Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Q&A Sermon: all the questions, but probably not all the answers!

Last Sunday we had a Q&A sermon in our 2 churches, here are the questions asked, and some of the answers (summarised) given on the day. If commenters can expand on any of these, that would be really helpful! If you're a St. James/St. Peters member, please carry on the conversation in your cell groups.

During the communion service why do we have a gradual hymn and what does it signify?
‘Gradual’ is from the Latin ‘gradus’ meaning a step. Medieval churches had a reading pulpit, and a psalm or chant was sung from the step of this as the Gospel was taken in procession up to be read. We now sing a hymn, there are no steps involved, but we still call it the 'gradual'.

Can we have ongoing explanations of symbolism contained in our services, perhaps during the 5th Sunday service, e.g. What is a collect, why does  the vestment and altar cloths change colour, why are the bread and wine brought up from the back of church etc......why does David wear a white robe and Tony a black dress and white top?
good idea! 

What is the structure of the Anglican Church?
I'd better let the CofE answer this for itself, click here

What does a usual week as a member of the clergy consist of
There's no such thing as a usual week! The past 7 days has included:
 - meeting with a local family to support them and plan for a difficult funeral, then taking the service itself and spending time with mourners afterwards
 - preparing for this sermon
 - time with lay leaders in the church: deacon in training, Childrens and Families worker, leaders of the H+ course we'll be running in the autumn on getting into the Bible, staff meeting, college chaplaincy volunteers
 - meeting with other local church leaders
 - preparing and leading leavers assemblies for the local primary school
 - preparing families for baptisms and weddings
 - meeting with a small accountability group of fellow clergy for prayer and mutual support
 - planning with community leaders, local councils and housing associations about work on the Wyndham Park new estate
 - the usual round of emails, Facebook etc. (different people like to keep in touch in different ways, including phone, email, Facebook and Twitter. I even got a handwritten letter!)
 - pastoral work - home visits for the recently bereaved, following up with local families, simply being around at church groups, school gate etc. for people to chat
 - supporting our work with children and young people: Tea and Toast, the Christian Club at Preston Primary school
...and next week will be different again.....!

How do we live with the tension between turning the other cheek and laying ourselves open to being taken advantage of? 

In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus gives 3 examples of non-violent resistance. A slap to the right cheek would be backhanded, i.e. a real insult. Offering the other cheek demands to be treated as an equal. Taking a soldiers pack 2 miles would have landed the soldier in trouble, as they were only allowed to force civilians to carry their load for one. So these are ways for people who are being mistreated to stand up to bullying without resorting to violence.

How do we make sense of Revelation and the other difficult bits of the bible?
 - There will always be bits of the Bible we don't understand, but we don't have to be afraid of them.
 - In the autumn we're going to begin using the Hplus course, which helps people to develop confidence in understanding the Bible, and working out how it fits together.
 - There are lots of commentaries, and online resources, to help us get to grips with tricky bits. Christians have more resources available now than ever,  the problem is knowing which ones to use. 
 - Sometimes it's just about understanding what we're reading: the Bible is a collection of different types of writing (poetry, law, story, rhetoric). Sometimes it's about translating images from one culture to another. If I said of someone ‘he has the personal charm of Alan Sugar, and the humility of Simon Cowell’, you’d understand what I was talking about in 2013, but someone reading that in 100 years wouldn’t. They’d need to understand who Simon Cowell was and Lord Sugar to understand what I meant - i.e. they'd need to find out more about the culture the statement was written in. It's the same with the Bible, some bits make more sense once we understand the background and the culture they're written in.
-          Revelation is written in code, it’s almost like a script for a great Sci-Fi movie – so the sea stands for the source of evil, the beasts with horns are great empires, the numbers all mean something too. A decent commentary can unpack and explain all of that.
-          at the same time, Revelation is very simple: ‘God wins’.

