Each year I try to take some portion of the Twelve Days of Christmas to retreat and spend intensive time in prayer. On the one hand, the Incarnation of our God into life here, on this littered planet with its strife-torn peoples, as a man of suffering and familiar with sorrows, simply deserves as much deep attention as we are able to give it. On the other hand, those twelve days also span the end of one calendar year and the beginning of the next, and so I recall ways God has been faithful in the past year: present and loving even in the midst of the painful things, and laughing and rejoicing with us in the happy.
In the early days of 2019, a new year full of hopes and dreams and vision, I want to take a few minutes to share some of what God has put on my heart. I also want to encourage all of us to continue praying and living such that the Gospel may capture the imagination of Boston’s North Shore to the glory of Jesus Christ.
People’s imaginations are captured when they encounter Jesus—a deep, authentic encounter that goes beyond stereotypes and beyond our culture’s penchant for binary choices—and come to see the story they have been living for what it really is. Think about the Gospels: no one leaves a true encounter with Jesus saying, “Yeah, whatever,” or “been there, done that.” They either find that a seed with an irrepressible life has been sown into their soul, or they harden their heart and shut off their mind and that part of their soul flirts with death.
As the body of Christ, it is not our role to worry about how people respond to us, or to walk about carrying the burden of their choices. Instead we are to live, with joy and courage, into the identity which is our truest and deepest: disciples of Jesus. As disciples, Jesus, through us, is authentically present to the world, wherever we are called to be. And the more fully mature the disciple, the more full is Jesus’ presence.
That, dear friends, is an incredible privilege and dignity given to our lives.
In some recent pastoral conversations, some common ideas have come up about ways the Church in general might better help her people live into this beautiful call to discipleship.
The first is that our imaginations be fully captured by the Gospel:
- That we may see the complexity, size, depth and pervasiveness of seeming randomness, of suffering and evil in the universe, are not things which contradict the Gospel. Rather, they are realities which the Scriptures address, help us to understand, and equip us to deal with.
- That we may realize Jesus’ ethic in the Sermon on the Mount is not unrealistic when, in fact, it is the only thing that has ever really worked.
- That, above all, we have hope. Amidst all the pain and anxiety and loneliness that modern life pushes toward us, we have much more than wishes and aspirations; we have hope in the true life to come.
The second is that we remember not only the full and radical discipleship Jesus has called us to, but also the promise of full and unending life made to those who surrender their whole self. (On Sunday, January 20th, we’ll get back into the Sermon on the Mount, and continue working our way through the implications of that call.)
As the Forming and Sending campaign reminded us so well, all of life is a gift. We are not owners, but stewards; we are to hold things loosely and practice the regular spiritual discipline of generosity and graciousness.
The third is that we take the initiative in interacting with the world around us. We should be proactively defining what it means to be a Jesus-follower—not letting ourselves be cornered and put on the defensive, responding to stereotypes. As a church we are doing this:
- Through our efforts to care for vulnerable children on the North Shore (and thank you all for the $1,500 of gift cards given at Christmas!).
- Through our partnerships with other followers of Jesus. We are doing this locally via the North Shore Gospel Partnership (most immediately, we’re partnering with North Shore Community Baptist Church again this year as they host Night to Shine), as well as globally through our commitments to The Anglican Relief and Development Fund and Uganda Christian University, where we express our fellowship together in Christ with brothers and sisters of other races, places, and peoples.
- Through our building up of our young families, treating the children among us with respect, and giving emphasis and resources to their growth in our Lord Jesus.
(And may we learn even more creative and courageous ways to further this initiative!)
Friends, there is so much to look forward to in the coming year on this exciting journey of following Jesus. God has given us hopes and dreams and a vision for how his name might be honored, his kingdom be realized, and his will be accomplished a bit more here, among and through us. I am excited to see everything God has in store for us!