Ascension Sunday

20 May 2012

When the relational evangelism course “Gossiping the Gospel”
was being put together in the 1980s,
one of the important inclusions was a workshop on how Christians can respond
when non-Christians ask a pretty good question:
Why would I ever want to get involved with Christianity,
when you see all the time the way that Christians do such horrible things.

Richard Dawkins – in a somewhat extreme and un balanced view –  talks of the church as “the greatest force for evil in the world”

And if any of us wanted to pause for a few minutes this morning I don’t think we would have too much trouble creating a list of areas and specific egs where the church and its leaders have failed. Profoundly. Embarrassingly

And surely, the church’s most profound failures are those times when it hurts or prevents hurts being caused to the innocent, the vulnerable.

And we should never downplay, or deny or avoid the pain that is created by people acting in the name of the Church –  especially when that action breeds hatred, or abuse or alienation.  

When the church’s role in the stolen generation, or with forced adoptions is highlighted we have to be honest, caring and responsive.

When leaders fail, through abuse – whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual –  of people for whom we have a responsibility of care the church’s role is to be open, honest, caring and responsive.

For the times when my leadership here has been less than you had hoped and when you are quite sure I have let you down,  I want you to hear my most sincere apology.

And this morning’s reading – although it doesn’t really fix any of that –  has something to say to us in this area. Right at the beginning of the Christian Church – in its very earliest of days –  the leadership of the church had to confront and work out how to deal with failure. And the failure was a profound failure in the group of core leaders – a guy called Judas.

We’re not really sure of the motivations of Judas. Some suggest it was greed.    Others suggest it was self protection Still others suggest it was trying to force Jesus’s hand. But whatever the motivation, the failure was pretty clear: he had betrayed Jesus and had been involved in the plot to have him killed. Pretty big failure

I remember many years ago,  back when I was young and getting involved in church leadership seriously for the first time, I was involved in a mission planning conversation at St Andrew’s UCA Brighton le Sands. And I remember the leader asking us to write down how long we thought the church would survive. With the dramatic flourish that came with my youth – and maybe much youth –  I remember that I wrote down “10 years”. And we were asked to spend some time talking with someone else at our table. The person I got to speak with – Jim –  was not youthful, and had little dramatic flourish about him.

I went first – I told him my answer and listed all the failures of the church to keep up with the modern age, and trends.    I pointed out the church’s failures in social and political areas  and I rested comfortably with the thought that I had made clear how I was obviously right.

 Then it was Jim’s turn.

He slowly and quietly answered that the church would go on forever. My guess is that I tutted out loud and quite possibly rolled my eyes, as I waited an explanation

And he continued in his calm voice to say that if the church really relied on us for its future, it would have died out ages ago But the church is the creation of God and not a creation of the people, or its members.

And as a creation of God, we can be confident that it will continue – in some form –  for God’s time.

Judas abjectly failed.    And Matthias was chosen to take his place. Not through an elaborate process of interviews and profiles and committees as it turns out but by a basic sense of fitting the character of leadership and then plain dumb luck

One of the most important lessons for us to learn in the church Is that ultimately Jesus is running the show.  Not us.  Jesus.   When early church needed someone to round out the Twelve, God provided.   When the apostles died, Jesus provided others, and He multiplied their office.   Now, God may well use things like congregations and profiles and ads and committees.   And there may be for the day to day ministry and service staff, and congregational members, and volunteers, and Government contract.s

But in the end, it’s God’s church,  God’s ministry.

And one of the surest things that I can offer to you is the knowledge that the church is going to continue to fail. Its leaders will continue to let people down.

My hope and my prayer is that it wont be in some of the horrendous abusive ways that it has happened recently and that the church will be open, honest and courageous enough to respond in caring pastoral and just ways if it does.

But as a people we are called back time and time again to waiting, praying, discerning and responding to God’s movement in the future of God’s church, as part of God’s mission to all the world.

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