Why is this bag so important ? A straightforward, paper carrier bag, seemingly ordinary and sitting on my car seat this afternoon.
Before I answer that question a little bit of context to my thinking. As the lockdown has continued over the months I discover more and more people are tiring. Within the country there seems to be less and less patience between folk, more intolerance, more frustration and confusion over the rules; are they guidelines or are they law ?
Those of us within the Church are experiencing the same thing; some folk thinking the Church should be back, others saying its too soon, some folk thinking that God is above Covid and therefore we should all be alright. Some folk thinking that Zoom worship is a part of the Church hierarchy’s determination to close the church down or that clergy are using it to avoid ‘real’ work. The very strong need to sing hymns, receive Communion and be a part of a fellowship are real issues that are bouncing around Church circles at the moment. Its brought with it feelings of frustration, isolation, strong opinions often based on want and desire rather than on theology etc,
The cry that the Church has closed down is extremely strong in some quarters (Interestingly in some cases from non-churchgoers)
The accusation, so often, seems to be that because the Building isn’t open On a Sunday, or because we’re using electronic means then it isn’t proper Church.
So what’s this to do with an ordinary paper bag on the front seat of my car ? A perfectly reasonable question I think and perhaps it ties in with the question “what is worship, true worship ?” For many worship has always Been the hour on a Sunday, filled with hymns (as long as they’re ones we like) or prayers (but not too long) or sermons (again not too long) or fellowship (but only with folk we like or who agree with us). In other words we’ve created a worship of ourselves. It’s what we like, what we enjoy and God should fit in with us. Now, that’s very harsh and is a real sweeping generalisation I acknowledge; however if it’s not true it’s certainly a danger into which we all fall from time to time.
Is it what Jesus envisaged when he challenged the disciples and said to Peter “upon this rock I shall build my Church”. Did he really desire the Methodist 5 hymn sandwich, the Anglican liturgy, the bells and smells of ‘high’ church or was he referring to a community ?
I believe that he was talking of community, of fellowship built on the model of Christ himself, of sacrifice of self in favour of others, of finding ways to help others receive the rich blessings of creation.
The picture alongside is of a lady I don’t know but I dare say the tattoos, the dark make-up, the mode of dress and the ‘spaced out’ look will offend some of us. However Jesus would be reaching out, loving and receiving, not judging. Maybe we’ve been getting it wrong for too long.
Maybe your impatience is getting the better of you and you’re still wondering (if you’re still reading), why a paper bag.
Well part of the routine for some of the folk from Churches together in Swadlincote is to spend Fridays serving the community. Alison joins a team of folk, Lay and Ordained, who spend a few hours cooking hot meals. I then join a team of drivers delivering the meals throughout the area, feeding those who for whatever reason have been referred to the project. All socially distanced, masked and within current guidelines. Today I’ve received smiles, expressions of gratitude from the people behind the doors of the houses I’ve visited, and a sense of serving others.
The ordinary, brown, paper carrier bag, to me, has become Symbolic of the Church in action. Where is God in this pandemic ? He’s in the action of his followers up and down the country carrying out incredibly important community work of loving and caring. To quote the famous 1960’s reference to Elvis Presley…… God has left the building. He’s at work electronically, in phone calls, in acts of worship on bits of paper, on TV Songs of Praise or radio recordings of worship, but his army of followers are galvanised to act in the way Jesus would have us act.
it’s why my friends Alex and Heather went to Romania to help, my friend Nigel who seeks to help migrants and especially those in Calais refugee camp, my friend Noreen who founded the Burton Addiction Centre, the staff and workers at Burton YMCA and many other places; it’s why I’ll be sleeping out in 5 weeks time for the homeless. Why Alison, others and I will continue to do what we can with a simple brown paper bag. Feeding those who need help.
WHY? Because Jesus loved and goes on loving people.
The fire of the Holy Spirit burns on………..