My family and I have two dogs, Moses and Fergal. They are brothers although one is golden and the other is black. When we first brought them home as puppies they were cautious, entering each room in the house slowly, cowering at the slightest sound or movement. Within a matter of hours they were dashing around the house and into the garden, even into the garden pond! Their fears were gone and they were free so they made the most of it!
When I think of the word ‘Unleashed’ which is the topic of Spring Harvest this week (check out the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/user/SpringHarvest), I think of when we used to take the puppies out for walks. They were fairly good at walking nicely on the lead but as soon as they saw an open grass area or a field, they pulled toward it, desperate to get off the lead and investigate it. As soon as we unleashed them, they were off like a bullet! Gone! When we caught up with them they would be sniffing a trail, greeting another dog or a wild dog, picking up sticks or play fighting with each other. When they are unleashed they are free!
At the start of the New Testament the early Church was planted but it didn’t look like church does now. Back then, the Church consisted of lots of small groups of people who met in houses and out in the streets. The Temple was the place where the Jews went but the followers of Jesus, the Christians, didn’t believe they were meant to be restrained inside a building. They didn’t have a base as such but met together wherever they could to pray and worship God and went out into the city, towns and villages around them to share what they had been told about Jesus, who He was and what He did for them. They also fed the hungry, looked after the poor, healed the sick and generally cared for those around them.
Here is a great video by the Bible Project which sums up the first 7 chapters of the book of Acts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQhkWmFJKnA&t=3s
When asking a non-believer what they like about Christians, their answer is often the community aspect of church but when asked what they like least about Christians it is often either the so called ‘bible bashing’ (i.e. forcing religion on to others) or the boring, dull church services. Do you want to know what the best part is? The boring church services don’t have to be a problem! The early church didn’t have scheduled services. Instead, they gathered because they wanted to be together and with God and serve their community. They didn’t always start with prayer and end with worship songs after a 30 minute talk. This is the Westernised version of Church and with it, we have lost so much of what Church was and should still be today.
Jesus wasn’t interested in religion, we know that by the way He spoke to and about the Pharisees and Saducees and about what took place in the Temple. Jesus loved people, not liturgy. The schedules and prepared songs and prayers have their place in helping us shape our meeting time and ensuring we spend time worshipping, confessing, praying and learning/ teaching but it shouldn’t be the focus of our time together as the Church.
At this moment in time,the UK and many other countries, are in lockdown. Shops, parks, cinemas, theatres, stadiums and even church buildings are closed and we are instructed to stay at home and only leave our homes if it is essential to do so. I have read and heard Christians say that without church buildings, Church is cancelled but this is so far from the truth! We are not restrained in our homes, we are being kept safe and helping others to be safe and well too.
The way I see it, the Church is unleashed! We have been freed from the chains that restrain us and lock us to schedules and liturgies and allow us to act in the ways of the early Church – spending time alone in quiet with God, thanking Him for what we have, asking for forgiveness of all we have done wrong, listening for that still, small voice, worshipping Him with song, dance, art and craft, and helping and looking after those who need it whether physically through the provision of food and medications, emotionally and mentally through phone calls and video chats or spiritually through prayer and sharing of Scriptures.
We ARE the Church! I wish I could make everyone read this and know this is true because when we know we are the Church, we know God is with and for us and “ if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:19-20.
When my dogs are unleashed, they are happy, they have fun and they enjoy meeting new dogs and playing with each other. We need to remember that although things are scary right now, being unleashed is a chance to be the Church Jesus taught us to be.
At the end of their time unleashed and free, we would call the puppies and (most of the time!) they would coming right back to us, knowing full well that they are coming back to their family who love and care for them. It is the same with us. We should go out and be the unleashed people of God but at the end of the day, we need to go back to our loving Father and review our day with Him, repenting of the things we have done wrong, being reminded that we are loved and asking Him to direct our thoughts and actions the following day so we can be sure that our time unleashed is spent doing things for Him in the way He would want us to.