A symbol of the faith

We all recognise the cross, it is the most widely recognised symbol in the world. You can see it in churches, on clothing, jewellery, in art and all sorts of other places. It is a powerful symbol that both represents Jesus and what he accomplished on the cross and at the same time it represents the Christian faith.

However the first symbol the ICTHYS or fish symbol was used as a way of identifying friends or marking special places like tombs. It helped early christians identify, connect with and teach others about the faith, as a covert sign used during the Roman empire due to the danger of worshiping Jesus publicly. It stands for (I) Jesus (C) Christ (Y) Son of (TH) God (S) the Saviour.

Today many churches have been thrust from behind the walls of their church buildings onto Youtube, Facebook and Zoom. Many of us have met with friends, family or colleagues with the help of this technology during lockdown and now as restrictions remain in place.So what symbol, sign or mark do we bear and share with others. Maybe some of us wear a cross on a necklace, maybe you have an ICTHYS symbol on your car. I wonder how many of us display any sign of our faith when we are video calling people. I have noticed that people’s pictures, ornaments and photos often strike up a conversation when they are on display on a video call.

So next time you have a meeting or meet friends what could you have as a sign that Jesus is your saviour. What words do we need to speak to friends who know us but know nothing of our faith or Jesus? I would love to see your ideas, a picture, a comment or maybe I will see for myself if we meet on Zoom. Speaking about Jesus can feel really hard, but sharing something that invites a question is so much easier. Let’s pray that everything we do is a spiritual act of worship. Here is the Message’s take on Romans 12 from the Bible:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognise what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. 

Romans 12:1-2

Unity, blessings and patient prayer

After three months of being unable to meet together in person, I wanted to be able say that we would be in our church building this Sunday, but I can’t. I’m sure you share my deep longing and desire to be together again in person, returning to what we had before. Sadly it is hard to know when a service will look like those we held in the past. The current Church of England guidance denies us the chance to sing, to use responses as we have, to sit together, use hymn, service books or Bibles, or to meet in the numbers we are online. Things would look different too as we would want to wear masks and speak from behind screens to make sure we were doing everything possible to reduce the risk to those most vulnerable. So now is the time to listen to God and pray, to pray for patience, wisdom and insight. As we pray and take stock I thought it would be helpful to reflect on why we meet and to give thanks for the things God has gifted us in the present, as well as lamenting what we miss.

Who and what do we meet for?
If you were asked what we meet together for I’m sure we’d have many different answers, but our unifying purpose is a person not a place. We meet because of Jesus, we meet together as one family, created by God through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. We meet because Jesus invites us and tells us to, we meet to give Jesus honour and praise, but much more takes place than we may at first think.

Sit, submit and commit to Christ 
Jesus prayed for the church (the original word being ekklesia, meaning a gathered people),“I pray also for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one.” (John 17:20-21). When we meet we practice and demonstrate the unity we have in Jesus. We also submit ourselves to Jesus, we commit ourselves to him and we sit under his authority and his word as we declare his Lordship in our lives. Our confession of sin, acts of forgiveness, singing his praises, prayers and celebration of communion and baptisms are not a goal in themselves but the various ways we show our unity with Jesus. We show that we are one, that we are new creations living together for Christ.

“The gathering is the place of formation, not merely information. The word is not only proclaimed and taught but enacted and obeyed together through shared prayers of repentance and faith in Jesus, times of confession and forgiveness.”   

Donna Jennings

Formed and filled to go
A healthy gathering of Jesus’ people is far from passive, instead it is an active stand against sin, the world and the devil and it is one of the means Jesus uses to form us into his likeness. We gather to be empowered, equipped and encouraged to worship Jesus with all of our lives. The focus of our faith is not directed towards an hour a week where we worship, instead we gather to fuel and grow for a week, a life of worship. We come to be formed, filled and scattered, as Christ’s hands and feet sent out to the world.

A new community
So we gather as one, a new community, shaped by the Trinity, the community of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We gather to express our unity, our ‘oneness’, which makes the idea of being split into little groups or multiple services a step backwards. The thoughts of leaving an accessible gathering behind (like Zoom) which has enabled the housebound to join us another step backwards, if we want to be one. God has actually made us more united than ever as our Zoom services gather people from both of our congregations, something I am really thankful for. It is also a joy to gather to talk and share fellowship after the service, getting to know new people or older acquaintances better. I for one am very grateful that rather than being kept from fellowship as I have to set up for another service I am able to stop and talk with you all.

Positive steps forward 
It is wonderful to know that God has gathered us together, as one, more in lockdown than ever before, and to know that when we look back we’ll have so many things to thank God for. So let us stand united, in worship and prayer again this Sunday and let us pray and seek God for the way forward. Although it is true that some churches will be returning to their buildings this week others are not planning to return until September. So let me encourage you to pray and seek God’s leading as I am doing. And if people ask when we will be opening the building you can tell them that we are already meeting every Sunday on Zoom, but that when we do re-open we will make sure we communicate it as widely as possible. So as we continue to love God, love others and make disciples let us remember what is certain…

neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38,39