It was in 1953 that post-war sweet rationing finally ended in Britain and that Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mount Everest. Tragically, in January that year, over 130 people los their lives as the Princess Victoria car ferry sank in heavy conditions as it attempted the crossing between Stranraer and Larne.
January 1953 was also the month when the first services were held in the life of Dundonald Baptist Church. Today they marked that 59th anniversary. I was invited to preach at the anniversary services.
I’d never been in the building before today, though Pauline and I were married in Dundonald (Gospel Hall) and Gemma was born in the Ulster Hospital, just across the road from where the church sits between the Ulster Bank and the local McDonald’s. (Speaking of anniversaries, this year is the 20th anniversary of McDonald’s opening in Beijing).
In the morning I preached from Philippians 3 which also features on Dundonald Baptist’s website. It may be slightly odd to talk about forgetting the past on an anniversary Sunday; a church anniversary Sunday is a good time to look back at the faithfulness of God over the years, to recall, and be grateful for heroes and stalwarts on whose shoulder today’s church stands.
But there is a sense in which an unhealthy preoccupation with the past can paralyse the present and frustrate the future. How many church fellowships consist of a decreasing number of people sitting in a building that has become too large for their needs, drawing comfort from the achievements of the glory days of a golden past? Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3 refers to his religious past when he was a successfully religious Jew until things changed when he met Jesus. What used to define him was now firmly in the past. Is it possible that we can allow our past achievements to define us and to be our security to the point where we miss out on reaching what God has for us?
This evening we took a look at A Tale of Two Sons (commonly known as the the Story of the Prodigal Son) with Jesus’ teaching on the scope (seen in the younger brother’s story), scandal (the father’s story) and the stumbling-block (the elder brother’s story) of grace.
It’s interesting that we sometimes stop our telling of the story before Jesus does: we stop with the return and acceptance of the wanderer. But the telling of this story is not meant only as an invitation to wanderers to come home: it is a sharp jab aimed in the direction of the self-righteous.
It’s also worth noticing that Jesus does not finish the story. Does the elder brother relent and join the party or not? This is a story where the reader has to write his own ending and decide on his own response to the grace of God.