Last month I asked where our priorities lay. I asked if we choose to be outward focussed? Who could choose, whatever the cost, to reach out to others? Who would choose to help others in poverty, despair or addictions so that they may come to know the love and peace of Christ?
This month I am asking you where does our future lie? This is a multifaceted question, with many different answers possible. In one sense you may well be asking how the question this month is any different from what I asked in Lent’s Outlook.
I would like us to begin by spending some time on some of the verses of our reading from Isaiah 55:
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The first two lines remind us of a situation that Jesus found himself in, described in John 4:1-15 where he meets a woman who has come to draw water at the well. Our bodies need actual water in order to survive but our spiritual needs can only be nourished by the water God gives us. It is so easy for us, as the people of God to forget how much we need God. In the passage above, the people are beckoned forward to eat and drink from what which God is offering us, freely and without charge. How often do we forget God does not charge us for his overwhelming abundance and grace? Jesus says that everyone who drinks of the water that he gives them will never be thirsty again.
I wonder how many of us have searched high and low, for many years for a certain amount of satisfaction and it has never quite appeared. The search goes on and on and the void inside has never been quietened or stilled.
We go on labouring for that which does not satisfy. We make ourselves busy because we’re too afraid to stop. We’re too afraid to make space to listen and seek God, because we’re afraid of what we might find. But I put it to you that fear should not hold us back, because all we need is a mustard seed of faith. To be able to look forward to the future. To partake the rich feast that God has for us, to incline our ear to him. To listen, so that we might live.
Do we trust God? Do we trust that he knows our future, and that he wants only the best for us? If we do, can we place our worries, anxieties, needs and wants in his hands? Can we have the grace to allow God to work in ways that we don’t think are the way we would do something?
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Dare we allow God to reside with us, alongside us, in all that we do and say? Our deeply held traditions and set ways of doing things must be done with grace and reverence otherwise there is a very real danger that these duties become nothing but automated tasks that have no spiritual purpose. Can we allow ourselves to acknowledge that God does not think like us and never will?
Would it be possible for us to actually allow God to lead us? As individuals and as a Church? Will we be as welcoming to all as the writer of the book of Isaiah is, in his greeting to all? Will we welcome the very young as well as the very old? Will we be as gracious to those who make any sort of noise in church, regardless of their age because we trust that God knows best? Even though we may not be able to remain focussed.
What does this have to do with our future? If we think back to last month where I asked about our priorities, then the question was whether we would choose to live and hold on to the way things have been done for as long as one can remember, or whether we chose to live like those rooted in streams of water, drinking deeply of God’s grace and wisdom. In that sense, water is a recurring theme and the need to refresh oneself is stated again. I believe it is stated again because we are such obstinate creatures and we forget, continually, to drink of the life-giving water that is presented to us, free of charge.
In a more physical sense, does our future lie within the confines of the church building? Or does it lie in the chaos and spontaneity that we sometimes find in our churches? Does the awkwardness of such stark differences to the easy going well rehearsed routines of our services startle us out of our reveries? If so, then I say that is good. Because that means the Holy Spirit is with us, and we are present with the Holy Spirit. Our future lies with allowing God to lead. With allowing the noise of exploration to occur throughout our church buildings, however uncomfortable that might be.
God knows where our future lies, quite literally. We might be abruptly removed from our comfort zones to make space for the Holy Spirit to move, and we need to be okay with that. We need to be welcoming of everyone into our churches, regardless of their dress, or age, because the future of the Church lies with them. Not us. Can we allow them to become accustomed to the presence of God without imposing our wishes or preferred style of worship on them? Can we seek God together as we realise that both ourselves and the stranger we meet are both represented by the woman at the well? Our future, and the future of the Church in Caithness lies in our hands. Are we prepared to hand over to God the ways and means with which he wants to move and allow the water that we seek to become a spring of water in us, that gushes up to eternal life (John 4:13)?