....was never meant to be easy (saying goodbye to New Wine North East at the Newark Showground, 2013)

Many of us are feeling a bit gutted that NEW WINE, Newark will run for the last time this year but I think we probably have to remain rooted in Christ, to realise that it is all going to be okay.

We're happy aren't we, when we face troubles because of Christ?
Ours is the kingdom of heaven.
We're happy, aren't we, when people seem to mess us about because of Jesus?
We rejoice and are glad. Great is our reward in heaven.

So says Matthew. 
How can this become true for us? 
Perhaps if we begin to understand something about the past, the present and the future.

The book of Hebrews in the Bible's New Testament is a sermon written to comfort, encourage and build-up.

This is its aim because some of this pastor's crowd are failing to gather together anymore, some are disappointed and distancing themselves from the people of God, some are falling back to old ways.

Because it has all just become too much for them.

We must not withdraw from one another but find the new.

We mustn't stop meeting and fall away from the people of God?

We must not try to recreate what was when that season is over.

And if we are feeling discouraged we need Hebrews.

Through it God speaks to us about the past and the present and the future. 

About the past God says 'Value what I said in the past but only in the light of what I am saying in the present.'

Sometimes we hang on to the old when something new and better has come. The technological world asks its people to move on and move forward, so does God. Off on holidays with an address for a camping and caravanning site at the British sea-side, as a child, I remember stress between my mum and dad with mum's map on the wrong page and dad unsure because a right and a left were approaching and mum wasn't there yet. There is nothing wrong with map-reading but we have Sat-Nav now and many marriages must be smoother because you can't argue so well with a machine.

As God's people we can fall back on what used to work, even though something so much better has come. Hebrews reminds God's people that God had his purposes through the traditions of the Jewish faith and he did speak to his people through the prophets and the priests, but now the fulfilment of all he said then, has come. By falling back on the old, this pastor's church is ignoring the God who has now spoken in Christ. It is through Christ that they can know God in a way that no amount of clinging to the old and what worked before can sort.

We must similarly value what God said yesterday but only in the light of what he is saying today and we must move forwards not backwards, even when the going gets tough. When we are changing, moving forward and entering a new season, we must listen very carefully for what God might be saying to us.

Aware of the past, God says in Hebrews, that we are to live empowered in the present by what lies ahead.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have something incredible – access to the very presence of God through Christ. We must not give up and he reminds them of their early life in Christ, how in these former days they had withstood such a lot because they were new and excited converts to the faith. Remembering the start they made, they must continue in the race, persevere and not fall away. The future God has for us is worth pressing on for.

Do you ever go out to eat and order a starter and a main and a pudding? Hebrews is written to remind us that we've already tasted the starter, Christ has come, his righteousness is ours, his holiness is ours, his relationship with the Father gives us access to God through the Holy Spirit. Knowing this, we do not continue to eat only the starter, we progress to the main. We eat the main meal with appetites stimulated by the starter but we don't stay there either, there is another course to come and this is the pudding. This is the sweetness of the return of Christ where everything will be fulfilled and this is what we have our eyes on as we tell our children they must suffer the broccoli of the main course, if they want to get to the sweet. We live in the times of the main course, the parts we like and those we do not. The Christian life in its blessings and in its disappointments. The pudding is what lies ahead of us. Hebrews tells us that God's final promise is that there is a future coming where we will finish the meal, (to extend the analogy) and sit back, full and happy, blessed and resting when the eating's done.

Throughout Hebrews then God says we must learn from the past, live empowered in and by Christ in the present with an eye always towards our future.

If we want an Emmaus road experience, (you will remember that on the Emmaus road in Luke 24, Jesus opens up the scriptures and explains to his disciples everything about himself there.) Well, if we want an Emmaus road experience, read the book of Hebrews.

In it the pastor takes everything that has come before and explains its significance. In this book he tells the story of Moses, unlocking its meaning. God revealed himself to Moses and his people, calling them to journey with him to the promised land and they accessed God's presence on the way through the tent of meeting that they set up and the priests that they organised but all of this only pointed to God's future plan to reveal himself fully and finally through his Son.

It is through Christ that we access God, he has become our high priest, he is the tent and the later temple enfleshed. We can access moment by moment now the Lord of Lords because Jesus is the true dwelling place of God. In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. We are told the story of the people of Moses because we continue like those people of old to journey in the face of adversity, but we must not be like that wilderness generation who were disobedient. We have the fullness of God available now to sustain us. Empowered by Christ's Holy Spirit, we can journey with confidence and power, the Holy Spirit that has been poured out on all flesh under the new covenant.

