks of light that are almost imperceptible?

The Gift
So there I am gazing up into what we think of as the infinite expanse of space. For once I don't feel frightened at the thought of all that up there. I feel that I am on a gift, a gift given to us that gives us food, shelter and somewhere to exist. It is our protective sphere of earth that enables us to be part of this huge evolutionary experience. Is it a Divine gift? You could look at it that way. There may be other alternatives that are proposed but to me, in this place, the word "Gift" was true to me. A gift is treasured, valued and given thanks for. The giver is respected. We are receivers. How could I think otherwise when I was surrounded by lush meadows, deep woodland and hedgerows bursting with berries.

I didn't want to go to bed. I wanted to stay up, enjoy the darkness, listen to the breeze and just sit by candlelight.

Experiencing the Woods
Sometimes I am intrigued at how silent and un-wildlifey woods can feel. Occasionally I would do an exercise of thinking "what would a Druid do or feel?". How would they view or feel about a particular place or event. It is a bit like the "What Would Jesus Do?" sort of thing. To my mind I find it easier to think about the former as I can identify with that more easily - and I'm not here going to explain or justify my thoughts or how I wouldn't necessarily differentiate between the two, and anyway I use the term 'Druid' loosely to mean "a deep nature lover of great wisdom" and as it only has five letters it is quicker to write than "a deep nature lover of great wisdom"!

So in the wood, at night, how do I feel? What can I hear? What can I smell? What can I sense? Well, only the obvious things really - nothing too enlightening, but then you can't always force things just when you want to experience something new. As I have said above, you need to tune into a place.

And not just in the wood. What about when things are stressful in the family or when work isn't going too well? How would "a deep nature lover of great wisdom" deal with things? Theory is easier than practice.

The nights are closing in. It is 8.30pm, dark and pouring with rain outside the summerhouse. I can hear it beating on the roof and dripping off the sides. I like being here in the rain as it masks out the sounds on the traffic and neighbours and I feel quite cosy and isolated here. I could do with more light though but I do like my candle.