Phil’s Message at the AGM:
What evidence do we have that the resurrection actually happened? How do we actually know that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples in that upper room all those years ago? Well we can do what any investigator might do: weigh up the historical evidence, look at the different accounts of the eye witnesses and test them for their reliability or we could even probe and examine the scientific possibilities.
Well I find the most convincing evidence that shows me that these events were indeed true is what happened next in the story: It’s looking at what happened to Jesus disciples after he appeared to them and what they then did with their lives.
To go back a bit, we have to say that Jesus chose the most unlikely people to be his disciples. There was not an extensive interview process for becoming ‘one of Jesus’ trainees’, but if there had been Jesus’ twelve disciples surely wouldn’t even have been shortlisted. Jesus could have chosen the best and the brightest but instead he focussed his attention on a mixed bunch of rather undistinguished (and some morally dubious) characters, who were never destined to do much with their lives.
Take Peter, a gruff, plain speaking fisherman. Peter seemed to have had a special place among the disciples and yet he constantly gets things wrong and sticks his foot in it. When Jesus is arrested and taken to the Chief Priest, Peter, to save his own skin, is quick to deny even knowing Jesus and flees the scene.
Then we have James and John, ‘sons of thunder’, known for their quick temper. On realising who Jesus was they try to stake their claim and out manoeuvre the other disciples, by asking Jesus if they can sit at his right and left hand in his kingdom.
Then there is Thomas from our reading today. ‘doubting Thomas’ as he is known for stubbornly refusing to believe his other disciples when they tell him that Jesus had rose from the dead.
And I could mention Judas of course..
These disciples were less than perfect, and we know this because of the many times in the Gospels where Jesus has to tell them off or correct them for some misunderstanding of his teaching.
How Jesus must have wished that he had chosen more carefully!?
But the point is Jesus did choose them. He wouldn’t have had it any other way because he saw in them God’s vison for his Church, and he loved each one of them. Like a Mother or a Father, or a Friend, Jesus supported and mentored his disciples. He patiently watched over them and he kept loving them despite their weaknesses and often difficult behaviour. Poignantly he loved them and forgave them even when they let him down, rejected him and even betrayed him.
Why do I believe that the resurrection really happened? It’s because even though the Gospels painfully record the disciples’ flaws and show me how they doubted and struggled to come to terms with the events around them, something happened that led them to continue Jesus’ ministry on earth. Something inspired them and worked through them so that the world was changed forever, so that we are still here today all those years later telling the world about Jesus.
Helena and I went to a Christian conference last Summer and there we listened to an uplifting talk by the preacher Mike Pilavachi entitled: ‘The Church is a family, not a business’and I remember sharing it with some of you afterwards because it really moved me.
It was a simple reminder that one of the key principles of being a Church is that we are a family, and that we are called to love one another: that means enduring one another, being patient with one another and encouraging one another. Look at the Bible and you will see reference after reference of God’s people being referred to as his family,and countless times when people are referred to as sons and daughters, mother and fathers.
Listening to that talk was a real encouragement because I was sat there, immensely grateful for all that we are at St Michael’s and for all that’s been happening through the Church, but also knowing how difficult being Church here can be and how we often struggle and go through times of despair. I was sat there as well, all too aware of the pressure I sometimes feel as a Church leader to ‘succeed:’ that can be about the expectation to grow the Church in numbers or the continuing pressure to sustain ourselves financially, not to mention the huge challenge of raising a huge amount of money to develop the building here and keeping our youth work going.
I can get in the mind set easily that all these things are about me, and sometimes I can act as if it’s all about me. I’ll be honest every Sunday morning between about 9.30 and 10.15, that’s when I am at my most grumpy and whingy about the Church. That’s when the voice in my head is saying:
“I’ve put loads of work into this service and I bet no one’s going to turn up!”
“I can’t believe the Church is in this mess, it’s all down to me to sort this out before the service..” etc etc
The reason why I feel this way is because it’s the time in the morning when I feel most alone, and when the pressure for that’s day service to go well feels most acute. But when I am not alone and I have others around me here I don’t feel that weight of burden as much.
The truth is it should never be about me, it should always be about us as a family working together, learning together, worshipping together, praying together and acknowledging the one who calls and loves us, Jesus Christ. We often, let’s face it, make our faith an individual pursuit but it was always designed to be done with others and for others as part of a family of God. Please don’t let me forget that. In the coming year, we want to see more people involved in our worship. We want a culture of participation in all areas of the Church’s life and it goes without saying, I need your help to make this happen.
I am immensely excited by all that we do here at St Michael’s and all that God is doing through us, but let’s try to ensure that the Church is not just about about ‘me’or a small group of us, who do most things. Let’s make the Church about all of us: worshiping and working with the God who loves everyone of us.
St Michael’s is a family and if you are new to this Church we want to welcome you here. But it comes with a warning. Just like our biological families, just like those disciples of Jesus, St Michael’s is a bit messy and complicated (I won’t go into too much detail but believe me it is!). Sometimes things don’t always go to plan, sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we don’t always make everyone as welcome as we should be. Sometimes you may walk out of Church on a Sunday morning feeling uplifted and thankful, but sometimes you may well feel frustrated and dissatisfied.
I don’t wish to put you off! I dearly hope that your experience of St Michael’s is a positive one but there is a danger that we can too often engage with Church as a consumer would: wanting our needs and expectations to be met and being left disappointed when they are not. The Church was not created to be merely an attractive building or a heart-warming time of nice music and comforting words. The Church was intended to be a family, with all that entails, so let me leave you with a quick guide of do’s and don’tsabout the Church which I say as a kind of prayer to inspire us:
Don’t come to this Church if you want to be just ‘fed’ though I hope that God will meet you and that you will learn new things. Accept that you might have something to teach us as much as we have to teach you.
Don’t come to this Church if you want to be ‘entertained’ though I hope you will find joy and some laughter, and you will be excited with us in being a part of God’s mission.
Don’t come to this Church if you just want to meet people exactly like yourself. You will often meet people in Church very different to you, who will look at the world in a very different way to you and who you may disagree with. Being a family is learning to do that well.
Don’t come to this Church, if you just want to sit at the back. This might feel comfortable and the right thing to do for a while but we really want you to come forward, contribute and show us your gifts. Don’t rely on others to point those gifts out to you.
Come to this Church because you want to join a family.
Come because you know that you are loved by God and you want to love others.
Come because you are curious about God and you want to find out more from fellow travellers.
Come because you are imperfect, but despite this know that you are a vital member of Christ’s body and without you the body is weaker.