Not that I’m the kind of person who would go to Glastonbury (although my GP is, I discovered recently), but it impressed me that after an illustrious (some would say notorious) career spanning over 50 years, the Rolling Stones were the star act. Like many Baby Boomers, the Stones, along with the Beatles and many other bands, had a profound effect on my upbringing. It was because of the Beatles thatI taught myself to play the guitar. For others, the 60s gave them permission to engage in drug-taking and a more permissive life-style than had been known in previous generations.
But what really impressed me about the Rolling Stones was the fact that – well, they are still the Rolling Stones. Yes, they have aged and have more wrinkles and no doubt less mobility than back in the 60s but who would have known that as Mick Jagger strutted across the stage singing the same old songs with the sameold gyrations which propelled them to stardom in their early years. I guess that’s why people flocked to see them – because they haven’t changed. With the Stones, you know what you’re going to get.
I remember Bob Dylan was once booed off stage in the USA when he did his first concert using an electric guitar. He was trying to re-invent himself in a way which alienated many of his staunchest fans. For me, Dylan without his acoustic guitar is simply not Dylan.
But what about the church? We are being told constantly that the church is behind the times and out-of-touch with present day society and modern thinking. The Church of England's refusal to allow women bishops was met, inside and outside of the church with astonishment. The debate about same-sex marriage will also highlight the distance between traditionalist Christian thinking and modern day society. No doubt at the Methodist Conference this week, there will be some disagreements over this issue.
And yet, have the Rolling Stones something to teach the church? Is it wrong to stay faithful to what you are and what you believe in? I know that many commercial enterprises have gone to the wall because they have failed to move with the times. Kodak, HMV and Woolworths are just three examples of retailers who got stuck in the past. It is only right, in the face of rapidly dwindling congregations, that the church should take note of the fact that society has moved on and people have stopped coming to church. It is only right that the church recognises that unless it presents the gospel in a manner that makes sense to present day people,the message will get lost in the mists of time and be seen as a relic of past generations.
And yet the challenge for the church is that the message hasn’t, and doesn’t, change. The heart of the gospel message revolves around our sinfulness and God’s desire that we be called into a new life in Christ by shedding our sinful nature. Now I know that I have already in this paragraph used words which don’t resonate with modern day people.
Like many others I rejoiced to see Andy Murray take his first Wimbledon Grand Slam. But just look what was involved in doing this. Of course he had to train his body and turn it into the machine-like statue we see on our TV screens. But more than that, he had to shed so many of his faults which prevented him in the past from reaching the top. Of particular note was his tendency to brood over his mistakes and get frustrated during a game. Also, he had to train his mind not to buckle on the big occasions. He had to learn that the only thing that matters during a game is winning the next point and playing better than your opponent. All of these weakness could be likened to what we in the church call sin – that which prevents us from being the best.
St. Paul writes in Philippians 3 …
… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has calledme heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Paul was only too well aware of his past mistakes as a persecutor of the church but he was even more aware of the grace of God who, in spite of all that was past, loved him and wanted to use him for the work of the kingdom. It was the recognition ofthe grace of God that turned him into a spiritual athlete.
As the world cascades into the eBook mindset with Kindles and Tablets in their back pockets, there’s still something good about lying on the beach or in your back garden with a good old book in your hand. Life wouldn’t be the same at the sea side without the Mr. Whippy van playing its jingle-jangle tune or without the Punch and Judy show attracting crowds of spell-bound children.
I led a Youth Alpha Holy Spirit weekend a couple of years ago and really got to know the young people well. What was so encouraging was the fact that, although I may have looked like their Dad, I could be natural with them, and they with me. Had I tried to impress them by wearing ‘cool’ clothes or acting in a child-like way, the weekend wouldn’t have worked. Instead, for some, the weekend had a profound influence on their lives and faith. The Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit from generation to generation and doesn’t change. Neither should we try to become what we’re not.