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Being a Christian in the 21st Century

12th July 2017: AG
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BEING CHRISTIAN/CHURCH IN THE 21st CENTURY – preached by Revd Alan Grist on 9th July 2017.

In fifteen minutes I cannot hope to do justice to this subject but what I intend to do is make some points that I hope will stimulate us to further thought.

I will use the words Christian and Church interchangeably. I know they are not the same – but in this context I'm not thinking of the Church as an organisation but as a community of faith and I'm thinking of Christian as a faith person who in all likelihood belongs to the community of faith.

If I was choosing a text it would be Micah 6:8 "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (NRSV)

Justice, kindness and humility seem to be excellent marks of the Christian character and a good programme for the Church.

It could be argued that being a Christian in the 21st century is no different to the first century – our commitment as it was for the first Christians is to live the life of Christ. But we know that every century, indeed every generation demands a reappraisal of the expression of our faith, personally and corporately.

However, "being Christlike" must be the foundation on which we build our Christian faith.

The Jesus we read of in the gospels is an inclusive person he was called a friend of the rich and influential and a friend of the dispossessed and poor.

Inclusiveness is the first mark of our Christlikeness.

We need to work for justice with each other and the wider community.
As Christians we need to be kind to one another and to the wider community.
And as Christians and the Church we need a good
dose of humility

1.Being inclusive of each other:
I was trained and began my ministry at the time of the Conversations between the CofE and Methodist Church, and in the period of the Second Vatican Council.

Both were to have a great impact on ecumenism. Pope John 23rd said of ecumenism, "We need each other more than we need fear each other."

When the CofE /Methodist talks broke down I was serving in Trinidad. I worked closely with my Anglican colleague, and at that time he suggested, "Let us do all we can together and pray about what we can't do." Actually there was little we could not do together.

As a Protestant I was impressed by the previous Pope's visit to Britain. As I watched on TV I observed a great sense of Christian celebration and community.

It deeply saddened me that some Christians thought they should protest by distributing scurrilous literature. We do not do the Christian faith or God any favours by rubbishing the sincere beliefs of our fellow Christians or for that matter the sincere beliefs of those of other faiths.
It equally saddens me that we Christians are separated from each other at the Lord's Table. I hope in this century we will see a way of resolving this.

I would like to think that at the beginning of this century we would be inclusive of people of other faiths. Soon after the 7/7 bombings a group of Muslim Imams wrote to Christian Church leaders inviting them to dialogue. That seemed a step in the right direction. And it seemed to bear fruit in the actions of the faith communities in Notting Hill after the Grenville Tower disaster. They came together to support the victims of the fire.

2. Being inclusive of those on the margins:

Former Bishop, Richard Holloway of The Scottish Episcopal Church published a book with the title, Dancing on the Edge. It's a book directed at people struggling between belief and unbelief. Some of whom have turned their back on organised religion.

I think there are many people who are clinging on to faith but do not find the Church or other Christians sympathetic to their situation. Holloway says of such people, "The sense of theological marginalization is usually induced by other Christians who tell us that we can only come in if we agree to eat everything that is on the menu" (p.xi)

Perhaps this is epitomised in an article in the Guardian by a regular correspondent Viv Groskop, she writes:
"I would like to see the Church of England be more inclusive not only towards women priests but towards people like me – people who rarely attend church, often question their faith, but who are, essentially, supportive of the church. It's not as if you'd ever be turned away from a service, but there is a clear message on high days and holidays. Always the hopeful raised eyebrow: are you coming back on a regular basis or not? How serious are you? In today's Christian Britain you are either atheist or God squad. There no inbetween... the church I grew up in was about more than religion: it was about community, ritual and a sense of belonging. Where can you go for those now? ... But while parish priests bicker about who is more biblically correct, they should beware. A whole new generation is heading for nearest yoga class."

One of the good things about being retired is I can listen to Radio 4 at 9:00 am with a clear conscience. Some time ago there was a fascinating programme entitled, 'Two Sisters: Two Faiths', it was about twin sisters one was a Muslim and the other a Christian, they got on really well together. But for me the key person in the story was the mother, who was an agnostic. She was terminally ill with cancer. She described her struggle with organised religion and indeed with the concept of god. But in an unforeseen moment she had an epiphany – a
strong sense of an other presence.

If the church is to be inclusive then I think we will need to be less rigid and demanding about how much a person believes.

As I read the gospels I find a Jesus who calls people to follow him, who challenges people to act differently – I do not observe a Jesus who says if you follow me you must adhere to this set of beliefs and creeds.

We need to be kind and gentle towards those who are 'dancing on the edge', for we too may find ourselves in this

3. Being inclusive of others as they are:
We should not exclude people because of their gender or sexual orientation.

This year both the President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference of Britain are women. It is not the first time that the President and the Vice-President have together been women but it took a long time for women to occupy high office in the Methodist Church.

It seems amazing that after a hundred years of the Emancipation of Women we should still be struggling with the role of women in the Church.

Eric, who was in his mid seventies, came to me one morning after worship and asked if he could talk to me in private, we went to the vestry and he said, "I've accepted that I'm gay, how do you feel about that.?" I said I felt ok about it, he was
still Eric, a good and devout Christian.

I had known Eric and his wife for years and admired the way he tenderly and devotedly cared for her during her terminal illness.
I hope that Christians and Church can address these issues with Christlikeness.

To summarise being Christian/Church means we should be:
Inclusive of each other, Inclusive of those on the margins and Inclusive of others as they are.
I do not want a religion that demeans, that has rules that make me act unjustly, denies kindness or is arrogant.
A religion that denies our humanity has not passed the Jesus test.

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