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Why we hang together so much in Canterbury

by on February 25, 2015

Sometimes people ask me, why do you guys in Canterbury do all those meals together and all that? Why do you have people over so much? Don’t you find it tiring?

We’re doing a few talks on Sundays about our church’s vision. Last Sunday was on Gathering. It kind of explains why we do this weird community living thing.

VISION TALK 5: GATHER

Luke 14:15ff

Isaiah 55

A few years ago Anne Rice, one of the most popular authors of our times wrote these words:  ”For those who care… Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to …Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider.”

We are continuing our series looking at our vision diagram, working through our four key activities, or core strategies as we call them. REVISE. Today we’re looking at our third key activity: GATHER.

Anne Rice’s statement above would resonate with a lot of people, I think. In fact we live in this strange time in the history of Christianity, when lots of people who like Jesus, lots of people who say they trust in Christ, are not part of a church community. They don’t have a church connection. They are trying to be Christian all by themselves. I hear it around Canterbury all the time. “Yes I am Christian but – I can pray at home” they say. It’s so common in Canterbury, but also throughout our society. And it’s NEW. Never before has church community seemed so unimportant to people with a Christian faith.

Why do you think that is? GET RESPONSES.

e.g. extreme individualism.

Moreover, often Christian preachers are making things worse. I remember hearing a church leader complaining that when preachers deliver their gospel message, and people respond and put their trust in Christ, and gain assurance of eternal life – when all that has happened successfully, often the new convert is surprised to be told that they ought to join a church. What has that got to do with it, they ask? There was nothing in all the message they heard, nothing in the gospel they trusted in, that suggested joining a community. It comes as an add-on at the end, and very often it’s not a welcome idea. “I’d like to have a relationship with Jesus, but church – I’ve got no time for all that.” And so the church itself in its teaching seems to be part of the problem.

Well, at CCC we’ve deliberately made this a core part of our mission, not just to love people but to gather them, to bring people together into community. Why have we done that?

In Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast, from Luke 14, he compares the kingdom of God to a feast, a party. That’s the image I want you to get in your mind today, just this one image. A party.

  1. THE FEAST

In Scripture God’s kingdom is often pictured as a shared meal.

 – not a quest: not sending you off to fight battles on your own, or to search for something hidden

 – not a school where you work hard at your studies

Rather, one of most important pictures of God’s kingdom is a meal, to which everyone is invited. In the OT, Israel’s life as a nation began with a meal: the passover night. The people were to gather in their homes and eat together, and stay safe from the destruction passing by outside.

The OT prophets had visions of how God would restore the world and bring in salvation, and the prophets often pictured this salvation as a meal.

  Come, all you who are thirsty,

come to the waters;and you who have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without cost.

   Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55

Do you see it? There’s a feast, and you’re invited!

In the NT, the Christian church also began with a meal. Jesus gathered his disciples top share this before he was arrested. ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.’ And he told us to keep on sharing the meal in the future. ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ And the Christian community has been centred around that meal ever since.

In fact, there is no better way for us to express faith, than in shared meals. Why is that? What is good about a meal? RESPONSES.

brings people together 

– we share around the blessing and joy. We had a wedding feast for M and A a while back, and I noticed, everyone was happy. It was just so good to be there together. That’s what feasts are like!

There’s nothing more human, more healthy than hospitality. A feast speaks a language that all people can understand, whatever culture or language they are from. It’s a truly international image, this picture of a banquet.

And its a picture of a salvation that is not individualised, isolated, as in many other religions. God’s kingdom is something we share, it passes from one to another like the food at a party.

In Acts we read how the first Christian community spread through meals.

Acts 2: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.   44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.  45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

You see it? The Christian life here sounds like one big, ongoing festival!

So here’s the first thing to get: God’s kingdom presented to us as a feast, as a shared meal of celebration. A party, which his people are called to celebrate together.

One of the reasons the modern church is so weak and uncertain is that it has lost that picture. We have come to see salvation as individual thing, even the Lord’s supper the feast Jesus set up for us, has been downgraded into an individual thing, just between me and God, hardly a shared meal at all.

Instead of a party, Protestants tend to see church as kind of school where we learn a message – a much less interesting place than the banquet Jesus is talking about! No wonder people don’t want to come.

Catholic church has kept the meal, but taken away the sense of sharing it around. The priest does everything, the rest just watch. They can’t even get a drink! It’s not much like a party.

So people say “I’ll go to church, I’ll sit and listen, i’ll watch the priest.” They can attend for one hour, sit by themself, talk to no one, leave straight away at the end. They can tick the box: ‘I’ve done church for this week!’ And they can come back next week for another session. Or maybe not bother.

