Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 27 January 2019.
I am sure that many of us grew up to see the church as a solemn assembly, and that its services and doctrines were to be taken seriously, without laughter or any kind of merriment.
The structures and the discipline of the church were fixed and much of the discipline of the church was about not doing what we wanted and having to do what was awkward, irritating or just plain irksome.
The feasts were not particularly joyful and Easter was no different from any other Sunday. Christmas was about family and friends, presents and a wonderful lunch. The birth of Jesus was there in the background but rarely made it out of the church or nativity set.
In short it was very formal and could be quite cold and impersonal.
But when Ezra the prophet read out the law of Israel to the people, who had not heard it for a long time and whose lives were spent far from it, he told them not to mourn or weep for the day was holy to the Lord, even if there were many things in which their personal lives were being challenged.
The very holiness of the day was to be a time of rejoicing and finding joy in the strength of the Lord. They were to drink sweet wine and eat the of fat things.
The fact that they were being challenged did not mean that they were to be discouraged but rather that this was to be a new beginning and a fresh start.
God had new plans for them and looked for them to find joy and contentment in serving Him. Sullen conformity was the last thing that was to be expected of them. This day was to be the beginning of the rest of their lives – and an entry into a whole new set of discoveries.
And this covered all the people: it was to go far beyond the leaders of the city and the high officials. It was to include all no matter how lowly or apparently unimportant their place in the city.
Nobody was to be excluded from the thing that Ezra was bringing them back into or from the new visions of the future.
Much the same could be said of what Paul had to say about the church. The idea that there were the important people up here and the rest down there was wholly misguided for all had a role and a purpose in the life of the body of Christ.
And that was the point. The church was there to be the expression of the gospel rather than a way of imprisoning it. It was to be there in all its colours and notes and aspects, and just as people were all different so they all had something special to offer the gospel message.
The church might need leaders so that it could function and its teaching could be kept on track with what Jesus had to say and do. But it needed many other forms of activity as well.
And this did not just mean the minimum needed to keep it functioning. Engines function but they do not live and the Body of Christ was there to live and rejoice. It was there be celebrate with special exuberance.
And for that all the abilities of all the people were needed, and that was before they even started looking at the gifts of the Spirit.
These were and are there to enable the church to be what an organization cannot be. They are there so that the church can live the life and demonstrate the ministries of Jesus.
What Jesus had done in Himself was now to be continued by all His people and no one person was ever going to do all that He had done.
No one person was ever going to preach the good news to all and release those imprisoned by memories and circumstances and doubts.
No one person could ever pronounce the Lord’s forgiveness, heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, give counsel to the wise and admonish those challenged by the pressures and abuses of life for the whole world or even one village.
But there was more for each member of the church was to belong to the others, and be there to encourage and support, to rejoice in their successes and grieve at their losses.
Nobody was ever intended to be self-sufficient in all areas of life and teaching, or to lord it over all others. That is not what Christian service is, even if it is how the hierarchies of business and politics and any other organization work. But then they are there to work and to function, rather than to live and rejoice, to sing and dance and celebrate.
Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, to release captives and restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, movement to the crippled and understanding to the confused.
There is enough there for all to share and Jesus gives us the spiritual gifts, which can never be earned, but are always used in the spiritual realm to carry it out.
But it does mean that we also need to desire to receive these gifts and to pursue those areas of Christian service. All we need to do is to ask. And we know how the Lord delights to give.