Rev Tom Stuckey, president of the Methodist Conference, expressed his gratitude as he started to speak at Trinity church. He felt an expectation and a hope of joy and he noticed a buzz - a warmth amongst the people. He smiled as he noted how 'those of us who live in the south welcome warmth'.
His talk was entitled 'The Extra Dimension', drawing on Ephesians 3.
Paul prays that certain things will happen to the Christians in Ephesus. The letter is very similar to the letter to the Collosians. Those insights are like a letter that the Chair of the Methodist District would send. Paul speaks of a vision of what God has done through Christ; chapter three's words on the ministry end with a prayer - 'bowing a knee before the Father' and praying that we would be 'strengthened in our inner being and Christ would live on our hearts'. God's vision for us is that there be a powerful indwelling - especially of the Spirit.
The day of his induction as President started early: from 6:30am he had many media interviews - 17 in all. He was unsure what he said at that time of day. People across the regions picked up on him saying how "God was dangerous". He was asked what he meant: 'we have tamed God. The God that we worship has been sanitised, trapped in liturgies and customs. I want us to experience this God who is dangerous.'
The first petition in the prayer in Ephesians 3 is about the Trinitarian God. Tom Stuckey joked how ministers often go on holiday on Trinity Sunday - he noted how he can understand that! The Trinity is often seen as a tricky subject for a sermon. Tom Stuckey described the Trinity as 'Seeing God in several ways'. From his own life he noted how he was the President of the Conference, and also a husband and also a father. 'When we talk about God we are talking about three persons in community.' He continued on how the relationship between Father and Son on the cross was stretched to breaking point. At that very point the relationship was stretched to embrace the pain of the world, and we are caught in that embrace from a personal God who holds us with his unchanging love yet embraces us as we are changed into his likeness. The writer to the Ephesians wants us to be embraced by this God. Paul had arrived at Ephesus earlier (as recorded in Acts). Now he found that the people had lost all energy and sense of the life of the Spirit. So Paul talked about the Baptism of the Spirit where everything catches fire in life. Paul talks of the God who fires you and energises you.
Annie Dillard, the American journalist, writes 'Why do the people in church seem like tourists on a package holiday....?' Tom Stuckey noted how we, the Church, should be wearing crash helmets and be prepared to be lashed to the pews - because God may break out and change us. God will shift and change the world. So Paul talks about this change - 'be strengthened in your inner being...' and then he talks about expanded horizons. Do we have the power to comprehend the breadth and length of Christ?
An example of the state of the church: Martin has a very demanding job, living in London and on the Methodist council; his day can see him at work beyond 8pm; he rushes home, says goodnight to the children and rushes out to the church meeting, getting home by 11pm. He finally declared that he won't go again - 'and at the end of the meeting someone talked about the flower rota for three quarters of an hour'. He and his family have left the church and won't come back. Has our world become so small? Paul says he wants us to know the length and breadth!
What is mission? It is God's mission. We need to respond to what God is doing today. We've viewed our falling membership in the Methodist church with low spirits. God is in the process of reshaping the church. God wants to us to know about the breadth where our vision has become too small. Is God saying that 'What you do is not what I want you to be doing'?
In the book of Acts, Paul went to Ephesus where the people were alive and bubbled with excitement. When people become trapped by their tradition and circumstances, Paul takes them out. Churches on our circuits need to say 'What is God doing?' and be ready to plant new churches. People find it so difficult to come to our churches. The president of the Conference cited the example of the new 'church' working as 'The Taste and See coffee bar', which, incidentally, serves the best cappuccino he's tasted for a long while. You wouldn't know it was a Christian coffee bar until you taste the warmth of the people in that bar. Two thirds of the people who come have no contact with the life of the church. They started services - nothing like the services we know - but only 40 can get in. The services are run at all times of day. Just 200 yards away, the people of the nearby Methodist church wondered why these new folk wouldn't go to their traditional church and come to their coffee mornings... God is advancing on these two fronts and any walls getting in the way are to be smashed down. We need to let our vision to become much bigger - because Paul wanted us to know more of God.
Expectation: 'To him be glory'. God wants to do for us, and for the world, far more than we can imagine. Do we believe that? When the disciples were dispirited, like many on the Methodist church are, Jesus called on them to launch out and go deep. Peter said 'At your word we will go'. They caught more than they could imagine. God wants to do far more for us as we engage with him.
In Cuba the church is growing at a phenomenal rate. With just 8,000 members in 1998, the church has grown to 18,000 in 2004, and over 20,000 now - there are too many to count. The Christians of Cuba expected to receive and they are receiving it! God is changing people - and changing us. There is no space even to stand in their services in Cuba. When speaking about living water at a recent service there, five came forward at first for the appeal. Then more and more until the whole of the front of the church was packed. The people said that they want more. They want to go out into the deep and let down their nets, too.
Paul prays that our horizons will be expanded. Earlier in his letter, Paul prays for the spirit of revelation so that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened by the riches of the glorious inheritance. Tom Stuckey encouraged the people of Harrogate to respond to God's call to take new steps of faith.