Why do people go to church?

Les Fish commemorative plate

Why do people go to church?

Is it because it’s their Tradition, is it for the Eucharist? Is it the Music? Is it to hear the Word? Is it to learn more about God? Is it to worship God with the family of God? Is it the Sermon? Is it meeting together as the Body of Christ? Is it to give thanks and praise for Jesus Christ’s Redeeming love for the world, both Jews and Gentiles?

People get different things out of going to church, depending, it would seem, on what they expect to get when they go there. For example, I wonder what the people who were in the Synagogue in today’s Gospel reading, expected to get out of the Service. Certainly, they didn’t expect to see Jesus stand and read a portion of Scripture, let alone comment on it! His sermon was and is most probably one of the shortest on record.

“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

What did this message mean to the people in the synagogue? What does it mean to us today? To the people in the synagogue, it meant that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the anointed one sent by God to Redeem his people. It means the same for us today. Jesus frees sinners from their sins.

Luke places this story near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry because it’s the foundation of the Gospels of Luke and Acts. Luke emphasizes God’s openness to the Gentiles.

By this time, Jesus had already been tempted in the wilderness. He was prepared no doubt, for this experience because of the strong foundation built by attending the Services in the synagogue, from childhood.

We also need to prepare for our wilderness experiences. The best way for us to prepare is to have a strong Faith, especially through regular attendance at church and learning more about God and his Son Jesus Christ.

Isaiah’s commission as read by Jesus is similar to the Great Commission; namely, to bring “Good News” and proclaim release to the captives, restore the sight of the blind, free the oppressed. This set Christ’s agenda, and it’s also our commission and agenda for today. Jesus’ Ministry involved loving the unloved and serving the undeserving. He wants us to do the same, especially since human weakness has both physical and spiritual dimensions. What Jesus said about the Scriptures being fulfilled reads like a revolution, especially when it referred to ending the world as people knew it, and creating a new one.

When the poor hear the “Good News”, when captives are set free, and when the oppressed are liberated, God is working in their lives and in our own lives. The revolution happens when we walk with Jesus. The narrow focus on the down-trodden though, doesn’t take away from the wider vision, including the restoration of Israel as referred to by Luke in the book of Acts Chapter 15.

Jesus knew exactly what the people needed to hear that day, and he knew exactly what he wanted to share with them. All of the people in the synagogue, and all of us today, all were the poor, the hungry, the oppressed the imprisoned and the blind; (in the spiritual sense). Christ looks beyond the surface to the core of our Being. He wants us to repent - to make a radical change in how we see ourselves.

The doctrine of the Trinity is interwoven here. Jesus, as the Son of God, is uniquely qualified to help us.  He sets us free because of his death and resurrection. It is a victory over sin and death; and he leaves us with the Holy Spirit. We are all captives to something, whether it’s our jobs, television, or something else. All of us can awaken to God’s anointing power. It constantly inspires, enlivens and guides us and can also sooth, comfort, welcome and transform us…

When Jesus read the Scriptures in the synagogue, he announced a ‘Jubilee’, a forgiveness of sin debt. In Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, which is found in Luke 11:3, there is a sentence that reads as follows:

“Forgive us our debts for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us”.

The Biblical Jubilee was the Sabbath of all Sabbaths! Every 50 years when fields lay fallow, families returned to their homeland, debts were cancelled and slaves set free. The Jubilee restored a rough equality between families and clans. The inevitable increase in inequality and injustice over the years had to be levelled every half century.

Faith in God was reflected in the structures of social and economic life, which in turn, echoed the pattern of God’s Kingdom. The community started afresh. Jesus’ ‘Jubilee’ allows us to have a fresh start in our walk of Faith. The Jubilee is a time in which followers of Christ are told that God’s promises shall come true in our midst and that God will favour us with his blessings. The reality of God’s Law is, that it includes and welcomes “the least of these” in the community. All we have to do is remember Jesus words…

“In as much as you do for the least of these, you do it for me”

Jesus was the architect if you like, who designed a new theology, a new sense of the presence and glory of God found not written on tablets of stone, but within the structures of our own selves. He treasured the past and honoured the ancient teachings of the Jews. He fed his very Being from the sacred scrolls of scripture, especially when he was tempted in the wilderness.

He also looked to the present and the future. Jesus’ challenge was and still is for us today; and his call for action can be scary. We are often overwhelmed with pleas for support and giving, and we often wonder how we should respond and what good it will do, in our troubled world today. Nevertheless, as Christians, we must remain steadfast and true to Christ’s Will to help the less fortunate, however and whenever we can… Not least by our prayers.

Jesus’ words in the synagogue are words of hope and inspiration for the oppressed the hope-less and the discouraged. Caring for people was Jesus’ main concern, and it must continue to be our concern today. The Word of God can be both exciting and scary at the same time because of what it says about how we are living - and how far we are from God in our troubled world.

We can refuse to listen, or we can refuse to let it make a difference to us, but it’s still true! The Word of God stands forever, because the Word gives us Life. Jesus’ obedience to God created the foundation upon which God can build and enter the Temple called our heart. Jesus’ one-sentence sermon that day in the synagogue may have been the shortest in history, but it’s also the most powerful!

“Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.

When my late husband, Les, came to Church, he came because he liked being with the family of God in worship in all its various aspects, but the Holy Communion particularly meant a lot to him. It was always a comfort and healing to him. He loved sharing the Spiritual meal with all his Christian brothers and sisters and their children…

When he became too ill to come to Church, it was such a blessing to Les when St Mary’s folk came to share the Holy Communion Service with him, at home.

Rather like St Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians we are one body,

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.”

And I hope we can all rejoice and give thanks together this morning… The retiring collection at Les’ Funeral and Thanksgiving Service was to be shared between St Mary Magdalene’s Church and the North London Hospice. (Les’ chosen charity). Family; Friends; the People of St Mary Magdalene’s; and others; gave most generously! (£1,000 was collected)

A Silver Holy Communion Bread Plate, became the obvious choice to honour Les. However, it became a more difficult thing to find one the right size that we needed to fit the larger wafer we now use. A brand new plate would have cost £4,000, as Ken Cope reminded us at the St Mary Magdalene Feast last Saturday evening. Never the less, our Vicar Gordon and Ken Cope never stopped searching, (my thanks go to both Gordon and Ken) and after 2 years a suitable second-hand plate has been found; and Ken, using his professional skills was able to rectify a very small imperfection.

The plate has now been purchased, polished and engraved:

“In Loving Memory of Leslie Raymond Fish 6th February 1935 – 22nd January 2016”

We shall be using it for the first time this morning. The bread plate is a special gift to St Mary Magdalene Church, not just from me, but from us all, we all contributed in one way or another.

My heart-felt thanks go out to you all…

May the ‘Bread Plate’ be used to the Glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

The Rev'd Jackie Fish, Curate, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 27/01/19