One month ago today we stood together on a beach. The sun shone brightly. The sand pushed up through our toes. Our view was filled with water: an endless expanse of sea. Reminders of God’s endless provision, his faithful promises, and his mighty power. For most of us the waters lapped gently over our feet. But for the eight brave people who chose to be baptised that morning, the water washed over the whole of their being, a startling, cleansing, awakening into new life.
I’ve been part of a church community since the day I was born, and I cannot think of an occasion that has looked more different to the traditional view of church. There were no pews, no songs, no rotas, no bells, no smells (besides fish and chips), no formal beginning nor end.
And yet, there are few occasions that have felt more true to God’s purpose for a community centred around Him, committed to sharing His good news to the ends of the Earth.
Don’t get me wrong – we still need to find ways to learn and grow from God’s word, to wrestle with life through prayer, to find ways to express who God is and to worship him through songs and poems and paintings, to reflect his character and his purposes through acts of love and service.
But throughout all history the way this looks in practice has changed and evolved. From slaves in Egypt singing songs as they worked; to a nation lost in the desert carrying a tent of worship wherever they went; to a holy city and a golden temple; to worshipping in spirit and in truth the homes of the early Christian converts; to the construction of giant cathedrals reaching into the heavens to the glory of God. The history of the people of God is one of constantly seeking fresh expression of God’s creative energy in the world.
So when did we get into our heads the idea that it’s all just about putting on really good weekly events?
We do not need to conform. The Spirit of Christ is in us. Jesus turned every accepted wisdom on its head, and we stand today as his heirs. He began a movement which should be equally powerful in transforming an afternoon in the office, an evening putting the kids to bed, a lonely bungalow, and a lively night in the pub.
So let’s go out into the world and find new ways to be church together. Life Groups, Communi-tea, the Great Giveaway, Summer Fayres, Christmas nativities with real donkeys, these are all just the beginning. We are each unique in where God has placed us, the struggles we’ve battled through, the gifts he’s given us. Each of us have a unique and crucial part to play not just as a holy Sunday huddle, but as the people and army of God, on the march to bring blessings to all. Together we are building a community where everyone can experience God’s love.
The gospel of John ends on a beach. After a long night fishing, the disciples sit together around a camp fire eating fish and bread, and enjoying Jesus’ company. As they talk, Jesus gives Peter his commission to lead the new movement that will eventually become the church. With the sea lapping gently up onto the beach, and the sun just rising, it’s a brief moment of tranquillity in a troubled Roman world. One book closes, and as we turn over the page another – the book of Acts – opens.
The adventure – our adventure – is only just beginning.