On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this. The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God.
One phrase that I have come across several times over the years is, ‘you (or one) can (or should) never go back’.
Not never go back in terms of never visiting somewhere that has been important to us in the past – I received an invitation to visit my old school some time ago and look forward to finding the opportunity when I’m in the area sometime to go for a nose and to reminisce – but that once one has e.g. left a former employer, one should avoid going to work for the same company or person again. The reason being that some of those who have taken such a step have later regretted it making the comment either, ‘it wasn’t the same’, or ‘it was exactly the same’ perhaps remembering why they had decided to leave first time around.
So I find myself brought up short when I read passages like this one, often from a prophet of the Hebrew Bible, that speak and yearn for restoration. The Israelite/Jewish people found that life back in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile even once the Temple had been rebuilt was very different to how life had been beforehand. Times had changed and the experience of history meant the people were not exactly the same as they were before either.
Sometimes when I hear Christians of all denominations speak of their dreams for their church it sounds rather like a yearning for how they remember their fellowship used to be. When there were pews and the first however many rows were filled with children and young people on a Sunday morning. The young people would go to their groups leaving older members comfortably sat at the back of the chapel – another reason perhaps why it is so hard to persuade our congregations to sit at the front!
But while it would of course be lovely to have more people, of more ages, worshipping in our churches on a Sunday morning, I realise now that this is not what I yearn for or want above anything else for our churches.
I dream of a Church where people are growing as Christian disciples. Becoming more like Jesus. Becoming more confident at sharing their faith with the people they encounter: family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances alike. A Church within a society that lives out the belief that God is for All.
God for all, you reached out to the world in your Son Jesus Christ. Help us to reach out in faith and love and witness to all. God for all, you send your Holy Spirit to empower and gift your Church. By your Spirit help us grow in unity grow as followers of Jesus Christ and grow your kingdom in Cumbria and in this world. Amen.
The Rev’d Sarah Moore currently serves in a special category ministry as President of the URC in Cumbria.
Cumbria is an ecumenical county where the URC is in covenant with the Church of England, Methodist Church and The Salvation Army.
The current focus of our work together is grounded in God for All, a vision and strategy that is exactly what it says on the tin!
The prayer is the God for All prayer, used regularly by people across the county of Cumbria. Feel free to substitute the name of a locality that is significant to you for Cumbria if that is helpful to you.