A Message for the New Year

The Message from Armagh Methodist’s Watch Night Service:

When we met on the Sunday before Christmas I set out a challenge to our church – a challenge to make 2016 the year to get our feet wet.

And what I meant by that was that I wanted to encourage you and the rest of our church to make 2016 the year that you, as individuals, and we as a church, move away from what is comfortable and familiar and within our control to a place where things are not as familiar as we would like them to be, where things are not as predictable as they usually are and where we are not in control of what is happening or what things look like, but rather to a place where we allow God to be in complete control.

Because when we faithfully allow God to be in control of our lives and our situations and we allow ourselves to move into those places where God is ready to do amazing things, then we begin to see the invisible God do visible things.

The challenge of getting our feet wet was introduced into Irish Methodism in Rev Dr Heather Morris’ installation service as President of the Methodist Church in Ireland at Conference in 2013 and it is based on the story found in Joshua 3 where the Israelites found themselves on one side of the Jordan River and the Promised Land on the other side.

It was only when the Israelites stepped into the fast flowing river – off of the safety of dry land and into the uncertainty of a flooding river, that they experienced God do an amazing thing – the parting of the river that allowed them to claim the Promised Land.

They had two choices – remain where they were, in the same wilderness they had been wandering around in for the past forty years, or step into the unknown and trust God to be in control.

In the same way, we stand in this place with two choices – stay where we are and be the church that we have been for the past forty years. I’ve seen photos from the 1980’s and if you have been here since those days then perhaps you might agree with me.

They show the same building, the same pulpit, the same pews – some empty, some with the same people sitting in them – the same organ, the same hymns and the same special services and events.

Or we have another choice, the one that takes us into the unknown and gets our feet wet and allows God to take control and do the new and the unexpected.

Crossing the Jordan River enabled the Israelites to defeat Jericho, to claim the Promised Land for God’s chosen people, to establish a capital in Jerusalem, to build a temple where God could be worshipped and to become a mighty nation.

Staying in the Wilderness would have left them wandering with no purpose and without a legacy to leave for the generations to come.

2016 is nearly upon us and as it approaches, I want to share with you some of the words that Heather spoke in that sermon two-and-a-half years ago:

“You are camped on the edge of the Jordan; you have grown up being told about the land which God has promised, that promise is in your DNA, and now you are camped on the edge of the Jordan with that Promised Land almost within touching distance and with the words ringing in your ears that tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things, can you imagine trying to go to sleep that night, on the edge of wonders, on the edge of the fulfilment of God’s promise?

There may well have been some in the camp that night for whom waiting one more night was almost too much to bear, who would have paced the river bank, looking over, frustrated with Joshua for making them wait until tomorrow; others perhaps who didn’t sleep that night because they were anxious, and understandably so – what would this new land look like? Would a people who had only known desert and wandering, would a generation who had only ever eaten manna, be able to cope in this new space?

And others, others who did not want to go, for whom this call to get ready was a call they didn’t want to hear. They were in a land they knew and loved, why move? This people, young and old, women and men, excited, reluctant, stubborn, frustrated, cynical, longing, all deeply loved by God, all invited to follow.

Now “invited” is a challenging word: “invited” means we can say no, “invited” means we can choose to stay even if everyone else moves on with God, “invited” gives us freedom to go, but with teeth and fists clenched, looking back, reluctant.”

What group are you in? Are you ready to take that step into a place where God is control, or would you prefer to remain where you are, or are you like that third group, not so keen for change, but realising that it’s necessary and allowing it to happen?

2016 can be a year of new things – and we worship the God of new things – or it can be another year in the Wilderness. God invites you in this new year to seek him, to step into the unknown, to do something new and get your feet wet.

“See, I am doing a new thing!     Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness    and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19