29 January 2012
In the USA the Primaries to select the Republican opponent to President Obama this November are starting to gather pace. The platforms of the main contenders will come under increasing scrutiny in the months to come. This is only right and proper: it is very important for the preservation of our relatively free society that we can scrutinize the policies and the characters of those who would like to be our political leaders. But it does remind me of a TV programme about 40 years ago when a studio audience was shown a photograph of a man, listened to the policies which he had proposed in his election bid, and were asked whether they would vote for him. The majority said ‘Yes’, whereupon the presenter changed the hairstyle on the photograph, added a moustache; and they had all voted for Adolf Hitler.
In the passage we have heard from St. Mark’s gospel, we do not hear Jesus giving an account of his policies; but we do hear an account of what he said and did, which summarise his work for the next couple of years, leading to his death for our salvation. We hear that Jesus went to the synagogue: so he begins in the traditions of his people, and in particular in a place where they would expect to meet God. We know from elsewhere in the gospels how important it was for Jesus to be at prayer. Then we hear that he taught the people; so proclaiming the Word of God was important to him. We also hear that he had authority; and his teaching with authority is mentioned again at the end of this passage. And we hear of his care for the people, as he heals a man who is suffering.
What would Our Lord offer to us now through his Church? Conditions have changed, of course, but I’m sure that Our Lord’s basic message hasn’t changed over the years – he is not like our own politicians, capable of changing his tune to fit the wishes of the electorate! So he also comes to meet us in our traditions and our history. In particular, he comes to meet us when we are gathered for prayer, whether in Church or at home or elsewhere, whether it is a formal Church liturgy or we have gathered for informal prayer. He comes to us in proclaiming the Word of God – which should not surprise us, since Our Lord is the Word of God made flesh. He comes to us with the authority of God, our heavenly Father, and he expects us to follow God’s ways. And he comes to us in caring for us, particularly for those in need.
So we should ask ourselves how we see the Church in our diocese – and particularly in our own parish – carrying out Our Lord’s programme for us. And for each of these aspects of Our Lord’s programme, we should really ask three questions:
Please try to answer these questions as well as some of the others found in the tear-off slip .
How is Our Lord’s work to be done in this part of Leicestershire?
How should this parish be doing the Lord’s work?
And how should I be part of the parish in this enterprise?
In asking these questions and providing answers, we are continuing to follow Bishop Malcolm’s wishes in his diocesan consultation. We are looking at our parish as part of the Diocese of Nottingham, and we are asking ourselves what sort of Church we think should be in this part of the Diocese, and what we think should be its priorities. It is only by doing this, that we will be able to ask the further questions about how the resources of the diocese, and in particular its priests, should be organized so that Our Lord’s work will continue to be done.
Where do we meet Our Lord – where does he come to meet us?
Where do we find that we can recognise him most?
How does our diocese enable us to met Our Lord?
How does our parish enable us to meet Our Lord?
How do we ensure that we do meet Our Lord and help others to do so? How does the diocese help us to pray?
How does the parish pray?
How do we pray, whether in Church or at home?
Where do we pray, and receive the sacraments, and join others for worship?
Where and when do we expect to find the opportunity for baptism, confession, Holy Communion, confirmation, marriage, anointing the sick, care for the dying, funerals, memorials for the dead?
How does the Diocese proclaim the Word of God and the teaching of the Church?
How does the parish proclaim the Word of God and the teaching of the Church?
How do we listen to God’s word, and how well do we witness to it? How often do we think about the teaching of the Church and put it into practice?
How should the Diocese be organized to ensure that the teaching of God in his Church are heard in the world?
How does the Diocese care for those in need? How does the parish care for those in need?
How do we care for those in need?
Some of these questions have overlapped with those which were asked last week. This is not surprising: as we continue with this process of examination of the Church in the Diocese and in our own parish, and the way that we take part in Church life, we will expect the same themes to emerge again and again. But as we continue with this process of consultation, we will also expect to face up to these themes in different ways, and to think about different aspects, which previous weeks have brought to our attention. We know that Our Lord didn’t address the people and leave them just as they had been: in meeting with them they were challenged to change. We too are being challenged, and we must expect Our Lord to lead us in some surprising ways in the weeks ahead.