You can see, people are not thinking of the christian gathering as a party, a shared banquet. We’ve lost what church is. The western church has changed the picture, distorted church into something it was never meant to be.

So at CCC we trying to recapture the way Jesus talked about his kingdom.  We like to eat meals too. But I want to confess it concerns me that our sunday afternoon gatherings can look wrong, sometimes there is nothing to eat. No refreshments for us to share, not even a glass of water or biscuit. I think we could do better. I doubt whether we should ever gather for worship with no food.

If you want to be part of CCC, try to take part in a meal with God’s people at least once in the week. Join in one of our community meals. Invite church family over to yours for a meal. Practice hospitality. This is a core way we must express our faith. It’s been so nice recently for us to go over to V’s place, and A’s and M’s.

2. The Invitation 

Once you’ve understood that God’s kingdom is like a party with invitations then you can see the thing that matters most is, the RSVP. Will you come or not?

It can be very difficult these days to get RSVPs. We live in the Stabo generation.  In the parable there were a bunch of people who didn’t bother to RSVP. They were keeping their options open, and on the day they had better things to do. Jesus has in his crosshairs the Jews, God’s ancient people. They thought they were automatically in God’s kingdom! After all, they were circumcised! So they didn’t bother to come when Jesus came calling! Instead of joining Jesus and his people, they rejected him. So even though they had the honour of being invited first, in the end they missed out.

No one is born in God’s kingdom. Some church-people imagine that water baptism gets them in. They are in for a disappointment like those Jews were. Water of baptism doesn’t get you in. Being a good person doesn’t cut it. No acts of service will make a difference.

No, you need to answer the invitation, from the heart. You need to turn to Christ and say, Yes Jesus! Yes I want to come and eat. I want to join you at your meal. Share in the good things of God’s kingdom. Yes I will sit at this table with you and with all your people, and I will trust in your body and blood shed for me. I will take part in the sharing around of your grace and life.

This turning to Christ, this coming near is what the bible calls repentance. Repentance simply means turning back. And this is the only way to be a part of God’s kingdom. Answer the invitation! Come near. That’s what matters.

Protestants love to think they can just have a little private feast, just God and me. But that’s not Christianity. Jesus never called us to an isolated salvation. He called us into this new community celebration. It’s true that many of the people who are gathered at the meal are a bit weird, church people can be difficult and sometimes disappointing. But I will come and join in the feast anyway, because it’s your feast Jesus. Because its your gathering. The gathering is the place where you meet us. The gathering is the place where you heal us, and give us life. Anne Rice found the people at the meal too annoying, so she walked away. But she’s missing out on everything Jesus has prepared for us.

So we have the feast, and the invitation. Lastly we have:

3. The Inviters

When I was 13, someone took the time to tell me all about Jesus, and invited me to follow him. And I said – YES!

Did you notice these servants who were sent out to call in the guests. To tell them, “It’s all ready! Come and enjoy it!”  That’s how God gathers people to his kingdom. Not with a voice from heaven. He sends people to reach people! And so we become gatherers.

And that’s what we are doing in Canterbury. You know, when we invite people into our home, or to a bbq, or our gathering, whatever, it’s part of something bigger. It’s a little part of how God is gathering all people to his kingdom banquet. All this hospitality. It’s not just a good way to get to know people. It’s the kingdom. Giving them a little taste of God’s kingdom. We’re preaching them a sausage sandwich sermon.

Jesus is gathering people to his feast, and so we gather people too. Did you notice what happened at the end of the story, v.22? They all came in and then the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’  23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.

Here we all are gathered at the banquet. Praise God we’re here! But it’s not just for us! Sometimes we are happy to feast, but not so keen to do the inviting. We like to think we’re minding our own business, being tolerant and respectful, keeping our views to ourself. But really the opposite is true.

We have to get the right picture in our heads. Lets see what happens if we bring in our picture of God’s kingdom as a feast. Lets put it in those terms: “I really like the party, I love the food and the fellowship, its such a rich blessing for me – but I don’t want to let my neighbour know it’s on. I wouldn’t invite them.”

Can you see how wrong that is? If you keep it to yourself, you’re not being a kind neighbour. You’re hoarding it, keeping the feast a secret from hungry people.

When the door was opened for you, there was someone there holding it open, right? You were invited in. Now God wants you to open the door for others, make a way for them too. Invite them in!

Are you inviting people along? Are you praying for your non-Christian friends, that they will come? Learn hospitality! Have people over to your place. Invite them to our community meals. Become a gatherer!

There are people who need to hear the invitation from you. Who could you be inviting?

From → General

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