|Credit: Lisarlena via Wikimedia Commons|
Not many people become a Christian because of their passion for meetings about church budgets, either, or their desire to lift 50 padded chairs every Sunday morning, or because they have a strong opinion about the colour of the church carpet.
And even those of us who enjoy a bit of robust intellectual debate once in a while, didn't become Christians in order to pick apart the finer points of doctrine.
If you have become a Christian, and moreover continued to be a Christian, I would hope and suggest that it is for two reasons. Firstly, because you believed that God had done and is doing something which demanded a response from you. Secondly, because you found a community that also believed that God had done and is doing something, and invited you to be part of it.
And you found yourself washing up teacups.
But if it becomes all about the teacups, and even the more important things like the social issues and the mission projects and the theological debates, it's easy to forget why we got involved in the first place. Not because of this stuff that we're doing. But because of something that God has done.
I guess Paul knew that. I recently re-read his letter to the Ephesians, and was astounded to realise that the entire first half was all about what God had done. That's a good couple of pages (double columns, small print) without a single suggestion that his audience should do anything except remember what God had already done for them. He talks about the blessings God has given, and the way he made us his children, and the "immeasurable greatness of his power", and how he raised Jesus from the dead, and what that achieved, and... well, go and read Ephesians chapters 1 to 3. It's well worth it.
It made me realise how quickly we often gloss over what God has done, in order to get to what we have to do. I listened to a sermon which included the quote: The gospel is good news, not good advice. Good advice, the preacher explained, tells you what you ought to do. But good news tells you what has already been done.
In the kind of churches I go to, the good news is often reduced to a single phrase: Jesus died for us. It covers the basics, but it doesn't provide much to dwell on, when we need to remind ourselves of the foundations of our faith. Other churches use a creed, a statement of belief, which expands the basics some more. Even that falls a bit short of Paul's enthusiastic explanation.
When the arguments and the teacups and the budgets overwhelm us, we all need something to come back to. We need more than a one-liner or a casual cliche. We need to remember the good news that got us into all this in the first place.
Here's mine. It's not quite as long as Paul's, and it's not quite as good as Paul's (and I borrowed his first and last sentences), but this is some attempt to remind myself - and hopefully you too - of the good news of what God has done.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. He sent Jesus to live among us and to suffer with us, so that we might know the God who is close beside us in our pain. Through Jesus' resurrection he has enabled us to have life in all its fullness now and forever, and given us hope: hope that changes lives, hope that rescues those in darkness, hope that transcends death.
He has given us his Spirit to work within us, so that we can be changed in ways we never thought possible. We thought we would always be stuck in the same old patterns of thoughts and behaviours, but he has set us free from those, and given us a new sense of self-worth and purpose. Not because we did anything to deserve it, but because we now understand that we are completely loved. God loved and accepted us at our worst, and the more we comprehend that, the more we find ourselves loving and accepting others at their worst, too.
He has brought us together with people who are utterly different to us. We are part of a worldwide church; anywhere we find others who love Jesus, we have something in common, however unlikely that may seem. He has given us a rich variety of experiences, so that we can all learn from each other and rely on each other. At its best, he has given us a loving community where we can grow in trust and faith together.
And he has changed not just us but all of creation. In some mysterious way, Jesus submitting to the forces of evil in his death provided the power to overcome them, and now we no longer have to fear either evil or death, even though both are still very present in the world. He has given us the desire to work for justice, peace, and reconciliation, secure in the knowledge that injustice, war and hatred can never have the last word.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.