We all need a retune
You had to laugh! I came in yesterday hoping to catch the BBC News at Six. However, no joy – our television wasn’t working. And then I remembered that Freeview TV had updated its signals and I needed to retune our tuner. No problem – press a few buttons and in five minutes or so, we were back in business. However, by then we had missed the main news and found ourselves watching North West Tonight to be told in the intro that later in the programme they would be showing Freeview viewers how to retune their television. It sounded like a good idea until one of the presenters realised that only those Freeview viewers who had already managed to retune would be watching. Some necessary embarrassment and when we finally reached the item towards the end of the programme, no instructions were offered – just phone number was given. A reverse Catch 22 situation or in church-speak, a case of preaching to the converted! In fact, as a young Christian attending the Sunday evening Gospel service week-by-week this is how I learnt the basics of following Jesus, hearing the Gospel message every seven days, often with the same Bible story of Jesus teaching Nicodemus, from John 3, on how to be born again. However, each week there was a different preacher which gave some variety. It didn’t take me very far but it did mean that I had a good grasp of the fundamentals of following Jesus. In fact, I think it was the Cornish evangelist Billy Bray who was asked why he always preached on the same text “You must be born again!” He paused and then replied “Because you must be born again.” But there again it was the Roman Catholic author, G.K. Chesterton, who confessed “I believe in preaching to the converted; for I have generally found that the converted do not understand their own religion.” I guess that is always a danger that we assume – to use another ecclesiastical idiom – that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. We too readily take the Gospel basics as given and then wonder why some people do not grasp the implications of something they have yet to experience. This has to be an ongoing challenge for the Holy Spirit, hence the need to give us a shake at regular intervals. I’m not sure who said this and Google gives no clear result but it’s a great quote nevertheless: “We only turn to God when our foundations are being shaken only to discover that it is God who is shaking them.” As human beings we have a penchant for focussing on the secondaries, certainly in the religious life; we find it difficult to distinguish means from end. This was certainly the case for the people of Israel bounded to YHWH in an irrevocable two-way covenant. He would be their God and they would be his people. The temple in Jerusalem was a visible demonstration of God dwelling with his people. Except the people of God began to presume on his presence, to take as given his blessings without keeping their side of the Covenant, of “doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with their God.” (Micah 6:8) So God send his prophets, like Micah, to warn his people, to bring them back to him. It was the prophet Jeremiah who was their last chance. So he stands at the temple entrance and addresses the good people of Jerusalem. “Do not trust,” he declares, “in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’” (Jeremiah 7:4) The temple is the means to knowing God, never an end in itself. Sometimes you have to repeat yourself to get the message home. Tragically his warning was ignored and the people of Jerusalem and Judea were taken into faraway exile by their Babylonian conquerors. It was there that they were to relearn through the ministry of other prophets like Ezekiel the basics of honouring God with their whole being. God would never abandon his people even if they would abandon him. However, if I can cut a long story short (I’ve only got two sides of A4), it was only Jesus, the true son of Israel, who could live a life entirely giving God his rightful place and now it is only in him crucified, through faith in his faithfulness, that we may have a full, two-way relationship with God. Or to quote the apostle Paul, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:1f) Or as we read in the Message translation “We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us.” And that is the basic, to throw open our doors to God, to allow him full access into our lives through a deliberate decision. He only comes by invitation. I may be preaching to the converted – otherwise you wouldn’t have reaching this penultimate paragraph – but knowing Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith, a relationship of faith made possible through his cross, God coming to us in our helpless need. He alone is our hope; he alone is our foundation. Only then can we begin to retune our lives.