“To everything there is a season” Ecclesiastes 3:1
I am writing this at a time when I am contemplating retirement from active ministry. It has been a long and varied road and I still remember my first sermon when aged twenty. Over the forty eight years since then I have served in three Churches, being licensed in the Church of England in 1981 and serving at St. David’s since the early 1990’s.
Christianity has come in for a bad press in recent years and much of it is justified. I see a lot of hatred against individuals and groups being justified from the Bible, especially by American Fundamentalism. The UK is not immune and I have seen hurtful words and actions even from the Church of England. As someone who has experience of how these various Church groups think I can see both sides of the argument. However, for those outside or on the fringes of the Church it can seem confusing or hurtful. No wonder so many find Christianity irrelevant.
It is hard for many to grasp but Jesus never came to start a new religion. Not once did he tell Jew, Samaritan or Roman to become Christian. He did tell people to follow him or follow his teachings, but that was it. So what did he teach?
Jesus saw his teaching as a way of life – a way of relating to God and those around us. Jesus said that he was “the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:16) He was the example for us all to follow. Even the Apostle Paul first described followers of Jesus as “followers of the way” (Acts 22:4) Most of those Paul referred to were still Jews.
Jesus teaching focused on two main things – how we relate to God and how we treat other people; you cannot have one without the other. Jesus summed things up by quoting just two of the commandments with these words which we use at St. David’s most Sundays ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
God, Jesus declared, was a loving heavenly father who was interested in and cared for his children. This was a fairly new concept. The God of the Old Testament was often jealous and vengeful. Jesus vision of God is of someone to whom we can all relate. He is not the God of one nation or the God of the Church but the God of the individual with whom we can all have a personal relationship. That has been my experience over the whole of my life, even those parts of it that were very dark and in which I could see no way out. My hope for you all is that you will discover this God. He is easily found; a simple prayer will do. Don’t know how to pray? Many years ago a German scholar, Meister Eckhart, said this: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” A simple ‘thank you.’ seems to me to be a good start.
Jesus also wanted us to love our neighbours and he defined neighbour as anyone needing our help. When we see all the suffering in the world we may feel rightly overwhelmed. There is a wonderful quote in Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” Gandalf says: “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I’ve found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love.”
Jesus believed that it was in the small acts of love that the Kingdom of God was seen. Small acts of which we are all capable. Love God and our neighbour – that is it in a nutshell.
My prayer for you all is that you will come to know this loving God and that his love will enable you to reach out in small acts of kindness.
(This article by Dave Chambers was originally published as part of St David’s Messenger in February 2016)