We’re all familiar with New Year’s Resolutions; and we’re all familiar with the frequency with which we fall away from them! The promises to go to the gym, to keep in touch with friends, to be more…well you fill in the gap for yourself.
Despite the failure that often bedevils us, the turning of the year is an opportunity to take stock and to reflect on our journey through life as followers of Jesus Christ. Maybe you don’t often think of yourself like that, as a follower, but all of us who value St Mary’s and our church life will know that, deep down, being part of a church is different from other forms of belonging. A church is far more than a social club for those who like a bit of religion on a Sunday morning; it’s a community of people gathered round the Lord Jesus Christ, who seek to follow his way of life in work, home, leisure and in the values we seek to promote in society. We remain individuals, but we are bound together through baptism into a community of Jesus’s followers.
The church is pretty good at telling people this; it’s certainly part of my regular approach to preaching, because it’s easy to forget we are Christ’s people before we are our own. What perhaps the church isn’t so good at in the modern world is telling people how to do this. One ancient way of exploring the ‘how’ is through the tradition of a Rule of Life.
‘Rule’ is a misunderstood word. We get the word from the Latin regula, which can be best translated as a pattern, a model, an example. Esther De Waal, who writes on Christian spirituality, points out that the word has gentle connotations, not the firm idea we get from ‘school rules’. She talks about a ‘rule’ as a signpost, a railing, something that gives support as we move forward in our goal to become more like Jesus Christ. Having a ‘Rule of Life’ then is having a gentle rule that keeps us trained towards God.
A Rule of Life is a great asset in our busy 21st century life, because it gives shape to living even when we cannot be as much part of the church as we might hope. Sunday commitments to elderly parents, ill health or the demands of child-rearing all make it hard for some to be part of the regular community of faith as we might wish. A ‘Rule’ helps us know we are sharing in Christian worship, service and faith-sharing with others. It has its origins in monastic communities.
I’m keen to reset my own relationship with God and my own discipleship in 2019. And I’ve found a new resource which I think could be of great help to many of us, not just myself. The Diocese of Liverpool have launched a website called Rule of Life (ruleoflife.org.uk) which provides online resources and regular encouragements to keeping a simple rule of life, based on six key themes: Pray, Read, Learn, Tell, Serve, Give. Over the coming year it will be rolled out to assist people far from Liverpool to share in a Rule of Life.
I’m keen to try this resource and to encourage as many members of St Mary’s to have a go as well. To that end, I’m going to mention this idea on regular occasions during the year, offering invitations to many of us to join in the Rule. I hope that many of you would consider taking this on. We will have opportunities during the year to meet and discuss our own developing understanding of our own Rule of Life, and the joys and struggles on the way. I’ll promise to keep you updated as the year goes on. Outside of our regular Lent and other Home Groups, this will be the priority for helping us develop our faith in the year ahead.
In the first instance, anyone who would like to find out more can come to a first meeting on Thursday 3rd January at 7.30pm in the Church Crypt. I’ll prepare a light supper for those coming straight from work: all I ask is that you email me ([email protected]) to confirm your attendance for catering purposes.
Come along and find out more on one of the occasions we meet in the coming months. Here’s a genuine chance to move beyond a New Year Resolution towards a real change of lifestyle based on the values and life of Jesus.