Hardships are inevitable – we need to stand with the faithful sharing in their difficulties, praying into the future as we commit to God and one another, supporting one another through the tough stuff and the unknowns.

The church to whom this pastor writes has suffered imprisonments and the confiscation of its property as they have sought to minister to one another when imprisoned for their beliefs. Let's not forget that throughout the world this is a reality today for many of our Christian brothers and sisters. And we are disenfranchised in our own culture too. Prayers once said at the beginning of council meetings have been dropped. The Scouting and guiding organisations no longer promise to serve their God, crosses worn around our necks are banned in certain workplaces, our voice is ignored in the public square when we speak into politics, sports, education, God's plans for marriage and family but we must not lose hope.

In the letter to the Hebrews we are challenged to continue to profess Christ with boldness and courage. The motivation for doing this is Christ's work already on our behalf and then his resourcing us with the power of his Holy Spirit to run the race and complete it.

I am an early finisher but I am working on it – I remember as an eleven year old my attempt at the 800 metres. I was winning for the first two laps. My enthusiasm and my passion were soaring. But I should have started steady and sure that I would make it to the end. By round three, everyone was over-taking me and in the last lap I was completely undone and panting for breath and I came in last. We have to endure to the end with a confidence that we have in Christ and not burn out with initial enthusiasm or in the face of criticism – we have to play the long game. This pastor reminds us all that our early days, the days after our conversion, when we felt different, radical, perhaps like we were soaring on eagles' wings, should not be forgotten but are not going to be our every day – we need to develop a mature faith that can withstand everything life can fling at us.

We live by faith but what does living by faith mean? It means living in the light of the future, trusting that our future reward is true and that God's power for present victory over hardship is real. This passage for us, ends with the pastor quoting the prophet Habakkuk who must just wait for the God who will not delay: Christ will come again. It is in believing this that we have the power to continue. This is our motivation for not drawing back, falling back on the old or trying to recreate it, giving up. In chapter 11 of this letter, the pastor will tell his people what their reward will be: a 'city with foundations (11:10), a 'better' and 'heavenly' country (11:16), a 'reward' greater than Egypt's treasures (11:26), 'resurrection' (11:35) and the 'unshakable Kingdom,' (12:28). Paul tells us in Romans that present sufferings are nothing compared to the future glory that will become ours. (Rom. 8:18).

This is the sweet taste at the end of the meal, this is your inheritance, this is the finishing line we are running towards. And so finally we might be able to really say that we can be happy when we suffer disappointments as we try to follow Christ. We can rejoice and be glad, because great our reward will be.

Let's have a beatitude that makes us future-orientated in our attitude.

Be built-up by the past, but persevere in the present because of what lies ahead.

New Wine North East is changing and New Wine will change again and then again. Some of the things we once clung to are going- a gathering, a location, it's all getting reordered but let's be joyful, like those first century Christians, who were unfazed when their belongings were taken, who stood with the community of the faithful and who listened for how they must not become complacent but instead fix their eyes on the future. Like them, let's press on to what lies ahead and with faith in Christ, prepare ourselves for all that God is saying to us today about tomorrow.

See you at the last New Wine North East.
What has God got for the NE New Wine crowd next, I wonder.


Andii Bowsher said...

What's this decision saying about the demographics of Charismatic Christianity in Britain (if anything -though I suspect it is saying something)?
Renewal of call to the North needed, methinks ... There are parishes languishing in my part of the world for want of ordained leadership ...

Rach Marszalek said...

'Renewal of call to the North needed, methinks' - renewal everywhere, I guess! Perhaps, though, this is not going to be mobilised through the ordained clergy - I always think renewal happens from the grass roots first, I just hope that as an ordained clergy person, I can be a part of it too.

Andii Bowsher said...

I guess I'm concerned that it's really easy to find CofE churches with a charismatic ministry in the south, but come to the NE and it's relatively hard AND I'm aware that diocesan officers are concerned that few people seem willing to move north. Now I'm by no means saying that it's all about clergy -but they do have an influence and much renewal has been kick-started by church leaderships. There's mission to be done in the North; I'm having trouble believing that God isn't calling people into it ...

Battersea Boy said...

Never mind the north; it seems to be almost impossible to attract anyone into Lincolnshire! :-)


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