This morning, I took in the service from a pew near the back of the church. I had preached for the last eight weeks in a row, through Advent and Christmas and well into January, so I was quite content simply to receive the word for the day from a comfortable spot at the back of the church.
And I was especially happy this morning, because Emelia, our new pastoral support worker, was leading us in worship for the first time here.
Emelia told us that “God wants full custody of us, not just weekend visits” – an appeal to all-of-life discipleship. It was such a perfect word for the start of a new year and season in the life at Clayton Wesley. As I listened, I was mindful of that Chris Bowater hymn I love, “Here I am, wholly available.” Wholly, every-part-of-me, available. I am still reflecting on those words in Jeremiah, “you will find me when you search with your whole heart.”
Interestingly, it was precisely one year ago that I was standing in that same spot on my own first visit to Clayton Wesley. I preached then on the Beatitudes – and blessings found in unlikely circumstances. I didn’t know on that day twelve months ago, that within a matter of weeks I would be inducted as the minister at Clayton Wesley, having answered the call to shepherd and encourage our community. And I couldn’t have imagined that twelve months later, Emelia would be supporting that same ministry of shepherding and encouragement. God is at work in our lives in ways we cannot imagine.
On my first visit to Clayton Wesley one year ago today, my sermon considered the reality of life’s troubles – the sad, the hurting and the lonely times. I reflected on those occasions when I have been laid low, and how on those occasions, thoughts about blessings were the furthest thing from my mind! And yet, Jesus begins His manifesto in Matthew’s Gospel – His great speech revealing the heart of the kingdom – to a people under occupation and waiting for liberation, with words of comfort to the poor in spirit and those who mourn… Dare we believe it? That God is not impervious to our pains, but rather, directs His attention to us when we are in the thick of it. That the God who wept for Lazarus, who felt the dread and loneliness of Gethsemane, and who felt the pains of Calvary, is the God who speaks directly and deliberately into our tough times, saying “I AM near to the broken-hearted and [will] save those who are crushed in spirit.”
Because that is the God who we meet to worship every week. And for sure, we can look back and rest our confidence on what we know God has done for us.
But God isn’t only God of our past. God wants full custody of our lives today and tomorrow!
In the precious ‘Book of Consolation’ (chapters 40-55 of Isaiah), the prophet is addressing the Israelites in captivity in Babylon. In lyrical language, the prophet says, “Sing to the LORD a new song.” God, whose word is all powerful, is the God of mercy and forgiveness, and He will do a new thing – that is, bring the exiles back home. He is not simply the God of legend and ancient tales, or a God of nostalgia like some other religions have. He is alive and active right now in the lives of His people. In Isaiah we read, “stop looking back… I’m about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it?”
Our story at Clayton Wesley is not finished. God’s story is certainly not finished! God is doing something new here. And dear friends, we are being called to join in – and to give ourselves wholly to God and His work. God has brought new people like Emelia into our congregation, and we rejoice in that! I believe that God is now calling each of us into an even deeper relationship. Preparing us for a new season of outward-looking fruitfulness. Like the benediction in the book of Hebrews, God is “equipping us with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight.”
Are you ready?
Scripture refs. from Mt. 5:1-12, Jer. 29:13, Ps. 34:18, Is. 42:10, Is. 43:18-19, Heb 13:21