How do we love Jesus more than our own children or family - is it right that we have the impression that we should?
-          Mark 10:28-31 and Mat 10:34-39 are the key texts here: Jesus saying that we need to love him more than anything, even our own lives, but at the same time whatever we give up for his sake will be honoured
 - Jesus is not an add-on, if he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. If Jesus is the one who made heaven and earth, who died in my place on the cross, who rose again and waits to judge all of heaven and earth, then we can’t be half-hearted in following him
 - In the story of Abraham and Isaac, A is willing to sacrifice his son and Isaac is spared. God loves us, so whatever we give up for him, it's not as though he'll make our lives, or theirs, a misery as a result. It's in putting God first that we truly love our families. Seek first God's kingdom, and everything else will be taken care of. 
 -  Our  culture has made an absolute value out of families: e.g. Christmas ‘it’s all about family’. We just need to be careful here that we don’t swallow what seems good, and lose out on the best.

Why does the church not talk more about the concept of heaven and what happens when we die, or are taken up in rapture, as we discovered last week in our cell group.
-          possibly some cultural stuff here: back in 1850, life expectancy at birth was 39. Lots of children died young, mothers died in childbirth, men died in war. By 1930 life expectancy was 60, and now it’s around 80, and with each day that passes, our average lifespan grows by 5-6 hours, a baby born tomorrow will, on average, live 5-6 hours longer than one born today.
-          The older prayer book has the phrase: ‘in the midst of life we are in death’, that was daily reality. It isn’t now, and we also use more recently written liturgy which isn’t as ‘in your face’ about death and heaven and hell as it used to be. It's a subject that our culture shies away from, and perhaps the church shies away from too. 
-      There's maybe some nervousness about talking about hell, it’s not a ‘nice subject’.
-   Perhaps it's because we have more to go on in the Bible about this life and how to live it, than we do about the next one. But what we think about life after death will affect how we live this one, our values, priorities, attitudes to death and dying etc. So yes it is an important subject and one we should tackle more

Did Jesus get married
Three things possibly behind this question
-          Interest in the wider media, books, e.g. Dan Brown on Jesus and Mary
-          Celebrity culture, where the most interesting thing about a person is who they’re having sex with. A Melvin Bragg documentary on Mary Magdalene at Easter, which was almost all the BBC did on Jesus, was promoted on this basis. Out of all the things that Jesus said, did and claimed, is this really the most important or interesting fact?
-          More positively, there’s a question here about Jesus himself: was he really, truly, fully, one of us? If Jesus is the Son of God, what kind of human being is he? Is he fully human, or is he just a good actor?

-         Only if Jesus is fully God can he reveal God fully to us. Otherwise he's the latest in a long line of messengers, and no different to the other prophets. Only if Jesus is fully human can he take our place on the cross, and fully identify with us in death and resurrection. Lose one or the other, and you lose the uniqueness of Jesus. Jesus can only be a substitute if he is human. Can only be a saviour if he is God. 

The Christian message teaches that there is a clear distinction between 'saved' and 'unsaved', yet as you look around the world and indeed the church there seems to be many shades of grey
Sad but true. Sometimes it comes down to persecution: Brother Yun in China ('The Heavenly Man') has written that the West in its current state will not be able to send many missionaries to the Muslim world, because we are too comfortable. It's only nations where the church has been toughened up by persecution, like China, that will be able to go to those places where persecution is at its most fierce. 

And the church is composed of people on a journey, we don't become saints overnight,  we are a body of forgiven sinners. Having said that, the normal Christian life is growth in grace, in holiness, in character, in the fruits of the Spirit, in spiritual gifts, in love, in gracious witness to our faith. 

A few which were asked, but there wasn't time to deal with on Sunday: discuss!
 -We have introduced hearling prayer into the life of our church, but how do we introduce/operate the other gifts of the Spirit in the 'formal' services of the CofE?
 - How do you reconcile the scriptural universal invitation of the gospel to all people, agains the Bible saying that we ave been chosen/called?
 - Why is healing prayer important?

(There's lots of other things that were said on Sunday that I've not written up here, either because I can't remember them or because this post is long enough already!!)

update: audio of the Q&A at St. James is available here

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