This is my first week back for 2021 so firstly I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year. In my break I have tried to contemplate what will 2021 look like. We are already hearing about a new strain of Covid that has entered Australia from overseas. We’ve seen restrictions tightened in Victoria – we’ve seen other states going into lockdown. Churches in greater Brisbane had to cancel their services at short notice last Sunday. I guess for me, as a Pastor, one of my concerns is for our outreach.
My role as a Pastor of this congregation won’t change- I’ll always be here for you. At times it might get impacted if some of the earlier restrictions return like the 5km rule. There are some restrictions on visiting nursing homes and hospital. But the biggest concern I have is our outreach. It’s hard to do what Philip did with Nathanael when he reached out to bring him to Jesus and said – come and see. It’s hard to say to someone – come and see but I first need to ring our booking line to make sure there’s enough room. Or what do you say to someone who arrives at church unannounced for the first time and it’s booked out? Do you say “come and see” next week and I’ll book you in.
I guess we’ve always worked with the objective that Sunday church is our goal – and to an extent that is important. But we have been challenged in the last 12 months – what becomes our mission if our church building is not available or if we will continue to face limits on how many we can have and can’t even fit all our regular members in? I know that for me the Covid experience has made me evaluate how we do church – how we do evangelism. For me, prior to Covid – getting as many people into church – getting the budget paid – justifying the amount of work I was doing were my priorities. But look at Philip’s priorities – look how Phillip does evangelism He shares his experience with Nathanael. He shares his excitement and invites Nathanael to come and see Jesus and experience a relationship with him. And whereas the church building on a Sunday was the place we would have as our objective – to invite people to come and see Jesus – is that the only way?
St Paul reminded us in our 2nd reading today – you are the temple of God’s Holy Spirit. The church is not a building – the church is the people who gather to create the body of Christ. If we have no church building – we still have church – you are the church. And as important as our Sunday gatherings together is, it is not the only way that the church can exist. If our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit then we can invite people to come and see Jesus in our own lives – in our own homes.
We’ve already experimented this past year with smaller gatherings outside of our regular church times – can we explore that further – maybe in our own homes where some newcomers to the faith might even feel more comfortable – less threatened. We know how often we have a visitor come along and they slip away either because they don’t feel comfortable or they feel no one has come up to them to speak with them. We can let this pandemic defeat us or we can grasp the opportunities and look for ways to adapt to new challenges.
Personally I like the sounds of new challenges and would like to see us look at new ways of doing church. It doesn’t mean that we do away with Sunday gatherings here in our church buildings but we can look to ways to supplement our Sunday gatherings and take church outside of these 4 walls. Phillip was excited and I believe that if we are excited about our faith then we will look for and find ways to be the body of Christ – to be the church in new ways. Maybe God is speaking to us through this experience and, like Samuel, we need to stop and listen and say – speak Lord, your servant is listening.
There is nothing I have loved more than a full church with music and singing at full blast- but what happens when those things are taken away from us? Do we take the position of – well that’s it – or do we say – okay, what’s next.
The digital revolution has helped to keep us going but that cannot be our goal. Like everything else, it supplements what we do.
The Christian faith is a personal experience – one of being together with each other – supporting one another.
I’m sure if they had internet available Phillip would not have said to Nathanael to log onto to the internet and watch this. No, he took him to Jesus. He didn’t just tell him about Jesus. He showed him Jesus and shared his own experience and then said – Come And See.
It’s going to be a challenging year ahead of us but it is in times of challenges that allows us to respond in new ways. As I have said previously – what we do that is essential won’t change. Word and Sacrament. How we do these has started to change with the common cup not being available – gloves and mask being part of the way we do things. Even our music has presented us with challenges. It’s not to say it will always be this way but it has shown us that we can adapt and we shouldn’t be afraid to adapt. How we do these may change even further – where we do these things may change even further.
Let us not be afraid to grasp these new challenges but trust where God is leading us and like Samuel let us be prepared to respond: Here I am, for you called me.