It's advent this Sunday, so new things in the morning, but in the evening we're finishing our series in 1 John.
I do wonder whether anyone in the church knows we're in such a series! We started back in late September and interspersed reading 1 John with prayer and cafe church. Running a series is good for the preacher and those involved in leading services. It also seems to have helped those leading our homegroups. But I'm beginning to question whether those attending find it that helpful. After all, if you miss a couple of evenings in a series that doesn't run every week, it's not long before you lose any sense of continuity. Ah well...
Anyway, this week we're thinking about keeping the faith. John stresses the need to hear the testimony of God about the truth of what we believe, follow the example of Jesus who in his fleshly life (so emphasised by John) kept true to his mission and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to give us the resources to live as God wants us to. It's great Trinitarian stuff!
But we often tend to read it as speaking to me as an individual; how I keep the faith in my isolated walk in the world, out there among colleagues who don't see things the way I do.
John, however, talks about an eternal triangle, involving God, me and my brothers and sisters. He writes not to individuals but to individuals in community. He does not suppose that we'll keep the faith on our own. He assumes that we do this together, that we'll support and encourage one another.
But I wonder if there's also more to it than this. John was writing to communities - possibly in ancient Ephesus - where life was more settled and local. People worked where they lived. The people they lived and ate with were the people they worked alongside in whatever trade the household followed. Very few lived in one place and worked in another. very few lived with one group of people and worked with a different group. So for them, the opportunities to help one another live out their Christian faith were more frequent and came in every strata of the daily routine.
Our lives are not like this. so how do we meaningfully support and encourage those brothers and sisters we only see once a week at church - assuming we all attend every week - or once a fortnight at home group - assuming we get to each one of those. We can go several days or even weeks between encounters.
Can we do it virtually? Can we find a way of using texts and emails as a substitute for being face-to-face? Many recoil at such a notion, arguing that you've got to be with someone to support them. But is this really true? Many churches have for years run a telephone prayer network, where requests are phoned around a group of people who pray for specific situations they've received alerts about. Sometimes members of the network pray with each other on the phone.
Is doing the same thing by text or email or through MSN messenger really that different? It's just a thought. We'll see how people react to it on Sunday!
Going to see Elbow at Brixton Academy tonight. Can't wait!