How good is your memory I wonder? Some weeks ago we had a wee quiz, an Easter quiz and we were puzzled about the length of time that Jesus was on earth after the resurrection. Some of us thought it was a couple of days, some thought a fortnight, some said 40 days and we thought, well maybe, but where is the evidence for that? We have very little detail about what happened after the first few resurrection appearances but here’s one bit of evidence that says that those who plumped for 40 days have at least been reading the Book of the Acts of the Apostles! Of course we don’t really know what happened during those 40 days but today on the first Sunday after Ascension Day we are going to think for a few moments about what Jesus might have been doing and what this strange event might mean for today’s Church, for be certain that it did and does mean something The Bible is not a randomly put together string of facts, it is a very deliberate document that has a particular message to deliver.
I don’t know how many of you are facebook fans, or if you even know what it is? Well for me it’s a way of keeping track of what my children are doing. I can see their photographs and read what they’ve been up to. It’s not spying because the information they have on their particular page is open for anyone they invite to have a look at. Well you may not be surprised to know that there are pages that contain correspondence between church people. The Church of Scotland has at least one. The one that I look at occasionally is called OneKirk. And this week OneKirk will be following the events of the General Assembly, you can look at all the events of the Assembly online and make a comment by tweeting or entering the debate on one of the blogs. Or you can just read the BIG BLUE BOOK. All of these things are a bit like a labyrinthine experience, confusing at first until you get into the groove or pick up the thread. The sorts of things that need time and thought and meditation to work through. In essence what you will find out on these websites or in the BIG BLUE BOOK is what the Church is doing today in 2012, what it has done for the past year and what it hopes to do in the next year and in the years to follow. You can find out a bit about what is important for the Church of Scotland. And if you were new to our Church you could perhaps get a flavour of what kind of Church we are.
Well one of this week’s threads was started by a question. Did Jesus really disappear up into the clouds while his disciples watched? It won’t surprise you to know that not many people were able to come up with a definitive answer or indeed any proof of what happened on that first Ascension Day. I certainly don’t know but I do know that something important happened to help the disciples to a better understanding of who Jesus was and what he had been trying to inaugurate.
You know, life is a bit like a labyrinth. It’s less about the start and the finish and much more about what happens in the middle. As Christians we celebrate the beginning of Christ’s life on earth, at Christmas, the end of his life on earth at Easter, and the beginning of the life of the Church in the power of the Spirit at Ascension-tide and into Pentecost. But the biggest part of our Christian Year is about what happened in between. What Jesus did and said and how that might guide us to live our lives in a better way. The beginning and endings of things are important, we need to mark them but it’s what happens in the middle that really matters.
The Assembly begins with a bang, all sorts of pomp and circumstance and I’ve been a part of it and really enjoyed it! The Queen’s representative is there and there are folk dressed like playing cards from Alice in Wonderland. There is wonderful music and buglers and all sorts of pageantry and it’s all great fun. At the end the same sort of thing happens but of course what matters to the Church is what happens in between! And what happens in between will filter down to us here in our own wee neck of the woods, here on Arran. The events of the Ascension were important for the early followers of Christ because they marked the end of something and the beginning of something new. During those 40 days or however long he was here on earth he was setting the scene for the beginning of the Church. The Church was about to be born. The Church of Jesus Christ. Note, no denominations, no divisions, just one Church. The body of Jesus Christ on earth. A body infused with his Spirit and guided by his teachings and the events of his life. A Church that was given, from God himself, a Church imbued with the power to change the world.
How are we getting along? What are the first headlines from the most important meeting of our particular branch of that great big Church of Jesus Christ? Well you may have seen if you read one of Scotland’s widest read broadsheets, the Herald. This year we’ve finished with sex (don’t you believe it!) and money and we’re onto bullying. In particular the newspapers are talking about bullying in the hallowed halls of 121 George Street, the head offices of our Church. There will be many of us who are shocked by that revelation and many more who are not, sadly, and who have known for a long time that bullying in the workplace is something that goes on everywhere so why not in the Church?
Well why not indeed??
Should we just accept that it happens and quietly get on with things? It’s just the way of the world isn’t it? Bullying is endemic in our society. Well of course we shouldn’t accept it and someone has been brave enough to stand up and be counted. Some of the staff from inside our head offices has asked that this subject be explored and dealt with and questions will be asked during the Assembly and we will have to start addressing the problem. It will be just like a labyrinth. It will be time consuming and costly in terms of money and of emotions but it is worth it!
Last year and every year there will be controversial matters to discuss and some of the Kirk’s darkest secrets will be brought out into the light of day, highlighted by the press and discussed in open forum or on a website. We will be commented on and criticised and told we are hypocrites no doubt by some BUT I think that this is wonderful…Yes it is terrible that these things have been going on for a long time in our offices and presbyteries and yes we must recognise that these things happen in any organisation where people are together but we are a CHURCH. The Body of Christ in the world and we need to spend time in the darkest recessed of the labyrinth trying to work it out together. If these things go on, bullying, sexual misconduct, lying, stealing, power mongering etc etc..if these things go on everywhere then we are simply human but the difference is that we are not prepared to allow them to continue.
Our Church, the Church of Scotland is not a REFORMED Church, it is a REFORMING Church. It is one that is constantly re-examining itself, constantly tracing its collective finger through the convoluted places of the labyrinth and thinking and praying and meditating on Christ’s life and death and his resurrection and his place in our world and in our Church.
How it all started is important, how it ends is also important but we are still in the labyrinth and it’s how we work out our lives of faith together that is our concern for today. We are a work in progress…..not the finished article. There is much to be done!